Part one - https://elitepve.com/viewtopic.php?f=31&t=6471
As it turned out, luck, or something a whole lot like it, was on their side. The Star Ranger made it back to Empire space without further incidence. As his Anaconda exited the last jump, Alex aligned with Godel Dock and closed the distance.
He approached the star port in his preferred fashion: reducing throttle and setting his sights on a point halfway between it and the planet it orbited - Quivira A 2. As the Star Ranger came inline between the two, he rolled over and aligned with Godel Dock. Experience had shown him that approaching stations this way usually placed him in a good position to enter without a lot of adjustments. This came in handy when he was in a time crunch... or couldn't afford such pleasantries as ship scans.
When the computer said it was safe to do so, he disengaged from super cruise. As the familiar shape of the Coriolis station jumped into view, Alex bumped the thrusters to center the Anaconda on the mail slot. There was little room for error. The mass of his ship combined with his speed would only allow for a dead-nuts approach. Satisfied with his alignment, he radioed the station. "Godel Dock, Star Ranger requesting permission to dock."
"Approval granted, Commander. You are cleared to set down on landing pad two-five."
"We need to avoid any scans, so I'll be going in hot," he said to Sheila. She nodded her head in agreement.
Alex hit the boosters one last time. The response from Flight Control was instant. "Reduce your speed immediately, Commander!"Not today...
, thought Alex. Just before he entered, he slammed the engines in reverse and dropped the landing gear. The Anaconda screamed through the station's entrance, past half the landing pads and a few departing ships, and finally started to slow as it approached landing pad twenty-five at the rear of the star port. For a second it looked like they might ram the back wall, but the ship finally came to a stop. After a few minor adjustments (with a little reverse thrown in), Alex dropped the Star Ranger on the landing pad and shut down his engines. As the docking clamps engaged, he issued a request to enter the hanger bay. There was a loud clang and whoosh of air as the pad moved down and back out of sight.
Relieved that they had arrived in one piece, Alex unbuckled and headed for the hanger. "Stay here, for now," he said to Sheila.
"Where are you going?"
"To see the Dockmaster and try to buy us some time. I'll be back."
It didn't take long for Alex to find the Dockmaster, as the man was currently huffing his way down the stairs into the hanger bay. "What the hell were you thinking, blasting in here like that?!?", he bellowed in Alex's direction. "I've half a mind to blow you back out into space!"
Alex stopped in his tracks and threw his arms open wide. "Awww, you know you'd miss me!" At this, the Dockmaster broke into a smile and reached out his arms for a hug.
"Alex, my boy! It's good to see you! How have you been?" The two men exchanged a healthy embrace before pulling back to look each other over.
"Hello Dallas, it's good to see you too!", Alex replied. "Look, I'm sorry about the entrance but I'm in a bit of a jam."
Dallas' brow furrowed and the smile left his face. "What kind of trouble you in?"
"Let's just say I could really use a favor or two. Could you keep this visit 'off the books' and get me patched up as soon as possible?"
"Oh, so it's to be one of THOSE visits, I see..." Dallas rolled his eyes in exaggerated fashion. "Well, this damn pad hasn't been working right lately - guess I'll have to take 'er offline for a while. As for the books--," he winked at Alex and gave a sly grin before continuing, "I've got a gal that's sweet on me in the Records room."
"Thank you," Alex said as he clapped the older man on the shoulder. He turned to go, but Dallas grabbed his arm and pulled him closer. In a somber tone he said "You be careful Alex."
Alex squeezed his friend's arm and put on his best face. "Aren't I always?"
Sheila was back in the cargo area hovering over her brother's cryo-tube when Alex came back aboard. "Well, we should be ok for a while," he told her. He could see she'd been crying again, so he added "How about we see if we can find some help and get your brother out of that thing?"
"Are you sure he'll be safe? I feel like I should stay," she replied.
"Trust me, he'll be fine until we get back. I think you need to get out and unwind a bit. Besides, I know a great little place where the drinks are cold and the food is hot." Alex struck a formal pose and offered Sheila his arm. "Shall we?", he asked.
Sheila looked at the man she had just recently met. They'd already been through so much together, and he had proven to be trustworthy so far. Somewhat timidly, she placed her arm around his and allowed him to lead her off the ship.
Alex made sure the Star Ranger was secure before they left the hanger bay. They walked through the station to the restaurant district. He led her past several prospects that looked promising and stopped in front of a shabby looking establishment. A sign above the door read "The Three Bears" with an animated image showing three slightly inebriated bears holding mugs and dancing around. It didn't seem like much from the outside, but the place was noisy and packed with people.
"This is where you want to go? The Three Bears? Doesn't look that good to me," Sheila commented.
"What? It's famous!", Alex replied. "Surely you've heard the story of Godel Dock and The Three Bears?" He watched her expression change from confusion to amusement. They both laughed together. "That's better...," he said. "Let's go in."
They entered and found a stand up table against a wall away from the bar. They looked over the holographic menu together and selected something to eat and drink. As they waited for their food to arrive, Alex surveyed the room.
"See anybody you recognize?", Sheila asked.
"Not yet, but I'm still--"
"Alex? Man, I thought that was you!"
They both turned to look at the newcomer. He was tall and slightly built with long blond hair that covered his eyes, but not his hawkish nose and toothy grin.
"Davey! Man, it's good to see you. What have you been up to?" Alex asked.
"Oh, same 'ole, same 'ole. Just tinkering with this or that... you know." Davey replied. He was speaking to Alex, but his eyes were on Sheila. "So, who's your lady friend?"
Alex turned to Sheila, then back to Davey. "Ah, this is Sheila Va--, er, Sheila," he replied, catching himself. He turned back to Sheila to complete the introduction. "Sheila, this is my friend Davey. He's a technological genius. There's probably nothing he can't make or fix." Davey reached across the table and shook Sheila's hand. "Pleased to meet you," he said. Sheila nodded in response.
"Say, Davey, you know anything about cryo-tubes?" Alex asked.
"Yeah man. They're cramped and they keep things cold. Why?"
"Think you could open one... safely?"
"Depends, I guess. Is it rigged to explode or something?" Davey laughed.
Alex paused. He hadn't considered that possibility until now. "Don't know," he replied truthfully.
Davey stopped mid-laugh, and both he and Sheila stared wide-eyed back at Alex. "Really?!?" Davey asked.
Alex shrugged his shoulders. "Do you think you could have a look at it?"
"Sure man," Davey replied.
Their food and drinks arrived, and Alex insisted that Davey stay and partake as well. Afterwards, the three of them walked back to the Star Ranger. Once aboard, it didn't take long for Davey to confirm there was nothing out of the ordinary about this particular cryo-tube.
"Standard model," he said. "Really, these things are pretty fool-proof, man. We just change a setting or two--," he fiddled with the control panel before continuing, "and press here, and Wah-lah!" Lights on the cryo-tube changed from green to red and the top cover rolled out of the way.
Sheila asked worriedly "Is everything ok?"
Davey replied "Oh yeah, I just shut off sleep mode. We just need to give him some time. Shouldn't take more than a minute or two."
They all stood by and watched as Sheila's brother slowly awoke from his hibernated state. As he opened his eyes, Sheila rushed forward to hug him. He groggily returned the hug.
Alex turned to Davey and touched him on the arm to get his attention. "Thank you Davey. I really appreciate the help."
"Hey, no worries man. So, you gonna keep that?"
"The tube? Nah, we don't need it. You want it?"
"Yeah, man, that'd be awesome! I've got some ideas for it."
"Consider it yours," Alex said. Then he leaned in closer and added "And if you could just forget how you came in possession of it, that'd be great."
"Hey, no problemo man. I forget how I get most of my stuff! Thanks!"
Davey could see they needed some time, and he was anxious to take ownership of his new prize. As he headed for the exit, he yelled back "I'm gonna go get something to cart it home with, man. I'll be back!"
"OK," Alex replied as he waved goodbye to his friend. He turned back and assisted Sheila in helping her brother out of the cryo-tube. "Let's get you somewhere a little more comfortable."
They helped him up to the cabin area, and Alex offered a cup of hot tea, which he gratefully accepted.
Sheila sat next to her brother with her arm around him for support and warmth. As he sipped his tea, she began the formal introductions. "This is my brother, Patrice Vasquez. Patrice," she said gesturing to Alex, "this is Alex Granger. He was... he helped me rescue you."
Patrice reached out a shaky hand in Alex's direction. "Thank you."
"My pleasure," Alex said as he shook Patrice's hand. "Are you ok? Do you need anything?"
Patrice smiled. "I'm fine. I would like to know where we are and what is going on, though."
"Understood," Alex said. "You're aboard my ship and we're docked at Godel Dock in the Quivira system. Empire space." Alex paused to let this sink in before he continued. "You were apparently kidnapped by the Federation and bound for one of their remote systems to be kept as a hostage. Your sister knows more about that part."
Sheila exchanged a glance with Alex, then turned to her brother and continued the explanation. "Some Federal officials showed up a few days ago claiming they were holding you as a diplomatic hostage to ensure that Father would vote the way they wanted him to. After they left, I urged Father to send someone to find you, but he wouldn't hear of it."
A hint of anger entered Sheila's voice as she continued, "He said the only way to ensure your safe return was to do as he was told. I reminded him that we had seen this kind of thing before, and it didn't always turn out that way. I pleaded with him again to send someone or let me go!"
Sheila looked down and clenched her fist. "Father forbade me and said the matter was closed." She looked at Patrice and continued, "I borrowed one of the patrol ships and was able to catch up with the officials that had come to our home. They laughed, once they understood it was just me looking for you. They told me if I hurried, I might be able to catch the ship you were on. They even told me the name of the ship and where it was--". Sheila started to sob.
Patrice took his sister's hand in his and said "That was very brave of you. So you and Mr. Granger found the ship and rescued me, and here we are."
"Well, that's not quite--" Alex began before Sheila interrupted "That's right. WE found the ship and here we are!"
Patrice chuckled at the sudden change in his sister's demeanor. He had a feeling there was more to it, but he didn't want to see her upset again, so he let it go.
Alex moved to change the subject a bit. "So, Patrice, how did they get you in the first place?"
"Ah, well...," Patrice answered, "that was my fault for trusting strangers. I had been working rather hard lately, and I decided that a brief vacation was in order. I hired a pilot to take me on a sight-seeing excursion to some of the more famous locations around Beta-Hydri. It was going rather well, until the pilot informed me that we were going to do an unplanned docking. I asked if everything was alright with the ship, to which he replied it was just to drop off something important while he was in the area."
Patrice chuckled as he reflected on his words. "Turns out, I guess I was the 'something important' that was being dropped off! The next thing I know, these goons bust into my private cabin, incapacitate me, toss me in a cryogenics pod and the next thing I see is my sister's face!"
He squeezed Sheila's hand before continuing, "That's all I remember. So what happens now?"
"Well, it looks like you two can go back to living your lives and your father can vote his conscience." Alex answered. "Now we just need to get you back home safely."
Sheila's face lit up. "I'll be so happy to be home again! I"m sure Father will want to thank you personally!"
Alex looked her in the eye and smiled briefly before clarifying his statement. "I wish I could go with you Sheila, but they'll probably be looking for me and I don't want anyone else to get hurt." Patrice looked a little puzzled, and Sheila was visibly disappointed.
"But we don't know anyone here except you. Who else can we trust?", she asked.
"I've got someone in mind. You too stay aboard the ship until I get back."
Alex stopped by the bridge on his way off the ship to check on the repairs and lock out the flight controls. Better safe than sorry
, he thought. They seem nice enough, but it'd be a shame to have them run off with my ship!
A short time later, Alex returned. "Good news!", he said as he found Sheila and Patrice. "The man I was looking for actually docked here yesterday. His name is Hugh Taggart, and he's agreed to take the two of you back to Beta Hydri."
"Can we trust him? How well do you know him?", Sheila asked.
"I'd trust him with my life," Alex said somberly. "He and I go way back. Been through a lot together. He's a good man and a good friend."
"When do we leave?", Patrice asked.
"As soon as you're ready," Alex replied. "He's getting his ship ready as we speak."
"I guess we're ready now," Sheila answered tearfully. She could hardly bring herself to look in Alex's direction.
"Good.", Alex said. "That's good... Patrice, we'll have to get you into a flight suit - his ship isn't as big as mine and doesn't have separate passenger cabins. It looks like you and I are about the same size. Hang on." Alex left for a moment and returned with a spare flight suit. "Here," he said tossing it at Patrice. "Try that on for size."
The suit turned out to be a workable fit, and soon the three of them were heading to the landing pad where Commander Taggart's ship rested. Sheila and Patrice exchanged looks as they walked up to the Cobra MkIII.
Commander Taggart appeared from behind his ship. He'd been watching the three approach and had noticed the worried expressions from Sheila and Patrice. "Don't worry. She might not be as spacious as the Star Ranger, but she's as fast as they come and well defended to boot. You'll be safe."
Alex embraced his old friend, then turned to make the formal introductions. "Sheila, Patrice, this is Commander Hugh Taggart. He's an old friend, and a cunning pilot. Hugh, these are my friends, Sheila and Patrice."
"Pleasure to meet you both," Hugh said, extending his hand in friendship. They exchanged handshakes and he continued, "Welcome aboard. Feel free to take any seat but mine, and we'll be on our way."
"Thank you Commander Taggart," Patrice replied. He then turned to Alex. "And I want to thank you too, Commander Granger, for all that you've done for my sister and me." Alex shook his hand and nodded.
Sheila was starting to cry again and she hugged Alex and sobbed "I don't know what we would have done without you!"
"Something tells me you'd have done alright," he told her. "You take care of that brother of yours!"
"I will," she said, as she smiled and hugged him once more.
Patrice grabbed his sister's hand and together they boarded the Cobra. Alex embraced Hugh one last time. "Take care of them, Hugh."
"Don't worry, I will," Hugh replied. "See you when I get back?"
"You know, I'd really love that, but I think it's best if I get lost for a while," Alex responded. "Guess I've made some Feds angry, but then again, what else is new?"
They both laughed and waved goodbye as Hugh joined the other two aboard his ship. Alex walked to the observation area and watched as the Cobra undocked and left the station. I hope everything works out for them
, he thought. Something about that girl made his heart ache.
He made his way back to the Star Ranger to view the repair progress. When he arrived at the hanger bay, he found that Dallas was there.
"Well, your timing's good," Dallas said as he noticed Alex approaching. "She's ready to go. I was just double-checking my list."
"Thanks Dallas. I guess I should get out of here before someone starts asking about your broken landing pad. What do I owe you?"
"For the repairs? Nothing you can't afford. Then there's the matter of a bottle of Lavian Brandy -- for record keeping!" Dallas winked and smiled broadly as he handed the data pad to Alex.
"Ouch!" Alex exclaimed in mock protest as he looked at the bill. "Still, not bad under the circumstances. Approved." He scanned his hand on the pad and handed it back. "Thanks again for taking care of me Dallas!"
"It's what I do. You be careful out there, and watch yourself on launch. Could get tricky. Remember, they don't know you're here... best be ready when the time comes!" The two embraced and Alex boarded his ship.
He strapped in and looked over the ship's status. Everything looked good. A quick pre-flight check, and he sent the request to launch. As the landing pad returned his ship to the dock area, he cleared his throat and spoke into the comm. "Flight Control, Sta--", he caught himself and continued "...er, pad two-five requesting departure." Smooth... real smooth.
A confused voice came from the radio. "This is Flight Control. Commander, umm, we don't have any record of you docking. Just a moment..."
Alex tried to suppress his nervousness as he replied, "Hmmm, that's odd. Well, here I am so, obviously, I did dock, and now I'd like to undock. So, if it's all the same to you, I'll just be on my way."
A different voice teeming with authority responded, "Commander, this is Flight Control. Power down immediately and await further instruction! We are conducting an inquiry at this time. Station Security has been informed."Awww, hell!
, Alex thought. And it was going so well, too...
Just as he was about to shut off the power, he heard the unmistakable clang of the docking clamps being released. Good 'ole Dallas!
He fired the lift thrusters, raised the landing gear and boosted towards the mail slot. All kinds of alarms were going off in response to his unsanctioned egress. Alex cleared the mail slot, and continued to boost. He flipped the Star Ranger ninety degrees to get out of the station's firing arc. Security Vipers swarmed on him and ominous messages appeared on the HUD declaring their intentions.
"Sorry, boys! Can't stay for the party!", Alex said out loud as he cleared the mass lock and engaged the FSD. As the computer commenced the countdown, he continued to boost. "Well, looks like Godel's off-limits for a while..."
The Vipers were lining up for the shot as the Star Ranger jumped out of system. Having no orders to follow, they returned to their patrol.
Back inside Godel Dock, a team from Station Security arrived at landing pad twenty-five to find the Dockmaster busily working at a console.
"What is the meaning of this? I demand to know what is going on here!", the Security leader barked, as the others leveled their weapons.
Dallas turned around to face them with a mixture of surprise and frustration on his face. "Hey there, fellas!" He shrugged, then continued "Guess I'll have to take 'er out of commission again. Damn docking clamps keep malfunctioning."
"Yes, but how did that ship get here in the first place?", the Security leader demanded.
"How should I know?" Dallas responded indignantly. "It's Flight Control that let's 'em in. I just keep the pads working!"
The Security leader didn't seem to have an answer for this, so he responded with his stock phrase. "Alright. We'll get to the bottom of this! Back to Flight Control."
As the last of Security left the pad, Dallas wiped the sweat from his forehead and leaned back against the console. "Good luck, Alex.", he said to himself.