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him right now. He'd noticed that in the years they'd been together, they'd begun to talk alike, and even to think alike-a quality he'd noticed long ago in his parents and grown to love. He couldn't wait to see her. Less than an hour to Station Prime. Another hour to button up the ship, begin leave rotation, hand things over to the technicians. Twenty minutes by shuttle from space dock to the station, twenty more to the hotel, and he would be with her. Unfortunately, that was in two hours and forty minutes, not now. He barked out the words.

"Are you aware of the proper procedure for bringing the laser cannons to battle alert status, Lieutenant Spano?"

"Yes, sir."

"Recite the procedure, Lieutenant."

"Request confirmation of battle alert status from command. On confirmation, the defense grid is activated. Baffles are lowered. Settings are initialized and confirmed. Activators are put on standby. Tracking system is upgraded to targeting mode. Optics are brought on line. Primary ignition is triggered. Laser -"

"Lieutenant."

John took a step closer to Spano, his voice rising.

"What will happen if primary ignition is triggered with tube hatches open?"

"The laser would fail to fire, sir."

"That may explain why procedure dictates a check of the tube hatches before primary ignition is triggered."

Lieutenant Spano held his silence, remaining stiffly at attention in his Earthforce uniform, his hands clenched at his sides. His skin had flushed a deep red, visible even through his blond buzz cut, and his wide nostrils flared with each hard breath. He was a twenty-eight-year-old veteran of the Earth-Minbari War with a huge chip on his shoulder. Although John had not had much direct contact with him since taking command of the Agamemnon, he already knew that
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