Voyages of the Cerberus episode 11: Chimera

It all happened quickly. First, the creature seemed to absorb the blaster fire without getting hurt. It charged them. Farah noticed Leon position himself between the creature and Paul out of the corner of her eye. Katie was more proactive. She grabbed a piece of debris and rushed right for it, knocking it to the side and earning a nasty cut across her shoulder for her efforts.

“Run!” she cried.

The four hurried out the door, the beast following close behind.

*****

On the Cerberus’ bridge, Ophelia was watching her view screen and tapping her fingers against her chair impatiently. Lucy was rapidly typing away at her console and whistling to herself, her eyes slightly opened. Allison was leaning against hers with her eyes half-closed.

Allison yawned.

“Are the sensors breaking through yet?” Ophelia asked.

Allison glanced at the controls in front of her. “Nope.”

“You really should take more pride in your work,” Lucy said.

“Grace’ll tell us when they’re up,” Allison said. “My staring at it isn’t gonna help.” She craned her neck towards Lucy. “What are you doing that’s so interesting, anyway?”

“Hacking into their system,” Lucy said. “Soon I’ll know their mission, who they’re carrying and everything else.”

“I’m sure that’ll be great reading,” Allison said. “Alliance ship Whatever, no one cares. Carrying a survey team to see if we can free our heads from our own asses.”

“I think this may be more illuminating than that,” Lucy stated. She looked at her screen.

*****

The four stopped briefly and Paul quickly dressed Kat’s wound. “I’ll have to give you stitches when we get back,” he said. “But this will suffice until we reach safety.”

“Is it not following us anymore?” Farah asked, looking back.

“Did we hurt it more than we thought?” Leon wondered.

“I don’t think so,” Kat said. “What kind of creature is that, anyway? Any of you guys know?”

Farah shook her head. Leon shrugged.

“Not a natural one,” Paul answered. “The way it’s built would make no sense if it had evolved naturally. My guess is that it’s some kind of bio-weapon.”

“So that leaves us with who made it and where are its handlers?” Kat wondered.

“I think getting off the ship is more important,” Farah said.

“The kid’s right,” Leon said. “Time enough to worry about who’s fighting the Alliance when we’ve saved our skins.”

*****

“Can I get a sensor check?” Grace asked over the intercom. “I think I may have gotten it.”

Allison checked the console. “I’m getting life readings,” she reported. “But all I can tell you is that there are five of them. Where they are, what kind of life forms they are. I can’t tell you that.”

“At least it’s something,” Ophelia said. “But only one survivor…”

“That’s probably not true,” Lucy said. “According to this, the Prometheus was a science vessel. They were designing the prototype for a new bio-weapon, code-named the Chimera. It was designed specifically to be released on an enemy ship where it will wipe out the crew and disable everything but life support. They even made its hide immune to blaster fire and resistant to most types of grenades. It’s a brutal and efficient killer. After it deals with the crew, they’ll use a specially designed anesthetic to put it to sleep and break into the enemy’s computer banks for information. Their captain was completing the forms to request a field test. They were never quite finished, though.”

“It got out,” Ophelia muttered. “Damn! We’ve sent them into a mess.”

“I’ll get in the Nebula and jet over there,” Allison said.

“Wait!” Ophelia cried. “I’m not sure what you’ll be able o do for them. Not as things stand, anyway. Lucy, do we have the stuff to make this gas of theirs?”

“Paul probably has all of it in medical,” Lucy answered.

“Can you make it?” Ophelia asked.

“It’s not really my area of expertise,” Lucy stated. “But I could probably trudge though it.”

“Do it!” Ophelia ordered. “We’ll have Grace whip up a delivery system for it. Then, Allison will go over and use it to knock that damn thing out.”

“It may be too late for them by the time it’s finished,” Allison said. “Is it really okay for me to wait?”

“There’s no real choice,” Ophelia said. “We’ll have to count on their skills to keep them alive. Keep monitoring those life signs. I want to know the second anything changes.”

*****

They made their way to the docking bay. They were on edge, keeping an eye out for their foe.

“Did it give up and go back to the bridge to eat?” Farah wondered.

“More likely it’s waiting somewhere to trap us,” Leon said. “Wouldn’t it be just our luck if we get to the bay and it jumps out to rip our faces off?”

“Leon,” Kat cautioned.

“He has a point,” Paul stated. “We don’t know how smart this thing is, but if it was artificially created as a weapon it probably has some sense of strategy and the docking bay would be a good ambush spot.”

“Point taken,” Kat said. “We’ll approach with caution.”

They stopped at the entryway, not wanting to peek or go inside. Kat studied the inside. Their shuttle was tantalisingly close and undamaged. Farah tapped on her shoulder and pointed. Kat followed her finger and her blood froze. Her judgement had been hasty. The shuttle’s fuel line had been cut. You could barely see it from the entrance. Their only means of escape and it was going to be useless unless they could find time to effect repairs.

Kat motioned for everyone  to get back. They were starting down the corridor when the creature burst out of their shuttle’s door. They fled and the chase was on.

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 10: Aboard the Derelict

“Stay close to me,” Leon entreated. “Whatever happens on there just stick close to me. I’ll keep you safe.”

“I’m certainly not going there to sight see,” Paul said. “You don’t have to worry about me wandering about.”

“I’m more worried about what’s waiting for us,” Kat said. “This reeks of a trap. Paul, you’d better carry a blaster, just in case.”

“That would be ill-advised,” Paul stated. “In an emergency situation I would be just as likely to hit one of you by mistake as the enemy. My medical training didn’t exactly include aiming a pistol.”

“Suit yourself,” Kat said. “If things do get hairy just take cover and stay out of the way.”

“We’re approaching them now,” Farah reported. “Do we cut our way in?”

“No,” Kat said. “This time we’ll use the docking bay. Since they called for help we should be able to initiate the protocols fairly easily.”

“But if it is a trap whoever’s behind it will be able to track us,” Leon said.

“And if it isn’t we would have blasted through their hull, potentially killing some of the people we came to help,” Kat said. “We go through the docking bay.”

Kat tried to reach someone on their ship, but there was no response. Fortunately, she was able to get the bay’s automated systems to open it for them. They parked their shuttle inside and waited for the bay to close.

“The bay is pressurised,” Kat said, checking the instruments. “Farah and I will take point. Leon will guard the rear. Doc, you stay in the middle. If we see any injured people we’ll stop so that you can treat them.”

The four headed out of the shuttle, keeping in formation. There was no sign of anyone. The only sounds were the dim whir of the life support system.

The first thing Farah noticed when they reached the corridor was the rusty stain against the metallic wall. “Is that blood?”

“It is,” Paul confirmed.

“So, why did they leave the wall like that if they were well enough to walk away?” Leon wondered.

“I don’t know if we can say that they were well enough,” Paul said. “The floor is stained as well. It looks almost like the injured person was dragged off.”

“But to get them help or for another reason?” Kat pondered.

The four kept moving, encountering no one and hearing no sounds of life. They eventually came across a door that had a massive hole torn into it, seemingly from blades.

Kat cautiously peeked in, keeping her back against the wall. She relaxed her body instantly. “No one’s in here.” She led the group inside. The room had several lockers filled with blasters, grenades and other assorted weapons. There was no sign of life.

“Looks like this was an armory,” Leon observed. “But why was the door blown open if the intruders were just going to leave everything?”

“Unless it was done to keep the intruders out,” Farah said.

“Someone was in here,” Paul said. He pointed at the wall. “That’s brain matter. Given the way it’s spread, it looks like it was a point blank blaster shot.”

“These too,” Kat said, noting a nearly identical stain on the opposite wall and one on the ceiling.

“How did the intruders get close enough to shoot them like that?” Farah wondered. “I mean, if there were three of them shouldn’t they have been able to hold them off? Especially with all these weapons.”

“And where are the bodies?” Leon added. “Who cleans out the corpses and leaves the bloody stains?”

“At least we know someone’s alive and active,” Kat stated. “But are they friend or foe?”

“There’s something else that bothers me,” Paul said. “If the intruders had blasters, why did they rip the door open like that? It would have been simple enough to overload one of them and blow it open that way.”

“It’s also not tactically sound,” Kat added. “I’m not sure what they used to slash the door open, but it couldn’t have been done instantly. The people who were in here would have been able to fire through the hole while it was still small.”

“And yet there are no signs of blood near the door itself,” Leon observed.

“I’m sure we’ll be able to figure out what happened when we find the survivors,” Farah said. “Let’s keep going.”

“Agreed,” Kat said. “Speculating won’t help us.”

The four continued, making their way towards the bridge. They found several more areas with blood staining the steel, but never any bodies. Never any signs of life.

The bridge was a mess. The consoles and furniture had all been uprooted and tossed to the side. The floors were sticky with blood. Paul put on his gloves and pulled up a small white fragment. “Bone,” he muttered. “Human bone.”

“This is the most blood I’ve ever seen in one spot,” Leon muttered.

“Why here?” Kat muttered. “Why move everything here and nowhere else on the ship?”

“It’s predatory behaviour,” Paul’s voice was so low that Farah could barely hear him. “It brings its prey here to consume it.”

“What’s that, M’Love?” Leon asked.

“We have to get out of here!” Paul declared. “We have to get back to the shuttle before…”

The three turned to the sound of the bridge door sliding open. The thing that came through had razor sharp blades jutting from its forearms, compound eyes and razor sharp teeth jutting from a long, needle-like snout. Fragments of human flesh were stuck in them. It had long, muscular limbs and a smooth, armoured body.

Kat, Leon and Farah turned and opened fire. The creature dropped the corpse it was carrying and ran towards them, showing no signs that the blaster bolts had fazed it.

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 9: The Distress Beacon and the Derelict

Farah waited, trying to keep still and look relaxed. Like promised, she had read over the entire manual and taken the test. Katie was going over her test, red pen twirling in her hand. Ready to strike.

Farah’s eyes focused on the writing implement. She was hoping that it wouldn’t get used. She had been confident in her answers, but looking at Katie’s face was shaking that confidence. She questioned whether or not she had been over eager and prayed that she hadn’t made herself look like a fool.

*****

“Cappy, I’m picking up a distress signal,” Allison reported. “Sounds like they’re under attack.”

“Location?” Ophelia asked.

“It’s still faint, but it’s about an hour to the east,” Allison said.

“That’s out of the way,” Lucy stated. “We could be late for the rendezvous if we go and we may not even show up in time.”

“True,” Ophelia said. “I suppose the proper course would be to meet up with our clients and hand over the drive. Forget all about the signal.”

“That would make sense,” Allison said. “But we all know how this ship works. I’ve set the coordinates for the signal.”

“Very good,” Ophelia said. “I’ll take us there. Go get Leon, Paul and Grace. We’ll leave Kat alone for now. She’s grading Farah’s test. Lucy, send a notification to our clients to inform them that we’ve had to take a detour and may be a little late.”

*****

Katie looked up from the test and sighed, heavily.

“Farah, I know you’re eager and everything,” she said. “And I can understand wanting to do this quickly.”

“Did I make a mistake?” Farah asked.

“No, it’s perfect,” Katie said. “I just wasn’t counting on having to take you for a practice flight so soon. Come on, let’s clear it with the Captain.”

The two moved forward to the bridge. They noticed Leon coming out of the med-bay, looking agitated.

“Maybe we won’t get to try that flight today,” Katie muttered. “Something’s up.” They hurried to the bridge.

“All done with the testing?” Lucy asked. “I’m afraid it’s not the best time to tell us how she did.”

“Farah, take the sensors,” Ophelia ordered. “Kat, get to the docking bay and prepare to sortie. We got a distress signal from a ship under attack.”

“Understood,” Katie said. She shot Farah a sympathetic look before moving down.

“I’m only picking up on ship,” Farah reported. She brought it on screen. It was adrift in space near a large nebula.

“I know,” Ophelia said. “And it doesn’t seem to be damaged at all. Let me know the instant that changes.”

“It could be a trap,” Lucy suggested. “Someone may be trying to lure us in.”

“It is possible,” Ophelia conceded. “A pirate ploy to catch unsuspecting ships off guard. Farah, can you tell the status of their ship yet?”

“We’re almost close enough for a more detailed scan,” Farah said. “We should be in range… now. Hold on just a moment.” She ran through a series of checks. “It’s an Alliance ship. Their shields are down and most of their systems are offline. They still have life support but I’m having trouble detecting life signs. It appears the nebula is generating interference that masks organic signs.”

“Curious,” Ophelia said. “That’s one single-minded nebula. Are there signs that they were damaged by hostile fire?”

“None,” Farah said. “The systems seem to have been taken down from the inside.”

“Might they be using a scrambler field to throw off our sensors?” Lucy asked.

“The readings don’t appear to be being affected by any outside source,” Farah said. “Besides the nebula, anyway. If they are it’s a really sophisticated model.”

Ophelia flipped on the intercom. “Everyone, it looks like there are no hostiles in space. Grace, I want you to work on boosting the sensors to cut through the interference from the nebula. Kat, Leon, Allison, I want you to take the shuttle to investigate. I’m going to send Farah along with you. Make sure to have your weapons ready.” She nodded at Farah and Farah promptly hurried out of the bridge and towards the docking bay.

“Captain,” Paul’s voice came from the speakers overhead. “Request permission to join the boarding party.”

“For what reason?” Ophelia asked.

“If there’s anyone alive on there they may need immediate treatment,” Paul said. “I have a portable kit ready to go.”

“I protest,” Leon’s voice stated. “It could be a dangerous situation. We can’t risk Paul!”

“I appreciate your feelings on this matter,” Ophelia said. “But Paul is correct. I’m afraid that the shuttle will be very cramped with five people, though. Allison, why don’t you come up to the bridge and run sensors?”

“Do I have to?” Allison asked. “I was looking forward to seeing Leon try to stop anyone from bumping into Paul during the ride.”

“Just get up here,” Ophelia said. She switched off the intercom.

“An odd situation with no way to gauge the potential threat,” Lucy said. “Is that the best type of mission to test our newbie on?”

“Not ideally,” Ophelia stated. “But I’d like an idea of how well she meshes with the others in an actual mission sooner rather than later.”

“I wonder if she still finds the good doctor scary,” Lucy mused.

“Captain, we’re ready to launch the shuttle on your mark,” Kat reported.

Allison walked in and took her station.

“Try to keep a lock on them,” Ophelia ordered. “Kat, you may launch. Be careful out there.”

They watched as the small shuttle soared towards the floating derelict.

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 8: Farah’s Flight Training

Katie was walking down the corridor towards Farah’s room when she heard a boisterous voice call out to her.

“Hey, Kitten!”

“Allison,” Katie acknowledged.

“Aren’t you looking happy today,” Allison said. “Is it because you get to train with our newbie?”

“I’m no different than usual,” Katie stated.

“You don’t have to pretend,” Allison said. “I’ve seen the way you look at her. You never look at me that way, or anyone else. Could she be your type?”

“I look at Farah no differently than I do anyone else I can assure you,” Katie stated.

“Really?” Allison asked. “Well, I suppose I don’t know what your type is. I could be your type. Leon could be your type. Maybe Grace or Paul or even our fearless leader. So, who on this ship is closest to being your type?”

“Did you really approach me just so that you could try to bait me into telling you my type?” Katie asked.

“Don’t be sop cold, Kitten,” Allison said. “You can tell me.”

Katie sighed. “I don’t have time for this. I have to start Farah’s training.” She hurried away leaving Allison alone.

“Almost had her,” Allison muttered.

*****

Katie knocked on Farah’s door. The door was opened almost immediately. Farah was fully dressed and her eyes had slight bags under them. “Miss Katie, I’ve been expecting you,” Farah said. “I’m ready to go!”

“Did you even sleep last night?” Kat asked.

“A little,” Farah answered. “But I was excited so I woke up really early.”

“I suppose it doesn’t matter too much,” Kat said. “Follow me.”

She led Farah down the familiar route to the hangar. They moved right over to the unnamed ship, Farah’s ship.

“Take a seat in the cockpit,” Kat said. “We’ll start by going over the controls. After that I’m going to have you read the manual and test over the controls and important details in the manual. You will get every single question right or you will study it until you do. Don’t worry, even Allison got it the second time so I’m sure you’ll be fine. After you pass the exam I’ll take you on your first test flight. We will go on test flights until I’m sure that you have a good grasp of the controls and then you will be officially able to give your ship a name and allowed to fly on missions.”

“I won’t let you down, Ma’am.” Farah said.

*****

Allison moved past the medical bay and slid open the door to engineering. A wrench hit the wall near her.

“Such hostility,” Allison stated. “Can’t you just show your affection more normally?”

“What do you want?” Grace asked.

“I was just talking with Kat but she had to go get Farah for her flight training,” Allison said. “Worried about them being alone together?”

“Not particularly,” Grace said.

“Suppose Farah is Kat’s type?” Allison asked. “Won’t this give her a chance to make a move while you’re cooped up in here.”

“Farah isn’t the type of girl you just make a move on,” Grace stated. “She’s the type you romance slowly and carefully. Besides, I’m pretty sure Kat’s type is more on the grounds of someone gentle and soft spoken but also graceful. You know, the type you wanna protect.”

“So, someone like Paul then,” Allison said.

“Assuming she’s into guys,” Grace said. “Although if she’s into girls then she’d probably look for one a lot like him in terms of personality. Now, get out of my engine room!”

“Yes Ma’am!” Allison cried, giving a mocking salute. “Right away, Ma’am.”

*****

Farah sat in the cockpit and listened intently to Katie’s explanation of the controls. Trying to commit them all to memory. Katie spoke slowly and her explanations were very simple, so Farah was confident that she could recall all of it when she had to.

Katie handed her the manual when they were done. “Take it to your quarters and read through it. Try to have it all memorized in a week.”

Farah looked at the manual. “Can I test tomorrow?”

“If you feel up for it,” Katie said. “But I should warn you, you won’t pass if you just skim through it nor will you pass if you haven’t slept well.”

“It’s only two hundred pages,” Farah said. “I’m pretty sure that I can get through all of it and pay attention to the details.”

“There’s a lot of technical stuff to learn,” Katie cautioned her. “But if you still feel that way in the morning just call me over the intercom and I’ll test you.”

“Thank you, Miss Katie,” Farah said. She bowed and ran for her quarters, holding the manual close to her chest.

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 7: Ophelia’s Story

Grace examined the drive.

“What’s the verdict?” Kat asked.

“It looks like the data is completely fine,” Grace said. “The casing is just damaged. I can replace it easily enough.”

“Ophelia’ll be glad to hear it,” Kat said. “I’m going to go report in. How long is it going to take to replace it?”

“It’s not super delicate work,” Grace said. “I can have it fixed up in an hour.”

Kat nodded. “I’ll tell her it won’t interfere with the drop off schedule.”

She left engineering quietly and made her way to the bridge. Ophelia was the only one who looked over when she entered. Farah was sitting at the sensor console, focused on the screen in front of her.

“Good news, Kat?” Lucy asked. Kat still found it somewhat disconcerting how she always seemed to know exactly who came in without looking, whether they announced themselves or not.

“The drive is in good shape,” Kat reported. “Grace is going to replace the case. It won’t take her long.”

“Good work,” Ophelia said. “Take a short break and report back here for bridge duty in an hour. Make sure that Allison and Leon come as well.”

“Sure thing,” Kat said.

“Don’t sit in Ophelia’s chair,” Lucy called.

“I make no promises,” Kat said. She headed off of the bridge, the door sliding shut behind her.

“Is there a reason we’re letting them take over for us?” Lucy asked.

“I think it’s time for that,” Ophelia said. “Farah!”

“Yes, Captain?” Farah asked.

“When those three take over for us I want you to come to the conference room with me,” Ophelia said. “Just for a little while.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Farah stated. She tried to keep her mind focused on her work but couldn’t help but be distracted. What did the captain want with her? Finally, Allison, Leon and Kat showed up to take control of the bridge.

“Peace,” Allison said. “I’ve gotta take over that console but you can stay right there if you want. I could use something to cuddle.”

“It’s all yours,” Farah said, moving away.

“At least smile or something,” Allison muttered. “Honestly, you could be super cute if you’d loosen up.”

Farah looked over at Ophelia. She’d gotten out of her chair and seemed to be waiting. Lucy was already gone. Farah moved to follow Ophelia to the conference room.

The two sat at opposite ends of the table. “I heard that you checked the Alliance’s files on us,” Ophelia said.

“I’m sorry!” Farah declared.

“Don’t be,” Ophelia said. “Everyone does it. Are you curious? About how I got kicked out of the Academy, I mean.”

“Oh, yes,” Farah said. “If you don’t mind telling me, I’d like to hear it.”

“It’s not a complicated story,” Ophelia said. “In my youth I wasn’t into the whole monogamy thing. I had what I thought was a brilliant plan too. I’d get involved with women who were already in serious relationships. That way, none of them could say anything even if they found out about the others.”

“How did that get you kicked out of the Academy?” Farah wondered.

“I’m getting to that,” Ophelia said. “I was in my early years at the Academy when I met a girl named Cordelia. She was engaged and we hit it off right away. At first we were just friends but one night… Well, things got serious. At first I didn’t think it was a big deal. She was just like the other women I was involved with, or so I thought. Turns out that Cordelia was a bit old fashioned. She hadn’t even slept with her fiance. After our tryst, she called things off with him so that she could devote herself to me.” Ophelia scratched her head. “I didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t used to commitment. I screwed up. I let her move in with me, figuring that she’d get tired of me and move on soon enough. We ended up staying together for two years. The whole time she stayed totally devoted to me.”

“But you didn’t feel the same way,” Farah muttered.

Ophelia shook her head. “I kept seeing other women on the side. I was in my final year when she found out. Naturally, she was hurt, angry, heart-broken. I realised right away that I’d handled the situation badly, that what I did to her was horrible, but I thought it was all over. Turns out, she was also the daughter of the head of the Academy’s Board. He found out what I’d done and he used his clout to make sure I paid. From there, I moved on to Akumil. It seemed like a good choice. Akumillians aren’t much for monogamy either. There is a ceremony for it, but it’s not super common. Plus there are ways of getting a ship there outside of the Alliance’s influence. I met Lucy there. She was one of the women I got involved with. The two of us partnered up to get a ship and we recruited Kat, Paul, Leon, Jane, Stephen and Damian from there. The rest, as they say, is history.”

Farah wasn’t sure what to say. Ophelia was looking at her expectantly. “Thanks for telling me,” Farah offered.

“Do you want to know why I told you?” Ophelia asked.

Farah nodded, brushing some loose hair out of her face.

“The reason is simple,” Ophelia said. “I tell every new crew member my story once they pass Lucy’s inspection.” She smiled at Farah. “That’s right, your inspection is officially over. First thing tomorrow, you’ll start working with Kat on your flight training. Relax and get some rest before then, okay?”

“Yes Ma’am!” Farah bowed and hurried out, feeling slightly giddy.

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 6: Drive Retrieved

Kat carefully latched her fighter onto the enemy ship. Allison and Leon brought their ships alongside hers. She switched on her cutting lasers, putting a small circular hole in the side. Then she made sure her suit was airtight and opened her canopy. The three of them hurried through the newly forged entrance.

“All right,” Kat said, her voice sounding somewhat husky from her flight helmet. “I’ll stay here and guard our ships. You two go find the objective. You do have the tracker, right?”

“Right here,” Leon said, showing her the small handheld device.

“Should I leave you a ball of yarn to play with?” Allison asked.

“No time for snappy patter,” Leon said. “Let’s go.”

“You’re never any fun on missions,” Allison muttered but she followed him regardless.

The two moved down the corridor, taking the left path. They moved carefully but quickly, keeping watch for any enemies. It didn’t take long to encounter them. A group of five equipped with pressure suits. Probably sent to investigate the hull breach.

Allison was fastest on the draw, quickly firing a blaster bolt through the neck of the closest one before diving for cover. Leon charged right at them, holding a plasma grenade against his chest and sending a maniacal laugh over all frequencies. The group panicked only to be shot down by Allison as they tried to flee.

“One of these days someone’s going to notice what you’re doing and shoot you instead of freaking out,” Allison said.

“Not undisciplined trash like this,” Leon stated, placing the grenade back on his belt. “Come on. It’s not far from here.”

*****

Kat listened for the sounds of the enemy. Guard duty was always dull, but someone had to do it. Leaving the fighters unguarded in hostile territory was just too risky.

Footsteps were approaching from the right. Enemy soldiers. She calmly tossed a thermal explosive down the length and listened to the blast followed by silence. She watched the area for a while, just to be certain.

*****

Lucy fired, pelting their hull. The enemy ship fired back, several shots hitting them directly.

“Shields are at sixty percent,” Farah reported. “Their shields are holding too.”

Lucy fired another volley, peppering them.

The Cerberus shook. “Their weapons are still functional,” Farah reported. “Captain, our shields may not survive another burst.”

“They won’t have to,” Ophelia said. “Hold on. This is going to be rough.”

Ophelia steered the Cerberus into a steep descent, moving below the enemy ship. Lucy unleashed a volley at the ship’s underside in that moment. The Cerberus quickly emerged behind them. Lucy fired a barrage of missiles across their back.

“They’ve taken heavy damage,” Farah reported. “Their shields and weapons are completely offline.”

“Isn’t that nice,” Lucy said, her usual smile momentarily growing wider. She fired a direct burst into their engines, destroying the ship.

“Grace, I want our shields fixed up in a hurry!” Ophelia ordered.

“I can get you partial power,” Grace’s voice came in clearly over the communications system. “But it’s going to take time for them to be in top shape.”

“Divert power from non-essential systems if you have to,” Ophelia said. “Give me as much as you can.”

*****

The drive was locked behind a security door. Leon and Allison set up some explosives to blow it open. A piece of shrapnel hit Leon’s forehead. He ignored it and the two moved in, blasting everyone left standing.

“We may have overdone it,” Allison stated. “Did we damage the drive?”

“It does look a little singed,” Leon said.

“Ophelia’s gonna be pissed,” Allison muttered.

“Grace is gonna be mad too,” Leon added. “You know that Ophelia’s going to ask her to fix it.” He sighed, heavily. “Looks like we dun goofed.”

He grabbed the drive and the two ran out. Back towards Kat and their ships.

*****

“The fighters are heading back,” Farah reported. “Looks like they did it.”

Ophelia nodded. “How long until their reinforcements arrive?”

“A minute and ten seconds,” Farah said.

“I’m taking us in to pick them up,” Ophelia said. She turned the Cerberus towards the small fighters and opened the docking bay for them. The three ships quickly boarded.

“They’re almost within weapons’ range!” Farah cried.

“I’m gunning it,” Ophelia said. “We’ll get the hell out of here and move back to stealth running as soon as we lose them.  She turned away from their pursuers and moved into maximum speed.

Farah watched her sensors as the hostile ships got further and further away.

*****

Paul moved to the docking bay with a portable med-kit,

“Welcome back,” he said. “Was anyone hurt?”

“No problems,” Leon said.

Paul moved up to him and began cleaning a deep gash on his forehead.

“Well, nothing serious anyway,” Paul said.

Leon’s face flushed. “I didn’t even notice that I had that. Not even sure how it happened.”

“You got hit by a bit of metal when we blasted their security door,” Allison said.

“I did?” Leon asked. “Don’t remember that.”

“I’ll take the drive over to Grace,” Kat said. “These two overdid it with the explosives.”

“Well that’s just blasphemy,” Allison said. “How can you have too many explosives?”

“Solid point,” Kat said. “Maybe you can explain it to Grace?”

“No thanks,” Allison said. “I’d kind of like to live another seventy years or more.”

“That’s what I thought,” Kat said. “I’ll give her your condolences over it.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 5: Speedy Strike

Leon moved down the corridor. They still had some time until they reached their target and it wouldn’t take him long to reach the docking bay. It was a habit of his before any dangerous mission. He always went to see his radiant healer.

The med-bay door slid open. Paul was occupied with checking his instruments.

“Hey, Fuzzy,” he said, not even looking up.

Leon moved behind Paul and hugged him, gently.

“I’ll come back to you if it’s humanly possible,” Leon said. “But if I don’t make it you need to know that I love you. I’ve never stopped loving you from the moment I first said it.”

Paul brought his hands up to caress Leon’s. They felt soft and warm.

“I love you too,” Paul said. “Make sure to come back and tell me all about it.”

Leon kissed the back of Paul’s bald head and held him in silence.

*****

“Farah, what’s our ETA?” Ophelia asked.

“Ten minutes, thirty seven seconds, Captain, Ma’am,” Farah reported.

Ophelia looked at her quizzically and sighed heavily. “I told you, there’s no need for formalities.” She flipped on the ship’s speaker. “Attention, Everyone. We’ll reach the target in less than ten minutes. Allison, hurry up and find a save point and put the game away. Leon, leave the med-bay.”

“Not going to tell Kat anything?” Lucy asked.

“She’s just reading,” Ophelia said. “I’ll bet she hasn’t even left the docking bay.”

“How do you know what they’re doing?” Farah inquired.

Ophelia shrugged. “People all have their own ways, their own rituals, of coping with the stress of going on a dangerous mission. Especially on a small ship like this when they can get back to docking pretty easily from basically anywhere. Tell me, Farah, what would you have spent the time doing if I was sending you out?”

“Me?” Farah asked. She thought about it for a moment. “I’m not sure. Played with Baron, maybe.”

“No wonder Grace likes you,” Ophelia laughed. “Any other ships in the vicinity or just the target?”

“I’m picking up three others,” Farah stated. “One is moving away from us. One is five minutes away from the target and the third is barely in range. Even if it is an ally of the enemy it’s going to be too far away to do anything.”

“We should also consider the possibility of ships with stealth technology,” Lucy advised.

Ophelia nodded. “I don’t think any of the pirates around here’ll have anything sophisticated enough to fool us, but it is possible. We’ll hit em hard and fast. Try to cripple their weapons and life support.”

“Not a problem,” Lucy said.

“But won’t Katie and the others need the life support?” Farah asked.

“They’ll have their own air supplies on their flight suits,” Ophelia said. “She’s a small ship, but our tech isn’t exactly sub-par. If anything taking out the enemies’ life support will lower the risk to them. How long until we’re in range?”

“At this speed we’ll reach them in a minute and a half,” Farah reported.

“Any sign of the other ships coming toward us?” Ophelia asked.

“Not yet,” Farah said.

“They either haven’t picked us up or they’re luring us,” Ophelia muttered. “We’ll pass them at this speed. Lucy, drop the stealth and open fire.”

“Dropping stealth,” Lucy said. “Preparing weapons. Firing.”

It was a tricky maneuver. The Cerberus moved past the target ship at full speed, her weapons blasting at full power. Lucy calculated her shots perfectly. They not only hit the target, but they managed to avoid anything that would destroy the ship. Leaving it half crippled but stable.

“The nearby ship has turned towards us,” Farah reported. “It’ll be here in minutes.”

The enemy ship fired at them. Ophelia took evasive maneuvers while Lucy returned fire. Blasting their weapons’ array.

“Their weapons are down,” Lucy reported.

“All fighters launch!” Ophelia ordered. Through the bridge’s screen, Farah saw the three fighters launch towards the damaged ship. “We’ll intercept the other ship. Feel free to destroy this one.”

“It won’t be as easy,” Lucy said. “They know we’re here.”

“We’ve got two more readings heading this way!” Farah cried. ” At their current speed they’ll be here in twelve minutes, forty seconds.”

“They must’ve been hidden in a base of some kind,” Ophelia said. “We’ll finish the one heading towards us, pick up the fighters and get the hell out of here. Hopefully, we can be gone before they arrive.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 4: No need for protocol

Ophelia and Lucy sat together at one end of the long conference table. Farah took a seat on the side between Katie and Grace. Paul, Leon and Allison sat at the opposite side.

“We’re heading to Sector 47 near Bacchus,” Ophelia said. “I’m sure you know what that means.”

“Scum of the universe,” Allison stated. “Smugglers, pirates, proselytisers.” Farah heard Grace suppress a chuckle.

“Exactly,” Ophelia said. “One of the pirate groups stole an important drive from the Orana Conglomerate. We’ve been hired to retrieve it.”

“There are a lot of pirates in the area,” Allison said. “How do you propose we find the right group, much less the right ship? I suppose all of us could get in our pajamas and put a video on the net asking the pirates to come party with us.”

“Simple,” Ophelia answered. “Grace and Lucy are going to patch into their communications and send a tracking signal designed to ping the drive.”

“It won’t work if they’ve got it turned off,” Grace said. “Unless it’s one of those ones with a black box feature. But they’re probably trying to hack into it to look through the information or they will soon enough. We should be able to find it without any problem. I’m assuming that you have the information we’ll need to identify it.”

Ophelia nodded. “Once they locate the right ship we’ll attack, being careful not to destroy them. Grace will stay in the engine room to make sure everything is functioning perfectly.  While we’re engaging them, Kat, Leon and Allison will get in their fighters, move carefully up to their ship, latch onto it and break aboard, retrieving the drive. Paul, I want you on standby in the medbay in case anything goes wrong. Farah, you’ll be on the bridge with Lucy and I. I want you to run the sensors.”

“Yes Ma’am!” Farah saluted.

“Girl, you are taking this way too seriously,” Allison said. “Would you lighten up if I grabbed your bum?”

“Don’t you dare!” Grace declared, her voice suddenly turning cold. She glared at the other woman.

“Ooh, scary,” Allison said. “You sound almost as jealous as Leon except he’s actually got a relationship going and isn’t just crushing on someone.”

“I’m not jealous,” Leon said.

“I’ve seen you punch a dude because you thought he was smiling too much when talking to Paul,” Allison said. “You are totally jealous and possessive.”

“I didn’t punch him that hard,” Leon protested. “It was totally just a warning.”

“Now, now,” Lucy said “let’s not fight. Why don’t you all go prepare for the mission and Grace and I will get things started.”

Farah went to the bridge with Ophelia while everyone else went to prepare for their parts.

“You do know how to run the sensors, right?” Ophelia asked.

Farah nodded. “It’s not super complicated. We learned at the Academy. We also studied how to use the weapons’ arrays and basic evasive maneuvers. Just in case we ever got assigned to a ship.”

“For now just focus on the sensors,” Ophelia said. “Lucy will handle the weapons and I’ll steer.”

“Yes Ma’am,” Farah said.

“You really don’t have to be so damn formal,” Ophelia said. “Just call me Ophelia. We aren’t a ship that really does protocol. We all have our jobs and we take care of them.” The two sat in silence for a while. “So, how do you like it here so far?” Ophelia asked. “Settling in okay?”

“Sure,” Farah said. “I’m not completely used to everything yet, but I’m sure I’ll get to that point. I just wish that you’d let me do more, you know?”

“It’s coming,” Ophelia assured her. “Lucy my be overly cautious but she also works quickly when she investigates someone and she’s always fair so you don’t have to worry.”

“That’s good to hear,” Lucy said. Farah nearly jumped, having not heard her enter but Ophelia didn’t respond. Farah wondered if Akumillian’s had some way of seeing things without using their eyes. She hadn’t heard anything about it, but the only time she’d seen Lucy with her eyes open was when she’d first seen her on the bridge, and she’d closed them pretty quickly.

“You and Grace finished,” Ophelia said.

“Of course,” Lucy said. “At maximum speed we should be able to overtake the target ship in just under an hour. Assuming that they keep to their current course and speed and no other ships decide to try their luck.”

“Great!” Ophelia declared. She hurriedly input the coordinates and flipped a switch near her chair. “Attention, Everyone. We should be arriving at target point in fifty seven minutes. Standby and prepare to commence the operation.”

Farah watched her console. It was her first mission and she wanted to do well.

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 3: Grace’s Story

Farah knocked on the engineering door before entering, remembering Katie’s warning.

Grace glanced back at the door and quickly moved over to her. “Farah! Were you feeling lonely without me?”

“I actually had a question,” Farah said.

“I’m free this evening,” Grace said, leaning close. “Formal or casual attire?”

“It’s not that,” Farah said.

“My, you are a fast worker,” Grace exclaimed. “I don’t know if my heart is ready, but if you insist I can let you right into my quarters. I’ll just have Paul and Leon watch Baron for me. I’m sure they could manage for an hour or three.”

“I wasn’t…” Farah began, but stopped. She examined Grace. “You’re teasing me, aren’t you?”

Grace chuckled. “Well, partially. So, what is it you wanted really?”

“Well,” Farah said. “I was looking up the Alliance’s records on you guys and…”

“And you want to know how I really got kicked out of my position,” Grace finished. “I should have suspected this. Allison wanted to know the same thing after she joined up.”

Grace took a seat and patted her lap. “Make yourself comfortable. I’ll tell you all about it.”

“I can sit on the floor,” Farah said.

“What, my lap isn’t good enough for you?” Grace asked. She shrugged. “Whatever. It’s a simple enough story. After I graduated I worked my way up pretty quickly until I got put in charge of my own station. It seemed like a great opportunity, at first.” Grace looked off to the side as she spoke, her cheek resting on her hand.

“Something went wrong,” Farah said.

Grace nodded. “To be specific, the equipment was a disaster. Horribly outdated stuff. I took stock of everything and found out that over eighty percent of it was completely unsalvageable. So, I put in a request for new equipment. Guess what? The land whale in charge of procurement wouldn’t put through the request. He said it was too much for our budget.”

“Then it’s his fault that you didn’t have the stuff you needed,” Farah said. “But shouldn’t he have been fired then?”

“It gets worse,” Grace said. “I went over his head and got nothing for my troubles but bureaucratic red tape, a headache and a memo that they’d take it under advisement.I went back and forth with them for so long it was ridiculous. Finally, something actually went wrong and a bunch of my team died.” She took off her glasses and wiped her eyes.

“So, they used you as a scapegoat?” Farah asked.

“At first they wanted to use the highest ranking officer who had died,” Grace explained. “They called me in and promised me new equipment and replacement staff. They just wanted me to blame the accident on him using unsafe procedures. But I didn’t want to smear his name like that and you know what it would have meant for his family. I refused to cooperate. So, they made me the scapegoat.”

“But couldn’t you tell someone?” Farah said. “I mean, you did keep records of your requests, right?”

“Sure I did,” Grace said. “I’ve spread the truth around the net, but it doesn’t change anything. Some people claim it’s all a hoax. Others believe it and use it as an example of corruption within the system. There were even some people who protested but the story’s pretty much died down by now and all of that didn’t get me my position back. I’m still poison as far as the Alliance is concerned.”

“I’m so sorry,” Farah said. “It’s totally unfair.”

Grace shrugged. “Yeah, but I’m not the only one here who got a raw deal. Besides, I like my new job.”

“So, what happened with the Doctor?” Farah asked. “How did he really lose his license?”

“You’ll have to ask him,” Grace said. “There’s basically an unspoken rule on this ship. You have to learn someone’s story from the person themselves. Well, don’t expect to hear Kat’s. Only Ophelia and Lucy know for sure what her deal is. Paul and Leon were part of the original crew with her and they don’t even know. I have some guesses, but no real proof to support any of them.”

Farah felt those suspicions again. Her file was classified and she wouldn’t talk about her past. She decided to try distracting herself from it. “Original crew?”

Grace nodded. “You, me and Allison are the newbies. Before us they had… what were the names?” She snapped her fingers. “I remember! Jane, Damian and Stephen.”

“what happened to them?” Farah asked.

“Well, I wasn’t here at the time,” Grace said. “But from what I’ve heard Stephen and Damian left and Jane died. I don’t know if it was an accident, sickness or what. They don’t really talk about it.”

The two were interrupted by a buzzing sound. Grace hit a button on her desk. “Grace here.”

“Report to the meeting room,” Ophelia’s voice said. “And bring Farah with you if you please.”

“On my way,” Grace said. She nodded to Farah and the two headed out of engineering.

Farah wanted to know what it was about, but was afraid to ask. She noticed Paul and Leon exit medical together. Grace looked back at her, apparently noting the confusion on her face.

“We have a mission,” she said. “Ophelia likes to call all of us together when it happens for the briefing. Well, you probably won’t have much to do in this one besides observe.” Grace winked at her. “Maybe you and I will have more time to play.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus episode 2: Farah’s Research

Farah walked down the corridor. They were in space and she still hadn’t been given her duties. She’d been gently told to take some time to settle. She glanced up at the sound of footsteps. Katie was heading towards her.

“Hey, Katie,” Farah said.

“What is it?” Katie asked.

“You said that I can start piloting my ship once Lucy clears me, right?”

Katie nodded.

“So, how long will that take?” Farah asked. “And why does she have to clear me anyway?”

“She’ll probably only take a couple days,” Katie explained. “The why is simple enough. She’ll just check to make sure that your ties with the Alliance are really severed.”

“I don’t see why it matters,” Farah said. “You said that you guys aren’t doing anything illegal.”

“We aren’t,” Katie said. “But we are embarrassments to the Alliance. The people on this ship… Well, all of us except Lucy, are people doing jobs that the Alliance has deemed us unqualified for. As far as they’re concerned, we can all get killed out here and it would be for the best. That’s why we can’t trust someone with strong ties to them. Our lives depend on each other.”

Katie leaned against the wall with her arms crossed. “If you really want to know more you can use your computer to check the alliance’s files on us. I just suggest that you remember that their file on you says that you were deemed unfit for your duties after your gross negligence led to unacceptable civilian casualties. So, don’t take their files on us at greater face value than we took their file on you.”

Farah nodded. “Don’t worry. I won’t take them too seriously.” She turned and headed back towards her quarters. At the very least, checking the files would give her something to do.

“Let’s see,” she muttered. “How about the Captain first.”

She hurriedly input the name.

Wester, Ophelia:

The file wasn’t long. Ophelia had been in her final year as a cadet at the Alliance’s most prestigious space academy when the Board had decided that she lacked the ability to be an officer and had thrown her out. She had gone to Akumil and secured a vessel under their less stringent standards.

Farah propped her head up with her hand under her chin. It wasn’t unusual for cadets in their early years to be thrown out but a cadet in their final year was unheard of. Something had definitely happened. She wondered if the captain would tell her someday. She decided to move on to the next one.

Horne, Katie:

The word “Classified” flickered across her screen in bold red letters. That was worrying. The alliance rarely did that with files belonging to people they wanted blacklisted. The only cases Farah could think of where they had were times that the person was involved in some investigation that the Alliance wanted hidden. Surely, Katie couldn’t be an agent of theirs. She always sounded so bitter when she talked about the alliance. So why? Was she a criminal?

Farah shook her head. Speculating wouldn’t help. Shakily, she typed in the next name.

Judd, Leon:

His file was short and to the point. He’d been a peacekeeper, just like her. He’d been there for seven years and been decorated several times. Then, three years  and some months ago, his lover had gotten into trouble and been blacklisted by the alliance. A few months after that, Leon had had a breakdown and beat his supervisor, breaking the man’s nose, several teeth and leaving him in need of extreme reconstructive surgery.

At least, that’s what the file said. Farah couldn’t believe it. If the man had really been hurt that badly they would have arrested Leon for assault. Possibly placed him in a psychiatric institution. He had certainly had some altercation with his supervisor, possibly even punched him once but it could’t be as bad as the file indicated. She decided to move to the next one.

Aiza, Allison:

She’d been a peacekeeper nine months before but her maturity was lacking and her pranks had caused tens of thousands of credits in property damage at the station, resulting in her dismissal. Farah wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Allison had pulled some pranks, she seemed the type, but the damages were hard to believe.

Albrecht, Grace:

She had finished first in her engineering class and been sent to an important alliance station where she quickly became the chief of operations. A year ago there had been an accident resulting in nearly twenty deaths. An investigation found that sub-standard equipment had been being used and Grace had been implicated. The evidence hadn’t been strong enough for criminal charges, but it had been enough for her immediate dismissal.

Farah found that hard to believe. If there had really been strong enough evidence that they could trace it back to Grace then they could have certainly taken her to trial. There had to be more to it than that. She wondered if Grace would tell her story. She’d seemed to like Farah when they had met. There was one more file to look at first, though.

Albrecht, Paul:

He had been at the top of his class at the most prestigious medical institution on Earth. He’d been a practicing doctor for almost seven years. Then, three and a half years ago, he’d been sent to Ca’urrg to help with a plague outbreak. When he returned, he’d been stripped of his medical licence for failing to follow orders.

Farah remembered that case. It had been strange because the plague had been cured when he’d come back with the Ca’urrs specifically giving him their gratitude. She’d always wondered how he’d failed exactly. But he’d been strangely silent when news sources had questioned him and the whole incident had been forgotten. She was curious, but she didn’t want to ask him. He was scary.

She left her quarters and made her way to engineering. Determined to, at least, hear Grace’s story.

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