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and Ross, for now, anyway.

"It was a standard battle-alert drill, sir."

Throughout the general's silence, John maintained a pleasant expression.

"I see," he said at last.

"I've checked on the progress of your upgrades. The technicians should be completed with their upgrade of the ship's systems in three days. I expect at that time that your crew will be capable of performing some training maneuvers."

"Yes, sir."

Three days to get this mess called the Agamemnon straightened out. He'd heard they had a job available freezing hell over.

"No trouble at home, is there?"

John closed his eyes for a moment. Lochschmanan was a spit-and-polish general. Having Anna's call come through while they were under a battle alert looked about as unprofessional as you could get.

"No, sir."

"Glad to hear it. Accompany me to the engine room, would you? I'll brief you on the upgrades."

John turned to Ross.

"We'll finish our discussion later, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir," Ross boomed.

It was then, as John left the weapons bay with the general, as he wished that Corchoran had never relayed Anna's call, as he wished that Anna had chosen some other time to call, that he realized: he'd forgotten to tell her he loved her. Well, he'd do it next time.


At was late afternoon and nearly time for their mission briefing when Anna found Dr. Chang aboard the Icarus. His transport had arrived early, so she'd missed him at customs, instead running into Favorito and Razor, the self-appointed party gods of the big dig. They were obsessed with planning a Gigmosian New Year's Eve bash, allegedly a re-creation of the actual Gigmosian ceremony, with a statue of the Gigmosian tree goddess of the new year, authentic fermented Petraki, nose horns, and ceremonial
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