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        "I think that would be a conflict of interest."
        "Not if you resign."
        Andrew-Li Dihul Onato, Captain of the UNS Oracle, considered this for half a second, then said, "Sorry."
        The man sitting across from Onato sat back, wrinkling his sky blue flight suit, and muttered something inaudible.
        "What?" Onato said over the din of the nightclub.
        Leonard-Shou Gibbon McBride looked over his shoulder into the writhing crowd. Colored strobes illuminated faces in brief flashes, like the flickering of old memories.
        "I said, you'll regret it." McBride turned the bottomless mirrors that were his eyes to stare at Onato. A screaming guitar riff punctuated the motion.
        The captain stared back. "I'll risk that."
        "No one can predict the future," McBride said, "but if you think we can stave off war now--"
        "I think I can do more good staying in UNSF than going back to the Project. Anyway, what do you need me for? You've got Tabowitz."
        McBride shook his head. "Tabowitz is a mercenary. He's been out of the Fleet for years. We need someone who's in now, who can give us some leverage when we really need help from UNSF."
        "They'll help you anyway."
        "They don't trust us. Even if they do, they don't respect us." McBride sighed. "No hard evidence, no results. Jac Quinn had some pull with UNIA, but with him gone-- it's all falling apart."
        Onato's forehead pinched into a frown. This was as close as he'd ever heard Leonard McBride come to pleading. A couple clattered against the table and stumbled away, apologizing through drunken laughter. McBride watched them go.
        "I can't do it by myself, Andy," said McBride, barely loud enough to be heard over the music, still staring at the dancing couple. "We need you."
        A bass-heavy coda sent ripples through Onato's drink, a bubbly concoction that tasted like orange rind. He took a sip and wrapped his hands around the glass, pressing its coolness into his palms.
        "I command a battleship with a complement of nearly three hundred officers and crew. My vessel wields enough firepower to turn a large asteroid into dust. I have a responsibility, Len--"
        McBride raised his glass and slammed it down on the table, sending shards of ice flying in all directions. Onato flinched.
        "Don't quote me any jicking Fleet scripture. You've got responsibilities to more than that."
        Onato pushed his drink away. "I was never a Torie, Len. This is your fight. I have my own problems."
        He stood and extended his left hand. McBride rose and nodded stiffly, agreeing as if he were tired of disagreeing.
        "Good luck, Andy."
        "You too."
        They shook hands, and Onato walked away without looking back. The crowd swallowed him up in an instant.

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Last modified: 18 Mar 1997