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CHAPTER TWELVE Like the Good Old Days

The ground car settled as pressure bled from the plenum chamber, and the passenger hatch unsealed itself. Howard Anderson climbed out unaided and stumped past Ensign Mallory on his cane, glad the earnest young man had finally learned not to offer assistance. Even an aide with a bad case of hero worship could learn not to coddle his boss if he was chewed out enough, and all ensigns should be pruned back occasionally. It served them in good stead later.

Mallory scurried ahead to punch the elevator button, and this time Anderson gave him a brief nod of thanks as he stepped into it. He regretted it almost instantly when the ensign beamed as if, Anderson thought sourly, he were wagging the tail he didn't have. Then his thoughts flicked away from Mallory and he stood silently, drumming gently on the head of his cane as floor lights winked. If ONI had found what he expected, he was going to tear someone a new asshole . . . and enjoy it.

The elevator stopped, and the old man and the young stepped out. An unbiased witness might have reflected on how much the ensign looked like a vastly younger version of his boss, but if that had been suggested to Anderson he would have felt a bit bilious. He liked young Mallory, but it would have wounded his amour-propre to remember ever having been that green.

"Those reports ready, Andy?" he asked as they neared his office.

"Yes, sir."

"Good."

His office door opened, and he waved Yeoman Gonzales back down as she started to shoot upright. She settled back with rather more aplomb than Mallory would have shown, and he spared her a smile as he passed on his way to the inner office.

He shooed Mallory out of the room as he switched on his terminal. His gnarled fingers tapped at the keyboard with surprising agility, and his blue eyes hardened as a file header appeared.



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