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It was an unsettling dinner, I think, as I straighten my jacket and vest. And it’s going to be an even more unsettled night. The light buzz of the wine is almost gone and I briefly regret its absence – the wine as well as the intoxication – but there would never have been a more appropriate time to drink it, that last bottle liberated from the Governor’s cellar while above me Emmion Verril’s corpse danced in green firelight.

A gruesome thing, to have to tell his daughter. I wonder, briefly, if I would have sheltered my own child, what I would have told her when she asked about my part in the war. But any partner who might bear a child of mine is worlds away now. What Anna Verril’s mother told or did not tell her about her father’s role in the destruction of Verdure is none of my business in any case.

Sena’s knock at the library door is a welcome distraction, but it’s hard not to see the Verril girl instead in the shape of her bowed head and anxious shoulders as she scratches my notes in the duty roster. Pairs to patrol, one officer and one crewmember each. Engine room first, always, then the controls, vanes, the thousand and one delicate parts that keep this old dirigible floating on when others of her ilk lie deflated in the sand.

A saboteur on my ship.

I roll the idea around in my mind like the brandy I’m most assuredly not contemplating opening tonight. Even if we locate the device in time – and there’s no doubt in my mind it exists, not after the rose and the note – this could spell the end of the Jade Dragon. I’ve seen it happen before, after all, Captain Shab’s crew going to hell in a matter of days once doubt crept in. No matter that the damage was, provably, done to the Bodhodaya before she ever left port.

The Dragon’s crew, like her hull, is held together by little more than my will these days. The Firsters can’t be trusted to mingle with a passenger roster that’s half New Blood. The few officers I was able to salvage from the wreckage of the Corps bemoan the lack of discipline on a Company ship and the native-born crew chafe at new restrictions. Into that mixture of emotional saltpeter and sulfur drop the Verril girl, a tangible reminder of everything they’ve lost and why, and that damned Saguin. As well wave a red flag in the Firsters’ face as bring a nonhuman on board. They thought they’d finally found a planet so undesirable that they could have it all their own way, and then the Company showed up.

Any one of them could have done it.

Even me.

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