I looked at Benn and realized I didn't really like him much. I felt he had made mistakes, or at least different choices than I would have made, leading up to the attack on Carinthia. He had always held me at a distance, even after my marriage to Karina. I didn't mind. I still respected him and his position in the family as the prince regent. My loyalty was to my wife and went further only minimally. These were difficult times for us all.
Karina touched her father's arm to rouse him. He rolled around a bit, then opened his eyes.
"I'm here, Father," said Benn in German. My ear com translator worked so fast that it was almost seamless. I "heard" the words in German, but my mind comprehended them in Standard English.
The grand duke opened his eyes and looked first at his son, then at his daughter. "Out with them," he said, waving his arm. "All of them...out." I assumed he meant the doctors. They all put their equipment in automated mode and shuffled out slowly. The automated medical monitor tried to adjust things according to the readings it was receiving, but the duke demanded that it be shut down as well. Benn nodded to the primary doctor, who put the device in standby mode, then exited the room. I turned to follow him out, assuming the duke wanted a few last moments with his children.
"Not you, Peter," he said weakly, and in Standard. "You are family now...." He coughed harshly. "You stay."
I made my way to Karina's side. Benn didn't look happy at this turn of events, but there wasn't anything I could do about that. It was the grand duke's choice. He looked to his second son.
"Benn, my steady and reliable hand. When I am gone, go to the family records hall. Retrieve the family codex." He spoke haltingly, then had a coughing fit that set off numerous medical alarms, but the automated monitor stayed in standby mode. When he recovered, he continued.
"Pull the cylinder on Arin. In there you will find all the proof you need to rule fully in my name." The cough came again, and Karina comforted him until it passed. Benn and Karina exchanged looks of confusion.
"I don't understand," said Benn. The grand duke nodded.
"You will. Arin...Arin...was...never my son. Your mother was already pregnant with him..." He coughed again. "...n the day we were married."
"What?" said Karina, shocked. The duke waved her off. I moved closer to her for support.
"It was not your mother's doing, Karina. Her honor was intact. Someone—we don't know who—doctors...someone...they insem...insem...inseminated her artificially..." Again the coughing came, but less this time. "It wasn't her fault." His eyes closed then; he was fading, his physical strength to fight waning along with his will. Karina touched his forehead gently, and he opened his eyes again.
"I am so glad you are my daughter," he said to her with a weak smile. "You are so smart, so beautiful, so loving...like your mother..." Tears came to her eyes immediately. "Keep Benn here honest. Don't let him become too much the politician."
"I won't. I promise," Karina said, looking across to her brother with tears in her eyes. The duke's eyes started to close again, then he opened them one last time and looked directly at me.
"Peter..." I swallowed hard at the unexpected sound of my name.
"Yes, Sire?" I said, my voice cracking as I fought back my own tears. I took a step closer to the bed.
"Lightship Captain..." His eyes started to close again.
"Find Arin...Find him, and...kill him. He was never...our blood." He said the final words with surprising strength. I wasn't prepared for that.
"Yes, Sire," I said softly. "I promise."
Then he closed his eyes and said to Karina, "Keep those doctors out of here. I want to die in peace."
She did as he asked, locking the doors to the bedroom herself. The three of us sat together on the sofa, none of us saying a word, and waited.
An hour later he was gone, both of his children holding his hands as he passed.
Karina went back to the sofa, sobbing. Benn was stoic but much more physically supportive of Karina than I expected. They shared close hugs and quiet words, as a brother and sister should. I stayed out of the way. Benn left to make arrangements, or more likely to set plans in motion that had already been prepared. Karina stayed an hour longer with her father, then signaled me that it was time to go. I took her by the hand again, and we walked slowly back to our apartment.
And in my mind I was focused on only one thing: carrying out the grand duke's last command to me.