Lois McMaster Bujold, "The Vor Game"

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CHAPTER SEVEN

The next morning Miles was moved to new quarters. His guide led him just one floor down, dashing Miles's hopes of seeing the sky again. The officer keyed open a door to one of the secured apartments usually used by protected witnesses. And, Miles reflected, certain political nonpersons. Was it possible life in limbo was having a chameleon effect, rendering him translucent?

"How long will I be staying here?" Miles asked the officer.

"I don't know. Ensign," the man replied, and left him.

His duffle, jammed with his clothes, and a hastily-packed box sat in the middle of the apartment's floor. All his worldly goods from Kyril Island, smelling moldy, a cold breath of arctic damp. Miles poked through them-everything seemed to be thhere, including his weather library-and prowled his new quarters. It was a one-room efficiency, shabbily furnished in the style of twenty years back, with a few comfortable chairs, a bed, a simple kitchenette empty cupboards and shelves and closets. No abandoned garments or objects or leftovers to hint at the identity of any previous occupant.

There had to be bugs. Any shiny surface could conceal a vid pickup, and the ears were probably not even within the room. But were they switched on? Or, almost more of an insult, maybe Illyan wasn't even bothering to run them?

There was a guard in the outer corridor, and remote monitors, but Miles did not appear to have neighbors at present. He discovered he could leave the corridor, and walk about the few non-top-secured areas of the building, but the guards at the outside doors, briefed as to who he was, turned him back politely but firmly. He pictured himself attempting escape by rappelling down from the roof-he'd probably get himself shot, and ruin some poor guard's career.

A Security officer found him wandering aimlessly, condicted him back to his apartment, gave him a handful of chits for the building's cafeteria, and hinted strongly that it would be appreciated if he would stay in his quarters between meals. After he left Miles morbidly counted the chits, trying to guess the expected duration of his stay. There were an even hundred. Miles shuddered.

He unpacked his box and bag, ran everything that would go through the sonic laundry to eliminate the last lingering odor of Camp Permafrost, hung up his uniforms, cleaned his boots, arranged his possessions neatly on a few shelves, showered, and changed to fresh undress greens.

One hour down. How many to go? He attempted to read, but could not concentrate, and ended sitting in the most comfortable chair with his eyes closed, pretending this windowless, hermetically-sealed chamber was a cabin aboard a space-ship. Outbound.

 

He was sitting in the same chair two nights later, digerting a leaden cafeteria dinner, when the door chimed.

Starled, Miles clambered up and limped to answer it personally. It was probably not a firing squad, though you never knew.

He almost changed his assumptions about the firing squad at the sight of the hard-faced Imperial

Security officers in dress greens who stood waiting. "Excuse me, Ensign Vorkosigan," one muttered perfunctorily, and brushed past him to start running a scan over Miles's quarters. Miles blinked, then saw who stood behind them in the corridor, and breathed an "Ah" of understanding. At a mere look from the scanner man, Miles obediently held out his arms and turned to be scanned.

"Clear, sir," the scanner man reported, and Miles was sure it was. These fellows never, ever cut corners, not even in the heart of ImpSec itself.

"Thank you. Leave us, please. You may wait out here," said the third man. The ImpSec men nodded and took up parade rest flanking Miles's door.

Since they were both wearing officer's undress greens. Miles exchanged salutes with the third man although the visitor's uniform bore neither rank nor department insignia. He was thin, of middle height with dark hair and intense hazel eyes. A crooked smile winked in a serious young face that lacked laugh lines.

"Sire," Miles said formally.

Emperor Gregor Vorbarra jerked his head, and Miles keyed his door closed on the Security duo. The thin young man relaxed slightly. "Hi, Miles."

"Hello yourself. Uh ..." Miles motioned toward the armchairs. "Welcome to my humble abode. Are the bugs running?"

"I asked not, but I wouldn't be surprised if Illyan disobeys me, for my own good." Gregor grimaced and followed Miles. He swung a plastic bag from his left hand, from which came a muted clank. He flung himself into the larger chair, the one Miles had just vacated, leaned back, hooked a leg over one chair arm, and sighed wearily, as if all the air were being let out of him. He held out the bag. "Here. Elegant anesthesia."

Miles took it and peered in. Two bottles of wine, by God, already chilled. "Bless you, my son. I've been wishing I could get drunk for days, now. How did you guess? For that matter, how did you get in here? I thought I was in solitary confinement." Miles put the second bottle into the refrigerator, found two glasses, and blew the dust out of them.

Gregor shrugged. "They could scarcely keep me out. I'm getting better at insisting, you know. Though Illyan made sure my private visit was really private, you can wager. And I can only stay till 2500." Gregor's shoulders slumped, compressed by the minute-by-minute box of his schedule. "Besides, your mother's religion grants some kind of good karma for visiting the sick and prisoners, and I hear you've been the two in one."

Ah, so Mother had put Gregor up to this. He should have guessed by the Vorkosigan private label on the wine-heavens, she'd sent the good stuff. He stopped swinging the bottle by its neck and carried it with greater respect. Miles was lonely enough by now to be more grateful for than embarrassed by this maternal intervention. He opened the wine and poured, and by Barrayaran etiquette took the first sip. Ambrosia. He slung himself into another chair in a posture similar to Gregor's. "Glad to see you, anyway."

Miles contemplated his old playmate. If they'd been even a little closer in age, he and Gregor, they might have fallen more into the role of foster-brothers. Count and Countess Vorkosigan had been Gregor's official guardians ever since the chaos and bloodshed of Vordarian's Pretendership. The child-cohort had been thrown together anyway as "safe" companions. Miles and Ivan and Elena near-age-mates, Gregor, solemn even then, tolerating games a little younger than he might have preferred.

Gregor picked up his wine and sipped. "Sorry things didn't work out for you," he said gruffly.

Miles tilted his head. "A short soldier, a short career." He took a bigger gulp. I'd hoped to get off-planet. Ship duty."

Gregor had graduated from the Imperial Academy two years before Miles entered it. His brows rose in agreement. "Don't we all."

"You had a year on active space duty," Miles pointed out.

"Mostly in orbit. Pretend patrols, surrounded by Security shuttles. It got to be painful after a whie, all the pretending. Pretending I was an officer, pretending I was doing a job instead of making everyone else's job harder just by being there ... you at least were permitted real risk."

"Most of it was unplanned, I assure you."

"I'm increasingly convinced that's the trick of it," Gregor went on. "Your father, mine, both our grangfathers-all survived real military situations. That's how they became real officers, not this ... study." His free hand made a downward chopping motion.

"Flung into situations," Miles disagreed. "My father's military career officially began the day Mad Yuri's death squad broke in and blew up most of his family-I think he was eleven, or something. I'd just as soon pass on that sort of initiation, thanks. It's not something anybody in their right mind would choose."

"Mm." Gregor subsided glumly. As oppresed tonight. Miles guessed, by his legendary father Prince Serg as Miles was by his live one Count Vorkosigan. Miles reflected briefly on what he had come to think of as "He Two Sergs." One-maybe the only version Gregor knew?-was the dead hero bravely sacrificed on the field of battle or at least cleanly disintegrated in orbit. The other, the Surpressed Serg: the hysteriac commander and sadistic sodomite whose early death in the ill-fated Escobar invasion might have been the greatest stroke of political good fortune ever to befall Barrayar ... had even a hint of this multi-faceted personality ever been permitted to filter back to Gregor? Nobody who knew Serg talked about him. Count Vorkosigan least of all. Miles had once met one of Serg's victims. Miles hoped Gregor never would.

Miles decided to change the subject. "So we all know what happened to me, what have you been up to for the last three months? I was sorry to miss your last birthday party. Up at Kyril Island they celebrated it by getting drunk, which made it virtually indistinguishable from any other day."

Gregor grinned, then sighed. "Too many ceremonies. Too much time standing up-I think I could be replaced at half my functions by a life-sized plastic model, and no one would notice. A lot of time spent ducking the broad marital hints of my assorted counsellors."

"Actually, they have a point," Miles had to allow. If you got ... run over by a teacart tomorrow, the succession question goes up for grabs in a big way. I can an think offhand of at least six candidates with arguable stakes in the Imperium, and more would come out of the woodwork. Some without personal ambition would nevertheless kill to see that some of the others didn't get it, which is precisely why you still don't have a named heir."

Gregor cocked his head. "You're in that crowd yourself, you know."

"With this body?" Miles snorted. 'They'd have to ... really hate somebody, to tag me. At that point it really would be time to run away from home. Far ami fast. Do me a favor. Get married, settle down, and have six little Vorbarras real quick."

Gregor looked even more depressed. "Now there's an idea. Running away from home. I wonder how far I'd get, before Illyan caught up with me?"

They both glanced involuntarily upward, though in fact Miles was still not certain where the room's bugs were located. "Better hope Illvan caudit up with you before anybody else did." God, this conversation was getting morbid.

"I don't know, wasn't there an emperor of China who ended up pushing a broom somewhere? Anil thousand lesser emigrees-countesses running restaurants-escape is possible."

"From being Vor? More like ... trying to run away from your own shadow." There would be moments, in the dark, when success would seem achieved, but then-Miles shook his head, and checked out the still-lumpy bag. "Ah! You brought a tacti-go set." He didn't in the least want to play tacti-go, it had bored him by age fourteen, but anything was better than this. He pulled it out and set it up between them with determined good cheer. "Brings back old times." Hideous thought.

Gregor bestirred himself, and made an opening move. Pretending to be interested to amuse Miles, who was simulating interest to cheer Gregor, who was feigning ... Miles, distracted, beat Gregor too fast on the first round, and began to pay more attention. On the next round he kept it closer, and was rewarded by a spark of genuine interest-blessed self-forgetfulness-on Gregorys part. They opened the second bottle of wine. At that point Miles began to feel the effects, going tongue-thick and sleepy and stupid; it took hardly any effort to let Gregor almost win the next round.

"I don't think I've beaten you at this since you were fourteen," sighed Gregor, concealing secret satisfaction at the low point-spread of that last ronud. "You should be an officer, dammit."

"This isn't a good war game, Dad says," commented Miles. "Not enough random factors and uncontrolled surprises to simulate reality. I like it that way." It was almost soothing, a mindless routine of logic, check and counter, multiple chained moves with, always, perfectly objective options.

"You should know." Gregor glanced up. "I still don't understand why they sent you to Kyril Island. You've already commanded a real space fleet. Even ll they were only a pack of grubby mercenaries."

"Shh. That episode is officially non-existent, in my military flies. Fortunately. It wouldn't charm my superiors. I'd commanded, I hadn't obeyed. Anyway, I didn't so much command the Dendarii Mercenaries as hypnotize 'em. Without Captain Tung, wlio decided to prop up my pretensions for his own purposes, it would have all ended very unpleasantly. And much sooner."

"I always thought Illyan would do more with them, after," said Gregor. "However inadvertently, you brought a whole military organization secretly into the service of Barrayar."

"Yes, without them even knowing it themselves. Now, that's secret. Come on. Assigning them to Illyan's section was a legal fiction, everybody knew it." And would his own assignment to Illyan's section turn out to be a legal fiction too? "Illyan's too careful to get drawn into intergalactic military adventuring as a hobby. I'm afraid his main interest in the Dendarii Mercenaries is to keep them as far away from Barrayar as possible. Mercenaries thrive on other people's chaos.

"Plus, they're a funny size-less than a dozen ships, three or four thousand personnel-not your basic invisible six-man covert ops team, though they can field such, and yet they're too little to take on planetary situations. Space-based, not ground troops. Wormhole blockades were their specialty. Safe, easy on the equipment, mostly bullying unarmed civiliains-which is how I first ran into them, when our freighter was stopped by their blockade, and the bullying went too far. I cringe to think of the risks I ran. Though I've often wondered if, knowing what I khow now, I could have. ..." Miles stopped, shook his head. "Or maybe it's like heights. Better not to look down. You freeze, and then you fall. " Miles was not fond of heights.

"As a military experience, how did it compare wiq Lazkowski Base?" asked Gregor bemusedly.

"Oh, there were certain parallels," Miles admitted. "Both were jobs I wasn't trained for, both were potentially lethal, I got out of both by my skin-lost some skin. The Dendarii episode was ... worse. I lost Sergeant Bothari. In a sense, I lost Elena. At least at Camp Permafrost I managed not to lose anyone."

"Maybe you're getting better," Gregor suggested.

Miles shook his head, and drank. He should have put on some music. The thick silence of this room was oppressive, when the conversation faltered. The ceiling was probably not hydraulically arranged to descend and crush him in his sleep; Security had far less messy ways of dealing with recalcitrant prisoners. It only seemed to lower at him. Well, I'm short. Maybe it'd miss me.

"I suppose it would be ... improper," Miles began hesitantly, "to ask you to try and get me out of here. It's always seemed rather embarassing, to ask for Imperial favors. Like cheating, or somethinging."

"What, are you asking one prisoner of ImpSec to rescue another?" Gregor's hazel eyes were ironic under black brows. "It's a little embarrassing to me to come up against the limits of my absolute Imperial Rule. Your father and Illyan, like two parenthetical around me." His cupped hands closed in a squeezing motion.

It was a subliminal effect of this room, Miiles decided. Gregor was feeling it too.

"I would if I could," Gregor added more apologetically. "But Illyan's made it crystal clear he wants you kept out of sight. For a time, anyway."

"Time." Miles swallowed the last of his wine, and decided he'd better not pour himself any more. Alcohol was a depressant, it was said. "How much time? Dammit, if I don't get something to do soon, I'm going to be the first case of human spontaneous combustion recorded on vid." He jerked a rude finger at the ceiling. "I don't need to-don't even have to leave the building, but at least they could give me some work. Clerical, janitorial-I do terrific drains- anything. Dad talked with Illyan about assigning me to Security-as the only Section left that would take me-he must have had something more in mind than a m-, m-, mascot." He poured and drank again, to stop the spate of words. He'd said too much. Damn the wine. Damn the whine.

Gregor, who had built a little tower of tacti-go chips, toppled it with one finger. "Oh, being a mascot isn't bad work, if you can get it." He stirred the pile slowly. "I'll see what I can do. No promises."

 

Miles didn't know if it was the Emperor, the bugs, or wheels already in motion (grinding slowly), but two days afterwards he found himself assigned to the job of administrative assistant to the guard commander for the building. It was comconsole work; sheduling, payroll, updating computer files. The job was interesting for a week, while he was learning it, mind-numbing after that. By the end of a month, the boredom and banality were beginning to prey on his nerves. Was he loyal, or merely stupid? Guards, Miles now realized, had to stay in prison all day long too. Indeed, as a guard, one of his jobs was now to keep himself in. Damn clever of Illyan, nobody else could have held him, if he'd been determined on escape. He did find a window once, and looked out. It was sleeting.

Was he going to get out of this bloody box before Winterfair? How long did it take the world to forget him. anyway? If he committed suicide, could he be officially listed as shot by a guard while escaping? Was Illyan trying to drive him out of his mind, or just out of his Section?

Another month slipped by. As a spiritual exercise, he decided to fill his off-duty hours by watching every training vid in the military library, in strict alphabetical order. The assortment was truly astonishing. He was particularly bemused by the thirty-minute vid (under "H: Hygiene") explaining how to take a shower-well, yes, there probably were backcountry recruits who really needed the instruction. After some weeks he had worked his way down to "L; Laser-rifle Model D-67; power-pack circuitry maintenance, and repair," when he was interrupted by a call ordering him to report to Illyan's office.

Illyan's office was almost unchanged from Miles's last excruciating visit-same spartan windowless inner chamber occupied mainly by a comconsole desk that looked like it could be used to pilot a jump ship -- but now there were two chairs. One was promisingly empty. Maybe Miles wouldn't end up so literally on the carpet this round? The other was occupied by a man in undress greens with captain's tabs and the Horus-eye insignia of Imperial Security on the collar.

Interesting fellow, that captain. Miles summed him out of the corner of his eye as he exchanged formal salutes with Illyan. Maybe thirty-five years old, he had something of Illyan's unmemorable bland look about the face, but was more heavily built. Pale. He might easily pass for some minor bureaucrat, a sedentary indoorsman. But that particular look could also be acquired by spending a great deal of time cooped up on spaceships.

"Ensign Vorkosigan, this is Captain Ungari. Captain Ungari is one of my galactic operatives. He has ten years experience gathering information for this department. His specialty is military evaluation. "

Ungari favored Miles with a polite nod by way of acknowledging the introduction. His level gaze summed Miles right back. Miles wondered what the spy's evaluation of the dwarfish soldier standing before him might be, and tried to stand straighter. There was nothing obvious about Ungari's reaction to Miles.

Illyan leaned back in his swivel chair. "So tell me, Ensign, what have you heard lately from the Dendarii Mercenaries?"

"Sir?" Miles rocked back. Not the curve he was expecting ... "I ... lately, nothing. I had a message about a year ago from Elena Bothari-Bothari-Jesek, that is. But it was only private, uh, birthday greetings."

"That one I have," Illyan nodded.

Do you, you bastard.

"-Nothing since?"

"No, sir."

"Hm." Illyan waved a hand at the spare chair. "Sit down. Miles." His voice grew quicker and more businesslike. Meat at last? "Let's go over a little astrography. Geography is the mother of strategy, they say." Illyan fiddled with a control on his comconsole.

A wormhole nexus route map formed in three bright dimensions over the holovid plate. It looked lather like a ball-and-stick model of some weird organic molecule done in colored light, balls representing local-space crossings, sticks the wormhole-space jumps between; schematic, compressing information, rather than to scale. Illyan zoomed in on a portion, red and blue sparks in the center of an otherwise empty ball, with four sticks leading out at crazy angles to more complex balls like some skewed Celtic cross. "Look familiar?"

'That in the center is the Hegen Hub, isn't it, sir?"

"Good." Illyan handed him his controller. "Give me a strategic summation of the Hegen Hub, ensign."

Miles cleared his throat. "Ifs a double star system with no habitable planets, a few stations and power-sats, and very little reason to linger in. Like many nexus connections, it's more route than place, taking its value by what's around it. In this case, four adjoining regions of local space with settled planets," Miles brightened each part of the image as he spoke, for emphasis.

"Aslund. Aslund is a cul-de-sac like Barrayar; the Hegen Hub is its sole gate to the greater galactic web. The Hegen Hub is as vital to Aslund as our gateway Komarr is to us.

"Jackson's Whole. The Hegen Hub is just one of five gates from Jacksonian local space; beyond Jackson's Whole lies half the explored galaxy.

"Vervain. Vervain has two exits; one to the Hub, the other into the nexus sectors controlled by the Cetagandan Empire.

"And fourth, of course, our, ah, good neighbor the Planet and Republic of Pol. Which in turn connects to our own multi-nexus Komarr. Also from Komarr is our one straight jump to the Cetagandan sector, which route has been either tightly controlled or outright barred to Cetagandan traffic ever since we conquered it." Miles glanced at Illyan for approval, hoping he was on the right track. Illyan glanced at Ungari, who allowed his brows to rise fractionally. Meaning what?

"Wormhole strategy. The devil's cat's cradle," Illyan muttered editorially. He squinted at his glowing schematic. "Four players, one game-board. It ought to be simple. ...

"Anyway," Illyan stretched out his hand for the controller, and sat back with a sigh, "the Hegen Hub is more than a potential choke-point for the four adjoining systems. Twenty-five percent of our own commercial traffic passes through it, via Pol. And although Vervain is closed to Cetagandan mlitary vessels just as Pol is closed to ours, theCetas ship significant civilian exchange through the same slot and our past Jackson's Whole. Anything - like a war - that blocks the Hegen Hub would seen almost as damaging to Cetaganda as to us.

"And yet, after years of cooperative disinterest and dull neutrality, this empty region is suddenly alive with what I can only call an arms race. All four neighbors seem to be creating military interests. Pol has been beefing up the armament on all six of its jump point stations strung toward the Hub-even pulling forces from the side toward us, which I find a little startling, since Pol has been extremely wary of us ever since we took Komarr. The Jackson's Whole consortium is doing the same on its side. Vervain has hired its mercenary fleet called Randall's Rangers.

"All this activity is causing low-grade panic on Aslund, whose interest in the Hegen Hub is for obvious reasons most critical. They're throwing half this year's military budget into a major jumppoint station-hell, a floating fortress-and to cover the gap while they prepare, they too have hired guns. You may be familiar with them. They used to be called the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet." Illyan paused, mid-raised an eyebrow, watching for Miles's reaction.

Connections at last-or were there? Miles blew out his breath. "They were blockade specialists, at one time. Makes sense, I guess. Ah ... used to be ailed the Dendarii? Have they changed lately?"

"They've recently reverted to their original title of Oseran Mercenaries, it seems."

"Strange. Why?"

"Why, indeed?" Illyan's lips compressed. "One of many questions, though hardly the most urgent. But it's the Cetagandan connection-or lack of it-that bothers me. General chaos in the region would be as damaging to Cetaganda as to us. But if, after the chaos passes, Cetaganda could somehow end up in control of the Hegen Hub-ah! Then they could block or control Barrayaran traffic as we do theirs through Komarr. Indeed, if you look at the other side of the Komarr-Cetaganda jump as being under their control, that would put them across two out of our four major galactic routes. Something labyrinthine, indirect-it smells of Cetaganda's methods. Or would, if I could spot their sticky hands pulling any of the strings. They must be there, even if I can't see them yet ..." Brooding, Illyan shook his head. "If the Jackson's Whole jump were cut, everyone would have to reroute through the Cetagadan Empire ... profit, there. ..."

"Or through us," Miles pointed out. "Why should Cetaganda do us that favor?"

"I have thought of one possibility. Actually, I've thought of nine, but this one's for you. Miles. What's the best way to capture a jump point?"

"From both ends at once," Miles recited automatically.

"Which is one reason Pol has been careful never to let us amass any military presence in the Hegen Hub. But let us suppose someone on Pol stumbles across that nasty rumor I had so much trouble scotching that the Dendarii Mercenaries are the private army of a certain Barrayaran Vor lordling? What will they think?"

"They'll think we're getting ready to jump them," said Miles. "They might go paranoid-panic-even seek a temporary alliance, with, say, Cetaganda?"

"Very good," nodded Illyan.

Captain Ungari, who had been listening with the attentive patience of a man who'd been over it all before, glanced at Miles as if faintly encouraged, and approved this hypothesis with a nod of his head.

"But even if perceived as an independent force," Illyan went on, "the Dendarii are one more destabilizing influence in the region. The whole situation is disturbing-growing tenser by the day, for no apparent reason. Only a little more force-one mistake, one lethal incident-could trigger turbulence, classic chaos, the real thing, unstoppable. Reasons, Miles! I want information."

Illyan, generally, wanted information with the same passion that a strung-out juba freak craved a spike. He turned now to Ungari. "So what do you think, Captain? Will he do?"

Ungari was slow to reply. "He's ... more physically conspicuous than I'd realized."

"As camouflage, that's not necessarily a disadvantage. In his company you ought to be nearly invisible. The stalking goat and the hunter."

"Perhaps. But can he carry the load? I'm not going to have much time for babysitting." Ungari's voice was an urban baritone, evidently one of the modem educated officers, though he did not wear an Academy pin.

'The Admiral seems to think so. Am I to argue?"

Ungari glanced at Miles. "Are you sure the Admiral's judgment is not swayed by ... personal hopes?"

You mean wishful thinking. Miles mentally translated that delicate hesitancy.

"If so, it's for the first time," Illyan shrugged. And shores a first time for everything, hung unspoken in the air. Illyan turned now to pin Miles with a gaze of grim intensity. "Miles, do you think you would - if required-be capable of playing the part of Admiral Naismith again, for a short time?"

He'd seen it coming, but the words spoken out loud were still a strange cold thrill. To activate that suppressed persona again... . It wasn't just a part, Illyan. "I could play Naismith again, sure. It's stop-ping playing Naismith that scares me."

Illyan allowed himself a wintry smile, taking this for a joke. Miles's smile was a little sicker. You don't know, you don't know what it was like... . Three parts fakery and flim-flam, and one part . . something else. Zen, gestalt, delusion? Uncontrollable moments of alpha-state exaltation... . Could he do it again? Maybe he knew too much now. First you freeze, and then you fall. Perhaps it would only be play-acting, this time.

Illyan leaned back, held up his hands palm to palm, and let them fall in a releasing gesture. "Very well. Captain Ungari. He's all yours. Use him as you see fit. Your mission, then, is to gather information on the current crisis in the Hegen Hub; secondly, if possible, to use Ensign Vorkosigan to remove the Dendarii Mercenaries from the stage. If you decide to use a bogus contract to pull them out of the Hub, you can draw on the covert ops account for a convincing down-payment. You know the results I want, I'm sorry I can't make my orders more specific in advance of the intelligence you yourself must obtain."

"I don't mind, sir," said Ungari, smiling slightly.

"Hm. Enjoy your independence while it lasts. It ends with your first mistake." Illyan's tone was sardonic, but his eyes were confident, until he turned them toward Miles. '"Miles, you'll be traveling as 'Admiral Naismith' himself traveling incognito, returning, possibly, to the Dendarii fleet. Should Capitain Ungari decide for you to activate the Naismith role he'll pose as your bodyguard, so as to be always in position to control the situation. It's a little too much to ask Ungari to be responsible for his mission and also your safety, so you'll also have a real bodyguard. This setup will give Captain Ungari unusual freedom of movement, because it will account for your possession of a personal ship-we have a jump pilot and a fast courier we obtained from-never mind where but it has no connection with Barrayar. It's under Jacksonian registration at present, which fits in nicely with Admiral Naismith's mysterious background. It's so obviously bogus, no one will look for a second layer of, er, bogusity." Illyan paused. "You will, of course, obey Captain Ungari's orders. That goes without saying." Illyan's direct stare was chll as a Kyril Island midnight.

Miles smiled dutifully, to show he took the hint. I'll be good, sir - let me off planet! From ghost to goat-was this a promotion?

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