Lois Bujold - "Diplomatic Immunity"

Chapter Two

From Baen Books

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"Is my collar straight?"

Ekaterin's cool fingers made businesslike work upon the back of Miles's neck; he concealed the shiver down his spine. "Now it is," she said.

"Clothes make the Auditor," he muttered. The little cabin lacked such amenities as a full-length mirror; he had to use his wife's eyes instead. This did not seem a disadvantage. She stepped back as far as she could, a half-pace to the bulkhead, and looked him up and down to check the effect of his Vorkosigan House uniform: brown tunic with his family crest in silver thread upon the high collar, silver-embroidered cuffs, brown trousers with silver side piping, tall brown riding boots. The Vor class had been cavalry soldiers, in their heyday. No horse within God knew how many light-years now, that was certain.

He touched his wrist com, mate in function to the one she wore, though hers was made Vor-lady-like with a decorative silver bracelet. "I'll give you a heads-up when I'm ready to come back and change." He nodded toward the plain gray suit she'd already laid out on the bunk. A uniform for the military-minded, civvies for the civilians. And let the weight of Barrayaran history, eleven generations of Counts Vorkosigan at his back, make up for his lack of height, his faintly hunched stance. His less visible defects, he didn't need to mention.

"What should I wear?"

"Since you'll have to play the whole entourage, something effective." He smiled crookedly. "That red silk thing ought to be distractingly civilian enough for our Stationer hosts."

"Only the male half, love," she pointed out. "Suppose their security chief is a female quaddie? Are quaddies even attracted to downsiders?"

"One was, apparently," he sighed. "Hence this mess ... Parts of Graf Station are null-gee, so you'll likely want trousers or leggings instead of Barrayaran-style skirts. Something you can move in."

"Oh. Yes, I see."

A knock sounded at the cabin door, and Armsman Roic's diffident voice, "My lord?"

"On my way, Roic." Miles and Ekaterin exchanged places—finding himself at her chest height, he stole a pleasantly resilient hug in passing—and he exited to the courier ship's narrow corridor.

Roic wore a slightly plainer version of Miles's Vorkosigan House uniform, as befitted his liege-sworn armsman's status. "Do you want me to pack up your things now for transfer to the Barrayaran flagship, m'lord?" he asked.

"No. We're going to stay aboard the courier."

Roic almost managed to conceal his wince. He was a young man of imposing height and intimidating breadth of shoulder, and had described his bunk above the courier ship's engineer as Sort of like sleeping in a coffin, m'lord, except for the snoring.

Miles added, "I don't care to hand off control of my movements, not to mention my air supply, to either side in this squabble just yet. The flagship's bunks aren't much bigger anyway, I assure you, Armsman."

Roic smiled ruefully, and shrugged. "I'm afraid you should've brought Jankowski, sir."

"What, because he's shorter?"

"No, m'lord!" Roic looked faintly indignant. "Because he's a real veteran."

A Count of Barrayar was limited by law to a bodyguard of a score of sworn men; the Vorkosigans had by tradition recruited most of their armsmen from retiring twenty-year veterans of the Imperial Service. By political need, in the last decades they'd mostly been former ImpSec men. They were a keen but graying bunch. Roic was an interesting new exception.

"When did that become a concern?" Miles's father's cadre of armsmen treated Roic as a junior because he was, but if they were treating him as a second-class citizen ...

"Eh ..." Roic waved somewhat inarticulately around the courier ship, by which Miles construed that the problem lay in more recent encounters.

Miles, about to lead off down the short corridor, instead leaned against the wall and folded his arms. "Look, Roic—there's scarcely a man in the Imperial Service your age or younger who's faced as much live fire in the Emperor's employ as you have in the Hassadar Municipal Guard. Don't let the damned green uniforms spook you. It's empty swagger. Half of 'em would fall over in a faint if they were asked to take down someone like that murderous lunatic who shot up Hassadar Square."

"I was already halfway across the plaza, m'lord. It would've been like swimming halfway across a river, deciding you couldn't make it, and turning around to swim back. It was safer to jump him than to turn and run. He'd 'a had the same amount of time to take aim at me either way."

"But not the time to take out another dozen or so bystanders. Auto-needler's a filthy weapon." Miles brooded briefly.

"That it is, m'lord."

For all his height, Roic tended to shyness when he felt himself to be socially outclassed, which unfortunately seemed to be much of the time in the Vorkosigans' service. Since the shyness showed on his surface mainly as a sort of dull stolidity, it tended to get overlooked.

"You're a Vorkosigan armsman," said Miles firmly. "The ghost of General Piotr is woven into that brown and silver. They'll be spooked by you, I promise you."

Roic's brief smile conveyed more gratitude than conviction. "Wish I could've met your grandfather, m'lord. From all the tales they told of him back in the District, he was quite something. My great-grandfather served with him in the mountains during the Cetagandan Occupation, m'mother says."

"Ah! Did she have any good stories about him?"

Roic shrugged. "He died of t' radiation after Vorkosigan Vashnoi was destroyed. M'grandmother would never talk about him much, so I don't know." "Pity."

Lieutenant Smolyani poked his head around the corner. "We're locked on to the Prince Xav now, Lord Auditor Vorkosigan. Transfer tube's sealed and they're ready for you to board.

"Very good, Lieutenant."

Miles followed Roic, who had to duck his head through the oval doorway, into the courier's cramped personnel hatch bay. Smolyani took up station by the hatch controls. The control pad twinkled and beeped; the door slid open onto the airlock and the flex tube, beyond it. Miles nodded to Roic, who took a visible breath and swung himself through. Smolyani braced to a salute; Miles returned him an acknowledging nod and a "Thank you, Lieutenant," and followed Roic.

A meter of stomach-lifting zero-gee in the flex tube ended at a similar hatchway. Miles grasped the handgrips and swung himself through and smoothly to his feet in the open airlock. He stepped from it into a very much more spacious hatch bay. On his left, Roic loomed formally, awaiting him. The flagship's door slid closed behind him.

Before him, three green-uniformed men and a civilian stood stiffly to attention. Not one of them changed expression at Miles's un-Barrayaran physique. Presumably Vorpatril, whom Miles barely recalled from a few passing encounters in Vorbarr Sultana's capital scene, remembered him more vividly, and had prudently briefed his staff on the mutoid appearance of Emperor Gregor's shortest, not to mention youngest and newest, Voice.

Admiral Eugin Vorpatril was of middle height, stocky, white-haired, and grim. He stepped forward and gave Miles a crisp and proper salute. "My Lord Auditor. Welcome aboard the Prince Xav."

"Thank you, Admiral." He did not add Happy to be here; no one in this group could be happy to see him, under the circumstances.

Vorpatril continued, "May I introduce my Fleet Security commander, Captain Brun."

The lean, tense man, possibly even grimmer than his admiral, nodded curtly. Brun had been in operational charge of the ill-fated patrol whose hair-trigger exploits had blown the situation from minor legal brangle to major diplomatic incident. No, not happy at all.

"Senior Cargomaster Molino of the Komarran fleet consortium."

Molino too was middle-aged, and quite as dyspeptic-looking as the Barrayarans, though dressed in neat dark Komarran-style tunic and trousers. A senior cargomaster was the ranking executive and financial officer of the limited-term corporate entity that was a commercial convoy, and as such bore most of the responsibilities of a fleet admiral with a fraction of the powers. He also had the unenviable task of being the designated interface between a potentially very disparate bunch of commercial interests, and their Barrayaran military protectors, which was usually enough to account for dyspepsia even without a crisis. He murmured a polite, "My Lord Vorkosigan."

Vorpatril's tone took on a slightly gritty quality. "My fleet legal officer, Ensign Deslaurier."

Tall Deslaurier, pale and wan beneath a lingering touch of adolescent acne, managed a nod.

Miles blinked in surprise. When, under his old covert ops identity, he had run a supposedly independent mercenary fleet for ImpSec's galactic operations, Fleet Legal had been a major department; just negotiating the peaceful passage of armed ships through all the varied local space legal jurisdictions had been a full-time job of nightmarish complexity. "Ensign." Miles returned the nod, and chose his wording carefully. "You, ah . . . would seem to have a considerable responsibility, for your rank and age."

Deslaurier cleared his throat, and said in a nearly inaudible voice, "Our department chief was sent home earlier in the voyage, my Lord Auditor. Compassionate leave. His mother'd died."

I think I'm getting the drift of this already. "This your first galactic voyage, by chance?"

"Yes, my lord."

Vorpatril put in, possibly mercifully, "I and my staff are entirely at your disposal, my Lord Auditor, and are ready with our reports as you requested. Would you care to follow me to our briefing room?"

"Yes, thank you, Admiral."

Some shuffling and ducking through the corridors brought the party to a standard military briefing room: bolted-down holovid-equipped table and station chairs, friction matting underfoot harboring the faint musty odor of a sealed and gloomy chamber that never enjoyed sunlight or fresh air. The place smelled military. Miles suppressed the urge to take a long, nostalgic inhalation, for old times' sake. At his hand signal, Roic took up an impassive guard's stance just inside the door. The rest waited for him to seat himself, then disposed themselves around the table, Vorpatril on his left, Deslaurier as far away as possible.

Vorpatril, displaying a clear understanding of the etiquette of the situation, or at least some sense of self-preservation, began, "So. How may we serve you, my Lord Auditor?"

Miles tented his hands on the table. "I am an Auditor; my first task is to listen. If you please, Admiral Vorpatril, describe for me the course of events from your point of view. How did you arrive at this impasse?"

"From my point of view?" Vorpatril grimaced. "It started out seeming no more than the usual one damned thing after another. We were supposed to be in dock here at Graf Station for five days, for contracted cargo and passenger transfers. Since there was no reason at that time to think that the quaddies were hostile, I granted as many station leaves as possible, which is standard procedure."

Miles nodded. The purposes of Barrayaran military escorts for Komarran ships ranged from overt to subtle to never-spoken. Overtly, escorts rode along to repel hijackers from the cargo vessels and supply the military part of the fleet with maneuvering experience scarcely less valuable than war games. More subtly, the ventures provided opportunity for all sorts of intelligence gathering—economic, political, and social, as well as military. And it provided cadres of young provincial Barrayaran men, future officers and future civilians, with seasoning contact with the wider galactic culture. On the never-spoken side were the lingering tensions between Barrayarans and Komarrans, legacy of the, in Miles's view, fully justified conquest of the latter by the former a generation ago. It was the Emperor's express policy to move from a stance of occupation to one of full political and social assimilation between the two planets. That process was proving slow and rocky.

Vorpatril continued, "The Toscane Corporation's ship Idris put into dock for jump drive adjustments, and ran into unexpected complications when they pulled things apart. Repaired parts failed to pass calibration tests when reinstalled and were sent back to the Station shops for refabrication. Five days became ten, while that bickering was going back and forth. Then Lieutenant Solian turned up missing."

"Do I understand correctly that the lieutenant was the Barrayaran security liaison officer aboard the Idris?" Miles said. Fleet beat cop, charged with maintaining peace and order among crew and passengers, keeping an eye out for any illegal or threatening activities or suspicious persons—not a few historic hijackings were inside jobs—and being first line of defense in counterintelligence. More quietly, keeping an ear out for potential disaffection among the Emperor's Komarran subjects. Obliged to render all possible assistance to the ship in physical emergencies, coordinating evacuation or rescue with the military escort. Liaison officer was a job that could shift from yawningly boring to lethally demanding in an eyeblink.

Captain Brun spoke for the first time. "Yes, my lord."

Miles turned to him. "One of your people, was he? How would you describe Lieutenant Solian?"

"He was newly assigned," Brun answered, then hesitated. "I did not have a close personal acquaintance with him, but all his prior personnel evaluations gave him high marks."

Miles glanced at the cargomaster. "Did you know him, sir?"

"We met a few times," said Molino. "I mostly stayed aboard the Rudra, but my impression of him was that he was friendly and competent. He seemed to get along well with crew and passengers. Quite the walking advertisement for assimilation."

"Excuse me?"

Vorpatril cleared his throat. "Solian was Komarran, my lord."

"Ah." Argh. The reports hadn't mentioned this wrinkle. Komarrans were but lately permitted admittance into the Barrayaran Imperial Service; the first generation of such officers was handpicked, and on their marks to prove their loyalty and competence. The Emperor's pets, Miles had heard at least one Barrayaran fellow-officer describe them in covert disgruntlement. The success of this integration was a high personal priority of Gregor's. Admiral Vorpatril certainly knew it, too. Miles moved the mysterious fate of Solian up a few notches in his mental list of most-urgent priorities.

"What were the circumstances of his original disappearance?"

Brun answered, "Very quiet, my lord. He signed off-shift in the usual manner, and never showed up for his next watch. When his cabin was finally checked, it seemed that some of his personal effects and a valise were missing, although most of his uniforms were left. There was no record of his finally leaving the ship, but then . . . he'd know how to get out without being seen if anyone could. Which is why I posit desertion. The ship was very thoroughly searched after that. He has to have altered the records, or slipped out with the cargo, or something."

"Any sense that he was unhappy in his work or place?" "Not—no, my lord. Nothing special."

"Anything not special?"

"Well, there was the usual chronic chaff about being a Komarran in this," Brun gestured at himself, "uniform. I suppose, where he was placed, he was in position to get it from both sides."

We're trying to all be one side, now. Miles decided this was not the time or place to pursue the unconscious assumptions behind Brun's word-choice. "Cargomaster Molino—do you have any sidelights on this? Was Solian subject to, ah, reproof from his fellow Komarrans?"

Molino shook his head. "The man seemed to be well liked by the crew of the Idris as far as I could tell. Stuck to business, didn't get into arguments."

"Nevertheless, I gather that your first... impression, was that he had deserted?"

"It seemed possible," Brun admitted. "I'm not casting aspersions, but he was Komarran. Maybe he'd found it tougher than he thought it would be. Admiral Vorpatril disagreed," he added scrupulously.

Vorpatril waved a hand in a gesture of judicious balance. "The more reason not to think desertion. High command's been pretty careful of what Komarrans they admit to the Service. They don't want public failures."

"In any case," said Brun, "we put all our own security people on alert to search for him, and asked for help from the Graf Station authorities. Which they were not especially eager to offer. They just kept repeating they'd had no sign of him in either the gravity or null-gee sections, and no record of anyone of his description leaving the station on their local-space carriers."

"And then what happened?"

Admiral Vorpatril answered, "Time ran on. Repairs on the Idris were completed and signed off. Pressure," he eyed Molino without favor, "grew to leave Graf Station and continue on the planned route. Me—I don't leave my men behind if I can help it."

Molino said, rather through his teeth, "It made no economic sense to tie up the entire fleet over one man. You might have left one light vessel or even a small team of investigators to pursue the matter, to follow on when they were concluded, and let the rest continue."

"I also have standing orders not to split the fleet," said Vorpatril, his jaw tightening.

"But we haven't suffered a hijacking attempt in this sector for decades," argued Molino. Miles felt he was witnessing round n-plus-one of an ongoing debate.

"Not since Barrayar began providing you with free military escorts," said Vorpatril, with false cordiality. "Odd coincidence, that." His voice grew firmer. "I don't leave my men. I swore that at the Escobar debacle, back when I was a milk-faced ensign." He glanced at Miles. "Under your father's command, as it happened." Uh-oh. This could be trouble. . . . Miles let his brows climb in curiosity. "What was your experience there, sir?"

Vorpatril snorted reminiscently. "I was a junior pilot on a combat drop shuttle, orphaned when our mothership was blown to hell by the Escos in high orbit. I suppose if we'd made it back during the retreat, we'd have been blown up with her, but still. Nowhere to dock, nowhere to run, even the few surviving ships that had an open docking cradle not pausing for us, a couple of hundred men on board including wounded—it was a right nightmare, let me tell you."

Miles felt the admiral had barely clipped off a "son," at the end of that last sentence.

Miles said cautiously, "I'm not sure Admiral Vorkosigan had much choice left, by the time he inherited command of the invasion after the death of Prince Serg."

"Oh, none at all," Vorpatril agreed, with another wave of his hand. "I'm not saying the man didn't do all he could with what he had. But he couldn't do it all, and I was among those sacrificed. Spent almost a year in an Escobaran prison camp, before the negotiators finally got me mustered home. The Escobarans didn't make it a holiday for us, I can tell you that."

It could have been worse. You might have been a female Escobaran prisoner of war in one of our camps. Miles decided not to suggest this exercise of the imagination to the admiral just now. "I would imagine not."

"All I'm saying is, I know what it is to be abandoned, and I won't do it to men of mine for any trivial reason." His narrow glance at the cargomaster made it clear that evaporating Komarran corporate profits did not qualify as a weighty enough reason for this violation of principle. "Events proved—" He hesitated, and rephrased himself. "For a time, I thought events had proved me right."

"For a time," Miles echoed. "Not any more?"

"Now ... well ... what happened next was pretty ... pretty disturbing. There was an unauthorized cycling of a personnel airlock in the Graf Station cargo bay next to where the Idris was locked on. No ship or personnel pod was sighted at it, however—the tube seals weren't activated. By the time the Station security guard got there, the bay was empty. But there was a quantity of blood on the floor, and signs of something dragged to the lock. The blood came up on testing as Solian's. It looked like he was trying to make it back to the Idris, and someone jumped him."

"Someone who didn't leave footprints," added Brun darkly.

At Miles's inquiring look, Vorpatril explained, "In the gravitational areas where the downsiders stay, the quaddies buzz around in these little personal floaters. They operate 'em with their lower hands, leaving their upper arms free. No footprints. No feet, for that matter."

"Ah, yes. I understand," said Miles. "Blood, but no body—has a body been found?"

"Not yet," said Brun.

"Searched for?"

"Oh, yes. In all the possible trajectories."

"I suppose it's occurred to you that a deserter might try to fake his own murder or suicide, to free himself from pursuit."

"I might have thought that," said Brun, "but I saw the loading bay floor. No one could lose that much blood and live. There must have been three or four liters at least."

Miles shrugged. "The first step in emergency cryonic prep is to exsanguinate the patient and replace his blood with cryo-fluid. That can easily leave several liters of blood on the floor, and the victim—well, potentially alive." He'd had close personal experience of the process, or so Elli Quinn and Bel Thorne had told him afterward, on that Dendarii Free Mercenary mission that had gone so disastrously wrong. Granted, he didn't remember that part, except through Bel's extremely vivid description.

Brun's brows flicked up. "I hadn't thought of that."

"It rather sprang to my mind," said Miles apologetically. I could show you the scars.

Brun frowned, then shook his head. "I don't think there would have been time before Station security arrived on the scene."

"Even if a portable cryochamber was standing ready?"

Brun opened his mouth, then closed it again. He finally said, "It's a complicated scenario, my lord."

"I don't insist on it," said Miles easily. He considered the other end of the cryo-revival process. "Except that I'd also point out that there are other sources of several liters of nice fresh one's-own-personal blood besides a victim's body. Such as a revival lab or hospital's synthesizer. The product would certainly light up a cursory DNA scan. You couldn't even call it a false positive, exactly. A bio-forensics lab could tell the difference, though. Traces of cryo-fluid would be obvious, too, if only someone thought to look for them." He added wistfully, "I hate circumstantial evidence. Who ran the identification check on the blood?"

Brun shifted uncomfortably. "The quaddies. We'd downloaded Solian's DNA scan to them when he first went missing. But the security liaison officer from the Rudra had gone over by then—he was right there in the bay watching their tech. He reported the match to me as soon as the analyzer beeped. That's when I podded across to look at it all myself."

"Did he collect another sample to cross-check?"

"I... believe so. I can ask the fleet surgeon if he received one before, um, other events overtook us.

Admiral Vorpatril sat looking unpleasantly stunned. "I thought certainly poor Solian was murdered. By some—" He fell silent.

"It doesn't sound as though that hypothesis is ruled out either, yet," Miles consoled him. "In any case, you honestly believed it at the time. Have your fleet surgeon examine his samples more thoroughly, please, and report to me."

"And to Graf Station Security, too?"

"Ah ... maybe not them yet." Even if the results were negative, the query would only serve to stir up more quaddie suspicions about Barrayarans. And if they were positive . . . Miles wanted to think about that first. "At any rate, what happened next?"

"That Solian was himself Fleet Security made his murder—apparent murder—seem especially sinister," Vorpatril admitted. "Had he been trying to get back with some warning? We couldn't tell. So I canceled all leaves, went to alert status, and ordered all ships to detach from dockside."

"With no explanation of why," put in Molino.

Vorpatril glowered at him. "During an alert, a commander does not stop to explain orders. He expects to be instantly obeyed. Besides, the way you people had been champing at the bit, complaining about the delays, I hardly thought I'd need to repeat myself." A muscle jumped in his jaw; he inhaled, and returned to his narrative. "At this point, we suffered something of a communications breakdown."

Here comes the smokescreen, at last.

"Our understanding was that a two-man security patrol, sent to retrieve an officer who was late reporting in—"

"That would be Ensign Corbeau?"

"Yes. Corbeau. As we understood it at the time, the patrol and the ensign were attacked, disarmed, and detained by quaddies. The real story as it emerged later was more complex, but that was what I had to go on as I was trying to clear Graf Station of all our personnel and stand off for any contingency up to immediate evacuation from local space."

Miles leaned forward. "Did you believe it to be random quaddies who had seized your men, or did you understand it to have been Graf Station Security?"

Vorpatril didn't quite grind his teeth, but almost. He answered nonetheless, "Yes, we knew it was their security."

"Did you ask your legal officer to advise you?"


"Did Ensign Deslaurier volunteer advice?"

"No, my lord," Deslaurier managed to whisper.

"I see. Go on."

"I ordered Captain Brun to send a strike patrol in to retrieve, now, three men from a situation that I believed had just proved lethally dangerous to Barrayaran personnel."

"Armed with rather more than stunners, I understand?"

"I couldn't ask my men to go up against those numbers with only stunners, my lord," said Brun. "There are a million of those mutants out there!"

Miles let his brows climb. "On Graf Station? I thought its resident population was around fifty thousand. Civilians."

Brun made an impatient gesture. "A million to twelve, fifty thousand to twelve—regardless, they needed weapons with authority. My rescue party needed to get in and out as quickly as possible, having to deal with as little argument or resistance as possible. Stunners are useless as weapons of intimidation."

"I am familiar with the argument." Miles leaned back and rubbed his lips. "Go on."

"My patrol reached the place our men were being held—"

"Graf Station Security Post Number Three, was it not?" Miles put in.


"Tell me—in all the time since the fleet has been here, hadn't any of your men on leave had close encounters with Station security? No drunk and disorderlies, no safety violations, nothing?"

Brun, looking as though the words were being pulled from his mouth with dental pliers, said, "Three men were arrested by Graf Station Security last week for racing float chairs in an unsafe manner while inebriated."

"And what happened to them? How did your fleet legal advisor handle it?"

Ensign Deslaurier muttered, "They spent a few hours in lock-up, then I went down and saw that their fines were paid, and pledged to the stationer adjudicator that they would be confined to quarters for the duration of our stay."

"So you were all by then familiar with standard procedures for retrieving men from contretemps with Station authorities?"

"These were not drunk and disorderlies this time. These were our own security forces carrying out their duties," said Vorpatril.

"Go on," sighed Miles. "What happened with your patrol?"

"I still don't have their own firsthand reports, my lord," said Brun stiffly. "The quaddies have only let one unarmed medical officer visit them in their current place of confinement. Shots were exchanged, both stunner and plasma fire, inside Security Post Three. Quaddies swarmed the place, and our men were overwhelmed and taken prisoner."

The "swarming" quaddies had included, not unnaturally in Miles's view, most of the Graf Station professional and volunteer fire brigades. Plasma fire. In a civilian space station. Oh, my aching head.

"So," said Miles gently, "after we shot up the police station and set the habitat on fire, what did we do for an encore?"

Admiral Vorpatril's teeth set, briefly. "I am afraid that, when the Komarran ships in dock failed to obey my urgent orders to cast off and instead allowed themselves to be locked down, I lost the initiative in the situation. Too many hostages had passed into quaddie control by then, the Komarran independent captain-owners were entirely laggard in obeying my position orders, and the quaddies' own militia, such as it is, was allowed to move into position around us. We froze in a standoff for almost two full days. Then we were ordered to stand down and wait your arrival."

Thank all the gods for that. Military intelligence was as nothing to military stupidity. But to slide halfway to stupid and stop was rare indeed. Vorpatril deserved some credit for that, at least.

Brun put in glumly, "Not much choice at that point. It's not as though we could threaten to blow up the station with our own ships in dock."

"You couldn't blow up the station in any case," Miles pointed out mildly. "It would be mass murder. Not to mention a criminal order. The Emperor would have you shot."

Brun flinched, and subsided.

Vorpatril's lips thinned. "The Emperor, or you?"

"Gregor and I would flip a coin to see who got to go first."

A little silence fell.

"Fortunately," Miles continued, "it appears heads have cooled all round. For that, Admiral Vorpatril, I do thank you. I might add, the fates of your respective careers are a matter between you and your Ops command." Unless you manage to make me late for the births of my very first children, in which case you'd better start looking for a deep, deep hole. "My job is to talk out as many of the Emperor's subjects from quaddie hands, at the lowest prices, as I can. If I'm really lucky, when I'm done our trade fleets may be able to dock here again someday. You have not given me an especially strong hand of cards to play, here, unfortunately. Nonetheless, I'll see what I can do. I want copies of all raw transcripts pertaining to these late events provided for my review, please,"

"Yes, my lord," growled Vorpatril. "But," his voice grew almost anguished, "that still doesn't tell me what happened to Lieutenant Solian!"

"I will undertake to give that question my keenest attention as well, Admiral." Miles met his eyes. "I promise you."

Vorpatril nodded shortly.

"But, Lord Auditor Vorkosigan!" Cargomaster Molino put in urgently. "Graf Station authorities are trying to fine our Komarran vessels for the damage done by Barrayaran troops. It must be made plain to them that the military stands alone in this ... criminal activity."

Miles hesitated a long moment. "How fortunate for you, Cargomaster," he said at last, "that in the event of a genuine attack, the reverse would not be true." He tapped the table, and rose to his feet.