Lois McMaster Bujold, "Mirror Dance"

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CHAPTER TEN

Twenty hours later, the two Dendarii ships undocked from Fell Station and maneuvered to boost toward Jumppoint Five. They were not alone. An escort of half a dozen House Fell security vessels paced and policed them. The Fell vessels were dedicated local space warships, lacking Necklin rods and wormhole jump capacity; the power thus saved was shunted into a formidible array of weapons and shielding. Muscle-ships.

The convoy was trailed at a discreet distance by a Bharaputran cruiser, more yacht than warship, prepared to accept the final transfer of Baron Bharaputra, as arranged, in space near Fell's Jumppoint Five station. Unfortunately, Miles's cryo-chamber was not aboard it.

Quinn had come close to a breakdown, before accepting the inevitable. Bothari-Jesek had literally backed her against the wall, at their last private conference in the briefing room.

"I won't leave Miles!" Quinn howled. "I'll space that Bharaputran bastard first!"

"Look," Bothari-Jesek hissed, Quinn's jacket bunched in her fist. If she'd been an animal, Mark thought, her ears would have been flat to her head. He huddled in a station chair and tried to make himself small. Smaller. "I don't like this any better than you do, but the situation has gone way beyond our capacity. Miles is clearly out of Bharaputran hands, heading God knows where. We need reinforcements: not warships, but trained intelligence agents. A pile of 'em. We need Illyan, and ImpSec, we need them bad, and we need them as fast as possible. It's time to cut and run. The faster we get out of here, the faster we can return."

"I will be back," Quinn swore.

"That'll be between you and Simon Illyan. I promise you, he'll be just as interested as we are in retrieving that cryo-chamber."

"Illyan's just a Barrayaran," Quinn sputtered for a word, "bureaucrat. He can't care the way we do."

"Don't bet on that," whispered Bothari-Jesek.

In the end, Bothari-Jesek, Quinn's downward duty to the rest of the Dendarii, and the logic of the situation had prevailed. And so Mark found himself dressing in officer's greys for what he earnestly prayed would be his last public appearance ever as Admiral Miles Naismith, observing the transfer of their hostage onto a House Fell shuttle. Whatever happened to Vasa Luigi after that would be up to Baron Fell. Mark could only hope it would be something unpleasant.

Bothari-Jesek came to escort Mark personally from his cabin-prison to the shuttle hatch corridor where the Fell ship was scheduled to clamp on. She looked cool as ever, if weary, and unlike Quinn she limited her critique of the fit of his uniform to a pass of her hand to straighten his collar insignia. The pocketed jacket was roomy, and came down far enough to cover and so disguise the tight bite of the trouser waistband, and the way his flesh was beginning to burgeon over the belt. He yanked the jacket down firmly, and followed the Peregrine's captain through her ship.

"Why do I have to do this?" he asked her plaintively.

"It's our last chance to prove—for certain—to Vasa Luigi that you are Miles Naismith, and that . . . thing in the cryo-chamber is just a clone. Just in case the cryo-chamber didn't go off-planet, and just in case, by whatever chance, wherever it went, Bharaputra finds it again before we do."

They arrived at the shuttle hatch corridor at the same time as a couple of heavily-armed Dendarii techs, who took up station at the docking clamp controls. Baron Bharaputra appeared shortly thereafter, escorted by a wary Captain Quinn and two edgy Dendarii guards. The guards, Mark decided, were mainly ornamental. The real power, and the real threat, the heavy pieces on this chessboard, were Jump-point Station Five and the House Fell ships that supported it. He pictured them, arrayed in space around the Dendarii ships. Check. Was Baron Bharaputra king? Mark felt like a pawn masquerading as a knight. Vasa Luigi ignored the guards, kept half an eye on Quinn the Red Queen, but mostly watched the shuttle hatch.

Quinn saluted Mark. "Admiral."

He returned the salute. "Captain." He stood at parade rest, as if overseeing his operation. Was he supposed to bandy words with the Baron? He waited for Vasa Luigi to open the conversation. The Baron merely waited, with a disturbingly controlled patience, as if he did not even perceive time the same way Mark did.

Regardless of how outgunned they were, the Dendarii were only minutes from escape. As soon as the transfer was complete, the Peregrine and the Ariel could jump, and the clones would be beyond House Bharaputra's lethal reach. That much he had accomplished, ass-backwards and screwed up beyond repair, but done. Small victories.

At last came the clanking of the shuttle hatch clamps grasping and positioning their prey, and the hiss of the flex-tube sealing. The Dendarii oversaw the dilation of the hatch portal, and stood to attention. On the other side of the portal a man dressed in House Fell green with captain's insignia, and flanked by two ornamental guards of his own, nodded sharply and identified himself and his vessel of origin.

He spotted Mark as the highest ranking officer present, and saluted. "Baron Fell's compliments, Admiral Naismith sir, and he is returning to you something you accidentally left behind."

Quinn went pale with hope; Mark could swear her heart stopped beating. The Fell captain stepped back from the hatch. But through it swung not the ardently-desired cryo-chamber on a float pallet, but a file of three men and two women, civilian-clothed, looking variously sheepish, angry, and grim. One man was limping, and supported by another.

Quinn's spies. The group of Dendarii volunteers she had attempted to slip onto Fell Station to continue the search. Quinn's face flushed red with chagrin. But she raised her chin and said clearly, "Tell Baron Fell we thank him for his care."

The Fell captain acknowledged the message with a salute and a sour smirk.

"Meet you all in debriefing, soonest," she breathed, and dismissed the unhappy mob with a nod. They clattered off. Bothari-Jesek went with them.

The Fell captain announced, "We are ready to board our passenger." Punctilliously, he did not set foot aboard the Peregrine, but waited. Equally punctilliously, the Dendarii guards and Quinn stood away from Baron Bharaputra, who raised his square chin and began to stride forward.

"My lord! Wait for me!"

The high cry from behind them made Mark's head snap around. The Baron's eyes too widened in surprise.

The Eurasian girl, her hair swinging, slipped out of a cross-corridor and ran forward. She held hands with the platinum blonde clone. She darted like an eel around the Dendarii guards, who had better sense than to draw weapons in this dicey moment, but not quite enough speed of reflex to catch her. The small-footed blonde was not so athletic, half out-of-balance with her other arm crossed under her breasts, and she was pulled along gasping for breath, blue eyes wide with fear.

Mark saw her, in his mind's eye, laid out on some operating table, light-crowned scalp peeled carefully back—the whine of a surgical saw cutting through bone, the slow teasing apart of living neurons in the brain stem, then at last the lifting-out of brain, like a gift, mind, memory, person, an offering to some dark god in the masked monster's gloved hands—

He tackled her around the knees. Her fine-boned hand jerked out of the dark-haired girl's grip, and she fell forward on the deck. She cried out, then just cried, and kicked at him, rocking and bucking and twisting onto her back. Terrified he would lose his clutch, he worked upward till he lay across her with his full weight. She squirmed beneath him, ineffectually; she didn't even know enough to try to knee him in the groin. "Stop. Stop, for God's sake, I don't want to hurt you," he mumbled in her ear around a mouthful of sweet-smelling hair.

The other girl meanwhile had succeeded in diving through the shuttle hatch. The House Fell guard captain was confused by her arrival, but not by the Dendarii; he'd drawn a nerve disrupter instantly, repelling the first reflexive lurch of Quinn's men. "Stop right there. Baron Bharaputra, what is this?"

"My lord!" the Eurasian girl cried. "Take me with you, please! I will be united with my lady. I will!"

"Stay on that side," the Baron advised her calmly. "They cannot touch you there."

"You try me—" began Quinn, starting forward, but the Baron raised a hand, fingers delicately crooked, neither fist nor obscenity yet somehow faintly insulting.

"Captain Quinn. Surely you do not wish to create an incident and delay your departure, do you? Clearly, this girl chooses of her own free will."

Quinn hesitated.

"No!" screamed Mark. He scrambled to his feet, hauled the blonde girl up, and jammed her into the grip of the biggest Dendarii guard. ''Hold her." He wheeled to pass Baron Bharaputra.

"Admiral?" The Baron raised a faintly ironic brow.

"You're wearing a corpse," Mark snarled. "Don't talk to me." He staggered forward, hands out, to face the dark-haired girl across that little, dreadful, politically significant gap. "Girl ..." he did not know her name. He did not know what to say. "Don't go. You don't have to go. They'll kill you."

Growing more certain of her security, though still positioned behind the Fell captain and well out of reach of any Dendarii lunge, she smiled triumphantly at Mark and tossed back her hair. Her eyes were alight. "I've saved my honor. All by myself. My honor is my lady. You have no honor. Pig! My life is an offering . . . greater than you can imagine being. I am a flower on her altar."

"You are frigging crazy, Flowerpot," Quinn opined bluntly.

Her chin rose, and her lips thinned. "Baron, come," she ordered coolly. She held out a theatric hand.

Baron Bharaputra shrugged as if to say, What would you?, and walked toward the hatch. No Dendarii raised a weapon; Quinn had not ordered them to. Mark had no weapon. He turned to her, anguished. "Quinn ..."

She was breathing hard. "If we don't jump now, we could lose it all. Stand still."

Vasa Luigi paused in the hatchway, hand on the seal, one foot still on the Peregrine's deck, and turned back to face Mark. "In case you are wondering, Admiral—she is my wife's clone," he purred. He raised his right hand, licked his index finger, and touched it to Mark's forehead. It left a cool spot. Counting coup. "One for me. Forty-nine for you. If you ever dare to return here, I promise you I'll even up that score in ways that will make your death something you'll beg for." He slipped the rest of the way through the shuttle hatch. "Hello, Captain, thank you for your patience ..." The hatch seals closed on the rest of his greeting to his rival's, or ally's, guards.

The silence was broken only by the releasing clank of the clamps and the blonde clone's hopeless, abandoned weeping. The spot on Mark's forehead itched like ice. He rubbed at it with the back of his hand as if half-expecting it to shatter.

Friction-slippered footsteps were nearly silent, but these were heavy enough to vibrate the deck. Sergeant Taura pelted into the shuttle hatch corridor. She saw the blonde clone, and yelled over her shoulder, "Here's another one! Just two to go." Another trooper came panting in her wake.

"What happened, Taura?" sighed Quinn.

"That girl, that ringleader. The really smart one," said Taura, skidding to a halt. Her eyes checked the cross-corridors as she spoke. "She told all the girls some bullshit story about how we were a slave ship. She persuaded ten of them to try for a break-out at once. Stunner guard got three, the other seven scattered. We've recaptured four. Mostly just hiding, but I think that long-haired girl actually had a coherent plan to try to get to the personnel pods before we jumped from local space. I've put a guard on them to cut her off."

Quinn swore, bleakly. "Good thinking, Sergeant. Your cut-off must have succeeded, because she came up here. Unfortunately, she ran smack into Baron Bharaputra's exchange. She got out with him. We were able to grab the other one before she made it across." Quinn nodded at the blonde, whose weeping had choked down to snivels. "So you're only looking for one more."

"How did—" the sergeant's eyes flicked over the shuttle hatch corridor, puzzled. "How did you let that happen, ma'am?"

Quinn's face was set in an expressionless mask. "I chose not to start a fire-fight over her."

The sergeant's big clawed hands twitched in bewilderment, but no verbal criticism of her superior escaped those outslung lips. "We'd better find the last one, then, before something worse happens."

"Carry on, Sergeant. You four, help her," Quinn gestured to her now-unemployed guards. "Report to me in the briefing room when you have them all re-secured, Taura."

Taura nodded, motioned the troopers down the various cross-corridors, and herself loped toward the nearest lift tube. Her nostrils flared; she seemed to be almost sniffing for her quarry.

Quinn turned on her heel, muttering, "I've got to get to the debriefing. Find out what happened to—"

"I'll . . . take her back to the clone quarters, Quinn," Mark volunteered, with a nod at the blonde.

Quinn looked doubtfully at him.

"Please. I want to."

She glanced at the hatch where the Eurasian girl had gone, and back at his face. He didn't know what his face looked like, but she inhaled. "You know, I've been over the drop records a couple of times, since we left Fell Station. I hadn't . . . had a chance to tell you. Did you realize, when you stepped in front of me when we were scrambling to board Kimura's drop shuttle, just what your plasma mirror field power was down to?"

"No. I mean, I knew I'd taken a lot of hits, in the tunnels."

"One hit. If it had absorbed one more hit, it would have failed. Two more hits and you'd have fried."

"Oh."

She frowned at him, as if still trying to decide whether to credit him with courage or simply with stupidity. "Well. I thought it was interesting. Something you'd want to know." She hesitated longer. "My power pack was down to zero. So if you're really comparing scores with Baron Bharaputra, you can raise yours back to fifty."

He didn't know what she expected him to say. At last Quinn sighed, "All right. You can escort her. If it'll make you feel better." She strode off toward the debriefing, her own face very anxious.

He turned, and took the blonde by the arm, very gently; she flinched, blinking through big tear-sheened blue eyes. Even though he knew very well—none better—how intentionally her features and body were sculptured and designed, the effect was still overwhelming: beauty and innocence, sexuality and fear mixed in an intoxicating draught. She looked a ripe twenty, at fresh physical peak, a perfect match to his own age. And only a few centimeters taller than himself. She might have been designed to be the heroine in his drama, except that his life had dissolved into some sub-heroic puddle, chaotic and beyond control. No rewards, only more punishments.

"What's your name?" he asked with false brightness.

She looked at him suspiciously. "Maree."

Clones had no surnames. "That's pretty. Come on, Maree. I'll take you back to your, uh, dormitory. You'll feel better, when you're back with your friends."

She perforce began to walk with him.

"Sergeant Taura is all right, you know. She really wants to take care of you. You just scared her, running off like that. She was worried you'd get hurt. You're not really afraid of the sergeant, are you?"

Her lovely lips pressed closed in confusion. "I'm . . . not sure." Her walk was a dainty, swaying thing, though her steps made her breasts wobble most distractingly, half-bagged in the pink tunic. She ought to be offered reduction treatment, though he was not sure such was in the Peregrine's ship's surgeon's range of expertise. And if her somatic experiences at Bharaputra's were anything like his had been, she was probably sick of surgery right now. He certainly had been, after all the bodily distortions they'd laid on him.

"We're not a slave ship," he began again earnestly. "We're taking you—" The news that their destination was the Barrayaran Empire might not be so reassuring, at that. "Our first stop will probably be Komarr. But you might not have to stay there." He had no power to make promises about her ultimate destination. None. One prisoner could not rescue another.

She coughed, and rubbed her eyes.

"Are you ... all right?"

"I want a drink of water." Her voice was hoarse from the running and the crying.

"I'll get you one," he promised. His own cabin was just a corridor away; he led her there.

The door hissed open at the touch of his palm upon the pad. "Come in. I never had a chance to talk with you. Maybe if I had . . . that girl wouldn't have fooled you." He guided her within, and settled her on the bed. She was trembling slightly. So was he.

"Did she fool you?"

"I ... don't know, Admiral."

He snorted bitterly. "I'm not the Admiral. I'm a clone, like you. I was raised at Bharaputra's, one floor down from where you live. Lived." He went to his washroom, drew a cup of water, and carried it to her. He had half an impulse to offer it to her on his knees. She had to be made to—"I have to make you understand. Understand who you are, what's happened to you. So you won't he fooled again. You have a lot to learn, for your own protection." Indeed—in that body. "You'll have to go to school."

She swallowed water. "Don't want to go to school," she said, muffled into the cup.

"Didn't the Bharaputrans ever let you into the virtual learning programs? When I was there, it was the best part. Better even than the games. Though I liked the games, of course. Did you play Zylec?"

She nodded.

"That was fun. But the history, the astrography shows—the virtual instructor was the funniest program. A white-haired old geezer in Twentieth-century clothes, this jacket with patches on the elbows—I always wondered if he was based on a real person, or was a composite."

"I never saw them."

"What did you do all day?"

"We talked among ourselves. We did our hair. Swam. The proctors made us do calesthenics every day—"

"Us, too."

"—till they did this to me." She touched a breast. "Then they only made me swim."

He could see the logic of that. "Your last body-sculpture was pretty recent, I take it."

"About a month ago." She paused. "You really don't . . . think my mother was coming for me?"

"I'm sorry. You don't have a mother. Neither do I. What was coming for you . . . was a horror. Almost beyond imagining." Except he could imagine it all too vividly.

She frowned at him, obviously reluctant to part with her beloved dream-future. "We're all beautiful. If you're really a clone, why aren't you?"

"I'm glad to see you're beginning to think," he said carefully. "My body was sculpted to match my progenitor's. He was crippled."

"But if it's true—about the brain transplants—why not you?"

"I was . . . part of another plot. My purchasers took me away whole. It was only later that I learned all the truth, for sure, about Bharaputra's." He sat beside her on the bed. The smell of her—had they genetically engineered some subtle perfume into her skin? It was intoxicating. The memory of her soft body, squirming under his on the hatch corridor deck, perturbed him. He could have dissolved into it. ... "I had friends—don't you?"

She nodded mutely.

"By the time I could do anything for them—long before I could do anything for them—they were gone. All killed. So I rescued you instead."

She stared doubtfully at him. He could not tell what she was thinking.

The cabin wavered, and a flash of nausea that had nothing to do with suppressed eroticism twisted his stomach.

"What was that?" Maree gasped, her eyes widening. Unconsciously, she grasped his hand. His hand burned at her touch.

"It's all right. It's more than all right. That was your first wormhole jump." From his vantage of, well, several wormhole jumps, he made his tone heartily reassuring. "We're away. The Jacksonians can't get us now." Much better than die double-cross he'd been half-anticipating, in some reserved part of his mind, from Baron Fell's forces the moment he had Vasa Luigi hostage in his own fat hands. Not the roar and rock of enemy fire. Just a nice little tame jump. "You're safe. We're all safe now." He thought of the mad Eurasian girl. Almost all.

He so wanted Maree to believe. The Dendarii, the Barrayarans— he'd scarcely expected them to understand. But this girl—if only he could shine in her eyes. He wanted no reward but a kiss. He swallowed. You sure it's only a kiss you want? There was an uncomfortable hot knot growing in his belly, beneath that ghastly constricted waistband. An embarrassing stiffening in his loins. Maybe she wouldn't notice. Understand. Judge.

"Will you . . . lass me?" he asked humbly, very dry-mouthed. He took the cup from her, and tossed back the last trickle of water. It was not enough to unlock the tension in his throat.

"Why?" she asked, brow wrinkling.

"For . . . pretend."

That was an appeal she understood. She blinked, but, willingly enough, leaned forward and touched her lips to his. Her tunic shifted. . . .

"Oh," he breathed. His hand went round her neck, and stopped its retreat. "Please, again ..." He drew her face to his. She neither resisted nor responded, but her mouth was amazing nonetheless. I want, I want ... It couldn't hurt to touch her, just to touch her. Her hands went around his neck, automatically. He could feel each cool finger, tipped by a tiny bite of nail. Her lips parted. He melted. His head was pounding. Hot, he shrugged off his jacket.

Stop. Stop now, dammit. But she should have been his heroine. Miles had a damned harem full of them, he was certain. Might she let him ... do more than kiss her? Not penetration, definitely not. Nothing to hurt her, nothing invasive. A rub between those vast breasts could not hurt her, though it would doubtless bewilder her. He might bury himself in that soft flesh and find release as effectively, more effectively, than between her thighs. She might think he was crazy, but it wouldn't hurt her. His mouth sought hers again, hungrily. He touched her skin. More. He slipped her tunic down off her shoulders, freeing her body to his starving hand. Her skin was velvet soft. His other hand, shaking, dove to release the strangling-tight waistband of his trousers. That was a relief. He was dreadfully, excruciatingly aroused. But he would not touch her below the waist, no. . . .

He rolled her backwards on the bed, pinning her, kissing frantically down her body. She emitted a startled gasp. His breath deepened, then, suddenly, stopped. A spasm reached deep into his lungs, as if all his bronchia had constricted at once with a snap like a trap closing.

No! Not again! It was happening again, just like the time he'd tried last year—

He rolled off her, icy sweat breaking out all over his body. He fought his locked throat. He managed one asthmatic, shuddering indrawn breath. The flashbacks of memory were almost hallucinatory in their clarity.

Galen's angry shouting. Lars and Mok, pinning him at Galen's command, pulling off his clothes, as if the beating he'd just taken at their hands was not punishment enough. They'd sent the girl away before they'd started; she'd run like a rabbit. He spat salt-and-iron blood. The shock-stick pointing, touching, there, there, pop and crackle. Galen going even more red-faced, accusing him of treason, worse, raving on about Aral Vorkosigan's alleged sexual proclivities, turning up the power far too high. "Flip him." Knotting terror deep in his gut, the visceral memory of pain, humiliation, burning and cramps, a weird short-circuited arousal and horribly shameful release despite it all, the stink of searing flesh. . . .

He pushed back the visions, and almost passed out before he managed to inhale and exhale one more time. Somehow he was sitting not on the bed but on the floor beside it, arms and legs spasmodically drawn up. The astonished blonde girl crouched half-naked on the rumpled mattress, staring down at him. "What's the matter with you? Why did you stop? Are you dying?"

No, just wishing I were. It wasn't fair. He knew exactly where this conditioned reflex came from. It wasn't a memory buried in his subconscious, more's the pity, nor from some distant, blurred childhood. It was barely four years ago. Wasn't that sort of clear insight supposed to free one from such demons of the past? Was he going to go into self-induced spasms every time he tried to have sex with a real girl? Or was it just the extreme tension of the occasion? If ever the situation was less tense, less conscience-thwarted, if ever he really had time to make love instead of a hasty, sweaty scramble, then maybe he might overcome memory and madness—or maybe I won't ... he fought for another shuddering inhalation. Another. His lungs began to work again. Was he really in danger of choking to death? Presumably once he actually passed out his autonomic nervous system would take over again.

His cabin door slid open. Taura and Bothari-Jesek stood silhouetted in the aperture, peering into the dimness. What they saw made Bothari-Jesek swear, and Sergeant Taura shoulder forward.

Now, he wanted to pass out now. But his single-minded demon did not cooperate. He continued to breathe, curled up with his trousers around his knees.

"What are you doing?" Sergeant Taura growled. A dangerous, truly wolflike timbre; her fangs gleamed at the corners of her mouth in the soft light. He'd seen her tear men's throats out with one hand.

The little clone sat up on her knees on the bed, looking terribly worried, her hands as usual trying to cover and support her most notable features, as usual only drawing more attention to them. "I only asked for a drink of water," she whimpered. "I'm sorry."

Sergeant Taura hastily dropped her eight-foot height to one knee and turned out her palms, to indicate to the girl that she wasn't angry with her. Mark wasn't sure if Maree caught that subtlety.

"Then what happened?" Bothari-Jesek asked sternly.

"He made me kiss him."

Bothari-Jesek's eye raked his huddled disarray, and glinted furiously. She was stiff and tense as a drawn bow. She wheeled to face him. Her voice went very low. "Did you just try to rape her?"

"No! I don't know. I only—"

Sergeant Taura rose, grasped him by the shirt and some skin, pulled him to his feet and beyond, and pinned him against the nearest wall. The floor was a meter beyond his stretching toes. "Answer straight, damn you," the sergeant snarled.

He closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. Not for any threat from Miles's women, no. Not for them. But for the second half of Galen's humiliation of him, in its own way a more excruciating rape than the first. When Lars and Mok, alarmed, had finally persuaded Galen to stop, Mark had been in shock so deep as to be skirting cardiac arrest. Galen had been forced to take his valuable clone to his pet physician in the middle of the night, the one he'd somehow strong-armed into supplying him with the drugs and hormones to keep Mark's body growth on track, matching Miles's. Galen had explained the burns by telling the physician that Mark had been secretly masturbating with the shock-stick, accidentally powered it up, and been unable to turn it off for the muscle spasms it caused, till his screams brought help. The doctor had actually barked a shocked laugh. Thin-voiced, Mark had concurred, too afraid to gainsay Galen even when he was alone with the physician. Yet the doctor saw his bruises, must have known there was more to the story. But said nothing. Did nothing. It was his own weak concurrence that he regretted most, in hindsight, the black laugh that burned the deepest. He could not, would not, let Maree exit bearing any such burden of proof.

In short, blunt phrases, he described exactly what he had just tried to do. It all came out sounding terribly ugly, though it had been her beauty that had overwhelmed him. He kept his eyes shut. He did not mention his panic attack, or try to explain Galen. He writhed inside, but spoke flat truth. Slowly, as he spoke, the wall bumped up his spine till his feet were on the deck again. The pressure on his shirt released, and he dared to open his eyes.

He almost closed them again, scorched by the open contempt in Bothari-Jesek's face. He'd done it now. She who had been almost sympathetic, almost kind, almost his only friend here, stood rigidly enraged, and he knew he had alienated the one person who might have spoken for him. It hurt, a killing hurt, to have so little and then lose it.

"When Taura reported she was one clone short," Bothari-Jesek bit out, "Quinn said you'd insisted on taking her. Now we know why."

"No. I didn't intend . . . anything. She really only wanted a drink of water." He pointed to the cup, lying on its side on the deck.

Taura turned her back on him, and knelt on one knee by the bed, and addressed the blonde in a deliberately gentle voice. "Are you hurt?"

"I'm all right," she quavered. She pulled her tunic back up over her shoulders with a shrug. "But that man was real sick." She stared at him in puzzled concern.

"Obviously," muttered Bothari-Jesek. Her chin went up, and her eyes nailed Mark, still clinging to the wall. "You're confined to quarters, mister. I'm putting the guard back on your door. Don't even try to come out."

I won't, I won't.

They marched Maree away. The door seals hissed closed like a falling guillotine blade. He rolled onto his narrow bed, shaking.

Two weeks to Komarr. He very seriously wished he were dead.

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