The crew of the Cerberus sat around the conference table.
“It’s confirmed,” Grace reported. “Thanks to my brother’s cure, we’ve wiped out the virus. We’re clear to visit other worlds and earn a tidy profit.”
“Great,” Ophelia said. “It feels like we’ve been cooped up forever.”
“Don’t be such a drama queen,” Lucy chided. “It’s only been a couple months.”
“So, it’s back to missions for us,” Allison said.
“Not right away,” Kat stated, glancing in Paul’s direction. “There’s one other order of business that needs to be taken care of before we do anything dangerous.”
Ophelia nodded. “Agreed. Lucy and I will find something. In the meantime, prepare yourselves to sortie again.”
Yuri made her way to the Canteen. The crew was celebrating their return to duty. Grace had her arm around Farah and the two were talking, the Baron spread across both their laps. Kat was near the two of them, sipping quietly from her glass. Paul was explaining something to Maia as the child nodded her head enthusiastically. Leon stood near them, quietly taking in the scene. Ophelia, Lucy and Allison were still absent.
Maia ran over to Yuri, twirling in her purple skirt. “Hey, didya know that they can grow body parts in a lab so that they can give you a new one if you lose yours?”
“I was aware of that factoid,” Yuri stated. “Were you aware that some individuals prefer cybernetic replacements or even no replacements?”
“No new parts?” Maia asked. “How come?”
“I do not know,” Yuri stated. “Perhaps they prefer to remember the injury?”
“That’s dumb!” Maia declared. She waved back to Paul. “Hey, do ya think my dad could make you normal? He’s really smart.”
“Maia,” Yuri stated. “Paul is not your father. It would be imprudent of you to treat him as such.”
“How come?” Maia asked.
“Because you will only be travelling with us temporarily,” Yuri stated.
“Nu-uh!” Maia said. “I’ll be here forever and ever. So there!” She stomped back towards Paul.
“Hey, Party Peeps!” Allison declared. Yuri turned. Allison was dressed in a nice suit complete with a tie.
“Allison, this is not a fancy dress occasion,” Yuri stated. “Your attire does not conform to the standard.”
Allison shrugged. “Who cares? I wore this for you, you know?”
“For me?” Yuri asked. “I do not understand.
Allison walked over to Yuri and knelt, taking her hand and lightly kissing it. “Milady, now that we’re out of quarantine, perhaps you’ll accompany me for a romantic rendezvous when we arrive at our destination?”
“Now I understand,” Yuri stated. “You are attempting to court me.”
“Is it working?” Allison asked.
“I do not know if I have developed a romantic attraction to you,” Yuri mused. “However, I find your offer intriguing. I will consent to you being my escort for an evening of socialising.”
“Sweet,” Allison said. “I’m going to romance you so hard!”
“I will anticipate that,” Yuri said.
“Paul, come to the Bridge,” Ophelia’s voice said.
Paul went right to the door, Maia attempting to follow. Paul turned and knelt beside her. “Stay here with Leon, okay? I won’t be long.”
“Promise?” Maia asked.
“I promise,” Paul said, ruffling her hair. “Be good while I’m gone, okay?”
“Kay,” Maia said, skipping to Leon’s side.
The next morning, the Cerberus set course for Rijol, a planet that had just finished the terraforming process a decade ago but that already had a thriving Earth colony.
“We’re in orbit,” Allison said. “So, am I going to have time for my date or…”
“Save it,” Ophelia interrupted. “We’ll only be here briefly.” She switched on the intercom. “Paul, it’s time.”
“Do you want me to go?” Lucy asked.
“No,” Ophelia sighed. “I’ll do it. You have the bridge.” She walked over to the hangar where Paul and Maia were waiting.
“Is we all going on a trip?” Maia asked, holding her little bag.
“Are we all,” Paul corrected. “We’re all going to the surface, yes.”
“Oh,” Maia said. “How come Leon’s not coming?”
“I’ll fly the shuttle,” Ophelia said, diverting the question. “Strap yourselves in.”
Paul spent the flight staring into space and absent-mindedly answering Maia’s questions. It took less than fifteen minutes or them to land. A pair greeted them.
Ophelia shook their hands. “Martin and Caius Finch, I presume.”
“Guilty,” Caius said. He knelt down. “And this must be little Maia.”
Maia clung to Paul’s leg, peeking at them shyly.
“She’s a little shy,” Ophelia said. “It might take some time for her to get used to you.” She handed Martin Maia’s bag. “Those are her things. She doesn’t have much.”
“That’s all right,” Martin said. “It’s perfectly understandable. The poor dear went through a lot.”
Paul pulled away from Maia’s grip and knelt down. “Maia, these two Gentlemen are going to take care of you. Isn’t that great?”
“No!” Maia screamed, throwing herself at him. “I’m staying with you! I’ll be good. I promise I’ll always be good.”
“Maia,” Paul spoke as gently as he could. “I can’t take care of you. We go into too many dangerous situations. These two can give you a stable home, a good education and safety.”
Maia released him, fiercely sobbing and repeating the word no.
“It’ll be all right,” Caius added, picking her up. “Come along. We’ll show you your new home.”
She glanced back at Paul, her tiny hand outstretched towards him. Paul smiled and waved as they vanished in the distance.
“We checked their background thoroughly,” Ophelia reassured him. “She’ll be well off and…”
“I’m sorry,” Paul interrupted, his voice cracking. “Could you please leave me alone for a while?”