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the years. On manoeuvres it had often been the only thing that kept him alive. Nevertheless, he had to focus. If these guys wanted to test him, he would show them true steel. Vance lifted the bag to chest height and thrust it into the centre of the flames.

A sudden hissing preceded the eruption of several sparks, and then his gear was gone - not a burning scrap or shrivelled cinder remained. Vance smiled, almost relieved to have the burden of his worldly goods incinerated.

'Is that the sum of your possessions?' asked Turval, un-moving, as though he knew that Vance had forgotten something. For a second Vance wondered if Turval expected him to strip down to his jockeys, then he realised the one thing he had forgotten. Slowly he reached into his pocket and pulled out the acceptance letter from the Razvedchik regi ment.

The crisp white paper shone against the dancing flames. Vance ached to unfold it and read again the words he had waited so long for. Even if it burned, he could still join the Special Forces. What the paper symbolised was much more valuable: all the hard work he undertook to free himself from the shadow of his father's name and to be his own man.

Some things are more important, he told himself, looking up at Turval. The Minbari's eyes shone with understanding, as though he had gone through exactly the same anguish in his own past. Vance held out his hand and let his fingers fall open. The letter fluttered for a second before falling directly into the flames, instantly disintegrating in the intense heat.

The Crucible Chamber fell into sudden darkness as the flames extinguished. Vance barely had time to wonder what was happening before light shone through a door at the opposite end of the chamber. 'This way,' said Turval. Vance crossed the chamber
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