tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 032

Three Square Meals Ch. 032


The Invictus slipped effortlessly out of hyper warp in Epsilon-Eridani, and the crew watched from their places on the bridge, as the holographic map displayed the bright yellow star at its centre. There were two wide asteroid belts that ringed the system, and one single huge planet that was labelled Jericho.

"Nearly home Calara," John said with a smile as he watched the brunette's reaction.

"It feels like so long ago when I last visited, but it's only been a matter of months!" she replied, shaking her head in amazement. "I can't believe how much I've been through since then..."

"We'll be landing at the closest planetary spaceport to your parents' home in about twenty minutes," Alyssa said, having plotted a course to the huge planet already, the glowing green path clearly displayed on the system map.

"Looking forward to seeing everyone?" John asked Calara with a grin.

"Honestly, I'm a bit worried how they'll react to my physical changes," she replied pensively.

"Your mother seemed to react very well when she noticed," Jade said, remembering the call they'd received two weeks earlier.

"I guess I'll just have to wait and see," Calara said nervously.

"Before we land, why don't we give Rachel a call, and check to see if she might be interested in joining the crew?" Alyssa asked John mischievously.

*It'll be a good distraction, and stop Calara from worrying,* she thought to him, revealing her real motives.

"Sure, that's a great idea," John agreed, smiling at Alyssa's thoughtfulness.

Alyssa entered the contact details into the comms interface, and the powerful communications relay built into the Invictus reached out towards the distant Dragon March; to Port Medea, where Rachel was stationed. After taking a few minutes to establish a connection, the brunette answered the call, her pretty face appearing on the viewscreen. She no longer looked like she was about to pass out from lack of sleep, and her glasses were pushed back on her head, revealing her light grey eyes.

"Hey Alyssa!" Rachel exclaimed with delight. "It's great to hear from you."

"Hey yourself," Alyssa replied back, her voice warm and friendly. "You seem a lot perkier than the last time we spoke. Is this a good time to talk?"

"Oh yes, sorry about that. Finals were exhausting, and I was suffering from some serious sleep deprivation!" the brunette replied, blushing prettily. "I go on shift in ten minutes, so you caught me at a good time."

"Hello Rachel," John greeted her with a smile.

"Oh, hi John!" she replied excitedly. "I saw your interview on the holo-net a few weeks ago! Did you guys really fight off a Kirrix invasion force?"

"That we did," he grinned, then glanced at the girls on the bridge. "Fortunately I have a fantastic crew, and we were able to save a lot of people."

"Sounds pretty amazing," she replied, obviously impressed.

"How's everything been going on your first posting?" John asked her curiously.

"Ok, I guess," she replied, her happy expression growing more subdued.

"That doesn't sound good, are you alright?" he asked her, his voice concerned.

Rachel's eyes darted around her dorm room furtively, checking to see if anyone was within earshot. "This is a secure communication channel, right?" she asked nervously.

"Yes, we're using a military relay. It's automatically encrypted," he replied reassuringly.

"We're seeing so many casualties!" she gasped in a hushed voice. "I think things are going far worse against the Kintark than we've been led to believe. I knew I'd be treating plenty of combat injuries, but this has been relentless. I've lost... nearly a dozen patients that I just couldn't save, and I've only been here two weeks." she added, her face downcast and looking deeply troubled.

"I suspected that things weren't going well, and we've seen some badly damaged T-Fed ships, but that definitely doesn't sound good," John said, agreeing with the brunette's suspicions.

"We're not far from you at the moment, if you'd like us to swing by," Alyssa chipped in. "We're looking to recruit a medical officer, so I thought you might be interested. If not, I can still offer you a friendly hug," she smiled at her gently.

Rachel's eyes lit up for a moment, before the sudden hope faded. "That sounds amazing, and I'd really love to apply for the post, but I'm locked into a Terran Federation military contract for the next five years," she said soberly. "I guess they need to get value for money after all the training they put me through."

"My tactical officer is still with the Federation, but she's been granted an indefinite leave of absence. We might be able to arrange something similar for you, if it turns out you're interested in joining us," John said, re-igniting the hopeful spark in Rachel's eyes.

"Oh, I'd love a chance at an interview!" she said eagerly. "Just let me know when you'll be arriving, and I'll make sure I'm available!"

"Will do!" Alyssa grinned at her happily. "It will take us just under a day to get to the Dragon march from here. I'll get in touch when we're getting ready to leave."

"I can't wait!" Rachel said excitedly, "See you soon!"

"See you soon!" Alyssa replied, blowing her a playful kiss before ending the communication.

"That seemed to go well," John said with a smile.

"Very well indeed," Alyssa agreed, flashing him an eager grin.

"Do you think you can get her out of her contract?" Calara asked him doubtfully.

"I have a feeling the Terran Federation High Command wants to keep us on side. I don't think they'll object to us borrowing a newly qualified medic all that much," he said confidently.

"She seems really nice," Dana said, to Alyssa. "I can see why you like her."

"Yeah, she was kind and helpful when we first met, and I warmed to her immediately." The blonde said with a smile, before she returned her focus to the controls for the Invictus, and brought them in on final approach to the planetary spaceport on Jericho.

Jericho's surface looked to be green and full of life, although there weren't huge bodies of water to be seen on the planet. The polar regions on this huge planetary body were substantial, capping the top and bottom of the otherwise green orb in white. As the third closest star system to Terra, Epsilon-Eridani had been part of the Terran Federation for centuries, and Jericho was a long established, and highly developed colony.

As soon as she had been granted final landing clearance, Alyssa brought their sleek black assault cruiser in to land at the spaceport. They looked out over the assembled ships, seeing mainly Terran freighters and passenger liners, and the Invictus glided smoothly into position to touch down at the landing pad indicated by the glowing green guidepath.

"What's with all the passenger ships?" Dana asked curiously, as she studied the large civilian vessels.

"Jericho is a popular destination for skiers," Calara explained. "Those passenger liners bring in the holiday makers for the ski-resorts on the polar caps."

"Skiers? What's that?" Dana asked, intrigued.

"You haven't heard of skiing before?" the brunette grinned. "It's lots of fun, I'll have to teach you some time. You basically ski down big hills covered in snow."

When she still received blank looks from Alyssa and Dana she giggled. "You guys must have heard of snow before?" she asked incredulously, having grown up on a planet where every vacation was focused around the stuff.

"Grew up in a shit-dump of a mining asteroid, remember?" Alyssa said with a smile. "Karron just had one season: Grubby..."

"Snow is really fun!" Calara said exuberantly. "You can make snowballs with it, build snow forts out of it, and ski down it!"

"Sounds like another good idea for a vacation," John grinned, "But back to the current mission at hand, we better disembark and go hail a hover-taxi."

They all rose and began to make their way to the grav-tube to head down to the airlock.

"We can just take the Raptor," Calara said with a shrug. "There's plenty of space to land it at my parent's house."

"I thought you said your parents had a town house?" John asked her curiously as they stepped into the red glowing anti-grav field.

"They do, but you saw how big Jericho is. Even town houses here have decent plots of land." the brunette explained.

"Whatever you think is best," John said with a smile, before turning to Jade. "Do you feel like taking us for a flight in the raptor?"

The nymph bounced up and down excitedly at the prospect. "Of course, I love flying that ship!" she agreed exuberantly as they stepped out into the corridor for deck nine.

"Ok, but no crazy aerobatics, we don't want to get in trouble with Jericho flight control." John laughed, hitting the button that opened the doors into the hangar bay.

"You can trust me..." Jade laughed gaily over her shoulder, as she ran towards the glistening black Raptor.

"Are you sure arriving in a heavily armed gunship will create a good first impression?" John asked Calara with a raised eyebrow.

"Are you kidding? They're all military remember, they'll love it!" she replied with a laugh.

They followed behind the Nymph, who was already disappearing up the ramp at the front of the gunship. John pressed a button on the remote in his jacket pocket, and the hangar bay door began to slide up slowly, opening up the huge portal in the side of the assault cruiser's hull. Dana was the last one inside the Raptor, and she hit the button on a wall mounted panel that would close up the ramp behind them. They walked through the reinforced door at the back of the room, and John noticed the new grav-tubes that they'd had fitted since he'd last been in here.

"Very nice," he said to Dana appreciatively, as they stepped into the blue glow and rose effortlessly up to the top deck.

"It's a huge extravagance just to avoid pressing the button on a lift, but as the Ashanath did it for free, I'm not complaining!" the redhead grinned back at him.

"It saves valuable seconds in a combat situation, so it was well worth doing," John said, then returned her grin. "And as you say, our new allies picked up the tab!"

They fanned out to take seats behind Jade, who had already sat down, and was powering up the gunship. The Raptor had a pilot and co-pilots chair, as well as six other seats; three on either side at the back of the roomy cockpit.

"These are new too aren't they?" Calara asked, looking around at the comfy seats.

"Yeah, I had the Ashanath add a few more seats up here. We had the space, and it beats standing!" Dana replied.

"Why six?" John asked her curiously, noting the three unoccupied chairs.

"No real reason, that's just how many I could fit in with the space available." Dana replied with a shrug.

"Looks like I'll need to find some nice warm bodies to fill them," Alyssa said, looking at John with a sly smile.

He opened his mouth to reply, before she quickly cut him off. "XO in charge of recruitment!" she exclaimed with relish.

"I'm never going to hear the end of that one, am I?" John laughed at her fondly.

"Are you honestly complaining?" she asked him archly, as she glanced around at Calara, Dana, and Jade in turn.

"Ok you win, I bow to your superb eye for talent," he grinned, with his hands upraised.

"That's a good boy," she said happily, and threw him a wink.

The cockpit rang with the sound of their laughter, as the Raptor rose smoothly off the ground under Jade's expert control. Their nymph pilot glided the gunship out from the vast hull of the Invictus, and pressed a control on her console to remotely close up the hangar bay, as soon as they were clear of the massive door. Calara rose from her seat at the back of the cockpit to move to the co-pilots seat, and she provided clear directions to Jade on how to reach the Fernandez family home.

It was only a quick five minute flight in the extremely fast gunship, and they watched out of the wide cockpit, eager to get a first glimpse of their destination. As Calara guided Jade to her old home, the townhouse turned out to be located on the outskirts of a sprawling leafy suburb, with big ranch style homes placed a good distance apart from each other on substantial plots of land.

"I think 'townhouse' undersells this place a little," John said appreciatively as they approached slowly, and then touched down gently at the back of the big house, on a large flat area denoted by glowing chevrons.

"Why have you got a landing pad in your back garden?" Dana asked Calara curiously.

"My Dad sometimes gets dropped off directly by dropship when he's on leave from the Damocles. It's just easier than having the neighbours griping about the dropship pilots messing up the sidewalk out front," she said, rolling her eyes.

Laughing, they left the cockpit, travelled down in the grav-tube, and then waited patiently as the front loading ramp dropped down. Calara glanced nervously at John while they waited, and he reached out to squeeze her hand gently, as he offered her a reassuring smile. The smooth whirr of the hydraulics came to an end, letting them know the ramp was fully deployed, and they strolled out as a group to look directly out over the wide lawn lined on both sides with trees. There was a pagoda positioned centrally in the lawn, and at the back of the long garden, John spotted a double swing seat attached securely to a tree limb. Looking to their right was the main house, a brick and timber construction with a big patio to the rear, that contained a good selection of comfortable looking garden furniture. The air on Jericho was deliciously crisp and clean, feeling wonderfully fresh after the slightly staler air they were used to on board their ship, and they breathed deeply, filling their lungs.

A figure waved to them excitedly from the kitchen, and happy raised voices could be heard from inside. They approached the house following Calara's lead, and her mother darted out of a set of wide glass doors, before running across the patio to greet them.

"Callie!" the attractive older Latina gasped excitedly, and Calara ran forward into her mother's open arms, all worries forgotten.

"It's so good to see you, mom!" she said happily, and the two women hugged each other fiercely with tears in their eyes. They eventually broke apart, and her mother turned to look at John and the other girls curiously.

"I'm so sorry guys," Calara said, brushing the happy tears from her face. "This is Maria, my mother. Mom, this is John, Alyssa, Dana and Jade," she added, smiling at them as she faced each one in turn.

Maria stepped forward with a tremulous smile on her face, before putting her arms around an astonished John and Alyssa, and hugging them tightly.

"Thank you both so much for saving my little girl!" she thanked them profusely through tear filled eyes. "She told me all about how you rescued her from pirates!"

"You're welcome Mrs Fernandez," John replied awkwardly, not sure how to react to the grateful woman he had only just met.

Calara's mother released them both and brushed the fresh tears from her eyes. "Call me Maria, please!" she said laughing gently, a big smile lighting up her pretty face.

Before they could respond any further, three olive skinned men appeared through the glass doors at the back of the house, and strode over eagerly. Calara ran over to her brothers laughing happily, and they crowded around her, each of them giving her a big bear hug in turn.

"Come on," Maria smiled at John and the girls warmly, waving them to follow her. "My apologies for my daughter, she's being a terrible hostess."

They walked up to the Fernandez brothers who were now staring at Calara in amazement, finally having a chance to get a good look at her once the initial hugs were out of the way.

"Holy shit Calara! What happened to you?" the shortest of the three brothers said as he gawped at her. The other two looked equally as shocked as they stared at the brunette.

"Err, I had a bit of a growth spurt," she replied, shifting uncomfortably.

"I'll say!" the tallest of the brothers said, and all three of them burst into good natured laughter.

"Eduardo, your language," Maria chastised the shortest of the men with a grin, "We have guests!"

The brothers turned to face John and the girls, their expressions shifted rapidly. They went from surprised amusement with Calara, to carefully appraising as they looked at John, and then wide eyed astonishment when they spotted Alyssa, Dana and Jade. Calara walked around her siblings to stand next to John.

"These are my brothers: Mateo, Dylan and Eduardo," she said, looking at each of them in turn. The three men were all over six foot tall, with Mateo the tallest by a couple of inches, matching John's height at six foot two. He had a closely cropped goatee and carefully styled dark hair, and like the other two brothers was dressed smart-casual in a shirt and trousers. Dylan was wearing a pair of glasses, but shared the same dark hair and coffee coloured skin of the rest of the family. Eduardo was the shortest, just clearing six foot. He had his hair cropped short, and a mischievous grin on his face.

"This is my boyfriend, John," Calara said self consciously, slipping her hand into his before turning to the other girls. "And these ladies are my crewmates: Alyssa, Dana and Jade."

Mateo stepped forward confidently, and offered his hand to John in a firm handshake. "We heard all about what you did for Calara. Thanks, my friend," he said warmly, his dark brown eyes reflecting the sincerity of his words. He then turned towards Alyssa, who was standing at John's side. "And I heard you were involved too, Alyssa?"

"I helped out," she grinned at him in a friendly fashion.

"Calara never mentioned her rescuer was so beautiful though," Mateo said to her flirtatiously.

*We'll distract the guards, and let you go after the boss,* Alyssa's playful voice echoed in John's mind.

*You're incorrigible, but you have my permission to flirt,* John replied, his amusement clear in the tone of his thoughts.

"Well, Calara never told me she had such a handsome brother, and a fellow Navigator no less?" Alyssa replied, flashing a beaming smile at him, her perfect white teeth sparkling in the sunlight.

John was distracted from following the conversation any further by Eduardo, who strode up to him and gave him a big hug. "Thanks man! You're at the top of my cool list after saving my little sister! If there's ever anything I can do for you, just name it!"

John clapped him on the shoulder with his free hand, and returned his broad grin when the exuberant young man stepped backwards. Eduardo's eyes suddenly flashed past John, darting over at the glistening black ship that was parked on the landing pad.

"Oh man! Is that what I think it is?" Eduardo gasped in amazement, as he stepped forward to take a closer look at the gunship.

"It's a Raptor class gunship. Is that what you thought it was?" Dana asked him playfully, gliding over to join him as he walked towards it with wide eyes.

"I've heard about them, but not seen one yet!" Eduardo exclaimed, whistling appreciatively. He suddenly seemed to realise who he was talking with, and stumbled over his words. "You're Dana right?" he asked the stunning redhead awkwardly.

"That's me!" she replied cheerfully. "I'm the chief engineer on our assault cruiser," she added proudly.

"You're an engineer too?!" the astonished young man asked her.

"Calara told me all about you. You're an engineer as well, but on a battleship right? That must be amazing!" she gasped with wide eyes.

Eduardo turned to look back at Calara, and silently mouthed, "You're the best!" to his sister.

"Let me show you something cool I fitted in the Raptor, you're going to love it!" Dana said to him eagerly, beckoning him up the loading ramp.

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