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another Earthforce vessel.

The investigation had stopped short of preferring any charges, but Captain Best had been "promoted" to a desk job, leaving all his favorites behind. At least Corchoran was being honest about Captain Best's reputation, a quality John valued highly. He must have found the rumors of Captain Best's cowardice at the Battle of the Line eight years ago embarrassing at best.

"Thank you for your frankness. Now, about this inspection. Inform each of the section chiefs. Make sure they're prepared. I want this inspection to go by the numbers, no surprises. Tell them to make sure their crew is alert, not daydreaming about what they're going to do on leave. If we don't pass this inspection, there won't be any leave."

And that, John thought, was a possibility he didn't even want to consider.



CHAPTER 4



Anna show could barely keep a straight face as the bellhop ed her through the Honeymoon Suite of the Imperial Hotel on Station Prime, orbiting Centauri Prime. She'd thought booking the suite would be romantic. But she was afraid the Centauri idea of romance was not quite the same as hers. The walls were draped in purple velvets and gold cords, with suggestive paintings of scampering Centauri in ornate gold frames centered under mood lights. Gold sculptures of what might have been various Centauri gods and other shiny knickknacks covered nearly every available surface.

The style of the engravings and ornaments was somewhat Romanesque, but the Centauri had gone where no Roman had gone before. Subtlety was not part of their style. The rug was made of a long, hairy fur-dyed purple, of course-that seemed to cling to her shoes. The bed was elliptical and huge, bigger in itself than an entire hotel room in New York. The bellhop showed her the
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