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«Borders of Infinity», Lois Bujold

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1

"You have a visitor, Lieutenant Vorkosigan." A little glassy panic twitched in the normally matter-of-fact corpsman's face. He stepped aside to let the man he escorted enter Miles's hospital room. Miles caught a glimpse of the corpsman retreating hastily even before the door hissed shut behind the visitor.

Snub nose, bright eyes, and an open, mild expression gave the man a false air of youth, though his brown hair was greying at the temples. He was slight of body, wore civilian clothes, and radiated no aura of menace, despite the corpsman's reaction. In fact, he had scarcely an aura at all. Work as a covert agent in his early days had given Simon Illyan, Chief of Barrayar's Imperial Security, a life-long habit of being inconspicuous.

"Hi, boss," said Miles.

"You look like hell," Illyan noted agreeably. "Don't bother saluting."

Miles snorted a laugh, which hurt. Everything seemed to hurt except his arms, bandaged and immobilized from shoulderblades to fingertips; they were still numb from the surgical stunners. He wriggled his hospital-gowned body further into his bedclothes, futilely seeking comfort.

"How was your bone-replacement surgery?" asked Illyan.

"About what I expected, from having my legs done before. The ugliest part was opening my right arm and hand up to pick out all the bone fragments. Tedious. The left went a lot faster, the pieces were bigger. Now I get to sit around for a while to see if the marrow transplants are going to take in their synthetic matrix. I'll be a bit anemic for a while."

"I hope you are not going to make a habit of returning from your mission assignments on a stretcher."

"Now, now, this is only the second time that's happened. Besides, eventually I'll run out of unreplaced bones. By the time I'm thirty I could be entirely plastic." Glumly, Miles considered this possibility. If more than half of him became spare parts, could he be declared legally dead? Would he ever walk into a prosthetics manufacturing plant and cry, "Mother!"? Were the medical sedatives making him just a little spacey . . . ?

"About your missions," said Illyan firmly.

Ah. So this visit wasn't just an expression of personal concern, if Illyan had ever owned any personal concern. It was sometimes hard to tell. "You have my reports," said Miles warily.

"Your reports, as usual, are masterpieces of understatement and misdirection," said Illyan. He sounded perfectly serene about it.

"Well . . . anybody might read 'em. You can't tell."

"Hardly 'anyone,' " said Illyan. "But just so."

"So what's the problem?"

"Money. Specifically, accountability for same."

Maybe it was the drugs he was stuffed with, but Miles could make no sense of this. "Don't you like my work?" he said rather plaintively.

"Apart from your injuries, the results of your latest mission are highly satisfactory," began Illyan.

"They'd by-God better be," Miles muttered grimly.

"—and your late, er, adventures on Earth, just prior to it, are still fully classified. We will discuss them later."

"I've got to report to a couple of higher authorities first," Miles put in urgently.

Illyan waved this aside. "So I understand. No. These charges date to the Dagoola affair, and before."

"Charges?" Miles muttered in bewilderment.

Illyan studied him thoughtfully. "I consider what the emperor spends to keep up your connection to the Dendarii Free Mercenaries to be worth it purely from an internal security standpoint. Were you to be permanently posted at, say, Imperial HQ here at the capital, you'd be a damned plot-magnet all the time. Not just for favor– and office-seekers, but for anyone who wants to touch your father through you. As now."

Miles squinted, as though focusing his eyes could focus his thoughts. "Ah?"

"In brief, certain parties in Imperial Accounting are going over your reports from your mercenary fleet's covert ops with a microscope. They would like to know in more detail where certain large packets of cash have gone. Some of your equipment-replacement chits have been outrageous. More than once. Even from my point of view. They would very much like to prove an on-going pattern of peculation. A court-martial charging you with lining your own pockets at the emperor's expense would be gloriously embarrassing just now, for your father and his whole Centrist coalition."

Miles exhaled, stunned. "Has it gone so far—?"

"Not yet. I fully intend to quash it before it gets off the ground. But to do so I need more details. So as not to get blindsided, as I have sometimes been in your more tangled affairs—still remember, if you do not, spending a month in my own prison because of you . . ." Illyan glowered into the past.


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