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Книга Komarr. Содержание - CHAPTER FOUR

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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."

"Ah."

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.

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