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Apparition

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Captain Illyan rubbed his forehead, leaned back in his chair and said, "Let's start again from the top, shall we? You pressed the panic button, causing a full security lockdown of the Imperial Residence, Vorkosigan House, Vorhartung Castle and number of other sites and placing the space forces on red alert, because you saw a girl appear out of nowhere. Are you sure you couldn't be mistaken?"

Ivan was starting to wish he'd said he'd imagined it. But one thing his mother, Uncle Aral and Illyan himself had drummed into him, over and over again, was that you always told the truth to ImpSec, no matter how embarrassing or strange it was, because if you hid something and it turned out to be important, people could get hurt. Gregor could get hurt.

"I saw her," he said, fidgeting a little. "She was about my age, and she had curly brown hair, and she just... appeared, out of nowhere, right in front of me."

Illyan continued to look like he had a headache. "And was it someone you knew? Maybe someone playing a game?"

"No," Ivan said. "I'd never seen her before, ever. She was wearing funny clothes, all black."

"Right," Illyan said. "And what happened then?"

"She looked at me, she said, 'You're not Harry,' and she went to look out the window. I asked who she was, and she ignored me, and then she said, 'Interesting as this is, I need to get back to my app-something class,' and disappeared again. And I pressed the panic button."

"But you didn't press it the moment you saw a stranger inside the Residence," Illyan said, folding his arms.

Ivan shuffled a little.

"Why not?"

"She was pretty," Ivan said finally. "I thought... I wanted to talk to her."

Illyan gave a noncommittal grunt. His console beeped, and he looked away from Ivan for a moment, reading the message that had arrived. Ivan took the opportunity to scratch his neck and tuck his shirt in properly before Illyan looked up again, but of course, Illyan looked up just as he was starting to scratch his nose. Ivan's hand dropped guiltily to his side. Illyan's eyes crinkled with faint amusement. "This," he said, "tells me that all the recording devices in the Blue Parlour spontaneously deactivated for a period of four minutes and thirteen seconds immediately before you pressed the panic button. At which point they all started working again." He pressed the palm of his hand against his forehead for a moment. "I suspect," he said finally, "I'm going to have to talk to the other Minister about this. And we'll be upgrading the Residence's defences. Again. Thank you, Ivan. That will be all."

"But--do you believe me?" Ivan asked in a rush.

Illyan simply looked at him. "I understand your story. Thank you, Ivan."

Ivan bumped into the door as he hurried out, and looked back as it swung shut. Out of the corner of his eye, he was almost sure he saw Illyan standing up and turning to say something to a portrait hanging in the corner of the room.