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cages looked horribly antiquated beside the sleek, advanced controls that surrounded them. But they provided a method for manual, holographic targeting in case of emergency, with one weapons officer handling one cannon inside each targeter. As the inspection progressed, the general discovered several infractions, in the mess of all places, gear not stowed properly, and in life support. His aide, a short, grave-looking woman, made notations on a comp-pad. Then the general led the way into the weapons bay, John and Commander Corchoran following.

Lochschmanan was the skinniest general John knew, but he carried himself with a deliberateness and authority that demanded respect. Each movement was crisp, each word enunciated. His uniform was immaculate. The weapons officers and gunners snapped to attention, the gunners in tight ranks in the center of the room, the weapons officers beside their various stations. The general approached the targeting system, beside which Lieutenant Watley stood, checking that the system had been left in standby mode and that it was in working order. Beside the general, Watley looked unkempt, her jacket wrinkled, her stetbar unpolished.

The general moved on to the weapons control system, shadowed by his aide and John. Spano and Lieutenant Ross, the weapons chief, stood nearby. John reviewed the correct settings for nonalert conditions: defense grid deactivated, baffles raised, tube hatches closed, activators off, optics off line. Lochschmanan bent closer to the console. His head turned toward John.

"Captain."

He'd found something.

"Yes, sir."

Lochschmanan pointed to the console, and the aide typed a note into her comp-pad. The optics had been left on line. John's jaw clenched. Optics on line when they were so near a space station
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