And can't have? 'Naw. It's the adrenaline high I crave.'

Their dinner arrived, on two carts. Miles sent away the human steward at the door, and he and Taura busied themselves in a brief domestic bustle, getting it all nicely arranged. The cabin was so spacious, the table wasn't even fold-down, but permanently bolted to the deck. Miles nibbled, and watched Taura eat. Feeding Taura always made him feel strangely happy inside. It was an impressive sight in its own right. 'Don't overlook those little fried cheese things with the spicy sauce,' he pointed out helpfully. 'Lots of calories in them, I'm sure.'

'Thanks.' A companionable silence fell, broken only by steady munching.

'Contented?' he inquired.

She swallowed a bite of something meltingly delicious formed into a dense cake in the shape of a star. 'Oh, yes.'

He smiled. She had a talent for happiness, he decided, living in the present as she so carefully did. Did the foreknowledge of her death ever ride upon her shoulder like a carrion crow . . . ? Yes, of course it does. But let us not break the mood.

'Did you mind, when you found out last year that I was Lord Vorkosigan? That Admiral Naismith wasn't real?'

She shrugged. 'It seemed right to me. I always thought you ought to be some sort of prince in disguise.'

'Hardly that!' he laughed. God save me from the Imperium, amen. Or maybe he was lying now, instead of then. Maybe Admiral Naismith was the real one, Lord Vorkosigan put on like a mask. Naismith's flat Betan accent fell so trippingly from his tongue. Vorkosigan's Barrayaran gutturals seemed to require an increasingly conscious effort, anymore. Naismith was so easy to slip into, Vorkosigan so … painful.

'Actually'—he picked up the thread of their previous conversation, confident that she would follow —'freedom is exactly what I don't want. Not in the sense of being aimless, or, or … unemployed.' Especially not unemployed. 'It's not free time that I want—the present moment excepted,' he added hastily. She nodded encouragement. 'I want . . . my destiny, I guess. To be, or become, as fully me as I possibly can.' Hence the invention of Admiral Naismith, to hold all those parts of himself for which there was no room on Barrayar.

He'd thought about it, God knew, a hundred times. Thought of abandoning Vorkosigan forever, and becoming just Naismith. Kick free of the financial and patriotic shackles of ImpSec, go renegade, make a galactic living with the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet. But that was a one-way trip. For a Vor lord to possess a private military force was high treason, illegal as hell, a capital crime. He could never go home again, once he went down that road.

Above all, he could not do that to his father. The-Count-my-Father, a name spoken all in one breath. Not while the old man lived, and hoped all his old-Barrayaran hopes for his son. He wasn't sure how his mother would react, Betan to the bone as she was even after all these years of living on Barrayar. She'd have no objection to the principle of the thing, but she didn't exactly approve of the military. She didn't exactly disapprove, either; she just made it plain that she thought there were better things for intelligent human beings to do with their lives. And once his father died . . . Miles would be Count Vorkosigan, with a District, and an important vote in the Council of Counts, and duties all day long. . . . Live, Father. Live long.

There were parts of himself for which Admiral Naismith held no place, either.

'Speaking of memorable rescues'—Taura's lovely baritone brought him back to the present—'how's your poor clone-twin Mark getting along now? Has he found his destiny yet?'

At least Taura didn't refer to his one and only sibling as the fat little creep. He smiled at her, gratefully. 'Quite well, I think. He left Barrayar with my parents when they departed for Sergyar, stayed with them a bit, then went on to Beta Colony. My Betan grandmother is keeping an eye on him for Mother. He's signed in at the University of Silica, same town as she lives in—studying accounting, of all things. He seems to like it. Sort of incomprehensible. I can't help feeling one's twin ought to share more of one's tastes than an ordinary sib.'

'Maybe later in life, you'll grow more alike.'

'I don't think Mark will ever involve himself with the military again.'

'No, but maybe you'll get interested in accounting.'

He glanced up suspiciously—oh, good. She was joking. He could tell by the crinkle at the corners of her eyes. But when they uncrinkled, faint crow's feet still tracked there. 'As long as I never acquire his girth.'

He sipped his wine. Mention of Mark recalled Jackson's Whole, and his cryo-revival, and all his secret problems that were presently spinning out in unwelcome consequence. It also recalled Dr. Durona, his cryo-revival surgeon. Had the refugee Durona sisters actually succeeded in setting up their new clinic on Escobar, far from their unbeloved ex-home? Mark ought to know; he was still channeling money to them, according to his last communication. And if so, were they ready to take on a new, or rather, old patient yet? Very, very quietly?

He could take a long leave, ostensibly to visit his parents on Sergyar. From Sergyar it was only a short hop to Escobar. Once there he could see Rowan Durona. . . . He might even be able to slip it past Illyan even more openly, feigning it was a trip to see a lover. Or at least slip it past the Count. Even ImpSec agents were allowed, grudgingly, to have private lives, though if Illyan himself had one it was news to Miles. Miles s brief love affair with Rowan had been sort of a mistake, an accident that had happened while he was still suffering from cryo-amnesia. But they had parted, he thought, on good terms. Might he persuade her to treat him, yet make no records of it for ImpSec to find?

It could be done . . . get his head fixed, whatever the hell was wrong with it, and go quietly on, with no one the wiser. Right?

Part of him was already beginning to regret not decanting both versions of his mission report to Imp-Sec onto cipher-cards, and saving the final decision for later, when he'd had a bit more time to think it through. Turn in the one, eat the other. But he was committed now, and if he was committed, he needed a better plan than trusting to luck.

Escobar it was. As soon as his schedule allowed. Extremely annoying, that he wasn't being routed through Escobar on this run home.

He sat back, and regarded the triumphant litter of plates, cups, glasses, and bowls crowding the table, looking rather like a battle scene after . . . well, after Taura had been through. No more mopping up required. He glanced past her silk-draped shoulder to their bed. 'Well, milady. A nap? Or something?'

She followed his glance. 'Something. Then a nap,' she decided.

'At your command.' He bowed vorishly, sitting, and rose to take her hand. 'Seize the night.'


As was standard operating procedure for returning couriers, an ImpSec groundcar and driver picked up Miles at the military shuttleport outside Vorbarr Sultana, and whisked him directly to ImpSec headquarters downtown. He wished the driver would slow down, or circle the block a few more times, as HQ loomed up around the last corner. As if the frustrating weeks he had spent thinking about his dilemma aboard the government ship on the way home were not enough. He didn't need more thought, he needed action.

The driver passed the security checkpoint and pulled through the gates to the massive gray building, vast and grim and foreboding. The impression was not all due to Miles s state of mind; ImpSec HQ was one of the ugliest buildings in Vorbarr Sultana. Tourists from the backcountry, who might otherwise have been expected to avoid the place, drove by just to look at it, in honor of the interesting reputation of the architect, whom legend had it had died insane after the abrupt eclipse of his patron Emperor Yuri. The driver took Miles past the daunting facade, and around to the discreet side entrance reserved for couriers, spies, informers, analysts, secretaries, janitors, and others with real business in the place.

Miles dismissed driver and car with a wave, and stood in the autumn afternoon chill outside the door, hesitating one last time. He had a sinking conviction his carefully crafted plan was never going to work.

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