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pod. "Gentlemen: launch marks. Bellicose: three minutes."

"Acknowledged, Chimaera," Captain Aban nodded, his proper military demeanor not quite masking his eagerness to take this war back to the Rebellion. "Good hunting."

The holo image sputtered and vanished as the Bellicose raised its deflector shields, cutting off long-range communications. Pellaeon shifted his attention to the next image in line. "Relentless: four point five minutes."

"Acknowledged," Captain Dorja said, cupping his right fist in his left in an ancient Mirshaf gesture of victory as he, too, vanished from the hologram pod.

Pellaeon glanced at his data pad. "Judicator: six minutes."

"We're ready, Chimaera," Captain Brandei said, his voice soft. Soft, and just a little bit wrong. . . .

Pellaeon frowned at him. Quarter-sized holos didn't show a lot of detail, but even so the expression on Brandei's face was easy to read. It was the expression of a man out for blood.

"This is war, Captain Brandei," Thrawn said, coming up silently to Pellaeon's side. "Not an opportunity for personal revenge."

"I understand my duty, Admiral," Brandei said stiffly.

Thrawn's blue-black eyebrows lifted slightly. "Do you, Captain? Do you indeed?"

Slowly, reluctantly, some of the fire faded from Brandei's face. "Yes, sir," he muttered. "My duty is to the Empire, and to you, and to the ships and crews under my command."

"Very good," Thrawn said. "To the living, in other words. Not to the dead."

Brandei was still glowering, but he gave a dutiful nod. "Yes, sir."

"Never forget that, Captain," Thrawn warned him. "The fortunes of war rise and fall, and you may be assured that the Rebellion will be repaid in full for their destruction of the Peremptory at the Katana fleet skirmish. But that repayment
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