For the tenth time, she felt the walls, tried the door, inventoried their clothes. Practically the only flammable item in the room was the women’s hair. Setting a fire in a room in which one was locked did not much recommend itself to Ekaterin’s mind, though it was a possible last resort. She stuck her hands in the wall slot and turned them, letting the sonic cleaner loosen the dirt, and the UV light bathe away the germs, and the air fan, presumably, whisk their little corpses away. She drew her hands out again. The engineers might swear the system was more effective, but it never made her feel as fresh is an old-fashioned water wash. And how were you supposed to put a baby’s bottom in the thing? She glowered at the sanitizer. “If we had any kind of a tool at all, we ought to be able to do something with this.”
   “I had my Vorfemme knife,” said the Professora sadly. “It was my best enameled one.”
   “It was in my boot-sheath. The boot I threw, I believe.”
   “You don’t carry yours, these days?”
   “Not on Komarr. I was trying to be, I don’t know, modern.” Her lips twisted. “I do wonder about the cultural message in the Vorfemme knife. I mean, yes, it made you better armed than the peasants, but never as well-armed as the two-sword men. Were the Vor lords afraid of their wives getting the drop on them?”
   “Remembering my grandmother, it’s possible,” said the Professora.
   “Mm. And my Great-Aunt Vorvayne.” Ekaterin sighed, and glanced worriedly at her present aunt.
   The Professora was leaning on the wall with one hand supporting her, looking still very pale and shaky. “If you are done with the attempted sabotage, I think I would like to sit down again.”
   “Yes, of course. It was a stupid idea anyway.”
   The Professora sank gratefully onto the only seat in the tiny lavatory, and Ekaterin took her turn leaning on the wall. “I am so sorry I dragged you into this. If you hadn’t been with me… One of us must get away.”
   “If you see a chance, Ekaterin, take it. Don’t wait for me.”
   “That would still leave Soudha with a hostage.”
   “I don’t think that’s the most important issue, just now. Not if the Komarrans were telling the truth about what that great ugly thing out there does.”
   Ekaterin rubbed her toe over the smooth gray deck of the lav. In a quieter voice, she asked, “Do you suppose our own side would sacrifice us, if it came to a standoff?”
   “For this? Yes,” said the Professora. “Or at any rate… they certainly ought to. Do the Professor and Lord Auditor Vorkosigan and ImpSec know what the Komarrans have built?”
   “No, not as of yesterday. That is, they knew Soudha had built something-I gather they had almost managed to reconstruct the plans.”
   “Then they will know,” said the Professora firmly. And a little less firmly, “Eventually…”
   “I hope they won’t think we ought to sacrifice ourselves, like in the Tragedy of the Maiden of the Lake.”
   “She was actually sacrificed by her brother, as the tradition would have it,” said the Professora. “I do wonder if it was quite so voluntary as he later claimed.”
   Ekaterin reflected dryly on the old Barrayaran legend. As the tale went, the town of Vorkosigan Surleau, on the Long Lake, had been besieged by the forces of Hazelbright. Loyal vassals of the absent Count, a Vor officer and his sister, had held out till the last. On the verge of the final assault, the Maiden of the Lake had offered up her pale throat to her brother’s sword rather than fall to the ravages of the enemy troops. The very next morning, the siege was unexpectedly lifted by the subterfuge of her betrothed-one of their Auditor Vorkosigan’s distant ancestors, come to think of it, the latterly famous General Count Selig of that name-who sent the enemy hurriedly marching away to meet the false rumor of another attack. But it was, of course, too late for the Maiden of the Lake. Much Barrayaran historical sympathy, in the form of plays and poems and songs, had been expended upon the subsequent grief of the two men; Ekaterin had memorized one of the shorter poems for a school recitation, in her childhood. “I’ve always wondered,” said Ekaterin, “if the attack really had taken place the next day, and all the pillage and rape had proceeded on schedule, would they have said, ‘Oh, that’s all right, then’?”
   “Probably,” said Aunt Vorthys, her lips twitching.
   After a time, Ekaterin remarked, “I want to go home. But I don’t want to go back to Old Barrayar.”
   “No more do I, dear. It’s wonderful and dramatic to read about. So nice to be able to read, don’t you know.”
   “I know girls who pine for it. They like to play dress-up and pretend being Vor ladies of old, rescued from menace by romantic Vor youths. For some reason they never play dying in childbirth, or vomiting your guts out from the red dysentery, or weaving till you go blind and crippled from arthritis and dye poisoning, or infanticide. Well, they do die romantically of disease sometimes, but somehow it’s always an illness that makes you interestingly pale and everyone sorry and doesn’t involve losing bowel control.”
   “I’ve taught history for thirty years. One can’t reach them all, though we try. Send them to my class, next time.”
   Ekaterin smiled grimly. “I’d love to.”
   Silence fell for a time, while Ekaterin stared at the opposite wall and her aunt leaned back with her eyes closed. Ekaterin watched her in growing worry. She glanced at the door, and said at last, “Do you suppose you could pretend to be much sicker than you really are?”
   “Oh,” said Aunt Vorthys, not opening her eyes, “that would not be at all difficult.”
   By which Ekaterin deduced that she was already pretending to be much less sick than she really was. The jump-nausea seemed to have hit her awfully hard, this time. Was that gray-faced fatigue really all due to travel-sickness? Stunner fire could be unexpectedly lethal for a weak heart-was there a reason besides bewilderment that her aunt had not tried to struggle or cry out under Arozzi’s threats?
   “So… how is your heart, these days?” Ekaterin asked diffidently.
   Aunt Vorthys’s eyes popped open. After a moment, she shrugged. “So-so, dear. I’m on the waiting list for a new one.”
   “I thought new organs were easy to grow, now.”
   “Yes, but surgical transplant teams are rather less so. My case isn’t that urgent. After the problems a friend of mine had, I decided I’d rather wait for one of the more proven groups to have a slot available.”
   “I understand.” Ekaterin hesitated. “I’ve been thinking. We can’t do anything locked in here. If I can get anyone to come to the door, I thought we might try to feign you were dangerously sick, and get them to let us out. After that-who knows? It can’t be worse than this. All you’d have to do is go limp and moan convincingly.”
   “I’m willing,” said Aunt Vorthys.
   “All right.”
   Ekaterin fell to pounding on the door as loudly as she could, and calling the Komarrans urgently by name. After about ten minutes of this, the lock clicked, the door slid back, and Madame Radovas peeked in from a slight distance. Arozzi stood behind her with his stunner in his hand.
   “What?” she demanded.
   “My aunt is ill,” said Ekaterin. “She can’t stop shivering, and her skin is getting clammy. I think she may be going into shock from the jump-sickness and her bad heart and all this stress. She has to have a warm place to lie down, and a hot drink, at least. Maybe a doctor.”
   “We can’t get you a doctor right now.” Madame Radovas peered worriedly past Ekaterin at the limp Professora. “We could arrange the other, I guess.”
   “Some of us wouldn’t mind having the lav back,” Arozzi muttered. “It’s not so good, all of us having to parade up and down the corridor to the nearest public one.”
   “There’s no other safe place to lock them up,” said Madame Radovas to him.
   “So, put them out in the middle of the room and keep an eye on them. Stick them back in here later. One’s sick, the other has to take care of her, what can they do? It’s no good if the old lady dies on us.”
   “I’ll see what I can do,” said Madame Radovas to Ekaterin, and closed the door again.
   In a little while she came back, to escort the two Barrayaran women to a cot and a folding chair set up at the edge of the loading bay, as far as possible from any emergency alarm. Ekaterin and Madame Radovas supported the stumbling Professora to the cot, and helped her lie down, and covered her up. Leaving Arozzi to guard them, Madame Radovas went off and returned with a steaming mug of tea and set it down; Arozzi then turned the stunner over to her and returned to his work. Madame Radovas drew up another folding chair and sat down a few prudent meters away from her captives. Ekaterin supported her aunt’s shoulders while she drank the tea, blinked gratefully, and sank back with a moan. Ekaterin made play of feeling the Professora’s forehead, and rubbing her chill hands, and looking very concerned. She stroked the tousled gray hair, and stared covertly around the loading bay she’d merely glimpsed before.
   The device still sat in its float cradle, but more power lines snaked across the floor to it now; Soudha was overseeing the attachment of one such cable to the awkward array of converters at the base of the horn. A man she did not recognize busied himself in the glass-walled control booth. At his gestures, Cappell drew careful chalk lines on the deck near the device. When he finished, he consulted with Soudha, and Soudha himself took the float cradle’s remote control, stepped back, and with exquisite care set the cradle to lift, move forward till it almost touched the outer wall, and gently land again in precise alignment with the chalk marks. The horn was now aimed not quite square-on with the inner door of the large freight lock. Were they getting ready to load it aboard a ship, and take it out to point at the wormhole? Or could they use it right from here?
   Ekaterin drew her map cube from her pocket. Madame Radovas sat up in alarm, aiming the stunner, saw what it was, and settled back uneasily, but did not move to take the map from her. Ekaterin checked the location of the Southport Transport docks and locks; the company had leased three loading bays in a line, and Ekaterin was not sure just which she was now in. The three-dimensional vid projection did not supply any exterior orientation, but she rather thought they were on the same side of the station as the wormhole, which might well put this lock in line-of-sight to it. I don’t think there’s very much time left at all.
   In addition to the ramp by which she’d entered and the door to the lavatory, there appeared to be two other airsealed exits from the bay. One was clearly a personnel lock to the exterior, next to the freight lock. Another went back into a section which might be offices, if this was indeed the center bay of the three. Ekaterin mentally traced a route through it to the nearest public corridor. Several Komarrans had come and gone through that door; perhaps they were all camping back there. In any case, it seemed more heavily populated than the door she’d come in. But closer. The control booth was a dead end.
   Ekaterin eyed her fellow-widow. Strange to think that their different domestic paths had brought them both to the same place in the end. Madame Radovas looked tired and worn. This has been a nightmare for everyone.
   “How do you imagine you’re going to get away, after this?” Ekaterin asked her curiously. Will you take us along? Surely the Komarrans would have to.
   Madame Radovas’s lips thinned. “We hadn’t planned to. Till you two came along. I’m almost sorry. It was simpler before. Collapse the wormhole and die. Now it’s all possibilities and distractions and worries again.”
   “Worries? Worse than expecting to die?”
   “I left three children back on Komarr. If I were dead, ImpSec would have no reason to… bother them.”
   Hostages all round, indeed.
   “Besides,” said Madame Radovas, “I voted for it. I could do no less than my husband did.”
   “You took a vote? On what? And how do you divide up Komarran-style voting shares in a revolt? You had to have taken everyone along-if anyone who knew anything had been left to be questioned under fast-penta, it would have been all up.”
   “Soudha, Foscol, Cappell, and my husband were considered the primary shareholders. They decided I had inherited my husband’s voting stock. The choices were simple enough-surrender, flee, or fight to the last. The count was three to one for this.”
   “Oh? Who voted against it?”
   She hesitated. “Soudha.”
   “How odd,” said Ekaterin, startled. “He’s your chief engineer now-doesn’t that worry you?”
   “Soudha,” said Madame Radovas tartly, “has no children. He wanted to wait and try again later, as though there would be a later. If we do not strike now, ImpSec will shortly hold all our relatives hostage. But if we close the wormhole and die, there will be no one left for ImpSec to threaten with their harm. My children will be safer, even if I never see them again.” Her eyes were bleak and sincere.
   “What about all the Barrayarans on Komarr and Sergyar who will never see their families again? Cut off, not ever knowing their fate…” Mine, for instance. “They’ll be the same as dead, to each other. It will be the Time of Isolation all over again.” She shivered in horror at the cascading images of shock and grief.
   “So be glad you’re on the good side of the wormhole,” Madame Radovas snapped. At Ekaterin’s cold stare, she relented a little. “It won’t be like your old Time of Isolation at all. You have a fully developed planetary industrial base, now, and a much larger population, which has experienced a hundred-year-long inflow of new genes. There are plenty of other worlds which scarcely maintain any galactic contact, and they get along just fine.”
   The Professora’s eyes slitted open. “I think you are underestimating the psychological impact.”
   “What you Barrayarans do to each other, afterwards, is not my responsibility,” said Madame Radovas. “As long as you can never do it to us again.”
   “How… do you expect to die?” asked Ekaterin. “Take poison together? Walk out an airlock?” And will you kill us first?
   “I expect you Barrayarans will take care of those details, when you figure out what happened,” said Madame Radovas. “Foscol and Cappell think we will escape, afterwards, or that we might be permitted to surrender. I think it will be the Solstice Massacre all over again. We even have our very own Vorkosigan for it. I’m not afraid.” She hesitated, as if contemplating her own brave words. “Or at any rate, I’m too tired to care anymore.”
   Ekaterin could understand that. Unwilling to murmur agreement with the Komarran woman, she fell silent, staring unseeing across the loading bay.
   Dispassionately, she considered her own fear. Her heart beat, yes, and her stomach knotted, and her breath came a bit too fast. Yet these people did not frighten her, deep down, nearly as much as she thought they ought to.
   Once upon a time, shortly after one of Tien’s unfathomable uncomfortable jealous jags had subsided back to whatever fantasy world it came from, he’d earnestly assured her that he had thrown his nerve disrupter (illegally owned because he did not carry it in issuance from their District liege lord) from a bridge one night, and got rid of it. She hadn’t even known he’d possessed it. These Komarrans were desperate, and dangerous in their desperation. But she had slept beside things that scared her more than Soudha and all his friends. How strange I feel.
   There was a tale in Barrayaran folklore about a mutant who could not be killed, because he hid his heart in a box on a secret island far from his fortress. Naturally, the young Vor hero talked the secret out of the mutant’s captive maiden, stole the heart, and the poor mutant came to the usual bad end. Maybe her fear failed to paralyze her because Nikki was her heart, and safe away, far from here. Or maybe it was because for the first time in her life, she owned herself whole.
   A few meters away across the loading bay, Soudha crossed again to the novel device, aimed the remote at the float cradle, and adjusted its position fractionally. Cappell called some question from the other side of the bay, and Soudha set the remote down on the edge of the cradle and paced along one of the power cables, examining it closely, till he reached the wall slot Cappell was fussing over. They bent their heads together over some loose connection or other. Cappell yelled a question to the man in the glass booth, who shook his head, and went out to join them.
   If I think about this, the chance will be gone. If I think about this, even my mutant’s heart will fail me.
   Had she the right to take this much risk upon herself? That was the real fear, yes, and it shook her to her core. This wasn’t a task for her. This was a task for ImpSec, the police, the army, a Vor hero, anyone but her. Who are not here. But oh, if she tried and failed, she failed for all Barrayar, for all time. And who would take care of Nikki, if he lost both parents in the space of barely a week? The safe thing to do was to wait for competent grownup male people to rescue her.
   Like Tien, yeah?
   “Are you getting any warmer now, Aunt Vorthys?” Ekaterin asked. “Have you stopped shivering?” She rose, and bent over her aunt with her back to Madame Radovas, and pretended to tuck the blanket tighter, while actually loosening it. Madame Radovas was shorter than Ekaterin, and slighter, and twenty-five years older. Now, Ekaterin mouthed to the Professora.
   Moving smoothly but not suddenly, she turned, paced toward Madame Radovas, and flung the blanket over the woman’s head as she jumped to her feet. The chair banged over backward. Another two paces and she was able to wrap her arms around the smaller woman, pinning her arms to her side. The stunner’s beam splashed, buzzing, on the deck at their feet, and the nimbus made Ekaterin’s legs tingle. She lifted Madame Radovas off her feet and shook her. The stunner clattered to the deck, and Ekaterin kicked it toward her aunt, who was fighting to get upright on her cot. Ekaterin flung the blanket-muffled Komarran woman away from her as hard as she could, turned, and sprinted for the float cradle.
   She snatched up the remote control and spun away toward the glass control booth as fast as her legs could push her, her sweating bare feet firm against the smooth surface. The men at the wall outlet shouted and started toward her. She didn’t look back.
   She galloped around the corner and up the two stairs to the booth in one leap. She batted frantically at the door control pad. The door took forever to slide shut; Cappell was almost to the steps before she was able, after two tries with her shaking fingers, to activate the lock. Cappell hit the door with a resounding thud and began pounding on it.
   She did not, dared not, look back to see what was happening to the Professora. Instead, she raised the remote and pointed it through the glass at the float cradle. The controls included six buttons and a four-pronged knob. She’d never been good at this sort of coordination. Fortunately, subtlety was not her object now.
   The third stab of her fingers on a button found the up vector. All too slowly, the float cradle began to rise off the loading bay deck. Perhaps there were some sort of sensors in it which kept it level; the first four combinations she tried seemed to do nothing. Finally, she was able to make the thing begin to rotate. It bumped into the catwalks above, making nasty grinding noises. Good. Power cables snapped off and whipped around; the strange man barely dodged the spitting sparks. Soudha was screaming, trying to jump up at the glass wall in front of her. She could barely hear him. The glass, after all, was supposed to stand up to vacuum. He scrambled back and aimed a stunner at her. The beam splashed harmlessly off the window.
   At last, she was able to make the sensor program appear in the remote’s little readout. She canceled its running instructions, and then the cradle became more lively. She’d achieved an almost 180-degree rotation, bottom to top. Then she turned the cradle’s power off.
   It was only about a four-meter drop from the catwalks to the deck. She had no idea what material the huge horn was fabricated from. She anticipated having to try a couple of times, to achieve some dent or crack Soudha could not repair in the day it would take for her and her aunt to be missed at the ferry. Instead, the bell burst like-like a flower pot.
   The boom shook the bay. Shards big and small skittered off across the deck like shrapnel. One jagged piece whanged past centimeters from Soudha’s head and smacked into the booth’s glass, and Ekaterin ducked involuntarily. But the glass held. Amazing material. She was glad the device’s horn hadn’t been cast of it. Laughter bubbled out of her throat, bravura berserker joy. She wanted to destroy a hundred devices. She turned on the float cradle’s power again and bounced the smashed remains on the deck a few more times, just because she could. The Maiden of the Lake fires back!
   The Professora was sitting on the deck by the far wall, bent over. Not running away, not even close to making an escape. Not good. Madame Radovas was on her feet and had recovered her stunner. Cappell the mathematician was beating on the control booth’s door with a meter-long high-torque wrench he’d found somewhere. Arozzi, his face running with blood from a flying piece of horn-shrapnel, dissuaded him before he rendered it unopenable; Soudha came running up with a handful of electronic tools, and he and Arozzi disappeared below the door’s window. Scratchy sounds penetrated by the door lock, more sinister even than Cappell’s frantic blows.
   Ekaterin caught her breath and looked around the control booth. She couldn’t empty the air from the loading bay, her aunt was out there, too. There, there was the comconsole. Should she have gone for it first? No, she was doing this in he right order. No matter how screwed up ImpSec’s response vas, no matter how misapplied or incompetent their tactics, hey could not possibly lose Barrayar now.
   “Hello, Emergency?” Ekaterin panted as the vid-plate activated. “My name is Ekaterin Vorsoisson-” She had to stop, as the automated system tried to route her to her choice of traveler’s aids. She rejected Lost amp; Found, selected Security, and started over, not certain she’d reached a human yet, and praying it would all be recorded. “My name is Ekaterin Vorsoisson. Lord Auditor Vorthys is my uncle. I’m being held prisoner, along with my aunt, by Komarran terrorists at the Southport Transport docks and locks. I’m in a loading bay control booth right now, but they’re getting the door open.” She glanced over her shoulder. Soudha had defeated the lock; the airseal door, bent from Cappell’s efforts with the wrench, whined and refused to retreat into its slot. Soudha and Arozzi put their shoulders to it, grunting, and it inched open. “Tell Lord Auditor Vorkosigan-tell ImpSec-”
   Then the swearing Soudha slipped sideways through the door, followed by Cappell still clutching his wrench. Laughing hysterically, tears running down her cheeks, Ekaterin turned to face her fate.


   Miles barely restrained himself from pressing his face to his courier ship’s airlock window, while waiting for the tube seals from the jump station to finish seating themselves. When the door hissed open at last he swung himself through in one motion, to land on his feet with a thump, and glare around the hatch corridor. His reception committee at the private lock, the ranking ImpSec man aboard and a fellow in blue-and-orange civilian security garb, both braced to attention after only the briefest beat of surprise at his height-he could tell by the way their eyes had to track downward to meet his face-and appearance.
   “Lord Auditor Vorkosigan,” the strained-looking ImpSec man, Vorgier, acknowledged Miles. “This is Group-Commander Husavi, who heads Station Security.”
   “Captain Vorgier. Commander Husavi. Are there any new developments in the situation in the last,” he glanced at his chrono, “fifteen minutes?” Almost a full three hours had passed since the first message from Vorgier had turned his journey from Komarr orbit into this viscous nightmare of suppressed panic. Never had an ImpSec courier ship seemed to move so slowly, and since no amount of Auditorial screaming at the crew could change the laws of physics, Miles had perforce seethed in silence.
   “My men, backed by those of Commander Husavi, are almost into position for our assault,” Vorgier assured him. “We believe we can get an emergency tube seal into place over the outer door of the airlock containing the Vor women before, or almost before, the Komarrans can evacuate the air. The moment the hostages are retrieved, our armored men can enter the Southport bay at will. It will be over in minutes.”
   “Too bloody likely,” snapped Miles. “Several engineers have had several hours to prepare for you. These Komarrans may be desperate, but I guarantee they are not stupid. If I can think of putting a pressure-sensitive explosive in the airlock, so can they.”
   What a set of mental images Vorgier’s words conjured-a tube seal misapplied or applied too late to the outer skin of the station, Ekaterin’s and the Professora’s bodies blown outward into space-some space-armored ImpSec goon missing his catch-Miles could almost hear his embarrassed, bass Oops over the audio link now, in his mind’s ear. Such a blessing that Vorgier hadn’t confided these details earlier, when Miles would have had all those hours en route to reflect upon them, stuck aboard his courier ship. “The Vor ladies are not expendable. Madame Dr. Vorthys has a weak heart, her husband Lord Auditor Vorthys tells me. And Madame Vorsoisson is-just not expendable. And the Komarrans are the least expendable of all. We want them alive for questioning. Sorry, Captain, but I mislike your plan.”
   Vorgier stiffened. “My Lord Auditor. I appreciate your concern, but I believe this will be most quickly and effectively concluded as a military operation. Civilian authority can help best by staying out of the way and letting the professionals do their job.”
   The ImpSec deck had dealt him two men in a row of exceptional competence, Tuomonen and Gibbs; why, oh why, couldn’t good things come in threes? They were supposed to, dammit. “This is my operation, Captain, and I will answer personally to the Emperor for every detail of it. I spent the last ten years as an ImpSec galactic agent and I’ve dealt with more damned situations than anyone else on Simon Illyan’s roster and I know just exactly how fucked-up a professional operation can get.” He tapped his chest. “So climb down off your Vor horse and brief me properly.”
   Vorgier looked considerably taken aback; Husavi tamped out a smile, which told Miles all too much about how things had been going here. To Vorgier’s credit, he recovered almost instantly, and said, “Come this way, my Lord Auditor, to the operations center. I’ll show you the details, and you can judge for yourself.”
   Better. They started off down the corridor, almost quickly enough for Miles’s taste. “Has there been any change or increase in power-draw into the Southport Transport area?”
   “Not yet,” Husavi answered. “As you ordered, my engineers shut down their lines to just that necessary to run their life support. I don’t know how much power the Komarrans are able to tap from the local system freighter they have docked there. Soudha has said if we try to capture or remove the ship, they’ll open the airlock on the Vor ladies, so we’ve waited. Our remote sensors don’t indicate any unusual readings from there yet.”
   “Good.” Baffling, but good. Miles could not imagine why the Komarrans hadn’t switched on their wormhole-collapsing device yet, in a last-ditch effort to accomplish their long-sought goal. Had Soudha figured out its inherent defect? Corrected it, or tried to? Was it not quite ready yet, and the Komarrans even now frantically preparing it? In any case, once it was powered up they were all in deep-deep, because the Professor and Riva had concluded, with some pretty unreassuring hand-waving, something like a fifty percent probability of an immediate gravitational back-blow from the wormhole the moment it was switched off, ripping the station apart. When Miles had inquired what the technical difference was between a fifty-fifty chance and we don’t know, he hadn’t got a straight answer from them. Further theoretical refinements had come to an abrupt halt, when the news had come through about the stand-off here; the Professor was on his way now to the jump point, just a few hours behind Miles.
   They turned a corner and entered a lift-tube. Miles asked, “What’s the current status of the station evacuation?”
   Husavi replied, “We’ve waved off all incoming ships that could be diverted. A couple had to dock in order to refuel, or they couldn’t have made it to an alternate station.” He waited till they’d exited into another corridor before continuing. “We’ve managed to remove most of the transient passengers and about five hundred of our nonessential personnel so far.”
   “What story are you giving them?”
   “We’re telling them it’s a bomb scare.”
   “Excellent.” And effectively true.
   “Most are cooperating. Some aren’t.”
   “But there’s a serious problem with transportation. There are simply not enough ships in range to remove everyone in less than ten hours.”
   “If the power-draw to the Southport bay spikes suddenly, you’ll have to start shuttling people over to the military station.” Though Miles was by no means sure the gravitational event, if it occurred, wouldn’t suck in and damage or destroy the military station as well. “They’ll have to help out.”
   “Captain Vorgier and I discussed this possibility with the military commander, my lord. He wasn’t happy with the prospect of a sudden influx of, um, randomly selected, uncleared persons onto his station.”
   Miles bet not. “I’ll speak with him.” He sighed. Vorgier’s “operations center” turned out to be the local ImpSec offices; the central communications chamber did indeed bear a passing resemblance to a warship’s tactics room, Miles had to allow. Vorgier called up a holovid display of the Southport docks and locks area, one with rather better technical detail than the one Miles had spent the last hour studying.
   He ran over the expected placement of his men and the projected timing and technique of his assault. It wasn’t a bad plan, as assaults went. In his youth, out on covert ops, Miles had come up with things just as bravura and idiotic on equally short notice. All right… more idiotic, he admitted ruefully himself. Someday, Miles, his boss ImpSec Chief Simon Illyan had once said to him, I hope you live to have a dozen subordinates just like you. Miles hadn’t realized till now that had been a formal curse on Illyan’s part.
   Vorgier’s sales pitch kept fading out in Miles’s mind, displaced by an instant-replay of the recording of the last message from Ekaterin, which Vorgier had thoughtfully supplied Miles by tight-beam. He’d memorized every nuance of it in the last three hours. I’m in a loading bay control booth-they’re forcing the door open— She hadn’t said anything about the novel device. Unless some report had been going to follow the Tell Lord Vorkosigan-tell ImpSec-part, which had been rudely interrupted by the red-faced Soudha’s paw abruptly descending on the comconsole control. Nothing could be seen in the fuzzy background, however computer-enhanced, but the bay control booth. And the mathematician, Cappell, gripping wrench he looked ready to use for something other than tightening bolts, but evidently hadn’t; ImpSec had received vids in the loading bay airlock’s safety channel of both women being bundled alive into it, before Soudha had cut off the signal off. Those brief images too burned in Miles’s brain. “All right, Captain Vorgier,” Miles interrupted. “Hold your plan as a possible last resort.”
   “To be implemented under what circumstances, my Lord Auditor?”
   Over my dead body, Miles did not reply. Vorgier might not understand it wasn’t a joke. “Before we start blowing walls in, I want to try to negotiate with Soudha and his friends.”
   “These are Komarran terrorists. Madmen-you can’t negotiate with them!”
   The late Baron Ryoval had been a madman. The late Ser Galen had been a madman, without question. And the late General Metzov hadn’t exactly been rowing with both oars in the water, either, come to think of it. Miles had to admit, there had been a definite negative trend to all those negotiations. “I’m not without experience in the problem, Vorgier. But I don’t think Dr. Soudha is a madman. He’s not even a mad scientist. He’s merely a very upset engineer. These Komarrans may in fact be the most sensible revolutionaries I’ve ever met.”
   He stood a moment, staring unseeing at Vorgier’s colorful, ominous tactical display, the logistics of the station evacuation warring in his head with guesses about the Komarrans’ state of mind. Delusion, political passion, personality, judgment… visions of Ekaterin’s terror and despair spun in his back-brain. If so spacious a containment as a Komarran dome gave her claustrophobia… stop it. He pictured a thick sheet of glass sliding down between him and that personal maelstrom of anxiety. If his authority here was absolute, so was his obligation to keep his thinking clear.
   “Every hour buys lives. We’ll play for time. Get me a channel to the military station’s commander,” Miles ordered. “After that, we’ll see whether Soudha will answer his comconsole.”
   The deliberately blank chamber in which Miles sat might as easily have been on the nearby military station, or a ship lying several thousand kilometers off-station, as the few hundred meters from the Southport bay it actually was. Soudha’s location, when his face formed at last over the vid-plate, was not so anonymous; he sat in the same glass-walled control booth from which Ekaterin had sent her alarm. Miles wondered what techs were monitoring the corridors for moves on ImpSec’s part, and who was keeping a nervous finger on the personnel airlock’s outer door control. Had they arranged it as a dead-man’s switch?
   Soudha’s face was drawn and sincerely weary, no more the bland bluff liar. Lena Foscol sat tensely to the right of his station chair on a rolling stool, looking like some frumpy vizier. Madame Radovas too looked on, her face half-shadowed behind him, and Cappell stood off to the side, almost out of focus. Good. A Komarran stockholders’ voting quorum, if he read the signs right. At least they honored his Imperial Auditor’s authority to that extent.
   “Good evening, Dr. Soudha,” Miles began.
   “You’re out here?” Soudha’s brows rose as he took in the lack of transmission lag.
   “Yes, well, unlike Administrator Vorsoisson, I got out of my chains at the experiment station alive. I still don’t know if you intended me to survive.”
   “He didn’t really die, did he?” Foscol interrupted.
   “Oh, yes.” Miles made his voice deliberately soft. “I got to watch, just as you arranged. Every filthy minute of it. It was a remarkably ugly death.”
   She fell silent. Soudha said, “This is all beside the point now. The only message we want to receive from you people is that you have the jumpship ready to transport us to the nearest neutral space-Pol, or Escobar-whereupon you will get your Vor ladies back. If it’s not that, I’m cutting this com.”
   “I have a few pieces of free information for you, first,” said Miles. “I don’t think they’re ones you anticipate.”
   Soudha’s hand hovered. “Go on.”
   “I’m afraid your wormhole-collapser no longer qualifies as a secret weapon. We caught up with your specs on file at Bollan Design. Professor Vorthys invited Dr. Riva, of Solstice University, in to consult. Are you aware of her reputation?”
   Soudha nodded warily; Cappell’s eyes widened. Madame Radovas stared wearily. Foscol looked deeply suspicious.
   “Well, putting together your specs, the data from the soletta accident, and Riva’s physics-there was a mathematician by the name of Dr. Yuell in there too, if the name means anything to you-the Empire’s top failure analyst and the Empire’s top five-space expert have concluded that you did not, in fact, manage to invent a wormhole-collapser. What you managed to invent was a wormhole-boomerang. Riva says that when the five-space waves amplified the wormhole’s resonance past its phase boundaries, instead of collapsing, the wormhole returned the energy to three-space in the form of a gravitational pulse. Tangling with this pulse was what destroyed the soletta array and the ore ship, and-I’m sorry, Madame Radovas-killed Dr. Radovas and Marie Trogir. The probable-cause crew finally found her body a few hours ago, I regret to report, wrapped up in some of the wreckage they’d retrieved almost a week back.”
   Only a puff of breath from Cappell marked his grief, but water glittered in his eyes. Check, thought Miles. I thought he’d protested too much. Nobody looked surprised, merely oppressed.
   “So if you succeed in getting your thing working, what you will actually do is destroy this station, the five thousand or so people aboard, and yourselves. And tomorrow morning, Barrayar will still be there.” Miles let his voice fall to a near whisper. “All for nothing, and less than nothing.”
   “He lies,” said Foscol fiercely into the shocked silence. “He lies.”
   Soudha gave a weird snort, ran his hands through his hair, and shook his head. Then, to Miles’s dismay, he laughed out loud.
   Cappell stared at his colleague. “Do you really think that’s why? That it malfunctioned like that?”
   “It would explain,” began Soudha. “It would explain… oh, God.” He trailed off. “I thought it was the ore ship,” he said at last. “Interfering somehow.”
   “I should also mention,” Miles put in, still uneasily watching Soudha’s odd reaction, “that ImpSec has arrested all the Waste Heat personnel and their families you left back at the Southport Transport facility at Solstice. And then there are all your other relatives and friends, the innocents who knew nothing. The hostage game is a bad game, a sad and ugly game that’s a lot easier to start than end. The worst versions I’ve seen ended up with neither side in control, or getting anything they wanted. And the people who stand to lose the most in it frequently aren’t even playing.”
   “Barrayaran threats.” Foscol lifted her chin. “Do you think, after all this, we can’t stand up to you?”
   “I’m sure you can, but for what reason? There aren’t too many prizes left in this mess. The biggest one is gone; you can’t shut off Barrayar. You can’t keep your secret or shield anyone you left behind on Komarr. About the only thing you can do now is kill more innocent people. Great goals can call for great sacrifices, yes, but your possible rewards are steadily shrinking.” Yes, that was it; don’t raise the pressure, lower the wall.
   “We did not,” husked Cappell, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand, “go through all this just to deliver the weapon of the century straight into Barrayaran hands.”
   “It’s already there. As a weapon, it appears to have some fundamental defects, so far. But Riva says there’s evidence you got more power out of the wormhole than you put into it. This suggests possible future peaceful, economic uses, when the phenomena are better understood.”
   “Really?” said Soudha, sitting up. “How did she figure? What are her numbers?”
   “Soudha!” said Foscol reprovingly. Madame Radovas winced, and Soudha subsided, albeit reluctantly, staring at Miles through narrowed eyes.
   “On the other hand,” Miles continued, “until further research assures us that collapsing a wormhole is indeed quite impossible, none of you are going anywhere, and especially not to any other planetary government. It’s one of those ugly military decisions, y’know? And I’m afraid it’s mine.” The Vor ladies are not expendable, he’d told Vorgier. Was he lying then, or now? Well, if he couldn’t figure it out, maybe the Komarrans couldn’t either.
   “You are all headed, inexorably, for a Barrayaran prison,” he went on. “The devil’s bargain part about being Vor, which lot of people including some Vor overlook, is that our lives are made for sacrifice. There is no threat, no torture, no slow murder you can apply to two Barrayaran women that will change your outcome.”
   Was this the right tack? Above the vid-plate their listening images were undersized, a little ghostly, hard to read. Miles wished he were having this conversation face-to-face. Half the subliminal clues, of body language, of the subtle nuances of expression and voice, were washed out in transmission and unavailable to his instincts. But handing himself over to them person to augment their hostage collection could only have served to stiffen their wavering resolve. The memory of a woman’s hand, slipping through his fingers into a screaming fog, flickered through his mind; his fists clenched helplessly in his lap. Never again, you said. Not expendable, you said. He watched the Komarrans’ faces intently for all flickers of expression he could get, reflections of truth, lies, belief, suspicion, trust.
   “There are advantages to prisons,” he went on persuasively, “Some of them are comfortably furnished, and unlike graves, sometimes, eventually, you can get out of them again. Now, I am willing, in exchange for your peaceful surrender and cooperation, to personally guarantee your lives. Not, note, your freedom-that will have to wait. But time passes, old crises are succeeded by new ones, people change their minds. Live ones do, anyway. There are always those amnesties, in celebration of this or that public event-the birth of an Imperial heir, for instance. I doubt any of you will be forced to spend as much as a full decade in prison.”
   “Some offer,” said Foscol bitterly.
   Miles let his brows rise. “It’s an honest one. You have a better hope of amnesty than Tien Vorsoisson does. That ore freighter pilot will enjoy no visits from her children. I reviewed her autopsy, did I mention? All the autopsies. If I have a moral claim, it’s that I’m bargaining away the rights of the dead soletta-keepers’ families to any justice for their slain. There ought to be civil trials for manslaughter over this.”
   Even Foscol looked away at these words.
   Good. Go on. The more time he burned, the better, and they were tracking his arguments; as long as he could keep Soudha from cutting the com, he was making some twisty sort of progress. “You bitch endlessly about Barrayaran tyranny, but somehow I don’t think you folks took a vote of all Komarran planetary shareholders, before you attempted to seal-or steal— their future. And if you could have, I don’t think you would have dared. Twenty years ago, even fifteen years ago, maybe you could have counted on majority support. By ten years ago, it was already too late. Would your fellows really want to close off their nearest market now, and lose all that trade? Lose all their relatives who’ve moved to Barrayar, and their half-Barrayaran grandchildren? Your trade fleets have found their Barrayaran military escorts bloody useful often enough. Who are the true tyrants here-the blundering Barrayarans who seek, however awkwardly, to include Komarr in their future, or the Komarran intellectual elitists who seek to exclude all but themselves from it?” He took a deep breath to control the unexpected anger which had boiled up with his words, aware he was teetering on the edge with these people. Watch it, watch it. “So all that remains for us is to try and salvage as many lives as possible from the wreckage.”