A white shape moved silently in the kitchen, briefly startling her. But it was only the mutie lord, who had shed his elegant gray tunic and, apparently, his boots. He stuck his head through the unsealed doors. "Hello?"
"Hello, Lord Vorkosigan. I'm just out here watching the mirror set. Would you, um, care for some more wine . . . ? Here, I'll get you a glass-"
"No, don't get up, Madame Vorsoisson. I'll fetch it." His pale smile winked out of the shadows at her. A few muted clinks came from within, then he trod silently onto the balcony. She poured, good hostess, generously into the glass he set beside her own, then he took it up again and went to the railing to study what could be seen of the sky past the girders of the dome.
"It's the best aspect of this location," she said. "This bit of western view." The mirror-array was magnified by the atmosphere close to the horizon, but its normal evening color-effects in the wispy clouds were dimmed by its damage. "Mirror-set's usually much prettier than this." She sipped her wine, cool and sweet on her tongue, and felt herself finally starting to become a little furry in the brain. Furry was good. Soothing.
"I can see that it must be," he agreed, still staring out. He drank deeply. Had he switched, then, from resisting sleep through alcohol to pursuing it?
"This horizon is so crowded and cluttered, compared to home. I'm afraid I find these sealed arcologies a touch claustrophobic."
"And where is home, for you?" He turned to watch her.
"South Continent. Vandeville."
"So you grew up around terraforming."
"The Komarrans would say, that wasn't terraforming, that was just soil conditioning." He chuckled along with her, at her deadpan rendition of Komarran techno-snobbery. She continued, "They're right, of course. It wasn't as though we had to start by spending half a millennium altering an entire planet's atmosphere. The only thing that made it hard for us, back in the Time of Isolation, was trying to do it with practically no technology. Still . . . I loved the open spaces at home. I miss that wide sky, horizon to horizon."
"That's true in any city, domed or not. So you're a country girl?"
"In part. Though I liked Vorbarr Sultana when I was at university. It had other kinds of horizons."
"Did you study botany? I noticed the library rack on the wall of your plant room. Impressive."
"No. It's just a hobby."
"Oh? I could have mistaken it for a passion. Or a profession."
"No. I didn't know what I wanted, then."
"Do you know now?"
She laughed a little, uneasily. When she didn't answer, he merely smiled, and strolled along the balcony examining her plantings. He stopped before the skellytum, squatting in its pot like some bright red alien Buddha, tendrils raised in a pose of placid supplication. "I have to ask," he said plaintively, "what is this thing?"
"It's a bonsai'd skellytum."
"Really! That's a-I didn't know you could do that to a skellytum. They're usually five meters tall. And a really ugly brown."
"I had a great aunt, on my father's side, who loved gardening. I used to help her when I was a girl. She was very much a crusty old frontier woman, very Vor-she'd come to the South Continent right after the Cetagandan War. Survived a succession of husbands, survived . . . well, everything. I inherited the skellytum from her. It's the only plant I brought to Komarr from Barrayar. It's over seventy years old."
"It's the complete tree, fully functional."
She was afraid for a moment that she'd inadvertently offended him, but apparently not. He finished his inspection, and returned to the railing, and his wine. He stared out again at the western horizon, and the sinking mirror, his brows lowering.
Copyright Lois McMaster Bujold 1998. All rights reserved. Published with the permission of the publisher - Baen.
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