Wait and I'll fix it. Trust me. That's what you said the last time. And the time before that, and the time before that. . . . Who is betrayed? Tien, you're running out of time, can't you see it?
She turned for her kitchen, mentally revising her planned family dinner to include a Vor lord from the Imperial capital. White wine? Her limited experience of the breed suggested that if you could get them sufficiently sloshed, it wouldn't matter what you fed them. She put another of her precious imported-from-home bottles in to chill. No . . . make that two more bottles.
She added another place to the table on the balcony off the kitchen that they routinely used for a dining room, sorry now she'd not engaged a servitor for the evening. But human servants on Komarr were so expensive. And she'd wanted this bubble of domestic privacy with Uncle Vorthys. Even the staid official newsvid reps were badgering everyone involved in the investigation; the arrival of not one but two Imperial Auditors on-site in Komarr orbit had not calmed the fever of speculation, but only redirected it. When she'd first spoken with him shortly after his arrival on-site, on a distance-delayed channel that defeated any attempt at long conversation, normally-patient Uncle Vorthys's description of the public briefings into which he'd been roped had been notably irritated. He'd hinted he would be glad to escape them. Since his years of teaching must have inured him to stupid questions, Ekaterin wondered if the true source of his irritation was that he couldn't answer them.
But mostly, she had to admit, she just wanted to recapture the flavor of a happier past, greedily for herself. She'd lived with Aunt and Uncle Vorthys for two years after her mother had died, attending the Imperial University under their casual supervision. Life with the Professor and the Professora had somehow been less constrained, and constraining, than in her father's conservative Vor household in the South Continent frontier town of her birth; perhaps because they'd treated her as the adult she aspired to be, rather than the child she had been. She'd felt, a bit guiltily, closer to them than to her real parent. For a while, any future had seemed possible.
Then she'd chosen Etienne Vorsoisson, or he had chosen her . . . You were pleased enough at the time. She'd said Yes to the marriage arrangements her father's Baba had offered, with all good will. You didn't know. Tien didn't know. Vorzohn's Dystrophy. Nobody's fault.
Nine-year-old Nikolai bounded into the kitchen. "I'm hungry, Mama. Can I have a piece of that cake?"
She intercepted fast-moving fingers attempting to sample frosting. "You can have a glass of fruit juice."
"Aw . . ." But he accepted the proffered substitute, cannily offered in one of the good wineglasses lined up waiting. He gulped it down, bobbing about as he drank. Excited, or was he picking up parental nerves? Stop projecting, she told herself. The boy had spent the last two hours in his room, tinkering intently with his models; he was due to shake out the knots.
"Do you remember Uncle Vorthys?" she asked him. "It's been three years since we visited him."
"Sure." He finished swallowing his snack. "He took me to his laboratory. I thought it would be beakers and bubbly things, but it was all big machines and concrete. Smelled funny, kind of dusty and sharp."
"From the welders and the ozone, that's right," she said, impressed with his recall. She rescued the glass. "Hold out your hand. I want to see how much you have left to grow. Puppies with big paws are supposed to grow up to be big dogs, you know." He held up his hand to hers, and they met, palm to palm. His fingers were within two centimeters of being as long as her own. "Oh, my."
He flashed her a self-conscious, satisfied grin, and stared briefly down at his feet, wriggling them in speculation. His right big toe poked through a new hole in his new sock.
Copyright Lois McMaster Bujold 1998. All rights reserved. Published with the permission of the publisher - Baen.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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