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.
This is a quiet tale, with most of the plot development occurring in conversations.
Cordelia Vorkosigan returned from a visit to Barrayar with a case of gamete samples from herself and Aral, dating from early in the Regency, with the plan of producing as many daughters as she could from them. Daughters, surnamed Naismith, to be raised on Sergyar; thus freeing them from any requirements associated with the Vorkosigan name. The result she got was six viable eggs fertilizations, and four eggs suitable for enucleation that she offered to her former co-lover of Aral, Admiral Oliver Perrin Jole, along with sperm from Aral so that he could produce 3-parent sons (mitochondria from Cordelia's egg shells and Aral+Jole sperm, via Somatic cell nuclear transfer). The result Jole got was three potential sons, with the fourth attempt failing.
Cordelia started her first baby, leaving the rest frozen for later; Jole froze all three of his and began dithering about whether to start any of them or not. The two of them also began dithering about whether to begin a new relationship of their own, After Aral. Meanwhile, life on Chaos Colony continued. Cordelia's current project was to move the capital from Kareenburg - located in the shadow of an active volcano - to a new location, Gridgrad, on another continent. However, with a shortage of support from the leadership of Kareenburg (they didn't want to lose their investments in the area, volcano or no volcano) and a surplus of untrustworthy contractors (Plas-Dan had just finished cheating the military into taking dodgy plascrete), the path to a successful change of capital was unnecessarily complicated.
In the meantime, Oliver Jole's aide, Kaya Vorinnis of the Barrayaran Women's Auxiliary, learned that a young Cetagandan had sent her a somewhat cryptic message. Oliver interpreted it for her: “Lord ghem Soren is asking you for a date, Lieutenant. He hopes you will accept.” Jole even went so far as to encourage her to think of it as possible career development along the lines of knowing one's enemy. She took on the task; she also took on the managing of increasingly elaborate plans for a party for Jole's soon-upcoming 50th birthday.
Oliver took Cordelia sailing; while at the lake he discovered two new loves: Cordelia and marine biology. After a short time exploring both of these, he was called to upside space duty, improving the training of his people. During this time, Cordelia sent messages home to Barrayar about her plans: Emperor Gregor learned she was going to resign as Vicereine within a year, stay on Sergyar to raise six daughters by Aral, Jole had been offered a chance for raising sons by Aral, and she and Jole were dating. Simon Illyan and Lady Alys Vorpatril learned all of this except for Jole's potential sons. Miles Vorkosigan and his wife Ekaterin learned about the resignation, staying on Sergyar, and raising six daughters. It was not made clear exactly what was told to Mark Vorkosigan and Kareen Koudelka.
Unsurprisingly, Lord Auditor Miles showed up with his family and a lot of questions just about the time Oliver returned from space duties. Also, about the same time, Oliver got an offered promotion - to Chief of Ops, on the General Staff, on Barrayar. That work, requiring a great deal of time every day, would preclude any sons for quite some time. Entertainment for Miles and his family took the form of visits to the replication center where Cordelia was brooding Aurelia and to the Prince Serg, which was being sent to mothballing-land.
Then came Oliver's Birthday Party, a truly huge bash with entertainments that included a Cetagandan "test your senses booth", a SWORD kissing booth, boot polo, and fireworks. Oliver saved Miles's two oldest children (Helen and Alex) from being badly burned by taking the burns himself.
He decided to retire to Sergyar and live near Cordelia. At the end of the tale, his first son, Everard Xav, was starting up and his biologist training was well underway, while Cordelia's first daughter Aurelia was born and by the end of the book a year old.