This was it.

No more tests. No more practicing. No more making mistakes.

This was the real thing.

The plane stood behind him, fueled for its trip. Its cargo had been loaded earlier. Now it was waiting for its sole passenger to go across the strait.

With the weather as pleasant as it was, Bren couldn't even hope for the distraction of a bumpy flight. No, all he could worry about was his first assignment.

His first time to cross the strait. To do what he had trained years to do.

He had been confident and anticipatory on the day of his graduation. When the final results had been announced and it became clear that this side of the strait he was the best, which meant he had become the paidhi successor. Second best after the paidhi, waiting on Mospheira till the paidhi needed a vacation or retired or died on the job.

Now he was more nervous than ever in his life. He was sure that the first time he met an ateva he would forget everything he had learned, and start his career with a grave numerical mistake leading to international disaster. Long training sessions and worked-through nights couldn't really prepare one for the reality of carrying the responsibility for the peace between the little island enclave and the aishidi'tat. For carrying the responsibility for the survival of the human species in this far away and unknown part of space.

He was reading through the notes that a messenger from the Foreign Office had brought to the airport, with his three week old computer standing at his feet, all programs he was allowed to take with him loaded and configured. He spend long hours with the machine, familiarizing himself with all options and search settings, and the limits of what was to be his constant companion in the perilous world of alien – or rather native – politics. He had memorized the security codes. There had even been one call late at night by someone from the State Department, having him rattle down the code sequences that render the computer completely unusable.

His mother stopped fingering his new custom-made, atevi-style clothes and hugged him.

"Oh, Bren. We will miss you. Be careful what you eat and come back safe, you hear?"

"It's only a week, mother. I'll be back in time for Independence Day. There's nothing critical going on at the mainland."

His mother sighed, but stepped back and let go of him so Toby could hug him.

"Don't worry, Bren. I'll have an eye on things here."

He hugged Toby back extra hard. Their mother didn't yet know that Toby planned to marry Jill and move to the other side of Mospheira, once he had become a doctor. They could only guess how their mother would take that. At least she liked Jill who had been Toby's girlfriend for a year now.

Their mother didn't take separations from her sons lightly and this was the first time either of them was going completely out of her reach. Unlike taking a car on Mospheira to go wherever one wanted, one couldn't just hop onto a plane to the mainland and visit one's family. One couldn't even count on making phone calls or getting letters – he former difficult due to the atevi operators not understanding Mosphei, and the later, as he had been warned, made difficult by the State Department censors which were liable to turn even the most innocent letter into a sieve of words, in fear of revealing some potentially upsetting concept to the atevi.

Another hug by their mother. Bren hoped the braid stayed in form. It had taken him three tries this morning to manage something halfway passable.

"I'll try to call, Mom, I'll earnestly try."

She seemed to be somewhat mollified by that.

Bren took up his small carryall bag with underwear, a shaving kit and some other necessities. The atevi government would provide almost anything he asked for, but it was better to be prepared till one got settled in.

The case with the computer went over the other shoulder.

A final nod to his family, and then he turned around and walked to the waiting plane.

He had to get his act together. Out of the very few people who got into the paidhi program he was of the twenty percent who managed to graduate at all. Not only that, he was the currently the best, the best Mospheira had to offer, among the the top five to ever graduate from the program. And while his study mates got to sit in the university and write dictionaries with the notes the paidhi send back, he was the one who had been chosen to go across the strait. To deal directly with the atevi. The whole staff of the Foreign Office believed in him. Believed that he wouldn't tip over the Treaty and send Mospheira to its doom.

They didn't expect more of him, yet. Only: keep the peace, don't annoy the atevi till Wilson got back. Wilson who would be waiting at the airport to return to Mospheira with the plane bringing Bren. Strictly to protocol, as the Treaty stipulated. One and only one human on the mainland at any given time.

For the next few days that human would be him. He'd wear intricate court clothing instead of simple Mospheiran things. He'd eat food potentially lethal to him among people next to whom he stood as tall an eight year old. Offend someone and there was a good chance one would receive a notification of Intent by the Assassins' Guild in the evening mail.

He really had to stop worrying. There was no reason he would screw up and he finally got to see atevi in real life, just like he had imagined all those years back when Kevin O'Reilly, former paidhi-successor, was at his school, and told them about the paidhi program and why it was so important. He had decided than and there that he would become the paidhi one day.

Today was this day. Today he would become the acting paidhi. He would talk to atevi and walk among them. He had worked hard for this, neglecting sleep, food and social life for this day.

He could do it.

Bren took a deep breath and climbed up the ladder.