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the most valued components of any warship, and so was protected as much as possible from damage and built with many redundancies. It was one of the most dependable components of the ship. Yet during the Earth-Minbari War, Earthforce had discovered that their targeting systems had been unable to lock on to any Minbari ships. The advanced Minbari technology eluded the targeting systems, and so required the entire war to be fought with manual targeting and manual firing. He was finally getting to the heart of it, to what was bothering Ross. It was the breakthrough he'd hoped for. He clasped his hands.

"What happened at the Battle of the Line?"

Ross's shoulders fell as he let out a breath. He spoke slowly in the attempt to sound sober, but his voice quavered with emotion.

"We'd been ordered to hold position, hold the line, no matter what. The Minbari were heading straight for Earth, and Earthforce sent up every ship they had in defense. Most of them didn't have a chance. The Athena was a destroyer, one of the linchpins of the line. They were counting on us."

John found himself remembering other accounts he'd heard of the horrific Battle of the Line, a battle he'd missed, a battle that had involved over twenty thousand Earth ships and had left only two hundred survivors.

"The battle happened so fast-twenty-five minutes total, someone said. Once the Minbari were on us, they destroyed our ships as fast as they could target and fire. I was doing manual targeting for the fore starboard cannon. When you're inside one of those systems, you feel like you're hanging out in space, all alone. The back of your seat feels like the hull of the ship against your back. You become very attached to it."

Ross removed one hand from the PPG, grabbed the bottle at his side, took
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