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Exceeding Orders

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"They came as a set," Miles said. He was looking a little smug, a little tired, and he smelt quite peculiar. There were wisps of straw clinging to his clothes.

Illyan rubbed his eyes wearily and looked at the holding area at Vorbarr Sultana shuttleport. "Really," he said flatly. His head was starting to ache.

Behind its force-screen, a tiger yawned and stretched exactly like a smaller cat might. Illyan couldn't help looking at its teeth. Perhaps Aral would forgive him if he just let the tiger take a bite from Miles? One small bite?

"I sent you for an elephant. One elephant. The shuttleport officials tell me you have one hundred and thirty-five animals here."

"But it's really a crying shame that there's no zoo in Vorbarr Sultana," Miles said, his voice taking on an intonation Illyan recognised all too well. He was about to be convinced of something he didn't want to be convinced of. Illyan folded his arms and waited for the inevitable. "And they were such a bargain. They were going to be destroyed because their old zoo had to close; I couldn't just take one elephant and leave the rest to be killed. I had to rescue them all. And Gregor said he wanted to make some kind of public gesture to celebrate his fifth year as Emperor; he'll buy the rest of the animals back from you, and that spare bit of land at Grozny Park would be perfect for a site. Just think how nice it will be for people to be able to really see specimens of these Earth animals, right here in Vorbarr Sultana." Miles made an extravagant gesture. "And there's a spare elephant left over for the Ambassador. That one on the end there."

Illyan looked at the five elephants. "After all this," he said, "I think I should get first pick of the elephants, not the leftovers."

"Oh, no, you have to understand, their handler said that was the one that would be happiest living apart from the others. They're very complicated animals, elephants. If the Ambassador's changed his mind about wanting that one, perhaps I'll ask Father if we can..."

Illyan had a vision of Miles installing an elephant at Vorkosigan Surleau. First a mercenary fleet, now a zoo--what would the boy do next, show up with the rights to a new planet in his back pocket? On second thoughts, that wasn't funny. Illyan eyed his subordinate, and thought perhaps Aral would forgive him if he fed Miles to the tiger.