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fingers off the trigger."

"I'm surprised that someone who's been to war," John said, "would be so anxious to return to it."

Spano let out a laugh.

"You're a hero. What do you need with another war?"

Why was that always so important to everyone he met? The damned war had ended eight years ago. He'd done what he'd had to do, nothing more.

"Whether you imagine the alert is a drill or not..."

-and he walked from one of them to the next, making eye contact with each-"...your duty is to get to your station as quickly as possible and bring us to battle-ready status. If any of you are incapable of fulfilling your duties, then I can relieve you of them."

He stopped in front of Ross.

"I want results. And I want them now. Lieutenant Ross, are you capable of making your section perform up to standards?"

"I'll try my best, sir," Ross boomed.

John could see the resistance in the hard line of his mouth.

"And is your best better than what I saw here today ?"

He could see Ross puzzling out how to answer that one. The line of his mouth thinned.

"Permission to speak freely, sir."

"All right. Get it off your chest, and then let's get on with it."

"Sir, I think a number of the crew in the weapons section feel you're coming down hard on them because you feel your combat record is superior to theirs. You destroyed the Black Star, and we served under Captain Best, allegedly the coward of the Battle of the Line."

"That's ridiculous," John said, immediately regretting his words.

Tact, Anna always reminded him.

"That's right," Spano said.

"It is ridiculous. He's no hero. Spreading mines and then sending out a fake distress signal aren't a hero's methods."

Spano had no discipline whatsoever. He shouldn't have lasted a minute in Earthforce.
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