Alone In The Night

Chapter 8

When the Ares reached the coordinates where Raynor would be deposited, a heavily armed security team escorted him to the main docking bay where his sentence would be carried out. As he was led through the corridors he felt the eyes of the crewmen lock onto him as they passed. Though they said nothing, he had commanded this vessel long enough to know exactly what every member of the crew had to be thinking. The five-minute march seemed like five years until he finally reached the airlock door to the docking bay.

When he was marched through the doors he looked around to see who was there, and saw no one. He didn't even notice his guards leave him until the airlock door opened and shut as they left. He stood and contemplated for a minute when a voice startled him from behind.

"What the hell happened, sir?"

Drake turned swiftly to confront the man who had magically appeared. The rapidity of his action frightened the man who immediately returned to his hiding spot behind a cargo container. Drake took a chance and called out, "Lieutenant Kelson?"

The man came slowly out from behind the container and stood at attention beside it. Actually, sir, it's Lieutenant Commander." Drake looked at his shoulder and saw the two thick stripes with the thinner one in the middle. He could also see the uncertainty and fear in Kelson's eyes as he again voiced the questions that had plagued Drake for days, "What happened, sir? What went wrong?"

Drake walked over and placed a hand on his shoulder. "I wish I knew, Jim. We both know the truth and I have a distinct feeling that it should be DuGalle here instead of me." Drake then looked Kelson directly in the eyes before continuing. "Remember everything. Investigate as deep as you can while keeping yourself safe. I'll do what I can on my own, I have a few friends on Halcor that I can use to keep in touch with Terra. Once I'm settled down I'll contact you. Stay safe, my friend."

The two men shook hands for the last time, then Kelson left the docking bay. Drake walked across the wide deck and boarded his ship. As he sealed the hatch, he felt a vibration through the landing struts as the docking bay was depressurized. He strapped himself into the pilot's chair as the main hangar door was opening and waited. After a minute or so, a pair of tractor beams grabbed his ship and moved it into space. At 100 meters distance from the ship, the beams let go and the door closed.

Drake began powering up the systems when the door was closed as he had been instructed to do. Once his ship was fully powered up, save the engines, his communications board announced with a very annoying beep that he had an incoming transmission. Drake situated himself in the chair to appear relaxed and then hit the accept switch. The form of the Ares' new commander lounging comfortably in the chair that had not long ago been Raynor's filled the small fifteen-centimeter view screen. Drake cleared his throat and put on his all too familiar mask of complete calm.

"Yes, Captain Apen. What can I do for you?"

The man leaned forward slightly, grinned, and with as much contempt as possible said, "Drake Raynor, you have been banished outside the borders of the Empire for as long as you shall live, sentence of death to be immediately imposed should you ever return. Once this ship has gone, you may bring your engines online. The Terran Empire doesn't care where you go, as long as you go away."

Having dismissed Drake out of hand, he turned to his navigator, "Plot a course for Starport 12 and engage hyper-dimensional drive on my mark." He then pointed toward the still active main screen, "and will someone please turn that off."

Drake's communications screen went dark as the transmission was terminated. He watched through his forward view-port as the massive warship banked off toward its new course. The Ares then assumed a stationary position 15 kilometers in front of Drake's vessel facing relative straight down. The ship then seemed to ripple and glow as her hull was charged with radiated hyper-photons. She then vanished in a bright flash and rainbow streak as she entered the incomprehensible complexities of hyperdimensional velocity. Drake was alone once again.

Once his vessel was fully powered up he set his own hyper-dimensional course toward the only destination he could think of. However little solace it might offer, Halcor was the only system close enough to be reached within the next week. The provisions on the vessel could last him for a month, long enough to get to virtually any major system in the known galaxy, but he was not sure if he could make a long journey while still retaining his sanity.

After the small ship launched itself into hyperdimensional velocity, Drake set the computer to alert him in the event of trouble. He then left the small cockpit and walked into the small cabin behind it. As he walked through the doorway, he took a quick glance around and walked all the way in. The door closed behind him as he threw his jacket on the small chair across the cabin from the bed. He crossed to the bed and sat down hard on in. He slowly and deliberately removed his boots and socks, then strode across to the small lavatory attached to the cabin. He removed the rest of his clothes and set them next to the sink, then stepped into the vibra-shower. He clicked the activation switch, then leaned hard against the wall with his hands and arms over his head. As the high frequency sound waves effectively shook the dirt and filth from his body, Drake found it impossible to relax. He could not possibly begin to plan what he would do on his arrival at Halcor, as one single phrase kept going round and round in his mind: "…forever banished beyond the borders of the Empire…"

With his shower finished, he walked back into the cabin and took some clothes from the small closet set back into one bulkhead and from the dresser next to the bed. He slipped the shirt over his head and then worked himself into the loose-fitting sweatpants. He flicked the light off by the door, and then climbed into the small bed. He just lay there for a while, not wanting to stay awake, but unable to find sleep. He hadn't eaten in almost 24 hours, but food was one of the last things he wanted. After a few restless hours of tossing, turning, and groaning, he finally reached what might be called sleep. At first it was a restless sleep, waking every twenty minutes or so at the sound of a gavel slamming down, but he managed to truly fall asleep. Come morning, he would wish he hadn't, as it was a sleep filled with horrible and violent dreams that would torment him for years to come.

For the next four days, Drake wrangled with his emotions and dreams as he fought to stay sane, trapped in his small ship with nothing but his thoughts to distract him. He tried reading the books he had brought, but his old friends always seemed to be mocking him with the tales of gallantry and honor, things he no longer had. Each night he had a drink of whiskey to help him sleep, but he had to resist the almost overpowering urge to simply finish the bottle at once. The last thing he needed to do was follow his grandfather's example and crawl into the bottle. The journey was a true test on the strength of his personality that he barely survived. His nerves were frazzled to the root when he dropped out of hyperdimensional space and entered orbit of Halcor.

As he circled the planet to set down on the pad he had been assigned, he noticed an odd sight: a Terran battle cruiser in high orbit. Drake recognized the IWS Colin Powell even from his distance from the characteristic knobs on the aft section of the disk that housed two extra laser batteries each. He was about to hail the ship, when he noticed a shuttle leaving the main hangar and heading toward the surface. As the shuttle entered the atmosphere and was obscured but the corresponding streak of smoke and fire, Drake resumed his own course toward the surface. After emerging from the radio blackout, he was guided by landing control to a small hangar near the outer ring of the station. The station itself was shaped like a bulls eye with 5 rings and rows of hangars on the outside of each ring. The rings themselves were connected to each other by a spider web of corridors and tram tracks. As Drake settled into the bay he had been directed to, he watched the Terran shuttle ease into an adjacent hangar.

Once he had landed and completely powered down his ship, Drake went back into the cabin and packed a duffel with clothes for a few days. That complete, he grabbed the duffel and went into the engineering compartment, a room about 6 feet square that gave him access to the engine and computer cores as well as every other major system on the craft. Drake removed a panel from the floor and reached into the hidden compartment beneath. From this space he produced a medium sized null pouch, a rectangular bag made from a plastic-like material that shielded its contents from any known scanning device. The bag was roughly 40 cm long and 20 wide, made of a grayish opaque material. Along one of the long sides ran a black band, along which Drake ran thumb from one end to the other. Once the seam along that edge had parted, he examined the contents. A silver plated laser pistol, which had been a gift from his father shortly be fore he had died, three charge packs for the laser, a hand-held scanning device, borrowed from the equipment locker of the Ares and reported as lost in action, a portable forcefield generator with self-recharging power cell, and seven galactic identification cards, each with a different identity.

After resealing the pouch and stuffing it into the duffel, he replaced the floor panel and left the room. He walked through the cabin and to the main hatch just aft of the cockpit. When he opened it, he noticed two burly security guards standing to either side of the hatch. After he stepped out and secured the hatch, he was escorted to a security and customs checkpoint. There his bag and his person were thoroughly scanned to ensure he had brought no contraband material to the planet. At one point, Drake was sure his bag would be searched by hand. Were that null pouch to be discovered he would be interrogated and incarcerated, neither of which were on the top of his "to do" list. Once the scans were complete, he was allowed to leave the bay and continue on his way.