So… had the stunner beam induced a seizure while he was unconscious, or was he still working up to one? His next was almost due. He stopped swearing abruptly and took a couple of deep, calming breaths that fooled his body not at all.
   A couple of meters to his right, he discovered Tien Vorsoisson similarly chained between two upright posts. His head lolled forward; he evidently wasn’t awake yet. Miles tried to convince the knot of stressed terror in his solar plexus that this bit of cosmic justice was at least one bright point in the affair. He smiled grimly under his mask. All things considered, he’d rather Vorsoisson were free and able to try for help. Better still, leave Vorsoisson fastened there, free himself to try for help. But twisting his hands in their tight chains merely scraped his wrists raw.
   If they wanted to kill you, you’d be dead now, he tried to convince his hyperventilating body. Unless, of course, they were sadists, out for a slow and studied revenge… What did I ever do to these people? Besides the usual offense of being Barrayaran in general and Aral Vorkosigan’s son in particular…
   Minutes crept by. Vorsoisson stirred and groaned, then fell back into flaccid unconsciousness, at least assuring Miles he wasn’t dead. Yet. At length, the sound of footsteps on the concrete made Miles turn his head carefully.
   Because of the approaching figure’s breath mask and padded jacket Miles was not at first sure if it was a man or a woman, but as it neared he recognized the curly gray-blond hair and brown eyes of a woman who’d been at that first VIP orientation meeting-it was the accountant, the meticulous one who’d been sure to have a duplicate copy of her department’s records for Miles, hah. Foscol, read the name on her breath mask.
   She saw his open eyes. “Oh, good evening, Lord Auditor Vorkosigan.” She raised her voice to a good loud clarity, to be sure her words penetrated the muffling of her mask.
   “Good evening, Madame Foscol,” he managed in return, matching her tone. If only he could get her talking, and listening-
   She drew her hand from her pocket, and held up something glittering and metallic. “This is the key to your wrist locks. I’ll set it over here, out of the way.” She placed it carefully on the concrete walkway about halfway between Miles and the Administrator, next to the wall of the building. “Don’t let anyone accidentally kick it over the side. You’d have a heck of a time finding it down there.” She glanced thoughtfully over the rail at the dark vegetation below.
   Implying that someone might be expected: a rescue party? Also implying that Foscol, Soudha, and Madame Radovas— Madame Radovas, what is she doing here?-did not expect to be around to supply the key in person when that happened.
   She rummaged in her pocket again and came up with a data disk wrapped in protective plastic. “This, my Lord Auditor, is the complete record of Administrator Vorsoisson’s acceptance of bribes, in the amount of some sixty thousand marks over the last eight months. Account numbers, data trail, where his money was embezzled in the first place-everything you should need for a successful prosecution. I’d been going to mail it to Captain Tuomonen, but this is better.” Her eyes crinkled in a smile at him, above her breath mask. She bent and taped it securely to the back of Vorsoisson’s jacket. “With my compliments, my lord.” She stepped back and dusted her hands in the gesture of a dirty job well done.
   “What are you doing?” Miles began. “What are you people doing out here, anyway? Why is Madame Radovas with-”
   “Come, come, Lord Vorkosigan,” Foscol interrupted him briskly. “You don’t imagine that I’m going to stand around and chat with you, do you?”
   Vorsoisson stirred, groaned, and belched. Despite the utter contempt in her eyes, lingering on his huddled figure, she waited a moment to be sure he wasn’t going to vomit into his breath mask. Vorsoisson stared wearily at her, blinking in bewilderment and, Miles had no doubt, pain.
   Miles clenched his fists and jerked against his chains. Foscol glanced at him and added kindly, “Don’t hurt yourself, trying to get loose. Someone will be along eventually to collect you. I only regret I won’t be able to watch.” She turned on her heel and strode away, down the walk and around the corner of the building. After another minute, the faint sounds of a lift-van taking to the air drifted around the building. But they were on the opposite side of the building to the approach from Serifosa, and the departing van did not cross into Miles’s limited line of sight.
   Soudha’s a competent engineer. I wonder if he’s set the reactor here to destroy itself? was the next inspired thought to enter Miles mind. That would erase all the evidence, Vorsoisson, and Miles, too. If he timed it just right, Soudha might be able to take out the ImpSec rescue squad as well… but it seemed Foscol meant the evidence pinned to Vorsoisson’s back to survive, at least, which argued against a scenario that would turn the experiment station into a glowing glass hole in the landscape resembling the lost city of Vorkosigan Vashnoi. Soudha and Company did not seem to be thinking militarily. Thank God. This scene seemed engineered for maximum humiliation, and one could not embarrass the dead.
   Their next-of-kin, however… Miles thought of his father and shuddered. And Ekaterin and Nikolai, and, of course, Lord Auditor Vorthys. Oh, yes.
   Vorsoisson, coming to full consciousness at last, reared up and discovered the limits of his bonds. He swore muzzily, then with increasing clarity of expression, and yanked his arms against their chains. After about a minute, he stopped. He stared around and found Miles.
   “Vorkosigan. What the hell is going on here?”
   “We appear to have been parked out of the way while Soudha and his friends finish decamping from the experiment station. They seem to have realized their time had run out.” Miles wondered if he ought to mention to Vorsoisson what was taped to his back, then decided against it. The man was already breathing heavily from his struggles. Vorsoisson swore some more, monotonously, but after a bit seemed to become aware that he was repeating himself, and ran down.
   “Tell me more about this embezzlement scheme of Soudha’s,” Miles said into the eerie silence. No insect or bird chirps enlivened the Komarran night, and no tree leaves rustled in the faint, chill breeze. No further sounds came from the buildings behind them. The only noise was the susurration of their breath masks’ powered fans, filters, and regulators. “When did you find out about it?”
   “Just… yesterday. A week ago yesterday. Soudha panicked, I think, and tried to bribe me. I didn’t want to embarrass Kat’s Uncle Vorthys by blowing it wide open while he was here. And I had to be sure, before I started accusing people right and left.”
   Foscol says you lie. Miles wasn’t sure which of them he trusted least by now. Foscol could have invented her evidence against Vorsoisson using the same skills she had apparently called on to hide Soudha’s thefts. He would have to let the ImpSec forensic specialists sort it out, and carefully.
   Miles simultaneously sympathized with and was deeply suspicious of Vorsoisson’s claimed hesitation, a dizzying state of mind to endure on top of a stunner migraine. He had never thought of fast-penta as a medicine for headache, but he wished he had a hypospray of it to jab in Vorsoisson’s ass right now. Later, he promised himself. Without fail. “Is that all that’s going on, d’you think?”
   “What do you mean, all?”
   “I don’t quite… if I were Soudha and his group, fleeing the scene of our crime… they did have some lead time to prepare their retreat. Maybe as long as three or four weeks, if they knew Radovas’s body was likely to be found topside.” And what the hell was Radovas’s body doing up there anyway? I still don’t have a clue. “Longer, if they kept their emergency backup plans up to date, and Soudha is an engineer if ever I met one; he’s got to have had fail-safes incorporated into his schemes. Wouldn’t it make more sense to scatter, travel light, try to get out of the Empire in ones and twos… not leave in a bunch with two lift-vans full of… whatever the hell they needed two lift-vans to transport? Not their money, surely.”
   Vorsoisson shook his head, which shifted his breath mask slightly; he had to rub his face against the railing to reseat it. After a few minutes he said in a small voice, “Vorkosigan…?”
   Miles hoped from the humbler tone the man might be going to edge toward true confession after all. “Yes?” he said encouragingly.
   “I’m almost out of oxygen.”
   “Didn’t you check-” Miles tried to bring up the image in his pulsing brain of the moment Vorsoisson had snatched his breath mask out of the cabinet, back in his office, and donned it. No. He hadn’t checked anything about it. A fully-charged mask would support twelve to fourteen hours of vigorous outdoor activity, under normal circumstances. Miles’s visitor’s mask had presumably been taken from a central store, where some tech had the job of processing and recharging used masks before setting them on the rack ready for reuse. Don’t forget to put your mask on the recharger, Vorsoisson’s wife had said to him, and been snapped at for nagging. Was Vorsoisson in the habit of stuffing his equipment away uncleaned? In his office, Madame Vorsoisson couldn’t very well pick up after him the way she doubtless did at home.
   At one time, Miles could have crushed his own fragile hand bones and drawn his hand out through a restraint before his flesh began to swell enough to trap it again. He’d actually done that once, on a hideously memorable occasion. But the bones in his hands were all sturdy synthetics now, less breakable even than normal bone. All that his applied strength could do was make his chafed wrists bleed.
   Vorsoisson’s wrists began to bleed too, as he struggled more frantically against his chains.
   “Vorsoisson, hold still!” Miles called urgently to him. “Conserve your oxygen. There’s supposed to be someone coming. Go limp, breathe shallowly, make it last.” Why hadn’t the idiot mentioned this earlier, to Miles, to Foscol even… had Foscol intended this result? Maybe she’d meant both Miles and Vorsoisson to die, one after the other… how long till the promised someone came to collect them? A couple of days? Murdering an Imperial Auditor in the middle of a case was considered an act of treason worse than murdering a ruling District Count and only barely short of assassinating the Emperor himself. Nothing could be more surely calculated to send ImpSec’s entire forces in frenzied pursuit of the fleeing embezzlers, with an implacable concentration reaching, potentially, across decades and distance and diplomatic barriers. It was a suicidal gesture, or unbelievably foolhardy. “How much do you have left?”
   Vorsoisson wriggled his chin and tried to peer down over his nose into the dim recesses of his jacket to see the top of the canister strapped there. “Oh, God. I think it’s reading zero.”
   “Those things always have some safety margin. Stay still, man! Try for some self-control!”
   Instead Vorsoisson began to struggle ever more frantically. He threw himself forward and backward with all his considerable strength, trying to break the railing. Blood drops flew from the flayed skin of his wrists, and the railing reverberated and bent, but it did not break. He pulled up his knees and then flung himself down through the meter-wide opening between the posts, trying to propel his full body weight against the chains. They held, and then his backward-scrambling legs could not regain the walkway. His boot heels scraped and scrabbled on the wall. His dizzied choking, at the last, led to vomiting inside his breath mask. When it slipped down around his neck in his final paroxysms, it seemed almost a mercy, except for the way it revealed his distorted, purpling features. But the screams and pleas stopped, and then the gasps and gulpings. The kicking legs twitched, and hung limply.
   Miles had been right; Vorsoisson might have had a full twenty or thirty minutes more oxygen if he had hunkered down quietly. Miles stood very still, and breathed very shallowly, and shivered in the cold. Shivering, he recalled dimly, used more oxygen, but he could not make himself stop. The silence was profound, broken only by the hiss of Miles’s regulators and filters, and the beating of the blood in his own ears. He had seen many deaths, including his own, but this was surely one of the ugliest. The shocky shudders traveled up and down his body, and his thoughts spun uselessly: they kept circling back to the spuriously calm observation that a barrel of fast-penta would be no damned use to him now.
   If he went into a convulsion and dislodged his breath mask in the process, he could be well on his way to asphyxiating before he even returned to consciousness. ImpSec would find him hanging there beside Vorsoisson, choked identically on his own spew. And nothing was more likely to set off one of his seizures than stress.
   Miles watched the slime begin to freeze on the sagging corpse’s face, scanned the dark skies in the wrong direction, and waited.


   Ekaterin set down her cases next to Lord Vorkosigan’s in the vestibule, and turned for one last automatic check of the premises, one last patrol of her old life. All lights were out. All windows were sealed. All appliances were off… the comconsole chimed just as she was leaving the kitchen.
   She hesitated. Let it go. Let it all go. But then she reflected it might be Tuomonen or someone, trying to reach Lord Vorkosigan. Or Uncle Vorthys, though she was not sure she even wanted to talk to him, tonight. She turned back to the machine, but her hand hesitated again with the thought that it might be Tien. In that case, I will simply cut the com. If it was Tien, about to attempt some other plea or threat or persuasion, at least it was a guarantee he was someplace else, and not here, and she could still walk away.
   But the face that formed over the vid-plate at her reluctant touch was that of a Komarran woman from Tien’s department, Lena Foscol. Ekaterin had only met her in person a couple of times, but Soudha’s words over this same vid-plate last night leapt to her mind: Lena Foscol in Accounting is the most meticulous thief I’ve ever met. Oh, God. She was one of them. The background was out of focus, but the woman was wearing a parka, thrown open over dome-wear, suggesting she was either on her way to or on her way back from some outside expedition. Ekaterin regarded her with concealed revulsion.
   “Madame Vorsoisson?” Foscol said brightly. Without waiting for Ekaterin’s answer, she went on, “Please come pick up your husband at the Waste Heat experiment station. He’ll be waiting for you outside on the northwest side of the Engineering building.”
   “But-” What was Tien doing out there at this time of night? “How did he get out there, doesn’t he have a flyer? Can’t he get a ride back with someone else?”
   “Everyone else has left.” Her smile widened, and she cut the com.
   “But-” Ekaterin raised a hand in futile protest, too late. “Drat.” And then, after a moment, “Damn it!”
   Retrieving Tien from the experiment station would be a two-hour chore, at least. She would first have to take a bubble-car to a public flyer livery, and rent a flyer, since she had no authority to requisition one from Tien’s department. She’d been seriously considering sleeping on a park bench tonight, just to save her pittance of funds for the uncertain days to come until she found some form of paying work, except that the dome patrollers didn’t permit vagrants to loiter in any of the places where she might feel safe. Foscol hadn’t said if Lord Vorkosigan was with Tien, which suggested he was not, which meant that she’d have to fly back to Serifosa alone with Tien, who would insist on taking the controls, and what if he finally got serious about his suicide threats when they were halfway back, and decided to take her down with him? No. It wasn’t worth the risk. Let him rot out there till morning, or let him call someone else.
   Her hand upon her case again, she reconsidered. Still hostage to fortune in this mess, or at least to everyone’s good behavior, was Nikki. Tien’s relationship to his son was mostly neglectful, interspersed with occasional bullying, but with enough spasms of actual attention that Nikki, at least, still seemed to show attachment to him. The two of them were always going to have a relationship separate from her own. She and Tien would be forced to cooperate for Nikki’s sake: an iron-cladding of surface courtesy that must never crack. Tien’s anger or potential brutality were no more of a threat to her future than some belated attempt on his part at affection or placation. She could face down either, now, she thought, with equal stoniness.
   I am not here to vent my feelings. I am here to achieve my goals. Yes. She could foresee that was going to be her new mantra, in the weeks to come. With a grimace, she opened her case and retrieved her personal breath mask, checked its reservoirs, pulled on her parka, and headed out for the bubble-car station.
   The delays were every bit as aggravating as Ekaterin had foreseen. Komarrans sharing her bubble-car forced two extra stops. She suffered a thirty-minute clog in the system within sight of her goal; by the time it spat her out at the westernmost dome lock, she was quite ready to chuck her plan of courtesy and go back to the apartment, except for the thought of facing another thirty-minute delay en route. The lightflyer they issued to her was elderly and not very clean. Alone at last, flying through the vast silence of the Komarran night, her heart eased a little, and she toyed with the fantasy of flying somewhere else, anywhere, just to extend the heavenly solitude. There might be more to pleasure than the absence of pain, but she couldn’t prove it just now. The absence of pain, of other human beings and their needs pressing down upon her, seemed paradise enough. A paradise just out of reach.
   Besides, she had no elsewhere. She could not even return to Barrayar with Nikki without first earning enough to pay for their passage, or borrowing the money from her father, or her distant brothers, or Uncle Vorthys. Distasteful thought. What you feel doesn’t count, girl, she reminded herself. Goals. You’ll do whatever you have to do.
   The bright lights of the experiment station, isolated in this barren wilderness, made a glow on the horizon that drew the eye from kilometers off. She followed the black silky gleam of the river that wound past the facility. As she neared, she made out several vehicles grounded in the station’s lot, and frowned in anger. Foscol had lied about there being no one left at the station to give Tien a lift. On the other hand, this raised the possibility that Ekaterin might get a ride back to Serifosa with someone else… she checked her impulse to turn the flyer around in midair, and landed in the lot instead.
   She adjusted her breath mask, released the canopy, and walked to the office building, hoping to arrange another ride before she saw Tien. The airlock opened to her touch on the control pad. There was not much reason to leave anything locked up way out here. She turned up the first well-lit hallway, calling, “Hello?”
   No one answered. No one appeared to be here. About half the rooms were bare and empty; the rest were rather messy and disorganized, she thought. A comconsole was opened up, its insides torn out… melted, in fact. That must have been a spectacular malfunction. Her footsteps echoed hollowly as she crossed through the pedestrian tube to the engineering building. “Hello? Tien?” No answer here, either. The two big assembly rooms were shadowed and sinister, and deserted. “Anyone?” If Foscol hadn’t lied after all, why were all those aircars and flyers in the lot? Where had their owners gone, and in what?
   He’ll be waiting for you outside on the northwest side… She had only a vague idea which side of the building was the northwest; she’d half-expected Tien to be waiting in the parking lot. She sighed uneasily, and adjusted her breath mask again, and stepped out through the pedestrian lock. It would only take a few minutes to circle the building. I want to fly back to Serifosa, right now. This is weird. Slowly, she started around the building to her left, her footsteps sounding sharp on the concrete in the chill and toxic night air. A raised walkway, really the level edge of the building’s concrete foundation, skirted the wall, with a railing along the outside as the ground fell away below. It made her feel as though she were being herded into some trap, or a corral. She rounded the second corner.
   Halfway down the walk, a small human shape huddled on its knees, arms outflung, its forehead pressed against the railing. Another bigger shape hung by its wrists between two wide-spaced posts, its body dangling down over the edge of the raised concrete foundation, feet a half-meter from the ground. What is this? The dark seemed to pulsate. She swallowed her panic and hastened toward the odd pair.
   The dangling figure was Tien. His breath mask was off, twisted around his neck. Even in the colored half-light from the spots in the vegetation below, she could see his face was mottled and purple, with a cold doughy stillness. His tongue protruded from his mouth; his bulging eyes were fixed and frozen. Very, very dead. Her stomach churned and knotted in shock, and her heart lumped in her chest.
   The kneeling figure was Lord Vorkosigan, wearing her second-best jacket that she had been unable to find while packing a short eternity ago. His breath mask was still up-he turned his head, his eyes going wide and dark as he saw her, and Ekaterin melted with relief. The little Lord Auditor was still alive, at least. She was frantically grateful not to be alone with two corpses. His wrists, she saw at last, were chained to the railing’s posts just as Tien’s were. Blood oozed from them, soaking darkly into the jacket’s cuffs.
   Her first coherent thought was unutterable relief that she had not brought Nikki with her. How am I going to tell him? Tomorrow, that was a problem for tomorrow. Let him play away tonight in the bubble of another universe, one without this horror in it.
   “Madame Vorsoisson.” Lord Vorkosigan’s voice was muffled and faint in his breath mask. “Oh, God.”
   Fearfully, she touched the cold chains around his wrists. The torn flesh was swollen up around the links, almost burying them. “I’ll go inside and look for some cutters.” She almost added, Wait here, but closed her lips on that inanity just in time.
   “No, wait,” he gasped. “Don’t leave me alone-there’s a key… supposedly… on the walk back there.” He jerked his head.
   She found it at once, a simple mechanical type. It was cold, a slip of metal in her shaking fingers. She had to try several times to get it inserted in the locks that fastened the chains. She then had to peel the chain out of Vorkosigan’s blood-crusted flesh as if from a rubber mold, before his hand could fall. When she released the second one, he nearly pitched headfirst over the edge of the concrete. She grabbed him and dragged him back toward the wall. He tried to stand, but his legs would not at first unbend, and he fell over again. “Give yourself a minute,” she told him. Awkwardly, she tried to massage his legs, to restore circulation; even through the fabric of his gray trousers she could feel how cold and stiff they were.
   She stood, holding the key in her hand, and stared in bewilderment at Tien’s body. She doubted she and Vorkosigan together could lift that dead weight back up to the walk.
   “It’s much too late,” said Vorkosigan, watching her. His brows were crooked with concern. “I’m s-sorry. Leave him for Tuomonen.”
   “What is this on his back?” She touched the peculiar arrangement, what appeared to be a plastic packet fixed in place with engineering tape.
   “Leave that,” said Lord Vorkosigan more sharply. “Please.” And then, in more of a rush, stuttering in his shivering, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I c-couldn’t b-break the chains. Hell, he couldn’t either, and he’s s-stronger than I am… I thought I c-could break my hand and get it out, but I couldn’t. I’m sorry…”
   “You need to come inside, where it’s warm. Here.” She helped pull him to his feet; with a last look over his shoulder at Tien, he suffered himself to be led, hunched over, leaning on her and lurching on his unsteady legs.
   She led him through the airlock into the office building, and guided him to an upholstered chair in the lobby. He more fell than sat in it. He shivered violently. “B-b-button,” he muttered to her, holding up his hands like paralyzed paws toward her.
   “Little button on the s-side of wrist-comm. Press it!”
   She did so; he sighed and relaxed against the seat back. His stiff hands yanked at his breath mask; she helped him pull it off over his head, and pulled down her own mask.
   “God, I am glad to get out of that thing. Alive. I th-thought I was gonna have a seizure out there…”He rubbed his pale face, scrubbing at the red pressure-lines engraved in the skin from the edges of the mask. “And it itched.” Ekaterin spotted the control on a nearby wall and hastily tapped in an increase of the lobby’s temperature. She was shivering too, though not from the cold, in suppressed shocky shudders.
   “Lord Vorkosigan?” Captain Tuomonen’s anxious voice issued thinly from the wrist com. “What’s going on? Where the hell are you?!”
   Vorkosigan lifted his wrist toward his mouth. “Waste Heat experiment station. Get out here. I need you.”
   “What are you— Should I bring a squad?”
   “Don’t need guns now, I don’t think. You’ll need forensics, though. And a medical team.”
   “Are you injured, my lord?” Tuomonen’s voice grew sharp with panic.
   “Not to speak of,” he said, apparently oblivious to the blood still leaking from his wrists. “Administrator Vorsoisson is dead, though.”
   “What the hell-you didn’t check in with me before you left the dome, dammit! What the hell is going on out there?!”
   “We can discuss my failings at length, later. Carry on, Captain. Vorkosigan out.” He let his arm fall, wearily. His shivering was lessening, now. He leaned his head back against the upholstery; the dark smudges of exhaustion under his eyes looked like bruises. He stared sadly at Ekaterin. “I am sorry, Madame Vorsoisson. There was nothing I could do.”
   “I would scarcely think so!”
   He looked around, squinting, and added abruptly, “Power plant!”
   “What about it?” asked Ekaterin.
   “Gotta check before the troops arrive. I spent a lot of time wondering if it might have been sabotaged, when I was tied up out there.”
   His legs were still not working right. He almost fell over again as he tried to turn on his heel; she rose and just caught him, under his elbow.
   “Good,” he said vaguely to her, and pointed. “That way.”
   She was evidently drafted as support. He hobbled off in determination, clinging to her arm without apology. The forced action actually helped her to recover, if not calm, a sort of tenuous physical coherence; her shudders damped out, and her incipient nausea passed, leaving her belly feeling hot and odd. Another pedestrian tube led down to the power plant, next to the river. The river was the largest in the Sector, and the proximate reason for siting the experiment station here. By Barrayaran standards it would have been called a creek. Vorkosigan barged awkwardly around the power plant’s control room, examining panels and readouts. “Nothing looks abnormal,” he muttered. “I wonder why they didn’t set it to self-destruct? I would have…” He fell into a station chair. She pulled up another one, and sat opposite him, watching him fearfully. “What happened!”
   “I-we came out, Tien brought me out here-how the devil did you come here?”
   “Lena Foscol called me at home, and told me Tien wanted a ride. She almost didn’t catch me. I’d been about to leave. She didn’t even tell me you were out here. You might still be…”
   “No… no, I’m almost certain she’d have made some other arrangement, if she’d missed you altogether.” He sat up straighter, or tried to. “What time is it now?”
   “A little before 2100.”
   “I… would have guessed it was much later. They stunned us, you see. I don’t know how long… What time did she call you?”
   “It was just after 1900 hours.”
   His eyes squeezed shut, then opened again. “It was too late. It was already too late by then, do you understand?” he asked urgently. His hand jerked toward hers, on her knee as she leaned toward him to catch his hoarse words, but then fell back.
   “There was something questionable going on in the Waste Heat department. Your husband brought me out here to show me-well, I don’t quite know what he thought he was going to show me, but we ran headlong into Soudha and his accomplices in the process of decamping. Soudha got the drop on me-stunned us both. I came to, chained to that railing out there. I don’t think-I don’t know… I don’t think they meant to kill your husband. He hadn’t checked his breath mask, y’see. His reservoirs were almost empty. The Komarrans didn’t check it either, before they left us. I didn’t know, no one did.”
   “Komarrans wouldn’t,” Ekaterin said woodenly. “Their mask-check procedures are ingrained by the time they’re three years old. They’d never imagine an adult would go outside the dome with deficient equipment.” Her hands clenched, in her lap. She could picture Tien’s death now.
   “It was… quick,” Vorkosigan offered. “At least that.”
   It was not. Neither quick nor clean. “Please do not lie to me. Please do not ever lie to me.”
   “All right…” he said slowly. “But I don’t think… I don’t think it was murder. To set up that scene, and then call you…”He shook his head. “Manslaughter at most. Death by misadventure.”
   “Death from stupidity,” she said bitterly. “Consistent to the end.”
   He glanced up at her, his eyes not so much startled as aware, and questioning. “Ah?”
   “Lord Auditor Vorkosigan.” She swallowed; her throat was so tight it felt like a muscle spasm. The silence in the building, and outside, was eerie in its emptiness. She and Vorkosigan might as well have been the only two people left alive on the planet. “You should know, when I said Foscol called as I was leaving… I was leaving. Leaving Tien. I’d told him so, when he came home from the department tonight, and just before he went back, I suppose, to get you. What did he do?”
   He took this in without much response at first, as if thinking it over. “All right,” he echoed himself softly at last. He glanced across at her. “Basically, he came in babbling about some embezzlement scheme which had been going on in Waste Heat Management, apparently for quite some time. He sounded me out about declaring him an Imperial Witness, which he seemed to think would save him from prosecution. It’s not quite that simple. I didn’t commit myself.”
   “Tien would hear what he wanted to hear,” she said softly.
   “I… so I gathered.” He hesitated, watching her face. “How long… what do you know about it?”
   “And how long have I known it?” Ekaterin grimaced, and rubbed her face free of the lingering irritation of her own mask. “Not as long as I should have. Tien had been talking for months… You have to understand, he was irrationally afraid of anyone finding out about his Vorzohn’s Dystrophy.”
   “I actually do understand that,” he offered tentatively.
   “Yes… and no. It’s Tien’s older brother’s fault, in part. I’ve cursed the man for years. When his symptoms began, he took the Old Vor way out and crashed his lightflyer. It made an impression on Tien he never shook off. Set an impossible example. We’d had no idea his family carried the mutation, till Tien, who was his brother’s executor, was going through the records and effects, and we realized both that the accident was deliberate, and why. It was just after Nikki was born…”
   “But wouldn’t it have… I’d wondered when I read your file-the defect should have turned up in the gene scan, before the embryo was started in the uterine replicator. Is Nikki affected, or…?”
   “Nikki was a body-birth. No gene scan. The Old Vor way. Old Vor have good blood, you know, no need to check anything.”
   He looked as if he’d bitten into a lemon. “Whose bright idea was that?”
   “I don’t… quite remember how it was decided. Tien and I decided together. I was young, we were just married, I had a lot of stupid romantic ideas… I suppose it seemed heroic to me at the time.”
   “How old were you?”
   “Ah.” His mouth quirked in an expression she could not quite interpret, a sad mixture of irony and sympathy. “Yes.”
   Obscurely encouraged, she went on. “Tien’s scheme for dealing with the dystrophy without anyone ever finding out he had it was to go get galactic treatment, somewhere far from the Imperium. It made it much more expensive than it needed to be. We’d been trying to save for years, but somehow, something always went wrong. We never made much progress. But for the past six or eight months, Tien’s been telling me to stop worrying, he had it under control. Except… Tien always talks like that, so I scarcely paid attention. Then last night, after you went to sleep… I heard you tell him straight out you wanted to make a surprise inspection of his department today, I heard you-he got up in the night and called Administrator Soudha, to warn him. I listened… I heard enough to gather they had some sort of payroll falsification scheme going, and I’m very much afraid… no. I’m certain Tien was taking bribes. Because-” she stopped and took a breath “-I broke into Tien’s comconsole this morning and looked at his financial records.” She glanced up, to see how Vorkosigan would take this. His mouth renewed the crooked quirk. “I’m sorry I ripped at you the other day, for looking through mine,” she said humbly.
   His mouth opened, and closed; he merely gave her a little encouraging wave of his fingers and slumped down a bit more in his chair, listening with an air of uttermost attention. Listening.
   She went on hurriedly, not before her nerve broke, for she scarcely felt anything now, but before she dragged to a halt from sheer exhaustion. “He’d had at least forty thousand marks that I couldn’t see where they’d come from. Not from his salary, certainly.”
   “If the information on the comconsole was right, he’d taken all forty thousand and borrowed sixty more, and lost it all on Komarran trade fleet shares.”
   “Well, no, not quite all. About three-quarters of it.” At his astonished look, she added, “Tien’s luck has always been like that.”
   “I always used to say you made your own luck. Though I’ve been forced to eat those words often enough, I don’t say it so much anymore.”
   “Well… I think it must be true, or how else could his luck have been so consistently bad? The only common factor in all the chaos was Tien.” She leaned her head back wearily. “Though I suppose it might have been me, somehow.” Tien often said it was me.
   After a little silence, he said hesitantly, “Did you love your husband, Madame Vorsoisson?”
   She didn’t want to answer this. The truth made her ashamed. But she was done with dissimulation. “I suppose I did, once. In the beginning. I can hardly remember anymore. But I couldn’t stop… caring for him. Cleaning up after him. Except my caring got slower and slower, and finally it… stopped. Too late. Or maybe too soon, I don’t know.” But if, of course, she had not broken from Tien just then, in just that way, he would not tonight have… and, and, and, along the whole chain of events that led to this moment. That if-only could, of course, be said equally for any link in the chain. Not more, not less. Not repairable. “I thought, if I let go, he would fall.” She stared at her hands. “Eventually. I didn’t expect it to happen so soon.”
   It began to be borne in upon her what a mess Tien’s death was going to leave in her lap. She would be trading the painful legalities of separation for the equally painful and difficult legalities of sorting out his probably bankrupt estate. And what was she supposed to do about his body, or any kind of funeral, and how to notify his mother, and… yet solving the worst problem without Tien seemed already a thousand times easier than solving the simplest with Tien. No more deferential negotiations for permission or approval or consensus. She could just do it. She felt… like a patient coming out of some paralysis, stretching her arms wide for the first time, and surprised to discover they were strong.
   She frowned in puzzlement. “Will there be charges? Against Tien?”
   Vorkosigan shrugged. “It is not customary to try the dead, though I believe it was done occasionally in the Time of Isolation. Lord Vorventa the Twice-Hung springs to mind. No. There will be investigations, there will be reports, oh my head the reports, ImpSec’s and my own and possibly the Serifosa Sector’s security-I anticipate argument over jurisdiction-there may be testimony required of you in the prosecution of other persons…” He broke off, to hitch himself around with difficulty in his chair, and shove a now somewhat less stiff-from-cold hand into his pocket. “Persons who I suppose got away with my stunner…” His expression changed to one of dismay, and he spasmed to his feet and turned out both his trouser pockets, then checked his jacket, shucked it off, and patted his gray tunic. “Damn.”
   “What?” asked Ekaterin in alarm.
   “I think the bastards took my Auditor’s seal. Unless it just fell out of my pocket, somewhere in all the horsing around tonight. Oh, God. It’ll open any government or security comconsole in the Empire.” He took a deep breath, then brightened. “On the other hand, it has a locator-circuit. ImpSec can trace it, if they’re close enough-ImpSec can trace them. Ha!” With difficulty, he forced his red and swollen fingers to open a channel on his comm link. “Tuomonen?” he inquired.
   “We’re on our way, my lord,” Tuomonen’s voice came back instantly. “We’re in the air, about halfway there I estimate. Will you please leave your channel open?”
   “Listen. I think my assailants have taken off with my Auditor’s seal. Delegate someone to start trying to track it at once. Find it and you’ll find them, if it’s not just been dropped around here somewhere. You can check that possibility when you get here.”
   Vorkosigan then insisted on a tour of the building, drafting Ekaterin once more as occasional support, though he stumbled very little now. He frowned at the melted comconsole, and at the empty rooms, and stared with narrowed eyes at the jumbles of equipment. Tuomonen and his men arrived just as they were reentering the lobby.
   Lord Vorkosigan’s lips twitched in bemusement as two half-armored guards, stunners at the ready, leaped through the airseal door. They gave Vorkosigan anxious nods, which he acknowledged with a wry salutelike gesture, then pelted after each other through the facility for a rather noisy security check. Vorkosigan hitched himself into a deliberately more relaxed posture, leaning against an upholstered chair. Captain Tuomonen, another Barrayaran soldier in half-armor, and three men in medical gear followed into the lobby.
   “My lord!” said Tuomonen, pulling down his breath mask. His tone of voice sounded familiarly maternal to Ekaterin’s ear, halfway between Thank God you’re safe and I’m going to strangle you with my bare hands.
   “Good evening, Captain,” said Vorkosigan genially. “So glad to see you.”
   “You didn’t notify me!”
   “Yes, it was entirely my mistake, and I’ll be certain to note your exoneration in my report,” Vorkosigan said soothingly.
   “It’s not that, dammit!” Tuomonen strode over to him, motioning a medic in his wake. He took in Vorkosigan’s macerated wrists and bloody hands. “Who did that to you?”
   “I did it to myself, rather, I’m afraid.” Vorkosigan’s pose of studied ease slipped back into his original grimness. “It could have been worse, as I will show you directly. Around back. I want you to record everything, a complete scan. Anything you’re in doubt of, leave for the experts from HQ. I want a top forensics team scrambled from Solstice immediately. Two teams, one for out here, one for those royally buggered comconsoles at the Terraforming offices. But first, I think,” he glanced at the medtechs, and at Ekaterin, “we should get Administrator Vorsoisson’s body down.”
   “Here’s the key,” said Ekaterin numbly, producing it from her pocket.
   “Thank you,” said Vorkosigan, taking it from her. “Wait here, please.” He jerked up his chin, checked and pulled up his mask, and led the still-protesting Tuomonen back out the airseal doors, imperiously motioning the medics to follow. Ekaterin could still hear the clattering and strained sharp voices of the armed guards, echoing from distant corridors deeper in the office building.
   She huddled into the chair Vorkosigan had vacated, feeling very odd not to be following the men to Tien. But someone else was going to be cleaning up the mess this time, it appeared. A few tears leaked from her eyes, residue of her body-shock she supposed, for she surely felt no more emotion than if she’d been a lump of lead.
   After a long while, the men returned to the lobby, where Tuomonen finally persuaded Vorkosigan to sit down and let the senior medic attend to his injured wrists.
   “This isn’t the treatment I’m most concerned about just now,” Vorkosigan complained, as a hypospray of synergine hissed into the side of his neck. “I have to get back to Serifosa. There’s something I really need out of my luggage.”
   “Yes, my lord,” said the medtech soothingly, and went on cleaning and bandaging.
   Tuomonen went out to his aircar to relay some terse communication with his ImpSec superiors in Solstice, then returned to lean on the back of the chair and watch the medtech finish up.
   Vorkosigan eyed Ekaterin, across the medtech. “Madame Vorsoisson. In retrospect, thinking back, did your husband ever say anything that indicated this scam had to do with something more than money?”
   Ekaterin shook her head.
   Tuomonen, in gruff tones, put in, “I’m afraid, Madame Vorsoisson, that ImpSec is going to have to take charge of your late husband’s body. There must be a complete examination.”
   “Yes, of course,” Ekaterin said faintly. She paused. “Then what?”
   “We’ll let you know, Madame.” He turned to Vorkosigan, evidently continuing a conversation. “So what else did you think of, when you were tied up out there?”
   “All I could really think about was when my next seizure was due,” said Vorkosigan ruefully. “It became kind of an obsession, after a while. But I don’t think Foscol knew about that hidden defect, either.”
   “I still want to call it murder and attempted murder, for the all-Sectors alert order,” said Tuomonen, evidently continuing a debate. “And the attempted murder of an Imperial Auditor makes it treason, which disposes of any arguments about requisitions.”
   “Yes, very good,” sighed Vorkosigan in acquiescence. “Make sure your reports have the facts clear, though, please.”