"Lord Mark," said Armsman Pym, standing in the doorway to his room, "You have a visitor. I have escorted him in the Green Parlor on the first floor."

Mark looked up from his half packed suitcase. "Who?"

"The Minister for the North, Lord Vorholmes."

"Right, thank you Pym. I'll be down shortly," said Mark. He wondered what the other man was doing here. It seemed unlikely he was here to see Mark off before he returned to Beta Colony. While Mycroft was more than just an ally, he was not quite what Mark would call a friend.

Still, the two of them had similar interests and goals, and talking with Mycroft could lead to some very interesting proposals, which both men pretended were strictly hypothetical. Then again, Mark had noticed how at Winterfair Lord Vordelafoye had seemed much jumpy that usual, coincidentally after he had been discussing gaslighting with Mycroft.

"It's good to see you again Mycroft," said Mark, genuinely meaning it. While the other man could be a bit difficult sometimes, he was a fascinating conversationalist. "How are your…interests doing?"

"Well enough, at the moment," replied the other man, choosing as usually not to go into any detail.

"I hear the new water rights bill that you had a hand in creating is coming up for a vote in the Council of Counts before too long."

"Yes it is," said Mycroft "It will be difficult, but I think the proposal will pass."

"At least that discomfort is only temporary. One day you'll be running the Council of Counts like you do the Council of Ministers."

"Idle speculation."

Mark raised an eyebrow.

Mycroft smiled. "But none the less true."

Mark sipped his coffee, and watched as Mycroft took another of Ma Kosti's delicious pastries. If he had been keeping count properly, this was at least the fifth the other man had eaten since he got here. Then again, Mark himself had eaten at least eight, at Gorge's prompting.

"So, Mycroft, what are you doing here?" he asked.

"I have, shall we say, a business proposition for you."

Mark inclined his head. "I'm listening."

"I would like your help to take down a man in the Council of Counts."

Marks brain was suddenly torn between asking what or making sure that Mycroft had the right brother. Conspiracies and overthrowing people tended to be more of Miles' thing. Mark tended to go for assassinations or hostile takeovers.

Instead he just asked, "Who?"

Mycroft pulled a folder containing a pile of plastic flimsies from his briefcase and pushed it across the table to Mark. "Edwin Vorgains. A cadet member of the Council of Counts, but sits as his father's proxy most sessions."

"And what do you want me to do about him?" asked Mark, "Assassinate him?" That did not seem like the best of all possible options, although Killer murmered some intial suggestions on how it could work in the back of his mind.

Mycroft smiled. "No, that's hardly practical. While I lack no faith in your abilities" – Mark suddenly remembered Mycroft had the necessary clearances to see the Ryoval files –"The resulting fallout would be a little impractical. I wish to remove a potential threat, not create chaos in the streets."

"So what then?" asked Mark.

"As I said before, I have a business proposal. Vorgains owns a controlling share of Gains Goodness, a Beta-based company, which has made him quite wealthy. He currently uses this money to support his outrageous gambling habit, and to force certain policies through the Council."

"And you want to cut off this source of money," said Mark slowly, finally seeing where this was going.

"I want you to buy out his rival and force Vorgains out of business."

"And how do you propose I do that?"

"If I knew, I would be doing it myself. But you are a Vorkosigan and a successful business man, the first to be both concurrently since the Time of Isolation. I have full faith in your abilities."

Mark smirked inwardly at the praise, but kept his face blank. There was no point in giving your opponent an advantage when it came to negotiations. "And what do I get out of this deal?" he asked

"Debue's Dangerously Delicious Delightful Delicacies."


"It's the name of Vorgain's rival company, currently owned by a Mister Patrick Debue, a Betan. I will provide you with the funds to buy, you will use it to put Vorgains out of business, and then it will be yours to keep."

"That seems fair," said Mark, "Although I'll need some funds for business expenses as well, in order to continue production once I buy out the company."

Mycroft nodded. "Naturally."

Mark smiled. "Well then, you've got a Deal."

Mark arrived on Beta colony two weeks later.

The first thing he did, after reuniting with Kareen, was to contact Mr. Debue, and make sure the man was still open to the idea of selling his company. (Or had even though of it in the first place, it was hard to tell with Mycroft sometimes.) Thankfully, the other man seemed to jump at the opertunity, and soon Mark was the owner of a Beta food company with an overly long name.

Classes started the next day, so he was forced to put a hold on his project for a few days, and try to concentrate on theoretical business economics instead.

That weekend though, he was able to start contacting some of the people Mycroft had suggested, and even arranged to meet with some later in the week.

From them, Mark was able to get better picture of Gains Goodness as a whole. While relatively small compared to the major Betan food conglomerates, it was apparently one of the more popular food companies in the Silica region, specilising in sandwitches, and other easy lunch meals.

Kareen confirmed these reports. "Their sandwitches are a bit overpriced, but pretty good," she said one night, as they were trying to make pasta in their apartment's small kitchen. It was small, like the rest of the place, having been designed for one or two university students to share.

Mark arrived on Beta colony two weeks later.

The first thing he did, after reuniting with Kareen, was to contact Mr. Debue, and make sure the man was still open to the idea of selling his company. (Or had even though of it in the first place, it was hard to tell with Mycroft sometimes.) Thankfully, the other man seemed to jump at the opertunity, and soon Mark was the owner of a Beta food company with an overly long name.

Classes started the next day, so he was forced to put a hold on his project for a few days, and try to concentrate on theoretical business economics instead of real ones.

That weekend though, he was able to start contacting some of the people Mycroft had suggested, and even arranged to meet with some later in the week. From them, Mark was able to get better picture of Gains Goodness as a whole. While relatively small compared to the major Betan food conglomerates, it was apparently one of the more popular food companies in the Silica region, specializing in sandwiches, and other easy lunch meals.

Kareen confirmed these reports. "Their sandwiches are a bit overpriced, but pretty good," she said one night, as they were trying to make pasta in their apartment's small kitchen.

"Ah," said Mark, "You wouldn't miss them though, if they were gone?"

Kareen looked at him suspiciously. "Not really, there's plenty of other sandwiches. Why?"

Mark was saved from trying to find the best way to explain that he wanted to purposefully bankrupt a company by the pasta water boiling over.

When Kareen came back to the apartment after her last class, she was surprised to find a woman lying on the couch, wearing shockingly little, even by Beta standards.

"Umm," she began, somewhat inanely, but then Mark wandered into the front room from the kitchen.

"Oh, good, you're back!" he said. He then caught her starring at the woman on the couch. "Right sorry, you two haven't been introduced. Irene, this is Kareen. Kareen, this is Irene. She works at the Orb."

"Lovely to meet you," said Kareen automatically. Then she turned to Mark. "What is she doing in the apartment?"

"Oh, Mycroft recommended her."

Kareen just stared at him for a moment. "I didn't think…"

"No, no, not like that!" said Mark, looking horrified. He shuddered. "Thank you for putting that image into my head."

"Then why…"

Irene pushed herself up from the couch with a languid smile. "I have certain talent that Lord Vorholmes though might be useful. I owe him a favor after that mess with the Illyrian Ambassador a while back, so I decided to help when he asked."

Kareen knew Mycroft Vorholmes, and so was willing to bet he hadn't so much asked as threatened or bribed. Or both at once.

"So," she said, turning to face Mark, "What have you gotten us into this time?"

Mark had the gall not to look embarrassed. "I have not gotten us into anything. I have just made a profitable business arrangement with Mycroft."

In Kareen's opinion, getting involved with either of the Vorholmes brothers in any way was a bad idea, but she held her piece.

"And what exactly does this business deal entail?" she asked, somewhat hesitantly. She wasn't quite sure she wanted to know.

"I'm going to help Mycroft bring down member of the Council of Counts. A cadet member," he added, at Kareen's horrified look.

A dozen possible responses whirled through Kareen's head, ranging from a simple "What?" to "You're insane" to "Are you sure you're not Miles in disguise?"

Finally she settled on, "Are you sure this is a good idea?"

Mark shrugged. "Probably. My part in this is completely legal. -Ish. I'm only going to completely bankrupt Vorgain's company."

Kareen put her hands on her hips. "Only?"

"I'll offer everyone in his factory new jobs at my company. I'm not completely heartless" Besides, if his industry was really going to take off here, he'd need a lot more manpower.

Kareen still did not look pleased. "Are you sure-"

"Vorgains was one of the people made some comment about me being a clone." Mark added.

Kareen paused. "Carry on then."

"So what is the name of this new company of yours?" asked Irene.

"Debue's Dangerously Delicious Delightful Delicacies."

"What?" asked Kareen, her brows wrinkling.

"Debue's Dangerously Delicious Delightful Delicacies," Mark repeated, making a careful effort to enunciate each word clearly. It was more like a lounge twister than a company name.

"That's quite a mouthful," said Kareen, echoing his thoughts.

Mark nodded. "I know. I'll probably have to shorten it to something catchier when we expand into the nexus."

"Mark," said Kareen slowly, as if she was only just realizing something, "Why did Lord Vorholmes give you this… company?"

"To use it to put Vorgains out of business," responded Mark promptly.

"And you need your own company for that?" she question.

Mark grinned. "No. But he offered."

"Okay," said Kareen, "What's the plan?"

Mark smiled. "First, were going to increase production, to make sure were ready to meet increased demand. Then, you and I are going to start some rumors."

"And that will bring down the company?" asked Kareen dubiously, "Just like that?"

"Oh no, that will happen afterwards, at the party."

Kareen saw her first rumor-spreading opportunity the next day at lunch. She was standing in line at the University of Silica student cafeteria, with a group of her friends from the applied psychology class, and happened to notice that one of them had picked up a ham and cheese Gains Goodness sandwich.

"Oh," said Kareen, "You're really going to eat that? I though you Betans didn't like that sort of thing."

Her friend Lillian looked at the Gains Goodness package in her hand, then back up to Kareen "What do you mean?"

"That's not vat meat," said Kareen.

"I'm pretty sure it is," said Lillian. "It tastes nothing like tofu."

"That's not what I meant," said Kareen slowly.

Lillian wrinkled her face in disgust, catching the insinuation. "Don't be ridiculous."

"I'm from Barrayar," said Kareen. "I can tell the difference. We don't have vat meat there. There's a different taste to it." Tante Cordelia insisted there was anyway, Kareen had never been able to tell.

"Nobody would ever do that on Beta," said Lillian, but she put the Gains Goodness sandwich back anyway.

To Kareen's delight, her Social Theories class was talking about urban legends today. She almost wondered if Mark had somehow rearranged her professor's lesson plan to be this convenient to their aims.

"Now, can anyone give me some examples of urban legends?" asked Professor Nopes, after finishing a very long winded lecture on their precise definition.

All across the room, hands shot up, Kareen's included.

"Hadrian," said the professor, calling on a boy in the row behind Kareen.

"That there are Tau Cetan lizards in the bottom of apartment shafts."


"That Steady Freddy drugged the population into voting for him."


"That Dagoola IV was a Barryarn operation."


"That Gains Goodness food is made with mouse meat."

"I doubt that's a rumor," quipped someone behind her, "I mean, have you tasted the stuff?"

The entire class burst into snickers.

"Those are all good examples," said Professor Nopes, when the laughter had died down, "Now, we're going to examine how these legends start, and why they are so pervasive. Please turn you textbooks to page 163."

When Kareen arrived back at the apartment, Mark seemed to be in an unusually good mood. He was whistling slightly, and had a manic grin on his face that wouldn't have been out of place on his brother.

"What's got you so excited?" she asked.

"Rumors are flying everywhere," said Mark, "I heard some students talking today about how Gains Goodness obviously doesn't clean their vats right, since the owner is a barbarian Barrayarn."

"That's ….good," said Kareen slowly, unsure of how much she liked Barrayar being automatically equated to barbarian. It didn't seem to bother Mark much, but then again he still largly thought of him self as Jacksonian.

"It is good. Irene's just called me, and it seems the rumors have invaded Orb too. She also showed me this." Mark went over to the comconsul, and pulled up a page from the BetanNet. "Its from one of their online encylopideas, part of their obsession with free information."

Kareen peered at the page. It seemed to be a list of rumors, with a giant green tick mark, or red cross next to most. Most of the one about Gains Goodness seemed to have a yellow circle next to them. "What does that mean?" she asked Mark.

"Not proven, or under investigation," he said, "It would obviously be better if we could make them seem true, but this at least shows that they're out there, and in the public conscious. I think were about ready to move to phase two."

"Your gathering? When?"

"We'd better move fast, while the rumors are still fresh in everyone's minds. I'm thinking the day after tomorrow."

"That soon?" asked Kareen, "You'll never get any reporters to show up. Much less anyone from the company."

Mark smiled. "Irene's got that covered. She's got connections to most of the holovid stations, and has a… friend who's good with computers and can send out invitations to the Gains Goodness staff. Besides, Vorgains is off planet on business now, so no one can call to confirm."

Kareen went over to the fridge, and poured them both a glass of wine. "For luck," she said, "I think we're going to need it."

Kareen looked around the room. Somehow Mark had gotten nearly a hundred people to show up, probably through a combination of lies, bribery or just actually asking. She recognized a few of her classmates, as well as a few other students from the university who she thought might be in one of Mark's business economics' classes.

There were also a few holovid reporters in the back, mostly from reputable publications, although she thought one might be from one of the more racy channels (of which Beta colony seemed to have multitudes). There were also a group of men in business suits, who she guessed were business executives of some type, going by their portable comconsuls.

She asked Mark, who confirmed her suspicions with a smug grin. "After this," he said, looking uncannily like a shark, despite his short size, "Vorgains will never work in this town again."

Kareen just nodded in response. Mark had a lot of good ideas, but she still wasn't sure if this was one of them. "Are we ready to get started?" she asked.

"Almost," said Mark, "Were just waiting for a few more people to arrive."

Kareen looked at him curiously. "Who else is there to come?"

"You'll see!" he said with a bright smile and wave of his hand. The gesture worried Kareen. It was very similar to one Miles had used as a child, when he had come up with something he thought was spectacularly clever, and that everyone else though was spectacularly stupid.

A particularly memorable incident had been when Miles had convinced her and Elena Bothari to cause a distraction to lure ImpSec Sargent Gregson away from his post, so Miles could play with examine the security cameras. That incident had ended poorly for all involved, especially Gregson, who had to face down the wrath of Simon Illyan. Mama had made her write a note of apology to the poor man afterwards.

Kareen turned towards Mark, to ask him what he was planning, but was distracted by the arrival of a new party into the room. There were four men, all protectively arranged around a woman in the center. The men were wearing civilian style sarongs in a black and grey pattern, but also had stunners holstered at their waists. A basic grey tee-shirt completed the look. The looked just like a group of armsmen trying (without much success) to look inconspicuous. A moment later, Kareen realized that that was pretty much what they were.

"Mark," said Kareen slowly, "Is that Constantza Howards?"

"Constant Connie? Yep."

"How did you get the President of Beta Colony to come to this gathering of yours?" she asked, torn between incredulity and laughter.

"It was mostly Irene," Mark explained, "She has several clients, in shall we say, high places, that can be very open to certain suggestions."

"Like the fact that visiting a new factory opening would be a perfect publicity opportunity?" asked Kareen with a smile.

"Precisely," said a smooth voice behind her. Kareen hadn't even noticed Irene enter the room. "I told her it would be a great time to show how her new policies have increased economic growth on Beta." Irene smiled. "Of Couse, it probably helped that she was in a …mood… to do everything I said."

That was more than Kareen ever wanted to know about the Betan president.

"Ah good!" said Mark. "I think everyone's finally here. Well, except for Vorgains. Who should be arriving in-"he pulled out his comlink to check the time "-five minutes."

"Are we ready to start then?" asked Irene.

Mark nodded. "You're up. Remember, keep it brief."

Irene gave him a look that clearly indicated she did not need a reminder, but walked up to the platform anyway, putting an almost seductive smile on her face as she did so.

"Ladies, gentlemen and honorable hermes," Irene began, once she reached the podium, "Welcome to the celebration for the opening of the second Gains Goodness factory here on Beta Colony!"

She had to wait almost a minute for the applause to die down before she could continue. Apparently everyone, especially the holovid reporter from channel nine, were big fans of Gains Goodness. Or maybe just Irene.

"My name is Irene Adler," she continued, causing another round of applause (and catcalls) and I will be your Master of Ceremonies for the evening. We'll start the program with some remarks from Mr. Lucian Grenwood, the company vice president, followed by an exclusive tour of the new factory given by Edwin Vorgains himself!"

She retired to a chair on the platform to considerable applause, while a somewhat confused looking Grenwood stepped forward to speak. His confusion was rather understandable though, thought Kareen, given that he had only been informed of this reception the day before, and had certainly never heard anything about Vorgains give a tour. Nevertheless, he plastered a smile on his face, cued the holoprompter and began to speak.

His remarks were uninspired, filled mostly with buzzwords, vague statements and empty platitudes. Their one saving grace was that they were rather short, and so he was just finishing up when Vorgains walked in.

Vorgains looked understandably shocked as he tried to take in all the people who were gathered in his company's large glass walled foyer. Unlike Grenwood, he hadn't been informed of the reception yesterday. On the contrary, he had not been informed at all.

Irene sailed forward during this momentary lull, and immediately took command of the situation again.

"And here he is, the man of the hour himself, Mr. Edwin Vorgains!" she said, gracefully swinging out her arm in gesture to him.

Another round of applause greeted these words, and the crowd parted to let Vorgains make his way to the stage, where he took a seat next to Grenwood, keeping a very fixed smile on his face all the while.

"What is going on here?" he hissed through his teeth to Grenwood, but before he could get an answer, Irene continued.

"Now, as promised, Mr. Vorgains will personally lead you all on a tour of his factory!"

Vorgains' eyes widened perceptibly at this, and his smile wavered slightly, but those were the only signs of his shock to slip through. Then, he relaxed, his smile becoming almost natural. At Irene's invitation, he stepped up to the podium.

"Welcome everyone!" he said, "I hope you are all excited to be here, because I am certainly excited to show you my new factory!"

Well, though Kareen, that was unexpected.

Mark had known that his plan wasn't perfect, but the odds of its success had seemed pretty good. Given Vorgains' obsession with secrecy, and his reputedly short temper, Mark had figured that there would be no way the man would give a hundred uninvited guests a tour of his factory on a moment's notice.

The scene Vorgains would make, in front of a dozen holovid reporters (not to mention the President of Beta Colony), combined with the rumors Kareen had been spreading should have been enough to destroy all credibility in Gains Goodness, or at least severely diminish sales.

Unfortunately, it appeared that Vorgains was smart enough to realize this, or far, far more patient than Mark had ever heard.

What to do now. His mind raced, trying to think, trying to come up with a new plan. Nothing. He felt almost frozen, as his mind desperately whirled. In the back of his head, a voice that sounded annoying like Miles' whispered "Improvise", which Mark figured was Miles solution for pretty much everything.

He decided to go for it anyway, and when Vorgains lead the group off to start the tour, Mark slipped off into a side door marked "Employees Only." He motioned to Kareen to stay with the group. Hopefully she would cover for him if anything came up.

"What are you doing?" asked a voice suddenly behind him, and he turned to see that Irene had followed him.

"Improvising," hissed back Mark. Irene gave him a look, but followed him anyway.

They walked as silently as they could for a time, navigating what seemed like an endless maze of utility corridors.

"Do you have any data, anything at all about Vorgains on that portable comconsul of yours?" he asked.

"If I did, don't you think I would have told you already?" replied Irene, rather testily.

Not if it benefited you more to keep silent, thought Mark. He was, after all Jacksonian, and knew the value of information. Irene did too. She was definitely the most Jacksonian Betan he had ever met, and he had no doubt that if she ever moved to Jackson's Whole, she would thrive there.

She would probably end up as a Baronne of a Great House in six months, he though with a mental snort, or less, for a House Minor.

"What about Grenwood?" he probed, "Anything on him?"

"No," said Irene, "Neither of those men were my clients, and before you ask, neither was anyone else in the upper echelons of the company."

Mark doubted that was the only way she gathered information, but decided to drop it. "Fine," he said, "Keep your eyes open."

Irene raised her eyebrows as she looked around the corridor they were walking down. "For what?"

"Anything that could help us."

"There's not much down here," said Irene, as she eyed the bare, off-white walls, pipes, and ventilation duct. The corridor was otherwise empty.

"The factory can't just be miles of service corridors," insisted Mark, "We'll come across something eventually."

He sincerely hoped he was right. He disliked Vorgains, but even worse than dealing with the mans continued success would be explaining his failure to Mycroft Vorholmes. That would be embarrassing, and while the other man was a smug git, he was a powerful (and occasionally useful) one. He would be a great resource for some of Mark's future Barrayaran enterprises.

Strengthened by a new wave of determination, Mark picked up the pace. Irene kept up with him easily, and soon the two were passing in front of a door that was palm locked.

"Now that is worth looking into," said Mark.

"Really," asked Irene, "You think there's something important in there, not just expensive equipment, or something like that?"

Mark shrugged. "Maybe. But it could also be something like company records. If we could get some and release them to the press, it could really hurt Vorgains."

"That is, of course assuming Vorgains has not been completely honest in his official documentation."

Mark turned to look at her. "Of course he's lying. His profit margins are far too big."

Irene raised one perfectly manicured eyebrow. "Jealous are we?"

Mark shook his head. "I'm serious. He's making more money that he should." He was suddenly very glad he had taken that course on the economies of food production last semester. "Vat grown meat is expensive," he explained.

"Hardly," said Irene, "Pinenuts are expensive. Vat meat is cheap."

"No, let me explain that better. Vat meat is expensive, say compared to real meat. There's a lot of additional costs associated with it: expensive equipment, higher wages for specialized workers, etcetera."

"And Vorgains does not account for these costs in his quarterly reports?" asked Irene.

"Exactly," said Mark, "If you compare total sales and profits to his stated costs, you'll find that they're proportionally too low. I think he's overstating his profits to make his company seem more profitable for potential investors."

"And if we can find documentation saying he's lying…"

"The investors will pull out, sales will drop, and Vorgains will have some serious problems," said Mark, a gleeful smile on his face.

Irene did not echo his smile. "There's just one small problem," she said, turning to face the palmlock.

"I can get around that," said Mark. Although the lock would be irrevocably destroyed in the process, which would be a problem if they wanted their actions to remain inconspicuous. He wondered if his diplomatic immunity covered breaking and entering.

Mark started work on the palm lock, Irene watching intently behind him. After a few minutes she asked "Is this standard training for all ImpSec agents?"

Mark gave a short, dry laugh. "I wouldn't know. I'm not with Imperial Security." At Irene's disbelieving look he continued, "My …brother was though, before he invalided out last year. Medical discharge." He paused to look at the web of wires he had uncovered, carefully disconnecting two.

"Really," said Irene, "And do you and your brother look much alike?" This time, it was Mark's turn for a skeptical look. There was no way a lady with her interests in information acquiring would not know about Lord Vorkosigan and his clone twin, especially not if said lady had ever associated with Mycroft Vorholmes.

Nonetheless, he decided to answer her. "We are, for the most part, practically identical," he said, "although I tend to maintain a much more healthy weight." In the back of his mind, Gorge muttered in agreement. "Still, if we were standing next to each other, there would be no way to mix us up." He had made sure of that.

Irene nodded, if not exactly in agreement, but in acceptance of the explanation. Mark had no desire to explain exactly how he knew how to do things like bugger a palmlock to her, so he was very willing to let the matter drop. Still, he wasn't thrilled with the idea that she thought he might be an ImpSec agent, or even worse, his brother undercover. He had his own identity now, and had absolutely no desire to be subsumed into the whirling vortex that seemed to surround Miles Vorkosigan/Naismith.

Forcing his thoughts away from his brother/progenitor, he turned back to the mess that was formerly a secure palm lock panel. He was nearly done, with just a few more wires to switch, and circuits to change. He really hoped there was something useful behind this door, he didn't want to leave evidence of their entry with nothing to show for it. Oh, well, it was too late to be worrying about that now.

"There, done," said Mark.

"And it will really work?" asked Irene, skeptically eyeing the mass of wires, circuit boards and other electronic components that had been partially disengaged from the wall.

"Of course it will," said Mark, and he opened the door.

He had been wrong.

The room was not a records room. Nor was it used for storing expensive equipment, or even spare office supplies. Instead, it was something much better.

Mark could see Irene's eyes widen perceptively beside him. "This…I didn't actually…" she began.

"This is perfect," said Mark.

"Unless you were ever a Gains Goodness customer," said Irene, her mouth curving in disgust.

Mark gave an absent nod of agreement, his eyes taking in the entire cavernous room, and the multitudes of animals contained within. Rows upon rows of cows and pigs, with some wire cages that might hold chickens far in the back.

"How did he manage all this?" asked Irene, her voice only slightly betraying her shock. Mark had though that she was cool, calm and pretty much unflappable, but it turned out that finding out that she and thousands of other customers had been eating real dead animals was still a schock. No, that was unfair. His own mother still hated the idea of eating animal flesh, and she had been living on Barrayar for thrity years.

"He most likely smuggled the first animals in as frozen embryos, waited till they grew up, then bred them till he had a sizeable population. He probably didn't do it himself, but the Vorgains district is mostly agricultural, so he would have no problems finding a loyal retainer or three with the proper knowhow."

"And he got them past Betan customs?" Irene asked, "That hardly seems likely. We have some of the most thorough in the nexus."

Irene had obviously never visited the Vorbarr Sultana shuttleport, or any Jacksonian jumpoint station. "You tend to focus more on weapons that biological. With proper documentation, or failing that, a few well-placed bribes, Vorgains could easily have brought his animals in."

"And he kept them hidden, for all this time," muttered Irene to herself.

"This room is underground, which makes it easy to hide," said Mark, "And to soundproof."

"Well, I suppose you've found the reasons for the lowered production cost then?" aksed Irene.

Mark nodded. "It would have been expensive to set up in the beginning, but the costs would be much lower over a longer period of time, say a few years. That goes double if he was bringing in labor from Barrayar to deal with the animals, which would also stop people from talking."

"So," said Irene, "What do we do now?"

Mark smiled. It was not a very nice smile, more reminiscent of a shark than anything else. "Now," he said, "We show the good people of Silica exactly what they've been eating."

Vorgains tour had been brief, and largely uninformative. Kareen had learned more about food production by listening to Mark talk about one of his class assignments that she had at an actual meat lab.

Although, they had barely seen the meat lab itself, with its rows and rows of vats, and techs in white coats. It had just been a quick stop to look through a window before they were hurried off to see the packing facility, and be subject to another speech by Vorgains on the exceptional quality and taste of his products, thanks to the proprietary techniques he had discovered. The man was anything but modest.

Now, they were back in the glass walled atrium, the only level of the factory above ground. Mark and Irene still weren't back yet, which was starting to worry her. No one would notice if Mark wasn't there, but the crowd had loved Irene, and Kareen would have to come up with some excuse to explain her disappearance.

She had a little time though; Vorgains was still continuing what must have been his fourth extensive sales pitch up on the podium.

A low rumbling sound caught her ear. It was faint, so she almost wondered if she'd just imagined it. No one else seemed to have noticed. The noise got louder, and she was able to pinpoint its source as a small door marked "Employees Only."

By now, others seemed to have heard it too, and their heads turned, ignoring Vorgains' speech. Vorgains didn't seemed to have noticed yet, and he was still going on about "fresh farm taste" when the first cow burst into the room.

The entire room burst into a panic, especially as the cow was followed by four others, and then a group of pigs. Everyone was screaming, and it took Kareen a moment to remember that they were Betan, and had probably only seen cows at the zoo, if ever.

Two of the Presidents bodyguards brought down a cow each with their stunners, and a third got a pig. Kareen spotted her classmate Lillian in the chaos, trying to make her way over to her.

"You were right!" Lillian babbled, "Oh my god, you were right!"

Kareen decided that this was not the moment to tell her friend that they had had no clue what Gains Goodness was really doing. Instead, she gave a reassuring smile and helped direct Lillian to an exit, which were full of people anousixly trying to escape the cows.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Mark and Irene slip back into the atrium, from the same door the animals had come from.

In the middle of all this chaos, the President of Beta Colony mounted the stage, surrounded by her protection detail, who were still trying to stun the rest of the confused animals.

"What," she demanded to Vorgains, who had gone very pale and collapsed into one of the chairs,"Is the meaning of this?"

"Madame President," he began weakly, "I can explain."

"I highly doubt that," she replied, enraged. "I'm shutting this entire factory down, pending a very thorough investigation. You will be spending a very long time in therapy, and rest assured, I will do everything to discourage the Barrayarans from extraditing you."

She turned to her security. "Please remand Mr. Vorgains into custody."

"Well, that went well," said Mark.

A few months later, Mark and Kareen met up with Irene one last time, in the Silica shuttleport.

"I must admit," said Irene, "Your plan was surprisingly successful. Despite some unexpected complications."

Which was, though Mark, a rather nice way of putting the complete failure of his first plan, and the lucky success of his improvisations.

"It all worked out in the end," added Kareen, "We got Vorgains arrested, and for something he actually did too." She had obviously been around his brother too long if that was considered a bonus, and not a given.

"Most importantly," said Mark, "We completely destroyed his business. He will literally never sell anything in this town again."

"He'll be lucky if he gets out therapy any time in the next decade," said Irene in an undertone.

"What about all those animals though?" asked Kareen, "Do you know what happened to them?"

Mark nodded. "The Silica Zoo is taking them in for the moment, but most will eventually go to other zoos on Beta." In fact, every zoo on Beta would be getting some new additions.

"That's nice," said Kareen.

"Rather expensive too," added Irene.

Mark nodded. "But with all the publicity this is getting, the donations have been pouring in."

Mark himself had been one of the donors, and a generous one at that, funding the entire construction of the new pig exhibit at the Silica Zoo, which would now and forever be known as the Mycroft Vorholmes Porcine Exbhit. He would have to have to take a holo when it opened next year, and find some way to anonymously show it to Mycroft. Perhaps Sherlock would help. He would enjoy annoying his brother and would also make a convenient scapegoat.

Mark may have also funded the cow exhibit too, after hearing Kareen mention how adorable they were. Unfortunately, Kareen's Cow Corner (as the exhibit would be called) had used up the last of his liquid assets. The rest of his money was tied up in various projects, including expanding Debue's Dangerously Delicious Delightful Delicacies, which now had a larger market share than ever, and was turning out to be quite profitable.

Still, he wondered if there was a better way to make food. Vat meat was more expensive than he'd like, and wouldn't be popular anywhere on Barrayar. Alternatives were definitely something to look into.

Now boarding flight 551-A for Escobar boomed the loudspeaker, would all passengers please proceed to their designated gate to begin the boarding process.

"Well," said Mark, "I guess I've got to go." He turned to Irene. "It was nice to meet you, and I hope we will have some more mutually beneficial business dealings in the future."

"Likewise," murmured Irene, a hint of a smile on her lips.

Mark turned to Kareen, and they exchanged one last kiss. "I'll see you in few weeks, back on Barrayar."

Kareen smiled. "We'll dance together at Gregor's wedding."

Mark nodded, and with that happy thought in his head, boarded his flight for home.