Three Square Meals Ch. 037


"The crate weighs just over a ton," Calara called out to them, recalling the reading on the crane, as she walked over to join them.

John picked up a long weapon container containing the Gatling laser, and pretended to struggle with the weight as he placed it on the back of the flatbed.

"Over two thousand pounds," Alyssa said speculatively, as she glanced at John. "That Raptor engine's very heavy, isn't it, handsome?"

"It certainly is," John replied with an eager grin, and he loaded the other Gatling laser with a fake groan.

Alyssa started up the engine again on the flatbed, and the anti-gravity cyclics fired up with a deep whir. The vehicle rose gently off the ground, and she began to steer it towards the Invictus. John pulled the remote from his pocket, and pressed the button that would open the huge hull door into the hangar bay. The slowly rising door gradually revealed the Raptor, which gleamed a brilliant white, sparkling brightly as the armour plating reflected the overhead lighting.

"Oh, wow!" Jade said breathlessly, as she stopped and stared in awe at the gunship.

"You like?" Alyssa asked her with a grin.

The Nymph looked delighted. "I love it!" she gasped, as she bounded up the ramp into the Invictus to take a closer look.

John chuckled in amusement as he watched Jade cavorting around the Raptor, and she beamed a huge grin at him when she had completed her circuit.

"Still wish it was black and evil looking?" Alyssa asked him with a smile.

"It was worth the colour swap just to see Jade's reaction," John replied happily.

Alyssa brought the flatbed into the hangar, and parked it to the rear of the gunship. They were just lowering the hangar bay doors again, when Dana bounced into the hangar.

"You loaded that quickly!" she said in surprise as she rejoined them. "Did you use your super strength?"

"No, I behaved myself," John replied. "We just used a crane to load it. The crate weighs over a ton," he added, with a gleam in his eyes.

"Now this I've got to see!" Dana nodded eagerly, before she looked up at the gunship with a frown. "We better strip out the old engine first though. Give me a few minutes, and I'll have it uncoupled."

They waited patiently while Dana moved a maintenance gantry over the back end of the gunship. Once it was in position, she dropped lightly off the walkway and onto the top of the Raptor.

"Need a hand?" John called up to her helpfully.

"Nah, I'm good. These military ships are designed for rapid refits, so I just need to shut down a few systems, reroute the fuel supply, and then uncouple all the locking clamps," she replied.

John and the girls smiled at each other when Dana began to whistle a tune while she worked, the jaunty melody drifting down to them where they stood waiting below. It only took a few minutes before she stopped her whistling, and called down to let them know she was ready.

"Do you want me to hook up a hoist, just in case?" she asked cautiously, as she poked her head out over the side of the Raptor.

"Yeah, that would be sensible, just to aid with the positioning," John replied confidently.

Dana nodded and a minute later she had moved one of the loading hoists into position, and attached the magnetic clamp to the devastated engine. She activated the hoist, and it slowly lifted the wrecked piece of equipment clear of the gunship.

"Okay, lower it slightly, I've got it," John called out to her as he positioned himself to take the weight.

The redhead lowered the engine, while Alyssa watched John like a hawk, in case the strain should become too much for him. With a grunt, John took the weight, and then he grinned at his crowd of onlookers as he carefully walked with the engine to the side of the ship, before gently placing it on the hangar bay floor. The girls clapped and cheered, so John took a little bow as he walked over to rejoin them.

"And I thought seeing you lift nine hundred pounds in the gym was impressive," Calara said in a low, breathy voice, as she ran her hands over his biceps.

"I can't believe I'm mated to someone so powerful," Jade said reverently, as she stared at him in wonder.

John laughed and flexed his arms for them, causing both girls to swoon with delight. Dana had left the controls to the hoist, and she skipped over to join them.

"That was awesome!" she said with a huge grin. "With the missing bits, that still must have weighed seventeen hundred pounds."

"You didn't seem to be struggling, but do you feel comfortable trying anything heavier?" Alyssa asked him warily.

"Actually it's the bulky nature of these things which makes them a bit awkward to lift," John explained thoughtfully. "I didn't feel like I was going to hurt myself or anything."

"He's going for the ton!" Dana clapped excitedly, and he nodded at her with a big grin on his face.

"Once we get the new engine out of the crate, I'll lift it up so you can attach it to the hoist. Then we can just push the replacement into place," John said speculatively, as he looked up at the gaping hole at the back of the gunship where the starboard engine used to be.

"Sounds like a good plan to me," Dana grinned, and she darted back to the hoist controls.

While the exuberant redhead re-positioned the hoist, Jade clambered up on top of the crate, and detached the locks that held the sidewalls in place. After she had climbed down, they disconnected the sidewalls, revealing the engine inside.

Alyssa had her arms crossed, hugging herself anxiously as she called out to him, "Stop if you get into any trouble!"

"Sure, I'll be careful," he told her reassuringly, as he strode over to the bulky engine.

He closed his eyes to focus himself, while taking a couple of calming breaths, and concentrated on achieving a Zen-state. He let out his breath, then crouched by the side of the hulking piece of equipment, grabbing it securely in two places as he readied himself to lift it. He grunted as he lifted, and he stood smoothly with the engine carefully balanced above him. The girls watched spellbound, completely silent, as he lifted the engine in both arms until it clicked into place on the magnetic clamps on the hoist. John turned to face them with a huge grin on his face, and the girls went wild.

"Holy shit! You lifted a ton!" Dana gasped, doing a little dance with joy.

"I think I'll give the trip to Gravitus a miss. I want to spend the rest of the day in bed!" Calara panted lustily.

"We're so lucky he's got the stamina for both of us," Jade said, as she moaned with arousal.

"That was extremely impressive," Alyssa murmured, as he strolled over to them. "It didn't feel like you were in any distress, did that seem okay?"

"Honestly, I feel fine," he agreed with a nod, before he turned to look at Jade and Calara. "And as much as I'd like to take advantage of how horny you both are, we'll have more than enough time to discuss this in bed when we're on Oceanus. I think you two should get your shopping done while we're at a good spot for it."

Calara and Jade nodded disappointedly, so he came over to lift their downcast faces with a gentle hand under each chin. "I'll make it up to you both, I promise," he told them affectionately.

The girls smiled back at him and nodded, and they turned their attention back to finishing off the repairs. John helped position the engine in place with the aid of the hoist, and then he left Dana to work on reconnecting and powering up the replacement engine, while he and the other girls collected the parts that had been created by the mass fabricators. Under Dana's expert guidance, replacing the Gatling laser turrets only took ten minutes, and the Raptor was soon as good as new.

They headed back up to their rooms to get ready for the shopping trip, and when Rachel heard the excited chatter, she walked out of John's room where she'd been waiting.

"How was the bath?" John asked, as he gave her a hug.

"Oh, that was amazing, I feel so relaxed!" the brunette replied with a smile.

Dana and Jade disappeared into their own quarters, and Calara walked past them to enter her room. "He just lifted a ton!" she said, her dark brown eyes sparkling excitedly.

Rachel nodded and smiled, before what she had just heard sank in, and she turned towards John with amazement. "She's not joking, is she?" she asked John in shock.

"His new personal best," Alyssa noted with a grin, as she walked past them into their room.

"It's like I'm on a ship full of superheroes," Rachel said in disbelief.

"You're quite exceptional too, so you'll fit right in," John told her with a smile, as he brushed her light brown hair from her face.

Rachel smiled back at him doubtfully, but she sighed happily when he leaned in to give her a kiss. They continued for a while, with him holding the young woman in his arms, as she responded to his touch. She was getting quite excited by the time the other girls were ready, and had rejoined them in the corridor.

"We won't be gone that long," Alyssa told Rachel sympathetically when she glided out beside them. "You two can pick this up where you left off then."

The tawny haired girl laughed and nodded, before flashing a yearning look at John, as he released her from his arms.

"Have a great time, girls, and stay safe," he said as he turned to look at the assembled young women.

They promised him they'd be careful, and then the five girls walked back to the grav-tube, before descending in the warm red glow. They waved goodbye to him cheerfully as he watched them leave, and then he stood alone in the corridor. For a moment he was undecided where to make his calls from, before finally striding up the corridor towards the grav-tube.

He stepped out of the soft blue glow onto the bridge, and then took a left turn so that he could go to the Commander's Ready Room. He looked at the name plate next to the door as he pushed the button, and waited for the doors to swish open. For a brief moment he considered changing the name plate, but when he considered the ribbing he would get from Alyssa about his rank whenever she saw it, he laughed, and decided to leave it as it was.

He strode into his own room, and walked behind the big desk, before sitting in the big, comfortable chair. He spun the chair, so that he could look out the floor-to-ceiling window that wrapped around the hull side of the room, and watched out for the Raptor departing. He didn't have to wait long, until he could see the gleaming white gunship rise smoothly from the Invictus' hangar bay, under Jade's skilful control.

Instead of flying out of the Olympus Docking Bay, she turned the Raptor to face towards him, and it edged closer until only a dozen metres away, before tilting downwards so that he could clearly see into the cockpit. The girls waved to him excitedly, and he laughed while returning their greeting, before the gunship swung away, and roared out into space.

*There's no way Jade knew I was here, unless you were still peeking,* he told off Alyssa light heartedly.

*Okay, I'll stop snooping.. for two hours,* she promised.

*Have fun, and look after the girls,* he requested.

*I'll keep them safe, don't worry. I love you...* she said warmly.

*I love you, too,* he replied, with a smile.

*Two hours... Commodore,* she added cheekily, letting him know she had overheard his musings over the nameplate on the door.

He turned back to the desk, and just enjoyed the novelty of some peace and quiet for once. He'd spent the best part of ten years alone on his old freighter, the Fool's Gold, but he probably hadn't spent more than a few hours by himself, over the last couple of months.

He pressed a number of buttons on the console built into the desk, and a holographic interface sprang into life in front of him. He was about to check the comm log to see if anyone had contacted him from the media about the interview, but he paused as he was about to press the button to activate that interface. On a whim, he accessed the archive that had been transferred over from the Fool's Gold. He quickly flipped through the grouped folders until he found the one he was looking for, and he tentatively pressed his finger down on the icon.

The folder marked 'Jessica Blake' expanded outwards, showing him the research that he'd pored over for all those years. He hadn't looked at it once in the last few months, and he felt a moment's guilt; that with this incredible life he was leading now, he had all but abandoned his search. He flicked through a few of the files; old ship logs, navigation routes of his mother's ship, the deep space exploration vessel 'Cora', and testimony from her crewmates about what had happened on their last voyage.

With a start, he remembered that with his new Commodore rank, he might now be able to access potentially important files that had once been beyond his reach as a Commander. He also had a crew of gifted young geniuses at his disposal, who would be able to crack this mystery open in ways that were beyond him acting alone. He clicked on a sub-folder, one that he had opened many times before, and his mother's military personnel file expanded in front of him. It contained the last photograph taken of his mother, just after she had been assigned to the Cora, and the date-stamp revealed that she would have been twenty five when the picture was taken.

"What happened to you, Jessica Blake?" he asked the picture softly.

Unfortunately the pretty brunette chose to remain silent, smiling back at him as she always had, and he looked at her with a heavy heart. At least with these recent revelations about the Progenitors, his decades old worries about her simply having abandoned him on a whim had been vanquished. It had never fit with the loving descriptions of their daughter that his grandparents had shared with him, and if she had been tangled up with a Progenitor, he could see how her situation would have been... complicated.

He glanced at the ship's chronometer, and with a start, he realised he'd been immersed in his notes about his mother for over an hour. Assuming Alyssa would be able to stay out of his head for the two hours she'd promised, that only gave him about forty five minutes left to sort out the trip to Oceanus. Thinking about the beautiful blonde had perked him up immediately, and he smiled apologetically at the picture of his mother, before closing out her folder.

Switching over to the comm interface, he saw that he had a couple of missed calls from Jehanna Elani, the attractive dusky hued reporter from Terran Federation Network News, that he'd given the last interview to. He left the interface open, then searched through his personal files to find the digital brochure from Oceanus that he had requested. When he clicked on the icon to open it, it unfolded into a holographic display, that showed an attractive brunette walking hand in hand with a handsome young man along a picture perfect beach.

A sultry female voice said, "Oceanus, where dreams become reality..." This was the company's catchphrase, and he rolled his eyes as he clicked on the button that would make the call to the Oceanus Sales Representative. It only took around ten seconds to make the connection, and then a holographic image of a strikingly beautiful blonde rose above his desk. With the money this company was charging, he could well imagine they must have an extremely discriminating hiring policy, choosing only the most attractive of customer facing staff.

"Hello, Sir," the blonde greeted him in her lovely, clear spoken voice. "Thank you for contacting the Oceanus Company. My name is Felicity, how may I assist you today?"

"Good morning, Felicity," John replied. "My name's John Blake. I spoke to your colleague, Annabelle? About booking a two week vacation at Oceanus."

"Thank you for following up with us, Sir," Felicity beamed at him, showing rows of pristine white teeth that sparkled in the light. "Let me just take a look at your reservation," she added, as she glanced to the side to study his booking.

"Thanks," John nodded at her, as he rose and poured out a glass of chilled water from the nearby wall dispenser, before returning to his desk.

"Everything is in place. You just need to confirm your choice of resort, transfer the remaining balance, and we will complete preparations for your arrival. Are you able to let me know when you and your party will be arriving, Mr Blake?"

"We should be with you in two days," he replied confidently.

"Wonderful," Felicity said with a lovely smile. "Please would you make your final resort selection, Sir?"

A separate hologram opened out, which showed a dozen different designs for the resort, and they rotated lazily in front of him, with a panel detailing their features. John chuckled when he spotted one particular design.

"Oh, definitely that one," he said with a grin, as he made his selection.

"Very good, Sir," Felicity smiled at him indulgently. "And if you would be so kind as to authorise the transfer of the remaining balance?"

The eye watering figure for the two week vacation appeared on the console. John chuckled and pressed a button that would begin the immediate transfer of 345,500 credits from his account. Felicity nodded when the transfer had shown to be complete on her own console, and then beamed a big smile at him.

"I hope you have a truly amazing time on your vacation with us, Sir," she told him pleasantly.

"Oh, I plan to," John grinned. "Thanks for your help, Felicity,"

"It was my pleasure," she replied with a smile, and with a nod, he closed the connection.

John brought up the comm interface again, and made a call to Charles Harris. After only a few seconds, the older man's face appeared as a holographic image above his desk.

"Good morning, John," Charles greeted him warmly.

"Same to you, Charles," John replied with a smile. "I was wondering if you had any news on the scheduling for the award ceremony?"

"Would eight tonight be alright with you?" Charles asked him cautiously. "We can push it back to tomorrow if that's too soon?"

"Eight? That would be perfect, thanks!" John replied with a grin. "How formal is this going to be, exactly?"

"Formal. Full dress uniform please, John," the Vice Admiral requested politely.

"Sure. I don't think the girls have seen me in my uniform yet," John said with a wink, reinforcing his image of debauched retiree, which actually wasn't too far from the truth.

"Alright, we'll see you later then. I'll send my assistant to come and collect you," Charles said with a chuckle, and ended the call.

John let out a sigh, dropping the act now that the call was over. The thought that Charles might be a traitor was too horrible to contemplate, but when he thought back on their meeting yesterday, he knew the man was definitely hiding something. If it came down to it, he just wasn't sure he'd be able to pull the trigger himself.

He glanced over at the comm interface again, his eyes resting on the name of the reporter who had tried to contact him a couple of times that morning. He swiped his hand over that entry, clicking on it, so that the call was made. In a few seconds, the image of the pretty young woman filled the holo-viewer.

"Jehanna Elani, TFNN," she said politely as she answered the call.

"Hi, this is John Blake. I believe you wanted to arrange another interview?" he asked her in a friendly tone.

When she realised who was calling her, her dark eyes went wide with excitement. "Thanks for calling me back! I'd love to give you another interview, that last one was so well received! When can you spare some time?"

"I'm free this afternoon, but the girls and I have an award ceremony to go to this evening. I'll be free tomorrow though," John said accommodatingly.

"The girls?" Jehanna asked him curiously.

"My crew," John clarified for her. "We're being awarded a medal for our intervention at Iota-Leonis."

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