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John had ordered manual targeting, which required the four weapons officers to enter the hemispheric cages that projected a holographic image of the firing field of each laser cannon. There had been confusion in the weapons bay at that point; John wasn't sure what had happened. But at last, after an unacceptable delay during which the Hyperion scored two more hits off them, the manual targeting systems were operational and the officers began to fire at will.

All, that is, except Ross. John had brought the ship about in a way that exposed the Hyperion's flank to the Agamemnon's aft port cannon. And yet, despite John's direct orders, Ross had not fired. Before John could bring another cannon to bear, the Hyperion had scored a killing hit, the smaller cruiser triumphing over one of the most advanced destroyers in the fleet. Afterward, in the privacy of John's office, Lochschmanan had chewed him up one side and down the other, condemning his performance as shameful and inadequate. John straightened, his face drawn down, taut. He should have court-martialed Ross after the aborted punching incident. Well, he'd correct that error right now. He hadn't created this mess, but by God he was going to clean it up, if it was the last thing he did. John jabbed his link.

"Lieutenant Ross. Ross!" There was no response.

He called security, told them to find and detain Ross. Then, unable to wait, he headed to Ross's quarters, breathing fire. Ross's failure during the battle simulation was much more serious than sloppy procedure or a bad attitude. It proved Ross incompetent: clear grounds for discharge from Earthforce. He reached Ross's quarters just as two guards arrived.

"He's in there, Captain," one said.

"Open it," John barked.

The guard punched his security code into
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