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was a serious error. The optics were a series of mirrors that regulated the flow of photons within the central tube and out to the four laser cannons. If there was a fire or explosion aboard the ship, with optics on line the laser cannons could accidentally fire. The general continued his inspection.

Spano and Ross kept their eyes front. Failing the inspection was more than an embarrassment to John and more than a black mark on his record: it was a breach of faith. Earthforce had put their faith in him, giving him command of one of their most powerful ships, trusting him to have the ability to run it efficiently and effectively. And he was failing them. He'd never doubted his own abilities-as a pilot, as a fighter, as a tactician, as a leader. But now something wasn't working. Under Captain Best's command, Earthforce discipline and commitment had broken down, and he didn't know how to fix them. They ended the inspection in John's office, a small room with a desk and chairs attached to his quarters.

John had managed to unpack most of his belongings: on a shelf mementos from various worlds he had visited; fastened to the walls photos of the wedding, Anna and Liz, his parents, and a large photograph of the Lone Cypress; secured to his desk his lamp and the snow globe of the Nantucket lighthouse he and Anna had fallen in love with on their honeymoon. But he still didn't feel at home, as he had aboard the Galatea. The four of them-Lochschmanan, his aide, John, and Corchoran-all remained standing. Lochschmanan seemed perpetually to be at attention.

"You have failed the inspection, Captain. Minor infractions in the mess and life support, and a major violation in the weapons bay."

Lochschmanan spoke with the same deliberateness with which he carried himself.

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