Книга Komarr. Содержание - CHAPTER ONE

Lois McMaster Bujold



The last gleaming sliver of Komarr's true-sun melted out of sight beyond the low hills on the western horizon. Lagging behind it in the vault of the heavens, the reflected fire of the solar mirror sprang out in brilliant contrast to the darkening, purple-tinged blue. When Ekaterin had first viewed the hexagonal soletta-array from downside on Komarr's surface, she'd immediately imagined it as a grand Winterfair ornament, hung in the sky like a snowflake made of stars, benign and consoling. She leaned now on her balcony overlooking Serifosa Dome's central city park, and gravely studied the lopsided spray of light through the glassy arc overhead. It sparkled deceptively in contrast to the too-dark sky. Three of the six disks of the star-flake shone not at all, and the central seventh was occluded and dull.

Ancient Earthmen, she had read, had taken alterations in the clockwork procession of their heavens—comets, novae, shooting stars—for disturbing omens, premonitions of disasters natural or political; the very word, disaster, embedded the astrological source of the concept. The collision two weeks ago of an out-of-control inner-system ore freighter with the insolation mirror that supplemented Komarr's solar energy was surely most literally a disaster, instantly so for the half-dozen Komarran members of the soletta's station-keeping crew who had been killed. But it seemed to be playing out in slow motion thereafter; it had so far barely affected the sealed arcologies that housed the planet's population. Below her, in the park, a crew of workers was arranging supplemental lighting on high girders. Similar stopgap measures in the city's food-producing greenhouses must be nearly complete, to spare them and this equipment to such an ornamental task. No, she reminded herself; no vegetation in the dome was merely ornamental. Each added its bit to the biological reservoir that ultimately supported life here. The gardens in the domes would live, cared for by their human symbiotes.

Outside the arcologies, in the fragile plantations that labored to bio-transform a world, it was another question altogether. She knew the math, discussed nightly at her dinner table for two weeks, of the percentage loss of insolation at the equator. Days gone winter-cloudy—except that they were planetwide, and going on and on, until when? When would repairs be complete? When would they start, for that matter? As sabotage, if it had been sabotage, the destruction was inexplicable; as half-sabotage, doubly inexplicable. Will they try again? If it was a they at all, ghastly malice and not mere ghastly accident.

She sighed, and turned away from the view, and switched on the spotlights she'd put up to supplement her own tiny balcony garden. Some of the Barrayaran plants she'd started were particularly touchy about their illumination. She checked the light with a meter, and shifted two boxes of deerslayer vine closer to the source, and set the timers. She moved about, checking soil temperature and moisture with sensitive and practiced fingers, watering sparingly where needed. Briefly, she considered moving her old bonsai'd skellytumi indoors, to provide it with more controlled conditions, but it was all indoors here on Komarr, really. She hadn't felt wind in her hair for nearly a year. She felt an odd twinge of identification with the transplanted ecology outside, slowly starving for light and heat, suffocating in a toxic atmosphere . . . Stupid. Stop it. We're lucky to be here.

"Ekaterin!" Her husband's inquiring bellow echoed, muffled, inside the residence tower.

She poked her head through the door to the kitchen. "I'm on the balcony."

"Well, come down here!"

She set her gardening tools in the box seat, closed the lid, sealed the transparent doors behind her, and hurried across the room into the hall and down the circular staircase. Tien was standing impatiently beside the double doors from their apartment to the building's corridor, a comm link in his hand.

"Your uncle just called. He's landed at the shuttleport. I'll get him."

"I'll get Nikolai, and go with you."

"Don't bother, I'm just going to meet him at the West Station locks. He said to tell you, he's bringing a guest. Another Auditor, some sort of assistant to him, it sounded like. But he said not to worry, they'll both take pot luck. He seemed to imagine we'd feed them in the kitchen or something. Eh! Two Imperial Auditors. Why ever did you have to invite him, anyway?"

She stared at him in dismay. "How can my Uncle Vorthys come to Komarr and not see us? Besides, you can't say your department isn't affected by what he's investigating. Naturally he wants to see it. I thought you liked him."

He slapped his hand arrhythmically on his thigh. "Back when he was just the old weird Professor, sure. Eccentric Uncle Vorthys, the Vor tech. This Imperial appointment of his took the whole family by surprise. I can't imagine what favors he called in to get it."

Is that your only idea of how men advance? But she did not speak the weary thought aloud. "Of all political appointments, surely Imperial Auditor is the least likely to be gained that way," she murmured.

"Naive Kat." He smiled shortly, and hugged her around the shoulders. "No one gets something for nothing in Vorbarr Sultana. Except, perhaps, your uncle's assistant, whom I gather is closely related to the Vorkosigan. He apparently got his appointment for breathing. Incredibly young for the job, if he's the one I heard about who was sworn in at Winterfair. A lightweight, I presume, although all your Uncle Vorthys said was that he was sensitive about his height and not to mention it. At least some part of this mess promises to be a show."

He tucked his comm link away in his tunic pocket. His hand was shaking slightly. Ekaterin grasped his wrist and turned it over. The tremula increased. She raised her eyes, dark with worry, in silent question to his.

"No, dammit!" He jerked his arm away. "It's not starting. I'm just a little tense. And tired. And hungry, so see if you can't pull together a decent meal by the time we're back. Your uncle may have prole tastes, but I can't imagine they're shared by a Vorbarr Sultana lordling." He thrust his hands into his trouser pockets and looked away from her unhappy frown.

"You're older now than your brother was then."

"Variable onset, remember? We'll go soon. I promise."

"Tien … I wish you'd give up this galactic treatment plan. They have medical facilities here on Komarr that are almost as good as, as Beta Colony or anywhere. I thought, when you won this post here, that you would. Forget the secrecy, just go openly for help. Or go discreetly, if you insist. But don't wait any longer!"

"They're not discreet enough. My career is finally on course, finally paying off. I have no desire to be publicly branded a mutant now."

If I don't care, what does it matter what anyone else thinks? She hesitated. "Is that why you don't want to see Uncle Vorthys? Tien, he's the least likely of my relatives—or yours, for that matter—to care if your disease is genetic or not. He will care about you, and about Nikolai."

"I have it under control," he insisted. "Don't you dare betray me to your uncle, this close to the real payoff. I have it under control. You'll see."

"Just don't . . . take your brother's way out. Promise me!" The lightflyer accident that hadn't been quite an accident: that had ushered in these years of chronic, subclinical nightmare waiting and watching. . . .

"I have no intention of doing anything like that. It's all planned. I'll finish out this year's appointment, then we'll take a long overdue galactic vacation, you and me and Nikolai. And it will all be fixed, and no one will ever know. If you don't lose your head and panic at the last minute!" He grasped her hand, and grimaced an unfelt smile, and strode out the doors.

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