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through with it. Usually personal effects were returned to the family, but what
family did Hobbes leave?
He defected in the company of a retainer named Kirha. Had the retainer been
another agent? Or legitimate? Blair wasn t even sure if the other Kilrathi was still
alive. The last he d heard, Kirha had vowed allegiance to a Terran pilot, Ian
 Hunter St. John, but that was years ago. Blair hadn t heard anything of Hunter
for a long time.
Well, if nothing else, he could always have Ralgha s property returned to the
Empire when the war was over, if it ever was over. Perhaps Hobbes still had
family somewhere. He claimed they had all died before his defection, but that
could have been yet another lie.
Blair shook his head sadly. He didn t know what the truth was any more,
about Hobbes . . . or about anything else.
A slender box lying on the bunk drew his eye, and Blair crossed the room to
pick it up. It was a holographic projector, much like the one Angel had sent him.
Curious, Blair sat on the edge of the bed and thumbed the switch.
A life-sized image of Hobbes appeared in front of him.
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 Colonel Blair, the holographic figure said in Ralgha s familiar tones.  I am
returning to my Homeworld, but my admiration for you compels me to provide
an explanation for my actions.
 You must understand that the being you knew as Hobbes was a construct, the
result of an identity-overlay experiment initiated long ago by Imperial Security at
the behest of Prince Thrakhath. You have never met the real Ralgha nar Hhallas,
nor would you have become his friend, for he was and is dedicated to the service
of the Empire Only the construct-personality could become your comrade and
friend. I myself was entirely unaware of my true self until the message broadcast
by Prince Thrakhath that day at Delius, the message where you were given your
Kilrathi title, the Heart of the Tiger. Embedded in combination with a signal
embedded in that transmission, the phrase Heart of the Tiger was the trigger
that awakened my true personality, hidden for so many years. There were buried
messages within it that gave me my Prince s instructions, which I have carried
out since that day. Once Ralgha nar Hhallas was restored within me, I had no
choice but to act as I did. Thus, my friend, you possess the Heart of the Tiger, but
I am the Heart of the Tiger.
The Kilrathi paused for a long time. His expression was one Blair had never
seen on his stern, solemn features before, the look of someone torn in two by
conflicting emotions.  Kilrathi do not surrender, my old friend, and neither do
they betray a trust once given. And yet, in being true to my race and obedient to
my duty, I have been forced to betray you. For though I am no longer the same
being you once named Hobbes and befriended when I was alone among
strangers, I retain a full memory of everything that Ralgha thought and did. I
remember you, Colonel, for what you were and are, and know that you are an
honorable warrior. If I could have performed my duty without betraying you, I
would have done so, but that was not possible. And if we meet again . . . we will
have no choice but to perform our duties . . . with honor.
 I hope, Colonel Christopher Blair, that we need never meet in battle. But if we
do, I will salute you as a warrior . . . and I will mourn you, as a friend lost to me
forever.
The holograph flickered and faded out, leaving Blair alone again in the tiny
cabin with bitter thoughts as his only companions. He remained there a long
time, unmoving, until someone buzzed at the cabin door.
He put the projector down.  Enter, he said harshly.
It was Maniac.  Thought I might find you here. Captain called down to Flight
Control asking after the final operations plan for this mission of the General s.
Marshall looked around the cabin, plainly curious.  Cleaning out the cat s stuff,
huh?
Blair shook his head.  Not yet, he said.  Just . . . an inventory. Before the
captain gets started with the investigation . . .
 Yeah, Maniac nodded.  Guess they ll have to look into . . everything, huh?
What d I tell you about trusting a cat, all those years back?
Blair just stared at him, wordless. There was nothing to say any more.
 Too bad Cobra had to die to get her point across, Marshall said.
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Blair surged out of the bunk and caught him by the collar, raising a hand to
strike the man. All his anger had came rushing out, and all he wanted to do was
knock the mocking smirk off Maniac s face.
 Temper, temper, Marshall said.  You shouldn t start something you can t
finish, Colonel, sir. And you know you can t afford to lose any more wingmen. Not
now.
Blair dropped his hand and let go of Marshall s collar. The major took a step
back, smoothing his wrinkled uniform.
 For once, you re right, Blair said slowly.
 I am?
 Yeah. Yeah, there s precious few of us left, Major. Two Excaliburs destroyed
yesterday, and another one damaged. Only four of us left in Gold Squadron.
Blair backed away a few paces, his eyes fixed on Marshall s face.  I d deck you
right now, Maniac, and to hell with the consequences. But I figure I d rather have
you on my wing when we hit Kilrah.
Maniac snorted.  Yeah, right. You never thought I was any good before. So
why would you want me this time?
 Simple, Blair told him.  Odds are none of us are coming back from this one,
but I figure you re too arrogant and too stupid to bow down. So maybe I will have
the pleasure of seeing you fry before the damned mission s over and done with.
Marshall looked at him doubtfully, as if uncertain how serious Blair was.
 You re crazy, man, he said.
Blair didn t answer him. He pulled a PDP out of his pocket and started the
inventory, ignoring Marshall until the other man snorted again and left the cabin.
After Maniac left, he took time out to use the intercom to pass a message to
Eisen, identifying the computer file that held the work the flight wing staff had
put into refining Paladin s attack plan. Then he finished up in Ralgha s cabin and
left, locking the door behind him with a security seal to keep out unauthorized
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