with her. He'll suffice.'

'He's not--' Now he looked, head snapping around as if he had been resisting the motion with all his might, and his strength had finally failed him.

'No,' she said. 'You're her father. But you are here, and these are lifeboat rules. Do the work under your hand, Ben.'

Another man--especially another Conn--would have said something cruel in reply. But Benedick only pressed his mouth thin and, without dropping his gaze, nodded once.

She understood. It was the decision he had already accepted as inevitable and steeled himself for, but he had wished for her to make it. As he had over time made similar unpleasant choices for her. When they had still been a team.

Caitlin also would not look down. She was still considering what to say next, whether to disengage from the conversation or to press him to the next level of honesty, when her half-attended feed from Arianrhod's pod forced itself to the center of her attention--by failing like a snapped thread.


the strength of any soul

I will make your offspring as unto the dust of the Cosmos, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted.

--GENESIS 13:16, New Evolutionist Bible

Caitlin's eyes went wide; Benedick began moving. Even as she turned for the door, her armor rattling, he placed a hand on the console between them and vaulted it. His feet struck the deck where hers had been only an instant before, the old instincts of teamwork unaffected.

Caitlin crouched. The armor assisted her leap, but Benedick heard her grunt of pain. The sympathetic twinge lay beyond the ice, so he observed it rather than feeling it, for which he was grateful.

Caitlin gripped the edge of the broken hatchway and swung herself through. Benedick followed. His legs were healing, and he was much taller than Caitlin. With the support of his armor, he leaped, caught the lip of the hatch, and arced into microgravity on the heels of the Chief Engineer.

She was already sailing across the cluttered Heaven. Benedick kicked off, gliding in pursuit, hesitant to use his attitude jets for a boost until necessary. He reached the far wall a few meters behind her, copying her elegant swing into the corridor. The thump of her boots against the decking rang sharply. On foot, he could catch her.

He pulled up abreast and between breaths panted, 'Why are we running?'

'I lost the feed from Arianrhod's tank.' Her words were crisp between controlled breaths. A little sound greeted each stride, too small to be called a grunt. A sound of pain. He winced silently, gritting his own teeth as if he could help her bear it.

But she didn't need his help.

And she was right. He reached into the network, feeling for the location of Arianrhod's coffin, and found only empty space. He didn't have a Chief Engineer's connection with the world, but he could pull up a remote. He asked, between controlled breaths, 'Did the mote fail? No, it's the whole sector. What happened?'

A shake of her head inside the helm sent curls escaping around the open faceplate. 'I killed her,' she said. 'I overrode life support on the tank.'

Her stride lengthened, but he paced her easily. He could condemn her decision, confront her on it. Suspect that it was based in the lust for revenge she accused him of. But that would be pointless and unfair and unlike Caitlin. No one could cling to a grudge like Caitlin Conn, but that did not abrogate her knighthood, and Benedick had never questioned her integrity.

It was that integrity that had made her so outraged with his choices, with what she saw as selling out. She had forgiven him his role as their sister's killer, perhaps because he had performed the task at Cynric's request. But the liaison and alliance with Arianrhod, that she found unconscionable, though he had thought he had his reasons at the time.

He had to admit that experience seemed to be bearing her opinions out. And he understood the root of her ethics. As far as he knew, in all her life the only person Caitlin Conn had ever betrayed was their father. If you could be said to have betrayed someone who never deserved loyalty or duty in the first place. Whatever the family betrayals, they had started with Alasdair Conn.

'Conserving resources,' he said. She glanced sideways at him, eyebrows rising. Did she think he'd changed so drastically? Or did she think she'd never known him?

'You should have stayed to see it through,' he qualified. Never leave the helpless victim to expire in a death trap. Make sure.

'Somebody,' she answered, as they came up to the chamber housing the acceleration pods, 'sent me a message. And I left a guard. The resurrected you sent me.' Her sideways glance said, If you considered him trustworthy enough to bear your message, I considered him trustworthy enough to stand over a deathbed. She slowed, one arm canted out from the elbow to indicate a stop, then reached to her hip and unclipped her sidearm. She sighted along it before raising the weapon to high ready.

Benedick echoed her gesture. He swung across the door and flattened himself against the bulkhead on the opposite side. Whatever difficulties the last fifteen years had brought to their relationship, in this they were still machined smooth.

Caitlin spun into the chamber and Benedick covered her. He entered the room low, with a quick snap to the side, disguising his silhouette against the wall. There was too much cover in here, too much visual and auditory clutter--the cables, the pods, the sound and smell of dripping fluid and torn flesh from the ruptured ones. Benedick widened his awareness, tuned his senses to--perhaps--the scuff of a bare foot on decking. The armor covered his skin, but it was richly endowed with sensors. He might sense the displacement of air. If Arianrhod were still here, she was still naked. He had sealed her into the tank after her capture himself, and he had not left her gear in the netting. He might be able to smell warm, wet skin.

It was no mysterious power, but rather a developed awareness to everything his own senses, the symbiont, and the armor could tell him. There was the fine edge of training, which was about developing trustworthy perceptions, learning to rely on them, and acting on them without thought or hesitation. The body knows the knife is coming, as surely as a fly senses a falling blow and drops into flight to elude it.

For now, Benedick's body told him there was no knife. But though he trusted it, he also believed in caution.

Right-handed, he tapped the ceramic on his thigh. Caitlin glanced at him. He sealed his faceplate, and she mimicked him.

Benedick gestured left. She nodded and went, slipping between pods, using their bulk to break her silhouette and disguise the motion. Benedick followed on a staggered angle, inching along the rows as silently as possible in his clicking ceramic suit.

Together, they moved toward Arianrhod's tank, keeping as much cover between them and it as possible. At thirty meters, Caitlin drew up, beckoning him closer. She caught his eye through twinned faceplates; neither of them needed to ask if the other was ready.

The count was all internal. She stepped out. He waited at the ready for her signal. 'Wounded,' she said, and he snapped around the corner to cover her as she moved forward.

The resurrected he'd sent with the message lay on the floor, an azure puddle cradling his head. He'd sustained a savage blow. From here, Benedick could not see if there were other wounds. Anything the resurrected might have sustained would be unlikely to kill an Exalt, since Benedick could tell there had not been any dismembering injuries.

'He's alive.' Caitlin dropped a knee beside him. Benedick kept her in his peripheral vision, but his job now was not to watch her. It was to watch for anyone who might threaten her. She glanced up. 'The tank's unsealed.'

'She's gone?'

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