best features, without ever once intimating any fault in her taste or personal appearance. She might be able to break him with one hand, but he could kill her with a word. Never.

His own face lit with unabashed delight at her return. She was wearing something cream-colored and sleek and shimmery-silky, meters of fabric so fine one might with little effort draw it through a ring. The goddess-effect was nicely enhanced, her immense intrinsic dignity unimpaired. 'Oh, splendid!' he caroled, with unfeigned enthusiasm.

'Do you really think so?' She spun for him; the silk floated outward, along with a spicy-musky scent that seemed to go straight up his nostrils to his back-brain with no intervening stops. Her bare toes did not click on the floor—prudently, she had trimmed and blunted all her nails, before painting them with gold enamel. He'd have no hard-to-explain need for stitches or surgical glue this time.

She lay down beside him, their ludicrous height-difference obviated. Here at last they might fill their hunger for human, or almost-human, touch until sated, without interruption, without comment. . . . He bristled defensively inside, at the thought of anyone watching this, of some abrupt surprised bark of laughter or sarcastic witticism. Was his edginess because he was breaking his own rules? He didn't expect any outsider to understand this relationship.

Did he understand it himself? Once, he might have mumbled something about the thrill, an obsession with mountain climbing, the ultimate sex fantasy for a short guy. Later, maybe something about a blow for life against death. Maybe it was simpler than that. Maybe it was just love.

He woke much, much later, and watched her as she slept. It was a measure of her trust, that his slight stirring did not bring her hyper-awake, as her genetically programmed drives usually rendered her. Of all her many and fascinating responses, the fact that she slept for him was the most telling, if one knew her inside story.

He studied the play of light and shadow over her long, long ivory body, half-draped with their well-stirred sheets. He let his hand flow along the curves, a few centimeters from the surface, buoyed by the feverish heat rising from her golden skin. The gentle movement of her breathing made the shadows dance. Her breathing was, as always, a little too deep, a little too fast. He wanted to slow it down. As if not her days, but her inhalations and exhalations were numbered, and when she'd used them all up …

She was the last survivor of her fellow prototypes. They had all been genetically programmed for short lives, in part, perhaps, as a sort of fail-safe mechanism, in part, perhaps, in an effort to inculcate soldierly courage, out of some dim theory that a short life would be more readily sacrificed in battle than a long one. Miles did not think the researchers had quite understood courage, or life. The super-soldiers had died fast, when they died, with no lingering years of arthritic old age to gradually wean them from their mortality. They suffered only weeks, months at most, of a deterioration as fierce as their lives had been. It was as if they were designed to go up in flame, not down in shame. He studied the tiny silver glints in Taura's mahogany hair. They had not been there last year.

She's only twenty-two, for God's sake.

The Dendarii fleet surgeon had studied her carefully, and given her drugs to slow her ferocious metabolism. She only ate as much as two men now, not four. Year by year, like pulling hot gold wire through a screen, they had extended Taura's life. Yet sometime, that wire must snap.

How much more time? A year? Two? When he returned to the Dendarii next time, would she still be there to greet him, with a proper, Hello, Admiral Naismith in public, and a most improper, not to mention rude and raucous, Howdy, Lover! in private . . . ?

It's a good thing she loves Admiral Naismith. Lord Vorkosigan couldn't handle this.

He thought a bit guiltily of Admiral Naismith's other lover, the public and acknowledged Quinn. Nobody had to explain or excuse being in love with the beautiful Quinn. She was self-evidently his match.

He was not, exactly, being unfaithful to Elli Quinn. Technically, Taura predated her. And he and Quinn had exchanged no vows, no oaths, no promises. Not for lack of asking; he'd asked her a painful number of times. But she too was in love with Admiral Naismith. Not Lord Vorkosigan. The thought of becoming Lady Vorkosigan, grounded downside forever on a planet she herself had stigmatized as a 'backwater dirtball,' had been enough to send space-bred Quinn screaming in the opposite direction, or at least, excusing herself uneasily.

Admiral Naismith's love-life was some sort of adolescents dream: unlimited and sometimes astonishing sex, no responsibilities. Why didn't it seem to be working anymore?

He loved Quinn, loved the energy and intelligence and drive of her, their shared passion for the military life. She was one of the most wonderful friends he'd ever had. But in the end, she offered him only . . . sterility. They had no more future together than did he and Elena, bound to Baz, or he and Taura. Who is dying.

God, I hurt. It would be almost a relief, to escape Admiral Naismith, and return to Lord Vorkosigan. Lord Vorkosigan had no sex life.

He paused. So … when had that happened, that. . . lack in his life? Rather a long time ago, actually. Odd. He hadn't noticed it before.

Taura's eyes half-opened, honey-colored glints. She favored him with a sleepy, fanged smile.

'Hungry?' he asked her, confident of the answer.

'Uh huh.'

They spent a pleasant few minutes studying the lengthy menu provided by the ship's galley, then punched in a massive order. With Taura along, Miles realized cheerfully, he might get to try a bite of nearly everything, with no embarrassing wasteful leftovers.

While waiting for their feast to arrive, Taura piled pillows and sat up in bed, and regarded him with a reminiscent gleam in her gold eyes. 'Do you remember the first time you fed me?'

'Yes. In Ryoval's dungeons. That repellent dry ration bar.'

'Better rat bars than raw rats, let me tell you.'

'I can do better now.'

'And how.'

When people were rescued, they ought to stay rescued. Wasn't that the deal? And then we all live happily ever after, right? Till we die. But with this medical discharge threat hanging over his head, was he so sure that it was Taura who would go first? Maybe it would be Admiral Naismith after all. … 'That was one of my first personnel retrievals. Still one of the best, in a sort of cockeyed way.'

'Was it love at first sight, for you?'

'Mm . . . no, truthfully. More like terror at first sight. Falling in love took, oh, an hour or so.'

'Me, too. I didn't really start to fall seriously in love with you till you came back for me.'

'You do know . . . that didn't exactly start out as a rescue mission.' An understatement: he'd been hired to 'terminate the experiment.'

'But you turned it into one. It's your favorite kind, I think. You always seem to be especially cheerful whenever you're running a rescue, no matter how hairy things are getting.'

'Not all the rewards of my job are financial. I don't deny, it's an emotional kick to pull some desperate somebody out of a deep, deep hole. Especially when nobody else thinks it can be done. I adore showing off, and the audience is always so appreciative.' Well, maybe not Vorberg.

'I've sometimes wondered if you're like that Barrayaran fellow you told me about, who went around giving everybody liver pates for Winterfair 'cause he loved them himself. And was always frustrated that no one ever gave him any.'

'I don't need to be rescued. Usually.' Last year's sojourn on Jackson's Whole having been a memorable exception. Except that his memory of it had a big three-month blank in it.

'Mm, not rescue, exactly. Rescue's consequence. Freedom. You give freedom away whenever you can. Is it because it's something you want yourself?'

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