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Книга Komarr. Содержание - CHAPTER SIXTEEN

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"I thought my center was to be Vor, like the women before me." She glanced across at him, feeling inarticulate and urgent. And then I chose Tien . . . you have to understand, it was my choice. My marriage was arranged, offered, but it wasn't forced, I wanted it, wanted to have children, form a family, carry on the pattern. Make my place in this, I don't know, generational pageant."

"I am the eleventh of my name. I know about the Vor pageant."

"Yes," she said gratefully. "It wasn't that I didn't choose what I wanted, or gave away my center, or any of those things. But somehow, I didn't end up with the beautiful Vor pattern-weave I was trying to make. I ended up with this . . . tangle of strings." Her fingers wriggled in air, miming chaos.

His lips quirked, introspective and ironic. "I know tangles, too."

"But do you know—well, of course you would, but . . . The business with the brick wall. Failure, failure was grown familiar to me. Comfortable, almost, when I stopped struggling against it. I did not know achievement was so devastating."

"Huh." He was leaning back, now, his reader forgotten on his lap, regarding her with his entire attention. "Yes . . . vertigo at apogee, eh? And the reward for a job well done is another job, and what have you done for us lately, and is that all, Lieutenant Vorkosigan, and . . . yes. Achievement is devastating, or at least disorienting, and they don't warn you in advance. It's the sudden change of momentum and direction, I think."

She blinked. "How very strange. I expected you to tell me I was being foolish."

"Deny your perfectly correct perception? Why should you expect that?"

"Habit … I suppose."

"Mm. You can learn to enjoy the sensation of winning, you know, once you get over the initial queasiness. It's an acquired taste."

"How long did it take you to acquire it?"

He smiled slowly. "Once."

"That's not a taste, that's an addiction."

"It's one that would look well on you."

His eyes were uncomfortably bright. Challenging? She smiled in confusion, and stared out the port at the darkening Komarran sky as the shuttle began its descent. He rubbed his lips, not quite erasing their odd quirk, and returned his attention to his reports.

Uncle Vorthys met them at the apartment door, data disks in his hand and a vague distracted smile on his face. He gave Ekaterin's hand a warm grasp, and fended off Nikki's immediate attempt to appropriate him and carry him off to hear about the wonders of the ImpSec shuttle.

"Just a moment, Nikki. We shall go to the kitchen for dessert, and you can tell me all about it. Ekaterin. I've heard from the Professora. She's taken ship on Barrayar, and will be here in three days' time. I didn't like to tell you till she was sure she could get away."

"Oh!" Ekaterin almost jumped with delight, mitigated immediately by concern. "Oh, no, sir, do you meant to say you are dragging that poor woman through five wormhole jumps from Barrayar to Komarr for me? She gets so jumpsick!"

"It was Lord Vorkosigan's idea, actually," said Uncle Vorthys.

Vorkosigan put on a bright, trapped smile at this, and shrugged warily.

"Although I had fully intended to drag her here for my own sake," Uncle Vorthys continued, "at the end of the term. This just advanced the timetable. She does like Komarr, once she gets here and has a day to recover from the jump-lag. I thought you would like it."

"You shouldn't have—but oh, I do like it, very much."

Vorkosigan straightened at these words, and his smile relaxed into a self-satisfaction that amused her vastly. Ekaterin wasn't sure if she was reading the subtleties of his expression better now, or if he was concealing them less.

"If I get you a ticket, would you go out to meet her at the jump-point station?" Uncle Vorthys added. "I'm afraid I won't have time, and she hates traveling alone. You could see her a day earlier, and have some time together on the last leg downside."

"Certainly, sir!" Ekaterin almost shivered with the realization of how much she longed to see her aunt. She'd been living in Tien's orbit so long, she'd become used to her isolation as the norm. Ekaterin counted the Professora as one of the few non-disheartening relatives she possessed. A friend—an ally! The Komarran women Ekaterin had met were nice enough, but there was so much they didn't understand. . . . Aunt Vorthys might make acerbic comments, but she understood deeply.

"Yes, yes, Nikki—" said Uncle Vorthys. "Miles. When you are ready, I'll meet you in my room, and we can go over today's progress on the comconsole."

"Have we some? Is it interesting?"

Uncle Vorthys made a balancing gesture with his free hand. "I'd be interested in what pattern you see emerging, if any."

"At your convenience. Knock on my door when you're ready." Vorkosigan smiled at Nikki, gave the Professor a vague salutelike gesture, and withdrew.

Nikki, impatiently waiting his turn, now dragged his great-uncle off to the kitchen as promised; Ekaterin could only be grateful that of his day's events the ImpSec shuttle seemed to loom so much larger than the medical examinations. She followed, satisfied.


Early the next morning Miles, in shirt and trousers but barefoot, stepped into the hallway with his toiletries case in hand. He must remind Tuomonen to return his medical kit. The ImpSec techs couldn't have found any interesting explosive devices in it, or he would have been informed by now. His bleary meditations suffered a check when he discovered Ekaterin, still dressed in a robe and with her hair in unusual but fetching disarray, leaning against the hall bathroom door. "Nikki," she hissed. "Open this door at once! You can't hide all day in there."

A muffled young voice returned mulishly, "Yes, I can."

Lips tight, she tapped again, urgently but quietly, then jumped a little as she saw Miles, and clutched the neck of her robe.

"Oh. Lord Vorkosigan."

"Good morning, Madame Vorsoisson," he said civilly. "Ah . . . trouble?"

She nodded ruefully. "I thought yesterday went awfully easily. Nikki tried to insist he was too sick to go to school today, because of his Vorzohn's Dystrophy. I explained again it didn't work that way, but he got more and more stubborn. He begged to stay home. No, not just stubborn. Scared, I think. This isn't the usual malingering." She jerked her head toward the locked door. "I tried getting firm. It was not the right tactic. Now he's panicked."

Miles bent to glance at the lock, which was an ordinary mechanical one. Too bad it wasn't a palm lock; he knew some tricks with those. This one didn't even have screws, but some kind of rivets. It was going to take a pry bar. Or subterfuge . . .

"Nikki," called Ekaterin hopefully. "Lord Vorkosigan is out here. He needs to get washed and dressed, so he can go to work."


"I'm torn," murmured Ekaterin in lower tones. "We're leaving in a few weeks. A few missed lessons wouldn't matter, but . . . that's not the point."

"I went to a private Vor school rather like his, when I was his age," Miles murmured back. "I know what he's afraid of. But I think your instincts are correct." He frowned thoughtfully, then set his case down and rummaged for his tube of depilatory cream, which he smeared liberally over his night's bristles. "Nikki?" he called more loudly. "Can I come in? I'm all over depilatory cream, and if I don't wash it off, it'll start eating through my skin."

"Won't he realize you can wash in the kitchen?" Ekaterin whispered.

"Maybe. But he's only nine, I'm gambling depilation is still a bit of a mystery."

After a moment Nikki's voice came, "You can come in. But I'm not coming out. And I'm locking it again."

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