Vorkosigan House lay beshrouded by full darkness of night. Autumn clouds obscured both the glow of stars and the pinpoint glimmer of Barrayar's moons. Even the sentry station at the outer walls was dark. (Wakeful sentinels were equipped with an array of active and passive, audio and visual detectors that only betrayed an ImpSec preference to observe rather than be observed.) The horde of residents slept secure in their appointed chambers. Servants and staff likewise slept, save one lone Armsman who quietly patrolled the upper stories.
He, too, prowled thru total darkness, his IR-bespectacle'd vision picking out hallway details in the living thermal glow of kittens. They gleamed like torches, each in a chosen niche. His boots fell upon the wooden floors in a practiced stride that neither wakened, nor would have disgraced, his catfooted companions. Armsman Roic loved Peace as only those who have known War can. He loved Peace and knew her. Peace was dark, and silent, and still.
But -- tck. Now and then again, an unfamiliar sound -- the merest hint of sound, like an echo of an acorn dropping onto dry leaves tck -- tickled his awareness. Fainter near his Lord's chambers. Slightly, oh, so slightly louder near the stairs. tck. Roic paused, leaned out over the railing, and looked into the grand entryway below.
Silence and stillness and the cool darker-than-dark darkness of the polished marble paving stones yawned beneath him. A mote of dust glittered in a security trip- beam. From the library, a thermal glow leaked from beneath the sliding doors, as always. The House comconsole was always activated ... tck. Stillness and darkness broken only by the faint echo, the merest hint, of audible feedback a comconsole key provides a typist, indicating the key has been successfully pressed. But -- once in a dozen seconds?
Roic descended to investigate. He paused at the library doors, listening. tck And, he heard a murmuring, rumbling sound like a small motor. He pressed a palm to the cool wood panel and slid it sideways, allowing a scintilla of visible comconsole light to emerge. He peered in.
Tailtip twitching, a slender cat crouched on a cushioned stool before the muted blue glow of the comconsole. It purred. But surely that noise wasn't -- no! There! Something shadowed the screen just before tck ...
Fascinated, Roic watched as, again, the large butterbug laboriously pulled itself from the keypad, clambered back to the top of the monitor, then launched itself, headfirst, into the keys. tck One more glowing letter etched across the blue screen. The cat's tail twitched. The bug wearily climbed back to the top of the unit.
Roic slid open the door, crying "Hey!" The cat leapt away, head cocked back over its shoulder, offering the Armsman an expression of utter contempt. The butterbug hissed, and likewise skittered to the deep shadows behind the comconsole, and disappeared into a crack in the wainscotting. Roic paused, his peace stolen but the perpetrators fled, and scrolled the comconsole screen back and forward, reading for some hint of what it all meant.
well dearie transmigrating souls can wind up anyplace or time or space i suppose but it is so nice when we wind up anyplace together tho i must say i hardly expected you here toujours gai old girl you may remember i told you once how a person may be born so unlucky that he runs into accidents which started out to happen to somebody else if you believe in accidents that is formerly i had not and for my sins and despite the time i have previously spent in similar penitence you see me now demoted to this i say demoted because of the uniform you see you tho darling seem to have stepped up in this world no alleycat now but a pampered puss of pillows and oh that reminds me let me give you something it is not much but i made it myself cream and pillows for my fortunate friend whos misfortunes have all happened to somebody else i thot i had figured out who but seem to have been mistaken, that worthy lately being all smiles as for me i take my own misfortunes and my fortunes just as they come and i should not complain as long as i have my freedom and my work and a bit to nibble and work i think is more satisfying these days than formerly more so than nibbling too i fear but i have found here a most delightful volume including five new plays printed upon the thickest creamy paper and confess i find it most fulfilling of course i do still pun and remind you the bard and i are often low browe
Here the document, for Roic could only dub it such, ended. He scratched his head, beneath the frame of his IR visor, and pondered the glowing screen in wonderment. What key had the bug stumbled upon to bring up such a text file, and what complex Auditor's or Count's business was so cryptically encoded? He debated waking his Lord, then reconsidered. An attempt to "save" the text met with an error declaring no file had been established. He could, however, "send" it. But who could advise?
Roic then dimly remembered the many-times-removed cousin his Count had introduced him to; the minor noble now on Barrayar's dayside South Continent. He added the address, a brief query, and "sent" the file off to the Marquis...
The comconsole dimmed, and the library, and all of Vorkosigan House, once again plunged into darkness.
© 1999 by Pouncer (altpouncer_at_yahoo.com)
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Last updated: November 9th 2002