“Did you anticipate that problem with the permissions? I should have thought of it, I suppose, but they took all the information when I made the appointment, and didn’t say anything, so I thought, I assumed-”
   “Not specifically. But I hoped I might have a chance to do some little service or another today. I’m pleased it was so easy.”
   Yes, she realized enviously, he could just wave all ordinary problems out of his path. Leaving only the extraordinary ones… her envy ebbed. It occurred belatedly to Ekaterin that he too might feel some guilt about Tien’s death, and that was why he was going to such lengths to assist Tien’s widow and orphan. So intense a concern seemed unnecessary, and she wondered how to reassure him that she did not blame him without creating more awkwardness than she erased.
   A battery of tests was completed upon Nikki in about half the time Ekaterin had mentally allotted for them. The Komarran physician met with them in her comfortable office very shortly thereafter; Vorkosigan dismissed the bodyguards to lurk in the corridor.
   “Nikki’s gene scan shows the dystrophy complex to be very much in the classic mode,” the doctor told them, when Ekaterin and Nikki were seated side by side in front of her comconsole desk. Vorkosigan, as usual, took a backseat and just watched. “He has a few idiosyncratic complications, but nothing our lab can’t handle.”
   She illustrated her talk with a holovid of the actual offending chromosomes, and a computer-generated vid of exactly how the retrovirus would deliver the splice that would work to supplement their deficiencies. Nikki did not ask as many questions as Ekaterin had hoped he would-was he intimidated, weary, bored?
   “I believe our gene techs can have the retrovirus personalized for Nikki in about a week,” the doctor concluded. “I’m going to have you return for the injection then, Nikki. Plan to stay overnight in Solstice for a recheck the following day, Madame Vorsoisson, and if possible, visit us again just before you leave Komarr. Nikki will need to be reexamined monthly thereafter for three months, which you can have done at a clinic I will recommend to you in Vorbarr Sultana. We’ll give out a disk with all the records, and they should be able to pick it up from there. After that, assuming all goes well, a early checkup should suffice.”
   “That’s all?” said Ekaterin, weak with relief.
   “That’s all.”
   “There was no damage yet? We are in time?”
   “No, he’s fine. It’s hard to project, with Vorzohn’s Dystrophy, but I would guess in his case the onset of detectable gross cellular damage would have begun to appear in his late teens or early twenties. You are in good time.”
   Ekaterin held Nikki’s hand hard as they exited, her steps firm, to keep her feet from dancing. With an, “Aw, Mama,” Nikki extracted himself, and walked with independent dignity beside her. Vorkosigan, his hands shoved deep in his gray trouser pockets, followed smiling.
   Nikki fell asleep in the shuttle, with his head pillowed on Ekaterin’s lap. She watched him fondly, and stroked his hair, lightly so as not to wake him.
   Vorkosigan, sitting across from them with his reader on his knees again, watched her in turn, and murmured, “Is it well?”
   “It’s well,” she said softly. “But it feels so strange… Nikki’s illness has been the whole focus of my life for so long. I gradually pared away all the other impossibilities to concentrate wholly on this, the one main thing. It feels as though I had been steeling myself to batter down some unscalable wall. And then, when I finally took a deep breath and put my head down and charged, it just… fell, all in a heap, like that. And now I’m stumbling around in the dust and the bricks, blinking. I feel very unbalanced. Where am I now? Who am I now?”
   “Oh, you’ll find your center. You can’t have mislaid it totally, even if you have been revolving around other people. Give yourself time.”
   “I thought my center was to be Vor, like the women before me.” She glanced across at him, feeling inarticulate and urgent. And then I chose Tien… you have to understand, it was my choice. My marriage was arranged, offered, but it wasn’t forced, I wanted it, wanted to have children, form a family, carry on the pattern. Make my place in this, I don’t know, generational pageant.”
   “I am the eleventh of my name. I know about the Vor pageant.”
   “Yes,” she said gratefully. “It wasn’t that I didn’t choose what I wanted, or gave away my center, or any of those things. But somehow, I didn’t end up with the beautiful Vor pattern-weave I was trying to make. I ended up with this… tangle of strings.” Her fingers wriggled in air, miming chaos.
   His lips quirked, introspective and ironic. “I know tangles, too.”
   “But do you know-well, of course you would, but… The business with the brick wall. Failure, failure was grown familiar to me. Comfortable, almost, when I stopped struggling against it. I did not know achievement was so devastating.”
   “Huh.” He was leaning back, now, his reader forgotten on his lap, regarding her with his entire attention. “Yes… vertigo at apogee, eh? And the reward for a job well done is another job, and what have you done for us lately, and is that all, Lieutenant Vorkosigan, and… yes. Achievement is devastating, or at least disorienting, and they don’t warn you in advance. It’s the sudden change of momentum and direction, I think.”
   She blinked. “How very strange. I expected you to tell me I was being foolish.”
   “Deny your perfectly correct perception? Why should you expect that?”
   “Habit… I suppose.”
   “Mm. You can learn to enjoy the sensation of winning, you know, once you get over the initial queasiness. It’s an acquired taste.”
   “How long did it take you to acquire it?”
   He smiled slowly. “Once.”
   “That’s not a taste, that’s an addiction.”
   “It’s one that would look well on you.”
   His eyes were uncomfortably bright. Challenging? She smiled in confusion, and stared out the port at the darkening Komarran sky as the shuttle began its descent. He rubbed his lips, not quite erasing their odd quirk, and returned his attention to his reports.
   Uncle Vorthys met them at the apartment door, data disks in his hand and a vague distracted smile on his face. He gave Ekaterin’s hand a warm grasp, and fended off Nikki’s immediate attempt to appropriate him and carry him off to hear about the wonders of the ImpSec shuttle.
   “Just a moment, Nikki. We shall go to the kitchen for dessert, and you can tell me all about it. Ekaterin. I’ve heard from the Professora. She’s taken ship on Barrayar, and will be here in three days’ time. I didn’t like to tell you till she was sure she could get away.”
   “Oh!” Ekaterin almost jumped with delight, mitigated immediately by concern. “Oh, no, sir, do you meant to say you are dragging that poor woman through five wormhole jumps from Barrayar to Komarr for me? She gets so jumpsick!”
   “It was Lord Vorkosigan’s idea, actually,” said Uncle Vorthys.
   Vorkosigan put on a bright, trapped smile at this, and shrugged warily.
   “Although I had fully intended to drag her here for my own sake,” Uncle Vorthys continued, “at the end of the term. This just advanced the timetable. She does like Komarr, once she gets here and has a day to recover from the jump-lag. I thought you would like it.”
   “You shouldn’t have-but oh, I do like it, very much.”
   Vorkosigan straightened at these words, and his smile relaxed into a self-satisfaction that amused her vastly. Ekaterin wasn’t sure if she was reading the subtleties of his expression better now, or if he was concealing them less.
   “If I get you a ticket, would you go out to meet her at the jump-point station?” Uncle Vorthys added. “I’m afraid I won’t have time, and she hates traveling alone. You could see her a day earlier, and have some time together on the last leg downside.”
   “Certainly, sir!” Ekaterin almost shivered with the realization of how much she longed to see her aunt. She’d been living in Tien’s orbit so long, she’d become used to her isolation as the norm. Ekaterin counted the Professora as one of the few non-disheartening relatives she possessed. A friend-an ally! The Komarran women Ekaterin had met were nice enough, but there was so much they didn’t understand… Aunt Vorthys might make acerbic comments, but she understood deeply.
   “Yes, yes, Nikki-” said Uncle Vorthys. “Miles. When you are ready, I’ll meet you in my room, and we can go over today’s progress on the comconsole.”
   “Have we some? Is it interesting?”
   Uncle Vorthys made a balancing gesture with his free hand. “I’d be interested in what pattern you see emerging, if any.”
   “At your convenience. Knock on my door when you’re ready.” Vorkosigan smiled at Nikki, gave the Professor a vague salutelike gesture, and withdrew.
   Nikki, impatiently waiting his turn, now dragged his great-uncle off to the kitchen as promised; Ekaterin could only be grateful that of his day’s events the ImpSec shuttle seemed to loom so much larger than the medical examinations. She followed, satisfied.


   Early the next morning Miles, in shirt and trousers but barefoot, stepped into the hallway with his toiletries case in hand. He must remind Tuomonen to return his medical kit. The ImpSec techs couldn’t have found any interesting explosive devices in it, or he would have been informed by now. His bleary meditations suffered a check when he discovered Ekaterin, still dressed in a robe and with her hair in unusual but fetching disarray, leaning against the hall bathroom door. “Nikki,” she hissed. “Open this door at once! You can’t hide all day in there.”
   A muffled young voice returned mulishly, “Yes, I can.”
   Lips tight, she tapped again, urgently but quietly, then jumped a little as she saw Miles, and clutched the neck of her robe.
   “Oh. Lord Vorkosigan.”
   “Good morning, Madame Vorsoisson,” he said civilly. “Ah… trouble?”
   She nodded ruefully. “I thought yesterday went awfully easily. Nikki tried to insist he was too sick to go to school today, because of his Vorzohn’s Dystrophy. I explained again it didn’t work that way, but he got more and more stubborn. He begged to stay home. No, not just stubborn. Scared, I think. This isn’t the usual malingering.” She jerked her head toward the locked door. “I tried getting firm. It was not the right tactic. Now he’s panicked.”
   Miles bent to glance at the lock, which was an ordinary mechanical one. Too bad it wasn’t a palm lock; he knew some tricks with those. This one didn’t even have screws, but some kind of rivets. It was going to take a pry bar. Or subterfuge…
   “Nikki,” called Ekaterin hopefully. “Lord Vorkosigan is out here. He needs to get washed and dressed, so he can go to work.”
   “I’m torn,” murmured Ekaterin in lower tones. “We’re leaving in a few weeks. A few missed lessons wouldn’t matter, but… that’s not the point.”
   “I went to a private Vor school rather like his, when I was his age,” Miles murmured back. “I know what he’s afraid of. But I think your instincts are correct.” He frowned thoughtfully, then set his case down and rummaged for his tube of depilatory cream, which he smeared liberally over his night’s bristles. “Nikki?” he called more loudly. “Can I come in? I’m all over depilatory cream, and if I don’t wash it off, it’ll start eating through my skin.”
   “Won’t he realize you can wash in the kitchen?” Ekaterin whispered.
   “Maybe. But he’s only nine, I’m gambling depilation is still a bit of a mystery.”
   After a moment Nikki’s voice came, “You can come in. But I’m not coming out. And I’m locking it again.”
   “That’s fair,” Miles allowed.
   Some rustling near the door. “Should I grab him when it opens?” Ekaterin asked, very dubiously.
   “Nope. It would violate our tacit agreement. I’ll go in, then we’ll see what happens. At least you’ll have a spy inside the gate, at that point.”
   “It seems wrong to use you so.”
   “Mm, but kids only dare defy those whom they really trust. The fact that I’m still mostly a stranger to him gives me an advantage, which I invite you to use.”
   “True enough. Well… all right.”
   The door opened a cautious crack. Miles waited. It opened a little wider. He sighed, turned sideways, and slipped through. Nikki shut it again immediately, and snapped the lock.
   The boy was dressed for school, in his braided uniform of sober gray and maroon, but minus his shoes. The shoes presumably had been the sticking point, with their implicit commitment to going out. Nikki backed up and seated himself on the edge of the tub; Miles laid out his toiletries kit on the counter and rolled up his sleeves, trying to think fast before coffee. Or think at all. His eloquence had inspired his soldiers to face death, in the past, or so he dimly recalled. Now let’s try something really hard. Playing for time and inspiration, he methodically brushed his teeth, by which time the depilatory had finished working. He washed off the resultant goo, rubbed his face dry with the towel, flung it over his shoulder, and leaned with his back against the door, slowly unrolling his sleeves and fastening his cuffs.
   “So, Nikki,” he said at last. “What’s the trouble with going to school this morning?”
   Moisture smeared around the boy’s defiant eyes glistened when it caught the light. “I’m sick. I’ve got Vorzohn’s thing.”
   “It’s not catching. You can’t give it to anybody.” Except for the way you got it. From the blank look on Nikki’s face, the idea of being dangerous to anyone else had never crossed his mind. Ah, the self-centeredness of childhood. Miles hesitated, wondering how to approach the real problem. For almost the first time, he wondered how certain aspects of his childhood had looked from his parents’ point of view. The doubled vision was dizzying. How the devil did I wind up on the enemy side?
   “You know,” Miles essayed, “no one will even know you have it unless you tell them. It’s not like they can smell it on you, eh?”
   The mulish look redoubled. “That’s what Mama said.”
   Scratch that trial balloon. There was an inherent problem in suggesting secrecy anyway, as Tien’s life demonstrated. Suppressing a passing desire to strangle the boy for inflicting yet more distress on Ekaterin just now, Miles asked, “Have you had breakfast yet?”
   Starving him out or bribing him with food would be too slow, then. “Well… deal. I won’t tell you you’re blowing it all out of proportion if you won’t tell me I don’t understand.”
   Nikki glanced up from his seat, his attention arrested. Yeah. See me, kid. Miles considered, and immediately discarded, any argument that smacked of threat, that attempted to chivvy Nikki in the right direction by upping the pressure. For instance, the one that started out, How do you ever expect to have the courage to jump through wormholes if you haven’t the courage to face this? Nikki was up against the wall now, driven into this untenable retreat. Upping the pressure would just squash him. The trick was to lower the wall. “I went to a private school a bit like yours. I can’t remember a time I wasn’t dealing with being a mutie Vor, in my classmates’ eyes. By the time I was your age, I had a dozen strategies. Some of them were pretty counterproductive, I admit.”
   He’d gone through medical hell in his childhood with a stiff lip. But a few still-remembered playfellows, upon discovering that his brittle bones made physical harassment too dangerous-to themselves, when they found they couldn’t conceal the evidence-had learned to reduce him to humiliated tears with words alone. Sergeant Bothari, delivering Miles daily to this academic purgatory, quickly made a routine of an expert shakedown, relieving him of weapons ranging from kitchen knives to a military stunner stolen from Captain Koudelka’s holster. After that, Miles had gone to war in a subtler fashion. It had taken almost two years to teach certain of his classmates to leave him alone. Learning all round. Upon reflection, offering his own age nine-to-twelve solutions might not be the best idea… in fact, letting Nikki even find out what some of them had been could be a supremely bad idea. “But that was twenty years ago, on Barrayar. Times have changed. What exactly do you think your friends here will do to you?”
   Nikki shrugged. “Dunno.”
   “Well, give me some guesses. You can’t plan a strategy without good intelligence.”
   Nikki shrugged again. After a time he added, “It’s not what they’ll do. It what they’ll think.”
   Miles blew out his breath. “That’s… a little tenuous for me to work with, y’know. What you fear someone will think, in the future. I usually have to use fast-penta to find out what people really think. And even fast-penta won’t tell me what they’re going to think.”
   Nikki hunched. Miles regretfully gave up the notion of telling him that if he kept making those turtle-backed gestures, his spine would freeze like that, just as Miles’s had. There was a faint, awful possibility the boy might believe him.
   “What we need,” Miles sighed, “is an ImpSec agent. Someone to scout unknown territory, not knowing what the strangers they meet are going to do or think. Listen carefully, watch and remember, report back. And they have to do it over and over, in new places all the time. It’s bloody daunting, the first time.”
   Nikki looked up. “How do you know? You said you were a courier.”
   Damn, the kid was sharp. “I’m, um, not supposed to talk about it. You’re not cleared. But do you think your school is as dangerous as, say, Jackson’s Whole, or Eta Ceta? Just to pick a couple of, ah, random examples.”
   Nikki stared in silent and, Miles feared, justified scorn of this adult floundering.
   “Tell you something I did learn, though.”
   Nikki was drawn, or at least, looked up.
   Go with it; he won’t give you more. “It’s not as daunting the second time. I wished later I could have started with the second time. But the only way to get to the second time is to do the first time. Seems paradoxical, that the fastest way to get to easy is through hard. In any case, I can’t spare you an ImpSec agent to check out your school for anti-mutant activity.”
   Nikki snorted warily, alive to the least hint of patronization.
   Miles’s grin twisted in bleak appreciation. “Besides, it would be overkill, don’t you think?”
   “Prob’ly.” Grouchy hunching.
   “The ideal ImpSec scout would be someone who could blend in, anyway. Someone who knew the territory like that back of his hand, and wouldn’t make dangerous mistakes out of ignorance. Someone who could keep his own counsel and not let his assumptions get in the way of his observations. And not get into fights, because it would blow his cover. Very practical people, the successful Imperial agents I’ve known.” He eyed Nikki meditatively. This was not going well. Try another. “The youngest subagent I ever employed was about ten. It wasn’t on Barrayar, needless to say, but I don’t think you’re any less bright or competent than she was.”
   “Ten?” said Nikki, temporarily startled out of his surly knot. “She?”
   “It was for a spot of simple courier duty. She could pass unnoticed where a uniformed mercen-where a uniformed adult could not. Now, I’m willing to be your tactical consultant on this, ah, school-penetration mission, but I can’t work without intelligence. And the best agent to collect it, in this case, is already in place. Do you dare?”
   Nikki shrugged. But his lip-biting stony look had faded into one of speculation. “Ten… a girl…
   A hit, a very palpable hit. “I put her down on my ImpSec expenditures log as a local informant. She was paid, of course. Same rates as an adult. A small but measurable contribution to speeding that particular mission to a successful conclusion.” Miles stared off into the middle distance for a moment, with an air of reminiscence of the sort which usually preceded long, boring adult stories. When he judged the hook was set, he feigned to come back to himself and smiled faintly at Nikki. “Well, that’s enough of that. Duty drives. I haven’t had breakfast. If you decide to come out, I’ll be here for another ten minutes or so.”
   Miles unlatched the lock and let himself out. He didn’t think Nikki had bought more than one word of his in three, though for a change and in contrast to several of his historic negotiations, it had all been true. But at least he’d managed to offer a line of retreat from an impossible position.
   Ekaterin was waiting in the hall. He put his finger to his lips and waited a moment. The door stayed closed, but the lock did not click again. Miles motioned Ekaterin to follow, and tiptoed away to the living room.
   “Whew,” said Miles. “I think that’s the toughest audience I’ve ever played to.”
   “What happened?” demanded Ekaterin anxiously. “Is he coming out?”
   “Not sure yet. I gave him a couple of new things to think about. He didn’t seem as panicked. And it’s going to get really boring in there after a bit. Let’s give him some time and see.”
   Miles was just finishing his groats and coffee when Nikki cautiously poked his head around the kitchen door. He lingered in the doorway, kicking his heel against the frame. Ekaterin, seated across from Miles, put her hand to her lips and waited.
   “Where’re my shoes?” asked Nikki after a moment.
   “Under the table,” said Ekaterin, maintaining, with obvious effort, a perfectly neutral tone. Nikki crawled under to retrieve them, and sat cross-legged on the floor by the door to put them on.
   When he stood up again, Ekaterin said carefully, “Do you want anyone to go with you?”
   “Naw.” His gaze crossed Miles’s just briefly, then he slouched into the living room to collect his school bag and let himself out the front door.
   Ekaterin, turning back from her arrested half-rise from her chair, sank down limply. “My word. I wonder if I ought to call the school to make sure he arrives.”
   Miles thought it over. “Yes. But don’t let Nikki know you checked.”
   “Right.” She swirled the coffee around in the bottom of her cup, and added hesitantly, “How did you do that?”
   “Do what?”
   “Get him out of there. If it had been Tien… they were both stubborn. Tien would get so frustrated with Nikki sometimes, not without cause. He would have threatened to take the door down and drag Nikki to school; I would have run around in circles placating, frantically afraid things would get out of hand. Though they never quite seemed to. I don’t know if that was because of me, or… Tien would always be a little ashamed later, not that he would ever apologize, but he would buy… well, it doesn’t matter now.”
   Miles made a crosshatch pattern in the bottom of his dish with his spoon, hoping his desire for her approval was not too embarrassingly obvious. “Physical solutions have never come easily to me. I just… played with his mind, eased him out. I try never to take away somebody’s face when I’m negotiating.”
   “Not even a child’s?” Her lips quirked, and her brows flicked up in an expression he wasn’t sure how to interpret. “A rare approach.”
   “So, maybe my tactics had the novelty of surprise. I admit, I did think of ordering my ImpSec minions into the breach, but it would have looked like a very silly order. Nikki’s dignity wasn’t the only one on the line.”
   “Well… thank you for being so patient. One doesn’t normally expect busy and important men to take the time for kids.”
   Her voice was warm; she was pleased. Oh, good. He babbled in relief, “Well, I do. Expect it, that is. My Da always did, you see-take time for me. Later, when I learned not everyone’s Da did the same, I just assumed it was only a trait of the most busy and most important men.”
   “Hm.” She looked down at her hands, resting on either side of her cup, and smiled crookedly.
   Professor Vorthys lumbered in, dressed for the day in his comfortable rumpled suit, scarcely more form-fitting than his pajamas. It was tailor-made garb, appropriate to his status as an Imperial Voice, but he must, Miles reflected, have driven his tailor to despair before coaxing just the fit he wanted, With lots of room in the pockets, as he’d once explained to Miles while the Professora rolled her eyes heavenward. Vorthys was stuffing data disks into these capacious compartments. “Are you ready, Miles? ImpSec just called to say they’ll have an aircar and driver waiting for us at the West Locks.”
   “Yes, very good.” With an apologetic smile to Ekaterin, Miles tossed off the last of his coffee and rose. “Will you be all right today, Madame Vorsoisson?”
   “Yes, of course. I have a lot to do. I have an appointment with an estate law counselor, and any amount of sorting and packing… the guard won’t have to go with me, will he?”
   “Not unless you wish. We are leaving one man on duty here, by your leave. But if our Komarrans had wanted hostages, they could have taken me and Tien that first night.” And bought themselves loads more trouble. If only they had, Miles reflected regretfully. His case could be ever so much further along by now. Soudha was too damned smart. “If I thought you and Nikki were in any possible danger-” I’d figure some way to use you for bait— no, no. “If you are in the least uncomfortable, I’d be happy to assign you a man.”
   “No, indeed.”
   That faint smile again. Miles felt he could happily spend the rest of the morning studying all the subtle expressions of her lips. Equipment lists. You’re going to go study equipment lists. “Then I bid you good morning, Madame.”
   Lord Auditor Vorthys, after his first survey of the new situation, had chosen to set up his personal headquarters out at the Waste Heat experiment station. Miles had to admit, the security there was great; no one was likely to blunder in by accident, or wander across its bleak surroundings unobserved. Well, he and Tien had, but the occupants had been distracted at the time, and Tien had apparently possessed a dire luck which amounted to antigenius. Miles wondered which had come first, for Soudha; had the administrative acquisition of such a perfect site for secret work triggered the idea for his shadow project, or had he had the idea first, and then maneuvered himself into the right promotion to capture control of the station? Just one of a long list of questions Miles was itching to ask the man, under fast-penta.
   After the ImpSec aircar delivered the two Auditors, Miles went off first to check the progress of his, or rather, ImpSec Engineering Major D’Emorie’s, inventory crews. The sergeant in charge promised completion of the tedious identification, counting, and cross-check of every portable object in the station before the end of today. Miles then returned to Vorthys, who had set up a sort of engineer’s nest in one of the long upstairs workrooms in the office section, with roomy tables, lots of light, and a proliferating array of high-powered comconsoles. The Professor grunted greetings from behind a multicolored spaghetti-array of mathematical projections, glimmering above his vid-plate. Miles settled down in a comconsole station chair to study the growing list of real objects Colonel Gibbs claimed Waste Heat had paid for, but which were no longer to be found on Waste Heat’s premises, hoping some subliminally familiar ordnance pattern might emerge.
   After a while, the Professor shut off his holovid display and sighed. “Well, no doubt they built something. The topside crews picked up some more fragments yesterday, mostly melted.”
   “So does our inventory represent one something, destroyed along with Radovas, or two somethings?” Miles wondered aloud.
   “Oh, I should think two, at least. Though the second may not have been assembled yet. If one thinks it through from Soudha’s point of view, one realizes he’s been having a very bad month.”
   “Yes, if that whole mess topside wasn’t some really bizarre suicide mission, or internecine sabotage, or… and where is Marie Trogir, blast it? I’m not at all sure the Komarrans knew, either. When he talked to me, Soudha seemed to be angling to find out if I knew anything of her. Unless that was just more of his misdirection.”
   “Are you seeing anything in your inventory yet?” asked Vorthys.
   “Mm, not exactly what I’m looking for. The final autopsy report on Radovas revealed some cellular distortions, in addition to the gross, and I use that term advisedly, damage. They reminded me a little of what happens to human bodies which have suffered a near-miss from a gravitic imploder beam. A hit, of course, is very distinctive, in a messy and violently-distributed way, but a near-miss can kill without actually bursting the body. I’ve been wondering since I first saw the cell scans if Soudha has reinvented the gravitic imploder lance, or some other gravitic field weapon. Scaling them down to personnel size has been an ongoing ambition of the weapons boffins, I know. But… the parts list doesn’t quite jibe. There’s a load of heavy-duty power transmission equipment among this stuff, but I’m damned if I see what they’re transmitting it to.”
   “The math fragments found in Radovas’s library intrigue me very much,” said Vorthys. “You spoke to Soudha’s mathematician, Cappell-what was your impression of him?”
   “It’s hard to say, now that I know he was lying through his teeth at me through the whole interview,” said Miles ruefully. “I deduce that Soudha trusted him to keep his head, at a time when the whole team must have been scrambling like hell to complete their withdrawal. Soudha was very selective, I now realize, in just who he gated through to me.” Miles hesitated, not just sure he could lay out the logic of his next conclusion. “I think Cappell was a key man. Maybe next after Soudha himself. Although the accountant, Foscol… no. I give you a foursome. Soudha, Foscol, Cappell, and Radovas. They’re the core. I’ll bet you Betan dollars to sand the farrago about a love affair between Radovas and Trogir was a complete fabrication, a convincing smoke screen they developed after the accident, to buy time. But in that case, where is Trogir now?” After a moment he added, “And were they planning to use their thing, or sell it? If sell, they’d almost have to find a customer out of the Empire. Maybe Trogir double-crossed everyone and took off with the specs to some high bidder. ImpSec’s got a tight watch for our missing Komarrans on all the jump-point exits from the Empire. They only had a couple hours’ start, they can’t have got out before the lid clamped down. But Trogir had a two-week head start. She could be long gone by now.”
   Vorthys shook his head, declining to reason in advance of his data; Miles sighed, and returned to his list.
   By the end of an hour, Miles was cross-eyed from staring at meters and meters of really supremely boring inventory readouts. His mind wandered, revolving a plan to go attach himself like a hyperactive leech to all the field agents searching for the fugitive Komarrans. Sequentially, he supposed; he had learned not to wish to be twins, or any other multiple of himself. Miles thought of the old Barrayaran joke about the Vor lord who jumped on his horse and rode off in all directions. Forward momentum only worked as a strategy if one had correctly identified which way was forward. After all, Lord Auditor Vorthys didn’t run around in circles; he sat composedly in the center and let it all come to him.
   Miles’s meditations on the proven disadvantages of cloning were interrupted when Colonel Gibbs called them. Gibbs was sporting a demure smile of amazing smugness. The Professor wandered over into range of the vid pickup and leaned on the back of Miles’s chair as Gibbs spoke.
   “My Lord Auditor. My Lord Auditor.” Gibbs nodded to them both. “I’ve found something odd I expect you want. We finally succeeded in tracing the real purchase orders of Waste Heat’s largest equipment expenditures. They have, over the last two years, bought five custom-designed Necklin field generators from a Komarran jumpship powerplant firm. I have the company’s name and address, and copies of the invoices. Bollan Design— that’s the builder-still has the tech specs on file.”
   “Soudha was building a jump ship?” Miles muttered, trying to picture it. “Wait a minute, Necklin rods come in pairs… maybe they broke one? Colonel, has ImpSec visited Bollan yet?”
   “We did, to confirm the invoice forgery. Bollan Design appears to be a perfectly legitimate, though small, company; they’ve been in business about thirty years, which rather predates this embezzlement operation. They’re unable to compete head to head with the major builders like Toscane Industries, so they’ve specialized in odd and experimental designs and custom repairs of out-system and obsolete jumpship rods. Bollan as a company does not appear to have violated any regulation, and seems to have dealt with Soudha as a customer in all good faith. The invoices at the time they left Bollan were not yet altered; that was done when they arrived on Foscol’s comconsole, apparently. Nevertheless… the chief design engineer who worked on the order directly with Soudha has not been to work for three days, nor did my field agent find him at home.”
   Miles swore under his breath. “Ducking fast-penta interrogation, you bet. Unless his body turns up dead in a ditch. Could be either, at this point. You have a detainment order out on him, I trust?”
   “Certainly, my lord. Shall I download everything we’ve acquired so far this morning on your secured channel?”
   “Yes, please,” said Miles.
   “Especially the tech specs,” put in Vorthys over his shoulder. “After I look at them, I may want to talk to the people at Bollan who are still there. May I trouble ImpSec to be sure none of the rest of them go on an extempore vacation before I get in touch with them, Colonel?”
   “Already been done, my lord.”
   Still looking smug, Gibbs signed off, to be replaced by the promised financial and technical data. Vorthys tried to foist the financial records off on Miles, who promptly filed them and went to look at Vorthys’s tech readouts.
   “Well,” said Vorthys, when, after a cursory initial scan, he was able to pull up a holovid schematic, which rotated slowly and colorfully in three dimensions above his vid-plate. “What the hell is that?”
   “I was hoping you’d tell me,” Miles breathed, now hanging in turn over the back of Vorthys’s station chair. “Sure doesn’t look like any Necklin rod I’ve ever seen.” The lines turning in air sketched out a shape like a cross between a corkscrew and a funnel.
   “All the designs are slightly different,” noted Vorthys, bringing up four more shapes to hang in series beside the first. “Judging by the dates, they were scaling up with each subsequent model.”
   According to the attached measurements, the first three were relatively smaller, a couple of meters long and a meter or so wide. The fourth was double the dimensions of the third. The fifth, probably four meters wide at the larger end and six meters in length. Miles pictured the size of the assembly room doors in the building next to this one. Wherever that last one had been delivered to-four weeks ago?-it hadn’t been here. And one did not leave a delicate precision device like a Necklin rod out in the wind and rain.
   “Those things generate Necklin fields?” said Miles. “What shape? With a pair of jumpship rods, the fields counter-rotate and fold the ship through five-space.” He held his hands out parallel with each other, palm up, then pressed them inward, in the metaphor he’d been given, the field wrapped around the ship to create a five-space needle of infinitesimal diameter and unlimited length, to punch through that area of five-space weakness called a wormhole, and unfold again into three-space on the other side. He’d also been dragged through a more convincing mathematical demonstration, in his last term at the Academy, all details of which, never called on subsequently thereafter, had evaporated out of his brain shortly after the final exam. That was long before his cryo-revival, so it was one bit of memory loss he could not blame on the sniper’s needle-grenade. “I used to know this stuff…” he muttered plaintively.
   Despite this broad hint, the Professor did not break into an enlightening lecture. He just sat in his station chair, his chin cupped in his palm. After a moment, he leaned forward and called up a dizzying succession of data files from the probable-cause investigation. “Ah. Here it is.” A wriggly graph appeared, flanked by a list of elements and percentages running down one side. A fast pass through the data from Bollan produced another, similar list. The Professor leaned back. “I’ll be damned.”
   “What?” said Miles.
   “I did not expect to get this lucky. That,” he pointed to the first graph, “is an analysis of the composition of a very melted and distorted mass fragment we picked up topside. It has nearly the same composition fingerprint as this fourth device, here. The figures which are a tiny bit off are just the sort of lighter and more volatile elements I’d expect to lose in such a melt. Huh. I didn’t think we’d ever be able to reconstruct the source of those blobs. Now we don’t have to.”
   “If that was the fourth,” said Miles slowly, “where’s the fifth?”
   The Professor shrugged. “The same place as the first, second, and third?”
   “Do you have enough information from the inventory to reconstruct its power supply? At that point, we’d have the whole machine mapped, wouldn’t we?”
   “Mm, maybe. It will certainly supply some parameters. How much power? Continuous, or phased? Bollan had to know, to supply the proper coupler… ah.” He noodled again with the specs and fell into a study of the complicated diagram.
   Miles rocked impatiently on his heels. When he felt he could no longer maintain his respectful silence without the top of his head blowing off, he said, “Yes, but what does it do?”
   “Just what it says, presumably. Generates a five-space distortion field.”
   “Which does what? To what?”
   “Ah.” The Professor sank back in his station chair and rubbed his chin ruefully. “Answering that may take a little longer.”
   “Can’t we run comconsole simulations?”
   “To be sure. But to get the right answer, one must first correctly frame the question. I want-humph!-a mathematical physicist specializing in five-space theory. Probably Dr. Riva, she’s at the University of Solstice.”
   “If she’s Komarran, ImpSec will object.”
   “Yes, but she’s here on-planet. I’ve consulted her before, when I investigated a politically suspicious wormhole jump accident on the Sergyar route two years ago. She thinks sideways better than any of the other five-space people I know.”
   Miles was under the impression that all five-space math experts thought sideways to the rest of humanity, but he nodded understanding of the importance of this character trait.
   “I want her; I shall have her. But before I drag her out of her comfortable academic routine, I think I want to visit Bollan in person. Your Colonel Gibbs is very good, but he can’t have asked all the questions.”
   Miles considered denying personal ownership of ImpSec and anyone in it, but recognized ruefully that he was now identified as the authority on ImpSec among the Auditors just as Vorthys was identified as the engineering expert. It’s an ImpSec problem, he pictured some future conclave of his colleagues concluding. Give it to Vorkosigan. “Right.”
   The trip to Bollan Design’s plant did not prove as enlightening as Miles had hoped. A hop in a suborbital shuttle to a dome one Sector west of Serifosa soon brought Miles and Vorthys face-to-face with Bollan’s upset owners. Since they’d already thrown open all their records to ImpSec that morning, they had little more to offer the Imperial Auditors. The administrative people knew only of financial and contractual details with Soudha’s mythical “private research institute” that had supposedly ordered the work; some techs who’d worked in the fabrication shop had very little to add to the specs already in Vorthys’s possession. If the missing engineer had been as innocent of the true identity of the customer and purpose of the device as were the rest of the Bollan employees, he’d have had no reason to flee; Bollan Design had committed no crime that Miles could identify.
   However, the techs were able to recall dates of several visits from men answering to descriptions of Soudha, Cappell, and Radovas, definitely one from Soudha as recently as the previous week. Their supervisor had never included them in these conferences. They had been told never to discuss the odd Necklin generators outside their work group, as the devices were experimental and not yet patented, trade secrets soon to transmute into profit (or loss). The progression so far had looked a lot more like loss than profit.
   The customers had always picked up the finished devices from the plant themselves, not had them delivered anywhere. Miles made a note to find out if Waste Heat had owned their own large transport, and if not, to have ImpSec check out recent lift-van rentals of anything big enough to have hauled those last two generators.
   Nosing around the plant while the Professor went off to speak High Engineering to the bilingual, Miles felt himself increasingly drawn to the hypothesis that the chief designer had gone missing voluntarily. Upon closer examination it had been found that many of the man’s personal notes had apparently gone with him. Bollan’s plant security was not military grade, but it would be a stretch to imagine Soudha’s hurried Komarrans first murdering the man, then smoothly and surgically removing quite so many comconsole records from quite so many locations without inside help. Anyway, Miles didn’t wish the man dead in a ditch. He wished him very much alive, at the business end of Tuomonen’s hypospray. That was the trouble, people anticipated fast-penta now. Modern conspirators were a lot more tight-lipped than back in the bad old days of mere physical torture. Three days ago, if someone had told Miles that Gibbs was going to hand him what amounted to complete design specs of Soudha’s secret weapon on a platter, he would have been delighted to imagine his case nearly solved. Ha.
   Miles and Vorthys arrived back at Ekaterin’s apartment that light too late for dinner, but in time for a hand-made dessert obviously tailored to the Professor’s tastes, involving chocolate, cream, and quantities of hydroponic pecans. They all sat around Ekaterin’s kitchen table to devour it. Whatever Nikki had encountered from his playmates today, it hadn’t been unpleasant enough to affect his appetite, Miles noted with approval.
   “How was school today?” Miles asked him, ashamed to let such a deadly boring triteness fall from his lips, but how else was he supposed to find out?
   “All right,” Nikki said around a mouthful of cream.
   “Think you’ll have any trouble tomorrow?”
   “Naw.” The tone of his monosyllables had returned to its normal preadolescent adult-wary indifference; no more the breathy panicked edge of this morning.
   “Good,” Miles said affably. Ekaterin’s eyes were smiling, Miles noted out of the corner of his own. Good.