The sound of the entire bridge staff standing to salute the new arrival told Captain Eisennhorn who it was even before he turned around. Admiral Jon Grissom was a man who commanded respect. Serious and stern, there was a gravity about him, an undeniable significance in his mere presence.
"I'm surprised you're here," Eisennhorn said under his breath, turning back to gaze once more at the scene outside the window as Grissom crossed the bridge and took up position beside him. They'd known each other for nearly twenty years, having met as raw recruits during basic training with the U.S. Marine Corps before the Alliance even existed. "Aren't you the one who's always saying the viewports are a tactical weakness on Alliance ships?" Eisennhorn added.
"Have to do my part for the morale of the crew," Grissom whispered back. "Figured I could help reinforce the glory of the Alliance if I came up here and stared out at the fleet all wistful and misty-eyed like you."
"Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy," Eisennhorn admonished him. "Sir Isaac Newton said that."
"I don't have any enemies," Grissom muttered. "I'm a goddamned hero, remember?"
Eisennhorn considered Grissom a friend, but that didn't change the fact that he was a difficult man to like. Professionally the admiral projected the perfect image for an Alliance officer: smart, tough, and demanding. On duty, he carried himself with an air of fierce purpose, unshakable confidence, and absolute authority that inspired loyalty and devotion in his troops. On a personal level, however, he could be moody and sullen. Things had only gotten worse once he'd been so visibly thrust into the public eye as an icon representing the entire Alliance. Years of being in the spotlight had seemingly transformed his harsh pragmatism into cynical pessimism.
Eisennhorn had expected him to be sour on this trip-the admiral was never a fan of these kinds of public performances. But Grissom's mood had been particularly dark even for him, and the captain was beginning to wonder if there was something more going on.
"You're not just here to speak to the graduating class, are you?" Eisennhorn asked, keeping his voice low.
"Need to know basis," Grissom said curtly, just loud enough for the captain to hear. "You don't need to know." After a second he added, "You don't want to know."
The two officers shared a minute of silence, simply staring out the viewport at the approaching station.
"Admit it," Eisennhorn said, hoping to dispel the other man's bleak humor. "Seeing Arcturus surrounded by the entire Alliance fleet...it's an impressive sight."
"The fleet won't look so impressive once it's spread out across a few dozen star systems," Grissom countered. "Our numbers are too small, and the galaxy's too damn big."
Eisennhorn had to admit that Grissom was probably more aware of that than anyone.