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something to me. Serving Earthforce means something to me. Doing my best every time out. Running this ship to the best of my abilities. Not giving up, no matter how tired, or frustrated, or bored I might be. Devoting myself to something more important than me, a larger cause. And I intend to make sure everyone on this ship upholds those standards."

Spano's face had flushed red.

"You think you can teach us how to handle laser cannons when we've been doing it for years. Maybe you'd be better off teaching us how to handle mines. We know how to handle laser cannons."

"Lieutenant Spano," John said, his voice darkening, "you are insubordinate. You are confined to quarters until further notice, effective immediately."

With a flare of his nostrils Spano snapped to attention and marched out.

"The rest of you, except for Lieutenant Ross, are dismissed."

John waited until the gunners and other officers had left. Ross straightened the mountain of his body in preparation for an assault. Spano needed discipline, hard and fast. But Ross was a different story. Something was eating at Ross, something that had been eating at him for a long time. Having been in the military for so long, John could sense it through his regulation posture, through his sharp, strictly composed features, through the loud boom in his voice. John positioned himself right in Ross's eye line.

"Lieutenant, I understand that living in the shadow of the rumors about Captain Best's performance at the Battle of the Line may not have been very pleasant for you and the crew. It seems to have put a giant chip on everyone's shoulder. But the resistance I'm sensing has a deeper base than that. It goes far beyond just those officers who served with Captain Best on the Athena. As

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