tagSci-Fi & FantasyThree Square Meals Ch. 052

Three Square Meals Ch. 052


There were several space-faring alien species that had tiny empires dotted along the border between the Trankaran Republic, and the Terran Federation. Port Megara was the biggest outpost along the border with Trankaran Space, and this huge Terran Federation Space Station provided a convenient place for them all to meet and trade.

Port Megara was built along the familiar vertical "stack of plates" design used by most distant Terran stations, and like the others they had visited before, the central ring was the largest by far. It housed the majority of the docking bays around its circumference, and there was a steady stream oddly shaped merchant vessels heading in and out of the station. The merchant shipping belonged to the minor space empires in this quadrant of space, and to avoid squabbles breaking out between them, the Terran Federation Navy enforced the peace with a substantial defensive fleet.

As they approached, a flashing light on Alyssa's console let her know that they were being hailed by the station. She pressed the button to accept the incoming audio call.

A slightly bored sounding military communications officer said, "Incoming cruiser, please identify yourself, and your business at Port Megara."

"This is Commodore John Blake on the Invictus, requesting clearance to land. We're visiting Doctor Dylan Fernandez," John answered the communications officer politely.

After a short pause, the comms officer replied, now much more animated, "Please proceed to Docking Bay One, Commodore! It's an honour to have you visit the station, Sir!"

Before the comms officer ended the call, they could hear excited chatter in the background. John glanced over at Alyssa, and said wryly, "Looks like they might have heard of us."

Calara was standing between them on the Command Podium, judging that it was fairly unlikely they would need her at combat stations when docking at a friendly starport. She smiled down at him, and when he held his arms open for her, she sat in his lap.

John smiled back at her and asked, "Enjoying your first taste of the Command Chair, Lieutenant?"

The Latina laughed heartily, and wriggled in his lap, as she replied, "Very much, Commodore, but there seems to be some kind of large joystick affixed to the chair."

"Ah," John replied knowingly. "You just have to slot that into a pert young Tactical Officer, and it's a much more comfortable fit."

She giggled and said, "I'll bear that in mind, thanks!"

She settled in his lap, and John encircled her in his arms as they watched Alyssa bring the Invictus in to dock. Docking Bay One was very large, but their assault cruiser was much too big to fully dock in a station of this size. Instead Alyssa pulled up alongside the station, then guided them in with careful feathering of the retro-thrusters, until the broad docking collar moulded to the Invictus' hull. Several loud clanks signified that magnetic docking clamps were now attached to their ship, locking them securely in place.

Alyssa rose gracefully from her chair, and John put his hands on Calara's waist, lifting her effortlessly off his lap. She regained her feet lithely with a smooth pirouette, and flashed him a broad smile, her dark brown eyes smouldering at his casual display of strength.

He stood up next to her, and slipped his arm around her waist, to gently stroke her lower belly through the figure hugging pencil-skirt she was wearing. He leaned down to whisper in her ear, "That's why we're going to do things differently with you and Alyssa. I know just what gets your motor running, my fiery little beauty." Hearing this, Calara breathed in sharply, her eyes flashing with excitement.

Alyssa laughed merrily and said, "Come on you two, we better get moving. At this rate you're going to want to spend the rest of the morning in bed, and Dylan's waiting for us."

They grinned at her, and nodded at the same time, then the three of them strolled down the illuminated steps of the Command Podium and into the grav-tube. When they reached Deck Nine, they stepped out of the soft red glow, and walked up to the airlock door. John placed his hand on the DNA reader, and the outer airlock door spiralled open, showing the interior of the docking bay beyond.

Calara spotted her brother waiting patiently over on the other side of the docking bay, and she ran over to join him, giving him a big hug. Normally a quiet and reserved young man, Dylan laughed happily as he returned his little sister's hug, and the two of them began to talk animatedly. Alyssa and John glanced at each other and smiled, then walked over to join the two of them.

Dylan was just over six foot, with dark hair, and the same coffee-coloured skin as his younger sibling. He turned to look through his wire-framed glasses at John and Alyssa as they approached, then hesitated for a moment, before standing at attention and saluting John.

"It's good to see you again, Commodore," he said respectfully.

John returned his salute, then stuck out his hand, and smiled at him as he said, "There's no need to stand on ceremony, Dylan. It's great to see you too."

Dylan grinned at him, and shook his hand, before darting a glance to his side as he said, "We have an audience, so I was caught a little off-guard."

John darted a look in the same direction, and saw half a dozen men in orange jumpsuits, which identified them as belonging to one of Port Megara's maintenance teams. They all jumped to attention when he looked their way, saluting him with enthusiasm. He saluted them back reflexively, then smiled at Calara's brother and said, "I would have thought it would take more than a handful of engineers to unsettle you, Dylan."

Dylan laughed then said, "That's true, but your growing fame has brought quite a few curious onlookers." He turned slightly and his eyes darted up and to the left, at the back wall of the docking bay.

John followed his gaze again, and saw a clear glass viewing gallery that ran the length of the huge hangar. The entire fifty metre long window was full of people, all eagerly staring into the docking bay to get a glimpse of the Lion of the Federation. He stepped to the side around Dylan, and looking up purposefully, he saluted his audience before giving them a friendly wave. The crowd went wild, and they could hear the muffled sounds of cheering through the reinforced glass. Calara and Alyssa moved to flank him, and waved at the crowd too, beaming sparkling smiles at them. The cheering seemed to intensify, and Dylan watched his little sister, quite bemused.

After a minute of playing to the crowd, John turned to Dylan and said, "Perhaps we could go and have a chat somewhere a bit more private?"

Dylan nodded, then led them through the broad double doors out of the docking bay, and along a corridor into the central section of Port Megara Space Station. "Brace yourselves," he warned them, when they arrived at another set of wide double doors at the end of the corridor. He pressed a button on the wall, and once the reinforced doors had whirred open with the quiet hum of servos, he led them through.

The corridor opened out into a broad plaza, which was designed in exactly the same way as that of Port Medea. There was a central park lined with trees and rows of shops around the edge of the plaza. They walked out into the shopping district, and both Alyssa and Calara drew in their breath sharply.

Unlike the deserted warzone that had been Port Medea, Port Megara was a thriving trade hub, and the plaza was packed with people. Except they weren't meandering around the plaza, browsing for goods, they were all standing waiting for a glimpse of the Lion of the Federation, and two of his lionesses. When Dylan led them into the plaza, the hushed silence was broken by a rippling cheer as the crowd clapped and whooped.

John was shocked, but somehow managed to mask it. He glanced at Dylan a little wide-eyed, and said over the deafening cheers, "What's going on? We've never had this kind of greeting before."

Dylan smiled at him, and spoke loudly to make himself heard, "You've been on the news again! Just last night, actually. I'll tell you about it when we can hear ourselves think!"

He turned, and started leading them through the broad path between the excited onlookers. When they walked out from under the broad balcony on the second level, the noise from the crowd seemed to surge in volume as the people on the top level started cheering as well. John walked through the open area as he followed in Dylan's wake, smiling at the excited people, and shaking the odd proffered hand. He glanced over his shoulder at the girls to check they were alright, and he grinned when he saw that they were loving the attention. Their eyes sparkled with excitement as they waved at the crowd, beaming bright smiles at the onlookers, who cheered for them all the louder.

Dylan guided them through to the elevators on the other side of the plaza, and they gave the crowd a final wave before the doors closed behind them, and the elevator started to descend. John, Alyssa and Calara shared a glance, then burst into nervous, relieved laughter, their bodies coursing with adrenaline after the unexpected encounter with the crowds. Dylan smiled at them while trying to appear calm, but the slight tremble in his hand gave away the fact that he had found the walk through the crowd just as exhilarating as they had.

They sank down through a dozen levels, before stopping on Deck Twenty Seven, and he led them out into a deserted corridor. He walked along ahead of them for a short distance, then pressed his hand on a DNA reader to the side of a set of double doors. The doors swished open quietly, and mellow music drifted out into the corridor.

"Welcome to Port Megara's Officers' Lounge," Dylan said with a smile. "We might get a few curious officers dropping by, but this is going to be as private as it gets. You're quite the celebrities now."

The lounge was deserted, apart from a bartender, who waved at Dylan in a friendly manner. Dylan walked over to some sofas in the corner of the room, then gestured for them to sit, as he took a seat on the sofa opposite. The bartender walked over briskly to take their orders, then strolled back to the bar to make their drinks, leaving them in peace.

John let out a breath he hadn't realised he'd been holding, and said, "You mentioned we were on the news last night?"

Dylan chuckled and said, "Yes, I can't believe you haven't seen it." He turned in his chair and called across to the bartender, "Hey Pete! Could you try and find us TFNN's latest exclusive on the Lion of the Federation?"

Pete the bartender looked up from the bar, and called back, "Sure! It shouldn't be too hard to find, they repeated it several times, and I saw it this morning too. I'll play the feed on the viewscreen to your right."

Dylan smiled at him, and gave him the thumbs up, before turning to look at his surprising guests once more. He shifted his calm gaze to his sister, and said, "You really have changed, Calara. The little sister I used to know would have been frightened out of her wits by that crowd, and I must admit I found it pretty intimidating. But there you were, playing the crowds like it was second nature. It was very impressive."

Calara blushed slightly, but smiled at him gratefully for the compliment, and said, "When you've seen as much action as we have recently, a crowd of excited civilians doesn't seem quite so daunting."

Her brother shook his head in admiration, and said, "I saw the video of you receiving the 'Lion Defender' medal. Congratulations by the way! Mum and Dad were both delighted."

When he opened his arms for her, Calara got up and sat next to him, and he gave her a big hug. "They both told me to give you a hug from them, so that was it," he said with a wry smile.

She laughed, and said, "Thanks. I've really missed you guys. It was lovely meeting up with everyone back on Jericho."

Dylan nodded and grinned at her, saying, "We definitely need to have a rematch after our draw last time!"

John laughed and said, "Be careful, Dylan! She managed to knock me flat on my ass the other day."

Her older brother was about to reply, when the bartender arrived with a tray of drinks which he set on the table, and handed a remote to Dylan. He glanced at John before he left, and grinned saying, "It's an honour to have you in my bar, Commodore. Keep up the great work!"

John nodded at him, then glanced back at Dylan in surprise. Calara's brother turned to the viewscreen and said, "You probably ought to check this out."

He pressed the button on the remote, and the screen crackled for a moment as it turned on, before filling with the instantly recognisable view of the TFNN newsdesk. The image was frozen on the familiar face of an attractive, dark-skinned reporter, and the banner across the bottom said, Lead anchor - Jehanna Elani.

Dylan unpaused the recording and the reporter's voice drifted out to them clearly, "In a special report today, we have an update on the activities of Commodore John Blake, the Lion of the Federation, and his crew of beautiful lionesses."

Jehanna glanced to her left, and a holographic video appeared, playing footage of John and the girls receiving their Lion Defender medals.

"You no doubt remember the last TFNN exclusive on Commodore Blake's exploits, where he and his heroic crew rescued ninety-two passengers from the liner Excelsior, which had been hijacked by a notorious band of murderous pirates. In this amazing scoop for TFNN, I can reveal to you tonight, that this hero of the Federation has been hard at work, saving citizens from peril once again.

Working closely with Terran Federation High Command, Commodore Blake conducted a lengthy investigation into the mercenary group, the Armoured Cobras. Acting on information provided by High Command, Commodore Blake uncovered the mercenaries had a dark and horrifying past.

Previously known as the New Eden Serpents, this gang of criminals were involved with dozens of high profile kidnappings and murders, spanning over a decade. They used the vast fortune they acquired from their heinous criminal acts, to create entirely new identities for themselves, and establish their mercenary company. These new identities were so painstakingly detailed, it was impossible for the authorities to link these criminals back to their nefarious roots.

In the course of the investigation, Commodore Blake discovered corruption at the heart of New Eden's Police Department! Captain Cliff Buckley had previously sold information on potential targets to the Armoured Cobras, and under interrogation, revealed that the group had started up their kidnapping ways once again.

Commodore Blake led his elite team on a rescue mission, freeing a number of helpless kidnapping victims, who were being ransomed by this evil group of mercenaries. Not content with simply freeing the prisoners, Commodore Blake brought the hand of Federation Justice to bear on this band of murderers. We can reveal today that the Armoured Cobras have been wiped out, their terrible crimes against humanity demanding swift and appropriate punishment."

Jehanna Elani then turned to her right, and a new holo-image showed several images of the prisoners they had rescued, being tearfully reunited with their families. Centred were the two children they had brought safely back to New Eden, running into the arms of their overjoyed parents.

While their mother hugged the children tearfully, the father rose and looked at the camera. A banner scrolling across the screen read, "Ashcroft Lexington III, CEO: Viebecht Corporation". In a voice thick with emotion, he said, "I'll never forget what John Blake did for my family. We were terrified we'd never see our children again, and here they are, safe and sound. Thank you Commodore, from all of us."

As that image faded away, another of the tender scenes expanded to fill the viewscreen, and they recognised one of the women they had rescued. The scrolling bar identified her as Melissa Lincoln-Beaumont, wife of Billionaire Industrialist Pierce Lincoln-Beaumont. She was being hugged by her husband and daughter, and she said to the camera fervently, "I owe the Lion of the Federation my life! It's not every day you get to be in the presence of a true hero!"

The cameras switched back to Jehanna Elani, and she smiled at her audience and said, "Profound words indeed. We here at the TFNN team, wish to thank you Commodore Blake, for protecting the hardworking citizens of the Terran Federation."

Dylan switched off the viewscreen, and turned to face them, an eyebrow raised speculatively. "So, be honest with me. How much of that was bullshit?" he asked them, looking intrigued.

Calara shot a furtive glance towards John, and when he nodded, she leaned in towards her brother whispering, "Keep this to yourself, but High Command had no idea what was going on. Do you remember we said we were going to add a doctor to the crew, and pick her up from the Dragon March?"

Dylan was staring at her intently, and he nodded, saying quietly, "Yeah. I saw all about your exploits against the Kintark on TFNN as well."

Calara nodded, then continued in a hushed voice, "Well, our new doctor lost her mother ten years ago, murdered by these New Eden Serpents. We were investigating the murder, and the clues led us to the Armoured Cobras. The evidence we found was damning, and when we discovered they were still kidnapping and ransoming people, we decided to mount a rescue. We attacked them at their base, and freed their latest group of victims."

Dylan looked at her dubiously and he asked, "Whilst wiping out a whole company of mercs?"

His sister looked puzzled at his question, and replied, "We didn't completely wipe them out, we did capture one of their cruisers."

He laughed and shook his head, before saying quietly, "No, that's not what I was struggling with. A company ranges in size from about one-hundred to two-fifty men, right?"

Calara brightened and nodded, seeing what he was asking, "Ah yes, they had just over two-hundred men on their roster. Most of them were in mechs or tanks though, and they only had three cruisers, a dozen destroyers and a carrier. Well, at least after their allies, the Red Hornets, retreated."

Dylan chuckled, hardly believing his ears, and said, "I'm going to have a hard time convincing Dad I'm telling the truth when I give him an update on your latest adventures. He read the AAR on your Kintark fight by the way. He wouldn't stop talking about you shooting down bombers with Beam lasers." He frowned before he added with a confused shrug, "I guess you'd have to be a Tactical Officer to appreciate that one."

Calara smiled at John, her face glowing with pride, delighted to hear that her father had been following her exploits. He smiled back at her fondly, then glanced over at Dylan, who was studying him with an appraising eye.

John cleared his throat, then asked, "I guess you're probably wondering what brings us this way?"

Dylan's mouth twitched into a smile, and he put his arm around Calara to give her a squeeze as he replied, "Don't get me wrong, it's wonderful to see my little sister, but I did wonder why you dropped by."

"We're heading into Trankaran Space next," John explained, watching Dylan for any reaction. "We heard some stories that the Trankarans were firing on each other, and shooting at merchant shipping as well. Do you know anything more about these rumours?"

The olive-skinned man looked thoughtful, and replied, "I can't corroborate anything about the Trankarans firing on each other, but we had a merchant rushed into the ER last week. He died on the operating table, but his co-pilot told me what happened to them. He said they were thinking about going into Trankaran Space to purchase some Gallanide ore, but they hadn't even made it into their territory when they were interdicted by a Trankaran frigate."

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