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the keypad. The door swung open. Although it took the door less than a second to open, the wait seemed interminable to John. As the wedge-shaped opening grew, John saw a small worn brown rug, the corner of a bed with an Earthforce jacket thrown across it. Ross's quarters were identical to the other officers' quarters, except for the captain's and the commander's, which were larger. Ross shared a room with another officer, in their standard configuration the two sides of the room mirroring each other, desks on either side of the door, beds against the long walls, dressers against the far wall.

John ducked into the room before the door had fully opened. Ross was sitting on the bed, his huge bulk pushed up into the corner, his legs bent at awkward angles. John at first thought Ross was praying. His hands were clasped together beneath his chin, and his eyes were closed. He ought to be praying, John thought. Then he saw the half-empty bottle of bourbon leaning against Ross's hip. The two guards flanked John, and Ross's bloodshot eyes snapped open.

"Don't move," he boomed, his words slightly slurred.

As Ross spoke he lifted his head, and John saw clenched in his hands a PPG, the barrel pushed into the skin beneath his chin. Oh hell. John shook his head, astonishment crowding out his anger.

"It's okay," he said to Ross.

"We're not going to do anything."

He raised his hands to the sides, holding the guards behind him.

"Wait outside," he said to them.

They backed slowly out of the room.

"Give me the gun," he said to Ross, holding out a hand.

Ross must have stolen the PPG from the ship's arsenal. Ross blinked hard, his sharp mouth pressed into a line.

"You're here to charge me, aren't you? Gross incompetence."

"You're drunk. Give me the gun."

John
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