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.Now though, he wanted something more.He wanted a ship of his own, a place to call home.A stocky Marine Lieutenant pushed past and stomped down the passage.William watched him go and felt the sadness replaced by anger.He’d not gotten along with the bullheaded son-of-a-bitch.Few things worse than a disagreeable shipmate.The rift was widening between those born on Earth and those from elsewhere.He’d had his fill of glances, insinuations, and outright snubs.He slung his small bag over his shoulder, looped his dress jacket over the other shoulder, and walked slowly out of the airlock.He’d have enough time to grab a quick bite.At the end of the hall a slender passage was filled with personnel.Naval uniforms blended with Marine armor with an occasional civilian.The air smelled of crushed stone and a hint of resin.William’s stomach rumbled.Ever since the starship crash on Redmond, he’d been unable to stop eating.His hands drifted down and patted the expanding bulge that was his stomach.Then he patted his bag: protein bars, a wheat biscuit, two packets of strawberry jam, and a slightly funky piece of yeast protein.He needed to make sure.Starvation was always on his mind.A ding sounded that his tablet had connected to the local data stream.He pulled it out and saw the command ping.The message was simple: report to Admiral Sanjhi.He thought for a second and shrugged.Just another Admiral he didn’t know.He passed through the crush and found a VeggieBit stand.He nommed a quick bite of noodles and saturated vegetables.Topped off and full, he dabbed a wet spot off his uniform and made his way to the Naval quarter.The entire station looked like it was carved out of an unwilling asteroid.Gantries and passages linked dark nodules of iron and chondrite.The walls were spackled in light gray foam.A chill seemed to creep everywhere like a frigid winter day.He found the core of the Naval section and passed in slowly.Men and women rushed away from the main assembly area.William’s eyes darted to the Marines standing at rapt attention.An anxious feeling rose in his full stomach.“Marine?” William asked in a low voice.“What’s going on?”The Marine cleared his throat and pressed himself tighter against the wall.He looked across the passage to the other Marine.“Clear?”The opposite Marine snuck a glance and nodded.“The Admirals are at it again,” the Marine said.“At what?” William asked.Again?Loud voices and shouts boomed from the passage.The Marines snapped even tighter to the walls and looked forward.William wanted nothing more than to turn around and come back later.But orders were orders.He shouldered his bag and walked through the portal.The passages, still rough from cutters and grinders, were almost totally empty.Closed doors and unlit spaces bracketed the passage.A wide area opened before him.An area filled with more Admirals than he’d ever seen in one spot.They scowled and glared at each other.They stood in three groups.One group stood against a rough carved wall, another group off to the side, with a third group holding the center of the room.He turned and looked behind him.On one hand he wanted to run, find a place where he could get a nanite patch and zone out.On the other, he wanted to watch…and his orders did require him to report.William saw Admiral “Gruffalo” Dover, posturing in the middle of the room.The man was intimidating when he was friendly, William couldn’t imagine being on the receiving end.Behind him a dozen Admirals stood.Opposite from him paced Admiral Hollins, known for giving the recorded speech that every cadet watched upon receiving a commission.In the recording his face was paternal, warm, welcoming.Admiral Hollins snarled and spat onto the floor.“You have your orders, now follow them!”“I’ll be damned, you son-of-a-bitch,” the Gruffalo said.William looked up and saw other spectators on a mezzanine.Commanders, Captains, Lieutenants and officers of other flavors watched as if spectators at an arena.“Going to run us out? Push! Push, you weasel!” Admiral Dover stepped closer, his hands balled into fists.Admiral Hollins crossed his arms.His eyes snapped up and took in the crowd.A cautious look spread across his face.“Resign.”Admiral Dover stopped.Neither man said a word.Stillness settled across the hall as if there was not a molecule of atmosphere to transmit sound.Both Admirals were locked in the moment.William looked from one to the other.Who was bluffing? He’d seen posturing before, dancing around the bulls.But this was something else, it wasn’t jockeying for command or even a promotion.This was something beyond insubordination.Hollins had left an out for Dover—the Gruffalo could walk.But at what price?Admiral Dover’s shoulders dropped and his body relaxed.The fight drifted away in the silence.He turned and glanced to the others behind him.Wooden faces stared back.“I resign,” the Gruffalo said in a low voice, barely a whisper.William felt a chill run through him.A dozen Admirals? Resigning? Then it dawned on him: the Admirals standing with the Gruffalo were all born off Earth.Memories of his last Captain came back to him.Khan, a bigot who despised him because he wasn’t born on Earth.She implied that he’d not stand with Earth but join with the attacking Colonists.It still pained him to think of it.He bore the scars of where she’d shot him for disobeying an order.Later he’d take possession of her ship after she lost it to the Sa’Ami.Then his crew held the Sa’Ami, held them against all odds… And now it was all falling apart.Now it was happening again, except now it was Flag Officers.Admiral Dover turned and walked through the crowd.Pain was etched across his face.Sweat ran down his cheeks and stained the collar on his working uniform, the steel gray cloth turned black.He passed William and looked up in surprise.A look of shame spread across his face as he dropped his eyes and walked down the passage.Behind him the dozen Admirals he stood with repeated the same words: “I resign.” Each walked out silently.Admiral Hollins watched.His face had a surprised look, like he’d bluffed a hand of cards and still lost the pot.He glanced up and noticed the crowd.The surprise drifted away and was replaced by a calm professionalism of a man who’d made a decision.William watched Admiral Hollins walk out [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]