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CHAPTER SEVENTEEN "I need those ships!"

The Marine honor guard clicked to attention in the echoing spaces of the superdreadnought Gosainthan's boat bay, and Antonov stepped forward to the VIP shuttle's ramp. "Welcome to Redwing, Minister."

Howard Anderson didn't acknowledge the greeting. He merely stared, then pointed with his cane. "And just what the hell is that?"

"I believe it's my face." Antonov was all imperturbability. Anderson was not amused.

"You know what I mean!"

"Oh, that." Antonov rubbed his jaw. At least the stubble phase was past. It was getting almost fluffy. "Well, I've always wondered what I'd look like with a beard. Somehow, it just came up in conversation with Commander Kthaara'zarthan." He gestured in the direction of the big Orion, who was looking insufferably complacent. "He urged me to try it, just to see how it would turn out. I think it's coming along rather well, don't you?"

"You look," Anderson replied, eyeing the burgeoning facial hair with scant favor, "like something out of an early twentieth-century political cartoon about Bolsheviks!" Then he glanced at Kthaara again. There was, he decided, no other way to describe it: the Orion looked like he'd swallowed a canary built to scale.

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