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   Chapter 4 No.4

Dead Beckoning By Christina Engela Characters: 5555

Updated: 2018-06-30 12:02

It was all very 'lovely', and Joe Lofflin couldn't take it for much longer.

The faint light of the early dawn began to shine through the window of his hotel room. The curtains were drawn, but they were thin and almost transparent, and only served to slightly obscure the awful, hideous clarity of the green, perfectly manicured, trimmed and manipulated gardens outside. He'd walked outside in those gardens – not alone, but holding hands, and marveled at the various insects – local and imported. He'd 'oohed' at the dancing honey bees and 'ahed' at the foot-long stick insects and caterpillars and all manner of beasties that munched their way through the flowerbeds. The sunrises and sunsets were breathtaking, but he found he could only stomach watching so many of them on a daily basis. Oh, it was all very lovely, of course – but Lofflin had grown tired of it. He'd had enough. He was a spacer, and he longed to get back to what he knew best – space. Running a starship. Making a difference.

The silence was deafening, he realized as he lay there in the twilight of his early morning session of woe. He could almost hear his heart pumping in his ears. No, he could hear it! He shifted his pillow, and continued to recount his grievances to the universe, as if it were actually listening.

For nearly two months now, he and his crew had been on a seemingly endless stint of shore leave, and he couldn't wait for it to be over. Not that he or his crew could just leave, even if they wanted to – their ship was still in space dock undergoing repairs. The Mordrake had taken a lot of damage in their previous encounter with a Corsair raider, when they were out patrolling the border along the treacherous Omegan Quadrant. The Mordrake had, until then, been three months at space, and had had no contacts with any Corsairs until the one it ran into near Horner's World – and that had very nearly been the end of the intrepid crew. The ship's former Captain, Philip Wainwright Blaine, had been eager to score at least one kill before the end of their patrol, when he reluctantly agreed to bring the Mordrake back to Tremaine for some incidental engine repairs… and it was while they were returning that they ran into a Corsair raider! Blaine took them into battle and engaged the Corsair raider against fair warnings from the Chief Entech that the ship was in no condition to do so. In the heat of battle, a cataclysmic failure of the Mordrake's systems caused the ship to suffer a string of direct hits, sustaining critical damage to the very systems that kept her crew alive.

Right after the battle, when the lights came back on and damage control teams were crawling all over the place, Captain Blaine retreated into a bottle inside his quarters for the shame of wh

at his arrogant pride had cost them. After drifting for several days, while running on emergency power, and with the entechs doing their level best to repair the engines, the crew – or at least, the survivors – had to be told that there was nothing to be done, and that they were going to die. And it had been he – Joe Lofflin, the then Exo of the Mordrake, who had been forced through circumstance to take on the role of acting-Captain. In the meantime, Blaine had been murdered by their erstwhile Chief Entech – Lt. Commander Ralph Billingham, who was something of a disgruntled employee, who blamed Blaine for the situation they were in.

As luck would have it, their paths crossed with a derelict alien vessel which they were able to cannibalize for spare parts to get their own engines working again. They were saved! Of course, it hadn't been quite that simple, but here they were, a week or so later, in civilized space again – at Tremaine, safe! Lofflin groaned at the thought. That had been almost two months ago!

They'd expected something of a hero's welcome on returning to Tremaine, after what they'd been through, and their arrival shortly after the Corsair attack on Starbase 91 hardly went unnoticed. Tension among the locals was high at the time because the Space Fleet had only just sent a small squadron of ships to patrol the area, and the colony remained exposed to Corsair attack. Even though the badly damaged Mordrake had made it back this far, it had taken the better part of two months to fix the mess at the local space dock.

For Lofflin, the highlight of their arrival at Tremaine's orbital docking facility hadn't been the hero's welcome at the Official Residence of the Planetary Governor, his subsequent promotion to Captain of the Mordrake, or the news that the Corsair home world had been located and a Fleet task force had been sent to wipe it off the star-maps… no, it was watching the former Chief Entech, Ralph Billingham being frog-marched down the umbilical docking corridor off his ship by a pair of hefty-looking Military Policemen!

The crew had two months shore leave on Tremaine Colony during the repairs. Whereas the I.S.S. Mordrake's activities had been concerned with the business of staying alive, their activities now had been to have a good time, live it up, and make the most of it. Joe Lofflin had done just that. …But he could only watch so many movies at the Metroplex, eat so many candle-lit dinners, walk so many gardens and shopping malls, or sleep late so many mornings in a row… before it became… well, tedious.

A movement and a rustle in the sheets beside him in the darkness derailed his train of thought. A warm, naked young body pressed up against him, and he smiled. Of course, it was lovely here.

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