All the old games were getting boring, especially if you wanted Gregor to play. Vorthalia the Bold, Cetas, plain old hide-and-seek: none of them could capture Gregor’s attention anymore, now that he was becoming more and more involved with understanding the running of an actual empire.
“I know!” exclaimed Miles. “We could play Komorran Revolt!”
Gregor was shaking his head.
“No, wait, I know - the Komorrans are Imperium subjects too, so we won’t play at killing anyone; we have to resolve the rebellion peacefully. See, that’s what makes it a fun new challenge!” Miles was hopping from side to side, arms churning like his thoughts were.
Gregor still shook his head. “No, Miles, it’s not the pretend battles that’s the problem. It’s that Uncle Aral has told me often never to treat the real people and problems of the Imperium as a game. Not even in make-believe.”
Miles frowned in thought.
Ivan frowned too, in confusion. “But we always play Emperor and his loyal soldiers.”
“It’s okay when it’s historical. Vorthalia lived ages ago; Cetas and guerrillas were from our grandparents’ time. The Komarran situation - it’s too recent, and it’s not really resolved yet.”
“So we can play past, resolved problems, but not current ones?” asked Elena.
“Yes,” confirmed Gregor.
“What if we weren’t the Imperium at all?” asked Ivan.
“Well, that should be--”
Miles cut off Gregor’s answer. “What fun would that be?” he scoffed. “Barrayar’s already the best place in the Nexus.”
“We could play space mercenaries!” Ivan’s eyes lit up. “I could be the pilot; Gregor the captain; Miles, you could be chief strategist!”
Miles opened his mouth to object (if it wasn’t his idea, and especially if it was That-Idiot-Ivan’s idea, it couldn’t be any good) but changed it into a thoughtful hum.
“What would I be?” asked Elena.
“Our best fighter,” said Ivan promptly. He’d absorbed plenty of his mother’s notions of proper behavior for both men and women, but on the ground it was Cordelia’s and Drou’s lessons that usually stuck.
Elena narrowed her eyes and nodded slowly.
“Where would we get a spaceship?” asked Miles.
“That will be your first task, chief strategist,” returned Ivan.
Miles did find them a spacecraft - a pretty good one, in all honesty. An old hovertank, stashed along with a bunch of other old guerrilla armaments. And since That-Idiot-Ivan was supposed to be the pilot, it was really his fault when the barn collapsed.
But regardless whose fault it was, the incident marked the beginning and the end of the Surleau Space Mercenaries.
Years later, when Gregor first heard strange rumors about Miles and mercenaries, then that Ivan had gone missing, presumably to join his cousin and his ‘Dendariis’, he briefly remembered their aborted play, before Vordrozda distracted his thoughts with talk of missing money.
Gregor wasn’t worried about Aral Vorkosigan. He wasn’t worried about Ivan - well, he was worried about the well-being of his vanished cousin, but not about his loyalty or ability to plot and scheme.
Vordrozda was urging the laying of charges in the Council of Counts. Gregor sat back and folded his arms. “Let’s see what happens,” he said.