Miles was going to Beta Colony, and he was taking Elena with him, God and ancestors only knew why.
"Do you want to go?" he demanded irritably pushing his ice cold breakfast eggs around his plate.
"No!" Livie reassured him hastily. "We're just curious; why Elena?"
"Because she wants to see other planets," he answered promptly and maybe a little too glibly. "She told me so the other day." His sisters gave him the Look in stereo. It worked. "And…well I kind of owe her," he continued reluctantly. "I did something to upset her."
"Like feeling her up in the library?" Lizzie asked bluntly.
Miles flushed bright red. "NO! That wasn't what happened…" he took a deep breath to stop his hyperventilation. "I was trying to find some information for her on Da's secured comsole. We thought it was the guard so we pretended to be necking only it was Da and Koudelka, and Bothari."
Livie pictured the scene and giggled. So did Lizzie. Miles glared at them both. "It is not funny. I got her in trouble with her Da. I'm in trouble with Bothari!"
"So he's finally tumbled to the fact you lust after his daughter?" Livie asked.
"About time," Lizzie commented.
Miles' face shaded to purple and he slammed down his fork. "I do not 'lust' after her. I want her to be my wife!"
"At seventeen?" Livie said in incredulous chorus with her twin.
"Of course not! I know we have to wait -"
"We," Lizzie interrupted. "You mean you've asked her -?"
"And she's said yes?" Livie finished.
"No, not yet. We're too young. She'd say we were too young. I need to wait…" he was practically stuttering.
"Miles," Lizzie said carefully as he ran down. "Miles, I really don't think Elena's interested in you that way."
Miles complexion faded to pinkish then a sickly yellow. "She cares about you," Livie put in hastily. "Cares a lot, but the way we do, like you're her brother."
"You grew up together," Lizzie pointed out. "Miles, has it occurred to you that you might be fixated on Elena because she's the only girl you know who isn't your sister or niece?"
"Propinquity," Livie supplied.
Miles got up without another word, slamming the heavy maple-wood door to the breakfast nook resoundingly behind him.
The twins looked at each other. "Denial," Said Lizzie.
"And how," Livie agreed.
Gran'da's will had contained a few surprises; Miles had been left all the lands Gran'da held personally rather than as count. Granted most of them were around Vorkosigan Vashnoi and glowed in the dark but it was a clear statement of acceptance and endorsement of Miles' standing as heir. Gran'da had left Princess and Countess Olivia's emeralds to Mama, another message of acceptance and affection that moved her to tears. And Livie and Lizze had received a big surprise of their own.
Gran'da had told the twins years ago he'd give them Aunt Irina's jewels - a pearl set and a parure of jeweled flowers - when they were old enough to wear them. And if they'd ever thought about it they'd have guessed he'd leave them some of his personal effects like the mechanical watch he'd carried during the resistance and his set of chemical propellant guns and Armsman Esterhazy. And of course dowries; three quarters of a million marks apiece the going price for a Count's daughter. Only it turned out there was more to it than that.
"Land?" Livie said blankly.
"South Continent?" Lizzie said, also blankly.
Tsipis, the Vorkosigan's man of business, perched on the edge of one of the library's deep reading chairs, nodded. "The General invested the marks he'd put aside for his granddaughters in Imperial bonds and used the interest to buy un-terraformed land on South Continent," He explained, speaking half to the twins curled up together on the sofa and half to Mama and Da in chairs on either side of the comconsole, "currently comprising five million hectares - apiece."
Mama blinked. Da choked as if a breath had gone down backward. The twins looked incredulously at each other. "That's a lot of land!" said Lizzie.
"That's a district," said Livie.
"Two districts!" said Lizzie.
Tsipis cleared his throat. "In fact your ladyships are currently the largest landowners on the continent, after the Emperor of course."
The huge, leather and wood scented library at Vorkosigan House was completely silent for several long seconds as all four Vorkosigans tried to assimilate this. For centuries the possession of land had meant both wealth and power on Barrayar, Livie reflected. There were other avenues to both now but land remained the most traditional and respected investment. No wonder it had appealed to their old fashioned Grandfather.
"What do we do with it?" she asked at last.
"Terraform it," Lizzie guessed.
"I would advise a mineral survey first of all," Tsipis answered. "If commercially exploitable resources are discovered your ladyships will be able to fund the terraforming entirely yourselves. The alternative would be forming a joint stock company –"
"Which would mean sharing ownership of our land, right?" Livie interrupted.
"Quite so, milady."
"We don't want to do that," Lizzie said firmly.
"Absolutely not," Livie agreed.
"Why not?" Mama asked frowning puzzled. Tsipis, her husband and her daughters all stared at her, "What?!"
Da cracked a rueful smile. "It's a Vor thing, Cordelia."
Mama snorted, "Barrayarans!"
Livie exchanged the usual grimace with her twin – honestly, Mama was so Betan! -before turning back to Tsipis; "What will we need to start terraforming?"
"How much will it cost?" Lizzie added.
"And what will this mineral survey cost us?" Livie continued.
"What is this land of ours like anyway?" Lizzie demanded. "Is it flat or hilly?"
"Are there rivers running through it?" asked Livie.
"Does it have a coastline?" asked Lizzie.
"I have the official survey maps right here -" Tsipis began fishing a holocube out of his pocket.
This time it was Mama who interrupted him. "Perhaps the girls should go down to South Continent and see this property of theirs in person."
Da's lips parted as if to protest then closed on second thoughts. "That is a very good idea, Dear Captain," he said, "Tsipis, could I persuade you and Madame Tsipis to lend us your services as financial advisor and duenna?"
"We would be delighted of course, milord," Tsipis answered promptly, but he looked a little surprised.
Livie was very surprised, and suddenly and seriously suspicious. Lizzie was too, she could tell.
"So they're shipping you off somewhere too," Miles mused perched on a footstool in the twin's green study with a mug of tea in one hand and a fruit pastry from the tea table in the other. His appetite had come back, Livie noted, excellent. "I'd call that suspicious."
"So would we," Livie agreed licking chocolate cream off her fingers. Lizzie nodded emphatic agreement her mouth full of cherry chocolate cake.
"Something's going on in the government," Miles continued. "Da clearly wants us all out of the line of fire."
"Another conspiracy in council," Livie snorted, "since when do we run and hide from those?"
Lizzie swallowed. "We'd never come to Vorbarr Sultana at all if we did!"
Miles finished off his pastry and drained his mug. "I gather somebody's trying to turn Gregor against Da. That changes the game."
Livie stared at her brother aghast. "Gregor couldn't be so stupid!"
"Sure he could," Lizzie said gloomily, "It's Gregor."
"Soft as butter," Livie had to agree. "And just as moldable."
"We should talk to him," Lizzie said in a tone that boded no good for their Imperial cousin.
"Maybe that's what Da's trying to avoid," Miles suggested dryly. Both sisters glared at him in outrage. "What? You two are about as diplomatic as a plasma grenade!"
"Since when do we have to be diplomatic with Gregor?" Lizzie demanded.
"Plain talk is what he needs if he's sunk to suspecting Da!" Livie added.
"Or some of Mama's Betan therapy," her twin agreed.
"Right, he'd have to be crazy to think Da wants the empire after all these years!"
Miles made calming motions with both hands waving his empty mug in the air. "Hey, cool down. Remember we don't know what's going on – and it doesn't look like anybody's going to tell us."
"We're not babies," Livie grumbled.
"You two are," Miles retorted continuing before the twins could gather breath to yell at him; "As for me, I'm a useless Vor scion who falls off walls, disappoints sick old men to death and makes girls -" he didn't get any farther.
"Miles Vorkosigan, you idiot!" Lizzie yelled.
"Gran'da wasn't disappointed, he'd thought of a way for you to get in the military after all." Livie added.
Miles' expression hardened, "An imperial order? Forget it!"
"Did Da suggest that?" Lizzie asked.
"Gran'da's idea was for you to apply to the Hassadar military college," said Livie.
"Huh?" Miles said blankly.
"He said – and I quote – 'the boy never makes the same mistake twice. He'll pass that physical all right,'" said Lizzie.
"And he said you had too much promise to waste," Livie continued. "He thought you'd be a good officer."
"He did?" Miles asked in a small voice, like he couldn't quite believe it.
"He also said you had a lot of him in you meaning you wouldn't take such a sensible suggestion," added Lizzie.
"At least not right away, which is why he didn't mention it that last evening," Livie finished.
Miles looked like he might be about to cry. "Really, you're not making this up?"
Livie threw a seat cushion at him hard. "That suggestion is beneath contempt!"
"We're Vorkosigans, we don't lie!" Lizzie shouted pitching her own cushion after her sister's.
Miles fended them off, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!"
"Miles you idiot," Livie said more calmly. "Gran'da thought the sun shone out of your backside!"
"He was hugely proud of you," Lizzie continued.
"He was disappointed for you, Miles. Not in you," Livie finished.
Miles looked away from them, adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed his emotions. "I mean to make him proud," he said finally, softly. "Him and Da, I don't know how yet – but I'll do it, on my word as a Vorkosigan."