"You shouldn't be here," Kareen said, watching Lady Vorpatril climb through her window.

Alys, Padma and Ivan were all on Serg's list. Alys would be shot on sight if the guards found her in the Residence. No – she would be captured and chained in the Great Square to starve to death, and Padma would be shot on sight when he tried to rescue her.

"The city is quiet now," Alys replied. So the riots were over, thought Kareen. No, not over, but Grishnov's men had managed to terrorize the city into submission until the next time. "I have two minutes before ImpSec notices the breach."

They watched each other for a second. Kareen knew what Alys was looking at. There was an alarm contact on Kareen's bedside, close to her hand. If she touched it, Alys would have less than three seconds before ImpSec threw open the doors.

For a moment, Kareen contemplated it. If ImpSec was watching them – if Serg was behind this – if this was yet another test of her loyalty –

But she was not yet such a coward. Kareen moved away from the alarm, and Alys relaxed. She came over to Kareen's bed and sat down on the corner. "We are leaving at dawn," she said in a low voice. "All three of us."

Kareen nodded. Alys had hinted at it the last time they had met, before the rioting started and Serg began making longer lists of enemies, and Padma Vorpatril had to flee into hiding. But Alys had been careful not to tell her where she and Padma would go, or how they would leave. Trust was in short supply in the capital these days.

"Kareen," Alys whispered. "Come with us."

"You know I can't," Kareen said. How I wish I could. But she had stopped dreaming of such things long ago. "ImpSec watches me every minute. Serg would…" She shook her head. Serg would find her, and kill her, and probably whoever of her family he could find as well.

"Kareen -" Alys paused. Kareen could see indecision in her eyes as she hesitated over her next words. "We have a source who is - close to Serg's security. We have means to get ourselves out, and you and Gregor too. We'll fly you straight to Tanery Base. He won't be able to reach you there."

Kareen looked sharply at Alys. So Serg was right, and Alys and Padma were indeed spying for the rebels. It should not have been a surprise; she had noticed Alys gathering Vor gossip with more than her usual interest in the last few months. Serg's suspicions tended to be right more and more often these days. Self-fulfilling prophecies, Kareen supposed.

Alys leaned forward, taking Kareen's hands in her own. Kareen knew that Alys could see the dark bruises that climbed up her wrists and arms. There was no point trying to hide them anymore. "You can't stay here."

No, thought Kareen, looking away. I can't stay here. It was not as bad these days as it had been a few months ago. Serg spent less time in her chambers than he once did, and since the riots had started he had had prisoners to keep him occupied. But beneath her blankets Kareen's hand went to her womb, to the new life she knew was growing inside her.

She had managed to hide it so far, but it would be only a short time before it became noticeable. She had already failed to protect Gregor. She could not let a baby come into Serg's hands - if Serg even allowed her to carry the child to term. Kareen had to leave, and she knew it.

"No," she told Alys. "It would be too dangerous."

Alys's grip on her hands only tightened. "Kareen, please," she whispered. "You must come."

Kareen paused, suddenly afraid. Alys was being too insistent, she thought. Was it cousinly concern, or was she acting under orders?

"Alys," she said, forcing her voice to remain calm. "It's been almost two minutes. You need to leave now."

Alys didn't move. Kareen knew that her cousin had seen what was in her mind. "You need to trust me, Kareen."

That was what they all said. "Please leave," Kareen repeated, but she put an edge of steel in her voice this time.

There were tears in Alys's eyes as she put her arms around Kareen's shoulders. Kareen let her head rest on Alys's shoulder for a moment. "Good luck," she whispered.

"To you, too," Alys whispered back. Kareen shook her head. Luck wouldn't be enough for her.

Alys left by whatever way she had come, and Kareen lay back in bed, thinking. Alys had been right. Serg couldn't touch Tanery Base, he had tried enough times already. And if the rebels truly had a spy inside Serg's security – oh, yes, Kareen had caught Alys's hesitation – then the Vorpatrils might even get out of the city alive.

But Kareen was bound in her place. She could not leave Gregor to Serg, and she could not take Gregor to Tanery Base.

She could see what was coming; everyone could, even Serg, in some part of his twisted mind. The space forces were almost ready to commit to Vorkosigan's side; after that it was only a matter of time. And when Vorkosigan won his war…

Gregor would, by rights, be Emperor. But everyone now knew that Vorkosigan had a son of his own.

Kareen was not Vorbarra by birth; she supposed that she would probably be allowed to live, exiled to some distant family estate to pass out her years. And if this second child were a girl, she might be allowed to live too. A Vorbarra daughter would be useful to an Emperor wishing to secure the throne for his son. But Gregor would have no place in whatever plans Ges Vorrutyer's former lover was making.

And that left Kareen with only one option. She felt tears in her eyes, and buried her face in her pillow to stop them. Tears had not helped her in the last two years; they would not help her now. She only wished she could trust someone, anyone, to help her make this decision. But there was no one except Drou, and Drou was a prole, powerless to understand, let alone to help, in this.

She had not missed the way Vidal had looked at her at the Winterfair Ball. He had danced with her twice, though Serg had been watching with a dangerous expression on his face. He had not whispered anything, conscious of ImpSec's watching eyes; but when he had kissed her hand, his look had told her all she needed to know. Vidal was ready to act.

Kareen wished she had a better understanding of the tactical situation. But half of what Serg said was his own raving, and there was only so much she could get out of his tight-lipped soldiers before they grew suspicious of her. Still, Vidal had a good section of the military on his side, and she thought – she thought that if he acted fast enough, he could pre-empt Vorkosigan. More importantly, he was unmarried, and childless. Perhaps he would keep Gregor safe.

Besides, what choice did she have?