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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: "You Take the High Road . . ."

The repair crews still laboring busily in Irena Riva y Silva's boatbay somewhat spoiled the effect, but the Marine detachment still put on a good show. Its members snapped to attention in a mathematically perfect line of black trousers and dark green tunics as the Orion shuttle settled onto the deck, then presented arms as the hatch slid open and Zhaarnak'telmasa, Khanhaku Telmasa, emerged.

The fang responded to the formal military courtesies punctiliously, but his impatience was evident even through his grave demeanor to anyone who knew him well. The instant the formalities were over, the vilkshatha brothers clasped arms and Zhaarnak started in once again.

"I got here as fast as I could, Raaymmonnd, but-"

Prescott laughed, and spoke in the Tongue of Tongues.

"I know, brother, I know! I never doubted it for an instant. I knew a wild zeget could not keep you away from the fighting!" He glanced at Zhaarnak's staffers, beginning to emerge from the shuttle and descend the ramp, one familiar Orion figure after another . . . and then an incongruous human figure, walking with Uaaria. The sight surprised him into reverting to Standard English. "Say, isn't that Lieutenant Sanders, Marcus LeBlanc's man?"

"Indeed. Like the freighters, he was inflicted upon me at the last minute," Zhaarnak said sourly, and Prescott gave him a tooth-hidden grin and resumed the Tongue of Tongues.

"They may have slowed you, but my task force would be in poor case without the fighters those ships carry."

"It would be in even poorer case if the delay had kept me from arriving here for another day or two," Zhaarnak growled, and to that, Prescott could think of no reply.

Sanders reached the head of the line of visiting staff officers saluting Prescott.

"Welcome aboard, Lieutenant," the admiral said, returning his salute. "I hope you've brought us an update on Admiral LeBlanc's latest conclusions."

"I have, Sir. I'm also supposed to report back to him on what's happened out here."

"Well, in that case, you and Small Claw Uaaria should get with Commodore Chung as quickly as possible. Lord Telmasa and I have some catching up of our own to do, but I'd like our 'spooks' to combine forces before we start organizing fresh staff meetings. Commodore Chung can bring you and Claw Uaaria up to date, and the three of you can prepare a joint brief for me and Lord Telmasa."

"Yes, Sir." If Sanders felt any discomfort at being included with two officers who outranked him so substantially, he showed no sign of it, and Prescott's eyes glinted.

"In fact, Lieutenant, I think I'd like a preliminary written summary by seventeen hundred hours. Take care of that for me, would you?"

"Uh, yes, Sir!"

This time, Prescott was pleased to note, the unreasonably self-possessed young man looked more than a little anxious, so he smiled pleasantly and turned to the next officer in line.



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