Voyages of the Cerberus 133: Yuri Seeks Out Lunais

Yuri made her landing in the garden, created and maintained by Lunais. Yuri wasn’t sure if this would go her way, but she had to make the attempt.

“We welcome you back to our abode, Cerberus android.” Lunais appeared in front of her, or at least a projection of her did. Her dark blue hair remained still, even in the wind. “Why have you returned to our home? To view the results of the mission we gave you? To learn more about us, perhaps?”

“I would request an audience in person,” Yuri stated. “Please, it is important.”

“Very well,” Lunais said. “We will bring you to us.”

Yuri found herself inside the floating castle. In the same entrance that she and Kat had been taken to such a long time ago.

She proceeded directly up into Lunais’ personal chamber on the fourth floor, assuming she’d be there like she was the last time. It turned out to be a correct assumption. Lunais was sitting in one of her cushions. She closed the book she had been reading and set it in front of her. Yuri recognised it. Allison had had the same book. It was a highly erotic lesbian romance.

“We welcome you back to our home,” Lunais greeted her. “We were most pleased by the task you performed for us last time. Thanks to your assistance, our garden’s population has more than quadrupled. Now, tell us, what do you wish?”

“I have not forgotten the power you demonstrated,” Yuri stated. “you have the ability to create and alter life. I  wish to know, can you also repair someone who has been broken beyond repair?”

Lunais seemed taken aback for a moment. “We can not bring back the dead, no. Nor can we create highly advanced life. At best we could construct a being in the likeness of the dead person but the being would be without the personality or intelligence of the original. Tell me, Android, who did the Cerberus lose?”

“It does not matter now,” Yuri answered. “I am sorry to have wasted your time. Please, return me to the shuttle.”

“Hold!” Lunais commanded. “You would not have come to us were it not important to you. We know not who was lost or how. But we do know that dealing with grief is a long, painful process. One that can be aided by a sympathetic ear to air one’s grievances to. We will provide you with that ear. Should you wish.”

Yuri paused and considered Lunais’ offer. “It will be a long story.”

“We will listen intently.”

*****

Ophelia looked through various missions being advertised.

“Love of mine, that’s enough,” Lucy said.

“What, have you found something?” Ophelia asked.

“I haven’t been looking,” Lucy answered. “But I know you’re trying too hard.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Ophelia lied.

“You’re a terrible liar,” Lucy said. “Or maybe I’m just too good at seeing through falsehoods. Whatever the case may be, it’s obvious what you’re doing.”

“And just what is that?” Ophelia demanded.

“Keeping busy,” Lucy said. “You don’t want to take too much time to think about Allison and mourn. So you’re hurrying to find the next mission. Just like you did with the Turing station thing.”

“They needed us,” Ophelia protested. “Paul helped save a lot of people. You and the others solved the mystery of just what happened. It was a great success.”

“That’s a separate issue,” Lucy said. “The issue at hand is that we need a break. Not just you, but everyone on the ship. Leon, Kat, Paul, Grace, Farah, You and Me. We need time to process our grief.”

“And what do you suggest we do?” Ophelia asked. “Head to some resort planet and take a week off?”

“No,” Lucy stated. “We need time off, but not at a resort. I propose that we go to Dolonis.”

“Dolonis?” Yuri asked. “That might suit you and other akumillians at a time like this but our crew is made up of humans.”

“It works for humans as well,” Lucy said. “It’s received many over the years  and I know it helped Kat, Leon and Paul when they went there the last time we lost a member of our crew.”

“That was different,” Ophelia said. “We had to find replacements. Damian and Stephen left us. Jane…”

“It’s not different at all,” Lucy said. “Except that this time you and I will join the others.”

“I couldn’t possibly,” Ophelia said. “I have to…”

“Stop right there!” Lucy declared, her voice commanding. We are not going through another rough patch where you let your guilt and sense of loss affect everything you do for months. Where you spend so much time working yourself half to death that everyone worries about you and Paul has to step in and coerce you into taking time off. This time, you’re facing your grief directly. Understand, My Heart?”

“I….” Ophelia began. She quickly noted the look on Lucy’s face. “Yes, Dear. I’ll set course for Dolonis.”

“And I’ll inform the crew,” Lucy said.

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The Last Draconian 2: The Academy

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan

I was taken to the Academy. The grounds were massive. They had five buildings, all surrounded by an ornate marble fence. The largest building at the centre was where classes were held. The buildings directly to its left and right housed the student dormitories. Directly behind the main building was a crystal tower, which housed the library. The building at the gate was a storehouse.

The instructor, who had introduced himself as Professor Mord, was explaining the layout to me. I did not pay much heed to his words. I appreciated him trying to be helpful, but the layout was much the same as it had been the last time a draconian had visited. My racial memory rendered his guidance redundant.

We were stopped on our tour by an elven woman. She had aqua coloured hair and light brown eyes. Her robes were a shadowy grey, identifying her as the Academy’s head. “Bastian, who is this?”

Professor Mord bowed in deference to her. “This is Michael Ryufan. He’s seven and very skilled for his age. Michael this is Luc Elivy, the academy’s current headmistress.”

She offered me her hand. I reached my own out to take it. “In all my time at the academy there have never been two children on the grounds at once.” She studied me as she spoke. “Is there something wrong with your eyes?” I hurriedly averted my gaze to look at the ground. I would have to be careful around her. Her vision was sharp.

“No matter,” she spoke quickly. Apparently interpreting my actions as a symptom of sensitivity. “Get him a room and test his current abilities so that we can get a proper curriculum in place.” She paused for a moment. “But first introduce him to Illyana.”

“Understood,” Professor Mord turned to me. “Follow me.” He gestured towards the dormitory on the left. I followed without a word.

Professor Mord led me into the garden. A human girl was sitting on the grass. She had golden blonde hair. She was roughly my height but significantly smaller. If she had weighed slightly less, I could have described her as emaciated. Her eyes were tightly shut and a walking stick was laying by her feet. I deduced that she was likely sightless.

She cocked her head towards us as we approached.

“Illyana,” Professor Mord made an effort to make his voice sound soothing. “Can you come here for a moment please?”

She retrieved her stick and approached us. Swinging her stick from side to side to detect potential obstacles.

Profesor Mord put his right hand on her shoulder and his left hand on mine. “Illyana, this is Michael. He’s one year younger than you. He’s going to be joining us at the academy. Michael, this is Illyana. She’s lived here for the past two years.”

“I am pleased to meet you,” I stated.

“Likewise,” she said.

*****

I was in my room. My wings kept me elevated. A couple violet scales fell to the flooring. I would have to dispose of them later. It would be unacceptable for a class mate to find them. Their curiosity was becoming burdensome.

I was looking forward to completing my time at the Academy. I only needed to master a few more spells for my battle against the lich: Cutting Winds, Binding Breath & Typhoon.

I was not overly concerned. After all, I was still an adolescent and those spells were difficult. I knew that further growth would lead to greater power and with that power combined with practice, mastery would come. It was inevitable.

A knock interrupted my reverie. “Who is there please?”

“It’s Illyana.”

“Is anyone there with you?”

I could detect Illyana using magic to probe her surroundings. “No, I’m alone.”

I ceased flapping my wings and landed. I walked to the door and unlocked it. “You may enter.”

Illyana entered my room. She was still somewhat thin, but far healthier looking than she had been when we first met. She had recently undergone a growth spurt and currently stood at just over a hundred eighty five centimetres tall. Her skin was pale. Strangely so, given how much time she expended in the gardens. She was currently clad in light blue robes and carrying a book under her left arm.

“The new students are arriving today.”

I felt my tail shift. “I am aware of that.”

Illyana smiled. “There are finally students our age here. Maybe we can make some friends.”

I sighed and pressed my left hand against my forehead, betwixt my horns. “You have already made ample friends among the priestess trainees. You are trying to get me to socialise more. Tell me, why would I wish to waste my time in such an endeavour?”

Illyana frowned. “You can’t live like a hermit forever.”

I decided to change the topic. “You did not come here to discuss the new students.”

Illyana laughed a little. “Professor Mord gave me this book.” She held it out. “Could you help me with it?”

I took it. I recognised the book and was capable of reciting the contents verbatim but flipped through it for the sake of appearances. Illyana sat down on my bed. “It is by a dwarven omnimage named Tron Greystone who lived 734 years ago. He is espousing the view that the physical difficulties are more than offset by the experience of possessing all of the possible inborn elements. He continues to describe the experience in detail.”

Illyana’s voice shook. “Does it say what problems he had?”

The book neglected to mention it but I answered her query. “Tron was incapable of walking. His heart was weakened. The condition caused his death at the age of 28.”

“But he could see?”

“Yes, he could see.”

Tears were falling down Illyana’s face. “I would give anything for that ability. Anything.”

I did not believe she meant that. She had probably brought the book hoping that it would display some understanding of her own difficulties. Her frustration and sorrow were still evident. I moved my wings so that they were sticking straight back. I reached out and lightly hugged Illyana while she cried. She put her hands on my lower back and wept into my chest. I sighed with relief when she missed touching my wings.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 132: Lucy’s Anger

Angela, Paul & Lucas worked feverishly producing and administering their cure to the residents of Turing Station. Once they were done, they began tests for side effects and work on decontaminating the station. They worked for several days with barely any sleep among them, but they were finally able to declare Turing clear.

“Thank you for your help, Paul,” Angela said. “Will you and your crew stay around for a while?”

“I shouldn’t think so,” Paul said. “Ophelia likes to keep us moving. I rather think most of the crew enjoys travelling through the cosmos.”

“You say that like you don’t,” Angela said.

Paul rubbed the back of his head. “I do quite enjoy the journey. It’s the dangerous missions I’m not fond of. I mean, there are times like this where it’s gratifying to be able to help people who really need it. Then there are the other times… Times we come under fire or where our people go into dangerous territory to save some trinket or other. I always wonder, is it worth it?”

Angela gently hugged him. “You lost someone recently, didn’t you?”

Paul didn’t say anything. He rested his head on her shoulder and nodded.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Angela said. “But they’re your family and they need you. Especially at a time like this.”

“I know,” Paul said. “Thank you, Angela.”

“Bang!”

The two of them looked down. Hannah had her toy robot near Paul’s legs. She glared up at him.

Paul moved away from Angela. “I’m sorry, Lass, was I too close to your mom there?”

Angela laughed. “Don’t feel bad, Paul. She doesn’t even like it when Femi and I are too affectionate in front of her. I think she just doesn’t like to share attention.” Angela knelt down and picked up her daughter. “She is her mommies’ little diva.”

“Isn’t that the truth,” Femi said, walking in. She scrutinised Paul and held out her hand. “Thank you, for your service to Turing. Should you or your crew ever need a haven, we will be glad to have you.”

“Thank you,” Paul said, accepting her hand.

Leon stood behind them, biting his thumb. “Too close to my Paul,” he whispered.

Farah nudged him. “Calm down,” she said. “They’re just being friendly.”

“I’ll see you at the next akumillian medical symposium,” Angela said. “If you need anything or just want to chat, you can write me.”

“I will,” Paul said. “Thank you.”

“Yo,” Lucas spoke up. “Is it all right if I mail you too? you know, if I need advice or anything.”

“Of course,” Paul said. He put a hand on Lucas’ shoulder. “You’re a valued colleague.”

*****

Lucy waited until the Cerberus had pulled away from Turing and was well on the way before moving to the communications console in her quarters. She activated all the privacy protections before making her transmission. A chubby akumillian appeared on the screen.

“Well, well, if it isn’t Luciverianna,” he said. “Is the Cerberus looking for intelligence work?”

“You know why I’m calling, Methilis” Lucy said. “Let’s not pretend. And don’t worry. This is a secure channel.”

“So it is,” Methilis confirmed. “I’d heard your crew got called to Turing.”

“It was a solid plan,” Lucy said. “Make the evidence suggest that the alliance had framed akumil. Sure, they mistrusted you for a while but after finding that it’ll all be cleared up. Do we really need allies that badly?”

“The need is not grave,” Methilis stated. “But it is prudent to have as many as possible. You object?”

“Strongly!” Lucy declared. “You made Turing highly vulnerable, which could have grossly backfired. Not only that, but you dragged our ship and crew into it.”

“You knew and yet you still played your part,” Methilis said. “We thank you for your service, Luciverianna.”

“And I warn you,” Lucy said. “If you ever pull us into your machinations again, I will make certain that the entire truth comes out. My mate and I are not your pawns. Our crew is not your pawns. We will not, I emphasise, not be toyed with.”

“Message understood,” Methilis said. “We will not rouse your anger further.”

The transmission cut off.

*****

Y4-R1’s Personal Log:

I am entering Yujin’s orbit. I will attempt to land the shuttle with Lunais’ garden. There are things I must discuss with her. If things go well, I may be able to return to the Cerberus soon.

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The Last Draconian 1: Entering Wicadia

Previous Chapter

Michael Ryufan

The coachman was examining the gold I had given him. I could not tell if the silence was disconcerting to him or if he was surprised that a hatchling my age could afford the price of fare. I reached a hand under my hood to check my forehead. My horns had not fully grown, nor would they for some time. I  could, however, feel the nubs. They were large enough that they would be noticeable. I would have to keep my forehead concealed, lest I reveal my identity.

“Hey kid, we’re almost there.”

I said nothing. The landscape was familiar. I had never been here, but I had racial memories of this place. It had undergone some changes. Some statues had been erected. There had been some construction, eliminating greenery for buildings. It was still recognisable.

“What business do you have in Wicadia anyway?”

“I intend to enter the magic academy.”

The driver laughed. “They won’t take you.”

“Under normal circumstances that would be true. However, the academy has a history of making exceptions for magical prodigies.”

“You think you qualify, kid?”

“I was ha—” I stopped myself, remembering that I had to appear human. As such, I could not reveal my true age either. Were I to say that I had been born a mere three years ago, it would surely arouse suspicion. “born seven years, twenty seven days ago, and I am already capable of casting spells.”

My driver stopped at the city gates. Wicadia was built like a fortress. It was surrounded by a wall with a single gate. Five turrets were built up at the corners of the wall to allow for strong vantage points. I had no doubt that even the buildings that had arisen outside of the walls were well guarded. This was, after all, the capital of magic. I watched the crystal spire that rose from the city’s centre. A guard came over and peeked into the coach. He was carrying a trident and had a stern look on his face. I ignored him. I did not believe that he would harm a child.

“Sir, do you have anything else in the coach?”

“Just the kid and his things.”

The guard looked back at me. “Son, why are you wearing that cloak?”

I thought for a moment. I needed an answer that would sound nonchalant and distract from the truth. “I am trying to become a mage and wearing a cloak makes me feel like one.” I tried to say it with as much youthful exuberance as I could muster.

The guard laughed and turned back to the driver. My façade had worked. “Do you have any business in the city?”

The driver shook his head. “I was just chartered to bring the boy.”

“Son, can you reach your destination from here without help?”

I nodded.

“In that case step out of the carriage with your things.”

I grabbed my small bag and emerged from the carriage, keeping my head down. The guard waved the carriage driver away and I was free to proceed.

*****

After entering Wicadia it did not take me long to locate a mage. He was wearing the loose, dark-purple robes that were a clear sign of an academy teacher. He was leaning on his staff as he walked. I reached out and pulled on the hem of his robes.

He turned towards me. His grey eyes studied me. He stroked his white moustache. For a moment, I was concerned that he might see under my hood. “Can I help you, Kid?”

I nodded. “I wish to join the academy.”

He smiled. “I’m sorry, but you’re too young. Maybe you can try when you’re older.”

I stuck my palms out at a barrel; I felt the wind currents in the area. I concentrated on them and bent them to my will. Under my direction the currents surrounded the barrel. Then, at my mental command, a strong up-draft lifted it into the air, while the currents on top formed a barrier against resistance and light blasts of air from the sides stabilised it. The instructor stared at the floating barrel, wide-eyed.

“Tell me boy, how old are you?”

“I am seven.”

He knelt down to look at me. “What’s your name?”

I adjusted my cloak to ensure that he wouldn’t see my forehead. “Michael Ryufan.”

“Michael, do your parents know you’re here?”

“My parents are no longer alive.”

He extended a hand to me. “Well Michael I think that given the circumstances and,”—he looked at the still-floating barrel.—“Given your obvious abilities, I’d like to invite you to join us at the academy.” I had anticipated this. It was simple to use very basic magic when you had a clear memory of others.

I felt guilty for deceiving him about my abilities however, I needed the Academy to master stronger spells and to provide a safe haven for my practice of them. I also knew that it would be folly to reveal the truth. Even if he and the other mages were to believe a draconian hatchling over a magi it would not accomplish my goal.

I manoeuvred the wind in order to lower the barrel to the ground undamaged. I took his hand. “Please take care of me.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 131: Forming Bonds

Kat grabbed her communicator. “Ophelia, I’m finished grabbing everything Paul asked for. I’m going to take the Wyvern and transport it all over now.”

“I’ll tell Paul you’re on the way,” Ophelia said. “Just remember to wear a full atmosphere suit. No need to have more people infected.”

“I know,” Kat said. “Don’t worry.”

*****

“Do you think she’ll tell us how her investigation goes?” Farah asked.

“Probably not,” Leon muttered. “I don’t think she cares for us. But, whatever. She’ll have the evidence she needs and we’ll be in the clear.”

“She’ll tell us,” Lucy stated. “She’s the straightforward type. When she had reason to mistrust us, she let it show. Now that we’ve given her the evidence she needs to close this case she’ll let her gratitude show just as clearly. Besides, she did leave us alone. That shows some trust.”

“We just did the right thing and helped catch the real culprits,” Farah said.

“I wonder,” Lucy whispered.

“What was that?” Leon asked.

Lucy shook her head. “Nothing, just thinking.”

*****

“This must be your friend,” Angela said. She held out her hand. “I’m Doctor Ziegmari.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Kat said. She politely shook Angela’s hand. “I brought the chemicals.”

“We’ll take care of the unloading,” Angela said. “James, help us out and we can get these to Medical in one trip.”

“Yeah, let’s move ’em quickly,” Lucas said.

*****

“Your engines are impressive,” Siya said. “Not as impressive as your android friend, but you’ve clearly used a lot of ingenuity in modifying them.”

“Well, thank you,” Grace said. “I did work hard on them.”

“You must be at about… 135% engine efficiency compared to an unmodded version?” Siya asked.

“137%,” Grace said. “I’m sure I’ll come up with something to improve them even more too.”

“Well, I do know the engine type,” Siya said. “I think I could help you up to about 148. Or, to be exact, I can give you some ideas that will get you there.”

“Great!” Grace declared.

“Well, I still owe you,” Siya said. “I’ve shown you some very advanced schematics, but they can’t really compare to…” she scrutinised Yuri’s schematics “this.”

“Oh, about those,” Grace said. “I should warn you. The androids are completely sentient. Which does mean that they have self determination and can’t really be controlled. For Yuri, it’s fine. Dealing with her is like dealing with a nice, sincere person. But we found another android with her and he was unstable. Psychotic even. I would suggest extreme precautions if you’re going to try and build any androids like them.”

“We will,” Siya said. “Although reconstructing the brain will take some doing. It may be a good twenty years before we can even get a first prototype.”

“I would have an even longer time table,” Grace said. “Just because I’m the only engineer on the Cerberus. It’s the only reason I haven’t petitioned Ophelia & Lucy to let me try making another sentient android.”

“You could always stay on Turing and work with our team,” Siya said. “You have some experience maintaining a working android. You’d be invaluable. Possibly even the best candidate for leading the project.”

“Is that so?” Grace said. “Well, it’s a nice offer. But I’ll have to stay where I am. The Cerberus needs me. Farah needs me and I need her. But you have to send me status updates and stuff. I can at least give you some advice.”

“I’ll take you up on that,” Siya said.

*****

“You two mix up as much as you can,” Angela said. “I’ll go assess who needs it most.”

“Don’t worry, we’ve got this,” Lucas said. “Dosage should be about 20 milligrams for an adult?”

“Twenty five, I should think,” Paul said. “A quarter of that should do it for for children. Half for teenagers.”

“Right,” Lucas said. “You know, Doctor Albrecht, it’s been unreal working with you. I really admired your work during my time studying medicine. Thought it was so unfair when the alliance took your license.”

“Thank you,” Paul said. “It’s been a pleasure working with you as well. You’re a very bright, talented young man.”

“Aww, you’re making me blush,” Lucas said.

*****

Femi returned. Her  face had a softer look. Her stance was more relaxed. “The analysis team has confirmed that it is alliance tech,” she reported. “They believe that the alliance wired it to detonate remotely and dispersed it during our short period without internal scanners. We will investigate just how their timing managed to align so perfectly.” She took a deep breath and bowed. “Thank you, for finding this evidence. I was mistaken about your team.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Farah said. “Anyone would have been suspicious.”

“So, when are you going to make them go boom?” Leon asked.

“What my colleague is trying to ask,” Lucy stated, “is what is Turing going to do to ‘rain justice upon them.'”

“We’ll have to have a meeting of the senior staff to decide for certain,” Femi said. “But my recommendation will be to immediately ally ourselves with Akumil. And I don’t think they’ll disagree.”

“Hmmmm,” Lucy murmured.

“What’s wrong, Lucy?” Farah asked. “Aren’t you happy?”

“Now what kind of question is that?” Lucy asked. “Come on, you two. We’ve solved this little mystery. We might as well take a nice, leisurely tour and check on Paul’s progress.”

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The Last Draconian: Prologue

?????

I had to break through. The food was almost gone, the walls were tightening. I hit the side. A small crack appeared from the force of the blow. I hit the crack again and again. I felt nothing but a desire, a need, to see the sun. I had to get out before the darkness consumed me. The crack widened until the shell collapsed, and the world entered.

I was buried beneath the moist dirt. I could hardly breathe. I clawed my way through. For five minutes I dug my way out of the dirt. I cleared my throat and wiped the dirt away from my eyes. I saw the sun for the first time. It was in the middle of setting. My hand was touching something wet and sticky. The crimson liquid would not wipe away.

I glanced around. There was a woman near the hole that I had come from. A spear was sticking out of her. A broadsword had fallen onto the ground and lay by her knees. The eggs near her had been shattered. In my mind I saw a flash, sudden and violent: “Amelia, get the eggs to safety,”— an order from someone. No sooner had she buried an egg than the spear had come, followed by lightning to silence her other heart. I looked around the streets. The buildings had been destroyed. There were holes opening them to the elements and the metal displayed clear scorch marks. A few were still on fire. All the plants had been burnt away. A statue of an armoured woman with an owl perched on her shoulder was destroyed. She looked like the bodies but there was something different about her. Her wings seemed larger and her horns less pronounced. Another flash: the city was thriving. Several people were working on a blinking thing. I saw the thing in the street. It had been destroyed as well. Its metal insides had spilled all over the ground.

Bodies littered the ground. Were these my people? I felt my forehead. Unlike them, I had no horns. I looked over my shoulders at my back. I felt along it. I did not have wings or a tail either. Why was I here?

A man’s head and most of his torso were pinned to a wall. His insides and lower half were on the ground. His left wing and arm were missing. He was caught on the broken building’s jagged edges. A flash: for a moment I was this man. A hooded figure was in the air. He laughed— a hollow echo, not a sound of flesh. A fireball came down from his hand. I felt my left side disintegrate and then nothing. I continued moving.

The city was surrounded on three sides by mountains. The gate that had blocked the west side had been shattered. Several people had been shattered with it. I counted at least five sticking out from under the debris. A flash: the hooded man had been greeted at the gate. “How may we be of assistance, Magi?” At the question he had enveloped the gate and everyone near it in flames. All with one flick of his skeletal wrist.

The flash did not stop. I saw every life end in fire and lightning. I knew everyone’s names. I knew their lives and the lives of those who had come before. In my mind I saw through their eyes as they died. Screaming, I dropped to the ground.

When I awoke the sun had risen. What had occurred was suddenly clear. Sadow had arrived at Drahaven and begun slaughtering my people. He had used a fireball on the gate just as he had done to my father. What I do not know is why. Not one of us had even the slightest suspicion that he bore us any ill will. We have not fought anyone for one thousand two hundred and thirteen years. Even a lich could not possibly live long enough to have a grudge from that. I had been unconscious for twelve hours, seventeen minutes. The back of my head was sore from hitting a stone when I fell. Under normal circumstances I would have been placed on a bed to make the activation of my memories easier, but there was no one left to do so. I was alone.

The incident had occurred three days, fourteen hours before I had hatched. Sadow had already left. In all probability he had gone to his home in the marshes of Strecner. Unless he had changed residence without any of us knowing. It was possible. We were not known for travels abroad. My first instinct was to journey there immediately and take my vengeance, but I stopped myself. A mere hatchling could not hope to defeat a lich who was well-versed in the arts of magic.

Before concerning myself over the matter with Sadow, I had a duty to perform. I constructed a techna to transport my people’s bodies. It was difficult work. My activated memories told me the form that it should take and the schemata necessary to construct it, but my ability to utilize that knowledge was hampered by my lack of practical experience. In spite of the difficulty I eventually prevailed.

I gathered materials and built a mound. With considerable difficulty I managed to pile the bodies onto the mound and set it aflame. I felt tears fall from my eyes. I wiped the moisture away with my index finger.

I retrieved my mother’s sword from where it had fallen near the eggs and took some gold pieces from a chest in the remains of a building. Estimating what my height would be when I had fully grown based on my parent’s heights, I took a cloak that was far too big for me. For more immediate use I took a tunic in my own size.

I had set one foot out of Drahaven’s border when I realized that I had nothing of my father’s, aside from the shared blood. Choosing his name as a memento, I left the desolate city. I would find the magi and I would have justice. No, not justice. Vengeance.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 130: Solutions

Femi excused herself, leaving Lucy, Leon & Farah alone in the quarters that had been recently used by the alliance’s envoy.

“What kind of power do you think those wrist rockets are packing?” Leon asked.

“They’re probably specifically designed to tear through force fields and flesh while not damaging the hull,” Lucy surmised. “Otherwise they’d be no good for a station like this.”

“Think I could get some of those?” Leon asked.

Lucy shrugged. “We aren’t going to buy any for use in your duties. But if you want to buy some with your own credits, we won’t stop you.”

“Paul doesn’t like me having explosives in our quarters,” Leon said. “Thinks too much can go wrong.”

“Quite the astute one, our Paul,” Lucy said. “Let’s look for signs of tampering while she’s out.”

“At least she seems more relaxed around us now,” Farah commented. “She must know we’re just trying to help.”

“It’s not that,” Lucy said. “It’s more basic than that. She knows there’s no way out of this room except through that door. She’ll send her communications where we can’t hear or see her but where she can watch the door.” Lucy’s yellow eyes opened and she scanned the quarters. “It’s also possible that she surreptitiously bugged the room to hear what we talk about while she’s out of earshot.”

“Probably should’ve said that earlier,” Leon said. “Before we started talking.”

“Why?” Lucy asked.

“Well…” Leon began. He paused and considered the question. “We might’ve said something embarrassing.”

*****

“It’s still degenerating,” Angela said.

“Weak,” Lucas stated. “How are we supposed to get this thing broken down?”

“With the low power, it takes some time,” Angela said. “We can get a complete picture. It will just take a little time.”

“And about three more samples,” Paul added. “assuming a medium amount of redundancy.”

“Great!” Lucas declared. “I’ll go get the first sample. You two just sit tight and check the data we’ve got so far.”

Paul and Angela poured over the partial scan they had of the viruses structure.

“It is strange,” Paul said. “That no one’s died of this virus yet.”

Angela nodded. “I know what you mean. They obviously constructed it with great care, making it as difficult to cure as possible but also highly non-lethal. Femi thought that it was a ploy to take the station and capture us all alive, but there’s been no attack.”

“Which means it’s something else,” Paul said. “Perhaps someone wants to sour Turing’s relationship with the akumillians?”

“It would make sense,” Angela conceded.

“Ya’ll leave the why to us security folk,” James said. “You just focus on gettin that cure.”

*****

Femi returned. She didn’t say anything to the Cerberus crew. She just crossed her arms and watched them examine the area.

“There!” Lucy declared. Femi moved close to see what she was indicating.

“Just a small scuff,” Leon said. “Someone could’ve been moving furniture or just stomping like a ass hole.”

“too precise,” Lucy said. “This was done with a tool.” She turned to Femi. “Do you mind if we open up the floor ?”

“Go right ahead,” Femi said. “But if you don’t find anything, you’re fixing it back up.”

“Deal,” Lucy agreed.

She carefully cut into the floor, revealing a small opening where a mechanical device had been placed, attached to a canister.

“Your doing?” Lucy asked. “If it’s not then we may have found the virus delivery system.”

Femi took the device and looked it over. “Not ours,” she said. I will have it sent for analysis immediately.”

“So it was the alliance that unleashed the virus!” Farah declared.

“They were being sneaky,” Leon agreed. “Trying to start a fight like cowards.”

“If our analysis team agrees then we will rain justice upon them,” Femi stated. “Of that, you have my word.”

*****

The final piece. They had the final piece of the virus scanned.

“excellent!” Angela declared. “Now we have to move quickly. Before we push just how non-lethal this thing is.”

“Judging by what was somewhat effective before, maybe something like this?” Lucas suggested, hurriedly writing out a chemical formula.

Paul and Angela studied it. They quickly started shaking their heads.

“It would be very risky,” Angela said. “Might even cause catastrophic liver failure.”

Lucas glanced over it. “Oh, right. Sorry.”

Paul put a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t be. It may very well be close to what we need. Maybe…” he made some quick alterations. They examined it. “Think it’s too weak?”

“Quite possibly,” Angela agreed. “But if we strengthen it thus,” she wrote her own alterations “It might be efficacious and safe.”

They examined the new formula.

“It looks like all that remains is testing,” Paul said. “Synthesise some and see if it works.”

“Slight problem,” Lucas said. “We don’t have the right chemicals. We used up a lot trying to find the cure.”

“We’ll have to get some more in and fast,” Angela said.

“I have plenty on the Cerberus,” Paul said. “I’ll call and have the ones we need brought over.”

“Thank you,” Angela said. “That really helps.”

“Don’t thank me too much,” Paul said. “Ophelia will have the cost added to our fee.”

“Don’t worry, we understand,” Angela said. “It will be worth it if only for the faster delivery.”

*****

A Note from the Author

I’m sure some of you are curious about what’s going to happen on Fridays now that Grand Pilgrimage is out in its entirety. Well, last week I took Friday to consider that question myself and a new story will be starting this week. I might even do something unheard of and have it starring LGBT characters.

That was a joke. I am fully cognizant of the fact that that describes every story I’ve written here.

In any case, thank you all for your readership and I hope you enjoy this new story.

-Ktulu

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Voyages of the Cerberus 129: Investigating Turing

Lucy looked over the logs as they walked. “Interesting,” she muttered.

“You noticed the alliance visit,” Femi stated.

“And you’re thinking it happened over a month before the viral infection so it can’t be related,” Lucy said.

“The possibility isn’t zero,” Femi said. “However, we do consider it unlikely.”

“Did they stay in different quarters from the akumillians?” Farah asked.

“They did,” Femi answered. “And we have checked their quarters.”

“I should like to see them,” Lucy said. “And your logs from around the time of the outbreak and a couple hours beforehand.”

“Suit yourself,” Femi said.

*****

“I’m going to extract the virus and introduce it to the artificial environment,” Angela said.

“Standing by to take readings,” Paul said.

Angela turned to her patient, an elderly woman with an artificial eye. “Hold still, Anna. It will only sting a little.”

“I know,” Anna said. “Don’t look down on me just because I was a field medic.”

“I’m not looking down on you,” Angela said. She hurriedly took the sample and swiftly injected it into the artificial environment.

“virus seems to be stable,” Paul said. “I’m starting a detailed scan now… Wait… Damn, it broke up.”

“Could we have forgotten something in our environment?” Angela wondered.

“I don’t think so,” Paul said. “The artificial body should be perfect. Could the virus be designed to break up under medical scans?”

“It’s possible,” Angela said. She sat down by Paul to look over the small amount of data they had. “If it is, then curing it will be even more difficult.”

“There must be some way…” Paul said. He scratched his head. “What if we set the scan to low power? It will take longer, but it might be weak enough to prevent the deterioration.”

Angela considered it. “It might prevent us from getting a complete picture as well, but it would be better than what we have now. Let’s try it.”

“Good grief,” Anna said. “I guess I’ll give you another sample.”

“No need,” Angela said. “We’ll take one from another patient this time. You just rest.”

“Don’t give me special treatment just because you’re my daughter-in-law,” Anna said.

“I’m not,” Angela said. “You know that the protocol is to take samples from different patients just in case we end up needing a lot. Please, Anna, go back to resting.”

“Fine,” Anna said. “I am a little tired.”

“James, help Anna back to bed and bring Jack for the next sample,” Anna requested.

“Leave it t’me,” James said. He glanced at Paul as he walked over. “I’ll be very close by. Remember that.”

*****

“I’m not seeing any sign of sabotage of any kind,” Farah said.

“According to every instrument, these quarters are clean,” Femi said.

“Don’t rely on the instruments,” Lucy instructed. She was looking down at Turing’s data. “Look for unusual scuffs on the floor or indents in the walls. If the akumillian government did place a device to dispense a plague, they would guard it against scanning devices.”

“What about the alliance?” Farah asked.

“They might have the same level of technology,” Lucy admitted. “Main power went out for about thirty seconds right before the virus was detected?”

Femi nodded. “Torn was testing a new kind of turret. It turned out to be unacceptably resource draining.”

“Then we’re looking for a trigger connected to the power relay,” Lucy said. “Or remote detonation from the small merchant ship that passed by.”

“We had considered that,” Femi said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get a solid identification on the ship since it was so far away. We also found no anomalies in the power grid.”

“Hold up,” Leon said. “If the ship was that far away could they have told that the power was temporarily switched to backups? Plus, Turing’s sensors wouldn’t have been down for more than… ten seconds?”

“Six,” Femi said.

“Six,” Leon repeated. “Could they have reacted that quickly?”

Lucy looked up, her eyes open and intense looking. “They could have identified the switch, if the ship was built specifically for espionage with powerful, long-range sensors. As to their reaction time, it’s possible if they expected it. Which means that either Turing has someone who apprised our unknown ‘friends’ of the situation or it was hacked and they anticipated that the power drain would cause a switch.”

“We weren’t hacked,” Femi said, confidently. “But I’ll have Caroline look over the system, just to be sure… When she’s cleared to go back to her station.”

“There’s not a damn thing here!” Leon declared. “Nothing out of place, bruised or anything. It’s all pristine.”

“Then let’s check the alliance’s quarters,” Lucy said. She closed her eyes and looked at Femi. “If you please.”

Femi sighed. “This way.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage Finale: End of the Pilgrimage

Lais was the first to regain consciousness. She checked over everyone in turn and smiled gently at Inés. “They’ll be fine,” she reported. “They’ll need time to rest and to take it easy, but there won’t be any permanent damage.”

“Thank the Gods,” Inés muttered. She turned to Illyana. “How did you ladies manage to get here so quickly?”

Illyana produced a familiar statue. It was the same they’d found in the strange structure on the cliff.

“I used this,” Illyana said. “It’s magically attuned to a… ruin, I guess. It brought us really close to you. Athena gave it to me.”

“So that’s why one was missing,” Inés said. “So, Athena identified herself to you?”

“Well, no,” Illyana said. “I just heard a voice when I was alone in my room. I also felt the power behind it, though, and she talked about you three. So, I figured it was Athena.”

“Colour me curious,” Inés said. “Why don’t you tell me exactly what happened?”

“I was alone in my room,” Illyana said. “I’d just gone to claim a familiar, a bat. I was feeding him some cow blood when I heard a voice. ‘Illyana,’ she said. ‘Sylvie and her companions are in danger. You must go to your friend, Enya and your aunt. With them by your side, go to the city with them. Tell them to seek out a visiting girl from Malachi with an eye patch. She’ll be claiming to be a merchant. Tell the three of them that Inés needs them. And then, use this to take you to them.’ And then she gave me the statue and told me to return it to its proper place.”

“Strange coincidence, both Lais and Ashley visiting Wicadia at once,” Inés said. She smiled at Lais. “Or were you sent there?”

“It was no coincidence,” Lais confirmed. “A week ago I heard a powerful voice telling me to visit my sister. I found that I couldn’t ignore it. Ashley claims to have had a similar experience telling her to go to Wicadia.”

“I guess Athena foresaw this battle and took steps in advance,” Inés said. “I wish I had those planning skills.”

*****

Shortly after, the rest of the group began waking. Sylvie was the last to regain her senses. She found her head cradled gently in Illyana’s lap.

“Illyana,” Sylvie said. “When I saw Lais’ look, I somehow knew they’d brought you here.”

“It’s kind of the opposite,” Illyana said. “I brought them. Sylvie, do you feel okay?”

“Got a nasty head ache and I doubt I’ll be able to move normally for a while,” Sylvie said. “Aside from that, I’m in perfect shape.”

“Aunt Lais says you’ll recover completely,” Illyana reassured her. “So, your pilgrimage went well?”

“There were unexpected problems,” Sylvie said. “But, all things considered, I’d say so.”

“Great!” Illyana declared. “Then you can give me the message you wanted.” She waited for a moment in silence. “You said you had something to tell me after you finished your pilgrimage.”

“I remember,” Sylvie said. “Let’s go somewhere private.” She reluctantly got back on her feet and she walked with Illyana away from the others.

Inés gave her a thumbs up as she went.

Illyana tilted her head. “I don’t hear anyone here. I think we’re alone. So…”

Sylvie took a deep breath and gathered her courage. It was too late to falter. Besides, she’d promised. “Illyana, I love you! I’ve been in love with you since my last years studying magic at the Academy. I don’t know if you could ever return my feelings, but I wanted to let you know.”

There was silence for a moment. “You love me?” Illyana asked. “As in… romantically?”

“Yes!” Sylvie declared.

“Even though I can’t see? Even though I get tired quickly and can’t do much besides magic?”

“Absolutely!” Sylvie confirmed.

There was another awkward silence. “Two years,” Illyana said. “If… if you can tell me again… just as earnestly in two years… at that time I’ll become your bride.”

“I’ll remember that,” Sylvie said. “Will I… Will I be allowed to visit you in the mean time?”

“Well… we are kind of, in a way, engaged,” Illyana said. “I think visits are proper.”

Sylvie walked over and hugged Illyana close to her. “You’ll never know how happy you’ve made me today,” she whispered.

“I should be saying that,” Illyana said.

*****

Before leaving, Illyana placed the statue in the empty pedestal. For a time, the priestesses travelled with Ashley, Lais, Enya and Illyana. Ashley took her leave in Malachi. Lais returned as they went back through Het Wald. Finally, Illyana and Enya returned home in Wicadia.

The three priestesses found the trip back much easier than the trip there. Not just because their pegasi enabled them to move faster and more easily, but because they barely encountered trouble. Just some bandits who mistook them for an easy mark.

Finally, they returned to the Temple.

Their Demure, Blitz & Dusk were quickly stabled and they were assured that they would be waiting the next time any of them took a journey.

Diana called them to her office, having them come in one at a time. Sylvie found herself in there first.

“Naturally, I’ll expect a full report later,” Diana said. “For the moment I just want you to tell me, truthfully, how Inés and Serena fared during the journey.”

“I had some… disagreements with Inés,” Sylvie said. “But I can’t deny that she was skilled, commanding and stronger than any other priestess I’ve met. I was impressed by her dedication and nobility. as for Serena, she’s inexperienced, but I have no doubt that she’ll make an excellent priestess.”

*****

“Sylvie and Serena?” Inés asked. “Well, Sylvie can be a bit uptight, but she’s also really smart, super skilled and loyal. I’d gladly entrust my life to her again. Serena may be the best initiate starting out I’ve ever seen. Sometimes I almost forgot that she wasn’t technically one of my peers. And I’m not saying that because we were sleeping together.”

*****

“They were incredible,” Serena answered. “Strong, confident, amazingly skilled. I just hope that I can become a warrior priestess half as good as they are.”

*****

It took several days for Sylvie to finish her report. Inés finished hers in a couple hours but hers was a basic list of where they went and what obstacles they dealt with while Sylvie’s was a long, detailed report of everything she found important. Which was a lot.

A week after the reports had been submitted, Inés and Sylvie were summoned to Diana’s office.

“I’m astounded,” Diana said. “You two went through a lot. I’m also pleasantly surprised to hear that you got past your differences. Inés, Sylvie Fortunio, in completing this trial safely and in conducting yourselves honourably, you have earned positions as full-fledged warrior priestesses. With all rights and privileges that the position entails. Congratulations.”

*****

Inés watched Jack’s eyes grow wide.

“All of that happened?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” Inés said. “There’s some more too, but I’ll tell it to you later. For now, I’ve gotta get back to the temple. I promised Julia and Flora I’d share their bed tonight.”

“I’ll look forward to hearing the rest,” Jack said. “I just know it’ll make an impressive set of ballads.”

Inés waved. She was on her way out of the pub when she had to stop. A familiar looking grey-eyed woman had two attractive women in her arms and seemed to be having a good time. Inés smiled and headed out. Thinking that she may very well have the perfect disposition for her work. Which was good, since she’d be doing it for a very long time.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 128: Femi’s Mistrust

“Angela, the best results seem to be from types three theta and seven alpha,” Lucas reported. “But it doesn’t look like either one is going to work as a cure. I’m gonna try and make a new series based on those two. Possibly find something that works well enough.”

“Good luck,” Angela said. “Paul and I will keep working on this. We’ll just have to hope for a break through in time.”

“We’ll have one,” Lucas said. “I mean, look at this team. This is a good, strong team. You’ve just gotta believe.”

He hurried off to his work.

“An optimistic young man,” Paul said.

“It’s one of his strengths,” Angela said. “And he is excited to be working with you. He was always reading your papers during his time at University. When your license was revoked by the Alliance, he led several demonstrations in protest.”

“He studied in the Alliance, then?” Paul asked.

“Until his final year,” Angela said. “He finished on Akumil.” She turned around. “James, must you loiter in my door?”

Paul turned. The security officer who’d escorted him was still sitting at the doors.

“Sorry, Ma’am,” he said. “Your wife’s orders. Nonea the Cerberus crew are t’be loose without an escort.”

“Femi ordered that?”  Angela asked. “I’m sorry, Paul, she’s having some trust issues over this whole incident.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Paul said. “Won’t be the first time we’ve been supervised during a job. Now, let’s get this done.”

*****

Grace arrived in Turing’s Engineering block, ignoring the guard who was watching her. There weren’t many people about. There were only around a half dozen. They were taking orders from a woman with a prosthetic right arm.

Grace approached her and extended a hand. “Grace Albrecht of the Cerberus, are you in charge?”

She looked down at Grace’s hand, studied Grace for a moment, looked back at Grace’s hand and then shook it. “Siya Vallja. Just in charge for the moment. Normally, Meiling is in charge overall and Torn is in charge of the weapons block.” She brushed her long hair back with her hand. “I’m normally just in charge of robotics.” She looked at Grace intently. “I’ve heard that the Cerberus has a sentient robot on board.”

“We did,” Grace said. “She’s on a leave of absence.”

“Oh,” Siya said. “Pity. I would have liked to meet her.”

“I can show you some of the schematics that were used in her development,” Grace offered. “They’re pretty amazing. Speaking of, that’s an impressive prosthetic. It doesn’t look like any I’ve seen before.”

“Oh, this?” Siya asked. “I started with a regular V-64 series model, and then I used it as a base to design my own. Turing is going to make a deal with a manufacturer to put these on the market.” She opened and closed her hand. “Completely responsive and it carries sensations to your brain like an ordinary arm would. But it’s nothing compared to some of our projects. You show me your robot’s schematics and I’ll show you some of our more impressive ones.”

“You, Madame, have a deal,” Grace agreed.

*****

“Are you interested in seeing anything in particular?” Femi asked. She scrutinised Leon, Farah and Lucy.

“I’d love to see the source of your paranoia,” Lucy said. “I mean, you invited us here to help and you’ve been ever so cold. So, why don’t you just let it out and tell us what your problem is?” Her yellow eyes opened very slightly.

Farah was about to step forward and try to keep the peace when she felt Leon’s hand on her shoulder. She looked back at him and he shook his head, slowly.

“I have no problem,” Femi said. “I’m just concerned about you being exposed to the virus.”

“Don’t give me the diplomatic answer!” Lucy demanded, opening her eyes further. “You don’t trust us. I’d go so far as to say that you were even against the idea of bringing Doctor Albrecht in to help but you were over-ruled.” She paused. “No, not over-ruled. You went along with it because your lovely wife was keen on the idea. Isn’t that right, Mrs Ziegmari?”

Femi turned away from her, “Yeah, that’s right.”

“Umm, Femi,” Farah said, keeping her voice as soothing as she could. “We won’t understand your objection if you don’t explain it. Do you not like mercenaries?”

“It’s not that,” Femi said. She sighed. “If you really must know, the truth is that this virus didn’t infect our station by accident. Someone put it here.”

“So what?” Leon asked. “Now you just don’t trust anyone?”

“She’s not crazy,” Lucy corrected him. “There’s a specific reason she’s worried about us. Our ties to Akumil, perhaps?”

“That’s right,” Femi confirmed. “Just before the virus broke out we had a visit from an akumillian delegation trying to persuade us to ally with them against the Alliance. We declined and now… now my mother is sick. My daughter is infected  and my wife is working herself ragged trying to find a cure.”

“You think the akumillian delegation infected the station!” Farah declared. “But they wouldn’t, would they?” She looked at Lucy.

It was about twenty seconds before Lucy answered. “Not in such an obvious way, no. Mrs Ziegmari, could you show us the rooms where the delegation stayed and the logs for your recent visitors? Maybe we could find out what happened.”

“And why should you do that?” Femi asked. “To clear your names?”

“Because we like helping!” Farah cried.

“Not like we have anything better to do,” Leon muttered.

“All of those,”Lucy said. Her eyes closed and she turned to Femi with a smile. “You can keep observing us. Would it really hurt to let us have a look?”

“Fine,” Femi said. “Follow me and I’ll show you the area.”

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