Liv had been sensitive enough not to expect her to help with the cameras. Instead she had gone so far as to finagle Marna an impromptu day off, a tacit approval should she intend to participate in the ‘rally of outrage’ near the Viceroy’s residence. With her grandfather a Martyr at Solstice, everyone at KoSol-1 took it as fact that she’d want to.
Komarr had been in uproar over the visit ever since its announcement. ImpSec had swarmed the Domes and taken a tooth comb to the station’s personnel for at least as long. Nafta from security had tried her best to calm everyone down and explain that a set-up such as this was a veritable nightmare to organize. Nobody among Marna’s colleagues had seemed to sympathize with the intruders. The lead officer had eventually presented management with a five page list of restrictions. Jonas and Timothy as their chosen reporters had each been handed their own.
Marna had had several options. One: Hang around the station and essentially be redundant. Two: Try and use her press clearance to get a closer look at the event itself. Three: Go to the rally and make it publicly known she had resistance sympathies. And four: Stay at home with the comconsole firmly turned off.
Five: Concede that neither boycotting the broadcast nor holding up signs and chanting would tell her what was going on. Marna respected herself too much to base future decisions on hearsay. Especially when, for the first time in history, a Barrayaran emperor was about to visit the Solstice Memorial.
On screen, it appeared as if ImpSec had let the spectators get fairly close to the congregation of Counts. In truth even the camera team was separated from the Shrine by a near impenetrable glass barrier. Liv had grumbled that she wouldn’t be allowed to perform the final in-person check on the cameras in person. Simon Illyan was taking no chances that somebody would try a last minute Attempt.
Timothy and Jonas were announcing the Vor representatives as they filled the Memorial site. Jonas pointed out the Countess Vorkosigan but carefully made no mention of Vorkosigan’s absent husband and son. The legion of armsmen and ImpSec guards went unmentioned, even the select Komarran collaborators like Ser Galen’s traitor son among them. As the man identified as Lord Auditor Vorhovis gave a sign and the crowd parted their commentary trailed off as per the agreement KoSol-1 had signed with the palace.
Vorbarra looked younger than Marna had imagined. There was an elderly armsman carrying a tripod half a pace behind him as he came into view and walked down the path toward the shrine at a sedate pace.
Liv’s positioning of camera one meant that Marna could not fully see Vorbarra’s face as he halted in front of the plaque on which two hundred names had been engraved. The angle was not a result of poor planning: A full frontal view would have meant planting C1 in the middle of the shrine. As Councilor Antovas’ grand-daughter, Marna felt grateful to Liv. The place was being violated enough as it was.
What could be seen of Vorbarra's expression appeared reflective and grave as befitted the occasion – the guise of an experienced statesman.
Marna expected the armsman to swiftly set up what Tiris from Sound had called ‘a mockery of reverence’. However, the man remained stolid at a slantwise arm’s length behind his master. Vorbarra reached into the pocket of his uniform jacket and placed a small, flat stone into the ridge let into the plaque for this very purpose. Marna heard Sound cut off Jonas’ drawn breath of surprise as Liv switched to camera two. They had dreaded a speech. Nobody had expected the inclusion of a Komarran custom.
She had to respect it for the ingenious PR move it was. It would sway many, even if others would take it as one more misdeed in a never ending line of wrongs.
Now the armsman stepped forward and set the tripod on the ground. He handed Vorbarra a small copper bowl – camera four showed that it already held cinder – and waited until his master had set it onto its pedestal before inclining his head respectfully and withdrawing. Vorbarra remained alone in front of the Shrine.
A small dagger appeared in his hand. With a practiced move he cut a few strands off his hair. He carefully placed them within the bowl. Next his uniform’s other pocket produced a set of matches. Camera four captured the moment the hair lit on fire.
It didn’t fall to ash immediately. Instead it glowed studiously inside the bowl. Liv switched back to camera two. A man’s back stood beside a stand and a pot and a thin line of smoke.
‘Barbaric,’ Marna thought. Only had she had no context for the sight might she have found a certain beauty in it.
‘Paying his respect,’ some had said when they had heard of Vorbarra’s intentions. ‘Defiling the sanctity of the place with his presence,’ others had said. Watching the display on the comconsole in her living room Marna was very certain of her verdict, no matter how somber his expression on camera one.
Then Liv’s C2 switch was half a second late as Vorbarra slowly sank to his knees.
Timothy echoed Marna’s own gasp. There were noises as outside the frame guards presumably surged forward, but the elderly armsman that became visible when Liv zoomed out – how was she keeping her wits like that? – held out an imperious arm and reined them in.
Marna watched it but could not comprehend what she was seeing.
This was not an Attempt. Vorbarra had not fallen ill. He was on his knees in front of the Shrine.
Liv split the screen then and showed some reactions from the crowd. There was surprise on every Vor face, horror and incredulity and confusion on some. There was a susurrus of whispered questions. No one, not even Vorbarra’s trusted armsman, looked as if this was anything like going to plan. Simon Illyan looked perturbed.
This was being broadcast onto every comconsole on Komarr.
Vorkosigan appeared as surprised as everybody else but the look on her face was also one of fierce pride. She was the first to take one step forward and sink down onto her own knees in imitation of her emperor. A poleaxed-looking officer in a green uniform followed, then Lord Auditor Vorhovis.
The conglomeration of Counts fell in one by one. They had no choice.
Soon everyone but a few guards and armsmen was kneeling. Even Simon Illyan was bowing his head, although camera three showed he and his men were taking turns looking up and surveying their surroundings suspiciously. After a while the murmuring stopped. Sound only conveyed silence.
Minutes passed. Vorbarra knelt. C1 could no longer capture the expression on his face at all.
Liv cut briefly to the local spectators behind their glass wall. It was a sea of open mouths and wide eyes.
Some of the Counts shifted uneasily. Having gone down they could not rise unless their emperor gave them leave.
Camera three drifted by Galen and lingered on him. No, Galeni had not expected this. He was kneeling, too, but he was not bowing downward, instead staring straight at Vorbarra’s back. Marna found she could not read him.
The offering smoldered on. The green-clad officer next to Vorkosigan was vibrating in his stillness. ‘Vorpatril,’ Marna recalled from Jonas’ introduction.
Lord Auditor Vorhovis appeared more comfortable than Vor half his age.
Throughout it all Sound picked up nothing. Not even a cough.
At long last the last ember went out. Vorbarra had not visibly looked toward the bowl once, but after the last strain of smoke dissolved into the air only a few more seconds went by. Then Vorbarra rose as if he’d been used to the position all his life. Only the faintest suggestion of stiffness betrayed the lie. He remained standing with his back to the crowd. Liv persistently switched between cameras one through four.
The Vor entourage remained on their knees – yet in want of a sign – until Vorkosigan stood up with far too much grace for a woman her age. She straightened her skirt as Vorpatril scrambled up. ‘Betan,’ Marna remembered. Seventy was hardly any age at all.
Even as the guards, armsmen and Vor followed suit there was only the occasional sigh or grunt. Illyan and his men resorted to a sign language. Vorbarra had not yet turned. No one dared be the first to speak.
Eventually the faithful armsman stepped forward again and held open a bag to his master. Vorbarra took the bowl without it burning his fingers and calmly tilted the ash over. The man let the bag disappear somewhere on his person and took it, the bowl and the tripod away.
C1 and 2 captured the last moments as Vorbarra stood for another half minute and then retrieved the stone from the ridge in the plaque before he bowed his head to two hundred names - Tomas Antovas – a last time.
When he turned C5, like C1 a split second ago, revealed no triumph on his face.
He walked straight toward Vorkosigan and offered her his arm. She accepted, looking for all the world as if she wanted to hug him. She smiled hugely instead.
Vorbarra overtly assessed the mood of his Counts. They mostly appeared relieved to be standing. He nodded to Lord Auditor Vorhovis who gave a sign, as did Illyan. Moving in a pattern that was too intricate to figure out without schematics all the Barrayarans left the Shrine, Vorbarra and Vorkosigan in their midst.
As the last of them – Galen – disappeared from view, the thought flitted through Marna’s mind that KoSol-1’s reporters had been allowed the use of their voices again since the retreat began. Even when the whole screen gave way to C7 and the local spectators, two of Komarr’s finest appeared to find themselves speechless. This was now the best day of Liv’s career and Jonas’ and Timothy’s worst.
If Marna had been in their place at the microphone, she wouldn’t have had the first idea what to say, either.