1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16
The ambassador let them into Galeni's locked office. He concealed his nerves rather better than Ivan, merely remarking quietly, "Let me know what you find, Lieutenant Vorpatril. Some certain indication as to whether or not it's time to notify the local authorities would be particularly desirable." So, the ambassador, who had known Duv Galeni some two years, thought in terms of multiple possibilities too. A complex man, their missing captain.
Ivan sat at the desk console and ran through the routine files, searching for recent memos, while Miles wandered the perimeter of the room looking for—what? A message scrawled in blood on the wall at the level of his kneecap? Alien vegetable fiber on the carpet? A note of assignation on heavily perfumed paper? Any or all would have been preferable to the bland blankness he found.
Ivan threw up his hands. "Nothing here but the usual."
"Move over." Miles wriggled the back of Galeni's swivel chair to evict his big cousin and slid into his place. "I have a burning curiosity as to Captain Galeni's personal finances. This is a golden opportunity to check them out."
"Miles," said Ivan with trepidation, "isn't that a little, um, invasive?"
"You have the instincts of a gentleman, Ivan," said Miles, absorbed in breaking into the coded files. "How did you ever get into Security?"
"I don't know," said Ivan. "I wanted ship duty;"
"Don't we all? Ah," said Miles as the holoscreen began to disgorge data. "I love these Earth Universal Credit Cards. So revealing."
"What do you expect to find in Galeni's charge account, for God's sake?"
"Well, first of all," Miles muttered, tapping keys, "let's check the totals for the last few months and find out if his outgo exceeds his income."
It was the work of a moment to answer that one. Miles frowned slight disappointment. The two were in balance; there was even a small end-of-month surplus, readily traceable to a modest personal savings fund. It proved nothing one way or another, alas. If Galeni were in some kind of serious money trouble he had both the wit and the know-how not to leave evidence against himself. Miles began going down the itemized list of purchases.
Ivan shifted impatiently. "Now what are you looking for?"
"Easy. Or it would be, if ... compare, for example, the records of Galeni's accounts with yours for the same three-month period." Miles split the screen and called up his cousin's data.
"Why not compare it with yours?" said Ivan, miffed.
Miles smiled in scientific virtue. "I haven't been here long enough for a comparable baseline. You make a much better control. For example—well, well. Look at this. A lace nightgown, Ivan? What a confection. It's totally non-regulation, y'know."
"That's none of your business," said Ivan grumpily.
"Just so. And you don't have a sister, and it's not your mother's style. Inherent in this purchase is either a girl in your life or transvestism."
"You will note it's not my size," said Ivan with dignity.
"Yes, it would look rather abbreviated on you. A sylph-like girl, then. Whom you know well enough to buy intimate presents. See how much I know about you already, from just that one purchase. Was it Sylveth, by chance?"
"It's Galeni you're supposed to be checking," Ivan reminded him.
"Yes. So what kind of presents does Galeni buy?" He scrolled on. It didn't take long; there wasn't that much.
"Wine," Ivan pointed out. "Beer."
Miles ran a cross check. "About one-third the amount you drank in the same period. But he buys book-discs in a ratio of thirty-five to—just two, Ivan?"
Ivan cleared his throat uncomfortably.
Miles sighed. "No girls here. No boys either, I don't think . . . eh? You've been working with him for a year."
"Mm," said Ivan. "I've run across one or two of that sort in the Service, but . . . they have ways of letting you know. Not Galeni, I don't think either."
Miles glanced up at his cousin's even profile. Yes, Ivan probably had collected passes from both sexes, by this time. Scratch off yet another lead. "Is the man a monk?" Miles muttered. "Not an android, judging from the music, books, and beer, but . . . terribly elusive."
He killed the file with an irritated tap on the controls. After a moment of thought he called up Galeni's Service records instead. "Huh. Now that's unusual. Did you know Captain Galeni had a doctorate in history before he ever joined the Imperial Service?"
"What? No, he never mentioned that. ..." Ivan leaned over Miles's shoulder, gentlemanly instincts overcome by curiosity at last.
"A Ph.D. with honors in Modern History and Political Science from the Imperial University at Vorbarr Sultana. My God, look at the dates. At the age of twenty-six Dr. Duv Galeni gave up a brand-new faculty position at the College of Belgravia on Barrayar, to go back to the Imperial Service Academy with a bunch of eighteen-year-olds. On a cadet's pittance." Not the behavior of a man to whom money was an all-consuming object.
"Huh," said Ivan. "He must have been an upper-classman when we entered. He got out just two years ahead of us. And he's a captain already!"
"He must have been one of the first Komarrans permitted to enter the military. Within weeks of the ruling. And he's been on the fast track ever since. Extra training—languages, information analysis, a posting at the Imperial HQ—and then this plum of a post on Earth. Duvie is our darling, clearly." Miles could see why. A brilliant, educated, liberal officer—Galeni was a walking advertisement for the success of the New Order. An Example. Miles knew all about being an Example. He drew in his breath, a long, thoughtful inhalation hissing cold through his front teeth.
"What?" prodded Ivan.
"I'm beginning to get scared."
"Because this whole thing is acquiring a subtle political odor. And anyone who isn't alarmed when things Barrayaran start smelling political hasn't studied . . . history." He uttered the last word with a subsiding, ironic sibilant, hunching in the chair. After a moment he hit the file again, searching on.
Miles pointed. "Sealed file. Nobody under the rank of an Imperial Staff officer can access this part."
"That lets us out."
"Miles ..." Ivan moaned.
"I'm not contemplating anything illegal," Miles reassured him. "Yet. Go get the ambassador."
The ambassador, upon arrival, pulled up a chair next to Miles. "Yes, I do have an emergency access code that will override that one," he admitted when Miles pressed him. "The emergency in mind was something on the order of war breaking out, however."
Miles nibbled the side of his index finger. "Captain Galeni's been with you two years now. What's your impression of him?"
"As an officer, or as a man?"
"Very conscientious in his duties. His unusual educational background—"
"Oh, you knew of it?"
"Of course. But it makes him an extraordinarily good pick for Earth. He's very good, very at ease on the social side, a brilliant conversationalist. The officer who preceded him in the post was a Security man of the old school. Competent, but dull. Almost . . . ahem! . . . boorish. Galeni accomplishes the same duties, but more smoothly. Smooth security is invisible security, invisible security does not disturb my diplomatic guests, and so my job becomes that much easier. That goes double for the, er, information-gathering activities. As an officer I'm extremely pleased with him."
"What's his fault as a man?"
" 'Fault' is perhaps too strong a term, Lieutenant Vorkosigan. He's rather . . . cool. In general I find this restful. I do notice that in any given conversation he will come away knowing a great deal more about you than you of him."
"Ha." What a very diplomatic way of putting it. And, Miles reflected, thinking back over his own brushes with the missing officer, dead-on.
The ambassador frowned. "Do you think some clue to his disappearance may be in that file, Lieutenant Vorkosigan?"
Miles shrugged unhappily. "It isn't anywhere else."
"I am reluctant ..." the ambassador trailed off, eyeing the strongly worded access restrictions on the vid.
"We could wait a little longer," said Ivan. "Suppose he's just found a girlfriend. If you were so worried about that as to make that other suggestion, Miles, you ought to be glad for the man. He isn't going to be too happy, coming back from his first night out in years, to find we've turned his files inside out."
Miles recognized the singsong tone of Ivan playing dumb, playing devil's advocate, the ploy of a sharp but lazy intellect to get others to do its work. Right, Ivan.
"When you spend nights out, don't you leave notice where you'll be and when you'll return?" asked Miles.
"And don't you return on time?"
"I've been known to oversleep a time or two," Ivan admitted.
"What happens then?"
"They track me down. 'Good morning, Lieutenant Vorpatril, this is your wake-up call.' " Galeni's precise, sardonic accent came through clearly in Ivan's parody. It had to be a direct quote.
"D'you think Galeni's the sort to make one rule for subordinates and another for himself, then?"
"No," said Ivan and the ambassador in unison, and glanced sideways at each other.
Miles took a deep breath, jerked up his chin, and pointed at the holovid. "Open it."
The ambassador pursed his lips and did so.
"I'll be damned," whispered Ivan after a few minutes of scrolling. Miles elbowed into the center place and began speed-reading in earnest. The file was enormous: Galeni's missing family history at last.
David Galen had been the name to which he was born. Those Galens, owners of the Galen Orbital Transshipping Warehouse Cartel, strong among the oligarchy of powerful families who had run Komarr, straddling its important wormhole connections like ancient Rhine River robber barons. Its wormholes had made Komarr rich; it was from the power and wealth pouring through them that its jewel-like domed cities sprang, not grubbed up from the planet's dire, barren soil by sweaty labor.
Miles could hear his father's voice, ticking off the points that had made the conquest of Komarr Admiral Vorkosigan's textbook war. A small population concentrated in climate-controlled cities; no place for guerillas to fall back and regroup. No allies; we had only to let it be known that we were dropping their twenty-five-percent cut of everything that passed through their wormhole nexus to fifteen percent and the neighbors that should have supported them fell into our pockets. They didn't even want to do their own fighting, till the mercenaries they'd hired saw what they were up against and turned tail. . . .
Of course, the unspoken heart of the matter was the sins of the Komarran fathers a generation earlier, who had accepted the bribe to let the Cetagandan invasion fleet pass through for the quick and easy conquest of poor, newly rediscovered, semi-feudal Barrayar. Which had proved neither quick, nor easy, nor a conquest; twenty years and a river of blood later the last of the Cetagandan warships withdrew back the way they had come, through "neutral" Komarr.
Barrayarans might have been backward, but no one could accuse them of being slow learners. Among Miles's grandfather's generation, who came to power in the harsh school of the Cetagandan occupation, there grew an obsessed determination that such an invasion must never be permitted to happen again. It had fallen on Miles's father's generation to turn the obsession into fact, by taking absolute and final .control of Barrayar's Komarran gateway.
The avowed aim of the Barrayaran invasion fleet, its lightning speed and painstaking strategic subtleties, was to take Komarr's wealth-generating economy intact, with minimal damage. Conquest, not revenge, was to be the Emperor's glory. Imperial Fleet Commander Admiral Lord Aral Vorkosigan had made that abundantly and explicitly clear, he'd thought.
The Komarran oligarchy, supple middlemen that they were, were brought into alignment with that aim, their surrender eased in every possible way.
Promises were made, guarantees given; subordinate life and reduced property were life and property still, calculatedly leavened with hope for future recovery. Living well was to be the best revenge all round.
Then came the Solstice Massacre.
An overeager subordinate, growled Admiral Lord Vorkosigan. Secret orders, cried the surviving families of the two hundred Komarran Counsellors gunned down in a gymnasium by Barrayaran Security forces. Truth, or at any rate certainty, lay among the victims. Miles himself was not sure any historian could resurrect it. Only Admiral Vorkosigan and the security commander knew for sure, and it was Admiral Vorkosigan's word that was on trial. The security commander lay dead without trial at the admiral's own furious hands. Justly executed, or killed to keep from talking, take your pick according to your prejudices.
In absolute terms Miles was disinclined to get excited about the Solstice Massacre. After all, Cetagandan atomics had taken out the entire city of Vorkosigan Vashnoi, killing not hundreds but thousands, and nobody rioted in the streets about that. Yet it was the Solstice Massacre that got the attention, captured an eager public imagination; it was the name of Vorkosigan that acquired the sobriquet "Butcher" with a capital letter, and the word of a Vorkosigan that was besmirched. And that made it all a very personal bit of ancient history indeed.
Thirty years ago. Miles hadn't even been born. David Galen had been four years old on the very day his aunt, Komarran Counsellor Rebecca Galen, had died in the gym at the domed city of Solstice.
The Barrayaran High Command had argued the matter of twenty-six-year-old Duv Galeni's admittance to the Imperial Service back and forth in the frankest personal terms.
"... I can't recommend the choice," Imperial Security Chief Illyan wrote in a private memo to Prime Minister Count Aral Vorkosigan. "I suspect you're being quixotic about this one out of guilt. And guilt is a luxury you cannot afford. If you're acquiring a secret desire to be shot in the back, please let me know at least twenty-four hours in advance, so I can activate my retirement.—Simon."
The return memo was handwritten in the crabbed scrawl of a thick-fingered man for whom all pens were too tiny, a handwriting achingly familiar to Miles. ". . . guilt? Perhaps. I had a little tour of that damned gym, soon after, before the thickest blood had quite dried. Pudding-like. Some details burn themselves permanently in the memory. But I happen to remember Rebecca Galen particularly because of the way she'd been shot. She was one of the few who died facing her murderers. I doubt very much if it will ever be my back that's in danger from 'Duv Galeni.'
"The involvement of his father in the later Resistance worries me rather less. It wasn't just for us that the boy altered his name to the Barrayaran form.
"But if we can capture this one's true allegiance, it will be something like what I'd had in mind for Komarr in the first place. A generation late, true, and after a long and bloody detour, but—since you bring up these theological terms—a sort of redemption. Of course he has political ambitions, but I beg to suggest they are both more complex and more constructive than mere assassination.
"Put him back on the list, Simon, and leave him there this time. This issue tires me, and I don't want to be dragged over it again. Let him run, and prove himself—if he can."
The closing signature was the usual hasty scribble.
After that, Cadet Galeni became the concern of officers much lower in the Imperial hierarchy, his record the public and accessible one Miles had viewed earlier.
"The trouble with all this," Miles spoke aloud into the thick, ticking silence that had enveloped the room for the last thirty minutes, "fascinating as it all is, is that it doesn't narrow the possibilities. It multiplies them. Dammit."
Including, Miles reflected, his own pet theory of embezzlement and desertion. There was nothing here that actually disproved it, just rendered it more painful if true. And the shuttleport assassination idea took on new and sinister overtones.
"He might also," Ivan Vorpatril put in, "just be the victim of some perfectly ordinary accident."
The ambassador grunted, and pushed to his feet, shaking his head. "Most ambiguous. They were right to seal it. It could be very prejudicial to the man's career. I think, Lieutenant Vorpatril, I will have you go ahead and file a missing person report now with the local authorities. Seal that back up, Vorkosigan." Ivan followed the ambassador out.
Before he closed the console, Miles traced through the documents pertinent to the tantalizing reference to Galeni's father. After his sister was killed in the Solstice Massacre, the senior Galen had apparently become an active leader in the Komarran underground. What wealth the Barrayaran conquest had left to the once-proud family evaporated entirely at the time of the violent Revolt six years later. Old Barrayaran Security records explicitly traced some of it, transformed into smuggled weapons, payroll, and expenses of the terrorist army; later, bribes for exit visas and transport off-planet for the survivors. No transport off Komarr for Galeni's father, though; he was blown up with one of his own bombs during the last, futile, exhausted attack on a Barrayaran Security HQ. Along with Galeni's older brother, incidentally.
Thoughtfully, Miles ran a cross-check. Rather to his relief there were no more stray Galen relations among the Earth-bound refugees listed in the embassy's Security files.
Of course, Galeni had had plenty of opportunity to edit those files, in the last two years.
Miles rubbed his aching head. Galeni had been fifteen when the last spasm of the Revolt had petered out. Was stamped out. Too young, Miles hoped, to have been actively involved. And whatever his involvement, Simon Illyan had apparently known of it and been willing to let it pass into history. A closed book. Miles resealed the file.
Miles permitted Ivan to do all the dealing with the local police. True, with the clone story now afloat he was in part protected from the chance of meeting the same people in both his personas, but there was no point in pushing it. The police could be expected to be more alert and suspicious than most others, and he hadn't counted on being a two-headed crime wave.
At least the police seemed to take the military attache's disappearance with proper seriousness, promising cooperation even to the extent of honoring the ambassador's request that the matter not be given to the news media. The police, manned and equipped for such things, could take over the routine legwork such as checking the identities of any unexplained human body parts found in trash receptacles, etc.; Miles appointed himself official detective for all matters inside the embassy walls. Ivan, as senior man now, suddenly found all of Galeni's normal routine dumped in his lap; Miles heartlessly left it there.
Twenty-four hours passed, for Miles mostly in a console station chair cross-checking embassy records on Komarran refugees. Unfortunately, the embassy had amassed huge quantities of such information. If there was something significant, it was well camouflaged in the tons of irrelevencies. It simply wasn't a one-man job.
At two in the morning, cross-eyed, Miles gave it up, called Elli Quinn, and dumped the whole problem on the Dendarii Mercenaries' Intelligence Department.
Dumped was the word for it: mass data transfer via comm link from the embassy's secured computers to the Triumph in orbit. Galeni would have had convulsions; screw Galeni, it was all his fault for disappearing in the first place. Miles thoughtfully didn't ask Ivan, either. Miles's legal position, if it came to that, was that the Dendarii were de facto Barrayaran troops and the data transfer therefore internal to the Imperial military. Technically. Miles included all of Galeni's personnel files too, in fully accessed form. Miles's legal position there was that the seal was only to protect Galeni from the prejudice of Barrayaran patriots, which the Dendarii clearly were not. One argument or the other had to work.
"Tell the spooks that finding Galeni is a contract," Miles told Elli, "part of the fleet-wide fund-raising drive. We only get paid for producing the man. That could actually be true, come to think of it."
He fell into bed hoping his subconscious would work it out during what was left of the night, but woke blank and bleary as before. He set Barth and a couple of the other non-coms to rechecking the movements of the courier officer, the other possible weak link in the chain. He sat tight, waiting for the police to call, his imagination weaving daisy chains of ever more gaudy and bizarre explanatory scenarios. Sat still as stone in a darkened room, one foot tapping uncontrollably, feeling like the top of his head was about to blow off.
On the third day Elli Quinn called in.
He snapped the comm link into place in the holovid, hungry for the pleasure of seeing her face. It bore a most peculiar smirk.
"I thought this might interest you," she purred. "Captain Thorne was just contacted with a fascinating contract offer for the Dendarii."
"Does it have a fascinating price?" Miles inquired. The gears in his head seemed to grind as he tried to switch back to Admiral Naismith's problems, which had been overwhelmed and forgotten in the past two days' uncertain tensions.
"A hundred thousand Betan dollars. In untraceable cash."
"Ah ..." That came to close to half a million Imperial marks. "I thought I'd made it clear we weren't going to touch anything illegal this time. We're in enough trouble as it is."
"How does a kidnapping grab you?" She giggled inexplicably.
"Oh, you're going to make an exception in this case," she predicted with confidence, even verve.
"Elli . . ." he growled warningly.
She controlled her humor with a deep breath, though her eyes remained alight. "But Miles—our mysterious and wealthy strangers want to hire Admiral Naismith to kidnap Lord Miles Vorkosigan from the Barrayaran embassy."
"It's got to be a trap," Ivan jittered nervously, guiding the groundcar Elli had rented through the levels of the city. Midnight was scarcely less well lit than daytime, though the shadows of their faces shifted as the sources of illumination flitted by outside the bubble canopy.
The grey Dendarii sergeant's uniform Ivan wore flattered him no less than his Barrayaran dress greens, Miles noted glumly. The man just looked good in uniform, any uniform. Elli, sitting on Miles's other side, seemed Ivan's female twin. She simulated ease, lithe body stretched out, one arm flung carelessly and protectively across the back of the seat above Miles's head. But she had taken to biting her nails again, Miles noted. Miles sat between them in Lord Vorkosigan's Barrayaran dress greens, feeling like a piece of wilted watercress between two slices of moldy bread. Too damn tired for these late-night parties.
"Of course it's a trap," said Miles. "Who set it and why, is what we want to find out. And how much they know. Have they set this up because they believe Admiral Naismith and Lord Vorkosigan to be two separate people—or because they don't? If the latter, will it compromise Barrayar's covert connection with the Dendarii Mercenaries in future operations?"
Elli's sideways glance met Miles's. Indeed. And if the Naismith game were over, what future had they?
"Or maybe," said Ivan helpfully, "it's something totally unrelated, like local criminals looking for a spot of ransom. Or something really tortuous, like the Cetagandans trying to get Admiral Naismith in deep trouble with Barrayar, in hopes that we'd have better luck killing the little spook than they have. Or maybe—"
''Maybe you're the evil genius behind it all, Ivan," Miles suggested affably, "clearing the chain of command of competition so you can have the embassy all to yourself."
Elli glanced at him sharply, to be sure he was joking. Ivan just grinned. "Ooh, I like that one."
"The only thing we can be sure of is that it's not a Cetagandan assassination attempt," Miles sighed.
"I wish I was as sure as you seem to be," muttered Elli. It was late evening of the fourth day since Galeni's disappearance. The thirty-six hours since the Dendarii had been offered their peculiar contract had given Elli time for reflection; the initial charm had worn off for her even as Miles had become increasingly drawn in by the possibilities.
"Look at the logic of it," argued Miles. "The Cetagandans either still think I'm two separate people, or they don't. It's Admiral Naismith they want to kill, not the Barrayaran prime minister's son. Killing Lord Vorkosigan could restart a bloody war. In feet, we'll know my cover's been blown the day they stop trying to assassinate Naismith—and start making a great and embarrassing public flap about Dendarii operations against them instead. They wouldn't miss that diplomatic opportunity for anything. Particularly now, with the right-of-passage treaty through Tau Ceti up in the air. They could cripple our galactic trade in one move."
"They could be trying to prove your connection, as step one of just that plan," said Ivan, looking thoughtful.
"I didn't say it wasn't the Cetagandans," said Miles mildly. "I just said that if it was, this isn't an assassination."
Miles looked at his chrono. "Time for the last check."
Elli activated her wrist comm. "Are you still up there, Bel?"
Captain Thorne's alto voice lilted back, signalling from the aircar that followed with its troop of Dendarii soldiers. "I have you in my sights."
"All right, keep us that way. You watch the back from above, we'll watch the front. This will be the last voice contact till we invite you to drop in."
"We'll be waiting. Bel out."
Miles rubbed the back of his neck nervously. Quinn, watching the gesture, remarked, "I'm really not crazy about springing the trap by letting them take you."
"I have no intention of letting them take me. The moment they show their hand, Bel drops in and we take them instead. But if it doesn't look like they want to kill me outright, we could learn a lot by letting their operation run on a few steps further. In view of the, ah, Situation at the embassy, it could be worth a little risk."
She shook her head in mute disapproval.
The next few minutes passed in silence. Miles was about halfway through a mental review of all the branching possibilities they had hammered out for this evening's action when they pulled up in front of a row of ancient, three-story houses crammed together along a crescent street. They seemed very dark and quiet, unoccupied, apparently in process of condemnation or renovation.
Elli glanced at the numbers on the doors and swung up the bubble canopy. Miles slid out to stand beside her. From the groundcar, Ivan ran the scanners. "There's nobody home," he reported, squinting at his readouts.
"What? Not possible," said Elli.
"We could be early."
"Rats," said Elli. "As Miles is so fond of saying, look at the logic. The people who want to buy Lord Vorkosigan didn't give us this rendezvous till the last second. Why? So we couldn't get here first and check it out. They have to be set up and waiting." She leaned back into the car's cockpit, reaching over Ivan's shoulder. He turned his hands palm-out in acquiescence as she ran the scan again. "You're right," she admitted, "but it still feels wrong."
Was it chance vandalism that a couple of streetlights were broken out, just here? Miles peered into the night.
"Don't like it," Elli murmured. "Let's not tie your hands."
"Can you handle me, all by yourself?"
"You're drugged to the eyeballs." Miles shrugged, and let his jaw hang slack and his eyes track randomly and not quite in unison. He shambled beside her as her hand pinched his upper arm, guiding him up the steps. She tried the door, an old-fashioned one hung on hinges. "It's open." It swung wide squeaking, revealing blackness.
Elli reluctantly reholstered her stunner and unhooked a handlight from her belt, flashing it into the darkness. An entry hall; rickety-looking stairs ascended to the left, twin archways on either side led into empty, dirty front rooms. She sighed and stepped cautiously across the threshold. "Anybody here?" she called softly. Silence. They entered the left-hand room, the beam of the handlight darting from corner to corner.
"We're not early," she muttered, "not late, the address is right . . . where are they?"
He could not very well answer and stay in character. Elli released him, switched the light to her left hand and re-drew her stunner. "You're too tanked to wander far," she decided, as if talking to herself. "I'm going to take a look around."
One of Miles's eyelids shivered in acknowledgement. Until she finished checking for remote bugs and scanner beams, he had better keep playing Lord Vorkosigan in a convincingly kidnapped state. After a moment's hesitation, she took to the stairs. Taking the light with her, dammit.
He was still listening to the swift, faint creak of her footsteps overhead when the hand closed over his mouth and the back of his neck was kissed by a stunner on very light power, zero range.
He convulsed, kicking, trying to shout, trying to bite. His assailant hissed in pain and clutched harder. There were two—his hands were yanked up behind his back, a gag stuffed into his mouth before his teeth could snap closed on the hand that fed him. The gag was permeated with some sweet, penetrating drug; his nostrils flared wildly, but his vocal cords went involuntarily slack. He seemed out of touch with his body, as if it had moved leaving no forwarding address. Then a pale light came up.
Two large men, one younger, one older, dressed in Earther clothing, shifted in the shadows, faintly blurred. Scanner shields, dammit! And very, very good ones, to beat the Dendarii equipment. Miles spotted the boxes belted to their waists—a tenth the size of the latest thing his people had. Such tiny power packs—they looked new. The Barrayaran embassy was going to have to update its secured areas . . . He went cross-eyed, for a mad moment, trying' to read the maker's mark on them, until he saw the third man.
Oh, the third. I've lost it, Miles's panicked thought' gyrated. Gone right over the edge. The third man was himself.
The alter-Miles, neatly turned out in Barrayaran: dress greens, stepped forward to stare long and strangely, hungrily, into his face as he was held up by the two younger men. He began emptying the contents of Miles's pockets into his own. Stunner . . . IDs . . . half a pack of clove breath mints . . . He frowned at the breath mints as if momentarily puzzled, then pocketed them with a shrug. He pointed to Miles's waist.
Miles's grandfather's dagger had been willed explicitly to him. The 300-year-old blade was still flexible as rubber, sharp as glass. Its jewelled hilt concealed die Vorkosigan seal. They took it from beneath his jacket. The alter-Miles shrugged the sheath-strap over his shoulder and refastened his tunic. Finally, he unhooked the scanner-shield belt from his own waist and slipped it swiftly around Miles.
The alter-Miles's eyes were hot with an exhilarated terror, as he paused to sweep one last glance over Miles. Miles had seen the look once before, in his own face in the mirrored wall of a tube station.
He'd seen it on this one's face in the mirrored wall of a tube station.
He must have been standing feet away that night, behind Miles at an angle. In the wrong uniform. The green one, at a moment Miles was wearing his Dendarii greys.
Looks like they managed to get it right this time, though. ...
"Perfect," growled the alter-Miles, freed of the scanner-shield's sonic muffling. "We didn't even have to stun the woman. She'll suspect nothing. Told you this would work." He inhaled, jerked up his chin, .and smiled sardonically at Miles.
Posturing little martinet, Miles thought poisonously. I'll get you for that.
Well, I always was my own worst enemy.
The switch had taken only seconds. They carried Miles through the doorway at the back of the room. With a heroic twitch, he managed to bump his head on the frame, going through.
"What was that?" Elli's voice called instantly from upstairs.
"Me," the alter-Miles called back promptly. "I just checked around. There's nobody down here either. This is a wash-out."
"You think?" Miles heard her cantering down the stairs. "We could wait a while."
Elli's wristcom chimed. "Elli?" came Ivan's voice thinly. "I just got a funny blip in the scanners a minute ago."
Miles's heart lurched in hope.
"Check again." The alter-Miles's voice was cool.
"Nothing here either. I'm afraid something's panicked them, and they've aborted. Pull in the perimeter and take me back to the embassy, Commander Quinn.
"So soon? You sure?"
"Now, yes. That's an order."
"You're the boss. Damn," said Elli regretfully "I had my heart set on that hundred thousand Betan dollars."
Their syncopated footsteps echoed out the hallway and were muted by the closing door. The purr of a groundcar faded in the distance. Darkness, silence scored by breathing.
They dragged Miles along again, out a back door, through a narrow mews and into the back seat of a groundcar parked in the alley. They sat him up like a mannequin between them, while a third kidnapper drove. Miles's thoughts spun dizzily along the edge of consciousness. Goddamn scanners . . . five-year-old technology from the rim zone, which put it maybe ten years behind Earth's—they'd have to bite the budget bullet and scrap the Dendarii scanner system fleet-wide, now—if he lived to order it. ... Scanners, hell. The fault didn't lie in the scanners. Wasn't the formerly-mythical unicorn hunted with mirrors, to fascinate the vainglorious beast while its killers circled for the strike? Must be a virgin around here somewhere. . . .
This was an ancient district. The tortuous route the groundcar was taking could be either to confuse him or merely the best shortcut local knowledge could supply. After about a quarter hour they dove into an underground parking garage and hissed to a halt. The garage was small, clearly private, with room for only a few vehicles.
They hauled him to a lift tube and ascended one level to a short hallway. One of the goons pulled off Miles's boots and scanner-shield belt. The stun was starting to wear off. His legs were rubbery, shot with pins and needles, but at least they propped him up. They released his wrists; clumsily, he tried to rub his aching arms. They popped the gag from his mouth. He emitted a wordless croak.
They unlocked a door in front of him and bundled him into a windowless room. The door closed behind with a click like trap jaws snapping. He staggered and stood, feet spread a little, panting.
A sealed light fixture in the ceiling illuminated a narrow room furnished only with two hard benches along the walls. To the left a doorframe with the door removed led to a tiny, windowless washroom.
A man, wearing only green trousers, cream shirt, and socks, lay curled on one of the benches, facing the wall. Stiffly, gingerly, he rolled over and sat up.
One hand flung up automatically, as if to shield his reddened eyes from some too-bright light; the other pressed the bench to keep him from toppling. Dark hair mussed, a four-day beard stubble. His shirt collar hung open in a V, revealing a throat strangely vulnerable, in contrast to the usual turtle-armored effect of the high, closed Barrayaran tunic collar. His face was furrowed.
The impeccable Captain Galeni. Rather the worse for wear.
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16