'We took their big ship and nineteen prisoners. Three enemy killed. All secured there; our prize crew is aboard cleaning up. Six or eight of the bastards escaped in their jump-pinnance. It's weak on armament—this far from the nearest jump point, the Ariel can overtake them at our leisure. Your decision, whether to stand off and blow them up, or attempt capture.'

Miles rubbed his face. 'Interrogate those prisoners. If this is the same bloody-handed lot that took the Solera last year, and murdered all the passengers and crew, Vega Station will pay a reward, and we can collect three times for the same mission. Since the Vegans are offering the same reward for the proof of their deaths, record everything carefully. We'll demand surrender. Once.' He sighed. 'I take it things did not run exactly according to plan. Again.'

'Hey. Any hostage-rescue ploy that gets everyone out alive is a success by any sane standard. Assuming our fleet surgeon doesn't reattach your poor Barrayaran's legs left-to-right or backwards, this is a one-hundred- percenter.'

'Er . . . yes. What happened when … I went down? What happened to Vorberg?'

'Friendly fire, unfortunately. Though it didn't seem all that friendly at the time. You fell over—surprised the hell out of us. Your suit emitted a lot of garbage telemetry, then your plasma arc locked on.' She raked her hands through her hair.

Miles glanced at the heavy-duty plasma arc built into the right arm of Quinn's space armor, twin to his own. His heart sank into his churning stomach. 'Oh, no. Oh, shit. Don't tell me.'

'I'm afraid so. You kneecapped your own rescuee. Neat as could be, right across both legs. Luckily—I guess—the beam cauterized as it sliced, so he didn't bleed to death. And he was so tanked on drugs, I'm not even sure he felt much. For a moment I thought some enemy had taken over remote control of your suit, but the engineers swear that isn't possible anymore. You blew out a bunch of walls—it took four of us to sit on your arm till we could take the medic's can-opener to your armor and get in and get you disconnected. You were thrashing around—you damn near took us out too. In pure desperation, I stunned you on the back of your neck, and you went limp. I was afraid I'd killed you.'

Quinn was a little breathless, describing this. Her lovely face was not, after all, the original, but a replacement after her own violent encounter with plasma fire, over a decade ago. 'Miles, what the hell was going on with you?'

'I think I had . . . some kind of seizure. Like epilepsy, except that it doesn't seem to leave any neurological tracks. I'm afraid it might be an aftereffect from my cryo-revival last year.' You know damned well it is. He touched the twin scars on either side of his neck, now grown faint and pale, the lesser souvenirs of that event. Quinn's emergency stunner-treatment explained his lengthy bout of unconsciousness and subsequent headache. So, the seizures were no worse than before. . . .

'Oh, dear,' said Quinn. 'But is this the first—' She paused, and looked at him more closely. Her voice went flatter. 'This isn't the first time you've done this, is it.'

The silence stretched; Miles forced himself to speak before it snapped. 'It happened three or four,' or five 'times soon after I was brought back from stasis. My cryo-revival surgeon said they might go away on their own, the way the memory loss and the shortness of breath have. And after that they seemed to stop.'

'And ImpSec let you go out on a covert ops field mission with that kind of time bomb in your head?'

'ImpSec . . . does not know.'

'Miles …'

'Elli,' he said desperately, 'they'd pull me right off line duty, you know they would. Nail my boots to the floor behind some desk at best. Medical discharge at worst—and that would be the end of Admiral Naismith. Forever.'

She froze, stricken.

'I figured if the seizures came back I'd try to solve 'em on my own. I thought I had.'

'Does anybody know?'

'Not . . . very many. I didn't want to chance it getting back to ImpSec. I told the Dendarii fleet surgeon. I swore her to secrecy. We were working on a causal diagnosis. Haven't got too far yet. Her specialty's trauma, after all.' Yes, like plasma arc burns, and limb reattachment. At least Lieutenant Vorberg could not be in better or more experienced hands right now, even if he could have been magically transported in an instant back to Barrayar's own Imperial Military Hospital.

Quinn's lips tightened. 'But you didn't tell me. Never mind our personal relationship, I'm your second in command on this mission!'

'I should have told you. Obvious in hindsight.' Blindingly.

Quinn glanced up the fuselage of the shuttle, where a medtech from the Peregrine was wrestling a float pallet in through the hatch. 'I still have some mopping up to supervise. You're going to stay in the frigging sick bay till I get back, right?'

'I'm back on track now! It could be months till it happens again. If ever.'

'Right?' Quinn repeated through her teeth, with an open glare at him.

He thought of Vorberg, and deflated. 'Right,' he muttered.

'Thank you,' she hissed.

He scorned the float pallet, insisting on walking, but otherwise followed the medtech, feeling horribly subdued. I'm losing control of this. . . .

As soon as Miles arrived in sick bay, an anxious tech administered a brain scan, drew blood, took samples of every fluid his body could be made to exude, and rechecked every vital sign he possessed. After that, there was not very much to do but wait for the surgeon. Miles withdrew discreetly into a small examining room, where his batman brought him his ship uniform. The man seemed inclined to hover solicitously and Miles, irritated, sent him away.

This left Miles alone in a quiet room with nothing to do but think, possibly a tactical error. Quinn could be trusted with the mopping up, or why else had he made her his second? She had taken over competently enough the last time he had been violently removed from his chain of command, his chest blown out by that sniper's needle grenade on the mission to Jackson's Whole.

He pulled up and fastened his gray trousers, and studied his torso, his fingers tracing the wide spidery burst of scars fading on his skin. The Jacksonian cryo-revival surgeon had done a superb job. His new heart and lungs and assorted other organs were nearly fully grown now, entirely functional. With the latest additions, the brittle bones that had plagued him since his defective birth were almost completely replaced by synthetics throughout his body. The cryo-surgeon had even straightened his spine while she was at it; there was barely a hint left of the hunchback curvature that, along with his dwarfish stature, had made his fellow Barrayarans snigger Mutant! when they thought he could not hear. He'd even gained a couple more centimeters in height out of the deal, an expensive little bonus, but it mattered to him. The fatigue didn't show. To the outward eye, he was in better physical shape than he'd ever been in his nearly thirty years of life.

There's just one little hitch.

Of all the threats that had ever shadowed his hard-won career, this was the most elusive, the least expected, the most fatal. He'd worked with impassioned concentration, overcoming all doubts as to his physical disabilities, winning his way to premier status as Barrayaran Imperial Security's most creative galactic affairs agent. Where the Barrayaran Empire's regular forces could not reach, past barriers of politics and distance in the chaining network of wormhole jump routes that strung the galaxy together, a supposedly independent mercenary outfit might pop up unimpeded. Miles had spent a decade perfecting his cover identity of 'Admiral Naismith,' self-styled leader of the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet. Daring Rescues Our Specialty.

Such as the current mission. The grotty crew of hijackers had run seriously out of luck the day they'd stolen an unarmed freighter of Zoave Twilight's planetary registry, and found what they thought was the prize in the package in the form of a Barrayaran Imperial Courier, covertly transporting credit chits and vital diplomatic

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