An Echo of Yesterday

Part Four -- by Becky Ratliff


(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 she’d noticed was that he’d
had a picture of Amy on his desk for all the time she’d
known him. But then one day a few weeks after Sylurra,
she’d 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 didn’t want this woman on
the Saratoga. Amy had hurt him once, she had the
potential to do it again, and Vansen didn’t want to give her
the chance. But with no cues from McQueen to go on, she
wasn’t 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 men’s
noses without either of them being any the wiser. She
wasn’t sure why Vansen had started the verbal sparring
match, but she wasn’t 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
computer’s small screen, they passed it around. “Glen,
someone at Aerotech covered up the discovery of this
transmitter. No doubt by now you’ve realized I don’t
believe that Justin Mallory’s 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 they’ve profited by it!” Amy
replied. “But, no, I don’t think they intended to start the
war. I don’t 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, I’m 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 don’t 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 didn’t want to tell you what was going on? I
didn’t want to involve you! But you had to insist--”

“Damn it, what makes you think they would have believed
I wasn’t involved? Just because you say so? And it isn’t
only me, either. If they get their hands on you, they’ll get
out of you where you got these pictures and who else has
seen them. You aren’t playing games here.”

Vansen hid a wince behind her glass, she’d been on the
receiving end of a few of those...mostly when McQueen
had demanded an explanation for something stupid she’d
done flying. But Amy didn’t miss a beat, she just gave him
a quiet, honest answer. “I didn’t go looking for this,
someone came to me with it. After that, what was I
supposed to do? Pretend I’d never seen these pictures? I
won’t lie and say I haven’t got a personal stake in this, I do.
But there’s more to it than that. I have a responsibility...if
Aerotech has their way about it, there won’t 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. That’s a battle
we fight in the courts every day. But it’s something yet
again when companies and governments can cause
organizations, individual censor ourselves out
of fear of reprisals. By God, I will not impose censorship
on myself because I’m afraid of Aerotech. I will not be a
part of this cover-up. That’s 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 isn’t a reason to involve anyone else in this
until we know exactly what we’re 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, they’re near the site of the chig
transmitter in a desert area near the planet’s equator. The
source insists that proof will be found there.”

“What kind of proof?” Ross asked.

“I don’t know, Glen. You don’t think this source dealt
with me directly, do you? I don’t know who he is, I can’t
tell Aerotech...and before they could trace him through my
contact, he’d be warned there was trouble.”

Ross said, “If Aerotech knows more about the chigs than
they’ve admitted, we need to shake the truth out of them in
order to fight this war. All right, Amy, I’ll authorize your
fishing expedition. Ty, you’re 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 that’s much. They’ve got so
many skeletons out here, they can’t know which closet
Amy’s about to open up. All the solid information they do
have is that she’s here, they can only speculate about the
rest. They’ll probably send one of their elite black ops
teams, they won’t want to risk leaving any loose ends.
Their best bet would be to catch us in transit, if they’ve got
anything in range.”

Ross scowled. “They’ve been going through my security
like it was a sieve, I’m going to assume they have
operatives on board the Sara. So let’s play this smart.
File a flight plan for Groombridge, they’ll think you’re still
poking into that mess.”

“They’ll be expecting an ISSCV. They won’t want to hit
us anywhere near the Sara’s sensor range, so my guess is
they’ll try for us near a wormhole. Again -- if they have
anything close by.”

“They’re expecting an ISSCV,” Ross repeated thoughtfully.
“I don’t know what the hell else we’re 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?”

“I’m not in any danger as long as the sim-grav is working, if
that’s 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
wouldn’t be expecting that!”

“No, they wouldn’t.” 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 don’t 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. We’ll
have the best all around chance with you and West flying

Amy didn’t know what they were talking about. Ty had
told her back at Bethesda that he’d been grounded due to
his injuries at the Battle of Jupiter, but he hadn’t 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 wasn’t working.
She couldn’t explain the sudden guilt she felt--she hadn’t
wanted him to get involved in this mess in the first place, it
wasn’t her fault that he’d 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 we’re going to end
up in a fight before we ever get to Vesta?”

“If they can find us, we will,” McQueen replied. “But that
won’t be easy. There’s 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 don’t 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.”

“It’s 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 Amy’s computer. They
didn’t pay any attention to the video still playing on the
wall screen.

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 McQueen’s 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. Amy’s 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 they’d ever pulled on each other back in
the old days, even if it hadn’t been intentional. And despite
himself, he couldn’t help a great deal of satisfaction at
seeing Amy get the short end of it. He’d 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 McQueen’s life again,
her presence could only complicate things.

McQueen apologized, not quite completely had
been damned funny...although Amy’s protective reaction
had caught him by surprise. He didn’t 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 Amy’s 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 couldn’t 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
she’d ever been in her life...but she felt shut out of that
exchange. She wasn’t 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 they’d grabbed
up on the wall screen. “Some of these do look similar, but I
don’t 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 58th’s quarters, Vansen reluctantly gave
up her plans for the night. The 58th was used to her
wandering around at night...sometimes all night
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 McQueen’s cabin tonight, but now, she
couldn’t do that because she felt a responsibility to keep
Amy safe.

Amy hadn’t 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 she’d need for a desert
mission. She waited quietly until the room was empty, and
then gave a list of what they’d need to the girl at the
counter -- a friend of hers. “Julie, do me a big favor.”

“What’s that?”

“When do you get off shift?”

“It’ll be a while, I just came on, why?”

“Don’t 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
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.

“Thanks, Julie.”

Julie pushed her glasses up on her nose and gave Amy a
critical stare. “Civilian, huh? And you’re 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 it’s too hot for two pairs
of socks but just trust me. You won’t get blisters and they
wick the sweat away from your feet. And this powder is
the same deal. If you’re short on water, you won’t be able
to wash up the way you’d like, it’ll keep you from having
foot problems. Believe me, I don’t care why you’re going
out there, if you get sore feet you won’t 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 couldn’t 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.
“Ma’am, are you going to have a problem carrying that?”

“I don’t think so...I was just thinking I’m glad I don’t have
to carry a gun along with it, but I think I can manage this all
right. I really don’t think it’s 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 didn’t 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 she’d made one friend
here anyhow. “Well, once more for old times’ sake, right?”

“Right! Vanessa, can I ask you a question?”


“What’s going on with Ty and this implant thing? Is he

Damphousse considered her answer for a moment, she
didn’t 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 can’t handle high-g maneuvers.
That’s why he’s grounded. He had them take it out when
he went after Chiggy von Richtoven, but that wasn’t any
kind of a long-term solution.”

“But is it dangerous now?”

“As long as he doesn’t try to fly a fighter with it in there,
no, I don’t think so. He’s gone on ground-pounder
missions with us before on a transport.”

“Because of the sim-grav.”

“That’s right.”

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. “It’s us!”

Cooper let her in, he’d 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
was open.

She stopped abruptly when she heard voices from forward,
scuffling and soft feminine laughter. “Dammit, Ty, stop
it, we’d might as well be out in the middle of the freakin’
docking bay!”

He laughed, “Now that would give the launch controllers
something to talk about, wouldn’t it?”

“God, you’re awful.” That was Vansen, Amy was sure of
it. She couldn’t 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 she’d left. She’d 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 couldn’t 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 hand’s width off the deck. The top one folded
down. Shane said, “Make sure it’s secure. If it isn’t and
we yaw over that way, it’ll fly up with you in it! You’d
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 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 Ty’s 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,
especially Ty.

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 don’t hear
the pilots talking all the time, and it’s 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 we’d 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 can’t hesitate about what you need and what you
don’t. We could do it blindfolded...but you’ll manage,
don’t 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 isn’t as fancy,” Vansen grinned.
Amy made herself return the smile. This woman had
brought a light back into Ty’s 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. “Where’s
Colonel McQueen?”

“He’s 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-pilot’s 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. He’s in enough
trouble with Aerotech already without having you asking
him to run interference for you while you wave a red flag at
a bull!”

“That wasn’t how it happened. I thought I’d be here and
gone before he got back to the Sara. You were the ONLY
one I meant to tell, and I certainly didn’t intend to advertise
to Aerotech that I’d involved you. It never occurred to me
that they could have spies on a warship. I thought you’d
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 couldn’t stop him from figuring
things out for himself. But, you listen to me. It isn’t my
business what happened ten years ago. But since then
Ty’s 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.”

Amy’s first instinct was to go on the defensive. But the
truth in Glen’s 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. “Hasn’t life
even begun to punish me for my sins? Hasn’t it, Glen? I’m
not here to cause Ty any more pain. I’m sorry for the
memories I’ve brought back, but don’t forget, I have my
share of memories too. When my job here is done, I’ll be
taking myself out of his way. I don’t think it will be very
long before...the life he’s got here...makes him forget all
about me. And, for what it’s worth, I’d never betray
anyone else the way I did Ty. I can’t make up for it, all I
can do is live with it.

I’m thankful that Ty has someone like you to look out for
him. He’s always been so good at taking care of everyone
else, but not himself. You and I were friends once. I’d 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. I’ll accept at least that there are two sides to
the story and yours was just as painful, no matter who was
at fault. I’ll 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

“That’s very fair, Glen. Thank you.” She extended her
hand and he took it firmly, then walked her back to the
docking bay.

<end part 4>

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