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Книга Komarr. Содержание - CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

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"You have a really twisted mind, Lord Vorkosigan," said Soudha, shaking his head. "Was it your upbringing, or your genetics?"

"Yes." Miles sighed. After a brief moment of reflection, Miles waved the guards on, and Soudha was marched out after his colleagues.

After a go-ahead nod from the Imperial Auditor, the tech tapped the control pad. The inner door whined, sticking halfway. Miles pressed it gently sideways with his boot, and it shuddered open.

Ekaterin was on her feet, between the inner door and the Professora, who sat on the deck wearing her niece's vest over her own bolero. Ekaterin's face bore a red bruise, her hair was hanging every which way, her fists were clenched, and she looked perfectly demented and altogether gorgeous, in Miles's personal opinion. Smiling broadly, he held out both his hands and leaned inside.

She glared back at him. "About time." She stalked past, muttering in a voice of loathing, "Men!"

After the briefest lurch, Miles managed to convert his open arms into a smooth bow toward the Professora. "Madame Dr. Vorthys. Are you all right?"

"Why, hello, Miles." She blinked at him, gray faced and very chilled-looking. "I've been better, but I believe I'll survive. "

"I have a float pallet for you. These sturdy young men will help you to it."

"Oh, thank you, dear."

Miles stood back and waved the medtechs forward. The Professora looked perfectly content to be whisked aboard the medical pallet and covered with warm wraps. A cursory examination and a few words of debate resulted in a half-dose of synergine for her, but no IV; then the pallet rose into the air.

"The Professor will be here shortly," Miles assured her. "In fact, he'll likely be along before you both are done at the station infirmary. I'll see he gets sent straight on to you."

"I'm so pleased." The Professora motioned him nearer; when he bent over her, she grabbed him by the ear and planted a kiss on his cheek. "Ekaterin was wonderful," she whispered.

"I know," he breathed. His eyes crinkled, and she smiled back.

He stepped back from the pallet to Ekaterin's side, hoping her aunt's example might inspire her—he wouldn't mind salvaging some little show of appreciation—"You didn't seem surprised to see me," he murmured. The pallet started off, under the guidance of a medtech, and he and Ekaterin followed in procession; the ImpSec technicians politely waited till they'd cleared the chamber to plunge in to the airlock to disarm the charge.

Ekaterin shoved a strand of hair back over one ear with a hand that trembled only slightly. Red bruises glared on her arms, too, as her sleeve slid back. Miles frowned at them. "I knew it had to be our side," she said simply. "Or else it would have been the other door."

"Eh. Quite." Three hours, she'd had, to contemplate that possibility. "My fast courier was slow."

They turned up the next corridor in reflective silence. Gratifying as it might have been to have her fling herself into his arms and weep relief into—well, if not his shoulder, at least the top of his head—in front of that herd of ImpSec fellows, he had to admit he admired this style even more. So what is this thing you have about tall women and unrequited love? His cousin Ivan would doubtless have some cutting things to say—he growled in anticipation, in his mind. He would deal with Ivan and other hazards to his courtship later.

"Do you know you saved about five thousand lives?" he asked her.

Her dark brows drew down. "What?"

"The novel device was defective. If the Komarrans had managed to get it started, the gravitational back-blow from the wormhole would have taken out this station just like the soletta array, possibly with as few survivors. And I shudder at the thought of the property damage bill. To think how Illyan used to complain about my equipment losses back when I was just covert ops. …"

"You mean … it didn't work after all? I did all that for nothing?" She stopped short, her shoulders sagging.

"What do you mean, nothing? I've met Imperial generals who completed their entire careers with less to show for them. You should get a bloody medal, I think. Except that this whole thing is going to end up so classified, they're going to have to invent a whole new level of classification just to put it in. And then classify the classification."

Her lips puffed, not quite mirthfully. "What would I do with so useless an object as a medal?"

He thought bemusedly of the contents of a certain drawer at home in Vorkosigan House. "Frame it? Use it as a paperweight? Dust it?"

"Just what I always wanted. More clutter."

He grinned at her; she smiled back at last, clearly beginning to come off her adrenaline jag, and without breaking down, either. She drew breath and started forward again, and he kept pace. She had met the enemy, mastered her moment, hung three hours on death's doorstep, all that, and she'd emerged still on her feet and snarling. Oversocialized, hah. Oh, yeah, Da, I want this one.

He stopped at the door to the infirmary; the Professora vanished within, borne off by her medical minions like a lady on a palanquin. Ekaterin paused with him.

"I have to leave you for a time and check on my prisoners. The stationers will take care of you."

Her brow wrinkled. "Prisoners? Oh. Yes. How did you get rid of the Komarrans?"

Miles smiled grimly. "Persuasion."

She stared down at him, one side of her lovely mouth curving up. Her lower lip was split; he wanted to kiss it and make it well. Not yet. Timing, boy. And one other thing.

"You must be very persuasive."

"I hope so." He took a deep breath. "I bluffed them into believing that I wouldn't let them go no matter what they did to you and the Professora. Except that I wasn't bluffing. We could not have let them go." There. Betrayal confessed. His empty hands clenched.

She stared at him in disbelief; his heart shrank. "Well, of course not!"

"Eh . . . what?"

"Don't you know what they wanted to do to Barrayar?" she demanded. "It was a horror show. Utterly vile, and they couldn't even see it. They actually tried to tell me that collapsing the wormhole wouldn't hurt anyone! Monstrous fools."

"That's what I thought, actually."

"So, wouldn't you put your life on the line to stop them?"

"Yes, but I wasn't putting my life—I was putting yours."

"But I'm Vor," she said simply.

His smile and his heart revived, dizzy with delight. "True Vor, milady," he breathed.

A female medtech was approaching, murmuring anxiously, "Madame Vorsoisson?" Miles yielded to her shepherding motions, gave Ekaterin an analyst's salute, and turned away. He was humming, off-key, by the time he rounded the first corner.


The station infirmary personnel insisted on keeping both Vor women overnight, a precaution with which neither argued. Despite her exhaustion Ekaterin did get dispensation to go pick up her valise from her never-used hostel room, under the watchful eye of a very young ImpSec guard who called her "Ma'am" in every sentence and was determined to carry her luggage.

One message waited on her hostel room's comconsole: an urgent order from Lord Vorkosigan for her to take her aunt and flee the station at once, delivered in a tone of such intense conviction as to almost send her scurrying off despite its obviously outdated content. Instructions only, she noted; no explanations whatsoever. He really must have once held military command. The contrast between this strained, forceful lord and the almost goofy geniality of the young man who'd bowed her out of the airlock bemused her; which was the real Lord Vorkosigan? For all his apparently self-revealing babble, the man remained as elusive as a handful of water. Water in the desert. The thought popped unbidden into her mind, and she shook her head to clear it.

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