tori_angeli: A quote from the Vorkosigan Saga. (The Will to Be Stupid)
Tori Angeli ([personal profile] tori_angeli) wrote2012-11-01 11:10 pm
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NaNoWriMo: Mad Yuri's War, chapter II

II.


The change in the room was immediate. The family went from animated to silent in an instant when the crash was heard. There was a cut-off scream from the foyer, then the crack and sizzle of a plasma arc. The floor shook and a hiss could be heard.

Aral didn't know when the baby disappeared from his high chair, but now Uncle Ivan was shoving him into Aunt Sonia's arms. Mamere was pulling Marta from her seat while Rurik flung one of the doors open for Aunt Sonia. Aral discovered his arm being yanked by his uncle.

“Follow your aunt. Go.” Uncle Ivan's face was pale, but determined. He had become the soldier already.

A Vorbarra Armsman burst in, a grimace frozen on his face.

Mamere froze as she herded Marta off to the side, and so did Aral. “What happened?” she asked in a voice that could only have been forced to be smooth.

The Armsman lifted a grenade launcher.

Several things happened at once. Aral grabbed Marta and shoved her toward the door Aunt Sonia had vanished through. At the same time, Mamere stepped backward into the wall. An instant later, the Armsman fired.

Princess Olivia had been known for extraordinary beauty. Aral didn't see the process of that beauty vanishing, as he instinctively closed his eyes as the shockwave hit him. Blinded himself, only briefly, and when he opened his eyes, he could not hear.

He didn't notice, at first. He saw the twisted mass on the floor where his mother's comforting form had been. He saw the black and silver liveried Armsman throw the grenade launcher to the side, but he didn't notice not hearing it hit the marbled floor. He saw the man draw something from his side—another weapon, Aral was rocking too badly to see what—and aim for Rurik at the door.

Rurik stared in shocked silence at what was left of his mother sprayed against the wall. He barely turned in time to see the nerve disruptor beam hit him between the eyes.

Aral knew he was going to die. And yet, he thought he had to do something about it. His hand closed around a butter knife on the table and raised it to his soon-to-be attacker, who smirked in disdain and something akin to pity as he said something.

That was when Aral noticed he was deaf.

“What?” he said aloud.

The man's finger tightened against the button of the nerve disruptor.

He was interrupted when Uncle Ivan slammed into him from the side.

Uncle Ivan shouted something. Aral didn't hear what, but at a wild guess, he could figure it out. For the first time since the crash that began this, he could feel his legs, and they moved.

Out the door. Out the door, his legs pumping, his hand clutching the butter knife like it would do any good. Down the hallway, breathless, not sure where they would come from next. Someone was killing his family. Someone had killed his mother.

His mother was dead.

He heard a girl's scream—faint, shrill, perhaps only a part of the deafening white noise around him--and followed it. When he burst into the library, he saw nothing. There was no one. He called for Marta, but how would he know if she heard him? On the floor lay the book his mother had been showing him less than an hour ago.

No use. He ducked back out of the library and ran down the hall. Shadows up ahead. Shadows, God help him. He swerved into the nearest door and found himself climbing stairs. Up or down? Can't go down, only up. And up he ran, not checking to see if anyone was following. Surely they could hear his footsteps and know it wasn't one of their own people. Surely...

He stopped and stepped on the heel of one shoe with the toe of the other, pulling it off. He repeated the process with the other foot, then continued running in his sock feet as the door opened below him. Up, up, up, and he burst through the next door. Were there already guards on this floor?

They were big men. Small children have short legs, and Aral was certainly small for his age. Big men can run faster, but small children can squeeze into tight spaces. And Aral knew things about the Vorpatril mansion these men had never had a chance to learn.

He ducked into the room he knew to be the Yellow Room, closed the door, and locked it. Shaking, he ran to a large wool rug and dragged it to one side, revealing the circular trapdoor beneath.

Remember to pull the rug back over it, or they'll know exactly where you went. His father had taught him about this room, acting like it was some great game, some wonderful spot to play pretend, and only now Aral realized he'd been teaching him how to survive in case anyone should make a coup. A coup, this had to be a coup. He knew what that word meant, and knew that the only reason someone would want his entire family dead was because they were making a coup. Was the Emperor still alive?

Aral pulled the rug in place overhead and shut the trapdoor, then waited. He was now crammed in the space between the floor of the second floor and the ceiling of the first floor. If he moved even an inch now, they would hear him. There was little enough space to breathe, let alone move. Even an extremely slender woman would have trouble here. Aral hugged his knees to his forehead and waited.

He couldn't hear what was happening, but he could certainly feel it. The vibrations of the footsteps echoed through his bones, he was so pressed between floors. His hand closed around the latch that would open the trapdoor beneath him, sending him plummeting into the room below, although he was also sitting on a folding ladder that he would not have time to use if the men above him found him. He would have to risk injury. He couldn't be slowed down with climbing. Only if they stopped looking for him and left would he be able to afford the luxury of physical safety.

Where was Marta?

The footsteps were very close. They were stomping rhythmically, doing... Oh, what was it called? Sonic mapping. Trying to see if any of the floorboards were loose, and if there were any places on the floor that sounded different from others. That would be how to find him, certainly. Aral shuddered and pressed down as far as he could, hoping to leave the space as hollow as possible.

The steps were directly over him. There was a pause. The trapdoor overhead shook, then began to open.

Aral opened the latch below.

Down he plummeted, having only an instant to register his suspension before he hit the floor below on his feet. A sharp pain wrenched through his lower leg, but he shoved to his feet and headed unsteadily for the door. He heard shouts and cursing from above as his pursuers learned quickly that the trapdoor was too small for big men.

He had to find Marta. He had to find Aunt Sonia and the baby. He raced down the hall and burst into the next door down. The north study. Maybe there was a window.

No windows. He shut the door behind him and barred it with a chair leg through the handles, figuring it for as safe a place as any until they blew through the wood of the doors. He whipped around to see a face that nearly made him scream.

It took him several seconds to recognize her. She held his arms and spoke while her face ran with ooze from broken blisters, a plasma arc rendering it like a cubist painting.

Aunt Sonia.

“Where is Marta?” he demanded, but he could not hear her answer. Aunt Sonia was shaking badly, and he realized she was slumped against the wall beside the door. Shock? Was this shock? He'd heard of shock. She was white as a ghost where her face wasn't burnt. Her belly protruded. No. No, something was behind her, pinned to the wall. The baby. The baby was pushing against his mother and crying. Giving their location away. Couldn't Aunt Sonia hear him? Didn't she realize she wasn't protecting him this way? Did she even realize he was there anymore?

Aral took the baby by the arms and drew him out from behind her, shushing him gently. Padma latched onto Sonia's waist, but she didn't reach out to touch him back. He stopped crying, at least. Aral, on sudden inspiration, turned out the light in the room, then took Aunt Sonia by the hand.

“We have to hide. Come on.” He couldn't hear what he was saying, but she followed him, crawling pitifully while Padma tried to latch his arms around her neck. Aral took Padma in his other hand, but found that trying to pry him away from his mother only made him start to cry again. He let it go, although it made things much slower.

Sonia was now tucked in a nook between a wall and a bookshelf, invisible from the angle the door provided, but if she was seen, there would be no protection for her. Padma would not leave her until Aral had spent several minutes whispering assurances. He wrapped his arms around the baby and carried him beneath the desk situated opposite the door. A board nailed to the back of the desk provided the only shelter available between the door and them. They wouldn't be immediately visible, but a quick search would reveal them.

He held Padma and waited. Always in stories, he'd read about people feeling like they were waiting for longer than they were, but he thought the authors who wrote that sort of thing were misleading now. A simple phrase of “it felt like hours passed before...” was a shortcut, a way to bypass tedious, exhausting minutes of waiting in something as far beyond terror as the stars were beyond this room. And during the wait, the hot adrenaline chilled, but did not calm. It became a cold, sinking stone in his stomach as he held on to his cousin, glancing between Padma and the double doors to make sure Padma was being quiet and the doors were not moving.

The cold, the abject terror, the stick of his own sweat and the baby's, the smell of salt and the metallic taste of blood...blood? Where was blood coming from? He licked his lips and tasted metal. He touched his mouth and saw a smear of something. God, let it not be from his mother. No, it was his own, from, oh, from something. How many injuries could he have sustained without realizing it over the course of the evening? He wanted to stop the chills from shaking him, from shaking the baby. He had to protect the baby. If he couldn't protect his mother, he would protect the baby.

Shadows broke up the light leaking in from underneath the double doors. Padma squirmed suddenly even as the shadows passed, open his mouth to let out a wail, and Aral let him go. The baby half-crawled, half-toddled back to where his mother was hidden, and Aral let him, afraid of what would happen if he didn't, if Padma started screaming. He curled up underneath the desk now, shaking, staring at the light under the door, between the doors, choking himself with the effort not to breathe hard.

His mother was dead. His father was nowhere to be found. His older brother was murdered. Aunt Sonia was hurt. Uncle Ivan might be killed already. He had no one to look after him, no one to look after the baby, besides himself.

Someone was standing outside the door. The knob turned. The door rattled. Aral took a hiccuping breath.

They were coming in.

The door shook. Someone was pounding on it.

There was no one left to protect him. There was no one to protect the baby except for him. He had to protect the baby. He was the adult now.

He was the soldier.

He leapt to his feet and yanked open the desk drawer, searching for something, anything. Jackpot. A stunner lay inside. He seized it and raised it just as the door was blown open. Shaking, sweat-slicked fingers depressed the button without taking aim. He felt the floor vibrate as a body hit it, then ducked behind the desk for cover. He was a soldier now.

A plasma beam hit the desk. Aral gasped in a puff of smoke and choked, eyes watering. He swung out to the side to fire again, only to be confronted with a brown-and-silver uniform.

His first thought was that even the Vorkosigan Armsmen had betrayed them, and he fired. The man dropped, revealing behind him...

Behind him, Count Vorkosigan stood, holding a plasma arc, face white as a sheet.

Aral held the stunner level a moment longer, then lowered it, blinking as his father's lips moved. Vorkosigan watched him a moment, then repeated the moments, spitting them out angrily. A puff of white put out the fire on the desk. Ducking around it, Grandfather put his hand on Father's shoulder. Grandfather Vorbarra, face drawn, looking suddenly ten years older than usual. Father's face, changed, then he stooped in front of Aral, grabbed his shoulders, and shouted.

“WHERE IS YOUR AUNT?”

Aral heard the words this time, at least. Shaking, he pointed at the bookshelf, then inanely placed the stunner in his father's hand and ran for the hiding place of his aunt and cousin.

Prying little Padma away from his mother was only possible this time because of the presence of his grandfather. Sonia was a different story. She lay shivering, eyes almost all the way closed, and would respond to no one. Aral shook her gently, stroked her face, and found himself being torn away by his father's strong hands. Piotr looked grave now, not angry.

“WHAT DID YOU SEE?”

In what he was sure was a trembling voice, Aral told them a halting tale that happened to be organized enough to include the deaths of his mother and brother. His father's face did not change when he came to their deaths. Perhaps he knew already.

Vorkosigan gave a nod, and spoke loudly against Aral's ear. “You have aural stun, Aral. It'll wear off. Keep your feet under you. We're leaving the city with your cousin.”

“What about Marta and Uncle--” Aral stopped, eyes searching his father's face.

Piotr shook his head.


Xav watched as two of the guards lifted his only surviving daughter onto a makeshift stretcher. “Valery, too?”

The ImpSec guard nodded. “His wife and children, too. And Andrei Vorbarra.”

Lucia's son.

“Have you found Bethany?”

“Yes, sir. She has said she's going to Dr. Ruvalska's house to stay with the princess.”

Dr. Ruvalska was Xav's personal physician, trustworthy and sane, who would be personally seeing to Sonia's wounds at his own home. “But the Emperor...”

“We fast-penta'ed one of the Vorbarra Armsmen, sir.”

Xav met the guard's eyes. The guard did not respond. Afraid to speak treason, afraid that by helping Xav he was committing treason. “The Emperor ordered the assassinations, didn't he?”

The guard hesitated, then nodded. “According to him,” he added thoughtfully. “It has been in the works for months now. How ImpSec never knew--”

“I'm sure ImpSec does know,” Xav said hotly. “ImpSec belongs to the Emperor. You weren't told because you have honor, and therefore couldn't be trusted with this...this massacre.” He spat the word out as if he could taste the blood of his slain children and grandchildren. Two of his children, perhaps the third soon enough, if she wasn't helped quickly enough. Of all his grandchildren, only two were left alive. Marta had only been six years old.

No matter how much he thought about it, it still wasn't real. There was a clouded barrier between him and reality. Bethany would tell him about post-traumatic shock, and he would deny it. Bethany, dear woman. Xav wasn't there for the traumatic event. He was suffering loss, surely, not trauma, and even at this moment it was only a given level of suffering. Tomorrow, it would sink in.

“I want Princess Bethany out of the city.”

The ImpSec man grimaced. “I'll try, sir.”

That was all Xav could expect. Bethany would not leave Sonia's side, not for his orders or anyone else's. She was Betan. Vor was sort of a myth to her. The way she saw it, being a mother was equally important. Besides, Sonia did need a familiar face. She should at least be allowed the comfort of dying in her mother's arms.

Xav let out a breath. “When you do get them out of the city, do not tell me where they are. As of this moment, Captain, you are in charge of my security and theirs.”

The captain nodded. “I'm on your side, sir.”

“Not my side,” Xav said quickly. “The Emperor's side. Yuri has abdicated by committing crimes against his people, violating the oaths he has taken. If the reports are true, there are only a handful of people left on this planet with the name of Vorbarra. Exactly four, in fact.”

The captain's eyes widened. “Then you plan to claim the Imperium.”

“Don't be a fool, Negri.”

“Then who...?” Negri's black brows lowered. “Ah.”

“As the head of my security, you now know where I am going. No one else will. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.” Negri gave him a salute. “I'll see you out of the city tonight, and to Green Army HQ before midnight.”

The ground car pulled up. Sonia was bundled into it. Negri gave a few orders to the ImpSec guards there before they pulled away, carrying Xav's last surviving child.

He felt a touch on his leg, and glanced down. Aral was leaning against him, holding little Padma, who was weeping quietly now in utter exhaustion. Xav placed his hand on Aral's shoulder and squeezed. Aral glanced up, face lightly smeared with blood from a cut on his forehead. No time to have the boy checked out. They had to leave the city now. The toddler was unhurt, at least, but hiccuping badly, eyelids heavy and drooping.

Xav released the Vorkosigan boy and wandered back into the mansion, stopping at the smear of blood leading to the body of Marta Vorkosigan, who had been stabbed repeatedly. In the dining room was the still form of Lord Ivan Vorpatril, still breathing, staring vacantly up at the ceiling. Also littering the floor were Rurik and...and something else, something that was no longer Olivia. Xav's stomach turned, and he looked away.

An ImpSec guard looked at the prince with a wince. “Sir, there's the matter of Lord Vorpatril. Um. Lord Ivan.”

“Deal with him.” A non-lethal nerve disruptor bolt to the head could only be dealt with in one way.

The guard looked sick, but nodded and walked into the dining room. A moment later, he heard the whirr of a needler fired several times in succession.

Xav jerked into the nearest bathroom, collapsed over the sink, and was violently ill.

It took him thirty seconds to collect himself. Thirty seconds was all he had. They weren't safe. He was still in danger, and so was the small remnant of relatives he had left. There were so few left. If they didn't leave now, they would still be hunted down. While he recovered, his brother, Yuri, was sending reinforcements to replace the men Xav's and Piotr's men had taken down. They had to leave now.

When he stumbled out of the bathroom, Vorkosigan was tearing down the hallway, looking rather like a pained, enraged ghost. Grey eyes caught Xav's.

“Dammit, old man, where have you been? We have to go! Now!”

Xav nodded, wiping his mouth and swallowing as he allowed himself to be herded by Vorkosigan Armsmen through the foyer and out the door. The next groundcar was waiting, with Aral and Padma already strapped into the back seat of it. Padma was on Aral's lap, slumped against his cousin, asleep, while Aral looked as though he would be torn to pieces before he let go of the child.

“We'll never come back to this city, Piotr,” he said suddenly. “The next time we see Vorbarr Sultana, it will be a different place from what we knew.”

Vorkosigan took one last look toward the house they were escaping. “All of Barrayar is already a different place from what we knew, old man. And I swear by my word as Vorkosigan, no one will suffer for it more than Yuri Vorbarra.”

The growl his voice achieved at the end made a shudder run through Xav's bones.


Aral clung to the sleeping Padma and shivered with fear and exhaustion.

The night was black as the groundcar carried them over the streets of Vorbarr Sultana. He rested his cheek against Padma's head, eyes burning from a sleep that he believed could never come to him. Blinking his eyes didn't help. It didn't clear away the screen between him and the rest of the world.

Forty-two minutes. That was how long it had been between the beginning of the massacre and its end. Aral wasn't sure if that was a long time or a short time. It seemed long, but it had felt like longer. Reaching into his past, it felt impossible to break through the barrier of what just happened, to reach that part of him that had been untouched by this. It no longer existed. He was an adult now. He was a soldier.

Father hadn't spoken to him since they'd gotten in the car, or at least, he didn't think he had. Grandfather was in the back seat looking grey and withered and occasionally reaching out to tousle Aral's hair. Grandfather didn't know yet that Aral was an adult, and adults don't have their hair tousled by their grandfathers. What Aral really wanted was to crawl into Grandfather's arms. No. He wanted to crawl into his mother's arms. His mother was gone. They had left her remains, as well as Rurik's and Marta's, back in the Vorpatril mansion. What would become of them? Did it matter? Mamere, Marta, and Rurik weren't in them anyway. It still felt wrong.

Aral realized he was crying. Tears were running down his cheeks. One was drizzling down Padma's head, and still the baby slept on. Aral wished he could sleep. It would mean forgetting. Maybe waking up would mean this was all over. But they weren't even out of the city yet. The night had been impossibly long already, and it was going to be longer still.

Father glanced sharply at Aral and touched a finger to his lips as the car slowed to a halt. The car's front seat faced the back seat, with the driver in a separate compartment. Padma squirmed a little, and Aral began to rock him gently. They were at a check point. If Padma woke up and made noise, they would be lost.

Grandfather placed a wad of cash into the tray that slid between the back compartment and the driver's compartment and slid it inside. Aral counted heartbeats. It was one hundred and forty-seven heartbeats before the car started moving again and he could breathe normally.

Xav leaned in to speak as close to his ear as possible. Aral felt his breath hot against his ear. “We're out of the city now.”

“Where are we going?” Aral tried to be quiet to keep from waking the baby.

“Green Army HQ. My cousin Ezar is the general there.”

Grandfather's cousin Ezar. Aral had never heard of this man, but he knew immediately why they must see him. If they were going to an army base to see any general, it meant war. But seeing this particular general, a cousin of Grandfather's...

General Ezar Vorbarra. One of four survivors with that honored surname. If Grandfather was going to ally himself with General Vorbarra, it meant one of them was going to try to claim the Imperium, and Aral knew for certain Xav Vorbarra did not want the Imperium.

They were going to offer Ezar the Imperium. An Imperium they did not possess.

They were going to commit treason, and Aral was going to be party to it.

And somehow, Aral Vorkosigan, soldier, was glad of it. Glad of treason. Glad of a chance to stop these things that killed his family and were still trying to kill what was left of it. His arms tightened around his cousin.

I am a soldier. A grown-up. I serve the Emperor. I think.