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but he never got the chance to use it. The Nial lurched to one side, the artificial gravity malfunctioning for a split second, sending Vance bouncing around inside the compact cockpit. Checking his instruments, he could see the target was lost, although a quick damage report showed he had not collided with anything. The guidance system was giving erratic readings, telling him he was nowhere near where his viewing port showed he actually was.

Vance was torn. If he left now, he would lose the Mark of the Star. If he persevered, his malfunctioning ship might guide him straight into the side of an enormous mound of spinning rock. Survival ultimately won out over success. Flicking his hand over the control panel, Vance instructed the Nial to take him to safety, as far away from the asteroid field as possible. The ship obeyed, and for a moment Vance thought the systems had simply been the victim of a temporary glitch.

The Nial passed beyond the boundary of the asteroid field, and Vance considered returning and finishing the last of his drones, when the entire light array of his control panel failed. The auxiliary power came on immediately, bathing the cramped cockpit in a soothing red light.

Vance fought the panic. After all, Sech Mishal could not be far away, and he must have been watching. Even if he could not bring the ship's systems online, he would soon be picked up. Through the viewing port, Vance could see the asteroid field retreating further and further away. Within its rocky depths, a sudden flash of light indicated one of the other trainees had destroyed a drone. Vance felt a pang of jealousy as he thought how it should be him in there, proving his worth. He quickly put the thought to the back of his mind; there would be plenty more opportunities for him to
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