Lois Bujold - "Diplomatic Immunity"

Chapter Four

From Baen Books


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At the Kestrel's lock, Boss Watts took Bel aside for a low-voiced conversation with some anxious hand waving. Bel shook its head, made calm down gestures, and finally turned to follow Miles, Ekaterin, and Roic through the flex tube and into the Kestrel's tiny and now crowded personnel hatch deck. Roic stumbled and looked a trifle dizzied, readjusting to the grav field, but then found his balance again. He frowned warily at the Betan hermaphrodite in the quaddie uniform. Ekaterin flashed a covertly curious glance.

"What was that all about?" Miles asked Bel as the airlock door slid shut.

"Watts wanted me to take a bodyguard or three. To protect me from the brutal Barrayarans. I told him there wouldn't be room aboard, and besides, you were a diplomat—not a soldier." Bel, head cocked, gave him an indecipherable look. "Is that so?"

"It is now. Uh . . ." Miles turned to Lieutenant Smolyani, manning the hatch controls. "Lieutenant, we're going to take the Kestrel around to the other side of Graf Station to another docking cradle. Their traffic control will direct you. Go as slowly as you can without looking odd. Take two or three tries to align with the docking clamps, or something."

"My lord!" said Smolyani indignantly. ImpSec fast-courier pilots made a religion out of fast, tight maneuvering and swift, perfect dockings. "In front of these people?"

"Well, do it however you wish, but buy me some time. I need to talk with this herm. Go, go." He waved Smolyani out. He drew breath, and added to Roic and Ekaterin, "We'll take over the wardroom. Excuse us, please." Thus consigning her and Roic to their cramped cabins to wait. He gripped Ekaterin's hand in brief apology. He dared not say more until he'd decanted Bel in private. There were security angles, political angles, personal angles—how many angles could dance on the head of a pin?—and, as the first thrill of seeing that familiar face alive and well wore off, the nagging memory that the last time they'd met, the purpose had been to strip Bel of command and discharge it from the mercenary fleet for its unfortunate role in the bloody Jackson's Whole debacle. He wanted to trust Bel. Dare he?

Roic was too well trained to ask, Are you sure you don't want me to come with you, m'lord? out loud, but from the expression on his face he was doing his best to send it telepathically.

"I'll explain it all later," Miles promised Roic in an under-voice, and sent him on his way with what he hoped was a reassuring half-salute.

He led Bel the few steps to the tiny chamber that doubled as the Kestrel's wardroom, dining room, and briefing room, shut both its doors, and activated the security cone. A faint hum from the projector on the ceiling and a shimmer in the air surrounding the wardroom's circular dining/vid conference table assured him it was working. He turned to find Bel watching him, head a little to one side, eyes quizzical, lips quirked. He hesitated a moment. Then, simultaneously, they both burst into laughter. They fell on each other in a hug; Bel pounded him on the back, saying in a tight voice, "Damn, damn, damn, you sawed-off little half-breed maniac . . ."

Miles fell back, breathless. "Bel, by God. You look good."

"Older, surely?"

"That, too. But I don't think I'm the one to talk."

"You look terrific. Healthy. Solid. I take it that woman's been feeding you right? Or doing something right, anyway."

"Not fat, though?" Miles said anxiously.

"No, no. But the last time I saw you, right after they thawed you out of cryo-freeze, you looked like a skull on a stick. You had us all worried."

Bel remembered that last meeting with the same clarity he did, evidently. More, perhaps.

"I worried about you, too. Have you . . . been all right? How the devil did you end up here?" Was that a delicate enough inquiry?

Bel's brows rose a trifle, reading who-knew-what expression on Miles's face. "I suppose I was a little disoriented at first, after I parted company with the Dendarii Mercenaries. Between Oser and you as commanders, I'd served there almost twenty-five years."

"I was sorry as hell about it."

"I'd say, not half as sorry as I was, but you were the one who did the dying." Bel looked away briefly. "Among other people. It wasn't as if either of us had a choice, at that point. I couldn't have gone on. And—in the long run—it was a good thing. I'd got in a rut without knowing it, I think. I needed something to kick me out of it. I was ready for a change. Well, not ready, but . . ."

Miles, hanging on Bel's words, was reminded of their place. "Sit, sit." He gestured to the little table; they took seats next to each other. Miles rested his arm on the dark surface and leaned closer to listen.

Bel continued, "I even went home for a little while. But I found that a quarter of a century kicking around the Nexus as a free herm had put me out of step with Beta Colony. I took a few spacer jobs, some at the suggestion of our mutual employer. Then I drifted in here." Bel tucked its gray-brown bangs up off its forehead with spread fingers, a familiar gesture; they promptly fell back again, even more heart-catching.

"ImpSec's not my employer any more, exactly," Miles said.

"Oh? So what are they, exactly?"

Miles hesitated over this one. "My . . . intelligence utility," he chose at last. "By virtue of my new job."

Bel's eyebrows went up farther, this time. "This Imperial Auditor thing isn't a cover for the latest covert ops scam, then."

"No. It's the real thing. I'm done with scam."

Bel's lips twitched. "What, with that funny accent?"

"This is my real voice. The Betan accent I affected for Admiral Naismith was the put-on. Sort of. Not that I didn't learn it at my mother's knee."

"When Watts told me the name of the supposedly-hot-shot envoy the Barrayarans were sending out, I thought it had to be you. That's why I made sure to get myself onto the welcoming committee. But this Emperor's Voice thing sounded like something out of a fairy tale, to me. Until I got to the fine print. Then it sounded like something out of a really gruesome fairy tale."

"Oh, did you look up my job description?"

"Yeah, it's pretty amazing what's in the historical databases here. Quaddiespace is fully plugged in to the galactic information exchange, I've found. They're almost as good as Beta, despite having only a fraction of the population. Imperial Auditor's a pretty stunning promotion—whoever handed you that much unsupervised power on a platter has to be almost as much of a lunatic as you are. I want to hear your explanation of that."

"Yes, it can take some explaining, to non-Barrayarans." Miles took a breath. "You know, that cryo-revival of mine was a little dicey. Do you remember the seizures I was having, right after?"

"Yes . . ." said Bel cautiously.

"They turned out to be a permanent side effect, unfortunately. Too much for even ImpSec's version of the military to tolerate in a field officer. As I managed to demonstrate in a particularly spectacular manner, but that's another story. It was a medical discharge, officially. So that was the end of my galactic covert ops career." Miles's smile twisted. "I had to get an honest job. Fortunately, Emperor Gregor gave me one. Everyone assumes my appointment was high Vor nepotism at work, for my father's sake. Over time, I trust I'll prove them wrong."

Bel was silent for a moment, face set. "So. It seems I killed Admiral Naismith after all."

"Don't hog the blame. You had lots of help," Miles said dryly. "Including mine." He was reminded that this slice of privacy was precious and limited. "It's all blood over the dam now anyway, for you and me both. We have other crises on our plate today. Quickly, from the top—I've been assigned to straighten out this mess, to Barrayar's, if not benefit, least-cost. If you're our ImpSec informer here—are you?"

Bel nodded.

After Bel had handed in its resignation from the Dendarii Free Mercenaries, Miles had seen to it that the hermaphrodite had gone on ImpSec's payroll as a civilian informer. In part it was payback for all Bel had done for Barrayar before the ill-conceived disaster that had ended Bel's career directly and Miles's indirectly, but mostly it had been to keep ImpSec from getting lethally excited about Bel wandering the wormhole nexus with a head full of hot Barrayaran secrets. Aging, tepid secrets now, for the most part. Miles had figured the illusion that they held Bel's string would prove reassuring to ImpSec, and so it had apparently proved. "Portmaster, eh? What a superb job for an intelligence observer. Data on everyone and everything that passes in and out of Graf Station at your fingertips. Did ImpSec place you here?"

"No, I found this job on my own. Sector Five was happy, though. Which, at the time, seemed an added bonus."

"I'd think they damned well should be happy."

"The quaddies like me, too. It seems I'm good at handling all sorts of upset downsiders, without losing my equilibrium. I don't explain to them that after years of trailing around after you, my definition of an emergency is seriously divergent from theirs."

Miles grinned, and made calculations in his head. "Then your most recent reports are probably still somewhere in transit between here and Sector Five headquarters."

"Yeah, that's what I figure."

"What are the most important things I need to know?"

"Well, for one, we really haven't seen your Lieutenant Solian. Or his body. Really. Union Security hasn't stinted on the search for him. Vorpatril—is he any relation to your cousin Ivan, by the way?"

"Yes, a distant one."

"I thought I sensed a family resemblance. In more ways than one. Anyway, he thinks we're lying. But we're not. Also, your people are idiots."

"Yes. I know. But they're my idiots. Tell me something new."

"All right, here's a good one. Graf Station Security has pulled all the passengers and crew off the Komarran ships impounded in dock and lodged 'em in station-side hostels, to prevent ill-considered actions and to put pressure on Vorpatril and Molino. Naturally, they're none too happy. The supercargo—non-Komarrans who just took passage for a few jumps—are wild to get away. Half a dozen have tried to bribe me to let them take their goods off the Idris or the Rudra, and transfer off Graf Station on somebody else's ships."

"Have any, ah, succeeded?"

"Not yet." Bel smirked. "Although if the price keeps going up at the current rate, even I could be tempted. Anyway, several of the most anxious ones struck me as . . . potentially interesting."

"Check. Have you reported this to your Graf Station employers?"

"I made a remark or two. But it's only suspicion. The individuals are all well behaved, so far—especially compared to Barrayarans—it's not like we have any pretext for fast-penta interrogations."

"Attempting to bribe an official," Miles suggested.

"I hadn't actually mentioned that last part to Watts yet." At Miles's raised eyebrows, Bel added, "Did you want more legal complications?"

"Ah—no."

Bel snorted. "Didn't think so." The herm paused a moment, as if marshaling its thoughts. "Anyway, back to the idiots. Your Ensign Corbeau, to wit."

"Yes. That political asylum request of his has got all my antennae quivering. Granted, he was in some trouble for being late reporting in, but why is he suddenly trying to desert? What connection does he have to Solian's disappearance?"

"Not any, as far as I've been able to make out. I actually met the fellow, before all this blew up."

"Oh? How and where?"

"Socially, as it happens. What is it about you people who run sexually segregated fleets that makes you all disembark insane? No, don't bother answering that, I think we all know. But the all-male military organizations who have that custom for religious or cultural reasons all come onto station leave like some horrible combination of kids let out of school and convicts let out of prison. The worst of both, actually—the judgment of children combined with the sexual deprivation of—never mind. The quaddies cringe when they see you coming. If you didn't spend money with such wild abandon, I think the commercial stations in the Union would all vote to quarantine you aboard your own ships and let you die of blue balls."

Miles rubbed his forehead. "Let's get back to Ensign Corbeau, shall we?"

Bel grinned. "We hadn't left. So, this backwoods Barrayaran boy on his first-ever trip into the glittering galaxy tumbles off his ship and, being under instructions, as I understand it, to enhance his cultural horizons—

"That is actually correct."

"Goes off to see the Minchenko Ballet. Which is something to behold in any case. You should take it in while you're station-side."

"What, it isn't just, uh, exotic dancers?"

"Not in the advertising-for-the-sex-workers sense. Or even in the Betan Orb ultra-classy sexual smorgasbord and training academy sense."

Miles considered, then reconsidered, mentioning his and Ekaterin's honeymoon layover at the Orb of Unearthly Delights, possibly the most peculiarly useful stop on their itinerary . . . Focus, my Lord Auditor.

"It's exotic, and it's dancers, but it's real art, the real thing—it goes way beyond craft. A two-hundred-year-old tradition, a jewel of this culture. The fool boy ought to have fallen in love at first sight. It was his subsequent pursuit with all guns blazing—in the metaphorical sense, this time—that was a little out of line. Soldier on leave falls madly in lust with local girl is not precisely a new scenario, but what I really don't understand is what Garnet Five saw in him. I mean, he's a nice enough looking young male, but still . . . !" Bel smiled slyly. "Too tall for my taste. Not to mention too young."

"Garnet Five is this quaddie dancer, yes?"

"Yes."

Remarkable enough, for a Barrayaran to be attracted to a quaddie; the deeply ingrained cultural prejudice against anything that smacked of mutation would seem to work against it. Had Corbeau received less than the usual indulgent understanding from his fellows and superiors that a young officer in such a plight might ordinarily expect?

"And your connection with all this is—what?"

Did Bel take an apprehensive breath? "Nicol plays harp and hammer dulcimer in the Minchenko Ballet orchestra. You do remember Nicol, the quaddie musician we rescued during that personnel pickup that almost went down the disposer?"

"I remember Nicol vividly." And so, apparently, had Bel. "I gather she made it home safely after all."

"Yes." Bel's smile grew tenser. "Not surprisingly, she also remembers you vividly—Admiral Naismith."

Miles went still for a moment. At last he said cautiously, "Do, ah . . . you know her well? Can you command, or persuade, her discretion?"

"I live with her," said Bel briefly. "No one needs to command anything. She is discreet."

Oh. Much becomes clear . . .

"But she's a personal friend of Garnet Five's. Who is in a tearing panic over all of this. She's convinced, among other things, that the Barrayaran command wants to shoot her boyfriend out of hand. The pair of thugs that Vorpatril sent to pick up your stray evidently—well, it went beyond rude. They were insulting and brutal, for starters, and it slid downhill from there. I've heard the unabridged version."

Miles grimaced. "I know my countrymen. You can take the ugly details as read, thanks."

"Nicol has asked me to do what I can for her friend and her friend's friend. I promised I'd put in a word. This is it."

"I understand." Miles sighed. "I can't make any promises yet. Except to listen to everyone."

Bel nodded, and looked away. It said after a moment, "This Imperial Auditor gig of yours—you're a big wheel in the Barrayaran machine now, huh?"

"Something like that," said Miles.

"The Emperor's Voice sounds like it would be pretty loud. People listen, do they?"

"Well, Barrayarans do. The rest of the galaxy," one side of Miles's mouth turned up, "tend to think it's some kind of fairy tale."

Bel shrugged apologetically. "ImpSec is Barrayarans. So. The thing is, I've come to like this place—Graf Station, Quaddiespace. And these people. I like them a lot. I believe you'll see why, if I get much chance to show you around. I'm thinking of settling here permanently."

"That's . . . nice," said Miles. Where are you taking me, Bel? 

"But if I do take an oath of citizenship here—and I've been thinking hard about it for a while—I want to take it honestly. I can't offer them a false oath, or divided loyalties."

"Your Betan citizenship never interfered with your career in the Dendarii Mercenaries," Miles pointed out.

"You never asked me to operate on Beta Colony," said Bel.

"And if I had?"

"I . . . would have faced a dilemma." Bel's hand stretched in urgent entreaty. "I want a clean start, with no secret strings attached. You claim ImpSec is your personal utility now. Miles—can you please fire me again?"

Miles sat back, and chewed on his knuckle. "Cut you loose from ImpSec, you mean?"

"Yes. From all old obligations."

He blew out his breath. But you're so valuable to us here! "I . . . don't know."

"Don't know if you have the power? Or don't know if you want to use it?"

Miles temporized, "This power business has proved a lot stranger than I anticipated. You'd think more power would bring one more freedom, but I've found it's brought me less. Every word that comes out of my mouth has this weight that it never had before, when I was babbling Mad Miles, hustler of the Dendarii. I never had to watch my mass like this. It's . . . damned uncomfortable, sometimes."

"I'd have thought you'd love it."

"I'd have thought that too."

Bel leaned back, easing off. It would not make the request again, not soon, anyway.

Miles drummed his fingers on the cool, reflective surface of the table. "If there is anything more behind this mess than overexcitement and bad judgment—not that that isn't enough—it hinges on the evaporation of that Komarran fleet security fellow, Solian—"

Miles wrist com chimed, and he raised it to his lips. "Yes?"

"M'lord," came Roic's apologetic voice. "We're in dock again now."

"Right. Thanks. We'll be out directly." He rose from the table, saying, "You must meet Ekaterin properly, before we go back out there and have to play dumb again. She and Roic have full Barrayaran security clearances, by the way—they have to, to live this close to me. They both need to know who you are, and that they can trust you."

Bel hesitated. "Do they really need to know I'm ImpSec? Here?"

"They might, in an emergency."

"I would particularly like the quaddies not to know I've been selling intelligence to downsiders, you see. Maybe it would be safer if you and I were mere acquaintances."

Miles stared. "But Bel, she knows perfectly well who you are. Or were, anyway."

"What, have you been telling covert ops war stories to your wife?" Clearly disconcerted, Bel frowned. "Those rules always applied to someone else, didn't they?"

"Her clearance was earned, not just granted," Miles said a little stiffly. "But Bel, we sent you a wedding invitation! Or . . . did you get it? ImpSec notified me it was delivered—"

"Oh," said Bel, looking confused. "That. Yes. I did get it."

"Was it delivered too late? It should have included a travel voucher—if someone pocketed that, I'll have his hide—"

"No, the voucher came through all right. About a year and a half ago, yes? I could have made it, if I'd scrambled a bit. It just arrived at an awkward period for me. Kind of a low point. I'd just left Beta for the last time, and I was in the middle of a little job I was doing for ImpSec. Arranging a substitute would have been difficult. It was just effort, at a time when more effort . . . I wished you well, though, and hoped you'd finally got lucky." A wry grin flashed. "Again."

"Finding the right Lady Vorkosigan . . . was a bigger, rarer kind of luck than any I'd had before." Miles sighed. "Elli Quinn didn't come either. Though she sent a present and a letter." Both unaccountably demure.

"Hm," said Bel, smiling a little. And added rather slyly, "And Sergeant Taura?"

"She attended." Miles's lips curled up, unwilled. "Spectacularly. I had a burst of genius, and put my Aunt Alys in charge of getting her dressed civilian-style. It kept them both happily occupied. The old Dendarii contingent all missed you. Elena and Baz were there—with their new baby girl, if you can imagine it—and Arde Mayhew, too. So the very beginning of it all was fully represented. It was as well that the wedding was small. A hundred and twenty people is small, yes? It was Ekaterin's second, you see—she was a widow." And profoundly stressed thereby. Her tense, distraught state the night before the wedding had reminded Miles forcibly of a particular species of precombat nerves he'd seen in troops facing, not their first, but their second battle. The night after the wedding, now—that had gone much better, thank God.

Longing and regret had shadowed Bel's face during this recitation of old friends lifting a glass to new beginnings. Then the herm's expression sharpened. "Baz Jesek, back on Barrayar?" said Bel. "Someone must have worked out his little problems with the Barrayaran military authorities, eh?"

And if Someone could arrange Baz's relationship with ImpSec, maybe that same Someone might arrange Bel's? Bel didn't even need to make the point out loud. Miles said, "The old desertion charges made too good a cover when Baz was active in ops to allow them to be rescinded, but the need had become obsolete. Baz and Elena are both out of the Dendarii too, now. Hadn't you heard? We're all getting to be history." All of us who made it out alive, anyway.

"Yes," sighed Bel. "There is a deal of sanity to be saved in letting the past go, and moving on." The herm glanced up. "If the past will let you go too, that is. So let's keep this as simple as possible with your people, please?"

"All right," Miles agreed reluctantly. "For now, we'll mention the past, but not the present. Don't worry—they'll be, ah—discreet." He deactivated the security cone above the little conference table and unlocked the doors. Raising his wrist com to his lips, he murmured, "Ekaterin, Roic, could you step over to the wardroom, please."

When they had both arrived, Ekaterin smiling expectantly, Miles said, "We've had a piece of undeserved good fortune. Although Portmaster Thorne works for the quaddies now, the herm's an old friend of mine from an organization I worked with in my ImpSec days. You can rely on what Bel has to say."

Ekaterin held out her hand. "I'm so glad to meet you at last, Captain Thorne. My husband and his old friends have spoken highly of you. I believe you were much missed from their company."

Looking decidedly bemused, but rising to the challenge, Bel shook her hand. "Thank you, Lady Vorkosigan. But I don't go by that old rank here. Portmaster Thorne, or just call me Bel."

Ekaterin nodded. "And please call me Ekaterin. Oh—in private, I suppose." She looked a silent inquiry at Miles.

"Ah, right," said Miles. His gesture took in Roic, who looked attentive. "Bel knew me under another identity then. As far as Graf Station is concerned, we've just met. But we've hit it off splendidly, and Bel's talent for dealing with difficult downsiders is paying off for them."

Roic nodded. "Got it, m'lord."

Miles shepherded them into the hatch bay where the Kestrel's engineer waited to pipe them back aboard Graf Station. He reflected that yet another reason Ekaterin's security clearance needed to be as high as his own was that, according to several persons' historical reports and her own witness, he talked in his sleep. Until Bel grew less nervy over the situation, he decided he'd probably better not mention this.

* * *

Two quaddie Station Security men waited for them in the freight loading bay. This being the section of Graf Station supplied with artificially generated gravitational fields for the comfort and health of its downsider visitors and residents, the pair hovered in personal float chairs with Station Security markings emblazoned on the sides. The floaters were stubby cylinders, barely larger in diameter than a man's shoulders, and the general effect was of people riding in levitating washtubs, or maybe the Baba Yaga's magic flying mortar from Barrayaran folklore. Bel gave the quaddie sergeant a nod and a murmured greeting as they emerged into the echoing cavern of the loading bay. The sergeant returned the nod, evidently reassured, and turned his close attention to the dangerous Barrayarans. Since the dangerous Barrayarans were frankly gawking like tourists, Miles hoped the tough-looking fellow would soon grow less twitchy.

"This personnel lock here," Bel pointed back to the one by which they'd just entered, "was the one that was opened by the unauthorized person. The blood trail ended in it, in a smeary smudge. It started," Bel walked across the bay toward the wall to the right, "a few meters away, not far from the door to the next bay. This is where the large pool of blood was found."

Miles walked after Bel, studying the deck. It had been cleaned up in the several days since the incident. "Did you see this yourself, Portmaster Thorne?"

"Yes, about an hour after it was first found. The mob had arrived by then, but Security had been pretty good about keeping the area uncontaminated."

Miles had Bel walk him around the bay, detailing all exits. It was a standard sort of place, utilitarian, undecorated, efficient; a few pieces of freight-handling equipment stood silently in the opposite end, near a darkened, airsealed control booth. Miles had Bel unlock it and give him a look inside. Ekaterin too walked about, clearly glad to have room to stretch her legs after several days cooped up in the Kestrel. Her expression, gazing about the cool, echoing space, was thoughtfully reminiscent, and Miles smiled in appreciation.

They returned to the spot where the blood implied Lieutenant Solian's throat had been cut, and discussed the details of the spatter marks and smears. Roic observed with keen professional interest. Miles had one of the quaddie guards give up his float tub; scooped out of his shell, he sat up on the deck on his haunches and lower arms, looking a bit like a large, disgruntled frog. Quaddie locomotion in a gravity field without a floater was rather disturbing to watch. They either went on all fours, only slightly more mobile than a person on hands and knees, or managed a sort of forward-leaning, elbows-out, upright chicken-walk on their lower hands. Either mode looked very wrong and ungainly, compared to their grace and agility in zero gee.

With Bel, whom Miles judged to be about the right size for a Komarran, cooperatively playing the part of the corpse, they experimented with the problem of a person in a float chair shifting seventy or so kilos of inert meat the several meters to the airlock. Bel wasn't as slim and athletic as formerly, either; the added, ah, masses made it harder for Miles to fall back into his old subconscious default habit of thinking of Bel as male. Probably just as well. Miles found it extremely difficult, legs folded awkwardly in a seat not designed for them, trying to keep one hand on the float chair controls at roughly crotch level and also maintain a grip on Bel's clothing. Bel tried trailing either an arm or a leg artistically over the side; Miles stopped short of pouring water down Bel's sleeve to try to duplicate the smears. Ekaterin did little better than he did, and Roic, surprisingly, worse. His superior strength was counteracted by the awkwardness of squeezing his greater size into the cup-like space, his knees sticking up, and trying to work the hand controls in the constricted clearances. The quaddie sergeant managed it handily, but glowered at Miles afterwards.

Floaters, Bel explained, were not hard to come by, being considered shared public property, although quaddies who spent a lot of time on the grav side sometimes owned their own personalized models. The quaddies kept racks of floaters by the access ports between the grav and the free fall sections of the station, for any quaddie to grab and use, and drop off again upon returning. They were numbered for maintenance record purposes, but not tracked otherwise. Anyone could obtain one by simply walking up and getting in, apparently, even drunken Barrayaran soldiers on leave.

"When we came into that first docking cradle around on the other side, I noticed a lot of personal craft puttering around the outside of the station—pushers, personnel pods, in-system flitters," Miles said to Bel. "It occurs to me that someone could have picked up Solian's body within a short time of its being ejected from the airlock, and removed it damned near tracelessly. It could be anywhere by now, including still stored in a pod airlock or put through a disposer in one-kilo lumps or tucked away to mummify in some random asteroid crevice. Which offers an alternate explanation of why it hasn't been found floating out there. But that scenario requires either two persons, with prior planning, or one spontaneous murderer who moved very quickly. How much time would a single person have had between the throat-cutting and the pickup?"

>Bel, straightening uniform and hair after the last drag across the loading bay, pursed its lips. "There were maybe five or ten minutes between the time the lock cycled, and the time the security guard arrived to check it. Maybe twenty minutes max after that before all sorts of people were looking around outside. In thirty minutes . . . yes, one person could just about have dumped the body, run to another bay and jumped in a small craft, zipped around, and collected it again."

"Good. Get me a list of everything that went out a lock in that period." For the sake of the listening quaddie guards he remembered to add a formal, "If you please, Portmaster Thorne."

"Certainly, Lord Auditor Vorkosigan."

"Seems damned odd to go to all that trouble to remove the body but leave the blood, though. Timing? Tried to get back to clean up, but it was too late? Something very, very strange to hide about the body?"

Maybe just blind panic, if the murder had not been planned in advance. Miles could imagine someone who was not a spacer shoving a body out an airlock, and only then realizing what poor concealment it really was. That didn't exactly jibe with a subsequent swift and handy outside pickup, though. And no quaddie qualified as not-a-spacer.

He sighed. "This is not getting us much forwarder. Let's go talk to my idiots."