The crew waited a few days to give Paul time to recuperate before leaving Ca’urrg. Grace spent the whole remainder of the stay wearing long-sleeved shirts and disappearing for several hours at a time.
Leon walked close to Paul while they were boarding the Cerberus, ready to assist the other man if the need arose.
“Take your time, Doc,” Ophelia said. “Slow and steady is just fine.”
“I’m doing just fine,” Paul stated. “Don’t worry about me.”
“That’s good,” Lucy said. “Because I have some questions about how you managed to get hurt. We can sit down, have some tea and you can explain everything to me.”
“Lucy,” Ophelia cautioned.
“What?” Lucy asked. “It will be a most pleasant and relaxing time.”
“I won’t forgive you if you upset Paul,” Leon said, turning for a moment to glare at Lucy before returning his watchful gaze to Paul.
“My, he seems upset,” Lucy muttered.
“I wonder why that might be,” Allison said, rolling her eyes. “It’s a real mystery, isn’t it?”
“Was the trip worth it, Ophelia?” Kat asked.
Ophelia nodded. “Paul will make a full recovery and we made a nice amount of money. I’d say, it was an easy time overall.”
“It certainly beats taking laser fire across the hull,” Allison said.
Grace waited until Paul had been in the medical bay for an hour before making her way over. She locked the door, rolled her sleeve up and put her arm out for him. “Change the bandages quickly,” she entreated. “It wouldn’t do for Lucy to notice.”
Paul nodded. “It would raise a lot of questions, certainly. Fortunately, she seems fixated on my injuries at the moment.”
“Uras thought that she should’ve given you an inhibitor and given you the chance to defend yourself,” Grace said. “Wouldn’t that have been something?”
“I don’t think it would’ve done any good,” Paul stated, his hands quickly unraveled the old bandage and he began cleaning the wound.
“That’s exactly what I told her,” Grace said. “You may be a good doctor, but you’re totally useless in a fight. I think that’s part of why you and Leon go so well together.”
“I’m not sure what you mean by that,” Paul said.
“You provide him with a calming influence and he protects you when the need arises,” Grace explained. “Not gonna lie, when you first introduced him to me I thought he was totally unstable and all wrong for you. Now that I know him better, I realise he’s the perfect nutjob for you.”
“We’re glad you approve,” Paul said. “There, your arm’s all fixed up. Come back tomorrow and I’ll re-wrap it for you.”
“Can do,” Grace said. “You know, I’m kind of glad you got bonked on the head.”
“Well, at least there’s that,” Paul said. “I’m sure it makes the severe trauma and surgery all worth it.”
“It’s not about your suffering,” Grace clarified. “I always found your story about how you ended up here a little strange and it had me more than a little worried. Now that I know the secret you’ve been keeping, I can finally put all the pieces together.”
“I suppose that is one good thing about it,” Paul stated. “That and I finally have someone I can collaborate with if something like this comes up again.”
Grace nodded. “Well, I’m out. If anyone asks, I just came here to check on you.”
“That would be the most convincing story,” Paul agreed.
The Cerberus had warped to a deserted star system, planning to use it as a jumping point to reach a heavily populated area, hopefully finding work there. Lucy and Ophelia were on the bridge, setting the coordinates. Leon had taken Farah for a quick training flight while they were clear.
“Think he’s had time to settle in?” Lucy wondered.
“Just don’t question him too forcefully,” Ophelia said. “The poor guy is trying to recover.”
“Don’t worry, Love,” Lucy said. “I never rely on force.” She glanced at her console. “Wait just a moment.”
“Something interesting?” Ophelia asked.
“I’m going to run a high level sensor scan on the fifth planet in this system,” Lucy said. “I believe that it’s called Frunif.”
“Isn’t it just a ball of dust?” Ophelia asked.
“There’s something on it,” Lucy said. “It’s masked, barely noticeable under normal circumstances. But an intensive scan definitely shows some kind of energy source there. Is it alright if I use a probe to check?”
“Go for it,” Ophelia said. She leaned forward. “Have the image broadcast on the screen.”
Lucy sent the probe. They watched as it flew into the atmosphere and across the landscape. The planet was, indeed, a mass of dust with very few craters or crags. The probe skirted across a largely uniform landscape.
“It’s approaching the signal,” Lucy reported.
The probe ran into an oddly shaped set of elevations. There was a dome-shape protrusion and what looked like a series of tubes.
“A building?” Ophelia guessed.
“It would seem so,” Lucy said. “It’s covered in dust, but it is the source of the signal.”
“Are there life signs?” Ophelia asked.
“None,” Lucy said. “But they could be disguised.”
Ophelia sat back in her chair, pressing her fingers together. moving them apart and putting them together again. After a few minutes of thinking, she finally spoke again. “It could just be an aborted attempt at colonisation but it’s worth checking out. We’ll recall Farah and Leon before landing. You and Paul can stay on board. I’ll take everyone else to check it out.”
“Mmmmm,” Lucy murmured. “Taking Grace instead of me?”
“She’s the best person to check out the computer systems,” Lucy explained. “And if there’s anything interesting left she’ll be best able to identify it. Besides, it’ll give you a chance to have your talk with Paul.”
“I hope so,” Lucy said. “But it’s hard to get over the fact that the last time we went somewhere that seemed abandoned there was a genetic monstrosity waiting to kill everyone.”
“True,” Ophelia said. “But we couldn’t get life signs there and we’re getting a negative here. We’ll still be careful. Don’t you worry.”