It is the beginning of the year 2271. Nine and a half billion Centauri are still alive. But some have died tonight. Vir Cotto was their executioner.
As Finian and Gwynn concentrate to maintain the illusion camouflaging their ship, Vir watches flaming ash billow into the atmosphere over Morbis, his expression grim. The sight seems horrifyingly out of place beside the broadcast, shimmering on a nearby viewscreen, of Minister Vallko’s sermon to the populace on the eve of this year’s Celebration.
"Do we have any idea…?"
"No," Renegar replies, and Vir’s shoulders slump as if his strings have been cut. They had all agreed to strike at night to minimize casualties. Still, the uncertainty of the death toll sits at the bottom of Vir’s stomach like a cold, hard knot.
At K0643, the laborers had been innocent, many with few back home to mourn them. Vir has no reason to believe that the laborers at the munitions plant here are any different. He wonders about their names, their dreams, the things and people they love. He wonders if any on the night watch have survived the initial blast and now lay trapped, waiting to die. He imagines he can see these supine, injured men, their eyes wide in fear and pain as flames lick at their charred clothing and flesh, and he closes his eyes.
"Set us down," Vir says, his voice quiet, yet absolutely clear.
"Are you mad?" Gwynn instantly demands, and Vir is more than a little pleased to see that he has caught the normally imperious technomage off guard. "If you are spotted at the scene of the sabotage, it will raise suspicion."
"Then you’ll have to make sure I won’t be seen," Vir counters reasonably. "If you can hide your ship, surely you can hide a man. Or," he adds, "you could just put a bag over my head. It’s not as if we haven’t done that before." Gwynn looks as if she has more to say, but Vir straightens to his full height, his voice rising. "I left an innocent man to die alone on K0643, Gwynn. I won’t do that again. Not here. Not today."
"Cast your eyes to the stars,” Vallko’s voice thunders over cheering crowds, “and know that the gods have bequeathed those stars to us. We have been called to count our blessings and know that they are many, for the Great Maker’s favor shines upon the Republic -"
Vir shuts off the broadcast and fixes his companions with a determined stare. He has been called to count the dead, for through their sacrifice, a war for the soul of a world has begun.