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A short story by

Kal-El Bogdanove

Pearly set his toolbox down near the door and stepped into the room. "Good as new. Rory's disappointed. I think he thought we were going to be able to coauthor a digi-tome on one-armed engineering," he joked.

Raynor grinned. "Too bad. Could've taken that act on the road."

"I've seen plenty of the road, Commander."

"You and me both. What's on your mind, Pearly?"

Pearly took a deep breath and got ready to say ten words. More, if it came to that.

"SceeVee Special Engineering Corps has an output seven times that of an equivalent Dominion unit."

"Eight," replied Raynor. "I ran more... recent numbers."

Pearly smiled ruefully. "Yes. I guess we've gotten awfully chummy with Prince Valerian while my guys were down on that rock."

Raynor inhaled sharply. "Yeah. I've had to make some odd calls. But this fight we're in has taken a turn! So if you're here to—"

"I'm not. I want a realistic path to peace. There's some clear advantages to this thing. And that's an engineer saying that. We trust you."

"I appreciate—"

Pearly pushed ahead. "Still… those numbers. Dominion times eight. We do it. And we get you a road or a bridge or a building any damn place you want it, and we can do that because the unit is made up of grown men, Jim. Not bright green, wet-eared pups like the ones that are blowing each other up all over the goddamn sector. Men with families."

"Pearly, no one is—"

"I'm not done. We make those numbers not in spite of the fact that we worry about those families but because we worry about them. It's better motivation than any stimpack. But it takes a toll."

Pearly paused and pulled out a remote console. "This is the maintenance schedule for the machines in my jurisdiction. There's an itemized list. And it includes the name of each man under my command. They require maintenance. It's a rolling schedule. And it's tied to the nav plan you have filed on the bridge. We'll never be more than four men down at any given time. You can sign it…"

He extended the console to Raynor.

"Or you can find someone else to run this corps."

Jim Raynor looked back at Pearly from behind tired cowboy eyes. It was quiet. Somewhere in the ship above them, something clattered to the deck.

After a long moment, Raynor took the console. "Okay."

Pearly met his gaze. "Okay."

Pearly turned to leave, but Raynor added, "There is one thing…"

"What's that, Jim?"

"Remember the bridging vehicle I had you working on? Might have figured out a mission for it to make its debut."

Pearly nodded.

"How do you feel about building a small, discreet encampment... on Char?"

Without turning back, Pearly grinned and reached for his toolbox.

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