Leon, Paul and Kat were waiting when Farah and Grace arrived.
“Get everything you needed?” Grace asked.
“It should be enough,” Paul said. “Although we aren’t as well stocked as I would prefer.”
“Engineering stuff is the same way,” Grace said. “I’ll feel a lot better when we have more backup supplies.”
“Can’t be helped,” Kat said. “We had a lot to replace.”
“It’s not like we even need stethoscopes or wrenches in triplicate,” Allison added.
“When did you get here?” Grace asked.
“Twenty seven years and some months ago,” Allison answered. “That’s when everything got better for the universe.”
“We did not intend to approach stealthily,” Yuri said. “I apologise if we startled you.”
“I wasn’t startled,” Grace said.
“Were the stores okay with you guys taking the babies in?” Allison asked, reaching over to pet the Baron.
“They didn’t complain,” Grace said.
“We had a couple clerks comment that they were better behaved than small children,” Farah added.
“And cuter,” Grace said.
“One nice old guy even had treats,” Farah said.
“Well, they are super cute,” Allison said. “Hey, Kat, did you get anything good to eat?”
“Staples and rations,” Kat answered. “We probably won’t have a well stocked pantry until after our first mission in the new ship.”
“Great,” Allison muttered. “I love the taste of peanuts and cardboard that all rations seem to share.”
“Isn’t it nice to see you blabbing away again,” Grace stated. “And here I was hoping you might be becoming quiet.”
Allison grinned and winked. “Never fear, that won’t happen. And you know you love it. After all, you wouldn’t have anyone to snipe at if I went all quiet and wouldn’t that be dull?”
They heard a loud clap behind them and turned. Lucy and Ophelia were approaching.
“Everyone, thank you for your hard work in preparing everything,” Ophelia said. “I really appreciate it. Lucy and I spoke with our bureaucratic contact and we got the new ship. Follow us, please.”
The group quickly followed Ophelia and Lucy. There were whispers as they moved around various ships, speculations as to which one they were going to board. Finally, Ophelia and Lucy stopped.
“Here it is,” Ophelia said. “The Cerberus Mark II. It’s the same ship type, but two models newer.”
“We figured that would give Grace less upgrading to do,” Lucy joked.
“More like I’ll have new and exciting bugs to work around,” Grace said.
“But how?” Farah asked. “didn’t you guys say that we should expect a smaller, less advanced ship?”
“Was the job’s payment better than we anticipated?” Kat wondered.
Ophelia and Lucy glanced at one another.
“Not quite,” Ophelia answered. “We just found a way to make some extra credits.”
“You didn’t sell Elijah’s stash, did you?” Allison asked.
“Of course not,” Lucy said.
“Actually,” Paul said. “Akumillians don’t have the physiology for that to be viable. For them, taking in the smoke of those plants would have no physical or physiological benefits.”
“In any case,” Ophelia continued. “This ship will be our new home. It’s a bit bigger. But the bridge is a lot more compact. Personal quarters, medical and engineering are all given more space.”
“What, did they figure out a ship that three people can pilot didn’t need a huge bridge?” Allison asked.
“Something like that.” Lucy answered. “We have the same number of Quarters as before. So do be so good as to keep your current rooming situations. Although if Yuri wants her own quarters and Farah decides to room with Grace, we won’t complain.”
Farah looked to Grace, her face flushing. “I… I don’t think I’m ready,” she stammered.
“Fair enough,” Ophelia said.
“Yeah,” Allison stated. “After all, not everybody can become a couple and immediately start rooming together like Paul and Leon did.”
“Hey, we knew each other for, like, two years before we started sharing a room,” Leon protested.
“And you were romantically involved for all of two weeks at that point,” Grace said.
“We do have one more surprise for all of you,” Ophelia said. “Follow us on board.”
She moved to the console and hurriedly opened the Bay doors. The crew went inside. Four fighters and a shuttle were waiting.
“Seriously, what illegal and immoral things have you made us accomplices to?” Allison asked. “How did you afford all of these?”
“It would help ease our minds to know,” Paul stated.
Ophelia shrugged. “We sold the schematics to that flying fortress.”
“Oh. is that all,” Leon said.
“Was that prudent?” Paul wondered. “They’ll build weapons of their own based on it.”
“No, they’ll build better,” Lucy said. “Plus develop some counter-measures.”
“Does that bother you?” Ophelia asked.
Paul nodded. “I worry that there’ll be a major arms race and a lot of people will be consumed by it.”
“And what would happen if there wasn’t a race?” Lucy questioned. “Would the side with superior weapons just leave the other in peace?”
“Hate to disagree with you M,love,” Leon said. “But Lucy’s right. If the Alliance has a measurable superior arsenal, they’ll steam-roll Akumil. They sure as hell didn’t build that thing to give piggyback rides to orphans.”
“Wow, Leon,” Allison said. “That was a really awkward turn of phrase.”
“That aside,” Ophelia said. “We do have a new mission. Something nice, simple and peaceful. we’re going to fly to the independent colony on Gauriel Prime and deliver some medical supplies.”
“We thought it would be a good mission to get used to the peculiarities of the Mark II,” Lucy added. “It’ll also give Grace a chance to tinker with everything.”
“Sounds good to me,” Grace said. “Let’s go.”
“Wait,” Ophelia said. “Before we do I have to ask, does anyone want out? I mean, we were almost killed and I’d hate to drag you all along without giving you the chance to air your grievances.”
There was silence for a time. “Seems like we’re all still good,” Allison said. “Come on guys. To adventure and glory!”