effectively for free. Are we good, yes?

So—when was the so-efficient ImpSec Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan finally going to get that longed-for promotion to captain? Odd, how Miles's Barrayaran rank still seemed more real to him than his Dendarii one. True, he had proclaimed himself an admiral first and then earned it later, instead of the more normal other way around, but at this late date no one could say he had not really become what he had once pretended to be. From the galactic point of view, Admiral Naismith was solid all the way through. Everything he advertised himself as being, he really was, now. His Barrayaran identity was simply an extra dimension. An appendix?

There's no place like home.

I didn't say there was nothing better. I just said there was nothing likeit.

This brought him to Appendix C, which was the Dendarii combat armor recordings of the actual penetration and hostage retrieval sequences, Sergeant Taura's Green Squad and its rescue of the freighter's crew, and his own Blue Squad and that whole . . . chain of events. In full sound and color, with all their suits' medical and communications telemetry. Morbidly, Miles ran through all the real-time records of his seizure and its unfortunate consequences. Suit #060's vid recording had some really great close-ups of Lieutenant Vorberg, shocked from his doped stupor, screaming in agony and toppling unconscious in one direction while his severed legs fell in the other. Miles found himself bent over, clutching his chest in sympathy.

This was not going to be a good time to pester Illyan for a promotion.

The convalescent Vorberg had been handed over yesterday to the Barrayaran Counsel's office on Zoave Twilight, for shipment home through normal channels. Miles was secretly grateful that his covert status had let him off the hook for going into sick bay and personally apologizing to the man. Before the plasma arc accident Vorberg had not seen Miles's face, concealed as it had been by the combat armor's helmet, and afterwards, of course . . . The Dendarii surgeon reported Vorberg had only the haziest and most confused memory of his rescue.

Miles wished he could delete the entire Blue Squad record from his report. Impractical, alas. Having the most interesting sequence missing would draw Illyan's attention as surely as a signal fire on a mountaintop.

Of course, if he deleted the entire appendix, all the squad records, it would be camouflaged in the general absence. . . .

Miles considered what could replace Appendix C. He had written plenty of brief or vague mission synopses in the past, in the press of events or exhaustion. Due to a malfunction, the right-arm plasma arc in Suit #032 locked into the 'on' position. In the several minutes of confusion surrounding correcting the malfunction, the subject was unfortunately hit by the plasma beam. . . . Not his fault, if the reader construed this as a malfunction in the suit and not its wearer.

No. He could not lie to Illyan. Not even in the passive voice.

I wouldn't be lying. I'd just be editing my report for length.

It couldn't be done. He'd be sure to miss some tiny corroborative detail in one of the other files, and Illyan's analysts would pick it up, and then he'd be in ten times the trouble.

Not that there was that much in the other sections pertinent to this brief incident. It wouldn't be that hard to run over the whole report.

This is a bad idea.

Still … it would be interesting practice. He might have the job of reading field reports someday, God forbid. It would be educational to test how much fudging was possible. For his curiosity's sake, he recorded the full report, made a copy, and began playing around with the copy. What minimum alterations and deletions were required to erase a field agent s embarrassment?

It only took about twenty minutes.

He stared at the finished product. It was downright artistic. He felt a little sick to his stomach. This could get me cashiered.

Only if I got caught. His whole life felt as if it had been based on that principle; he'd outrun assassins, medics, the regulations of the Service, the constraints of his Vor rank . . . he'd outrun death itself, demonstrably. I can even move faster than you, Illyan.

He considered the present disposition of Illyan's independent observers in the Dendarii fleet. One was detached back with the fleets main body; the second posed as a comm officer on the Ariel. Neither had been aboard the Peregrine or out with the squads; neither could contradict him.

I think I'd better think about this for a while. He classified the doctored version top secret and filed it beside the original. He stretched to ease the ache in his back. Desk work did that to one.

His cabin door chimed. 'Yes?'

'Baz and Elena,' a woman's voice floated through the intercom.

Miles cleared his comconsole, slipped his uniform jacket back on, and released the door lock. 'Enter.' He turned in his station chair, smiling a little, to watch them come in.

Baz was Dendarii Commodore Baz Jesek, chief engineer of the Fleet and Miles's nominal second-in- command. Elena was Captain Elena Bothari-Jesek, Baz's wife, and current commander of the Peregrine. Both were among the few fellow Barrayarans the Dendarii employed, and both were fully apprised of Miles's dual identity as Admiral Naismith, slightly renegade Betan mercenary, and Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan, dutiful Barrayaran ImpSec covert ops agent, for both predated the creation of the Dendarii Fleet itself. The lanky, balding Baz had been in on the beginning of it, a deserter on the run whom Miles had picked up and (in his private opinion) re-created. Elena . . . was another matter altogether.

She'd been Miles's Barrayaran bodyguard's daughter, raised in Count Vorkosigan's household, and practically Miles's foster sister. Barred from Barrayaran military service by her gender, she had longed for the status of a soldier on her army-mad homeworld. Miles had found a way to get it for her. She looked all soldier now, slim and as tall as her husband in her crisp Dendarii undress grays. Her dark hair, clipped in wisps around her ears, framed pale hawk features and alert dark eyes.

So how might their lives have been different, if she had only said 'Yes' to Miles's passionate, confused proposal of marriage when they were both eighteen? Where would they be now? Living the comfortable lives of Vor aristocrats in the capital? Would they be happy? Or growing bored with each other, and regretting their lost chances? No, they wouldn't even know what chances they had lost. Maybe there would have been children. . . . Miles cut off this line of thought. Unproductive.

Yet somewhere, suppressed deep in Miles's heart, something still waited. Elena seemed happy enough with her choice of husband. But a mercenary's life—as he had recent reason to know—was chancy indeed. A little difference in some enemy's aim, somewhere along the line, might have turned her into a grieving widow, awaiting consolation . . . except that Elena saw more line combat than Baz did. As an evil plot, brooded upon in the recesses of Miles's mind in the secrecy of the night-cycle, this one had a serious flaw. Well, one couldn't help one's thoughts. One could help opening one's mouth and saying something really stupid, though.

'Hi, folks. Pull up a seat. What can I do for you?' Miles said cheerfully.

Elena smiled back, and the two officers arranged station chairs on the other side of Miles's comconsole desk. There was something unusually formal in the way they seated themselves. Baz opened his hand to Elena, to cede her the first word, sure sign of a tricky bit coming up. Miles pulled himself into focus.

She began with the obvious. 'Are you feeling all right now, Miles?'

'Oh, I'm fine.'

'Good.' She took a deep breath. 'My lord—'

Another sure sign of something unusual, when she addressed him in terms of their Barrayaran liege

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