Mark Pierre Vorkosigan had seen and experienced some truly awful things, in his twenty-four years of life, things that even his exquisitely mannered aunt wouldn't hesitate to describe as fucked up, albeit not in mixed company. Terrorist dens. The seedy underbelly of Old Earth. Baron Ryoval's carnival of horrors. Being a passenger in a lightflyer with Ivan.
But he still had to steel himself to walk through the open door of the...Escobar was too modern to have shacks, surely... little home-shaped thing, out behind a junkyard. Somehow, he did not find the clearly handwritten sign hanging from a rusty nail reading BORGOS RESEARCH PARK at all reassuring.
Mark watched horror vids. He knew, down to his synthetic legbones, that there was a crazed murderer in there, waiting to devour him. He was cannibal bait, he knew, until the drugs Lilly gave him kicked in. The leatherfaced bastard would feast for a month.
At the very least he figured he was going to find the brilliant young genius Lilly had steered him towards hanging from a ceiling fan, judging from the smell.
Ah, well. He'd handled corpses before, and he could demonstrably murder anything that bothered him.
"Hello...? I'm looking for Enrique Borgos...?"
Very faintly - how many rooms did the shack have? - he heard a voice shout "Please come in!"
Lilly was over a century old, as dignified as any Old Earth queen. Surely she wouldn't...prank him, would she?
Mark entered. It was pitch black inside as he let the door swing closed behind him. He turned on the little light on his wristcom, and saw movement everywhere. The floors, the ceiling, the walls, everywhere the scuttling of tiny feet, fleeing the light. The biggest damn cockroaches he'd ever seen.
Mark wasn't ashamed; he screamed like a woman. Hell, a woman would have found it damn near impossible to hit that pitch. Killer came on high alert, sniffing for blood.
"Down boy, down," Mark panted. Good lord, was he that out of shape? "Nobody needs to die today. Borgos, goddamnit, where the hell are you!"
A tall, skinny young Escobaran man entered the Bug Dungeon carrying, of all things, a chemical lantern. He blinked somewhat owlishly at the short, round figure that Mark presented. Sure, buddy. I'm the freak in this room.
"Oh, hello. I'm Dr. Borgos," the man said, peering down at Mark's feet "oh no, you didn't step on any of my babies, did you?"
"Oh! Oh!" Enrique gave the kind of exclamation that Mark had previously only heard from excessively bodiced maidens in Time of Isolation period vids "did any of them get out when you opened the door?"
The Escobaran looked less than reassured. He began looking around Mark, squinting in the dark.
"I'm...actually here to invest, but if you're busy-"
"Oh, no. I'm sorry, I just worry about my babies. I was only able to rescue so many."
"Rescue so many from..."
"My lab," Enrique said genially "it's been impounded by the Federales."
"Is that not the word? I mean they've padlocked the lab and they're going to seize all my equipment to pay off my creditors. Is there a special word for that?"
Mark rather thought there was, and that the word was screwed.
"I was getting everything set up here, and then the landlord cut my power," Enrique said "thankfully, the girls are very happy in the dark."
"What the hell happened?"
"Well, I had investors. Too many, apparently," Enrique said "I was on the verge of a major breakthrough. Is there a word for when you sell more shares in your company than actually exist?"
"Yeah," Mark said tightly "It's called fraud."
"But I didn't mean to!" Enrique was young, but still too old for puppy eyes. Mark hated puppies, anyhow.
"Pretty sure it's still fraud. Look, um, best of luck on your...venture," Mark said "but while I'm looking to diversify, this is a little too...diverse. Even for me."
"I'm hoping I can finish my work before they find me," Enrique said, still shooting Mark Large Brown Eyes of Sadness.
"Before who finds you?"
"The police," Enrique said absently "I think they're planning to arrest me."
There was a sudden pounding on the shack's thin door.
"Enrique Borgos!" Came a loud voice from outside. Mark, adrenaline going into overdrive, retreated further into the shack.
"Pretend I'm not here," Mark whispered.
"Uh, who is it?" Enrique called.
"We're looking to invest," the man outside called with a snigger in his voice. Enrique, apparently immune to sarcasm as well as good sense, immediately brightened.
We, so there was more than one. They hadn't broken the door down, so they almost certainly weren't cops. Hm. Hmmmm.
"Don't let them in," Mark whispered.
Enrique missed this, because he immediately did the exact opposite and opened the door.
It turned out there were three of them. Three, to collect the bounty on one skinny scientist? How many shares had Enrique sold? They were large, hulking men, and Mark went cold inside, his eyes immediately picking out the lumps of weapons concealed on their persons. One of them, the tallest bringing up the rear, had a shock-stick on a cord down his back. Mark really, really didn't like shock sticks. Did his Class III diplomatic immunity cover aggravated assault on bail officers? He suspected he was about to find out.
"Hello hello, welcome to Borgos Research Park," Enrique said with repulsive good cheer "please don't step on any of the butter bugs!"
The short one in the front whispered, none too quietly "that him?"
The tall one glanced at a flimsy in his hand, apparently a picture "yup."
"Great," the short one said "drop him."
Mark went for Shock-Stick first, because, well, feelings. A well-placed kick to the back of the knee and a swift chop to the back of the neck, and he went to sleep. Middle Child was just barely turning, eyes widening, as Mark hit him with a nerve jab that collapsed his legs out from under him. Shortstack in the front had time to go "who the fu-" before a bolt from Shock-Stick's stunner, snatched from his jacket pocket as he toppled to the ground, caught him right between the eyes. He took a moment to peg Middle Child too, before he wiped his fingerprints off the stunner with his sleeve and dropped it. All in all, it had taken about ten seconds. He was shamefully out of shape, and the kick had pulled a muscle in his back.
Enrique's eyes were wide "why did you do that?"
Mark paused. Why had he?
"They were going to arrest you," Mark said "and you hadn't had a chance to tell me about your work."
Enrique, as near as Mark could tell, immediately forgot about the pile of debilitated goons and launched into an extremely detailed explanation of his work, which apparently involved disgusting insects that puked ice cream. Mark felt...was it dread? What was this feeling?
Oh god. It was sympathy. Dear sweet Godless universe, no.
Lilly Durona was Jacksonian to the core, like Mark. She would never, ever ask that someone be rescued. Extending favors on behalf of another, putting yourself in debt on another's behalf, was the quickest route to grubber slavery there was. She would always, always couch it in terms of self-interest, of what Enrique could do for Mark.
He recognized what he saw in the Escobaran's face, Mark realized. He had first seen it four years earlier, on Earth, when a battered and bearded version of the face he saw in the mirror was being dragged away by Galen's scumsucking minions. It was obsession. Not for vengeance, God knew Mark had seen that all his life, but obsession for the future, for a bright thing that only he could see.
Mark! Miles had bellowed your name is Mark!
"Borgos," Mark said, holding up a hand to stall the Bug Butter For a Better Tomorrow speech "I think we have a Deal. You'll supply the brains, and you will never, ever touch money. Ever."
"Okay!" Enrique said brightly.
"Also, we're moving to Barryar. Right now. First, we'll drop by the courts and I'll pay your bail. That'll get you off the hook, right? I'm not 100% sure how legal systems work. I didn't have one growing up."
"Also...are you familiar with the concept of breaking into an impounded laboratory and stealing all of the shit inside? Because we're going to go do that. Right now. Put your commando face on."
Enrique went pale "I...is there a word for that?"
"Yes," Mark said, with a grin "It's called burglary."