Voyages of the Cerberus 115: The Secret of the Spores

Lucy gingerly touched her forehead.

“Please tell me you weren’t contaminated by the spores,” Leon said. “I don’t need you getting all lovey dovey too.”

“I’m perfectly fine,” Lucy said. “Just have a bit of a headache.”

“I’ve got some acetaminophen,” Leon offered.

“I’m surprised you can even say that word,” Lucy said. “Comes from dating a doctor, I suppose. I’ll have to pass, though. It might be effective for you humans, but it would probably kill me.”

“Shit, didn’t think of that,” Leon muttered.

*****

“Yo, Doc, what’s the good word?” Allison exclaimed.

Paul looked up from his equipment. “Do you need something? Are you feeling ill?”

“I’m perfectly fine,” Allison said. “I heard that Kat was acting funny and came to see.” She looked around. “So, where is she?”

“Asleep,” Paul answered. “I gave her a mild sedative. The effect should be gone, or close to it, by the time he wakes up.”

“Tsk,” Allison grunted. “That’s no fun.”

“Sorry to disappoint you,” Paul said. “If that’s all, please excuse  me while I study these.”

*****

“Strange,” Lucy said. “Very peculiar, indeed.”

Leon looked around. “What?”

“The vine that sprayed Kat is gone,” Lucy stated.

“Maybe  it retracts after releasing its spores,” Leon suggested. “There are some plants that do that, right?”

“There are some in the galaxy,” Lucy said. “But it was stationary the entire time we were talking with Kat after she got sprayed and the species I know of that spray and retract either retract immediately or start retracting immediately, even if slow moving.”

Leon shrugged. “Lots of plant types out there. Not like it’s surprising that one would stand still for a while.”

“Perhaps,” Lucy said. “But there may be another explanation. What if the plant has intelligence? What if it sprayed Kat deliberately to serve some purpose?”

“Now that just sounds paranoid,” Leon said. “With all due respect.”

“I know,” Lucy said. “But we can test it. Let’s see, Kat was around here.”

She stood while Leon watched.

“Nothing’s happening,” Leon said.

“Try going to the buildings to investigate something there,” Lucy suggested. “If it is intelligent, it might want to hit us one at a time.”

“Assuming you’re right we don’t know what the spores might do to you,” Leon said. “Maybe I should take the hit.”

“Don’t worry,” Lucy said. “I’ve got an air filter. Just go.”

Reluctantly, Leon moved off. He kept looking back to check on Lucy until he reached one of the buildings and went inside.

Lucy waited. She pretended to examine the ground. The bark of the tree and a number of other things in the vicinity. The vine didn’t come.

Maybe she had just been paranoid or… was it possible? She touched her air filter. Did the plant know what it was for? She made her decision. One final test. She removed the filter.

*****

It was taking too long. Leon couldn’t concentrate on checking his surroundings. Finally, he just ran outside. He found Lucy lying on the ground, her filter off. She was curled up with her hands on her head.

“Hey, you okay?” Leon asked.

“My head…” Lucy muttered. “It hurts… Feel like it’s going to burst. Ca… can’t even move.”

“Okay, okay,” Leon said. “I’ll carry you back to the Cerberus. Did the vine grab your filter?”

“N… no,” Lucy answered. “I… I took it off. Thought it would attack if I did.”

“Well, you seem to have been right,” Leon said. “Don’t worry, Paul will get you fixed up in no time.”

*****

“It’s a nasty migraine,” Paul said. “But she’ll be perfectly fine. It was a reckless move on her part.”

“Have you learned anything from it, Doctor?” Ophelia asked.

Paul nodded. “The spores have a significant effect on akumillians. With humans, it acts as intoxication. For akumillians, the spores send impulses that effectively control them. Thanks to Lucy’s foolishness, I know that the espel nerves are an essential part of the process.”

“I thought you’d fixed the damage to her espels,” Ophelia said.

“I did,” Paul said. “But I used synthetic tissue in the process. The impulses being sent by the spores are being blocked by those synthetics.”

“Wait a moment,” Leon said. “You’re saying that the akumillians disappeared because they were being controlled by these things?”

“That is likely,” Paul answered.

“How did their survey team miss it?” Ophelia asked.

“I can’t answer that much,” Paul said. “I’ll go out and examine the plant myself. Maybe I can get a clue.”

“All right,” Ophelia agreed. “Leon, you and I  will go with him.”

“I’ll go too,” Lucy said.

“No,” Ophelia said. “You stay aboard.”

“The pain killers are working, I’ll be fine,” Lucy said.

“They’ll also slow you down,” Ophelia argued. “Please, stay here. You can help by sending in a report of what we have so far and watching the bridge.”

“Fine,” Lucy agreed.

“Then let’s go,” Ophelia said. “We’ll solve this case in no time.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 58: First to Fall

“Gail,” Jenna said. “How strong of a magic shield can you create?”

“Incredibly strong,” Gail said. “My blood isn’t so thin as the rest of yours. Why? Are you planning on hiding behind my strength?”

“No,” Jenna stated. “Even you couldn’t keep up that barrier against all of them. Not for long. What I want you to do is create a semi-malleable barrier. One they can get inside with effort. That way, they’ll have no choice but to trickle in. Allowing the rest of us to limit the number we have to fight at once.”

“Not a bad idea,” Gail said. “But I won’t be able to fight and maintain the barrier.”

“That’s fine,” Jenna said. “I think the barrier’ll be more helpful. She turned to the others. Sylvie, Wilfred and I will form one fighting unit. Serena, Lilac and Inés will form a second. Stay close enough that we can group if the need arises.”

“Works for me,” Inés said. “The groups seem pretty even.”

“They do indeed,” Wilfred said. He turned to Jenna. “Realistically, how long do you think the six of us can hold?”

“Realistically,” Jenna said. “We don’t have much choice. We hold or we die. We just have to hope that reinforcements arrive before the latter happens.”

 

They moved into position. The first of Echidna’s children to push through were swiftly dispatched, but more quickly came in and the battle was joined.

The six of them fought on. The bodies of Echidna’s children began piling up. Thanks to Inés and Jenna especially, but their numbers were vast and the battle quickly began taking its toll.

*****

Inés tossed a lion aside with her staff and swung around, bashing both heads of an orthrus. Serena and Lilac stood back to back. They were breathing heavily and bruised.

“Howe long until we get help?” Lilac wondered.

“Don’t know,” Serena said. She brushed some blood from her face with a quick swipe of her forearm.

“Just keep going,” Inés said. “We can hold them. Just stay close to me, okay?”

“I will,” Serena agreed.

*****

Gail watched them fight  but didn’t pay close attention. Her focus was elsewhere. Making the shield passable was making it easier to maintain, but it was starting to wear on her. She was starting to grow weary. In about twenty seconds her nose would start bleeding. She knew that she would get worse after that. In spite of how confident she’d sounded when accepting the task, she wasn’t sure how long she could stay conscious after that. An hour, perhaps two. She quickly sent a burst of magical energy around, surveying the area. There were still no reinforcements to be seen.

*****

Jenna launched herself away from Wilfred and Sylvie, unleashing a deadly burst of lightning all around her. She allowed herself a couple seconds and launched herself into another group of Echidna’s children. Bringing down another burst while they scrambled to get away.

Nearby, Sylvie was also hurling bolts, albeit much less powerful ones. Wilfred looked dismayed at the blood on his hands, but kept swinging his blade. As much as he disliked violence, he disliked the thought of being killed more.

*****

A Hydra swooped down at Serena and Lilac, spewing flames from all of its heads.

Lilac scrambled away. Serena huddled down, knowing she wasn’t fast enough to escape it. She tried to partially shield herself with her arms, hoping it didn’t hurt too much. To her surprise, there was no pain. When she opened her eyes, Inés was standing between her and the hydra. Her back was singed and steam filled the air from where the flames had hit a geyser produced by magic.

“Inés your back…” Serena began.

“It’s nothing,” Inés said. “I got worse burns from those nut jobs in Wicadia. Still, this thing tried to burn you up and that…”

A water spout burst from the clouds beneath them, launching Inés through the air. Her staff slammed into three of the hydras heads. While those heads were stunned, Inés rushed to its neck, moving nimbly past its active heads. She slammed her staff into its chest with a thunderous crack. Once, twice thrice. The hydra collapsed, its hearts unable to take the punishment. Inés stepped away from it.

“That’s what really pisses me off,” she finished.

*****

The great dragon lunged for Sylvie and Wilfred.

“Go low, I’ll go high!” Sylvie said.

While Wilfred dove for its under belly, Sylvie leapt, tossing herself further up with lightning magic towards its neck. The great dragon’s claw swiped her out of the air and into the ground. Wilfred’s blade found its mark, cutting into the dragon’s vitals.

Sylvie was picking herself up when a cerberus galloped towards her. Its razor sharp teeth aimed for her neck.

She was soon sprayed with blood. Jenna had moved to block the Cerberus.

Its first head was biting into her neck. Its second head into her stomach and its third head gripped one of her arms.

Sylvie ignored the pain, charging on pure adrenaline. Her rapier dispatched the cerberus.

“Jenna!” she cried. She reached, her hand shaking, to check her pulse, knowing it was too late. The blood was everywhere and the wounds savage. Jenna had been killed instantly.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 114: Strange Spores

“Lucy,” Kat stated. “How likely is this to actually be the work of an akumillian?”

“It’s a very remote possibility,” Lucy answered. “They would have had to get through all the tests to take part in the colonisation effort without anyone noticing what they were up to. They’d have to have hidden their true intentions until they were ready to strike and they would have had to find a method that could effectively immobilise the rest of the colonists in a very short period of time.”

“Which means we’re still in the dark,” Kat said.

“Which means,” Leon corrected. “That we have a working theory.”

“I wouldn’t go that far quite yet,” Lucy stated. “Just be careful and we’ll gather more information.”

The three made their way to the edge of the colony. Lucy went to check the monitoring station. Leon examined the closest structures and Kat moved to patrol the perimeter.

Lucy was having no luck. The monitoring station was like every other building. Seemingly abandoned with tasks half finished. No records to indicate that anything had gone wrong. Her search was interrupted by a scream from outside. It was Kat’s voice.

*****

“Hey, Grace,” Farah said. “Aren’t there other cases where a colony seemingly vanished and no trace was found?”

“Sure,” Grace said. “Way back when humans thought we were alone in the  galaxy and we were  relegated to a single planet there was one. Roanke or something. There were theories about what happened, but there wasn’t any real proof. There was also the colony on Zarbka three centuries ago and the colony on Jark before that.”

“Do you suppose this will be the fourth?” Farah asked.

“Could be the first,” Grace said. “At least from the akumillian perspective.  They’ve never had a colony vanish. At least as far as I know. Why do you ask? you don’t think the others will find out what happened?”

“It’s not that I don’t think they’re capable,” Farah hurriedly clarified. “I just get a bad feeling about this place. It’s just so…”

“Dead,” Grace  finished. “I know what you mean. There’s an eerie lifelessness to the place. But don’t let it get to you.” Grace looked up from her work. “Whatever caused the colony to vanish isn’t around right now.”

*****

Leon and Lucy rushed to Kat’s side. She looked okay. There was a strange, yellowish powder on her face and she was hurriedly rubbing it from her eyes.

“What happened?” Lucy asked.

“Plant spit this  pollen on me,” Kat answered. “I was… was… I was something.”

“You yelled over a damn plant?” Leon asked. “Not like you to be so melodramatic.”

“Hey,” Kat declared. “Hey, you wait a moment, Bushter.” She poked Leon’s chest. “I.. I’ll tell you,” she poked him several more times “why it was such a shurprise.  Y’see. I wash mindin my  busness, when that vine thing lowered from the tree and jusht squirt my face. Like a arsehole.”

“Kat, are you feeling okay?” Lucy asked. “You’re stumbling and slurring your words.”

“Oh, I’m jusht fine,” Kat said. She awkwardly turned to Lucy. “Y’know, I don’t shay it enough, but I freakin love ya, Lucy. You… you can be mean and intimidatin, but you’re a bootiful lady and I loves ya.”

“Kat, have you been drinking?” Leon asked. “Like, a lot?”

Kat turned her gaze to Leon. “Don be silly. you know, Leon,” she poked his cheek “you can be a real try hard. You jush… just try so hard ta keep yur cool and be an edgy. It can make it weird to talk, but I freakin love ya too.”

“I think that powder is messing with her head,” Lucy said. “Let’s get her back to the Cerberus. You help her move, I’ll contact Paul so that he’s waiting.”

*****

By the time they returned to the ship, Paul was prepared.

“Set her down right there,” Paul said, indicating one  of the medical bay beds. “I’ve got a full toxicology scan ready to go.” He turned to Kat and smiled. “Kat, how are you feeling?”

“Oh, Duckter,” Kat muttered. “These, these two were mean to me. They… they made me come out of the outside.”

“Did they?” Paul asked. “Well, I’m just going to make sure you’re nice and healthy and then you can go back outside, okay?”

“Yur so nice, Doc,” Kat said. “Thas what I like about ya. You… you can be the biggesht wimp, but I freakin love ya and yur kindnesh.”

“Well, thank you,”  Paul said. “I’m just about finished with your scan.” He turned to Lucy and Leon. “Those spores are acting like an intoxicant on her brain. The effect is temporary, but she’s going to be like this for a while.”

“So they wouldn’t have been responsible for the colony’s disappearance,” Lucy reasoned.

“It’s hard to say,” Paul answered. “Humans and akumillians have different enough physiology that its effect on the human brain isn’t a good indicator of how it would effect an akumillian brain. I  can run some simulations to see how they might impact an akumillian.”

“All right, do it,” Lucy ordered. “Leon and I will return to our investigation. Do you recommend atmosphere suits?”

“That would probably be going overboard,”aid. “I should think that some basic filter masks would suffice.”

“All right,” Lucy nodded. “We’ll grab some for Farah and Grace as well. Take care of Kat.”

“Don’t worry,” Paul said. “She’s in good hands.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 57: Awaited Offensive

“Let  me see  if I have  this right,” Sylvie said. She was sitting outside with Serena and Inés. Not far from them, Wilfred and Lilac were undergoing some training drills under Jenna’s watchful eye. “Your sister intends to go on some mad quest for conquest and she wants you to be her bride while she does it?”

“Pretty much,” Inés said. “I knew I’d find that down side to being too cute one day.”

“Inés,” Serena chided. “The important thing is that we need Sylvie’s help to stop her.” She turned to  Sylvie. “You will help, won’t you?”

Sylvie ran her fingers through her hair and looked off in the distance. After a moment’s thought, she answered. “The three of us have already beaten one out of control half  God. I don’t see a problem with stopping another, but are you sure you can do it?” She turned pointedly to Inés. “You won’t hesitate because she’s your sister?”

“I won’t,” Inés said, her answer immediate. She sighed. “You know, when this whole trip started I was an orphan with no family to speak of. Then I get told I’m the daughter of Poseidon himself. I’ve got an older sister who’s completely nuts and I’m related to all of these other half Gods. I’ve gone from having no family to having way too much family. I don’t really have any connection to her but I have plenty of reasons to want to stop her.”

“Fine,” Sylvie said. “Then when she comes after you, I’ll help you stand against her. And I’ll hold you to what you just said.”

“Hold the training!” Jenna ordered. She pointed to the sky. “We have incoming messengers.”

Inés, Sylvie and Serena looked over. A pair of pixies were rushing to their location.

They landed on the training dummy.

One had short pink hair and blue eyes. The other had long white hair and light green eyes.

“We bring dire tidings,” the first said.

“The Alpha  group under the command of Lynde,  daughter of Hades is under attack,” the second stated.

“By a whole army of Echidna’s children,” the first elaborated. “She requests that every other team send reinforcements.”

“Lynde’s team?” Jenna asked. She nodded. “We’ll send some people over soon. Just give us a moment to decide who.”

“Looks like it wasn’t us under attack first after all,” Lilac said.

“Strange, isn’t it?” Gail asked. “That one of the strongest groups should be attacked first, and one so far away from here?”

“You think it’s a feint,” Sylvie stated.

“Well, yes,” Gail confirmed. “I think they’ve sent a distraction team.”

“Maybe,” Jenna said. “But we can’t hold back based on that possibility. If we do, Lynde and her team might be killed. Me, Sylvie and Inés can go to back them up. Gail, you can stay here with the others.”

“Before you go off, I have a suggestion,” Gail said. “Let one of the priestesses here fly out a short way on her pegasus. Look for signs of Echidna’s children approaching here and then, if it’s clear, you can lead your little reinforcements to Lynde’s side.”

“That does seem a sensible precaution,” Wilfred said.

“Wouldn’t it be faster if Gail does her whole disappearance thing?” Inés asked.

“Possibly,” Gail said. “But if they are on their way I could end up in the crowd of them and be torn to shreds before I could return. One of you going by pegasus is safer.”

“Fine,” Jenna agreed. “Serena, go with Dusk. The three of us will prepare to render assistance.”

“Got it,” Serena said.

“Be careful,” Inés said.

Serena kissed her cheek. “Don’t worry, I’ll give it my best!” She took to the sky on Dusk.

“Aren’t  you going to Lady Lynde?” one of the pixies asked.

“We’re just taking a quick precaution,” Jenna said. “Don’t worry.”

“Do you think these monsters are really smart enough to do something sneaky?” Lilac asked.

Jenna shrugged. “They were smart enough to test our strength before coming at us in force, but Gail might have misread them. They might be going after Lynde’s group because they’re strong. They might be trying to slaughter them as a blow to morale and to weaken our overall strength.” She turned to Sylvie and Inés. “In addition to the ladons,eagles and chimeras, we can expect Cerberi, Orthi, Hydras, Sphinxes, Nemean Lions, Crommyonian Sows, Gorgons, Great Dragons & even Scyllas. If there are Gorgons, do not look into their eyes.”

“She’s coming back!” Lilac called.

The three  of them looked up. Serena was indeed returning. Dusk was in a full, rapid descent. The pegasus only slowed when she was very close to the ground and Serena scrambled off.

“They’re coming!” Serena shouted, her face pale. “Thousands of them. They’re coming right for us!”

“Damn,” Jenna muttered. She turned to the pixies. “Fly back to the other groups. Tell them that we’re also under attack and need assistance. Tell them we’ll hold out as long as we can.”

The pixies bowed and flew away.

“I don’t imagine we’ll get reinforcements quickly,” Gail said. “And it may very well cost some of us our lives.”

“Nevertheless, we have to hold the line,” Jenna said, giving her sword a practice swing. “We’ll show Echidna’s children that we aren’t to be trifled with.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 113: Abandoned

“The scan is reading no harmful organisms,” Yuri reported. “Save for some minor viruses that should be rendered harmless by the standard vaccines. The atmosphere is completely breathable.”

“Excellent work,” Ophelia said. “Shuttle, you copy?”

“We copy,” Lucy confirmed. “We’ll head down now.”

“Be careful,” Ophelia said. “And no one go off alone.”

“Love you too,” Lucy said.

“Yuri,” Ophelia said. “Take some R&R. I’ll handle the monitoring.”

*****

The shuttle descended onto Nolillin eight. The colony was surrounded by dense jungle, but its landing pads were still clear enough to allow for a smooth landing.

“You guys heard Ophelia,” Lucy said. “Stick together and be alert. Farah, I want you to call us at the first sign of trouble.”

“Got it,” Farah said. She and Grace took their leave to check the equipment while Lucy, Kat, & Leon moved to examine  the area.

*****

The communication devices were easy to find and in bad shape. Growth from the nearby jungle had spread inside, covering them with vines.

“Strange,” Grace said. “Their shields must have gone down. I might be able to clear the plants out and fix these,  but we’re going to have to bring those on line first or the same thing will just happen again.”

“How  fast does the jungle here grow?” Farah pondered.

“Dunno,”  Grace said. “I’d say pretty quickly since the communications have only been down for a couple weeks.” She pat Farah’s shoulder. “Let’s look at those shields.”

*****

Kaat, Leon and Lucy examined one of the buildings.

“Curious,” Kat said. “They left their food half finished.”

“The last one just left it heating,” Leon said. “Wasteful bastards.”

“Which tells us that they weren’t under attack,” Kat stated. “But then where did they go?”

“They might have been attacked and taken out too quickly to take action,” Leon suggested.

“Very unlikely,” Lucy said. “The level of power that would require is staggering.”

“A being like Lunais, perhaps?” Kat suggested. “Only malevolent.”

“I certainly hope not,” Leon muttered. “The universe doesn’t need two of them.”

“I’m not so sure,” Lucy said. “A being like Lunais should have a powerful presence that I can detect. I’m not feeling anything here.”

“Then we should keep looking,” Kat suggested.

“Agreed,” Lucy stated.

*****

Allison and Yuri cuddled up together.

“I’ve missed this,” Allison said.

“You are the one who has not desired to engage in this activity much recently,” Yuri stated.

“Well, your body is really cold and metallic without the skin,” Allison said. “With it you’re warm, surprisingly soft and cuddly.”

Yuri tilted  her head. “My synthetic skin allows me to retain heat and is composed of a compound designed to mimic the texture of human flesh. Does it do the job inadequately?”

“It’s kinda like human skin,” Allison said. “But it is softer. Oh, don’t pout. Being soft is good.”

“I am not pouting,” Yuri said.

“You totally are,” Allison said. She shifted and kissed Yuri’s lips.

The  two spent several minutes with their lips pressed together before breaking it off.

“Do you wish to retire to the bed?” Yuri asked.

“Absolutely!” Allison declared. “Race you there!”

*****

Grace checked the shield generators.

“Were they taken out by an attack?” Farah asked, looking over the area.

“I don’t believe so,” Grace answered. “It looks like someone switched them off, their timing components put them back on and there was no maintenance to combat the jungle’s humidity. Which caused some of the circuitry to be damaged. I should be able to repair them, once I’ve cleaned them up.”

“I’ll let the others know,” Farah said. She grabbed her communicator. “Lucy.”

“Lucy here, go ahead.”

“Grace  says that she can get the shields back up,” Farah reported. “After that she’ll be able to work on the comm equipment. Oh, and one more thing. She says the shields were switched off from the inside. Be careful over there.”

*****

“From the inside, huh?” Lucy muttered.

“I sense treachery!” Leon declared.

“Is that even possible?” Kat asked. “Wouldn’t the other akumillians have sensed the intent or something?” She turned to Lucy.

“Normally, yes,” Lucy said. “But it’s not unheard of for someone to hide their intentions. We can’t completely rule out the possibility.”

“So we could  have a psychotic akumillian watching us right now,” Kat said. “Wonderful.”

“Better guard your shins,” Leon  said.

“Oh, I think one of my people would aim for something higher and more vulnerable,” Lucy stated. Leon moved a  hand over his crotch protectively. Lucy allowed herself a quick mischievous grin before adopting a thoughtful look.”It is strange, though. If there was a traitor, they were clearly mentally sound. What was their motive? Where did they take the others? And what did they use to restrain everyone else?”

“It’s been too long to check for gas traces,” Kat said. “So, what’s our next step?”

“We keep looking for more evidence,” Lucy said. “Even if our perpetrator was akumillian, they would have missed something. Some tiny shred of evidence that can give us some hint on just what happened here.”

“And if they didn’t I’m sure they’ll come after us if we nose around too long,” Leon added.

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The Grand Pilgrimage 56: Sisters

Inés patrolled the area, feeling restless. Two days had passed since the exploratory attack. Two days without hearing anything from Echidna’s children. Two days waiting for a follow up strike or to be attacked themselves. Two days of Jenna trying to keep everyone calm and focused, but they were all on edge. No matter how much they tried to keep their spirits up and continue their training as normal, it couldn’t be helped. Especially with Gail’s prediction hanging over their heads.

The sound of footprints behind her caused Inés to hurriedly turn but there was no sign of anyone. Had she imagined it? She took a quick look around, just to be sure. Unfortunately, the ground in Olympus didn’t have dirt nor any other way to discern when someone had been walking over it recently. All she could do was verify that no one was in sight or hiding nearby.

*****

That night, Inés returned from her watch without anything to show for it. Serena woke up briefly and the two curled up together. Serena had an arm over Inés’ chest and her head resting on her shoulder while Inés  had an arm around Serena. Inés was just beginning to fall asleep when she heard something. She moved her head to look, not wanting to wake Serena yet.

“Hello, little sister,” Camila whispered. She’d crept very close. Inés felt her skin crawl.

“How did you get here?” Inés demanded, keeping her voice low.

“It wasn’t hard,” Camila answered. “I just took a little stroll since things have been such a bore of late and I wanted to see my baby sister.”

“You should head back to your own group,” Inés said, remembering what she’d heard of the frenzied queen.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” Camila stated. “I doubt they’ll even notice.” She crept close and leaned close to Inés. “You know, you really are a beautiful girl.”

Inés suppressed a shudder. “Well, thanks,” she said. “But I really don’t need compliments.”

“Hmmm,” Camila murmured. “Have I offended you in some way? You don’t seem excited to see me. I wonder, dear little sister, why that is?”

Inés hesitated. Wondering how fast Camila could move and whether or not she’d be able to shield Serena in time if things went bad. “I heard about why you got sent to Tartarus,” Inés answered.

Camila stepped back. “I see,” she whispered. “Well, I wouldn’t believe all of it, if I were you. They are, after all, only telling it from one side.”

“And what’s your side exactly?” Inés asked. “You brutally conquered and forced people into your harem, including your own mum, for, what, world peace?”

“Mocking doesn’t suit you, Sister Dearest,” Camila said. “The truth is, though, that your mocking isn’t far from the fact. The mortals need guidance, Inés. They need strong leaders to unite them. And I, I am strong. Possibly even stronger than any of the other half-bloods. Not only that, but we’re functionally immortal, unless we’re over-powered or choose to end ourselves. It was my plan to build and preside over a great empire where I could guide the mortals in the right direction.” Camila twirled around the room. “Think of it, sister, an eternal empire spanning the entire continent. No war. Malcontents quickly put under control. That was what I wanted, but it was torn from my grasp and I was thrown into Tartarus.”

“That doesn’t explain the whole harem thing,” Inés muttered.

“Oh, don’t be naive,” Camila said. “Every monarch had a harem back then. It was a status symbol. And I treated all of my beauties very well. they had no cause to complain.”

Inés kept her mouth shut, biting back the impulse to call Camila a megalomaniac and a nutter.

“Hey, Sis,” Camila said “After this whole war is over I’ll be free. We should start our own empire. You and I. Instead of taking new lands through conquest we’ll bring them into our protection, crushing only those lands foolish enough to move against us. Surely, no one in Olympus could hold that against us.”

“Us?” Inés asked, incredulous.

Camila nodded. “Exactly! The age of harems is gone. These days what every powerful monarch needs is someone to rule by their side. I can be the primary queen and you, you can be my bride. We can look out for one another, protect one another and make love from nightfall until dawn.”

“I’m your sister!” Inés exclaimed. “And you want to…”

“Don’t be so melodramatic,” Camila said. “It’s not like we were raised together and we only share half our blood anyway. Besides, no matter what we do neither of us will get pregnant.” she winked. “Once this is all over, I’ll come and get you. Look forward to it.”

She hurried out of the sleeping chamber. After a short time, Inés heard Serena’s voice. It was low and concerned. “What are you going to do?”

“Definitely not go along with her,” Inés answered. “She’s clearly mad.”

“Will you fight her?” Serena asked.

“Probably,” Inés said. “She’s the same type as Scotius was. Confident in her power, believing that it gives her the right to trample all over anyone else. She absolutely can not be allowed  to ascend to power.”

“Then I’ll help,” Serena said. “Not just because she’s a threat but because… even though I’m just an ordinary human… and inexperienced… I want to protect you.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 112: The purpose of painful memories

“Gotta say,” Allison said. “You look so much  better with the skin.”

Yuri ran her fingers over the synthetic flesh. “You stated that you still loved me even without it,” Yuri said.

“I do,” Allison said. “I’d love you no matter what. But that doesn’t mean the whole ‘half a metal skull showing’ look is flattering for you.”

“I suppose I can not blame you,” Yuri said. “You would be considerably less attractive with sixty one percent of your skull showing as well.”

“I wouldn’t live if you could see that much of my skull,”  Allison said. She hugged Yuri’s arm. “I’m just glad that you made it through all of that with your memories intact. I  was afraid that I was gonna have to watch your emergency holo for a while there.”

“I have not recorded an emergency holo,” Yuri stated. “I have no property worth  bequeathing unto anyone.”

“Oh Yuri, Yuri, my beautiful but sometimes clueless android,” Allison muttered, shaking her head. “An emergency holo isn’t about leaving someone your shit. There are wills for that. It’s about leaving people a nice little message about what they mean to you so that they have it to provide them some comfort and to remember you by.”

“I do not make my feelings for you or anyone else in the crew secret,” Yuri stated.

“you really have trouble with this, don’t you?” Allison asked. “Okay, let me put it like this. We humans don’t have your ability to perfectly recall everything. If you had died, which would suck but you came damn close, and you had a holo recorded then we all would have played it and taken home a personal recording of the part where you addressed us. Then, like thirty years from now, we could still open the file and hear your final message in your own words.”

“Is it not desirable to forget about someone who was close to you and you lost?” Yuri asked.

“Not at all!” Allison declared. “Yeah, it’s super painful to lose someone but it’s still worth remembering because of al the good times. That pain that comes with loss is also a reminder of how much someone enriched our lives.” Allison smiled at Yuri. “And you’ve certainly done that for mine. And I adamantly believe that such feelings are worth remembering.”

Yuri gently held Allison’s hand. “And you have done so for mine.” Yuri nodded. “I will record an emergency holo detailing my feelings for you and the rest of the crew.”

“Thank you,” Allison said.

Their moment was ruined by a voice coming in over the ship’s intercom. “All crew to the conference room, please.”

*****

“Yuri,” Ophelia greeted. “New skin looks good.”

“Especially after seeing you go without for a week,” Lucy added, her yellow eyes opening briefly.

“You spent only three minutes and twenty seconds with your eyes open around me while I was without,” Yuri stated.

“Yes, but I knew what you looked like even with my eyes closed,” Lucy said.

“Down to business,” Lucy said. “We’ve been asked to travel to Nolillin eight. The akumillian colony that’s been settling there has inexplicably gone silent. No communications have been answered and several of their receiving devices have fallen silent. It’s our job to go there and find out why.”

“We’ll be landing the Cerberus in the colony’s port,” Lucy said. “Once there I’ll lead the investigation team. Grace will come along to check the equipment. Farah, you’ll be acting as her guard. Kat, Leon and I will examine the actual colony for signs of what happened. Paul will remain on standby with his medical equipment in case we find any injured colonists. Allison, you and Yuri can do whatever you like. We may  have to call on you if there’s a major emergency, but it seems unlikely. Questions?”

“What is there on Nolillin eight that could cause a mass disappearance like this?” Grace asked.

“Nothing that we know of,” Lucy answered. “The planet’s survey records indicate that all native lifeforms were rather low on the sapience scale. No civilisations. Nothing that could or would group together to attack the colony.”

“Could it have been a deadly micro-organism?” Paul asked.

Lucy shook her head. “Unless one of the micro-organisms underwent an alarming and rapid evolution, they’re all a low threat level and largely neutralised by ordinary universal precautions that all of the colonists would have taken, just like we all did when we started travelling in space.”

“We’ll do a high level scan before you disembark to be sure,” Ophelia said. “If we detect anything that even has the potential to be dangerous, you’ll all go in full atmosphere suits. We’ll arrive on site by 1600 hours tomorrow, so be rested and ready to go by then. Dismissed.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 55: Misgivings

Serena and Sylvie struck together. Sylvie’s rapier pierced from below, slicing into the eagle’s throat. While Serena struck from above. Her tonfa slamming its crown. Thus fell the second eagle.

Inés flew Blitz towards the oncoming group. The remaining seven were being more careful, keeping relatively close. “Get above them!” she encouraged the pegasus. Blitz whinnied and moved into a sharp ascent. Inés squinted, watching the eagles as they cautiously viewed the comparatively small pegasus and rider.

Inés waited until they were comfortably above the eagles and took a flying leap off of Blitz. she somersaulted onto one of the eagle’s backs, jabbing her staff roughly into its nape. She leapt from that eagle even as it began its uncontrolled descent, landing on the nearest eagle. She swung her staff roughly, eliciting a stream of blood across the creature’s back and causing a sickening cracking sound.

She ran to the end of its back and leapt, managing to catch the tail feathers of another eagle. Even while they scrambled to get away from her. She flipped up onto its back. The beast shook and shuddered, trying to shake her off. She held on, pulling herself steadily towards its head. Then she jabbed her staff into its eye, crushing the eyeball and skull.

There were no more eagles near enough for her to leap to another. She began falling. Blitz made her move, dashing through the sky and taking a steep dive to catch her mistress. One of the eagle’s grabbed for the speedy pegasus, trying to halt her. But its attempt was foiled by a sudden burst of lightning painfully striking its head. Serena moved in slamming her enchanted tonfa into its forehead. Just in case  Sylvie’s magic alone wasn’t enough.

Blitz managed to get under Inés, catching her. The pegasus groaned under the impact.

“Sorry,” Inés said. She shifted to a more standard riding position. “Are you okay for the last three?” Blitz let out a snort. “Good.”

*****

Jenna swung her blade, bringing down one of the chimeras. then she pivoted and hurled lightning bolts, striking three ladons and two chimeras, killing two and wounding the others.

Lilac and Wilfred weren’t quite as effective. Lilac cautiously circled a chimera, keeping her bagh nakh in a defensive position. Wilfred half-heartedly swung his zweihänder at a ladon, that came too close.

A pair of chimera moved to sneak behind Jenna while she was bringing down those beasts she’d injured with her lightning. Fortunately for her, Gail intervened. A mass of blue flames descended onto the pair, reducing them to ash in seconds.

*****

The battle was over quickly. One ladon managed to escape, the rest of the attackers were bloodily dispatched.

“There we go,” Jenna said. “That’s the first hurdle cleared.”

“Yes, yes,” Gail said. “We took down their little scouting party. It’s not that impressive.”

“You don’t have to be mean about it!” Lilac said.

“I’m being realistic,” Gail said. “You and Wilfred are lousy fighters. The mortals did better than you.”

“Peace, Gail,” Jenna said. “There’s no shame in being outdone by skilled mortals. The important thing is that, as a group, we came together and beat the enemy.”

“I would consider it important that we probably did worse than any other group,” Gail said, dismissively twirling her hair. “You know that they’re going to analyse how we all did and they’re going to look at our little team and see only three big threats. Me, you and Inés. Aside from that they’ll see two mortals who, though strong and relatively skilled, are only mortal and two with divine blood and virtually no experience.”

“Even if that is true… If they do come after us, we’ll handle it,” Jenna stated. “We’ll hold them off long enough for other groups to back us up. In the meantime, we’ll keep vigilant and try to get Lilac and Wilfred better trained.”

“That’s right!” Lilac exclaimed. “We just need a little time is all.”

“And you think they’ll stay back and scheme long enough for you to develop into a fine warrior?” Gail asked. She shook her head. “they’ll strike quickly, before you have much chance to improve.”

“Gail, that’s enough!” Jenna said.

“As you wish,” Gail said. “Excuse me.” She vanished in a puff of smoke.

“She certainly doesn’t put things diplomatically, does she?” Wilfred asked.

“That’s putting it mildly,” Inés said.

“Is she right?” Lilac asked. “Are we going to be targeted?”

“I think she’s over-stating the risk,” Jenna answered. “Echidna’s children have no way of knowing that Sylvie and Serena aren’t of divine blood and I’m sure there are other groups with two or more inexperienced half bloods. Why don’t you go back to bed? Inés and I will go back to keeping watch. Though I doubt we’ll see any more action tonight.”

*****

Gail  appeared in a forest. a pink-haired half elf was conversing with a half elf with dark purple hair.

“I… I understand,” the pink haired girl said. “I…”

“You what, My Lovely Wifey?”

The girl sat upright, Gail was gazing down at her, smiling. After all, she’d been drawn to this girl, Lilly, since she was released from the spell that had kept her imprisoned for so long.

“G… Gail,” Lilly whispered. “Twila and I were…”

“Yes, yes,” Gail said. “You can finish talking to your dull friend later. I just had to see you.” Gail knelt down and hugged Lilly.

“I… I…” Lilly stammered.

“I’m sorry for being a bit selfish,” Gail said. “But this may be the last time I see you.”

“The last time?” Lilly asked.

Gail nodded. “Some fools released Typhon. He’s freed the other Titans and they’re going to move against Olympus again. All of us, be we half-Gods or full blooded, are being sent to face him.” Maybe it was a bit over dramatic to say it that way, Gail knew. But it was entirely possible that they might face an actual Titan.

“Is… isn’t that dangerous?” Lilly asked. There was concern in her voice. Gail felt her heart skip a beat.

Gail nodded. “For us half-bloods especially. The full-bloods, they won’t die. Even if they’re beaten and chained in the underworld. Me and the others like me… we can.” She glanced at Lilly. “Hey, don’t be too upset. I’m not going to just let those bastards kill me. I’ll do everything in my power to return to you.” She took Lilly’s hands in hers. “Trust me, we’ll have our happy ending yet!” She leaned forward and kissed Lilly. “Sorry, I won’t be able to protect you for a while, but don’t forget me, okay?”

In a flash of light, she was back in Olympus, waiting for the next strike by Echidna’s children. Gail gingerly touched her lips and smiled.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 111: Locked Engineering

Allison moved quietly towards Engineering. Inside, she knew, was Yuri. Damaged, possibly permanently, undergoing repair. She reached a shaking hand towards the door. It wouldn’t open. Locked?

“You won’t get in there.” Allison turned towards the voice. Lucy was behind her.

“Grace locked it,” Allison stated.

“No,” Lucy said. “I locked it. Grace was too preoccupied with her work to think about it. But I knew you’d come back aboard and you’d make your way here immediately.”

“So why are you stopping me?” Allison demanded. “I should be there… by her side. I should…”

“You should be out here, waiting for her,” Lucy stated. She sighed. “Allison, if you’re in there, then you’ll put more pressure on Grace. You’ll inadvertently distract Grace. Think about how much more difficult Paul’s job would be if he was trying to perform surgery while his patient’s closest loved ones were watching him work. It’s no different for Grace. In order to give Yuri the best possible chance, we need to leave her alone. I know that it’s difficult for you. I can sympathise with your feelings  of helplessness and with your desire to see her, even if only for a moment. But right now you need to curb that impulse. If only to give her the best possible chance.”

Lucy turned and walked towards the Bridge. Allison stood in silence for a time before sitting against the wall, facing the door. She wrapped her arms around her knees and waited.

*****

“I’ve contacted the pacificans,” Ophelia said. “They’re expecting us in a couple hours with their crates. That should be enough time for Leon and Farah to bring the stock-piled explosives aboard.”

“I’ll go out and help them,” Lucy said. “Maybe  I can get Leon to give me all the details. How is Kat’s condition? Will she be able to help?”

Ophelia shook her head. “Paul doesn’t want her to strain her shoulder for a couple weeks. So, I’ve asked her to look over the data Allison took from their computers.”

“I thought as much,” Lucy said. “If Grace finishes Yuri’s repairs on time, we should have her study one of the weapons.”

“Perhaps you could look one over,” Ophelia suggested. “You may not be an engineer, but I’ve seen you take pistols apart and put them back together. I’m sure you would notice what’s different about these ones.”

“I would,” Lucy said. “But I don’t know if I could put it back together and we’d have to explain how it… No, wait. We could explain it easily. There’s no rule against terrorists trying to reverse-engineer a new weapon.”

“Then I’ll be counting on you,” Ophelia said. “And if you don’t learn its secrets properly you can always sleep on the sofa.”

“Hmmm,” Lucy muttered. “Our sofa isn’t that big. It would be tough for us to have really passionate sex tonight, but I’m game for trying if that’s what you want..”

*****

Allison heard the foot steps coming towards her. She didn’t move or bother looking at the source. It didn’t matter. Not now.

That was when she saw a steaming cup of coffee lowered in front of her and noticed the aroma wafting through the corridor. She gingerly reached out and took it.

“Thank you,” she managed.

“How’s the vigil going?” Paul asked, sitting beside her.

“No news yet,” Allison answered. She took a sip of the coffee. It was made exactly like she liked it. With some hazelnut flavour, cream and three lumps  of sugar. “Does it usually take this long to operate?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Paul answered. “I’ve never operated on an android. I suspect its quite different from operating on an organic being, even for a sapient android as humanoid in design as Yuri.”

“I guess it was a stupid thing to ask,” Allison said. “It’s just… I’m scared. It feels like we’ve just come into our own as a couple. I don’t want to lose her now. I don’t want to watch her emergency farewell holo and find out what she chose for her final words to me. I… I just thought she’d outlast all of us since she doesn’t age. You know?”

“She may very well,” Paul said. “From what I understand, she has back up systems. Even if it takes Grace time to repair the damage and get her back on her feet, I’m certain she can do it. So, don’t give up, okay? Think positively.”

“I’ll try,” Allison said. “Thank you, Doctor.”

“Do you need me to get you anything?” Paul asked.

Allison shook her head. “I couldn’t focus right now anyway.”

“All right,” Paul said. He stayed by her side, offering a supportive ear.

*****

The Cerberus was on its way to the rendezvous with pacifican authorities when Grace opened the door.

Allison and Paul had been joined by Leon. Grace raised an eyebrow upon seeing them.

“Ho…” Allison began to speak but couldn’t bring herself to finish.

“What’s Yuri’s condition?” Paul asked.

Grace sighed. “She’s going to be all right. Her systems should be back on line in a couple minutes. She’s still got damage to her structure. It’s going to take longer to fix the exterior damage and get all the synthetic skin back in place, but her internal systems are all a-okay and her brain is good as new. Maybe better.”

Allison rushed past Grace and into Engineering.

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The Grand Pilgrimage 54: the War Begins

Inés slammed the door open. “Wake up, Ladies and Gent!” she cried. “We’re under attack!”

“What’s attacking and how many?”  Sylvie asked, donning her armour.

“Caucasian eagles,” Inés answered. “And there also seem to be some  chimeras and ladons on the ground.”

“What’s a ladon?”  Serena asked.

“A large serpent,” Wilfred answered. “Kind of like a wyrm, but with vestigial wings, longer and thinner.”

The alarm activated as they arrived outside.

“Cousin, you take Sylvie and…” she glanced at Serena.

“Serena,”  Inés said.

“Right, sorry,” Jenna said. “In any case, you three will take your pegasi and meet the eagles in the air. Lilac, Wilfred and  I will go out to meet the ladons and chimeras. Gail will hang back and provide covering magic where it’s needed.”

“You mean up to the skies for  the mortals,” Gail said. “Maybe Lilac or Wilfred should borrow one of the pegasi. Split the mortals between the teams.”

“I mean where it’s needed,” Jenna said.”And pegasi are very particular about their riders. Those ordinary mortals were chosen. Wilfred and Lilac weren’t. Be careful out there, Everybody. We aren’t immortal just because we have the blood of Gods in our veins.”

*****

It wasn’t long before Blitz, Busk & Demure took to the air.

“Stay close, Ladies,” Inés advised.

“We just have to move in together, strike quickly and move back,” Sylvie stated. “Hit and run until we bring them down.”

“I am a bit worried,” Serena said. “They’re so big and Gail certainly doesn’t think much of our chances.”

“She’s underestimating you because you’re ordinary mortals,” Inés said. “But I’ll bet Jenna’s group will need her help more  than we will.”

“You think so?” Serena asked.

“Absolutely,” Inés said. “She’s stuck with the people who have no real experience in battle.”

There were nine eagles  in total heading towards them. Each one larger than the three of them and their pegasi combined. Serena held her tonfa close to her, trusting Dusk to keep steady. Sylvie held her rapier with one hand, holding Demure’s reigns with the other. Inés held out her staff with both hands, ready to jab any approaching eagles.

*****

Jenna, Lilac and Wilfred moved to defend the wall. Standing between it and Echidna’s children. There were half a dozen each of the ladons and chimeras.

“Not all that many all things considered,” Jenna said. “I wonder if  it’s just a scouting party.”

“Perhaps they’ve split their forces, attacking all the teams,”  Wilfred stated.

“They wouldn’t,” Jenna insisted. “Not a full attack at any rate. They might be sending scouting parties to all groups, looking for a weak point they can exploit.”

“Then we just have to be stronger than some of the others,” Lilac said. “And they won’t try to strike at us.”

“Not that simple,” Jenna said. “When a concerted attack comes, other groups will be summoned to render assistance.”

“But at least we won’t be the ones who have to hold out,” Lilac said.

Wilfred put his zweihänder down and approached the creatures while the two ladies were talking. “Children of Echidna!” he called. “Don’t throw your  lives away in a futile battle. If  you have grievances, we’ll be willing to present them to the Gods on your behalf. We can settle this peaceably.”

“That idiot,” Jenna muttered. “Let’s go rescue him.”

A ladon broke away from the formation and slithered forward, lunging at Wilfred with its fangs bared. He  reached for his blade, knowing he couldn’t get to it in time. A bolt of lightning soared over his head and split the ladon’s skull in twain, gore raining from the wound.

Gail looked at the other land attackers, trying to judge whether or not she should interfere further. The three of them seemed to be rallying and Wilfred had his zweihänder back in hand. She looked to the skies.

*****

The first eagle dove  at them. The three priestesses scattered. Then they moved together. Serena’s tonfa struck the eagle’s vent as Dusk  moved skilfully past its claws. Sylvie’s rapier pierced its flank and  Inés’ staff pushed into its crown. It plummeted uncontrollably, dashing into the ground below.

“Just eight to go!” Inés called. “Let’s mess em up!”

They got back into formation and flew towards the next eagle.

Below them, Gail had observed the quick skirmish. She smiled wryly. “Maybe they’re better than I  gave them credit for,” she muttered. “But it’s still early in the battle.”

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