Jade brought the Raptor in to land inside the Invictus, while John and Alyssa sat with Rachel. The young woman was still overcome with grief, the traumatic events of her past raked up once again due to their unfortunate recent encounter.
I've let Calara and Dana know what happened, Alyssa thought to him as she stroked Rachel's light brown hair comfortingly.
John nodded approvingly. We could use their help getting the passengers settled. What's the situation with the pirates? he asked her firmly.
Now the civilians are clear, Calara is just waiting for you to give the word, she replied, looking at him for his decision. The frigate tried to escape, but she disabled them. They aren't going anywhere.
They knew the consequences when they turned to that kind of life, John replied grimly, an air of finality in his tone.
Alyssa nodded her understanding, and stared into his eyes for a long moment, studying his face intently. It's done, she eventually said, marking the passing of the ill-fated Captain Farley.
"We're landed and are secure," Jade called to them having shut down the Raptor's engines, and she rose from her chair, then walked over to join them.
John smiled at her gratefully. "Thanks, Jade. You did an amazing job today. Could I ask you to look after Rachel for a moment, while I get the civilians up to the spare quarters on Deck Four? When we're clear, bring Rachel up to our room and get her settled."
The Nymph smiled at him warmly and nodded, as she said, "Of course, I'd be happy to."
He turned to look at Alyssa, and she rose immediately. "Sure, I'll plot us a course. Port Cadmus is the nearest Terran Federation outpost to our current location, if I remember rightly," she said, knowing full well it was, by 64.37 parsecs.
"Thanks, beautiful," he said to her gratefully.
Do we want to let her grieve for a while, or bring her out of it? Alyssa asked him, glancing at Rachel before she left.
John looked up at the blonde, and asked, Bring her out of it?
A full tummy makes everything better. If we ask Jade to give her a feed, Rachel will be back to her normal happy self in no time, Alyssa explained sympathetically.
John looked down at Rachel, where she lay against him. As much as it pains me to see her this upset, she probably needs the release. I'm no psychologist, but she's probably been suppressing these memories for years, he said, his voice ringing with concern.
The blonde girl smiled at him and nodded, then walked out of the bridge to carry out his orders.
"Let's get her out of the armour," John said to Jade.
They moved Rachel's left thumb so that it was touching her palm, and there was a cascading ripple of clicks as the armour plates unlocked. They carefully removed the front layer of the Phalanx body armour, and then John picked up the girl in his arms and carried her through to the cabin at the back of the Raptor. He placed her gently on the bed, and Jade climbed on as well and snuggled in with her.
"I've got her now," the Nymph told him confidently, and then began to murmur loving words in Rachel's ear.
John nodded, and left the brunette in Jade's capable hands, then walked back to the grav-tube to descend in a red glow to the floor below. He heaved a big sigh, and then pasted a welcoming smile on his face, before striding into the cargo compartment at the back of the gunship. The large room was packed full of the civilians that they had rescued from the clutches of the pirates, and a hushed silence fell over the room when he entered.
"We've landed on my ship, the Invictus. I'll take you up to the guest quarters, and get you settled in, until we can return you to the safety of the nearest Terran Federation outpost," he told them in a clear voice.
Three hours, Alyssa informed him, pre-empting the question he was about to ask her.
"It will take us approximately three hours to reach Port Cadmus, but for now, you can have a hot meal, and there's plenty of beds if some of you want to rest," he told them considerately.
One of the older men stepped forward and nodded to John, his face filled with gratitude as he said, "Thank you Commodore Blake, for everything you've done for us."
As sincere statements of gratitude echoed around the room, John looked at the man in surprise, not having introduced himself to any of the rescued passengers yet.
"I recognised the Lion of the Terran Federation from the TFNN report, and the emblem on your shoulder confirmed it," the man said with a wry smile. "When I saw your interview, I dismissed the stories of heroism as some fabrication for propaganda purposes. Somewhat ironic, considering you'd be rescuing me only a week later."
John returned the man's smile, and nodded in acknowledgement, before addressing the crowd once again, "If you'd care to follow me, I'll lead you to the hot meals and beds I promised."
He walked back through the Raptor until he reached the front loading area, the ramp already lowered when Alyssa had walked through. She had obviously mentioned he would be on his way, because the civilians here looked at him expectantly, and rose to follow him when he walked through into the room. He smiled at them, and repeated his invitation to use the guest rooms, and then strode purposefully down the ramp and into the Hangar Bay. Calara and Dana jogged into the room, and they ran over to join him.
John took one look at Dana and could immediately see the worry on her face. "Rachel's in the cabin behind the cockpit, and Jade's looking after her at the moment. Calara and I have got this though, so go ahead and keep her company," he said to the redhead considerately.
Dana kissed him on the cheek, and murmured her heartfelt thanks, before sprinting up the ramp and into the Raptor. Calara looked up at him sombrely as she stood by his side.
"Let's get these people settled in, then we can talk," he said to the Latina, and she smiled at him and nodded.
The two of them then guided their guests out of the Raptor, where they assembled patiently in the Hangar Bay, before leading them through the double doors and over to the grav-tubes. Those caused quite a stir, but they were so simple to use that everybody quickly picked up the general idea, and soon they had everyone moved into the now packed crew quarters on Deck Four. Dana had powered up the whole level, so the Galley and accompanying kitchen were also fully functional now.
Realising that he wouldn't be able to do much to help Rachel for the moment, John returned to the Bridge to remove his armour and stow away his gear, greeting Alyssa as he went. She confirmed that the grieving brunette was currently fast asleep, with Jade and Dana keeping a watchful eye on her, so John gave the blonde a kiss and packed away his battle gear. He then returned to the fourth floor where Calara was waiting for him. After a quick show of hands told him that most of his guests were hungry, he proceeded to cook up a large-scale stew to feed everyone. Calara helped him prepare and serve up the food, and at one point he watched her serving out portions to the civilians with a fond smile on his face, as she smiled and told jokes to help put them at ease.
The three hours flew by, until Alyssa contacted him by telepathy to let him know that they had arrived at Port Cadmus, and had been granted docking clearance. When she had landed the Invictus in the designated docking bay, she joined them on Deck Four, to help get the civilians disembarked. John went ahead of them to open up the hangar bay doors, making it easier for everyone to exit the ship, rather than expecting everyone to queue up to walk through the airlock.
There were a group of Terran Federation medics and soldiers waiting to look after the passengers, having been fully briefed about the nature of their arrival by Alyssa. John felt a strong sense of déjà vu, recalling a very similar scene on Port Heracles, as he nodded his greeting to the young officer in command of the Port Cadmus detachment. He was surprised when Rachel came down to join him, accompanied by an attentive Dana and Jade. The brunette was looking drawn after her raw outpouring of emotion, but she walked over to him and held his hand, as he smiled at her in greeting.
"Are you alright?" he asked her with concern, studying her face closely.
Rachel smiled at him bravely and nodded. "Can we talk later? I wanted to see the people we saved, but I'm only just keeping it together at the moment," she explained with a heavy sigh.
John nodded his understanding, and they both turned to watch the passengers begin to disembark. The civilians smiled at him and the girls in gratitude, with Calara and Alyssa bringing up the rear of the stream of people. He recognised the blonde woman who had spoken to him back at the gas mining facility, and he realised with regret that he didn't even know her name. She whispered something to her daughter who was walking along beside her, and the young woman looked his way, her pretty face lighting up with a grateful smile. They waved him goodbye, and he watched them leave, hoping that the girl wouldn't be traumatised by the events she had suffered through.
His attention was drawn back to the remaining passengers when a haggard looking man in his early thirties approached them. He was carrying a young girl in his arms, who was currently fast asleep, and he walked towards them tentatively.
"Thank you for saving us." he said to John and the girls earnestly, before turning to focus on Rachel.
John watched warily, unsure how the man was going to react. The man paused for a moment, his eyes filled with tears, before he finally managed to speak to the brunette.
"Thank you for avenging my wife. She was a wonderful woman, and didn't deserve to die so young and in such a horrible way. At least I'll know that the men who killed her, paid dearly for what they did," he said to Rachel with a shuddering breath.
Rachel bit her lip to stop herself from crying, and she nodded to the man, before turning and walking away. He watched her leave the hangar, and then with a last grateful look towards John and the girls, carried his daughter off the ship.
The girls left to follow after the troubled brunette, while John walked after the last of the civilians, and over to the young officer in charge of the Port Cadmus soldiers.
"First Lieutenant Darren Crawford, Sir. It's an honour to meet you, Commodore," the man said respectfully, looking at him from under his peaked hat.
A quick glance at the man's epaulets let John confirm his rank. "We were happy to assist, Lieutenant," he said in an even tone. "We eliminated the pirates, but I'll arrange for coordinates of their base, and the wreck of the Excelsior to be sent to you."
"Thank you, Sir," the young officer replied gratefully and saluted.
John nodded and then turned to walk back into his ship, closing up the huge hull doors into the Hangar Bay behind him.
I'll set us on a course for Maliri Space again, and then meet you in our bedroom, Alyssa said to him, her voice echoing in his mind.
Thanks, honey, he replied gratefully as he strode inside.
Jade was waiting for him in the corridor, and she looked up at him nervously when he walked through the double doors. "I'm sorry!" she blurted out suddenly.
"What for?" John asked with a puzzled expression on his face, as he held out his arms for her.
The Nymph gladly accepted his invitation, and hugged him fiercely, before leaning back to look up at him once more. "I could have stopped Rachel from doing what she did, but she just looked so heartbroken, I wasn't sure what to do," she confessed with regret.
John smiled at her and pulled her in for another hug as he stroked her back soothingly. "You did the right thing, Jade. I'm sorry you were put in such a tough spot. Don't worry though, everything will be alright," he told her comfortingly, and just held her for a while, brushing his fingers through her long dark-green hair.
She looked up at him gratefully as she leaned her head against his chest. "Alyssa told me she thinks that Rachel needs distracting. If you want me to nurse her, just let me know," she said, smiling coyly.
"I'll bear that in mind," John replied wryly, and then leaned down to give her a kiss, which she returned passionately. When they finally broke apart, he said, "Let's go and rejoin the others."
Jade nodded eagerly and took his hand as they stepped into the grav-tube. They floated up to Deck Two, and stepped out into the corridor that led to the officers' quarters, before walking briskly to his room at the end. The other girls were waiting for them on the bed, and they all looked up at him when he arrived with the Nymph at his side, as the two of them walked over to join everyone.
Before he could say anything, Rachel spoke up suddenly. "I'm so sorry," she began, in a tremulous voice. "I don't know what came over me. You must think I'm some kind of merciless monster."
John looked at her tormented expression and his heart went out to her. Dana made room for him and he climbed across the bed to take Rachel in his arms.
"Shh, don't be silly," he told her soothingly. "We don't think anything of the kind," he added gently.
Rachel heaved a huge sigh of relief as she leaned against him, and the other girls echoed his words in a kindly tone, leaning in to stroke her comfortingly.
"But I just slaughtered those men in cold blood," she protested, her face showing her distress at the memory.
"Those 'Pirates' were rapists and murderers," John corrected her, "They signed their own death warrant the moment they attacked the passenger liner. The penalty for piracy is death, with clemency only given if the local authority is feeling generous. I'm just sorry you ended up being the executioner."
"It's like wiping out vermin," Calara said helpfully, recalling the phrase John had told her after her first encounter with pirates. "Just focus on the dozens of people you saved today instead."
John smiled at the Latina and nodded, before turning back to the tawny haired girl in his arms. "I promise you I had no idea about your mother though, otherwise I never would have exposed you to that. Do you feel up to telling us what happened to her?" he asked gently.
Rachel looked up at him with eyes that were red from crying, and nodded tentatively.
Alyssa leaned out and placed a comforting hand on Rachel's arm. "Before you start, would you like Jade to top you up first?" she asked considerately. "I know how much better I always feel when my tummy is nice and full," she added with an encouraging smile.
Rachel laughed, sniffling slightly as she rubbed the back of her hand across her eyes. "That would help, thanks," she said self-consciously as she nodded.
The girls all stripped off, with Dana and Alyssa moving across the bed to give Rachel a cuddle, while Jade looked up at John hungrily. He removed his clothes and then lay back on the bed, so that Jade could get to work. Calara came over to kneel beside him, and he pulled her into his arms for a kiss while Jade sank his cock down her throat, and then began to suck on him insistently.