Count Aral Vorkosigan, home from Sergyar for a family Winterfair and feeling that perhaps there could not be so many of them left, watched the children playing in the snow-covered garden. Serg, a name said with a wince, but it had been necessary, and the boy was making it his own, Aral, his namesake, blessedly unlike him in every way, no ghosts of history there, Lizzie, short and stocky, and running to join them, calling so that they turned not so much to wait as to receive her, Helen.
‘She reminds me of someone,' he remarked absently, and turning to Illyan beside him, 'I don’t suppose you remember who it might be?’ Illyan smiled with a rueful shake of his head, but any words were cut off by the woman at the other window, Drou, suddenly as blank-faced as in the long-ago days she had guarded Kareen.
‘She reminds you of Ezar.’
The Betan Astronomical Survey keeps quota places for off-worlders, without which they could never hope to belong. But the idealism for which Beta Colony is so famous is not a blind idealism. The quota for offworlders, so often considered a typical Betan soft-hearted gesture, is nonetheless widely acknowledged to be a brilliant propaganda device (what child, dreaming of galactic travel, does not dream of a chance at the Survey?), and rather less often a pragmatic device for, among other things, ensuring the pick of galactic talent, a subtle form of cultural espionage, and a means of bonding a ship’s company together with something rather more than mere planetary loyalty. The competition is fierce. For certain planetary citizens, however, (Betan law assumes that everyone is a citizen) there is a catch.
Helen had expected the oath, to renounce all former allegiances, to swear loyalty to Beta, to her colonies, to free humanity and those she may find among the stars. She rattles through it. She has made oaths before, but she is a woman. No-one really expects her to keep any vow but that of marriage. This is no different. She knows it doesn’t matter what she says, here, now. It matters what she becomes, what the Survey makes her. Besides, Barrayar does not recognise the renunciation of planetary statehood. Only there is one last line to be read, one that wasn’t there at the morning practice. The Betan therapists are very, very good. She would have poured out her heart for Barrayar, if only Barrayar had wanted it. Beta wants her, and now Helen will give her anything.
There were no hands to place her own between, and no instructions to kneel, but she knelt.
‘I swear by my word as Vorkosigan.’