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Indirect Authority

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His screen was a bright blur of fast-replaced images and data; when he looked up, flashes lingered in the edges of his vision. His mind was half the continent away, and it took several seconds to contextualise his visitor. "My Lady. What can I do for you?"

Alys brushed the formality aside impatiently. "Are you aware that you've been here for over thirty hours?"

Simon rubbed his eyes. "Really, that long?" He kept half an eye on his comconsole all the time. It was rude, he knew, but —

He blinked. During that time, Alys advanced to the other side of his desk. Usually he was the one with the upper hand over people in that position, but as always she played by a different rule book entirely. "I had a talk with one of your very polite Colonels downstairs," she said. "He informed me that your crisis is over now."

"That's classified information," Simon said. "Who was it?"

Alys gave him a beguiling smile which entirely hid her steel edges. "I'm afraid I can't remember. But I did have to ask him very nicely."

ImpSec interrogators had nothing on Lady Vorpatril. She should probably be classified as some sort of weapon.

"Simon?" she prompted.

She was looking far too expectant. He meant to query his chip in case he'd somehow missed part of the conversation, but new reports pinged up just then on the resolving of the munition point standoff and he had to —

Alys leaned over his desk and turned off the comconsole.

He kept staring at it for a long blank moment, afterimages sparkling on his retinas. Then he reached to turn it on again, but Alys intercepted his hand with an irritated snort.

"I need to finish —"

"What you need to do is to go off-duty, sleep, and eat something containing absolutely no chemical stimulants," she retorted, firm almost to the point of sounding angry. "It's ridiculous to act as if you're some sort of machine."

He smiled ironically, but she wasn't done. "You look like hell. If the crisis has passed, are you really helping anyone by not taking a break when you obviously need one?"

"My men are still on the ground," Simon protested. "The analyses coming in —"

She seemed to be taking sadistic delight in cutting off both his thoughts and speech as frequently as possible. "They'll survive without you for a few hours! Or else sometime soon they'll all be scrambling around wondering what to do when your heart gives out!"

He'd read her wrong, he realised — she was angry. At him. Possibly she had been since before she entered his office. He tried to coalesce enough resources to defuse her.

She didn't give him time. "You're off-duty now, Simon. I didn't come here to argue about it. Come on, I'll escort you."

Her timing, he was beginning to suspect, had not been merely fortuitous in arriving exactly when the urgency had passed. It was downright suspicious. He filed a mental note to investigate further… after he'd had some sleep. Even to himself, he couldn't pretend Alys was wrong about how much he needed it.

He sighed, indicating his surrender, and stood up. That sudden movement, after sitting for far too long, produced a new aura of flashing specks around the edge of his vision, and he couldn't move for several seconds because his knees felt watery. He expected some sort of caustic remark from Alys, but she graciously refrained.

She also didn't leave his side as he headed for the stairs. "Are you really intending to escort me to my quarters? I thought you were joking."

"Not that I don't trust you to get there on your own without being draw into more 'urgent ImpSec business' —"

Simon snorted.

"Oh, very well," she sighed. "I'm hoping to fend off any of your men who haven't yet heard you're unavailable."

"Oh? Who might they have heard that from? I didn't know it myself until a few minutes ago."

Alys gave him a very bland look.

His door finally loomed, and he pressed his hand against the palm-scan. As he'd half-expected, Alys followed him in, and pursed her lips critically as she looked around. "Why have you still not found anywhere better to live?"

"It's only temporary," Simon defended himself weakly. Unopened boxes from his old apartment were stacked neatly along one wall.

"You've said that before, and yet you've been here nearly a year. It's not good for you, living in this depressing place. It's as bad as a prison cell."

"No worse than my office upstairs," Simon said, with a mildly ironic shrug. He didn't care to dwell on how this tiny pair of rooms looked. They were a place to sleep in and to store clothes — he didn't use them for anything else. "I'll get around to finding a new apartment when I have time."

"Sometimes I think Cordelia's right when she says the lot of you are insane," Alys said, tartly. She opened a couple of cupboards at random and scowled at the contents. "Don't you keep any food here other than rat bars?"

He shrugged. "All I want is a shower and bed, anyway. I'll eat in the canteen when I get up."

"Well, that's something at least." Alys looked a shade less critical. "Get plenty of sleep. I'm sure no one will disturb you."

No, it doesn't sound like they'd dare. Fatigue-muddled, he tried to picture Alys actually inside one of Barrayar's chains of command. He couldn't do it — it was too hard to imagine her staying there.

Instead, he accepted the inevitable. He gave her an analyst's salute, the image of one he was someday going to bring Miles Vorkosigan up on charges for. "As you say, Milady."

She narrowed his eyes at his capitulation, but after a moment her suspicion eased. "I'm relieved to hear you say something so sensible. Goodnight, Simon."

"Goodnight, my lady." He paused, finding a smile creeping stealthily across his face. "And — thank you."

"Take better care of yourself." She touched his hand, briefly; she was gone.

Shower — army-issue pyjamas — bed. His body went through the motions with minimal input from any higher functions.

He slept. No one disturbed him.