“Captain,” Yuri said. “Why is it necessary to remove mister Tawaig’s ill-gotten gains?”
“It’s not,” Ophelia said. “But I find it distasteful to help a rich kid plunder things from anyone.”
“Is it not risky?” Yuri asked. “Will he still cooperate with us after the task is complete?”
“He pretty much has to at this point,” Leon jumped in. “Not like we’ll let him return to his ship.”
The shuttle docked with Elijah’s ship.
“Yuri, go first,” Ophelia ordered. “If this Miss Ussie decides to be uncooperative, you’re the only one who won’t be at risk from her fangs.”
“I understand,” Yuri stated. The three boarded and made their way to the cargo hold.
Ussie was waiting for them, slender arms crossed over her flat chest. She had black, red and yellow scales.
“He trussstss sstrangersss too readily,” she muttered. “I’m to let you in.”
She watched them with her dark eyes and opened the hold.
Ophelia’s eyes went wide. Drothons. A whole lot of them. They looked up at the strangers, fear and curiosity vying for the most visible emotion.
“These are…” Ophelia began.
“Sslavesss,” Ussie confirmed. “At leasst, they were. We free asss many asss we can and take them elssewhere to sstart new livess.”
“Captain,” Yuri said. “We can not go through with the plan.”
“I came here to make sure we weren’t smuggling anyone’s property out,” Ophelia stated. “I still intend to do that. However, I see no property here. Let’s return to the Cerberus.”
Ussie waited for them to leave before taking out her communicator. “It wass asss you predicted,” she hissed. “We got lucky. That could have gone horribly awry.”
“Nah,” Elijah’s voice was clear and calm. “It was a good bet. After all, they have an akumillian on the crew and no akumillian would associate with slavers, least not in a positive way.”
“You don’t know that,” Ussie countered. “There are rotten memberss of any sspeciesss.”
“You really are too pessimistic,” Elijah chided.
“No, jusst realisstic,” Ussie said. “What’ss the plan from here?”
“I lead them to the Beta route and we head for Earth,” Elijah said. “I have been away too long, you know. I’ll have to stock up on frozen treats while we’re there.”
“Jusst don’t try to feed them to me thiss time,” Ussie said.
Ophelia returned to the bridge with Yuri and Leon. Allison and Lucy were already there, waiting to get under way.
“Not going to jettison the cargo after all?” Lucy asked.
Ophelia shook her head. “I’m not going to toss people into space or treat them like property.”
“Oh, is that how it was?” Lucy wondered. “Good for him.”
“We’re on course,” Ophelia reported. “We should be at Mister Tawaig’s exit point in less than an hour.”
“What’s bothering you?” Lucy inquired. “Is it that you underestimated our guest?”
Ophelia nodded. “Most of the stories I’d heard made him sound like a rich punk playing around and causing trouble. I shouldn’t have rushed to judgement without confirming the truth for myself.”
“Happens to all of us,” Lucy said. “Sometimes, it’s just hard to tell which stories to believe.”
“I like him,” Allison said. “He’s a relaxed type of dude. Seems like he’d be fun at a party.”
“Please extrapolate on what definition of ‘like’ you are using,” Yuri requested.
Allison winked at her. “Not the same type I use for you, that’s for sure. Why? Are you feeling insecure?”
Yuri looked away from her. “Negative. I am not the jealous type.”
“Not to the extent that Leon is, anyway,” Allison stated. She moved over and hugged Yuri. “You’ve got nothing to worry about. I’d have to be a damned fool to look at someone else like that when I’ve got you.”
“I’m not the jealous type,” Leon muttered. “I just want Paul all to myself at all times.”
“Sounds like jealousy to me,” Allison said.
“Farah and Kat to the bridge,” Ophelia announced over the communication system. It was quickly followed by a second. “Mister Tawaig, please meet us on the bridge.”
Kat showed up first with Farah coming shortly after. Elijah came in third, his eyes slightly reddened. “Hey, nice lipstick marks,” he said.
Farah’s hand reached to her neck and her face flushed.
“We’re about to reach the escape route,” Ophelia said. “I need all of you on standby in case something goes wrong.” She grabbed her communicator. “Grace, prepare the camouflage.”
Elijah grabbed his own communicator. “Ussie, ready the Space Blazer’s decoy.” Ophelia nodded at him. “Fire.”
“Grace, now,” Ophelia ordered. The Cerberus soared forward as quickly as it could with Elijah’s Space Blazer right behind.
“Stop!” Lucy shouted.
“I see them,” Ophelia said.
“What, what is it?” Elijah asked, peeking at the sensors. “Oh, bugger.”
“That’s a lot of patrol ships,” Allison said. “And I doubt they want to play a friendly game.”
“They must have figured out your system,” Ophelia said.
“Guess so,” Elijah shrugged.
“They’re closing in!” Lucy called. “And we’ve got more from behind. I’ve got over thirty patrol ships on scanners. We have about ten minutes to figure something out or we’re going to have some serious problems.”