Alone In The Night

Chapter 7

Over the next four days, work progressed satisfactorily of the crippled Ares. When the tugs finally arrived, a vast majority of the vessel's systems were fully functional. Unfortunately, the hyperdimensional and main sub-light engines were beyond hope of field repair so she had to face the ignominy of being towed back to the nearest starport before she could continue back to Terra.

When they reached starport 216, Drake and DuGalle presented both their oral and written reports separately. Noting a severe contrast of events, the C-in-C on Terra immediately sent a dispatch requiring DuGalle and Raynor to return to Terra for a formal inquiry into the events. The Admiralty held the inquiry based on the reports and testimony of DuGalle, Raynor, and several members of their respective crews taken by reporters on the starport and transmitted to Terra. They also had both vessels thoroughly inspected and searched for any evidence that might prove either side.

When they received the manifest from the search of the Ares they instantly ceased the inquiry and convened a full court-martial. As the investigators for the court-martial looked over the evidence confiscated from the Ares and scoured the witnesses' testimony for any inconsistencies, Drake sat all alone in his small 8' x 10' cell. Allowed no bail and no visitors by the court, he had nothing to do but wonder what the hell had happened.

There was no way the evidence found on his ship could have been there before he began the mission. He had seen and heard log entries from his own database used as evidence that he had never recorded. Hearing his own voice using words he had never spoken angered him greatly. When it was his turn to present his evidence and testimony on his behalf, the prosecuting attorney tore him to pieces on the cross-examination. Drake could provide no reasonable excuse for the magical appearance of log entries and cargo. He also could not provide a good reason for disobeying a direct order and going off course. By the end of his session on the stand, he felt even more certain that he would hang then when he had begun.

On the final day of the court-martial, Drake stood at full attention next to his appointed lawyer. This was the day he had been dreading since this whole thing began. The jury had just returned from more than a week of deliberation, and was ready to pronounce judgement. Once all 16 of them were seated, the First Judge of the tribunal addressed the jury.

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?"

The spokesman of the jury stood up and unrolled a piece of parchment, "We have, your Supreme Honor. We the jury find the defendant, Captain First Class Drake Verne Raynor, guilty as charged on all counts."

The First judge then turned and addressed Drake, "Captain Raynor, it is the judgement of this court, as well as that of the jury, that you are guilty as charged of conspiracy, directly disobeying your orders, and violating an Imperial directive concerning the Voltath situation. Due to your exemplary record of service and the unfailing loyalty you have demonstrated throughout your career, the nominal sentence of death is commuted."

The groans in the audience were more than obvious, but Drake allowed himself a slight sigh of relief at the judge's statement. They had been rather lenient, but he was still supremely worried about what was still to be said.

"However, it is the judgement of this court that you should be dishonorably discharged from the Terran Imperial Spacefleet and forever banished outside the borders of the Terran Empire. You will be allowed to take your own ship and anything else you own that you may require except for weapons or any technology you acquired from your service in the Spacefleet. Any items you leave behind will be confiscated by the Terran government and sold at auction. If you ever return to this planet or any other inside Imperial space, you will be put to death then and there."

As the First Judge slammed the gavel down three times, Raynor shuddered as if he had been struck with it. He would have preferred death to the ultimate dishonor of banishment. His family name, one that had for generations been a symbol of Terran honor, was now tarnished forever. He would be forced to exist now without the warmth of human comfort. His mind full of the horrible thoughts of his sentence, he hardly noticed as he was cuffed and escorted through the sea of reporters to a hover-car at the front of the Capital Courthouse.

He was taken from the courthouse in the Terran capital city of Moscow to his private home in Marseille, France to collect his belongings. He had been given three days to gather what he needed and say goodbye before he would be taken with his ship outside the borders of the Empire. It took him less than an hour to pull together everything he would take from his home. As was law, he would be allowed to spend his last nights at his own home, but would be under direct surveillance the entire time by armed military police. Most everything he knew he would need he had carefully hidden in his ship many years before as a doomsday precaution. He spent the rest of that day and night sitting in the easy chair in his bedroom with a decanter of whiskey, his guard just outside the only door to the room. As he attempted to piece together the events of that day in his mind, he tried to figure out why DuGalle had done this thing, and why he didn't see it until it was too late.

When the sun rose, he stood up from the chair and walked towards his closet. For years he had worn nothing but his uniform. The only civilian clothes he still had barely fit and looked horrible and faded. But he had to learn to cope with life as a civilian and as an outcast. He was a man with no home, a citizen without a homeland. He had worked his entire life to build himself as a model officer and to establish a firm and glorified career, but it had all been taken away in one fell swoop.

He went with the infernal military escort, which was under orders to follow him everywhere for fear he would run away, to collect the rest of the things he would need. His first stop was the bank to have his life's earnings put on a computer chip translated into Galactic Trade Credits. He could support himself for life on the earnings he had put away. He had intended for it to be a nest egg for his children, when he finally got around to having them. He had accumulated more than four million credits in his career, both by direct pay and wise investment, which would now be his sole savior. With that done, he then went out to find some civilian clothes that actually fit. He spent that day roaming the huge malls with his guard dogs always one step behind him. Once all his shopping was finished, he had his escort take him to his ship.

His vessel had been a gift from the C-in-C upon his promotion to Captain 1st class almost 5 years ago. It was a small vessel, originally designed for short trips between two close stars. During his years of command, he had used some of his hefty pay to modify and upgrade many features of the craft. He had nearly doubled the cargo space on the ship with hidden compartments and by installing a molecular synthesizer to take care of any food requirements. The hyperdimensional drive had been enhanced to give it extended range and speed. There were also numerous pieces of Spacefleet property that he had smuggled from his various commands and reported as lost in action. He had also taken the liberty of purchasing and installing a few ion pulse lasers and a B'neri photon pulse launcher. Though these armaments were minor compared to a large-scale warship, they could handle any smuggler or pirate who decided he liked Drake's ship.

He put his purchases in the aft cargo hold and sealed it with his personal access code. He then took his seat in the cockpit and began to warm up the ships systems. The personnel at the docking facility had been running periodic checkups and maintenance on the craft while it had been there, a part of their service, but the ship had not been in space since its maiden cruise, the day he first received it. Systems were slow coming online, but eventually everything was powered up and ready for launch.

Drake strapped himself to the pilot's chair while his ever-present "big brothers" took seats on the cramped passenger bench behind him. He activated the communications transceiver and opened a channel on a standard hailing frequency.

"Ares, this is the Expedition. I am ready for liftoff requesting clearance to proceed."

The voice of the new captain responded in poorly concealed disgust, "Clearance granted. Assume a geo-synchronous orbit 120 kilometers above your current position."

As Drake acknowledged, his security board lit up as multiple weapons systems locked on to his vessel. Apparently no chances were being taken as this King of Traitors was being transported. He guided his vessel to the designated orbit alongside the vessel that awaited them. Once he cut the engines, the Ares activated a tractor beam and placed them in the aft main shuttlebay.

Once the small vessel was secured and powered down, Drake was escorted under guard to his temporary quarters for the 4-week journey to the edge of the Empire. He would be deposited outside the border of the Empire, near the planet Halcor, the "crossroads" of known space. The borders of the three major empires intersected near this neutral planet creating a place where interstellar business, both legitimate and otherwise, could be conducted with little fear of interruption. This was also the place where Drake would have to find his new life, forever severed from his home and his family.

Throughout the long journey to the outskirts of the empire, the only thing Drake could think about, the same thing that had been on his mind for days, was what had happened and why. Left alone, save for the meals he received each day, he dwelled heavily on that fateful last mission. Many times he had stared into this very brig at a prisoner and wondered what could possibly be going on in his mind. Now, the tables turned, he knew the answer all too well: dread, fear, and confusion.