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Vorkosigan woke about three hours before dawn, and made her lie down to snatch a couple hours sleep. In the grey before sunup he roused her again. He had evidently bathed in the stream, and used the single-application packet of depilatory he had been saving in his belt to wipe away the itchy four-day growth on his face.
"I need some help with this leg. I want to open and drain it and cover it back up. That will hold until this afternoon, and after that it won't matter."
Vorkosigan stripped off boot and sock, and Cordelia had him hold his leg under a rushing spout at the edge of the waterfall. She rinsed his combat knife, then laid open the grossly swollen wound in a deep, quick stroke. Vorkosigan went white around the lips, but said nothing. It was Cordelia who winced. The cut squirted blood and pus and odd-smelling clotted matter which the stream washed away. She tried not to think about what new microbes they might be introducing by the procedure. It only needed to be a temporary palliative.
She packed the wound with the last of the tube of his rather ineffective antibiotic, and stripped out the tube of plastic bandage to cover it.
"It feels better." But Vorkosigan stumbled and almost fell when he attempted to walk normally. "Right," he muttered. "The time has come." Ceremoniously, he removed the last painkiller and a small blue pill from his first-aid kit, swallowed them, and threw the empty case away. Cordelia somewhat absently picked it up, found herself with no place to put it, and surreptitiously dropped it again.
"These things work great," he told her, "until they give out, when you fall down like a marionette with the strings cut. I'm good for about sixteen hours now."
Indeed, by the time they'd finished the field rations and readied Dubauer for the day's march, he looked not merely normal, but fresh and rested and full of energy. Neither referred to the previous night's conversation.
He led them in a wide arc around the mountains base, so that by noon they were approaching the cratered side from nearly due west. They made their way through woods and glades to a spur opposite a great bowl that was all that remained of the lower mountainside from the days before an ancient volcanic cataclysm. Vorkosigan crawled out on a treeless promontory, taking care not to show himself above the tall grass. Dubauer, wan and exhausted, curled up on his side in their place of concealment and fell asleep. Cordelia watched him until his breathing was slow and steady, then crept out beside Vorkosigan. The Barrayaran captain had his field scope out, sweeping over the hazy green amphitheater.
"There's the shuttle. They're camped in the cache caves. See that dark streak beside the long waterfall? That's the entrance." He lent her the scope for a closer look.
"Oh, there's somebody coming out. You can see their faces on high magnification."
Vorkosigan took back the scope. "Koudelka. He's all right. But the thin man with him is Darobey, one of Radnov's spies in my communications section. Remember his face-you'll need to know when to keep your head down."
Cordelia wondered if Vorkosigan's air of enjoyment was an artifact of the stimulant, or a primitive anticipation, of the clash to come. His eyes seemed to gleam as he watched, counted, and calculated.
He hissed through his teeth, sounding a bit like one of the local carnivores himself. "There's Radnov, by God! Wouldn't I like to get my hands on him. But this time I can take the Ministry men to trial. I'd like to see them try to get one of their pets out from under a bona fide charge of mutiny. The high command and the Council of Counts will be with me this time. No, Radnov, you're going to live-and regret it." He settled on stomach and elbows and devoured the scene.
He stiffened suddenly, and grinned. "It's time my luck changed. There's Gottyan, armed, so he must be in charge. We're nearly home. Come on."
They crept back to the cloaking shelter of the trees. Dubauer was not where they'd left him.
"Oh, lord," breathed Cordelia, turning and peering into the brush in all directions. "Which way did he go?"
"He can't have gone far," reassured Vorkosigan, although he too looked worried. They each made a circle of a hundred meters or so through the woods. Idiot! Cordelia castigated herself furiously in her panic. You just had to go peek. . . . They met back at the original spot without seeing any mark made by the wandering ensign.
"Look, we haven't the time to search for him now," said Vorkosigan. "As soon as I've regained command, I'll send a patrol out to look for him. With proper search-scopes, they could find him faster than we can."
Cordelia thought of carnivores, cliffs, deep pools, Barrayaran patrols with twitchy trigger fingers. "We've come so far," she began.
"And if I don't regain command soon, neither of you will survive anyway."
Tom, but obedient to reason, she allowed Vorkosigan to take her by the arm. Only leaning on her slightly, he picked a way down through the woods. As they neared the Barrayaran camp, he put a thick finger to his lips.
"Go as quietly as you can. I haven't come this far to be shot by one of my own pickets. Ah. Lie down here." He placed her in a spot behind some fallen logs and knee-high vegetation overlooking a faint new path beaten through the brush.
"You're not just going to knock on the front door?"
"Why not, if your Gottyan is all right?"
"Because there's something else wrong. I don't know why this landing party is here." He meditated a moment, then handed her back the stunner. "If you have to use a weapon, it had better be one you can handle. It still has a bit of charge-one or two shots. This path runs between sentry points, and sooner or later someone's going to come down it. Keep your head down until I call you."
He loosed his knife in its sheath and took a concealed position on the other side of the path. They waited a quarter of an hour, then another. The woodland drowsed in the warm, soft, white air.
Then down the path came the sound of boots scuffing through the leaf litter. Cordelia went rigidly still, trying to peer through the weeds without raising her head. A tall form in the wonderfully effective Barrayaran camouflage fatigues resolved itself as a grey-haired officer. As he passed Vorkosigan rose from his hiding place as if resurrected.
"Korabik," he said softly, but with genuine warmth in his voice. He stood grinning, arms folded, waiting.
Gottyan spun about, one hand drawing the nerve disruptor at his hip. After a beat, a look of surprise came over his face. "Aral! The landing party reported the Betans had killed you," and he stepped, not forward as Cordelia had expected from the tone of Vorkosigan's voice, but back. The disruptor was still in his hand as if he had forgotten to put it away, but gripped firmly, not dangling. Cordelia's stomach sank.
Vorkosigan looked faintly puzzled, as if disappointed by the cool, controlled reception. "I'm glad to know you're not superstitious," he joked.
"I should have known better than to think you dead until I'd seen you buried with a stake through your heart," said Gottyan, sadly ironic.
"What's wrong, Korabik?" asked Vorkosigan quietly. "You're no Minister's lickspittle."
At these words Gottyan brought the disruptor up to undisguised aim. Vorkosigan stood very still.
"No," he answered frankly. "I thought the story Radnov told about you and the Betans smelled. And I was going to make damn sure it went through a board of inquiry when we got home." He paused. "But then-I would have been in command. After being acting captain for six months, I'd be sure to be confirmed. What do you think the chances of command are at my age? Five percent? Two? Zero?"
"They're not as bad as you think," said Vorkosigan, still quietly.
"There are some things coming up that very few people have heard about. More ships, more openings."
"The usual rumors," Gottyan dismissed this.
"So you didn't believe I was dead?" probed Vorkosigan.
"I was sure you were. I took over-where did you put the sealed orders, by the way? We turned your cabin inside out looking for them."
Vorkosigan smiled dryly and shook his head. "I shall not increase your temptations."
"No matter." Gottyan's aim did not waver. "Then day before yesterday that psychopathic idiot Bothari came to see me in my cabin. He gave me the real story of what happened at the Betans' camp. Surprised the hell out of me-I'd have thought he'd be delighted at a chance to slit your throat. So we came back here to practice ground training. I was sure you'd turn up sooner or later- I expected you before this."
"I was delayed." Vorkosigan shifted position slightly, away from Cordelia's line of fire toward Gottyan. "Where's Bothari now?"
"Solitary confinement." Vorkosigan winced. "That's very bad for him. I take it you didn't spread the news of my narrow escape?"
"Not even Radnov knows. He still thinks Bothari gutted you."
"Smug, is he?"
"Smug as a cat. I'd have taken great pleasure in wiping his face at the board, if only you'd had the good grace to meet with an accident on your hike."
Vorkosigan grimaced wryly. "It seems to me you haven't quite made up your mind what you really want to do. May I suggest it is not too late, even now, to change course?"
"You could never overlook this," stated Gottyan uncertainly.
"In my younger and more stiff-necked days, perhaps not. But to tell you the truth, I'm getting a little tired of slaying my enemies to teach them a lesson." Vorkosigan raised his chin and held Gottyan's eyes. "If you like, you can have my word. You know the worth of it."
The disruptor trembled slightly in Gottyan's hand, as he wavered on the edge of his decision. Cordelia, barely breathing, saw water standing in his eyes. One does not weep for the living, she thought, but for the dead; in that moment, while Vorkosigan still doubted, she knew he intended to fire.
She brought her stunner up, took careful aim, and squeezed off a burst. It buzzed weakly, but it was enough to bring Gottyan, head turning at the sudden movement, to his knees. Vorkosigan pounced on the disruptor, then relieved him of his plasma arc and knocked him to the ground.
"Damn you," croaked Gottyan, half-paralyzed. "Haven't you ever been out-maneuvered?"
"If I had I wouldn't be here," shrugged Vorkosigan. He subjected Gottyan to a rapid search, confiscating his knife and a number of other objects. "Who do you have posted as pickets?" "Sens to the north, Koudelka to the south."
Vorkosigan removed Gottyan's belt and bound his hands behind his back. "You really did have trouble making up your mind, didn't you?" In an aside to Cordelia he explained, "Sens is one of Radnov's. Koudelka's mine. Rather like flipping a coin."
"And this was your friend?" Cordelia raised her eyebrows. "Seems to me the only difference between your friends and your enemies is how long they stand around chatting before they shoot you."
"Yes," Vorkosigan agreed, "I could take over the universe with this army if I could ever get all their weapons pointed in the same direction. Since your pants will stay up without it. Commander Naismith, may I please borrow your belt?" He finished securing Gottyan's legs with it, gagged him, then stood a moment looking up, then down the path.
"All Cretans are liars," murmured Cordelia, then more loudly,
"North or south?"
"An interesting question. How would you answer it?"
"I had a teacher who used to reflect back my questions that way. I thought it was the Socratic method, and it impressed me immensely, until I found out he used it whenever he didn't know the answer." Cordelia stared at Gottyan, whom they had placed in the spot that had so effectively concealed her, wondering whether his directions marked a return to loyalty or a last-ditch effort to complete Vorkosigan's botched assassination. He stared back in puzzlement and hostility.
"North," she said reluctantly at last. She and Vorkosigan exchanged a look of understanding, and he nodded briefly.
"Come on then."
They started quietly up the path, over a rise and through a hollow dense with grey-green thickets. "Have you known Gottyan long?"
"We served together for the last four years, since my demotion. He was a good career officer, I thought. Apolitical, thorough. He has a family."
"Do you think you could-get him back, later?"
"Forgive and forget? I gave him a chance at that. He turned me down. Twice, if you're right in your choice of directions." They were climbing another slope. 'The sentry post is at the top. Whoever's there will be able to scope us in a moment. Drop back here and cover me. If you hear firing-" he paused, "use your initiative."
Cordelia smothered a short laugh. Vorkosigan loosed his disruptor in its holster and walked openly up the path, | making plenty of noise.
"Sentry, report," she heard his voice call firmly. "Nothing new since -- good God, it's the Captain!" followed by the most honestly delighted laugh she felt she'd heard in centuries. She leaned against a tree, suddenly weak. And just when was it, she asked herself, that you stopped being afraid of him and started being afraid for him? And why is this new fear so much more gut-wrenching than the first? You don't seem to have come out ahead on the trade, have you?
"You can come out now. Commander Naismith," Vorkosigan s voice carried back to her. She rounded the last stand of underbrush and climbed a grassy knoll. Camped upon it were two young men looking very neat and military in their clean fatigues. One, taller than Vorkosigan by a head, with a boy's face on a man's body, she recognized from her view through the scope as Koudelka. He was shaking his Captain's hand with unabashed enthusiasm, assuring himself of its unghostly reality. The other man's hand went to his disruptor when he saw her uniform. ; "We were told the Betans killed you, sir," he said suspiciously.
"Yes, it's a rumor I've had difficulty living down," said Vorkosigan. "As you can see, it's not true."
'Tour funeral was splendid," said Koudelka. "You should have been there."
"Next time, perhaps," Vorkosigan grinned.
"Oh. You know I didn't mean it that way, sir. Lieutenant Radnov made the best speech."
"I'm sure. He'd probably been working on it for months."
Koudelka, a little quicker on the uptake than his companion, said "Oh." His fellow merely looked puzzled.
Vorkosigan went on. "Permit me to introduce Commander Cordelia Naismith, of the Betan Astronomical Survey. She is ..." he paused, and Cordelia waited interestedly to hear what status she was to be assigned, "ah ..."
"Sounds like?" she murmured helpfully.
Vorkosigan closed his lips firmly, pressing a smile out straight.
"My prisoner," he chose finally. "On parole. Except for access to classified areas, she is to be extended every courtesy."
The two young men looked impressed, and wildly curious.
"She's armed," Koudelka's companion pointed out.
"And a good thing, too." Vorkosigan did not enlarge on this, but went on to more urgent affairs. "Who is in the landing party?" Koudelka rattled off a list of names, his memory jogged occasionally by his cohort.
"All right," Vorkosigan sighed. "Radnov, Darobey, Sens, and Tafas are to be disarmed, as quietly and cleanly as possible, and placed under arrest on a charge of mutiny. There will be some others later. I don't want any communication with the General Vorkraft until they're under lock and key. Do you know where Lieutenant Buffa is?"
"In the caverns. Sir?" Koudelka was starting to look a little miserable, as he began to deduce what was happening.
"Are you sure about Tafas?"
"Nearly." Vorkosigan gentled his voice. "They'll be tried. That's the purpose of a trial, to separate the guilty from the innocent."
"Yes, sir." Koudelka accepted this limited guarantee for the welfare of a man Cordelia guessed must be his friend with a little bow of his head.
"Do you begin to see why I said the statistics about civil war conceal the most reality?" said Vorkosigan.
"Yes, sir." Koudelka met his eye squarely, and Vorkosigan nodded, sure of his man.
"All right. You two come with me."
They started off, Vorkosigan taking her arm again and scarcely limping, neatly concealing how much weight he was putting on her. They followed another path through the woodlands, up and down uneven ground, coming out within sight of the camouflaged door to the cache caverns.
The waterfall that spun down beside it ended in a little pool, spilling over into a pretty stream which ran off into the woods. A strange group was assembled beside it. Cordelia could not at first make out what they were doing. Two Barrayarans stood watching while two more knelt by the water. As they approached the two kneelers stood, hauling a dripping, tan-clad figure, hands tied behind his back, from a prone position to his feet. He coughed, struggling for breath in sobbing gasps.
"It's Dubauer!" cried Cordelia. "What are they doing to him?"
Vorkosigan, who seemed to know instantly just what they were doing to him, muttered "Oh, hell," and started forward at a jerky jog. "That's my prisoner!" he roared out as they neared the group. "Hands off him!"
The Barrayarans braced so fast it looked like a spinal reflex. Dubauer, released, fell to his knees, still drawing breath in long sobs. Cordelia, running past them to Dubauer, thought she had never seen a more astonished-looking array of men. Dubauer's hair, swollen face, scanty new beard, and collar were soaking wet, his eyes were red, and he continued to cough and sneeze.
Horrified, she finally realized the Barrayarans had been holding his head underwater by way of torture.
"What is this, Lieutenant Buffa?" Vorkosigan pinned the senior of the group with a thunderous frown.
"I thought the Betans killed you, sir!" said Buffa.
"They didn't," Vorkosigan said shortly. "What are you doing with this Betan?"
"Tafas captured him in the woods, sir. We've been trying to question him-find out if there's any more around-" he glanced at Cordelia, "but he refuses to talk. Hasn't said a word. And I always thought Betans were soft."
Vorkosigan rubbed his hand over his face for a moment, as if praying for strength.
"Buffa," he said patiently, "this man was hit by disruptor fire five days 'ago. He can't talk, and if he could he wouldn't know anything anyway."
"Barbarians!" cried Cordelia, kneeling on the ground. Dubauer had recognized her, and was clutching her. "You Barrayarans are nothing but barbarians, scoundrels, and assassins!"
"And fools. Don't leave out fools." Vorkosigan withered Buffa with a glare. A couple of the men had the good grace to look rather ill, as well as ill at ease. Vorkosigan let out his breath with a sigh. "Is he all right?"
"Seems to be," she admitted reluctantly. "But he's pretty shaken up." She was shaking herself in her outrage.
"Commander Naismith, I apologize for my men," said Vorkosigan formally, and loudly, so that no one there could mistake that their Captain humbled himself before his prisoner because of them.
"Don't click your heels at me," muttered Cordelia savagely, for his ear alone. At his bleak look she relented a little, and said more loudly, "It was an error in interpretation." Her eye fell on Lieutenant Buffa, attempting to make his considerable height appear to melt into the ground. "Any blind man could have made it. Oh, hell," she added, for Dubauer's terror and distress were triggering another convulsion. Most of the Barrayarans looked away, variously embarrassed. Vorkosigan, who was getting practiced, knelt to give her what aid she needed. When the seizure subsided he stood.
"Tafas, give your weapons to Koudelka," he ordered. Tafas hesitated, glancing around, then slowly complied.
"I didn't want any part of it, sir," he said desperately. "But Lieutenant Radnov said it was too late."
"You'll get a chance to speak for yourself later on," said Vorkosigan wearily.
"What's going on?" asked the bewildered Buffa. "Have you seen Commander Gottyan, sir?"
"I've given Commander Gottyan-separate orders. Buffa, you are now in charge of the landing party." Vorkosigan repeated his orders for the arrest of his short list, and detached a group to carry out the task.
"Ensign Koudelka, take my prisoners to the cave, and see that they're given proper food, and whatever else Commander Naismith requires. Then see that the shuttle is ready to go. We'll be leaving for the ship as soon as the -- other prisoners are secured." He avoided the word "mutineers," as though it were too strong, like blasphemy.
"Where are you going?" asked Cordelia.
"I'm going to have a talk with Commander Gottyan. Alone."
"Hm. Well, don't make me regret my own advice." Which was as close as she could come at the moment to saying. Be careful. Vorkosigan acknowledged all her meanings with a wave of his hand, and turned back for the woods. He was limping more noticeably now.
She helped Dubauer to his feet, and Koudelka led them to the cave's mouth. The young man seemed so much like Dubauer's opposite number, she found it hard to maintain her hostility.
"What happened to the old man's leg?" Koudelka asked her, glancing back over his shoulder.
"He's got an infected scratch," she understated, inclined to endorse his evident policy of keeping up a good show for the benefit of his unreliable crew. "It should get some high grade medical attention, as soon as you can get him to slow down for it."
"That's the old man for you. I've never seen anybody that age with that much energy."
"That age?" Cordelia raised an eyebrow.
"Well, of course he wouldn't seem old to you," Koudelka allowed, and looked puzzled when she burst out laughing.
"Energy isn't quite what I wanted to say, though."
"How about power," she suggested, curiously glad that Vorkosigan had at least one admirer. "Energy applied to work."
"That's very good," he applauded, gratified. Cordelia decided not to mention the little blue pill, either. He seems an interesting person," she said, angling for another view of Vorkosigan. "How did he ever get in this fix?"
"You mean, Radnov?"
"Well, I don't want to criticize the old man, but-I don't know of anyone else who'd tell a Political Officer when he came on board to stay out of his sight if he wanted to live to the end of the voyage." Koudelka was hushed in his awe.
Cordelia, making the second turning behind him in the halls of the cave, was jerked alert by her surroundings. Most peculiar, she thought. Vorkosigan misled me. The labyrinthine series of caverns was partly natural but mostly carved out by plasma arc: cool, moist, and dimly lit. The huge spaces were stuffed with supplies.
This was no cache; it was a full-scale fleet depot. She pursed her lips soundlessly, staring around, suddenly awake to a whole new range of unpleasant possibilities.
In one corner of the caverns stood a standard Barrayaran field shelter, a semicircular ribbed vault covered with a fabric like the Betans' tents. This one was given over to a field kitchen and mess hall, crude and bleak. A lone yeoman was cleaning up after lunch.
"The old man just turned up, alive!" Koudelka greeted him.
"Huh! I thought the Betans had cut his throat," said the yeoman, surprised. "And we did the funeral dinner up so nice."
"These two are the old man's personal prisoners," Koudelka introduced them to the cook, whom Cordelia suspected was more combat soldier than gourmet chef, "and you know what he's like on that subject. The guy's got disruptor damage. He said they're to have proper food, so don't try to poison them with the usual swill."
"Everyone's a critic," muttered the yeoman-cook, as Koudelka vanished about his other chores. "What'll you have?"
"Anything. Anything but oatmeal or blue cheese," she amended hastily.
The yeoman disappeared into the back room, and returned a few minutes later with two steaming bowls of a stew-like substance, and real bread with genuine vegetable oil spread. Cordelia fell to it wolfishly.
"How is it?" asked the yeoman tonelessly, hunching down into his shoulders.
"S'delishoush," she said around a large mouthful. "S'wonderful."
"Really?" He straightened up. "You really like it?"
"Really." She stopped to shove a few spoonfuls into the dazed Dubauer. The taste of the warm food cut across his post-seizure sleepiness, and he chewed away with something like her enthusiasm.
"Here-can I help you feed him?" the yeoman offered. Cordelia beamed upon him like the sun. "You certainly may."
In less than an hour she had learned that the yeoman's name was Nilesa, heard most of his life's history, and been offered the complete, if severely limited, range of dainties a Barrayaran field kitchen had to offer. The yeoman was evidently as starved for praise as his fellows were for home cooking, for he followed her around racking his brain for small personal services to offer her. Vorkosigan came in by himself, and sat wearily down beside Cordelia.
"Welcome back, sir," the yeoman greeted him. "We thought the Betans had killed you."
"Yes, I know," Vorkosigan waved away this by-now- familiar greeting. "How about some food?"
"What'll you have, sir?"
"Anything but oatmeal."
He too was served with bread and stew, which he ate without Cordelia's appetite, for the fever and stimulant combined to kill it.
"How did things work out with Commander Gottyan?" Cordelia asked him quietly.
"Not bad. He's back on the job."
"How did you do it?"
"Untied him, and gave him my plasma arc. I told him I couldn't work with a man who made my shoulder blades itch, and this was the last chance I was going to give him for instant promotion. Then I sat down with my back to him. Sat there for about ten minutes. We didn't say a word. Then he gave the arc back, and we walked back to camp."
"I wondered if something like that might work. Although I'm not sure I could have done it, if I were you."
"I don't think I could have done it either, if I wasn't so damn tired. It felt good to sit down." His tone became slightly more animated. "As soon as they get the arrests made, we'll lift off for the General. It's a fine ship. I'm assigning you the visiting officer's cabin-Admiral's Quarters, they call it, although it's no different from the others." Vorkosigan pushed the last bites of stew around in the bottom of his dish. "How was your food?"
"That's not what most people say."
"Yeoman Nilesa has been most kind and thoughtful."
"Are we talking about the same man?"
"I think he just needs a little appreciation for his work. You might try it."
Vorkosigan, elbows on the table, propped his chin on his hands and smiled. "I'll take it under advisement."
They both sat silent, tired and digesting, at the simple metal table. Vorkosigan leaned back in his chair with his eyes closed. Cordelia leaned on the table with her head pillowed on one arm. In about half an hour Koudelka entered.
"We've got Sens, sir," he reported. "But we had-are having-a little trouble with Radnov and Darobey. They tumbled on to it, somehow, and escaped into the woods. I have a patrol out searching now."
Vorkosigan looked like he wanted to swear. "Should have gone myself," he muttered. "Did they have any weapons?"
"They both had their disruptors. We got their plasma arcs."
"All right. I don't want to waste any more time down here. Recall your patrol and seal all the cavern entrances. They can find out how they like spending a few nights in the woods." His eyes glinted at the vision. "We can pick them up later. They've nowhere to go."
Cordelia pushed Dubauer ahead of her into the shuttle, a bare and rather decrepit troop transport, and settled him in a free seat. With the arrival of the last patrol the shuttle seemed crammed with Barrayarans, including the huddled and subdued prisoners, hapless subordinates of the escaped ringleaders, bound in back. They all seemed such large and muscular young men. Indeed, Vorkosigan was the shortest one she'd seen so far.
They stared at her curiously, and she caught snatches of conversation in two or three languages. It wasn't hard to guess their content, and she smiled a bit grimly. Youth, it appeared, was full of illusions as to how much sexual energy two people might have to spare while hiking forty or so kilometers a day, concussed, stunned, diseased, on poor food and little sleep, alternating caring for a wounded man with avoiding becoming dinner for every carnivore within range-and with a coup to plan for at the end. Old folks, too, of thirty-three and forty plus. She laughed to herself, and closed her eyes, shutting them out. Vorkosigan returned from the forward pilot's compartment, and slid in beside her. "Are you doing all right?" She gave him a nod. "Yes. Rather overwhelmed by all these herds of boys. I think you Barrayarans are the only ones who don't carry mixed crews. Why is that, I wonder?"
"Partly tradition, partly to maintain an aggressive out- look. They haven't been annoying you?"
"No, amusing me only. I wonder if they realize how they are used?"
"Not a bit. They think they are the emperors of creation."
"That's not how I'd describe them."
"I was thinking of animal sacrifice."
"Ah. That's closer."
The shuttle's engines began to whine, and they rose into the air. They circled the cratered mountain once, then struck east and upward to the sky. Cordelia watched out the window as the land they had so painfully traversed on foot swept under them in as many minutes as they had taken days. They soared over the great mountain where Rosemont lay rotting, close enough to see the snowcap and glaciers gleaming orange in the setting sun. They passed on east through nightrise, and dead of night, the horizon curved away, and they broke into the perpetual day of space. As they approached the General Vorkraft's parking orbit
Vorkosigan left her again to go forward and supervise. He seemed to be receding from her, absorbed back into the matrix of men and duty from which he had been torn. Well, surely they would have some quiet times together in the months ahead. Quite a few months, by what Gottyan had said. Pretend you're an anthropologist, she told herself studying the savage Barrayarans. Think of it as a vacation- you wanted a long vacation after this Survey tour anyway. Well, here it is. Her fingers were picking loose threads from the seat, and she stilled them with a slight frown.
They made their docking very cleanly, and the mob of hulking soldiers rose, gathered their equipment, and clattered out. Koudelka appeared at her elbow, and informed her he was assigned as her guide. Guard, more likely - or babysitter - she did not feel very dangerous this moment. She gathered Dubauer and followed him aboard Vorkosigan's ship.
It smelled different from her Survey ship, colder, full of bare unpainted metal and cost-effective shortcuts taken out of comfort and decor, like the difference between a living room and a locker room. Their first destination was sickbay, to drop off Dubauer. It was a clean, austere series of rooms, much larger even proportionally than her Survey ship's, prepared to handle plenty of company. It was nearly deserted now, but for the chief surgeon and a couple of corpsmen whiling away their duty hours doing inventory, and a lone soldier with a broken arm kicking his heels and kibitzing. Dubauer was examined by the doctor, whom Cordelia suspected was more expert at disruptor injuries than her own surgeon, and turned over to the corpsmen to be washed and bedded down.
"You're going to have another customer shortly," Cordelia told the surgeon, who was one of Vorkosigan's four men over forty. "Your captain has a really filthy infection going on his shin. It's gone systemic. Also, I don't know what those little blue pills are you fellows have in your medkits, but by what he said the one he took this morning ought to be running out just about now."
"That damned poison," the doctor bitched. "Sure, it's effective, but they could find something less wearing. Not to mention the trouble we have hanging on to them."
Cordelia suspected this last was the crux of the matter. The doctor busied himself setting up the antibiotic synthesizer and preparing it for programming. Cordelia watched the expressionless Dubauer put to bed, the start, she saw, of an endless series of hospital days as straight and same as a tunnel to the end of his life. The cold whispering doubt of whether she had done him a service would be forever added to her inventory of night thoughts. She dawdled around him for a while, covertly waiting for the arrival of her other ex-charge.
Vorkosigan came in at last, accompanied, in fact supported, by a couple of other officers she had not yet met, and giving orders. He had obviously cut his timing too fine, for he looked frighteningly bad. He was white, sweating, and trembling, and Cordelia thought she could see where the lines on his face would be when he was seventy.
"Haven't you been taken care of yet?" he asked when he saw her. "Where's Koudelka? I thought I told him- oh, there you are. She's to have the Admiral's cabin. Did I say that? And stop by stores and get her some clothes. And dinner. And a new charge for her stunner."
"I'm fine. Hadn't you better lie down yourself?" said Cordelia anxiously.
Vorkosigan, still on his feet, was wandering around in circles like a wind-up toy with a damaged mainspring. "Got to let Bothari out," he muttered. "He'll be hallucinating by now."
"You just did that, sir," reminded one of the officers. The surgeon caught his eye, and jerked his head meaningfully toward the examining table. Together they intercepted Vorkosigan in his orbit, propelled him semi-forcibly to it, and made him lie down.
"It's those damned pills," the surgeon explained to Cordelia, taking pity on her alarmed look. "He'll be all right in the morning, except for lethargy and a hell of a headache."
The surgeon turned back to his task, to cut the taut trouser away from the swollen leg, and swear under his breath at what he found beneath. Koudelka glanced over the surgeon's shoulder, and turned back to Cordelia with a false smile pinned over a green face.
Cordelia nodded and reluctantly withdrew, leaving Vorkosigan in the hands of his professionals. Koudelka, seeming to enjoy his role as courier even though it had caused him to miss the show of his captain's return on board, led her off to stores for clothing, disappeared with her stunner, and dutifully returned it fully charged. It seemed to go against his grain.
"There's not a whole lot I could do with it anyway," she said at the dubious look on his face.
"No, no, the old man said you were to have it. I'm not going to argue with him about prisoners. It's a sensitive subject with him."
"So I understand. I might point out, if it will help your perspective, that our two governments are not at war as far as I know, and that I am being unlawfully detained."
Koudelka puzzled over this attempted readjustment of his point
of view, then let it bounce harmlessly off his impermeable habits
of thought. Carrying her new kit, he led her to her quarters.
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