Vong War Annals – “Tale of the Dead Man” 5.5.2009

           Howie exhaled a long, loud sigh. He’d not thought too deeply about the years that had passed since he’d been pressganged into black ops. Also, he couldn’t go into the details of every mission he’d been on, so he decided to stick to the main points. It was good to know that at least a couple of things hadn’t changed. It somehow didn’t surprise him to discover Admiral Bridger still in command after all these years. Still business as usual in the Aurora Force.
           He began. “It all began after a lot of the old squads were downsized and absorbed into each other. Cutbacks and whatnot.” He didn’t want to mention the losses Redstar squadron had suffered over the years. Some of those deaths had been pretty wasteful and needless. Hell, his squad CO had been killed by a faulty air conditioning unit in his quarters.
          “I was approached by a Colonel Caldwell from some deep subdivision of NRI. Far deeper than your average ops. Said he had a proposition for me. He wanted me to work for him doing wetworks. I politely declined, so he came back a week later and began trying to cut a deal. Dangling the carrot, so to speak. Usual stuff: Double pay, increased pension benefits, 6 weeks leave a year. After I declined he resorted to the stick. Started bringing up stuff like the Indio massacre. As far as I know that still hasn’t been declassified. He reckoned he could swing it so I would end up spending the rest of my days smashing rocks with a rubber mallet.”
           “And you believed him?” Indy asked.
           “Of course,” Howie replied, “I’d done a bit of research after the first meeting. He was a brilliant tactitian and negotiator before he made a major blunder and wound up getting an entire regiment killed due a mistimed deployment and some poor intel. The official version of events put it that he was simply an admin man after that. But he didn’t seem like the kind of man that would just take a desk job just to keep him quiet. The division I wound up working for was so deep that a prerequisite for induction is to be officially dead. So they arranged for my old ship, the Ballygarvan 11 to be destroyed and for me to be “killed” in the accident.”
           “What about the body that was recovered from the scene? And the DNA analysis results? Or the dental match?”
           “You’d be amazed at how easy it is for them to alter a service record or just switch samples. As for the body, I don’t know where they got that. It’d be too much effort to use a clone body. Most likely it was some grunt who had a similar physical size to me. Hell, they could have used a stormtrooper even. Coroner gets a backhander to look the other way and mark the case as closed casket. Anyway, after that they sent me to the Rim worlds for retraining before they sent me out on missions. Some of the early jobs had me working with Caldwell. Infiltration mission here, assassination there. The sort of thing that officially doesn’t happen. Hell, I even had to interrogate people for information. Thumbscrews and blowtorches. That sort of thing. If I was ever captured or killed, they could deny knowledge of the whole incident.”
           He noticed the look of disgust on the Admiral’s face. He didn’t blame her. He wasn’t proud of some of the stuff he had done. Plausible deniability could be an ugly term, even in the age of the New Republic.
           “During that time,” he continued, “I used the force less and less. Barring the occasional Jedi mind trick, I barely needed to. I think it was after the truce with the Empire that I stopped drawing upon it altogether. Even so, I was still being sent to Remnant facilities to determine if they had the capabilities to launch a pre-emptive strike up until as late as last year. I’ve spent the last year on Mycon 3 investigating rumours of a terrorist organisation with Imperial tendencies. Never found anything, so I decided it was time to get out. My handler……I don’t even know the guy’s name. I decided to tell him I was out. He decided I was better off dead. He must have planned it before I even told him, because he had people waiting for me. I got out, stowed away on a freighter and got offworld. Somehow, I wound up on a ship that was going here. I can’t explain how. Probably reconnecting to the force. Before I have time to work out what to do next, I wound up having a discussion/argument with the health and safety officer. One way or another, I figured someone would work out who I was. I think it was just easier to report it.”
           “I see,” Indy said, “The question remains, Mr. Harm. What are you going to do now?”
           He hadn’t thought that far ahead. He hadn’t thought he’d wound up on his old stomping ground. The assumption had been to wind up at some other backwater and get some merc work. Then again, assumption was the mother of all foul ups.
           “I take it,” Indy frowned, “that your silence means that you hadn’t quite worked that out yet. I may have a something for you.”

– Howie

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