(See Disclaimer in Part 1)
McQueen picked up West's signal, that explained where
the giant had gone. The rest of them were accounted for,
though. He glanced behind him to make sure Amy had her
head down then he sighted in on Wolfe. The area was
rocky, though, and Wolfe was in and out of cover--he didn't
have a clear shot.
A shout from up the hill altered the situation considerably.
"Hey! Danny! There's a coupla them Marines up here, I
lost 'em in the rocks! I could use a little help!"
Wolfe, O'Donnell and Hanes dived behind a large rock.
Danny yelled, "Take cover! If you saw two of them
they're all around here somewhere!"
McQueen cursed under his breath. "Danny, you're not
going anywhere, give it up!"
"Hey, TC! Is that you?" Wolfe played for time, he knew
McQueen was somewhere down in the rocks ahead of him
and two of the other Marines were up on the hill. That left
two more, and he figured they were on the other side of the
ridge somewhere. He whispered as much to his
companions. O'Donnell nodded and began working her
way up to the ridge.
Then something occurred to Hanes. "If I can circle around
behind there, I probably won't get a shot at McQueen at
first, but the reporter might be another story. If I make her
squawk, he'll break cover to see what's the matter with
her--and I've got him."
"Go for it," he agreed.
She crept around wide from rock to rock, keeping to cover
herself--until she got a glimpse of Amy's arm. She sighted
in and squeezed off a shot.
Amy screamed at the sudden fire in her arm and ducked
back, but then cried, "No, stay there!" As McQueen turned
around to see what was wrong. There were two shots
almost in tandem--one that went right over his head and
another one from up on the ridge that left Hanes sprawled
in the dirt with a bloody hole in her forehead. McQueen
got a brief glimpse of Vansen ducking back to cover before
there was more gunfire from up in there.
"I'm okay--_really_! She just scratched my arm a little!"
Amy tried hard to sound convincing, the last thing she
wanted was for Ty to try to get to her. For her part, she
made a real good effort to burrow under the rock she was
hiding behind. She had never been shot before and she was
surprised at exactly how much it hurt. She hoped it was
only a little scratch, but she wouldn't have sworn to it.
Whatever, she didn't want to act like a baby in front of Ty
and the others!
Under cover of that confusion, Wolfe hurried Crae and
Pennman further down the hill, signaling a retreat over his
When Bad John saw Hawkes and West trying to join the
party, he fired a few shots up that way, missed badly but
taught them some caution. The survivors of the Aerotech
team beat a quick retreat, with the 5-8 in pursuit for several
minutes down the valley, until McQueen called them back.
He didn't want to follow Danny back to his LZ, he knew
Wolfe had probably booby-trapped everything within a
kilometer of his ship. The sniper was dead, the big IV was
hurt, and 'Phousse reported that she had hit the scout
although she didn't know how seriously. They had
succeeded in removing Wolfe and his crew from the
transmitter site, now they could do what they'd come here
for without interference from the Aerotech team.
Amy held out her arm for his inspection, there was a lot of
blood but it didn't look too bad. He wiped at it with a
towelette, she jerked. "OW! That burns!"
"It's just the antiseptic, gunshot wounds get infected. Hold
"All right, damn it, you could have told me that thing had
alcohol on it." Her eyes were starting to tear up, she told
herself it was just the pungent fumes from the antiseptic.
Yeah, that was it. "Remember the time I busted that glass
in the sink, and you thought I'd cut my hand off?"
He laughed. "I'd never seen so much blood from such a
little scratch in my life. The way you screamed made it a
lot more convincing, too."
"You took good care of me then, too."
He didn't reply to that, just gave her a long look and then
taped gauze over the wound. "Are you okay?"
She nodded. "I'm okay. She's dead, isn't she?"
"Are we going to bury her or what?"
"In this kind of terrain it'll be better to cover her with
rocks. It would be too easy for something to come along
and dig her out of this loose sand."
Amy gulped hard in spite of herself....and stared at the
bandage on her arm. That could have been her, ending up
under a pile of rocks.
But it wasn't. She was still alive and that crazy bitch was
dead. Amy thought guiltily that she should have found a
more charitable opinion of the departed, but in this case she
just couldn't come up with one.
The Wildcards got back, West and Hawkes had some
industrial strength bruises, and Hawkes needed his ribs
taped up, but other than that everyone was all right.
Amy helped carry rocks to bury the dead sniper while
Vansen was seeing to Hawkes. She could see that pitching
in and doing that brought her up a notch in their estimation,
and she was more than a little proud of that. Any small
measure of respect she earned from these people was
something to be treasured. So she tried to ignore the way
her arm throbbed and ached every time she picked up a
She looked over at McQueen and once again thought about
how little she had ever really known him. So many times
he had been hurt worse than this...she began to understand,
things she should have understood ten years ago.
She had thought the bigotry she had discovered after the
127th had shipped out had been a hardship. She hadn't
known the meaning of hardship, but McQueen did. He had
never known anything else. And she, who should have
stood by him and created a place for him where none of that
existed...she had run away. All he had ever wanted of her
was a home to come back to, her love to trust in...she had
been too weak, too immature, too self-centered for that.
Yet here he was risking his life for her. She hoped his
reasons for doing that had more to do with the job itself,
with doing his duty and getting to the truth...because for the
life of her she could not come up with one reason why she
personally should be worth it.
They didn't waste too much time on ceremony, burying
Hanes. Vansen had trouble looking at the grave and forced
herself to do it. That woman was dead because of her. She
had never taken a human life before. It was not the same
as killing chigs or AIs. She could still see Hanes' face in her
scope....would, she knew, for the rest of her life. That was
the way it was supposed to be, she thought. But regrets
were not the same as guilt, and before Almighty God she
accepted no guilt where Hanes had left her no choice.
The transmitter site wasn't far, up against the mesa itself.
Except for the site itself, there was nothing left here to
distinguish this patch of rocks and sand from any other. A
lizard-like creature sunning itself on top of a rock hissed
loudly at them, then made off for parts unknown.
Damphousse asked to see the transmitter photograph again.
"There's been a satellite up there in a geosynchronous
orbit, but I doubt it's still there now...."
West asked, "So, what, they beamed a transmission up
from the planet to a repeater in orbit? Why? Why not just
park a satellite in orbit?"
McQueen said, "Those carvings have to be part of the
reason, something here on Vesta was important to the chigs.
But we don't know enough about their culture to begin to
guess what that might be."
Amy sat down on a rock and opened up her computer,
pulled up the images of the carvings and studied them
critically for a few minutes. Then, she started looking
around the cliffs here.
Finally, Hawkes' curiosity got the better of him. "What are
"I'm trying to figure the light angle in those pictures,
Cooper. You see, I know what time of day the pictures
were taken...late afternoon. I'm trying to narrow down
where those carvings might be from the way the shadows
are falling in the pictures. And it seems to be about the
same as here. But that really doesn't tell me any more than
that it's somewhere on this side of the mesa."
Vansen said, "I just don't think it was far...probably not
out of shouting distance, or the rest of the recon team
would have found the carvings when they went looking for
your source. The only way they didn't see them was, he
heard them yelling for him and caught up with them."
They had about an hour to search the area before they had
to head back. They didn't want to travel at night if they
could help it, quite apart from the dangers presented by the
Aerotech mercenaries the desert itself was especially deadly
after nightfall. Most of the almost universally poisonous
animal life hibernated during the heat of the day to conserve
water, and came out after nightfall to hunt.
It didn't take that long, though. Damphousse found the
carvings after about ten minutes of looking.
The pictures had been one thing, but seeing the place up
close was something else again. Two bands of the runelike
chig alphabet stretched about ten meters along the cliff face,
between them was a band of some other kind of symbols.
A couple of house-sized boulders marked off the corners of
a square, with the cliff wall forming the opposite border.
Hawkes kept watch near one of these.
Amy looked around. "I wonder...why would they make
this place? What could it be?"
"Something religious?" 'Phousse replied thoughtfully. "I
wonder if they have a religion? They must believe
West said, "Or maybe something happened here. This
could be a monument of some kind."
Vansen looked at how weathered and softened the edges of
the carvings were. "This has been here for a long time. Not
just five years. More like...Jesus...how long would it take
rocks to wear down like this?"
McQueen had been listening to their speculations without
commenting. Amy had been told that there was something
here that was proof of Aerotech's involvement in
something....something that would blow the story wide
open for her. It wasn't anything to do with the glyphs
themselves, he thought. But maybe...he crossed to the cliff
wall. There were two large rocks there, right under the
exact center of the carvings. After only a couple minutes of
looking he found a small canvas bag stuffed behind them.
Everyone crowded around as he opened the bag and spilled
the contents carefully onto the stone, he was mindful that
something might have made itself at home in there. And
there were a couple of dried-out husks of some hard-shelled
creatures as long as his thumb. But there was also a small
plastic bag containing another memory chip.
It only contained two files, both screen shots from a
computer. The first was a map, and the second some kind
of a scientific report. Amy asked, "What is this?"
McQueen said, "It's a field assay. These are the properties
of some sample they found. It looks like they were
searching for radioactives, but what they found was
something else...they don't know from this what they've
"And the map? This would be their claim?"
He nodded. "We're about here, and this is our LZ, Amy."
He told her about the tread marks he had found that
morning. "Apparently whatever they found here panned
out to some extent...enough that they brought in some
heavy equipment, anyway."
"This...must have been what the survey team...my source
at least...told Justin about. That he'd hidden this here.
This is what Justin was killed for."
McQueen nodded. "That's the only thing that makes sense
right now. All right, let's get started back before we lose
They got back to camp before it was really dark. Amy got
a cup of coffee from the ISSCV's small galley and dropped
into a chair across from McQueen. Everyone else was out
in the night air where it was cooler. "That was some
"That it was."
"It reminded me...we had some good times, didn't we?"
McQueen took his time answering, and Amy braced herself
for an explosion. When he looked up at her, there were a
lot of conflicting emotions in his gaze, but anger wasn't one
of them. "We had some very good times, Amy. When we
were first seeing each other, and the first few months after
we were married, we couldn't have been happier. I don't
want to talk about after that right now. All in all, it's
probably better to just remember the good times. But it's
all past and gone."
"It doesn't have to be."
"Yes, it does," he said, and there was steel behind the quiet
tone. "I'm very much in love with a special lady. I never
expected what we have, but I was blessed with it. No one
is going to come between us...not you and not anyone else.
I'm sorry if that hurts you, that isn't my intention...but it's
Amy took a deep breath and sighed. "Tell me something,
Ty. If I hadn't been too late...if I'd come back into your
life before you met this special lady of yours...could you
have given me another chance then?"
"I don't know if either one of us has changed enough that
we wouldn't just end up tearing each other apart all over
again...I don't know if I would have taken the risk."
Amy smiled sadly, reached across the table to touch his
hand for just a moment, a fleeting shadow of
what-might-have-been bringing a suspiciously bright shine
to her eyes. "Your forgiveness is entirely too much for me
to ask, Ty. But I want you to know how sorry I am." She
stood. "I think I'll get a little air before I turn in."
"Amy." His voice called her back from the hatch. "This
isn't a matter of forgiveness. I don't want us going into
tomorrow with that between us. For what it's worth, I
forgive you...I suppose the truth is that I forgave you a long
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak, but everything
she would have said shined in her eyes anyway. Quietly,
she left him.
Vansen saw her coming off the ISSCV and crossed to her.
"Amy, I think you and I need to have a little talk. I've seen
how you've been looking at Ty all evening. I hope you
don't think you can just walk right in and take up where
you left off. You're mistaken if you think--"
Amy interrupted angrily, "I'd ask what business it is of
yours, but I don't feel like playing let's pretend today....I
know all about you and Ty."
"Then you know you haven't got a chance!"
Amy replied, "You're really sure of yourself, aren't you?"
Vansen was suddenly at peace. "No...Amy, I'm sure of
Ty," she replied quietly. The end of it all was that she had
faith in McQueen and confidence in the commitment he had
made to her. She was absolutely certain of his love for her.
There was no reason for her to be insecure or jealous.
Amy sighed a little. "Yes, you have every right to be..."
When she looked up at Shane, there was something in her
eyes that might have been defeat...or maybe acceptance.
"You know, I've spent most of my life looking for the
truth...one truth or another. No matter what. That's the
duty of a journalist. Except that now...all I'd like to do is
hide behind a convenient little lie, Shane...and I can't. The
truth has been right in front of me ever since I first saw Ty
again back at Bethesda. I'll never have him back again."
"You were the one who broke it off in the first place, Amy!
I don't know why you'd expect me to believe you really
want him back now. It sounds to me more like your pride
talking. Are you sure you don't just want to prove you
can get him back?"
She shook her head. "I don't have anything to prove
anymore...not to anyone, not even myself. After what I
did, Ty wouldn't have easily trusted me again, any time
soon...there's no reason why he should. But that isn't why
it's really over now....you're the reason why, Shane. I
don't think he stopped loving me...until he started loving
Shane replied hotly, "If you're accusing me of stealing your
husband, you're out of your mind!"
Amy raised her hand. "I'm not accusing you, Shane, far
from it! God knows...he loved me that way once. It isn't
your fault that I failed him, and came to my senses too
"Then why the hell did you leave him?"
"Now that's the question, isn't it...? The reasons I had at
the time seemed so important then. First it was just
insults...constantly. I ignored that. Then I lost my job at
the Loxley paper, and I couldn't even get work waiting
tables. Our tires were slashed several times. While Ty was
stationed at Loxley, I didn't take it seriously. But then...he
shipped out on the Kennedy. All of that continued, and
I still had to deal with it. What finally did it was, someone
threw a brick through our front door glass, there was a note
wrapped around it threatening to burn our house down with
me in it. The police wouldn't do anything. My father had
said he'd disown me if I married Ty, but when this
happened and he wouldn't even take my calls...I didn't
know how to handle it. I wish now that I'd handled it with
a baseball bat, everyone knew who the ringleaders were!
But I didn't have good sense. If I'd been half as strong as
you've been, we'd still have been together, despite it all. I
was a fool, Shane." She smiled, and that in no way softened
the sorrow in her eyes.
Shane looked at her for a long moment. "You're still in love
with him, aren't you?"
"Yes. I suppose in a way I always will be, but that doesn't
mean I want to get in your way. You can make him happy,
I can't. And it wouldn't do me any good to try...you're the
one that he wants, and you know how he is once he's made
up his mind."
Shane had to laugh at that. You'd might as well talk to a
bulkhead as try to change Ty's mind once he'd made it up!
"I know. I thought you had a couple of kids now, Amy,
what about their father?"
"Justin was their father," she explained softly.
"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't know--!"
"It's been almost five years, Shane. Where can I start to
tell you about Justin? He was the gentlest, kindest man
I've ever met. Breaking a story was like...putting together a
puzzle for him. He loved the challenge...but I don't think
he realized how damned dangerous these people are until it
was too late.
I couldn't have been more than six weeks pregnant when he
was murdered. Oh, I've thought about what might have
happened if he'd lived...he would have married me, I don't
have any doubts about that. It would have been a good life,
I suppose. I still miss him. And our son is more like him
every day now. But...after five years...you can't mourn
Shane thought about John Oakes, who had loved her enough
to want to marry her. A day would never go by that she
didn't think about him...didn't pause to remember that she
owed every breath she took, every moment of happiness to
him...because he had made the choice to give his life for her
when Chiggy von Richtoven had almost killed her. But
remembering and honoring the dead wasn't spending the
rest of her life in mourning, either. "I understand."
"Shane...you're not stupid like I was. You're strong. You
can make this work. And your life is going to be...so
good...." Amy got her trembling voice under control and
said, "Not easy, but good. You know...attitudes haven't
changed so much in ten years. There's still a lot of
Shane said, "I know that, Amy. There isn't as much of that
kind of thing in the military, but it's here...I've seen enough
to know full well what I'm getting into."
"Do you know what I'd give to be in your place right now?
Do you know how lucky you are?"
"I know, Amy. Believe me, I know." For some reason
Shane couldn't begin to understand, at that moment under
the stars, it was very important that Amy realize she did
know how lucky she was. That she was serious, that the
commitment she had made was for nothing short of the rest
of her life, no matter what happened. After a moment,
Amy nodded slowly and reached out to touch her arm.
Then she turned and walked away.
She watched from under the ISSCV's camouflage as Amy
wandered over to sit with Damphousse and Hawkes. Then
she went aboard the transport, found McQueen standing at
the viewport looking out over the desert.
As she joined him there, he reached out silently to draw her
into his side, and for a long moment she just rested her head
on his shoulder. "Shane, are you okay with what happened
out there today?"
"We're both still alive. Yeah, I'm okay with it." She laced
her fingers with his. "I wish she'd given me some other
choice, you know?"
Neither of them said anything about Amy. They didn't
move apart until they heard someone coming up the ramp,
and it was time to get settled in for the night.
<end part 8>
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