Set before Brothers in Arms, but after Borders of Infinity (Dagoola IV)
Unrelated to Salt, Iron and Barrayar
Hunters in Arms
"Ah, perhaps we could just talk about this?" said Miles as he stared into the bell-shaped ends of the two nerve disrupters pointed directly in his face.
The shorter of his two assailants raised an eyebrow. "Yeah, no." He gestured down the corridor with his weapon. "Move."
Miles walked as slowly as possible, keeping his hands raised beside him. Where was everyone else? And how had these men gotten on to the Triumph in the first place? They were wearing the grey and white of the Dendarii, but Miles didn't recognize them.
Miles' mind raced a mile a minute as he tried to work out what was going on. Was this an attempted kidnapping of Lord Vorkosigan? No, probably not. These men had given no sign that they knew his alternate identity, and had addressed him only as Admiral. They certainly knew their way around weapons though.
One of Naismith's enemies then? It was certainly more likely. He racked his brain, trying to think of who would have motive (although who wouldn't might be a shorter list). This wasn't really Cetagandan style, although they certainly had cause after Dagoola. Jacksonian? Maybe. Ry Ryoval definitely had a grudge against Naismith, although he would have expected the Baron's response to be more brutal, and less subtle. They had just stopped on Escobar, but Miles didn't think he had any enemies there.
This last though did however, give him a clue as to the identities of the men.
"You're Robert Foix and James Tinley aren't you? The new recruits we picked on Escobar."
"I didn't realize you'd know about us," said the tall one – Tinley- by way of response. While he was impressively large, he still had nothing on Sergeant Taura. "We've only been part of the company for three days."
"I try to know all the personnel serving under me," said Miles, somewhat grandiosely. He added, "Quinn also spoke very highly of your initial evaluations."
"Quinn," said Foix, the shorter one with the blond hair. Miles could practically hear the leer in his voice. "She was the hot-". He stopped speaking, cutting himself off with a whoosh of breath, likely due to an elbow from his partner.
They walked in silence a few more paces down the corridor until they reached Miles' quarters. After a pointed gesture with the nerve disrupter from Foix, he palmed open the lock and stepped inside. The two men followed him. One kept his disrupter pointed at Miles while the other took off one of the wall panels and made sure the door was locked securely from the inside, using a number of highly complex process that Miles was pretty sure were part of the Advanced Infiltration course at ImpSec. Whoever these men were, they were obviously well trained.
"On the bed," said Tinley, and Miles went willingly. All he needed was a distraction for a moment, and he could reach the spare stunner he had stored in the container under his bunk.
"Right," said Foix. "Roll up your sleeve." He had put away his nerve disrupter, but had gotten out some sort of knife. "We need to test you."
"Test me? For what?" demanded Miles.
"You don't need to be conscious for this," warned the tall one. He had holstered his nerve disrupter, but had gotten out a stunner which he held very steadily at Miles' head.
Miles acquiesced to request, pulling up his jacket to expose the flesh of his arm. Getting out of here would be a lot easier awake then stunned.
Foix took the knife and made a small cut on Miles' arm. The two men stared at it as if they expected something to happen.
"Sonofabitch," muttered one. "It's not him."
The other man followed this statement with a few choice words from one the more obscure dialects from Orient IV. Miles was quite impressed by his creativity.
The two men stepped backwards, eyeing him warily. The stunner remained trained on his head. Nonetheless, Miles decided that this was probably the best opportunity he was going to get, if not to make a move, then to at least trying a figure out what was going on.
"Excuse me," he said, "But who is it that I'm not?"
"Classified," said Tinley.
"Right," said Miles, "And I'm sure you two are classified too?"
Foix plastered on what he must have thought was a charming grin. "Barrayaran Imperial Security."
It took all the self-control Miles' possessed to keep from bursting out in laughter there and then. On anyone else, the story might have been plausible. If Naismith really were a clone of Lord Vorkosigan, it would make sense that ImpSec would be watching, and maybe interfering. But Miles was an actual member of Imperial Security, and however well trained these two might be, they were definitely not.
"No," Miles said, "You're not. What are your real names?"
"These are our real names," said Tinley.
"No, they're not," said Miles. "First, because if people of your caliber were going to sneak in to a mercenary fleet to potentially assassinate the commander, they wouldn't use their real names. Second, Robert Foix and James Tinley were the lead actors on the Vorthalia the Bold holodrama, and you're about fifteen years too young to be either of them."
Tilney shot Foix a look that made it very clear whose idea those alias were. "I didn't think anyone in this sector had ever heard of the show," muttered Foix.
Tilney stared at Miles, his eyes suddenly narrowing. A look of calculation, and then surprise passed over his face, before it returned to a more neutral expression. "At least we aren't the ones going around the galaxy using our mother's maiden name, Lord Vorksogian."
This statement seemed to shock Miles and Foix in equal measure.
"He can't be Lord Vorkosigan," said Foix. "That would be a violation of Lord Vorlu-whatever's law. You should know that, lawyer boy."
"Strangely enough Dean, I didn't spend my time on Beta memorizing ever law in the nexus, especially those on planets out of the galactic mainstream. How do you know about it anyway?"
Foix- no, Dean, grinned. "Come on Sammy, it was on the show. Vorthalia had to save Count Vorhalas from a charge of treason for having more than twenty men or something, even though that was faked by Lieutenant Arno because he was in love with the Count's wife, but she was-"
"Right," said the newly dubbed Sammy, putting up his hand in protest, "Got it."
"He's right, you know," interjected Miles, "Counts are only allowed to have twenty armsmen. Even if the others are… ah, shall we say…unofficially armed, it's still a violation of the law. The penalty for which is death by exposure or starvation, whichever comes first."
The two glanced at him for a moment, as if they had almost forgotten he was there. Sam opened his mouth to say something, but then closed it and turned back to his partner. "Remember every reason we though he had to be the shifter?" he hissed, "He looks just like Miles Vorkosigan, but couldn't be a clone, because Vorkosigan had suffered teratogenic, not genetic damage."
Shifter? wondered Miles, What was that a code for? Some sort of surgical construct? He was pleased to note that for once someone actually knew the true cause of his condition. That was certainly a rarity, but at the same time, also worrying. Whoever they were, these men had clearly done their homework, or at least one of them had.
"Body mods, Sammy," said Dean. "There was this episode of Doctor Sexy where this one chick came-"
"We agreed that those were unlikely," said Sammy, cutting him off.
"Sure," said Dean, with a shrug of his shoulders, "But more unlikely than the real Miles Vorkosigan running a mercenary fleet?"
Miles realized that he should probably be saying something to try and sway the taller man to Dean's perspective, but this conversation was too interesting to interrupt. Besides, he was making mental notes for how to continue to strengthen his cover identity.
"Vorkosigan went through the Barrayarn Imperial Service Academy. He'd have the necessary skills," argued Sammy, "Then he joined ImpSec, which would give him the perfect explain how he knew we weren't real agents."
Real ImpSec agents, Miles noted to himself, would never actually have said they were ImpSec agents. He was, however, impressed with the amount of research they seemed to have done.
"He must have met some of them in the past," said Dean, "It's not like the Barrayarans would let a clone of the son of their Prime Minister just wander around the galaxy."
By this point, the two men seemed to have temporarily forgotten that he was still in the room with them. They were absorbed in their argument, and although one still had a stunner facing vaguely in his direction, neither was looking at him.
Miles slowly moved his hand downward to the container under his bed. He opened it as quietly as possible, winching at the soft click that it made. Neither man noticed. He groped around blindly in it, looking for his stunner, while still keeping an eye on the men.
His hand closed around the familiar shape, and he pulled it out quietly. He tucked it behind his back, and only then tuned back in to what the men were saying.
"… clone wouldn't know about a Barrayaran kid's holodrama."
"It's for all ages. Not just kids."
Miles gripped his stunner, and prepared to make his move. This was probably the best chance he was going to get.
There was suddenly a loud crashing noise out in the corridor, as if someone had just thrown themselves against the door, trying to break in. The two men stopped mid argument, their heads whipping around to look at the door.
"So, not a shifter then," said Dean, "or it would have stayed stunned." He said it nonchalantly, but Miles noticed the way his hand tightened around his weapon.
"The victims all were reported to have acted oddly before they died," said Sammy, "What else is there that mimics people? Ghouls?"
Dean shook his head. "None of them were eaten though. The autopsies were clear on that at least." He paused for a moment, thinking and then added "Could be a Wraith."
Sammy looked at him confusedly for a moment, before his eyes lit up in comprehension. "Right, if they were acting odd if their brain chemistry had been messed with, not because they had been replaced. I can't remember how they react to stunners though."
"Doesn't matter," said Dean, with a wicked looking grin, "Silver kills them." He pulled out what looked like an old fashioned projectile weapon, of all things, from his weapon belt. The last time Miles had seen one of those was in a museum exhibit on pre-spaceflight earth, back on Beta Colony.
His partner pulled out a similar weapon, and then Dean headed to the door, and started rearranged the wire that they had disengaged earlier to securely lock the door.
"What is going on?" asked Miles, almost rhetorically. Going by how the men had ignored him earlier, he wasn't really expecting a response.
Dean turned around, and flashed him a brief grin. "Quick summary, monsters are real, me and Sam hunt them, and there's one on this ship that's trying to kill us."
Miles opened his mouth say something (what exactly, he wasn't quite sure), but it was at that moment that Dean finished reversing his impromptu security procedures. The door slid open.
There was nothing there.
Dean quickly glanced either way down the corridor, then stepped out of the room, projectile weapon held ready in his hand. He nodded at his partner, who followed him, covering his blind spots.
Where would someone go after crashing into the door? wondered Miles. It was unquestionably the set up for an ambush of some sort. It would have to be, to give whoever it was a fighting chance against Sam and Dean, who were obviously well trained, and used to working in tandem.
He started running through the schematic of the ship in his mind, as Sam and Dean started making their way left down the corridor. Sam kept glancing back at him, even as Dean started checking which doors were open, so there was nothing Miles could do, except be ready to help whoever it was when they made their move.
Unless the two men were actually on to something. They had seemed very sure that there was something dangerous going on, and they seemed too competent to be severely deluded. Monsters weren't real, but Cetagandan assassins were. He would have to wait and see what happened, he decided, and be ready for anything.
Miles was too busy watching Sam and Dean to see a door on the other end of the corridor open, but he definitely noticed the nerve disrupter blast someone fired, missing Sam's head by only an inch. Dean reacted instantly, firing off a projectile even before Miles managed to whip his head round to see who was there.
Miles turned his head, following the path of the projectile, and wincing at the small hole it had made in the corridor wall. Then he noticed the figure crouched on the floor. It looked like Lieutenant Morens from engineering. She was new, just transferred to the Triumph to replace some personnel they'd lost in the Dagoola operation, so he didn't know her well. Still, there seemed something almost off in the way that she was holding her body.
He didn't have much time to contemplate this, as the two men fired more rounds from their weapons. Morens dodged them with a speed that didn't seem quite human. This observation was confirmed by the observation of a bizarre looking skewer that seemed to be coming from her wrist. Who had sent her? The Cetagandans, trying a new tactic after their previous attempts failed? The Jacksonians? Or someone else entirely?
Miles didn't have long to think about this, as Morens quickly fired a few more nerve disrupter blasts down the corridor, causing Sam and Dean to duck. Using this distraction, she ran for cover into Miles' cabin. He dove behind his desk chair for cover, and fired off a few stunner rounds. One managed to hit her, but she barely even flinched. Definitely not human then.
Miles rolled behind the narrow end of his desk, narrowly missing another nerve disrupter blast. He waited a moment, and then popped up and fired more stunner beams. This time, two of them in quick succession hit her, and she stumbled, looking almost woozy.
It was at that moment that Sam and Dean burst back into the room. Dean raised his weapon, and in one smooth movement, shot Morens through the head. She twitched, and made an odd sort of croaking sound, before collapsing on the floor.
Still holding his stunner, Miles carefully made his way over to look at the body. The wound and the flesh surrounding where the projectile had entered was an odd black color. It was almost as if it had started to burn. But that was impossible, wasn't it?
"See," said Dean, coming up beside him, "Monsters. I told you. "
Miles wasn't sure. "How haven't people noticed these…monsters… before?" asked Miles. Surely if they were real, Illyan, with his Illyrican memory chip must have noticed their existence.
"They're good at staying under the radar," said Dean. He poked the corpse of the wraith with his shoe. "Besides, when you first saw this, did you think monster, or Jackson's Whole?"
"Point," said Miles, his mind flicking to Sergeant Taura and the other creations from Houses Bharaputra or Ryvoal. "But you're sure this just isn't from Jackson's Whole? Or some sort of Cetaganda assassin?" He had seen how the skin of the wraith had almost seemed to burn when the bullet had entered, but maybe the creature had been engineered with some sort reaction to silver, or had gained one as a byproduct of other, unseen modifications.
"Yep, pretty sure," said Dean, "Look at the creature in your mirror."
Miles turned to the mirror over his dresser, and his mouth fell open involuntarily in shock. In the mirror, the body of the wraith, as Dean had named it, looked almost like a rotting corpse, with sagging flesh and bluish grey skin. His head whipped around to the actual body lying on the floor. It still looked normal.
His head swiveled back and forth between the two a few more times, before he realized he was gaping, and shut his mouth. "Right. Monsters are real."
"Sorry," said Sam shrugging his shoulders apologetically.
"Not your fault," said Miles, "It's just somewhat unexpected." He winched, suddenly realizing that he would somehow have to explain this in his report to Illyan. He was pretty sure mythical creatures were not going to go over well.
Sam gave him a sympathetic grin.
"How did you know it was on the Triumph?" asked Miles in sudden realization.
"There were victims showing up every place you docked," explained Sam, "So we guessed there was something with the fleet. Most all the victim's friends had mentioned that they had seemed a little off before they died, so we thought it might be a shifter."
"As in shape shifter?" Miles interjected, unsure that he actually wanted to know the answer.
"Yep," said Dean. "They sort of shed their skin-" he made an odd pulling motion over his chest, "-and then they look like whoever they want. Get some of the originals thoughts too."
"Oh," was all Miles could say as his mind went over the security implications of that.
"They're easy enough to spot any place with a good security system," reassured Sam. "Their eyes flare when they're caught on tape."
"In addition to reacting to silver?" asked Miles, gesturing with his cut arm.
Sam nodded. "Yeah, sorry about that. She had mostly burned the bodies, so we couldn't see any wraith feeding marks. A shifter seemed likely, and you seemed the best candidate."
"So what are your plans now?" asked Miles quickly, before the conversation could turn back to his double life. "Do you plan to stay with the Dendarii, or will you move on to your next…job?"
The two men looked somewhat confused. "You'd want us to stay?" asked Sam. "Even after the whole kidnapping you thing?"
"It wouldn't be the first time I've recruited someone who just attacked me," said Miles wryly. "And besides, you had good reason." He stole another glance at the body of the wraith lying on the ground.
The two me shared a look. "Thanks for the offer, but no," said Dean, "Too many fuglys out there that still need killing."
"I don't suppose you'd care to share any information about them," asked Miles, "Now that I know there are monsters out there, I'd like to be able to be a bit more prepared."
Sam nodded understandingly. "Sure. If you give your comconsol number, I'll send you a data packet as soon as I have a chance."
Dean pulled out a bit of a filmsy from his pocket, and scribbled a number on it. "This is our friend Bobby's number. He's over on Sioux III, so any messages to him might take a while, but he's the expert on everything supernatural. If you need anything, he'll put you in touch with someone who can help."
Miles took the proffered filmsy with a word of thanks. "Do you need any help getting off the ship?" he asked.
Dean shook his head. "I think everyone else is probably still sleeping off their stunner hangover, or are locked in the storage closets. Unless there's some other monster we missed on this ship." He grinned, and Sam rolled his eyes.
"We'll take the body with us too," said Sam, pointing at the dead wraith. "Normally salting and burning them works best, but we've found that dumping them in a vacuum is also pretty effective."
"That would be great," said Miles, "Ah, do you mind if I take a tissue sample first?"
Sam shrugged. "If you want. Monsters don't come back as ghosts, so there's no real danger in that."
Ghosts? Miles looked at him warily, but decided now was not the time to ask. Hopefully that would be included in the data packet Sam had promised to send him.
"Have you thought about what you're going to tell your crew?" asked Sam carefully. From his tone of voice, it was clear that he thought that mentioning monsters was probably a bad idea. Miles had no intention of doing so. While Naismith had a reputation for madness, it was more the military genius kind than the out of touch with reality type, and he wanted to keep it that way.
Miles waved a hand absently. "I'll just tell them it was a security test, to train their reactions in case of on board infiltration." On second thought, holding a real one of those would probably be a good idea, as this incident had clearly shown. He made a mental note to go over security procedures with Quinn as soon as possible.
The two men nodded approvingly. Miles had the odd realization that for once he had met two other people who were as used to false identities, cover-ups and lying their way out situations as he was.
"Thanks," he said, "For killing the wraith. If you ever need anything where I might be able to help, let me know." He owed them, and Miles Vorkosigan was not one to let a debt go unpaid.
"Same for you," Dean replied.
"We'd better go before people start waking up," said Sam.
Miles gave a nod of understanding, and then the two men slipped back out into the corridor, pulling the wraith behind them. He watched them go, and then reluctantly wandered over to his desk. With a sigh, he sat down and stared at his comconsul, and started thinking of exactly how he was going frame this in his report to Illyan.