Admiral Miles Naismith leaned back in his chair and watched the woman across from him. They were in a very expensive restaurant, chosen primarily to avoid gawkers and lurking reporters. Their first drink had been comped, but he could tell Fazliu was wondering if he was going to pay for her food. He was still debating it. She had made his life much more difficult than it needed to be.
He turned his attention back to his meal, nibbling some more. Embarrassing as this all had been, he wondered if it had been a good thing for Komarr to see. There were advantages to keeping the populace...distracted during that period of exquisite Imperial vulnerability. For one, less blood in the streets. He was still surprised by the relative calm in the outer enclosures of the city, given Laisner's reputation for disproportionate response.
"Why did you ask your brother if you were under arrest?" Fazliu asked.
"I imagine Duv's extremely busy, but he'll get around to me eventually." He watched her thoughtfully, wondering what exactly she'd been planning to do with her recording of the Consulate rescues. "ImpSec will be wanting to speak to you too."
"Me?" she asked, her voice squeaking up a bit.
In the silence that followed, a comlink chimed nearby. He frowned, It wasn't either of theirs, since he hadn't been able to recover them and suspected the goldfish... oh. He waved his hand urgently to shush Gita, bit his lip to suppress a sudden giggle, and hastily emptied his crowded pockets onto the table. Dag's data organizer, his nerve disruptor, some tools he'd been using in the bubble-car... typically, it had fallen to the bottom. As it chimed again, he leaned back and put himself into the right mood.
"Benin here," he said, tonelessly Cetagandan.
The ImpSec witness quarters were blank and undecorated, windowless and secure. Aral Vorkosigan sat on the side of a bed, staring into the distance. He had changed out of his House uniform, and his shirt lay was open and unbuttoned. Purple-black streaks marked his gray-furred chest and glistened with analgesic, betraying where he'd been worked over by shocksticks hours ago. A wine bottle was open on the side table. It was half-empty.
The door closed behind her, and they were alone. She crossed the room, sitting on the bed beside him, putting a hand on his back. Even half-drunk, he was incredibly tense.
"How is Piotr?" Aral asked. "He looked more injured than he was letting on."
"He's in surgery," Cordelia said. "Roic is somewhat responsive, but not talking yet. Hard to tell if it's nerve damage or brain damage yet, but they think the former. They're still looking at Jankowski, but they didn't sound optimistic."
Her husband nodded. His face was as blank as the room. She didn't bother to ask if he was all right. To take a man such as he, strip him of dignity and public honor...cruel, yes. Exquisitely so.
"You're no more a criminal than you were this morning," she whispered to him, taking off her blouse.
"That's the problem," he sighed.
The door chimed. She went to open it.
"Sire," Aral said, looking up. Gregor looked at her and then past her, managing not to blush at her shirtlessness. He glanced back at his armsman, who stepped aside to guard the door as his master stepped through.
"Am I interrupting?" the Emperor asked carefully.
"No, of course not. We were just getting started," Cordelia said. Her foster son twitched.
Aral started to get to his feet, but Gregor shook his head, instead approaching the bed. He held out his slim hands, and Aral placed his own within them.
It wasn't that Aral had shrunk over the years, Cordelia thought, watching this. It was that Gregor had grown to surpass him. There was no question, here, who was the ruler and who was the subject. She remembered the feel of Gregor's tiny hands over her own, thirty years past and more. So much had changed.
Aral's gaze dropped. "Your will," he said. He sounded tired as he said it, as if he might submit to death just to escape having to face tomorrow.
"I owe you a duty of protection," Gregor said, and it was Gregor speaking and not the Emperor. "I have failed you, and I am sorry." His hands tightened on those of his former Regent. "I will not permit them to destroy you."
"Politically, it would be..."
"Enough, Aral. We are not going to make you a blood sacrifice for the sins of Our forebears."
"I would hope not," Cordelia said evenly.
"For one," Gregor said, less formally. "I can't be encouraging this kind of political tactic or people would be kidnapping all my ministers. It was an illegal interrogation and no official charges will be laid, unless certain parties in the Counts decide to make an issue of it."
"Vorhalas... has cause." her husband said grimly.
Gregor nodded. "You will not provide him provocation. While you are on Sergyar, Our protection is upon you. We ask that you not return to Barrayar while he lives."
"Exile," he breathed.
"Civilian exile," Gregor said. "Under the circumstances, We must release you from your duties on Our behalf."
Cordelia brightened. Excellent. After Aral nodded slowly, Gregor gripped his broad hands one last time before releasing them.
"Will you be appointing a new Viceroy?" Aral asked.
Gregor smiled faintly. "I will be holding your wife to her oaths."
Oh no. "You're dumping all Chaos Colony on me?" Cordelia asked near-plaintively. It was a joint appointment, but her husband had handled the tedious political half. "I imagine the Ministries will have something to say about that."
"Oh, trust me," Gregor said. "No one will dare to argue."
A half-dozen uniformed ImpSec men sufficed to hold off the press outside, but this was something that could not be delegated. Commodore Duv Galeni stepped over the threshold of the restaurant Copolis, brushed past the server who intercepted him, and walked to the table in the far back. His target was wearing a slightly scuffed Barrayaran dress uniform with medals, and was mostly hidden behind the table. He approached more carefully when he spotted the nerve disruptor lying in front of him near a half-empty wineglass.
Standing to attention, he saluted briskly. Naismith returned it with the wrong hand and mouthed something at him. He was on a comlink. Duv's eyebrows rose as the admiral spoke, continuing half of a very interesting conversation in a pure throneworld Cetagandan accent.
Dr. Fazliu looked up, scanning his features. She recognized the ImpSec eyes and swallowed. "Can we help you, er..." Her eyes trailed over his uniform, failing as a civilian to identify his rank.
"I need to talk to Admiral Naismith," Duv said. Her eyes widened at his accent.
"We are under...aw, shit," Naismith said, abandoning the conversation and reverting to his normal mannerisms. He grinned openly at the response he got on the comlink, turned it off, and frowned up at the new arrival. "This had better be good, Duv. I think I could have led them on for at least another five minutes."
"You pickpocketed his comlink?" It wasn't what he'd been planning to say, but he was floored. "Are you trying to start a war?"
"It was Piotr," Naismith said, sounding amused. "Yell at him." His expression became more serious as he studied Duv.
Vorkosigans. All crazy. "You had better hope that your stolen goods don't have a self destruct, Admiral."
A slight crackling noise was heard from the data organizer on the table. Naismith smirked, reached out, and flipped it open. Its elegant Cetagandan chassis bore signs of decidedly inelegant recent hotwiring.
The commodore shook his head. It was truly bizarre to think that the young Miles Vorkosigan he had known was now a flag officer.
"Not a social visit, I assume," Naismith said.
Duv nodded. "Admiral Miles Naismith. The Emperor has commanded your appearance before him on the capital charge of treason. Dr. Gita Fazliu, the Emperor has commanded your appearance before him as a material witness."
Naismith lifted his chin, studying him with thoughtful gray eyes. "Of course," he said. He took out a credit chit, wrote a figure on it with a light-pen, authorized it, and tossed it on the table. "What's Gregor's mood?"
"He's not particularly pleased that the younger Moretti seems to have disappeared." Neither was Duv. He didn't precisely suspect Naismith, but...
"He can't have gone far," Naismith said. "I stunned him pretty hard."
"Making his subsequent disappearance all the more suspicious."
Naismith chuckled humorlessly. "Maybe he'll get a honest job and turn his life around. You were a snotty little revolutionary once too."
"He's not a child. He's five years older than I am. And he made all his choices long ago."
Naismith shrugged, and Duv bumped him up several notches on his mental suspects list. After a moment of consideration, he added the Lord Auditor to that list as well.
"Are you Komarran, then?" Fazliu asked. "In Imperial Security?"
"Yes," Duv said. "I run it."
The blonde girl was working the counter of the print shop in Serifosa when a young man in his twenties slid up to the counter, flirting with her shamelessly. He'd brought her a handful of flowers, and sixty Betan dollars in untraceable cash.
It was a slow day. She waved him to the manufactury in the back room, and twenty minutes later he emerged with three bags full of shirts, which he left outside the back door. Coming back into the shop, he flirted with her a bit more and then strolled out the front.
It was one of the depressing parts of this job. The dissident party kids and sloganeers were always the cute ones. She didn't recognize this young man - he was probably from another Dome.
Something else was off about the situation too. She had a number of other orders to fill today, so she left the counter and headed into the manufactury. The kid had covered his tracks well on the machines, but she fished a test print out of the center of the recycle pile.
NAISMITH FOR EMPEROR, it read, in small white print on black fabric.
She thought about that for ten minutes, and then called Tuomonen.