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Unsustainable Systems

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Cordelia closed the door and crossed her arms. "Simon, you're getting sick," she said.

"I'm not," Simon said, looking at her then away. He only needed a moment, after all, to take a snapshot of her face and read her emotions clearly. He picked up a piece of paper to fiddle with. A letter of complaint topped by an overwrought crest.

Cordelia was not going to be put off by such threadbare tactics. "Really," she said. "State your evidence."

Simon frowned unconvincingly at her. "I'm too busy."

"That's evidence?"

"You can't expect me to prove a negative."

"It's a good thing there's no negative to prove, then," Cordelia said, and strode round the desk of the feared ImpSec captain to press the back of her hand against his forehead. "I would like to submit my own counter-evidence. You're feverish. Statistical significance confirmed."

"Sample size of one," Simon said, with a tired groan. "But I really don't have time to be sick. I'm too busy." Even now he was still sorting through memos and typing into his keypad.

"I have another hypothesis to propose," Cordelia said. "You're sick because you're too busy."

Simon pressed his fingers into his forehead. "So what am I supposed to do instead?" he asked. "All this work still needs to be done, no matter how tired I am. Negri would —"

He stopped. Cordelia thought she knew why. Images dumped wholesale by his chip at a keyword. He looked young in that moment — looked his age, rather. "Simon," she said, far more gently than she'd spoken so far. "Finish the most essential things and give yourself a break. Before you make yourself really ill."

He wavered, and she pressed. "If you can't instantly categorise out the on-fire priority tasks then that's surely enough of a sign on its own that you need to stop."

He smiled reluctantly. "Essential work would take… about an hour."

"And then you'll take tomorrow off," Cordelia said. "At least."

He looked unconvinced. "I can get Aral to place you under house arrest," she reminded him.

That brought on an expression of mild alarm. It was times like these that she was particularly grateful for her Betan wild-card reputation. "That… won't be necessary," Simon assured her, hastily.

"Good," Cordelia said. "One hour. I have a meeting, and then I'll be back to check up on you."

"That won't be necessary either," Simon said, dredging up a faint smile.

"I very much beg to differ," Cordelia said. "One hour. I mean it."

He still clearly thought that she was joking. She very much was not.

It was more like an hour and a half later when she paused outside Simon's door again, with a sigh at the strip of light showing from underneath. She knocked briefly, and opened it. "Simon, I did tell you —"

Then she stopped, and half-ran to the desk. "Simon?"

He was lying across it, head having slipped off his outstretched arm. Clearly asleep, but making a faint noise. Keening. Cordelia shook his shoulder. She could feel the heat baking from his face. "Simon, wake up please."

He opened his eyes, blearily. Then abruptly jerked away from her closeness, head going up and arm fumbling for his holster — then, belatedly, recognition sank in. He slumped back against his chair "My Lady."

"I told you to go home and go to bed," Cordelia said, sternly.

Simon groaned, and passed his hand across his forehead. "I did intend to," he said. "I don't know what happened…"

"You fell asleep," Cordelia informed him. "Because you're ill."

The ghost of a smile. "Yes, I believe you're right." He looked uncomfortable, though, and rubbed his eyes again, with excessive force.

"What is it?" Cordelia asked.

"Nothing —" He met her raised eyebrow, and sighed. "Dreams. Erratic nonsense. Chip playback — some of the crises we've almost had."

"That must be quite vivid," Cordelia guessed.

"Like a memory," Simon agreed. "It feels the same, to be honest. When I'm in one."

And afterwards, she imagined, judging by the haunted look in his eyes. "Does that happen often?"

"Not often," he said. "Only because… well. Fever's triggered this effect before." He managed another smile. "You're right. I should go home and sleep this off."

"Alone," Cordelia said. Alone, and ill, with whatever nightmares his chip decided to play him. Not an atmosphere conducive to a quick recovery.

He shrugged.

"I have a better idea," Cordelia suggested. "A nice guest room. Food delivered to you. Company, if you want it."

It was the last that appealed, she could see. "I wouldn't want to inconvenience you —" he began.

"Nonsense," she said, firmly. "Aral will agree with me." She put a hand on his arm. "Come on."

He stood up, with a proper smile now. "I don't have a choice, do I?"

"Obviously not," she said, mock-sternly. She paused. "Does Aral know about this… side-effect of your chip?"

"I…" She could see Simon searching through his memory, although she would have put money on the answer to start with. More likely he was looking to see if he had ever inadvertently given a hint of it. "No."

"I believe this is the kind of thing he'd prefer you tell him."

"It's not a security risk," Simon said, mulishly.

Cordelia rolled her eyes. "You know perfectly well that's not what I mean. It's a thing which affects you."

He shrugged. Rubbed at his forehead. "There's nothing to be done about it."

"That's even more reason to tell someone," she said. "Not as Aral-the-Regent. As your friend."

Simon looked down at his feet for a moment. "I'll tell him," he said. "I suppose you would anyway, otherwise."

"Would I?" Cordelia challenged, and waited until he met her eyes. "I do understand. So much of you is for public consumption already."

He held her gaze. Yes. I know about that.

"I'll tell him," he said, more assertively this time.

"He'll be grateful for it," Cordelia said, and met his expression solidly. She offered her arm, so that Simon could lean on her without looking like he was doing so. If he wanted. Which he did.

"Thank you," Simon said, quietly, and didn't clarify further.