Книга Komarr. Содержание - CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

"Do you hold to that archaic custom? Must you? Why? I never understood it. I thought in the Time of Isolation they tried to keep all women married all the time."

"Actually, I think it was practical. It gave time to be certain any pregnancy that might have been started could be completed while the woman was still under the control of her late husband's family, so they could be sure of claiming custody of any male issue. But still, whether I believe in formal mourning or not won't matter. As long as people think I do, I can use it to defend myself from—from unwanted suits. I so much need a quiet time and place to find my balance again."

There was a short silence. Then Venier said, more stiffly, "Defend? I did not mean my proposal as an attack, Kat."

"Of course I don't think that," she replied faintly.

Lie, lie. Of course she bloody well did. Ekaterin had experienced marriage as one long siege of her soul. After ten years of Tien, she probably felt about matrimony the way Miles felt about needle-grenade launchers. This was very bad for Venier. Good. But it was equally bad for Miles. Bad. Good. Bad. Good. Bad …

"Kat, I … I won't make a pest of myself. But think about it, think about all your alternatives, before you do anything irrevocable. I'll still be here."

Another awful silence. Then, "I don't wish to give you pain, who never gave me any, but it's wrong to make people live on false hopes." A long, indrawn breath, as if she was mustering all her strength. "No."


And then, added more weakly, "But thank you so much for caring about me."

Longer silence. Then Venier said, "I meant to help. I can see I've made it worse. I really must be going, I still have to pick up dinner on the way home …"

Yes, and eat it alone, you miserable rabbit! Ha!

"Madame Vorsoisson, good night."

"Let me see you to the door. Thank you again for bringing Tien's things. I do hope you get Tien's job, Venier, I'm sure you could do it well. It's time they started promoting Komarrans into the higher administrative positions again …"

Miles slowly unfroze, wondering how he was going to slip past her now. If she went on to check Nikki, as she might, he could nip into her workroom without her seeing him, and pretend he'd been there all the time—

Instead, he heard her steps return to the kitchen. A scrape and rattle, a sigh, then a louder rattle as the contents of a box were, apparently, dumped wholesale into the trash chute. A chair being pulled or pushed. He inched forward, to peek around the door port. She had sat again for a moment, her hands pressed against her eyes. Crying? Laughing? She rubbed her face, threw back her head, and stood, turning toward the balcony.

Miles hastily backed up, looked around, and sat in the nearest chair. He extended his legs and threw back his head artistically, and closed his eyes. Dare he try to fake a snore, or would that be overdoing it?

Her steps paused. Oh, God, what if she sealed the door, locking him out like a strayed cat? Would he have to bang on the glass, or stay out here all night? Would anyone miss him? Could he climb down and come back in the front door? The thought made him shudder. He wasn't due for another seizure, but you never knew, that was part of what made his disorder so much fun. . . .

Her steps continued. He let his mouth hang slack, then he sat up, blinking and snorting. She was staring at him in surprise, her elegant features thrown into strong relief by the half-light from the kitchen. "Oh! Madame Vorsoisson. I must have been more tired than I thought."

"Were you asleep?"

His Yes mutated to a weak "Mm," as he recalled his promise not to lie to her. He rubbed his neck. "I'd have been half-paralyzed in that position."

Her brows drew down quizzically, and she crossed her arms. "Lord Vorkosigan. I didn't think Imperial Auditors were supposed to prevaricate like that."

"What . . . badly?" He sat all the way up and sighed. "I'm sorry. I'd stepped out to contemplate the view, and I didn't think anything when I first heard Vennie enter, and then I thought it might be something to do with the case, and then it was too late to say anything without embarrassing us all. As bad as the business with your comconsole all over again, sorry. Accidents, both. I'm not like this, really."

She cocked her head, a weird quirky smile tilting her mouth. "What, insatiably curious and entirely free of social inhibitions? Yes, you are. It's not the ImpSec training. You're a natural. No wonder you did so well for them."

Was this a compliment or an insult? He couldn't quite tell, good, bad, good-bad-good . . . ? He rose, smiled, abandoned the idea of asking her about the estate law session, bid her a polite good night, and fled in ignominy.


Ekaterin made an early start the following morning to meet her aunt inbound from Barrayar. The ferry from Komarr to the wormhole jump station broke orbit before noon Solstice time. Ekaterin settled into her private sleeper-cell aboard the ferry with a contented, guilty sigh.

It was just like Uncle Vorthys to have provided this comfort for her; he did nothing by halves. No artificial shortages, she could almost hear him enthusiastically booming, though he usually recited that slogan in reference to desserts. So what if she could stand in the middle of the cabinette and touch both walls. She was glad not to be rubbing shoulders with the crowds in the economy seats as she had done on her first passage, even if it was only an eight-hour flight from Komarr orbit to jump station dock. She had sat then between Tien and Nikki at the climax of a seven-day passage from Barrayar, and been hard-pressed to name which of them had been more tired, tense, and cranky, including herself.

If only she'd accepted Venier's proposal, she wouldn't be facing a repeat of that wearing journey, a point in his favor Vennie could not have guessed at. Just as well. She thought of his unexpected offer last night in her kitchen, and her lips twisted in remembered embarrassment, amusement, and an odd little flash of anger. How had Venier ever got the idea that she was available? In wariness of Tien's irrational jealousy, she'd thought she had tamped out any possible come-on signal from her manner long ago. Or did she really look so pitiful that even a modest soul like Vennie could imagine himself her rescuer? If so, that surely wasn't his fault. Neither Venier's nor Vorkosigan's enthusiastic plans for her future education and employment were distasteful to her, indeed, they matched her own aspirations, and yet . . . both somehow implied, You can become a real person, but only if you play our game.

Why can't I be real where I am?

Drat it, she was not going to let this churning mess of emotions spoil her precious slice of solitude. She dug her reader out of her carry-on, arranged the generous allotment of cushions, and stretched out on the bunk. At a moment like this, he could really wonder why solitary confinement was considered such a severe punishment. Why, no one could get at you. She wriggled her toes, luxuriating.

The guilt was for Nikki, left ruthlessly behind with one of us school friends, putatively so that he would miss no classes, if, as Ekaterin sometimes felt, she really did do nothing of value all day long, why did she have to inconvenience so many people to take over her duties when she left? Something didn't add up. Not that Madame Vortorren, whose husband was an aide to the Imperial Counsellor's Serifosa Deputy, hadn't seemed cordially willing to help out the new widow. Nor was adding Nikki to her household any great strain on its resources– he had four children of her own, whom she somehow managed to feed, clothe, and direct amidst a general chaos which never seemed to ruffle her air of benign absent-mindedness. Madame Vortorren's children had learned early to be self-reliant, and was that so bad? Nikki had been fended off in his plea to accompany Ekaterin with the reminder that the ferry pilots had strict rules against allowing passengers on the flight deck, and anyway, it wasn't even a jumpship. In reality, Ekaterin looked forward to a private time to talk frankly with her aunt about her late life with Tien without Nikki overhearing every word. Her pent-up thoughts felt like an over-filled reservoir, churning in her head with no release.

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