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Книга Komarr. Содержание - CHAPTER FIVE

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"But there's nothing in Tien's estate but debts." And dishonor.

"Then the squabble will be short."

"But is it fair?"

"Death is an ordinary business risk—in some businesses more than others, of course. . . ."He smiled briefly. "Ser Anafi was getting ready to have you sign on the spot. This suggests to me that he was perfectly aware of his risk, and thought he might hustle you into taking over a debt not rightfully yours while you were still in shock. Not fair. In fact, not ethical at all. Yes, I think we can leave him to ImpSec."

This was all rather high-handed, but … it was hard not to respond to the enthusiastic glint in Vorkosigan's eye as he'd annihilated her adversary.

"Thank you, Lord Vorkosigan. But I really need to learn how to do these things for myself."

"Oh, yes," he agreed without the least hesitation. "I wish Tsipis were here. He's been my family's man of business for thirty years. He adores tutoring the uninitiated. If I could turn him loose on you, you'd be up to speed in no time, and he'd be just ecstatic. I'm afraid he found me a frustrating pupil in my youth. I only wanted to learn about the military. He finally managed to smuggle in some economic education by presenting it as logistics and supply problems." He leaned against the comconsole desk, and crossed his arms, and tilted his head. "Do you think you will be returning to Barrayar anytime soon?"

"Just as soon as I possibly can. I can hardly bear being in this place."

"I think I understand. Where, ah, would you go, on Barrayar?"

She stared broodingly at the empty vid-plate. "I'm not sure yet. Not to my father's household." To be crammed back into the status of a child again. . . . She pictured herself arriving penniless and without resources, to batten upon her father or one of her brothers. They'd let her batten, all right, generously, but they would also act as if her dependence deprived her of rights and dignity and even intelligence. They would then arrange her life for her own good. . . . "I'm sure I'd be welcome, but I'm afraid his solution to my problems would be to try to marry me off again. The idea makes me gag, just now."

"Oh," said Lord Vorkosigan.

A brief silence fell.

"What would you do if you could do anything?" he asked suddenly. "No limited resources to juggle, no practical considerations. Anything at all."

"I don't … I usually start with the possible, and pare away from there."

"Try for more scope." A vague wave of his arm taking in the planet from zenith to horizon indicated his idea of scope.

She thought back, all the way back, to the point in her life where she had made that fatal wrong turn. So many years lost. "Well. I suppose … I would go back to university. But this time, I'd know what I was about. Formal training in horticulture and in art, for garden design; chemistry and biochemistry and botany and genetic manipulation. Real expertise, the kind that means you can't be intimidated or, or … persuaded to go along with something stupid because you think everyone in the universe knows more than you do." She frowned ruefully.

"So you could design gardens for pay?"

"More than that." Her eyes narrowed, as she struggled for her inner vision.

"Planets? Terraforming?"

"Oh, good heavens. That training takes ten years, and another ten years of internship beyond it, before you can even begin to grasp the complexities."

"So? They have to hire someone. Good God, they hired Tien."

"He was only an administrator." She shook her head, daunted.

"All right," he said cheerfully. "Bigger than a garden, smaller than a planet. That still leaves sufficient scope, I'd say. A Barrayaran District could be a good start. One with incomplete terraforming, say, and, and forestry projects, and, oh, damaged land reclamation, and a crying need for a touch of beauty. And," he went on, "you could work up to planets."

She had to laugh. "What is this obsession with planets? Will nothing smaller do, for you?"

"Elli Qu—a friend of mine used to say, 'Aim high. You may still miss the target but at least you won't shoot your foot off.'" His grin winked at her. He hesitated, then said more slowly, "You know . . . your father and brothers aren't your only relatives. The Professor and the Professora are boundless in their enthusiasm for education. You can't convince me they wouldn't be pleased to shelter you and Nikki in their home while you got your new start. And you'd be right there in Vorbarr Sultana, practically next door to the University and, um, everything. Good schools for Nikki."

She sighed. "It would be such a lovely change for him to stay in one place for a while. He could finally cultivate friends he wouldn't have to abandon. But . . . I've come to despise dependency."

He eyed her shrewdly. "Because it betrayed you?"

"Or lured me into betraying myself."

"Mm. But surely there is a qualitative difference between, um, a greenhouse and a cryo-chamber. Both provide shelter, but the first promotes growth, while the second merely, um . . ." He seemed to have become a little tangled in his metaphor.

"Retards decay?" Ekaterin politely tried to help unwind him.

"Just so." His brief grin again. "Anyway, I'm pretty sure the Professors are a human greenhouse. All those students—they're used to people growing up and moving on. They regard it as normal. I'd think you'd like it there." He wandered to her window and glanced out.

"I did like it there," she admitted wistfully.

"Then it all sounds perfectly possible to me. Good, that's settled. Have you had lunch?"

"What?" She laughed, and clutched her hair.

"Lunch," he repeated, deadpan. "Many people eat it at about this time of day."

"You're mad," she said with conviction, ignoring this willful piece of misdirection. "Do you always dispose of people's futures in that offhand fashion?"

"Only when I'm hungry."

She gave up. "I suppose I have something I can fix—"

"Certainly not!" he said indignantly. "I sent a minion. I just spotted him returning across the park, with a very promising large bag. The guards have to eat too, you see."

She contemplated, briefly, the spectacle of a man who casually sent ImpSec for carry-out. There probably were security concerns about meals on duty, at that. She let Vorkosigan shepherd her into her own kitchen, where they selected from a dozen containers. Ekaterin snitched a flaky apricot tart to set aside for Nikki, and they sent the remainder to the living room for the guards to picnic off. The only thing Vorkosigan permitted her to do was supply fresh tea.

"Did you find out anything new this morning?" she asked him, when they were settled at the table. She tried not to think about her last conversation here with Tien. Oh, yes, I want to go home. "Any word on Soudha and Foscol?"

"Not yet. Part of me expects ImpSec to catch up with them at any moment. Part of me … is not so optimistic. I keep wondering just how long they had to plan their departure."

"Well … I don't think they were expecting Imperial Auditors to arrive in Serifosa. That, at least, came as a surprise to them."

"Hm. Ah! I know why this whole thing feels so odd. It's as though my entire brain is suffering a time lag, and it's not just the bloody seizures. I'm on the wrong side. I'm on the damned defense, not the offense. One step behind all the time, reacting not acting—and I'm horribly afraid it may be an intrinsic condition of my new job." He downed a bite of sandwich. "Unless I can sell Gregor on the idea of an Auditor Provocateur . . . Well, anyway, I did have one idea, which I propose to spring on your uncle when he gets downside." He paused; silence fell. After a moment he added, "If you make an encouraging noise, I'll go on."

He'd caught her with her mouth full. "Hmm?"

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