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The finest remaining ships held a tight formation in stasis around the royal family’s secure bunker ship in deep space. When they’d exited the Imperial court starting on their way here, they’d put on a show of going on a short vacation. They waved goodbye to people, and made shallow promises of prompt return. The ships that escorted them into space were a heavier force than the usual detail. Not just a guard, but a final guard.

King Proxem Grant Vario was pilot of the family’s vessel, with the younger of his daughters and two sons inside. He had decided on a textbook strategic withdrawal in accordance with the defensive strength still present after the devastation of the Photuris Vortex, the city shutdown zone attacks, and the fleet wipe. They could muster an adequately impenetrable defense for the lineage, and Vario decided to do so before anything compromised that. This kind of extreme threat to the royal family had happened only very few times in the history of the Pan-Galactic Imperium. Grant Vario was sullen.

Little Carlo looked at his father thinking of asking him to play, then thought better of it. Instead, he took on his father’s mood and turned it on him. “Why is everything so weird,” he said with little expectation of response.

His older sister Mireille intercepted the communication for everyone’s sake. “Carlo, we’re in grave danger.”

“Well, where is it?”

“Everywhere,” said their brother Cristobal, “The danger is everywhere, but here.” He was poring over some files he brought that otherwise held his attention. He would occasionally lift a glance to his father, his sister, and his brother. He was also doodling in his notebook.

Mireille refrained from asking her father what he was doing about it. He did not look entirely well. Instead she asked, “King my father, can you show me the next flight system?” They’d already been over the first two emergency getaway protocols, making sure that Mireille also knew how to control this vessel.

They started going through the functions of a row of knobs. Vario looked at his daughter, and considered her maturity regarding the possibility of being next in the line. Her sister may not return, and he himself might not make it through this. Nineteen wasn’t the youngest age in their dynasty for the unexpected burden. Vario’s reckoning was at hand, and the math wasn’t working out well for him, no matter which way he turned the equation. Something would be coming for him. It might get the kids, or it might not. He knows he got some things wrong, really wrong, but he’d been holding onto his justification. He told himself he was serving the Imperium; he told himself he was serving his family; looking at them now, quietly enduring this floating bunker, he wonders if he might only be serving himself at this point. He hates it, enough to want to lie to himself some more. The feeling that he couldn’t keep doing that any longer told him that the world he knew was coming to an end.

She’d flown before, but in this circumstance, everything was happening for the first time. Princessa Mireille focused and learned the controls.

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