Keeping Score

by C J Muir

"You can always trust a Vorkosigan". That's what the old man used to say, and he would know, wouldn't he? His Granda followed old Count Piotr, fighting the Cetas. Coughed his lungs out, after they bombed Vorkosigan Vashnoi, but his wife made it through, and the kid she was carrying - Vorkosigans saw to that. Always trust a Vorkosigan.

The wife paid some back, when Mad Yuri's men came. Nursemaid to Countess Olivia's sister, she was. The Lady died, but her kid made it out under great-grandmere's skirts.

My granda, now, he served in the Fleet. Went with Lord Aral to Komarr - senior comm tech by then. Married, with his own son already serving. Don't think Lord Aral knew, but when he went after the political officer started that bloodbath, wasn't just an accident all the comm systems went to static till he came out again. Granda figured he was even, after that.

Not my old man, though. He was with Lord Vorkosigan right through the Pretender's War. Figured to help, but never got the chance. Other side burned his arm off. The Vorkosigans saw him right anyway. He was gardener down at Vorkosigan Surleau till he died, oh four, five years ago now. Kept the graves tidy too, though he wasn't paid for that.

Respect, see? He knew too many of the faces. The care - the weeding, one-handed in the summer evenings after work; finding the right plants to put around each plot, keeping the carvings clean on the markers. It was a service, a respect. Being able to give back something meant he could face himself even though he survived and others didn't.

Not that I saw it then. All I saw was this old vet, broken down, currying favour with the big house. Belike there were youngsters greener than me, but I never met any.

I went into the service, of course. Six generations of us, and somehow we'd always found a Vorkosigan to follow. Not that the new one was like to amount to much - some said he was a mutie (my old man clouted me well, the one time I repeated what I'd heard). Came in to the village time and again with his bodyguard, riding usually. I really envied him the horses.

Stupid, eh?

One time I did see him, really up close. All of him. Stripped mother-naked, shivering, standing with a score of nerve disrupters aimed right at him, arguing.

Yes, you heard. Arguing. Stupidest thing you ever did see. The base commander - psycho, name of Metzov, never heard what happened to him - he'd ordered some of the techs in to clean up a spill in a weapons dump. Told them to go in personally. It was biologicals, so they weren't jumping to it. Even their officer backed them, but that wasn't good enough. This headcase Metzov orders them to strip, calls out a squad to back him up, tells them to aim, get ready to fire. That's where I come in. I was the corporal training that squad. Newly promoted. And I get to pass on that filthy order.

Couldn't see what else to do. I knew some of these tech guys - and for sure, I wouldn't have gone after that devil muck without way more protection than a jump suit. But disobey an order - you'll be lucky if they only shoot you!

So, no kidding, there I am standing behind this nerve disrupter and praying to anybody listening to get me out of it, and what do I hear but "Vorkosigan". I swear I thought I was dreaming, but there he was, the little guy. Stripping off, like he was getting ready to go swimming or something.

Then he marches over to the techs, and starts arguing with Metzov. I didn't even listen to what he said, I was just thinking - Vorkosigan. You can always trust a Vorkosigan. To do what, I didn't care. He was there.

And he got us out. Alive. Dishonourable discharge, for the techs, but alive. I don't know what he paid for that, but I was his man from that day on.

Except that he never asked for me. Not for any of us. I got on with my life, heard he got on with his, didn't really pay too much attention. Took a leg wound at Vervain when the Count took the fleet out, that time. It was a long time healing, so I grabbed the chance of a medical discharge. The Count went back to retirement and I went back home.

Except I couldn't stick home, any more, so I moved over a valley or two and in with my sister and her man - funny thing, guy she married? He was one of the techs. Widower,with a kid from his first marriage. My sister couldn't have kids, so she took the boy as her own and we all kind of mucked in together.

Then, when Count Aral sent the word out for volunteers to go to the new planet, it was like I'd got the call at last. We all went, me and my sister and her man and the boy. Dmitri.

We were fine till some murdering bastard found out the old story, and the whispering started. I found out later he'd been taunting the boy, saying his old man was a mutineer. Saying he had to prove he wasn't a coward, like his Da. It was the hospital told us what had happened. Boy didn't say a word.

I'd like to have killed that man myself. My brother in law went out that night, came back next day, very quiet. Never asked him where he went.

I was at the hospital with my sister. She waited three days. Never spoke, hardly moved, never slept. The Countess herself came and sat with her. Always trust a Vorkosigan. She was the one got the doctors in there, told them not to dare give up.

When the boy pulled through, it was like all my sister's strength went into him. He got stronger by the day, and by the summers end we knew he would make it.

"He'll be fine". That's what my sister said. Last thing she did say. We buried her up at the top of the farm. My brother in law's beside her (he lasted nearly a year on his own). I still work the land there. Time to time, of an evening I go up and give them the news.

The boy went into the service, of course. He said he felt the Vorkosigans were still owed one, and I don't know that I disagreed. When he made jump pilot, it was like I could have burst with pride. He came back on leave, just before he headed out for his new ship. The Count got me a pass to see him off at the base (me not being a blood relative). Always trust a Vorkosigan.

So, a coupla weeks ago, Lord Vorkosigan came to call. The little guy. Don't know if he recognised me - I barely recognised him. He looked like somebody ate him up and spit him out the other side. Or something. Lady Vorkosigan came with him but she said this was men's business today, though she'd admire to come back and visit later if I'd have her. Right thoughtful, that.

So, anyway. The boy. Seems he's got himself settled all right, got hisself a girl and a good job, not his fault if it's half way round the galaxy and he can't come home. The little Lord, he says it's a good match and not to worry about the kids. I don't, much. Though I would have liked to see them, maybe.

Lord Vorkosigan, he said if I wanted to go out, he'd stand for the trip both ways, but I don't know. It wouldn't seem right, leaving my sister and her man alone here.

But the boy, he done us proud. Paid back my debt and his da's,and my da's too. Walked naked into an ambush and got past the enemy's defences, saved over a thousand kids and nearly a million other folks, Lord Vorkosigan said. Paid in full.

He can't come back though. Nor his kids. Muties, all, they'll be. Or near as. That's the price. There won't be anybody of our kin here to serve the next Lord Vorkosigan.

So I done some thinking. Got the harvest in, settled the farm for the winter, come down to the city.

Heard some of the Vorkosigan Armsmen'd brought their families, figured one of them must have a daughter, sister, somthing. If she'd have me.

That's why I'm here. Figured you'd understand.

Vorkosigans should be able to trust we'll be there.

© 2005 by Catherine Muir (

Current version by Michael Bernardi,

left arrow up arrow right arrow

All comments or queries about this Web page to:

Last updated: March 30th 2007