The Grand Pilgrimage 37: Sylvie’s Unease

“Eat up,” Omec encouraged. “We’re expecting the bastard and his little minions tomorrow, early. But don’t worry, I  have sentries posted. If he does show up tonight, there’ll be an alarm.”

“And you know he’s coming because he sent word?” Sylvie asked.

“That’s right,” Omec stated. “He sent some of his boys ahead to demand our fealty. We dealt with them and turned their little boat into kindling. I don’t care if he is actually the son of Zeus, no punk comes to our town and makes demands!”

“Well, when he arrives just leave Scotius to us!” Inés declared. “You and yours can deal with his thugs.”

“I won’t deny your strength,” Omec said. “But you should be cautious. Scotius may be a punk, but he’s also a conqueror and he has a particularly bad reputation when it comes to the young and attractive.”

“Don’t worry about us,” Inés said. “We’ll definitely bring him down.”

“Or die trying,” Sylvie muttered.

“What was that?” Inés asked.

“Never you mind,” Sylvie stated. “In any case, the three of us should get some sleep. We have a difficult task in the morning.”

“I suppose so,”  Inés said. She held out a hand to Serena. “Shall we?”

“Well, just for a little bit,” Serena said. “We really should rest.”

*****

Sylvie found herself feeling rather restless. As much as she’d talked about resting to be ready for the morning’s battle, her mind just wouldn’t stop racing. This was a son of Zeus, Athena had told them as much. And the three of them were going to fight him.

Would Athena send them to a battle they couldn’t win? Sylvie doubted it. However, it wouldn’t surprise her to be sent to a battle they wouldn’t survive winning. If it meant saving a bunch of other people, Athena might very well let some of her priestesses be sacrificed.

On one hand, it would certainly be a noble end. No one could deny that much. But at the same time, she didn’t want to die yet. She wasn’t ready to die yet. She still wanted to be officially recognised as a full-fledged priestess. More importantly, she wanted to see Illyana and, finally, confess her true feelings.

Was it really so selfish of her to want just that much?

She rose from bed and walked. Past the room Serena and Inés were using and outside. It was a chilly night. She could see the sentries still watching the sea by lantern light. But something else caught her attention.

It was a sound she knew well, Inés’ aggressive grunting. She always hated hearing that sound during practice. Why hadn’t Inés gone to bed? Could she also be worried? Somehow, the very concept frightened Sylvie even more. If someone with Inés’ freakish strength was scared, what chance did she and Serena have?

She found Inés practising her staff moves while moving swiftly around.

“You’re still up?” Sylvie froze upon hearing the masculine voice. She quickly moved out of sight. Captain Omec was approaching Inés from the other direction.

“Yeah,” Inés said. “Thought I’d get a little practice in before going to sleep.”

“Won’t you need your energy?” Omec asked.

“I’ve always had plenty to spare,” Inés said. “I’ll be fine.”

“What, are you afraid of dying?” Omec asked.

“Dying?” Inés asked. “Not particularly. To be honest, I’ve always thought I’d get myself killed while in Athena’s service. Protecting someone or trying to bring someone notorious to justice. If it happens here, it happens here.”

“But you are nervous,” Omec stated.

“Well, there is the excitement that always goes with a big fight,” Inés said. “And I guess I really don’t want to let Serena and Sylvie down. The two of them have so much to look forward to in their lives.” Inés sighed and looked up at the stars. “I just have to make sure I’m strong enough to protect them.”

“And if you die in the process?” Omec asked.

“Then I’ll have to make sure Scotius goes with me,” Inés said. “Night, Omec.” She raised an arm and headed back.

Sylvie stayed out of sight until they were both gone and moved back to her own room. Somehow, she was able to sleep quite soundly.

*****

In the morning, they gathered. Stood alongside the men and women of Ghuji. They watched the sea, waited. Archers stood at the ready.

“Hey, Omec,” Inés said. “Could you tell them to hold their fire?”

“I could,” Omec said. “Why?”

“Because I have an idea of how to get the first hit in and I don’t want to catch a stray arrow or two,” Inés said.

“Oh, I think I get it,” Serena said. “Because they’re coming from sea, yeah?”

“Exactly,” Inés said.

“I think I know what you’re planning,” Sylvie said. “Just do it carefully, okay?”

“Is that concern in your voice?” Inés  asked. “Could it be that you really like having me around?”

“Don’t be absurd,” Sylvie said. “But we are all in this together and I’d hate to see you sacrifice yourself.”

Inés put a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry, it’ll all be fine. Just leave it to me.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 93:Over-sized Fitting

Kat and Farah boarded the derelict.

“Keep your weapon at ready,” Kat instructed. “There may still be some survivors lurking about.”

“I understand,” Farah said. “Now, let’s get that propulsion system!”

“Assuming it’s salvageable,” Kat muttered.

They went down the corridor, moving deep into the ship. Eventually, they came across some corpses.

“These are Alliance uniforms,” Farah observed.

“It’s to be expected,” Kat stated. “We are in the area of the Alliance’s rumoured weapon designing laboratory. If  this monstrosity was what they were working on, I’d hate to think what other experimental toys are floating around.”

“We’ll have to fire immediately if we do see a survivor,” Farah said. “Can’t afford the risk.”

“I agree completely,” Kat said. “Even if we aren’t technically enemies of the Alliance, this  ship did try to kill us. I’m not inclined to grant anyone here mercy.”

They moved past the corpses, checking the rooms as they went. Finally, they came across engineering. The department was easily thrice the size of the Cerberus’ engine room with terminals set up and a huge team of engineers, judging by the remains in the room.

Kat pushed one of the bodies aside and checked the terminal.

“Now that’s an interesting measure,” she said.

“What?” Farah asked.

“It requires a retinal scan and hand identification to work,” Kat said. “Guess they were worried that someone might sneak aboard unnoticed. Help me with this.”

She and Farah took the body of  the closest engineer and took off one of his suit’s gloves, pressing his hand against the terminal. Next, they opened his helmet and pried open his eye for the retinal scan.

“There we go,” Kat said.  “Cover me while I look things over.”

“I really hate doing that to a corpse,” Farah said. “It just feels wrong.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Kat said. “We’re the only two alive around here. Not like we’re going to hurt the remains. When the Alliance returns for them, they’ll just take stock of the casualties and cremate them.”

“Still…” Farah began, but thought better of it. She knew Kat well enough at this point to know that she was just being pragmatic about it.

“Interesting,” Kat muttered. “This propulsion system has some serious power and it looks like we might just e able to pry it away from the ship.”

“That’s good, right?” Farah asked.

“There  is a problem,” Kat said, matter-of-factly. “Well, two problems. The first is how big the thing is. Mounting it on what’s left of the Cerberus and making it actually stable, won’t be easy. The power is also going to be an issue. On a ship like this, that much power is required to get it moving at a decent rate. For the Cerberus… I don’t even know if we’ll be able to power it. And if we manage, we’ll be shot forward without much control at a great velocity.”

“So it’s no good,” Farah muttered.

“It’s a risk,” Kat said. “But it may also be our only choice. I’m going to download this schematic and send it to you, Leon & Allison. Together, we’ll get the system detached. Then we’ll see what Grace wants to do about it.”

*****

“Grace, allow me to assist you,” Yuri said.

“Finish the smaller holes?” Grace asked.

“They have all been sealed,” Yuri confirmed.

“All right,” Grace said. “We’ll start by sealing the whole thing. When that’s done we’ll graft an opening that Farah and the others can use to board. I’ve got an intact airlock over there.” She nodded towards her pile of scrap.

“Understood,” Yuri stated.

They had finished sealing things up and were hard at work getting the airlock in place when Kat’s voice came in over the communicator.

“Grace, come in.”

“Grace here,” Grace answered. “Did you find my propulsion system?”

“The Cerberus’ was found in small pieces,” Kat answered. “We did manage to get the enemy ship’s. Trouble is, it’s over-sized and will take a lot of power.”

“Send me the schematics,” Grace ordered. “I’ll see what I can do with it.”

“Already done,” Kat said. “We’ll stand by in our ships.”

“Yuri, finish getting the airlock in place, please,” Grace said. “She went to work, studying the sent schematics.

*****

“What are  our options?” Ophelia asked, coherent in spite of the pain medication.

“We have to mount the propulsion system,” Grace stated. “It would simply take too long to build a new one.”

“But we’ll be out of control?” Lucy asked.

“Not entirely,” Grace said. “Thanks to her mechanical abilities, Yuri can react quickly enough to steer us. At least a little. If we pick a clear course, she should be able to prevent us hitting anything.”

“How will you power the system?” Ophelia asked.

“I’m going to connect the Nebula, Wyvern, Healer & Simurgh up to it, along with the Cerberus’ engine,” Grace said. “They’ll all blow after a little while, but we should have enough of a boost to get us out of Alliance space. At that point, we have to hope that we’re lucky enough to get some help. The Cerberus certainly won’t be in good shape.”

“And there’s no other choice?” Ophelia asked.

“I know it’s risky,” Grace stated. “But the only other options are to get captured while trying to build something new or to wait for capture. You know what they’ll do to us after we’ve trashed their toy.”

Ophelia sighed. “Agreed. Make it happen.” Grace turned to leave. “Oh and Grace.”

“Yeah?” Grace asked.

“How soon until the atmosphere is fully restored?” Ophelia asked.

“Eight minutes,” Grace answered. “Paul’s preparing Medical for you already.”

“Oh good,” Ophelia said. “At least your stunt won’t kill me while I have a busted leg.”

“My stunt won’t kill you because I’m a genius,” Grace said. “Don’t you worry.” She left the Conference room.

“Confident, isn’t she?” Ophelia asked.

“No,” Lucy said. “She’s nervous. There’s so much that could go wrong here, but she doesn’t want you to worry. She’s also right. We really have no other choice right now.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 36: Lukewarm reception in Ghuji

“What is this about, Daughter?” Zeus demanded, his muscular  back turned to Athena.

“I’m unsure what you mean,” Athena stated.

“Your  priestesses move against your half-brother,” Zeus stated.

“I told them not to go,” Athena stated, feigning ignorance. “But you know how stubborn these mortals can be.”

“Then perhaps I should end them,” Zeus said. “Unless you object?”

“Not me, Father,” Athena said. “But I would advise against it. Should you harm those three, Olympus itself will quickly be at war.”

“Explain,” Zeus demanded.

*****

“That’s the fourth group we’ve seen leaving,” Sylvie noted, watching the road to Ghuji from Demure’s back.

“So, they know this son of Zeus is coming?” Serena asked.

“Either that or Ghuji is more popular with merchants than we thought,” Inés said.

“They know,” Sylvie declared. “Look, here comes another group. That isn’t a merchant group. It’s people carrying all the possessions they can manage while they flee.”

“Think we should reassure them?” Serena asked. “It may make things easier for them.”

“I don’t know that we have time,” Inés stated. “Word will spread around when we arrive anyway.”

“But…” Serena began.

“It’s better to leave it be,” Sylvie said. “Even if they believe in us, and that’s a big ‘if’, even then we’re better off with fewer civilians around. Less chance of them getting killed.”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that,” Inés said. “I kind of assumed we’d protect them like always.”

“While fighting a half-God?” Sylvie asked.

“Too much, huh?” Inés muttered.

“Way too much,” Sylvie said. “We’ll be lucky if both of us survive. We certainly can’t be looking after civilians.” She turned to Serena & Dusk. “You should stay back with the pegasi. It’s too dangerous for you.”

“But that’s why you’ll need me!” Serena protested. I have weapons from Hephaestus too, so…”

“In this case,” Inés began “I would prefer you to stay back. But I can’t deny that we need all the help we can get and there has to be a reason that you were given those tonfa. Sylvie, we have to let her fight alongside  us.”

“That’s…” Sylvie cut her protest short. “You may be right. Fine, all three of us will fight.”

“Thank you,” Serena said. “Thank you both.”

“By the time this is over you may well resent us for it,” Sylvie muttered. “Assuming we all survive.”

“Don’t be so gloomy!” Inés exclaimed. “You’ll both live. After all, you have the super strong staff expert, Inés on your side!”

“Such amazing confidence,” Serena stated.

“That doesn’t reassure me at all,” Sylvie said.

The trio landed in a wooded area  outside of Ghuji and loosed their pegasi.

“Wait for us to come back, okay?” Inés said. “I’ll whistle if I need you, Blitz.”Blitz let out an understanding neigh.

“Don’t worry about me, Demure,” Sylvie said. “For now, let Blitz and Dusk look after you. I’ll be back soon.” Demure nuzzled her.

“Don’t worry about me, Dusk,” Serena said. “Inés will make sure I return. I just hope I can do my part.”

Dusk looked her over and glanced at thee other two before letting out a series of neighs and whinnies.

“You think so?” Serena asked. Dusk let out a loud neigh. “Then I’ll do my best!”

The three hurried from the forest.

“Think they’ll actually wait?” Sylvie wondered.

“Definitely,” Inés answered. “They’re our friends, after all.”

“I agree,” Serena said. “Dusk even told me to do my best.”

“Is that what she said?” Inés asked.

“Yeah!” Serena declared. “Basically.”

*****

Ghuji’s gate was manned by several guards. One of them stopped them. “My apologies,” he said. “But we can’t shelter you for the night. A rather brutish group is coming to attack us, you see. It’s better if you camp out and go elsewhere.”

“We know about the group,” Inés said. “Led by a son of Zeus, coming to take your city. That’s why we came. We’re warrior priestesses of Athena and we fight for justice!”

“Warrior priestesses?” he asked. “I guess I should introduce you to the captain.”

He led them inside and to the town’s square, where a one-eyed, middle-aged man was giving orders. “Rex, who are these girls?” he demanded.

“Warrior priestesses, Captain Omec,” Rex answered. “They say they want to help against Scotius and his thugs.”

“Heh?” Omec scoffed. He looked them over. “They look barely old enough to be learning to fight, much less to fight a rumoured son of Zeus.” He turned to them. “No offence, but we need experienced men and women, not children.”

“We have been fully trained at the temple,” Sylvie said, trying not to look at Serena. “Not only that, but we’ve had quite a few battles on our way here. We’re completely qualified, I assure you.”

“All right, you’re qualified,” he said. “I salute your courage. Now, go home!”

“Listen here you impertinent…” Sylvie began, but Inés stopped her.

“Listen,” Inés sighed. “It’s pretty clear that you think we’re too young and we do appreciate you looking after our well-being, but arguing over how good we are is getting us nowhere. Therefore, I propose a test. I’ll fight you. No weapons. No time limit. The one to give up or get knocked out loses. If I win, you let us fight Scotius. If you win, we’ll leave without any argument. Deal?”

“I have preparations to oversee,” Omec said. “I have no time to play.”

“Was that quivering I heard in your voice?” Inés asked.

“I think it was,” Serena agreed. “There’s no shame in being scared of Inés. She beat a giant by herself, after all.”

“A giant?” Omec asked. He turned to them. “Very well, I’ll accept your terms.”

He took his scabbard and tossed it to the side. Inés set her staff down beside it.

“Let’s see this strength that can fell a giant,” Omec said. He circled around Inés, his arms up in a guarding position. Then he unleashed a powerful jab. Unfortunately for him, Inés caught his fist and began squeezing. He struggled to pull away with all his strength. Inés smirked and released his fist, dropping as she did and punching him in the gut.

He went flying backwards, clutching his stomach. His fist bruised and barely mobile.

“I give,” he gasped. He turned to Rex. “Bring one of the clerics, immediately.” He knelt. “Ladies, I apologise for my crassness. Please, lend us your strength.”

Inés grinned. “Hey, I won. That makes it our right.”

“Thank you very much!” Omec exclaimed.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 92: Treating the Wounded

“We’ll have to leave the Baron in the Healer,” Leon stated. “We  don’t have an atmosphere suit for him and, right now, the artificial atmosphere in the Cerberus isn’t functioning right, except in the conference room and we’re not sure that’ll last.”

“That’ll make treating Ophelia difficult,” Paul mused. “I’ll have to hurry.”

“And I’ll find something for the Baron to eat,” Leon said. “Oh… and the cat too.”

“Grace and Farah will be relieved,” Paul said. “How is our emergency ration situation?”

“Not great,” Leon answered. “But I’m more worried about what happens when people come looking for that battleship. Our survival is going to depend on Grace’s ability to fix the ship up enough to get out of here before they come looking for it.”

*****

The Healer and Nebula latched onto the remaining section of the Cerberus. Paul went to medical to retrieve some supplies before heading towards the conference room while Grace and Allison carried Yuri to engineering.

“Glad to have you back,” Lucy greeted him. “I take it you’ve been apprised of the situation?”

“I have,” Paul answered. “Help me get her atmosphere suit off. I’ll examine her while you keep an eye on the atmosphere in this room. If it starts malfunctioning, we’ll abandon the examination for the time being.”

“I can get out myself,” Ophelia said. She sounded tired.

“You need to rest,” Paul stated. “Just let us help, okay?”

They managed to help her out of the suit and Paul went to work.

“Please tell me what your level of pain is,” Paul said.

“An eight, mostly,” Ophelia answered.

“Mostly?” Paul asked.

“Sometimes it goes down a little,” Ophelia said. “Guess I get used to it.”

“Not surprising,” Paul mused. “You’ve fractured your left leg pretty badly. That bump on your head isn’t inspiring confidence either. I’m going to give you some medicine to get the swelling down and some pain killers. Normally, I could fix your leg to get you up and about in a week, but it’ll have to wait until the atmosphere is stable. Can you hold on until then?”

“I’ll manage,” Ophelia said. “Thank you, Paul.”

Paul nodded. “Now, Lucy, let’s take a look at that cut.”

“I feel fine,” Lucy said.

“So I gathered,” Paul said. “but it could become infected. Just let me take a quick look.”

“If you insist,” Lucy said.

*****

“Connect this,” Grace muttered. “That seems to be everything. I’m going to start her up. Stand back.”

Allison obediently moved, watching as Yuri’s fingers twitched. Finally, her eyes opened.

“Yuri, are you okay?” Allison asked.

“Do you have any memory loss?” Grace added.

Yuri turned her head to give them a sideways glance. “I am Y4-R1,” she stated. “Who are you?”

Allison and Grace glanced at one another. “Did I connect it  wrong?” Grace wondered.

Allison just broke out crying. “Yuri is…” she sniffled. “Yuri is…”

“Please do not cry, Allison,” Yuri stated. “I was attempting humour but I seem to have taken it too far.”

“You’re all right!” Allison declared, hugging her tightly. “Don’t pretend to lose your memory like that!”

“My apologies,” Yuri said.

“The Cerberus is in bad shape,” Grace said. “I’ll need you to go outside and seal every spot in the hull where there’s a breach. I’ll get started on sealing the segment that tore off. The atmosphere system is functional, we just don’t have containment right now. Once that’s done, we need to rig a propulsion system to get us out of here.”

“Won’t that take forever?” Allison asked.

“Weeks, even with both of us working around the clock on it, but there’s not much choice,” Grace stated. “The Cerberus’ main propulsion system fell apart with the other half off the ship. Unless…” She paused, looking thoughtful. “Allison, I want you to go with Kat, Leon & Farah. See if you can find the Cerberus’ other half and if the propulsion system is salvageable. Alternatively, check to see if the warship’s propulsion system is relatively undamaged and steal it for me.”

“I’ll let them know,” Allison said. “We’ll find you something to use.”

“We can only hope,” Grace muttered.

*****

“You were hurt worse than you let on,” Paul chided.

“What’s wrong with her?” Ophelia asked.

“Her third and fourth espel nerves were damaged,” Paul answered. “Right now, I  doubt she could muster the strength to give out even a small command.”

“I can still sense people’s intentions,” Lucy said. “Besides, you humans manage without them.”

“Yes, but they aren’t a part of us,” Paul said. “The good news is, I don’t believe the damage is irreparable. Once the atmosphere is stable, I can perform the surgery for it.”

“Ophelia goes first,” Lucy said.

“Very well,” Paul agreed. “First Ophelia’s leg, then your espels.”

*****

“You doing okay, Leon?” Allison asked. “You know, we could go back and I could have the hairy babies in my ship.”

“They’re fine,” Leon said. “More importantly, Farah and I have found the Cerberus’ main propulsion system. Well, part of it.”

“How bad is it?” Kat asked.

“If this piece is a good indication we’re looking at it being in over a hundred pieces,” Farah answered.

“Does anyone have a strong glue?” Allison asked.

“You two, join us in checking the warship,” Kat stated. “If the Cerberus’ is that bad, Grace won’t be able to use it.”

“Understood,” Leon responded.

“Where do they keep the main drive on this thing?” Allison wondered.

“There’s no telling without the schematics,” Kat answered. “This whole ship is strangely designed, using experimental parts all around.  Once we all rendezvous, we’ll board it. If the computers are still functioning, at all, I might be able to get the schematics we need.”

“I’ll help,” Farah volunteered. “I’m pretty good with computers.”

“And if they aren’t functional?” Leon asked.

“Then we borrow either Yuri or Grace to help us figure out where it is,” Kat said. “Assuming it’s in one piece.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 35: The Crone’s Warning

In the early morning, Inés quietly approached Demeter’s temple. Sylvie and Serena were getting the pegasi ready.

“What’s the good word, Ladies?” Inés asked. “We about ready to go?”

Where have you been?” Sylvie demanded. “You were supposed to report and come right back.”

“Well… Things happen,” Inés answered. “I still got back in time, right?”

“You got back before we left,” Sylvie agreed. “But we could have used your help getting ready.”

“Then let me do the rest,” Inés said.

“No need,” Sylvie stated. “We’re just finishing up.”

As the three priestesses prepared to mount their pegasi, a contingent of elven guards approached, led by Lais.

“Priestesses,” she saluted them. “You have my thanks. Should any of you find your way into our lands again, expect our full hospitality. For the moment, please accept these provisions for your journey. They aren’t much, but they should last you a few meals.” She winked at Inés. “And I apologise for keeping your  comrade busy for so long yesterday and last night.”

“Oh, it’s no problem,” Serena said. “Sylvie and I handled things okay.”

“You didn’t,” Sylvie whispered, grasping Inés’ shoulder.

“Totally did,” Inés answered. She spoke more loudly when addressing the elves. “We’ll come again on our way back from the pilgrimage.”

“Then I’ll look forward to it,” Lais said. “You and I still have some business.”

“Sweet!” Inés declared.

Lais approached her and stroked Inés’ cheek with her slender fingers. “Next time, stay with me a little longer.”

“I don’t believe it,” Sylvie muttered.

*****

The three took off on Blitz, Dusk & Demure.

“Enjoying your first flight?” Inés asked.

“I still can’t believe you had sex with our old teacher’s elder sister,” Sylvie said.

“Way to go, Inés!” Serena cheered.

“And why aren’t you bothered?” Sylvie asked. “She left you behind to play around with another woman.”

“I know,” Serena said. “But it’s not like we’re exclusive. Honestly, I’m kind of surprised that you’re still on about it. I mean, if all of the women that get involved with her can accept that there are going to be others, why does it still bother you?”

“She’s upset because I’m running around with a bunch of fine ladies and she hasn’t even worked up the courage to confess to the one she really wants,” Inés stated.

“Shut it!” Sylvie demanded. “I’m concerned because of how much older she is than you. That’s all.”

“She’s also an elf,” Inés said. “She’s not even middle-aged yet. But she has picked up some amazing tricks.”

“Really?” Serena asked.

Inés nodded. “I’ll show you later.”

“Will you two not talk about this?” Sylvie asked.

“But you brought it up,” Serena said.

“I did no such thing!” Sylvie declared.

“You kind of did,” Inés said.

*****

Around mid-day, they landed to allow Blitz, Dusk and Demure to graze.

“Let’s dig into those provisions,” Inés said.

“Sounds good to me,” Serena agreed.

“Fine,” Sylvie said. “It’ll give the ladies more time to rest their wings, at least.”

The three sat down to eat. Not long after they’d settled in, they heard a voice.

“Beware, Priestesses!”

The three turned, startled. A woman bent with age, leaning on a walking stick and wearing a black cloak approached them from behind. “Beware, I say.”

“What should we beware of, Ma’am?” Serena asked.

“Did you hear her coming?” Sylvie whispered.

Inés shook her head and whispered back. “You?”

“Nope,” Sylvie whispered. “She may not be what she seems.”

If the old woman noticed them whispering, she ignored it. “I beseech you, Priestesses, don’t stop in Ghuji, unless you’re confident in your strength.”

“We were just going to pass by,” Sylvie said. “Not head in. So, you don’t have to worry.”

“What’s in Ghuji?” Inés asked.

The woman stared at Inés, giving Inés a good look at her piercing grey eyes. “The son of Zeus is coming. Half-mortal, very dangerous. He takes what he wants be it territory, items or even people. He’s bringing the barbarians who have sworn their loyalty to him to Ghuji. The city will fall. Anything he doesn’t desire will be razed. Anyone who opposes him or who he doesn’t desire will be killed. Man, woman and child. It’s not your fight, Priestesses. I shudder to think what he’d do with you.” She waved her stick at them. “And without the blessing of the Gods themselves, you’d fall.” She turned and moved away. “Beware. Beware of Ghuji!”

“Wait a moment!” Sylvie called. But the old woman was gone, seemingly vanishing into thin air.

“What should we do?” Serena asked. “We can’t let the city suffer like that, can we?”

“We can’t!” Inés declared. “We’re going to stop him!”

“I don’t like the idea of leaving them to their fate either,” Sylvie said. “But fighting a half-god is no simple feat. Maybe we can convince the people of Ghuji to flee, get help from neighbouring cities and ally against this guy.”

“No,” Inés said. “We’ll rally them against his little peons and the three of us will take him down.”

“Are you insane?” Sylvie asked.

“Could we really manage it?” Serena inquired.

“That woman,” Inés said. “She said we’d need the blessings of the Gods.” She waved her staff. “I say we have them. These weapons from Hephaestus, my natural strength. I think she came here deliberately. To tell us the situation and say that we can win.”

“And what makes you so sure?” Sylvie demanded.

“She appeared out of nowhere, vanished into nothingness and had grey eyes,” Inés said. “I’ll wager that was Athena in mortal garb, guiding us.”

“Well, if Athena herself wants us to go,” Serena said. “She wouldn’t send us if we couldn’t do it, right?”

“She wouldn’t!” Inés exclaimed. “She is the Goddess of wisdom, after all.”

“That’s…” Sylvie started to protest but an odd sight caught her attention. An owl, flying right past the corner of her eye, in daylight. “It was Athena…” she muttered. She nodded. “All right, let’s bring this filthy bastard down!”

She drew her rapier and held it out. Inés held out her staff, touching it against the rapier. Serena brought out her tonfa and held one of them aloft against the other two weapons. From a distance, an armour-clad woman watched, floating above the earth.

“Go forth, my priestesses,” she whispered. “With your skill and strength, you can win. You may even survive.” She snapped her fingers and vanished.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 91: Underground Refuge

“It looks like that’s where it came down,” Allison observed, noting the scorch and drag marks. “The shuttle’s nose probably hit the sand here, given the indent. But I don’t see any sign of Yuri or the others.”

“They would have covered the tracks,” Leon said. “They definitely wouldn’t fancy getting caught.” He looked around. “Question is, where could they have headed?”

“Wouldn’t have gone into the city,” Allison said. “Not if they were vulnerable. They’d want cover. Somewhere as close as possible. Like that  hill in the distance.”

“Agreed,” Leon said. “It’s away from the city. Should be possible to walk there, provided they weren’t hurt too badly.”

The two moved towards the hill, as quickly as they could.

*****

“Do you think we’ll be able to grab more scrap than this?” Farah asked.

“Only if we want to really crowd what’s left of the Cerberus,” Kat answered. “We’ll make this the last run. Hopefully, we’ll have everything Grace needs.”

“I just hope she’s okay,” Farah said. “I don’t know what I’d do if she were seriously hurt.”

“You’d make do,” Kat said. “For now, believe that she’s doing fine. Don’t worry about her being injured until you know something for sure.

“I’ll try,” Farah said. There was silence for a moment. Kat couldn’t hear anything but the sounds of her control console. “Hey, Kat?”

“What?” Kat asked.

“What will happen to all of us?” Farah asked. “I mean, I’m sure Grace can fix the ship temporarily, but I don’t imagine she’ll be able to get it back up and running like normal after this.”

“We’ll have to get a new ship,” Kat answered. “Real pity. I’ve been part of this crew since it was first formed. This ship… it’s been my home and now…” She stopped herself, not wanting to delve any further into it.

“Sorry,” Farah said.

“It’s not your fault,” Kat responded. “Just one of those things, I guess.”

*****

Allison and Leon examined the hill. So far, there hadn’t been a sign of the missing crew.

“Did they not come this way after all?” Allison wondered.

“I think they probably did,” Leon said “Look.”

Allison examined the spot he was indicating. A small, largely hidden hole leading to a cavern that ran under the hill.

“Should’ve seen that myself,” Allison muttered.

“Well, it was on my side of the hill,” Leon said. “Come on!” He squeezed inside. Allison followed him after a moment.

“I’ve got a torch somewhere,” Leon said. He pulled it from his pocket and switched it on, giving them some light. “Just follow my lead.” He took four steps forward and fell into a pitfall trap.

Allison looked down and saw the torches light. “So, want me to follow you down there?” she asked.

“Just help me up,” Leon said.

“I don’t know,” Allison called. “That didn’t sound like the way to ask a favour.”

Leon sighed. “Please help me out.”

“There you go!” Allison declared. She knelt by the hole’s edge and put her arm in, helping Leon out.”

“Just lucky it wasn’t all that deep,” Allison said. “You’re heavy, you know.”

“I just wasn’t expecting traps,” Leon stated. “I’ll be more careful now.”

The pair continued on, spotting several traps on their way.

“Why couldn’t they just stay near the surface?” Allison muttered. “This is way too deep.”

“They were probably worried about getting found by the wrong people,” Leon said.

“But Yuri’s stronger than any human,” Allison said. “She should be able to protect them unless…” she trailed off, not wanting to even think it.

“I wouldn’t worry,” Leon said. “Even if she was damaged, I’d wager she can be fixed.”

“I suppose there are more perks to dating an android than I’d thought of,” Allison said.

After some more time, more traps avoided, the two came across three separate tunnels.

“Want to go down each one and see which one has traps?” Allison asked.

“Knowing those two, it wouldn’t help,” Leon said. “I’ll bet that either the wrong tunnel’s trapped to throw people off or all of them are. Just not sure how we’re going to figure out the right way.”

“Hmmm,” Allison muttered. “There might be a way, if the Baron came out okay.” She cleared her throat and let out a loud howling sound. When she stopped, the two listened. Nothing. She tried again. This time, Leon joined her. A very shrill  howl came from the left tunnel.

“I’m so glad he does that,” Allison said. “Even if he does sound like someone’s stepped on his tail when he does it.”

They hurried down the left tunnel. Allison thought she saw a light when she felt herself being pulled. The next thing she knew, she was hanging upside down.

“Little help, please?” she asked.

“I suppose it’s only fair,” Leon said. He cut her down.

“Leon, Allison?” They looked up. Grace was approaching them. She relaxed the grip on the wrench she was holding. “Where’s Farah?”

“She’s helping Kat gather scrap,” Leon explained. “The Cerberus was hit badly. We’re going to need both you and Yuri working just to get us out of here. He checked over her shoulder. “Paul around?”

“He’s preparing something nasty for if I’m forced to run,” Grace said. “Although I thought it might be you guys when Wolfie started howling. I’ll lead you back to our temporary base. Paul will be delighted to see you. Yuri.. I’ll have to fix her when we get back to the Cerberus.”

“How bad is she?” Allison asked.

“Not sure,” Grace answered. “I don’t have the right equipment to check.” She led them back, imitating a dog’s bark as they got close.

“That’s the ‘all clear’ I take it,” Allison said.

“That’s right,” Grace said. “Here’s where we’ve been hiding out.”

The cave was cosy. Yuri had been propped up against a wall, looking like a mannequin.

“Leon,” Paul said. He was holding the Baron. Hyper was walking around by his legs.

“You have no idea how glad I am to see you,” Leon said. He moved close and gently kissed Paul. Then did so again, putting a bit more force into it.

“Hey, Love-birds,” Grace whistled. “Save it for the ship.”

“She’s right,” Paul said. “Our reunion will have to wait. Any injuries?”

“Ophelia seems to have been hurt,” Leon said. “Lucy thinks she’s stable, though.”

“I’ll check her over first thing,” Paul said.

“All right,” Leon said. “Allison and I will carry Yuri. We’ll take you to our ships.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 34: Skin Changer

“A skin changer?” Sylvie asked.

Inés nodded. “They got right past me and vanished in the crowd. I don’t know what they look like now.”

“We weren’t even supposed to give chase!” Serena declared. “We were just supposed to identify them and let Miss Lais know.”

“It’s a good thing I did chase them, though,” Inés argued. “Otherwise she’d be looking for a disguise.”

“I hate to agree with the mermaid,” Sylvie stated. “But she’s right, in this case. Catching a skin changer requires some specific precautions.”

“But she could have really been hurt,” Serena protested.

“Aww, were you worried?” Inés rubbed Serena’s head. “It’s good to know you care, although I can look after myself. So, what’s the plan now?”

“Now we tell Lais she’s dealing with a skin changer and we go on our way,” Sylvie stated.

“That’s dull,” Inés said. “I say we nail the bastard ourselves.”

“And how do you propose to do that?” Sylvie asked. “They know what you look like but they can look like anyone.”

“I have considered that,” Inés said. “And I have an idea. You two are going to just have to try and chase me down. Or, at least, Sylvie will.”

“Come again?” Sylvie asked.

*****

“Gangway!” Inés cried, fleeing through the wood. Lightning scorched the ground behind her, narrowly missing the trees.

“Stop right there!” Sylvie declared.

“You better not get in my way,” Inés stated. “I have something very important to report to the royal guards!”

“I don’t care, I’m going to fry you!” Sylvie exclaimed. A burst of lightning crashed downward. Inés rolled, avoiding the burst. She quickly regained her feet and continued her flight. “Take what you deserve for tarnishing my sister!”

“I’ll have to decline,” Inés called. “At least wait until after I make my report.”

From above, Serena watched from Dusk’s back. The elves around them were staring, crowding, trying to figure out what was happening. Serena observed the crowd. If Inés was right, their target would try to take advantage of this situation.

That’s when she spotted it. A faint glint in the trees. Serena rode as the arrow was loosed. Fortunately, Inés spotted it and knocked it away with a quick swing of her staff.

Serena followed the archer. She gingerly moved to Dusk’s back and lunged, tackling the skin changer out of the tree line. The two fell, Serena got several cuts and bruises from the branches, but she refused to let go.

The landing was hard but she managed to pick herself up quickly only to find herself face to face with a smirking version of herself. She got up to face her doppelgänger, suddenly very aware that her right arm had been injured in the fall.

“Serena!” Inés and Sylvie ran over.

“Over here,” the skin changer cried out before she could, apparently grasping the situation. As Inés and Sylvie approached the skin changer ran towards them. “Careful, it took my form!”

“That’s a lie!” Serena declared. “Well, it did, but I’m the real me.”

“Both of you stay back!” Sylvie commanded. She and Inés looked from one Serena to the other.

“I’ve dreamt about this,” Inés admitted. “But my dream was a lot sexier.” She snapped her fingers. “Serena, where’s that spot that you really, really, really like to have caressed?”

“That’s… so embarrassing,” the doppelgänger flushed. “It’s…”

“My inner thigh!” Serena interrupted. “Especially the left thigh.”

Inés staff swung down on the skin changer’s head with a sickening crack. “Bingo!”

The skin changer’s body shifted, its skin turning a mossy green and yellowed tusks appearing on its mouth. Grey hair emerged from its head. Its body turned bent with age. Saggy breasts appeared.

“So she was a lady,” Inés muttered. “Not young or attractive, though.”

“You know,” Sylvie said, rubbing her temples. “We could have figured out which one was the real Serena by having her show us her tonfas.”

“Yeah,” Inés said. “But my way worked just fine.”

“Your way also provided way too much information,” Sylvie said.

“Oh, it’s good for you,” Inés stated. “You really could learn more about what women like. Who knows, maybe Illyana likes to have her inner thighs caressed.”

“Don’t you dare think about what she likes!” Sylvie warned.

“Ladies, let’s not fight,” Serena entreated. “It all worked out, right?”

“Let’s just hope she was acting alone,” Sylvie stated. “No questioning her now.”

*****

The next morning, Inés went to report to Lais personally. Serena was getting her arm treated and Sylvie was keeping an eye on her.

“A troll skin changer, huh,” Lais stated. She tapped her fingers together. “It may have been one bitter person acting alone, our peoples do have a troubled history, but it also could have very well been a deliberate act of espionage. I’ll have to tighten security. Thank you, for dealing with the immediate problem.”

“No problem,” Inés  said. “We did say we’d help.”

“So, you’re continuing your journey tomorrow, I take it,” Lais said.

“That’s the plan,” Inés confirmed. “Serena got a little hurt so we’re just going to make sure she’ll be okay before we go.”

“Then I owe her a debt,” Lais said. She walked confidently over to Inés. Her long fingers brushing under her chin. “After all, I do believe we had a date planned for when the situation was resolved.”

“I remember,” Inés said. “But, I must confess, I didn’t think you were taking me seriously.”

“I was very serious,” Lais said. She moved behind Inés and blew lightly on her neck, moving her lips up to whisper in her ear. “I don’t suppose I could persuade you to spend the rest of the day in its entirety in my bed?”

“I’m already convinced!” Inés declared.

“Good,” Lais chuckled. “Then come and show me where you get that marvellous confidence from.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 90: Information Gathering on Arkasis

Allison locked up the Nebula. “Who’s going to try to steal a fighter with no seat anyway?” she muttered. “Then again, we are on Arkasis.”

“Exactly,” Leon said. “Why do you think the beacon stopped transmitting?”

“Point taken,” Allison said. “I always wondered why the peace keepers out here were so damn ineffectual.”

“Cause the effective ones don’t live long,” Leon stated. “Back when I was still working there was talk of how to reform the world and bring it back under control. Don’t know what happened to that.”

“I went to a seminar about it once,” Allison said. “Lot of talk, no action.”

“Whatever,” Leon shrugged. “Not our business any more. The readings showed the beacon above the desert to the north of here. We can head right to the scene, but it would probably be wiser to try and gather some information around the city first.”

“Didn’t expect you to be so level-headed about it,” Allison stated. “I thought you’d dash right to the scene screaming ‘Paul, Paul!'”

Leon glared at her. “”The beacon stopped working. Paul, Grace and Yuri may very well be in this city. If they are, we have to find and rescue them.”

“I can’t imagine a bunch of thugs and sleazy business people posing a threat to Yuri,” Allison said.

“She might have been damaged when they landed,” Leon said. “In any case, we’d better make sure.”

The two headed into the city. They went directly to a thriving bazaar and examined some of the stalls. Allison nudged Leon and gestured towards one in particular. It had some very familiar electronic components on display.

“Shuttle?” Leon whispered.

“Probably,” Allison answered.

“Give me a couple minutes,” Leon said. “I’ll find out…”

“No!” Allison interrupted. “This requires a subtle touch. You stay back and watch the mistress at work.”

Allison bent to grab some sand before walking briskly over. She lifted a nearly intact console from the shuttle. She turned it over in her hands, feigning great interest.

“Looks custom-made,” she observed.

“You have a very good eye, Miss,” the shop keep stated. “It is indeed. We found a fine little bit of salvage. Almost all custom, very expensive.”

“Is that so?” Allison asked. “How much better does this work than the standard?”

“My experts assure me that it is almost forty percent more efficient,” the merchant said. “More if you were to buy the rest. They’ve been optimised to work together.”

“Oh, do you have the whole thing?” Allison asked.

“We have everything that still works out for sale,” he assured her. “My experts are trying to repair the more heavily damaged components right now.”

Allison picked some sand out of it. “I see you found it in the desert.”

“Oh yes a mere twenty kilometres to the north,” he said. “I see my assistant was less than thorough when cleaning it up. For that I apologise. I will have her fix it immediately.”

Allison handed the console to him. “Don’t worry too much,” she reassured him. “Most of it looks very nice.” She leaned over and nodded towards Leon. “I’m thinking about getting a new model. What would you have in stock?”

The merchant looked at Leon and then over to Allison. “I think we can work something out,” he said. He passed her a brochure. Inside were pictures of people standing in front of vehicles. “I know that the same ride can get tiresome after a while. We have many models for you.”

Allison looked through the brochure. Men both older and younger. Even some young boys. All posed in front of the vehicles with forced smiles on their faces and sad eyes. “You know,” Allison said. “I’ve been thinking about trying something different. Something more… elegant.” She winked. “If you catch my drift.”

“Oh yes,” he said. “I understand perfectly.” He handed her a different brochure. Same vehicles, but this one was full of women and girls.

“These photos all look pretty new,” she observed, flipping through the pages.

“Oh yes,” he said. “We’re very busy so we update our product information twice a day.”

“Very professional of you,” she said. She closed the brochure and sighed. “I’ll have to think about it. I really liked number 16 and number 23. I’ll bring some people with me to collect those marvelous computer parts and decide then.” She shrugged. “Maybe I’ll take both.”

“I’ll hold those two just for you,” he said, smiling. “Just come to claim the one you want before the end of the day.”

“Thank you,” Allison said. “Leon, come along.”

Leon followed her and they quickly left the bazaar.

“Well?” Leon demanded.

“I found out where they crashed,” Allison answered. “I also learned that they weren’t taken prisoner.”

“Then let’s go find them,” Leon said.

Allison grabbed his shoulder. “Before we go, tell me why I can’t blast that slime-ball’s skull open.”

“Because we’d cause an uproar and get ourselves killed,” Leon answered. “All without actually helping any of those people.”

Allison nodded. “Yeah, I know. I just needed to hear it.” She sighed. “Acting chummy with someone like that, even out of necessity, it just makes me feel dirty and not in a fun way.”

“Don’t blame you,” Leon said. “Ready to go rescue our loves and Grace?”

“Yeah,” Allison said. “At least that’ll feel good.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 33: Rowdies

Serena paid close attention to everything around her in the pub. It was their fifth night on stakeout. Thus far, their efforts had been fruitless. Still, she was optimistic. After all, she had been the one who’d really pushed for them to stay and help. She didn’t want to leave without having found anything. More importantly, Lynai had seemed really nice and she wanted to help.

Inés was on the other side of the pub, chatting with a pretty server. Serena considered interfering, not because she minded Inés’ flirtations, but because she had promised Sylvie to keep her on track. However, she also had to consider that she could create a scene and draw attention to the two of them, which they definitely didn’t need.

She looked away and tried to examine another area of the pub, promising to talk with Inés once they were back at Demeter’s Temple.

*****

The Inn was bustling with both elves and visitors enjoying a meal and some music.

“Whadda ya mean you don’t got proper rooms?” A troll demanded, pounding her fists on the elevated area the proprietors used as a desk. The clerk looked distressed, examining the wood for any sign of damage.

“Like I said, Madame,” he stated. “Our rooms are within the tree itself. Please show some respect.”

“That right there is the problem!” The troll declared, keeping her voice just as loud. “You damn tree dwellers care more about keeping your stupid trees alive than you do about making a proper comfortable place to sleep. We’re surrounded by these massive buggers. Would it really hurt to cut a couple for some proper cabins?”

“Cut a…” the elf was incredulous. “Madame, this forest has lived longer than any of us have been alive. We couldn’t possibly…”

“There you go again,” she snorted. “You’re talking like they’ve got feelings.” She stomped heavily on the wood. “Hey, Tree, if that hurt just say so! No? How about this?” She grabbed her axe and swung down.

The blow was parried by Sylvie’s rapier. “Enough!” Sylvie declared. “If you don’t want to sleep inside of a living tree then I suggest you turn around and go home instead of throwing a tantrum like a particularly bratty child.”

“You stay out of this, Human!” the troll demanded, getting in Sylvie’s face.

“You’re drunk!” Sylvie declared, getting a good whiff of the woman’s breath.

“And you’re a bitch!” The troll exclaimed. “Butting into things that don’t concern ya.”

The two of them heard the sound of a throat clearing behind them. A well-dressed elf had approached the desk. “I understand that the accommodations aren’t to your liking, Miss,” he said, looking at the troll. “Unfortunately, they’re all we offer. If you’ll go two buildings down and ask to speak with Lex, I’m sure that he can do something for you.”

“That’s more like it,” she said. She threw up a rude gesture at Sylvie and stumbled out.

“Lex?” Sylvie wondered.

“He’s a law enforcement official,” the elf explained. “I’m sure he’ll be glad to pick her up on disorderly conduct.” He bowed. “But I haven’t introduced myself. Loriul Goldeaf, my husband and I run this Inn.”

“Sylvie Fortunio, travelling priestess.”

“Thank you for your help, Miss Fortunio,” Loriul said. “For the duration of your stay in Het Wald, consider your meals our gift to you.” He knelt and rubbed the floor. “You did save Einshwere a good deal of pain, after all.”

*****

Inés gently tapped Serena’s shoulder and sat down. “See anything?” she asked.

“Nothing yet,” Serena answered.

“I’ve been chatting with the server,” Inés whispered, putting her lips close to Serena’s ear. “She’s heard multiple people speak out against the Royal One’s decisions. The strange thing is that there’s only one at a time, they’re always attractive and they always find someone young and strong to talk about their issues with.”

“Really?” Serena asked. “I thought you were just…”

“What?” Inés asked. “I can find information and flirt with a cute girl.” She looked around. “Trouble is, I don’t think this little group is gonna approach a human. Otherwise I could do something to draw their attention.”

“So, we just have to find a likely candidate,” Serena said. “Now that we know what to look for.”

“Sounds good,” Inés agreed. “I saw a cute girl with some muscles on her in the back. I’ll go watch her.”

“That sounds reasonable,” Serena said. She looked around and noticed a muscular young elf three tables away.

*****

Inés watched her mark without looking like she was. She’d mastered the art of glancing in the general direction of a pretty woman without looking directly at her, but also taking in everything there was to see.

Normally, she used it as a flirting technique, dropping some unsubtle hints to the woman in question to let her know that she was interested. This time, she had to be on guard. After some time had passed, the woman was approached by another  woman, this one even prettier.

The two introduced themselves and began talking quietly. Inés carefully moved closer, not wanting them to notice her.

From what she gathered, the newcomer was talking fervently about the Royal One and  crying, rather unconvincingly, Inés thought, about something or other. The muscular woman was trying to comfort her, getting visibly worked up. Bingo.

“Hey, You!” Inés called. The beautiful woman turned and ran Inés followed in close pursuit.

The woman ducked into a crowd and Inés noticed her features shift and change.

She hurried to keep up when the young woman, if indeed she was either; her features and form had both gone fluid, tossed some dirt up at Inés. This caused Inés  to momentarily lose sight of her target and they were gone. Hidden somewhere in the crowd.

“A skin changer,” Inés muttered. “That’s gonna make things difficult.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 89: In Twain

Before I actually start this week’s instalment of Voyages of the Cerberus, I wanted to address why there wasn’t a Grand Pilgrimage last week. I’m truly sorry about that, but I had an accident and my leg fractured in multiple spots. So, I had to spend Friday in surgery and a couple days afterwards in hospital. The good news is that I shouldn’t miss any more story instalments because of it and, because it is a leg, the injury shouldn’t adversely affect my writing ability. So, I am sorry about that Grand Pilgrimage but things should be back on schedule as normal now.

And don’t worry about the leg. The Doctor says it will fully recover in 6-8 weeks. I just have to refrain from doing any excessive acrobatic stunts or doing my famous fan dance.

*****

The Radiant Healer, Cosmic Wyvern, Snarky Nebula & Elegant Simurgh arrived on the scene. The flying fortress was a pitted hulk, debris still spilling off of it and into space. The Cerberus didn’t look as bad. The Bridge, Engine Room, conference room and medical bay were in one nearly intact piece. The hangar, crew quarters, armoury and mess were missing. Most likely lost amid the other debris.

“Allison and I will latch onto the side of the ship and go in, full atmosphere suits,” Kat said. “Ophelia and Lucy may still be alive. You two get close to that thing and see if you can find any life signs. If you do…”

“Blast away until we don’t,” Leon stated. “We know.”

*****

Allison and Kat moved carefully past the jagged edges that remained where half the ship had been blown off.

“The engine room looks completely intact,” Allison noted.

“Must be the extra shielding power that Grace diverted,” Kat said. “Which is good. It means there’s hope for the Bridge as well.”

They made their way to the Bridge, with Kat making mental note of the visibly damaged areas.

The first thing they noticed was that the viewing screen was cracked and several work stations had been uprooted.

Kat knelt down, noticing something near the captain’s chair.

“Please tell me that’s ketchup,” Allison said.

“Blood,” Kat corrected. “But there isn’t too much. There’s still hope.”

“So, where did they go?” Allison asked.

“Maybe to Medical,” Kat deduced. “If Ophelia was bleeding then Lucy might’ve taken her there. You go back and check. I’ll look in the conference room. Contact me with your communicator if you find them.”

“Right,” Allison said. She hurried off towards Medical. Kat moved through the Bridge and into the conference room.

She spotted Ophelia and Lucy’s atmosphere suits. Lucy rose and limped over to her.

“Katie, you made it out okay.” Lucy said, her voice sounding laboured.

Kat looked down at her, noting the black blood caked on her forehead.

“Looks like you got a bit scratched,” Kat said. “Are you doing okay?”

“I’ll live,” Lucy answered. “Ophelia will too, probably. She was hurt worse than me.”

“How bad is it?” Kat asked.

“She hit her head and mangled her leg,”Lucy answered. “I did what I could and got her into her suit as a precaution, but I really will feel more assured when Paul’s looked at her.” She looked Kat over. “What happened to Paul?”

“I don’t know,” Kat answered. “The shuttle’s gone missing. I’ll make finding it the priority.”

“Start by taking the seating out of the fighters,” Lucy ordered. “You may have to bring them back without the shuttle. You may also want to send a pair to scavenge supplies so that Grace and Yuri have what they need to get us operational enough to get out of here. We definitely don’t want to be stuck here for very long.”

“Right,” Kat said. She switched on her communicator. “Allison, I found them. They’re all right, but Ophelia needs medical attention. We’ve gotta get the seating out of the fighters and find the shuttle.”

“Great,” Allison said. “Just remember which gaping hole we parked at.”

*****

“The missions dealt with,” Leon reported. “My weapons are nearly depleted, but we dealt with the situation.”

“Good,” Kat said. “You and Farah come back and latch on to the Cerberus. Remove your seating and help us look for the shuttle.

“Can we use the Cerberus’ scanner to get a good idea of where they are?” Farah asked.

“Unfortunately, no,” Kat answered. “The scanning system got trashed. We’re going to have to do it the hard way. I’ll work with Farah. Leon will work with Allison. Leon and Allison will find the shuttle. Farah, you and I will do a salvage operation. We need enough materials so that Grace can repair the engines. When we find her, any way.”

 

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