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The ground beef had been massaged with a little bit of pepper and salt. Draig washed his hands and wiped them on his barbecue apron. He brought the bowl outside, to where the grill was already warmed. It was set to overlook his small but nice fenced backyard, hemmed by the roofline of the dense, well-to-do residential area situated between the Imperial Court and the Spear. The gardener had just been there, so the two rosebushes looked vibrant. He sighed, half contented and half unsettled, and began the rotating process of forming patties and grilling up a plateful of burgers to himself. This was a perfect time to sink into his thoughts.

I know the story of my great-grandfather. It was told to me once, but now and then I’d ask to make sure I had the details right. He escaped an inquisition chamber when Rianoire was ruthlessly crushing dissent under her drastic misrule, and he helped others into hiding. When I dreamed I was fleeing, recently before the fleet strike, it felt just like the story. I was holding a child and a gun. I can still feel it, knowing what I had to do.

I remember when the Princess worried that she might turn out like her least-loved predecessor. I don’t think she guessed that her father, not of that blood, would approach it so nearly. Now he wants me to direct undercover questionings of average citizens. I catch myself asking why this is happening, why things are going this way – as if by knowing why, I could stop it. I’m not sure if why matters.

Maybe Vario’s broken-hearted. I can’t heal that. Maybe the only thing I can stop is my own hand in it. What if I would have more compassion than anyone else given the position? Could I deliver the least possible cruelty? How much worse would my functional replacement be? Functional replacement, wow, I sound like I’ve got one foot out the door.

What if I do give up everything I’ve worked for… I would be shamed, but would I be ashamed? Not with the shame of doing to others what was done to my own. I don’t have long until I’ve decided my guilt.

The meat came from a heritage local farm near the outer edge of the Capital. When the first had cooled just enough, the bite was fresh and juicy. He held the burger patty in one hand and munched while finishing up the batch.

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