The Rifter's Covenant
the complexity of her reactions. He will be in mourning white,
as now, and we will be in dress whites, she thought. And: He trusts me enough
to speak plainly about his brother. And: Thank Telos the Rifters are gone off
to the Suneater, and he left behind his Rifter bodyguard. Or had he foreseen
this situation?
    Each of these
required careful pondering, but there was no time.
    “Thank you, Captain
Ng. For everything,” he answered, which again surprised her.
    She bowed in a
profound deference and left his cabin. Once she reached the corridor outside the
meaning of his graceful hand gesture at the end penetrate her mind: discourse
in the aorist mode. As it was, is, and shall be.
    That and his
unprecedented openness scared her worse than anything so far. She retreated to
her cabin, gritting her teeth against a wave of anxiety.
    When the shaking
stopped, she headed back to the bridge to prepare her crew for arrival at Ares.
    After frenzied
hours of preparation, Ng stood behind the console bank at the back of the aft
gamma launch bay, intent on the screens as Commander Krajno brought the Grozniy down into one of the immense
refit pits in the Cap, the military section of Ares.
    Naval personnel in
dress whites packed the huge bay, but it was utterly silent except for the
murmur of commands echoed from Ng’s console. Surrounded by his honor guard, Brandon
hai-Arkad, forty-eighth of his line to rule the Thousand Suns, stood below the
main viewscreen, head bent as if reflecting on what he would soon face.
    Ng ran her fingers
across the keypads, calling up a sequence of views. A relay from outside showed
the vast egg shape of the battlecruiser settling oh-so-slowly into the huge pit
whose shape matched its after-section, the fierce blaze of the ship’s radiants
reflecting upward in darting fingers of actinic light that swept across the
gases boiling out of the pit. Then a view from the hull, as the rim of the pit
rose past the imager, blocking out the stars as it swallowed the vast ship. She
could feel the vibration of the tractors now, a subliminal hum resonating up
from the deck plates into her chest as billions of tons of warship settled into
its berth.
    Finally a faint,
tectonic shudder which lasted nearly a minute as the structure of the station
absorbed the last fraction of the battlecruiser’s momentum. A series of dull
clanking booms resounded, marching around the hull as the interlocks engaged,
mating ship and station.
    As the sound died
away, Krajno’s voice came from the console. “Docking completed. You have the
lock, Captain.”
    A light on the
console turned green. She exchanged the briefest of glances with the
newly-promoted Dyarch Artorus Vahn, head of the new Panarch’s security detail,
and at this moment leader of the honor guard.
    Activating her
boswell in privacy mode, she subvocalized: (All
yours, Dyarch. Good luck.) And out loud to the Panarch: “Your Majesty, if
we may take our positions?”
    Brandon lifted his
hand, and she tabbed the lock key.
    The honor guard
grounded their weapons and shouldered them with a flourish, then marched in
cadence toward the towering lock doors, limned in red lights running
sequentially along the edges as they began to cycle open. Ng drew in a deep,
slow breath and took her place at Brandon hai-Arkad’s side.
    (Alpha aft bay reporting—all secure.)
    (Beta aft bay reporting—all secure.)
    Artorus Vahn, the
only living person to have served directly under all three of Gelasaar
hai-Arkad’s sons, knew at the level of bone and sinew all the ritual moves of a
Marine honor guard.
    Which was just as
well, because he could not spare any conscious thought on cadence, weapons
discipline, or any of the rest of it. Though he matched the precise pacing of
the others, his face rigidly forward, his eyes were in constant motion.
    So, too, were the
eyes of the complex security team he had spent the last hours putting together.
    (Gamma aft bay reporting—personnel

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