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Filed the symon tube? Checked the lower quartile? Adjusted the mesobanis
timer?"

He had. All of that and more, and everything twice.

"Tell me your name."

Nightwing told him.

"Then I will call you Nightwing. We have no rank here." He took off his
uniform jacket and laid it across the foot of Nightwing's bunk. "I am Kulkis.
I am soldier like you."

Despite his best efforts, Nightwing couldn't keep his mouth from falling
open. Kulkis had command of the Bravedawn, one of the largest troop transports
in all of Thaere. His reputation went beyond heavy-handedness; soldiers who
had served under him called him "Cruel Kiss," since what seemed like fondness
one moment could turn into harsh, unwarranted punishment the next.

If Kulkis noticed Nightwing's reaction, he gave no sign other than a
guarded half-smile. He sat down on the edge of the bunk and began flipping the
pieces of rifle in his hands, examining each in turn before commencing with a
rapid-fire assembly of the weapon. He was done in seconds.

"Why do you join Navy, Nightwing?" Kulkis stared at the rifle, turning it
over slowly in his hands. While he'd left the power cell sitting on the bunk,
he kept his thick fingers away from the trigger all the same.

"To protect my home." It was the truth. No more, no less. He couldn't
afford more or less; if he said too much, or just the wrong word, he might end
up scrubbing latrines. Or worse.

"How do you protect?"

Nightwing searched his memory for the words he swore when he joined the
Thaereian Navy. "I protect," he said, focusing on each syllable, "by putting
myself between innocents and those who would harm them. I serve by allowing my
life and my person to
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