Lois McMaster Bujold, "BROTHERS IN ARMS"

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Chapter Five

Miles camped in the corridor outside Captain Galeni's office the day the courier returned for the second time from Sector HQ. Exercising great restraint, Miles did not trample the man in the doorway as he exited, but he let him clear the frame before plunging within.

Miles came to parade rest before Galeni's desk. "Sir?"

"Yes, yes, Lieutenant, I know," said Galeni irritably, waving him to wait. Silence fell while screen after screen of data scrolled above Galeni's vid plate. At the end Galeni sat back, creases deepening between his eyes.

"Sir?" Miles reiterated urgently.

Galeni, still frowning, rose and motioned Miles to his station. "See for yourself."

Miles ran it through twice. "Sir—there's nothing here."

"So I noticed."

Miles spun to face him. "No credit chit—no orders—no explanation—no nothing. No reference to my affairs at all. We've waited here twenty bleeding days for nothing. We could have walked to Tau Ceti and back in that time. This is insane. This is impossible."

Galeni leaned thoughtfully on his desk on one splayed hand, staring at the silent vid plate. "Impossible? No. I've seen orders lost before. Bureaucratic screw-ups. Important data mis-addressed. Urgent requests filled away while waiting for someone to return from leave. That sort of thing happens."

"It doesn't happen to me," hissed Miles through his teeth.

One of Galeni's eyebrows rose. "You are an arrogant little vorling." He straightened. "But I suspect you speak the truth. That sort of thing wouldn't happen to you. Anybody else, yes. Not you. Of course," he almost smiled, "there's a first time for everything."

"This is the second time," Miles pointed out. He glowered suspiciously at Galeni, wild accusations boiling behind his lips. Was this some bourgeois Komarran's idea of a practical joke? If the orders and credit chit weren't there, they had to have been intercepted. Unless the queries hadn't been sent at all. He had only Galeni's word that they had. But it was inconceivable that Galeni would risk his career merely to inconvenience an irritating subordinate. Not that a Barrayaran captain's pay was much loss, as Miles well knew.

Not like eighteen million marks.

Miles's eyes widened, and his teeth closed behind set lips. A poor man, a man whose family had lost all its great wealth in, say, the Conquest of Komarr, could conceivably find eighteen million marks tempting indeed. Worth risking—much for. It wasn't the way he would have read Galeni, but what, after all, did Miles really know about the man? Galeni hadn't spoken one word about his personal history in twenty days' acquaintance.

"What are you going to do now, sir?" Miles jerked out stiffly.

Galeni spread his hands. "Send again."

"Send again. That's all?"

"I can't pull your eighteen million marks out of my pocket, Lieutenant."

Oh, no? We'll just see about that. . . . He had to get out of here, out of the embassy and back to the Dendarii. The Dendarii, where he had left his own fully professional information-gathering experts gathering dust, while he'd wasted twenty days in immobilized paralysis. ... If Galeni had indeed diddled him to that extent, Miles swore silently, there wasn't going to be a hole deep enough for him to hide in with his eighteen million stolen marks.

Galeni straightened and cocked his head, eyes narrowed and absent. "It's a mystery to me." He added lowly, almost to himself, "... and I don't like mysteries."

Nervy . . . cool. . . Miles was struck with admiration for an acting ability almost equal to his own. Yet if Galeni had embezzled his money, why was he not long gone? What was he waiting around for? Some signal Miles didn't know about? But he would find out, oh, yes he would. "Ten more days," said Miles.

Again.

"Sorry, Lieutenant," said Galeni, still abstracted.

You will be. . . . "Sir, I must have a day with the Dendarii. Admiral Naismith's duties are piling up. For one thing, thanks to this delay we're now absolutely forced to raise a temporary loan from commercial sources to stay current with our expenses. I have to arrange it."

"I regard your personal security with the Dendarii as totally insufficient, Vorkosigan."

"So add some from the embassy if you feel you have to. The clone story surely took some of the pressure off."

"The clone story was idiotic," snapped Galeni, coming out of himself.

"It was brilliant," said Miles, offended at this criticism of his creation. "It completely compartmentalizes Naismith and Vorkosigan at last. It disposes of the most dangerous ongoing weakness of the whole scam, my . . . unique and memorable appearance. Undercover operatives shouldn't be memorable."

"What makes you think that vid reporter will ever share her discoveries with the Cetagandans anyway?"

"We were seen together. By millions on the holovid, for God's sake. Oh, they'll be around to ask her questions, all right, one way or another." A slight twinge of fear—but surely the Cetagandans would send somebody to pump the woman subtly. Not just snatch, drain, and dispose of her, not a publicly prominent Earth citizen right here on Earth.

"In that case, why the hell did you pick the Cetagandans as Admiral Naismith's putative creators? The one thing they'll know for sure is that they didn't do it."

"Verisimilitude," explained Miles. "If even we don't know where the clone really came from, they might not be so surprised that they hadn't heard of him till now either."

"Your logic has a few glaring weaknesses," sneered Galeni. "It may help your long-term scam, possibly. But it doesn't help me. Having Admiral Naismith's corpse on my hands would be just as embarrassing as having Lord Vorkosigan's. Schizoid or no, not even you can compartmentalize yourself to that extent."

"I am not schizoid," Miles bit off. "A little manic-depressive, maybe," he admitted in afterthought.

Galeni's lips twitched. "Know thyself."

"We try, sir."

Galeni paused, then chose perhaps wisely to ignore that one. He snorted and went on. "Very well, Lieutenant Vorkosigan. I'll assign Sergeant Earth to supply you with a security perimeter. But I want you to report in no less than every eight hours by secured comm link. You may have twenty-four hours' leave."

Miles, drawing breath to marshall his next argument, was bereft of speech. "Oh," he managed. "Thank you, sir." And why the hell did Galeni just flip-flop like that? Miles would give blood and bone to know what was going on behind that deadpan Roman profile right now.

Miles withdrew in good order before Galeni could change his mind again.

The Dendarii had chosen the most distant hardstand of those available for rent at the London shuttleport for security, not economy. The fact that the distance also made it the cheapest was merely an added and delightful bonus. The hardstand was actually in the open, at the far end of the field, surrounded by lots of empty, naked tarmac. Nothing could sneak up on it without being seen. And if any—untoward activity—did happen to take place around it, Miles reflected, it was therefore less likely to fatally involve innocent civilian bystanders. The choice had been a logical one.

It was also a damned long walk. Miles tried to step out briskly, and not scurry like a spider across a kitchen floor. Was he getting a trifle paranoid, as well as schizoid and manic-depressive? Sergeant Earth, marching along beside him uncomfortably in civvies, had wanted to deliver him to the shuttle's hatch in the embassy's armored groundcar. With difficulty Miles had persuaded him that seven years of painfully careful subterfuge would go up in smoke if Admiral Naismith was ever seen getting out of a Barrayaran official vehicle. The good view from the shuttle hardstand was something that cut two ways, alas. Still, nothing could sneak up on them.

Unless it was psychologically disguised, of course. Take that big shuttleport maintenance float truck over there, for instance, speeding along busily, hugging the ground. They were all over the place; the eye quickly became used to their irregular passing. If he were going to launch an attack, Miles decided, one of those would definitely be the vehicle of choice. It was wonderfully doubtful. Until it fired first, no defending Dendarii could be sure he or she wasn't-about to randomly murder some hapless stray shuttleport employee. Criminally embarrassing, that, the sort of mistake that wrecked careers.

The float truck shifted its route. Barth twitched and Miles stiffened. It looked awfully like an interception course. But dammit, no windows or doors were opening, no armed men were leaning out to take aim with so much as a slingshot. Miles and Barth both drew their legal stunners anyway. Miles tried to separate himself from Barth as Barth tried to step in front of him, another precious moment's confusion.

And then the now-hurtling float truck was upon them, rising into the air, blotting out the bright morning sky. Its smooth sealed surface offered no target a stunner would matter to. The method of his assassination was at last clear to Miles. It was to be death by squashing.

Miles squeaked and spun and scrambled, trying to get up a sprint. The float truck fell like a monstrous brick as its anti-grav was abruptly switched off. It seemed like overkill, somehow; didn't they know his bones could be shattered by an overloaded grocery pallet? There'd be nothing left of him but a revolting wet smear on the tarmac.

He dove, rolled—only the blast of displaced air as the truck boomed to the pavement saved him. He opened his eyes to find the skirt of the truck centimeters in front of his nose, and recoiled onto his feet as the maintenance vehicle rose again. Where was Barth? The useless stunner was still clutched convulsively in Miles's right hand, his knuckles scraped and bleeding.

Ladder handholds were recessed into a channel on the truck's gleaming side. If he were on it he couldn't be under it—Miles shook the stunner from his grip and sprang, almost too late, to cling to the handholds. The truck lurched sideways and flopped again, obliterating the spot where he'd just been lying. It rose and fell again with an angry crash. Like an hysterical giant trying to smash a spider with a slipper. The impact knocked Miles from his precarious perch, and he hit the pavement rolling, trying to save his bones. There was no crack in the floor here to scuttle into and hide.

A line of light widened under the truck as it rose again. Miles looked for a reddened lump on the tarmac, saw none. Barth? No, over there, crouched at a distance screaming into his wrist comm. Miles shot to his feet, zigged, zagged. His heart was pounding so hard it seemed his blood was about to burst from his ears on adrenalin overload, his breathing half-stopped despite his straining lungs. Sky and tarmac spun around him, he'd lost the shuttle—no, there—he started to sprint toward it. Running had never been his best sport. They'd been right, the people who'd wanted to disbar him from officer's training on the basis of his physicals. With a deep vile whine the maintenance truck clawed its way into the air behind him.

The violent white blast blew him forward onto his face, skidding over the tarmac. Shards of metal, glass, and boiling plastic spewed across him. Something glanced numbly across the back of his skull. He clapped his arms over his head and tried to melt a hole down into the pavement by heat of fear alone. His ears hammered but he could only hear a land of roaring white noise.

A millisecond more, and he realized he was a stopped target. He jerked onto his side, glaring up and around for the falling truck. There was no more falling truck.

A shiny black aircar, however, was dropping swiftly and illegally through shuttleport traffic control space, no doubt lighting up boards and setting off alarms on the Londoners' control computers. Well, it was a lost cause now to try and be inconspicuous. Miles had it pegged as Barrayaran outer-perimeter backup even before he glimpsed the green uniforms within, by virtue of the fact that Barth was running toward it eagerly. No guarantee that the three Dendarii sprinting toward them from his personnel shuttle had drawn the same conclusions, though. Miles sprang to his—hands and knees. The abrupt if aborted movement rendered him dizzy and sick. On the second attempt he made it to his feet.

Barth was trying to drag him by the elbow toward the settling aircar. "Back to the embassy, sir!" he urged.

A cursing grey-uniformed Dendarii skidded to a halt a few meters away and aimed his plasma arc at Barth. "Back off, you!" the Dendarii snarled.

Miles stepped hastily between the two as Barth's hand went to his jacket. "Friends, friends!" he cried, flipping his hands palm-out toward both combatants. The Dendarii paused, doubtful and suspicious, and Barth clenched his fists at his sides with an effort.

Elli Quinn cantered up, swinging a rocket-launcher one-handed, its stock nestled in her armpit, smoke still trickling from its five-centimeters-wide muzzle. She must have fired from the hip. Her face was flushed and terrorized.

Sergeant Barth eyed the rocket-launcher with suppressed fury. "That was a little close, don't you think?" he snapped at Elli. "You damn near blew him up with your target." Jealous, Miles realized, because he hadn't had a rocket launcher.

Elli's eyes widened in outrage. "It was better than nothing. Which was what you came equipped with, apparently!"

Miles raised his right hand—his left shoulder spasmed when he tried to raise the other arm—and dabbed gingerly at the back of his head. His hand came away red and wet. Scalp wound, bleeding like a stuck pig but not dangerous. Another clean uniform shot.

"It's awkward to carry major ordnance on the tubeway, Elli," Miles intervened mildly, "nor could we have gotten it through shuttleport security." He paused and eyed the smoking remnant of the float truck. "Even they couldn't get weapons through shuttleport security, it seems. Whoever they were."

He nodded significantly toward the second Dendarii who, taking the hint, went off to investigate,

"Come away, sir!" Barth urged anew. "You're injured. The police will be here. You shouldn't be mixed up in this."

Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan shouldn't be mixed up in this, he meant, and he was absolutely right. "God, yes, Sergeant. Go. Take a circuitous route back to the embassy. Don't let anyone trace you."

"But sir—"

"My own security—which has just demonstrated its effectiveness, I think—will take over now. Go."

"Captain Galeni will have my head on a platter if—"

"Sergeant, Simon Illyan himself will have my head on a platter if my cover is blown. That's an order. Go!"

The dreaded Chief of Imperial Security was a name to conjure with. Torn and distressed, Barth allowed Miles to chivvy him toward the aircar. Miles breathed a sigh of relief as it streaked away. Galeni really would lock him in the basement forever if he went back now.

The Dendarii guard was returning, grim and a little green, from the scattered remains of the float truck. "Two men, sir," he reported. "At least, I think they were male, and there were at least two, judging from the number of, um, parts remaining."

Miles looked at Elli and sighed. "Nothing left to question, eh?"

She shrugged an insincere apology. "Oh—you're bleeding . . ." She closed on him fussily.

Damn. If there had been something left to question, Miles would have been in favor of shoveling it onto the shuttle and taking off, clearance or no clearance, to continue his investigation in the Triumph's sickbay unimpeded by the legal constraints that would doubtless delay the local authorities. The London constables could scarcely be more unhappy with him anyway. From the looks of things he'd be dealing with them again shortly. Fire equipment and shuttleport vehicles were converging on them even now.

Still, the London police employed some 60,000 individuals, an army much larger, if less heavily equipped, than his own. Maybe he could sic them on the Cetagandans, or whoever was behind this.

"Who were those guys?" asked the Dendarii guard, glancing in the direction the black aircar had gone.

"Never mind," said Miles. "They weren't here, you never saw 'em."

"Yes, sir."

He loved the Dendarii. They didn't argue with him. He submitted to Elli's first aid, and began mentally marshalling his story for the police. The police and he were doubtless going to be quite tired of each other before his visit to Earth was over.

Before the forensic lab team had even arrived on the tarmac, Miles turned to find Lise Vallerie at his elbow. He should have expected her. Since Lord Vorkosigan had exerted himself to repel her, Admiral Naismith now marshalled his charm, struggling to remember just which of his personas had told her what.

"Admiral Naismith. Trouble certainly seems to follow you!" she began.

"This did," he said affably, smiling up at her with what fragmented calm he could muster under the circumstances. The holovid man was off recording elsewhere on-site—she must be trying to set up something more than an off-the-cuff spot interview.

"Who were those men?"

"A very good question, now in the lap of the London police. My personal theory is that they were Cetagandan, seeking revenge for certain Dendarii operations, ah, not against them, but in support of one of their victims. But you had better not quote that. No proof. You could be sued for defamation or something."

"Not if it's a quote. You don't think they were Barrayarans?"

"Barrayarans! What do you know of Barrayar?" He let startlement segue into bemusement.

"I've been looking into your past," she smiled.

"By asking the Barrayarans? I trust you don't believe everything they say of me."

"I didn't. They think you were created by the Cetagandans. I've been looking for independent corroboration, from my own private sources. I found an immigrant who used to work in a cloning laboratory. His memory was somewhat lacking in detail, unfortunately. He had been forcibly debriefed at the time he was fired. What he could remember was appalling. The Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet is officially registered out of Jackson's Whole, is it not?"

"A legal convenience only. We're not connected in any other way, if that's what you're asking. You've been doing some homework, eh?" Miles craned his neck. Over by a police groundcar, Elli Quinn was gesticulating vividly to an earnest constable captain.

"Of course," said Vallerie. "I'd like, with your cooperation, to do an in-depth feature on you. I think it would be extremely interesting to our viewers."

"Ah . . . The Dendarii do not seek publicity. Quite the reverse. It could endanger our operations and operatives." .

"You personally, then. Nothing current. How you came to this. Who had you cloned, and why—I already know from whom. Your early memories. I understand you underwent accelerated growth and hypnotic training. What was it like? And so on."

"It was unpleasant," he said shortly. Her offered feature was a tempting notion indeed, apart from the fact that after Galeni had him skinned, Illyan would have him stuffed and mounted. And he rather liked Vallerie. It was all very well to float a few useful fictions into the air through her, but too close an association with him just now—he glanced across the tarmac at the police lab team now arrived and poking about the remains of the float truck—could be bad for her health. "I have a better idea. Why don't you do an expose on the civilian illegal cloning business?"

"It's been done."

"Yet the practices still go on. Apparently not enough has been done."

She looked less than thrilled. "If you would work closely with me, Admiral Naismith, you would have some input into the feature. If you don't—well, you are news. Fair game."

He shook his head reluctantly. "Sorry. You're on your own." The scene by the police groundcar compelled his attention. "Excuse me," he said distractedly. She shrugged and went to catch up with her vid-man as Miles jogged off.

They were taking Elli away.

"Don't worry, Miles, I've been arrested before," she tried to reassure him. "It's no big deal."

"Commander Quinn is my personal bodyguard," Miles protested to the police captain, "and she was on duty. Manifestly. She still is. I need her!"

"Sh, Miles, calm down," Elli whispered to him, "or they could end up taking you too."

"Me! I'm the bloody victim! It's those two goons who tried to flatten me who should be under arrest."

"Well, they're taking them away too, as soon as the forensic guys get the bags filled. You can't expect the authorities to just take our word for it all. They'll check out the facts, they'll corroborate our story, then they'll release me." She twinkled a smile at the captain, who melted visibly. "Policemen are human too."

"Didn't your mother ever tell you never to get in a car with strangers?" Miles muttered. But she was right. If he kicked up much more fuss it might occur to the constables to order his shuttle grounded, or worse. He wondered if the Dendarii would ever get back the rocket-launcher, now impounded as the murder weapon. He wondered if getting his key bodyguard arrested was step one of a deep-laid plot against him. He wondered if his fleet surgeon had any psychoactive drugs to treat galloping paranoia. If she did, he'd probably be allergic to them. He ground his teeth and took a deep, calming breath.

A two-man Dendarii mini-shuttle was rolling up to the hardstand. What was this, now? Miles glanced at his wrist chrono, and realized he'd lost almost five hours out of his precious twenty-four fooling around here at the shuttleport. Knowing what time it was, he knew who had arrived, and swore in frustration under his breath. Elli used the new distraction to prod the police captain into motion, sketching Miles a breezy, reassuring salute by way of farewell. The reporter, thank God, had gone off to interview the shuttleport authorities.

Lieutenant Bone, squeaky-clean, polished, and striking in her best velvet dress greys, exited her shuttle and approached the remnant of men left at the foot of the larger shuttle's ramp. "Admiral Naismith, sir? Are you ready for our appointment. . . Oh, dear ..."

He flashed her a toothy grin from his bruised and dirt-smudged face, conscious of his hair, matted and sticky with drying blood, his blood-soaked collar and spattered jacket and ripped trouser knees. "Would you buy a used pocket dreadnought from this man?" he chirped at her.

"It won't do," she sighed. "The bank we're dealing with is very conservative."

"No sense of humor?"

"Not where their money is concerned."

"Right." He bit short further quips; they were too close to nervous-involuntary. He made to run his hands through his hair, winced, and changed the gesture to a gentle probing touch around the temporary plas dressing. "And all my spare uniforms are in orbit—and I'm not anxious to go carting around London without Quinn at my back. Not now, anyway. And I need to see the surgeon about this shoulder, there's something still not right—" throbbing agony, if you wanted to get technical about it—"and there are some new and serious doubts about just where our outstanding credit transfer went."

"Oh?" she said, alert to the essential point.

"Nasty doubts, which I need to check out. All right," he sighed, yielding to the inevitable, "cancel our appointment at the bank for today. Set up another one for tomorrow if you can."

"Yes, sir." She saluted and moved off.

"Ah," he called after her, "you needn't mention why I was unavoidably detained, eh?"

One corner of her mouth tugged upward. "I wouldn't dream of it," she assured him fervently.

Back in close Earth orbit aboard the Triumph, a visit to his fleet surgeon revealed a hairline crack in Miles's left scapula, a diagnosis which surprised him not at all. The surgeon treated it with electrastim and put his left arm in an excessively annoying plastic immobilizer. Miles bitched until the surgeon threatened to put his entire body in a plastic immobilizer. He slunk out of sickbay as soon as she was done treating the gouge on the back of his head, before she got carried away with the obvious medical merit of the idea.

After getting cleaned up, Miles tracked down Captain Elena Bothari-Jesek, one of the triumvirate of Dendarii who knew his real identity, the other being her husband and Miles's fleet engineer, Commodore Baz Jesek. Elena in fact probably knew as much about Miles as he did himself. She was the daughter of his late bodyguard, and they had grown up together. She had become an officer of the Dendarii by Miles's fiat back when he'd created them, or found them lying around, or however one wanted to describe the chaotic beginnings of this whole hideously overextended covert op. Been named an officer, rather; she had become one since then by sweat and guts and fierce study. Her concentration was intense and her fidelity was absolute, and Miles was as proud of her as if he'd invented her himself. His other feelings about her were no one's business.

As he entered the wardroom, Elena sketched him a greeting that was halfway between a wave and a salute, and smiled her somber smile. Miles returned her a nod and slid into a seat at her table. "Hello, Elena. I've got a security mission for you."

Her long, lithe body was folded into her chair, her dark eyes luminous with curiosity. Her short black hair was a smooth cap framing her face; pale skin, features not beautiful yet elegant, sculptured like a hunting wolfhound. Miles regarded his own short square hands, folded on the table, lest he lose his eye in the subtle planes of that face. Still. Always.

"Ah ..." Miles glanced around the room, and caught the eye of a couple of interested techs at a nearby table. "Sorry, fellows, not for you." He jerked his thumb, and they grinned and took the hint and their coffee and clattered out.

"What sort of security mission?" she said, biting into her sandwich.

"This one is to be sealed on both ends, from both the Dendarii point of view and that of the Barrayaran embassy here on Earth. Especially from the embassy. A courier job. I want you to get a ticket on the fastest available commercial transport to Tau Ceti, and take a message from Lieutenant Vorkosigan to the Imperial Security Sector Headquarters at the embassy there. My Barrayaran commanding officer here on Earth doesn't know I'm sending you, and I'd like to keep it that way."

"I'm . . . not anxious to deal with the Barrayaran command structure," she said mildly after a moment. Watching her own hands, she was.

"I know. But since this involves both my identities, it has to be either you, Baz, or Elli Quinn. The London police have Elli under arrest, and I can't very well send your husband; some confused underling on Tau Ceti might try to arrest him."

Elena glanced up from her hands at that. "Why were the desertion charges against Baz never dropped by Barrayar?"

"I tried. I thought I almost had them persuaded. But then Simon Illyan had a spasm of twitchiness and decided leaving the arrest warrant outstanding, if not actually pursued, gave him an extra handle on Baz in case of, er, emergencies. It also gives a little artistic depth to the Dendarii's cover as a truly independent outfit. I thought Illyan was wrong—in fact, I told him so, till he finally ordered me to shut up on the subject. Someday, when I'm giving the orders, I'll see that's changed."

Her eyebrow quirked. "It could be a long wait, at your present rate of promotion—Lieutenant."

"My Dad's sensitive to charges of nepotism. Captain." He picked up the sealed data disk he'd been pushing about one-handed on the table top. "I want you to give this into the hand of the senior military attache on Tau Ceti, Commodore Destang. Don't send it in via anyone else, because among my other suspicions is the nasty one that there may be a leak in the Barrayaran courier channel between here and there. I think the problem's on this end, but if I'm wrong . . . God, I hope it isn't Destang himself."

"Paranoid?" she inquired solicitously.

"Getting more so by the minute. Having Mad Emperor Yuri in my family tree doesn't help a bit. I'm always wondering if I'm starting to come down with his disease. Can you be paranoid about being paranoid?"

She smiled sweetly. "If anyone can, it's you."

"Hm. Well, this particular paranoia is a classic. I softened the language in the message to Destang—you better read it before you embark. After all, what would you think of a young officer who was convinced his superiors were out to get him?"

She tilted her head, winged eyebrows climbing. "Quite." Miles nodded. He tapped the disk with one forefinger. "The purpose of your trip is to test a hypothesis—only a hypothesis, mind you—that the reason our eighteen million marks aren't here is that they disappeared en route. Just possibly into dear Captain Galeni's pockets. No corroborative evidence yet, such as Galeni's sudden and permanent disappearance, and it's not the sort of charge a young and ambitious officer had better make by mistake. I've embedded it in four other theories, in the report, but that's the one I'm hot about. You must find out if HQ ever dispatched our money."

"You don't sound hot. You sound unhappy."

"Yes, well, it's certainly the messiest possibility. It has a deal of forceful logic behind it."

"So what's the hook?"

"Galeni's a Komarran."

"Who cares? So much the more likely that you're right, then."

I care. Miles shook his head. What, after all, were Barrayaran internal politics to Elena, who had sworn passionately never to set foot on her hated home world again?

She shrugged, and uncoiled to her feet, pocketing the disk.

He did not attempt to capture her hands. He did not make a single move that might embarrass them both. Old friends were harder to come by than new lovers.

Oh, my oldest friend.

Still. Always.

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