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to keep the ship together."

"The Minbari seemed to sense that we were helpless ; they moved on to other targets, and I watched as their ships destroyed the remaining fragments of the line."

"After the battle, they started calling all of us who survived heroes, and Captain Best a hero for saving the largest surviving Earthforce ship. Those of the crew who didn't like Captain Best accused him of retreating. But others supported the captain. Most of them didn't know what had happened. No evidence survived to prove things one way or the other. Best and his cronies saw to that. Best claimed that a Minbari warship took out our jump engines. He said he'd feared the Athena might explode and damage some of our own ships, so he'd swung slightly out of position. I backed him up, along with many others. Best covered up for me, so I covered up for him. "

"Of course, the rumors continued. They hurt the reputation of the captain and all of us who served with him. But Captain Best had strong enough allies in the service to survive it, and those of us loyal to him he rewarded. I owe my position as weapons chief to the killing of thirty-six crew members."

Ross let out a hard breath, and his body settled further around the PPG, as if he had held this secret within the architecture of his bones. John had never known anyone to be quite so honest with himself. No wonder Ross had kept this hidden inside so long. John couldn't imagine how he would feel if he killed one of his own crew by accident. Facing or discharging friendly fire was a fear of every soldier.

"Best has kept your secret all this time, and you've kept his. Why tell me now?"

One of Ross's hands broke free from the gun, wiped impatiently at his cheek, returned.

"Because it's poisoned me, sir. I didn't even know
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