Aug 15, 2018 7:22 AM
the child who never lived
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Miles disappears. Consequences ensue.
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"Admiral Naismith! Sir!"

Miles turns around. Miles quirks an eyebrow up at the tall young man in the grey-and-white uniform, waving frantically and dashing toward him through the crowded tube station. "Huh?"

"Sir, where have you been?" the soldier hisses as he pulls up.

He lets realization dawn on his face. "Oh, hell," he says, drawing the man aside into a low-traffic hallway off the main concourse and fixing him with an intense stare. "I need to know everything that's happened since I left. Immediately."

"Sir!" he agrees, awed. "It's been chaos, sir. We realized you were missing two jumps away from Earth, you and one of the Triumph's drop shuttles. The Ariel went back along the whole route - no sign of you. Captain Thorne only just caught up with the rest of the fleet. Sir, what did you do with the shuttle?"

"I - left orders to cover for my disappearance," he says, his mind racing. "Something must have come up... Who else is missing?"

"No one, sir. Well, unless you count the casualties from that last scuffle with the Cetagandans..."

"Who did we lose?" he asks seriously.

"I don't have the names with me, sir, I'm sorry."

He shakes his head. "Never mind. I'll get it sorted. What's the status of the fleet?"

"It's, uh, a bit of a mess," the soldier says sheepishly. "We could barely get a loan big enough to cover repairs - I don't think they even replaced the lost shuttles. I heard someone saying they might not be able to make pay next week."

"Shuttles? What, did you lose more than one?"

"No - the one you, um, vanished with, and then the two we lost at Dagoola."

"Oh, of course," he says, the last detail clicking into place. "Right. I was... trying to do something about that, actually. It's turned out to be a thornier problem than I expected. And no one was supposed to notice I was missing."

"I'm afraid it's a bit late for that, sir."

"I'm sorry for worrying everyone," he says, quirking a wry smile. "Everything's under control, or it will be soon. Now, listen: you never saw me here, you have no more idea of what happened to me than anybody else. Got it?"

"Yes, sir!" he says, straightening slightly in an attitude that suggests a salute without actually going so far as to produce one.

"Good man." He grins that brilliant Miles grin. "See you soon."

The soldier spins on his heel and strides off, remembering ten feet away that he's supposed to still be worried about his commander's disappearance and adjusting the bounce in his step appropriately. And... Miles... steps into a public lavatory to spend a minute hyperventilating. No longer than a minute. He has to take advantage of this. There isn't an option to do otherwise. Whether or not Miles Vorkosigan still exists - and vanishing into the aether with an entire combat drop shuttle between stops along a jump route strongly suggests he does not - it's a race against the clock now, either to slip into the gap before news of the disappearance spreads past the fleet, or to get in with them and through them back to Barrayar before Miles resurfaces from wherever the hell he took that shuttle.

He rushes home, stopping only to do a little basic research at a public comconsole. So the person he needs to be is Admiral Miles Naismith of the Dendarii Free Mercenaries. Not much of a secret identity, Miles. Maybe he should spin a tale that Naismith is a clone. Ha ha.

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Ser Galen leaps at the chance; he's been deeply frustrated by Miles's inexplicable disappearances, and now he understands them and the explanation comes with a golden opportunity.

Admiral Naismith rejoins the Dendarii Free Mercenaries two hours later. Then he turns right around and arranges a rendezvous with the Barrayaran embassy, where Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan summons all his willpower and his deep and painful understanding of the Komarran situation to handle Captain Duv Galeni with appropriate tact, grace, and deference. Captain Galeni sends for the appropriate funds to cover the fleet's debts. The next pay cycle will be delayed by a week, but they'll be fine. Meanwhile, Captain Galeni chokes a bit on the part about being pursued by Cetagandan assassins but eventually agrees that a fleet of five thousand can provide better protection than an embassy staff of five dozen, and releases him to wait with the fleet for his funds to arrive from Tau Ceti.

He blazes with inner light the whole time. He makes no mistakes. He looks after his people. Miles would be proud.

Ten days later, the money comes in with orders for Miles to report home in person immediately. He swaps uniforms and gets on the ImpSec fast courier, where he locks himself in his tiny cabin's tiny lav and cries for six hours straight. He never even met Miles Vorkosigan; what right has he to grieve for him? But if he doesn't do it, no one will.

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There is, he realizes, a perfect excuse for his freezeups and even for the occasional panic attack should he have one. No one could read that report and not conclude Miles was psychologically tortured for six weeks at Dagoola. The response is within variance.

The outward Miles does not quite admit, to himself or anyone else, that he was psychologically tortured for six weeks at Dagoola; but his new hesitance to be touched passes inspection with his mother, who hugs him once and then doesn't try it again.

In his first three days on Barrayar there are eighteen opportunities to assassinate a designated target. He tells himself there's no requirement to take the first available shot, that the objective should be for no one to ever suspect that it was him. On the third day this excuse ceases to function and he has a panic attack that lasts from noon to dinnertime. His mother doesn't mention it directly, but suggests that he take some leave time and fly out to the lake house to relax, citing the third largest prisoner-of-war breakout in history as a valid occasion for some celebratory downtime by anyone's standards. He agrees. He has another panic attack on the way and seriously considers crashing the lightflyer into the lake, as the only course of action available to him which would definitely put him forever beyond Galen's reach.

In desperation, hunched blurry-eyed and shaking over the lightflyer's controls, he asks Miles for help.

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Yeah, bit of a pickle all right, comes the voice from the depths of his soul. Here, I'll land the lightflyer and get us inside, midair over Vorkosigan Surleau is no one's favourite place to be having an emotional crisis.

He takes a few deep breaths, scrubs at his eyes, settles his hands at the controls and waits for them to steady before he circles for a landing. The house is quiet. No parents in residence equals no servants in residence. Miles navigates them to his favoured guest bedroom and flops into bed. Okay. The way I see it, you have a few options here.

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I'm all ears.

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Option one: suicide. Not my favourite, but I see the appeal. It'll solve all your biggest problems, it just... won't do any more than that.

Option two: tell Mother everything and then be totally incapacitated until they decide what to do with you and hope that they nail Galen before he has a chance to exact vengeance. It has the appeal of simplicity, but it's not exactly enticing on any other grounds whatsoever.

Option three: continue being me, but be a me who's heard of David Galen and wants him to stop. That's where my preference lies, if you were wondering.

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I don't... I don't know if I can do it, he thinks helplessly. What if I fuck it up? What if I collapse in the middle of something important and it all goes to shit?

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Of course you can do it, says Miles.

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Despite himself, he smiles slightly.

Hard to argue when you put it like that.

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I know, he says smugly. Now come on. Let's get this sucker nailed to a wall before he hurts anyone else.

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