clarity, but no pain could reach through the ice.

After his sister Cynric's failed revolt against their father the Commodore, Benedick had become her executioner. He had not been terribly young by Mean standards, but he had been a very young Exalt. He'd first built this fortress to endure that day, and in the centuries since, he'd retreated here more times than he cared to think on, when war or necessity left no room for mourning. He'd used it when Perceval's mother, Caitlin, left him for allowing his other daughter to be fostered in Rule, and he told himself there was no shame in needing it now.

He swung the imagined door closed with a touch and felt it seal. Lock out the hurt, he willed it, as he had willed it when he had lost Caitlin, as he had willed it when Cynric's blood had writhed and then clotted in the crevices of his hands.

The Mean had called his sister Cynric the Sorceress, and held her in a kind of concerned awe. But her sorcery hadn't saved her in the end.

Perceval would have to learn this, too, if she were going to command. He would teach her, if she'd let him.

He clenched his hands, drove the nails into his palms, felt the blur of heat and soothed it away. Ice. It was all ice.

War meant loss. He should be able to treat the loss of his daughters as he would treat the loss of anyone's child. Every baby was worth the same to a general.

He would be a father later, he promised himself. Soon, before it became too easy to let the ice seal that pain away forever. He would do better this time.

As he thought this, he thought he even meant it. But he had a hard time believing himself anyway.

When he opened his eyes and spoke again, his voice was smooth and cool. 'What does Tristen require?'

'Proceed to Central Engineering,' the angel said. 'I must awaken the Chief Engineer.'

Benedick pulled his trousers from the net bag and began to struggle into them, all the while suspecting that there was no way he could make the ice quite thick enough.


on fragile bone

The fool hath said in his heart, there is no such thing as justice, and sometimes also with his tongue.

--THOMAS HOBBES, Leviathan

At the rim of the world, a blind white hawk with a serpent's tail stretched his wings to the utmost and batted furiously on the edge of an acceleration-shattered cliff. All around, furrowed earth lay strewn with splintered branches. Gavin did not need sight to observe that the wood had cracked and spiked in spirals along the grain, showing how it had broken green. The air still reeked of sap and crushed fruit rotting, upturned earth, the fermenting remains of misfortunate worms.

He flapped again, beating hard to lift himself from the cliff in this thin atmosphere and elevated gravity. The world had sealed its pores so precious air no longer fed the Enemy, but it would take time to replace what had been lost. Altitude did not improve the prospect. The wood, which had also once been a library, lay in ruins. At least the librarian, who had sheltered in an emergency pod, was still alive, and that meant the trees could be replanted so their fruits full of ancient lore could thrive again.

Gavin broadened his wings and thinned the mass of his body to a latticework, increasing his glide ratio. Now he got aloft. He turned into the current, borrowing its lift, and began quartering the devastated holde. The strokes of his wings bore him over a forest of blasted trunks, some trees shattered to the root, some still standing but with the bark rent in deep vertical lines. He thought maybe 50 percent could be salvaged, and those only because their sap swarmed with symbionts. The rest were fodder for the disassemblers.

Before long he sensed motion. A figure crouched in the midst of the heaped, horrible slurry. Gavin spiraled closer, banking, and made sure to flap his wings hard enough to be heard. The figure raised a clenched hand without looking up to check the source of the sound.

The basilisk struck Mallory's fist with talons outreached, careful not to break the skin as he backwinged and settled. Mallory's arm dipped under the weight, but the necromancer was braced and bore it well. Gavin hopped from fist to shoulder, condensing, and slipped his tail beneath dark brown curls to encircle Mallory's warm neck.

'This is a setback,' Mallory said, raising a hand with which to settle Gavin's ruffled feathers.

Gavin rubbed face against cheek, tilting his head so the razor-edged beak would not brush soft skin. 'Are all the trees destroyed?'

'Yes.' Mallory opened the hand Gavin had settled on, which had been resting against Gavin's wing, and lowered it. The fingers were muddy, as if from rooting in the earth.

In the palm lay the pulp-smeared stone of a fruit. 'I need them all. Cuttings, too. We'll have to clone for rootstock, but once the trees are forced, we can begin grafting.'

'It shall be as you instruct,' Gavin said. He hopped down from Mallory's shoulder and--spreading himself into a fine-wire mesh--began the laborious and delicate process of reclaiming as much of the world's remaining library as possible.

While he worked, he asked, 'And when the library is reseeded, what then?' It would take time to grow to fruition, but there would be other tasks in the interim.

Mallory seemed about to answer, but some distraction prevented it. The necromancer said, 'We'll have to see when it's done. Fetch my pack, Gavin. It appears this replanting must be left to the automata.'

Gavin craned a long neck over his shoulder, sweeping the focus of his senses across Mallory. 'Someone has contacted you.'

Mallory nodded. 'We are, it seems, available. The Chief Engineer sends word: we are for Rule, in haste.'

Gavin, the servant, made no argument. As he spread his wings, he asked, 'Is it this bad everywhere?'

Mallory hesitated and after a long pause said, 'There will be a great deal of work for necromancers.'

Caitlin Conn stood before an acceleration pod, watching condensation freeze upon its surface, and contemplated murder. Her powered-armor exoskeleton was all that propped her battered body upright, though she had not yet adjusted to the armor's silence and lack of personality. She missed the daemon that had dwelled there while the world had been becalmed--many years of working with it had taught her to consider it a friend--but like its brothers it was gone now, silenced and consumed.

The particular pod she contemplated was intact, more the pity. Several farther down the row had not survived acceleration so well, hanging ruptured and askew. The bodies inside were either being repaired by their symbionts, to take their places among the mute resurrected, or they were being disassembled for components. Later, Caitlin would check which was true.

The tank she stood before was opaque, and in a true analysis nothing required her to attend in person. She could have consulted her imaging systems from Engineering if all she wanted was to observe the feed of Arianrhod restrained in salty, incompressible fluid. The image floated before Caitlin's inner eye now, Arianrhod's hair adrift like veils of algae across her mouth and cheek. There was nothing here she could not sense remotely.

But the emotional weight of her decision had brought Caitlin here, as if to stand face-to-face with Arianrhod. Some things you did in person because that was the way they were done. She needed to be close to make this choice. She needed to be able to reach out and lay the weight of her own heavy gauntlet against the manual override, if that was what she chose. She needed to be able to tell herself it was not vengeance that brought her here, but simple math. Arianrhod's life used resources better reserved for others whose simple existence was not a threat.

Caitlin took a breath of dusty-smelling filtered air, and thought about the irrevocability of her decision. It still didn't seem slight, even when balanced against the limited and irretrievable resources of her world. But everything was in her head--atmospheric pressure and composition, wildly fluctuating heat in the habitats where the air wasn't simply frozen in plate-fragile shingles to the bulkheads--and the simple fact that Arianrhod had tried to kill Caitlin's daughter. The world--the corners of it she could reach--stretched into her, gave up its information as the ghosts of

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