Книга Komarr. Содержание - CHAPTER TWENTY

She snatched up the remote control and spun away toward the glass control booth as fast as her legs could push her, her sweating bare feet firm against the smooth surface. The men at the wall outlet shouted and started toward her. She didn't look back.

She galloped around the corner and up the two stairs to the booth in one leap. She batted frantically at the door control pad. The door took forever to slide shut; Cappell was almost to the steps before she was able, after two tries with her shaking fingers, to activate the lock. Cappell hit the door with a resounding thud and began pounding on it.

She did not, dared not, look back to see what was happening to the Professora. Instead, she raised the remote and pointed it through the glass at the float cradle. The controls included six buttons and a four-pronged knob. She'd never been good at this sort of coordination. Fortunately, subtlety was not her object now.

The third stab of her fingers on a button found the up vector. All too slowly, the float cradle began to rise off the loading bay deck. Perhaps there were some sort of sensors in it which kept it level; the first four combinations she tried seemed to do nothing. Finally, she was able to make the thing begin to rotate. It bumped into the catwalks above, making nasty grinding noises. Good. Power cables snapped off and whipped around; the strange man barely dodged the spitting sparks. Soudha was screaming, trying to jump up at the glass wall in front of her. She could barely hear him. The glass, after all, was supposed to stand up to vacuum. He scrambled back and aimed a stunner at her. The beam splashed harmlessly off the window.

At last, she was able to make the sensor program appear in the remote's little readout. She canceled its running instructions, and then the cradle became more lively. She'd achieved an almost 180-degree rotation, bottom to top. Then she turned the cradle's power off.

It was only about a four-meter drop from the catwalks to the deck. She had no idea what material the huge horn was fabricated from. She anticipated having to try a couple of times, to achieve some dent or crack Soudha could not repair in the day it would take for her and her aunt to be missed at the ferry. Instead, the bell burst like—like a flower pot.

The boom shook the bay. Shards big and small skittered off across the deck like shrapnel. One jagged piece whanged past centimeters from Soudha's head and smacked into the booth's glass, and Ekaterin ducked involuntarily. But the glass held. Amazing material. She was glad the device's horn hadn't been cast of it. Laughter bubbled out of her throat, bravura berserker joy. She wanted to destroy a hundred devices. She turned on the float cradle's power again and bounced the smashed remains on the deck a few more times, just because she could. The Maiden of the Lake fires back!

The Professora was sitting on the deck by the far wall, bent over. Not running away, not even close to making an escape. Not good. Madame Radovas was on her feet and had recovered her stunner. Cappell the mathematician was beating on the control booth's door with a meter-long high-torque wrench he'd found somewhere. Arozzi, his face running with blood from a flying piece of horn-shrapnel, dissuaded him before he rendered it unopenable; Soudha came running up with a handful of electronic tools, and he and Arozzi disappeared below the door's window. Scratchy sounds penetrated by the door lock, more sinister even than Cappell's frantic blows.

Ekaterin caught her breath and looked around the control booth. She couldn't empty the air from the loading bay, her aunt was out there, too. There, there was the comconsole. Should she have gone for it first? No, she was doing this in he right order. No matter how screwed up ImpSec's response vas, no matter how misapplied or incompetent their tactics, hey could not possibly lose Barrayar now.

"Hello, Emergency?" Ekaterin panted as the vid-plate activated. "My name is Ekaterin Vorsoisson—" She had to stop, as the automated system tried to route her to her choice of traveler's aids. She rejected Lost & Found, selected Security, and started over, not certain she'd reached a human yet, and praying it would all be recorded. "My name is Ekaterin Vorsoisson. Lord Auditor Vorthys is my uncle. I'm being held prisoner, along with my aunt, by Komarran terrorists at the Southport Transport docks and locks. I'm in a loading bay control booth right now, but they're getting the door open." She glanced over her shoulder. Soudha had defeated the lock; the airseal door, bent from Cappell's efforts with the wrench, whined and refused to retreat into its slot. Soudha and Arozzi put their shoulders to it, grunting, and it inched open. "Tell Lord Auditor Vorkosigan—tell ImpSec—"

Then the swearing Soudha slipped sideways through the door, followed by Cappell still clutching his wrench. Laughing hysterically, tears running down her cheeks, Ekaterin turned to face her fate.


Miles barely restrained himself from pressing his face to his courier ship's airlock window, while waiting for the tube seals from the jump station to finish seating themselves. When the door hissed open at last he swung himself through in one motion, to land on his feet with a thump, and glare around the hatch corridor. His reception committee at the private lock, the ranking ImpSec man aboard and a fellow in blue-and-orange civilian security garb, both braced to attention after only the briefest beat of surprise at his height—he could tell by the way their eyes had to track downward to meet his face—and appearance.

"Lord Auditor Vorkosigan," the strained-looking ImpSec man, Vorgier, acknowledged Miles. "This is Group-Commander Husavi, who heads Station Security."

"Captain Vorgier. Commander Husavi. Are there any new developments in the situation in the last," he glanced at his chrono, "fifteen minutes?" Almost a full three hours had passed since the first message from Vorgier had turned his journey from Komarr orbit into this viscous nightmare of suppressed panic. Never had an ImpSec courier ship seemed to move so slowly, and since no amount of Auditorial screaming at the crew could change the laws of physics, Miles had perforce seethed in silence.

"My men, backed by those of Commander Husavi, are almost into position for our assault," Vorgier assured him. "We believe we can get an emergency tube seal into place over the outer door of the airlock containing the Vor women before, or almost before, the Komarrans can evacuate the air. The moment the hostages are retrieved, our armored men can enter the Southport bay at will. It will be over in minutes."

"Too bloody likely," snapped Miles. "Several engineers have had several hours to prepare for you. These Komarrans may be desperate, but I guarantee they are not stupid. If I can think of putting a pressure-sensitive explosive in the airlock, so can they."

What a set of mental images Vorgier's words conjured—a tube seal misapplied or applied too late to the outer skin of the station, Ekaterin's and the Professora's bodies blown outward into space—some space-armored ImpSec goon missing his catch—Miles could almost hear his embarrassed, bass Oops over the audio link now, in his mind's ear. Such a blessing that Vorgier hadn't confided these details earlier, when Miles would have had all those hours en route to reflect upon them, stuck aboard his courier ship. "The Vor ladies are not expendable. Madame Dr. Vorthys has a weak heart, her husband Lord Auditor Vorthys tells me. And Madame Vorsoisson is—just not expendable. And the Komarrans are the least expendable of all. We want them alive for questioning. Sorry, Captain, but I mislike your plan."

Vorgier stiffened. "My Lord Auditor. I appreciate your concern, but I believe this will be most quickly and effectively concluded as a military operation. Civilian authority can help best by staying out of the way and letting the professionals do their job."

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