(See Disclaimer in Part 1)
Amy followed Hawkes along a difficult path through the
rocks. They could hear gunfire back the way they'd come
and Amy was scared sick. The only thing worse than the
shots was the silences between, and her imagination filled
those in perfectly well.
"Cooper. Wait a minute." She pulled out the plastic bag
containing the chip Justin had died trying to get...added the
one containing her source's images...and the ones she'd
taken down in the mine and in the office. She tucked the
bag in her top pocket and made sure it was carefully zipped.
"If things go bad, this is my story right here...if you get out
and I don't, see to it my editor gets those, and Aerotech's
little game here will still be blown straight to hell!"
"You'll give it to him yourself," Hawkes told her.
"Just insurance," she replied.
They started down the slope, finding whatever path they
could over the rough terrain. Amy was breathing hard by
the time they got to the bottom of the hill. She was
determined not to complain, no matter how hard a pace
Cooper set...until she noticed how pale around the eyes he
was when he turned to check behind them. He hadn't let on
how his ribs were hurting, but now that she was watching
him more closely she could see that he was making an
exaggerated effort not to breathe too deeply. So she said,
"Cooper, I just have to stop for a minute -- I'm not used to
climbing around like that."
He immediately agreed. "Just for a minute, though, this
isn't a good place."
"Why, what's wrong?" She looked around. They were in
the rocks at the bottom of the hill. She couldn't see or hear
Cooper pointed out, "We can't see very far around us here.
If we were followed, someone could sneak up close to us
and we wouldn't know they were there."
Amy looked up into the rocks once more. Now every deep
pool of shadow held a menacing figure. "I--I think you're
right. We mustn't stay long." She got a quick drink from
her canteen, and soon after, they continued on their way.
Amy was just getting ready to jump down a meter-high drop
off when she felt a huge hand close over her shoulder like a
vise. They'd had no more warning than that. She bit back a
scream--some instinct told her that if she screamed she
would die. Bad John ordered, "Boy, get your hands in the
air and turn around real slow."
Hawkes froze in place and followed orders. For once in his
life he had the good sense to shut up and do as he was told.
Amy stood perfectly still. She knew Waite could break her
neck as casually as she would have swatted a mosquito...but
she knew it was up to her to save her own life. Hawkes
couldn't do anything, not while Bad John had his hands on
her. She could see the helpless anger in the young man's
eyes. Words were her weapons, she would have to choose
the right ones. "I cannot believe you are working for
Aerotech after what they did to your people here."
"This was a mine, what do you think happened to the
"The chigs got 'em all...."
Hawkes said, "The chigs didn't have anything to do with it.
Not unless they started using 9mm rounds all of a sudden."
"I hope you don't think I'm idiot enough to take your word
Hawkes told him, "They're still down there -- we left
everything just how we found it."
"Let me guess. I'm supposed to let you go and see for
Amy said, "Aerotech murdered those boys. You're working
for Aerotech. Don't you owe it to yourself to find out the
"Oh, I'm gonna find out the truth, all right. But you're
coming with me. Flyboy, you move along first...and
remember what happens to the little lady here if you do
Hawkes said, "I won't, man, we're telling the truth! It isn't
far, you can almost see from here."
"Okay, show me."
As Cooper had said, it wasn't far to the mine entrance. He
led the way, trying to think of something he could do to get
them out of this. Every possible plan he came up with had
one big hole in it: he couldn't do anything fast enough to
prevent Waite from carrying out his threat to kill Amy.
They stopped just inside the entrance, where the light gave
out. A steady stream of cool air flowed out of the mine, a
relief in the heat of the day. Bad John ordered Hawkes,
"Give me your light."
Cooper detached the flashlight from his belt, careful to make
no sudden moves.
Amy couldn't see well enough in the dim light from the
flashlight to keep from stumbling over rocks along the
tracks, but she was afraid to ask Waite to slow down.
Nothing had ever terrified her more than that long walk
down that haunted tunnel, knowing what awaited them at
the end made the journey infinitely worse than it had been
the first time. She wondered if she and Cooper would get
out of here alive.
Cooper said, "They're in here. You can see from here. We
didn't go too far inside....we didn't want to mess up the
Waite hesitated a minute at the tunnel junction. Then he
held up the flashlight. Amy felt him stiffen in shock, she
would have bruises for days from the grip of his hand on her
shoulder. But she felt that hand trembling. And, straight
from the heart, she reached her own small hand up to cover
"John, this is why they want me dead. I swear to you, if you
let me live, the whole galaxy will find out about this. I can't
promise justice. I don't know if there is any justice in this
life after what I've seen here today. But I can promise you a
cry for justice that the people who did this have never heard
"How do I know what your word is worth?"
"Because I have two little children. They're all I have left in
this world. And but for the grace of God, instead of being
born to me, if the luck of the draw had been a little different
they could have been two of these kids here. I don't want
my kids growing up in a world where things like this happen
to kids...any kids...and it won't stop until we put a stop to
Waite said, "Got something else to put a stop to, first. Okay,
jarhead, get movin'."
Hawkes glared at him, but did as he was told. Bad John
hadn't given Coop the slightest chance to get Amy away
from him, and until she was in the clear there was nothing
he could do.
The sun beating down on the rocks created sharply-defined
areas of deep shadow surrounded by bright light. McQueen
heard the soft sound of a foot sliding on loose rock and
stepped into the dark, narrow space between two boulders.
Once again, he checked his weapon, trying to clear the
jammed mechanism. No such luck. He'd had a rifle jam on
him a grand total of three times in fifteen years, the fourth
time would have to be now.
He looked around where he thought he'd heard the
movement, but there was nothing now. He continued in that
direction, staying to shadows when he could.
Vansen and Damphousse reached the top of the ridge, there
was about three or four meters of steep bare dirt and patches
of gravel on the other side before it dropped off in a steep
cliff. They stayed to cover, the enemy could be a hundred
meters away or around the next rock.
'Phousse whispered under her breath, "Where are you, I
know you're close...."
Vansen said, "Cover me, I'm checking around here."
"Roger that." A large boulder stood right on the ridge, there
was a narrow space around it that Vansen knew she could
work her way around. Remembering West's repeated
warnings about poisonous animals, she was careful where
she put her hands as she inched around the boulder.
There was a wider path on the other side. 'Phousse looked
down and decided that was a mistake, she wouldn't do that
any more. She followed Vansen around the obstacle.
They waited a couple of seconds in the shelter of the
boulder. Both of them knew there was a hostile close by,
this was where the shooting had been coming from earlier.
But even though they scanned every crevice and shadow,
they saw nothing.
Vansen once again took point. If someone popped up too
close to shoot, she was the better hand-to-hand fighter. She
was too busy watching her surroundings, however, and got
just a little too careless where she put her feet.
Gravel gave way under her and the next thing she knew it
felt like the whole hillside was sliding. Vansen scrambled
desperately for purchase, she could hear gravel pouring
over the edge of the cliff like a stone waterfall. By some
miracle, she managed to come to a halt on the narrow ledge
at the bottom of the gravel bank without sliding over the
edge. On the other side, it was at least thirty meters straight
down to jagged rocks.
Someone above her scrabbled in the rocks, dislodging a few
more gravel. She turned her head towards the sound,
praying it was Damphousse...and looked straight up the
barrel of Danny's gun.
As if in slow motion, she watched his finger tighten on the
trigger. She refused to give him the satisfaction of closing
her eyes, she knew she'd never see it coming anyway....
She had no idea where McQueen came from, she just saw a
dark blur out of the corner of her eye and the next thing she
knew Danny's gun went flying. If Wolfe had been a
fraction of a second slower, from the look in McQueen's
eyes, Vansen was sure he would have followed right after.
The mercenary dropped back into a stance that, thanks to
years of constant practice, looked relaxed, almost casual.
Vansen knew better.
Damphousse spared the fight a frightened look, but there
was nothing she could do, the circling combatants were too
close for her to dare taking a shot at Danny. She pulled out
a length of thin, strong cord from a pocket and made it fast
to a big rock, tied the other end securely to her vest. She
didn't have Vansen's rock climbing experience, just the
usual boot-camp obstacle course. But if she slipped over the
edge, she'd only fall to the end of the rope, and she was
quite sure of her ability to climb back up. She wrapped the
cord around her gloves and, bracing against it, climbed
down to Vansen.
Once Vansen got her hands on the line, she was out of
danger. She climbed up hurriedly, then belayed
Damphousse as she got back up to secure footing. After
that, all they could do was watch as McQueen and Wolfe
circled in a warrior's dance as graceful as it was deadly.
McQueen was faster than most natural-born opponents, but
that didn't lead him to overconfidence now. He'd sparred
with Wolfe when they'd been in the squadron together, and
even then, Wolfe had been almost his equal. Only a lack of
discipline and determination had held him back. If prison
had done anything for Wolfe, it had taught him those
qualities. Neither of them managed to come near the other
with the first lightning-quick series of jabs and snap kicks,
probing defenses, looking for weaknesses and finding none.
Wolfe and McQueen were both at least marginally aware as
Crae, O'Donnell and Pennman moved up. The three of
them couldn't interfere any more than Vansen and
Damphousse, so neither of them spared more than a fleeting
glance at the audience they had drawn.
Wolfe feinted with a punch and tried a hard kick at
McQueen's leg, but he was fast enough to avoid all except a
glancing blow. That left Wolfe just a little off balance.
McQueen capitalized on the momentary advantage with a
fast jab. Wolfe took it full out and retaliated in kind.
Neither had gained a lasting advantage from the trade. Once
again, they went back to the game of circle-and-wait,
catching their breath after the all-out exertion of that brief
McQueen asked, "Just out of curiosity, Danny, what's
Aerotech paying you?"
"Why, you want a piece of the action?"
"I was just wondering what the going rate for hired killers
Wolfe laughed. "Half a million."
"More than you're ever gonna see."
McQueen had used the conversation as cover to get in
position and sent Wolfe skipping backwards with a snap
kick. "You haven't seen it yet."
Wolfe only laughed. The sun was almost directly overhead,
and the parched, hot breeze that occasionally stirred the dust
offered little relief. Both McQueen and Wolfe fought in
silence after that, saving their energy for the fight.
Wolfe saw an opening McQueen had left for him and
capitalized on it with a powerful kick. McQueen felt the
heavy boot connect with his recently-healed knee, and
almost went down. But he didn't. All those weeks of P.T.
had done their job. The pain that went shooting up his
whole body was an old aquaintence, too, and he put it
somewhere in the back of his mind to deal with later. Right
now, he just didn't have time to think about it.
He recovered his balance fast--he'd sure as hell had enough
practice at that--but Wolfe had done some kind of damage
and McQueen had to be careful how he put his weight on
that leg. Again, the "practice" he'd had at keeping his feet
under him when his sense of balance refused to cooperate
came in handy now. He surprised Wolfe with a fast punch
that opened up a cut above his eye.
Wolfe got clear. He knew better than stay in too close too
long, McQueen would always have the advantage over him
in sheer strength. He had to keep enough distance that his
skill could even the odds. Besides that, the cut he'd taken
was bleeding into his eye, and McQueen was pressing him
hard enough that he couldn't do much about it.
McQueen had to keep from taking any more hits to that leg.
His one saving grace was that Wolfe didn't know about his
prosthesis. But if Wolfe got lucky and damaged the
interface, McQueen knew he would be in real trouble.
McQueen would have preferred to let the fight drag on...that
was an advantage for him. The desert conditions would
wear on Danny a long time before he would really be
affected. But as soon as Wolfe realized he was hurt that
would change a lot of things.
Wolfe moved in again, they exchanged another series of
blows. McQueen took a couple hard hits in order to get in
close, and the next thing Danny knew he was taking a
pounding. Once again, he tried to back off, but McQueen
pressed his advantage and landed several more good shots
before Wolfe got out of his way. Finally, McQueen thought
he saw a little more caution in the other man's eyes.
He couldn't, however, conceal his leg injury forever. The
next time Wolfe tried to close in, it was with a kick that
would have taken his leg out from under him if McQueen
hadn't been expecting it. Instead he managed to lock his
knee and blocked most of it without losing his balance. He
maneuvered Wolfe back into the rocks where he didn't have
room to run. The exchange that followed was a series of
McQueen remembered Wolfe holding a rifle on Vansen.
Like most IVs he had never really had an emotional concept
of fighting for a home and a family...until now. He flat out
stopped caring how hard Danny hit him, all that mattered
was making sure Wolfe would never get a chance to threaten
her again. Danny started retreating when he got the chance,
which wasn't often...it was just a matter of time until he
"Stop it!" Bad John's first yell went ignored by both
combatants. "Stop it, now, or I'll break her neck!"
Damphousse yelled, "He's got Amy!"
McQueen got clear of Wolfe, glanced that way and took it
all in, Bad John and Amy and the look of helpless fury on
Bad John yelled, "We've been screwed, Danny! Aerotech
lied to you. It wasn't the chigs killed the people here, they
did it themselves."
Wolfe's eyes never left McQueen. He wasn't about to let
himself be distracted, even by news like that. "Are you sure
about this, John?"
"I saw for myself."
Amy said, "Danny, you've never been a fool. You know
this is all going to come out and Aerotech is going down.
You can't cover this up, it's too big. Even if you killed all of
us--and I'm not saying you can do that!--the people who
come to find out what happened to us will find out the truth
about what happened here two years ago.
I can understand how I could become just a job to you. I'm
damn good at what I do, I think I'm well worth whatever
they're paying you. But how much is worth having those
boys' blood on your hands? Nobody could have been more
innocent than they were."
Wolfe said, "Nobody's innocent, sweetheart. Believe me,
nobody....but I'm not going down with Aerotech, either.
It's your call, TC...you willing to just let us walk?"
"I can't do that, Danny. You see, you're the proof that
Aerotech is still trying to cover this up."
Bad John said, "You don't need us all for that. I'll do fine."
Wolfe told him, "Don't be stupid, John. Even if you do turn
states' evidence on this, you'll still get the needle for that
"Get out while you can, Danny. They won't move on you
as long as I've got their little reporter here."
McQueen said, "He's right about one thing, John...testifying
won't help you in court."
"We're all dying, McQueen, right from the start. I'm gonna
do some living first...and before I go out I'll see Aerotech go
down. I don't see how I could do much more good than
Wolfe said, "Damn it, John, you don't have to do this. You
said it yourself, they can't move on us as long as you've got
her. She's our ticket out."
"Yes, I do have to do this, Danny! It's got nothing to do
with you, all that stuff you said about teamwork doesn't
make any difference now. The sons of bitches gunned
down all those miners -- they couldn't have been out of the
tank more than a year or two! And Aerotech tried to use me
to cover it up! By God, no more! You go back and tell 'em
for me how far they can shove it!"
In the end, Wolfe didn't have a choice. He knew McQueen
had already beaten him when Bad John had stopped the
fight. None of them liked the idea of deserting John there,
but they couldn't force him to change his mind, and he was
holding all the aces. So, finally, they retreated. Bad John
continued to hold Amy hostage until he watched his team's
transport disappear into the clear sky. Then, at last, he let
Vansen gave McQueen a long look, but didn't say anything
with everyone around...she didn't need to. She and
Damphousse went for the transport. Once they were safely
aboard, McQueen encoded a transmission and sent it to the
Saratoga. The answer came back to wait where they were
until an investigative team from Naval Intelligence got there,
off the JFK. Then they were to return to the Saratoga.
McQueen didn't know what strings Ross had been pulling in
his absence, but it looked like the military was going to take
charge of Vesta now.
Once again they made a new camp, close enough to guard
Aerotech's mining claim. After all they'd been through,
they weren't going to let anyone sneak in and destroy the
evidence now. But there was no sign of anyone doing that.
McQueen knew Wolfe would be putting as much distance as
possible between Aerotech and himself before the scandal
They locked Waite in the back bay of the ISSCV, and since
they had the air conditioning going for his benefit Hawkes
and West bunked down in there. Hawkes' busted ribs were
really hurting him, but since he'd kicked the green meanies,
you practically had to hold his nose to get an aspirin down
him. They were going to have a hell of a time getting him
down to sickbay to get his wounds treated. He'd developed
a serious dislike of going down there and doctors were all
"damn quacks" to him. But that was a problem McQueen
would worry about when they got back to the Toga, either
he or Shane would probably have to make it a direct order
and that would be the end of it.
West wasn't doing much better. Shane had picked about a
hundred little pieces of rock out of his leg. Every time she
went over it with the scanner it seemed like she'd found
another ten or twelve. The gelskin she'd put on there itched.
He finally started writing some letters to keep his mind off it.
Amy, Shane and Vanessa had built a fire under a rock
overhang, they were going to trade off watches but it didn't
look like any of them would be getting much sleep. It
looked like the three of them had made friends, he wasn't
sure he was comfortable with the idea of Shane and Amy on
the same side! Not that there was anything he could do
He walked up there, Vanessa let him have the rock she'd
been sitting on and got him a cup of coffee from the pot
they had on the fire. Shane saw him favoring his leg as he
sat down, she gave him a long hard look. He passed it off.
"I'm more worried about the ten years you scared me out
She replied dryly, "Tell me about it. I was all ready to shake
hands with Mom and Dad there for a minute."
"They'll just have to wait."
"I don't think they'll mind." Vansen poured herself another
cup of coffee, and her smile was for both Amy and himself.
"I think I'll keep 'Phousse company for a little while."
Amy watched her leave the circle of the firelight and
continue on up through the deepening shadows to join
Damphousse. She asked, "What now?"
"Naval Intelligence is coming to secure the area. There's
going to be a full investigation. You'll have to jump to get
your story out before someone beats you to it, but you
should have time."
Amy laughed, "Jarrod would skin me alive and nail my hide
to the barn door if someone scooped us now! But it isn't
going to happen. I'll be back on Earth with the evidence
before another paper can get people out here to check things
out. The worst that could happen is that one of the rumor
mill rags will publish a screaming headline with no evidence
whatsoever, and then I'll drop the real bomb anyway. I
don't have anything to worry about from the real papers
unless something happens to seriously delay me from getting
home on time."
"What are you going to do?"
"Oh, God. Write my story...and give thanks I'm still alive to
write it. Kiss my kids. I haven't got too far beyond that yet.
Things like this, you end up making the damn news instead
of reporting it, and I really don't want to become the center
of attention. But if that happens, I'll try to stand where a
spotlight will do the most good."
"You could attract the wrong kind of attention that way."
"Better late than never," she said crisply. "I think I'd know
what to do about a brick through the front door now. I'd
throw the damn thing right back where it came from."
McQueen stirred the fire with a stick, then threw it into the
flames. A shower of sparks flew up, they watched them
dance in midair for a while then fade, one by one. He said,
"I knew when we married what kind of life I was asking you
to live. You didn't know -- you couldn't know -- until
you experienced the prejudice first-hand."
"Ty, if I had it to do over again, knowing what I know
"We could all say that!" He interrupted. "You weren't the
only one who made mistakes! Damn it, Amy, if someone
had just told me that you're supposed to trust and rely on
your wife the same way you do your wing man, I'd have
understood that CFB! If I had it to do over, I'd have let you
into more of my life, trusted you to be the strong person
you've become. Instead, I tried to protect you from all the
unpleasantness...and all I ended up doing was shutting you
"Oh, God, Ty, you may have made a few mistakes, but you
never once let me down! I knew when I left that I'd hurt
you...but I didn't realize how much until it was far too late.
Trust me like your wing man? You could lay your life in
Glen's hands without a moment's hesitation...and God
knows he feels that way about you. I was never worthy
of that kind of trust! I hope you realize what your
forgiveness means to me...but that doesn't change the fact
that I know...I will know for the rest of my life...what I did
to you out of cowardice."
"Let it go," he told her simply. "Just let it go, Amy. There's
nothing about what happened all those years ago that we can
change now. And would we really want to change it? You
have Justin and Jennifer waiting for you at home, and I have
Shane. Whatever it cost us to get to this place...it's where I
want to be. And I can see it in your eyes whenever you talk
about those kids that you feel the same way."
"Is that all there is to it? Just to...let go?" She asked.
"Sometimes. And it's the hardest thing," he replied, amazed
at the simplicity of a resolution to ten years of
heartache...and at the sense of peace and freedom that
"You'll be happy with Shane." It was a statement, not a
"Yes. For as long as it lasts...as long as we have."
"You'll be in my thoughts and my prayers...both of
you...always." Amy heard her voice crack with emotion that
threatened to overwhelm her. But she was smiling. What's
meant to be will find a way, she thought.
As the sunset brought a benediction to the day, Amy got her
camera and went up on the ledge where Shane and 'Phousse
were keeping watch. The colors slowly faded to deep violet
and rose, and Vesta's evening stars came into sight.
Shane sat down, she had brushed out her hair and the
firelight turned it to spun copper. "It's a beautiful place. I
can see why the colonists wanted to come here."
"They'll be back one day. They'll give everything a name,
fence it in, build houses...it'll be just like home," he said. "It
won't be too long until one of the richest cities in the galaxy
is within a stone's throw of here, once someone starts
working that mine. I don't think Aerotech will be able to
keep Sewell fuel a secret now."
She nodded. "You're probably right." She tried to imagine
a freeway running through the valley below...towns and
people and cars everywhere...but that was years in the
future. She was glad she'd got to see it before all that
(on the Saratoga, one week later)
The docking bay was practically deserted compared to
earlier today. The arrival of the supply convoy was always
the event of the month, it meant mail call and new people.
But only a few people were leaving. Amy was once again in
civilian dress. She handed her bags up to a sailor on the
transport, keeping only her computer case close by her. She
turned to Ross, McQueen and Vansen, who had come to see
her off. Amy and Shane looked at each other for a moment,
then both women smiled and exchanged a quick embrace.
Amy looked over at Ty and Glen, a farewell left silent. She
finally told all of them, "Take care." Then she went aboard
and disappeared from view.
John Waite was brought out in chains and under heavy
guard, but the look on his face wasn't that of a prisoner. He
and McQueen looked at each other, neither said a word but
after a moment McQueen nodded once. Waite replied in
kind, then turned and walked up the ramp.
Ross commented quietly, "Now there goes a brave man."
McQueen said, "I found out what the San Francisco PD
wants him for. He put a bomb in a bus station a few years
back, the explosion killed a kid."
"I didn't say he doesn't deserve whatever should come his
way, my friend. But then, tell me the objective difference
between a terrorist and a freedom fighter. It seems to me
that it is often determined only by who writes the history
books...and we don't even have a rough draft of the first
They stepped back with the rest of the crowd as the interior
doors closed and the bay depressurized. The shuttle rose on
its lift, they watched through a view port as Amy's transport
joined the heavily armed supply convoy on its return leg to
Vansen asked, "What's going to happen now?"
McQueen shook his head. "Now Aerotech has to try to
cover this up. But I just don't think they'll be able to do
it...not this time."
Ross said, "It's going to be one hell of a mess, that's what's
going to happen, and we're right in the middle of it." Then
he grinned. "What's so different about that?"
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