Книга Komarr. Содержание - CHAPTER SIX


Miles boiled himself in the shower for a long time, trying to regain control of his shocky body and scattered wits. He'd realized quickly, earlier, that all Madame Vorsoisson's anxious questions about his mother camouflaged oblique concerns about her son Nikolai, and he'd answered her as openly and carefully as he could. He'd been rewarded, through the extremely pleasant morning's expedition, by seeing her gradually relax and grow nearly open herself. When she'd laughed, her light blue eyes had sparkled. The animated intelligence had illuminated her face, and spilled over to loosen and soften her body from its original tight defensive density. Her sense of humor, creeping slowly out from hiding, had even survived his dropping them into that idiot pond.

Her brief appalled look when he'd half-stripped in the bubble-car had almost thrown him back into earlier modes of painful somatic self-consciousness, but not quite. It seemed he had grown comfortable at last in his own ill-used body, and the realization had given him a lunatic courage to try to clear things with her. So when all expression in her face shut down as he'd confessed his snooping . . . that had hurt.

He'd handled a bad situation as well as he could, hadn't he? Yes? No? He wished now he'd kept his mouth shut. No. His false stance with Madame Vorsoisson had been unbearable. Unbearable? Isn't that a little strong? Uncomfortable, he revised this hastily downward. Awkward, anyway.

But confession was supposed to be followed by absolution. If only the damned bubble-car had been delayed again, if only he'd had ten more minutes with her, he might have made it come out right. He shouldn't have tried to piss it off with that stupid joke, I could show you how . . .

Her icy, armored We don't require assistance felt like . . . missing a catch. He would be forced onward, she would spin down into the fog and never be seen again.

You're overdramatizing, boy. Madame Vorsoisson wasn't in a combat zone, was she?

Yes, she is. She was just falling toward death in exquisitely slow motion.

He wanted a drink desperately. Preferably several. Instead he dried himself off, dressed in another of his Auditor-suits, and went to see the Professor.

Miles leaned on the Professor's comconsole in the guest room which doubled as Tien Vorsoisson's home office, and studied the ravaged face of the dead man in the vid. He hoped for some revelation of expression, surprise or rage or fear, that would give a clue as to how the fellow had died. Besides suddenly. But the face was merely dead, its frozen distortions entirely physiological and familiar.

"First of all, are they sure he's really ours?" Miles asked, pulling up a chair for himself and settling in. On the vid, the anonymous medtech's examination recording played on at low volume, her voice-over comments delivered in that flat clinical tone universally used at moments like this. "He didn't drift in from somewhere else, I suppose."

"No, unfortunately," Vorthys said. "His speed and trajectory put him accurately at the site of our accident at the time of the smash-up, and his initial estimated time of death also matches."

Miles had wished for a break in the case, some new lead that would take him in a more speedily fruitful direction. He hadn't realized his desires were so magically powerful. Be careful what you wish for …

"Can they tell if he came from the ship, or the station?"

"Not from the trajectory alone."

"Mm, I suppose not. He shouldn't have been aboard either one. Well … we wait for the ID, then. News of this find has not yet been publicly released, I trust."

"No, nor leaked yet either, amazingly."

"Unless the explanation for his being there turns out to be rock-solid, I don't think secondhand reports are going to be enough on this one." He had read, God knew, enough reports in the last two weeks to saturate him for a year.

"Bodies are your department." The Professor ceded this one to him with a wave of his hand and a good will clearly laced with relief. Above the vid-plate, the preliminary examination wound to its conclusion; no one reached for the replay button.

Well, strictly speaking, political consequences were Miles's department. He really ought to visit Solstice soon, though in the planetary capital a visiting Auditor was more likely to get handled; he'd wanted this open provincial angle of view first, free of VIP choreographing.

"Engineering equipment," Vorthys added, "is mine. They've also just retrieved some of the ship's control systems I was waiting for. I'm think I'm going to have to go back topside soon."

"Tonight?" Miles could move out, and into a hotel, under the cover of that avuncular withdrawal. That would be a relief.

"If I went up now, I'd get there just in time for bed. I'll wait till morning. They've also found some odd things. Not accounted for in inventory."

"Odd things? New or old?" There had been tons of poorly inventoried junk equipment on the station, a century's accumulation of obsolete and worn-out technology that had been cheaper to store than haul away. If the probable-cause techs had the unenviable task of sorting it now, it must mean the highest-priority retrieval tasks were almost done.

"New. That's what's odd. And their trajectories were associated with this new body."

"I hardly ever saw a ship where somebody didn't have an unauthorized still or something operating in a closet somewhere."

"Nor a station either. But our Komarran boys are sharp enough to recognize a still."

"Maybe . . . I'll go up with you, tomorrow," Miles said thoughtfully.

"I would like that."

Gathering up the remains of his nerve, Miles went to seek out Madame Vorsoisson. This would be, he guessed, his last chance to ever have a conversation alone with her. His footsteps echoed hollowly through the empty rooms, and his tentative speaking of her name went unanswered. She had left the apartment, perhaps to pick up Nikolai from school or something. Missed again. Damn.

Miles took the examination recording off to the comconsole in her workroom for a more careful second run-through, and stacked up the terraforming reports from yesterday next in line. With a self-conscious twinge, he keyed on the machine. His guilty conscience irrationally expected she might pop in at any moment to check up on him. But no, more likely she would avoid him altogether. He vented a depressed sigh and started the vid.

He found little to add to the Professor's synopsis. The mysterious eighth victim was middle-aged, of average height and build for a Komarran, if he was a Komarran. It was not possible at this point to tell if he had been handsome or ugly in life. Most of his clothing had been ripped or burned off in the disaster, including any handy pockets containing traceable credit chits, etcetera. The shreds that were left appeared to be anonymous ship-knits, common wear for spacers who might have to slide into a pressure suit at a moment's notice.

What was delaying the man's identification? Miles deliberately held in check the dozen theories his mind wanted to generate. He longed to gallop up immediately to the orbital station where the body had been taken, but his arrival in person topside, to breathe over the actual investigators' shoulders, would only distract them and slow things down. Once you had delegated the best people to do a job for you, you had to trust both them and your judgment.

What he could do without admitting impediment was go bother another useless high-level supervisor like himself. He punched up the private code for the Chief of Imperial Security-Komarr at his office in Solstice, which the man had properly sent him upon the Imperial Auditors' first arrival in Komarr local space.

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