Howie took a moment to ponder Indy’s words. Essentially, he was being offered a second chance. The opportunity to rebuild the life that he’d left behind all those years ago. On the other hand, he was going to have to fight a new war against a new enemy. The decision wasn’t going to be one he was going to make lightly.
He’d heard about the Vong, of course, but what he did know was limited mostly to what he’d caught on the holonet. News reports, hastily thrown together docuholos and the odd word of mouth encounter overheard from random barflies (which offered little more than wild rumours as to how they lived and what they did to the worlds they invaded). Whatever was true and what was false, Howie knew that they posed a serious threat to the New Republic.
“I’m not sure how deep you were, but there’s a war on, and for once it’s not about the Remnant. I put out a call to get everyone I could back here, but I’ll be damned if I got as many as I’d hoped. A few are tied up, can’t leave their current postings for reassignment. Few I couldn’t find—I’ve got Tag on that, now, thank the Force she’s back—and then a few are dead. You were in the latter category.” She stood up and began to pace.
The hell were they thinking? How low can we stoop? She exhaled quietly through her teeth, pinching the bridge of her nose. “I need experienced commanders. I’ve got children. When we signed the peace with the Remnant…most of the veterans retired. I didn’t blame them—I still don’t. But they were replaced by a generation that’s half trained and wholly unready for what we’re looking at.” She managed to smile. “Hell, I’m not even sure that I’m ready for what we’re looking at, to be honest. But it says a lot that one of my best commanders is someone I chased out from under my desk when he was five.” She stopped pacing, stared out the window for a long moment, then looked back to him. “What do you say, Major? Want to get back in the saddle, or do you just want to be some sort of grunt on the front lines, in the trenches—wherever they end up being?”
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.
They’d kept him waiting, and for that she was going to have to apologize. Or was she? By all rights, he was a dead man. If he was who he said he was. She’d have to have Tag check on that, but when she’d left her meeting with Janet, Tag had still been in with Les and that was one conversation she had no intention of disturbing. Indy rubbed her face. Had she apologized for keeping Al waiting? Of course not. He’d reappeared in her cousin’s house. There hadn’t been any waiting.
Good rule of thumb, if you want my immediate attention…reappear in my house. She blew out a breath through her teeth and looked at Nylan. “This isn’t some sort of trick, is it?”
Flanked by his armed escort, Howie entered the base’s main entrance. Had it really been a decade since he had last been here? Much had changed and much had remained. The general outline seemed as familiar as ever, but there appeared to have been new buildings added that he didn’t recognise immediately. Various new departments had clearly been set up for a variety of purposes. Howie noted a brand spanking new office under construction for something called the “Personnel Support Service”. With all the new regs in this day and age, Howie wouldn’t be surprised to find an office dedicated to paperclip standarisation.
Howie sighed. Being stuck at gunpoint was nothing new to him, but this was just ridiculous. He guessed that these guys were out of work mercenaries, as anybody official would have just taken him into custody. If he made the wrong move, he was dead.
“You see,” the handler said, “We can’t have you blab our dirty little secrets. If word got out as to what we’ve been doing, it would look bad for the Republic.”
It was just another job.
That’s what he told himself every time they sent him in. He’d been doing this for many years now. Many more years than he’d been able to count. It wasn’t as if he had much choice either. Officially, he was dead. Officially, the pile of junk he had once called his ship had exploded upon takeoff, blasting him into his component atoms. A faulty power coil, the official investigation had determined. A terrible tragedy.
Problem was, he was very much alive.