Quinn blew in at last, trim and fresh in her undress grays, bearing a code-locked document case. Since they were alone, she greeted him with a nonregulation kiss, which he returned with interest. 'The Barrayaran Embassy sends you this, love. Maybe it's a Winterfair gift from Uncle Simon.'

'We can hope.' He decoded and unlocked the case. 'Ha! Indeed. It's a credit chit. Interim payment for the mission just concluded. Headquarters can't know we're done yet—he must have wanted to make sure we didn't run out of resources in the middle of things. I'm glad to know he takes personnel retrieval so seriously. It might be me needing this kind of attention, someday.'

'It was you, last year, and yes he does,' agreed Quinn. 'You have to give ImpSec that much credit, at least, they do take care of their own. A very old-Barrayaran quality, for an organization that tries to be so up-to-date.'

'And what's this, hm?' He fished the second item out of the case. Ciphered instructions, for his eyes only.

Quinn politely moved out of the line of sight, and he ran it through his comconsole, though her native curiosity couldn't help prompting a, 'So? Orders from home? Congratulations? Complaints?'

'Well . . . huh.' He sat back, puzzled. 'Short and uninformative. Why'd they bother to deep-code it? I am ordered to report home, in person, to ImpSec HQ, immediately. There's a scheduled government courier ship passing through Tau Ceti, which will lay over and wait for me—I'm to rendezvous with it by the swiftest possible means, including commercial carrier if necessary. Didn't they learn anything from Vorberg's little adventure? It doesn't even say, Conclude mission and . . . , it just says, Come. I'm to drop everything, apparently. If it's that urgent, it has to be a new mission assignment, in which case why are they requiring me to spend weeks traveling home, when I'll just have to spend more weeks traveling right back out to the Fleet?' A sudden icy fear gripped his chest. Unless it's something personal. My father—my mother . . . no. If anything had happened to Count Vorkosigan, presently serving the Imperium as Viceroy and colonial governor of Sergyar, the galactic news services would have picked it up even as far away as Zoave Twilight.

'What happens'—Quinn, leaning against the far side of the comconsole desk, found something interesting to study on her fingernails—'if you collapse again while you're traveling?'

'Not much,' he shrugged.

'How do you know?'

'Er . . .'

She glanced up sharply. 'I didn't know psychological denial could drop so many IQ points over the side. Dammit, you've got to do something about those seizures. You can't just . . . ignore them out of existence, though apparently that's exactly what you've been attempting.'

'I was trying to do something. I thought the Dendarii surgeon could get a handle on it. I was frantic to get back out to the fleet, to a doctor I could trust. Well, I can trust her all right, but she says she can't help me. Now I have to think of something else.'

'You trusted her. Why not me?'

Miles managed a somewhat pathetic shrug. The palpable inadequacy of this response drove him to add placatingly, 'She follows orders. I was afraid you might try to do things for my own good, whether they were the things I wanted or not.'

After a moment spent digesting this, Quinn went on a shade less patiently, 'How about your own people? The Imperial Military Hospital at Vorbarr Sultana is nearly up to galactic medical standards, these days.'

He fell silent, then said, 'I should have done that last winter. I'm . . . committed to finding another solution, now.'

'In other words, you lied to your superiors. And now you're caught.'

I'm not caught yet. 'You know what I have to lose.' He rose and circled the desk to take her hand, before she started biting her nails; they fell into an embrace. He tilted his face back, slipped an arm up around her neck, and pressed her down to his level for a kiss. He could feel the fear, as suppressed in her as it was in him, in her quick breathing and somber eyes.

'Oh, Miles. Tell them—tell them your brains were still thawing out back then. You weren't responsible for your judgments. Throw yourself on Illyan's mercy, quick, before it gets any worse.'

He shook his head. 'Any time up to last week, that might have worked, maybe, but after what I did to Vorberg? I don't think it can get any worse. I wouldn't have any mercy on a subordinate who pulled a trick like that, why should Illyan? Unless Illyan . . . isn't presented with the problem in the first place.'

'Great and little gods, you're not thinking you can still conceal this, are you?'

'It drops out of this mission report quite neatly.'

She pushed back from him, aghast. 'Your brains did get frostbitten.'

Irritated, he snapped, 'Illyan cultivates his reputation for omniscience quite carefully, but it's hype. Don't let those Horus-eye badges'—he mimed the ImpSec insignia by holding his circled thumb and fingers up to his eyes, and peering through owlishly—'affect your mind. We just try to look like we always know what we're doing. I've seen the secret files, I know how screwed up things can really get, behind the scenes. That fancy memory chip in Illyan's brain doesn't make him a genius, just remarkably obnoxious.'

'There are too many witnesses.'

'All Dendarii missions are classified. The troops won't blab.'

'Except to each other. The story's all over the ship, half-garbled. People have asked me about it.'

'Uh . . . what did you tell them?' She shrugged a shoulder, angrily. 'I've been implying it was a suit malfunction.'

'Oh. Good. Nevertheless . . . they're all here, and Illyan's way over there. A vast distance. What can he learn, except through what I tell him?'

'Only half-vast.' Quinn's bared teeth had little in common with a smile.

'Come on, use your reason. I know you can. If Imp Sec was going to catch this, they should have done it months ago. All the Jacksonian evidence has obviously escaped them clean.'

A pulse beat in her throat. 'There's nothing reasonable about this! Have you lost your grip, have you lost your frigging mind? I swear to the gods, you are getting as impossible to manage as your clone-brother Mark!'

'How did Mark jump into this discussion?' It was a bad sign, warning of a precipitous downhill slide in the tone of the debate. The three most ferocious arguments he'd ever had with Elli were all over Mark, all recently. Good God. He'd avoided—mostly—their usual intimacy this mission for fear of her witnessing another seizure. He hadn't thought he could explain one away as a really terrific new kind of orgasm. Had she been attributing his coolness to their lingering differences about his brother? 'Mark has nothing to do with this.

'Mark has everything to do with this! If you hadn't gone downside after him, you would never have been killed. And you wouldn't have been left with some damned cryonic short circuit in your head. You may think he's the greatest invention since the Necklin drive, but I loathe the fat little creep!'

'Well, I like the fat little creep! Somebody has to. I swear, you are frigging jealous. Don't be such a damned cast-iron bitch!'

They were standing apart, both with their fists clenched, breathing hard. If it came to blows, he'd lose, in every sense. Instead, he bit out, 'Baz and Elena are quitting, did you know that? I'm promoting you to Commodore and Fleet-second in Baz's place. Pearson will take over as Fleet engineer. And you will also be brevet captain of the Peregrine till you make rendezvous with the other half of the Fleet. The choice of the Peregrine's new commander will be your first staff appointment. Pick someone you think you can tr . . . work with. Dismissed!'

Blast it, that was not how he'd intended to present Quinn with her longed-for promotion. He'd meant to lay it at her feet as a great prize, to delight her soul and reward her extraordinary effort. Not fling it at her head like a pot in the middle of a raging domestic argument, when words could no longer convey the weight of one's emotions.

Her mouth opened, closed, opened again. 'And where the hell do you think you're going, without me as a

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