As representatives of the upper crust of the Barraryan aristocracy, Miles and cousin Ivan find themselves travelling to the Cetagandan homeworld where the death of the Dowager Empress, she who witnessed the invasion of Barrayar, is to be commemorated.

Trouble raises it's ugly head even before their arrival, when their shuttle is diverted to a shuttle bay utterly devoid of life. Except for the strange person dressed as a Station Tech. And waving a nerve disruptor. His white hair indicates great age but Ivan, giving it a good yank, finds that it's artificial. After the encounter, the two young Barrayaran lords are left with a nerve disruptor and an unknown staff that is clearly a key of some form.

The mystery is ratcheted up when they discover what they are holding is the key to the hauts' gene bank. But why them? And why no hue and cry, for surely the Cetagandan government would consider this an excellent chance to embarrasss (at least) the Barrayans.

Things get more interesting when the person who started this game turns up with their throat cut next to the late empress's body.

Miles can't help getting involved when things start getting even more interesting.

As he researches the mystery, he finds himself enmeshed ever deeper in the power structures behind the obvious ones and finds that the obvious power structures aren't necessarily the ones that matter.

Meanwhile Ivan finds himself in great demand from a whole series of ghem-ladies as they cut their way through Cetagandan society.

And just as a little aside, Lieutenant Vorkosigan overhears a little conversation that would have Admiral Naismith ordering his covert ops teams out on a deadly mission but more of that in Ethan of Athos

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