Illyan sat back in his chair and closed his eyes for a moment. He'd hoped to be done with this kind of interview. Trying to patch together some poor sod whose only real mistake had been to be standing in the wrong place when Miles blazed into his life, set fire to it and screeched into the distance, trying to find a way to keep him in the Service. If you ran the cost-benefit analysis, it showed that the cost in wear and tear on superior officers was significantly less than the benefits from Miles' acts of insane genius, but Illyan was parsimonious, and wanted to try and hang on to the superior officers when he could.

Especially this one. Aral's pet Komarran. He needed the kid-glove treatment. Illyan would be more frustrated by that if he hadn't known himself to be Aral's pet ImpSec officer, and Galeni had seemed to be worthy of Aral's patronage up till now. He still did, in many ways.

That was the first purpose of this interview, and that would have been bad enough on its own, but there was more. A lot more. Not even Illyan's most sickening nightmares had involved a dubiously sane clone trained to kill Miles and Aral and Gregor and claim the throne. And of course Miles, who collected pets the way Aral did, wanted to take this clone home and call him his brother and, no doubt, introduce him to Aral and Gregor just to see what would happen next. He'd named him in his brief report repeatedly: Lord Mark Vorkosigan. Illyan was almost surprised Miles hadn't underlined the name, printed it in capitals or possibly animated it with little flashing stars in the file. One day he'd teach the boy subtlety. But the point had been taken.

The trouble was, this particular officer hadn't been as innocent as they usually were when Miles showed up. This one had been involved. Guilty. Illyan had a list of the infractions Captain Galeni had committed. The trouble was, Miles' infractions were worse. And Miles had been as unsubtle about his support for Galeni as he had for the assassin-clone, and had stood next to Galeni and all but dared poor Destang to take them both down together or not at all. And Destang, recognising when he was out of his depth, had shoved the whole problem upstairs to Illyan. It had been the right call, and Illyan had said as much to Destang, but he was conscious of a temptation to feed all the reports directly to the incinerator. Unfortunately, he couldn't feed his memories there at the same time. He had to deal with this.

"Send him in," he said to his secretary.

Captain Duv Galeni walked into the office and stood in front of him. Illyan studied him thoughtfully. Galeni had the rigid posture and taut expression that almost everyone who stood on that carpet in front of Illyan's desk had, but there was more. His skin was tightly drawn, his eyes were shadowed and his fists were clenched at his sides. The man was on the verge of cracking. Reviewing Galeni's last few months in his mind, Illyan thought it was a credit to him that he hadn't cracked already. First Miles landing on his head with fifty tons of Dendarii Mercenaries, then his father coming back to life, then being kidnapped, interrogated under hostile conditions and locked in a cell with Miles, which Illyan suspected should probably be classified as a form of torture. Then he'd had Destang tearing him to shreds, had witnessed his father's death, had been tossed around in Miles' operation some more, and finally kept in limbo for weeks and hauled back to Barrayar to be grilled again by his commander.

Illyan was reminded of his own reception into Vorkosigan service. Different, but not much less traumatic in its way, and being glued to Aral's side for months was probably almost as bad as being locked up with Miles.

Well. Time to see whether he could find what Aral and Miles had found in this man.

"You arranged to meet with a known Komarran terrorist without notifying anyone, taking any security or leaving any information about what you were doing," he said by way of greeting. "As a result you were kidnapped and held by persons hostile to the Barrayaran Imperium."

"Sir."

"Explain this to me."

"I arranged to meet my father, sir, whom I had believed to be dead," Galeni said, and Illyan was pleased to hear the tiny hint of defiance in his tone. Miles hadn't managed to break this one, at least. "It seemed a personal matter, and I did not believe he would harm me."

"No? You are a captain in Imperial Security. What had your father's views on ImpSec been in the past?"

Galeni's voice was perfectly flat as he said, "My father detested ImpSec, sir."

"Then why did you think you would be safe?"

Galeni said nothing for what felt like a long time but came out as fifteen seconds by Illyan's chip. "I hoped he had changed his views in the twenty years since I last saw him, just as I had changed my views."

Illyan gave a slow nod. "And if he had changed his views, by your judgement, you would have let him go on his way and continue to pretend to be dead?"

"I left that option open," Galeni said. Illyan winced inwardly, though he supposed he should be glad Galeni admitted it.

"Do you not think that was a choice better left to someone with more current knowledge of and authority concerning Komarran terrorist activity?"

Galeni took a breath, then let it out again. "Sir," he said again.

"Not good enough," Illyan said. "I need to understand your reasoning, Captain. Explain it to me."

"I wanted to have the opportunity to judge for myself, to give my father a fair chance," Galeni began. He faltered a moment, then raised his head with the air of someone who, if he's going to go down, will go down dramatically. "The whole Barrayaran system runs on nepotism, sir," he said, and his voice was intense with anger and frustration. "Everyone does favours for their friends, their family. Who you are and who you're related to is far more important than anything else. And that's why Lieutenant Vorkosigan can get away with setting the clone-assassin free without being hauled in here with his career on a knife-edge, but when I even consider letting my own father live in peace if he doesn't harm anyone, the system comes crashing down on top of me. Sir." He gave Illyan what was almost a glare.

Illyan sat still, not reacting to this outburst. Galeni had obviously been carrying that around for more than a few weeks. Finally he said, very bland and calm, "Yes, Captain. The system is biased towards the Vor. I cannot imagine that this is a new realisation for you." He leaned forward a little. "And is that what you were thinking at the time?" It sounded like a rationalisation to Illyan, a logical fortress constructed to defend Galeni's actions.

Galeni hesitated, then finally said, "No, sir," in a calmer tone.

"Well then. Let us return to the question."

"He's my father," Galeni said finally. "He was my father. I wanted to trust him. I wanted..."

Illyan gave an encouraging nod. Now they were getting to it.

"I wanted him to have changed his mind."

As close as Galeni could get to saying that he'd gone to that damned meeting hoping to win his father's approval, Illyan thought. Well, they'd known that was where his weak spot was from the outset, and this time they had multiple witnesses that Ser Galen was very, very dead. Destang had located the body and run a DNA check as confirmation. There had been a brief, standard funeral, and Lord Ivan had attended with Galeni, somewhat to Illyan's surprise. Miles, of course, had been long gone by then.

"I did have some concerns about security breaches in the embassy as well," Galeni added as an afterthought.

"There are standard procedures for how you should act in such a case," Illyan responded. "You didn't follow them. I think we can leave that side trail alone."

"Yes, sir."

"Do you regret going to the meeting the way you did?" Illyan asked.

Galeni was silent. Illyan waited.

"I don't regret trying for my father," Galeni said at last. "I had to try. Changing minds is the most important thing, and if his mind could have been changed, then - then anyone's could. And yes, I am the person best able to judge whether he had or not. He couldn't have fooled me about that-and as it happens, he didn't even try. But I do regret that I didn't at least leave some way for the embassy to find me again."

Illyan drummed his fingers on the table, once. "I see." It held together, and moreover, it was not completely unreasonable. Illyan considered briefly that his standards for 'completely unreasonable' had changed quite a bit since Miles pulled together the Dendarii Mercenaries. But he could accept this. Galeni's judgement had been influenced by his emotions, but it hadn't been as bad as Illyan had feared. And he had never considered anything that actually threatened the security of the Imperium. And most of all, Illyan knew he couldn't in all honesty tell Galeni that the long-term integration between Barrayar and Komarr wasn't his problem to solve. It wasn't only Galeni's problem, it was his life.

"All right. Thank you. Now, the Prime Minister and his wife have requested to speak with you."

He paused, generously, to give Galeni a chance to recover from the sudden change in tack. What little colour there was in Galeni's face drained.

"I believe they wish to thank you for the help you gave their son, and also wish to discuss, ah, their other son." Cordelia had been almost as bad as Miles in automatically claiming the clone as her child, and since Aral hadn't argued, Illyan had known better than to step into that particular gap. From time to time he had no choice but to step in between the Vorkosigans, and it never ended well; if he could avoid it he would.

"I have also been asked by Lady Alys Vorpatril to convey to you her personal gratitude for your part in the rescue of Lieutenant Vorpatril."

Galeni looked politely blank, and Illyan leaned forward a little. "It has been my observation that it is significantly easier to earn a gold Imperial Star than Lady Alys' personal gratitude, and the latter will help you significantly more than the former in your future career." He let Galeni absorb that, and then went on, "Now, if there's anything you want to get off your chest, say it to me now, before you get anywhere near the Prime Minister."

Galeni's mouth closed tightly, but it was clear that he was still quietly seething about something. Probably more than one thing, Illyan reckoned.

"You have my permission to speak freely, Captain," Illyan added dryly. "Whatever's eating at you, say it now."

Galeni took a deep breath, let it out without speaking. Inhaled again. "He's a complete lunatic!" he burst out at last. "And you let him run an entire mercenary fleet for ImpSec! He can't follow orders, he dashes off on tangents whenever he feels like and he doesn't have the first idea about security. Or procedure. Or reporting. Or..." Galeni wound down slowly. "I respected ImpSec. But I ... how can I respect an organisation that allows this?"

Illyan felt a certain cathartic agreement. "Yes," he said kindly. "I command Lieutenant Vorkosigan personally for all those reasons. I try to minimise his contact with the rest of the ImpSec hierarchy, because when it happens it invariably ends - well, very much like this. Actually, I commend you for coping with him so well. Most of his previous superior officers have simply thrown him in prison within a few days of knowing him."

"I should have been able to command him. Make use of him. Instead... instead, he commanded me."

Illyan blinked. Normally in the standard post-Miles debrief and counselling session, his officers didn't come out with anything quite so honest. He nodded approvingly. "Yes. There's a reason I haven't asked you about any of your decisions made after he was involved. You should consider yourself fortunate," he advised Galeni. "If you had succeeded in controlling Lieutenant Vorkosigan whilst not diminishing his usefulness, I would have been sorely tempted to assign you as his permanent handler."

Galeni gave him a look of pure horror.

"I understand your frustration extremely well, Captain," Illyan went on before he could get too worried. "However, you omitted one thing from your list: he gets results. He has the best nose for problems I've ever come across, and he has a superb track record at solving those problems in Barrayar's favour. I cannot, of course, give you details, but his mercenaries have more than earned their pay over the past five years. They are not, ah, 'toy soldiers'."

"I saw that," Galeni admitted.

"Very well. You're not the first to complain about him to me, and I doubt you'll be the last. Is there anything else?"

"No, sir," Galeni said, but he hadn't fully relaxed yet. Illyan considered the only topic they hadn't covered yet, and began to lead the conversation towards it.

"All right. Now, before I send you on to the Prime Minister, we have one further thing to discuss: your next post."

Galeni tensed again. Illyan was privately impressed they'd got through this interview without Galeni threatening to resign, but if he was carrying that particular wish in him, this would flush it out. But Galeni merely stood still and waited for him to continue.

"You are due a period of leave before I return you to duty. Then you have some choices."

Galeni shifted his weight slightly from one foot to the other, and Illyan paused, waiting. "Yes?" he said.

"If you are going to require me to go through another loyalty screening test -" Galeni began.

Illyan interrupted him before he could make the threat. "I do not require that," he said. "I have no questions concerning your loyalty, only your judgement, and you have answered those to my satisfaction."

Galeni looked taken aback, and Illyan smiled slightly. "You still believe that Aral Vorkosigan's plan is the best hope for peace and stability on Komarr?" he asked.

Galeni began to nod, then stopped as he recognised the quote. "You watched... there were recordings."

"The Dendarii sucked out your father's consoles, and those records have reached me, yes."

Galeni went very, very still. His eyes looked like a trapped animal's. A dangerous animal. "Oh," he said.

Illyan called up the memory from his chip, fast-forwarding though the hours of repetitive interrogations, occasionally violent, always cruel.

"How can you follow that murdering pigfucker?"

Galen had asked this question nine ways so far in this session, with rising fury. This time he shook his son roughly by the shoulder, as if he could shake a better answer out of him.

In the weirdly placid voice of someone deep under fast-penta, Captain Galeni said, "Aral Vorkosigan's plan is the best hope for peace and stability on Komarr. I admire him for trying it."

"You're lying, damn you!" Galen backhanded his son, and blood trickled down Galeni's face. "You? Admire Vorkosigan, you -"

Illyan stopped the replay. The emotions he had felt when he'd first seen that were not stored on the chip, but they didn't need to be. He felt the same wave of fury, of protectiveness, of pride. He let these reactions show on his face. This boy had been an idiot, but he had repudiated his father twice for them. He needed to know that he wasn't going to be abandoned again.

"Yes, Captain. I watched. I always do, if there is footage when one of my men is captured." He stressed the my just enough to catch Galeni's attention. "You were a damned fool to get kidnapped, but your conduct afterwards makes me proud to be your commander. ImpSec takes care of its own, Duv. You wear my eyes on your collar. So yes. I watched it all."

He looked down at the papers on his desk for a moment to give Galeni time to control his expression. When he looked up Galeni's face was calm.

"So. Your next post. I have an opening in the Analysis section here, if you want it, working with the Galactic Affairs section. The ambassador's report praises your skill at data analysis very highly." He paused. "I also have a post on Komarr opening up. That is less of a step up than the Analysis post, but you would have responsibility for working both with Komarran local authorities and with the office of the Imperial Counsellor." He had spent a considerable time with the list of transfers, retirements and new posts throughout the galaxy before settling on these two to offer Galeni. "You don't have to give me your answer immediately if you would prefer to consider at your leisure."

But he could see the answer on Galeni's face, which had lost its tense unhappiness and now looked merely tired, and in his posture, now more like an alert soldier than an overstrung bow. "No, sir. I'd like the Komarr post."

Illyan gave a rare smile. "Good. You'll serve the Imperium, and me, well there. Now go. Tell the Prime Minister and his wife whatever they want to know. And after your leave, report to Colonel Allegre in Komarran Affairs." He nodded gravely to Galeni, a gesture he had long ago copied from Aral. "Dismissed, Captain Galeni. And thank you."

Galeni saluted him crisply, and Illyan returned the salute not with his usual vague wave but with a matching precision. The man had earned that from him now, and earned it the hard way. Miles, Illyan thought as he settled down to his next task, had been right about Galeni. A loyal Komarran, and an exceptional officer. He would, Illyan hoped, go far.