“This way, my lords.” Vorsoisson shepherded them into a comfortably spacious room featuring a large round holovid projection table. The place looked, and smelled, like every other conference chamber Miles had ever been in for military and security briefings and debriefings during his truncated career. More of the same. I predict my greatest challenge this afternoon will be to stay awake. A half a dozen men and women sat waiting, nervously fingering recording pads and vid disks, and a couple more scurried in behind the two Auditors with murmured apologies. Vorsoisson indicated seats set aside for the visitors, at his right and left hand. With a brief general smile of greeting, Miles settled in.
   “Lord Auditor Vorthys, Lord Vorkosigan, may I present the department heads of the Serifosa branch of the Komarr Terraforming Project.” Vorsoisson went round the table, naming each attendee and their department, which under the three basic branches of Accounting, Operations, and Research included such evocative titles as Carbon Draw-down, Hydrology, Greenhouse Gases, Tests Plots, Waste Heat Management, and Microbial Reclassification. Native-born Komarrans, every one; Vorsoisson was the only Barrayaran expatriate among them. Vorsoisson remained standing and turned to one of the newcomers. “My lords, may I also present Ser Venier, my administrative assistant. Vennie has organized a general presentation for you, after which my staff will be happy to answer any further questions.”
   Vorsoisson sat down. Venier nodded to each Auditor and murmured something inaudible. He was a slight man, shorter than Vorsoisson, with intent brown eyes and an unfortunate weak chin which, together with his nervous air, lent him the look of a slightly manic rabbit. He took the holovid control podium, and rubbed his hands together, and stacked and restacked his pile of data disks before selecting one, then putting it back down. He cleared his throat and found his voice. “My lords. It was suggested I start with a historical overview.” He nodded to each of them again, his glance lingering for a moment on Miles. He inserted a disk in his machine, and started an attractive, i.e., artistically enhanced, view of Komarr spinning over the vid plate. “The early explorers of the wormhole nexus found Komarr a likely candidate for possible terraforming. Our almost point-nine-standard gravity and abundant native supply of gaseous nitrogen, the inert buffer gas of choice, and of sufficient water-ice, made it an immensely easier problem to tackle than such classic cold dry planets as, say, Mars.”
   They had indeed been early explorers, Miles reflected, to arrive and settle before more salubrious worlds were found to render such ambitious projects economically uninteresting, at least if you didn’t already live there. But… then there were the wormholes.
   “On the debit side,” Venier continued, “the concentration of atmospheric CO was high enough to be toxic to humans, yet insolation was so inadequate that no greenhouse effect, runaway or otherwise, captured the heat needed to maintain liquid water. Komarr was therefore a lifeless world, cold and dark. The earliest calculations suggested more water would be needed, and a few so-called low-impact cometary crashes were arranged, hence we can thank our ancestors for our southern crater lakes.” A colorful, though out-of-scale, sprinkle of lights dusted the lower hemisphere of the planet-image, resolving into a string of blue blobs. “But the growing demand topside for cometary water and volatiles for the orbital and wormhole stations soon put a stop to that. And the early downside settlers’ fears of poorly controlled trajectories, of course.”
   Demonstrated fears, as Miles recalled his Komarran history.
   He stole a glance at Vorthys. The Professor appeared perfectly content with Venier’s class lecture.
   “In fact,” Venier went on, “later explorations showed the water-ice tied up in the polar caps to be thicker than at first suspected, if not so abundant as on Earth. And so the drive for heat and light began.”
   Miles sympathized with the early Komarrans. He loathed arctic cold and dark with a concentrated passion.
   “Our ancestors built the first insolation mirror, succeeded a generation later by another design.” A holovid model, again out of scale, appeared to the side, and melted into a second one. “A century later, this was in turn succeeded by the design we see today.” The seven-disk hexagon appeared, and danced attendance on the Komarr globe. “Insolation at the equator was boosted enough to allow liquid water and the beginnings of a biota to draw down the carbon and release much-needed O. Over the following decades, a full-spectrum mixture of artificial greenhouse gases was manufactured and released into the upper atmosphere to help trap the new energy.” Venier moved his hand; four of the seven disks winked out. “Then came the accident.” All the Komarrans around the table stared glumly at the crippled array.
   “There was mention of a cooling projection? With figures?” Vorthys prodded gently.
   “Yes, my Lord Auditor.” Venier slid a disk across the polished surface toward the Professor. “Administrator Vorsoisson said you were an engineer, so I left in all the calculations.”
   The Waste Heat Management fellow, Soudha, also an engineer, winced and bit his thumb at this innocent ignorance of Vorthys’s stature in his field. Vorthys merely said, “Thank you. I appreciate that.”
   So where’s my copy? Miles did not ask aloud. “And can you please summarize your conclusions for us nonengineers, Ser Venier?”
   “Certainly, Lord Auditor… Vorkosigan. Serious damage to our biota in the northernmost and southernmost latitudes, not just in Serifosa Sector but planetwide, will begin after one season. For every year after that, we lose more ground; by the end of five years, the destructive cooling curve rises rapidly towards catastrophe. It took twenty years to build the original soletta array. I pray that it will not take that many to repair it.” On the vid model, white polar caps crept like pale tumors over the globe.
   Vorthys glanced at Soudha. “And so other sources of heat suddenly take on new importance, at least for a stopgap.”
   Soudha, a big, square-handed man in his late forties, sat back and smiled a bit grimly. He, too, cleared his throat before beginning. “It was hoped, early on in the terraforming, that the waste heat from our growing arcologies would contribute significantly to planetary warming. Over time, this proved optimistic. A planet with an activating hydrology is a huge thermal buffering system, what with the heat of liquefaction load locked up in all that ice. At present-before the accident-it was felt the best use of waste heat was in the creation of microclimates around the domes, to be reservoirs for the next wave of higher biota.”
   “It sounds like insanity to an engineer to say, ‘We need to waste more energy in heat loss,’ ” agreed Vorthys, “but I suppose here it’s true. What’s the feasibility of dedicating some number of fusion reactors to pure heat production?”
   “Boiling the seas cup by cup?” Soudha grimaced. “Possible, sure, and I’d love to see some more done with that technique for small-area development in Serifosa Sector. Economical-no. Per degree of planetary warming, it’s even more costly than repairing-or enlarging-the soletta array, something for which we’ve been petitioning the Imperium for years. Without success. And if you’ve built a reactor, you might as well use it to run a dome while you’re at it. The heat will arrive outside eventually just the same.” He slid data disks across to both Vorthys and Miles this time. “Here’s our current departmental status report.” He glanced across at one of his colleagues. “We’re all anxious to move on to higher plant forms in our lifetimes, but at present the greatest, if not success, at least activity remains on the microbial level. Philip?”
   The man who had been introduced as the head of Microbial Reclassification smiled, not entirely gratefully, at Soudha, and turned to the Auditors. “Well, yes. Bacteria are booming. Both our deliberate inoculations, and wild genera. Over the years, every Earth type has been imported, or at any rate, has arrived and escaped. Unfortunately, microbial life has a tendency to adapt to its environment more swiftly than the environment has adapted to us. My department has its hands full, keeping up with the mutations. More light and heat are needed, as always. And, bluntly, my lords, more funding. Although our microflora grow fast, they also die fast, rereleasing their carbon compounds. We need to advance to higher organisms, to sequester the excess carbon for the millennial time-frames required. Perhaps you could address this, Liz?” He nodded toward a pleasantly plump middle-aged lady who had been named head of Carbon Drawdown.
   She smiled happily, by which Miles deduced her department’s responsibilities were going well this year. “Yes, my lords. We’ve a number of higher forms of vegetation coming along both in major test plots, and undergoing genetic development or improvement. By far our greatest success is with the cold— and carbon-dioxide-hardy peat bogs. They do require liquid water, and as always, would do better at higher temperatures. Ideally, they should be sited in subduction zones, for really long-term carbon sequestration, but Serifosa Sector lacks these. So we’ve chosen low-lying areas which will, as water is released from the poles, eventually be covered with lakes and small seas, locking the captured carbon down under a sedimentary cap. Properly set up, the process will run entirely automatically, without further human intervention. If we could just get the funding to double or triple the area of our plantations in the next few years… well, here are my projections.” Vorthys collected another data disk. “We’ve started several test plots of larger plants, to follow atop the bogs. These larger organisms are of course infinitely more controllable than the rapidly mutating microflora. They are ready to scale up to wider plantations right now. But they are even more severely threatened by the reduction in heat and light from the soletta. We really must have a reliable estimate of how long it will take to effect repairs in space before we dare continue our planting plans.”
   She gazed longingly at Vorthys, but he merely said, “Thank you, Madame.”
   “We plan a flyover of the peat plantations later this afternoon,” Vorsoisson told her. She settled back, temporarily content.
   And so it continued around the table: more than Miles had ever wanted to know about Komarran terraforming, interspersed with oblique, and not so oblique, pleas for increased Imperial funding. And heat and light. Power corrupts, but we want energy. Only Accounting and Waste Heat Management had managed to arrive at the meeting with duplicate copies of their pertinent reports for Miles. He stifled an impulse to point this out to somebody. Did he really want another several hundred thousand words of bedtime reading? His newer scars were starting to twinge by the time everyone had had their say, without even yesterday’s excuse of the physical stresses of buzzing around wreckage in a pressure suit. He rose from his chair much more stiffly than he had intended; Vorthys made a gesture of a helping hand to his elbow, but at Miles’s frown and tiny head shake, suppressed it. He didn’t really need a drink, he just wanted one.
   “Ah, Administrator Soudha,” Vorthys said, as the Waste Heat department head stepped past them toward the door. “A word, please?”
   Soudha stopped, and smiled faintly. “My Lord Auditor?”
   “Was there some special reason you could not help that young fellow, Farr, find his missing lady?”
   Soudha hesitated. “I beg your pardon?”
   “The fellow who was looking for your former employee, Marie Trogir, I believe he said her name was. Was there some reason you could not help him?”
   “Oh, him. Her. Well, uh… that was a difficult thing, there.” Soudha looked around, but the room had emptied, except for Vorsoisson and Venier waiting to convey their high-ranking guests on the next leg of their tour.
   “I recommended he file a missing person complaint with Dome Security. They may be making inquiries of you.”
   “I… don’t think I’ll be able to help them any more than I could help Farr. I’m afraid I really don’t know where she is. She left, you see. Very suddenly, only a day’s notice. It put a hole in my staffing at what has proved to be a difficult time. I wasn’t too pleased.”
   “So Farr said. I just thought it was odd about the cats. One of my daughters keeps cats. Dreadful little parasites, but she’s very fond of them.”
   “Cats?” said Soudha, looking increasingly mystified.
   “Trogir apparently left her cats in the keeping of Farr.”
   Soudha blinked, but said, “I’ve always considered it out of line to intrude on my subordinate’s personal lives. Men or pets, it was Trogir’s business, not mine. As long as they’re kept off project time. I… was there anything else?”
   “Not really,” said Vorthys.
   “Then if you will excuse me, my Lord Auditor.” Soudha smiled again, and ducked away.
   “What was that all about?” Miles asked Vorthys as they turned down the corridor in the opposite direction.
   Vorsoisson answered. “A minor office scandal, unfortunately. One of Soudha’s techs-female-ran off with one of his engineers, male. Completely blindsided him, apparently. He’s fairly embarrassed about it. However did you run across it?”
   “Young Farr accosted Ekaterin in a restaurant,” said Vorthys.
   “He really has been a pest.” Vorsoisson sighed. “I don’t blame Soudha for avoiding him.”
   “I always thought Komarrans were more casual about such things,” said Miles. “In the galactic style and all that. Not as casual as the Betans, but still. It sounds like a Barrayaran backcountry elopement.” Without, surely, the need to avoid backcountry social pressures, such as homicidal relatives out to defend the clan honor.
   Vorsoisson shrugged. “The cultural contamination between the worlds can’t run one way all the time, I suppose.”
   The little party continued to the underground garage, where the aircar Vorsoisson had requisitioned was not in evidence. “Wait here, Venier.” Swearing under his breath, Vorsoisson went off to see what had happened to it; Vorthys accompanied him.
   The opportunity to interview a Komarran in apparently-casual mode was not to be missed. What kind of Komarran was Venier? Miles turned to him, only to find him speaking first: “Is this your first visit to Komarr, Lord Vorkosigan?”
   “By no means. I’ve passed through the topside stations many times. I haven’t got downside too often, I admit. This is the first time I’ve been to Serifosa.”
   “Have you ever visited Solstice?”
   The planetary capital. “Of course.”
   Venier stared at the middle distance, past the concrete pillars and dim lighting, and smiled faintly. “Have you ever visited the Massacre Shrine there?”
   A cheeky damned Komarran, that’s what kind. The Solstice Massacre was infamous as the ugliest incident of the Barrayaran conquest. The two hundred Komarran Counselors, the then-ruling senate, had surrendered on terms-and subsequently been gunned down in a gymnasium by Barrayaran security forces. The political consequences had run a short range from dire to disastrous. Miles’s smile became a little fixed. “Of course. How could I not?”
   “All Barrayarans should make that pilgrimage. In my opinion.”
   “I went with a close friend. To help him burn a death offering for his aunt.”
   “A relative of a Martyr is a friend of yours?” Venier’s eyes widened in a moment of genuine surprise, in what otherwise felt to Miles to be a highly choreographed conversation. How long had Venier been rehearsing his lines in his head, itching for a chance to try them out?
   “Yes.” Miles let his gaze become more directly challenging.
   Venier apparently felt the weight of it, because he shifted uneasily, and said, “As you are your father’s son, I’m just a little surprised, is all.”
   By what, that I have any Komarran friends? “Especially as I am my father’s son, you should not be.”
   Venier’s brows tweaked up. “Well… there is a theory that the massacre was ordered by Emperor Ezar without the knowledge of Admiral Vorkosigan. Ezar was certainly ruthless enough.”
   “Ruthless enough, yes. Stupid enough, never. It was the Barrayaran expedition’s chief Political Officer’s own bright idea, for which my father made him pay with his life, not that that did much good for anyone after the fact. Leaving aside every moral consideration, the massacre was a supremely stupid act. My father has been accused of many things, but stupidity has never, I believe, been one of them.” His voice was growing dangerously clipped.
   “We’ll never know the whole truth, I suppose,” said Venier.
   Was that supposed to be a concession? “You can be told the whole truth all day long, but if you won’t believe it, then no, I don’t suppose you ever will know it.” He bared his teeth in a non-smile. No, keep control; why let this Komarran git see he’s scored you off?
   The doors of a nearby elevator opened, and Venier abruptly dropped from Miles’s attention as Madame Vorsoisson and Nikolai exited. She was wearing the same dull dun outfit she’d sported that morning, and carried a large pile of heavy jackets over her arm. She waved her hand around the jackets and stepped swiftly over to them. “Am I very late?” she asked a bit breathlessly. “Good afternoon, Venier.”
   Suppressing the first idiocy that came to his lips, which was, Any time is a good one for you, milady, Miles managed a, “Well, good afternoon, Madame Vorsoisson, Nikolai. I wasn’t expecting you. Are you to accompany us?” I hope? “Your husband has just gone off to fetch an aircar.”
   “Yes, Uncle Vorthys suggested it would be educational for Nikolai. And I haven’t had much chance to see outside the domes myself. I jumped at the invitation.” She smiled, and pushed back a strand of dark hair escaping its confinement, and almost dropped her bundle. “I wasn’t sure if we were to land anywhere and get outside on foot, but I brought jackets for everyone just in case.”
   A large two-compartment sealed aircar hissed around the corner and sighed to the pavement beside them. The front canopy opened, and Vorsoisson clambered out, and greeted his wife and son. The Professor watched from the front seat with some amusement as the question of how to distribute six passengers among the two compartments was taken over by Nikolai, who wanted to sit both by his great-uncle and by his Da.
   “Perhaps Venier could fly us today?” Madame Vorsoisson suggested diffidently.
   Vorsoisson gave her an oddly black look. “I’m perfectly capable.”
   Her lips moved, but she uttered no audible protest. Take your pick, my Lord Auditor, Miles thought to himself. Would you rather be chauffeured by a man just possibly suffering the first symptoms of Vorzohn’s Dystrophy, or by a Komarran, ah, patriot, with a car full of tempting Barrayaran Vor targets? “I have no preference,” he murmured truthfully.
   “I brought coats-” Madame Vorsoisson handed them out. She and her husband and Nikolai had their own; a spare of her husband’s did not quite meet around the Professor’s middle. The heavily padded jacket she handed Miles had been hers, he could tell immediately by the scent of her, lingering in the lining. He concealed a deep inhalation as he shrugged it on. “Thank you, that will do very well.”
   Vorsoisson dove into the rear compartment and came up with a double handful of breath masks, which he distributed. Both he and Venier had their own, with their names engraved on the cheek-pieces; the others were all labeled “Visitor”: one large, two medium, one small.
   Madame Vorsoisson hung hers over her arm, and bent to adjust Nikolai’s, and check its power and oxygen levels. “I already checked it,” Vorsoisson told her. His voice hinted a suppressed snarl. “You don’t have to do it again.”
   “Oh, sorry,” she said. But Miles, running through his own check in drilled habit, noticed she finished inspecting it before turning to adjust her own mask. Vorsoisson noticed too, and frowned.
   After a few more moments of Betan-style debate, the group sorted themselves out with Vorsoisson, his son, and the Professor in the front compartment, and Miles, Madame Vorsoisson, and Venier in the rear. Miles was uncertain whether to be glad or sorry with his lot in seatmates. He felt he could have engaged either of them in fascinating, if quite different, conversations, if the other had not been present. They all pulled heir masks down around their necks, out of the way but instantly ready to hand.
   They departed the garage’s vehicle-lock without further delay, and the car rose in the air. Venier returned to his initial stiffly professional lecture mode, pointing out bits of project scenery. You could begin to see the terraforming from this modest altitude, in the faint smattering of Earth-green in the damp low places, and a fuzziness of lichen and algae on the rocks. Madame Vorsoisson, her face plastered to the canopy, asked enough intelligent questions of Venier that Miles did not have to strain his tired brain for any, for which he was very grateful.
   “I’m surprised, Madame Vorsoisson, with your interest in botany, that you haven’t leaned on your husband for a job in his department,” said Miles after a while.
   “Oh,” she said, as if this was a new idea to her. “Oh, I couldn’t do that.”
   “Why not?”
   “Wouldn’t it be nepotism? Or some kind of conflict of interest?”
   “Not if you did your job well, which I’m sure you would. After all, the whole Barrayaran Vor system runs on nepotism. It’s not a vice for us, it’s a lifestyle.”
   Venier suppressed an unexpected noise, possibly a snort, and glanced at Miles with increased interest.
   “Why should you be exempt?” Miles continued.
   “It’s only a hobby. I don’t have nearly enough technical training. I’d need much more chemistry, to start.”
   “You could start in a technical assistant position-take evening classes to fill in your gaps. Bootstrap yourself up to something interesting in no time. They have to hire someone.” Belatedly, it occurred to Miles that if she, not Vorsoisson, was the carrier of the Vorzohn’s Dystrophy, there might be quelling reasons why she had not plunged into such a time— and energy-absorbing challenge. He sensed an elusive energy in her, as if it were tied in knots, locked down, circling back to exhaust itself destroying itself; had fear of her coming illness done that to her? Dammit, which of them was it? He was supposed to be such a hotshot investigator now, he ought to be able to figure this one out.
   Well, he could do so easily; all he had to do was cheat, and call ImpSec Komarr, and request a complete background medical check on his hosts. Just wave his magical Auditor-wand and invade all the privacy he wanted to. No. All this had nothing to do with the accident to the soletta array. As this morning’s embarrassment with her comconsole had demonstrated, he needed to start keeping his personal and professional curiosity just as strictly separated as his personal and Imperial funds. Neither a peculator nor a voyeur be. He ought to get a plaque engraved with that motto and hang it on his wall for a reminder. At least money didn’t tempt him. He could smell her faint perfume, organic and floral against the plastic and metal and recycled air…
   To Miles’s surprise, Venier said, “You really should consider it, Madame Vorsoisson.”
   Her expression, which during the flight had gradually become animated, grew reserved again. “I… we’ll see. Maybe next year. After… if Tien decides to stay.”
   Vorsoisson’s voice, over the intercom from the front compartment, interrupted to point out the upcoming peat bog, lining a long narrow valley below. It was a more impressive sight than Miles had expected. For one thing, it was a true and bright Earth-green; for another, it ran on for kilometers.
   “This strain produces six times the oxygen of its Earth ancestor,” Venier noted with pride.
   “So… if you were trapped outside without a breath mask, could you crawl around in it and survive till you were rescued?” Miles asked practically.
   “Mm… if you could hold your breath for about a hundred more years.”
   Miles began to suspect Venier of concealing a sense of humor beneath that twitchy exterior. In any case, the aircar spiraled down toward a rocky outcrop, and Miles’s attention was taken up by their landing site. He’d had unpleasant and deep, so to speak, personal experience with the treachery of arctic bogs. But Vorsoisson managed to put the car down with a reassuring crunchy jar on solid rock, and they all adjusted their breath masks. The canopy rose to admit a blast of chill unbreathable outside air, and they exited for a clamber over the rocks and down to personally examine the squishy green plants. They were squishy green plants, all right. There were lots of them. Stretching to the horizon. Lots. Squishy. Green. With an effort, Miles stopped his back-brain from composing a lengthy Report to the Emperor in this style, and tried instead to appreciate Venier’s highly technical disquisition on potential deep-freeze damage to the something-chemical cycle.
   After a little more time spent regarding the view-it didn’t change, and Nikki, though he sprang around like a flea, with his mother laboring after him, didn’t quite manage to fall into the bog-they all reboarded the aircar. After a flyover of a neighboring green valley, and a pass across another dull brown unaltered one for comparison and contrast, they turned for the Serifosa Dome.
   A largish installation featuring its own fusion reactor, and a riot of assorted greens spilling away from it, caught Miles’s attention on the leftward horizon. “What’s that?” he asked Denier.
   “It’s Waste Heat’s main experiment station,” Venier replied.
   Miles touched the intercom. “Any chance of dropping in for a visit down there?” he called the forward compartment.
   Vorsoisson’s voice hesitated. “I’m not sure we could get back to the dome before dark. I don’t like to take the chance.”
   Miles hadn’t thought night flight was that hazardous, but perhaps Vorsoisson knew his own limitations. And he did have his wife and child aboard, not to mention all that Imperial load in the somewhat unprepossessing persons of Miles and the Professor. Still, surprise inspections were always the most fun, if you wanted to turn up the good stuff. He toyed with the idea of insisting, Auditorially.
   “It would certainly be interesting,” murmured Venier. “I haven’t been out there in person in years.”
   “Perhaps another day?” suggested Vorsoisson.
   Miles let it go. He and Vorthys were playing visiting firemen here, not inspectors general; the real crisis was topside. “Perhaps. If there’s time.”
   Another ten minutes of flight brought Serifosa Dome up over the horizon. It was vast and spectacular in the gathering dusk, with its glittering strings of lights, looping bubble-car tubes, warm glow of domes, sparkling towers. We humans don’t do too badly, Miles thought, if you catch us at the right angle. The aircar slid back through the vehicle lock and settled again to the garage pavement.
   Venier went off with the aircar, and Vorsoisson collected the spare breath masks. Madame Vorsoisson’s face was bright and glowing, exhilarated by her field trip. “Don’t forget to put your mask back on the recharger,” she chirped to her husband as she handed him hers.
   Vorsoisson’s face darkened. “Don’t. Nag. Me,” he breathed through set teeth.
   She recoiled slightly, her expression closing as abruptly as a shutter. Miles stared off through the pillars, politely pretending not to have heard or noticed this interplay. He was hardly an expert on marital miscommunication, but even he could see how that one had gone awry. Her perhaps unfortunately-chosen expression of love and interest had been received by the obviously tense and tired Vorsoisson as a slur on his competence. Madame Vorsoisson deserved a better hearing, but Miles had no advice to offer. He had never even come near to capturing a wife to miscommunicate with. Not for lack of trying…
   “Well, well,” said Uncle Vorthys, also heartily pretending not to have noticed the byplay. “Everyone will feel better with a little supper aboard, eh, Ekaterin? Let me treat you all to dinner. Do you have another favorite place as splendid as the one where we ate lunch?”
   The moment of tension was extinguished in another Betan debate over the dinner destination; this time, Nikki was successfully overruled by the adults. Miles wasn’t hungry, and the temptation to relieve Vorthys of the day’s collection of data disks and escape back to some comconsole was strong, but perhaps with another drink or three he could endure one more family dinner with the Vorsoisson clan. The last, Miles promised himself.
   A trifle drunker than he had intended to be, Miles undressed for another night in the rented grav-bed. He piled the new stack of data disks on the comconsole to wait for morning, coffee, and better mental coherence. The last thing he did was rummage in his case and fish out his controlled-seizure stimulator. He sat cross-legged on the bed and regarded it glumly.
   The Barrayaran doctors had found no cure for the post-cryonic seizure disorder that had finally ended his military career. The best they had been able to offer was this: a triggering device to bleed off his convulsions in smaller increments, in controlled private times and places, instead of grandly, randomly, and spectacularly in moments of public stress. Checking his neurotransmitter levels was now a nightly hygienic routine, just like brushing his teeth, the doctors had suggested. He felt his right temple for the implant and positioned the read-contact. His only sensation was a faint spot of warmth.
   The levels were not yet in the danger zone. A few more days before he had to put in the mouth-guard and do it again. Having left his Armsman, Pym, who usually played valet and general servant, back on Barrayar, he would have to find another spotter. The doctors had insisted he have a spotter, when he did this ugly little thing. He would much prefer to be helpless and out-of-consciousness-and twitching like a fish, he supposed, though of course he was the one person who never got to watch-in complete privacy. Maybe he would ask the Professor.
   If you had a wife, she could be your spotter.
   Gee, what a treat for her.
   He grimaced, and put the device carefully away in its case, and crawled into bed. Perhaps in his dreams the space wreckage would reassemble itself, just like in a vid reconstruction, and reveal the secrets of its fate. Better to have visions of the wreckage than the bodies.


   Ekaterin studied Tien warily as they undressed for bed. The frowning tension in his face and body made her think she had better offer sex very soon. Strain in him frightened her, as always. It was past time to defuse him. The longer she waited, the harder it would be to approach him, and the tenser he would become, ending in some angry explosion of muffled, cutting words.
   Sex, she imagined wistfully, should be romantic, abandoned, self-forgetful. Not the most tightly self-disciplined action in her world. Tien demanded response of her and worked hard to obtain it, she thought; not like men she’d heard about who took their own pleasure, then rolled over and went to sleep. She sometimes wished he would. He became upset-with himself, with her?-if she failed to participate fully. Unable to act a lie with her body, she’d learned to erase herself from herself, and so unblock whatever strange neural channel it was that permitted flesh to flood mind. The inward erotic fantasies required to absorb her self-consciousness had become stronger and uglier over time; was that a mere unavoidable side-effect of learning more about the ugliness of human possibility, or a permanent corruption of the spirit?
   I hate this.
   Tien hung up his shirt and twitched a smile at her. His eyes remained strained, though, as they had been all evening. “I’d like you to do me a favor tomorrow.”
   Anything, to delay the moment. “Certainly. What?”
   “Take the brace of Auditors out and show ’em a good time. I’m about saturated with them. This downside holiday of theirs has been incredibly disruptive to my department. We’ve lost a week altogether, I bet, pulling together that show for them yesterday. Maybe they can go poke at something else, till they go back topside.”
   “Take them where, show them what?”
   “I already took Uncle Vorthys around.”
   “Did you show him the Sector University district? Maybe he’d like that. Your uncle is interested in lots of things, and I don’t think the Vor dwarf cares what he’s offered. As long as it includes enough wine.”
   “I haven’t the first clue what Lord Vorkosigan likes to do.”
   “Ask him. Suggest something. Take him, I don’t know, take him shopping.”
   “Shopping?” she said doubtfully.
   “Or whatever.” He trod over to her, still smiling tightly. His hand slipped behind her back, to hold her, and he offered a tentative kiss. She returned it, trying not to let her dutifulness show. She could feel the heat of his body, of his hands, and how thinly stretched his affability was. Ah, yes, the work of the evening, defusing the unexploded Tien. Always a tricky business. She began to pay attention to the practiced rituals, key words, gestures, that led into the practiced intimacies.
   Undressed and in bed, she closed her eyes as he caressed her, partly to concentrate on the touch, partly to block out his gaze, which was beginning to be excited and pleased. Wasn’t there some bizarre mythical bird or other, back on Earth, who fancied that if it couldn’t see you, you couldn’t see it? And so buried its head in the sand, odd image. While still attached to its neck, she wondered?
   She opened her eyes, as Tien reached across her and lowered the lamplight to a softer glow. His avid look made her feel not beautiful and loved, but ugly and ashamed. How could you be violated by mere eyes? How could you be lovers with someone, and yet feel every moment alone with them intruded upon your privacy, your dignity? Don’t look, Tien. Absurd. There really was something wrong with her. He lowered himself beside her; she parted her lips, yielding quickly to his questing mouth. She hadn’t always been this self-conscious and cautious. Back in the beginning, it had been different. Or had it been she alone who’d changed?
   It became her turn to sit up and return caresses. That was easy enough; he buried his face in his pillow, and did not talk for a while, as her hands moved up and down his body, tracing muscle and tendon. Secretly seeking symptoms. The tremula seemed reduced tonight; perhaps last evening’s shakes really had been a false alarm, merely the hunger and nerves he had claimed.
   She knew when the shift had occurred in her, of course, back about four, five jobs ago now. When Tien had decided, for reasons she still didn’t understand, that she was betraying him-with whom, she had never understood either, since the two names he’d finally mentioned as his suspects were so patently absurd. She’d had no idea such a sexual mistrust had taken over his mind, until she’d caught him following her, watching her, turning up at odd times and bizarre places when he was supposed to be at work-and had that perhaps had something to do with why that job had ended so badly? She’d finally had the accusation out of him. She’d been horrified, deeply wounded, and subtly frightened. Was it stalking, when it was your own husband? She had not had the courage to ask who to ask. Her one source of security was the knowledge that she’d never so much as been alone in any private place with another man. Her Vor-class training had done her that much good, at least. Then he had accused her of sleeping with her women friends.
   That had broken something in her at last, some will to desire his good opinion. How could you argue sense into someone who believed something not because it was true, but because he was an idiot? No amount of panicky protestation or indignant denial or futile attempt to prove a negative was likely to help, because the problem was not in the accused, but in the accuser. She began then to believe he was living in a different universe, one with a different set of physical laws, perhaps, and an alternate history. And very different people from the ones she’d met of the same name. Smarmy dopplegangers all.
   Still, the accusation alone had been enough to chill her friendships, stealing their innocent savor and replacing it with an unwelcome new level of awareness. With the next move, time and distance attenuated her contacts. And on the move after that, she’d stopped trying to make new friends.
   To this day she didn’t know if he’d taken her disgusted refusal to defend herself for a covert admission of guilt. Weirdly, after the blowup the subject had been dropped cold; he didn’t bring it up again, and she didn’t deign to. Did he think her innocent, or himself insufferably noble for forgiving her for nonexistent crimes?
   Why is he so impossible?
   She didn’t want the insight, but it came nonetheless. Because he fears losing you. And so in panic blundered about destroying her love, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy? It seemed so. It’s not as though you can pretend his fears have no foundation. Love was long gone, in her. She got by on a starvation diet of loyalty these days.
   I am Vor. I swore to hold him in sickness. He is sick. I will not break my oath, just because things have gotten difficult. That’s the whole point of an oath, after all. Some things, once broken, cannot ever be repaired. Oaths. Trust…
   She could not tell to what extent his illness was at the root of his erratic behavior. When they returned from the galactic treatment, he might be much better emotionally as well. Or at least she would at last be able to tell how much was Vorzohn’s Dystrophy, and how much was just… Tien.
   They switched positions; his skilled hands began working down her back, probing for her relaxation and response. An even more unhappy thought occurred to her then. Had Tien been, consciously or unconsciously, putting off his treatment because he realized on some obscure level that his illness, his vulnerability, was one of the few ties that still bound her to him? Is this delay my fault? Her head ached.
   Tien, still valiantly rubbing her back, made a murmur of protest. She was failing to relax; this wouldn’t do. Resolutely, she turned her thoughts to a practiced erotic fantasy, unbeautiful, but one which usually worked. Was it some weird inverted form of frigidity, this thing bordering on self-hypnosis she seemed to have to do in order to achieve sexual release despite Tien’s too-near presence? How could you tell the difference between not liking sex, and not liking the only person you’d ever done sex with?
   Yet she was almost desperate for touch, mere affection untainted by the indignities of the erotic. Tien was very good about that, massaging her for quite unconscionable lengths of time, though he sometimes sighed in a boredom for which she could hardly blame him. The touch, the make-it-better, the sheer catlike comfort, eased her body and then her heart, despite it all. She could absorb hours of this-she slitted one eye open to check the clock. Better not get greedy. So mind-wrenching, for Tien to demand a sexual show of her on the one hand, and accuse her of infidelity on the other. Did he want her to melt, or want her to freeze? Anything you pick is wrong. No, this wasn’t helping. She was taking much too long to cultivate her arousal. Back to work. She tried again to start her fantasy. He might have rights upon her body, but her mind was hers alone, the one part of her into which he could not pry.
   It went according to plan and practice, after that, mission accomplished all around. Tien kissed her when they’d finished. “There, all better,” he murmured. “We’re doing better these days, aren’t we?”
   She murmured back the usual assurances, a light, standard script. She would have preferred an honest silence. She pretended to doze, in postcoital lassitude, till his snores assured her he was asleep. Then she went to the bathroom to cry.
   Stupid, irrational weeping. She muffled it in a towel, lest he, or Nikki, or her guests hear and investigate. I hate him. I hate myself. I hate him, for making me hate myself…
   Most of all, she despised in herself that crippling desire for physical affection, regenerating like a weed in her heart no matter how many times she tried to root it out. That neediness, that dependence, that love-of-touch must be broken first. It had betrayed her, worse than all the other things. If she could kill her need for love, then all the other coils which bound her, desire for honor, attachment to duty, above all every form of fear, could be brought into line. Austerely mystical, she supposed. If I can kill all these things in me, I can be free of him.
   I’ll be a walking dead woman, but I will be free.
   She finished the weep, and washed her face, and took three painkillers. She could sleep now, she thought. But when she slipped back into the bedroom, she found Tien lying awake, his eyes a faint gleam in the shadows. He turned up the lamp at the whisper of her bare feet on the carpet. She tried to remember if insomnia was listed among the early symptoms of his disease. He raised the covers for her to slip beneath. “What were you doing in there all that time, going for seconds without me?”
   She wasn’t sure if he was waiting for a laugh, if that was supposed to be a joke, or her indignant denial. Evading the problem, instead she said, “Oh, Tien, I almost forgot. Your bank called this afternoon. Very strange. Something about requiring my countersignature and palm-print to release your pension account. I told them I didn’t think that could be right, but that I would check with you and get back to them.”
   He froze in the act of reaching for her. “They had no business calling you about that!”
   “If this was something you wanted me to do, you might have mentioned it earlier. They said they’d delay releasing it till I got back to them.”
   “Delayed, no! You idiot bitch!” His right hand clenched in a gesture of frustration.
   The hateful and hated epithet made her sick to her stomach. All that effort to pacify him tonight, and here he was right back on the edge… “Did I make a mistake?” she asked anxiously. “Tien, what’s wrong? What’s going on?” She prayed he wasn’t about to put his fist through the wall again. The noise-would her uncle hear, or that Vorkosigan fellow, and how could she explain-
   “No… no. Sorry.” He rubbed his forehead instead, and she let out a covert sigh of relief. “I forgot about it being under Komarran rules. On Barrayar, I never had any trouble signing out my pension accumulation when I left any job, any job that offered a pension, anyway. Here on Komarr I think they want a joint signature from the designated survivor. It’s all right. Call them back first thing in the morning, though, and clear it.”