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it until you came aboard. Captain Best never demanded much from us, and I realize now that after the Battle of the Line, I didn't believe I could do much. I made a lot of noise, but the crew under me knew they could do whatever they wanted. I was a hollow man. I didn't believe in myself. It was just like you said. I actually thought you'd found out about me."

"I didn't believe in Earthforce anymore either. How could I, and support Captain Best? My habits grew worse and worse, my duties neglected. The crew under me have been poisoned by my attitude. When you took command, I laughed at that welcome speech you gave. You seemed so naive and gung-ho. But then as time passed I started listening to you. And watching you. And I realized that you were what I had once wanted to be. And I realized that there was another path, and I had taken the wrong one."

Ross curled the mountain of his body around the PPG with a shudder.

"You're right that the past shapes us. I can't go back now. And I don't believe I can become the officer you want me to be, one worthy of this uniform. I don't believe I'm fit to be in Earthforce, Captain."

John stood, afraid to move forward, afraid that Ross would kill himself right then.

"You say you've been promoted unfairly. Now you want to take the easy way out. Well, I'm not going to let you off so easily, mister. I want you to serve Earthforce in the place of those thirty-six men and women who can't anymore. I want you to earn that rank you carry. I want you to perform the duties you should have been performing. I will accept no excuses, and I will tolerate no less than excellence. I want your section to become an example to this entire ship. If you've been poisoned, then spit it out and be done with it. You have a debt to pay, and I'm going
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