“As I see them, my lord.” Tuomonen grimaced, then burst out, “Damn, to think how long this thing must have been going on, right under my nose…!”
   “Not your jurisdiction, Captain,” observed Vorkosigan. “It was the Imperial Accounting Office’s job to spot this kind of fraud in the civil service. Still… there’s something very wrong here.”
   “I should say so!”
   “No, I mean beyond the obvious.” Vorkosigan hesitated. “They abandoned all their personal effects, yet took at least two air-vans of equipment.”
   “To… sell?” Ekaterin posited. “No, that makes no sense…”
   “Mm, and they left in a group, didn’t split up. These people seemed to me to be Komarran patriots, of a sort. I can see where they might classify theft from the Barrayaran Imperium as something between a hobby and a patriotic duty, but… to steal from the Komarran Terraforming Project, the hope of their future generations? And if it wasn’t just to line their pockets, what the devil were they using all the money for?” He scowled. “That will be for ImpSec’s forensic accounting team to sort out, I suppose. And I want engineering experts in here, to see if they can make anything at all from the mess that’s been left. And not left. It’s clear Soudha’s crew put something together in the Engineering building, and I don’t think it had anything to do with waste heat.” He rubbed his forehead, and muttered, “I’ll bet Marie Trogir could tell us. Damn but I wish I’d fast-penta’d Madame Radovas when I had the chance.”
   Ekaterin swallowed a lump of dread and humiliation. “I’m going to have to tell my uncle.”
   Vorkosigan glanced up at her. “I’ll take over that task, Madame Vorsoisson.”
   She frowned, torn between what seemed to her weak gratitude, and a dreary sense of duty, but could not muster the energy to argue with him. The medic finished winding the last medical tape around Vorkosigan’s wrists.
   “I must leave you in charge here, Captain, and return to Serifosa. I don’t dare fly myself. Madame Vorsoisson, would you be so kind…?”
   “You will take a guard,” said Tuomonen, a little dangerously.
   “I have to get the flyer back,” said Ekaterin. “It’s rented.” She squinted, realizing how stupid that sounded. But it was the only fragment of order in this mortal chaos it was presently in her power to restore. And then, belatedly, the realization came: I can go home. It’s safe to go home. Her voice strengthened. “Certainly, Lord Vorkosigan.”
   The presence of the hulking young guard crowded into the flyer behind them, Vorkosigan’s exhaustion, and Ekaterin’s emotional disorientation combined to blunt conversation on the flight back to Serifosa. She drew stares, turning the flyer back in at the rental desk while trailed politely by a large, fully-armed, half-armored soldier and a dwarfish man with bloody clothes and bandages on his wrists, but on the other hand, they had a bubble-car all to themselves for the ride back to the apartment. There were no delays in the system on this return leg, Ekaterin noted with weary irony. She wondered if there would be any point, later when this all got sorted out, to check if Vorkosigan’s insistence that it had already been too late for Tien when Foscol had called her was precisely true.
   Her steps quickened in the hallway of her apartment; she felt like an injured animal, wanting nothing more than to go hide in her burrow. She came to an abrupt halt at her door, and her breath drew in. The palm-lock panel was hanging partway out of the wall, and the sliding door was not entirely closed. A thin line of light leaked along its edge. She backed up a step, and pointed.
   Vorkosigan took it all in at once and motioned to the guard who, equally silently, stepped up to the door and drew his stunner. Vorkosigan put his finger to his lips, took her by the arm, and drew her back halfway to the lift-tubes. The automatic door wasn’t working; the guard had to grasp it awkwardly and lean, to push it back into its slot. Stunner raised and visor lowered, he slipped inside. Ekaterin’s heart hammered.
   After a few minutes, the ImpSec guard, his visor up again, poked his head back out the door. “Someone’s been through here right enough, m’lord. But they’re gone now.” Vorkosigan and Ekaterin followed him inside.
   Both Vorkosigan’s cases and her own, which she had left sitting by the door in the vestibule, had been broken open. Their clothing was scattered in mixed heaps all around on the floor. Little else in the apartment appeared to have been touched; some drawers were opened, their contents stirred, but aside from the disorder nothing had been vandalized. Was it a violation, when she herself had all but vacated this space, abandoned those possessions? She scarcely knew.
   “This is not how I left my things,” Vorkosigan observed mildly to her when they fetched up in the vestibule again after their first short survey.
   “It’s not how I left them either,” she said a bit desperately. “I thought you would be coming back with Tien, and then leaving, so I’d packed them all for you, ready to take away.”
   “Touch nothing, especially the comconsoles, till the forensics folks get here,” Vorkosigan told her. She nodded understanding. They both shucked their heavy jackets; automatically, Ekaterin hung them up.
   Vorkosigan then proceeded to ignore his own dictate, and kneel in the vestibule to sort through the heaps. “Did you pack my code-locked data case?”
   “It’s gone now.” He sighed, rose, and raised his wrist-comm to report these new developments to Captain Tuomonen, still at the experiment station. The overburdened Tuomonen, apprised, swore briefly and ordered his soldier to stick with the Lord Auditor like glue until relieved. For once, Vorkosigan didn’t object.
   Vorkosigan returned to the mess, turning over an untidy pile of Ekaterin’s clothing. “Ha!” he cried, and pounced on the gel-pack case which contained that odd device. He opened it hurriedly, his hands shaking a little. “Thank God they didn’t take this.” He looked up at her, measuringly. “Madame Vorsoisson…” his normally forceful tone grew uncertain. “I wonder if I could trouble you to… assist me in this.”
   She almost said Yes, without thinking, but managed to alter the word to “What?” before it left her mouth.
   He smiled tightly. “I mentioned my seizure disorder to you. It doesn’t have a cure, unfortunately. But my Barrayaran doctors came up with a palliative, of sorts. I use this little machine to stimulate seizures, bleed them off in a controlled time and place, so they don’t happen in an uncontrolled time and place. They tend to be exacerbated by stress.” By his grimace, she could see him picturing the cold walkway on the backside of the Engineering building. “I suspect I’m now overdue. I would like to get it over with at once.”
   “I understand. But what do I do?”
   “I’m supposed to have a spotter. To see I don’t spit out my mouth guard, or, or injure myself or damage anything while I’m out. There shouldn’t be much to it.”
   “All right…”
   Under the dubious eye of the ImpSec guard, she followed him to the living room. He headed for the curved couch. “If you lie on the floor,” Ekaterin suggested diffidently, still not sure how spectacular a show to expect, “you can’t fall any further.”
   “Ah. Right.” He settled himself on the carpet, the case open in his hand. She made sure the space around them was clear, and knelt beside him.
   He unfolded the device, which resembled a set of headphones with a pad on one end and a mysterious knob on the other. He fitted it over his head and adjusted it to his temples. He smiled at Ekaterin in what she belatedly realized was extreme embarrassment, and muttered, “I’m afraid this looks a little stupid,” fitted a plastic mouthguard onto his teeth, and lay back.
   “Wait,” said Ekaterin suddenly as his hand reached for his temple.
   “Could… whoever came in here have tampered with that thing? Maybe it ought to be checked first.”
   His wide eyes met hers; as certainly as if she had been telepathic, she knew she shared with him at that moment a vision of his head being blown off at the touch of his hand on the stimulator’s trigger. He ripped it back off his head, sat up, spat out his mouthguard, and cried, “Shit!” He added after a moment, in a tone level but about half an octave higher than his norm, “You’re quite right. Thank you. I wasn’t thinking. I made… many cosmic promises, that if I made it back here, I’d do this first thing, and never never never put it off just one extra day again.” Hyperventilating, he stared in consternation at the device clutched in his hand.
   Then his eyes rolled up, and he fell over backwards. Ekaterin caught his head just before it banged into the carpet. His lips were drawn back in a strange grin. His body shuddered, in waves passing down to his toes and fingertips, but he did not flail wildly about as she’d half-expected. The guard hovered, looking panicked. She rescued the mouth guard, and fitted it back over his teeth, not as difficult a task as it at first appeared; despite an impression to that effect, he was not rigid.
   She sat back on her heels, and stared. Triggered by stress. Yes. I see. His face was… altered, his personality clearly not present but in a way that resembled neither sleep nor death. It seemed terribly rude to watch him so, in all his vulnerability; courtesy urged her to look away. But he had explicitly appointed her to this task.
   She checked her chrono. About five minutes, he’d said these things lasted. It seemed a small eternity, but was in fact less than three minutes when his body stilled. He lay slumped in alarmingly flaccid unconsciousness for another minute beyond that, then drew in a shuddering breath. His eyes opened and stared about in palpable incomprehension. At least his dilated pupils were the same size.
   “Sorry. Sorry…”he muttered inanely. “Didn’t mean to do that.” He lay staring upward, his eyebrows crooked. He added after a moment, “What does it look like, anyway?”
   “Really strange,” Ekaterin answered him honestly. “I like your face better when you’re at home in your head.” She had not realized how powerfully his personality enlivened his features, or how subtly, until she’d seen it removed.
   “I like my head better when I’m at home in it, too,” he breathed. He squeezed his eyes shut, and opened them again. “I’ll get out of your way now.” His hands twitched, and he tried to sit up.
   Ekaterin didn’t think he ought to be trying to do anything yet. She pressed him firmly back down with a hand on his chest. “Don’t you dare take away that guard till my door gets fixed.” Not that its expensive electronic lock had appeared to do the least good.
   “Oh. No, of course not,” he said faintly.
   It was abundantly apparent that Vorkosigan’s implicit claim that he bounced back out of his seizures with no ill effects was a, well, if not a lie, a gross exaggeration. He looked terrible.
   She raised her gaze to catch that of the disturbed guard. “Corporal. Would you please help me to get Lord Vorkosigan to bed until he is more recovered. Or at least until your people arrive.”
   “Sure, ma’am.” He seemed relieved to have this direction provided for him, and helped her pull Vorkosigan to his unsteady feet.
   Ekaterin made a lightning calculation. Nikki’s bed was the only one instantly available, and his room had no comconsole. If Vorkosigan went to sleep, which he obviously desperately needed to do after this night’s ordeal, there was a chance he might be let to stay that way even when the ImpSec forensic invasion arrived. “This way,” she nodded to the guard, and led them down the hall.
   The incoherence of Vorkosigan’s mumbled protests assured Ekaterin that she was doing precisely the right thing. He was shivering again. She helped him off with his tunic, made him lie down, dragged off his boots, covered him with extra blankets, turned the room’s heat up to high, doused the lights, and withdrew.
   There was no one to put her to bed, but she did not care to attempt conversation with the guard, who took up station in her living room to wait for his overextended reinforcements. Her whole body felt as though it had been beaten. She took some painkillers and lay down fully dressed in her own bedroom, a thousand uncertainties and conflicting scenarios for what she must do next jostling in her mind.
   Tien’s body, which had breathed beside her in this space last night, must be in the hands of the ImpSec medical examiner by now, laid out naked and still on a cold metal tray in some clinical laboratory here in Serifosa. She hoped they would treat his congealed husk with some measure of dignity, and not the nervous jocularity death sometimes evoked.
   When this bed had been impossible to bear in the night, it had been her habit to sneak off to her workroom and fiddle with her virtual gardens. The Barrayaran garden had increasingly been her choice, of late. It lacked the texture, the smell, the slow dense satisfactions of the real, but it had soothed her mind nonetheless. But first Vorkosigan had occupied the room, and now he’d ordered her not to touch the comconsoles till ImpSec had drained them. She sighed and turned over, huddled in her accustomed corner of the bed even though the rest was unoccupied. I want to leave this place as soon as I can. I want to be someplace where Tien has never been.
   She did not expect to sleep, but whether from the pain meds or exhaustion or the combination, she fell into a doze at last.


   Miles could tell right away that he wasn’t going to enjoy waking up. A bad seizure usually left him with hangover-like symptoms the following day, and the lingering effects of heavy stun included muscle aches, muscle spasms, and pseudo-migraines. The combination, it appeared, was downright synergistic. He groaned, and tried to regain unconsciousness. A gentle touch on his shoulder thwarted his intent.
   “Lord Vorkosigan?”
   It was Ekaterin Vorsoisson’s soft voice. His eyes sprang open on thankfully-dim lighting. He was in her son Nikki’s room, and could not remember how he’d arrived here. He rolled over and blinked up at her. She had changed clothes since his last memory of her, kneeling beside him on her living room floor; she now wore a soft, high-necked beige shirt and darker-toned trousers in the Komarran style. Her long dark hair lay loose in damp new-washed strands on her shoulders. He still had on his blood-stained shirt and wrinkled trousers from yesterday’s nightmare.
   “I’m sorry to wake you,” she continued, “but Captain Tuomonen is here.”
   “Ah,” said Miles thickly. He struggled upright. Madame Vorsoisson was holding out a tray with a large mug of black coffee and a bottle of painkiller tablets. Two tablets had already been extracted from the bottle, and lay ready for ingestion beside the cup. Only in his imagination did a heavenly choir supply background music. “Oh. My.”
   She didn’t say anything more till he had fumbled the tablets to his lips and swallowed them. His swollen hands weren’t working too well, but did manage to clutch the mug in something resembling a death-grip. A second swallow scalded away a world of nastiness lingering in his mouth, well worth the challenge to the queasiness in his stomach. “Thank you.” After a third gulp, he achieved, “What time is it?”
   “It’s about an hour after dawn.”
   He’d been out of the loop for about four hours, then. All sorts of events could occur in four hours. Not parting with the mug, he kicked his legs out of the bed. His sock-clad feet groped for the floor. Walking was going to be a chancy business for the first few minutes.
   “Is Tuomonen in a hurry?”
   “I can’t tell. He looks tired. He says they found your seal.”
   That decided it; Tuomonen before a shower. He swallowed more coffee, handed the mug back to Ekater-to Madame Vorsoisson-and levered himself to his feet. After an awkward smile at her, he did a few bends and stretches, to be certain he could walk down the hall without falling over in front of ImpSec.
   He had not the first idea what to say to her. I’m sorry I got your husband killed was inaccurate on a couple of counts. Up to the point he had been stunned, Miles might have done half a dozen different things to have altered last night’s outcome; but if only Vorsoisson had checked his own damned breath mask before going out, the way he was supposed to, Miles was pretty certain he would still have been alive this morning. And the more he learned about the man, the less convinced he was that his death was any disservice to his wife. Widow. After a moment he essayed, “Are you all right?”
   She smiled wanly, and shrugged. “All things considered.”
   Thin lines etched parallels between her eyes. “Did you, um…”he gestured at the bottle of tablets, “get any of those for yourself?”
   “Several. Thank you.”
   “Ah. Good.” Harm has been done you, and I don’t know how to fix it. It was going to take a hell of a lot more than a couple of pills, though. He shook his head, regretted the gesture instantly, and staggered out to see Tuomonen.
   The Imp Sec captain was waiting on the circular couch in the living room, also gratefully sucking down Madame Vorsoisson’s coffee. He appeared to consider standing at some sort of quasi-attention when the Lord Auditor entered the room, but then thought better of it. Tuomonen gestured, and Miles seated himself across the table from the captain; they each mumbled their good-mornings. Madame Vorsoisson followed with Miles’s half-empty coffee cup and set it before him, then, after a wary glance at Tuomonen, quietly seated herself. If Tuomonen wanted her to leave, he was going to have to ask her himself, Miles decided. And then justify the request.
   In the event, Tuomonen merely nodded thanks to her, and shifted around and drew a plastic packet from his tunic. It contained Miles’s gold-encased Auditor’s electronic seal. He handed it across to Miles.
   “Very good, Captain,” said Miles. “I don’t suppose you were so fortunate as to find it on the person of its thief?”
   “No, more’s the pity. You’ll never guess where we did find it.”
   Miles squinted and held the plastic bag up to the light. A sheen of condensation fogged the inside. “In a sewer pipe halfway between here and the Serifosa Dome waste treatment plant, would be my first guess.”
   Tuomonen’s jaw fell open. “How did you know?”
   “Forensic plumbing was once a sort of hobby of mine. Not to sound ungrateful, but has anyone washed it?”
   “Yes, in fact.”
   “Oh, thank you.” Miles opened the packet and shook the heavy little device into his palm. It appeared undamaged.
   Tuomonen said, “My lieutenant had its signal traced, or at any rate, triangulated, within half an hour of your call. He led an assault team down into the utility tunnels after it. I wish I could have seen it, when they finally figured out what was going on. You would have appreciated it, I’m almost certain.”
   Miles grinned despite his headache. “I was in no shape last night to appreciate anything, I’m afraid.”
   “Well, they made an impressive delegation when they went to wake up the Serifosa Dome municipal engineer. She’s Komarran, of course. ImpSec coming for her in the middle of the night-her husband about had a heart spasm. My lieutenant finally got him calmed down, and got across to her what we needed… I’m afraid she found it an occasion for, er, considerable irony. We are all grateful that my lieutenant didn’t yield to his first impulse, which was to have his team blast open the pipe section in question with their assault plasma rifles…”
   Miles almost choked on a swallow of coffee. “Exceedingly grateful.” He stole a glance at Ekaterin Vorsoisson, who was leaning back against the cushions listening to this, eyes alight, a hand pressed to her lips. His painkillers were cutting in; she didn’t look so blurry now.
   “There was no sign by then of our human quarry, of course,” Tuomonen finished with a sigh. “Long gone.”
   Miles stared at his distorted reflection in the dark surface of his drink. “One sees the scenario. You should be able to work out the timetable quite precisely. Foscol and an unknown number of accomplices pick my pocket, tie me and the Administrator to the railing, fly back to Serifosa, call Madame Vorsoisson. Probably from someplace nearby. As soon as she vacates her apartment, they break in, knowing they have at least an hour to explore before the alarm goes up. They use my seal to open the data case and access my report files. Then they flush the seal down the toilet and leave. Not even breathing hard.”
   “Too bad they weren’t tempted to keep it.”
   “Mm, they clearly realized it was traceable. Hence their little joke.” He frowned. “But… why my data case?”
   “They might have been looking for something about Radovas. What all was in your data case, my lord?”
   “Copies of all the classified technical reports and autopsies from the soletta accident. Soudha’s an engineer. He doubtless had a very good idea what was in there.”
   “We’re going to have an interesting time later this morning at the Terraforming Project offices,” said Tuomonen glumly, “trying to figure out which employees are absent because they fled, and which ones are absent because they are fictional. I need to get over there as soon as possible, to supervise the preliminary interrogations. We’ll have to fast-penta them all, I suppose.”
   “I predict it will be a great waste of time and drugs,” agreed Miles. “But there’s always the chance of someone knowing more than they think they know.”
   “Mm, yes.” Tuomonen glanced at the listening woman. “Speaking of which-Madame Vorsoisson-I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to cooperate with a fast-penta interrogation as well. It’s standard operating procedure, in a mysterious death of this nature, to question the closest relatives. The Dome police may also be wanting in on it, or at least demand a copy, depending on what decisions are made about jurisdiction by my superiors.”
   “I understand,” said Madame Vorsoisson, in a colorless voice.
   “There was nothing mysterious about Administrator Vorsoisson’s death,” Miles pointed out uneasily. “I was standing right next to him.” Well, kneeling, technically.
   “She’s not a suspect,” Tuomonen said. “A witness.”
   And a fast-penta interrogation would help to keep it that way, Miles realized with reluctance.
   “When do you wish to do this, Captain?” Madame Vorsoisson asked quietly.
   “Well… not immediately. I’ll have a better set of questions after this morning’s investigations are complete. Just don’t go anywhere.”
   Her glance at him silently inquired, Am I under house arrest? “At some point, I have to go get my son Nikolai. He was staying overnight at a friend’s home. He hasn’t been told anything about this yet. I don’t want to tell him over the comconsole, and I don’t want him to hear it first on the news.”
   “That won’t happen,” said Tuomonen grimly. “Not yet, anyway. Though I expect I’ll have the information services badgering us soon enough. Someone is bound to notice that the most boring ImpSec post on Komarr is suddenly boiling with activity.”
   “I must either go get him, or call and arrange for him to stay longer.”
   “Which would you prefer?” Miles put in before Tuomonen could say anything.
   “I… if you are going to do the interrogation here, today, I’d rather wait till it’s over with to get Nikki. I’ll have to explain to his friend’s mother something of the situation, at least that Tien was… killed in an accident last night.”
   “Have you bugged her comconsoles?” Miles asked Tuomonen bluntly.
   Tuomonen’s look queried this revelation, but he cleared his throat, and said, “Yes. You should be aware, Madame Vorsoisson, that ImpSec will be monitoring all calls in and out of here for a few days.”
   She looked blankly at him. “Why?”
   “There is the possibility that someone, either from Soudha’s group or some other connection we haven’t yet discovered, not yet realizing the Administrator is dead, might try to communicate.”
   She accepted this with a slightly dubious nod. “Thank you for warning me.”
   “Speaking of calls,” Miles added, “please have one of your people bring me a secured vid-link here. I have a few calls to make myself.”
   “Will you be staying here, my lord?” asked Tuomonen.
   “For a while. Till after your interrogation, and until Lord Auditor Vorthys gets downside, as he will surely wish to do. That’s the first call I want to make.”
   “Ah. Of course.”
   Miles looked around. His seizure stimulator, its case, and his mouthguard were still lying where they’d been dropped a few hours ago. Miles pointed. “And if you please, could you have your lab check my medical gear for any sign of tampering, then return it to me.”
   Tuomonen’s brows rose. “Do you suspect it, my lord?”
   “It was just a horrible thought. But I think it’s going to be a very bad idea to underestimate either the intelligence or the subtlety of our adversaries in this thing, eh?”
   “Do you need it urgently?”
   “No.” Not anymore.
   “The data packet Foscol left on Administrator Vorsoisson’s person-have you had a chance to look at it?” Miles went on. He managed to avoid glancing at Madame Vorsoisson.
   “Just a quick scan,” said Tuomonen. He did look at Madame Vorsoisson, and away, spoiling Miles’s effort at delicacy. Her lips thinned only a little. “I turned it over to the ImpSec financial analyst-a colonel, no less-that HQ sent out to take charge of the financial part of the investigation.”
   “Oh, good. I was going to ask if HQ had sent you relief troops yet.”
   “Yes, everything you requested. The engineering team arrived on site at the experiment station about an hour ago. The packet Foscol left seems to be documentation of all the financial transactions relating to the, um, payments made by Soudha’s group to the Administrator. If it’s not all lies, it’s going to be an amazing help in sorting out the whole embezzlement part of the mess. Which is really very odd, when you think about it.”
   “Foscol clearly had no love for Vorsoisson, but surely everything that incriminates him, incriminates the Komarrans equally. Quite odd, yes.” If only his brain hadn’t been turned to pulsing oatmeal, Miles felt, he could follow out some line of logic from this. Later.
   An ImpSec tech wearing black fatigues emerged from the back of the apartment. He carried a black box identical to— in fact, possibly the same as-the one which Tuomonen had used at Madame Radovas’s, and said to his superior, “I’ve finished all the comconsoles, sir.”
   “Thank you, Corporal. Go back to the office and transfer copies to our files, to HQ Solstice, and to Colonel Gibbs.”
   The tech nodded and trod out through the, Miles noticed, still-ruined door.
   “And, oh yes, would you please detail a tech to repair Madame Vorsoisson’s front door,” Miles added to Tuomonen. “Possibly he could install a somewhat better-quality locking system while he’s about it.” She shot him a quietly grateful look.
   “Yes, my lord. I will of course keep a guard on duty while you are here.”
   A duenna of sorts, Miles supposed. He must try to get Madame Vorsoisson something rather better. Suspecting he’d loaded poor sleepless Tuomonen with enough chores and orders for one session, Miles requested only that he be notified at once if ImpSec caught up with Soudha or any member of his group, and let the captain go off to his suddenly multiplied duties.
   By the time he’d showered and dressed in his last good gray suit, the painkillers had achieved their full effect, and Miles felt almost human. When he emerged, Madame Vorsoisson invited him to her kitchen; Tuomonen’s door guard stayed in the living room.
   “Would you care for some breakfast, Lord Vorkosigan?”
   “Have you eaten?”
   “Well, no. I’m not really hungry.”
   Likely not, but she looked as pale and washed-out as he felt. Tactically inspired, he said, “I’ll have something if you will. Something bland,” he added prudently.
   “Groats?” she suggested diffidently.
   “Oh, yes please.” He wanted to say, I can get them-mixing up a packet of instant groats was well within his ImpSec survival-trained capabilities, he could have assured her-but he didn’t want to risk her going away, so he sat, an obedient guest, and watched her move about. She seemed uneasy, in what should have been this core place of her domain. Where would she fit? Someplace much larger.
   She set up and served them both; they exchanged commonplace courtesies. When she’d eaten a few bites, she worked up an unconvincing smile, and asked, “Is it true fast-penta makes you… rather foolish?”
   “Mm. Like any drug, people have varied reactions. I’ve conducted any number of fast-penta interrogations in the line of my former duties. And I’ve had it given to me twice.”
   Her interest was clearly piqued by this last statement. “Oh?”
   “I, um…”He wanted to reassure her, but he had to be honest. Don’t ever lie to me, she’d said, in a voice of suppressed passion. “My own reaction was idiosyncratic.”
   “Don’t you have that allergy ImpSec is supposed to give to its-well, no, of course not, or you wouldn’t be here.”
   ImpSec’s defense against the truth drug was to induce a fatal allergic response in its key operatives. One had to agree to the treatment, but as it was a gateway to larger responsibilities and hence promotions, the security force had never lacked for volunteers. “No, in fact. Chief Illyan never asked me to undergo it. In retrospect, I can’t help wondering if my father had a hand, there. But in any case, it doesn’t make me truthful so much as it makes me hyper. I babble. Fast-foolish, I guess. The one, um, hostile interrogation I underwent, I was actually able to beat, by continually reciting poetry. It was a very bizarre experience. In normal people, the degree of, well, ugliness, depends a lot on whether you fight it or go along with it. If you feel that the questioner is on your side, it can be just a very relaxing way of giving the same testimony you would anyway.”
   “Oh.” She did not look reassured enough.
   “I can’t claim it doesn’t invade your reserve,” and she possessed a reserve oceans-deep, “but a properly conducted interview ought not to,” shame you, “be too bad.” Though if last night’s events had not shaken her out of her daunting self-control… He hesitated, then added, “How did you learn to underreact the way you do?”
   Her face went blank. “Do I underreact?”
   “Yes. You are very hard to read.”
   “Oh.” She stirred her black coffee. “I don’t know. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember.” A more introspective look stilled her features for a time. “No… no, there was a time… I suppose it goes back to… I had, I have, three older brothers.”
   A typical Vor family structure of their generation: too damned many boys, a token girl added as an afterthought. Hadn’t any of those parents possessed a) foresight and b) the ability to do simple arithmetic? Hadn’t any of them wanted to be grandparents?
   “The eldest two were out of my range,” she went on, “but the youngest was close enough in age to me to be obnoxious. He discovered he could entertain himself mightily by teasing me to screaming tantrums. Horses were a surefire subject; I was horse-mad at the time. I couldn’t fight back-I hadn’t the wits then to give as good as I got, and if I tried to hit him, he was enough bigger than me-I’m thinking of the time when I was about ten and he was about fourteen-he could just hold me upside down. He had me so well-trained after a while, he could set me off just by whinnying.” She smiled grimly. “It was a great trial to my parents.”
   “Couldn’t they stop him?”
   “He usually managed to be witty enough, he got away with it. It even worked on me-I can remember laughing and trying to hit him at the same time. And I think my mother was starting to be ill by then, though neither of us knew it. What my mother told me-I can still see her, holding her head-was the way to get him to stop was for me to just not react. She said the same thing when I was teased at school, or upset about most anything. Be a stone statue, she said. Then it wouldn’t be any fun for him, and he would stop.
   “And he did stop. Or at least, he grew out of being a fourteen-year-old lout, and left for university. We’re friends now. But I never unlearned to respond to attack by turning to stone. Looking back now, I wonder how many of the problems in my marriage were due to… well.” She smiled, and blinked. “My mother was wrong, I think. She certainly ignored her own pain for far too long. But I’m stone all the way through, now, and it’s too late.”
   Miles bit his knuckles, hard. Right. So at the dawn of puberty, she’d learned no one would defend her, she could not defend herself, and the only way to survive was to pretend to be dead. Great. And if there were a more fatally wrong move some awkward fellow could possibly make at this moment than to take her in his arms and try to comfort her, it escaped his wildest imaginings. If she needed to be stone right now because it was the only way she knew how to survive, let her be marble, let her be granite. Whatever you need, you take it, Milady Ekaterin; whatever you want, you’ve got it.
   What he finally came up with was, “I like horses.” He wondered if that sounded as idiotic as it… sounded.
   Her dark brows crinkled in amused bafflement, so apparently it did. “Oh, I outgrew that years ago.”
   Outgrew, or gave up? “I was an only child, but I had a cousin-Ivan-who was as loutish as they come. And, of course, much bigger than me, though we’re about the same age. But when I was a kid, I had a bodyguard, one of the Count-my-Father’s Armsmen. Sergeant Bothari. He had no sense of humor at all. If Ivan had ever tried anything like your brother, no amount of wit would have saved him.”
   She smiled. “Your own bodyguard. Now, there’s an idyllic childhood indeed.”
   “It was, in a lot of ways. Not the medical parts, though. The Sergeant couldn’t help me there. Nor at school. Mind you, I didn’t appreciate what I had at the time. I spent half of my time trying to figure out how to get away from his protection. But I succeeded often enough, I guess, to know I could succeed.”
   “Is Sergeant Bothari still with you? One of those crusty Old Vor family retainers?”
   “He probably would be, if he were still alive, but no. We were, uh, caught in a war zone on a galactic trip when I was seventeen, and he was killed.”
   “Oh. I’m sorry.”
   “It was not exactly my fault, but my decisions were pretty prominent in the causal chain that led to his death.” He watched for her reaction to this confession; as usual, her face changed very little. “But he taught me how to survive, and go on. The last of his very many lessons.” You have just experienced destruction; I know survival. Let me help.
   Her eyes flicked up. “Did you love him?”
   “He was a… difficult man, but yes.”
   He offered after a time, “However you came by it, you are very level-headed in emergencies.”
   “I am?” She looked surprised.
   “You were last night.”
   She smiled, clearly touched by the compliment. Dammit, she shouldn’t take in this mild observation as if it were great praise. She must be starving half to death, if such a scrap seems a feast.
   It was the most nearly unguarded conversation she’d ever granted him, and he longed to extend the moment, but they’d run out of groats to push around in the bottom of their dishes, their coffee was cold, and the tech from ImpSec arrived at this moment with the secured comconsole uplink Miles had requested. Madame Vorsoisson pointed out to the tech her late husband’s office as a private space to set up the machine, the forensics people had been and gone while Miles slept; after briefly watching the new installation she retreated into housewifery like a red deer into underbrush, apparently intent on erasing all traces of their invasion of her space.
   Miles turned to face the next most difficult conversation of the morning.
   It took several minutes to establish the secure link with Lord Auditor Vorthys aboard the probable-cause team’s mothership, now docked at the soletta array. Miles settled himself as comfortably as his aching muscles would allow, and prepared to cultivate patience in the face of the irritating several-second time lag between every exchange. Vorthys, when he at last appeared, was wearing standard-issue ship-knits, evidently in preparation for donning a pressure suit; the close-fitting cloth did not flatter his bulky figure. But he seemed to be well up for the day. The standard-meridian Solstice time kept topside was a few hours ahead of Serifosa’s time zone.
   “Good morning, Professor,” Miles began. “I trust you’ve had a better night than we did. At the top of the bad news, your nephew-in-law Etienne Vorsoisson was killed last night in a breath-mask mishap at the Waste Heat experiment station. I’m here now at Ekaterin’s apartment; she’s holding up all right so far. I’ll have a very long transmission in explanation. Over to you.”
   The trouble with the time lag was just how agonizingly long one had in which to anticipate the change of expression, and of people’s lives, occasioned by the arrival of words one had sent but could no longer call back and edit. Vorthys looked every bit as shocked as Miles had expected when the message reached him. “My God. Go ahead, Miles.”
   Miles took a deep breath and began a blunt precis of yesterday’s events, from the futile hours of being given the royal runaround at the Terraforming offices, to Vorsoisson’s hasty return to drag him out to the experiment station, the revelation of his involvement with the embezzlement scheme, their encounter with Soudha and Madame Radovas, the waking up chained to the railing. He did not describe Vorsoisson’s death in detail. Ekaterin’s arrival. ImpSec teams called out in force, too late. The business with his seal. Vorthys’s expression changed from shocked to appalled as the details mounted.
   “Miles, this is horrible. I’ll come downside as soon as I can. Poor Ekaterin. Do please stay with her till I get there, won’t you?” He hesitated. “Before this came up, I was actually thinking of requesting you to come topside. We’ve found some very odd pieces of equipment up here, which have undergone some quite incredible physical distortions. I’d wondered if you might have seen anything like it in your galactic military experiences. There are some traceable serial numbers left here and there in the debris, though, which I’d hoped may prove a lead. I’ll just have to leave them to my Komarran boys for the moment.”
   “Odd equipment, eh? Soudha and his friends left with a lot of odd equipment, too. At least two lift-vans full. Have your Komarran boys send those serial numbers to Colonel Gibbs, care of ImpSec Serifosa. He’s going to be tracing a lot of serial numbers in Terraforming Project purchases that-may not be as bogus as I’d first assumed. There’s got to be more connections between here and there than just poor Radovas’s body. Look, um… ImpSec here wants to fast-penta Ekaterin, on account of Tien’s involvement. Do you want me to delay that till you arrive? I thought you might wish to supervise her interrogation, at least.”
   Lag. Vorthys’s brow wrinkled in worried thought. “I… dear God. No. I want to, but I should not. My niece-a clear conflict of interest. Miles, my boy, do you suppose… would you be willing to sit in on it, and see that they don’t get carried away?”
   “ImpSec hardly ever uses those lead lined rubber hoses anymore, but yes, I planned to do just that. If you do not disapprove, sir.”
   Lag. “I should be excessively relieved. Thank you.”
   “Of course. I also should very much like to have your evaluation of whatever the ImpSec engineering team turns up out at the experiment station. At the moment I have very little evidence and lots of theories. I’m itching to reverse the proportions.”
   Professor Vorthys smiled dry appreciation of this last line, when it arrived. “Aren’t we all.”
   “I have another suggestion, sir. Ekaterin seems very alone, here. She doesn’t seem to have any close Komarran women friends that I’ve seen so far, and of course, no female relatives… I wondered if it might not be a good idea for you to send for the Professora.”
   Vorthys’s face lit when this one registered. “Not only good, but wise and kind. Yes, of course, at once. Given a family emergency of this nature, her assistant can surely supervise her final exams. The idea should have occurred to me directly. Thank you, Miles.”
   “Everything else can wait till you get downside, unless something breaks in the case on ImpSec’s end. I’ll get Ekaterin in here before I close the transmission. I know she longs to talk with you, but… Tien’s involvement in this mess is pretty humiliating for her, I suspect.”
   The Professor’s lips tightened. “Ah, Tien. Yes. I understand. It’s all right, Miles.”
   Miles was silent for a time. “Professor,” he began at last, “about Tien. Fast-penta interrogations tend to be a lot more controllable if the interrogator has some clue what he’s getting into. I don’t want… um… can you give me some sense of what Ekaterin’s marriage looked like from her family’s point of view?”
   The time lag dragged, while Vorthys frowned. “I don’t like to speak ill of the dead before their offering is even burned,” he said at last.
   “I don’t think we’re going to have a lot of choice, here.”
   “Huh,” he said glumly when Miles’s words reached him. “Well… I suppose it seemed like a good idea to everyone at the time. Ekaterin’s father, Shasha Vorvayne, had known Tien’s late father-he was recently deceased then. A decade ago already, my word the time has gone fast. Well. The two older men had been friends, both officers in the District government, the families knew each other… Tien had just quit the military, and had used his veteran’s rights to obtain a job in the District civil service. Good-looking, healthy… seemed poised to follow in his father’s footsteps, you know, though I suppose it ought to have been a clue that he had put in his ten years and never risen beyond the rank of lieutenant.” Vorthys pursed his lips.
   Miles reddened slightly. “There can be a lot of reasons— never mind. Go on.”
   “Vorvayne had begun to recover from my sister’s untimely death. He had met a woman, nothing unseemly, an older woman, Violie Vorvayne is a charming lady-and begun to think of remarriage. He wanted, I suppose, to see Ekaterin properly settled-to honorably tie off the last of his obligations to the past, if you will. My nephews were all out on their own by then. Tien had called on him, in part as courtesy to his late father’s friend, in part to get a reference for his District service application… they struck up as much of an acquaintance as might be between two men of such dissimilar ages. My brother-in-law doubtless spoke highly of Ekaterin…”
   “Settled in her father’s mind equated with married, I take it. Not, say, graduated from University and employed at an enormous salary?”
   “Only for the boys. My brother-in-law can be more Old Vor than you high Vor, in a lot of ways.” Vorthys sighed. “But Tien sent a reputable Baba to arrange the contracts, the young people were permitted to meet… Ekaterin was excited. Flattered. The Professora was distressed that Vorvayne hadn’t waited a few more years, but… young people have no sense of time. Twenty is old. The first offer is the last chance. All that nonsense. Ekaterin didn’t know how attractive she was, but her father was afraid, I think, that she might settle on some inappropriate choice.”