"Then you are the Lord Vorkosigan, the Count's heir."
"That follows, yes."
Vorkosigan was getting unnervingly dry, now. Ekaterin blurted, "Your upbringing must have been terribly difficult."
"He managed," Vorkosigan murmured.
"I meant for you!"
"Ah." His brief smile returned, and flicked out again.
The conversation was going dreadfully awry, Ekaterin could feel it; she hardly dared open her mouth on an attempt to redirect it. Tien stepped in, or stepped in it: "Was your father the great Admiral reconciled that you couldn't have a military career?"
"My grandfather the great General was more set on it."
"I was a ten-years man myself, the usual. In Administration, very dull. Trust me, you didn't miss much." Tien waved a kindly, dismissive hand. "But not every Vor has to be a soldier these days, eh, Professor Vorthys? You're living proof."
"I believe Captain Vorkosigan served, um, thirteen years, was it, Miles? In Imperial Security. Galactic operations. Did you find it dull?"
Vorkosigan's smile upon the Professor grew genuine, for an instant of time. "Not nearly dull enough." He jerked up his chin, evidently a habitual nervous tic. For the first time Ekaterin noticed the fine white scars on either side of his short neck.
Ekaterin fled to the kitchen, to serve the dessert and give the blighted conversation time to recover. When she came out again, things had eased, or at least, Nikolai had stopped being so supernaturally good, i.e., quiet, and had struck up a negotiation with his great-uncle for after-dinner attention in the form of a round of his current favorite game. This carried them through till the rental company arrived at the front door with the grav-bed, and the great engineer went off with the whole male mob to oversee its installation. Ekaterin turned gratefully to the soothing routine of cleaning up.
Tien returned to report success and the Vor lord suitably settled.
"Tien, were you watching that fellow closely?" asked Ekaterin. "A mutie, a mutie Vor, yet he carried on as if nothing were the least out of the ordinary. If he can . . ." she trailed off hopefully, leaving the surely you can for Tien to conclude.
Tien frowned. "Don't start that again. It's obvious he doesn't think the rules apply to him. He's Aral Vorkosigan's son, for God's sake. Practically the Emperor's foster brother. No wonder he got this cushy Imperial appointment."
"I don't think so, Tien. Were you listening to him at all?" All those undercurrents . . . "I think . . . I think he's the Emperor's hatchet man, sent to judge the whole Terraforming Project. Powerful . . . maybe dangerous."
Tien shook his head. "His father was powerful and dangerous. He's just privileged. Damned high Vor twit. Don't worry about him. Your uncle will take him away soon enough."
"I'm not worried about him."
Tien's face darkened. "I'm getting so tired of this! You argue with everything I say, you practically insult my intelligence in front of your so-noble relative-"
"I didn't!" Did I? She began a confused mental review of her evening's remarks. What in the world had she said, to set him on edge like this-
"Just because you're the great Auditor's niece doesn't make you anybody, girl! This is disloyalty, that's what it is."
"No-no, I'm sorry-"
But he was already stalking out. There would be a cold silence between them tonight. She almost ran after him, to beg his forgiveness. He was under a lot of pressure at work, it was very ill-timed of her to push for a resolution to his medical dilemma now. . . . But she was abruptly too weary to try anymore. She finished putting away the last of the food, and took the leftover half bottle of wine and a glass out onto the balcony. She turned off the cheery colored plant lights and just sat in the dim reflected illumination from the sealed Komarran city. The crippled star-flake of the insolation mirror had almost reached the western horizon, following the true-sun into night as the planet turned.
Copyright Lois McMaster Bujold 1998. All rights reserved. Published with the permission of the publisher - Baen.
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