“Oh,” said Ekaterin. “Drat.” Oversocialized, maybe, but stronger words seemed just as inadequate.
   “Just so, dear. It was a good try, though. For a moment, I thought it would work, and so did your Komarrans. They were very upset.”
   “It will make the next try harder.”
   “Very likely,” agreed her aunt. “We must think carefully what it ought to be. I don’t think we can count on a third chance. Brutality does not seem to come naturally to them, but they do act very stressed. I don’t believe those are safe people, just now, for all that they know you. When do you think we will be missed?”
   “Not very soon,” said Ekaterin regretfully. “I sent a message to Uncle Vorthys when I first got in to the station hostel. He may not expect another till we fail to get off the ferry tomorrow night.”
   “Something will happen then,” said the Professora. Her tone of quiet confidence was undercut when she added more faintly, “Surely.”
   Yes, but what will happen between now and then? “Yes,” Ekaterin echoed. She stared around the locked lavatory. “Surely.”


   Professor Vorthys’s requested experts were due to arrive at the Serifosa shuttleport at nearly the same early hour as Ekaterin departed for her connection with the jump station ferry, so Miles managed to invite himself along on what would otherwise have been a family farewell. Ekaterin did not discuss last night’s visit from Venier with her uncle; Miles had no opportunity to urge her, Don’t accept any marriage proposals from strangers while you’re out there. The Professor loaded her with verbal messages for his wife, and got a goodbye hug. Miles stood with his hands shoved in his pockets, and nodded a cordial safe-journey to her.
   What Miles thought of as the Boffin Express, a commercial morning flight from Solstice, landed a short time later. The five-space expert, Dr. Riva, turned out to be a thin, intense, olive-skinned woman of about fifty, with bright black eyes and a quick smile. A stout, sandy young man she had in tow whom Miles first pegged as an undergraduate student was revealed as a mathematics professor colleague, Dr. Yuell.
   A high-powered ImpSec aircar waited to whisk them directly out to the Waste Heat experiment station. When they arrived, the Professor led them all upstairs to his nest, which seemed to have acquired more comconsoles, stacks of flimsies, and tables littered with machine parts overnight. To everyone’s discomfort, but not to Miles’s surprise, ImpSec Major D’Emorie took formal recorded oaths of loyalty and secrecy from the two Komarran consultants. Miles thought the loyalty oath was redundant, since neither academic could have held their current posts without having taken one previously. As for the secrecy oath… Miles wondered if either of the Komarrans had noticed yet that they had no way of leaving the experiment station except by ImpSec transport.
   The five of them all then sat down to a lecture conducted by Lord Auditor Vorthys, which seemed halfway between a military briefing and an academic seminar, with a tendency to drift toward the latter. Miles wasn’t sure if D’Emorie was there as participant or observer, but then, Miles didn’t have much to say either, except to confirm one or two points about the autopsies when he was cued by Vorthys. Miles wondered again whether he might be more useful elsewhere, such as out with the field agents; he could hardly be less useful here, he realized glumly as the mathematical references began flying over his head. When you folks convert all that to the pretty colored shapes on the comconsole, show me the picture. I like my storybooks to have pictures in them. Perhaps he ought to go back to school for two or three years himself, and brush up. He consoled himself with the reflection that it was seldom he found himself in company who made him feel this stupid. It was probably good for his soul.
   “The power that’s fed into the-I suppose we can call it the horn-of the Necklin field generator is pulsed, definitely pulsed,” Vorthys told the Komarrans. “Highly directional, rapid, and adjustable-I almost want to say, tunable.”
   “That’s so very odd,” said Dr. Riva. “Jumpship rods have steady power-in fact, keeping unwanted fluctuations out of the power is a major design concern. Let’s try some simulations with the various hypotheses…”
   Miles woke up, and bent closer, as the assorted theories began to take visible form as three-dimensional vector maps above the vid-plate. Professor Vorthys provided some limiting parameters based on the projected nature of the power supply. The boffins did indeed produce some pretty pictures, but except for aesthetic considerations involving color contrasts, Miles didn’t see what was to choose among them.
   “What happens if somebody stands in front of the directional five-space pulses from that thing?” he asked at last. At various distances, say. Or runs an ore freighter in front of it.”
   “Not much,” said Riva, staring at the whirls and lines with an intensity at least equal to Miles’s. “I’m not sure it would be good for you on the cellular level to be that close to any power generator of this magnitude, but it is, after all, a five-space field pulse. Any three-space effects would be due to some unfocus on the fringe, and doubtless take the energy form of gravitational waves. Artificial gravity is a five-space/three-space interface phenomenon, as is your military gravitic imploder lance.”
   D’Emorie twitched slightly, but trying to keep a five-space physicist from knowing about the principles of the imploder lance was an exercise in futility right up there with trying to keep weather secret from a farmer. The best the military could hope for was to keep the engineering details under wraps for a time.
   “Could it be, I don’t know… that we’re looking at half the weapon?”
   Riva shrugged, but looked interested rather than scornful, so Miles hoped it wasn’t a stupid question. “Have you determined if it is meant to be a weapon at all?” she said.
   “We’ve got some very dead people to account for,” Miles pointed out.
   “That, alas, does not necessarily require a weapon.” Professor Vorthys sighed. “Carelessness, stupidity, haste, and ignorance are quite as powerfully destructive of forces as homicidal intent. Though I must confess a special distaste for intent. It seems so unnecessarily redundant. It’s… anti-engineering.”
   Dr. Riva smiled.
   “Now,” said Vorthys, “what I want to know is what happens if you aim this device at a wormhole, or, possibly, activate it while jumping through a wormhole. One would in that case also have to take into account effects due to the Necklin field it was traveling inside.”
   “Hmm…” said Riva. She and the sandy-haired youth went into close math-gibberish-mode, punctuated by some reprogramming of the simulation console. The first colorful display was rejected by them both with the muttered comment, “That’s not right…”A couple more went by. Riva sat back at last, and ran her hands through her short curls. “Any chance of taking this home to sleep on overnight?”
   “Ah,” said Lord Auditor Vorthys. “I’m afraid I was unclear to you over the comconsole last night. This is something in the nature of a crash program, here. We have reason to suspect time could be of the essence. We’re all here for the duration, till we figure this out. No data leave this building.”
   “What, no dinner at the Top of the Dome in Serifosa?” said Yuell, sounding disappointed.
   “Not tonight,” Vorthys apologized. “Unless someone gets really inspired. Food and bedding will be supplied by the Emperor.”
   Riva glanced around the room, and by implication the facility. Is this going to be the ImpSec Budget Hostel again? Bedrolls and ready-meals?”
   The Professor smiled wryly. “I’m afraid so.”
   “I should have remembered that part from the last time… Well, it’s motivation of a sort, I suppose. Yuell, that’s enough of this comconsole for now. Something’s not right. I need to pace.”
   “The corridor is at your disposal,” Professor Vorthys told her cordially. “Did you bring your walking shoes?”
   “Certainly. I did remember that from our last date.” She stuck out her legs, displaying comfortable thick-soled shoes, and rose to go off to the hallway. She began walking rapidly up and down, murmuring to herself from time to time.
   “Riva claims to think better while walking,” Vorthys explained to Miles. “Her theory is that it pumps the blood up to her brain. My theory is that since no one can keep up with her, it cuts down on the distracting interruptions.”
   A kindred spirit, by God. “Can I watch?”
   “Yes, but please don’t talk to her. Unless she talks to you, of course.”
   Both Vorthys and Yuell returned to fooling with their comconsoles. The Professor appeared to be trying to refine his hypothetical design for the missing power-supply system or the novel device. Miles wasn’t sure but what Yuell was playing some sort of mathematical vid game. Miles leaned back in his station chair, stared out the window, and addressed his imagination to the question, If I were a Komarran conspirator with ImpSec on my tail and a novel device the size of a couple of elephants, where would I hide it? Not in his luggage, for damn sure. He scratched out ideas on a flimsy, and drew rejecting lines through most of them. D’Emorie studied the Professor’s work and reran some of the earlier simulations.
   After about three-quarters of an hour, Miles became aware hat the echo of soft rapid footsteps from the corridor had eased. He rose, and went and poked his head out the door. Dr. Riva was seated on a window ledge at the end of the corridor, gazing pensively out over the Komarran landscape. It fell away toward the stream, here, and was much less bleak than the usual scene, being liberally colonized by Earth green. Miles ventured to approach her.
   She looked up at him with her quick smile as he neared, which he returned. He hitched his hip over the low ledge, and followed her gaze out the sealed window, then turned to study her profile. “So,” he said at last. “What are you thinking?”
   Her lips twisted wryly. “I’m thinking… that I don’t believe in perpetual motion.”
   “Ah.” Well, if it had been easy, or even just moderately difficult, the Professor would not have called for reinforcements, Miles reflected. “Hm.”
   She turned her gaze from the scenery to him, and said after a moment, “So, you’re really the son of the Butcher?”
   “I’m the son of Aral Vorkosigan,” he replied steadily.
   “Yes.” Her version of the perpetual question was neither the accidental social blunder of Tien, nor the deliberate provocation of Venier. It seemed something more… scientific. What was she testing for?
   “The private life of men of power isn’t what we expect, sometimes.”
   He jerked up his chin. “People have some very odd illusions about power. Mostly it consists of finding a parade and nipping over to place yourself at the head of the band. Just as eloquence consists of persuading people of things they desperately want to believe. Demagoguery, I suppose, is eloquence sliding to some least moral energy level.” He smiled bleakly at his boot. “Pushing people uphill is one hell of a lot harder. You can break your heart, trying that.” Literally, but he saw no point in discussing the Butcher’s medical history with her.
   “I was given to understand that power politics had chewed you up.”
   Surely she could not see scars through his gray suit. “Oh,” Miles shrugged, “the prenatal damage was just the prologue. The rest I did to myself.”
   “If you could go back in time and change things, would you?”
   “Prevent the soltoxin attack on my pregnant mother? If I could only pick one event to change… maybe not.”
   “What, because you wouldn’t want to risk missing an Auditorship at thirty?” Her tone was only faintly mocking, softened by her wry smile. What the devil had Vorthys told her about him, anyway? She was highly aware, though, of the power of an Emperor’s Voice.
   “I almost arrived at thirty in a coffin, a couple of times. An Auditorship was never an ambition of mine. That appointment was a caprice of Gregor’s. I wanted to be an admiral. It’s not that.” He paused, and drew in breath, and let it out slowly. “I’ve made a lot of grievous mistakes in my life, getting here, but… I wouldn’t trade my journey now. I’d be afraid of making myself smaller.”
   She cocked her head, measuring his dwarfishness, not missing his meaning. “That’s as fair a definition of satisfaction as any I’ve ever heard.”
   He shrugged. “Or loss of nerve.” Dammit, he’d come out here to pick her brain. “So what do you think of the novel device?”
   She grimaced, and rubbed her hands slowly, palm to palm. “Unless you want to posit that it was invented for the purpose of giving headaches to physicists, I think… it’s time to break for lunch.”
   Miles grinned. “Lunch, we can supply.”
   Lunch, as threatened, was indeed military-issue ready-meals, though of the highest grade. They all sat around one of the tables in the long room, pushed aside chunks of equipment to make space, and tore off the wrappers from the self-heating trays. The Komarrans eyed their food dubiously; Miles explained how it could have been much worse, getting a giggle from Riva. The conversation became general, touching on husbands and wives and children and tenure and an exchange of scurrilous anecdotes about the fecklessness of former colleagues. D’Emorie had a couple of good ones about early ImpSec cases. Miles was tempted to top them with a few about his cousin Ivan, but nobly refrained, though he did explain how he’d once sunk himself and his personal vehicle in several meters of arctic mud. This led to the subject of the progress of Komarran terraforming, and so by degrees back to work. Riva, Miles noticed, grew quieter and quieter.
   She maintained her silence as they all took to the corn-consoles again after lunch. She did not resume her pacing. Miles watched her covertly, then less covertly. She reran several simulations, but did not play with further alterations. Miles knew damn well one couldn’t hurry insight. This kind of problem-solving was a lot more like fishing than like hunting: waiting patiently and, to a degree, helplessly, for things to rise up out of the depths of the mind.
   He thought about the last time he’d been fishing.
   He considered Riva’s age. She’d been in her teens at the time of the Barrayaran conquest of Komarr. In her twenties at the time of the Revolt. She’d survived, she’d endured, she’d cooperated; her years under Imperial rule had been good, including an obviously successful life of the mind, and a single marriage. She’d compared children with Vorthys, and spoken of an eldest daughter’s upcoming wedding. No Komarran terrorist, she.
   If you could go back in time and change things… The only moment in time you could change things was the elusive now, which slipped through your fingers as fast as you could think about it. He wondered if she was thinking about that right now, too. Now.
   Now, the Professora’s ship from Barrayar would be getting ready for its final wormhole jump. Now, Ekaterin’s ferry would be approaching the jump-point station. Now, Soudha and his crew of earnest techs would be doing… what? Where? Now, he was sitting in a room on Komarr watching a quietly brilliant woman who had stopped thinking.
   He rose, and went to touch Major D’Emorie on his green-uniformed shoulder. “Major, can I have a word with you outside.”
   Surprised, D’Emorie shut down his comconsole, where he’d been checking out some question about available power transformers Vorthys had put to him. He followed Miles into the hall and down the corridor.
   “Major, do you have a fast-penta interrogation kit available?”
   D’Emorie’s brows rose. “I can check, my lord.”
   “Do so. Get one and bring it to me, please.”
   “Yes, my lord.”
   D’Emorie went off. Miles lingered by the window. It was twenty minutes before D’Emorie returned, but he had the familiar case in his hand.
   Miles took it. “Thank you. Now I would like you to take Dr. Yuell for a walk. Discreetly. I’ll let you know when you can come back in.”
   “My lord… if it’s a matter for fast-penta, I’m sure ImpSec would want me to observe.”
   “I know what ImpSec wants. You may be assured, I will tell them what they need to know, afterward.” Turnabout, hah, for all those briefings with vital pieces missing Lieutenant Vorkosigan had once endured… life was good, sometimes. Miles smiled a little sourly; D’Emorie, intelligently, veered off.
   “Yes, my Lord Auditor.”
   Miles stood aside for D’Emorie to exit with Dr. Yuell. When he entered the long room, he locked the door after himself. Both Professor Vorthys and Dr. Riva looked up at him in puzzlement.
   “What’s that for?” Dr. Riva asked, as he set the case on the table and opened it.
   “Dr. Riva, I request and require a somewhat franker conversation with you than the one we had earlier.” He held up the hypospray and calibrated the dosage for her estimated body mass. Allergy check? He didn’t think he needed it, but it was standard operating procedure; if he didn’t have to guess, he didn’t have to guess wrong. He tore off a test-dot from the coiled strip of them and walked over to her station chair. She was too startled to resist at first when he took her hand, turned it over, and pressed the tester to the inside of her wrist, but she jerked back her arm at the prickle. He let it go.
   “Miles,” said Professor Vorthys in an agitated voice, “what is this? You can’t fast-penta… Dr. Riva is my invited guest!”
   That wording was one step away from the sort of Vor challenge that used to result in duels, in the bad old days. Miles took a deep breath. “My Lord Auditor. Dr. Riva. I have made two serious errors of judgment on this case so far. If I’d avoided either of them, your nephew-in-law would still be alive, we’d have nailed Soudha before he got away with all his equipment, and we would not now all be sitting at the bottom of a deep tactical hole playing with jigsaw puzzles. They were both at heart the same error. The first day we toured the Terraforming Project, I did not insist on Tien landing the aircar here, though I wanted to see the place. And on the second night, I did not insist on a fast-penta interrogation of Madame Radovas, though I wanted to. You’re the failure analyst, Professor; am I wrong?”
   “No… But you could not have known, Miles!”
   “Oh, but I could have known. That’s the whole point. But I didn’t choose to do what was necessary, because I did not want to appear to use or abuse my Auditorial power in an offensive way. Especially not on here on Komarr, where everyone is watching me, the son of the Butcher, to see what I’ll do. Besides, I spent a career fighting the powers-that-be. Now I am them. Naturally, I was a little confused.”
   Riva’s hand was to her mouth; there was no hive or red streak on the inside of her arm. Well and good. Miles returned to the table and picked up the hypospray.
   “Lord Vorkosigan, I do not consent to this!” said Riva stiffly as he approached her.
   “Dr. Riva, I did not ask you to.” His left hand guarded his right as in knife-play; the hypospray darted in to touch her neck even as she turned and began to rise from her chair. “It would be too cruel a dilemma.” She sank back, glaring at him. Angry, but not desperate; she was divided in her own mind, then, which had doubtless saved them both the embarrassment of him chasing her around the room. Even at her age and dignity she could probably outrun him if she were truly determined to do so.
   “Miles,” said the Professor dangerously, “it may be your Auditorial privilege, but you had better be able to justify this.”
   “Hardly a privilege. Only my duty.” He stared into Riva’s eyes as her pupils dilated and she sank back limply in her chair. He didn’t bother with the standard opening litany of neutral questions while waiting for the drug to cut in, but merely watched her lips. Their thin tension slowly softened to the stereotypical fast-penta smile. Her eyes remained more focused than those of the usual subject; he bet she could make this a lengthy and circuitous interrogation, if she chose. He’d do his best to cut that circuit as short as possible. The shortest way across a hostile District was around three sides.
   “This was a really interesting five-space problem that Professor Vorthys set you,” Miles observed to her. “Sort of a privilege to be brought in on it.”
   “Oh, yes,” she agreed cordially. She smiled, frowned, her hands twitched, then her smile settled in more securely.
   “Could be prizes and academic preferment, when it’s all sorted out at last.”
   “Oh, better than that,” she assured him. “New physics only come along once in a lifetime, and usually you’re too young or too old.”
   “Strange, I’ve heard military careerists make the same complaint. But won’t Soudha get the credit?”
   “I doubt it was Soudha who thought of it. I’d bet it was the mathematician, Cappell, or maybe poor Dr. Radovas. It should be named after Radovas. He died for it, I suspect.”
   “I don’t want anybody else to die for it.”
   “Oh, no,” she agreed earnestly.
   “What did you say it was, again, Professor Riva?” Miles did his best to pitch his voice like a bewildered undergraduate’s. “I didn’t understand.”
   “The wormhole collapsing technique. There ought to be a better name for it. I wonder if your Dr. Soudha calls it something shorter.”
   Lord Auditor Vorthys, who’d been watching with slit-eyed disapproval, sat slowly upright, his eyes widening, his lips moving.
   The last time Miles had felt his stomach behave like this, he’d been on a combat drop from low orbit. Wormhole collapsing technique? Does this mean what I think it does?
   “Wormhole collapsing technique,” he repeated blandly, in his best fast-penta interrogator style. “Wormholes collapse, but didn’t think anything people could do could cause them to. Wouldn’t it take an awful lot of power?”
   “They seem to have found a way around that. Resonance, five-space resonance. Amplitude augmentation, you see. Shut down forever. Don’t think it would work in reverse, though. Can’t be anti-entropic.”
   Miles glanced at Vorthys. The words obviously meant something to him. Good.
   Dr. Riva waved her hands dreamily in front of her. “Higher and higher and higher and-boop!” She giggled. It was a very fast-penta’ish sort of giggle, the disturbing sort which suggested that on some other level, in her drug-scrambled brain, she was not giggling at all. Maybe she was screaming. As Miles was… “Except,” she added, “that there’s something very wrong somewhere.”
   No lie. He walked over and picked up the hypospray of antagonist, and glanced up at Vorthys. “Anything you want to add while she’s still under? Or is it time to go back to normal mode?”
   Vorthys still had an abstracted, inward look, his mind obviously ratcheting over everything he’d learned during the investigation in light of this new, revolutionary idea. He glanced up and over at the goofily grinning Riva. “I think we need all our wits about us.” His brows drew down in something like pain. “One sees, of course, why she hesitated to confide her theory to us. In case it is right…”
   Miles walked over to Riva with the second hypospray. “This is the fast-penta antagonist. It will neutralize the drug in your system in less than a minute.”
   To his astonishment, she threw up a restraining hand. “Wait, had it. I could almost see it, in my mind… like a vid pro-action… energy transfers, flowing… field reservoir… wait.”
   She closed her eyes and leaned her head back; her feet tapped gently and rhythmically on the floor. Her smile came and went, came and went. Her eyes popped open at last, and he stared briefly and intently at Vorthys. “The keyword,” she intoned, “is elastic recoil. Remember it.” She glanced at Miles and held out a languid arm. “You may proceed, my lord.” She giggled again.
   He applied the hypospray over the blue vein inside her proffered elbow; it hissed briefly. He gave her an odd little half-bow, and stepped back, and waited. Her loose limbs tightened; she buried her face in her hands.
   After about a minute, she looked up again, blinking. “What did I just say?” she asked Vorthys.
   “Elastic recoil,” he repeated, watching her intently. “What does it mean?”
   She was silent a moment, staring at her feet. “It means… I compromised myself for nothing.” Her lips thinned bitterly. “Soudha’s device doesn’t work. Or at any rate, it doesn’t work to collapse a wormhole.” She sat up, and shook herself out, stretching, the sense of her body doubtless coming back to her as the last of the antagonist chased through her system. “I thought that stuff would make me sick.”
   “Reactions vary wildly from subject to subject,” said Miles. Indeed, he’d never seen one quite like that before. “A woman we interrogated the other day said she found it very restful.”
   “It had the strangest effect on my internal visualizations.” She stared at the hypospray with speculative respect. “I may try it on purpose someday.”
   I want to be there if you do. Miles had a sudden exciting vision of using the drug to augment his own insights-instant brains!-then remembered to his extreme disappointment that fast-penta didn’t work like that on him.
   Riva glanced at Miles. “If I ever get out of a Barrayaran prison. Am I under arrest now?”
   Miles chewed his lip. “What for?”
   “Isn’t violating loyalty and security oaths treason?”
   “You haven’t violated any security oath. Yet. As for the other… when two Imperial Auditors say they didn’t see something, it can become remarkably invisible.”
   Vorthys smiled suddenly.
   “I thought you were sworn to tell the truth, Lord Auditor.”
   “Only to Gregor. What we tell the rest of the universe is negotiable. We just don’t advertise the fact.”
   “That, alas, is true.” Vorthys sighed.
   “How will you explain the missing drug doses to ImpSec?”
   “One, I am an Imperial Auditor, I don’t have to explain anything to anyone. Least of all ImpSec. Two, we used it experimentally to enhance scientific insight. Which I gather is the truth, so I return to Go and collect my tokens.”
   Her lips twisted up in a genuine, if wryly baffled, smile. “I see. I think.”
   “In short, this never happened, you are not under arrest, and we have work to do. For my curiosity, though, before I call our junior colleagues back in-can you give me a quick synopsis of your chain of reasoning? In nonmathematical terms, please.”
   “It’s only in nonmathematical terms so far. If I can’t run some real numbers in under this-well, I’ll just have to dismiss it as an interesting hallucination.”
   “You were convinced enough to dry up on us.”
   “I was stunned. Not so much convinced as breathless.”
   “With hope?”
   “With… I don’t quite know.” She shook her head. “I may yet be proved wrong, and it wouldn’t be the first time. but you are familiar, I assume, with examples of positive feedback loops in resonant phenomena-sound, for example?”
   “Feedback squeals, yes.”
   “Or a pure note that breaks a wineglass. And in structures— you know why soldiers must break step when marching across a bridge? So that the resonance of their steps doesn’t collapse he structure?”
   Miles grinned. “I actually saw that happen once. It involved a squad of Imperial Junior Scouts, a flag ceremony, a wooden footbridge, and my cousin Ivan. Dumped twenty really obnoxious teenage boys into a creek.” He added aside to the Professor, “They wouldn’t let me march with my squad that evening because, they said, my height would mess up their symmetry. So I was watching from the back benches. It was glorious. I think I was about thirteen, but I’ll treasure the memory forever.”
   “Did you see it coming, or did it take you by surprise?” asked the Professor curiously.
   “I saw it coming, though not, I admit, very far in advance.”
   Riva’s brows twitched; she licked her lips and began. “Wormholes resonate in five-space. Very slightly, and at a very high state. I believe that the function of Soudha’s device is to emit a five-space energy pulse precisely tuned to the natural frequency of a wormhole. The pulse’s power is low, compared to the latent energies involved in the wormhole’s structure, but if properly tuned it might-no, would, gradually build up the amplitude of the wormhole’s resonance until it exceeded its phase boundaries and collapsed. Or rather, I think Soudha’s group thought it must collapse. What I think actually happened is more complex.”
   “Elastic recoil?” Vorthys prodded hopefully.
   “In a sense. What I think happened is that the pulse amplified the resonance energies until the phase boundaries recoiled, and the energy was abruptly returned to three-space in the form of a directed gravitational wave.”
   “Good God,” said Miles. “Do you mean to say Soudha’s found way to turn an entire wormhole into a giant imploder lance?”
   “Mmmm…” said Riva. “Er… maybe. What I don’t know is if that was what he meant to do. The first theory made more political sense to me… as a Komarran. It quite seduced me. I wonder if they were seduced as well? If he did mean the wormhole to act as a sort of imploder lance, I don’t see that he’s found a way to aim it. I think the gravitational pulse was returned back along the initial path. I don’t know if Radovas committed suicide, but I’m very much afraid he may have shot himself.”
   “My word,” breathed Vorthys. “And the ore ship-”
   “If their test platform was indeed aboard the soletta array, the involvement of the ore ship was sheer bad luck. Bad timing. It blundered into the gravitational pulse and was ripped apart, then was funneled toward and struck the soletta array and thoroughly confused the issue. If the device was aboard the ore ship-well, same result.”
   “Including the confusion,” said Vorthys ruefully.
   “But… but there’s still something very wrong. You have presumably calculated most of the energy vectors involved in the soletta accident?
   “Over and over.”
   “You trust the numbers you gave me?”
   “And you’ve put limits on what energies the device can have transferred, over various lengths of time.”
   “There are some fairly strict and obvious engineering limits to its potential peak power output,” agreed Vorthys. “What we don’t know is how long they could run it.”
   “Well,” the five-space physicist took a deep breath, “unless they were running it for weeks, and Radovas and Trogir were seen downside much later than that, I think you’ve got more energy out of the wormhole than went into it.”
   “From where?”
   “Presumably from the wormhole’s deep structure. Somehow. Unless you want to posit that Soudha has invented perpetual motion as well, which is against my religion.”
   Vorthys was looking wildly excited. “This is wonderful! Miles, call Yuell. Call D’Emorie. We must check those numbers.”
   When D’Emorie returned with Yuell, all the tech folk were too entranced with the breakthrough regarding the novel device to broach any embarrassing questions about where the fast-penta had gone. D’Emorie would doubtless think to ask later; Miles would be bland and uninformative, he decided. Riva clearly didn’t want to waste time and mental energy on anger when there was physics to be had, but if she decided to be pissed at him later, he would grovel as needed. For now, Miles sat back, watched, and listened, feeling that he understood perhaps one sentence in three.
   So did Soudha now imagine that he possessed a wormhole collapser-or a giant imploder lance? He had stolen much of the technical data from the accident investigation; he had a lot of the same numbers Vorthys did, and the same amount of time to look them over. While simultaneously managing a complex evacuation of some dozen persons and several tons of equipment, Miles reminded himself. Soudha had been rather busy. Of course, he hadn’t had to waste time reconstructing the plans of his device from scattered specs.
   But the gravitational backlash from the test wormhole near the soletta array must have surprised Radovas-however briefly-and Soudha. The accident had stopped their research, brought Auditors down upon them, compelled their flight. It made no sense, none, to posit the destruction of the soletta as deliberate sabotage and suicide. If one wanted to blow up Barrayarans, there were much more inviting targets around. Such as the military stations guarding each wormhole exit from Komarr local space. As an imploder lance variant, the device wasn’t going to make a very useful military weapon till they figured out how to aim it at someone besides themselves. Though if one could set it up in secret aboard a military station, turn it on, and flee before the blast occurred…
   Had Soudha figured out what had happened yet? He had data, yes, but his five-space man was dead. Arozzi was only a junior engineer, and Cappell the math man did not show any special brilliance in his academic record. Vorthys had been able to tap the top five-space expert on the planet, not to mention Yuell the Wonderboy, who, Miles noted, was just at this moment arguing math with Vorthys and winning. Given the data and enough time, Radovas might have made the same conceptual breakthrough as Riva, but Soudha in his flight was not equipped to. Unless he’d found a replacement for Radovas… Miles made a note to tell ImpSec to check for the disappearance of any other Komarran five-space experts in the last weeks.
   Soudha’s flight, Miles decided, had to be following one of three logic branches. Either they had abandoned all and fled, or they’d withdrawn to hide, painfully rebuild their safe base, and try again another day. Or they had moved up their timetable and elected to risk all on an early strike of some kind. Miles wondered if they’d put what should have been a technically-driven decision to a vote. They were Komarrans, after all, and apparently volunteers. Amateur conspirators, not that it was exactly a licensed trade. Option One didn’t feel right, given what Miles had seen so far. Option Two seemed more likely, but gave ImpSec time enough to do their job. The Komarrans might have thought so too.
   If you’re going to worry, worry about Option Three. There was a lot to worry about, in Option Three. Panicked and desperate people were capable of very strange moves indeed; look at some of the incidents in his own career.
   “Professor Vorthys. Dr. Riva.” Miles had to repeat himself, more loudly, before they looked up. “So you aim this device at a worm-hole, and switch it on, and it starts pumping in energy. At some point, it builds up to a break-point and bounces back at you. What happens if you turn it off before that point?”
   “I am not certain,” said Riva, “that that wasn’t exactly what happened. The backlash may have been triggered by either exceeding the phase boundaries, or by Radovas turning off the pulse source. It is unclear if the phase-boundary deaugmentation is discontinous or not.”
   “So… once activated, the device may become in effect its own dead-man switch? Turning it off sets it off?”
   “I’m not sure. It would be a good point to test.”
   From a suitable distance. “Well… if you figure it out, please let me know, eh? Carry on.”
   After a moment to either digest his question, or wait to see if he’d pop out with any other interruption, the conversation around the table returned to its original polyglot of English, mathematics, and engineering. Miles settled back, feeling anything but reassured.
   If Soudha had perfected his device with an eye to using the wormholes as power sources to blow up the military stations that guarded them, as a surprise opening for a shooting war… the way to do it would be to blow up all six at once, coordinated with a Komarr-wide uprising on the scale of the ill-fated Komarr Revolt. Miles was not totally pleased with ImpSec’s performance in this case so far, but Soudha’s had been a small group, running close to the ground. The signs of a massive revolt brewing must be too widespread for even ImpSec to miss. Besides, the chief conspirators were all of an age to have been through that once. Anyone who’d experienced the debacle of the Komarr Revolt on the Komarr side had reason to mistrust their fellows almost as much as they mistrusted Barrayarans. The last people Soudha would want in on his plot were a bunch more Komarrans. And… they didn’t have six devices. They’d had five, the fourth was destroyed, and the three earlier ones seemed to have been smaller-scale prototypes.
   It was like having a gun with one bullet in it. You’d want to pick your target very carefully.
   Suppose Soudha still imagined he possessed a wormhole-collapser, albeit one with a few bugs in the design. There were six active wormholes in Komarr local space, but Miles hadn’t any doubt which one Soudha would go for.
   The sole jump to Barrayar. Cut us off at one stroke, yeah. From a Komarran viewpoint that was a plot worth all of these five years of devotion, all the sweat and risk: closing Barrayar’s only gate to the galactic wormhole nexus. A bloodless revolution, by God, sure to appeal to these tech types. They’d return Komarr to the good old days of its glory a century ago-and Barrayar to its bad old days, in a new Time of Isolation. Whether everyone, or indeed, anyone on either Komarr or Barrayar wanted to go there or not. Did the conspirators imagine they’d be permitted to live, once the truth was unraveled?
   Probably not. But if Riva spoke straight, the process was not reversible; the wormhole, once collapsed, could not be reopened. The deed would be done, and no tears or prayers would undo it. Like an assassination. Soudha and his friends might imagine themselves as a new and more effective generation of Martyrs, content to be enshrined after death. They had seemed too practical, but who knew? One could be hypnotized by the hard choices in ways that had nothing to do with one’s intelligence.
   Yes. Miles now knew where the Komarrans were going, if they weren’t there already. The civilian-or the military? No, the civilian transfer station which served the wormhole jump to Barrayar.
   You just sent Ekaterin there. She’s there now.
   So was the Professora, and so were several thousand other innocent people, he reminded himself. He fought panic, to follow out his thread of thought to the end. Soudha might have a bolthole of some kind set up on the station, prepared perhaps months or years in advance. He would plan to set up his novel device, aim it at the wormhole, draw power from-where? If from the station, someone might notice. If they mounted it aboard a ship (and it had to have been on some kind of ship to get out there), they could draw ship’s power. But traffic control and the Barrayaran military were unlikely to tolerate any ship hanging around the wormhole without a filed flight plan, from which it had better not deviate.
   Ship, or station? He had insufficient data to decide. But if Soudha had not seriously modified his device, the plot which began with a bloodless plan to collapse the wormhole could end in the bloody chaos of a major disaster to the transfer station. Miles had seen space disasters on various scales. He didn’t want to ever see another.
   Miles could imagine a dozen different scenarios from the data they had in hand, but only this one gave him no time or room to be wrong. Go. He reached for the secured comconsole and punched up ImpSec Komarr HQ at Solstice.
   “This is Lord Auditor Vorkosigan. Give me General Rathjens, immediately. It’s an emergency.”
   Vorthys looked up from the long table. “What?”
   “I’ve just figured out that if there’s any action coming up, it’s got to be at the transfer station by the Barrayar jump.”
   “But Miles-surely Soudha would not be so foolish as to try again, after his initial disaster!”
   “I don’t trust Soudha in any way. Have you heard from Ekaterin or your wife?”
   “Yes, Ekaterin messaged when you were out getting your, ah, supplies. She’d reached her hostel safely and was off to meet the Professora.”
   “Did she leave a number?’
   “Yes, it’s on the comconsole-”
   General Rathjens’s face appeared above the vid-plate. “My Lord Auditor?”
   “General. I have new data suggesting our escaped Komarrans are at or are heading for the Barrayar Transfer Station. I want a max-penetration ImpSec search-sweep for them on the station and aboard any in-bound traffic, to commence as quickly as possible. I want ImpSec courier transport for myself out to there as fast as you can scramble it. I’ll give you the details once I’m en route. When all that’s in motion, I want to send a tight-beam personal message to, um-” he did a quick search “-this number.”
   Rathjens’s brows rose, but he said only, “Yes, my Lord Auditor. I’ll be most interested in those details.”
   “Indeed you will. Thanks.”
   Rathjens’s face vanished; in a few moments, the tight-beam link blinked its go-ahead.
   “Ekaterin,” Miles spoke rapidly and with all his will into the vid pickup, as if he might so speed the message. “Take the Professora and get yourselves aboard the first outbound transport you can find, any local space destination-Komarr orbit, one of the other stations, anywhere. We’ll arrange to pick you both up later and get you home right and tight. Just get yourselves off the station, and go at once.”
   He hesitated over his closing; no, this was not the time or place to declare, I love you, no matter what dangers he imagined threatening her. By the time this message arrived, she might well be back in her hostel room, with the Professora listening over her shoulder. “Be careful. Vorkosigan out.”
   As Miles rose to go, Vorthys said doubtfully, “Do you think I should go with you?”
   “No. I think you all should stay here and figure out what the hell happens when somebody tries to turn that infernal device off. And when you do, please tight-beam me the instructions.”
   Vorthys nodded. Miles gave the lot of them an ImpSec analyst’s salute, which was a vague wave of the hand in the vicinity of one’s forehead, turned, and strode for the door.


   Ekaterin watched morosely as the sonic toilet ate her shoes with scarcely a burp.
   “It was worth a try, dear,” said Aunt Vorthys, glancing at her expression.
   “There are too many fail-safe systems on this space station,” Ekaterin said. “This worked for Nikki, on the jumpship coming out here. What an uproar there was. The ship’s steward was so upset with us.”
   “My grandchildren could make short work of this, I’ll bet,” agreed the Professora. “It’s too bad we don’t have a few nine-year-olds with us.”
   “Yes,” sighed Ekaterin. And no. That Nikki was safely back on Komarr right now was a source of liberating joy in some secret level of her mind. But there ought to be some way to sabotage a sonic toilet that would light up a station tech’s board and bring an investigation. How to turn a sonic toilet into a weapon was just not in Ekaterin’s job training. Vorkosigan probably knew how, she reflected bitterly. Just like a man, to be underfoot in her life for days and then a quarter of a solar system away when she really needed him.