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Lois McMaster Bujold - Vorkosigan 12 - A Civil Campaign

By Martin Gomez,2014-10-31 10:46
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Lois McMaster Bujold - Vorkosigan 12 - A Civil Campaign

    CHAPTER ONE

     The big groundcar jerked to a stop centimeters from? the vehicle ahead of it, and Armsman Pym,driving, swore under his breath. Miles settled back again in his seat beside him, wincing at avision of the acrimonious street scene from which Pym's reflexes had delivered them. Mileswondered if he could have persuaded the feckless prole in front of them that being rear-endedby an Imperial Auditor was a privilege to be treasured. Likely not. The Vorbarr SultanaUniversity student darting across the boulevard on foot, who had been the cause of the quickstop, scampered off through the jam without a backward glance. The line of groundcars startedup once more.

     "Have you heard if the municipal traffic control system will be coming on line soon?" Pymasked, apropos of what Miles counted as their third near-miss this week.

     "Nope. Delayed in development again, Lord Vorbohn the Younger reports. Due to the increase infatal lightflyer incidents, they're concentrating on getting the automated air system upfirst."

     Pym nodded, and returned his attention to the crowded road. The Armsman was a habitually fitman, his graying temples seeming merely an accent to his brown-and-silver uniform. He'd servedthe Vorkosigans as a liege-sworn guard since Miles had been an Academy cadet, and woulddoubtless go on doing so till either he died of old age, or they were all killed in traffic.

     So much for short cuts. Next time they'd go around the campus. Miles watched through thecanopy as the taller new buildings of the University fell behind, and they passed through itsspiked iron gates into the pleasant old residential streets favored by the families of seniorprofessors and staff. The distinctive architecture dated from the last un-electrified decadebefore the end of the Time of Isolation. This area had been reclaimed from decay in the pastgeneration, and now featured shady green Earth trees, and bright flower boxes under the tallnarrow windows of the tall narrow houses. Miles rebalanced the flower arrangement between hisfeet. Would it be seen as redundant by its intended recipient?

     Pym glanced aside at his slight movement, following his eye to the foliage on the floor. "Thelady you met on Komarr seems to have made a strong impression on you, m'lord . . ." He trailedoff invitingly.

     "Yes," said Miles, uninvitingly.

     "Your lady mother had high hopes of that very attractive Miss Captain Quinn you brought homethose times." Was that a wistful note in Pym's voice?

     "Miss Admiral Quinn, now," Miles corrected with a sigh. "So had I. But she made the rightchoice for her." He grimaced out the canopy. "I've sworn off falling in love with galacticwomen and then trying to persuade them to immigrate to Barrayar. I've concluded my only hope isto find a woman who can already stand Barrayar, and persuade her to like me."

     "And does Madame Vorsoisson like Barrayar?"

     "About as well as I do." He smiled grimly.

     "And, ah . . . the second part?"

    "We'll see, Pym." Or not, as the case may be. At least the spectacle of a man of thirty-plus,

    going courting seriously for the first time in his life—the first time in the Barrayaranstyle, anyway—promised to provide hours of entertainment for his interested staff.

     Miles let his breath and his nervous irritation trickle out through his nostrils as Pym founda place to park near Lord Auditor Vorthys's doorstep, and expertly wedged the polished oldarmored groundcar into the inadequate space. Pym popped the canopy; Miles climbed out, andstared up at the three-story patterned tile front of his colleague's home.

    Georg Vorthys had been a professor of engineering failure analysis at the Imperial Universityfor thirty years. He and his wife had lived in this house for most of their married life,raising three children and two academic careers, before Emperor Gregor had appointed Vorthys asone of his hand-picked Imperial Auditors. Neither of the Professors Vorthys had seen any reasonto change their comfortable lifestyle merely because the awesome powers of an Emperor's Voicehad been conferred upon the retired engineer; Madame Dr. Vorthys still walked every day to herclasses. Dear no, Miles! the Professora had said to him, when he'd once wondered aloud at theirpassing up this opportunity for social display. Can you imagine moving all those books? Not to

    mention the laboratory and workshop jamming the entire basement.

    Their cheery inertia proved a happy chance, when they invited their recently-widowed niece andher young son to live with them while she completed her own education. Plenty of room, theProfessor had boomed jovially, the top floor is so empty since the children left. So close toclasses, the Professora had pointed out practically. Less than six kilometers from Vorkosigan

     Miles had exulted in his mind, adding a polite murmur of encouragement aloud. And soHouse!

    Ekaterin Nile Vorvayne Vorsoisson had arrived. Might she be lookingShe's here, she's here!

    down at him from the shadows of some upstairs window even now?

     Miles glanced anxiously down the all-too-short length of his body. If his dwarfish staturebothered her, she'd shown no signs of it so far. Well and good. Going on to the aspects of hisappearance he could control: no food stains spattered his plain gray tunic, no unfortunatestreet detritus clung to the soles of his polished half-boots. He checked his distortedreflection in the groundcar's rear canopy. Its convex mirroring widened his lean, if slightlyhunched, body to something resembling his obese clone-brother Mark, a comparison he primlyignored. Mark was, thank God, not here. He essayed a smile, for practice; in the canopy, itcame out twisted and repellent. No dark hair sticking out in odd directions, anyway.

     "You look just fine, my lord," Pym said in a bracing tone from the front compartment. Miles'sface heated, and he flinched away from his reflection. He recovered himself enough to take theflower arrangement and rolled-up flimsy Pym handed out to him with, he hoped, a tolerably blandexpression. He balanced the load in his arms, turned to face the front steps, and took a deepbreath.

     After about a minute, Pym inquired helpfully from behind him, "Would you like me to carryanything?"

     "No. Thank you." Miles trod up the steps and wiggled a finger free to press the chime-pad. Pympulled out a reader, and settled comfortably in the groundcar to await his lord's pleasure.

     Footsteps sounded from within, and the door swung open on the smiling pink face of theProfessora. Her gray hair was wound up on her head in her usual style. She wore a dark rosedress with a light rose bolero, embroidered with green vines in the manner of her homeDistrict. This somewhat formal Vor mode, which suggested she was just on her way either in orout, was belied by the soft buskins on her feet. "Hello, Miles. Goodness, you're prompt."

     "Professora." Miles ducked a nod to her, and smiled in turn. "Is she here? Is she in? Is shewell? You said this would be a good time. I'm not too early, am I? I thought I'd be late. Thetraffic was miserable. You're going to be around, aren't you? I brought these. Do you thinkshe'll like them?" The sticking-up red flowers tickled his nose as he displayed his gift whilestill clutching the rolled-up flimsy, which had a tendency to try to unroll and escape wheneverhis grip loosened.

     "Come in, yes, all's well. She's here, she's fine, and the flowers are very nice—" TheProfessora rescued the bouquet and ushered him into her tiled hallway, closing the door firmlybehind them with her foot. The house was dim and cool after the spring sunshine outside, andhad a fine aroma of wood wax, old books, and a touch of academic dust.

    "She looked pretty pale and fatigued at Tien's funeral. Surrounded by all those relatives. Wereally didn't get a chance to say more than two words each." I'm sorry and Thank you , to be

    precise. Not that he'd wanted to talk much to the late Tien Vorsoisson's family.

     "It was an immense strain for her, I think," said the Professora judiciously. "She'd beenthrough so much horror, and except for Georg and myself—and you—there wasn't a soul there towhom she could talk truth about it. Of course, her first concern was getting Nikki through itall. But she held together without a crack from first to last. I was very proud of her."

     "Indeed. And she is . . . ?" Miles craned his neck, glancing into the rooms off the entryhall: a cluttered study lined with bookshelves, and a cluttered parlor lined with bookshelves.No young widows.

    "Right this way." The Professora conducted him down the hall and out through her kitchen to thelittle urban back garden. A couple of tall trees and a brick wall made a private nook of it.Beyond a tiny circle of green grass, at a table in the shade, a woman sat with flimsies and areader spread before her. She was chewing gently on the end of a stylus, and her dark browswere drawn down in her absorption. She wore a calf-length dress in much the same style as theProfessora's, but solid black, with the high collar buttoned up to her neck. Her bolero wasgray, trimmed with simple black braid running around its edge. Her dark hair was drawn back toa thick braided knot at the nape of her neck. She looked up at the sound of the door opening;her brows flew up and her lips parted in a flashing smile that made Miles blink. Ekaterin .

     "Mil—my Lord Auditor!" She rose in a flare of skirt; he bowed over her hand.

     "Madame Vorsoisson. You look well." She looked wonderful, if still much too pale. Part of thatmight be the effect of all that severe black, which also made her eyes show a brilliant blue-gray. "Welcome to Vorbarr Sultana. I brought these . . ." He gestured, and the Professora setthe flower arrangement down on the table. "Though they hardly seem needed, out here."

     "They're lovely," Ekaterin assured him, sniffing them in approval. "I'll take them up to myroom later, where they will be very welcome. Since the weather has brightened up, I find Ispend as much time as possible out here, under the real sky."

     She'd spent nearly a year sealed in a Komarran dome. "I can understand that," Miles said. Theconversation hiccuped to a brief stop, while they smiled at each other.

     Ekaterin recovered first. "Thank you for coming to Tien's funeral. It meant so much to me."

     "It was the least I could do, under the circumstances. I'm only sorry I couldn't do more."

     "But you've already done so much for me and Nikki—" She broke off at his gesture ofembarrassed denial and instead said, "But won't you sit down? Aunt Vorthys—?" She drew backone of the spindly garden chairs.

     The Professora shook her head. "I have a few things to attend to inside. Carry on." She addeda little cryptically, "You'll do fine."

     She went back into her house, and Miles sat across from Ekaterin, placing his flimsy on thetable to await its strategic moment. It half-unrolled, eagerly.

     "Is your case all wound up?" she asked.

     "That case will have ramifications for years to come, but I'm done with it for now," Milesreplied. "I just turned in my last reports yesterday, or I would have been here to welcome youearlier." Well, that and a vestigial sense that he'd ought to let the poor woman at least gether bags unpacked, before descending in force.

     "Will you be sent out on another assignment now?"

     "I don't think Gregor will let me risk getting tied up elsewhere till after his marriage. Forthe next couple of months, I'm afraid all my duties will be social ones."

     "I'm sure you'll do them with your usual flair."

    God, I hope not. "I don't think flair is exactly what my Aunt Vorpatril—she's in charge ofall the Emperor's wedding arrangements—would wish from me. More like, shut up and do whatyou're told, Miles. But speaking of paperwork, how's your own? Is Tien's estate settled? Didyou manage to recapture Nikki's guardianship from that cousin of his?"

     "Vassily Vorsoisson? Yes, thank heavens, there was no problem with that part."

     "So, ah, what's all this, then?" Miles nodded at the cluttered table.

     "I'm planning my course work for the next session at university. I was too late to start thissummer, so I'll begin in the fall. There's so much to choose from. I feel so ignorant."

     "Educated is what you aim to be coming out, not going in."

     "I suppose so."

     "And what will you choose?"

     "Oh, I'll start with basics—biology, chemistry . . ." She brightened. "One real horticulturecourse." She gestured at her flimsies. "For the rest of the season, I'm trying to find somesort of paying work. I'd like to feel I'm not totally dependent on the charity of my relatives,even if it's only my pocket money."

     That seemed almost the opening he was looking for, but Miles's eye caught sight of a redceramic basin, sitting on the wooden planks forming a seat bordering a raised garden bed. Inthe middle of the pot a red-brown blob, with a fuzzy fringe like a rooster's crest growing outof it, pushed up through the dirt. If it was what he thought . . . He pointed to the basin. "Isthat by chance your old bonsai'd skellytum? Is it going to live?"

     She smiled. "Well, at least it's the start of a new skellytum. Most of the fragments of theold one died on the way home from Komarr, but that one took."

     "You have a—for native Barrayaran plants, I don't suppose you can call it a green thumb, canyou?"

     "Not unless they're suffering from some pretty serious plant diseases, no."

     "Speaking of gardens." Now, how to do this without jamming his foot in his mouth too deeply."I don't think, in all the other uproar, I ever had a chance to tell you how impressed I waswith your garden designs that I saw on your comconsole."

     "Oh." Her smile fled, and she shrugged. "They were no great thing. Just twiddling."

     Right. Let them not bring up any more of the recent past than absolutely necessary, till timehad a chance to blunt memory's razor edges. "It was your Barrayaran garden, the one with allthe native species, which caught my eye. I'd never seen anything like it."

     "There are a dozen of them around. Several of the District universities keep them, as livinglibraries for their biology students. It's not really an original idea."

    "Well," he persevered, feeling like a fish swimming upstream against this current of self-

     thought it was very fine, and deserved better than just being a ghost gardendeprecation, "I

    on the holovid. I have this spare lot, you see . . ."

     He flattened out his flimsy, which was a ground plot of the block occupied by VorkosiganHouse. He tapped his finger on the bare square at the end. "There used to be another greathouse, next to ours, which was torn down during the Regency. ImpSec wouldn't let us buildanything else—they wanted it as a security zone. There's nothing there but some scragglygrass, and a couple of trees that somehow survived ImpSec's enthusiasm for clear lines of fire.And a criss-cross of walks, where people made mud paths by taking short cuts, and they finallygave up and put some gravel down. It's an extremely boring piece of ground." So boring he hadcompletely ignored it, till now.

     She tilted her head, to follow his hand as it blocked out the space on the ground plan. Herown long finger made to trace a delicate curve, but then shyly withdrew. He wondered whatpossibility her mind's eye had just seen, there.

    "Now, I think," he went on valiantly, "that it would be a splendid thing to install aBarrayaran garden—all native species—open to the public, in this space. A sort of gift fromthe Vorkosigan family to the city of Vorbarr Sultana. With running water, like in your design,and walks and benches and all those civilized things. And those discreet little name tags onall the plants, so more people could learn about the old ecology and all that." There: art,public service, education—was there any bait he'd left off his hook? Oh yes, money. "It's ahappy chance that you're looking for a summer job," chance, hah, watch and see if I leave

     "because I think you'd be the ideal person to take this on. Design andanything to chance,

    oversee the installation of the thing. I could give you an unlimited, um, generous budget, anda salary, of course. You could hire workmen, bring in whatever you needed."

    And she would have to visit Vorkosigan House practically every day, and consult frequently

    with its resident lord. And by the time the shock of her husband's death had worn away, and shewas ready to put off her forbidding formal mourning garb, and every unattached Vor bachelor inthe capital showed up on her doorstep, Miles could have a lock on her affections that wouldpermit him to fend off the most glittering competition. It was too soon, wildly too soon, tosuggest courtship to her crippled heart; he had that clear in his head, even if his own hearthowled in frustration. But a straightforward business friendship just might get past her guard.. . .

    Her eyebrows had flown up; she touched an uncertain finger to those exquisite, pale unpaintedlips. "This is exactly the sort of thing I wish to train to do. I don't know how to do it yet

    ."

     "On-the-job training," Miles responded instantly. "Apprenticeship. Learning by doing. You haveto start sometime. You can't start sooner than now."

     "But what if I make some dreadful mistake?"

    "I do intend this be an ongoing project. People who are enthusiasts about this sort of thingalways seem to be changing their gardens around. They get bored with the same view all thetime, I guess. If you come up with better ideas later, you can always revise the plan. It will

provide variety."

     "I don't want to waste your money."

     If she ever became Lady Vorkosigan, she would have to get over that quirk, Miles decidedfirmly.

    "You don't have to decide here on the spot," he purred, and cleared his throat. Watch that

     "Why don't you come to Vorkosigan House tomorrow, and walk over the sitetone, boy. Business.

    in person, and see what ideas it stirs up in your mind. You really can't tell anything bylooking at a flimsy. We can have lunch, afterward, and talk about what you see as the problemsand possibilities then. Logical?"

     She blinked. "Yes, very." Her hand crept back curiously toward the flimsy.

     "What time may I pick you up?"

     "Whatever is convenient for you, Lord Vorkosigan. Oh, I take that back. If it's after twelvehundred, my aunt will be back from her morning class, and Nikki can stay with her."

     "Excellent!" Yes, much as he liked Ekaterin's son, Miles thought he could do without theassistance of an active nine-year-old in this delicate dance. "Twelve hundred it will be.Consider it a deal." Only a little belatedly, he added, "And how does Nikki like VorbarrSultana, so far?"

     "He seems to like his room, and this house. I think he's going to get a little bored, if hehas to wait until his school starts to locate boys his own age."

     It would not do to leave Nikolai Vorsoisson out of his calculations. "I gather then that theretro-genes took, and he's in no more danger of developing the symptoms of Vorzohn'sDystrophy?"

     A smile of deep maternal satisfaction softened her face. "That's right. I'm so pleased. Thedoctors in the clinic here in Vorbarr Sultana report he had a very clean and complete cellularuptake. Developmentally, it should be just as if he'd never inherited the mutation at all." Sheglanced across at him. "It's as if I'd had a five-hundred-kilo weight lifted from me. I couldfly, I think."

    So you should. ?

     Nikki himself emerged from the house at this moment, carrying a plate of cookies with an airof consequence, followed by the Professora with a tea tray and cups. Miles and Ekaterinhastened to clear a place on the table.

     "Hello, Nikki," said Miles.

     "Hi, Lord Vorkosigan. Is that your groundcar out front?"

     "Yes."

     "It's a barge." This observation was delivered without scorn, as a point of interest.

     "I know. It's a relic of my father's time as Regent. It's armored, in fact—has a massivemomentum."

     "Oh yeah?" Nikki's interest soared. "Did it ever get shot at?"

     "I don't believe that particular car ever did, no."

     "Huh."

     When Miles had last seen Nikki, the boy had been wooden-faced and pale with concentration,carrying the taper to light his father's funeral offering, obviously anxious to get his part ofthe ceremony right. He looked much better now, his brown eyes quick and his face mobile again.The Professora settled and poured tea, and the conversation became general for a time.

     It became clear shortly that Nikki's interest was more in the food than in his mother'svisitor; he declined a flatteringly grownup offer of tea, and with his great-aunt's permissionsnagged several cookies and dodged back indoors to whatever he'd been occupying himself withbefore. Miles tried to remember what age he'd been when his own parents' friends had stoppedseeming part of the furniture. Well, except for the military men in his father's train, ofcourse, who'd always riveted his attention. But then, Miles had been military-mad from the timehe could walk. Nikki was jump-ship mad, and would probably light up for a jump pilot. PerhapsMiles could provide one sometime, for Nikki's delectation. A happily married one, he correctedthis thought.

    He'd laid his bait on the table, Ekaterin had taken it; it was time to quit while he waswinning. But he knew for a fact that she'd already turned down one premature offer ofremarriage from a completely unexpected quarter. Had any of Vorbarr Sultana's excess Vor males

    found her yet? The capital was crawling with young officers, rising bureaucrats, aggressiveentrepreneurs, men of ambition and wealth and rank drawn to the empire's heart. But not, by aratio of almost five to three, with their sisters. The parents of the preceding generation hadtaken galactic sex-selection technologies much too far in their foolish passion for male heirs,and the very sons they'd so cherished—Miles's contemporaries—had inherited the resultingmating mess. Go to any formal party in Vorbarr Sultana these days, and you could practicallytaste the damned testosterone in the air, volatilized by the alcohol no doubt.

     "So, ah . . . have you had any other callers yet, Ekaterin?"

     "I only arrived a week ago."

     That was neither yes nor no. "I'd think you'd have the bachelors out in force in no time."Wait, he hadn't meant to point that out . . .

     "Surely," she gestured down her black dress, "this will keep them away. If they have anymanners at all."

     "Mm, I'm not so sure. The social scene is pretty intense just now."

     She shook her head and smiled bleakly. "It makes no difference to me. I had a decade of . . .of marriage. I don't need to repeat the experience. The other women are welcome to thebachelors; they can have my share, in fact." The conviction in her face was backed by anuncharacteristic hint of steel in her voice. "That's one mistake I don't have to make twice.I'll never remarry."

    Miles controlled his flinch, and managed a sympathetic, interested smile at this confidence.We're just friends. I'm not hustling you, no, no. No need to fling up your defenses, milady,

     ?not for me.

     He couldn't make this go faster by pushing harder; all he could do was screw it up worse.Forced to be satisfied with his one day's progress, Miles finished his tea, exchanged a fewmore pleasantries with the two women, and took his leave.

     Pym hurried to open the groundcar door as Miles skipped down the last three steps in one jump.He flung himself into the passenger seat, and as Pym slipped back into the driver's side andclosed the canopy, waved grandly. "Home, Pym."

     Pym eased the groundcar into the street, and inquired mildly, "Go well, did it, m'lord?"

    "Just exactly as I had planned. She's coming to Vorkosigan House tomorrow for lunch. As soon aswe get home, I want you to call that gardening service—get them to get a crew out tonight and

     talk to Ma Kosti. Lunch must be . .give the grounds an extra going-over. And talk to—no, I'll

    . exquisite, yes. Ivan always says women like food. But not too heavy. Wine—does she drinkwine in the daytime, I wonder? I'll offer it, anyway. Something from the estate. And tea if shedoesn't choose the wine, I know she drinks tea. Scratch the wine. And get the house cleaningcrew in, get all those covers off the first floor furniture—off all the furniture. I want togive her a tour of the house while she still doesn't realize . . . No, wait. I wonder . . . ifthe place was a dreadful bachelor mess, perhaps it would stir up her pity. Maybe instead Iought to clutter it up some more, used glasses strategically piled up, the odd fruit peel underthe sofa—a silent appeal, or would thatHelp us! Move in and straighten this poor fellow out—

    be more likely to frighten her off? What do you think, Pym?"

    Pym pursed his lips judiciously, as if considering whether it was within his Armsman's dutiesto spike his lord's taste for street theater. He finally said in a cautious tone, "If I maypresume to speak for the household, I think we should prefer to put our best foot forward.

    Under the circumstances."

     "Oh. All right."

     Miles fell silent for a few moments, staring out the canopy as they threaded through thecrowded city streets, out of the University district and across a mazelike corner of the OldTown, angling back toward Vorkosigan House. When he spoke again, the manic humor had drainedfrom his voice, leaving it cooler and bleaker.

     "We'll be picking her up tomorrow at twelve hundred. You'll drive. You will always drive, whenMadame Vorsoisson or her son are aboard. Figure it in to your duty schedule from now on."

     "Yes, m'lord." Pym added a carefully laconic, "My pleasure."

     The seizure disorder was the last souvenir that ImpSec Captain Miles Vorkosigan had broughthome from his decade of military missions. He'd been lucky to get out of the cryo-chamber aliveand with his mind intact; Miles was fully aware that many did not fare nearly so well. Lucky tobe merely medically discharged from the Emperor's Service, not buried with honors, the last ofhis glorious line, or reduced to some animal or vegetative existence. The seizure-stimulatorthe military doctors had issued him to bleed off his convulsions was very far from being acure, though it was supposed to keep them from happening at random times. Miles drove, and flewhis lightflyer—but only alone. He never took passengers anymore. Pym's batman's duties hadbeen expanded to include medical assistance; he had by now witnessed enough of Miles'sdisturbing seizures to be grateful for this unusual burst of level-headedness.

     One corner of Miles's mouth crooked up. After a moment, he asked, "And how did you evercapture Ma Pym, back in the old days, Pym? Did you put your best foot forward?"

     "It's been almost eighteen years ago. The details have gone a bit fuzzy." Pym smiled a little."I was a senior sergeant at the time. I'd taken the ImpSec advanced course, and was assigned tosecurity duty at Vorhartung Castle. She had a clerk's job in the archives there. I thought, Iwasn't some boy anymore, it was time I got serious . . . though I'm not just sure that wasn'tan idea she put into my head, because she claims she spotted me first."

     "Ah, a handsome fellow in uniform, I see. Does it every time. So why'd you decide to quit theImperial Service and apply to the Count-my-father?"

     "Eh, it seemed the right progression. Our little daughter'd come along by then, I was justfinishing my twenty-years hitch, and I was facing whether or not to continue my enlistment. Mywife's family was here, and her roots, and she didn't particularly fancy following the flagwith children in tow. Captain Illyan, who knew I was District-born, was kind enough to give mea tip, that your father had a place open in his Armsmen's score. And a recommendation, when Inerved up to apply. I figured a Count's Armsman would be a more settled job, for a family man."

     The groundcar arrived at Vorkosigan House; the ImpSec corporal on duty opened the gates forthem, and Pym pulled around to the porte cochère and popped the canopy.

     "Thank you, Pym," Miles said, and hesitated. "A word in your ear. Two words."

     Pym made to look attentive.

     "When you chance to socialize with the Armsmen of other Houses . . . I'd appreciate it if youwouldn't mention Madame Vorsoisson. I wouldn't want her to be the subject of invasive gossip,and, um . . . she's no business of everyone and his younger brother anyway, eh?"

     "A loyal Armsman does not gossip, m'lord," said Pym stiffly.

     "No, of course not. Sorry, I didn't mean to imply . . . um, sorry. Anyway. The other thing.I'm maybe guilty of saying a little too much myself, you see. I'm not actually courting MadameVorsoisson."

    Pym tried to look properly blank, but a confused expression leaked into his face. Miles addedhastily, "I mean, not formally. Not yet . She's . . . she's had a difficult time, recently, andshe's a touch . . . skittish. Any premature declaration on my part is likely to be disastrous,I'm afraid. It's a timing problem. Discreet is the watchword, if you see what I mean?"

     Pym attempted a discreet but supportive-looking smile.

     "We're just good friends," Miles reiterated. "Anyway, we're going to be."

     "Yes, m'lord. I understand."

     "Ah. Good. Thank you." Miles climbed out of the groundcar, and added over his shoulder as heheaded into the house, "Find me in the kitchen when you've put the car away."

     * * *

     Ekaterin stood in the middle of the blank square of grass with gardens boiling up in her head.

     "If you excavated there," she pointed, "and piled it up on that side, you'd gain enough slopefor the water flow. A bit of a wall there, too, to block off the street noise and to heightenthe effect. And the walkway curving down—" She wheeled, to encounter Lord Vorkosigan watchingher, smiling, his hands stuffed in his gray trouser pockets. "Or would you prefer somethingmore geometrical?"

     "Beg pardon?" He blinked.

     "It's an aesthetic question."

     "I, uh . . . aesthetics are not exactly my area of expertise." He said this in a tone of sadconfession, as though it might be something of which she was previously unaware.

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