Kareen's lower lip stuck out about a mile, and she grabbed Xav's hand.
"I wanna go home" she managed to blurt out.
Helen sat down and thought hard. "They were wearing...looked almost like Impsec uniforms. I've seen men come in and out of the house wearing them." She looked down at Aral trying to remember what they had told him...why he had followed and she after him.
Aral looked at Helen and she could see the childish act that he had played today was gone from his eyes. "They said dad had sent them and he was waiting for us at home. I should have known better..." He started to cry silently. "Dad's going to kill me...after everything he taught us." Helen took Aral's hand and made him sit down next to her. He rested his head on her shoulder.
By pulled Kareen onto his lap. "I wanna go home too, poppet. You've all been very brave. Remember we're Vor and that means something. It means no matter what they ask, we say nothing, not even our names. It means we're strong and we'll get home. I don't know what's going to happen or what they know about us, but we don't want to give them anything they can use to scare our families. And it means we'll look after each other." He sighed. "First thing's first. Let's see what the ventilation system is like." By patted Kareen and lifted her of his lap so he could stand up. "What do we have in our pockets, kids?"
Helen reached inside her bolero. There was nothing there. She reached up to her neck and pulled out her necklace with the Vorkosgian Crest on it. The chain was so long it wouldn't have been visible to anyone without knowing it was there. "I have my necklace." Her dad had given it to her a few months ago saying it might come in handy one day. She still didn't know what that meant but she never took it off.
Aral stuck his hands in his pockets and came up with nothing. He looked around the room of the...freight? They were moving so it had to be some sort of car.
"It's a start," he told her. Something else to strangle people with if his shoelace wasn't enough. "Who wants a boost up to see the air ducts? Aral? You da talks all the time about the time spent crawling around in them. Wanna have your own story to bring home?"
Aral instantly brightened at the thought and stood up immediately and instantly fell backwards as the car screeched to a halt. "What's going on?"
"Let me have your necklace, Poppet." By said, unfastening it from around her neck and slipping it into his pocket. By stood towards the door, making himself as large as possible to shield the children.
Two people, still wearing the fake ImpSec style uniforms Aral had described walked in, armed with stunners. A third person, not uniformed entered afterwards.
"What do you want from us?" By asked before he had a chance to speak.
"Nothing, Lord Vorrutyer."
"If you were hoping for Lord Vorrutyer, you are sadly misinformed." By responded.
"Lord Byerly, then, if you prefer." he responded breezily. By tried to place the accent. It was a flat Barrayan, fairly urbane. Probably Vorbar Sultana.
Byerly nodded in acknowledgement of the correct name. "If you want nothing, why are we here."
"I want nothing from you." he said, "I want a great deal from other people."
"A great deal? You mean a ransom?"
"I mean not to discuss my business with a talentless wastrel. The only reason you're here is the only reason you were there, because while real work is going on, you're going to babysit."
Like that, is it? Byerly thought. He composed his face into his typical mask of insouciance. "Children can be difficult. It takes a special type of patience. Especially these children. They are Vor, you know. Not exactly domesticated."
"You'll keep them in line if you value your life. We have plans."
"I do like life, I'll admit that," Byerly drawled, "but that won't necessarily prevent security from dropping on you like a ton of bricks if the children are screaming at you like you're the reincarnation of Pierre LaSanguinaire. And they're worth nothing unless they're alive and in good condition. And if they're not, your life is worth nothing as there is no place in the universe you could hide from the wrath of," Byerly altered his tone to make his voice sound somewhat scornful, "the Count, my cousin and his friends."
"If you have something to say, Lord Byerly, by all means, say it." The unarmed man snapped out. "You know I could drug you all and have done with the conversation."
"For now, and then you'd have to have it again later. We don't have to be advisaries, you know."
Byerly moved away from the children and lowered his voice, "My affections are engaged by the children, it's true, but less so by their parents. There's no reason why we can't come to some mutual arrangement, provided we each bring a measure of discretion to the table."
"You think I should deal with you. Split the profits in exchange for your cooperation."
"The children do trust me." By said coaxingly. "Cooperative children are so much easier to manage."
"But I already have you, Lord Byerly. And you will do exactly as you're told."
"Or you'll drug me and drag me around. Quite a sight you'll be then."
"You'll be standing up and doing your job of watching the children. They can't be trusted to be quiet, so I'll drug them and disguise them, but you'll still be awake and cooperating with everything and answering all the passport control questions put to you with perfect equanimity, and do you want to know why?"
"I'd love to know why." By said cooly.
"Because I'll be standing right next to you, holding little Isabelle. And if you make wrong move, I'll hand her back to you in pieces. Am I quite clear?"
By glanced nervously at his niece, realizing he'd given himself away. "Quite clear. You have my..." he struggled over the words, "entire cooperation."
"I thought you might feel that way." He gestured towards the door, "Come in." he barked.
A woman came in carrying a couple of bags. "Give him a proper military cut. He's a captain in the Imperial Service. You've gone lax while you've been on vacation, Captain. We'll talk again later. Don't give the nice lady any trouble."
He walked out followed by one of the armed guards who immediately returned with a chair and locked the door.
Helen looked back and forth between the By and the strange man as they talked in whispered voices. She turned to Aral and whispered, "What do you think they're talking about?"
Aral turned to look and shrugged. Helen turned back to watch as the man exited and the strange woman came in. "Aral, Aral do you remember that story da used to tell us about why he hates small confined rooms..." Aral turned toward her wide eyed and nodded his head then stared at the woman with the bags. He edged over to By slowly followed by Helen and close to him and whispered, "By, what's going on?" He looked back nervously as the lady started to unpack things.
"Well, the good news is he's uncorruptable and doesn't want to kill us."
By walked to the chair and sat down with a sigh. "The bad news is he's uncorruptable and doesn't mind hurting us. Now this lady has fresh clothing for us so we don't have to stay in what we're wearing." He tried to sound chipper, as if changing clothing wasn't just one more trick to made them harder to identify them. "I imagine she has all of our sizes." he added dryly. The woman smiled and nodded and ran a hand testingly through his hair. By flinched and pulled his head away. Behind him, he heard the familiar sound of a stunner being powered on. "She's going to give me a haircut too. It's far too hot to wear this much hair." But damnit, I spend a fortune getting my hair professionally cut and styled and I don't want anyone messing with it. For the Imperium. Only for the Imperium. Damnit.