(See Disclaimer in Part 1)
McQueen slung his duffel over his shoulder as he waited
with a small group of other people for the boarding gate to
open. His fellow passengers on this leg of the trip were
standing in the meager shade offered by a corrugated metal
shelter. McQueen was a little away from them, watching
the activity down on the flight line.
A disturbance behind him caught his attention. But my
papers are right here and they are all in order! See for
yourself, I have to be on this shuttle or Ill have to wait for
the next wormhole cycle!
Maam, you dont have a form C19/a here. Thats official
permission for a civilian to ship baggage on a military
transport. If you want to travel on this flight, youll have
to ship the bag as cargo. Itll follow you in two or three
Nobody told me I needed a form C whatever! What am I
supposed to do for clothes for six days on a transport if I
ship my suitcase as cargo?!
McQueen turned around and did a double-take, then
decided some things were enough to make you start
believing in destiny. He crossed to the inspection
checkpoint. Is there a problem here, Corporal?
The kid saw his oak leaves and snapped to attention. Sir!
The civilian presented her boarding papers in an incomplete
Ty! What the hell are you doing here?
Rescuing your suitcase, it looks like. I could ask you the
Im on assignment, was her evasive reply.
He asked, How much does this bag mass?
The corporal checked. Six kilos, sir.
And whats left on my allowance?
Log it in with my gear, Corporal. Will there be a problem
Sir, no sir! I just need your signature here, sir.
He signed for the offending bag and picked it up. Amy,
what kind of an assignment would you accept that would
take you off Earth? I know you wouldnt leave your kids
that long unless it was important.
I dont get very many unimportant assignments these
days, she replied, a singularly uninformative answer. Do
you know how long before we board?
He wondered why she was being deliberately evasive. It
shouldnt be more than another few minutes.
Thanks for coming to my rescue, Amy smiled. Im glad
youre on this flight. Ive never been out-system before, I
was a little nervous.
There really wont be anything to be nervous about as
long as were behind the lines. After that, if you go into the
war zone, youll have plenty to worry about.
I know that, Ty. I understand the risks, she answered
calmly. Im just glad to have the company, thats all.
All right, Amy. I probably should pull whatever strings I
could to get you thrown off this flight, because I have the
strong suspicion youre up to something dangerous. But I
dont have any right to treat you like a child. Just
remember, if theres anything I can do, Im here, as a
She nodded, relented. Not here...I cant talk about it here,
she said in a low voice. When we get to the Saratoga,
Ill need to discuss it with Glen. Hed have to okay
anything the military could do to help me with this
anyway. After that, I swear Ill tell you everything. And I
promise you, I dont intend to do anything dangerous
before that. Will you trust me that far?
I suppose Ill have to.
(on the Saratoga, August )
The trip from Earth had been uneventful, Amy was dozing
but she had asked McQueen to wake her as soon as the
Saratoga came in sight. Dark metal didnt show up much
against the blackness of space, what she saw at first were
the lights. Then suddenly they were close enough to make
out the ship herself and Amy realized just how immense
the Sara actually was. McQueen pointed out movement
off to port, at first she didnt see anything but then she
realized that what she had thought were a few stars were
actually moving objects. A patrol of seven Hammerheads
swept by them in graceful formation. Now that is a
beautiful sight! She breathed softly.
McQueen wondered how long it would be before he could
watch a fly-by without a moment of envy and loss. The
rest of his life, that was all. But he allowed himself to
indulge in that only for a moment, what was important right
now was that he was finally home. The transports engines
turned and she started her deceleration burn, settled
gracefully toward the lift, eased into place right on her
mark. A moment later, the lift descended.
It only took a few minutes for the bay to pressurize and the
all-clear to sound, but it always seemed like longer than that
when you were waiting for it. They released their restraints
and got their gear.
Nearly everyone aboard the transport had someone waiting
to meet them as soon as the bay opened, the 58th was there
in the crowd. McQueen told Amy, Youll have to go
through a security check over there. Theyll assign you
quarters, give me a minute and Ill have someone show you
there. Ill get you in to see Glen as soon as I can.
She nodded, and he watched her join the other two civilians
who had flown out with them. Then he met the rest of the
The first thing he noticed were Vansens oak leaves. Hey!
Congratulations, Major! When did this happen?
About a month ago, she replied with a smile. Welcome
home. Her eyes were shining.
Its good to be back, he replied.
There werent any long formal reunions, just a few minutes
on the flight deck...and then he was back where he belonged,
as if he had never been away in the first place. There was a
sense of family, of connection, in coming back into place
Vansen said, The Commodore wants to see both of us as
soon as you get settled.
She kept her tone light, but he could tell there was more she
would have said if they had been in private. I think Id
better let him tell you.
West offered to take his things to his quarters for him, and
he sent Damphousse to get Amy settled.
He and Vansen had a passenger lift to themselves, he took
full advantage of the moment of privacy to draw her close
in a quick kiss. Now whats wrong?
She said, Your orders came through, Ty. Just remember
the Commodore did the best he could with a situation he
That was all the warning she had a chance to give him,
because the lift stopped and several other people got on.
As soon as Ross saw them on the bridge, he handed off to
the first officer and took them into his office. Ty, its
good to have you back.
He nodded and the two old friends shook hands. Then
McQueen came straight to the point, there was no use
having whatever was wrong sitting in the middle of the
cabin like an elephant everyone pretended to ignore.
Vansen says my orders came through.
They did. Ross handed him a printout, McQueen looked
What the hell -- inactive?! He remembered Shanes
warning and bit off the rest of whatever he had been going
to say. Where did this come from?!
If I knew that, Ty, Id have had someones ass up on
charges a month ago, Ross replied. I got some warning
from a friend, he said it originated with Aerotech. Its their
little way of letting you know how much they appreciate
your taking care of their AI problem on Sylurra for them. If
theyd had their way about it you were going to be assigned
to a desk job on Earth. My friend did not want to see that
happen because he knew we need you right here. But this
was the only way I could manage it.
McQueen said, You must have had to call in a lot of
markers to pull this off.
Not everyones in Aerotechs back pocket.
McQueen nodded...then suddenly he realized what the
other ramification of this was. Where does this leave the
Officially, Vansens in command of the squadron.
Whats that supposed to mean, officially? Do you expect
her to take all the crap while I make the decisions behind
the scenes? What makes you think Ill be a part of doing
that to her--?
Ross snapped, Because we have a war to win, thats why.
I need my people where they can do their jobs, and to hell
with some REMF taking bribes from Aerotech!
Vansen could see a need to pour oil on the waters. She said
quietly, You know as well as I do, Im not ready. So
unless you want someone else pulled in to command the
squadron, I NEED you behind the scenes making the
McQueen turned around to stare her down with those ice
blue eyes. The fury she saw there was not directed at her,
but it was in close enough proximity to scare the living hell
out of her. He demanded, What happens to you when I
get this straightened out and go back on active duty?
Youre just going to step aside and go back to being
If thats what it takes to get the job done, she replied
with ruthless practicality. This is the way things are right
now. Anything else, well cross that bridge when we come
McQueen nodded slowly, as much in answer to what
passed unspoken between them as to her words. He looked
at Ross. This wasnt your fault. You just did what you
had to do.
Its also pretty hard to swallow raw, my friend. I wish I
could have had better news for you.
Damn, I almost forgot. Amys here. Shes on some kind
of a story, but she said she didnt want to tell me what it
was all about before she talks to you about it.
Ross looked up. Amys here? Well, now, that was
unexpected. She didnt say anything?
I dont know whats going on, but she sure as hell isnt
working the society page any more.
I suppose tonight over dinner will be soon enough to find
out what its all about. Major, will you be free to join us?
Vansen said, Yes, sir!
At ease, damn it. Im not going to pretend I dont know
whats going on right under my nose when its just the
three of us and the doorknob! Ty, I do not know what kind
of a fool you take me for, he grinned.
Sir, with all due respect I have never once taken you for a
Ross put his hand on McQueens shoulder for a moment.
We will get to the bottom of this situation, Ty. But in the
meanwhile theres one aspect of this that seems to have
flown right over both your thick skulls...for as long as you
have to put up with this advisory-capacity bullshit, chain
of command is no longer an issue.
They looked at each other, Ross was absolutely right.
Neither of them had considered that part of it.
Ross said, Go on, clear out of here. Ill see you -- what,
around 2000 hours?
McQueen glanced at Vansen, then replied, At your
They ducked into the service corridor that led up to
McQueens hideout. Vansen said, Ty, Im sorry.
Youre sorry? Shane, I cant believe after everything
thats happened, you got stuck with this--!
She laid two fingers gently against his lips. A promotion
is a promotion, and thats how Im going to look at it.
Dont worry about me!
Have you told the rest of the squadron anything about
She shook her head. Commodore Ross told me the
situation a month ago, but he ordered me not to discuss it
with anyone except you.
Theyll take it better if it comes from both of us.
Yeah. Boss Ross was right, Ty, we need you out here. I
know damn well I do...
How did things go while I was gone?
Fairly smooth, its been quiet. Too quiet, I think. The
chigs have been pulling back from their marginal positions
like Delta Eridani. Phousse has one of her feelings that
theyre gearing up for something big. Hell, they cant just
let us sit here in-system without doing something about
it! But in the meanwhile, weve had some down time, and
God only knows we needed it.
He opened the hatch and they climbed the gangway.
Finally, he was able to put his arms around her and hold her
close, they sank to the deck between kisses. Shane asked,
Are you okay?
Yeah, my legs fine.
I knew that when I saw you walk off the transport. I
mean this other thing.
One of these days Im going to get my hands on the son of
a bitch who did this to us. In the meanwhile, Commodore
Ross is right that we have a job to do. Right now, Ive got
more important things to worry about. Its been too long.
Her body agreed without reservation as he kissed her
soundly. The deck was hard cold metal, but neither of them
gave a damn. It was a long time before the conversation got
back to anything sensible. Vansen had been going to ask a
lot of questions about Amy, but after that, she figured there
was nothing about Amy that couldnt wait for her to see for
herself at dinner.
They didnt stay away long enough to be missed. They
joined the rest of the squadron in the barracks to explain
what the situation with McQueens new assignment was.
He put it in a neutral tone, said only that it was a medical
decision and would have left it at that...Hawkes and West
already had enough of a grievance against Aerotech, he
would have preferred not to add any more to it than
It took West about five seconds to see through that,
however, and to jump to the right conclusion as to where it
had come from. Hed had entirely too much of Aerotech
not to recognize the smell. It didnt help that Kylen was
just beginning the long slow process of facing up to her
experiences as a POW, and that the only way he could be
there to help her through it was in long e-mail exchanges
every night. Can they get away with that, sir?
McQueen said, Theyve got away with it, havent they?
At least for now.
Hawkes caught on and a look of pure hellfire came into his
eyes...venom he realized he didnt have a target for. Took
a whole lot of guts to pull this one, didnt it? Nobodyll
even put his freakin name on it.
That seems to be these peoples style, son. Theyve
registered their opinion. Okay. Now lets just deal with it
and do our jobs.
Damphousse said quietly, Hes right, Coop. Take it easy.
This is going to work out the way its supposed to.
McQueen looked at her. She was still giving him that same
look of faith, but it was the confidence of a woman, not the
blind trust of the youth she had been such a short while
ago. There a shadow of sorrow that never seemed to leave
her dark eyes, but out of that had come wisdom and
serenity. She had found her center, although she would not
have thought of it in that way. Of all his kids McQueen
had been most concerned about Damphousse in his absence,
but now he realized that she would be all right. Maybe
more than all right, if she was finally learning to accept and
use her psi powers.
Amy shook the wrinkles out of her jacket and wondered
which she should wear under it, her black silk jumpsuit or
her blouse and her blue skirt. She decided in favor of the
jumpsuit, she didnt want to create too frilly a contrast to
the formidable Major Vansen. She knew to Glen, she was
the civilian reporter and Tys ex, neither of which was
exactly a complimentary description. She didnt want to
have him thinking of her as too feminine on top of that --
the last thing she wanted to do was trigger his chivalrous,
protective instincts if she wanted his help to get to Vesta.
So she left her press badge clipped to the lapel of her jacket
and pulled her blonde hair back in a businesslike braid.
With her computer tucked into her small black portfolio,
she knew she looked every inch the professional, capable
field reporter. Certainly not someone vulnerable to feelings
she should have buried years ago. But it would be so hard
seeing Ty and Glen together again, so much like happier
times. There had been so many warm summer evenings
spent together at Loxley, the long golden summers they had
thought would never end. She had no one but herself to
blame that the first frost had come so soon.
Before she had loved and lost Justin Mallory, before she
had borne her children to raise alone, before she had
dedicated herself to bringing down Aerotech...she had been
a young officers wife at Loxley. Now that seemed an
eternity ago. And that foolish young girl who had run away
from her marriage would have been a total stranger if Amy
had met her outside in the corridor today.
McQueen paced his cabin, too restless to sit still.
Impatiently he shut off the music he had playing, he wasnt
listening to it anyway. Damn Glen anyway, setting this
thing up as a simple dinner party among old friends was the
perfect cover for a planning session, but McQueen wasnt
looking forward to having Amy and Shane at the same
table! Still, there hadnt been any other way to handle it.
Shane would not have been happy if he spent time with
Amy here on the Sara when she wasnt present. She
probably wasnt going to be overjoyed with the situation
Seeing Amy at Bethesda after so many years had brought a
lot of things back, but if it had ended there, he could have
left a lot of the baggage on the tarmac when hed boarded
the ISSCV home. But now, here she was in his world...and
he wasnt sure how to deal with that.
McQueen reached in a locker for a clean shirt. One thing he
could be sure of, he thought wryly, it wasnt going to be a
<end part 3>
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