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through the mass of them. It wasn't enough."

"I had been linked to the command deck throughout the battle to receive orders, so I heard it when Captain Best gave the command. We all knew, when he gave the order, that it was treason. We'd been ordered to hold the line at all costs. Earth stood in the balance. But no one objected. We all knew that the ship was on the verge of destruction. The battle was lost. There was nothing we could do. So we retreated."

Ross raised his head, his eyes returning to John, and John nodded his encouragement. So the rumors about Best had been true. Ross looked away again, and his sharp features seemed fragile now, as if they could break apart.

"The Athena began to swing back from the line, and Captain Best ordered the helmsman to open a jump point. We were all thinking it. Just one jump and we would be away. We would be safe. The next thing I knew a target had swung into my field of fire at pointblank range and was coming straight at me, as if it was going to ram. I fired. As my finger hit the button I realized it was one of our own furies. I saw the face of the pilot at the moment my laser hit him. Bjornson. I knew him. "

"If we'd been using the computer targeting system, the friend-or-foe signal would have prevented us firing on one of our own ships. But on manual, there are no safeguards."

"I realized he'd been trying to make an emergency landing in the fighter bay before we abandoned him. The explosion, at point-blank range, took out my laser cannon and the jump engines, and another thirty-five of the crew were killed. Then we couldn't run."

A tear made a silent track down Ross's face.

"The captain and those on the command deck must have seen what happened. But they didn't say anything about it. They were too busy trying
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