The Rifter's Covenant
was
immaculately clean, the exquisite furnishings a harmonious blend of ancient and
modern. Fresh blossoms floated in shallow bowls of priceless antiquity, adding
their scent to the clean air from the garden; the kitchen sent out aromas of
freshly ground coffee and baked bread, as the new cook, a Golgol chef selected
personally by Nyberg, went about his business.
    Jaim caught a
glimpse of his own reflection against one of the windows: a tall, somber figure
dressed in gray, with three Serapisti mourning braids hanging down his back.
    His stay alone in
the Enclave during the weeks since Brandon left to try to rescue his father had
not been idle. He’d used the time in study, and in practice, and in watchfulness
against the tireless attempts of various factions to position themselves to
advantage for the expected return of the Panarch. Who is not, for some, the
Panarch they hoped for, he thought.
    The console chimed
softly. Brandon was on his way.
    Jaim stationed
himself near the door, intercepting a glance from Vahn’s partner Roget, who had
also been left behind—head of the naval team stationed at the Enclave. The
woman was if possible even more reticent than Jaim, which had made it easier
for them to get along during the tense wait for news.
    She gave him the
briefest of nods, while not relaxing her posture a whit: she, like her team,
was dressed in the formidably crisp uniform of a Marine honor guard.
    He watched through
the leafy branches of sheltering trees as Vahn’s team met with the home team.
There was some saluting, a precise exchange of places, and then came Brandon’s
light voice, although Jaim caught none of the words.
    Then he was inside,
and Jaim was alone with the man whom he had once ordered to polish the plasma waveguides
aboard the Telvarna , make-work of the
toughest, grimiest sort.
    With a sigh of
relief, Brandon untabbed the high collar of his white tunic. “Coffee,” he said.
“And brandy. But not yet. Is Ki about?”
    “He’s at the
Cloisters, until you want him,” Jaim said.
    “Good. We’ll put
him to work . . . but tomorrow. Did they brief you?”
    “Yes,” Jaim said.
    Brandon faced the
console, tension evident in the line of his shoulders, the way he flexed his
hands.
    Jaim had expected a
spectrum of reactions, from triumph to grief, but not this abstraction as
Brandon walked slowly to the console and seated himself.
    Jaim had to test his
own status, now that Brandon’s had changed so drastically: he was sworn to
Brandon as an individual, not as a nick, however high his title. Rifters bowed
to no one, nor did they use honorifics. “Want me to go?”
    “You’re welcome to
stay,” Brandon replied, and Jaim was satisfied.
    Brandon’s fingers
worked tentatively, with a curious deliberation. He had to be entering the
Panarch’s codes . Shock radiated along
Jaim’s nerves.
    At first
hesitantly, then with increasing sureness, Brandon tapped at the keypads. Jaim
saw the flicker of a retinal scan—the first he’d seen required at this
console—and reflected in a polished vase a few meters behind Brandon’s head,
Jaim saw the distorted but unmistakable structure of ordered data flashing
swiftly across the viewscreen. The Panarch’s personal databank, hidden from any
other eyes.
    For a long minute
Brandon worked the keys, his face unreadable. At last he looked up. “Jaim, did
you know that you had a telltale in you?”
    Jaim said, “I
figured that out. The night of the coup.” He didn’t add that Vahn had been
apologetic afterward, and though they both knew that the Marine had only been
following orders, Vahn had exerted himself to include Jaim in the subsequent security
plans; after Grozniy ’s emergence back
in Ares space, he had seen to it that Roget shared with Jaim the vid of the
battle of the Grozniy and the Samedi in the Gehenna system,
terminating in the death of Brandon’s father. “So you’ll know, and not have to
ask him,” Roget had said. Jaim suspected that

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