by Khasidi

The characters here are under copyright (c) by Lois MacMasters Bujold and are taken from her many Vorkosigan novels.
The story is my own invention. It and all other elements not borrowed from Ms. Bujold are copyright (c) 2005 by Khasidi Katugraha

Idiot's Delight is a long story that I am working on using characters from Lois MacMasters Bujold's Vorkosigan series. If you find this interesting, I would strongly recommend that you read her books. Most of the characters here are hers and I hope that I will not offend anyone, most especially Ms. Bujold, by taking liberties with them. My feeling is that her books are so good that there is little I could do to damage them. Gay characters have cropped up from time to time in the Vorkosigan books; but I have always been a bit frustrated with them. Part of the reason I want to write this is to introduce three dimensional gay characters who are not sadists. (Sorry Lois, but your gay characters, with the exception of evil sadists like Ges Vorutyer, Galen, and Baron Ryoval, have all been a little flat.)

This is a first draft of Chapter one. I haven't tried to write stories before and would welcome any constructive feedback.




Dr. Ethan Urquhart strolled down the gangplank of the Severin Coastal Waterbus, Ferdinand. He was comfortably tired, but the three hour ferry up the coast had been pleasant and relaxing. A light sea breeze counteracted the hot sun in a way that made Ethan wonder why people dreamed of paradise after death when, as far as he could see, paradise was here, now. At the stand he was lucky to find that the Diogenes Street jitney was just about to leave. He swung his bag up into the hands of a friendly passenger but the vehicle was crowded and so he had to stand on the foot rail on the outside and hang on for the ride into the city. He didn't mind. The wind in his hair felt good.

The conference had gone very well. The additional 500 ovarian cultures that he had managed to secure 5 years earlier were all healthy and population growth was up as a consequence. New facilities were needed and it seemed that the funds to build them would be forthcoming. A lack of trained reproduction technicians could prove to be a problem in the future and there was always a problem with finding the foreign exchange with which to purchase equipment. The Athosian industrial sector was not up to building uterine replicators and some of the other tools needed. This, however, was not a problem that was limited to only to the reproductive sector of the economy and Ethan had been happy to learn that the government seemed to be taking a long-term approach and hoped to come up with solutions that would both increase off-planet trade and develop Athosian technological capacity at home.

Home. That's where Ethan wanted to be right this minute. Home with Andy and Vic, home with Terrence. A little flaw rippled across the harbor that was mirrored in a slight downturn at the corner of Ethan's mouth. Life with Terrence was wonderful and he loved Terrence deeply. He believed that Terrence also loved him. Ethan couldn't deny, however, that their life together was not all that, five years ago, he had hoped it might be. Terrence did love him, he knew, but it was a calm and strangely abstract kind of love. They enjoyed sex together; but there seemed to be something missing. Terrence was possibly the most attractive man Ethos had ever known. It wasn't so much his looks, though he was very good looking; no, it was that Terrence had a kind of tension or electricity about him. He had an intensity of focus that riveted Ethan's attention. But he had to admit that Terrence's intensity had rarely been focused on him. After sex, Ethan often found himself feeling lonely.

At Singing Heron Lane Ethan got out and walked the few blocks to his house. Henry, the McKenzie's horse, was idling about, cropping the grass between the sidewalk and the street. Ethan gave him a pat and Henry took a moment out from his busy afternoon to snuffle Ethan's ear and rub against his chest. Ethan laughed. That dumb horse loved everyone and he was extraordinarily gentle with kids.

Shooing a few feral chickens out of the way, Ethan ran up the concrete steps to the door of number 27 and turned the knob. That was funny. Terrence and Ethan never locked their door unless they were going away from town. Ethan's keys were in the bottom of his bag, but there was always a spare under the flowerpot on the porch. He retrieved it and unlocked the door. Inside, the house smelled dank, as if no one had been there for a week or so. With a growing sense of unease, Ethan hurried into the kitchen. There wasn't any note on the corner of the kitchen table. There was nothing on any surface in the kitchen. Ethan thought, uneasily, that he hadn't seen the kitchen looking this tidy since the day he and Terrence had moved in five and a half years before.

"Terrence? Andy? Phil?" he called. There was no response. Well, he hadn't expected any, had he? Ethan wandered into the study that he and Terrence shared. There was a blinking light on the comconsole indicating messages were waiting. Ethan supressed the feeling of panic was rising in his chest. There must be some kind of reasonable explanation, he told himself. He hit the message playback button.

"Uh, Terrence, this is Chris at the lab. It's Wednesday evening. Could you give me a call? Something weird here. We seem to be missing three of the new replicators. Do you have any idea where they are? Thanks, bye."

The next three messages were just people who wanted Ethan to call back and one from Kilby Martin for Terrence about trading babysitting duties on Tuesday. Then there was another for Terrence from Chris. "Terrence, please call the lab. We still haven't found those three replicators. They're the new portable ones from Beta Colony that just came in last month. Ormegaard is starting to froth at the mouth and Desroches has been really leaning on us for an explanation so, even if you don't know anything, could you call in and let us know that? Thanks, bye."

The next message was from Ormegaard himself. "Cee? Where the hell are you? we've been trying to get you for the last two days and you missed your shift last night! We've got three Uterine Replicators gone missing. Those are damn expensive pieces of equipment and they don't just walk out by themselves! I've been looking through the records and they don't seem to line up with some of the things that have been going on around here. I need information and I need it yesterday! Call dammit."

The rest of the calls were just routine including one from Ethan himself. "Hi, Babe, I'll be home Monday evening. Things are going great. I might be late, so don't wait for me to eat. Give Andy and Phil hugs from me. Love ya, bye."

And here Ethan was, Monday evening. And he wasn't even late. In spite of what he'd said, Ethan had been hoping that the Terrence and the kids wouldn't have eaten yet so he could have supper with them. But they must already have been gone when he left that message. God the Father, where could they be? Terrence and the children had been gone since Wednesday, at least.

Ethan hurriedly punched in the code for the Severin Reproductive Laboratory. Wait a minute, he didn't want to talk to Ormegaard yet. He cut the connection, looked up Chris Whitherspoon's code, and punched that in instead. "Hi, Chris? Ethan Urquhart here. Yeah, can you tell me what's going on? I came home from the conference just now. Yeah, I just barely walked in. Terrence and the boys aren't here and there are a whole lot of messages on the comcon...Yeah, I gathered from the messages that they were missing. Listen, can you tell me if those replicators were in use? Oh, God! I was afraid of that." Ethan suddenly realized that, if Terrence was implicated in the missing Uterine Replicators, it might be wisest to say as little as possible. "What? Oh, nothing! I was thinking about something else. So it appears that the missing replicators were in use? How far along were they? Have there been any theories floated as to where they might have gone or, if they were stolen, who might have stolen them?... Oh, I see. Well what are the rumors? Oh, Satan's Semen, Chris! I am the head of reproductive medicine! Ormegaard works for me, remember? ...Oh. Oh, I see. Well, I'm coming down immediately. Is anyone there, still? Ormegaard? Well, tell him to wait until I get there. Bye."

Ethan closed the connection and stood in stunned silence. Then he sat down heavily in the desk chair. The three missing replicators had been loaded each with a new little embryo only ten days ago. Terrence had been responsible for their maintenance. It now appeared that the records for those three had been tampered with. Ethan had never thought of Lars Ormegaard as being the brightest bulb in the string, but even he had connected the dots. It was only a matter of time before a warrant was issued for Terrence's arrest. And where was Terrence? Why had he done it? Why would anyone steal three uterine replicators with babies growing in them? Ethan was afraid he knew that answer to at least one of those questions. He would have to find out which of the ovarian cultures had been used to create the embryo, but he was afraid he knew the answer to that question, too.


Chapter I

Ivan Goes To A Wedding

"Congratulations, you little rat fuck" Ivan muttered to nobody in particular, as he snagged another drink from a passing tray. His cousin Miles -- no neck, big headed, short-legged... Short! Hell, the guy's a dwarf! -- Goddamn Miles! Miles looked... Well, Miles looked radiant. There was no other word. He damn well should look radiant! He just married the woman of his dreams, the woman of Ivan's dreams! Smart, beautiful, tall..."

Ivan could see him now, dancing with her. Madame Ekaterina Vorsoisson. No, she was Lady Vorkosigan now. The lucky little shit. "And I had a chance at her! Why'd I let him scare me off? I always end up doing what he wants. I guess I am an idiot! Guess I've always been an idiot. At least I don't have to do clean-up duty for the little git anymore. Ekaterina will get stuck with that job from here on out."

Why didn't that make him feel better? Ivan, Miles, and Gregor-Empower Gregor Vorbarra now-had been raised together, practically as brothers. Gregor, four and a half years older, had put up with the younger boys; but Miles, even though he had been the youngest, and partially crippled, and tiny-really tiny-Miles had always been the leader. Ivan could still hear Miles's shrill voice "No, Ivan, you idiot, not that way! Here lift me up. I'll do it." And the hell of it was, Miles would order him to do something and he'd do it! That's how Ivan had gotten buried alive that time when Miles wanted to find out what would happen if they started up a tank left over from the Cetagandan war that they had found that time in a cave. Ivan had always pretty much gone along with what Miles wanted. It really was much easier that way.

Then adolescence struck. Ivan shot up. He had always been a pretty child; now he became positively handsome, with a well-proportioned, athletic body and expressive, dark eyes. In contrast, Gregor at eighteen was merely gangly and not that tall, while Miles at thirteen was still a runt. He was the size of a seven-year-old with the big head and tiny body of a dwarf. He always seemed to be breaking something. Ivan had spent a huge part of his childhood surreptitiously trying to protect the little shit from fights with bigger boys and activities that might result in fractures: because Miles was a risk-taker, no doubt about that.

Well, now they were both married. Gregor and Miles. And to make it worse, they had both found real beauties. Shit, everybody seemed to be pairing off lately, even Ivan's mother. With Simon Illyan. Simon Illyan! The man terrified Ivan. Cripes, the man terrified everyone. "Though, to be honest," Ivan reflected ruefully, "So does my mother. In fact, she may be worse."

Then there were the Koudelka girls. They seemed to be pairing off, too, though none of them were actually married, yet. They were all dancing at the moment, Ivan noticed. What did they see in those guys? These girls could have anybody they wanted. Each one was blonder, taller, and more graceful than the next; but look at who they picked! Kareen was dancing with Miles's clone brother, Mark. You could tell him and Miles apart now that Mark had gained about a hundred and fifty kilos. When Ivan had first run into Mark on earth, you couldn't tell the difference. Now the guy looked like a miniature rhinoceros! Martya was trying to dance with that geek from Escobar who invented the butter bugs. What was his name? Enrique Bughouse or something. Borgos, that was it. The man didn't seem to have any joints or in his legs and looked like he might fall right down on the floor with those high-heeled dress boots he was wearing. Delia was dancing with Duv Galeni. That was shaping up into something serious. Well, Duv was a good guy even if he was a bit of a stick. Ivan could see why Delia might go for him. Then there was Olivia! Olivia and Lord Dono Verutyer! She was off in the corner right now smooching that guy-if you could call him a guy. He had been a woman until last year-an extremely beautiful woman, at that. Ivan had spent many delightful hours several years ago with that woman. He had hoped to spend more delightful hours with her. But Lady Donna Verutyer had returned from Beta Colony last fall-as a man. Ivan had turned his attentions to Olivia only to have her snapped from under his nose by his erstwhile paramour, Lord Dono-and Olivia was the last of the beautiful Koudelka sisters.

"So, if I'm so handsome, how come I'm not getting married?"

Ivan heard an amused snicker from behind him and realized that he had been talking out loud. Commodore Koudelka, known to his friends as Kou, was the father of all these beauties. He was standing propped against the wall behind Ivan. God, even Kou, who had intercepted nerve disrupter fire back at the beginning of the invasion of Escobar and who could hardly walk without a stick as a result, had managed to pull down a gorgeous woman. Now in her mid-fifties, his wife, Drou Koudelka, still turned heads when she walked into a room.

"Feeling lonely, Ivan?" Kou didn't usually have much time for Ivan but, with his daughters out of danger-though it was really a case of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire for three of them as far as the commodore was concerned-he could look on the young man with a more sanguine eye. Poor kid. Well, at thirty-four he really wasn't much of a kid anymore; but Kou felt a fatherly kind of sympathy for him. For a long time he had expected that he would have to be putting up with Ivan as a son-in-law. Now that didn't look very likely.

"Who, me?" Ivan laughed. Maybe a bit too loudly. "Hell no! I've got a great life! No worries, no responsibilities!"

Kou refrained from commenting. He had known Ivan since the night he was born. In fact he had rescued Ivan's mother and her newborn baby from the assassins that had gunned down Ivan's father. Ivan grabbed another drink from a passing tray and found a spot on the wall next to the older man on which to lean. He could see Gregor from here. The Emperor of Barrayar didn't often get a chance to relax; but he seemed to be enjoying himself tonight. He was dancing with Aunt Cordelia, Miles's mother. Gregor's mother too, in a way. She and Drou Koudelka had filled in after Gregor's mother, Princess Kareen, had been killed during the war of the Pretendership. It had happened on the very night that Ivan had been born. There was Ivan's mother now, dancing with the ex-chief of ImpSec, Simon Illyan.

Laisa, the new Empress of Barrayar, moved out onto the dance floor and tapped her husband on the shoulder. Gregor and Cordelia stepped apart and, with a cheeky grin at her husband, Laisa took Cordelia in her arms and swept her off into the thick of the dancing, leaving Gregor smiling ruefully.

"Shit!" said Ivan, unexpectedly, "Women can get away with anything! Can you imagine what the reaction would be if I cut in on Ekaterina and went off dancing with Miles?"

Commodore Koudelka looked up in mild surprise. "Do you want to dance with Miles, Ivan?"

"No, of course I don't!" Ivan sputtered, "I just meant that, if I did want to, I couldn't. It's just, I don't know, women...  They're allowed to be so affectionate, y'know. I just sort of wish I could... Oh, shit! Listen to me. I'm drunk. I guess that's why we love women, 'cause otherwise we'd never get any goddam affection at all!"

That's not what I meant to say, thought Ivan. What's wrong with me? I really am drunk! I better get myself out of here before I make even more of an idiot of myself. Just what I need, to start crying at my cousin's wedding. What is the matter with me? I've never been a sloppy drunk before.

But he found himself continuing, "That's the thing, isn't it? With women there's no line between friendship and sex. They just sort of slide together. Nothing is on one side of the line or the other. That's why, if you sleep with them, they expect you to love them, too! With men-with me anyway-it's either friendship or sex. I'm a good friend, but I sometimes think I may be a lousy lover.

The commodore looked at his young friend in surprise. Ivan was pretty well known around the capital as a ladies' man.

"Actually, Ivan," a low voice murmured right next to his ear, "You weren't that bad in bed; but you never spent the night. And I never got see where you actually lived. It was a little disconcerting." Lord Dono's voice was slightly lower than it had been when he was Lady Donna, but it still made Ivan shiver.

"You!" he said bitterly. "Why, on a planet increasingly short of women, would you go and get ... converted into a man?"

Olivia Koudelka was clinging in the most nauseating way to Dono's arm and Dono's cousin, that mincing fop, Byerly, was on his other side. Donna Vorutyer had been one of the most beautiful women in Vorbarr Sultana. It had something to do with the Vorutyer eyes, large, dark eyes with a black fringe of eyelash that showed against her white skin. As a matter of fact, the eyes were still the same, but the effect in her-no, his-bearded face was quite different. Ivan glanced at Byerly. He had never noticed before how close the resemblance was between the two cousins. They were even the same height. Olivia noticed what Ivan was looking at and giggled, "Well, maybe Byerly could go to Beta Colony and get changed the other way. Would that help to even things up for you, Ivan?"

She turned her attention to Byerly's face and body. "Seriously, By, you should consider it. You'd make a lovely girl. Ivan, don't you think so?"

Ivan was drunk enough to give it some thought. "Yeah, I think you're right, Olivia. He'd look a lot like Donna...did. And she was hot. I miss her. Sure, By, you should do it."

Byerly simpered, "Well, maybe, if you really think it would be a good idea, I should. But you'd have to ask me nicely."

Ivan looked a bit confused. Definitely too much to drink. He glanced up and found two sets of cynical Vorutyer eyes grinning back.

"Fuck you, you asshole." he told By, enunciating each word as carefully as he could. He was feeling hurt and lonely and all these three wanted was to mock him. Yup, that's me, he thought, Ivan the idiot.

He turned and stalked out of the ballroom with as much dignity as he could muster and went to find his coat. Time to go home. Home to his empty flat.

Dono turned to his cousin. "By, that wasn't nice."

"Whatever gave you the impression" Byerly responded in dulcet tones, "that I was trying to be nice? Besides," he added, "In the morning, Ivan won't remember a thing I said. He never does."


A Meeting of Minds

At precisely eleven the next morning, Byerly Vorutyer strolled into General Allegre's office. It was unusual for Byerly to be on time. Lateness, Byerly felt, was one of the ornaments of a cultured person. One could easily judge the status of another by the degree of tardiness he could inflict upon his fellows without incurring the censure of Society. It pleased Byerly that he was almost always later than anyone else. It indicated that he was a person of consequence. But, important though Byerly might feel himself to be, no one was late to appointments with the head of Imperial Security. And Byerly was not in good odour with his ImpSec superiors at the moment. He'd had advanced knowledge that Lady Donna Vorutyer had gone to Beta Colony for transgender surgery with the purpose of making a legal claim to the Vorutyer countship. As a Lady Donna she had been nothing, but as a man, had been able to make good the claim to being the oldest living brother of the late count Pierre and had snatched the countship from the grasp of his/her cousin, Richars. As Count Vorutyer Lord Dono's vote had shifted the balance of the Council of Counts enough that the Liberal party was now in the majority. Byerly, himself an agent of ImpSec, had known of this plan and had failed to report it to his superiors. This had led to the Emperor being blindsided by several important political developments. ImpSec did not make allowances for divided loyalties, even family loyalties, if they conflicted with loyalty to the Service. Byerly had been downgraded in rank with a corresponding reduction of salary and was on probation. For some Vor sprigs, this might not have mattered much but, in spite of his role as Town Clown, or perhaps because of it, Byerly had to work quite hard to maintain an appearance of idleness in order to maintain his status in the Vor pecking order. He depended on the income his job provided-meager though it was, especially by Vor standards. So, it was with considerable, though largely invisible, trepidation that Byerly looked forward to this morning's interview with General Allegre.

 Allegre's office had until recently been the lair of the much feared Simon Illyan, a man whose memory, boosted by a biochip implanted between the lobes of his brain during the reign of Emperor Ezar Vorbarra, thirty-eight years ago, had been perfect. Illyan had been able to recall everything in the most minute detail that he had ever heard, seen, read, or experienced during the ensuing years. The chip had been sabotaged through the use of a clever virus that had "turned it to snot" in his head a year and a half ago. Illyan had abruptly retired-the first head of ImpSec ever to leave the job alive. Allegre had taken his place; but he was still pretty much an unknown quantity.

When Byerly entered the office General Allegre did not look up from the flimsy he was studying. Byerly adjusted his collar. Then he shifted his weight to his other foot. He wasn't even sure if Allegre had noticed his entrance. Finally, he cleared his throat as unobtrusively as possible.

"Ah, yes, Vorutyer, I know you're there. Just give me a moment to finish this up and I'll be with you." Allegre underlined something and scribbled a note without looking up.

Byerly resisted the urge to scratch his nose.

Finally, the general looked up. "Ah, Vorutyer. Hmm. Ah. Yes." The General shifted in his seat and looked at Byerly without saying anything for a moment. "Well, Vorutyer, ah, you've been a busy fellow lately. Yes, indeed, eh?"

Byerly wasn't quite sure where Allegre was going with this, but thought some kind of response seemed to be required so he said, "Yes sir, General Allegre." That was probably safe. "Sir!" He added to be even safer.

"Ah, yes, just..." the general continued, "Just, well...The thing is, um, I have a little job that I thought, you know, I thought, well..." Allegre looked at Byerly with pleading eyes.

I'd help him out, Byerly thought desperately, If I had any idea where he was trying to go with this. "Uh, you have some sort of job for me, sir?" He asked tentatively.

"Yes! Precisely!" exclaimed the general, clearly delighted to find his subordinate so quick on the uptake. "A job, that's the ticket! Well, I mean you don't have to take it, you know, if you don't like it! I'm not trying to force anything on you, old boy, what?"

"No, no, sir, I'm sure you're not." Said Byerly. He wondered if the old fellow was quite right in the head. Surely Gregor wouldn't have appointed a man suffering from some sort of dementia to head up ImpSec, it was inconceivable! "Uh, what sort of job did you have in mind, sir?"

"Well, it's a sort of off-planet affair, you know. A bit of travel, what? Yes, well, I like to call a spade a spade, so I'll get right to the point, though what spades have to do with anything, I have never really understood. Yes, well, it's Athos, y'see." The general looked to the side and squeezed his eyes half shut as if he had just lit a fuse and was waiting for the resulting explosion.

"Athos?" Byerly asked in bewilderment. He vaguely remembered that there was an obscure planet by that name, but that was all he could bring up. "You want me to go to Athos, sir? Could you, uh, tell me a bit about this, um, tell me what it's all about?" The general's conversational style seemed to be catching.

"Well, it's like this, y'see," Allegre went on, "There's this gene complex that went missing a few years ago and it seems it wound up on Athos. Now there are these three little girls and they have it. In them. Well, it seems that it makes it possible for them to, um, read minds. Well, of course that would be all right if they weren't girls; but that's really it, isn't it? They are." The general looked up at Byerly to see if he was following. What he saw didn't seem to reassure him. "Oh dear!" he went on. "Yes, well you have to remember, my dear boy that they are the only ones. I mean to say, they are the only girls, what? There aren't any others. So there's the rub, what?"

A deeply buried memory of an astronomy course when he was in school was struggling to resurface in Byerly's mind. There had been that planet. Everyone had been a little fascinated by it but the teacher had been mysteriously reluctant to talk about it. It had been settled exclusively by men and very little had been heard from it since. It had virtually no trade and no one ever seemed visit it or to visit from it. The only contact with the rest of the galaxy that it had was by way the annual Galactic Census Survey ship. The word was that it was populated exclusively by men. Something clicked in Byerly's brain-so that was the problem here! Allegre wanted to send him to Athos and the reason was that the General thought he was homosexual! Barrayaran taboos were such that, while there was a normal amount of homoerotic sexual activity at all levels of society, it was a completely unmentionable subject. Apparently, Allegre was suffering from acute embarrassment. He couldn't come right out and say, "Here, Vorutyer, you're a pederast, how do you feel about a bit of an assignment of a planet where everyone else is too?"

Actually, how did he feel? Byerly knew that many people assumed that his preference was for his own sex; but the truth was that he was about as lust-free as anyone could be who still retained his gonads. The only sexual experiences he had ever had had been in his childhood and teenage years. They had been forced upon him by his cousin Richars and they had not been pleasant. He was not at all sure he wanted to visit a planet where such activities were common. On the other hand, he was a grown man, now, and he felt he could handle himself pretty well. "Just what is it you would want me to do there, sir? On Athos?"



Haut Ryan Degtiar, Empress of Cetaganda, slid away from the comconsole. She brushed her hand across the control interface and the complex groupings of bright spheres with their interconnecting paths of light, which represented just a portion of the genetic grouping she was attempting to analyze, sparkled briefly and vanished from above the vid plate. She sighed and moved a hair back onto place. The gene group she had been examining was evidently not the one for which she had been searching. None of the groups, as far as she could tell, were the right one. It looked more and more as if the traits she was seeking to isolate were, in fact, a complex of perfectly ordinary traits whose interaction produced the extraordinary results she was trying to duplicate. "And isn't that just like him!" she muttered. "Not one road to insanity, but all roads!"

"All roads at the same time." she added. The Empress of Cetaganda was in a bad mood. Today her bubble chair, the very symbol of haut privilege, seemed like more like a device to hold her captive while she underwent a subtle torture. She rose from the chair and strode across the room. Her glorious mane of hair riding out behind in the speed of her movement. Her hair on her neck was tickling her. It made her feel like screaming. She seized the whole length of it and in three practiced movements twisted it around into a knot which she skewered at the back of her head in quick jabs with exquisite pins that she produced from somewhere in her sleeve.

Reseating herself in the portable throne that was her bubble chair, she touched a spot on a control interface panel. "Please send Falo to me." She said, in a controlled and melodious tone that betrayed none of the vehemence she had been exhibiting moments before. She covered her head with a silken scarf that wafted down over her hair, took three deep breaths, and closed her eyes for a moment.

Presently a tall youth of indeterminate sex entered the lab. To say he was dark skinned would do a disservice to the deeply rich tone of the skin. One could not tell if it were a very deep brown or actually black. The youth's hair was shoulder length and braided in many small braids that each started at the roots of ...his? "My lady, you wished to speak with me?" The youth asked, the voice a mellow contralto, pleasing to the ear.

"Yes, Falo," the haut Ryan replied. "I have a task for you. Do you remember that I mentioned a certain gene complex that escaped from the control of haut Lisbet some ten years ago?"

"Of course, my lady. I would not forget that."

"No, of course you wouldn't, Falo," replied the Cetagandan empress. "I have recently received word that one, possibly two, living specimens of that sample have turned up on a planet called Athos. Do you happen to know anything of that planet, Falo?"

"Athos," replied the ba thoughtfully, "No, my Lady, I have not heard of it."

"Well, there is no reason why you should have, indeed!" haut Ryan laughed, "It is the most ridiculous place, with an extremely limited gene pool. And I am led to understand that it is at the end of a long and tedious wormhole bottleneck somewhere off of Kline Station. But I am afraid that you are going to have to learn something about the place because I am going to send you there. The last time Lisbet sent one of the ghem lords, a fellow called Milisore, and he failed quite miserably, poor fellow. Fortunately, he lost his life in the attempt and so did not have to face ignominy on his return."

"Fortunate indeed, my lady." Replied the ba. "My task, I take it, is to recover the genetic samples."

"In part, yes" haut Ryan continued, "But there may be more to it than that. Athos is a strange world. There are only men there. In fact, the origin of the first settlers of Athos were a group of men from the early Eta Ceta colony, a remnant of the rebellion of fathers who objected to the haut women's control of the genome in the early days of the haut. In those early days we relied, not on genetic samples, but on the actual production of egg cells by living ovarian tissue to produce the raw material for our genetic experiments. Spermatozoa could be kept viable at sub-zero temperatures but we needed a fresh supply of ova. These men, who felt themselves to be oppressed by the women geneticists of our early society, stole away with a number of ovarian cultures and set up a society free of women on Athos. Naturally, they have not progressed since that time. They still live in an extremely primitive state. We learned a lesson, however, and made sure afterwards that our society would provide suitable outlets for male competition and aggression while allowing the women to get on with more important matters. Well to be fair, they seem to have done better than I, or anyone, would have expected; but of course, with only men, their culture has stagnated badly. Besides the poor things have an extremely limited gene-pool.

"Eventually, their ovarian cultures senesced and they were forced to send an envoy off planet to gather more. The only contact with the rest of the galaxy the Athosians have had since they settled on Athos was the annual visit from the Galactic Census ship. I understand the poor fellow they sent to Kline Station was just terrified. Somehow he became mixed up with a man called Terrence Cee, who represented the last living example of the Terren-C genetic pattern. Our agent, Millisore, was killed in the conflict, as I mentioned, so we were never able to get an exact account of what happened, but our latest evidence indicates that Terrence Cee traveled to Athos and may have also brought with him an ovarian culture from another of the genetic patterns of interest to us, the J-9. If this is the case, and we believe that it is, there may already be specimens born on Athos with telepathic abilities. The traits are recessive so in this generation only children of  the union of Terrence Cee and the J-9 culture will have these abilities, but in the next generation we will begin to see large numbers of telepathic specimens emerging.

I am reluctant to obliterate the entire human population of a planet, but I am not at all sanguine about the possibility that numerous humans with these traits may come into existence outside of the haut genome.2 So, I need you to go to Athos. I think you could pass as a somewhat damaged male teenager. Your genital arrangement is convincing. If you blame the absence of  scrotum and testicles on women, I think that might actually work in your favor. It would reinforce the local mythological image of women. The first part of you task will be to secure samples-and duplicates!-of the telepathy complex. At the same time, I would like you to gather information to send back to us so that we may determine what further steps, if any, should be taken in regard to the planets human population. You will take with you a complete portable genetic lab as well as the usual haut arsenal. I trust you will be able to prevent any of this material from falling into the hands of any of the lower humans."

"Of course, my Lady." Replied the ba.

"Oh, one more thing," haut Ryan added, "Don't forget to safeguard your own genetic material. You represent some of the most advanced work we have done so far. That information must not fall into the hands of the uninitiated."

1 Lars Ormegaard

2 The Cetagandans are not aware that the same gene complexes exist in a lab on Barrayar. They were smuggled off of Barrayar in the thigh of Taura. Question: is it possible that Taura still retains those samples in her body?

[JS1]This story should be continued when Elli Quinn gives the details to Ivan on board the Ariel on the trip to Escobar or Kline Station.

Idiot's Delight  12