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The Woman Who Shoots Like a Man

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Gregor caught hold of Alanna's arm as soon as she entered the dining hall. "Why weren't you in the seminar?" he demanded in a low voice. "I searched everywhere - you can't graduate without taking it, you know that, right? I can't even pass you by Imperial Order-”

Alanna looked at him, and he stepped back as he saw the expression in her eyes. “What is it?" he asked, looking from her face to the shopping bag in her hand. "What happened?"

"Come with me," she said.

All conversation in the Academy’s dining hall stopped as Alanna walked up between the long tables, the rows of cadets turning one by one to watch her. Alanna saw the Lord Regent's ImpSec guards moving to intercept her as she approached the high table. But Gregor stopped them with a gesture of his hand.

Slowly, the people at the high table stopped their conversation to watch her. Major Cecil leaned across to whisper in the Lord Regent's ear. Great Mother, Alanna prayed, give me strength.

She reached the high table, came to attention, and saluted. "Cadet Alan Vortrebond, my lord Regent," she said crisply. "I apologize for missing your seminar."

The Lord Regent watched Alanna through narrowed eyes. The sun-disk that marked the chosen of the war-god Mithros gleamed on his chest. "I trust that you had a good reason for doing so, Cadet."

”Yes, sir,” she replied. “I was in Vorbarr Sultana, where I was busy breaking into a Count's private chambers."

Everyone stared at her incredulously, including Gregor. Alanna went on. "I found these."

She upended the shopping bag over the table. Wax figures tumbled out and rolled in all directions. The falling water had worn away some of the color and the features, but the six human figures were still instantly recognizable. The Lord Regent. The Prime Minister. A green-uniformed Captain Illyan. Lord Vorpatril. The smaller, hunched figure of Lord Miles Vorkosigan.

And last of all, Gregor.

Lady Vorkosigan gasped. The Lord Regent’s face looked like a thundercloud. Simon Illyan had risen from his seat, his hand going straight to his nerve disruptor.

But Alanna’s eyes rested on the man at the end of the table, whose skin had turned pale over the collar of his green and gold uniform. "My lords and my liege,” she said loudly. “I accuse Count Vordrozda of murder, black magic, and treason by intent to usurp the Imperium. And I will defend my charges in the Council of Counts.”

All eyes turned to Vordrozda. The Count stared back and forth like a rat caught in a trap before rising to his feet. "Sire," he said in a shaking voice, spreading his hands in appeal before Gregor, “You cannot allow this accusation –“

But Gregor looked up from the worn, damaged figures to Vordrozda, and his expression was one of betrayal and anger. Then he moved silently to stand behind Alanna.

Vordrozda's face twisted into a expression of rage, and he moved so fast that no one could stop him. He raised his hands and cried out a single word, the emerald fire of his Gift blazing brighter than any light. All of a sudden, every light in the hall went out.

Chaos erupted in the hall as three of the ImpSec guards fired at the same time. Alanna pushed Gregor down to the floor as a bolt of magical flame shot over their heads. She could hear Illyan shouting over the noise, ordering men to block the doors.

The crashes and bangs went on for a full minute before the lights came on again. To her immense relief, she saw Count Vordrozda lying on the ground before one of the side doors with four ImpSec men pointing their weapons at him. The officers and cadets began to get up from the floor and dust themselves off as the Count was magically bound and led out.

The Lord Regent had not moved from his place. “Simon?” he said quietly.

Illyan’s expression went blank for a moment as he examined the figures. He picked up one of them and turned it over in his hands, looking down at at his own washed-out likeness. No Gift shone around him, but Alanna could see the trickster-god Kyprioth’s gift of memory at work.

“Jacksonian mage-work, my lord,” he said at last. “Each one contains a sample of the… the target’s cells. The water erodes the figure, and the magical amplification of the effect leads to a gradual deterioration of the target’s body. The intention is to make you fall ill slowly, and die without any sign of an assassination attempt.”

A horrified silence fell over the hall. The Lord Regent broke it after a minute. “Cadet Vortrebond,” he said. “It would seem that the Imperium owes you a great debt of gratitude.”

"And so do we,” Lady Vorkosigan was looking at Alanna with a thoughtful expression. “Alan Vortrebond!” she said suddenly. “So this is your roommate, Gregor? The one you keep talking to in the holidays?"

Gregor faltered, saying something indistinct that Alanna couldn’t make out. The Regent-Consort's eyes went from Gregor to Alanna and back, and Alanna realized, far too late, that Cordelia Vorkosigan had the Sight.

"Thank you," she smiled. "...Alan."