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The Old Fox

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"I'm sorry, please remind me of your name, ghem-General. I'm afraid there were so many introductions this evening--all the great and the good of the galaxy have come for the Imperial wedding." Captain Illyan gave a self-deprecating smile.

"Ghem-General Dag Benin, at your service, sir," Benin said. Especially under the full formal paint, it wasn't hard to keep his expression still. No Barrayaran would have read the hint of dismay in the movement of his eyes and lips, though a haut-lord would have noticed the way he twitched.

"Oh yes, of course, my apologies, ghem-General Benin. You were posted to Earth, were you not?"

Benin twitched again. "No, sir, I believe you may be thinking of one of my, ah, colleagues here."

Illyan looked dismayed, though he concealed it almost as well as a ghem could have, especially without the assistance of Imperial face paint. He seemed to be floundering for a suitable remark, and Benin felt a twinge of sympathy. "I encountered your, ah, protégé Lieutenant Lord Miles Vorkosigan at the funeral of our beloved Dowager Empress some years ago," he offered.

No recognition lit in Illyan's eyes, but he said, "Did you indeed? My condolences, ah, ghem-General," and somehow, from the way he said the title, Benin felt certain that Illyan had forgotten his name again. "He did tend a little towards impulsiveness, I'm sorry to say."

"It was a most entertaining few weeks," Benin said. "And he seems to have received a promotion befitting his stature."

If Illyan even noticed the insults embedded in that, it didn't show. "Oh yes, we're all very proud of him. I'm sorry, ghem-General, I believe Lady Alys is signalling to me," he added, looking across the room. "Please excuse me."

Benin watched him turn away, feeling oddly saddened. He'd played round upon round of interstellar chess with this man, and been defeated more times than he'd won. It was almost obscene to see him now like this, barely able to keep up with a simple conversation. He made a mental note to include this in his report. Captain Illyan had been moved down a rung in the list of priority targets on Barrayar when he'd resigned, but Benin thought he should probably be moved down another rung, if this was all he was capable of these days. His only remaining value would be through his friendships with the Vorkosigan clan and the Emperor. Even the most skilled interrogator, after all, couldn't find information that wasn't there any longer.

He watched as Lady Alys Vorpatril slid her arm through Illyan's and smiled at him. Now that was a strange pairing. She was a woman who would, he reluctantly admitted, do credit to the haut. What could she see in that wreck of a man? For the briefest of moments he wondered if his assessment of Illyan was incorrect, even though it supported all the previous evidence of his mental debilitation. Then Captain Illyan looked back towards Benin, obviously telling Lady Alys about his conversation, and Illyan's expression was as courteously vague as it had been all evening. No. It was time to take him off the list.