(See Disclaimer in Part 1)
Vansen had come to dinner that evening prepared to dislike
Amy from the get-go, she had been somewhat surprised and
maybe a little disappointed not to meet an ogre. She knew
only a little about Amy, just the few passing remarks
McQueen had made about her. Vansen knew the divorce
had hurt him badly, but he had never actually said much
about it to her. One little thing shed noticed was that hed
had a picture of Amy on his desk for all the time shed
known him. But then one day a few weeks after Sylurra,
shed had occasion to bring some papers to his quarters,
and the picture had been gone.
It was always hard to tell what McQueen was thinking, but
where Amy was concerned he was a complete mystery to
her. Vansen had learned to trust her gut feelings, and the
one she had now was that she didnt want this woman on
the Saratoga. Amy had hurt him once, she had the
potential to do it again, and Vansen didnt want to give her
the chance. But with no cues from McQueen to go on, she
wasnt sure what was the best way she could support him.
Anything that might have given her a clue was hidden
behind that ice-calm reserve of his. So she waited patiently,
alert but hiding her emotions behind ladylike discretion.
Amy was just as wary. Vansen was an unknown quantity
to her. Unsure where they stood with each other, they
fenced with a mutually challenging exchange of politely
barbed remarks...a duel that went on right under the mens
noses without either of them being any the wiser. She
wasnt sure why Vansen had started the verbal sparring
match, but she wasnt sorry it had happened. The
conversation kept her from having to deal with the
potentially explosive situation between her and Ty, for the
space of an hour anyway. It was obvious to her, though,
that in any kind of a confrontation here, she was going to be
outnumbered three to one and she was going to lose. By
dessert, she and Vansen were both thoroughly enjoying the
exchange. It ended as Ross poured rum for all of them but
Vansen, who stuck to mineral water since she was on
With more than a little regret, Amy got to the business at
hand. She brought up the pictures one by one on her
computers small screen, they passed it around. Glen,
someone at Aerotech covered up the discovery of this
transmitter. No doubt by now youve realized I dont
believe that Justin Mallorys death was an accident. Two
days before he died he was contacted by an anonymous
source...he went to meet this person late at night
somewhere in Virginia, on the Parkway, and came home
very upset. All I know is that it had something to do with
the Vesta project, and that he tried to talk to the survey
team. Justin was in the wreck on his way home from that
They caught a young man that they said was the other
driver, but his blood alcohol was almost at a fatal level. He
should have been passed out cold, and that _was_ how the
highway patrol found him. He was convicted of
manslaughter in the first degree, and indentured for ten
years. They shipped him out to Groombridge so fast I
never got the chance to talk to him, and I doubt it would
have done any good anyway. He has no memory of the
accident, or of most of that day for that matter.
I believe now that Justin stumbled onto this same lead, and
someone connected to Aerotech murdered him to silence
You think they wanted this war? Ross asked.
Why not? God knows theyve profited by it! Amy
replied. But, no, I dont think they intended to start the
war. I dont see how they could have known the chigs
would react the way they did and massacre the colonists.
Nothing Aerotech ever did justifies the actions the chigs
took, Im not saying that. What I am saying is that if
Aerotech had told the truth in the first place, this war might
have been avoided.
McQueen demanded, Do you have any idea what you did
by coming out here, Amy? You served notice to the
Secretary General that you know what Aerotech did while
she was still an executive there! You dont have any choice
other than to blow this thing wide open before they get to
Amy said, Of course I knew that, Ty. Why the HELL did
you think I didnt want to tell you what was going on? I
didnt want to involve you! But you had to insist--
Damn it, what makes you think they would have believed
I wasnt involved? Just because you say so? And it isnt
only me, either. If they get their hands on you, theyll get
out of you where you got these pictures and who else has
seen them. You arent playing games here.
Vansen hid a wince behind her glass, shed been on the
receiving end of a few of those...mostly when McQueen
had demanded an explanation for something stupid shed
done flying. But Amy didnt miss a beat, she just gave him
a quiet, honest answer. I didnt go looking for this,
someone came to me with it. After that, what was I
supposed to do? Pretend Id never seen these pictures? I
wont lie and say I havent got a personal stake in this, I do.
But theres more to it than that. I have a responsibility...if
Aerotech has their way about it, there wont be a
Constitution for you to uphold and defend. The only thing
that keeps the megacorps from running roughshod is a free
press to keep them in line.
Censorship imposed by law is one thing. Thats a battle
we fight in the courts every day. But its something yet
again when companies and governments can cause us...news
organizations, individual reporters...to censor ourselves out
of fear of reprisals. By God, I will not impose censorship
on myself because Im afraid of Aerotech. I will not be a
part of this cover-up. Thats the bottom line. If that
means I have to put myself at risk, so be it.
McQueen said, I owe Aerotech some payback myself,
Amy, but that isnt a reason to involve anyone else in this
until we know exactly what were going to do.
Amy said, Before I can print anything, I need to verify
that the chigs were on Vesta first, and that Aerotech knew
about it and sent the colonists in anyway. The place to
start is Vesta. I have the coordinates where these rock
carvings were found, theyre near the site of the chig
transmitter in a desert area near the planets equator. The
source insists that proof will be found there.
What kind of proof? Ross asked.
I dont know, Glen. You dont think this source dealt
with me directly, do you? I dont know who he is, I cant
tell Aerotech...and before they could trace him through my
contact, hed be warned there was trouble.
Ross said, If Aerotech knows more about the chigs than
theyve admitted, we need to shake the truth out of them in
order to fight this war. All right, Amy, Ill authorize your
fishing expedition. Ty, youre damn right about not pulling
anyone else into this...what do you think Aerotech might
throw at you?
He thought about it. That depends on how much they
know. Right now, I doubt thats much. Theyve got so
many skeletons out here, they cant know which closet
Amys about to open up. All the solid information they do
have is that shes here, they can only speculate about the
rest. Theyll probably send one of their elite black ops
teams, they wont want to risk leaving any loose ends.
Their best bet would be to catch us in transit, if theyve got
anything in range.
Ross scowled. Theyve been going through my security
like it was a sieve, Im going to assume they have
operatives on board the Sara. So lets play this smart.
File a flight plan for Groombridge, theyll think youre still
poking into that mess.
Theyll be expecting an ISSCV. They wont want to hit
us anywhere near the Saras sensor range, so my guess is
theyll try for us near a wormhole. Again -- if they have
anything close by.
Theyre expecting an ISSCV, Ross repeated thoughtfully.
I dont know what the hell else were going to do, though,
nothing smaller has good enough sim-grav to compensate
for your implant if things get out of hand.
Vansen thought about it. Ty...just how well does the
sim-grav in an ISSCV compensate for that thing?
Im not in any danger as long as the sim-grav is working, if
thats what you mean.
I mean, could you fly the damn thing. Because if you can,
that would leave three of us to fly fighter cover. They
wouldnt be expecting that!
No, they wouldnt. He was silent a moment, then made
an admission that everyone in the room knew cost him
dearly. Shane, under combat conditions...with the implant
to contend with...I dont want anyone else depending on
my abilities as a pilot.
Shane ached for him, but there was no getting around the
truth. So what do you think, then? Two of us for cover,
or everyone on the shuttle? We could crew all the guns that
Yeah, but a damn ISSCV flies like a pontoon boat. Well
have the best all around chance with you and West flying
Amy didnt know what they were talking about. Ty had
told her back at Bethesda that hed been grounded due to
his injuries at the Battle of Jupiter, but he hadnt gone into
any detail. Now, she could gather from context that this
implant, whatever they were referring to, was the center
of the problem. And it sounded like, whatever the damn
thing was, it could be dangerous-- safe as long as the
sim-grav worked sure sounded to her like it would
translate to dangerous if the sim-grav wasnt working.
She couldnt explain the sudden guilt she felt--she hadnt
wanted him to get involved in this mess in the first place, it
wasnt her fault that hed made it his business. But she
knew that if anyone besides herself got hurt in the course of
this investigation, she would never forgive herself. If Ty
got hurt that would be a situation of an entirely different
magnitude. And she had absolutely no business feeling that
way. She asked, Do you really think were going to end
up in a fight before we ever get to Vesta?
If they can find us, we will, McQueen replied. But that
wont be easy. Theres a lot of room out there to hide one
transport and a couple of fighters.
Glen said, Amy, it would be safer for you if you bunked
in with the 58th tonight. And dont go anywhere alone.
Whatever you think is best, Glen, she acquiesced readily.
McQueen stood. Commodore, have you still got that
recording of the peace conference? If any of these symbols
in the photographs match up with the ones on the video,
that will go a long way towards proof right there.
Its in my computer, let me bring it up. The two of them
had been over the video before, right after Vansen and
Damphousse had been rescued; viewing the explosion had
long since lost the shock value it had initially had for
McQueen. He and Ross did a couple screen grabs of the
chig alphabet symbols and leaned over the desk screen,
comparing them to symbols on Amys computer. They
didnt pay any attention to the video still playing on the
Amy watched, mesmerized, as the shouting match between
CEO Wayne and the chig ambassador suddenly turned to
violence. Somehow the camera had survived the explosion,
caught the look on McQueens face as he realized just how
badly he had been injured. Amy let out a little cry and
grabbed his arm. Vansen saw her surrender to pure gut
reaction, instinctively shielding him with her own body.
That reaction was not lost on McQueen, even as he reached
out to shut off the recording. Amys face went blood red,
as she realized how much of herself she had given away.
God damn it, Ty, are you TRYING to give me a
coronary? She demanded furiously.
Ross had turned away to hide a grin, that was as good as
any of the stunts theyd ever pulled on each other back in
the old days, even if it hadnt been intentional. And despite
himself, he couldnt help a great deal of satisfaction at
seeing Amy get the short end of it. Hed kept his opinions
to himself, he was too much of a gentleman to do anything
else other than in private. But the fact was that he wished
Amy had never gotten involved in McQueens life again,
her presence could only complicate things.
McQueen apologized, not quite completely sincere...it had
been damned funny...although Amys protective reaction
had caught him by surprise. He didnt let either reaction
show. What did you expect, a special-effects explosion?
He asked, teasing without the slightest hint of familiarity,
challenging her to meet his casual tone.
Glen refreshed Amys drink, she glared at both of them
over the rim of her glass after downing a healthy amount of
it. Glen said, Amy, the look on your face...that was
almost as good as that baby picture of you and your sister
in the bathtub...!
Amy couldnt help it, she spluttered and burst out laughing.
So YOU were the one who dug that up...!
Vansen swallowed her jealousy whole and stayed as cool as
shed ever been in her life...but she felt shut out of that
exchange. She wasnt a part of the history that McQueen
shared with Amy and the Commodore.
Ross decided it would be safer all around to get the
conversation back on track, he put the stills theyd grabbed
up on the wall screen. Some of these do look similar, but I
dont think any of them match up directly.
Amy said, Wait, this one does, maybe? She indicated a
symbol that seemed to indicate the beginning of a string of
other symbols. Even though the carvings were in a much
more ornate style than the plain, functional
computer-generated typeface the ambassador had been
using, the symbol she indicated was complicated enough
that the match was obvious. That was the only one they
could be sure of.
Soon after that, the gathering broke up. McQueen left them
at the hatch to the 58ths quarters, Vansen reluctantly gave
up her plans for the night. The 58th was used to her
wandering around at night...sometimes all night long...to
avoid the dreams that had plagued her sleep since her
parents murders. She had meant to take advantage of that
fact to slip out to McQueens cabin tonight, but now, she
couldnt do that because she felt a responsibility to keep
Amy hadnt roomed in with other people since college, and
it was about the same situation, too many people trying to
get to the showers and the sink at once. She was glad when
she finally got into bed and Vansen put the lights out.
The next morning, the rest of the squadron heard about their
mission. Lt. Damphousse took Amy down to the
quartermaster to get her the gear shed need for a desert
mission. She waited quietly until the room was empty, and
then gave a list of what theyd need to the girl at the
counter -- a friend of hers. Julie, do me a big favor.
When do you get off shift?
Itll be a while, I just came on, why?
Dont put this in the computer until the very end of your
Julie grinned. You know, we really get busy down here
sometimes and we get behind on filing these things....it
might be, oh, tomorrow or the next day before I get the
chance to input all of these. She initialed the slip and put
it on the bottom of the stack.
Julie pushed her glasses up on her nose and gave Amy a
critical stare. Civilian, huh? And youre going to be
tromping around the desert in boots...wait a minute, she
commanded. She went in the back and came back with a
few things, she laid them out on the counter. Socks,
cotton. Put these on first, I know its too hot for two pairs
of socks but just trust me. You wont get blisters and they
wick the sweat away from your feet. And this powder is
the same deal. If youre short on water, you wont be able
to wash up the way youd like, itll keep you from having
foot problems. Believe me, I dont care why youre going
out there, if you get sore feet you wont care either!!
Amy thanked her and put the items away with her other
things. She realized this was all stuff she would have to
carry, not to mention her computer and camera and things
that she would also have to take along. And it dawned on
her that those things couldnt weigh anywhere nearly as
much as the rifle and extra ammo that Damphousse got
from the armory. Amy was glad she made frequent use of
the health club at the paper!
Damphousse was apparently thinking the same way.
Maam, are you going to have a problem carrying that?
I dont think so...I was just thinking Im glad I dont have
to carry a gun along with it, but I think I can manage this all
right. I really dont think its as heavy as a vidcam and
satlink, and I carried those all over Denver during the food
I thought you worked for a paper, Damphousse said,
I do -- I did then too -- but that was a crazy situation. I
was just changing planes in Denver when the riot started
and the airport was mobbed. I climbed up on a baggage
tram and started taking pictures. The next thing I knew,
someone was yelling at me from a chopper to haul ass, and
I looked the other way and here came a huge mob of
people right at us! It turned out the chopper was a news
bird...I didnt even bother to ask who they were until we
were about five hundred meters up...and I stuck with them
all through the riot. I mean, they were from there, who
else knew the city better than they did, right? It worked
out fine for everyone. They were short a tech so I helped
them with their gear, and they let me get some really sweet
shots from the chopper and file my stories from their
uplink. I made the front page all three days of the riot,
everyone else from the east coast got slapped into
protective custody by the Denver PD but I was right out
there in the middle of it! It was great! She grinned.
Damphousse shook her head. Only a reporter could
describe being caught in the middle of a riot as great!
Well, that was before I had my kids, she admitted. I
still miss it, though.
Damphousse smiled, and Amy knew shed made one friend
here anyhow. Well, once more for old times sake, right?
Right! Vanessa, can I ask you a question?
Whats going on with Ty and this implant thing? Is he
Damphousse considered her answer for a moment, she
didnt want to be put in the middle here. You know the
127th got shot up on the Jupiter Line and the Colonel was
the only survivor?
Amy nodded. I knew he was grounded because of his
Okay, you know your sense of balance comes from your
middle ear. He got hit in the head, it screwed up his ear.
They put in this implant that gave him his sense of balance
back. The only thing is, it cant handle high-g maneuvers.
Thats why hes grounded. He had them take it out when
he went after Chiggy von Richtoven, but that wasnt any
kind of a long-term solution.
But is it dangerous now?
As long as he doesnt try to fly a fighter with it in there,
no, I dont think so. Hes gone on ground-pounder
missions with us before on a transport.
Because of the sim-grav.
They headed down to the flight deck, where Amy
promptly got completely lost in the twisting corridors that
honeycombed the areas between the docking bays. She was
glad Glen had given her orders not to wander around solo,
because she was quite sure she would never find the lift
again by herself. Damphousse pounded on a hatch at the
end of a corridor. Its us!
Cooper let her in, hed been right inside the locked bay
doors keeping an eye on things. Shane said tell you to
check the payload.
Roger that...Amy, can you stow your gear on the
transport? Someone should be on there, get them to show
you exactly where things go.
Sure. Amy crossed the bay to the transport, the hatch
She stopped abruptly when she heard voices from forward,
scuffling and soft feminine laughter. Dammit, Ty, stop
it, wed might as well be out in the middle of the freakin
He laughed, Now that would give the launch controllers
something to talk about, wouldnt it?
God, youre awful. That was Vansen, Amy was sure of
it. She couldnt believe that, Ty had said there was
someone but it had never occurred to her that it was Shane
Really want me to stop? McQueen teased. She knew
that particular, vibrant tone in his voice, knew the look in
those very blue eyes that went with it. Once, a long time
ago, that had been hers alone...and shed left. Shed left.
Unaware of an eavesdropper, Shane gasped at whatever he
just did and teased back, Hell, no, but you better. There
was a playful slap and a little more scuffling, more hushed
Amy backed up two steps to the hatch, for a moment she
almost ran like hell but then she realized she couldnt do
that without attracting attention...and there was nowhere
she could run, anyway. She took a deep breath to compose
herself and deliberately swung her pack into the bulkhead.
Anyone home? She yelled.
She could imagine them quickly moving two paces apart,
the stolen moment swiftly hidden away. Yeah!
Forward! Vansen replied. When Amy got up there, Ty
was doing something at a console, that cool reserve of his
back in place as though nothing had happened, and Shane
was perfectly casually fixing the band she had around her
Ah...Lt. Damphousse had to check something...she wanted
me to ask if someone could show me where to put this.
Vansen said, I will. Back that way.
Amy followed her back into the main bay.
Shane said, Two seats fold up and the top rack pulls
down, like this. She grasped the edge of a seat, working a
locking lever as she did so, and folded the seat up against
the bulkhead, the bottom rack was under the seats and
about a hands width off the deck. The top one folded
down. Shane said, Make sure its secure. If it isnt and
we yaw over that way, itll fly up with you in it! Youd
have to have someone else let you out. Sim-grav does some
strange things sometimes. She just noticed that her flight
suit had come open too far, and raised the zipper.
Amy almost choked on a jealous rage, and reminded herself
furiously that she had absolutely no right whatsoever to
feel that way. Where in the hell had that come from,
after so long? But she could imagine all too well the things
this beautiful young woman and her ex-husband did when
they could be sure of a little privacy. This beautiful and
deadly ace pilot...no wonder Ty had fallen for her. She was
everything he needed...everything Amy had never been.
She told herself, she should just be happy he had found
someone. Someone so obviously suitable for him. But
what she wanted to do was kick and bite and pull hair.
She bit her lip until she tasted blood and told herself that
acting on that stupid impulse would just get her thrashed.
She was here to do a job, and when it was over she would
get out of Tys way and go home to her kids where she
belonged. Once again he would just be part of the past, and
that was obviously the best thing for everybody concerned,
Vansen was fortunately too embarrassed by nearly having
Amy walk in on that little scene to notice the reporter
flushing and biting her lip. So where do you want to
Anywhere, Amy replied, distracted.
The most comfortable place is back here, you dont hear
the pilots talking all the time, and its closest to the head.
Vansen stopped in front of a locker. What Phousse
meant by telling you to have someone show you how to
stow your things is this. If wed have an emergency
landing, the lights might not work and you might have to
grab your things and get the hell off the transport real quick
in the dark. Having all of your gear can mean the difference
between life and death until an SAR team can pick you up,
so you cant hesitate about what you need and what you
dont. We could do it blindfolded...but youll manage,
dont worry. Just always put things in the same way every
time. She showed her how to pack the locker, an amazing
amount of gear could go in there and the most important
gear was on top. Make sure the locker is secure every
time you close it, nothing should ever be lying around
Amy nodded. Right.
That includes you, by the way. She pulled the top rack
down. See this clip? They showed you this on the
transport out here, right? It goes on your belt whenever
you go to sleep.
She nodded again. Everything looks almost the same.
Well, it is. This one just isnt as fancy, Vansen grinned.
Amy made herself return the smile. This woman had
brought a light back into Tys life, that was all she had any
right to think about. But, God, it was hard!
From outside, Hawkes snapped out, Commodore on
As you were, Lieutenant, Ross replied. Wheres
Hes on the ISSCV, sir!
Ross boots hit the ramp, Shane snapped to attention and
saluted as he entered the transport. He was carrying a
folder of printouts. Up in the cockpit, sir.
He gave Vansen a little nod and a smile as he went past her,
slid into the co-pilots seat and handed the folder over to
McQueen. Amy had no idea what the data inside was, but
it looked important, from the way the two men spent
several minutes going over it.
When the Commodore came back through the ship, he
asked Amy, Do you have a moment to let me show you
around my pride and joy?
It may have been phrased as a polite question, but Amy
knew Glen well enough to know it was an order. Of
course, she replied courteously. She let him take her arm
and steer her out of the bay, to an observation platform that
overlooked one of the fighter bays. They were in plain
sight of a couple of dozen people in there, the pilots just
coming off patrol and the crews swarming around the
fighters, but their conversation was absolutely private here.
Amy, I want you to know something. I do not appreciate
your getting Ty mixed up in this mess. Hes in enough
trouble with Aerotech already without having you asking
him to run interference for you while you wave a red flag at
That wasnt how it happened. I thought Id be here and
gone before he got back to the Sara. You were the ONLY
one I meant to tell, and I certainly didnt intend to advertise
to Aerotech that Id involved you. It never occurred to me
that they could have spies on a warship. I thought youd
be safe from them, Glen, that was the only reason I came
here at all! But then--when I went to board the shuttle out
here, there he was! I had no idea he was going to be on that
flight. And have you ever tried to keep anything from Ty?
Ross had to admit, Only by giving him a direct order not
to poke into it -- and then I couldnt stop him from figuring
things out for himself. But, you listen to me. It isnt my
business what happened ten years ago. But since then
Tys put his life back together and I think -- I hope -- that
things are finally starting to break his way. God Almighty
knows that it is about time. If you do anything -- anything,
Amy -- to mess things up for him again...this time you are
going to deal with me, you have my word on that.
Amys first instinct was to go on the defensive. But the
truth in Glens words struck her like a slap across the face.
She found the courage to look him in the eyes, even though
she knew she could not conceal the conflicting emotions he
would see there--shame and sorrow and pride. Hasnt life
even begun to punish me for my sins? Hasnt it, Glen? Im
not here to cause Ty any more pain. Im sorry for the
memories Ive brought back, but dont forget, I have my
share of memories too. When my job here is done, Ill be
taking myself out of his way. I dont think it will be very
long before...the life hes got here...makes him forget all
about me. And, for what its worth, Id never betray
anyone else the way I did Ty. I cant make up for it, all I
can do is live with it.
Im thankful that Ty has someone like you to look out for
him. Hes always been so good at taking care of everyone
else, but not himself. You and I were friends once. Id like
to hope that could still be true. I swear that I have no
intention of doing anything that will cause you to choose
Ross nodded slowly. The years had brought about a change
in her, the dignified lady in front of him now was so much
more than the girl he had known all those years ago. All
right, Amy. Ill accept at least that there are two sides to
the story and yours was just as painful, no matter who was
at fault. Ill be honest with you. It will be a long time
before I can forget what Ty went through because of you.
But if you can accept that, we can start fresh from right
Thats very fair, Glen. Thank you. She extended her
hand and he took it firmly, then walked her back to the
<end part 4>
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