“I’d like to examine Dr. Radovas’s office and work areas.”
   “Oh. I’m afraid his office was cleared and reassigned.”
   “Have you replaced him?”
   “Not yet. I’m still collecting applications. I hope to start interviewing soon.”
   “Radovas must have been friends with somebody. I want to speak with his coworkers.”
   “Of course, my Lord Auditor. When would you like me to set up appointments?”
   “I thought I’d just drop in.”
   Soudha pursed his lips. “Several of my people are on vacation, and several more are out at the experiment station, running a small test this morning. I don’t expect them to be done before dark. But I can get you started with the people here, and have some more in by the time you’re done with the first.”
   “All right…”
   With the air of a man throwing a sacrifice to the volcano god, Soudha called in two subordinates, whom Miles interviewed one at a time in the same conference chamber they’d used day before yesterday for the VIP briefing. Arozzi was a younger man, scarcely older than Miles, an engineer who was temporarily scrambling to take over Radovas’s abandoned duties, and perhaps, he hinted, hoping for promotion into the dead man’s shoes. Would my Lord Auditor like to see some of his work? No, he had not been close friends with his senior. No, the office romance had been a surprise to him, but then Radovas had been a private sort of fellow, very discreet. Trogir had been a bright woman, bright and beautiful; Arozzi had no trouble appreciating what Radovas had seen in her. What had she seen in Radovas? He had no idea, but then, he wasn’t a woman. Radovas dead? Dear God… No, he had no idea what the man had been doing topside. Maybe the couple had been trying to emigrate?
   Cappell, the department’s resident mathematician, was hardly more useful. He was a bit older than Arozzi, and a trifle more cynical. He took in the news of Radovas’s death with less change of expression than either Arozzi or Soudha. He hadn’t been close to Radovas or Trogir either, not on a social basis, though he worked often with the engineer, yes, checking calculations, devising projections. He’d be glad to show my Lord Auditor a few thousand more pages of his work. No?
   What was Trogir like? Well-enough looking, he supposed, but rather sly. Look what she’d done to poor Radovas, eh? Did he think Trogir might be dead as well? No, women were like cats, they landed on their feet. No, he’d never actually experimented with testing that old saying on live cats; he didn’t have any pets himself. Nor a wife. No, he didn’t want a kitten, thank you for the offer, my Lord Auditor…
   Miles met again with Tuomonen at lunchtime over mediocre cafeteria food in the executive dining room off the building’s atrium; the displaced executives were forced to go elsewhere. They exchanged reports on their morning’s conversations. Tuomonen hadn’t found any breakthroughs either.
   “No one expressed a dislike of Trogir, but she seems damned elusive,” Tuomonen noted. “The Waste Heat department has a reputation for keeping itself to itself, apparently. The one woman in Waste Heat who was supposed to be her friend didn’t have much to say. I wonder if I ought to get a female interrogator?”
   “Mm, maybe. Though I thought Komarrans were supposed to be more egalitarian about such things. Maybe a Komarran female interrogator?” Miles sighed. “D’you know that according to the latest statistics, half of the Barrayaran women who take advanced schooling on Komarr don’t go home again? There’s a small group of alarmist bachelors who are trying to get the Emperor to deny them exit visas. Gregor has declined to hear their petition.”
   Tuomonen smiled slightly. “Well, there’s more than one solution to that problem.”
   “Yes, how have your Komarran in-laws taken the announcement of the Emperor’s betrothal to the Toscane heiress?”
   “Some of them think it’s romantic. Some of them think it’s sharp business practice on Emperor Gregor’s part. Coming from Komarrans, that’s a warm compliment, by the way.”
   “Technically, Gregor owns the planet Sergyar. You might point that out to anyone who theorizes he’s marrying Laisa for her money.”
   Tuomonen grinned. “Yes, but is Sergyar a liquid asset?”
   “Only in the sense of Imperial funds gurgling down the drain, according to my father. But that’s an entire other set of problems. And what do the Barrayaran expatriates around here think of the marriage?”
   “In general, it’s favored.” Tuomonen smiled dryly into his coffee cup. “Five years ago, my colleagues thought I was cutting my career throat by my own marriage. I’d never get promoted out of Serifosa, they said. Now I am suspected of secret genius, and they’ve taken to regarding me with wary respect. I think… it’s best if I be amused.”
   “Hen. You are a wise man, Captain.” Miles finished off a starchy and gelid square of pasta-and-something, and chased it with the last of his cooling coffee. “So what did Trogir’s friends think of Radovas?”
   “Well, he’s certainly managed to give a consistent impression of himself. Nice, conscientious guy, didn’t make waves, kept to Waste Heat, his elopement a surprise to most. One woman thought it was your math fellow Cappell who was sweet on Trogir, not Radovas.”
   “He sounded more sour than sweet to me. Frustrated, perhaps?” Miles’s back-brain sketched a nice, straightforward scenario of jealous murder, involving pushing Radovas out an airlock on a trajectory that only just by coincidence matched that of some soletta debris. You can wish. And anyway, it seemed more logical that any homicidal maniac wishing to clear a path to Trogir’s side ought to have started with Andro Farr, and what the hell did any of this tragic romance have to do with an ore freighter swinging off course and smashing into the soletta array anyway? Unless the jealous maniac was Andro Farr… the Serifosa Dome police were supposed to be looking into that possibility.
   Tuomonen grunted. “I will say, I got more of a sense of Trogir’s personality from the few minutes I spent with Farr than I have from the rest of this crew all morning. I want to talk with him again, I think.”
   “I want to go topside, dammit. But whatever the end of the story is, up there, it certainly has to have begun here. Well… onward, I guess.”
   Soudha supplied Miles with more human sacrifices in the form of employees called back from the experiment station. They all seemed more interested in their work than in office gossip, but perhaps, Miles reflected, that was an observer-effect. By late afternoon, Miles was reduced to amusing himself wandering around the project offices and terrorizing employees by taking over their comconsoles at random and sampling data, and occasionally emitting ambiguous little “Hm…” noises as they watched him in fearful fascination. This lacked even the challenge of dissecting Madame Vorsoisson’s comconsole, since the government-issue machines all opened everything immediately to the overrides in his Auditor’s seal, regardless of their security classification. He mainly learned that terraforming was an enormous project with a centuries-long scientific and bureaucratic history, and that any individual who attempted to sort clues through sheer mass data assimilation had to be frigging insane.
   Now, delegating that task, on the other hand… Who do I hate enough in ImpSec?
   He was still pondering this question as he browsed through the files on Venier’s comconsole in the Administrator’s outer office. The nervous Venier had fled after about the fourth “Hm,” apparently unable to stand the suspense. Tien Vorsoisson, who had intelligently left Miles pretty much to his own devices all day, poked his head around the corner and offered a tentative smile.
   “My Lord Auditor? This is the hour at which I normally go home. Do you wish anything else from me?”
   Departing employees had been trickling past the open doorway for the past several minutes, and office lights had been going out all down the corridor. Miles sat back and stretched. “I don’t think so, Administrator. I want to look at a few more files, and talk to Captain Tuomonen. Why don’t you go on. Don’t wait your dinner.” A mental picture of Madame Vorsoisson, moving gracefully about preparing delectable aromatic food for her husband’s return, flashed unbidden in his brain. He suppressed it. “I’ll be along later to collect my things.” Or better yet… “Or I may send one of Tuomonen’s corporals for them. Give your lady wife my best thanks for the hospitality of her household.” There. That finished that. He wouldn’t even have to say good-bye to her.
   “Certainly, my Lord Auditor. Do you, ah, expect to be here again tomorrow?”
   “That rather depends on what turns up overnight. Good evening, Administrator.”
   “Good evening, my lord.” Tien withdrew quietly.
   A few minutes later, Tuomonen wandered in, his hands full of data disks. “Finding anything, my lord?”
   “I got all excited for a moment when I found a personal seal, but it turned out to be just Venier’s file of Barrayaran jokes. Some of them are pretty good. Do you want a copy?”
   “Is that the one that starts out: ‘ImpSec Officer: What do you mean he got away? Didn’t I tell you to cover all the exits?-ImpSec Guard: I did sir! He walked out through one of the entrances.’ ”
   “Yep. And the next one goes, ‘A Cetagandan, a Komarran, and a Barrayaran walked into a genetic counselor’s clinic-’ ”
   Tuomonen grimaced. “I’ve seen that collection. My mother-in-law sent it to me.”
   “Ratting on her disaffected Komarran comrades, was she?”
   “I don’t think that was her intent, no. I believe it was more of a personal message.” Tuomonen looked around the empty office and sighed. “So, my Lord Auditor. When do we break out the fast-penta?”
   “I’ve found nothing, here, really.” Miles frowned thoughtfully. “I’ve found too much of nothing here. I may have to sleep on this overnight, let my back-brain play with it. The library analysis may provide some direction. And I certainly want to see Waste Heat’s experiment station tomorrow morning, before I go back topside. Ah, Captain, it’s tempting. Call out the guards, descend in force, freeze everything, full financial audit, fast-penta everyone in sight… turn this place upside down and shake it. But I need a reason.”
   “I would need a reason,” said Tuomonen. “With full documentation, and my career on the line if I spent that much of ImpSec’s budget and guessed wrong. But you, on the other hand, speak with the Emperor’s Voice. You could call it a drill.” There was no mistaking the envy in his voice.
   “I could call it a quadrille.” Miles smiled wryly. “It may come to that.”
   “I could call HQ, have them put a flying squad on alert,” murmured Tuomonen suggestively.
   “I’ll let you know by tomorrow morning,” Miles promised.
   “I need to stop by my own office and tend to some routine matters,” said Tuomonen. “Would you care to accompany me, my Lord Auditor?”
   So you can guard me at your convenience? “I still want to potter around here a bit. There’s something… something that’s bothering me, and I haven’t figured out what it is yet. Though I would like a chance to talk to the Professor on a secured channel before the evening is out.”
   “Perhaps, when you’re ready to leave, you could call me and I can send one of my men to escort you.”
   Miles considered refusing this ingenuous offer, but on the other hand, they could swing by the Vorsoissons’ apartment and collect Miles’s clothes on the return trip; Tuomonen would have his security, and Miles would have a minion to carry his luggage, a win-win scenario. And having the guard in tow would give Miles an excuse not to linger. “All right.”
   Tuomonen, partially satisfied, nodded and took himself off. Miles turned his attention to the next layer of Venier’s corn-console. Who knew, maybe there would be another joke list.


   Ekaterin finished folding the last of Lord Vorkosigan’s clothing into his travel bag, rather more carefully than their owner was wont to, judging from the stirred appearance of the layers beneath. She sealed his toiletries case and fitted it in, then the odd, gel-padded case containing that peculiar medical-looking device. She trusted it wasn’t some sort of ImpSec secret weapon.
   Vorkosigan’s war story of his Sergeant Beatrice burned in Ekaterin’s mind, as the marks on her wrists seemed to burn. O fortunate man, that his missed grasp had passed in a fraction of a second. What if he had had years to think about it first? Hours to calculate the masses and forces and the true arc of descent? Would it have been cowardice or courage to let go of a comrade he could not possibly have saved, to save himself at least? He’d had a command, he’d had responsibilities to others, too. How much would it have cost you, Captain Vorkosigan, to have opened your hands and deliberately let go?
   She closed the bag and glanced at her chrono. Getting Nikolai settled at his friend’s house “for overnight”-that first, before anything else-had taken longer than she’d planned, as had getting the rental company to come collect their grav-bed. Lord Vorkosigan had talked about removing to a hotel this evening, but done nothing toward it. When he returned with Tien, to find no dinner and his bed gone and his bags packed and waiting in the hall, surely he would take the hint and decamp at once. Their good-bye would be formal and permanent, and above all, brief. She was almost out of time and had not even begun on her own things.
   She dragged Vorkosigan’s bag to the vestibule and returned her workroom, staring around at the seedlings and cuttings, lights and equipment. It was impossible to pack all that in bag she could carry. Another garden was going to be abandoned. At least they were getting smaller and smaller. She’d once wanted to cultivate her marriage like a garden; one of the legendary great Vor parks that people came from districts away to admire for color and beauty through the changing seasons, the sort that took decades to reach full fruition, growing richer and more complex each year. When all other desires had died, shreds of that ambition still lingered, to tempt her with, If only I try one more time… Her lips twisted in bleak derision. Time to admit she had a black thumb for marriage. Plow it under, surface it with concrete, and be done.
   She began as a minimum gesture to pull her library off the wall and fit it into a box. The urge to cram a few of her things hastily into some shopping bag and flee before Tien returned as strong. But sooner or later, she would have to face him. Because of Nikki, there would have to be negotiations, formal plans, eventually legal petitions, the uncertainty of which made her sick to her stomach. But she had been years coming to this moment. If she could not do this now, when her anger was high, how could she find the strength to face the rest in colder blood?
   She walked through the apartment, staring at the objects of her life. They were few enough; the major furnishings had all come with the place and would stay with the place. Her spasmodic efforts at decoration, at creating some semblance of a Barrayaran home, the hours of work-it was like deciding what to grab in a fire, only slower. Nothing. Let it all burn. The sole awkward exception was her great-aunt’s bonsai’d skellytum. It was her one memento of her life before Tien, and it was in the nature of a sacred trust to the dead. Keeping something that foolish and ugly alive for seventy and more years… well, it was a typical Vor woman’s job. She smiled bitterly, and brought it off the balcony into the kitchen, and began to look around for some way to transit it. At the sound of the hall door opening, she caught her breath, and schooled her features to as little expression as possible.
   “Kat?” Tien ducked into the kitchen and stared around, “Where’s dinner?”
   My first question would have been, Where’s Nikolai? I wonder how long it will take that thought to come to him. “Where is Lord Vorkosigan?”
   “He stayed on at the office. He’ll be along later, he said, to take his things away.”
   “Oh.” She realized then that some tiny part of her had been hoping to conduct the impending conversation while Vorkosigan was still finishing up in her workroom or something; his presence providing some margin of safety, of social restraint upon Tien. Maybe it was better this way. “Sit down, Tien. I have to talk with you.”
   He raised dubious brows, but sat at the head of the table, around to her left. She would have preferred to have him opposite her.
   “I am leaving you tonight.”
   “What?” His astonishment appeared genuine. “Why?”
   She hesitated, reluctant to be drawn into argument. “I suppose… because I have come to the end of myself.” Only now, looking back over the long draining years, did she become aware of how much of her there had been to use up. No wonder it had taken so long. All gone now.
   “Why… why now?” At least he didn’t say, You must be joking. “I don’t understand, Kat.” She could see him begin to grope, not toward understanding, but away from it, as far away as possible. “Is it the Vorzohn’s Dystrophy? Damn, I knew-”
   “Don’t be stupid, Tien. If that was the issue, I’d have left years ago. I took oath to you in sickness and health.”
   He frowned and sat back, his brows lowering. “Is there someone else? There’s someone else, isn’t there!”
   “I’m sure you wish there were. Because then it would be because of them, and not because of you.” Her voice was level, utterly flat. Her stomach churned.
   He was obviously shocked, and beginning to shake a little. “This is madness. I don’t understand.”
   “I have nothing more to say.” She began to rise, wishing nothing more than to be gone at once, away from him. You could have done this over the comconsole, you know.
   No. I took my oath in the flesh. I will break it to pieces in the same way.
   He rose with her, and his hand closed over hers, gripping it, stopping her. “There’s more to it.”
   “You would know more about that than I would, Tien.” He hesitated now, beginning, she thought, to be really afraid. This might not be any safer for her. He’s never hit me yet, I’ll give him that much credit. Part of her almost wished he had. Then there would have been clarity, not this endless muddle. “What do you mean?”
   “Let go of me.”
   She considered his hand on hers, tight but not grinding. But still much stronger than her own. He was half a head taller and outweighed her by thirty kilos. She did not feel as much physical fear as she had thought she would. She was too numb, perhaps. She raised her face to his. Her voice grew edged. “Let go of me.”
   A little to her surprise, he did so, his hand flexing awkwardly. “You have to tell me why. Or I’ll believe it’s to go to some lover.”
   “I no longer care what you believe.”
   “Is he Komarran? Some damned Komarran?”
   Goading her in the usual spot, and why not? It had worked before to bring her into line. It half-worked still. She had sworn to herself that she wasn’t even going to bring up the subject of Tien’s actions and inactions. Complaint was a tacit plea for help, for reform, for… continuation. Complaint was to attempt to shuffle off the responsibility for action onto another. To act was to obliterate the need for complaint. She would act, or not act. She would not whine. Still in that dead-level voice, she said, “I found out about your trade shares, Tien.”
   His mouth opened, and shut again. After a moment he said, “I can make it up. I know what went wrong now. I can make the losses up again.”
   “I don’t think so. Where did you get that forty thousand marks, Tien.” Her lack of inflection made it not a question.
   “I…” She could watch it in his face, as he ratcheted over his choice of lies. He settled on a fairly simple one. “Part I saved, part I borrowed. You’re not the only one who can scrimp, you know.”
   “From Administrator Soudha?”
   He flinched at the name, but said ingenuously, “How did you know?”
   “It doesn’t matter, Tien. I’m not going to turn you in.” She stared at him in weariness. “I take no part in you anymore.”
   He paced, agitated, back and forth across the kitchen, his face working. “I did it for you,” he said at last.
   Yes. Now he will attempt to make me feel guilty. All my fault. It was as familiar as the steps of some well-practiced, poisonous dance. She watched silently.
   “All for you. You wanted money. I worked my tail off, but it was never enough for you, was it?” His voice rose, as he tried to lash himself into a relieving, self-righteous anger. It fell a little flat to her experienced ear. “You pushed me into taking a chance, with your endless nagging and worrying. So it didn’t work, and now you want to punish me, is that it? You’d have been quick enough to make up to me if it had paid off.”
   He was very good at this, she had to admit, his accusations echoing her own dark doubts. She listened to his patterned litany with a sort of detached appreciation, like a torture victim, gone beyond pain unbeknownst, admiring the color of her own blood. Now he will attempt to make me feel sorry for him. But I’m done feeling sorry. I’m done feeling anything.
   “Money money money, is that what this is all about? What is it that you want to buy so damned much, Kat?”
   Your health, as you may recall. And Nikki’s future. And mine.
   As he paced, sputtering, his eye fell on the bright red skellytum, sitting in its basin on the kitchen table. “You don’t love me. You only love yourself. Selfish, Kat! You love your damned potted plants more than you love me. Here, I’ll prove it to you.”
   He snatched up the pot and pressed the control for the door to the balcony. It opened a little too slowly for his dramatic timing, but he strode through nonetheless, and whirled to face her. “Which shall it be to go over the railing, Kat? Your precious plant, or me? Choose!”
   She neither spoke nor moved. Now he will attempt to terrify me with suicide gestures. This made, what, the fourth time around for that ploy? His trump card, which had always before ended the game in his favor.
   He brandished the skellytum high. “Me, or it?” He watched her face, waiting for her to break. An almost clinical curiosity prompted her to say You, just to see how he would wriggle out of his challenge, but she kept silent still. When she did not speak, he hesitated in confusion for a moment, then launched the ancient absurd thing over the side.
   Five floors up. She counted the seconds in her head, waiting for the crash from below. It came as more of a distant, sodden thump, mixed with the crack of exploding pottery.
   “You ass, Tien. You didn’t even look to see if there was anyone below.”
   With a look of sudden alarm that almost made her want to laugh, he peeked fearfully over the side. Apparently he hadn’t managed to kill anyone after all, for he inhaled deeply and turned back toward her, taking a few steps through the open airseal door into the kitchen, but not too near to her. “React, damn you! What do I have to do to get through to you?”
   ‘Don’t bother,” she said levelly. “I cannot imagine anything you could do that would make me more angry than I am.”
   He had come to the end of his menu of tactics and stood a loss. His voice grew smaller. “What do you want?”
   “I want my honor back. But you cannot give it to me.”
   His voice grew smaller still; his hands opened in pleading. “I’m sorry about your aunt’s skellytum. I don’t know at…”
   “Are you sorry about grand theft and petty treason, bribery and peculation?”
   “I did it for you, Kat!”
   “In eleven years,” she said slowly, “you have apparently never figured out who I am. I don’t understand that. How you can live with someone so intimately, so long, and yet never know them. Maybe you were living with some Kat holovid projection from your own mind, I don’t know.”
   “What do you want, dammit? It’s not like I can go back. I can’t confess. That would be public dishonor! For me, you, Nikki, your uncle-you can’t want that!”
   “I want never to have to tell a lie again for as long as I live. What you do is your problem.” She took a deep breath. “But know this. Whatever you do, or don’t do, from now on had better be for yourself. Because it won’t touch.” Done once, done for all time. She was never going through this again.
   “I can-I can fix it.”
   Was he referring to her skellytum, their marriage, his crime? Wrong anyway, in all cases.
   When she still did not respond, he blurted desperately, “Nikolai is mine, by Barrayaran law.”
   Interesting. Nikki was the one tactic he had never employed before, off limits. She knew then how deathly serious he knew her to be. Good. He glanced around, and added belatedly, here is Nikki?”
   “Someplace safer.”
   “You can’t keep him from me!”
   I can if you’re in prison. She didn’t bother saying it aloud. Under the circumstances, Tien was perhaps unlikely to challenge her possession of Nikki before the law. But she wanted to keep Nikolai’s concerns as far separated as possible from the ugliest part of this thing. She would not start that war, but if Tien dared to do so, she would finish it. She watched him more coldly than ever.
   “I will fix it. I can. I have a plan. I’ve been thinking about all day.”
   Tien with a plan was about as reassuring as a two-year-old with a charged plasma arc. No. You are not to take responsibility for him anymore. That’s what this is all about, remember? Let go. “Do whatever you wish, Tien. I’m going to go finish packing now.”
   “Wait-” He swung around her. It disturbed her to have him between her and the door, but she did not let her fear show. “Wait. I’ll make it up. You’ll see. I’ll fix it. Wait here!”
   With an anxious wave of his hands, he made for the hall door, and was gone.
   She listened to his retreating footsteps. Only when she heard the faint whisper from the lift tube did she step back onto the balcony and look over. Far below, the shattered remains of her skellytum made an irregular wet blotch on the pavement, the broken scarlet tendrils looking like spattered blood. A passer-by was staring curiously at it. After a minute, she saw Tien emerge from the building and stride across the park toward the bubble-car platform, almost breaking into a run from time to time. He twice looked back up toward their balcony, over his shoulder; she stepped back into the shadows. He disappeared into the station.
   Every muscle of her body seemed to be spasming with tension. She felt close to vomiting. She returned to her-to the kitchen, and drank a glass of water, which helped settle her breathing and her stomach. She went to her work room to fetch a basket and some plastic sheeting and a trowel, to go scrape the mess off the walkway five floors down.


   Miles sat at Administrator Vorsoisson’s comconsole desk, methodically reading through the files of all the employees of the Waste Heat department. There seemed to be a lot of personnel, compared to some of the other departments; Waste Heat was definitely a favored child in the Project budget. Presumably most of them spent the bulk of their time out at the experiment station, since Waste Heat’s offices here were modest. In hindsight, always acute, Miles wished he’d begun his survey of Radovas’s life out there today, where there might have been some action to observe, instead of in this tower of bureaucratic boredom. More, he wished he’d dropped in on the experiment station during their first tour… well, no. He would not have known what to look for then.
   And you know now? He shook his head in wry dismay and brought up another file. Tuomonen had taken a copy of the personnel list, and in due time would be interviewing most of these people, unless something happened to take the investigation off in another direction. Such as finding Marie Trogir-that was the first item now on Miles’s wish list for ImpSec. Miles shifted to ease the twinge in his back; he could feel his body stiffening from sitting still in a cool room too long. Didn’t these Serifosans know they needed to waste more heat?
   Quick steps in the hallway paused and turned in at the outer office, and Miles glanced up. Tien Vorsoisson, a little out of breath, hung a moment in his office doorway, then plunged inside. He was carrying two heavy jackets, his own and the one of his wife’s that Miles had used the other day, and a breath mask labeled Visitor, Medium. He smiled at Miles in suppressed agitation. “My Lord Auditor. So glad to still find you here.”
   Miles shut down the file and regarded Vorsoisson with interest. “Hello, Administrator. What brings you back tonight?”
   “You, my lord. I need to talk with you right away. I have to… to show you something I’ve discovered.”
   Miles opened his hand, indicating the comconsole, but Vorsoisson shook his head. “Not here, my lord. Out at the Waste Heat experiment station.”
   Ah ha. “Right now?”
   “Yes, tonight, while everyone is gone.” Vorsoisson laid the spare breath mask on the comconsole, rummaged in a cabinet in the far wall, and came up with his own personal mask. He yanked the straps over his neck and hastily adjusted his chest harness to hold the supplementary oxygen bottle in place. “I’ve requisitioned a lightflyer, it’s waiting downstairs.”
   “All right…” Now what was this going to be all about? Too much to hope Vorsoisson had found Marie Trogir locked in a closet out there. Miles checked his own mask-power and oxygen levels indicated it was fully recharged-and slipped it on. He took a couple of breaths in passing, to test its correct function, then slid it down out of the way under his chin and shrugged on the jacket.
   “This way…” Vorsoisson led off with long strides, which annoyed Miles considerably; he declined to run to keep up with the man. The Administrator perforce waited for him at the lift tube, bouncing on his heels in impatience. This time, when they reached the garage sub-level, the vehicle was ready. It was a less-than-luxurious government issue two-passenger flyer, but appeared to be in perfectly good condition.
   Miles was less certain of the driver. “What’s this all about, Vorsoisson?”
   Vorsoisson put his hand on the canopy and regarded Miles with an intensity of expression that was almost alarming. “What are the rules for declaring oneself an Imperial Witness?”
   “Well… various, I suppose, depending on the situation.” Miles was not, he realized belatedly, nearly as well up on the fine points of Barrayaran law as an Imperial Auditor ought to be. He needed to do more reading. “I mean… I don’t think it’s exactly something one does for oneself. It’s usually negotiated between a potential witness and whatever prosecuting authority is in charge of the criminal case.” And rarely. Since the end of the Time of Isolation, with the importation of fast-penta and other galactic interrogation drugs, the authorities no longer had to bargain for truthful testimony, normally.
   “In this case, the authority is you,” said Tien. “The rules are whatever you say they are, aren’t they? Because you are an Imperial Auditor.”
   “Uh… maybe.”
   Vorsoisson nodded in satisfaction, raised the canopy, and slid into the pilot’s seat. With reluctant fascination, Miles levered himself in beside him. He fastened his safety harness as the flyer lifted and glided toward the garage’s vehicle lock.
   “And why do you ask?” Miles probed delicately. Vorsoisson had all the air of a man anxious to spill something very interesting indeed. Not for three worlds did Miles wish to frighten him off at this point. At the same time, Miles would have to be extremely cautious about what he promised. He’s your fellow Auditor’s nephew-in-law. You’ve just stepped onto an ethical tightrope.
   Vorsoisson did not answer right away, instead powering the lightflyer up into the night sky. The lights of Serifosa brightened the faint feathery clouds of valuable moisture above, which occluded the stars. But as they shot away from the dome city, the glowing haze thinned and the stars came out in force. The landscape away from the dome was very dark, devoid of the villages and homesteads that carpeted less climatically hostile worlds. Only a monorail streaked away to the southwest, a faint pale line against the barren ground.
   “I believe,” Vorsoisson said at last, and swallowed. “I believe I have finally accumulated enough evidence of an attempted crime against the Imperium for a successful prosecution. I hope I haven’t waited too long, but I had to be sure.”
   “Sure of what?”
   “Soudha has tried to bribe me. I’m not absolutely certain that he didn’t bribe my predecessor, too.”
   “Oh? Why?”
   “Waste Heat Management. The whole department is a scam, a hollow shell. I’m not really sure how long they’ve been able to keep this bubble going. They had me fooled for… for months. I mean… a building full of equipment on a quiet day, how was I supposed to know what it did? Or didn’t do? Or that there weren’t anything but quiet days?”
   “How long-” have you known, Miles bit off. That question was premature. “Just what are they doing?”
   “They’re bleeding off money from the project. For all I know, it may have started small, or by accident-some departed employee mistakenly kept on the roster, an accumulation of pay that Soudha figured out how to pocket. Ghost employees-his department is full of fictitious employees, all drawing pay. And equipment purchases for the ghost employees-Soudha suborned some woman in Accounting to go along with him. They have all the forms right, all the numbers match, they’ve slid it through I don’t know how many fiscal inspections, because the accountants HQ sends out don’t know how check the science, only the forms.”
   “Who does check the science?”
   That’s the thing, my Lord Auditor. The Terraforming Project isn’t expected to produce quick results, not in any immediately measurable way. Soudha produces technical reports, all right, plenty of them, right to schedule, but I think he mostly does them by copying other sectors’ previous-period results and fudging.”
   Indeed, the Komarran Terraforming Project was a bureaucratic backwater, far down the Barrayaran Imperium’s urgent list. Not critical: a good place to park, say, incompetent Vor second sons out of the way of their families. Where they could do no harm to anyone, because the project was vast and slow, and they would cycle out and be gone again before the damage could even be measured. “Speaking of ghost employees-how does Radovas’s death connect with this alleged scam?”
   Vorsoisson hesitated. “I’m not sure it does. Except to draw ImpSec down on it and burst the bubble. After all, he quit days before he died.”
   “Soudha said he quit. Soudha, according to you, is a proven liar and data artist. Could Radovas have, say, threatened to expose Soudha and been murdered to assure his silence?”
   “But Radovas was in on it. For years. I mean, all the technical people had to know. They couldn’t not know they weren’t doing the work the reports said.”
   “Mm, that may depend on how much of an artistic genius Soudha was, arranging his reports.” Soudha’s own personnel certainly suggested that he was neither stupid nor second-rate. Might he have cooked those records as well? Oh, God. This means I’m not going to be able to trust any data off any console in the whole damned department. And he’d wasted hours today, decanting comconsoles. “Radovas might have had change of heart.”
   “I don’t know,” said Vorsoisson plaintively. His glance flicked aside to Miles. “I want you to remember, I found this. I turned him in. Just as soon as I was sure.” His repeated insistence on that last point hinted broadly to Miles’s ear that his knowledge of this fascinating piece of peculation predated his assurance by a noticeable margin. Had Soudha’s bribe been not just offered, but accepted? Till the bubble burst. Was Miles witnessing an outbreak of patriotic duty on Vorsoisson’s part, or an unseemly rush to get Soudha and Company before they got him?
   “I’ll remember,” Miles said neutrally. Belatedly, it occurred to him that going off alone in the night with Vorsoisson to some deserted outpost, without even pausing to inform Tuomonen, might not be the brightest thing he’d ever done. Still, he doubted Vorsoisson would be nearly this forthcoming in the ImpSec captain’s presence. It might be as well not to be too blunt with Vorsoisson about his chances of slithering out of this mess till they were safely back in Serifosa, preferably in the presence of Tuomonen and a couple of nice big ImpSec goons. Miles’s stunner was a reassuring lump in his pocket. He would check in with Tuomonen via his wrist comm link as soon as he could arrange a quiet moment out of Vorsoisson’s earshot.
   “And tell Kat,” Vorsoisson added.
   Huh? What had Madame Vorsoisson to do with any of this? “Let’s see this evidence of yours, then talk about it.”
   “What you’ll mainly see is an absence of evidence, my lord,” said Vorsoisson. “A great empty facility… there.”
   Vorsoisson banked the lightflyer, and they began to descend toward the Waste Heat experiment station. It was well lit with plenty of outdoor floodlamps, switched on automatically at dusk Miles presumed, and in high contrast to the surrounding dark. As they drew closer, Miles saw that its parking lot was not deserted; half a dozen lightflyers and aircars clustered in the landing circles. Windows glowed warmly here and there in the small office building, and more lights snaked through the airsealed tubes between sections. There were two big lift vans, one backing now into an opened loading bay in the large windowless engineering building.
   “It looks pretty busy to me,” said Miles. “For a hollow shell.”
   “I don’t understand,” said Vorsoisson.
   Vegetation which actually stood higher than Miles’s ankle struggled successfully against the cold here, but it was not quite abundant enough to conceal the lightflyer. Miles almost told Vorsoisson to douse the flyer’s lights and bring them down out of sight over a small rise, despite the hike back it would entail. But Vorsoisson was already dropping toward an empty landing circle in the parking lot. He landed and killed the engine, and stared uncertainly toward the facility.
   “Maybe… maybe you had better stay out of sight, at first,” said Vorsoisson in worry. “They shouldn’t mind me.”
   He was apparently unconscious of the world of self-revelation in this simple statement. They both adjusted their breath masks, and Vorsoisson popped the canopy. The chill night air licked Miles’s exposed skin, above his breath mask, and prickled in his scalp. He dug his hands into his pockets as if to warm them, touched his stunner briefly, and followed the Administrator, a little behind him. Staying out of sight was one thing; letting Vorsoisson out of his sight was another.
   “Try looking in the Engineering building first,” Miles called, his voice muffled by his mask. “See if we can get a look at what’s going on before you make contact with the en-er, try to speak to anyone.”
   Vorsoisson veered toward the loading bay’s vehicle lock. Miles wondered if there was a chance anyone glancing out in the uncertain lighting might mistake him at first for Nikolai. The combination of Vorsoisson’s dramatic mystery and his own natural paranoia was making him twitchy indeed, despite a better part of his mind that calculated high odds on a harmless scenario involving Vorsoisson being wildly mistaken.
   They entered the pedestrian lock into the loading dock and cycled through. The pressure differential in his ears was slight. Miles kept his breath mask up temporarily as they rounded the parked lift van. He would call Tuomonen as soon as he ditched-
   Miles skidded to a halt a moment too late to avoid being spotted in turn by the couple who stood quietly next to a float-pallet loaded with machinery. The woman, who had the pallet’s control lead in her hand as she maneuvered the silently hovering load into the van, was Madame Radovas. The man was Administrator Soudha. They both looked up in shock at their unexpected visitors.
   Miles was torn for a moment between whacking his wrist-comm’s screamer circuit or going for his stunner; but at Soudha’s sudden movement toward his own vest Miles’s combat reflexes took over, and his hand dove for his pocket. Vorsoisson half-turned, his mouth round with astonishment and the beginning of some warning cry. Miles would have thought I’ve just been led into ambush by that idiot, except that Vorsoisson was clearly much more surprised than he was.
   Soudha managed to get his stunner out and pointed a half second before Miles did. Oh, shit, I never asked Dr. Chenko what a stunner blast would do to my seizure stimulator— the stunner beam took him full in the face. His head snapped back in an agony that was mercifully brief. He was unconscious before he hit the concrete floor.
   Miles woke with a stunner migraine pinwheeling behind his eyes, metallic splinters of pure pain seemingly stuck quivering in his brain from his frontal lobes to his spinal column. He closed his eyes immediately against the too-bright glare of lights. He was nauseated to the point of vomiting. The realization immediately following, that he was still wearing his breath mask, caused his spacer’s training to cut in; he swallowed and breathed deeply, carefully, and the dangerous moment passed. He was cold, and held upright in an awkward position by restraints pulling on his arms. He opened his eyes again and looked around.
   He was outdoors in the chill Komarran dark, chained to a railing along the walkway on the blank side of what appeared to be the Waste Heat engineering building. Colored floodlights positioned in the vegetation two meters below, prettily illuminating the building and raised concrete walk, were the source of the eye-piercing light. Beyond them, the view was singularly uninformative, the ground falling away from the building and then rising, beyond it, into blank barrenness. The railing was a simple one, metal posts set into the concrete at meter intervals and a round metal handrail running between them. He was slumped to his knees, the concrete hard and cold beneath them, and his wrists were chained-chained? yes, chained, the links fastened with simple metal locks-to two successive posts, holding him half-spread-eagled.
   His ImpSec comm-link was still strapped to his left wrist. He could not, of course, reach it with his right hand. Or— he tried-his head. He twisted his wrist around, to press it against the railing, but the screamer-button was recessed to prevent accidental bumps setting it off. Miles swore under his breath, and his breath mask. The mask appeared to be tightly fitted to his face, and he could feel the oxygen bottle still firmly strapped to his chest under his jacket-who had fastened his jacket up to his chin?-but he would have to be exquisitely careful not to jostle the mask till he had his hands free again to readjust it.