Lois McMaster Bujold
The last gleaming sliver of Komarr's true-sun melted out of sight beyond the low hills on the western horizon. Lagging behind it in the vault of the heavens, the reflected fire of the solar mirror sprang out in brilliant contrast to the darkening, purple-tinged blue. When Ekaterin had first viewed the hexagonal soletta-array from downside on Komarr's surface, she'd immediately imagined it as a grand Winterfair ornament, hung in the sky like a snowflake made of stars, benign and consoling. She leaned now on her balcony overlooking Serifosa Dome's central city park, and gravely studied the lopsided spray of light through the glassy arc overhead. It sparkled deceptively in contrast to the too-dark sky. Three of the six disks of the star-flake shone not at all, and the central seventh was occluded and dull.
Ancient Earthmen, she had read, had taken alterations in the clockwork procession of their heavens—comets, novae, shooting stars—for disturbing omens, premonitions of disasters natural or political; the very word,
Outside the arcologies, in the fragile plantations that labored to bio-transform a world, it was another question altogether. She knew the math, discussed nightly at her dinner table for two weeks, of the percentage loss of insolation at the equator. Days gone winter-cloudy—except that they were planetwide, and going on and on, until when? When would repairs be complete? When would they
Will they try again?
Stupid. Stop it. We're lucky to be here.
"Well, come down here!"
She set her gardening tools in the box seat, closed the lid, sealed the transparent doors behind her, and hurried across the room into the hall and down the circular staircase. Tien was standing impatiently beside the double doors from their apartment to the building's corridor, a comm link in his hand.
"Your uncle just called. He's landed at the shuttleport. I'll get him."
"I'll get Nikolai, and go with you."
"Don't bother, I'm just going to meet him at the West Station locks. He said to tell you, he's bringing a guest. Another Auditor, some sort of assistant to him, it sounded like. But he said not to worry, they'll both take pot luck. He seemed to imagine we'd feed them in the kitchen or something. Eh!
She stared at him in dismay. "How can my Uncle Vorthys come to Komarr and not see us? Besides, you can't say your department isn't affected by what he's investigating. Naturally he wants to see it. I thought you liked him."
He slapped his hand arrhythmically on his thigh. "Back when he was just the old weird Professor, sure. Eccentric Uncle Vorthys, the Vor tech. This Imperial appointment of his took the whole family by surprise. I can't imagine what favors he called in to get it."
"Naive Kat." He smiled shortly, and hugged her around the shoulders. "No one gets something for nothing in Vorbarr Sultana. Except, perhaps, your uncle's assistant, whom I gather is closely related to
He tucked his comm link away in his tunic pocket. His hand was shaking slightly. Ekaterin grasped his wrist and turned it over. The tremula increased. She raised her eyes, dark with worry, in silent question to his.
"No, dammit!" He jerked his arm away. "It's not starting. I'm just a little tense. And tired. And hungry, so see if you can't pull together a decent meal by the time we're back. Your uncle may have prole tastes, but I can't imagine they're shared by a Vorbarr Sultana lordling." He thrust his hands into his trouser pockets and looked away from her unhappy frown.
"You're older now than your brother was then."
"Variable onset, remember? We'll go soon. I promise."
"Tien … I wish you'd give up this galactic treatment plan. They have medical facilities here on Komarr that are almost as good as, as Beta Colony or anywhere. I thought, when you won this post here, that you would. Forget the secrecy, just go openly for help. Or go discreetly, if you insist. But don't wait any longer!"
"They're not discreet enough. My career is finally on course, finally paying off. I have no desire to be publicly branded a mutant
"Just don't . . . take your brother's way out. Promise me!" The lightflyer accident that hadn't been quite an accident: that had ushered in these years of chronic, subclinical nightmare waiting and watching. . . .