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room and saw whom he had shoved, Timmons came up short, his mouth gaping.

"I'm sorry, sir. I didn't realize. I was just. I didn't know."

John raised a hand.

"It's all right, Timmons. It's your job to get to your station as quickly as you can under alert conditions. I appreciate your-enthusiasm. Carry on."

Timmons gave a gap-toothed grin. His hair was pressed flat against one side of his head, probably from sleep.

"Thank you, sir."

He rushed to the targeting system. Watley had now realized John was here and was going about her duties with a greater show of concern. John repositioned himself inside the doorway to the bay. At one minute, ten seconds, gunners started rushing into the bay.

At one minute, forty seconds, Lieutenant Ross arrived. The weapons chief wasn't setting much of an example. He didn't appear to be out of breath or unkempt. There was a hesitation in his gait when he saw John, but then he continued to the weapons diagnostic system. He asked the other officers their status, double-checked their settings, directed the gunners. Thirty-five years old, Ross was a mountain of a man, six foot six and burly, who walked with a swagger and boomed his orders in a strong, intimidating voice. Yet something in the set of his muscular frame, in the quick snaps of his head at any change, in the occasional halt of his hand in the middle of a gesture, conveyed unease. His features were sharp, delicate, an odd contrast to his burly build.

Ross confirmed the tube hatches were closed, then had Watley bring optics on line and trigger primary ignition. At two minutes, twenty-two seconds, the last two gunners arrived, apparently in no rush. At three minutes, three seconds, Spano strolled in.

"I was right in the middle of a very hot letter from home. Can't
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