The Cerberus waited in orbit, with Ophelia, Lucy and Farah monitoring the situation.
“The last group of passengers is leaving the Blazer,” Lucy reported.
Ophelia nodded. “Wait for Allison to return. We’ll have her bring Kat, Paul and Yuri back over here and then we’ll make our way to Earth.”
“I’ve already contacted Miss Emily and Miss Levinia,” Lucy said. “They’re anticipating us. And Grace wants to know when we’re stopping long enough to give her a chance to work on the hull.”
“We’ll dock at Earth for a week,” Ophelia said. “We should be able to find some odd jobs that won’t need the Cerberus.”
“She’ll be delighted, I’m sure,” Lucy stated.
“I’d prefer the ship to act as a buffer between my crew and potential hostility, personally,” Ophelia said.
“We’ll come out of it fine,” Lucy said. “Probably. We usually manage.”
“I know,” Ophelia said. “But I’ve been… uneasy lately. Maybe that meeting with the Alliance Admiral still has me on edge. Maybe it’s what happened when I split the crew. Both Leon and Allison were hurt pretty badly.” She shrugged. “Maybe I’m just getting old.”
“Nonsense,” Lucy said. “Just wait until we land and get some time alone. I’ll have you demonstrate how young and limber you still are.”
“Sounds good,” Ophelia said. “I do so love it when you get feisty.”
“Should… should I leave the bridge?” Farah asked.
“Don’t worry,” Lucy said. “We’ll behave ourselves. At least, for the moment.”
Allison brought the shuttle into the Cerberus’ docking bay. The four of them waited for the bay to pressurise before exiting.
Leon rushed into the bay as soon as they began disembarking and hugged Paul tightly.
“Never going to let you out of my sight again,” he muttered. “Never.”
“I wasn’t gone that long, Fuzzy,” Paul said. He sighed and pat Leon’s back. “There, there. You know I’d never leave you alone for long.”
“About how long until we reach Earth?” Allison wondered.
“Judging by our position and the Blazer’s maximum velocity, we should arrive in ten hours, twenty four minutes and thirteen seconds,” Yuri answered. “Unless, of course, the Cerberus goes ahead. In which case, we will arrive in seven hours, fifty six minutes and…”
Allison put a finger over Yuri’s lips. “We don’t need the seconds, Sweetie. Besides, it’ll be the first one. Ophelia won’t want to leave the Blazer behind and leave Ellijah without it. Unless we find ourselves getting chased down by hostile drothon forces who wanted us badly enough to invade neutral space. Then it’s every ship for itself.”
“Would the captain truly leave Miss Uss’sser’thiss’klss behind?” Yuri asked.
“Were those sounds possible for human vocal cords?” Leon whispered.
“She is an android,” Paul answered.
“Don’t worry,” Kat said. “Ophelia won’t leave Ussie behind. That’s not the way we do things, even when it would probably be the most efficient.”
“Hey, we may be in this thing for ourselves but we don’t gotta be arseholes about it,” Leon said. “We’ve got our own sense of honour.”
The Cerberus docked on Earth and Ophelia took Lucy with her to take Elijah to his aunts’ house.
“You don’t have to walk me,” Elijah said. “I can go by myself.”
“Yes, but then we won’t be fulfilling our objective to bring you in,” Lucy said. “Just be happy that two gorgeous women are walking you home.”
“If you say so,” Elijah muttered.
They arrived at the Tawaig estate where Emily and Levinia were waiting.
Ophelia knelt. “As requested, we’ve brought your nephew.”
“So I see,” Emily said, nodding. “Good show, Captain Wester.” She handed Ophelia the payment. “Thank you very much. Please, let us speak with him alone. This is a rather delicate family affair, I’m afraid.”
“Of course,” Ophelia said. She and Lucy took their leave.
“So, what’s up?” Elijah asked.
“Young man, get your feet off of the table!” Levinia chided him.
“We’ll make this brief,” Emily said, once his feet were properly on the floor. “We would like you to stop gallivanting about throughout space. We want you to cease keeping the company of disreputable characters like the reptilian lady and that short Duke of questionable pedigree and find a nice gentleman or lady to settle down with.”
“Who?” Elijah asked.
“The supposed ‘Duke de Pau,'” Levinia said. “He has been asking after you.”
“Oh, you mean Antoine,” Elijah said. “I should look him up while I’m here.” He sighed. “Look, I appreciate that you two mean the best for me. Truly I do. But settling down, leaving my friends behind. The whole life of nobility… It’s just not me. Sorry, but I like being an incorrigible rascal with shady friends. Keeps things interesting, you know?”
“I was afraid you’d say that,” Levinia said.
“Do at least try to comport yourself properly,” Emily said. “Oh, and do stop by that questionable Duke’s place. If you’re going to spend your time with such characters anyway.”
“I will,” Elijah said. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep my family line downplayed for you two.”
He made his way to Pau. The Duke was barely over a hundred and forty two centimetres tall with his black hair dyed to include white streaks.
“Elijah!” he cried. “You stupid Jerk! I don’t see you for over a year and you just barge in like nothing happened.”
“Sorry,” Elijah said. “I was busy.”
“So I’ve heard,” Antoine said. “Freeing slaves in Drothos. Follow me, I’ve got some parts to upgrade your ship.”
“Really,” Elijah asked. “That’s awesome! My aunts…”
“Can’t express pride in a rascal like you,” Antoine said. “Or help you. All that buzz about appearances. As far as anyone’s concerned, these are from me.”
“I understand,” Elijah said. “Can you give me a ride to my ship to drop them off?”
“Well, I suppose it can’t be helped,” Antoine said. “But there’s one condition.”
“And that is?” Elijah asked.
“You have to bring me with you,” Antoine answered. “After all, I’m already considered shady and I do worry about you. But it’s not because I like you or anything. It’s for your aunts’ sake. That’s all.”
“Sure, we can fit you in,” Elijah said. “Welcome aboard.”