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took a step closer, and Ross whipped the PPG around at him.

"Stay back!"

The guards rushed back into the room, their PPGs drawn.

"It's okay," John said.

"Wait outside. Close the door."

When they were alone, John backed away, sat on the opposite bed. Whatever problems had been eating at Ross had finally broken through to the surface today, with a vengeance.

"I'll stay over here, all right? Until you're ready to give me the gun. I won't come any closer."

Ross tucked the gun back up under his chin, like a security blanket. His eyes met John's.

"I'd like to apologize for my performance today, sir."

His booming voice was cracking, fracturing.

"I also wanted to apologize for-almost punching you, sir. You were absolutely right, about the promotions."

Ross paused, swallowed.

"I find myself unfit for duty, Captain."

After all the difficulties he'd had with Ross and the weapons section, the carelessness, the dereliction, the passive resistance to his command, this was the last thing he expected. John leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees.

"Tell me what happened today, Lieutenant."

Ross's voice had lost its power. It was uncertain, erratic now.

"I delayed entering the manual targeting system, Captain. And once I did, when I had the Hyperion dead to rights, I failed to fire."

"But why did you fail to fire?"

"I couldn't fire, sir."

"Was there a failure in the manual system?"

"No, sir."

"Then why couldn't you fire?"

Ross shifted, the mountain of his body out of balance, insecure.

"I remembered the last time I used the manual targeting system."

"And when was that?"

"During the Earth-Minbari War, Captain. At the Battle of the Line. Aboard the Athena."

That made sense. The targeting system was one of
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