It was early December, and Emmanuelle Sharon was preparing to take command for the first time in her life. Only a few weeks earlier, the Alliance Navy had promoted her to the rank of Commander, in recognition of her leadership during the Nakamuraza crisis, when an entire space station was nearly destroyed by a rampaging AI.

For her, this was the culmination of ten years of good, solid naval service. Nobody could claim that she'd gotten to this point through family connections; she'd grown up poor on a collective farm on Cailloux, a colony world in the Terminus Systems.

She remembers standing over the large haptic-interface map, carefully charting a course from Arcturus Station to the colony on Sirona, her commanding officer, Capt. Omar, looking over her shoulder with a paternal smile on his bearded face.

His hand squeezes her shoulder gently. "You're thinking too hard about this," he tells her, "Lester already knows how to get to Segonia. Just tell him to set the course."

Her heart stops for half a second. No, she tells herself, he said Sirona, not Segonia. You're just nervous.

Emmanuelle Sharon awoke with a violent start. Breathing heavily, she looked around.

A hotel, she finally reminded herself, I'm in a hotel. On Ilium. The Box was thousands of light-years away, in another galaxy. In another life...

Grumbling, she dragged herself out of bed. "Mirror," she muttered, and the smart-glass window that looked out over the hotel restaurant became a mirror. She was naked; Ilium was damned hot and if her roommate Skinner didn't like it, he could shut himself away in the other room, as he had elected to do the whole week.

Of course, that would put him in the minority, she thought, with a smirk. Her one remaining source of pride and self-confidence was her body. She'd always been tall and lean, even growing up on the old collective farm that was now a distant memory, but over the past ten years, her career in the Systems Alliance Navy had added some impressive muscles.

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