bits of Tristen's blood and body, but whatever fell to the Enemy was gone.

The world had shrunk while he slept.

'By extrapolation, I estimate 16 percent,' the angel said. 'My communication and proprioception protocols are damaged. Contact with outlying sectors is tenuous. Life support is suboptimal in all sectors with which I do still have contact. The world has sustained intense radiation exposure and shock damage. We've lost a great deal of atmosphere. I am synthesizing carbon and oxygen from available and reclaimed materials and attempting to preserve biodiversity, but it will be some time before we are ready for more than a skeleton crew. Which leads me to the reason I have awakened you prematurely, Prince Tristen. I'm sorry, but I needed your help.'

It was a completely unangelic thing to say, and it broke Tristen's heart along a fault line he hadn't known existed.

The angel's impulse to speak that way hadn't come from Samael or Asrafil or Dust, but from another consciousness subsumed in the machine. He turned the thought away. You do yourself no kindness when you play that game, Prince Tristen.

He said, 'How can I help you?'

'My Captain,' said the angel. 'I fear for her courage and the resolve of her heart. And she will speak to no other but you. She says you are to be her First Mate, and I am to follow your commands and leave her in peace with her grief.'

Tristen leaned against her tank, the medical green upholstery sticky against the skin of his back. He let his hand splay against the surface of the pod, as if he could touch his niece reassuringly through all the polymer and fluid that separated them. He knew that peace intimately and of old.

For all her courage and determination, Perceval was very, very young.

He said, 'All right. Is life support in Engine functional?'

'The Domaine of Engine is closer to intact than much of the rest of the world, sir.'

'The first thing we must do is repair the bridge. Start awakening such of the Engineers as will survive the process.'

'Yes, sir,' the angel said.

Tristen held up a hand. 'Caitlin Conn first,' he interrupted. 'And please draw me up some schematics of the world as she now sails.'

'As I now have contact with her, sir. It's the best I can do for the moment.'

The bridge was not a shambles. Given its state the last time Tristen had seen it, he could only assume that its repair had ranked high in the angel's priorities even before he had given his orders. Fixing the bridge would be a service to the angel's Captain, which was in turn a service to the world itself. The three things--angel, Captain, and vessel--were inextricable in the mythology of both Engine and Rule. And inextricable in reality, as well.

Tristen paused just within the door, remembering this space as he had seen it last--cobwebbed, crumbling, torn open to the Enemy. Now, he walked over rolling clover, speckled with blue and purple wildflowers--bluets, nightshade. In the shadow of chairs and control panels, the scarlet trillium petals of wake-robin hugged the soil, the coyness of their form a contradiction of their color.

And overhead and on every side, the stars.

It could not be a direct window, Tristen knew, nor even an unedited view, because the Jacob's Ladder still sped along in concert with an expanding debris field from the death of the shipwreck stars. Their explosion had given the world acceleration. Now, as electromagnetic nets were reconfigured to sweep shattered star-stuff into the world's needy maws, their corpses fed its reawakening engines.

Instead, Tristen saw the stars as they would have looked without that radiant layer of dust and gas--a spectacular interstellar night unbesmirched by the newborn nebula. As the Jacob's Ladder accelerated, it would leave the blast front behind, but for now they traveled in company.

The filtered stars seemed stationary. At these distances and speeds, the apparent motion was negligible.

While Tristen paused to take in the panorama, the angel again faded into existence before him. The avatar moved from panel to panel, exactly as if it needed to touch the controls to affect them. Tristen supposed the Builders had been more comfortable with a visible benevolent presence, but he found it redundant.

'Please bring up a set of status panels for me,' Tristen said. 'Shipwide--'

'As much of it as I have,' the angel corrected.

'--with emphasis on Engineering. Casualty and damage reports. Medical reports on surviving crew. Material attrition reports. Key personnel, and a list of any missing or dead.'

Rien, of course. He wondered if the angel would include her among the lost. She wasn't, exactly, and even if she was, her death--which wasn't actually a death, although it was a cessation of independent existence--had preceded the supernova.

Whether or not the list spared her name, Tristen knew it would be replete with others equally dear.

The air before him darkened, though it did not lose transparency. Bright columns of words and numbers scrolled through it, too fast for a Mean to read. They did not strain Tristen's ability.

The angel asked, 'Among key personnel, are there any in particular whose status you would like ascertained? There is a great deal of damage, so if I can focus my inquiries--'

'Caitlin,' he said. 'Benedick. Any members of the Conn family or the senior staff of Engine or Rule.' Then, gritting his teeth, he said the name he least wished to. 'And Arianrhod.'

His granddaughter had engaged in murder, treason, and biological warfare. She and her daughter Ariane had unleashed a deadly engineered influenza in Rule and allied with the rogue AI Asrafil to attempt to usurp control of the world. It was their actions that had led to the unmaking of Arianrhod's other daughter, Rien, a child Tristen had held quietly dear.

It would be provident if she had died in the nova, but in Tristen's experience, Providence so rarely lived up to its name.

'The tanks of the individuals indicated by name are intact,' the angel said immediately. 'Prince Benedick has already been released. So has the Chief Engineer. I am processing the remainder of your request.'

'Thank you,' Tristen said.

Benedick Conn had suffered worse awakenings, but only one or two. Now he pushed himself out of the still- damp capsule, rubbing slime from his lashes, and felt the unmistakable heat of repair along the length of every bone.

'Burn this,' he said, stumbling against the wall of a neighboring pod. It caught his shoulder and kept him upright, but he found himself clinging with his fingertips to a cargo net nonetheless.

His clothes and tools were bundled into the net on his own pod. If anything was still usable, he'd want it. The cloth should have survived. 'How bad?'

'Bad,' said the angel who had awakened him. 'Prince Tristen is acting as First Mate, on the orders of Captain Perceval.'

'Perceval is not well?' Benedick pulled himself upright. He turned and found the webbing containing his gear. Fingers numb as greasy sausages, he pawed at the ties, but his hands shook too hard for usefulness.

'Perceval is still healing, and sick with grief,' the angel answered with a compassionate dip in tone that Benedick swore he knew. He felt it like a dagger, the pain as sharp as if the edges scraped bone. 'But she is the Captain. She will do what she must.'

'Rien,' Benedick said, once, to hear himself say it.

The angel gave him a moment of silence. Then, regretfully, he answered, 'I am sorry, Prince Benedick. But I am not Rien, nor can I be for you. There is too much else within me.'

Benedick shook his head, too overcome to speak plainly. He knew. And that wasn't what he'd meant.

She was gone, and he'd barely met her. It would be easy to blame her mother, but the truth was he'd cheated both of them. There had been better ways, if he'd troubled himself to find them. So now--though Rien deserved more--in her memory he gave himself an instant to waver with the pain.

Then he closed his eyes and imagined himself turning and walking away.

Benedick kept an ice-walled place in his center, and he knew it well. Now, he imagined himself in the long corridor leading down, the heavy door swinging open to his touch. He imagined the chill, stale air across his face and hands.

He imagined that he stepped within. The walls were perfectly clear, perfectly frozen. He could see out with

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