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was on the wall behind his desk. He put through a call to Anna at the Imperial Hotel.

He checked the time. She might have gone out to dinner. But she hadn't. She looked as beautiful as she ever had, her shoulder length hair a disorganized mass around her head, her smile, which arose when she saw him, emanating warmth. But there was more than warmth to her. She had a certain presence, a vitality and an intelligence that was totally Anna. That energy and insatiable desire for knowledge was what made her such a great archaeologist. She loved digging up the past, loved solving a mystery. She never gave up on anything and, luckily for John, that included him.

"Is it time to open Liz's present?" she asked.

He laughed.

"Not another one."

"You've seemed to like them in the past."

John felt his smile slipping.

"I can't make it, Anna."

She became immediately serious.

"What's wrong?"

He rubbed his forehead.

"I had to cancel leave. We failed the inspection. We had a serious violation. Lochschmanan is giving me a chance to bring the crew up to par, but he's not happy. I'm not sure whether they'd take the command away from me or not."

Anna sat.

"Listen, they're not going to do that. Earthforce believes in you. That's why they gave you command of the Agamemnon. You told me how screwed up the crew is. The previous captain was in there for years. You can't fix that overnight."

"I know, but I feel like they've put their faith in me, and I've let them down."

"All this inspection shows is that you have a problem . So now you go and fix it."

He loved the way she angled her chin when she was making a point. "I know you can do that. No one was hurt, right?"

It was an odd question.

"No, of course not."

"So then nothing irreversible has happened.
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