Carrie sat on her porch, looking east, over the Pacific Ocean. The sun was rising out there, from the land she once called home.

She would never know which man it was. Over the years and decades, she'd killed dozens, perhaps hundreds -- most of them by accident, a few of them because they were part of that EarthFirst organization and had directly attacked her. The vast majority because they were caught in the middle between her and the Arions. She'd never really done it out of malice. And in that war, she'd killed maybe ten people.

She tried to think back, to imagine what he had looked like. But she knew Najla Imelda Thomas would only share a quarter of his features. From a distance of thirty, forty, even fifty years, it would be impossible to know who it was, whose death she should grieve a little bit more for.

A week ago, after they'd recovered Miri'am, Carrie had directed her finances department to write a check for one hundred thousand American dollars to the woman. Just today, it had come back in its original envelope unopened. The envelope was stamped, "RETURN TO SENDER."

Carrie supposed it might have been interpreted as an attempt to buy Thomas's silence. But the woman simply never opened the envelope in the first place. She wanted no apologies, no reparations.

It made Carrie's grief even greater.


Carrie didn't answer. Junior came out on the porch anyway, sitting next to her on the bench. "Mom, I know it's been less than a month since Aurora and Tamra died, taking Tala with them. And I've been thinking: What if Peters is right? What if..."

That was as far as she got. Carrie said, "Don't. Just... don't." Carrie sighed and gave the only answer she'd known for years. "Do you know why we exist? I don't mean you and me, I mean the D'zar'yen. We exist because the Arions Empire is intent on one thing: power. Power is very tempting; even more so when you're born with it, like you and I were. But when you see others abusing that power, you use your own power to stop it. Any way you can."

"Peters is arrogant. He thinks he can shape the future by himself, that it is his duty to do whatever it takes. He's different from the Prime only in that he doesn't have their physical capabilities. He's a dangerous and foolish man, one I hope never to see again."

Junior pondered on that a moment. "I don't know, Mom. I listened to him. And, to be honest, I can see where he's coming from."

Carrie curled her daughter's hair around her fingers for a moment. "I can see it too, sweetheart: Paranoia. Fear. Uncertainty. All that, and more, leading him to bluster and arrogance."

"No, Mom, it's not that." Junior collected her thoughts, and then as teenagers typically do, she said what was on her mind anyway. "I listened to Peters, and I'm listening to you now. You could be talking about Peters... or you could be talking about us."

Carrie turned and looked her daughter in the eye. Junior was scared.

As, Carrie realized, she was.

Junior turned away, stood up from the bench, and walked back into the house. Carrie lifted a hand as if to stop her, to call her back, but let it fall silently to her lap.

The ocean winds blew over her face, and she felt their chill.