Title: Dendarii and Cetagandans
Content: suitable for all
Length: 2000 words
Summary: Miles was giving Illyan headaches long before he got involved with the Dendarii Mercenaries.
"How the hell did they get past you?" Illyan demanded. The master sergeant in charge of the Emperor's outer-perimeter security looked at his feet. He was a tall, stocky man, but he seemed to be trying to make himself shrink into the ground.
"I don't know, sir. I've checked all the men personally, and they were all alert the whole time. I'd swear there were no gaps in the net."
"But there was no sign of any activity from outside--anything to make you think this might be a kidnapping?"
"Not a thing."
Illyan scowled, staring around the impromptu command centre. He had commandeered one of the larger sitting-rooms of the Vorkosigan's lakeside retreat when the Emperor had been reported missing an hour ago, and the comconsoles, trestle tables and trailing cables sat uncomfortably on a background of old hunting paintings and solid country furniture.
He didn't think it was likely to be a kidnapping. Miles, Ivan and Elena were also missing, and the quartet had been visibly plotting something all morning. Besides, it was Illyan's private view that anyone who kidnapped Miles would return him within the hour, pale and haggard and begging to be placed in a nice quiet cell and be given some medicine for headaches. Illyan certainly had a headache.
"Excuse me, sir, there's something funny coming in," an ensign manning one of the comconsoles said. "Look at this. Some kind of machine, just outside the estate."
Illyan was at the desk in a second, staring at the screen.
"The energy readouts don't match anything I've ever heard of, sir. I'm running a comparison with the widest possible parameters, in case it's defective, but—it's weird."
"Can we communicate with it? Any signals?"
"Nothing so far."
Illyan stared hard at the energy readout and location of the mysterious machine, comparing it against the data on his chip. Nothing matched the readout, but one of the old maps Ezar in a reminiscent mood had shown him marked an old Dendarii Resistance supply cache nearby. There might be all manner of strange things there.
Another memory presented itself for his attention: Miles, after dinner three days ago, playing 'Dendarii and Cetagandans' with Ivan and three squadrons of toy soldiers. A horrible possibility rose in his mind.
"Scramble my flyer. I think we might have found them."
Within two minutes, Illyan and two backup squads were arrowing through the air towards the mysterious machine.
"Circle in slowly. I want to get a look without being spotted." Illyan stared through his binoculars at the ground below.
It was an antique tank. Illyan had seen one like it in the Dendarii Museum in Hassadar. It lumbered over the ground in an erratic course, dodging trees and rocky outcrops. The metalwork was rusting and the weaponry, thankfully, appeared to have been removed, but it still moved. Bushes crumpled like paper beneath its treads.
Illyan transmitted a picture of it to his control centre. "Get me all the information you can on these things, soonest. Especially how to stop them without harming the occupants."
"I've got a view through inside, sir. It looks like them--yes, all four of them inside. Miss Elena is driving."
"Bring us in closer, then. Close as you can without getting in the way."
They closed in on the tank and hovered directly above it.
"Want to drop some men on top of it?" the squad leader suggested. "They're going slowly enough, we could get down onto the roof and get in, take control."
"Not yet. I don't want to scare them too much, not whilst they're driving that thing. I don't know if it's still strong enough to survive impact with one of those big trees."
The tank suddenly accelerated.
"I've got audio from inside the cockpit of the tank, sir," said another ImpSec man. "It was shielded, but I think the shielding's getting a bit old."
"Put it on, then. And see if you can work out how to pipe me into them."
There was a deafening crackle of static on Illyan's earbug, then the voices began.
"The Cetagandans are right on us! Get to those trees, Elena, they won't be able to follow us in there."
"Miles, I think it's ImpSec! Shouldn't we stop, or something?"
"… which one is the brake, anyway?"
"I think you'd better stop."
"We'll defend you to the death, my liege!"
The squad leader was biting his lip to prevent a grin emerging.
"Thank you, I've heard all I want," Illyan said, glowering at him. "Any results on how to stop the thing yet?"
"They're suggesting a tractor-van, to hold it still, but it will take at least ten minutes to get one out here."
"Get started, then."
The flyer skimmed through the air above the tank.
Illyan looked ahead. The tank was on a collision course with an old stone barn. He swore. "Send your men out," he said curtly, and his flyer lifted a little to permit one of the following ones to get into position to land men on top of the tank.
The tank swerved and began moving in a wild evasive pattern. The pursuing flyer backed off at once. Illyan watched from above, braced. The medical squad began to move in.
Then came the moment of impact. The tank ploughed into the side of the barn and went at least half-way through before juddering to a halt.
"Get me down there," Illyan ordered. The other flyers were landing around them as Illyan sprang out and ran to the tank. The master sergeant and three of his men kept the still-falling rubble away with hand-tractors as Illyan climbed up, trailed by a medic. He found the cockpit door and jerked it open.
"You'll have to kill us all, Cetagandan!" came a defiant shout from within. Illyan stared around. Miles had thrown himself in front of Gregor and was brandishing a toy sword. Good instincts, said a dispassionate part of Illyan's mind. None of the children appeared harmed, though the front of the cockpit was badly dented.
Illyan stared at Miles until the silence grew painful. Gregor put a hand out and pulled the sword down.
"Game's over, Miles," he murmured.
A brick fell on the roof of the cockpit with a thump. The sergeant's face appeared behind Illyan's in the entrance.
"Sire," said Illyan at last. "Please come out."
Gregor, eyes cast down, permitted himself to be handed out and was instantly bundled off towards one of the flyers by the sergeant. Ivan did not wait to be addressed, but hurried after. Elena, rather pale, began to get up from the controls. Another man swept her away, leaving Illyan with Miles. They stared at each other for a while, then Illyan reached out, picked Miles up bodily and carried him out of the cockpit.
"Consider yourself fortunate," he said, "that your parents are responsible for your punishment and not me."
Aral was more amused than angry by the time Illyan made his final report on the situation to him. Illyan gave him a glare very similar to the one he had afflicted Aral's son with earlier in the day.
"Yes, it's funny now, but Aral, you have got to put that boy on a leash. If he wants to play war games, send him off to the junior scouts. ImpSec are not playing."
"Sounds like you were today."
"What, you think we should have just let him carry Gregor off in that—that monstrosity and wreak havoc on all your neighbours' lands?"
"It might have been good for them both," said a third voice. Illyan wheeled, but swallowed his words at the new arrival.
"My lady." He did not quite bow, but the inflection of his head suggested it.
"So you and your men were outsmarted by a bunch of kids?" Cordelia said, eyes glinting. "I'm sure it's good for you, Simon. Humility and all that."
"Perhaps you should consider it a good thing that Gregor and Miles and Ivan can outsmart the soldiers," Aral put in. "We all know that there could come a day when they might need to do just that for more serious reasons."
Illyan gave this attempted mollification a very doubtful frown, and Cordelia folded her arms. "I'd rather they just did it for play, or else what's the point of having Simon here with enough soldiers to start a small war on his own?" She shook her head. "Anyhow, all the miscreants are in the sitting-room and they've been well lectured and are about as subdued as they're going to get, so why don't you come and sit down for a bit, Simon? Emergency's over. Miles might even apologise to you." She went to the door, and Aral and Illyan both followed her through.
The children were sitting on the floor by the fire roasting chestnuts and talking at a much lower volume than usual. They all reacted to him when he entered: Elena shrank down where she was sitting, Ivan's shoulders hunched, Gregor went very still, and Miles seemed to steel himself before looking up to meet his gaze.
"Captain Illyan, sir," he said. "I'm very sorry."
He hadn't, the chip informed him, rated a Captain Illyan, sir more than three times in the past year. Illyan let Miles stew a minute longer, until the boy gave the faintest of sniffles. Claiming a loveseat by the fire with his wife, Aral's head turned, but he made no signal that he wanted Illyan to go easy on the boy. That, Illyan supposed, was sufficient apology from Aral. Miles sniffed again, and Illyan had a feeling he knew how this was going to end.
"No," he said with a final burst of feeling, "you're not. Within a week you'll be doing something else to turn my hair grey." He just stopped himself from making an illustrative hair-tearing gesture. "All we can do is pray your luck continues to hold and you don't do anything worse than destroy a barn."
Unexpectedly, Gregor spoke. "I'm sorry," he said. "We won't do anything like that again."
Illyan looked at his too-solemn face and frowned, which made it worse. Miles did look truly abashed for a moment, and Illyan found Cordelia studying them all intently, poised as if to speak. He bowed his head to her a fraction in salute, and sat down on the hearthrug with the children.
"I'm sure you won't," he said. They never repeated themselves, he knew. If only they would, it would be much easier to figure out what they were up to. "Very well. We'll say no more about it." He stretched out his legs and leaned back, and Miles hesitantly offered him a chestnut. Illyan took it, though it was hot enough to make his fingers smart.
"Is it true," Miles said after watching him peel and eat the chestnut, "is it true that the old Emperor drove a tank during the Resistance?"
Illyan shot him an exasperated look which seemed to bounce right off, though Ivan nervously proffered another chestnut as if placing an offering on the altar of an offended god. "Do you suppose," he said, addressing the room at large, "that talking about tanks will be sufficient substitute for driving them? Yes, Miles. Ezar did drive a tank for a time during the Resistance." His chip, traitorously, cross-referenced to records of witnessing Ezar and Negri talking about old times together, and none of the stories were security-classified. There was a hint of a smile in Aral's eyes, and Illyan surrendered. He always surrendered to Vorkosigans in the end.
"Once," he began as he peeled his second chestnut, "Emperor Ezar--though of course he wasn't Emperor then, he was General Ezar--was leading an assault against a Cetagandan base in Vorlakial's District..."
Five minutes later he was severely doubting whether any of the lectures had sunk in at all, but Gregor was relaxed and smiling again as he peeled chestnuts for everyone, and Miles was calling him Uncle Simon again.
Crossposted at http://philomytha.dreamwidth.org/10