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between zero hundred last night and sixteen hundred this afternoon when you came on duty, who had the opportunity? Who was on those other shifts?"

"Watley had the first watch, sir, and Spano the second."

John let out a breath.

"All right. I'm going to put a guard on this door with instructions to admit no other weapons crew but you. And I'm going to have your fellow weapons officers questioned. Good work so far, Ross. Now I need you to get into an EVA suit and get out to the tube. I need your repair estimate ten minutes ago. We have to be able to fire before that cruiser reaches the jump gate."



* * *



"They're obviously all dead."

Favorito's voice was quavering.

"We've got no life signs, no locator beacons. If they were alive, they would be here or they would have contacted us."

"Not necessarily," Razor said, fiddling nervously with his comp-pad.

"With the dust from the storm interfering with communications, they could be unable to reach us. And our scanners could be unable to pick them up."

Favorito pounded with the flat of his hand on the conference room table.

"That doesn't explain what happened to them."

"I'm afraid we're out of our depth here," Standish said, chewing on a fingernail.

He'd been white as a ghost since they'd gotten back.

"If we could only repair the com system, we could consult with..."

"Good news," Captain Hidalgo proclaimed from the doorway of the conference room.

"The com system is repaired."

He was filled with false good cheer. He didn't have to worry about Chang sending his message to IPX anymore, but Anna knew, from all the questions he'd asked her, that he was worried about losing Donne and his fat payoff.

"With this storm, the signal probably can't even penetrate the atmosphere," Favorito
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