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For some, there will be obvious links to a quantity of other stories – most obviously the Count Voralys sequence, the Molpus stories linked to that especially ‘Address to the Counts’;   indirectly to the Annie Price series and a glimpse of part of the Brackety Jack collection.

Herewith a lengthy stream of conversation between Miles and Ivan.  Rather clearly when they are relaxed of an evening after good food and good wine. Sometimes it’s difficult to be sure who’s talking.  When in doubt, insert a pause while one or other thinks.

------------------------------------------------- 

“I’ve been thinking.”

“Oooooh.”

“There’s some things I don’t understand going on. And there’s all these plans and suggestions bubbling away.  I know that I ought to be able to sort some of this out.  But I won’t say ‘nothing can go wrong’. I’ve given up even thinking in those terms.”

“Ivan. Don’t be …”

“Shut up.  You should have promised by now never to think that phrase again.  And in return I won’t call you a sawed-off little runt or a smug bastard even when you’re spectacularly irritating.”

“Fair’s fair. Can I say it just now and again.”

“No – or I’ll get a Request and Require that you stop saying it.  He never says it.  Just YOU.”

“Grmmpphh.  But this new thought – tell me, tell me.”

“Only to slow you down while we look a bit harder and deeper before spreading things to Guy and Gregor.”

“Tell me, come on. You shining example of wonderfulness.”

“That’s just the silver braid and today’s medal – and I can’t compete with you on medals.  But say things like that often enough – as if you mean it - and you might be allowed the other word – once a year.  So – my thought.  Always thinking of the plots that Simon and Guy have kept finding.  Can you count, countling, mmm?  There’s 60 Counts.  Okay, there’s a lot more Vors as well – but there’s 60 who run a district on this planet.  Despite all the changes since the Time of Isolation – they do run the planet.”

“Mmmm.”

“And they ALL supported Gregor when he did that thing with the lance.”

“What – Gregor’s promise …”

“Yes.”

“I wish I’d seen it.”

“There’s already been six or seven who’ve reneged on that and tried to attack, damage or destroy our Emperor.”

“What – you mean just recently.  Well, obviously the main four, Vorclarence, Vorbataille, Voranson,  Vorguriyev and their associates Vorevreaux, Vortien, Vortalence and Vorolney but they were younger sons  ……….  and then that bunch in the South – Vordarian, Vortorren, Vorville,  Vorlightly.  That’s actually 12. Good grief, that’s one fifth of the available total.”

“Vorbataille was a son.  Evaline just a daughter.”

“Well, 10 plus the unknowns is still north of a sixth who were lying about the truth of their support for Gregor. Oh and I forgot Vordrozda – thirteen or eleven or whatever.  Too bloody many.”

“To be generous – very generous – several probably do support Gregor as long as there is room to bend things to their own benefit.”

“There’s always those who look to their benefit – we all have to do that in order to look for the benefit of our districts. There can’t be anything wrong with that.  But some of these are greedy, pushy, over-aggressive.  Even if that’s from our point of view and we are, by our own self-definition, the good guys with the right intentions and proper moral values.   Too many of these buggers are far too willing to inconvenience Gregor, Barrayar and the Empire.”

“Right, so now we know about the South, we have to consider sons and daughters, brothers, sisters, the whole lot. But with sons, so often it’s the younger ones who make the complicated waves.”

“I had thought about that while we’ve listed the recent baddies. Contrariwise there are others.  To balance the scummy ones, there’s those who still have a solid reputation.  Vorbarra, Vorkosigan, Voralys,  just to get ourselves listed and out of the way.”

“Until Mark, I think perhaps the recent Vorkosigans were too fixated outside their district.  But there’s a good few others who are solid. Not just our friends either – although that’s always where I’d start. So … Vorrutyers – good and bad, mind you;  Vorhalas, Vorbretten, Vorinnis, Vorvolk.”

“And there’s those who sit at the back and just make waves when they think there will be a benefit to them.”

“Mmm?”

“Well, Vorfolse for a start – scheming lump of sloth.”

“At least HE’s fairly incompetent. Which limits the damage.”

“I want to find the competent schemers who are still hiding.”

“And, as Gregor says – there’s all those younger brothers and sons wanting a chance at power. In enough families that’s going to score a good-bad immediately.”

“You’re forgetting our mother’s influence – there’s daughters too wanting more influence.”

“What, you’re pretending that the women haven’t had influence before.”

“No, I’d never say that – not with our two as prime examples – and how Donna and others have worked too. But some of them want to be more openly active.  And they really don’t like having to work from behind the chair.  And now there’s the likes of the fictional Annie Price – actually planning to get into the Academy and  … well, where’s it going to stop.”

“But back to the first issue – the bad and the good.”

“Having listed at least 10 bad, I want more than 10 who are for us.”

“I wasn’t keeping score – but it’s 10 to 8 so far. Against us. Especially if a bad apple is counted as spoiling most of the barrel.”

“Though recently Vordarian scores good and bad as well. Let’s be hopeful.”

“Yes, after the initial introduction, I do think Valya is a good thing – let’s encourage a few countlings to notice her, nicely. Mind you, Gregor dancing with her sends a huge signal of approval.”

 

In the next few minutes, they worked their way through a lot more names of varying quality   …Vormercier … Vorsmythe  … Vormoncrief  … Vorpetrie … Vorkalloner … Vorgustafson … Vorkalnins … Vorville …

 

Vorsmythe and Vorgustafson are on the quiet side as regards any disruption in the last few decades.  There’s several others who have no record of making waves.”

“Do you think every younger sib needs an ImpSec file.”

“Too too many.  And, I’d guess, too too many don’t have one yet.”

“But I don’t want to label needlessly.  Word of imperial distrust would eventually get around – and that would help nobody, least of all those on the fringe and those undecided. They need real opportunity and potential for personal growth, personal gain if needful.  Look at Mark”

“Do I have to. I’ve never quite managed to mesh with him.”

“You’re not alone.  He and I keep our distance more often than mother would like. But, Mark -made from nothing – abusively forced into hatred of his alleged family, distorted, damaged, twisted – and somehow he and the Black Gang with the aid of a good woman are doing more for himself than he could ever have guessed.  In passing, he is doing a bigger and better job for the Vorkosigan district and Barrayar itself than could have been dreamt of.  And he grew up not with daydreams but nightmares he forces himself to ignore.  What talents and skills unknown do other sibs and kin have to offer?”

 

“Vortifrani – just not a very nice person, his politics are thus astonishingly selfish but not overtly anti-Gregor or Barrayar. Anti-Empire of course as he despises the outside world and anything off-planet.”

“Except travel to the Orb, it would seem,”

“Huh and yuk – as the whim takes you.”

“I don’t want a whim to have anything to do with Vortifrani – I might get infected.”

 

“Do I have to imagine a Vorfolse or any similar Vorscum being a benefit.”

 

“Is there enough variety in the Vor system?  Is there a range of Counts?  Could we look at them as so many other issues as being spread along a normal range, one of those spectrum things.  The bad, the too-good-to-be-true, the ordinary. Like the old vid The Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the Ordinary.”

“Never heard of it.  But I’ve talked with medics and the like.  Your mother contributes on that sort of topic.  I mean apart from saying with considerable force ‘Ooh, Barrayarans’.  If there’s ‘normal’ then there’s extremes.  I’ve heard medics talk.  And one label is   ‘NfB’ meaning normal for Barrayar.  Apparently this is about those back-country areas with a little too much inbreeding. Although some countish families have more than once encouraged cousins to breed with cousins – let’s not go there, hhhmmmm.”

 

“In terms of range one count, one c*nt, doesn’t mar the whole family, nor vice versa.  So don’t be daft – when you were being called ‘an idiot’ by whoever it was – did you imagine your current state and status.  Did I imagine the Little Admiral being Barrayaran-admirable?  What did I expect from Donna or By – and there’s others.”

“Heck – what did we imagine for and from the young Gregor.”

“There’s that too – though I’d say what did our elders expect.  As a kid enough years junior – I can’t say I ever thought about how he would have to grow. Let alone what he would have to become.”

 

“Have we drunk enough to think big?”

“What.”

“For a start, what and where can we offer all these countlings.  The South, Komarr,  Sergyar – there’s not much beyond that.”

“There’s lots of opportunities in a war.”

“Apart from children only just weaning themselves from Count Vorthalia – nobody except a stupid cadet wants a war.  Your friends die.  You die.  Sometimes your enemies die.  Nobody with an active braincell who had never been near a war or a veteran would endorse such an idea.”

“And who would you attack for this ‘glorious victory’?”

“Somebody once said, the only true victory in a war comes with who wins the peace.”

“The quote father gave me was ‘We won the war but lost the peace.’”

“I think there are more.  There’s the pathetic ‘Make Love not War’ – and the older one by a Greek chap on old Earth ‘We make War that we might live in Peace’.

“Have any of these people been in a war?  Had things shot at them?  Had to shoot?  Had to kill?  Seen friends die?  Each of those factors changes your life.  Changes your viewpoint.  We’ve all been there.”

 

“Do we get a set of your Council colour charts out – to see if there are any patterns?”

“What-  you suspect ImpSec hasn’t been doing its job?”

“I’m not sure whether some of the Vor families get more or less attention than they deserve.  I think a recent provocation gets a medium-term label.  But as per the South, long-term festering may hide below the radar.  Perhaps we can find some points that deserve closer attention.”

“Hmmmm. And again   Hmmmm.”

 

----------------------------------------------

“I had a sleepless night – and it’s all your fault.  Making conspiracies out of nothing.  Threatening war with anyone or everyone.”

“You shouldn’t worry so much.  I’m going to investigate the possibility of treason instead.”

“Did I just hear that right?”

“That depends on who is raising the charge , the details of the accusation and who the judge might be.”

“But treason – and I don’t know how many exclamation marks to add to the appalled tone of voice I’m using.”

“I’m thinking of how we would make peace with Cetaganda – and what we would both get out of it.”

“Wow.”

Pause

“Wow again – so it’s YOU that’ll be doing the treason – not one of them.  Not one of those we’ve just labelled as ‘the bad guys’.

Not surprisingly, there was a pause.

 

“I’m thinking of it with the best possible motives and the best intentions.”

“You mean you’re trying to tell me that you’re planning ahead.  Not just snatch and hope for ‘forward momentum’ to yield improbable results.”

“There have been successes.”

“Did you ever look at the cost?”

“Later. Eventually.”

“Was it worth it.”

“Often. ……….. Eventually.”

“Hah.”

“So all that makes you feel that committing treason is the way ahead.”

“A way. Not the way. But peace does seem an option worth looking for.”

“Again. Hah.  And what’s the cost going to be.”

 

“I’m dazzled either by your genius or your stupidity – I’ll wait and see which comes to the fore.”

“You worked for Admiral Desplains …. How much of your time was planning for just-in-case scenarios with the Cetas?”

“Lots. Too many.”

“What would or could we gain if the Cetas weren’t a threat?”

“Everything, nothing, somewhere in between? How would I know?”

“What would the Cetas gain?”

“Same answer – even if their interpretation is subject to ghem and haut being increasingly less human.”

“Have you seen the new galactic display at the Science Center.”

“In what weird and wonderful way does that have any relevance?”

“I saw it and they had been colouring in the Ceta Empire and the Hegen Hub grouping …..

“And…”

“It was suddenly so obvious – if we weren’t at war there’s a huge swathe of stars along our boundary that we could access.  Some for us, some for them.  Accessed with only a little effort by straight star travel and then we could look for the wormholes which will be there.  If we don’t have to worry about accidentally straying into Ceta space  and vice versa …. then we all gain.”

 

“And…, um,…”

“What do you mean ‘and … um’?  What on earth could make you not blurt out some new and ghastly ideas within moments of one of your frantic brain-cells popping into life.”

“I do not blurt – not always.”

“Yes you do – unless Gregor or Ekaterin have told you not to. Or Aral, or your mother, or sometimes …”

“Alright, I have agreed with Ekaterin that I sometimes get excited.  But it’s who I am.  But I don’t like the word ‘blurt’. It makes me sound uncontrolled, sloppy, casual.”

“Alright, rewind ….. back to ‘And … um’”

“I wasn’t sure whether to continue.  In your terms it might be an overexcited brain-blurt.  Anyway - … And, er, have you realized, that right in a perfect position halfway between our two groupings is that festering ugliness of Jacksons Whole.”

“My turn …. And?”

“And they could be reduced to rubble if we and the Cetas went at them.”

“Eliminating that cesspit would probably make it easier for both of us.”

“See – even you can include the Cetas into one sort of ‘us’.”

 

“And the biggest advantage of a proper peace is economic.”

“What you mean – everyone gets a slice of a larger cake.”

“Yes, instead of trying to snatch crumbs from a small cake.”

 

“But treason?!”

“Thinking is no crime.  Talking hypothetically with Gregor is no crime.  Investigating possibilities is no crime.”

“You’d need to keep Gregor involved from the beginning.”

“Yes … but… I’d like to investigate before making anything that close to official.”

“Who can you talk to in sufficient secrecy?”

“Well, Aunt Helen always offers a ghastly set of historical comparatives.  But I’m not sure academics are the best source for unusual thinking.”

“How about getting some authors together.  Arrange a symposium of ‘What-if’ History.  Then have them do a ‘Future History’ forecast too.  See how much interest that creates. Get people thinking about hypotheticals.”

“I’ve never got to grips with ‘alternative histories’. I’d guess the nearest I can understand are Raine’s books when she turns otherwise ordinary stories into fiction.”

“Are you calling the actually true story of Raine being stuck in a dungeon by the evil count is in any way the same as Lord Vordagger’s traumatic sojourn – and he’s HERO, mind you, male and all that.  Give her credit, at least she didn’t try the old escape routine ‘and with one leap he was free’.  Always thought that was difficult from inside a dungeon what with chains, fetters and the like.”

“Cous, don’t be difficult.”

“Back to this weird reality you’re proposing.  Do we, can we have peace with the Cetas?  Really?”

“How about ‘wait and see’”

“I’ve heard that one before.”

“It seems to work for him.”

“And when it doesn’t, he’s got that Special Interstellar Auditor to send out, yesno?”

“More than once, dear cous. More than once.”

 

 



 

To keen readers of Brrayar fanfic these last paragraphs are obviously an attempt to bring in the later stories by Brackety Jack regarding Barrayar-Ceta mutual non-agression and even of Imperial rapprochement.  Albeit without the triple bonus of faster-than-light communication, nano-manufacturing and create-a-wormhole faculties.

The Peaceful Vorkosiverse by Bracketyjack

 

Annie Payne and her obviously fictional efforts to get to, stay at and away from the Academy are documented by Scott Washburn: 

Tales from the Academy by ScottWashburn;   Lieutenants  &  Loose Ends

 

Count Ivan Vorpatril Voralys and related tales (5 multi-chapter and some 11 shorts) are to be found as the colossal and excellent  

The AU life of Ivan Xav Vorpatril by Rose_Milburn

There is even fanfanficfic for Count Ivan. Of which, evidently this is one.