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7th-May-2012 01:28 pm - “The Right To Remain Silent”
“The Right To Remain Silent”

A Vorkosigan FanFic
By Roger Stenning

Based on the characters, situations, and universe created, set, and owned by
Lois McMaster Bujold. The contents of this story are for personal, non-commercial
use only. Any use of Lois McMaster Bujold's copyrighted material or trademarks
anywhere in this story should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights
or trademarks. This disclaimer must remain as an integral part of this file.
The material in this story may be used/abused by other FanFic authors, provided
that credit is given where credit is due - "Turnabout is fair play"!

© 2011, Roger Stenning.

***

This fic was inspired by yet another visit from the Insane Plot Bunny™...

***

Many thanks as usual, to my Beta Reading Team, Coalboy, Jekni, Philomytha, and Sharaith, without whom, this story would not have proper grammar or spelling (or decent wording in places come to that), and would probably still be stuck on the keyboard!

***

Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan leaned forwards, a ripple of disgust still present on his lips as he examined each and every one of them in turn, one foot properly socked and booted, the other bare and exceedingly hairy around the toes. They all studiously avoided glancing down there, of course. Not the done thing, or something, to stare at the Lord Auditor's feet, after all.

"I am aware, of course, that none of you chose this life. It was thrust upon you. I am also aware that a few of you don't think I deserve even the clothes on my back - or in this case, my feet. But this display is totally unacceptable. I-" Miles broke off, and turned on his dressing stool, a slightly hurt expression on his face, as his beloved wife cracked up in giggles on the bed behind him. "And you're not helping this, you know. A bit of support here?" Ekaterin couldn't help it. The giggles now became a full-on group of guffaws. Miles sniffed haughtily, shook his head, and returned to the assembled group to his front.

"Right. Let's cut to the chase. Which one of you crapped in my boot?"

A chorus of high-pitched "Mew?" returned, the month-old litter of kittens, wide eyed and completely uncomprehending, staring back at him.

Ekaterin continued whooping, now holding her midriff and kicking her feet in the air.

Zap knew and, suspiciously, wasn't saying a thing.

Fin

Winterfair II: “Vorkosigan Plenipotentiary...”


A Vorkosigan FanFic

By Roger Stenning


Based on the characters, situations, and universe created, set, and owned by

Lois McMaster Bujold. The contents of this story are for personal, non-commercial

use only. Any use of Lois McMaster Bujold's copyrighted material or trademarks

anywhere in this story should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights

or trademarks. This disclaimer must remain as an integral part of this file.

The material in this story may be used/abused by other FanFic authors, provided

that credit is given where credit is due - "Turnabout is fair play"!


Copyright 2011, Roger Stenning.


***


This fic was inspired by the Winterfair Mark Two plot bunny by

Bookchan: “2) A fic where Miles didn't become an Auditor either because Gregor didn't offer him the position full time or because Haroche didn't commit treason. What would Miles have ended up doing?”


***


Many thanks as usual, to my Beta Reading Team, Coalboy, Jekni, Philomytha, and Sharaith, without whom, this story would not have proper grammar or spelling (or decent wording in places come to that), and would probably still be stuck on the keyboard!


***

He'd mulled about this for a while now, ever since he'd been told that that attitude-ridden bloody dwarf would be assigned to him, for him to train up to become his boss. That was pure, unadulterated, poison to the soul. Illyan had to be out of his bloody mind. Allegiance to Count Vorkosigan was one thing, but his son as well? The boy would have to be able to walk on water or something, to instill that kind of faith in Illyan - Haroche froze. Hold on a bloody moment. He paused: He’d been about to break the capsule in his fingers, but stopped himself, his eyes narrowing as he considered something that hadn’t occurred to him before that moment.


Illyan wasn't the kind of man to have false illusions about people. He'd sacked, arrested, and vanished more people than he'd had hot dinners, and was practically infallible (well, there was the birthday party he'd never suspected until they threw it at him, but that was the exception, and it had come at the height of the Yarrow Incident, after all). So why the Vorkosigan boy, then?


Lucas Haroche fingered the small brown frangible capsule carefully, then set it, unbroken, back in the small cotton wool packed matchbox he’d taken it from, placing it in his desk  drawer, and locking it there. It could wait. It was past time to do some digging, instead.


After going over the unsecured portions of the personnel files, noticing the odd configuration of his awards and decorations, and the coincidences of the awards and decorations coming soon after certain galactic events of concern to ImpSec, he finally figured out that Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan was no bloody Courier Officer, and suddenly understood why Illyan thought the boy walked on water.


Then, a short while later, the little git blew himself out of the water - almost literally. He was out of ImpSec, for good, on a medical retirement. Illyan always changed the subject when Vorkosigan came up in conversation - no matter how innocently - for the next month.


Then, in almost tragic irony, considering what Lucas had formerly intended to do, a combination of a poor cleaning job, ill-timing, carelessness, and pure bad luck, landed Illyan in the ImpSec infirmary after a horrifying tumble, after he slipped on a wet stair tread tile, bumped into the cleaner turning round to wipe up the spill, and flew head-first down a set of steps towards the canteen, his head colliding with a steel banister at the bottom of the flight. It was all caught on camera, so foul play was definitely out.


It was a pure, clumsy, lousy bloody accident.


It was a minor miracle he was able to function afterwards, let alone breathe, but the damage was done: He'd suffered one hell of a crack to his skull, and it had somehow caused his eidetic chip to become partially disconnected from his brain; in addition, the crack to the skull had caused swelling to his brain, which exacerbated the injury to the chip, resulting in the chip ‘thinking’ that he'd died, and self-destructing through necrosis, as it was meant to. Before they picked up on this horrid combination of events, Illyan had been through hell about ten times over every hour as his chip fired random events from the past in its death-throws. Haroche decided on removal of the chip, recommended the procedure to Gregor, and that was, as they say, that.


On recovering consciousness, it was found that Illyan’s intermediate-period-memory was shot to hell, and his short-term memory wasn't far behind. Haroche was immediately appointed Provisional Head of ImpSec, until such time as the Emperor confirmed him in place. Illyan retired to the care of his one-time subordinate, Lord Vorkosigan, and a short while later, rumours started to persist regarding Illyan’s close association with Lady Alys Vorpatril.


Haroche was confirmed as Chief of ImpSec in due course, and Simon and Lady Vorpatril were confirmed as a couple in the monthly magazine for the proles, "Vortattle", that had a fairly solid following amongst the nobles as well. Miles had, on more than one occasion, had spotted a copy on Gregor’s desk, and wisely kept his big gob shut on the matter.


Miles got bored easily, however. While he'd given his word to Gregor that he'd steer clear of the Dendarii, and had no intention of breaking his name’s word to his life-long friend and liege, his not having a proper job rankled; he wasn’t used to being idle and doing nothing at all, and didn’t like it one bit. So, he surveyed his father’s District, and, in his fathers voice, got to work fixing things (some of which really didn't need fixing, but what the hell. It kept him out of more serious trouble).


And then that idiot Vormoncrief had to open his slimy hole. A Clone wasn't good enough to become a Count's heir, he said, even as the second heir, causing one hell of a stir. Quite what his motivation was, no-one quite knew, and it was by grace of God alone that Mark wasn’t on-planet to deliver terminal argument closure in person.


The verbal sparring got quite nasty for a time, with legal threats-a-plenty, until it was all neatly diverted by the Soletta Array at Komarr being spectacularly busted to bits by a colliding freighter, and the Komarran deep-space transfer station somehow imploding five days later, killing all on board. These dual events kept the scream sheets from Miles' door for a couple of weeks ("Cetagandans deny any involvement!"), and then Lord Auditor Vorthys niece - now a widow thanks to the transfer stations destruction - arriving back in Vorbarr Sultana. After rebutting several proposals from would-be suitors, the scuttlebutt was all about her for a couple of days, but then the scream sheets got bored, and went back to Miles for their entertainment.


Miles found himself back into his legal and political mess, and suddenly realised that he had a talent for political tactics, as Lady Donna suddenly turned up as Lord Dono, Ivan got roped in to the shenanigans too, and Miles had one hell of a Political Fight (note the capitalisation there) on his mitts.


It was gloriously madcap for a while, in the best traditions of Mad Miles Naismith and His Barrayaran Mercenary Horde (as the tabloids had once called this galactic mercenary and his fleet a few years back), but all good things come to an end, and life slowed down again. During the mess, he’d made and broken alliances, juggled political adversaries like battling star ships, and had a whale of a time. Strangely to him, he found that he rather enjoyed the melodrama and scheming - he’d always assumed that he’d hate it, somehow. That he’d somehow won every phase of the fight had confused the hell out of him too, but he wasn’t arguing.


These victories had made Gregor sit up and take notice; Miles as a diplomat, with no shots fired, even once?! Wow. Gregor decided that Miles could help the Empire as well now, as when he’d been the star of Illyan’s firmament: He appointed Miles as an Ambassador Plenipotentiary, a post not requiring confirmation from the Council of Counts, and personally briefed him, charging Miles with making Gregor’s galactic life a damn sight easier.


On the way out, he just missed bumping into Lady Alys, and instead bumbled into her guest, who Lady Alys was introducing to Gregors’ fiancé, Doctor Laisa Toscane; the visitor turned out, after the dust from the impact settled, apologies were exchanged, and wry amusement had set in, to be Ekaterin Vorthys, the niece of Lord Auditor Professor Vorthys.


It transpired that she’d not backed down to the press: she'd done the opposite, and had gone for the jugular, and in the process, oh yes, neatly disarmed Vormoncrief (who was it seemed, now cooling his jets at Camp Permafrost, pending Court Martial for making not-so-oblique threats of child abduction), and in the process, without intending to, had helped Miles and his friends achieve a hat-trick of victories - Mark officially recognised by the Council of Counts as a Second Heir, Dono approved to succeed his brother as Count, and René Vorbretten was reconfirmed as Count, in the Council of Counts. Quite a good day, all in all. Oddly for Miles, he found himself strangely smitten with this home-grown spitfire of a woman.


Miles new job was interesting at times, but for the most part, bloody boring. Never the less, he did it to the best of his ability, and gained a galactic reputation as a man who didn't let anything get in his way, as several worlds who tried to put the brakes on the expanding Barrayaran Economic muscles found - to their extreme embarrassment.


During this time, whenever he was back on Barrayar, he found reasons and time to be close to Ekaterin; he found work for her slowly-building landscaping business; he found a clinic for her son, Nikki, when he found out from Ekaterin that he had Vorzohn's Dystrophy, and paid for the treatment as well; he was a friend of the family, after all, and it seemed appropriate enough, although it got tongues in Vortattle wagging again. She was a little concerned, for Nikki’s sake, but Gregor was somewhat protective of his foster-brother; several words in the right places, and Vortattle was strangely not tattling about them any more, having strangely found a new editor.


A few months later, Ekaterin and Miles became engaged. The marriage, courtesy of what was in hindsight a blindingly silly decision, was almost a disaster - they'd discussed having an open-air wedding, and agreed to hold it in the newly-refurbished gardens of Vorkosigan House. What they hadn't, in their enthusiasm, considered in their timeline of events, was that the wedding would take place at the height of winter.


Still, it all came off well enough with no major ructions, save from a group of drunken idiots trying to make Taura’s life interesting as she jogged around Vorkosigan House one morning, and the new Armsman, Roic, saving the day and reputation of Barrayar with a series of well placed kicks and punches to the... er... proper places and, on the special day, a couple of minor cases of frostbite in the evening for guests who really didn't have the proper constitutions to be canoodling outside in temperatures approaching minus fifteen...!


Their honeymoon, delayed a few months due to yet another off-planet job from Gregor to his all-purpose Ambassador, was rescheduled. Easy enough to reorganise, it was a long cruise around various worlds that Barrayar did business with, including Earth, and before long, they were on their way home again, scheduled to ‘uncork’, as Countess Cordelia Vorkosigan once put it, their two incubating children, once they got home again.


Or at least they had been, until they were interrupted by an Imperial Courier with a message from Gregor...


Fin

"Winterfair II: Puppy Walking... (Pt 2)"


A Vorkosigan FanFic

By Roger Stenning


Based on the characters, situations, and universe created, set, and owned by

Lois McMaster Bujold. The contents of this story are for personal, non-commercial

use only. Any use of Lois McMaster Bujold's copyrighted material or trademarks

anywhere in this story should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights

or trademarks. This disclaimer must remain as an integral part of this file.

The material in this story may be used/abused by other FanFic authors, provided

that credit is given where credit is due - "Turnabout is fair play"!


Copyright 2011, Roger Stenning.


***


This fic was inspired by the Winterfair Mark Two plot bunny by selene_314:

There are a lot of imposing figures in and around the Vorkosigan family. I'd like to see one of them early on, starting to grow into his (or her) power.”


***


Many thanks as usual, to my Beta Reading Team, Coalboy, Jekni, Philomytha, and Sharaith, without whom, this story would not have proper grammar or spelling (or decent wording in places come to that), and would probably still be stuck on the keyboard!


***

Part Two...


Roic had never seen such a scene before – training could only do so much, and simulated smell tech was still a long way off - and the metallic and simultaneously nauseating smell made him pause and take a couple of sleeve covered deep breaths as he swallowed hard to avoid the natural reaction to add to the mess. He didn't notice Meklov’s approving glance at the way he controlled his reaction.


Meklov turned to the other two Flier-borne Guardsmen and got an instant briefing. He turned around, and gathered every spare Guardsman present. “Listen in. Our man was conducting a field interrogation on a street person about petty thefts in the area, when the guy just lashed out. He missed Ketatovicj,” he nodded towards one of the three men performing first aid, “but got his partner, Sevek there. Ketatovicj's the one who put out the thirteen call. Our offender is a white guy, about six-five, maybe six-six or so, thin, wearing bulky clothes that are old and well worn, shaggy beard and hair, dark green hooded jacket, faded blue trousers, old black work boots, and fingerless woven gloves. Looked to be middle-aged, but you lot know streeties, this murderous nut could be in his twenties, so don't count anyone out.”


Meklov glanced at his wristchrono. “He's got a ten minute head start as at right now. Sergeant Bonmarche is putting out the Eyes Open call now.” He pointed to groups of four Guardsmen at a time, “You four – north. Your four – east. You four – south, and us four – west. The rest of you secure the scene with Sergeant Bonmarche. Medics should be here any moment, and the Response Squad's due soon to assist you with crowd control. And watch yourselves; this bastard just stabbed one of our own, so he's looking at a hangmans' noose, and has nothing more to lose, and he damn well knows it too. Take him down hard, but do it from a distance. Use your stunners, and take this bastard alive. Go.”


***


The four of them, Roic, Meklov, Kosmin and Verenkov, split into pairs and carefully quartered the route they'd taken into the scene not fifteen minutes earlier. Roic was puzzled. “Sarn't, we'd come this way earlier, so surely this nut couldn't have been here before, surely we'd have seen him?”


Meklov's head was moving, as if on a swivel, the whole time he replied, his eyes never resting on one place for more than a second or two. “We didn't know who or what we were looking at before, and besides, these street people are masters of hiding in plain sight – it's a survival trait they learn. Saves them getting rolled by other street people when they sleep. It's a dog eat dog world for them. You'd be surprised how many there are of them. They come in from the hills, or get discharged the service and can't find work, or can't handle the city, lose their roofs, and here they stay, until they either die, do something to get them banged up in prison or hanged, or somehow – and God alone knows how - make it back to roofed status. Most petty street crime's down to them, around here. Sad, but true. So, keep your eyes open and look at and under everything, no matter how apparently insignificant; and remember, if it's large enough for a dog to hide under, there could be a man with a bloody knife instead. Got it?”


“Got it”.


They scoured the area for hours, quartering it carefully. At the same time, back-up units from Central’s response teams sealed down the access and exit points, only admitting residents under escort to their homes, with strict admonishments to remain there until advised that they could leave.


Taking a much needed refreshments break after four hours of scouring and re-scouring, they arrived back near the scene of the crime, to find that a Central Station Refreshments van had set up shop and was doing a brisk trade. An enterprising trader had done likewise with his shaslyk stand just outside the tape-line, and was doing a fair trade as well - mainly to the members of the public who showed up out of morbid curiosity as to what was transpiring.


Roic and company used the service offered by the van. The food from the van was fairly plain but it was, at least, hot and filling and cheaper than the shaslyk stand. More importantly, given that the van was well inside the cordon and away from the tape-line, they could talk without having to make sure they weren't overheard by the public, in case they said something that could be used by, say, the press. Even more importantly for them at that moment, when guards were tired they tended to be fairly insular anyhow, preferring their own company to that out outsiders.


That was one of the reasons, Meklov told Roic as they queued, why Central commissioned the van. The other, he continued, “Being that at four in the morning, hours after when your shift should have ended, when you're dog tired and about ready to eat your own gloves from hunger, it's hard to find a shaslyk vendor willing to brave three-metre-high drifts of snow in the middle of winter!” Tired and hungry as he was, Roic couldn't help but chuckle at the image that this observation generated in his mind.


Gathering up their mugs of tea, trays of food and utensils, they sat and ate at the bench-equipped folding tables set up for their use; commenting on their experiences in the search thus far.


Meklov, who'd paused by the scene commander, rejoined them, his mood seeming somewhat better. “Sevek's going to make it. The knife got him just below the vest, the poor sod, so they're having to grow a new set of lower intestines for him. He'll be off for a while, but they've stabilised him and he's on the road to recovery.” The others breathed a collective sigh of relief and began, between bites of food, to discuss more mundane matters.


Strangely, Roic was the one they all seemed to pay attention to the most. Then it dawned on him. They were assessing him as a newly minted Guardsman, seeing if he'd got what was required to do the job, seeing if he could be trusted to watch their backs as they watched his. He paused, his tea mug halfway to his mouth, as another thought grabbed him. The others noticed. Kosmin nodded to him. “Alright, Roic, what?”


“You remember the back of Petrov's Fineries?”


“Yes. Delivery truck. We checked, it was clean. So what?”


“Wasn't there a storm drain cover under one of the wheels?”


Kosmin shrugged. “Yeah, what of it? I certainly can't lift an eighteen ton truck, doubt if a streetie could either.”


Meklov interrupted, shaking his head in self-disgust. “Shit. Roic, good spot. We'll check it right now. Kosmin – how long had the truck been there? It was still practically full of goods, wasn't it?”


Crud. You're right. Nice one, Roic.” He nodded towards Roic, half rueful, half respect. It was a start.


***


The truck was still there, the driver filling out a datapad in his nice warm cab. Meklov unlatched the retention strap to his stunner, and motioned for silent approach. A few whispered words to the driver, and he started his truck, moving off to park up around the corner. Meklov used his radio to send a text update to Central, asking for silent cover response. The acknowledgement came almost immediately by text reply.


While Kosmin and Meklov covered the hole with their stunners, Roic and Verenkov raised the cover. It should have felt like it weighed a ton but instead it almost flew out of the hole as they lifted it. They all winced as it briefly scraped the sides of the hole.


Nothing leapt out at them, so Meklov dropped to his knees, and peered down the hole. Blackness.


“Bugger. Not good. Someone's taken out the inspection lights. Roic, you may be onto something with this. You two,” he nodded to Kosmin and Verenkov, “Down. We'll stay up here and keep an eye out.” The two guards shared a resigned glance, checked their stunners, and clambered on down.


Meklov updated central, this time by voice. “Central, Mike Sierra Sergeant Three, over.”


“Mike Sierra Sergeant Three, Central, go.”


“Two going down the hole, two staying topside, fence area distance four zero zero metres, centre my location, until you hear back from me, over.”


“Central, two hunters going below, two overwatch, fence four hundred, centre your location, roger, over.”


“Mike Sierra Sergeant Three, roger, out.”


Roic followed the radio chatter carefully. It was exactly as he'd been trained back at the Academy. They'd said that a Guardsman from Vorblane's district could work in Vorhallon's without too much trouble, and this was the proof. Radio discipline was maintained throughout the Empire and it made sense: If you had troops from the Imperial Service working with Guards from the various districts, you didn't want to have to learn another voice procedure just to order a search; no, you wanted an immediate familiarity with them, and this was one of the ways to maintain that process: A common set of voice procedures. It was reassuring to him to know that what he'd learned in training was actually what happened 'in the field'. Things had a way of being subtly different once out of training, in just about every walk of life, but this was definitely not. It was nice to know it all worked properly.


He didn't know what it was that made him spin round and aim his stunner. A small sound maybe, his being new and twitchy, but one piece of advice from training echoed in his mind as he did so. “You have stunners for a reason. You can shoot first, and apologise later. It's called stunner tag. Don't be shy about that damned trigger. It may well save your unworthy necks!”. In a heartbeat he had centred his aim at a shadowy figure emerging from another shadow some distance away and yelled "GUARDS! HALT!" Without further thought on the matter, he was squeezing the trigger, his stunner buzzing loudly as it fired. The figure stumbled, but then seemed to shake off the stun and took off running. DAMN!


He glanced at Meklov who yelled “GO! I'm right behind you!” as he reached for his radio, so Roic did just that. Like an athletics champion leaping off the blocks, he sprinted away full tilt after the shadow. Reaching the spot where he'd seen the figure he saw a raised manhole cover and, peering down the revealed hole, saw Kosmin half way down it hauling himself up the ladder. Kosmin paused, caught his breath and called up, “Did you get him?”


“Dunno”, replied Roic, “Stunner seemed to have no effect, and he took off. That way.” He indicated with his stunner. “Where's Verenkov?”


“Long range, big surprise. Nic's right behind me. He's slower. Get after the bastard, willya?!”


Roic didn't reply, he shot off again, heading for the corner where he lost sight of the offender. He could hear Meklov pounding up behind him, yelling into his radio, and paid him no heed, his brand-new instincts and training telling him to look to the front and watch for the target. He got to the corner and paused. Kneeling down, he glanced quickly around the corner, hauling his head rapidly back after a super-fast glance, examining the brief picture in his minds' eye afterwards. An alley, strewn with rubbish, escape ladders either side leading up to the roofs, the alley ending in a ten-feet-high wall. No open fire exits. And apparently clear of human life. Roic was one hundred percent certain that the figure had vanished into this alley – there was nowhere else it could have gone. Meklov pounded to a stop beside him. “What?”


“Bugger's vanished, Sarn't”.


“No chance. Blind alley?”


“No. Cul-de-sac. No open doors, all fire exits. Lots of rubbish. Ladders up to the roofs. You thinking what I'm thinking?”


“Up.”


Roic winced. “Nuts.”


Meklov grinned mercilessly. “You said it.”


Roic checked his stunner and went round the corner, his weapon - held in a two-handed grip at the low ready position - covering all angles in front in a steady but swift, undulating arc. Up and down, left and right. “Clear.”


Meklov followed, using the same technique if a little more quickly. Experience had it's advantages. “Go up the left one. You’d probably have seen movement as you came in if he used the right one. I'll be right behind you. Watch yourself as you get to the top.”


“Got it.” Roic holstered his weapon, and started climbing, slowly, steadily, carefully testing his weight on each rung as he climbed, keeping things as silent as he could. His youth and fitness counted for a lot in this. He paused just below the top and drew his stunner, pointing it upwards as he carefully pulled himself up above the line of the wall. Again, he didn't know what it was that made him duck, but the plank of wood sailed over his head by a fraction of an inch and caught his stunner muzzle, sending it flying out of his grip to sail down into the alley. “SHIT!” Roic wasn't one to retreat; his brother taught him that when they were kids.


Instead, he leapt up and grabbed the arm holding the plank “C'M'ERE YOU!” The offender - taller than Roic by a good inch or two - reeled back and hauled Roic over the edge of the roof in the process, then went over backwards as he tripped over his own feet. Roic, being dragged bodily over the roof-edge wall, cried out in pain as he damn near skinned his shins, and then wound up landing on top of the offender, getting a mouthful of stench into the bargain and almost gagging before he was able to whoof out a hard breath - and continued to grapple with the man.


They struggled on the flat roof for a few seconds before the offender tried to finish the fight with a knee to Roic’s groin, which he narrowly avoided by taking the strike to his thigh instead. Instinctively ducking his own head, Roic diverted the intended head-butt from his assailant to land on the top of his scalp instead of his face. Painful for Roic but sheer agony for the man, whose nose suddenly got flattened with the impact. The man must have realised that this rolling around on the floor would only end in stalemate, and snapped his hands violently into Roic’s chest, forcing them to roll apart. Roic completed his roll with a fluid motion, coming to his feet. At the same time he fast-drew his shock-stick, deftly snapping it to its full metre length with a flick of his wrist and automatically activating it. The tip charged up with a quiet high-pitched rising whine, and glowed a baleful red.


Roic had had more than enough of this, advanced a step and dropped into the half-crouch fighting position they taught at the Academy, with left arm held at shoulder height in a boxer-like position ending in a fist that promised nothing but pain, his right hand snapping the baton to the ready high position above his shoulder. “FREEZE!”, he roared. It felt like it came from the bottom of his stomach, right up his throat, through his voice box and out of his mouth like the roar of a bear, full of aggression and menace. He’d never used The Voice in anger before, and it damn near startled him as it echoed across the rooftop. It almost had the desired effect. The offender was startled too, but instead of freezing to the spot as commanded, his flight or fight reaction swapped poles as, eyes wide in fear, he snapped glances left and right, and looked for places to which he could to flee. Suddenly, from behind Roic, a bull-horn-like yell echoed across the roof.


“FLAT!”


His training at the Guard Acadamy had instilled an almost Pavlovian reflex to this command word into him and, without even thinking about it, he’d dropped to the floor like a rock and rolled away, just as a loud buzz sounded. The man seemed to freeze for an instant, his face a rictus of shock, and then toppled over, thoroughly stunned by Meklov. The sergeant was panting and hanging onto the ladder through hooked arms, which held Roic’s stunner in a two-handed grip. “And bloody stay there this time, you sod,” he muttered breathlessly to the prostrate street person. Meklov pulled himself up onto the roof and tossed the stunner to Roic, as he leaned onto the wall, relaxing visibly. “Think you might need this one day, lad. Caught it on the way down. Good job, by the way.”


“Thanks. Thought I was toast when that damn plank went past my head.”


“You ducked, so no worries. I don't think this is beginners luck, I reckon you got the right instincts there, lad. Keep it up, we'll make a decent guard of you yet. Now, cuff this git, and let's call in the retrieval team with their flyer.”


Meklov grinned evilly all of a sudden and pointed at Roic, who was absent-mindedly scratching the back of his head.


“Oh, and don't come near me until the clean-up team's deloused you. These buggers have lice.”


Roic sagged. “Oh, wonderful.”


“Welcome to the Guard, laddie!” Meklov’s laughter could be heard for five blocks around.



Fin

"Winterfair II: Puppy Walking... (Pt 1)"


A Vorkosigan FanFic

By Roger Stenning


Based on the characters, situations, and universe created, set, and owned by

Lois McMaster Bujold. The contents of this story are for personal, non-commercial

use only. Any use of Lois McMaster Bujold's copyrighted material or trademarks

anywhere in this story should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights

or trademarks. This disclaimer must remain as an integral part of this file.

The material in this story may be used/abused by other FanFic authors, provided

that credit is given where credit is due - "Turnabout is fair play"!


Copyright 2012, Roger Stenning.


***

This fic was inspired by the Winterfair Mark Two plot bunny by selene_314:

There are a lot of imposing figures in and around the Vorkosigan family. I'd like to see one of them early on, starting to grow into his (or her) power.”


***


Many thanks as usual, to my Beta Reading Team, Coalboy, Jekni, Philomytha, and Sharaith, without whom, this story would not have proper grammar or spelling (or decent wording in places come to that), and would probably still be stuck on the keyboard!


***


The sergeant, whose machine-embroidered name tag read "Meklov", looked him up and down. Mostly up. Meklov wasn't a very tall man. He stood five foot six in his socks, and his uniform half boots only added three-quarters of an inch in height. But he was also practically as wide as he was... um... tall, and none of it seemed to look like flab. Hell, even his jaw looked like it had muscles on its muscles. He was chewing the stub of a half-smoked cigar, which was currently unlit, of course, rules were rules – especially in this, the Municipal Guard's most high-profile substation in Hassadar, smack dab across the Main Square from the Count’s Residence. His voice was like two rocks of granite rubbing together. Hard, and very, very rough. He had a mountain accent too, even more broad than Roic’s when under stress.


"So you're Roic, eh? I can see why they posted you here. You'll be able to see over the crowds." Roic, not ten minutes into his very first live shift as a Municipal Street Guard (Third Class) was somewhat taken aback. Wasn't there a height restriction for the Hassadar Municipal Guard?


Meklov grunted at Roic’s expression. "Hmph. I know what you're wondering. Height limits, right?"


Roic gulped silently and, not trusting his voice, nodded. What? Was this potential mutant pygmy a mind reader too?!


"I got an exemption thanks to my Imperial Service record. And I'm damn good at my job. Which is why they got me to puppy walk you. The Municipal Guard Academy over there in Vorbarr Sultana may train you how to do the job. I'll teach you how to do it right, and how to go home again after each shift. Questions?"


OK, maybe not a mutant then, if he'd done Imperial Service. But he’d never heard of an ‘exemption’ before, and curiosity was eating at him there and then. "An exemption, Sergeant? What’s that?"


Meklov grunted and nodded once, running his hand across his head, which was shaved almost bald. "It’s a way the various services have of helping some folks; they normally only give it to people who do well, or who are expected to do well. I was Imperial Infantry. Saw some proper work here and there during my time. Decided I wanted a different form of service at the end, and thanks to a half-decent recommendation from the service, and an exemption from the Guard, here I am. I'm a thrice ten man already, coming up on my fourth ten in a few years. I aim to make it there, intact, and live disgustingly unhealthily and immorally on my pension thereafter.” He looked pointedly at Roic, and his voice dropped an octave. “You got a problem with that?"


Roic’s shake of the head was most emphatic. "No, SIR!"


Meklov leaned up at Roic, who suddenly felt very insecure. How the HELL did the short-arse in front of him project so much physical threat in such a slight move forwards? "Can the 'Sir' crap. I work for a living. You call me 'Sergeant', until I tell you otherwise. Get yer coat and hat. I'll meet you at the gun cage." He spun around, and stalked out of the locker room, while Roic let out a heavy sigh. Well, talk about leaving good first impressions. This wasn't going at all well, was it? What a way to start a night shift!


***


Meklov was already kitted out, and leaning on the gun cage mesh wall as Roic left the locker room. Hang on, how the hell had he done that so quickly?


"C'm'ere, boy, ain't got all night, we got bad folk to nab, tourists to confuse, and lots of lovely pavement pounding to do." He nodded to the man in the gun cage, a plump Father Frost-like figure, with a balding head of white hair, who looked like he was just about ready for retirement. "This is Corporal Eventine. He runs the combined armoury and arsenal - the Gun Cage - here. Look after him, and he'll look after you. Frank, this is the new guy they gave me, name of Roic."


Eventine grinned toothily, revealing a somewhat uneven set of teeth, a number of which appeared to be missing from his left jaw. "Aren't you the lucky one. Mind you, if you weren't a masochist, you wouldn't be the Substation Training Officer, would you?" He chuckled, and turned to Roic. "Right, then. All ready to receive your gear? Good."


He started to dump items from behind him onto the desk surface between them, each item landing with a metallic clunk of varying weight. "Heavy Duty Stunner. Stunner charge packs by three. Tanglefield generator. Manual handcuffs and key. Irritant spray. Baton, side-handled, extensible, with shock stick end, rechargeable. Flashlight, solid state, with two power packs. MG-Issue datapad, with spare power pack. Fines pad. Report pad. Patrol pad. Styluses, manual, black ink filled, four. Main Square station badge, embroidered, basic issue allotment pack, hook-and-loop backed.”


He turned back to Roic, and tapped the badge pack. “You'll want to use a couple of those straight off. Word to the wise - keep the rest of them in your locker. You never know when you'll need one. Last, but probably no means least, your station key. Thumb prints for every item - that's twenty three of the buggers - all one below the other, along here," he pointed to a column on the data pad he slid across to Roic, "And then we're done until you get back. Remember, the ironmongery, you hand back at the shift end; the admin kit, you keep until posted away from here. Clear?" Roic nodded as he entered his print for the numerous items he'd just been issued.


Meklov reached across him, and dumped the various items into a shopping basket he'd retrieved around the corner of the cage. "Done? Marvellous. Over here." He nodded to a bench along the free wall of the cage room. His demeanour changed; he wasn't the grizzled unapproachable senior non-com now, he was talking normally, in a 'here's some good advice' manner.


"Stand here, and stand still. I'm going to kit you up. It's faster this way". Leaving the stunner alone, he put every item into its allotted place on Roic’s utility belt. "Right. Grab your stunner, perform the Normal Safety Precautions for it, load and make it ready in all respects, and holster it securely. Go." Roic did as ordered without saying a word. He'd learned to keep his mouth shut around T.O.s in the Academy, unless asked a direct question. This felt like one of those times. He noticed that Meklov had left the handcuff key in the basket. Huh?


Meklov reached into the basket, and lifted the key. "This goes where?"


"The key clip on my belt, Sergeant."


"OK, and when the bad guy - and there WILL be a bad guy who does this at least once - cuffs you with your own cuffs, and legs it away with your key, what then?"


"No idea, Sergeant."


"Good. I like trainees to admit when they don't know something. You'd be amazed how many arrogant know-it-alls come out of that damn place. Get a second key. It'll cost you five marks from Frank over there. The purchase'll be recorded, as it's a restricted item. You'll have to return it when you leave or retire from the Guard, and believe me, they will check. Do that before you knock off shift. This is where you stick it".


He undid his utility belt, and holding up the female end of the buckle, pushed and twisted it until it snapped open with a click. He showed Roic the hollow slot that separating the two halves had revealed, and pointed to the handcuff key that was secreted there. "This is a not-very-well-known feature of the manufacture of the belt buckle. It's designed to come apart to facilitate ease of repair, and somewhere along the way, it just so happened that someone noticed that a cuff key would push-fit into this slot.” He reassembled the buckle, and put it back around his waist, clipping it in place.


“Tell no-one outside the Guard about this. It may help to save your neck one day. And to save you time at the end of the shift, just hand Frank your entire belt with its contents when you log off. You'll get it back from him the next shift, with everything either replaced, recharged, or topped off." He took the unopened station badge pack from Roic, extracted a couple of the hook-and-loop badges, and handed the rest back to Roic. "Take your coat off." Meklov fastened a badge to Roic’s left shirt arm and left coat arm, and told him to dump the rest in his locker, which Roic did.


When Roic returned, Meklov was signing a duty log pad. He looked up as he replaced the pad on the Station Duty Sergeant's desk. “When we go out there today, we will not, I say again not, be looking to arrest anyone, break up any trouble, or in any way go looking for trouble. Today, I'll be familiarising you with the area that we patrol. Local knowledge goes a hell of a long way in this job; local knowledge can show you when something's not right. Generally speaking, when the atmosphere of a road, street, alley, or shop feels wrong, there's a damn good reason for it; this knowledge can tell you when it's time to hit the ground, run into trouble, or merely keep your wits about you. Got that?”


“I think so.”


“Good, because I'll be asking questions about what you see out there later. Let's go.”


***


The rest of the evening, Roic and Meklov did exactly what the sergeant had said they'd do. They pounded the pavements of the catchment area of the Sub Station, with Meklov having Roic memorise the road names, landmarks, and not-so-well-known features of the area. He did, indeed, ask questions on all of this when they took their meal break at the shaslyk stand in the Main Square. A couple of other Guardsmen were there, and greeted Meklov with knowing grins. Meklov introduced Roic to them as Kosmin and Verenkov, and then, looking both the veteran Guardsmen up and down, he just shook his head balefully.


“And to think that you two were prospects for rising stars when I puppy-walked you back then.” His timing was spot on, of course. The other two coughed, snorted their drinks down their noses at the same moment, stared at Meklov with shocked looks on their faces, and all three broke down and laughed. Roic, not getting the joke, just looked puzzled. “Don't worry about it, lad. Give it a couple of years, and you'll understand all too well, but to give you a heads up: You remember the speech that the Commandant of the Guard Academy gives on Welcome Day?”


Roic nodded. “It was long winded, full of the possibilities, the various branches we could serve in, and so on, that the speech, Sarn't?”


“That's the one. Biggest load of horse manure since they told us the Second Wave was on the way.” He meant the non-existent Second Colonisation Ship that never made it to Barrayar due to the original wormhole closing, which led to Barrayar’s Time of Isolation, the period of several centuries of technological regression following from when the wormhole to the Nexus collapsed, before a new route was discovered via Komarr, marking the end of her galactic isolation. “OK, I'll let you in on the joke. Opportunities for us lowly thick-headed knuckle-dragging pavement pounders are few and far between. The best we can generally hope for is that we'll get promoted in this branch, or make it to one of Central’s Incident Response Team heavy mobs. For one of us to make it to Detective or Technical Specialist, or even Special Ops, is about as likely as finding rocking horse manure. This said, we can, and do, make a difference. OK?”


“Yeah, I guessed as much at the Academy. Guys with better education than I had were getting guidance from the course counsellors, and looking at mapped out career paths leading all the way to the top. All I got from the counsellors was the usual 'are you enjoying the course?' questions, and repeated advice from the medics about treating sore feet and how to keep warm in the cold.” Roic shrugged. “You kind of figure out your place in things when you get a chat like that from a guy with stars on his shoulder boards.”


The other three nodded in agreement. Meklov swallowed the remains of his curried chicken shaslyk, downed the rest of his coffee, and turned back to Roic. “Right then, let's get moving aga-” he was interrupted by his radio – all of their radios, in fact – giving off a high-pitched bleeping six times rapidly, then the strident voice of the Central Dispatcher.


“This is Central. Thirteen thirteen. I say again, thirteen thirteen. Uniform Tango. Service alley behind 739 Liberation Road. All units Mike Sierra respond code blue. Out.”


Meklov swore, lobbed his coffee and rubbish in the bin beside the shaslyk stand, and yelling “WITH ME!” at the other three, took off at the sprint, the others close behind. Roic’s mind was a jumble. Thirteen-thirteen was the radio code signifying that a Guardsman was in mortal danger. It was a code that all available guardsmen were required to attend at full speed, immaterial of all other concerns. Uniform Tango meant unknown trouble. The Academy gave a couple of examples, from an instant riot – rare these days – to a bull charging down a side street and trapping a guardsman in a cul-de-sac. The moral of the tale was that anything could turn to hell in a handbasket in an instant, and Guardsmen were to be aware of their surroundings at all times. It wasn't always possible, and this, his first day on the job, was telling him that in spades.


Meklov was managing to somehow keep ahead of Roic who, with his just-out-of-the-acadamy fitness, and greater stride-length, should have been able to get ahead of the sergeant with ease, but with the route that Meklov was taking, Roic had to stay on his tail. Meklov was bulling through side streets, alleys, and around the side of a department store – Petrov's Fineries – before they got to the scene not two minutes after they'd set off, huffing and puffing. They weren't the first on the scene, but they weren't the last. Three area fliers and a dog skiff were already there, and a score of other Guardsmen arrived just after Roic and company had got there. The sergeant took one look at the scene, and swore again. Three guardsmen – from the first Flier on-scene, Roic assumed – were kneeling by another who was flat on his back, a massive gash leaking blood at an alarming rate in his lower abdomen, as they worked feverishly to stem the bleeding with a trauma bandage. There was blood everywhere.


Continued in part 2...

28th-Nov-2011 09:01 am - "Hare and Hound"
"Hare and Hound"

A Vorkosigan FanFic
By Roger Stenning

Based on the characters, situations, and universe created, set, and owned by
Lois McMaster Bujold. The contents of this story are for personal, non-commercial
use only. Any use of Lois McMaster Bujold's copyrighted material or trademarks
anywhere in this story should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights
or trademarks. This disclaimer must remain as an integral part of this file.
The material in this story may be used/abused by other FanFic authors, provided
that credit is given where credit is due - "Turnabout is fair play"!
Copyright 2011, Roger Stenning.

***

This FanFic was inspired by the usual methodology:

A visit from The Insane Plot Bunny™...!

***

Many thanks as usual, to my Beta Reading Team,
Coalboy, Jekni, Philomytha, and Sharaith,
without whom, this story would not have proper grammar or spelling,
and would probably still be stuck on the keyboard!


***

The alley was dimly lit, damp, and smelled of raw fish, naturally. Roic didn't pause, he charged on in.

Hot pursuit was like that, you didn't think, you trusted your instincts, and leapt on into the lion’s mouth. Roic couldn't explain it, he just knew the would-be assassin had charged pell-mell into the alley. Only problem for the idiot was that it was a dead-end alley. No way out. End of line. A termination point, as firefighters tended to call such things. Where the hell had that one come from? Oh yeah, his brother, the firefighter.

Rounding the blind corner to the left in the alley, Roic began to skid to a halt, his warning instincts screaming at him as he reached for his heavy stunner, which he'd holstered in the madcap scramble down the outside escape ladder of the hotel. The suspect was waiting for him though, and never gave him a chance to draw, leaping on Roic from his left, and trying to get an arm round his throat. Roic never gave him the opportunity to complete the move, dropping like a rock to the ground, his legs scissoring out under him, his left elbow sweeping back in a short arc to come crashing into the stomach of his attacker, who grunted, but hung on. Not good.

Roic had one last chance, and used it. He grabbed the man’s right arm, currently wrapped halfway round Roic’s throat, and doubled up forwards with all his upper body might, while twisting slightly to his left. The Hail Mary worked, and the assailant flew over Roic to land in an undignified heap in front of him. Didn't do much good though, the man was fast, and used his legs to spin him around while on his back, then back-arced and flipped back onto his feet. The man was trained, no doubt about it. Roic was better though, had expected the move and, with his feet by now under him, lashed out with an extended forward snap kick to the guy’s happy sack.

It was like the bell sounding at the end of a boxing round. All the fight left the guy in an instant as he folded down very nicely, thank you, not with a bang, but with a somewhat high-pitched wheeze, his hands clasping his groin rather tightly, and his eyes visibly watering and about five times the size they should normally be, before he came crashing to the ground on his knees whimpering, his face now beetroot red and screwed up like a balled up and discarded newspaper.

A whistle blew far above from the roof of the Training Area, and that was that, exercise over. The biannual refresher courses for Advanced Close Protection personnel - both Military Personnel and Civilian Armsmen - were a mandatory feature of the job. They allowed skills to be kept up-to-date, while allowing for new skills or knowledge to be learned regularly, refreshing the knowledge base for all Qualified Personnel, and making sure that they were at the top of their game all the time. It also allowed their Protection Licences to be kept up-to-date as well, which was the other side of the coin. ImpSec were nothing, if not thorough.

Roic leaned down to help the man up.

"Did you HAVE to kick me there, you damned municipal madman?" He was shaking his head, and it was more a wheeze than a sentence, but it was said with feeling. And not a little pain.

Roic shrugged. "You were wearing a box. I saw you put it on in the locker room, Corporal. Oh, and that's ten Marks you owe me. Toldja you'd never get away from me, didn't I?"

The Corporal was softly bouncing up and down on his toes, as if trying to get a certain part of his anatomy to drop down again. Roic noticed something on the ground behind him, and picked it up, offering it to the Corporal. "You may want this, I think. Looks like it fell off in the scuffle."

The man glanced at what Roic was holding, took it, and replaced it on the hook-and-loop strip on his shoulder, to match his other shoulder’s Ranger tab.

"Thanks. Christ, that's absolutely the last bloody time I'm the hare, with a Vorkosigan Armsman in these refresher courses. You lot don't seem to know when it's for fun or not, I tell you no lie. Next time I'm the sodding hound. I want to have a family some time this century!"

Roic grinned mercilessly, and chuckled. "Tovarisch, if you couldn't take a joke, maybe you shouldn't have signed on for the Advanced Course?"

That earned him an exasperated look, and a rather wet raspberry blow. They both grinned, even if one of the grins was a little weak and strained.

"C'mon, Oleg. The bar's open by now, and I reckon you need a beer."

Oleg was still wincing, and replied with heartfelt honesty. "Bugger the beer, I need some ice!"


Fin

23rd-Sep-2011 11:42 pm - The Replacement Suspects, Part 4/?
"The Replacement Suspects, Part 4"

A Vorkosigan FanFic
By Roger Stenning

Based on the characters, situations, and universe created, set, and owned by
Lois McMaster Bujold. The contents of this story are for personal, non-commercial
use only. Any use of Lois McMaster Bujold's copyrighted material or trademarks
anywhere in this story should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights
or trademarks. This disclaimer must remain as an integral part of this file.
The material in this story may be used/abused by other FanFic authors, provided
that credit is given where credit is due - "Turnabout is fair play"!
Copyright 2011, Roger Stenning.

***

This FanFic was inspired by the usual methodology: A visit from The Insane Plot Bunny™, a random phrase, and the start of chapter three of "The Warriors Apprentice"...!

***

Many thanks as usual, to my Beta Reading Team, Coalboy, Jekni, Philomytha, and Sharaith, without whom, this story would not have proper grammar or spelling, and
would probably still be stuck on the keyboard!

Writer's note:
This story's only part formed in my head at the moment, but the general outline's there, so please bear with me as I find time to write it – the real world's being a little insistent at the moment!


***

Arriving at the Embassy, and following a very brief – but thorough – identity check, Miles swept into the Ambassadors' outer office and requested to see the ambassador immediately. The aide looked up. “I'm sorry, you must make an appointment. He's a supremely busy man, you understand.”

“Is that so. So, for the record, am I. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Lord Auditor Vorkosigan. Now go and announce me.”

The aide, whose desk plate gave his name as Stivers – where had Miles heard that name before? - stood. “Look here, you can't just barge in, we're not in the dark ages any more, you must-AWK!” Roic had grabbed up the man by his lapels, in one meaty fist, and softly said “Announce the man, doorstop, before you get into trouble”, and propelled the highly agitated aide into the inner office before them backwards, while the aide was still protested the intrusion. Miles, while highly amused by Roics' loss of patience, managed to fix Stivers with an under the eyebrows glare, and the man fell silent.

Miles then looked across the office to where the ambassador sat behind his desk, his heads of department sat in a semi-circle to his front, in chairs pulled from the larger meeting table on the other side of the office. “Ambassador Vorveskitt, my name is Lord Auditor Miles Naismith Vorkosigan. My Imperial master requests and requires me to audit the current situation. I request and require your fullest cooperation. Do you understand?”

It never ceased to amuse Miles as to the various reactions that his arrival on official business solicited. This occasion was no different than the many others that he'd experienced in the last few years. Ambassador Dmitriy Vorveskitt, like everyone else in the room, shot out of his seat as if propelled by a rocket, paling to almost parchment-white, his mouth moving like a goldfish as he tried to summon up something to say.

Miles forestalled him again, but with a carrot, not a stick, primarily to prevent the poor man having a heart attack – that way, he could always turn the screws a few threads, if needed, later on. “Ambassador, this is mere formality. Most Auditors arrive unannounced. It's tradition. Nine times out of ten, all the Audits show is that a simple situation was either miscommunicated up the chain, or that the usual method of working needed tweaking. There's nothing more to it, at this stage, bar the work that I have to complete, which should not interfere with the running of the embassy too much. My task is to ensure that the embassy is capable of returning to business as usual in as short a time as possible. To that end, I'll schedule a few meetings with you and your senior staff over the next few days, and we can then discuss what, if anything, needs to be done that may be outside your usual remit, and that I can assist with. For the moment, I'm going to get myself and my man settled and freshened up. It's been a long trip from Vorbarr Sultana, after all.”

Vorveskitt looked a little relieved, although still worried. “You said nine times, my lord Auditor. What about the tenth?”

Miles looked contemplatively at the ambassador, with a slightly cocked head, while leaning on his cane. “Ah. Yes. Well. I shouldn't think that applies here, do you?”

“That?”

Miles voice dropped a couple of octaves. “Treasonous activities.”

It was if the temperature in the room had dropped a thousand degrees. Everyone, with the exception of Miles, Roic, and Keller, visibly swallowed. A few pulled briefly at their collars, as if the clothing had suddenly tightened about their necks.

Vorveskitt managed a slightly croaked “N-no, my lord Auditor, I shouldn't think it would apply here.”

Miles brought his voice back to a more jovial temperament. “Excellent!”, and clapped his hands together – an altogether shockingly loud noise in the hitherto silent office – and rubbed them together vigorously a couple of times. “Well, then, in that case, let's crack on. Oh, and before we settle in over in the guest wing, I have a bearer chit to a quite adequate sum to re-finance the embassy, and get everything here out of whatever legal hock you may have been forced to employ in the interim.” Miles looked at the assembled group, and fixed a pleasant smile to the single woman there, as he fished a small credit chit out of his jackets' inside chest pocket, and offered it to her. “I believe that you're the embassy purser, Miss Laukhova?”

A slim, medium-height woman of about forty, Raina Laukhova managed to stand without falling over, and took the offered chit. “Thank you, my lord Auditor.”

“I'll need your thumb-print for the receipt, please.” Miles fished out a small data pad and, after turning it on and finding the right file – a couple of seconds of fiddling – indicated where she had to confirm receipt of the funds. She did, at least, check the sum was correct on the chit, using its built-in display window, before checking the amount on the receipt, and pressing her thumb against the box on the form. “Thank you.” Miles turned back to the ambassador. “I'll require accommodations in your guest wing for my man and me; I trust that your Personnel Officer can provide such?”

Vorveskitt looked to one of the people sat around his table briefly, who nodded almost imperceptibly back, then back to Miles. “I believe so, my lord Auditor.”

“Very well. I think that's it for the moment. I'll have more questions for your Personnel Officer to begin with. We'll take up no more of your valuable time up at this point. Thank you for the welcome.” Miles nodded a very slight bow, waved a finger to Roic, and left the Ambassador’s office, Keller following close behind them both.

Miles waved Keller up to him. “Personnel Office?”

“Down one level, other side of the block, my Lord Auditor.”

“Lead on, please.”

Miles was used to the stares from people. Roic was slowly getting the hang of it. Keller was only getting a taste. Wherever Miles went, people stared. The gold chain and seal around his neck made people stop, start, and stare at the sight. That and the cane – thankfully muted in the carpeting of the embassy – made quite a sight for those not expecting quite so short an Imperial Auditor.

***

Several levels and cavern zones away, in the Betan Foreign Affairs Department, Yoshirou Takamoto was reporting to the Foreign Minister. Present were his boss, the Betan Minister of Justice, the Foreign Minister, and the Prime Minister.

“...the passenger manifest also listed him by name as Lord Miles Vorkosigan of Barrayar. He said his name was Miles Vorkosigan, sir. I took the liberty of looking him up on our database.” Takamoto consulted a small hand-held data pad. “There is an active file under his name, and, pending any loss of Diplomatic Immunity, an active arrest warrant for False Imprisonment, Fraud, Grand Theft Space Conveyance, and Deception. There are also allegations of assault, and a family link to one Cordelia Naismith, a Betan citizen, formerly of the Betan Expeditionary Force, who is wanted for breaches of the State Secrets Act and possibly consorting with the enemy during a time of conflict during the last war, and unlawful flight from medical treatment after the war.” He looked up. “Are we at all sure we want this man on-world, sir?”

The Foreign Secretary, Edward Cartwright-Hanover, spoke up. “There's absolutely nothing we could do, short of declaring him Persona Non Grata, and that would really upset the Barrayarans – and I'm sure we know what that might entail.”

“Why? Why would it upset them?”, asked Sydney Williams, the Secretary of State, who was busy pouring a single-malt whisky from a decanter on the sideboard.

Cartwright-Hanover snorted once, almost a belch. “Easy. He's practically the adopted brother to their Emperor. According to all the files we've got, they're thicker than thieves in a bank vault.”

Thadeus Smythe, the Prime Minister, regarding his half-full cup of tea, winced. “Crap. So we're stuck with him?”

“We are,” came Cartwright-Hanover's reply, so deep and full of inevitability as to resemble a peal from the doom bell.

“Gordon Bloody Bennett!” exclaimed Takamoto, his normally calm mask broken, looking up in shock from his data pad, “The son of the woman who booted him in the medals on-planet? Steady Freddie's gonna have a conniption!”
***

Miles, meanwhile, was settling into his temporary, if spacious, guest quarters. Roic was doing his batman’s impression, unpacking Miles trunk, and placing everything in its proper place in the rooms.

“How do you think the meeting with the Betans will go tomorrow, m'lord?”

“I suspect they'll still be in shock, Roic. In fact,” he paused, and looked up at the ceiling in thought, grinning slightly evilly, “I think there still may be an arrest warrant out for me here!”

Roic looked up in shock. “What?!”

To be continued...



NOTE: Post-publication delayed beta checking (these things happen, sorry) resulted in a few spelling and grammatical corrections, and a couple of small additions to one of the paragraphs early on in this chapter (to add clarity and thus remove confusion); none of the plot was changed.
8th-Sep-2011 10:12 am - "The Replacement Suspects", Part 3/?

"The Replacement Suspects, Part 3"

A Vorkosigan FanFic
By Roger Stenning

Based on the characters, situations, and universe created,
set, and owned by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The contents of this story are for personal, non-commercial use only.
Any use of Lois McMaster Bujold's copyrighted material or trademarks
anywhere in this story should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights
or trademarks. This disclaimer must remain as an integral part of this file.

The material in this story may be used/abused by other FanFic authors, provided
that credit is given where credit is due - "Turnabout is fair play"!

Copyright 2011, Roger Stenning.

***

This FanFic was inspired by the usual methodology: A visit from The Insane Plot Bunny™, a random phrase, and the start of chapter three of "The Warriors Apprentice"...!

***

Leaving the Entry Control area, they were met by a man in Imperial dress greens, bearing the Horus eyes of ImpSec, and Captain's tabs.

“Lord Auditor Vorkosigan?”

“Yes?”

“I'm Captain Keller, OC of ImpSec Branch Beta. I'm to escort you downside, to the Ambassador, sir.”

“Thank you. This is my man, Armsman Roic. He has full clearances, by necessity, so you can talk freely.” Roic was holding out his left hand, palm up, his right hand on the heavy stunner in its holster, retention snap ready to be broken open by his meaty thumb, should he have to draw the weapon.

Keller nodded to Roic, looking not at all surprised. Seemed that he'd read up on the Imperial Auditor, then. Good. It didn't really matter that much if the man had, or had not, boned up on the topic anyhow, concluded Miles; Keller wasn't the problem; he was part of the solution, having solved most of the immediate problem already.

Keller used his left hand, pointed to his left upper chest pocket, and using two fingers, produced, and handed over, a small black leather document wallet bearing the Imperial coat of arms in silver leaf. Roic glanced at the contents, nodded first to Miles, then to Keller, closed the wallet, and handed it back.

“So, Captain. I'll require a classified briefing from you, to see and hear your own perspectives on this situation, before much else goes on. Your report was very comprehensive, but we both know that they can be... shall I say 'dry' on the less fact-based stuff, like intuition?”

That got his attention. And a very appraising look. Yep, I'm the Vorkosigan that spend ten years in ImpSec's covert affairs, and you can bet I saw more action than most of the Imperial General Staff over the same time, too. Not that Keller would ever read those files, of course.

Just before they reached the public concourse, Keller redirected them to a passage marked “Official Business Only”, flashing his ID and a pass card to the guard there, who checked all their papers properly, before admitting them. Keller turned to Miles and nodded to the door at the end of the corridor, “Private shuttle port, My Lord”.

The private shuttle port was vast, of course. Beta was used to catering for fairly large delegations of everything from diplomats to business groups, and it showed. The private shuttle that Keller had arranged to use was actually a government shuttle belonging to the Betan Diplomatic Corps. Miles approved. It was basically Beta's fault that their man had found his way to an illegal gambling den, so they damn well should extend some facilities to the Barrayaran delegation sent to fix things up.

The journey to the capital was simple enough. The shuttle, piloted by a Betan of definite male characteristics (obviously in deference to the Barrayarans present), dropped into a re-entry de-orbit that was as close to a vertical drop as Miles had seen from any Dendarii assault shuttle launching to a drop zone, and mere minutes later, they were dropping down a silo into the groundside aerospaceport a couple of kilometres from the capital, New'shton, where the Barrayaran Embassy was located.

Miles, expecting to then be whisked right to the Embassy, was a little surprised to find a diplomatic entourage from the BDC awaiting him in the silo access way. There were five of them, dressed in formal Betan Sarongs, their Betan Diplomatic rainbow-coloured sashes draped over their shoulders.

Miles shot a slightly exasperated look to Keller, who shrugged. “First I heard of this, my lord, though it doesn't really surprise me that much. We ask for a low-key arrival, and they seem to do the opposite. We ask for a full state turn-out, and they go so far over the top to appear like some Old Earth Gilbert and Sullivan affair. Then again, when we don't tell 'em anything of any material value...” he waved a hand in the direction of the greeting party.

“So there's a leak, or their intelligence is better than ours, or they merely looked over the stellar arrivals listings and deduced it for themselves, or, as you asked for one of their shuttles, they looked at the passenger list, and thought why the hell not?” Mused Miles.

“Maybe even all four, my lord Auditor.”

“Hmph.” Miles glanced up at Roic, whose face was a studious mask of bland. He gets far too much practice doing that, thought Miles. Have to see if I can do something about that.

They stopped a couple of metres from the Betan delegation, who nodded formally as a group, before the centre-most one stepped forwards, and bowed slightly. “I am Ken Takamoto, the Deputy Minister of Justice. May I extend our deepest regrets that your visit is as a result of most unfortunate circumstances.”

Miles ears perked up. What?

“I'm not at all sure I follow what you just said, Deputy Minister. Could you perhaps rephrase it? I'm not a diplomat, after all.”

Roic was definitely working hard on the bland look. Keller merely blinked, and stayed mute.

Takamoto looked a little perplexed. “Not a diplomat? Please forgive my bluntness, Lord Vorkosigan, but I was led to believe that this was to be a... er... 'quiet' diplomatic attendance, to ensure smooth relations with our respective governments?”

Ah. Trying to head off a diplomatic incident at the pass, eh? Miles grounded the tip of his cane between his feet onto the ferrocrete floor with a loud metallic tic as the steel cap hit the cold-cast flooring, and looked down for a moment at the ornately carved wooden handle of the cane, which he briefly spun on its axis, as he loudly sighed, pursed his lips, and looked up at Takamoto. “No. Had that been all that was required, my Imperial Master, Emperor Gregor Vorbarra, would merely have had our Ambassador issue a strongly worded complaint, and left it at that. My Imperial master wants more, so he sent me.” Time to rattle a few cages, I think. “Do you understand who and what I am, Deputy Minister?”

Takamoto was looking increasingly uncomfortable, as was the rest of his party. “I was told that you are the son of his former Prime Minister, and that you are some form of highly placed Diplomatic Envoy?”

“Close, but no. I am an Imperial Auditor. My tasks are set by His Imperial Majesty, Gregor Vorbarra, Emperor of the Barrayaran Empire of Barrayar, Sergyar, and Komarr. These tasks are never normally the same twice, and, very briefly and roughly, extend to ensuring that any situation that could detrimentally affect the Empire are investigated, and resolved, in a rapid, efficient, and timely a fashion as possible. In Barrayaran legal terms, I am the remote personification of the Emperor, charged with maintaining the Empire’s status quo. In practical terms, I am effectively a roaming Minister Without Portfolio and Investigating Judge, all rolled into one, Deputy Minister. I trust that clears up your misunderstanding.”

“I'm not sure I understand, Lord Vorkosigan-” Miles had held up his hand.

“The correct form of formal address for me, Deputy Minister, is Lord Auditor Vorkosigan. Please continue.”

Takamoto looked like he was trying to swallow a plum, whole. Miles doubted that the man had been spoken to like this in a very long time. Tough. Miles needed their cooperation, so he had to set himself up as being high on the food chain – their sending a small, relatively low-powered delegation, had to be seen as a diplomatic faux pas, an insult of sorts, so that Miles could start to get what he wanted: Unfettered access and assistance. “My apologies, Lord Auditor Vorkosigan. You do realise that we have our own investigative services, do you not, and that they are rather well practiced at their trade?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Miles could see Roic struggling for facial control. He was already turning red around the neck. Ah, a button pushed, visibly.

“No. I do not. As I understand things around here of late, you called in a member of the Investigatif Federale from Escobar to guide your own police for a recent series of murders; your police services are effectively security guards, and you haven't had to deal with a serious rash of heavy crime in well over a century. On the other hand, we Barrayarans have a highly experienced set of policing services, a very highly skilled and effective security service, and our system of criminal jurisprudence is regarded throughout the known galaxy as one that criminals would do well to avoid at all costs. I sincerely trust that I'm making myself understood, Deputy Minister. I'm not a diplomat. I'm a bloody nightmare in human form, come to fix this mess you created.” Takamoto looked like he wanted to use the bathroom all of a sudden, and his face wasn't being very diplomatic: It bore an expression of horrified shock. The rest of his party wasn't far behind in the facial expression department either, and had all visibly paled from the neck up as Miles' lecture proceeded. Good. Miles continued. “Now. I believe an appointment is being arranged to have us all meet in more formal surroundings tomorrow, but in the mean time, I must make my way to my embassy, and make formal greeting to the Ambassador there. Good day, gentlebeings.”

Miles and his party swept past the Deputy Minister and his four cronies. When safely past them, and well out of earshot, Keller spoke up, addressing Roic. “Is he always like this?”

“Nope. You got him on a mild day. Takamoto got a light toasting, compared to some folks.”

Miles grinned ferally.

To be continued...

12th-Jun-2011 12:53 pm - "The Replacement Suspects", Part 2/?

"The Replacement Suspects, Part 2"

A Vorkosigan FanFic
By Roger Stenning

Based on the characters, situations, and universe created,
set, and owned by Lois McMaster Bujold.

The contents of this story are for personal, non-commercial use only.
Any use of Lois McMaster Bujold's copyrighted material or trademarks
anywhere in this story should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights
or trademarks. This disclaimer must remain as an integral part of this file.

The material in this story may be used/abused by other FanFic authors, provided
that credit is given where credit is due - "Turnabout is fair play"!

Copyright 2011, Roger Stenning.

***

"Well, well, well," said the sleek Betan customs agent, in sarcastic simulation of good cheer. "If it isn't Sergeant Bothari of Barrayar. And what did you bring me this time, Sergeant? A few nuclear anti personnel mines, overlooked in your back pocket? A maser cannon or two, accidentally mixed up with your shaving kit? A gravitic imploder, slipped somehow into your boot?"
 
The Sergeant answered this sally with something between a growl and a grunt.
 
Miles grinned, and dredged his memory for the agent's name. "Good afternoon, Officer Timmons. Still working the line, are you? I thought for sure you'd be in administration by now."
 
The agent gave Miles a somewhat more courteous nod of greeting. "Good afternoon, Lord Vorkosigan. Well, civil service, you know." He sorted through their documents and plugged a data disc into his viewer. "Your stunner permits are in order. Now if you will please step, one at a time, through this scanner?"
 
- Lois McMaster Bujold, "The Warriors' Apprentice"

***

Miles spent the rest of the voyage reading up on the case, the personnel files, and the local situation on Beta. He farmed out the reports on the criminal side of things to Roic, who had, after all, the relevant experience in such matters.

For a peaceful and egalitarian world, it certainly had an... interesting... underbelly, thought Roic, reading through the intelligence reports on the other side of life on this, the so-called jewel in the crown of Human Civilisation.

The reports tended to be more filled by rumour than fact, but the gist was that while the average tourist tended only to see what the government wanted them to see, there was, indeed, a seedier side to life on the world, and that this had been growing in magnitude for a few decades.

It was very unlikely that expatriates like Lady Vorkosigan would be aware of just how serious a problem it was for the planet: white collar crime had been a regular, if infrequent, problem even when she had been a full-time citizen of Beta, but since her rather abrupt departure, there had been a rise in blue collar, or violent and actual harmful, crimes. The statistics that ImpSec (branch Beta) had put together were revealing, in and of themselves.

Physical and violent crimes were pretty much confined to the lower end of the society as Barrayarans would view them, these being the skilled and unskilled manual trades ‘classes’ and, even then, there seemed to be a form of code of behaviour that left the more affluent ends of society, including places of learning, the higher-end retail areas, and other more ‘visible places’ well alone at least (presumably to avoid generating the sort of attention that these sorts of crimes sought to avoid at all costs), but the trend was increasing and widening steadily, if slowly, in scope, and it seemed that Betan security agencies were having a rather hard time in coming to grips with the problem.

About the only thing that was different here than on Barrayar, thought Roic, was the lack of bank robberies. With a fully electronic banking system, the days of physically intimidating and violent bank raids were a thing of the past - you couldn’t just scoop up a handful of electrons in your hand and spend them, after all. This, at least, had to be done by white collar criminals, and the banks were rather good at protecting themselves in that regard, hence the growth in illegal gambling, frauds, blackmail, bribery, and other primarily non-violent white collar crime, at least in the early stages. Barrayar was working on the problem, but the vast majority of the citizenry still relied on those old-fashioned coins and bank notes, to decide if they had enough funds to buy their weekly groceries, or pay the mortgage, or what have you.

In any case, while violent crime was fairly well hidden, it still existed on Beta, and generally, this angle of the 'Gambling Den Bite' came later, when debts to such criminals as loan sharks and similar, weren’t paid. In the case of the clerk, it was gambling debts, sold on to an as-yet unknown party, who demanded information, money, and other so-called ‘party favours’. Roic wasn’t sure he wanted to know about those, frankly. The Betans were certainly free with their sexuality, but these... ‘party favours’... had the smell of something altogether more basic, and thus nasty. He was glad the reports didn’t go into that much detail.

The evening exchange of discoveries and assumptions that they'd established over the last couple of days, as they both delved into the files, was rather one-sided that evening; Miles had been singularly unable to find any dirt on the Deputy Head of Mission whatsoever, and it was grating on him.

“Everyone, Roic, without exception, has a hidden secret, a skeleton in the closet, or at best, a seriously embarrassing occurrence with an animal, a cloak, and maybe a bunch of carrots, that they want to keep hidden. It's basic human nature. This lack of dirt on Vorshankle is... well, it's just wrong. And I just can't put my finger on what, precisely, he's got to hide.” Miles was unconsciously repeating what a senior ImpSec vetting officer had mentioned to General Allegre in Miles' hearing at the Imperial Residence, while Miles was briefly waiting to see Gregor. “It's bloody irritating.”

“Um... that were rather detailed, about the animal and stuff, m'lord... anyone I know?”

“Hmm? Oh, no, just a case study in – appropriately enough – the vetting process, that we covered in ImpSec; dated back to before the invasion. A certain minor Vor lord was being considered for a major appointment, based on merit and his spotless record, and then the fledgling ImpSec investigators found he had a rather disquieting interest in animals, and whoops, there went his career, his freedom, and his reputation, all in one go. You get the idea, anyhow.”

Roic did indeed get the idea. There'd been one or two cases of that kind of thing in the past, in the outlying areas of the district, but never involving a Vor class individual.

Miles shrugged, and nodded to Roic. “So, what've you got, aside from a vast array of the underbelly of Beta?”

“A whole lot of nothing, m'lord. Just rumour, hints, and a lot of circumstantial information, that adds up to an impending avalanche of serious crime and disorder in under a decade; looks like Beta needs to get a grip, before the smelly stuff hits the fan, and I'm not at all sure they're up to the task.”

“How come?”

“They've had it too easy over the last few hundred years; the last serial killer they had, they had to import an Escobaran detective to solve the thing. They've lost the ability to handle it, I think, and frankly, even if they were to catch those responsible, I don't think their methods are up to dealing effectively with them.”

Miles raised eyebrows and muttered “Hmm?”, taking another suck at his coffee bulb.

Roic continued, “They'd want to give them a dose of Betan therapy, and given that they'll be dealing with actual Betans, not our criminals, I don't think they'd get the successes they'd be aiming for; if it were our 'crims', they'd get the results, and no mistake: ours aren't prepared to resist that kind of thing, after all.” Roic shrugged. “Just my impression, m'lord; you may have a better idea, having been there before, after all.”

“Roic, were you suggesting that I have been treated to a dose of Betan anti-crime psychotherapy in the past?!”

Roics' eyes went as big as dinner plates, his face went beetroot red, and in shock at what he'd inadvertently said, he stammered, “I- um- I'm sorry, my lord, that's not what I meant, my lord!”

Miles chuckled a dirty laugh. “Relax, I was joking. Been downright morbid in here these last couple of days, and you just got my sense of humour on overload. Sorry about that. Um... I think that before you sit down again, though, you better retrieve the chair that's now in the companionway behind you!”

Roic managed, somehow, to keep his tongue in check. It wouldn't do, after all, for a sworn Armsman to rip his principal apart for the crime of having a smart mouth, after all. Once the beetroot colour had faded, he managed to set his face set to ‘bland’, and kept somewhat quiet until he'd managed to get his annoyance in check. Miles must have noticed this, as he made no further comments of a smart-alec nature that evening – or for the rest of the trip, come to that.

That was, however, the highlight of the journey, as far as they were concerned. Arriving in local Betan space, their first communication to the Embassy revealed that the Betan authorities had decided that, even though it was a diplomatic incident, they would not be investigating the affair any further, “so as not to bring further embarrassment to the Barrayaran Government”.

Miles was both furious, and resigned to the report. It was obvious to both of them that someone in power had been instructed by Roics 'crims' to halt the investigation, so as to allow the parties concerned to disappear back under the rocks that they had crawled out from before. The corruption, it seemed, was already in place in the Betan government, and apparently thriving nicely.

Roic voiced their unspoken question. “So how the bloody hell do we figure just how deep the rot goes, m'lord, or do we leave them to boil in the juices of their own making?”

“That's a damned good question, Roic. I have no blasted idea.”

***

They were met at the Betan orbital port facility by the usual red tape, and a man that made Miles blink, stop dead in his tracks, and do a remarkable double take with a dropped jaw of amazement and a muttered “No, surely not?”. There was no associated paling of skin, so Roic was sure that Miles hadn't seen a ghost, but all his senses had risen to full alert at the reaction, and he followed Miles astounded gaze to the source of the problem - a Betan Customs security agent, who was looking a little surprised at the reaction himself, truth be told.

Roic stepped back from where he's automatically stepped protectively in front of Miles, and took his left hand off Miles' chest, from where it had rested in the Close Protection 'Keep behind me' grasp, and asked “My lord?”

Miles shook his head, laughed a little manically, if quietly, to himself, and muttered something that sounds a lot like “Well, why the hell not?”. He glanced up at Roic. “It's alright, Roic. Just a surprise, is all.”

“You're sure, my lord?”

“Positive. Let's go meet the locals, eh?”

Roic shrugged inwardly, but kept his hand by his stunner, just in case. “Very good, my lord.”

The Customs Security Agent was looking a bit askance at the pair of them, but held up well. “Good morning, gentlebeings. Could I see your documents, please?” His uniform, a coverall in a grey blue colour, with red strips down each legging, bore the stylised Betan planetary logo in all its rainbow colour gaudiness, the plain crossed keys CS flash on the shoulders, and the name “Timmons” on the left breast, above the chest pocket. He was bare-headed, as were all the CS agents in the line of passport control booths here.

Miles handed over his Passport chip, along with Roic’s, and added a third, larger and more ornately designed chip, engraved with the Vorbarra Coat of Arms, Diplomatic Red in colour, on top of the pile. “Good morning, Officer Timmons. I believe I know your... father? He worked this line a couple of decades or so ago.”

Timmons stopped in mid reach for the chips, and looked at Miles, the cogs and gears whirring behind his eyes practically visible for all to see. His gaze slowly moved to the two-metre tall man besides Miles. Miles could see the “oh, shit” look on Timmons face, and managed to suppress a grin.

“Don't worry, Officer Timmons, this isn't Sergeant Bothari. This is Armsman Roic. A completely different man altogether.”

Timmons managed to wrench his gaze from Roic, to Miles, and then back to the pile of chips to his front, and picked them up, shaking his head a little. There seems to be a small epidemic of that around this morning, thought Miles. Wonder if they do a pill to help with it?

Timmons fed the chips into his machine, the red one first. “Right.” Things seemed to be going according to script for the young man again. “OK, your diplomatic credentials appear to be in order, as do the stunner permits for the both of you.” Meaningfully looking to Roic, he added with a raised eyebrow and a slightly sarcastic – almost caustic – tone to his voice, “I've been told about your illustrious predecessor. You aren't carrying a few dozen gravitic atomisers in your suitcase, maybe a molecular vaporiser in your valise, or perhaps a small singularity grenade in your back pocket, are you?”

Roic was about ready to take a certain amount of umbrage up with the upstart CS Agent, when Miles burst out laughing; he was almost doubled up laughing, in fact. “Oh god, I've missed that tone of voice,” he wheezed out, holding onto the console to keep from rolling on the floor. Roic looked down at his principal with the - by now usual – brief and slight resigned curl of lip and a mental “Oh, lord, here we bloody go again”, and helped Miles back up again, his charge having once again managed to get control of himself with a few whoops, coughs, and snorts, and not a few deep breaths.

Timmons was just shaking his head. “Gods, and here I was, thinking that Dad was exaggerating. I owe him a fleet of beers for this one, no joke.”

Miles smiled. “And how is your father? Last I saw him, he was still on the line here. I was sure then that he should have been somewhere upstairs?”

Timmons the younger smiled too. “He made it there, and thanks for asking, Lord Vorkosigan. He got to be Chief of Customs by the time he retired, last year. He's living a nice comfortable life downside, working as a security consultancy executive now, and being paid something like five times more than he ever was in this game.” There was a certain pride to the was he said that, Miles noted. Heh, the patriarchal game doesn't stop at the border, laddie.

“Glad to hear it. Please pass on my best regards, the next time you see him.”

“I'll do that, thanks. Now, I think for old times' sake, you'd best go through the scanner first, Lord Vorkosigan,” he said, with a slight smile.

Miles grinned again, and complied.

To be continued...

"The Replacement Suspects, Part 1"

A Vorkosigan FanFic

By Roger Stenning

Based on the characters, situations, and universe created, set, and owned by
Lois McMaster Bujold. The contents of this story are for personal, non-commercial
use only. Any use of Lois McMaster Bujold's copyrighted material or trademarks
anywhere in this story should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights
or trademarks. This disclaimer must remain as an integral part of this file.
The material in this story may be used/abused by other FanFic authors, provided
that credit is given where credit is due - "Turnabout is fair play"!
Copyright 2010, Roger Stenning.

***
"Well, well, well," said the sleek Betan customs agent, in sarcastic simulation of good cheer. "If it isn't Sergeant Bothari of Barrayar. And what did you bring me this time, Sergeant? A few nuclear anti personnel mines, overlooked in your back pocket? A maser cannon or two, accidentally mixed up with your shaving kit? A gravitic imploder, slipped somehow into your boot?"

The Sergeant answered this sally with something between a growl and a grunt.

Miles grinned, and dredged his memory for the agent's name. "Good afternoon, Officer Timmons. Still working the line, are you? I thought for sure you'd be in administration by now."

The agent gave Miles a somewhat more courteous nod of greeting. "Good afternoon, Lord Vorkosigan. Well, civil service, you know." He sorted through their documents and plugged a data disc into his viewer. "Your stunner permits are in order. Now if you will please step, one at a time, through this scanner?"

- Lois McMaster Bujold, "The Warriors' Apprentice"

***

Roic sighed. It was definitely one of those days. It was "TARFU", as the newest member of the Vorkosigans Armsman Contingent had recently described such situations, meaning "Things Are Really Fouled Up". In other words, it had gone from being a relatively normal day in the household, to full-steam-ahead complete and utter mayhem and chaos.

It had all started so normally. Roic was up and about at 5am, and took over his shift at 7am, in time for Lord Vorkosigan to roll out of bed, zombie-like, do his usual pottering about – alright, stumbling about – and suck a mug of strong coffee down, before actually going through the motions of actually washing, dressing, and taking breakfast with his wife and kids, before disappearing into his private study to get some work done before he had to go to his weekly Household Briefing at 10am.

About five minutes into that working day, Lord Vorkosigan had received a vidcall in his private study; not an unusual state of affairs really, as he tended to field all manner of calls and problems there. Immediately thereafter, however, he called Roic on the internal system, ordered him to arrange their gear for a journey off-world, and to then to get the flyer around front for a fast trip to the Imperial Residence, to see Emperor Gregor. And that's when the usual routine morphed into the many-headed Hydra of mayhem and chaos. Again.

Naturally, the centre of all the mayhem and chaos, Lord Auditor Miles Vorkosigan, was staying so far ahead of the confusion as to be apparently completely removed from it. That he had Roic - his personal batman and confusion-basher-in-chief - running around like a mad thing, collecting everything together, arranging their travel itinerary, and generally trying to remember everything that had to be done, was obviously neither here nor there. Roic wondered how many years it would be, before he could take it in his stride, like Pym and the rest of the long-timers. He'd have to ask if there were any tips to dealing with this, aside from a rubber-ended mallet, of course...

Roic stayed with the lightflyer while Miles was inside the Residence and, there being no other Vor lords present for a change, and being in a protected place where he could actually relax somewhat, managed to get a brief breather, which he spent aimlessly polishing off the dozens of insect splats on the nose section and windscreen of the lightflyer. Miles was back out again just as he finished off the windscreen.

Roic looked up at the crunch and tick of the cane-aided steps of Lord Vorkosigan on the gravel path. "Where to, m'lord?"

Miles had his auditorial face on now, his eyes afire with intent, his body as straight as his physiology would allow, head tilted forwards, in his very typical forward momentum mode of travel. "The Imperial Shuttleport. As expected, we're going off-world."

"Right, m'lord". Roic wondered for the umpteenth time as to how he ever managed to retain his sanity amongst the complete mayhem and chaos he regularly experienced since transferring over from the Hassadar Municipal Guard. With a mental shrug he decided that it didn't much matter, as no-one'd ever bother to see if he was sane or not, given the manner in which his principle - Lord Vorkosigan - carried on, anyhow.

Arriving at the Imperial Shuttleport, they transferred to a relatively spacious, if Spartan, shuttle for the trip to orbit, and then transferred to one of the infamously cramped Imperial Fast Couriers that were held in orbit for such rapid deployments as this. Once in transit to the jump point, it was time for Miles to brief Roic in on the mission he'd been given.

Waving a coffee bulb at the read/write pad on the table, he explained the situation to Roic. "It's a mild one, mainly diplomatic in nature, but with serious overtones, and a regular ambassador apparently isn't up to the task of fixing this one, hence my tasking onto this mess.”

He sucked more coffee down, emptying the bulb, and passed the empty to Roic, who snagged a fresh one from the galley alcove and passed it over, as Miles carried on.

“Thanks. It seems that some idiot at the embassy on Beta's gone and got himself in deep smelly stuff a tad industriously, and embezzled a lot of funds in the process. They only found out when an accountant from the Imperial Diplomatic Service arrived on a routine audit, and discovered that the Embassy was stony broke - and that's putting it mildly, by the way. The embassy's so far into the red it's more than embarrassing, it's positively epic."

Miles paused, stretched, and leaned back into his chair. Roic grumbled to himself. The lucky git could do that, all five foot nothing of him. Roic couldn't, well, unless he wanted to do it stretched out on the deck plating instead, of course. He leaned forwards, propping his elbows on his knees, instead.

"So your job then, m'lord, is to root out what's happened?"

"No." Miles tapped the pad. “Finding out what's happened isn't my job, for a refreshing change. The ImpSec officer attached to the embassy managed to pull his act together and save his own career, and figured out who, what, when, and where, and after a somewhat short delay, and God knows how, got a confession without resorting to Fast Penta. Which is now where I come into the picture, riding a silver horse to the rescue,” he waved his hand about to take in the Fast Courier. “I've got a bearer chit for their funds replenishment, and instructions from Gregor to smooth over any ruffled feathers with the Betans over this - seems the clerk in question managed to acquire a pretty awful gambling habit, and got bitten in a large and painful way by the local ne'er-do-wells, who wanted all manner of... favours... in payment for them returning his markers to him." Miles shrugged, and took another gulp of his coffee.

Roic winced. He'd seen the old 'gambling den bite' happen before, in his time in the Guard. These things always ended badly, and in tears, before bed-time. Miles continued, "Anyhow, ImpSec Sector Two are sending the heavy mob along to double check everyone lower than Deputy Assistant Head Of Mission, and I've been additionally tasked to ensure that everyone of that grade and above is beyond reproach, in addition to smoothing over any Betan ruffled feathers in the process, of course. You begin to see the problem, I think."

Oh boy, did he ever. With so many minor Vor and highly ranked proles in place in the Barrayaran Embassy on Beta, this was going to be a snarlfest of the highest order and no mistake. No wonder the Emperor had sent Miles, rather than one of his other, more technically-inclined, as opposed to people-attuned, trouble stompers.

Roic thought further on up the problem chain out loud. “Alright then m'lord, you an' ImpSec are going to be using wholesale amounts of Fast Penta in the embassy. What about the low-lifes in the gambling den that managed to suborn the clerk in the embassy? What's happening to them? Are they going to be allowed to get away with this, or is there another job awaiting... whoever... to take care of them as well?”

Miles' eyes narrowed slightly, as his fingers flexed a little, and he smiled a little grimly. “I'm led to believe that this this is being dealt with through, what's that handy phrase? Oh yes, through 'other resources'.”

“Meaning the Dendarii?”

“Possibly, but not very likely; it's a bit too close to home for them to become involved. More likely is a deniable task team procured through the ImpSec Sector Two dirty deeds budget line. I suppose I'll find out in due course once we get home again. While anything he could have leaked wasn't much more than inconvenient and perhaps rather embarrassing stuff, I doubt there was much he was able to get at of a more juicy nature; he was only a 3A, apparently.”

“3A?”

“It's the Imperial Diplomatic Staff pay system. The 'A' suffix denotes that he's in the administrative staff branch. Remember, like most of the non-uniformed civilian services, they value bureaucratic values more than anything else in the known universe. His pay grade is 3A. 1A is the lowest paid admin level, normally a receptionist or similar; 3A is the lowest clerk level there is, so he'll have minimal access to anything, I would have thought. 4A is the lowest paid supervisory grade, and 7A the lowest management grade, with 10A reserved for major embassy staff heads. Consular and Ambassadorial pay grades are dealt with on a different set of rules, and aren't on the usual Administrative pay scales.”

“So they've re-invented the status wheel, then?”

“Got it in one.”

Roic shook his head in resignation. The more you understood the system, the more it threw completely new notions of stupidity in your face.

Miles was highly amused. “Roic, the administrative staff know that unless a minor miracle happens,they'll never get to be in the Vor club, so they do little things like being snobbish about their pay grades, in order to attain status within their circles. It's like the rank system for the Guard, if you like; the higher you go, the more respect you're supposed to garner from your juniors.”

“Doesn't work like that, of course”, observed Roic, wondering if he was on or off duty while on the courier. Sod it. On duty. Having a beer could wait. “I've seen some right – erm – fools in certain ranks in the Guard. They tend to gravitate to those positions, I think.”

“Yes, that's it, in a nutshell. As with all administrative types, office politics gets in the way, and as the old saying goes, 'Like a cesspit, the big chunks rise to the top'. That's a bit overly graphic, but in many ways accurate, especially when it comes to the Diplomatic Service. While I know they've got their uses, I never have had much in the way of positive things to say about that wet-palmed lot over at Hand-Wringing-Central when I worked for ImpSec. They always seem to use a hundred words where one will do, and from what I've seen over the last couple of years since getting this reverse buoyancy aid around my neck, seem more often than not, to bend over backwards to help the other side, not ours.” He shrugged a very Gallic style of shrug copied, no doubt, from Count Vorkosigan. Who he’d copied the gesture from was anyone’s guess, of course.

Roic was surprised. “They're that much of a liability?”

“I wouldn't say that; for the most part, they do what's required of them, smooth over the cracks in the floor of diplomacy, aid our subjects abroad, and so on, but personally, I don't - and won't - trust those pole-climbing greasy little weasels further than I could shove 'em out an airlock. Gregor has time for them, though, since they do his bidding more often than not, so I try to tolerate them. But I don't go to their parties if I can avoid them, though. I hate to say this, but General Vorparadjis put it best: 'Boring stuffed shirts, for the most part'. I didn't dare ask what the least part was, mind you”. Miles grinned evilly. “I might have enjoyed the answer!”

Roic damn near choked on his coffee.

***

To be continued...
25th-Feb-2011 09:30 am - A Traditional New Years Eve...
"A Traditional New Years Eve..."

A Vorkosigan FanFic
By Roger Stenning

Based on the characters, situations, and universe created, set, and owned by
Lois McMaster Bujold. The contents of this story are for personal, non-commercial
use only. Any use of Lois McMaster Bujold's copyrighted material or trademarks
anywhere in this story should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights
or trademarks. This disclaimer must remain as an integral part of this file.
The material in this story may be used/abused by other FanFic authors, provided
that credit is given where credit is due - "Turnabout is fair play"!

Copyright 2010, Roger Stenning.

***

This FanFic was inspired by the Winterfair Story Exchange
Story Prompt by utah_yoda 
Any fic from the perspective of the Vorkosigan Armsmen, with an appearance by Cordelia.

***

Title: "A Traditional New Years Eve..."
Author: Roger Stenning
Fandom: Vorkosigan Saga (set six months after "Winterfair Gifts")
Rating: G – Suitable for all readers
Word Count: 3985
Summary: Roic manages to get a New Year's Eve tradition taken up in the household...

Many thanks as usual, to my Beta Reading Team, Coalboy, Jekni, Philomytha, and Sharaith, without whom, this story would not have proper grammar or spelling, and would probably still be stuck on the keyboard!

Many thanks also to (in order of submissions) 
[info]julia_justina , [info]magglenagall, Anonymous, [info]jaxomsride , and [info]gwynnep, who, amongst others, answered a plea for help in finding a few rustic (read: positively nutso) New year rituals to use in the story :-) Thanks, folks :-)

***

Pym was incredulous. Oh-Seven-Thirty in the bleeding morning, and already the craziness was flying at close to hypersonic speeds.

"This has to be the most crazy, insane, and positively round-the-twist memo that I've ever had the misfortune to have to read in this job. You are aware that it's complete bedlam out there just then, surely?" Pym didn't just sound irritated, he was visibly irritated.

"Yes sir, I'm well aware that it's totally nuts at that time. What's in that memo isn't crazy, insane, or even positively round-the-twist though, sir. It's something that's been handed down in my family since before anyone can remember, and is traditional in every sense of the word, sir. All my family do it. Even my brother, the fire fighter."

"Well, that probably explains the fire fighting cadre types, but not you. And what is it that you do, then? Stand on your nose and recite a limerick, while trying to drink a yard of ale, or something?" Pym was starting to hit a sarcastic note now. Last time he'd done that, Roic'd been practically naked, wearing about five kilos of bug butter, with his weapon belt on backwards. Not good.

What t’hell, go for it, he decided, and took a deep breath.

"Five minutes before the Midnight Hour strikes, we're supposed to open every window and door in the place, and let the Old Air out. We close them again five minutes after the hour has struck, sealing in the New Air. It symbolises Releasing Old Luck and Securing New Luck, so my Gran'da said, God rest his soul."

"Oh, really. And there I was, thinking that you were actually a sensible young lad with some rational brain cells behind your eyes. Says here," he tapped the read/write pad, "that you wish to have a 24 hours home leave, so as to attend to this here superstitious guff, and that if the leave can't be spared, that you'd like permission from m'lord Count to perform the damn thing at Vorkosigan Surleau instead, where the family always goes for Winterfair and the New Year, to get away from all the hubbub at that time of year. And so much for household security, by the way. You do remember that that's part of our job, don't you? Keeping things out, and not opening every blasted portal in the place to give them a way in, yes? And you actually reckon that this superstitious nonsense will keep you - and all of us, for that matter - safe for another year, do you?"

"With one exception, it certainly seems to have worked for the last few decades, sir."

Pym raised an eyebrow. He was far from convinced. "Is that so? And what happened on that one occasion, hmm?”

Pym noticed that Roic’s Mountain folk accent was starting to come to the fore, which was always a sign that he was... er... passionate about something. “Five years back, I didn't do it, an’ wound up havin’ right nasty time of it. Broke m’leg in three places falling off a shed roof chasing a burglar, and had damned horrid luck the rest of t’year. Missed a promotion exam – date was misprinted on the letter, my apartment got broke into while I was on duty t’other side of Hassadar – lost m’nice shiny new entertainment system which was still on hire-purchase – and still had to pay the darn instalments for another year ‘til t’insurance firm coughed up, and so on. Wasn't a good year. Fact, I think it’s all noted in my Guard records, an’ you’ve got copies of those. In any case, it's family tradition dating back from when we lived in the mountains up near Katchagrod – you know I've got mountain folk relatives - and given my experiences, certainly seems to be pretty-well predictive: If I don't do it, I'm screwed for the rest of the year.“

Oh for God's sake. Pym tried a different tack to try to stop this nonsense. “You do remember that you're still the lowest man on the totem pole here, do you not?"

"I know that, sir."

"And you expect me to allow you this, when the others have family and friends to go to, and have probably already made plans?"

"I don't exactly see how this'd affect them, sir - everyone who stays there's going to be up and about at midnight anyhow, after all."

Pym pulled a face. "Quite. Well, as it happens, you're so far ahead of the bloody queue that no-one - including me - has thought to submit any leave applications for New Years Eve yet. I strongly suspect the others are going to be quite put out with you, if I approve this. Who else is normally present in your home when this damn fool stunt is pulled off?"

"A few close friends, and any family who don't own their own homes and are in town, who haven't yet accepted invitations from others.”

"Ah. The loungers and scroungers brigade."

"I wouldn't put it like that, sir."

"It's what my family calls them. God knows where it comes from but, right or wrong, that's what they're called." Pym leaned back in his chair, reading the memo on the read/write pad again, sighed deeply and shook his head. "I really wish you hadn't stuck this on a bloody memo, lad. Now I've got to show the damn thing to m'lord Count." He sounded resigned to having one of 'those' days. Roic knew that Pym's day hadn't started well, as Armsman Kestov had mentioned to Roic that Pym's eldest daughter had been somewhat voluble in the Staff Wing that morning, and that it had sounded like one hell of a family argument between her and Pym regarding some lad or other at the university where she was studying some kind of design course or other. Roic was glad he didn't have kids, and didn't have to worry about such things. Well, not yet, anyhow. Wonder if Taura's planning... hmm. Probably not.

Pym carefully set the read/write pad down, and regarded Roic for a moment. Nuts. The hell with this, he decided. Let's share the misery around, for a change. He nodded, briskly, once. “Right. Fine. Since I'm having a bad day, you can have one too. I know you only got in a few hours ago, but you'll be with me when I present your memo to m'lord Count. You can answer his questions. Be here at ten hundred, and I'll take you on up. Dismissed.”

Oh, hell. “Sir.”
***

During his regency, it had been Count Aral Vorkosigan’s habit to take his daily briefing in his study; it was private enough for him to conduct business uninterrupted by the household goings-on, and he really liked his chair there. It was padded in all the right places, comfortably worn in all the wrong places, and absolutely silent on its wheels and springs. He could lean back in it without fear of going base over apex over the back of it, he could sprawl with a leg hooked over one of its arms, sit upright at his desk in it, the whole shebang. The perfect office chair, it was as familiar to him as his oldest friend in the world. That it was about the most comfortable chair that he’d actually bought for himself, and not for the rest of the house to use as well, was a nice added bonus too.

His study was a tad cramped, however, if more than three people had to be in on a briefing - and having everyone present for what had become known as the ‘MAD Brief’ - the Monthly Affairs of District Briefing (the acronym having been coined by Cordelia, who had rearranged the words to suit from the previous ‘Monthly District Affairs Briefing’), was simply not practical these days. The number of people required to be present for items concerning Hassadar alone, sometimes needed four or five people present for the briefing (more for especially complex or special planning and briefing sessions). As for the rest of his District, well, the monthly briefing could sometimes resemble a small holiday gathering of the available members of the Council of Counts.

Given that this meeting would be hosted by himself, Cordelia, Miles, and however many others present for the ever-increasing size of regular District business, the briefings were now taken in the Yellow Parlour on the second level of Vorkosigan House, which was large enough for everyone to be present, while remaining relatively comfortable in the process, especially as he was now keeping Miles fully up-to-date with things, for the eventual day that he’d have to take up the day-to-day running of the ‘family business’. Holding it in the Yellow Parlour also meant that Miles got a subliminal “Wake up and pay attention: This may be in your section of the House, but like it or not, it’ll be your business sooner or later!” as well.

In the normal course of events, District briefing would take place first thing in the morning, following Aral's daily household briefing, so as to allow for unscheduled overruns of the meetings to be contained to normal office hours. Today, though, things were going to be a little more relaxed. Miles had flown in from his last Auditorial investigation - which hadn’t taken that long, so must have been a fairly simple job on this occasion (hmm... one hanging or ten, this time? he wondered irrelevantly) - very late in the evening, practically the morning in fact, and Aral had decided to allow him to sleep late, rather than risk some Auditorial Snoring half-way through the briefings.

As usual, Aral insisted everyone be ready half an hour before the meetings were due to begin, to give them time to go over the agendas in case of last minute changes, and to briefly note what responses might be required. Aral had come to call this their ‘pre-strategisation time’. Cordelia called it a waste of time, as everyone tended to know what would happen anyway, and what Miles called it was, as expected, amusing, if often unprintable.

A long-standing habit of Aral’s, formed early on in his Regency, was to read the headlines on the local and planetary news feed, so as to warn himself about anything that might affect his attention later on in the day. Nothing sparked his immediate attention this time, thankfully. Aral then turned his attention to the daily agenda. “Hmph.” He leaned back in his chair, and re-read the read/write pad. “That’s a new one. Wonder what that’s all about?”

Miles looked up from his own read/write pad. “Which line?”

“Household item one.”

Miles skipped back; he hadn’t really paid any attention to the Household agenda, he’d been sucking down a coffee to fully wake himself up. The last Auditorial mission had been short, but required a lot of attention to detail and running around from site to site. As a result, he was exceedingly tired, even after a good night’s sleep. He envied Roic sometimes - he got the occasional day off to recover from being his usual combination of Auditor’s batman, spotter, escort, and fetcher-in-chief. It’d be nice if he could have done the same for himself, but being his father’s designated heir had its downsides - like having to get up first thing in the morning after a gruelling assignment, to take part in a regular meeting that’d most likely be as boring as it would be long. He’d been reading the MAD proposal regarding a replacement fountain jet to replace the old, practically worn out one that was currently in the Main Square in Hassadar. Having hit the ‘back’ button a few times, he found what he was looking for. “Got it.” He read it, and blinked in surprise, both his eyebrows rising. “Well. That is an odd one. Very cryptic. Is Pym prone to that at all?”

“Not that I can recall.” Aral shrugged a shoulder, with a slight inclination of his head, much like the Gallic shrugs one often saw in the French Quarter of Vorbarr Sultana, and added “Well, only when he’s embarrassed about something or other, anyway.”

Cordelia, sitting next to Aral, looked up from her pile of mail. “Oh?” She leaned over and looked at Aral’s read/write pad. She raised an eyebrow. “Well, indeed. That is odd. I suppose you’ll find out what it means in a few minutes, when he comes in to deliver his briefing.”

The neurons were firing behind Miles’ eyes now, and he was finally waking up. “Embarrassing, eh?” he mused, a tilted grin on his face. “Something like ‘Zap the cat ate my stunner, and can I have a new one, please?’, do you think?”

Aral snorted a laugh. “That’d certainly be embarrassing, without a doubt.” He shook his head in mild amusement. “I must admit, ‘Staff Request’ is something that I’ve never seen from Pym in all the time I’ve known him. He normally deals with staff matters very well indeed. Must be a particularly extraordinary problem for him to punt it upstairs like this.”

***

At ten hundred, as instructed, Roic was waiting for Pym outside his office again. It felt like he was being hauled in to see the Headmaster at school.

Mind you, not all of the calls to the Head’s Office were entirely bad, he recalled. The last time that he’d been hauled into that office, he’d been 15, playing five-a-side touch-rugby in the school playground during lunch break, and kicked the ball so hard that not only had it cleared the makeshift crossbar with miles of room to spare (an imaginary horizontal line six feet above and between a pair of coats dumped on the grass of the playground), it had continued on sailing through the air in a beautifully ballistic curve, and crashed - loudly - through the not-very-much-liked Headmaster’s office window (double glazed, no less), landing on his desk as he tried to eat his lunch of pasta twists and meatballs in a tomato-based sauce. The result was exceedingly messy, and for the rest of the school, highly amusing. The Headmaster however, had one heck of a sense of humour failure over it, and when Roic was called into the office, the desk looked like someone had been murdered on it - the Headmaster wasn’t that far behind in the appearance department either, come to that - and Roic had narrowly avoided being expelled. He had fond memories of the incident.

Pym collected his coat, and motioned Roic to follow him. “We’re meeting in the Yellow Parlour - m’lord’s got the MAD Briefing as well, today,” he explained. “You’re item one on the household agenda.”

Roic nodded his understanding. Oh well, at least it’ll be over quickly enough.

They walked up the back stairs to the ground floor, then up the great circular staircase to the first floor, then over to the East Wing to the Yellow Parlour. It was a habit of all the Armsmen never to use the lift tube, in case of power failure. That this had never happened was immaterial: they were there to aid and defend, and you couldn't do very much of that from inside a trapped lift tube. Besides, using the stairs helped keep them fit. Before walking in, Pym turned to Roic. “Wait here.” He nodded to the side of the door, which would be out of sight to those inside. “I’ll call you in when you’re needed.”

Roic did as instructed. Pym paused, coughed, straightened himself up, quickly checked his uniform in the mirror beside the doors - placed there, Roic assumed, for that very purpose - knocked once, and opened the door, walking in. He left the door slightly ajar.

***

Pym paused inside the room, nodded a formal “Good Morning, m’lord Count”, and came to a relaxed form of parade rest, spine straight, legs shoulder-width apart, arms relaxed behind his back, but with his hands linked at the thumbs and held flat atop one another, and waited. Normally, he would have been required to formally greet all in the room in order of precedence, but the Count hadn’t nearly enough patience for that, and had placed an instruction to the entire household staff quite early on in his Countship, that only the senior Vorkosigan in the room should be formally greeted when only family were present. At all other times, when others were present, the more formal rules were back in force, of course. Appearances were everything to the Vor.

Aral looked up, nodded acknowledgement, and without delay nodded to his read/write pad. “Problem, Pym? You’re Household Item one, I believe?”

“Yes, and no, sir. It’s one of the Armsmen who has a... um... request to make of you. The original request memo’s attached at annex ‘A’ to the household briefing notes.”

Aral and, Pym noted, Miles, both fiddled with their read/write pads. Miles eyebrows matched the Count his Father’s in reaching altitude speed records.

Count Vorkosigan’s face bore a rather stunned, if bemused, expression. Lord Vorkosigan was trying to hide a grin. Lady Vorkosigan, peering over her husband’s shoulder, was trying, and failing, to suppress a giggle. Pym stood at parade rest, face like stone, all right and proper. The only problem with that was that his ears were bright red, and the flush was now spreading from the back of his neck. He hated days like this. He politely coughed once.

“I have Armsman Roic waiting in the corridor, m’lord. Shall I bring him in to explain it himself?”

Aral snorted a chuckle. “By all means. This I have to hear.” Miles managed, with supreme effort, to suppress his belly laugh into a kind of strangled snort, but his eyes were alive with anticipation. Cordelia was holding back a massive set of giggles, and barely managing to drink her tea without snorting it all down her nose.

Roic, having been called in, greeted the Count, and then, after a small amount of highly amused snorts from the assembled peanut gallery - at least, he assumed that’s what they’d been - explained what he wanted to do, and why. And then waited. The Count looked somewhat bemused, almost cross-eyed, even. Lord Vorkosigan was biting into one of Ma Kosti’s chocolate cream tart things and trying not to laugh - even Roic knew the look the hyper little git gave him just then, he’d seen it often enough over the last few months - and Lady Vorkosigan was looking anywhere but at Roic, managing to hold her amusement in check, it appeared.

“So,” spoke up Count Vorkosigan, after a few moments. “Let’s see if I have this aright, Roic. You want to get the twenty-four hours over the New Year off to visit your relatives in the District; and failing that, you want to perform some kind of archaic ritual involving opening every portal in the place to the elements, for about ten minutes. Have I got that right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“I see.”

Miles managed not to sound like he wanted to roll on the floor laughing his backside off, and piped up. “As Traditions go, it’s quite a mild one, I think. have you ever visited Silvy Vale at New Year?”

Aral looked over at Miles. “No. Why?”

“You remember I did a couple of years back?”

“Vaguely. If I recall, you were given an invitation to attend their New Year festivities?”

“That’s the one. Quite a remarkable night, as it happens. Did I tell you what they got up to?”

“If you did, I forgot what it was. Either that, or you tried to tell me over breakfast: it amounts to the same thing, after all.”

Miles snorted amusement. “Indeed. Short version, they set a bunch of those native Dry Bark bushes in a bonfire - not the Tri-Spine ones, though, they react explosively to fire, you will remember - and watch the resulting changing colours of the flames, while a bunch of the village lads in animal costumes - sheep and horses are the most popular, apparently - run door to door, making a heck of a load of noise, and snatching snacks and gifts from each home in turn. The piece de la resistance, so to speak, is the burning of the effigy of the Baba-Yaga. All done to the drinking of much maple mead, of course.”

“I’ve heard worse,” opined Cordelia, smiling broadly.

“Oh?” enquired a slightly surprised Aral, “Pray tell?”

“I heard this from one of my trainee doctors at Hassadar General. Nu Kamchatka is a small hamlet to the west of the district farm belt; seems they play ‘Corner The Hopper’: Anyone being bitten by one is said to have good luck for the rest of the year.”

Aral looked aghast, Miles guffawed, and Pym and Roic looked somewhat confused. Cordelia relented a little. “The Hopper, gentlemen, is a native Barrayaran field rodent, one of the few things that can actually eat the Earth-based crops that they grow over there, like corn, potatoes, and so on. It’s an exceptionally annoying little pest to them at the best of times; thankfully, it’s not that plentiful, so they don’t have to make any special effort to eradicate them. It’s about a half metre in length excluding its tail, and is normally as timid as any creature you care to name - tends to flee at the first hint of someone coming along. When cornered, however, it changes temperament to become an aggressive and vicious little thing, and it’s been know to be able to use its two-and-a-half-centimetre-long teeth to bite through steel toe caps. Get bitten by one of those things, and assuming you survive the blood loss and any viruses it may be carrying, the rest of your year can only get better!”

Aral blinked. “I’m not surprised - those Hoppers can carry the most nasty little germs. A training platoon on a cross-country exercise a few years back had one of their number bitten - poor devil stuck his foot down a Hopper hole by accident. Never bothered to get his foot checked, thought he’d scratched it on something. Lost the blasted leg a week later. Tragic.”

Miles brought the talk back on-topic. “So, this is a mild request by comparison to some we know of, then?”

Aral leaned back into the sofa, nodding confirmation. “Indeed”. He tapped his knee with his forefinger a few times as he thought it over, then nodded once as he made his mind up. “Alright. Roic, I can’t grant you the shift off, I’m afraid: it’s an 'all hands on deck' kind of thing. That said, and given the lack of burning or exploding bushes, revolting rodents, and costumed kids, I think we can probably stand to introduce a small amount of annual ceremony into the household. I don’t think there’s much risk of a security breach - the place is in the middle of practically nowhere, after all, and any problems would be detected by the security sensors long before they become a threat anyhow. Pym, take note: Roic’s leave request is declined, but his secondary request is hereby granted.”

Pym blinked, somewhat surprised, to say the least. “Yes, m’lord.”

Roic was equally as surprised, but managed to hold it in. “Thank you, m’lord.”

Aral nodded once in dismissal. “Right, item two: the week’s menus from Ma Kosti. She's proposing a weekly 'Galactic Cuisine Night', and for the first offering is suggesting something from Earth, a Lamb Phaal, whatever that is...”

Fin
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