Stories

Pursuit of Raleigh

Three years ago, I had to arrest the only woman I’d ever loved. Twice. I met Elizabeth Raleigh on a two-week vacation to a little planet called Hyperion II in the Lassen System. She was a guest at the hotel I was staying at. Elizabeth and I had hit it off immediately. In the span of a week and a half, I had somehow fallen for that spunky brunette. Everything seemed like a dream, at least until the dream turned into a nightmare.

One night nearing the end of my vacation, the hotel door was kicked in and our bed was surrounded by a team of well-armed police officers. They were there to serve a warrant for her arrest on charges of theft and murder. There was no possible way she could be guilty of something like that, not the woman I had come to know. I went to protest but before I could, Elizabeth leapt from the bed, clad in only a bed sheet, and ran to the balcony in a cloud of police pistol plasma fire. She took my heart with her.

I found myself in a race to find her before the other officers did. It was a race I won. I had heard the evidence levied against her, but I wanted to hear it from her. She admitted to nothing. Being a detective myself, I was bound by interstellar law. Even though it ripped me apart inside, I had to take her in. She pleaded with me over and over, but I had a job to do. Hours after I had turned her over, I found out she had managed to escape again.

When they were unable to find her, they turned back to me. I didn’t want to go after her again. I wanted to forget. But after weeks of arm twisting and pressure from my boss, I relented and tracked her down yet again. This time, my little tart planted a hidden electromagnetic pulse charge on my ship and as a parting gift for turning her over to the authorities, she remotely detonated it and obliterated all the electrical systems on my ship with it. In my heart, I knew I deserved it. Over the last three years I’ve tried to forget her. Just when I thought I had succeeded, fate had other plans.

I was heading back to GPA Outpost 117, after wrapping up a case in a nearby solar system, when the communication console chirped in front of me. The identity stamp said it was from the Galactic Police Authority. I swiped my hand across the screen to accept the incoming transmission only to see Captain Keith Hammond, my boss. There was no hello. “Did you get her BOLO?”

“BOLO? For who?” Without warning, my ship shook, and a shower of hot sparks rained down on me. The alarms went crazy. “What the-” I scrambled to figure out what had happened, but the scanners kept going offline. The communications console chirped again, and it wasn’t Hammond.

“What’s happening? Is everything okay?” I heard Hammond ask.

The identity stamp was blank. “Hold that thought.” I placed Hammond on standby and answered the mysterious incoming message.

It was her. It was Elizabeth Raleigh. “Hello lover.” All the memories, both good and bad, came flooding back. “I see you got a new cruiser?”

I crossed my arms. “Elizabeth.”

“Aww. You missed me.”

Maybe on some irrational level I did. “I see you escaped.”

Elizabeth gave a curtsey. “What can I say? I needed to stretch my legs.”

The communication console beeped reminding me that Hammond was still on standby. “So now that you’ve stretched your legs, does that mean you’re ready to go back?”

Her smile faded. “Not in the least, which brings me to why I’m here.”

My brow raised. “I was wondering about that.”

“I figured if they’d send anyone after me, it would be you.”

That’s when it hit me. It was her BOLO he was talking about. “That might explain why Captain Hammond is on the other channel.”

Raleigh didn’t look amused. “As delightful as that is, I decided to find you before you found me.”

“Giving up already?”

“Hardly.”

She touched a console hidden from view and I was again covered in a spray of sparks. Power fluctuations rippled through the ship’s systems. More alarms went off. It took a moment to override the computer and silence them. By the console readouts, most of my systems were offline and my engines were in shambles. When I looked back to the communications console, Raleigh was beaming but I wasn’t.

She gave another curtsey, and I kicked the console in frustration. “Sorry Daniel, but I can’t have you getting in my way. Now be a good boy and don’t come after me this time.”

My navigation sensors were unresponsive when I touched them, along with just about everything else. I wasn’t going anywhere, and I had no idea where she was. “What are you up to this time, Elizabeth?”

She gasped playfully. “Whatever do you mean?”

“You know I’m going to find out.”

“Not this time sweetheart.” With that she blew me a kiss and cut the link. It automatically switched back over to Hammond.

Hammond had his arms crossed. “What happened?”

“Another communication came in.” He rolled his eyes at me. “It was from our favorite fugitive.”

“What?” He lunged forward in surprise. “She contacted you?”

I lowered my head somewhat embarrassed. “She did more than that.” He waited for me to elaborate further but I didn’t want to. “I’m going to need a tow.”

I severed the communication link and sat back in my chair surveying the flickering systems. This was not how today was supposed to go.

#

Captain Hammond, in his crisp blue uniform, greeted me in the hangar the moment I had returned. I hadn’t even managed to get out of the cockpit yet. “You’re killing me. Do you know that? That’s the second cruiser you’ve destroyed.”

I lifted my duffle bag from the backseat and slung it over my shoulder. “Technically, sir, that was Elizabeth both times.”

“And? When the commander hears about it, he’s going to have both our asses for breakfast.”

I didn’t like it any more than he did. Hammond held out an information pad toward me. I knew what he wanted but I wasn’t going to, not this time. “No.”

“Daniel-“

“No.” He started to say something else, but I interrupted him before he could get it out and pushed the information pad back toward him. “I said no.”

Captain Hammond shoved the information pad back in my direction. “You’re going after her.” This time he returned the favor and stopped me before I could let out a witty reply. “You’re not going to win this battle. This is my department, and you work for me. I’m telling you; you’re going after her.”

My stomach knotted up. I could barely keep her out of my thoughts since my last encounter with her. Concentrating on nothing but her wasn’t going to be good for me. “Why me?”

Hammond cocked his head backwards in disbelief. “You know why.”

“Sir, please. Don’t make me do this.”

“I’m sorry Daniel.” Part of me wanted to tell him to go jump out of an open airlock and the other part actually wanted to see Elizabeth again. I needed my head examined for even thinking it. To keep myself from saying something I’d regret, I silently focused on the bulkhead behind him. Hammond smiled at my exaggerated huff as I took the information pad from him. “Our intel leads us to believe her target is a museum on Taolos. We don’t know what she’s after but I’m hoping you can round her up before she makes any more trouble. For what it’s worth, thank you for doing this.”

His thanks made my lips curl. “Right.”

Hammond’s demeanor lightened. “I can’t wait to see how long it’ll take you to track her down on foot.”

I sent a glare in his direction. “Funny. So how exactly am I supposed to track her down when my ship looks like this?” I motioned toward my damaged cruiser.

He chuckled and shook his head at me. “Don’t worry. I’ve got a-”, he paused, “replacement for you. Right over there.”

Hammond pointed to rust bucket of a ship, one that looked like it had been abandoned to a junkyard well before I was born. “You can’t be serious. Where’s my real replacement?”

“You’re looking at it. That’s your new bird.”

My stomach flopped. “Does it even fly?”

 “Of course. And if you decide to destroy this one too, no one will scream.” That one stung. But he had a good point. “You bring Raleigh in and I’ll talk to the commander about getting your old one fixed up. Until then, that one’s yours.”

I pursed my lips and looked down at the information pad in my hand. “When do I leave?”

“Now.” He said it with a smile.

I huffed and looked back at the rust bucket. There were paint chips and metal fragments on the hangar floor beneath it. “This thing better not give me tetanus.”

Hammond chuckled. He started to walk away but then turned back toward me. “Daniel, don’t let her get under your skin again.” I’m sure he knew those were wasted words. We both knew it was already too late for that.

#

The rust bucket was faster than I expected. After a quick check-in with the Port Authority on Talos, I went to find a hotel where I could get a shower and figure out the surroundings. Elizabeth was here somewhere; the only question was where. Using a tip from a local, I checked into the Discovery Hotel. Not a bad place for the money. I dropped my bags off in my room and noticed one of the complimentary brochures had a map. It indicated the Taolos Museum of Interstellar History, Elizabeth’s target, was located only 6 or 7 blocks away from hotel. I got my hands on a rent-a-hover and headed right over to the museum. I needed to warn the management of the potential theft, that is, if she hadn’t already pulled off the heist. If she hadn’t, she’d be doing it soon. I just wished I knew what she was going after.

I flashed my badge to the lady at the museum ticketing counter and asked her to get her manager. After a couple of minutes Mr. Welsh, the museum curator, came down to the front desk and introduced himself. He was dressed in a dark green suit and his brown hair was slicked back.

“Nice to meet you Mr. Welsh. My name is Detective Daniel Kramer. I’m here on behalf of the Galactic Police Authority.”

The man shifted his stance. “Is there something wrong?”

I looked back at the waiting line of patrons behind me. “Perhaps we can go somewhere and talk in private.”

“Please. If you would follow me?”

I entered through the turnstile and followed him to his office. The office was a museum itself. The room was lined in books and held artifacts from all over the galaxy. We took a seat and got down to business. I pulled up a picture of Elizabeth Raleigh on my information pad and slid it over to him. “Mr. Welsh, have you seen this woman?”

He picked it up and laid it back down. “No.” A weird expression had flashed across his face when he first saw the photo.

“Are you sure?”

“Quite.”

I had a strong feeling he was lying. “Okay. I have reason to believe she’s after something in your museum.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about that. We pride ourselves on having the rarest of the rare of ancient off-world artifacts. Do you honestly think that our security systems would be so inadequate that a mere thief could waltz in and out with one of our prized artifacts? Detective, I think you’ll find my artifacts are well protected.”

That wasn’t the reaction I was expecting. He wasn’t even curious as to what she was after or who she was. Any normal person would be quizzing me until I was out of breath. “All right. If you do happen to see her, please contact me.” I gave him my communications link ID number.

“Absolutely.”

We shook hands and I left him to his work. Since I was already inside, I went ahead and walked through the museum. I figured there was no sense in wasting the opportunity. The museum itself had several off-world artifacts, most of which didn’t seem like the type that Elizabeth would attempt to steal. At least that’s what I thought until I ran across an unassuming display that held a white gold necklace with red star diamonds. The name of the necklace was almost too perfect, the Stars of Raleigh. The gold plaque beneath it said the red star diamonds were the rarest diamonds in the known galaxy and these were the only ones known to exist. This had to be what Elizabeth Raleigh was after, but it seemed too obvious to be true.

It wasn’t too long before I noticed the curator making rounds as if spying on what I was doing. If I didn’t know better, I’d say my presence made him more uncomfortable than the idea of a possible theft. Why was that? I moved on to other displays and out of his range of vision. He was quick to follow. There was something strange about it all. I found a seat and took to watching the patrons of the museum. It was meant to make the curator uncomfortable but to my surprise something else came out of it. Elizabeth Raleigh came waltzing into the room in full disguise. She wore a cropped blonde wig, glasses and a non-assuming grey jacket and skirt. But there was no mistaking those long legs for anyone else. I remembered them all too well.

The curator turned his attention from me when he saw her. The fact that he could recognize her like I could confirmed my suspicion that he’d seen her before. Elizabeth didn’t appear to be making a go for the necklace, at least not yet. If she saw me, I knew she’d try to make a break for it, so I decided to keep my distance. Unlike me, the curator did the opposite and went right up to her. I couldn’t make out the exchange but the two of them were arguing with one another, low key enough not to make a scene. I reached for my cuffs but as I did, she stormed off toward the exit. The curator followed right behind her.

With cuffs in hand, I pushed my way through the museum crowds heading after the two of them. Elizabeth was gone by the time I reached the entrance. The curator stood at the front desk with his arms crossed looking toward the exit. He didn’t appear all that happy. What I was about to do next wasn’t going to improve his mood much. “Mr. Welsh?”

“What?” He said with an angry tone. Mr. Welsh turned around toward me with his arms still crossed.

“Should I arrest you right here and now?”

His arms unfurled. “Arrest? Why?”

“Obstructing an active investigation for one.”

The lady at the sales desk looked back at our exchange with her mouth agape.

“There must be some mistake. I haven’t done anything.”

I let one end of the stasis cuffs drop and dangle in front of him. His eyes widened. “Mr. Welsh, you lied to me. I showed you the picture of Elizabeth Raleigh and you told me you’d never seen her before. We both know you have. In fact, you just spoke to her. Did you not?”

“But I-“

I didn’t give him the opportunity to respond. “Mr. Welsh, you have the right-“

“Wait. Wait!”

At last I had his interest. “I’m listening.”

“Let’s take this back to my office. There’s no need to do this in front of the patrons.”

The museum visitors were looking onward at us quite curious as to what was going down. I nodded to him and followed him back to his office. He closed the door behind us, and we sat down. “Now Mr. Welsh, let me make one thing clear. I want the truth. If you don’t give me the full truth, I’ll see to it that you spend some quality time behind bars.”

Mr. Welsh shifted in his seat. “Okay.”

“She was here. I saw her. What did you two argue about?” He hesitated to answer me. “Mr. Welsh?

“She wanted me to give her the necklace. I told her no and to get out of my museum.”

“Did she say why she wanted the necklace?”

“No.”

“So why did you tell me you hadn’t seen her before when apparently you had?”

“I don’t know.”

Like I really believed that. “I want the truth.”

“I owe her money. Okay?”

I wasn’t about to believe she broke out of jail to collect on a debt. Elizabeth Raleigh liked money but that wasn’t the Elizabeth Raleigh I remembered. One thing I learned about Elizabeth, if you wanted her to do something, tell her not to do it. She never took the word no very well. After their little spat on the museum floor, I was willing to bet she’d be back. And if I knew her like I thought I did, she’d be back tonight after the museum closed.

“Mr. Welsh, I’m not so certain I believe you. I think you’re hiding something from me.” He stayed quiet. “But I don’t care. What I care about is catching her. So, let me explain how this is going to work. You’re going to allow me to spend the night in the museum after closing. And when she comes for the necklace, I’m going to get her.”

“You think I’m going to let you stay in my museum overnight?”

“It’s that or we take a trip to the local GPA precinct.” I jingled the stasis cuffs. “Your choice.”      

#

A few hours later I returned to the museum with my surveillance equipment in tow. Mr. Welsh had agreed to let me spend the night. I hated that I paid for a hotel room but catching her sooner than later was all for the best. I met up with Mr. Welsh right before closing and got briefed on the security systems. He made sure my identity card was granted permissions to access any place I needed to go, including exiting the museum without the alarms going off. I setup shop in the same room I had seen Elizabeth earlier that day.

Some people enjoyed a stake-out. Not me. Waiting for something that might not happen didn’t thrill me. Hours passed by but Elizabeth didn’t disappoint me. The light clicks of her heels against the tiled floor grabbed my attention. Moments later she came into view and went straight for the case where the necklace was sealed. She had disposed of the disguise; she now wore a black catsuit with matching boots and her brown hair was bound in a ponytail. I stood up and walked up behind her, as quiet as I could. She pulled a field disruptor from her bag and placed it in her mouth while she searched for something else in her bag. Elizabeth produced a scanner from her bag, removed the disruptor from her mouth and began to use it on the edges of the case. By the looks of things, she was going to attempt to deactivate the case alarms and the force field around the necklace. That wasn’t something I was going to let her do. “You don’t think it’s going to be that easy, do you?”

Elizabeth jumped but regained her composure. “Daniel.” She tossed her equipment to the side and took off running.

“Oh no you don’t!” I chased after her fully intent on not letting her escape. Typically, I would have pulled my sidearm but she and I both knew I couldn’t use it on her. Elizabeth whipped around a corner that sent me sliding. That woman was quick, but I wasn’t going to let her get away. We ran past several exhibits, but it didn’t take long to catch up to her. When I was in close enough range, I leapt and grabbed her feet. The both of us hit the ground with a smack. I should have seen the bottom of her boot coming but I didn’t. She kicked me right in the jaw, thankfully not with the spiked heel. The kick was hard enough for me to let go and for her to get to her feet before I did. “Bye, baby.”

I slapped the floor as I got to my feet and went after her. “I’ve got you this time.” She was headed for a dead end. Finding herself closed in on all sides she slid to a stop. As she turned around to find another way, I tackled her to the floor.

“Damn it!” She exclaimed while struggling against me. On top of her, I forced her hands to the floor. “Why are you so persistent?”

“I could ask you the same thing.” To my surprise she rolled us over to where she was on top.

“I told you not to follow me.” There was a hint of tease in her tone.

“And you thought I’d listen?”

She smiled and leaned in close enough for me to smell her perfume. “Of course not.” Elizabeth leaned down and kissed me with her soft lips. That hit me harder than her boot had. “Come with me.” Elizabeth sounded serious. “We don’t have to be on different sides.” It took a moment for her offer to register. I rolled her over again so that I was on top.

“You know I can’t do that.” She caught my eyes drifting from hers down to her lips and smiled.

“Are you sure?”

I looked into her deep chocolate brown eyes and kissed her back. I released one of her hands and reached behind my back for my stasis cuffs. Her free hand didn’t resist me. Instead she ran her fingers through my short sandy blonde hair as we continued to kiss. It was enough for me to pause my hunt for my cuffs but only for a moment. I broke the kiss and cuffed her. “You can come with me though.” She exhaled and laid her head back on the tiled floor. I rolled off and got to my feet, pulling her up with me. “Elizabeth Raleigh, you have the right-“

“To another kiss?”

A smiled formed on my face. “To remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of interstellar law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”

“You know I do.” Her heels clicked on the tile floor as I made a call over to the local precinct to have her picked up. “So now what?”

“They’ll come and get you. You’ll then be returned to the Epsilon Gamma II detention facility.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “That’s not what I meant.” There was silence between us for several moments. “That was nice you know.”

“What was?” I asked as I walked her toward the entrance.

“Our kiss.” The kiss was nice but that wasn’t something I wanted to confess to her. She let out a huff at my silence. “Why are you so afraid to admit it?” I remained silent. In the distance I could hear the sirens coming closer. She lowered her head. “Is it because I’m an escaped criminal?”

“That might have something to do with it.”

Elizabeth looked up at me. “Then why did you kiss me?” I crossed my arms after hearing her question. The vehicles appeared outside with their lights flashing. She looked me dead in the eyes. “I know I tease and I’m a pain in the ass, but I do care about you Daniel Kramer. Her stasis cuffed hands reached out to mine. Before I realized it, I had reached out my hand to hers and she had placed something in it. Elizabeth squeezed my hand as the officers entered the museum with their weapons drawn. She let go of my hand and with watery eyes said, “Bye lover.”

The officers took her into custody and escorted her out the door toward their vehicles. I looked at what she had placed in my hand; It was an unmarked memory stick. After bagging the equipment she dropped, I left the museum with mixed feelings.

#

I collapsed onto my bed and stared up at the ceiling. Normally, capturing fugitives made me feel good. Capturing Elizabeth Raleigh didn’t. I raised the memory stick above me and stared up at it. It made me wonder what was on it and why she’d given it to me. Curiosity didn’t let me wonder very long. I went over to the computer console located on the hotel room’s desk and inserted the memory stick. It was locked and was asking for a passcode. How did I know it wouldn’t be easy? I tried a few random ideas, but they didn’t work. It had to be something I could guess else she wouldn’t have given it to me.

“Bye lover.” I said out loud thinking about the last thing she said. I couldn’t help but think back to the time we’d spent together on Hyperion II. She used to call me lover all the time. It drove me batty, but I think that’s partly why she called me that. On the screen I typed out L-O-V-E-R and a video popped up. It was Elizabeth Raleigh. There was a sadness to her look and tone.

“Hello lover. If you’re watching this then something bad has happened. I hope I’m still alive but if I’m not I just wanted to let you know something. Daniel Kramer, you are a pain in my ass, but I love you. I never stopped loving you.” A tear ran down her cheek. “I hope you still feel the same way about me.”

My eyes started welling up too. “Especially the pain in my ass part,” I replied.

“I know in your eyes, I betrayed you. I needed to let you know that I didn’t. I really am innocent. The evidence against me was staged and I can prove it. That’s why I ran on Hyperion. That’s why I’ve done everything I’ve done. I had to prove my innocence.”

“How does stealing a necklace prove that?” I quizzed knowing the recording wouldn’t answer me.

“Even now I’m sure you don’t believe me. It hurts but I can understand why. Who would trust the word of a fugitive? The files contained on this memory stick will prove I’m innocent. There’s financial records and audio recordings that’ll prove the witnesses were paid off to provide false testimony and even where the evidence came from. There’s lists of names, connections and who was behind it all.” My thoughts went blank. Could she really be innocent of murder and theft?

“Daniel, the real reason I went to Hyperion was to get my great-great-great grandfather’s necklace back. It’s called the Stars of Raleigh. It’s been in my family for generations until it was stolen. Welsh framed me for murder and thievery to get me out of the picture. I’m the last of my family. With me behind bars, no one would believe me, and they’d get to keep my family’s necklace. I didn’t mean to meet you. I didn’t mean to fall in love with you. But I don’t regret it. For what it’s worth I’m sorry.”

She wiped the tears from her face. “Which brings me back to why I made this. Help me. Please. Use this to prove I’m innocent. Arrest the bastards behind it and get my family’s necklace back. You’re the only one I trust.” The video closed and displayed a file directory. I sat back in my chair and crossed my arms with her words weighing heavily on me.

After a couple of hours of reviewing the files, I lowered my head to the desk. She was right. She was innocent. Mr. Welsh orchestrated everything. The murder. The theft. It was all him. And for what? To add another rare trinket to his museum? “I’m sorry Elizabeth.” It felt like I betrayed her instead. I already didn’t feel good about capturing her but with this I felt even worse. How could I ever make it up to her? The first thing was to get her out of her cell. I contacted Hammond, explained what had happened and what I had in my possession. He too was skeptical at first but once he reviewed the evidence he understood. Hammond promised to get her case and the new evidence over to a judge as quickly as possible. In the eyes of the law she was an escaped convict but that didn’t mean she needed to stay locked inside a cell.

#

At the precinct, the teenage looking officer behind the front desk introduced himself and asked how he could help me. “Hi, I’m Detective Montgomery.” I slid him my badge and handed him my identity card. “I had a fugitive brought in earlier this evening. I’m here to escort her back to the Epsilon Gamma II Detention Facility.” It was a believable lie.

The officer swiped my card to verify my identity and nodded with approval. “Yes, sir. What’s the prisoner’s name?”

“Raleigh. Elizabeth Raleigh.”

The officer looked her up in the system and nodded again. He then signaled for another officer to come over. “If you’ll follow him, he’ll take you in the back where you can get her.”

After a quick exchange between the officers, I was taken back to the holding tank. We passed several cells until we came to stop in front of hers. She didn’t look like a happy camper but who could blame her. When she saw me, there was a look of shock on her face. After I pulled out my stasis cuffs, her face dropped. The officer opened the cell door and barked for her to get to her feet. She stood up looking dejected and held her hands out, ready for me to cuff them. It was obvious she knew the drill all too well. “Elizabeth Raleigh, I’m here to escort you back to the Epsilon Gamma II detention facility.” She kept her head down and didn’t say a word. With the approval of the officer, I entered the cell, and I came up behind her. I pulled her hands back, leaned forward and whispered in her ear. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.” She jerked her head to the side as I cuffed her. “After you, officer.” I grabbed her arm and led her out of the cell. The officer made sure to close the cell behind us before escorting us back to the precinct’s lobby. The officer that had escorted us disappeared for a moment and came back with Raleigh’s belongings. He had me press my thumb against a release pad to document that I had taken custody of Elizabeth. With that, we were free to go.

“Have fun.” The officer at the front desk remarked as we passed by him.

I rolled my eyes and shook my head. “Yeah. Loads.”

I had expected her to say something to me once we were outside, but she didn’t. I walked her over to the adjacent parking lot and swiped my card to activate my rent-a-hover. Once activated, I walked her to the passenger side, opened the door and I tossed her bag into the back seat. Elizabeth sat down in the hover without saying anything and I closed the door behind her. I got in the hover and brought up the display. With the tap of the console, the windows darkened where no one could see inside. I reached over and removed the cuffs. There was a look of confusion on her face as she rubbed her wrists where the cuffs had been. “Open communication link. Captain Keith Hammond. GPA Outpost 117.”

“What’s going on?” She questioned.

The moment I smiled back, she reached over and kissed me. “You looked at the memory stick. Didn’t you?”

“Yeah. Yeah I did.” I squeezed her hand. “I’m sorry I didn’t believe you.”

Her beautiful brown eyes began to water. “I knew you’d figure it out.” Raleigh smiled to herself. “I just knew.”

“Please forgive me.” I wiped the tears from her face.

She nodded to me. “You know I do.” She kissed me again.

Hammond cleared his throat. “Am I interrupting something?”

“No. No, sir.” I responded with a grin.

“I see you gave someone early parole. You should have waited.”

“Do you blame me?” I looked at Elizabeth and smiled.

Hammond smiled too. “No. I don’t. I’m sending you a warrant for the curator’s arrest. The judge said there’s enough there to throw the book at him.” Elizabeth’s eyes lit up at hearing the news.

“And the necklace?”

“You can confiscate it. It’ll be returned it to its rightful owner.”

“What about Elizabeth?” Hammond and Elizabeth exchanged looks over the communication link.

“Still working on it.” I nodded to him and he closed the link.

Elizabeth looked at me and squeezed my hand. “Thank you, Daniel.”

“We’re not in the clear yet. Ready to get this guy?”

“I’ve been ready.”

I nodded and opened the communication link with Mr. Welsh, voice only.

“Mr. Welsh?”

“Yes?”

“This is Detective Montgomery.”

“Ah. Yes. Everything okay?”

“Actually, no. There was a little accident at the museum.”

“An accident! What kind of accident?”

Elizabeth giggled to herself. “Well sir, it’s a little hard to explain over a communication link. This is something you’ll need to see for yourself.”

“Oh god. Okay. I’ll be there shortly.” I could hear him cussing in the background as he ended the link.

“That was evil.” Elizabeth said with a smile.

“Aren’t you proud of me?”

She laughed as I made another call to the precinct. “Hi, this is Detective Montgomery again. I’ve got another one to pick up at the museum. I’m sending the warrant right now.”

The man on the other end acknowledged the warrant and advised he’d dispatch someone right away. I closed the link, leaned over to Elizabeth, and kissed her.

“You know, when we get there, you need to stay in the hover.”

“What? No! I’ve worked too hard to just sit here and watch. I want to be there when he goes down.”

I leaned back. “You can’t. You can watch from the hover but that’s it.”

“Why can’t I?”

“For starters, you’re supposed to be in my custody. Like it or not you’re still a prisoner in the eyes of the law. I can’t have you standing there looking otherwise.”

There was protest in her eyes, but she relented. “I’ll stay in the hover.”

“Thank you.” I squeezed her hand. “Now, let’s go get him.”

#

I was waiting at the front door when Mr. Welsh drove up. From the looks of things, he was sweating bullets wondering what had happened. He rushed over to where I stood. “What happened? What’s broken?” He swiped the door, eager to get inside.

“Actually, the museum is fine.”

He stopped to turn back around. “I don’t understand. I thought you said-“

I held out my information pad. “Mr. Welsh this is warrant for the seizure of stolen property.”

“I’m sorry. What? What are you talking about?”

“The Stars of Raleigh, Mr. Welsh. We have evidence to support that it was previously stolen. I’m afraid we must confiscate it until these reports can be verified.”

“This is preposterous!”

“I’m sorry Mr. Welsh, but I don’t have a choice. If you would please open the case and hand it over, I would appreciate it.”

The man looked at me with a glare that could boil water. “I will not hand it over. It’s staying right where it is!”

“Mr. Welsh don’t make this any harder than it has to be. If I need to bring a squad of men back to the museum to get the necklace, I will. If the charges are false, the necklace will be returned to the museum. No harm. No foul.”

Begrudgingly, he stomped his way back to the case and used his card to open it. “Is this truly necessary?”

I nodded. “Feel free to read the warrant.” I opened an evidence bag, and he dropped the necklace inside. He wasn’t all that happy. “Thank you, Mr. Welsh. Your cooperation is much appreciated.” He grumbled under his breath. “Now that that’s taken care of, there’s one more thing.”

He looked at me wondering what else was to come. “This warrant is also for your arrest.” Mr. Welsh’s eyes widened. He took a few steps back and ran toward the door. I followed chase but two cops were waiting for him at the front. He slid to a stop just in time for the two officers to grab him. I caught up to them and thanked them for their efforts. One of the officers handed me his stasis cuffs and I placed them on Mr. Welsh’s wrists. “Alan Welsh, you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of interstellar law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?”

He didn’t answer. “Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you? Yes or no.”

“Yes.” He answered in a seething manner.

“Thanks boys, he’s all yours.” I watched as they hauled him away and then headed back to my hover. Inside, Elizabeth turned to me.

“I really wish I could have been the one to have taken him down.”

“I know.” I held out the evidence bag with the necklace in it and tossed it over to her. She looked at it for a moment and placed it on her lap. “Thank you.” She reached over and hugged me.

The communication link chirped. It was Hammond again. “I’m going to need you to bring her back here.”

“But sir?”

“Don’t argue with me. Just bring her back. Commander’s orders. I promise we’ll sort it out when she gets here.”

“Yes, sir.”

The link closed and I turned to Elizabeth. She placed her fingertips across my lips before I could speak. “This is the way it has to be, Daniel. Let’s just get it over with.”

I moved her hand from my mouth and held it. “I’ll do everything I can to get you set free.”

“I know.”

#

The return trip back to the Outpost 117 was filled with an unbearable silence. She refused to say anything until we landed in the hangar. I popped the canopy and turned to her. “You ready to do this?”

“Not really. But we don’t have much of a choice.” As much as I hated it, I placed her in stasis cuffs and helped her out of my ship. We walked toward the group of waiting guards standing at the hangar entrance. As we got closer, two men entered the hangar and one of them was Hammond.

“I see you made it without any issues?”

“Yeah.” I didn’t feel like pleasantries when I was about to turn her over. The guards walked over to her and deactivated her cuffs. We were expecting her to be placed in another set, but she wasn’t. Elizabeth looked over to me and then to the uniformed man with a scowl who stood beside Hammond.

“Ms. Raleigh, I don’t appreciate people attempting to escape my facility.” I could only surmise he was the warden at the Epsilon Gamma II detention facility, and it sounded like some serious trouble was about to come her way. “If it were up to me, I’d have your sentence extended for that little stunt.” Hammond coughed and nudged the warden. “But that’s something you don’t have to worry about.” He handed her an information pad. “As of today, you are hereby released by order of the interstellar courts.” She took the information pad and confirmed what it said.

Elizabeth spun around and tackled me with a hug. Hammond stepped forward. “Congratulations.” She was crying when she let go.

“Thank you.”

“Daniel sent us the information you collected, and the courts reviewed it. The verdict of not guilty was unanimous. On behalf of the courts and the Galactic Police Authority, I’m sorry you’ve had to endure this injustice. And due to the circumstances, I’ve also asked that the multiple counts of malicious destruction of property be dropped. I’d just ask that you don’t damage any more ships. Can you handle that, Ms. Raleigh?”

Elizabeth laughed. Her face was still wet with tears. “That I can promise.”

Hammond went ridged as she went over and hugged him too. The way his eyes enlarged I could tell he hadn’t been expecting that. When she pulled away from him, I withdrew the evidence bag from my pocket and held it out toward Hammond. He waved it away. “No. That’s hers.”

She smiled at Hammond and then walked over to me. Her arm slid around mine and clamped down. “And so is he.”

THE END

Stories

Stars of Call

The handcuffs clicked till they were uncomfortably snug on Hawk Montgomery’s wrists. A brute squad of four men pushed him onto the transport feeling his resistance the entire way. They forced him down upon the aluminum seating and shackled him to the bulkhead. His captors sat opposite of him watching him with intensity. Hawk didn’t lunge as they had expected him to. No, he was saving up till the handcuffs and shackles came off.

A clean-shaven man near the age of Montgomery came to sit next to him holding a document pad nervously. He was dressed in military reds with his flight cap tucked neatly underneath his belt. Hawk tried not to acknowledge his presence by watching the entry ramp close just a few feet away. The uniformed man attempted to get his attention for several moments till Hawk looked him directly in the eyes. It was the look of a hunter finding its prey. The man shifted in his seat before speaking, “Hawk Montgomery?” He didn’t respond. “That is your name, is it not?”

The vibrations signaled the hovering systems had engaged. They were leaving. One of the larger of the brute force approached and stood before Hawk. “Answer the lieutenant!” The sergeant immediately backhanded Hawk.

His jaw burned from the strike. The young officer didn’t correct the man for his behavior. “Your name is Hawk Montgomery? Yes or No.”

The sergeant raised his hand for another strike. Hawk let out a scathing “Yes.”

He continued to stare intently at the burly man who has just hit him. “My name is Lieutenant Garrett. These are orders to bring you back aboard.” He motioned to the document pad in his hand.

“On what charges?” Hawk said with a low growl edged in his voice.

“Upon arrival you will be escorted to a maximum-security facility where you will await further information.”

When his question had not been answered he turned his attention to the officer. “What are the charges?”

The lieutenant was getting nervous. It showed by the way he shifted in his seat. Hawk wanted to leap from his seat and lay his fist into every single one of the men that surrounded him. Shackles–drat. He calmed himself even though he wasn’t getting the answer that he wanted. “I have the right to see the warrant for arrest PRIOR to being taken into custody. Now hand me that document pad!”

The officer hesitated to relinquish the pad. Hawk watched him stand up. He asked the sergeant to return to his seat. Hawk tried to get a glance at the pad, but his efforts were futile. Lieutenant Garrett stepped away. “Are you really going to violate regulations by withholding the warrant lieutenant?”

Hawk questioned in a non-threatening voice. He watched him lower his head and walk back to where Hawk was sitting. He laid the pad next to Hawk and walked to the cockpit without another word. The sergeants were talking back and forth keeping an eye on Hawk all the while. Hawk Montgomery looked down to the pad beside him looking for his answer. The pad was blank. There was no warrant.

A range of emotions ran through Montgomery in an instant. He couldn’t understand what was happening or why. His anger had him focused on the here and now but that focus disappeared after seeing the blank pad. Hawk’s eyes stayed locked on the pad and his mind tried to make sense out of this situation. The men seated across from him faded from his hearing. His thoughts filled his mind heavily. Several minutes had passed when the transport shuttle felt a nudge. The jar was enough to make Hawk look up. The four sergeants across from him stood up and positioned themselves around him. The clank of the returning lieutenant was heard behind them. On orders they unshackled him from the bulkhead but kept the handcuffs firmly on his wrists. He moved his hands over to the pad on the bench and picked it up. The burly sergeant forced him from his seat with a shove. The officer came around and hit a few buttons on the wall panel that lowered down the ramp. They disembarked from the transport walking into a cavernous hangar bay.

There were many similar transports in the hanger along with several work crews attached to them. A similar crew rushed by them heading toward the transport. They followed the flight line marking on the hangar floor till they reached a large double door that lead out of the hangar. Hawk went along with them without resistance. That didn’t stop the sergeant from keeping a hand on Hawk’s shoulder. Hawk kept a mental note of the directions back to the hangar just in case the opportunity arose where he might need that information. It only took a few minutes to reach the brig area. The corridors leading to the brig narrowed as they approached. The officer and two of the sergeants passed beyond an archway with a yellow sign commanding, “Authorized Personnel Only.”

When Hawk got to the archway, he dropped the pad. He came to an immediate halt to kneel to pick it up. The sergeant was walking at a quick pace and didn’t expect Hawk to stop. To his surprise, he tripped and went face first into the archway frame. The group ahead jerked their attention back to see the sergeant staggering backward. Hawk picked up the pad and murmured; “Now we’re even.”

A small trickle of blood was oozing down the sergeant’s forehead. He was about to strike Hawk when the lieutenant stopped him. The sergeant grumbled and pushed Hawk forward a little harder than he needed to. The archway led them to a corridor of holding cells. They led Hawk into a brightly lit cell. An armed sergeant stood guard while the others removed the handcuffs. They backed out of the cell and turned on the energy screen. The officer dismissed the sergeants leaving him and Hawk alone. Hawk rubbed his wrists where the handcuffs had left red impressions. The officer stood there in front of the screen not saying anything. Hawk lifted the pad toward the lieutenant, “Garrett, what is all this about?” His voice was calm and serious.

“You’ll have to wait for the general sir.”

Hawk lifted his brow when he was addressed as sir. He knew he wasn’t going to get anything from the lieutenant. He relaxed on the bench the best he could to wait for something to happen. Hawk didn’t have to wait long. The lieutenant’s boots clicked to attention. Hawk watched another man approach dressed in a similar red uniform. He stood up from the bench and walked toward the screen. A familiar voice dismissed the lieutenant, “Thank you lieutenant, I’ll take it from here.”

“Yes sir.” Garrett replied giving a nod before walking off. The older man stopped in front of the screen just like Garrett had done. The uniform was different, but he knew the face. It was his ex-commanding officer, Major Chris Jackson. By the stars on his shoulder Hawk reasoned that his rank had changed. Hawk lifted the pad toward the general, “CJ, what is all this about? I’ve been arrested, brought in, and I find out there is no warrant.” He swallowed, “This is illegal, and you know it.”

The officer nodded, “You’re right.”

Hawk watched him reach for the panel on the wall and turn off the screen.  “You really need to work on your hospitality skills, or don’t generals care about that anymore?”

Jackson grinned for a moment. “Before the pleasantries there’s something we need to discuss.”

Here was the answer and it was about time. Hawk found it humorous the only opportunity to escape was when he could get an answer. General Jackson entered the cell and stood next to Hawk. He motioned for the pad in Hawk’s hand. For an answer he gladly relinquished it. The general took a card from his belt and loaded its contents onto the blank pad. It gave a soft beep and text scrolled down the screen of the pad. “Hawk Montgomery, by order of her majesty Queen Katherine, you are here by recalled to active duty with all rank and privileges previously held. “

“What!” Hawk yelled out. He snatched the pad from the general’s hands and scanned it over. Hawk was furious. The general sat down on the bench and was immediately followed by Hawk.

“Hawk, I’m sorry. If I had sent you the message any other way you would have refused to come back. Not to mention quite possibly have taken out the messenger.”

The grip on the pad tightened. “The arrest was illegal. This recall is illegal too!”

“The arrest was the only way to bring you here. Somehow, I don’t think you would have come quietly. The recall however is completely legal.”

“No, it’s not! The branch my commission was in was disbanded. You can’t recall me into something that doesn’t exist!”

The general held a blank look on his face. Hawk was becoming more upset. General Jackson attempted to calm him down. “Listen, I’ll take it back to Command and see what they have to say. If what you say is true, then we can get a discharge processed fairly quickly.”

It didn’t mean the general wanted to. The words seemed to calm Hawk down. “Until then, like it or not, you’re a captain again.”

Hawk threw the pad against the opposite wall.

“The Royal Guard?” He questioned angrily.

The general nodded. “Damn it, CJ.” Hawk exhaled loudly.

“I know it’s not your Air Guard.” The general paused with the appearance of being distracted. “On that note, I have something you might be interested in seeing.”

“What?” Hawk’s voice remained displeased. The general put his hand on Hawk’s shoulder and looked into his eyes.

“Give me a chance, will you?”

Hawk was frustrated but there was wasn’t much he could do other than be pissed about it. He decided to go with the flow and see where it would take him. “You’ll look into the reactivation clause?”

The general promised he would. “Now, like I said. I’ve got something you might be interested in. You want to see it?”

Hawk let out another exasperated huff. “Sure.”

The general led Hawk across decks and through corridors to a pair of hangar doors. The doors opened to reveal a hangar of fighters. They made their way through the doors and turned the corner of the hangar where a ship was covered in a military grey tarp. General Jackson motioned to Hawk to take a glimpse beneath the tarp. Hawk looked toward the tarp-covered aircraft and back to the general. He nodded, walked over to the aircraft, and removed the tarp. He dropped the tarp and then his jaw. Hawk took a step back and looked to the general. He stood in front of a scarred Air Guard fighter. Closer inspection revealed Hawk’s name stenciled below the cockpit semi covered in black smudges. The general watched Hawk with entertainment when he circled the aircraft checking the authenticity of the call letters.

“This is my bird.” Hawk exclaimed rubbing his hand against the blackened airframe. The general walked up to Hawk. “Glad to see her?”

Hawk nodded, “I know she was decommissioned but I thought she was destroyed. But yes. It’s good to see her again.”

“Well, the flight teams needed a target for practice, and we happened to run across her in the scrap yards along with a few others.”

“Target practice?”

The general nodded. “Truth is my flight teams are having some troubles. I’ve lost 4 flight teams this week on a mission.”

Hawk didn’t hide his surprise. “What kind of mission?”

“Escort.”

Hawk retorted back, “And you lost 4 flights? Are you even teaching them to fly anymore?”

His comment made the general smirk. “It’s a little more complicated than that.”

Hawk nodded, “I hope so.”

He continued to look over his old ship. The general waited for a few minutes before broaching the subject. “I was rather hoping you might be able to help me out with this one.”

Hawk looked back at him. “Not giving me an order huh?”

“No, the mission has been deemed volunteer only.”

He nodded in response to the general’s words. “She doesn’t have to be target practice. Fly the mission and she’s yours.”

“An escort mission?”

General Chris Jackson confirmed his question. “Am I commanding the mission?”

The general smiled, “When don’t you?”

Hawk laughed momentarily before focusing back on the ship. Another few moments passed and Hawk hadn’t returned an answer. It was making the general unsettled. “Hawk?”

“Alright, three conditions. One. Restore my bird to flight ready status and I use her on the mission. Two. I’m not wearing that red garbage you call a uniform. Three. After the mission, I get my discharge papers.”

The general’s eyes enlarged for a moment. “That’s a tall order.”

Hawk shrugged, “Based on what you described, so is that mission.”

The general didn’t want to make that kind of deal but needed Hawk at the helm of the mission. He held his hand out toward Hawk, “Agreed.”

Hawk walked to him and shook his hand. “Agreed.”

“Briefing is 1300 hours tomorrow in this hangar’s flight room.”

Hawk acknowledged the general as he continued to give instructions. The general arranged for a work crew to bring the old fighter back to flight ready status. They left the hangar and made their way to Hawk’s assigned quarters. The general patted Hawk on the shoulder standing in front of his door. “Drink?”

Hawk looked at the door. “It’s been a long day CJ and a lot happened. I’m going to have to pass.”

The General nodded and didn’t take offense. Hawk took the recall better than he thought he would. The following morning went by quickly. After shaking off the feeling of disbelief, he attended mess hall and procured a flight suit for the mission briefing.  He visited his ship to see how the work crews were coming along. To his surprise the work crew was no longer in the hangar bay and the tarp had been placed back on the ship. Hawk removed the tarp revealing a spotless aircraft. “Wow.” He remarked.

The fighter looked just as it did when it was in service. His name had been re-stenciled just below the cockpit. He certainly didn’t like how he was brought back but seeing the ship almost made it worth it. He climbed into the cockpit and did a diagnostic check to see if the systems were as clean as the ship. They were. He reminisced about previous missions and his old team. Reality forced him back to the present. It was the same pilot, the same ship but the mission and team were different. Time was ticking so he made his way to the hangar’s briefing room. Hawk was a few minutes early but there was nothing new about that.

It wasn’t long before personnel entered the room wearing flight suits. The air of awkwardness was instantly felt. The lieutenants that surrounded him spoke in whispered words amongst themselves. Boots clicked as they rose to attention when the general entered the room. “Be seated gentlemen.” The general took up position behind the podium as everyone sat back in the chairs. Hawk listened patiently awaiting the orders he semi volunteered for.

“As all of you know this is a volunteer mission. Thus far we have lost four flights to this mission already. Before I go any further do any of you wish to reconsider?”

Hawk looked around the room to see if anyone would take him up on the offer. No one did. “You five pilots are the only ones left who will consider flying this mission. The performance of you five will determine if this mission succeeds or not.” The general looked down to the podium and back up to the room. “Now, the mission.” He braced himself before speaking. “One of our decoy cruisers has become disabled in enemy space. It was on a recon mission posing as an enemy diplomatic envoy. We cannot allow the enemy to discover that the envoy is a fake. You five will jump into enemy space and tow the vessel safely into Royal airspace where we will have a tow ship waiting to transport it back the rest of the way. Captain Montgomery is the flight leader for this mission. Does anyone have any questions?”

The room was silent. Hawk was handed a document pad from off the podium. “These contain your coordinates and rendezvous points.”

Hawk nodded to the general.

“No questions?” The general inquired again. Once more the room was silent. “Very well. Good luck gentlemen, dismissed.”

The group of officers stood up as the general left the room. The lieutenants turned to Hawk and introduced themselves. After the pleasantries they dispersed into the hangar. Flight crews were already waiting on them to board the ships for flight checks.  In choreographed movements the flight checks and launches were executed. The fighters took up positions just outside of the carrier’s flight path. It took a few moments to get comfortable in the cockpit again. After a couple of minutes, he took his cues from the pad in his lap. Hawk opened the communications channel; “I’m sending the coordinates to your navigational computers. We’ll get to a safe distance and jump to neutral territory. Once there we’ll head for the coordinates on stealth.”

The rest of the team acknowledged the orders and took to his lead. The flight taxied away from the carrier and jumped into space. It would only take them two hours to reach neutral space. The gentle vibrations of space travel brought a smile to Hawk’s face as it conjured up old memories again. He didn’t care for the colors he was flying under but despite that he enjoyed being at the helm of his old fighter. His computer console beeped in front of him alerting him of approach to their destination. He signaled to the others and dropped out of jump. His nerves heightened as they passed from neutral territory to enemy space. Hawk engaged his defensive systems to be preemptive.

Four flights were lost in previous missions, so he knew this wasn’t going to be what he expected. The flight wasn’t as tight as he wanted but he could tell that these pilots had at least flown before. There had been only a few times Hawk had ventured into enemy space. A little more than half of them turned out disastrous. Even with this mission’s track record he was trying to be optimistic. Hawk scanned the skies around him looking for the disabled diplomatic transport. He turned off his running lights to avoid visual detection, but technology could still see him. His flight followed behind him and dropped their lights.

After almost 30 minutes of scouting the coordinates provided, they located the transport drifting in space. The running lights were still active. That meant it had power. A flyby revealed the engine was heavily damaged and the vessel had a good amount of scarring from attacks to its hull. Hawk felt a knot in the bottom of his stomach. He tried to reason why but couldn’t. “Michaels, Phillips, and Smith. Tag the transport with the grapple and begin rescue operations. Andrews and I will provide cover. Execute.”

The flights formation split off and got in positions as ordered. “Why would the enemy attack the transport and just leave it out here disabled?” He asked himself as he watched the three fighters attach grapples to the transport. It would certainly be a deadly trap for the Royal Guard; previous missions could attest to that. There had to be more to it, but he just didn’t know what. The fighters fired their engines. They creaked with the strain but slowly began to move the transport. Andrews and Hawk watched the skies for movement. They expected fighters to fly out of nowhere. It wasn’t nowhere from where they came, it was the transport. The cargo bays of the transport opened letting a swarm of fighters into the open space. It took them both by surprise.

“We’ve got company. Hurry it up.” Andrews remarked over the comm. channel breaking the communications silence.

Andrews began to engage the enemy fighters with a stream of cover fire. Hawk wasn’t so gung-ho. He paused before engaging to see what formations they flew in. He wanted to judge how their attacks would come down before he was too far buried in them. The attacks were focused on the tow cables rather than the fighters. Over the ship-to-ship Hawk barked an order to Andrews, “Take out their engines and weapons only. Do not attempt a kill.”

“What!” Andrews’ voice reverberated into Hawk’s cockpit.

A tow cable was shredded in a plume of sparks before their eyes. The fighter attached to the severed cable was launched away from the other two. Hawk and Andrews tried to deter the swarm of fighters around them. The two remaining fighters managed to get a few shots in at incoming ships in their flight path. Andrews didn’t obey Hawk’s order; he was shooting to kill. Andrews plowed into the swarm shooting wherever he could. Explosions were everywhere. The third tow ship returned to take up position again. The tow cable again gripped the transport and helped move it along. Hawk could see the enemy fighters were crowding around Andrews. Hawk knew he was going to be in trouble if he didn’t help. He took extra care to only disable the enemy fighters. If they had wanted to, they could have taken out the three tow ships, but they didn’t, they wanted to stop the tow. Their actions were defensive not offensive.

“Andrews! Are you trying to get yourself killed?”

Hawk didn’t get a response back. The enemy took the opportunity of Hawk backing up his partner to take out the tow cables. One by one the tow cables were broken by plasma fire. One of the last shots took more than the cable, one of the tow ships exploded. The tow team signaled they had a man down. Hawk had to leave Andrews to his own flight skills. He had left the tow ships and the mission in jeopardy. When Hawk got back into position, he discovered that one tow ship had used up its entire towline from the attacks. Hawk was beginning to think that the mission was a failure. He ordered the fighter to help Andrews as he himself launched a towline to the transport. He fired his engines to full to pull the transport. His ship creaked around him. Explosions of enemy aircraft continued to fill the skies around him. “Damn it, Andrews! Disable them only.”

“So, they can take potshots at us? I don’t think so.”

If Hawk could fire on him, he would just for disobeying him. They were going to have a serious chat if they make it back in one piece. Before the other fighter could reach Andrews’ position, his ship exploded in a large fireball. Andrews was gone. The casualty was reported over the ship-to-ship. Hawk exhaled in frustration and sadness. “Alright team let’s get close knit. There are 3 of us left and I don’t want to lose anymore.”

A strange voice came over the ship-to-ship following Hawk’s remarks. “I’m pleased to hear that pilot. If you look outside around you, you’ll find that you’re surrounded. If you disengage the remaining tow cables and leave our space, no further harm will become you. Otherwise we’ll be obliged to fire on your position.”

“Who is this?” Hawk looked around him as if to see the person who was talking.

“My name is Captain Richard Bedford of the diplomatic transport H.M.S. Milledge. May I have the pleasure of knowing whom I am addressing?”

“Captain Hawk Montgomery.”

“Captain, you have attempted to commandeer my vessel and I don’t take that lightly. This is your only warning. Think of this as professional courtesy.”

The H.M.S. Milledge wasn’t Royal Guard property. They sent over 4 flights after a disabled vessel that wasn’t theirs. Hawk was furious. He knew not to let his anger come through over the ship-to-ship. “Captain Bedford, thank you for the courtesy. We’ll proceed out of your space immediately. I’m sorry for the unnecessary casualties.”

“The sentiment is shared.”

Hawk directed his orders to his team as he released his tow cable. “Team disengage tow cables and head for home. That’s an order.”

Confirmations were heard over the ship-to-ship followed with the release of tow cables. The remaining ships of the flight fired their engines and moved out of the area. Hawk checked the pad he was given for rendezvous coordinates. He sent them to the other two ships. Moments later they jumped into space headed for home. The flight home was quiet. The only thing talking was their thoughts.

After the debriefing, Hawk met privately with the general. “CJ, you have my papers?” He wanted to knock him right to the floor but held himself back.

The general nodded handing him a pad. “I wish the mission had been a success but you’re free to go. Clerical error on our part.”

Hawk took the pad and reviewed it to make sure it wasn’t blank. It contained the discharge notice. He nodded, “About the mission.”

The general nodded back for him to continue. “You knew, didn’t you?”

“Knew what?”

“That wasn’t a Royal Guard transport. It was theirs.”

The general gave a combined smirk and huff. “Yes.”

Hawk dropped the pad on the general’s desk and grabbed him by his tunic. “You bastard!”

Hawk threw a punch but was blocked by the general. A brawl ensued in the middle of the office. Furniture and document pads were knocked into disarray. The fight continued until the general pulled a personal plasma gun out on Hawk. Hawk got off him and stood up.

The general stood up and straightened his uniform. “Get out of my office before I have you arrested.”

Hawk grabbed his discharge pad and left, “My pleasure.”

He hurried to his ship ready to put distance between him and the place that surrounded him. He taxied away from the ship and jumped toward home. Thinking over the past couple days he could only remark, “No more reunions for me.”

THE END