by "Warrior of Spectra" and "Exiledadrian"
Edited by D.T.
Sir Francis Drake Base
Neutral Space-Frontier Confederated Alliance Border Region
December 08, 2049 (Frontier Cluster Date)
Captain Harold Cray sat in a conference room at the heart of Sir Francis Drake Base, lost in his thoughts. The base, formed out of an asteroid mined out with a settlement built in its innards, was home for Partnership Squadron 3, also known as the "SFD Squadron" under the command of Commodore Joseph 'Joe' Lancer, Cray's superior. Cray shook his head, muttering a curse at his luck.
In the five years of Lancer's absence, Cray had grown a bushy beard just beginning to turn silver. Though his hair was cut neat, he desired to keep the beard.
Roy Harper, Cray's executive officer, was seated next to his superior. Harper, having aged a bit, now had streaks of gray in his red hair. While Cray stood at five feet, Roy stood at six feet, not to mention that Harper was younger than the sixty-year-old Cray by about twenty-five years. Both Harper and Cray wore the gray uniform of the Partnership Navy, which the Frontier Confederated Alliance also shared. These two men had worn these uniforms on-again and off-again for at least five years. But from what Cray witnessed in his life, his five years may have meant something totally different back home.
Cray heaved a heavy sigh. He would have to deliver a satisfactory explanation to the thirty-year-old Joe Lancer. This ex-FCAN officer and scion of the now-shattered Lancer Interstellar Industries would be pissed, worried, or both. Cray gritted his teeth as he would have to explain the refitted armor, the scars, the loss of personnel...and just about practically everything. Man, that Lancer guy would probably not believe it all!
Both Cray and Harper stood up at attention when, at the moment the door had slid open, a clean-shaven young man with black hair and blue eyes, resembling more a corporate man than a military officer, returned the salute. Cray recognized the man: Joe Lancer.
"My God, man, you're old." Lancer remarked. After approaching his long-lost second-in-command, the young man embraced Cray like a lost son greeting his father. Lancer pulled back, while Cray felt quite surprised.
"Where in heaven's name have you been?" Lancer inquired, staring at both Cray and Harper, as the young man counted with his fingers. "No contact for over a year, scars on your hull and about forty people missing from both your crew and your Marine company detachment? Plus…your crew were acting weird when the Vengeance docked."
Cray made a wry smile, remembering some of the Marines and crew kissing the ground they walked after stepping off the Vengeance, with crowds of Marines flocking to meet lost families remaining on SFD Base, as well as their favorite bars. Cray allowed the Marines generous leaves-of-absences, and the Marines would file After-Action Reports later. All that mattered to Cray was that the Marines had finally arrived safely home.
Cray shook his head, glancing at Harper, and then at Lancer.
"Sir…" Cray began with some reluctance. "We…we have no idea where to start."
"Were you two attacked?" asked Lancer.
"Many times, sir," Cray answered. "But…"
"Then, how'd you arrive that quick when we needed you most?!" Lancer fired his questions rapidly, hands on his hips. "Do you realize that the EMP you fired made the Agamemnon lose its shields and go dark?! Have you any idea what's been going on?!"
Cray simply rubbed his neck, unable even to make reply at that moment.
"Sir, we didn't really expect to be in another fight when we got back," Harper replied, answered for his captain.
"'Got back' from where?" Lancer asked.
"Sir, the techs have our flight recorder, right?" Cray inquired, whereupon Lancer furrowed his eyebrows.
"Of course," Lancer replied with tact, given the uncertainty of the answers he was hearing.
"Sir, I'd look at the data first and then talk to us...with a degree of understanding." Harper said.
"No, I need the explanation from you right now." Lancer argued.
"It's going to be a long explanation, sir." Cray warned.
Lancer crossed his arms, giving Cray's answer some thought, before asking, "If I look at the flight recorder... you two won't be lying to me?"
"Sir... I think the recorder will corroborate it all," Cray answered. With a nod, Lancer stepped out to the entranceway, leaned out, and called, "Can I get about three bottles of whiskey and three shot glasses, please?"
Cray and Harper shared glances before turning their attention to the Commodore, who said, having returned to the room, "If you two are telling tales, I'll have them over a bottle of good liquor." Both Cray and Harper nodded slowly in acknowledgment.
"Alright, start at the beginning," Lancer commanded, folding his hands. "After I sent you to the Terrance system. What happened then?"