It was easy to settle in. The idea of letting Cordelia support him had put her husband off at first, but she was able to talk him around. He signed up at the university without difficulty, and only looked confused for a second when the registrar adressed him as "Mr. Naismith". The rueful little smile made Cordelia's heart ache. "Student" was a simple enough identity, and he had the thoughtfulness to be a writer, or a history teacher. He hadn't decided what to study.
Cordelia asked for, and received, a few month's home leave. She was a renowned captain and a war hero, for all that she gently fended off most of the honors, and they would deny her very few things.
The first letter arrived two weeks after they married. Cordelia noticed the way her husband's face went tight and distant after he read it, and let the matter lie. It was on real paper, and after he read it he tore it to shreds and burned it, in the little copper incense bowl her brother had sent them as a wedding present. When the third letter showed up she quietly asked who was sending them. "My father is dissapointed in me, dear captain," he told her.
"Ah. And has be disowned you, or begged you to come home?"
"The latter." Her husband leaned back on the sofa and she put a reassuring arm over his shoulders. "He says I have lost my honor. That's true, of course." Someone who knew Aral less than Cordelia did might have dismissed the little tremble in his voice as unimportant. "And I've violated my oath to the Emperor, which is of rather more practical import. Arrest for desertion might put a crimp in my plans for a triumphant return."
"From what you've told me, the Emperor never deserved your oath in the first place."
"That's not the point. It was an oath, just the same. But ..." He drew a deep breath. "Oaths of death before dishonor, given time, tend to divide the world into the dead and the forsworn. I decided I'd rather be forsworn than dead."
She kissed him, then; there didn't seem to be anything she could say.
They put the blastocyst that would be Piotr Miles Naismith in the replicator a week before her next survey mission left, and sent a long letter to his father, together, signed with both their names.
She had never met Emperor Gregor Vorbarra, never even seen a picture of him, but Laisa felt rather sorry for the man. She could add as well as anyone. Attacked by Komarran terrorists while sleeping, wounded, the breakup of the talks - he had not made a public appearance since and Laisa's shrewd suspicion had been that the attack had been by nerve-disruptor, and the poor man would never make another public appearance, or indeed say another coherent word. It seemed a horribly undignified ending, and it felt like a mercy when the news finally caught her at Gamma Colony, in a letter from her Aunt Anna, that he had been declared dead and a funeral held and a young captain called Ivan Vorpatril had been sworn in to fill his shoes. Ivan seems the sort of fellow who takes no guff from anyone, the note continued. From Aunt Anna, this was high praise.
The official bulletin showed up the next morning with her breakfast, along with a report on a mysterious wormhole anamoly that was blocking traffic through Sigma Ceta, the passage without incident of a new tarrif schedule on Escobar, and few odds and ends of business news. "Nothing much," her driver told her cheerfully. He always read the bulletin before he brought her breakfast. "The Sigma Ceta incident is all that could affect us out here."
"It might delay the grain shipments." She absently started on her oatmeal one-handed while she summoned up the map, checking for routing. "There are a few alternate routes - ah. We have a good relationship with Walshea; the captain should be able to go through and only add a few days in travel."
Her driver nodded thoughtfully. "Of course, Dr. Toscane. Would you like me to postpone the meeting with Mr. Rodruigez until while we await word?"
"Mmm, it won't be necessary."
He nodded nervously. "Would you like anything else?"
"Not right now. Thank you, Greg." She smiled warmly, and as usual, he blushed a little as he hurried off. He made a quite competent secretary as well, and was good to talk to after a long day's work. Sometimes she wondered why a man with such obvious intellegence had never done more with it. He'd been a mechanic, on the same passenger liner she took to Sigma Ceta, until he lost his job for slugging another passenger who'd called the Toscanes 'traitorious collaborating scumballs'. She'd hired him mostly out of pity, and because he looked so adorably lost.
The local news held nothing of interest, except the expected prediction of a hot, muggy day with intermittent rainstorms. Laisa did a quick bit of mental arithmatic, and concluded she had seven more days on this benighted planet Greg smiled at her, a little shyly, when he brought her
coat and filecase. She smiled back, and wondered if she should invite him to dinner after the meeting.
Admiral Naismith didn't cry at Sargent Taura's funeral. It had been a clean, heroic death, stepping in front of a plasma arc meant for her squad's medic; amoung those Dendarii who knew how short her time had run, the general feeling was that this was how she would have wanted it. He cried later, though. Quinn held him and tried to whisper reassuring things in his ear; she suspected she wasn't very good at it.
Finally he went quiet, rubbing at his eyes and staring into space. "Are you okay?" she asked. It was a stupid question, but it was all she could think of.
"I think so." He blinked slowly, disconcertingly. "Sort of."
"I know you two were ... very close. And she was our best squad leader. She'll be missed."
"Oh, that's not it. I'm sad, but it was just a question of when. It just made me think. I don't know whether my father is still alive. I think so, but I don't know." The upward turn of his lips was a horrible thing that had nothing to do with a smile. "And I expect someday I'll read it on the news, and everyone will wonder why Admiral Naismith is so torn up over the Viceroy of Sergyar."
Quinn stroked his hair and carefully ignored the way his Betan accent was slipping. "The people who care about you will know why."
"Well, that's the thing, isn't it? Who do I have left now? You. Just you. I gave up on them. I didn't even leave them a note."
Quinn's own mothers had died long ago, in a hijacking, on the way home from a long-awaited vacation to Earth. She had shuddered, and screamed, and then signed up with the mercenaries. Miles's father, she knew, was far more likely to go quietly, heart attack or some inevitable disease. No -one to blame. Bottled grief was far more poisonous than open rage.
"Look," she said. She wasn't good at comfort anyway. "You're Miles Naismith now, alright? You're a clone of Miles Vorkosigan, and his parents might have taken you in like they did they Jackson's Whole clone if you'd asked, but you've never met them, have you? And if you had - I'm sure they would have wanted you to be happy more than they would have wanted you to be nearby. So buck up. Admiral Naismith never loses."
"It's a good story, isn't it?"
"Right." She slapped him on the back, like a fellow-soldier. "Just keep going forward. It's what you've always done."