"We haven't much space," she apologized. "I'm afraid even Barrayaran administrators here must accept what's assigned to them. I'll order in a grav-bed for you, I'm sure they'll have it delivered before dinner's over. But at least the room's private. My uncle snores so magnificently. . . . The bath's just down the hall to the right."
"It's fine," he assured her. He stepped to the window and stared out over the domed park. The lights in the encircling buildings gleaming warmly in the luminous twilight of the half-eclipsed mirror.
"I know it's not what you're used to."
One corner of his mouth twitched up. "I once slept for six weeks on bare dirt. With ten thousand extremely grubby Marilacans, many of whom snored. I assure you, it's just fine."
She smiled in return, not at all certain what to make of this joke, if it was a joke. She left him to arrange his things as he saw fit, and scurried to call the rental company and finish setting up dinner.
They all rendezvoused, despite her best intentions for a more formal service, in her kitchen, where the little Auditor foiled her expectations again by only allowing her to pour him half a glass of wine. "I started today with seven hours in a pressure suit. I'd be asleep with my face in my plate before dessert." His gray eyes glinted.
She herded them all out to the table on the balcony and presented the mildly spicy stew based on vat-protein that she'd correctly guessed her uncle would like. By the time she handed round the bread and wine, she'd at last caught up enough to finally have a word with her uncle herself.
"What's happening now with your investigation? How long can you stay?"
"Not much more than what you've heard on the news, I'm afraid," he replied. "We can only take this downside break while the probable-cause crews finish collecting the pieces. We're still missing some fairly important ones. The freighter's tow was fully loaded, and had a tremendous mass. When the engines blew, bits of all sizes vectored off in every possible direction and speed. We desperately want any parts of its control systems we can find. They should have most of it retrieved in three more days, if we're lucky."
"So was it deliberate sabotage?" Tien asked.
Uncle Vorthys shrugged. "With the pilot dead, it's going to be very hard to prove. It might have been a suicide mission. The crews have found no sign yet of military or chemical explosives."
"Explosives would have been redundant," murmured Vorkosigan.
"The spinning freighter hit the mirror array at the worst possible angle, edge-on," Uncle Vorthys continued. "Half the damage was done by parts of the mirror itself. With that much momentum imparted to it by the assorted collisions, it just ripped itself apart."
"If all that result was planned, it had to have been a truly amazing calculation," Vorkosigan said dryly. "It's the one thing which inclines me to the belief it might have been a true accident."
Ekaterin watched her husband, watching the little Auditor covertly, and read the silent disturbed judgment, Mutant! in his eyes. What was Tien going to make of the man, who openly bore, without apparent apology or even self-consciousness, such stigmata of abnormality?
Tien turned to Vorkosigan, his gaze curious. "I can see why Emperor Gregor dispatched the Professor, the Empire's foremost authority on failure analysis and all that. What's, um, your part in this, Lord Auditor Vorkosigan?"
Vorkosigan's smile twisted. "I have some experience with space installations." He leaned back, and jerked up his chin, and smoothed the odd flash of irony from his face. "In fact, as far as the probable-cause investigation goes, I'm merely along for the ride. This is the first really interesting problem to come along since I took oath as an Auditor three months ago. I wanted to watch how it was done. With his Komarran marriage coming up, Gregor is vitally interested in any possible political repercussions from this accident. Now would be a very awkward time for a serious downturn in Barrayar-Komarr relations. But whether accident or sabotage, the damage to the mirror impinges quite directly on the Terraforming Project. I understand your Serifosa Sector is fairly representative?"
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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