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Ivan nodded vigorously, but then hedged, "Um... all I could. Under the
circumstances."
Meaning, lack of privacy from Cetagandan eavesdroppers, Miles presumed. All,
Ivan? Is my cover still intact?
"I admit," Vorreedi went on, "I am still .... assimilating it."
"What h-happened after I left the Star Creche?" Miles asked Ivan.
"I woke up and you were gone. I think that was the worst moment of my life,
knowing you'd gone haring off on some crazy self-appointed mission with no
backup."
"Oh, but you were my backup, Ivan," Miles murmured, earning himself a glare.
"And a good one too, as you have just demonstrated, yes?"
"Yeah, your favorite kind-unconscious on the floor where I couldn't inject any
kind of sense into the proceedings. You took off to get yourself killed, or
worse, and everybody would have blamed me. The last thing Aunt Cordelia said
to me before we left was, 'And try to keep him out of trouble, Ivan.'"
Miles could hear Countess Vorkosigan's weary, exasperated cadences quite
precisely in Ivan's parody.
"Anyway, as soon as I figured out what the hell was going on, I got away from
the haut-ladies-"
"How?"
"God, Miles, they're just like my mother, only eight times over. Ugh! Anyway,
the haut Rian insisted I go through ghem-
Colonel Benin, which I was willing to do-he at least seemed like he had his
head screwed on straight-"
Perhaps attracted by the sound of his name, Benin strolled over to listen in
on this.
"-and God be praised he paid attention to me. Seemed to make more sense out of
my gabble than I did at the time."
Benin nodded. "I was of course following the very unusual activities around
the Star Creche today-"
Around, not in. Quite.
"My own investigations had already led me to suspect something was going on
involving one or more of the haut-governors, so I had orbital squads on
alert."
"Squads, ha," said Ivan. "There's three Imperial battle cruisers surrounding
this ship right now."
Benin smiled slightly, and shrugged.
"Ghem-General Chilian is a dupe, I believe," Miles put in. "Though you will
p-probably wish to question him about the activities of his wife, the haut
Vio."
"He has already been detained," Benin assured him.
Detained, not arrested, all right. Benin seemed exactly on track so far. But
had he realized yet that all the governors had been involved? Or was Kety
elected sole sacrifice? A Cetagandan internal matter, Miles reminded himself.
It was not his job to straighten out the entire Cetagandan government,
tempting as it would be to try. His duty was confined to extracting Barrayar
from the morass. He smiled at the glowing white bubble still protecting the
real Great Key. The hauts Nadina and Pel were consulting with some of Benin's
men; it appeared that rather than attempting to get the force-screen down here
they were making arrangements to transport it and its precious contents whole
and inviolate back to the Star Creche.
Vorreedi gave Miles a grim look. "One thing that Lord Vorpatril has not yet
explained to my satisfaction, Lieutenant
Vorkosigan, is why you concealed the initial incident involving an object of
such obvious importance-"
"Kety was trying to frame Barrayar, sir. Until I could achieve independent
corroborative evidence that-"
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Vorreedi went on inexorably, "From your own side."
"Ah." Miles briefly considered a relapse of shock-stick symptoms, rendering
him unable to talk. No, alas. His own motives were obscure even to him, in
retrospect. What had he started out wanting, before the twisting events had
made sheer survival his paramount concern? Oh, yes, promotion. That was it.
Not this time, boy-o. Antique but evocative phrases like damage control and
spin doctoring free-floated through his consciousness.
"In fact, sir, I did not at first recognize the Great Key for what it was. But
once the haut Rian contacted me, events slid very rapidly from apparently
trivial to extremely delicate. By the time I realized the full depth and
complexity of the haut-governor's plot, it was too late."
"Too late for what?" asked Vorreedi bluntly.
What with the shock-stick residue and all, Miles did not need to feign a sick
smile. But it seemed Vorreedi had drifted back to the conviction that Miles
was not working as a covert ops agent for Simon Illyan after all. That's what
you want everybody to think, remember? Miles glanced aside at ghem-Colonel
Benin, listening in fascination.
"You would have taken the investigation away from me, you know you would have,
sir. Everyone in the wormhole nexus thinks I'm a cripple who's been given a
cushy nepotistic sinecure as a courier. That I might be competent for more is
something
Lieutenant Lord Vorkosigan would never, in the ordinary course of events, ever
be given a chance to publicly prove."
To the world at large, true. But Illyan knew all about the pivotal role Miles
had played in the Hegen Hub, and elsewhere, as did Miles's father Prime
Minister Count Vorkosigan, and Emperor Gregor, and everyone else whose opinion
really counted, back on Barrayar. Even Ivan knew about that extraordinary
covert ops coup. In fact, it seemed the only people who didn't know were...
the enemy he'd beaten. The Cetagandans.
So did you do all this only to shine in the haut Rian's beautiful eyes? Or did
you have a wider audience in view?
Ghem-Colonel Benin slowly deciphered this outpouring. "You wanted to be a
hero?"
"So badly you didn't even care for which side?" Vorreedi added in some dismay.
"I have done the Cetagandan Empire a good turn, it's true." Miles essayed a
shaky bow in Benin's direction. "But it was
Barrayar I was thinking of. Governor Kety had some nasty plans for Barrayar.
Those, at least, I've derailed."
"Oh, yeah?" said Ivan. "Where would they, and you, be right now if we hadn't
shown up?"
"Oh," Miles smiled to himself, "I'd already won. Kety just didn't know it yet.
The only thing still in doubt was my personal survival," he conceded.
"Why don't you sign up for Cetagandan Imperial Security, then, coz," suggested
Ivan in exasperation. "Maybe ghem-Colonel
Benin would promote you."
Ivan, damn him, knew Miles all too well. "Unlikely," Miles said bitterly. "I'm
too short."
Ghem-Colonel Benin's eyebrow twitched.
"Actually," Miles pointed out, "if I was free-lancing for anyone, it was for
the Star Creche, not for the Empire. I have not served the Cetagandan Empire,
so much as the haut. Ask them." He nodded toward Pel and Nadina, getting ready
to exit the room with their ghem-lady escorts fussing over their comfort.
"Hm." Ghem-Colonel Benin seemed to deflate slightly. [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]