A Fan Fiction Novel set in the Worlds of Miles Vorkosigan
By Scott Washburn
Author's Note: This story is a sequel to my fan fiction novel: "Tales from the Academy". If you have not read "Tales", I suggest you do so before reading "Lieutenants".
This story includes characters and settings created by Lois McMaster Bujold and are used without her permission or knowledge.
"She's left already?" asked Countess Cordelia Vorkosigan. "Drat, I was hoping to talk to her again. Aral and I are off to Sergyar tomorrow and there won't be another chance. If I'd known, I would have skipped the lunch with Alys." She took a seat in the Yellow Parlor of Vorkosigan House and accepted a cup of tea from Ekaterin, her daughter-in-law.
"She seemed rather eager to be off with Jer," said Ekaterin, smiling.
"Yes, I can understand that," replied Cordelia, smiling in turn and sipping the tea.
"I hope things can work out for them."
"They seem a good match, but who knows? They're so young. At that age if anyone had told me I'd end up here, I would have thought them insane."
Ekaterin laughed. "At that age I would have thought the same! Strange the paths life leads us down. It's a shame she didn't take up the Emperor's offer, though. Helen is very upset."
"She'll get over that. But Anny made the right decision, I think. She loves the soldiering life and being the Empress' bodyguard really isn't soldiering."
"I suppose not. But you are right, she does love it. And she seems very good at it. And it's wonderful how devoted her friends are to her. From what Miles tells me of her recent adventures she's won the respect of the men under her command, too. That's pretty amazing considered how hard they fought to keep her out of the military to begin with."
"Joan of Arc Syndrome," said Cordelia, shaking her head.
"I beg your pardon?"
"A legendary heroine of Old Earth," explained Cordelia. "She said that God had told her to lead the armies of France to victory so the prince could be crowned king. I could never quite understand why God would care who was king of France, but more to the point, Joan became a military leader in a society even more male dominated than Barrayar's. Many opposed her, of course, but those who believed in her really believed, to the point of worship. I think it's like that here for Anny—not her personally, of course, but the men around her. Barrayaran men still can't really accept women as equals—at least not in something so traditionally male as the military."
"But she's certainly proved she can do the job!" protested Ekaterin.
"Yes, exactly. There's no denying what she's done—so they try to deny what she is. Since she can't be a woman and their equal then she has to be something more. Not an equal, but a superior. Joan claimed to be God's chosen tool and the men of France could accept that. They wouldn't follow an ordinary woman, but a woman chosen by God, well, that was a different matter! They don't go in for such things here on Barrayar, but the whole Vor system is based on some people being better than others even when they are clearly not. So they accept Anny as being something special, someone they can give their loyalty to without embarrassment because she is special."
"Oh. Well, I guess that's a good thing."
"In some ways perhaps. But it's a two-edged sword, Ekaterin. While she will attract a group of fiercely loyal people around her, she'll also collect just as many enemies and detractors. People who oppose her because she's a woman and those who are jealous of her success and resentful of the loyalty she inspires in others. In fact, it's a sword with two edges and a point. Because she's in a position where she dare not make a mistake. If she makes a major screw-up, she risks losing her band of supporters when they realize that she isn't really super-human after all. She may end up having to fall on that sword."
"Oh dear… but not Jer. Surely he'll stand by her!"
"One would hope. Not being Barrayaran, he's outside the normal rules. But Anny's walking a tightrope and there are still plenty of people hoping she falls."
"But they can't be thinking to stop women joining the military now! I understand there are nearly a hundred more entering the Academy this year. And Miles says they are even looking at letting women into some of the enlisted roles."
"No, they've lost that fight, but that won't stop the ones who are acting on prejudice—or anger. Anny's made some enemies, you know, and Barrayarans know how to hold a grudge. While I'm hoping that Anny is happy with her new regiment, now that I think on it, part of me wishes she'd taken the job with the Empress. She'd be a lot safer there."
The look on Ekaterin's face became one of surprise and concern. "Safer? Do you think there are people who would actually try to physically harm her?"
"I hope not, but who knows? There are the four officers who were court-martialed because they tried to rape her. They'd certainly have a motive. They and their families and their friends. You know how Miles suffered his pre-natal injuries: a duel, a man condemned for it, a vengeful brother, and a soltoxin grenade in the night. You, yourself survived an assassination attempt." Ekaterin stiffened and her hand went up to brush her neck.
"It's not Anny's fault those louts tried to rape her!"
"And it wasn't Aral's or my or Miles' fault that young fool fought a duel and yet here we all are."
"I hope my fears are groundless," said Cordelia. "But I also hope that Anny is careful. Very careful." She finished her tea and set the cup on a table beside her chair. She didn't mention to Ekaterin that Joan had ended up burned at the stake…
Brigadier General Thayer Sylvanus stood and watched the Regiment of Cadets pass in review.
For the last time.
His tenure as commandant of the Imperial Service Academy had come to an end. The new commandant, Colonel Vorcourt, stood to his side and slightly behind him. The Change of Command ceremony had been completed and now the cadets were paying their final respects to him. It was an old, old tradition—like almost everything that happened at the Academy.
His emotions were kept as rigidly in check as his posture. As each company came abreast and saluted him, he returned their salute and blinked back tears. He'd known this was going to be hard, but he hadn't realized how hard.
He told himself he should be jubilant. He was wearing general's tabs on his collar and he had a new and important assignment ahead of him. Those were Academy traditions, too. A departing commandant was always promoted and given a good assignment. A reward for all those years riding herd on a bunch of snot-nosed kaydets.
But instead he was filled with a profound sadness. He tried to tell himself that he was just tired. But he knew that wasn't true. The truth was that he was going to miss this place. Miss those snot-nosed kaydets.
The 1st and 2nd Battalions had already gone by and the tail end of the 3rd Battalion was nearing him. They were looking quite good, Sylvanus thought. But now there was a stir among the assembled staff officers near him. The 4th Battalion was approaching and they… didn't look quite so good. Of course it would be unfair to expect them to look very good. They'd only been here a few days and had had no chance to do any serious drilling. He supposed he should have timed his departure differently, but it had just worked out this way.
Each of the ten companies of the battalion was still at full strength, a hundred strong. The inevitable weeding out process had pared the other battalions' companies down to sixty or seventy, but the plebes were still all here. They were led by the veteran sergeants who were acting as their company commanders until such time as they rated their own. A few of the other Academy NCOs had been added on as file closers to herd the young cadets through the review.
And they were wearing black fatigue uniforms rather than dress grays and they were marching without any weapons. But they were doing their best not to disgrace themselves and Sylvanus had certainly seen companies of raw recruits which had looked a lot worse than these boys.
Boys and girls.
There were six women in the 2nd Battalion and nineteen more in the 3rd, but they were swallowed up by the mass of young men and you had to look hard to spot them. Not so with 4th Battalion. The trickle of women applying to the Academy had grown to a stream. Over a hundred of them were with the incoming class. Still only a tenth of the total, but you couldn't miss them anymore. He glanced back at Vorcourt, trying to gauge his reaction to the women.
The last company marched past and shortly the whole regiment was back in line facing him and presenting arms. One final salute, which he returned and it was over. He sighed and his shoulders fell slightly, but a moment later he was surrounded by faculty and staff, shaking hands, saying good-bye. His personal aide, Paolo Scoggins, would be coming with him, but everyone else was staying behind. He'd miss them, too. They were good people for the most part. He hoped he could put together as good a team with his new command.
"Well, General," said Colonel Vorcourt when most of the other officers had dispersed, "let me congratulate you again on your promotion. I know you are probably anxious to be on your way, but I was wondering if you'd come back to headquarters and let me pick your brain for a bit before you go. Have a drink, perhaps?"
Sylvanus hesitated. He did want to get out of there, but he couldn't really refuse Vorcourt's request. So, he found himself walking across the enormous parade ground toward the building where he had spent so many hours. Vorcourt had already replaced all the furniture in what was now his office, so it seemed quite different. In a few moments they were both seated with drinks at hand.
"I must say the job seems a bit daunting from this perspective, General," said Vorcourt. "But I imagine you felt the same way when you took over."
"Yes," chuckled Sylvanus, "but we were still scrambling with all the changes required by the switch to the four-year curriculum. My predecessor did a good job when they dumped it in his lap, but changes like that can't be accomplished overnight—or even in a year. It took quite a while to get it all running smoothly. I'm hoping that we got it pretty well taken care of during my tenure and you won't have too much trouble carrying on."
Vorcourt nodded. "From what I've been able to see, I think you are right. I can't say that I fully agree with the changes, but that's not something either of us has any say over, eh?" Sylvanus just shrugged. "On the other hand, they managed to dump an entirely new mess in your lap, General, and I daresay that is something I've inherited from you just as you inherited the previous mess!"
Sylvanus' eyebrows rose. He had been wondering what Vorcourt's feeling were about the female cadets—since that was obviously what he was referring to—now he knew. "It was quite a challenge dealing with them at first, Colonel, but I think we've gotten past the worst of it. The new women's barracks is working out well and the rules and procedures have, too. I think if you just continue as we've started you should make out all right."
Vorcourt snorted and shook his head. "I can see the view of those who support the new curriculum, but this! This is just a pack of nonsense they've done to win points with the Empress! Politics! It's been the bane of the service right along and this is just the latest example."
"Perhaps so, but I'm afraid that we—you—are stuck with it. They're here and I think they are here to stay."
"At least for the moment, I'm afraid you're right. But I'm praying that someone will come to their senses before irreparable harm is done. I mean I can even see there being some provisions for women in non-combat roles, but to expect women to lead men in combat—or for the men to follow them—that's just crazy."
"Not entirely crazy," said Sylvanus. "I assume you're aware of Lieutenant Payne's actions on her apprentice cruise last year. Quite an accomplishment for anyone, let alone a woman."
Vorcourt just snorted again. "More politics! If she'd been a man she would have been court martialed instead of given a medal! That kind of favoritism is going to demoralize the men!"
Sylvanus sighed. He thought back to the kind of 'favoritism' Anny Payne had experienced during her four years at the Academy. Harassment, verbal and physical abuse—he remembered her standing in this very office with two black eyes and her nose broken—and every dirty trick the people who opposed her could think of. The few bits of actual 'favoritism' that had come her way hadn't even been able to level the playing field—maybe just tilt it a little back the other direction. She had stuck it out and pushed forward through sheer grit. And then, faced with a difficult combat situation she'd taken charge and led her men into battle—and they'd followed her. In doing so she'd convinced a lot of people—including Sylvanus—but not everyone. Some would just never see and he was afraid that Vorcourt was one of them. And arguing with him would do no good at all… He got to his feet.
"Well, I do have to be going, Colonel. I'm sure you'll manage to cope with the situation the same as I did. Good luck." He held out his hand and Vorcourt shook it.
"Thank you, General, the best of luck to you, too."
The colonel escorted him out of the building where he met up with Scoggins, who was keeping his wife company. Darla had come for the farewell review and now he took her arm and they walked to where an aircar was waiting for them.
"So, are we off at last?" she asked.
"At last. Happy to be going?"
"Part of me is. I will miss the place, though. And I know you will, too."
Sylvanus grunted noncommittally.
"Yes, you will, don't try to deny it." He grunted again. "But such a long face! Are you worried about something?"
"Vorcourt seems very much against the idea of the girls being here. He could make things very difficult for them if he tried."
To his surprise Darla laughed and tugged at his arm. "Let him try! While you were off getting ready for the parade this morning, I was having a nice little chat with the colonel's wife. Charming woman. She is absolutely thrilled having the girls here! And when I told her about your tradition of having a batch of cadets over to the house for Sunday dinner, she said she would continue it—and she plans to invite a lot of the girls, too! Let's just see him try to give them a hard time!"
Sylvanus chuckled. "Amazing."
"That we men continue to deceive ourselves into thinking we run this empire."
"Lord Auditor Vorkosigan, Sire."
Gregor Vorbarra, Emperor of Barrayar, Sergyar, and Komarr looked up from his breakfast to see the diminutive form of Miles Vorkosigan brush past the servant with a casual wave of his hand.
"Good morning, Miles. Have a seat. Coffee?"
"Thanks," said Miles, helping himself to a cup and then sitting down opposite him. "What's up?"
"Well, nothing, really…" Gregor paused at the look of disappointment on Miles' face. "What? Are you getting bored, Miles?"
"It has been a while since anything interesting came along."
"Your definition of interesting almost always means a headache for me. Are you wishing me more headaches, Miles?"
"Of course not," replied Miles in a tone of voice that was not entirely convincing. "So what did you call me here for, Sire?" The expression on Miles' face grew somber. "I guess I ought to remind you that I was planning to leave for Escobar the day after tomorrow. I don't think I'll be gone that long. I'm at your disposal, of course, but if whatever you need could wait…"
"No need to change your plans," said Gregor very softly. "And Miles…? I'm very sorry to hear about Sergeant Taura." Miles nodded and looked away. "If there's anything I can do…"
"Thanks, Gregor, but I don't think there's anything anyone can do. But I do want to be there for her. It's… it's important."
Gregor cleared his throat and nodded. "This won't take long. I just want to get your opinion on something before you leave. Are you aware of the situation on Nova Paveo?"
Miles frowned. "Paveo? Is that the place where… no, that was Novo Hatana…"
Gregor smiled at his rare stumping of Miles. "It's a colony of the Nuevo Brasilians…"
"Oh right! I read something about that the other week. Some sort of uprising by the colonials?"
"Yes," replied Gregor, his smile fading completely. "And the latest word is that the NBs aren't going to take it lying down. It looks like it could get ugly. Very ugly."
"The NBs do have that reputation," said Miles, nodding. "But what does that have to do with us? I mean it must be a hundred jumps away, at least."
"A hundred and twenty-nine, actually, and through eighteen other inhabited systems."
"Right, so what does…?" Gregor raised his hand and cut off Miles' question.
"This came the other day," he said, picking up a flimsy from the table and handing it to Miles. "It's from the Polian ambassador." Miles took it and quickly scanned down it. His eyebrows jumped up and he looked at Gregor.
"Good Lord. Are you seriously considering doing this?"
"I haven't ruled it out. And it does open some interesting… possibilities."
"Yes, I suppose it would," said Miles with a calculating look on his face. "But have you considered the costs?"
"I have. The cost in treasure could be managed. The cost in blood…" he paused and looked sharply at his foster brother.
"That's why I wanted to talk to you."