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Chapter 22 - Can’t Trace Time by A.J. Hall

“No, Administrator Vorsoisson. Come right in.”

As soon as Vorsoisson - the sap - crossed the threshold Owen hit the controls in the armrest of the chair. The door hissed locked behind him. Vorsoisson, looking affronted but not worried - as he fucking well ought to be - advanced across the carpeted acres of his office. Silently, Owen gestured towards the upright chair he’d placed ready on the other side of his desk and Vorsoisson sat down.

“Right,” Owen said. “There are some security issues I need to discuss with you. And I’ve not got much time to waste. Suppose we start at the very beginning. Suppose you try to explain to me, in words on one syllable, Vorsoisson, exactly how you interpret the words ‘confidential patient database.’ ” He half-rose, leaning across the desk, supporting himself on his spread hands. He was barely six inches from Vorsoisson’s face. “Because it fucking well doesn’t seem to bear any resemblance to any normal meaning that applies anywhere else in the Galaxy.”

Vorsoisson recoiled a little; Owen’s smile became more blood-thirsty.

“I’ve been looking at the authorisations you’ve signed over the five months you’ve been in this post. What’s more, I’ve cross-referred them to the security records - ID logs, holo-records, even, god help me, to your timesheets. Aiming for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for those, were you, Vorsoisson?”

That, clearly, was one obsolete cultural reference too far. Vorsoisson gulped. “I -ah - um -“

“Don’t bother answering that one,” Owen snapped. “I’m more interested in the big question.”

He exhaled. “That being: would you care to tell me, Vorsoisson, how in the name of all the bleeding laws of physics in the Universe you seem to do a harder day’s work the times you aren’t in the office than you can ever be arsed to manage when you are?”

Vorsoisson opened his mouth in what was a quite competent impersonation of a goldfish. Before any sound could emerge, however, there came a noise from behind Owen’s back. Owen half-turned.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Bel, not looking noticeably apologetic, let the door to Owen’s private quarters fall closed behind it. “I hadn’t realised you were busy.” Bel was fresh from the bath, its short brown curls damp, a towel slung sarong style around its hips. It hadn’t bothered with any other covering.

Vorsoisson turned a nasty shade of puce, and made as if to get up from his chair. Owen, an unholy glee starting to rise within him, gestured him back.

“No, Administrator. You - or that invisible pixie you seem to have following you around, doing your work for you - managed something quite special in Captain Thorne’s case. A transfer to a trauma clinic that not only has no record of its existence anywhere in the Barrayaran Empire, but - in a sick joke which ought to have alerted suspicion in a bacterial culture - happened to be named after one of the most notorious serial killers, sex criminals and paedophiles in recorded history. Any excuse you can find for that one concerns Captain Thorne even more than it concerns me. So don’t even think of leaving on its account.”

Bel strolled across to perch on the armrest of Owen’s chair, brushing a brief, light kiss over his cheek as it did so and regarding Vorsoisson with alert interest.

Vorsoisson gaped. “It?”

“Betan hermaphrodite,” Bel supplemented helpfully. There was a pause, presumably while Vorsoisson’s floundering brain tried to process the information. Then the penny dropped. His gaze flicked from Bel’s breasts to the line of its throat and jaw before it finally locked with horrid fascination on Bel’s towel.

“You - what - that - you can’t be serious!” he spluttered.

Owen coughed, repressively, and made his voice cool. “Really, Vorsoisson, if you are going to progress in hospital administration you simply can’t afford to get behind on essential technical reading. Betan hermaphrodites have been established in the galaxy for a good two hundred and fifty years. I’d have expected even you to have noticed.”

Bel, curse its black heart, emitted a brief cackle which it turned - too belatedly to be diplomatic - into a cough.

Vorsoisson looked as though he was suppressing a bilious attack. “Galactic corruption! To go out and deliberately create a race of mutants.”

Owen could feel Bel tense beside him. He slid his arm round its shoulders in what was intended to be a reassuring cuddle but which - as the feel of Bel’s smoothly muscled skin against his own recent memories - turned into something rather more. It was an effort to drag his attention back to the current interview, and Vorsoisson was clearly aware of that; he thought, for a moment, that the man was going to be physically sick.

He infused his voice with a savage contempt. “Tell me, Vorsoisson, with a mind that narrow don’t you find the blood has difficulty squeezing its way around? If I were you I’d book yourself in for a check-up, see if the anoxia’s caused permanent neural damage. That might go a long way towards explaining your recent idiocies.”

Vorsoisson made a blind, bull-like lunge towards him. Owen shoved the swivel chair back, out of the range of his flailing fists at the same time as Bel broke out of his grasp, vaulted the desk and planted both feet in Vorsoisson’s chest in a flying karate kick which sent the administrator over backwards. Following up its advantage, it pinned him to the carpet with an accurately placed knee on each arm, and frisked him all over with brutal efficiency.

The whole incident could have taken less than five seconds. Owen felt almost dizzy. There was a pool of white fabric at his feet. He picked it up and moved round to the front of the desk, extending it to Bel.

“You lost your towel, darlin’,” he said. Bel took it with a nonchalance which suggested that nude unarmed combat was all in a day’s work to it. Perhaps it was. It had certainly been effective enough. Modesty Blaise had nothing on it. Vorsoisson seemed almost catatonic, though as Bel’s thumbs were resting casually in the vicinity of his carotid artery there might be additional explanations for that.

Owen made his tone even more coruscating. “You should have listened a bit more closely, Vorsoisson. I said Captain Thorne. If you could have dragged your mind away from sex for a second or so, it might have occurred to you that trying conclusions with a career soldier wasn’t the brightest move you could make.”

“I did say I was retired,” Bel sighed.

Owen grinned across at Bel. “Well, you’re not an OAP yet. And three months is hardly long enough for you to have - um - lost your edge.” He turned his head; his voice markedly cooler. “Unlike nine years, it seems, Lieutenant Vorsoisson.”

He tapped the print-out in front of him meaningfully. He’d taken the precaution of downloading Vorsoisson’s personnel file before starting this interview and had found much of interest.

Vorsoisson uttered a snort which was more like a gasp; Bel, presumably, wasn’t being any too forgiving with his windpipe. “As if I’m supposed to pay attention to a tin-pot rank self-assumed by a mutie pervert!”

Owen made his voice very dry. “Countess Vorkosigan paid attention.”

“And I can assure you,” Bel added brightly while Vorsoisson was still digesting that one, “that sitting on top of you is strictly in the line of duty. I’m certainly not enough of a pervert to get any pleasure out of it.”

With an enormous effort Vorsoisson thrust himself up on his elbows, dislodging Bel momentarily. “I don’t have to stand for this.”

Owen gestured to Bel. *L*et him get up.

“Stand, sit, do what you bleeding well like. But it’s my hospital, and while you’re in it you’ll listen to me when I tell you to.”

Bel, bless it, had rolled right out of Vorsoisson’s line of vision, taking its distracting presence out of the equation for the moment. Vorsoisson got to his feet and stood, breathing heavily, his hands spread palm-flat on Owen’s desk.

“I don’t have to put up with being insulted by some jumped-up galactic clown and his tame mutant catamite -“

Owen made his voice very cool. “Do I take it, then, that you’re offering your resignation?”

Things hung in the balance for a fraction of a second. Then, very slowly, Vorsoisson nodded. “Yes,” he breathed. “I owe it to my honour as Vor. Something you couldn’t possibly be expected to understand.”

Owen smiled, and tapped a code into the comconsole. “Evidently not. Palm print here, please. And - yes - here. And there. Good.” Vorsoisson was still looking dazed. Owen tapped another command. “Kirov? That you? Good man. Administrator Vorsoisson has just tendered his resignation. Given the - ah - sensitivity of the data he’s had access to, can I have one of your chaps up here to give him a hand with - ah - clearing his desk, making sure nothing from the hospital inadvertently gets mixed up with his personal stuff, seeing him off the premises- you know the drill. Yes; now would be excellent.”

He cut the connection. “Well, Administrator Vorsoisson. I suggest you start your packing. It’s been - interesting - working with you. No, given the strength of your moral position I won’t offend you by offering to shake hands. Goodbye.”

He activated the door controls, and gestured. Vorsoisson - his walk a defeated shamble - retreated from the office. Owen and Bel were alone together.

“Well.” The herm was looking amused. “That was - quick. And effective. Though I’m surprised you didn’t just sack him.”

Owen raised his eyebrows. “What, and have it rescinded once whoever - ImpSec, you said? - confirm I’d no bleeding right to be here in the first place?”

Bel widened its eyes. It nodded with a grave respect. Owen continued, “No; this way he gets his arse out of my hospital and stays out. And if they find enough to nail him for his part in the scam - well, presumably ImpSec know where he lives. Though I think, myself, he was simply too thick to know what was going on.”

The herm nodded, and looked at the chrono on the corner of the desk. “Anyway. That still leaves us an hour or so.” It paused. “Ever had a fantasy where you were sitting back in your big leather swivel chair, behind your big, exotic wood desk and someone comes in, pushes you back in your chair, and gives you a blow-job where you’re sitting?”

Owen made his voice sound deliberately bored. “Yeah; been there, done that, got the T-shirt.” He paused. “Ever had a fantasy where you come into someone’s office, pull him out of that big fuck-off swivel chair, bend him over his big, exotic leather-tooled desk, pull down his trousers and fuck the life out of him?”

Something changed in Bel’s face. Owen hoped it couldn’t see that his hands were, beneath the level of the desk, desperately clenched into fists in order to stop the trembling. Nevertheless - he’d been brought up proper, him. And there had been those moments in the light-flyer.

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

“So, darlin’?” He drawled out the words. “I said I wasn’t - what was the word? Monosexual. Well, sweetheart. You’ve got an hour to prove me wrong. Go for it.”