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GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN

LOIS McMASTER BUJOLD

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

Lois McMaster Bujold

A NEW NOVEL IN THE AWARD WINNING SERIES FROM MULTIPLE 
NEW YORK TIMES 
BEST-SELLING AUTHOR LOIS MCMASTER BUJOLD! Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan returns to the planet that changed her destiny.

FUTURE TENSE

Three years after her famous husband’s death, Cordelia Vorkosigan, widowed Vicereine of Sergyar, stands ready to spin her life in a new direction. Oliver Jole, Admiral, Sergyar Fleet, finds himself caught up in her web of plans in ways he’d never imagined, bringing him to an unexpected crossroads in his career.

Meanwhile, Miles Vorkosigan, one of Emperor Gregor’s key investigators, this time dispatches 
himself
on a mission of inquiry, into a mystery he never anticipated – his own mother.

Plans, wills, and expectations collide in this sparkling science-fiction social comedy, as the impact of galactic technology on the range of the possible changes all the old rules, and Miles learns that not only is the future not what he expects, neither is the past.

BOOKS by LOIS McMASTER BUJOLD

The Vorkosigan Saga:

Shards of Honor • Barrayar

The Warrior’s Apprentice • The Vor Game

Cetaganda • Borders of Infinity

Brothers in Arms • Mirror Dance

Memory • Komarr

A Civil Campaign • Diplomatic Immunity

Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance • Cryoburn

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen

Falling Free • Ethan of Athos

Omnibus Editions:

Cordelia’s Honor • Young Miles

Miles, Mystery & Mayhem • Miles Errant

Miles, Mutants & Microbes • Miles in Love

The Chalion Series:

The Curse of Chalion • Paladin of Souls

The Hallowed Hunt

The Sharing Knife
Tetrology:

Volume 1: Beguilement • Volume 2: Legacy

Volume 3: Passage • Volume 4: Horizon

The Spirit Ring

ALSO AVAILABLE FROM BAEN BOOKS

The Vorkosigan Companion,
edited by Lillian Stewart Carl and John Helfers

GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN

This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.

Copyright ©2015 by Lois McMaster Bujold

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form.

A Baen Books Original

Baen Publishing Enterprises

P.O. Box 1403

Riverdale, NY 10471

www.baen.com

ISBN: 978-1-4767-8122-8

Cover Art by Ron Miller.

Frontispiece illustration by Dave Seeley.

First printing, February 2016

Distributed by Simon & Schuster

1230 Avenue of the Americas

New York, NY 10020

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Bujold, Lois McMaster, author.

Title: Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen / Lois McMaster Bujold.

Description: Riverdale, NY : Baen, [2016] | ?2015 | Series: Vorkosigan saga

Identifiers: LCCN 2015039675 | ISBN 9781476781228 (hardcover)

Subjects: LCSH: Vorkosigan, Miles (Fictitious character)—Fiction. | Life on

other planets—Fiction. | BISAC: FICTION / Science Fiction / Space Opera.

| FICTION / Science Fiction / Adventure. | FICTION / Science Fiction /

General. | GSAFD: Science fiction. | Fantasy fiction.

Classification: LCC PS3552.U397 G46 2016 | DDC 813/.54—dc23 LC record available at
http://lccn.loc.gov/2015039675

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Pages by Joy Freeman (
www.pagesbyjoy.com
)

Printed in the United States of America

eISBN: 978-1-62579-480-2

Electronic Version by Baen Books

www.baen.com

In memory of Dr. Martha Bartter

Chapter One

It was a good day on the military transfer station orbiting the planet Sergyar. The Vicereine was coming home.

As he entered the station’s Command-and-Control room, Admiral Jole’s eye swept the main tactics display, humming and colorful above its holo-table. The map of his territory—albeit presently set to the distorted scale of human interests within Sergyar’s system, and not the astrographic reality, which would leave everything invisible and put humans firmly in their place as a faint smear on the surface of a speck. A G-star burning tame and pleasant at this distance; its necklace of half-a-dozen planets and their circling moons; the colony world itself turning below the station. Of more critical strategic interest, the four wormhole jump points that were its gateways to the greater galactic nexus, and their attendant military and civilian stations—two highly active with a stream of commercial traffic and scheduled tightbeam relays, leading to the jump routes back to the rest of the Barrayaran Empire and on to its nearest neighbor on this side, currently peaceful Escobar; one accessing a long and uneconomical backdoor route to the Nexus; the last leading, as far as forty years of exploration had found, nowhere.

Jole wondered at what point in the past double-handful of years he’d started carrying the whole map and everything moving through it in his head at once. He’d used to consider his mentor’s ability to do so as something bordering on the supernatural, although the late Aral Vorkosigan had done it routinely for an entire three-system empire, and not just its smallest third. Time, it seemed, had gifted Jole easily with what earnest study had found hard. Good. Because time bloody
owed
him, for all that it had taken away.

It was quiet this morning in the C-and-C room, most of the techs bored at their stations, the ventilation laden with the usual scents of electronics, recycled air, and overcooked coffee. He moved to the one station that was brightly lit, letting his hand press the shoulder of the traffic controller,
stay on task
. The man nodded and returned his attention to the pair of ships coming in.

The Vicereine’s jump-pinnace was nearly identical to that of a fleet admiral, small and swift, bristling more with communications equipment than weapons. Its escort, a fast courier, could keep up, but was scarcely better armed; they traveled together more for safety in case of technical emergencies than any other sort. None this trip, thankfully. Jole watched with what he knew was perfectly pointless anxiety as they maneuvered into their docking clamps. No pilot would want to make a clumsy docking under
those
calm gray eyes.

His newest aide popped up at his elbow. “The honor guard reports ready, sir.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant Vorinnis. We’ll go over now.”

He motioned her into his wake as he exited C-and-C and made for the Vicereine’s docking bay. Kaya Vorinnis was far from the first of the techs, medtechs, and troops from the greatly expanded Imperial Service Women’s Auxiliary to be assigned to Sergyar command, nor the first to be assigned directly to his office. But the Vicereine would approve, which was a charming thought, though Cordelia would doubtless also make some less-charming remark about how her natal Beta Colony and a like list of advanced planets had boasted fully-gender-integrated space services since forever. Personally, Jole was relieved that he only had to supervise the women during working hours, and that their off-duty arrangements here on-station and on the downside base were the direct responsibility of a rather maternal and very efficient ISWA colonel.

“I’ve never seen Vicereine Vorkosigan in person,” Vorinnis confided to him. “Only in vids.” Jole was reminded not to let his long stride quicken unduly, though the lieutenant’s breathlessness might be as much due to incipient heroine-worship, not misplaced in Jole’s view.

“Oh? I thought you were a relative of Count Vorinnis. Had you not spent much time in Vorbarr Sultana?”

“Not that closely related, sir. I’ve only met the count twice. And most of my time in the capital was spent running around Ops. I was put on Admin track pretty directly.” Her light sigh was easy to interpret, having the identical content to those of her male predecessors:
Not ship duty, dammit.

“Well, take heart. I was put through a seven-year rotation in the capital as a military secretary and aide, but I still caught three tours on trade fleet escort duty afterward.” The most active and far-flung space-based duty an Imperial officer could aspire to during peacetime, culminating in his one and only ship captaincy, traded in due course for this Sergyar patch.

“Yes, but that was aide to
Regent Vorkosigan
himself!”

“He was down to Prime Minister Vorkosigan, by then.” Jole permitted himself a brief lip twitch. “I’m not
that
old.” And just kept his mouth from adding, “…young lady!” It wasn’t merely Vorinnis’s height, or lack of it, that made her look twelve in his eyes, or her gender; her recent male counterparts were no better. “Although, by whatever irony, my one stint in an active theater of war
was
as his secretary, when I followed him to the Hegen Hub. Not that we knew it was going to end up a shooting war when that trip started.”

“Were you ever under fire?”

“Well, yes. There is no rear echelon on a flagship. Since the Emperor was also aboard by that point, it was fortunate that our shields never failed.” Two decades ago, now. And what a top-secret cockup that entire episode had been, which, glued throughout to Ex-Regent Prime Minister Admiral Count Vorkosigan’s shoulder, Jole had witnessed at the closest possible range from first to last. His Hegen Hub war stories had always had to be among his most thoroughly edited.

“I guess you’ve known Vicereine Vorkosigan just as long, then?”

“Nearly exactly, yes. It’s been…” He had to calculate it in his head, and the sum took him aback. “Twenty-three years, almost.”

“I’m almost twenty-three,” Vorinnis offered, in a tone of earnest helpfulness.

“Ah,” Jole managed. He was rescued from any further fall into this surreal time warp by their arrival at Docking Bay Nine.

The dozen men of the honor guard braced, and Jole returned salutes punctiliously while running his eye over their turnout. Everything shipshape and shiny, good. He duly complimented the sergeant in charge and turned to take up a parade rest in strategic view of the personnel flex tube, just locking on under the competent and very attentive supervision of the bay tech. Exiting a null-gee flex tube into the grav field of a station or ship was seldom a graceful or dignified process, but the first three persons out were reasonably practiced: a ship’s officer, one of the Vicereine’s ImpSec guards, and Armsman Rykov, the only one of the new Count Vorkosigan’s personal retainers seconded to his mother, in her other hat as Dowager Countess. The first man attended to mechanics, the second made a visual and electronic scan of the docking bay for unscheduled human hazards, and the third turned to assist his liege lady. Vorinnis tried to stand on tiptoe and to attention simultaneously, which didn’t quite work, but she dropped from Jole’s awareness as the last figure cleared the tube in a smooth swing and flowed to her feet with the aid of her armsman’s proffered hands.

Everyone snapped to attention as the color sergeant piped her aboard. Admiral Jole saluted, and said formally, “Vicereine Vorkosigan. Welcome back. I trust your journey was uneventful.”

“Thank you, Admiral, and so it was,” she returned, equally formally. “It’s good to be back.”

He made a quick initial assay of her. She looked a trifle jump-lagged, but nothing like the frightening dead-gray bleakness that had haunted her features when she’d returned alone almost three years ago from her husband’s state funeral. Not that Jole himself had been in much better form, at the time. The colonists of Sergyar had been entirely uncertain if they were going to get their Vicereine back at all, that trip, or if some stranger-lord would be appointed in her place. But she was wearing colors again now, if subdued ones, Komarran-style trousers and jacket, and her unmistakable smile had warmed to something better than room temperature. She was still keeping her tousled red-gray hair cut short; the fine bones of her face held out, like a rampart that had never fallen.

Her left hand, down at her side, gripped what appeared to be a small cryofreezer case. Lieutenant Vorinnis, like any good admiral’s assistant, advanced upon it. “May I take your luggage, Your Excellency?”

Cordelia cried, sharply and unexpectedly, “No!” twitching the case away. At Jole’s eyebrow-lift, she seemed to catch herself up, and continued more smoothly, “No, thank you, Lieutenant. I’ll carry this one. And my armsman will see to the rest.” She cast a quick head-tilt toward the girl, and a plea of a look Jole’s way.

He took the hint. “Vicereine, may I introduce my new aide, Lieutenant Kaya Vorinnis. Just assigned—she arrived a few weeks after you left.” Cordelia had departed six weeks ago to present the Sergyaran Viceroy’s Annual Report to Emperor Gregor in person, and incidentally catch a little of Winterfair Season with her family back on Barrayar. Jole hoped that had been refreshing rather than exhausting, although having met the Vorkosigan offspring, he suspected it had been both.

“How do you do, Lieutenant? I hope you will find Sergyar an interesting rotation. Ah—any relation to the young count?”

“Not close, ma’am,” Vorinnis replied, an answer Jole suspected she was tired of offering, but she did it without grimacing here.

The Vicereine turned and delivered a few well-practiced words of thanks to the honor guard. Their sergeant returned the traditional, “Ma’am, yes, ma’am!” proudly on their behalf, and marched them out again. Cordelia watched them go, then turned with a sigh to take Jole’s arm proffered in escort.

She shook her head. “Really, Oliver, do you have to do this every time I transit? All I’m going to do is walk from the docking bay to the shuttle hatch. Those poor boys could have slept in.”

“We never did less for the Viceroy. It’s an honor for them as well as for you, you know.”

“Aral was your war hero. Several times over.”

The corners of Jole’s mouth twitched up. “And you’re not?” He added in curiosity, “What’s in the box? Not a severed head—again—I trust?” It seemed too small for that, fortunately.

Cordelia’s gray eyes glinted. “Now, now, Oliver. Bring home one dismembered body part,
once
, mind you,
once
, and people get twitchy about checking your luggage ever after.” Her smile grew wry. “But that we can
joke
about that now…ah, well.”

Lieutenant Vorinnis, trailing, looked vaguely appalled, though whether at the famous historical incident that had ended the Pretender’s War, a disturbing number of years before her birth, or her superiors’ attitude to it, Jole was not sure.

Jole said, “Do you want to take a break, Cordelia, before catching your downside leg? I don’t know what meal schedule you’re on, but we can provide.” The entire Barrayaran Imperial fleet, and by extension this station, kept Vorbarr Sultana time, which unfortunately did not mesh with that of the colonial capital below, as the two planets had, among other things, different day lengths. Not that
the same time
on two different sides of a wormhole jump, let alone a string of them, had any but an arbitrary congruence. “Your shuttle will await your convenience, I promise you.”

Cordelia shook her head in regret. “I switched to Kareenburg time when we made Sergyaran space a day ago. I
think
my next meal is lunch, though I’ll find out when we land. But no, thank you, Oliver, not this round. I’m eager to get home.” Her grip on the freezer case tightened.

“I hope we’ll be able to catch up more thoroughly soon.”

“Oh, count on it. When do you next cycle down to base?”

“End of the week.”

Her eyes narrowed in some unconfided calculation. “Ye-es. That might just about do. My secretary will be in touch, then.”

“Right-oh.” Jole accepted this affably, hiding his disappointment. News from Barrayar arrived hourly by tightbeam.
Stories from home
arrived with returning visitors, more erratically. Could a man be homesick for a
voice
? A light, particular voice, still laced with a broad Betan accent forty-plus years after pledging and proving allegiance to an alien Imperium?

All too soon, they arrived at the shuttle hatch. Jole had inspected the vessel personally not an hour ago. The pilot reported at the ready. Jole stood aside with Cordelia, stealing a few more minutes together as her luggage was trundled aboard.

“You’re traveling lighter, these days.”

She smiled. “Aral was
used
to moving an army. I prefer simpler logistics.” She glanced toward the shuttle hatch, as if anxious to be boarding. “Any forest fires downside that I haven’t heard about by tightbeam?”

“None that have penetrated the stratosphere.” Their traditional dividing line for their respective responsibilities. Cordelia rode herd on some two million colonists on behalf of Emperor Gregor; Jole suspected that a good half of them would be at her for attention the moment her foot touched the soil. At least he could make sure that no new troubles dropped on her from above. “Take care of yourself down there. Or at least let your staff do so.” Jole exchanged a conspiratorial glance with Armsman Rykov, who acted more-or-less as the Vicereine’s household seneschal, and who nodded endorsement of this notion.

Cordelia just smiled. “See you soon, Oliver.”

And off she goes. And goes and goes, like any Vorkosigan
. Jole shook his head.

He waited till he heard the docking clamps release, then turned away.

Vorinnis, pacing him, inquired, “Were you there, sir, when she brought back the Pretender’s head?”

“I was
eight
, Lieutenant.” He tried to rub the amusement off his mouth, and recover his expected admiral’s gravity. “I grew up in one of the westernmost districts—it had no military shuttleport, so we weren’t a high-value target for either side. I mainly remember the war as everyone trying to carry on normally, but all the adults being awash in fear and fantastic rumors. The Lord Regent had made away with the boy emperor, he was brainwashed by Betan spies, worse slanders…Everyone believed that Lady Vorkosigan had been sent on that commando raid by her husband, but the truth, I later learned, was a deal more complicated.” And not all his to tell, Jole was reminded. “We meet fairly frequently in the course of business here on Sergyar—you may get a chance to try to get her to decant some of
her
war stories.” Although upon reflection, Jole wasn’t sure of the advisability of introducing a keen young officer to Vorkosigan notions of initiative. Metaphors about fighting fire with gasoline rose to his mind.

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