Voyages of the Cerberus 111: Locked Engineering

Allison moved quietly towards Engineering. Inside, she knew, was Yuri. Damaged, possibly permanently, undergoing repair. She reached a shaking hand towards the door. It wouldn’t open. Locked?

“You won’t get in there.” Allison turned towards the voice. Lucy was behind her.

“Grace locked it,” Allison stated.

“No,” Lucy said. “I locked it. Grace was too preoccupied with her work to think about it. But I knew you’d come back aboard and you’d make your way here immediately.”

“So why are you stopping me?” Allison demanded. “I should be there… by her side. I should…”

“You should be out here, waiting for her,” Lucy stated. She sighed. “Allison, if you’re in there, then you’ll put more pressure on Grace. You’ll inadvertently distract Grace. Think about how much more difficult Paul’s job would be if he was trying to perform surgery while his patient’s closest loved ones were watching him work. It’s no different for Grace. In order to give Yuri the best possible chance, we need to leave her alone. I know that it’s difficult for you. I can sympathise with your feelings  of helplessness and with your desire to see her, even if only for a moment. But right now you need to curb that impulse. If only to give her the best possible chance.”

Lucy turned and walked towards the Bridge. Allison stood in silence for a time before sitting against the wall, facing the door. She wrapped her arms around her knees and waited.

*****

“I’ve contacted the pacificans,” Ophelia said. “They’re expecting us in a couple hours with their crates. That should be enough time for Leon and Farah to bring the stock-piled explosives aboard.”

“I’ll go out and help them,” Lucy said. “Maybe  I can get Leon to give me all the details. How is Kat’s condition? Will she be able to help?”

Ophelia shook her head. “Paul doesn’t want her to strain her shoulder for a couple weeks. So, I’ve asked her to look over the data Allison took from their computers.”

“I thought as much,” Lucy said. “If Grace finishes Yuri’s repairs on time, we should have her study one of the weapons.”

“Perhaps you could look one over,” Ophelia suggested. “You may not be an engineer, but I’ve seen you take pistols apart and put them back together. I’m sure you would notice what’s different about these ones.”

“I would,” Lucy said. “But I don’t know if I could put it back together and we’d have to explain how it… No, wait. We could explain it easily. There’s no rule against terrorists trying to reverse-engineer a new weapon.”

“Then I’ll be counting on you,” Ophelia said. “And if you don’t learn its secrets properly you can always sleep on the sofa.”

“Hmmm,” Lucy muttered. “Our sofa isn’t that big. It would be tough for us to have really passionate sex tonight, but I’m game for trying if that’s what you want..”

*****

Allison heard the foot steps coming towards her. She didn’t move or bother looking at the source. It didn’t matter. Not now.

That was when she saw a steaming cup of coffee lowered in front of her and noticed the aroma wafting through the corridor. She gingerly reached out and took it.

“Thank you,” she managed.

“How’s the vigil going?” Paul asked, sitting beside her.

“No news yet,” Allison answered. She took a sip of the coffee. It was made exactly like she liked it. With some hazelnut flavour, cream and three lumps  of sugar. “Does it usually take this long to operate?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Paul answered. “I’ve never operated on an android. I suspect its quite different from operating on an organic being, even for a sapient android as humanoid in design as Yuri.”

“I guess it was a stupid thing to ask,” Allison said. “It’s just… I’m scared. It feels like we’ve just come into our own as a couple. I don’t want to lose her now. I don’t want to watch her emergency farewell holo and find out what she chose for her final words to me. I… I just thought she’d outlast all of us since she doesn’t age. You know?”

“She may very well,” Paul said. “From what I understand, she has back up systems. Even if it takes Grace time to repair the damage and get her back on her feet, I’m certain she can do it. So, don’t give up, okay? Think positively.”

“I’ll try,” Allison said. “Thank you, Doctor.”

“Do you need me to get you anything?” Paul asked.

Allison shook her head. “I couldn’t focus right now anyway.”

“All right,” Paul said. He stayed by her side, offering a supportive ear.

*****

The Cerberus was on its way to the rendezvous with pacifican authorities when Grace opened the door.

Allison and Paul had been joined by Leon. Grace raised an eyebrow upon seeing them.

“Ho…” Allison began to speak but couldn’t bring herself to finish.

“What’s Yuri’s condition?” Paul asked.

Grace sighed. “She’s going to be all right. Her systems should be back on line in a couple minutes. She’s still got damage to her structure. It’s going to take longer to fix the exterior damage and get all the synthetic skin back in place, but her internal systems are all a-okay and her brain is good as new. Maybe better.”

Allison rushed past Grace and into Engineering.

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The Grand Pilgrimage 54: the War Begins

Inés slammed the door open. “Wake up, Ladies and Gent!” she cried. “We’re under attack!”

“What’s attacking and how many?”  Sylvie asked, donning her armour.

“Caucasian eagles,” Inés answered. “And there also seem to be some  chimeras and ladons on the ground.”

“What’s a ladon?”  Serena asked.

“A large serpent,” Wilfred answered. “Kind of like a wyrm, but with vestigial wings, longer and thinner.”

The alarm activated as they arrived outside.

“Cousin, you take Sylvie and…” she glanced at Serena.

“Serena,”  Inés said.

“Right, sorry,” Jenna said. “In any case, you three will take your pegasi and meet the eagles in the air. Lilac, Wilfred and  I will go out to meet the ladons and chimeras. Gail will hang back and provide covering magic where it’s needed.”

“You mean up to the skies for  the mortals,” Gail said. “Maybe Lilac or Wilfred should borrow one of the pegasi. Split the mortals between the teams.”

“I mean where it’s needed,” Jenna said.”And pegasi are very particular about their riders. Those ordinary mortals were chosen. Wilfred and Lilac weren’t. Be careful out there, Everybody. We aren’t immortal just because we have the blood of Gods in our veins.”

*****

It wasn’t long before Blitz, Busk & Demure took to the air.

“Stay close, Ladies,” Inés advised.

“We just have to move in together, strike quickly and move back,” Sylvie stated. “Hit and run until we bring them down.”

“I am a bit worried,” Serena said. “They’re so big and Gail certainly doesn’t think much of our chances.”

“She’s underestimating you because you’re ordinary mortals,” Inés said. “But I’ll bet Jenna’s group will need her help more  than we will.”

“You think so?” Serena asked.

“Absolutely,” Inés said. “She’s stuck with the people who have no real experience in battle.”

There were nine eagles  in total heading towards them. Each one larger than the three of them and their pegasi combined. Serena held her tonfa close to her, trusting Dusk to keep steady. Sylvie held her rapier with one hand, holding Demure’s reigns with the other. Inés held out her staff with both hands, ready to jab any approaching eagles.

*****

Jenna, Lilac and Wilfred moved to defend the wall. Standing between it and Echidna’s children. There were half a dozen each of the ladons and chimeras.

“Not all that many all things considered,” Jenna said. “I wonder if  it’s just a scouting party.”

“Perhaps they’ve split their forces, attacking all the teams,”  Wilfred stated.

“They wouldn’t,” Jenna insisted. “Not a full attack at any rate. They might be sending scouting parties to all groups, looking for a weak point they can exploit.”

“Then we just have to be stronger than some of the others,” Lilac said. “And they won’t try to strike at us.”

“Not that simple,” Jenna said. “When a concerted attack comes, other groups will be summoned to render assistance.”

“But at least we won’t be the ones who have to hold out,” Lilac said.

Wilfred put his zweihänder down and approached the creatures while the two ladies were talking. “Children of Echidna!” he called. “Don’t throw your  lives away in a futile battle. If  you have grievances, we’ll be willing to present them to the Gods on your behalf. We can settle this peaceably.”

“That idiot,” Jenna muttered. “Let’s go rescue him.”

A ladon broke away from the formation and slithered forward, lunging at Wilfred with its fangs bared. He  reached for his blade, knowing he couldn’t get to it in time. A bolt of lightning soared over his head and split the ladon’s skull in twain, gore raining from the wound.

Gail looked at the other land attackers, trying to judge whether or not she should interfere further. The three of them seemed to be rallying and Wilfred had his zweihänder back in hand. She looked to the skies.

*****

The first eagle dove  at them. The three priestesses scattered. Then they moved together. Serena’s tonfa struck the eagle’s vent as Dusk  moved skilfully past its claws. Sylvie’s rapier pierced its flank and  Inés’ staff pushed into its crown. It plummeted uncontrollably, dashing into the ground below.

“Just eight to go!” Inés called. “Let’s mess em up!”

They got back into formation and flew towards the next eagle.

Below them, Gail had observed the quick skirmish. She smiled wryly. “Maybe they’re better than I  gave them credit for,” she muttered. “But it’s still early in the battle.”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 110: Mission Accomplished, but at what cost?

Grace went to work, opening Yuri’s brain case and meticulously going through the repairs.  Her diagnostic equipment ran beside her. She wondered if this was what it was like for her elder brother when he examined a patient. Studying the problem, trying to effect repairs while running equipment to check the patient’s condition. Knowing that any mistake could cause permanent damage.

She kept her hands steady. She could do it. She’d repaired a lot of severe damage to machines in her time. Just, never for a machine that was sapient. She took a deep breath, banished the excess thoughts from her head and focused on the task at hand.

*****

Allison and Leon nodded at one another and burst into the room in front of them. They had a second to register other figures before opening fire.

They were in the control room. Pacifican bodies slumped over the consoles.

“What were  they doing?” Leon wondered, glancing at the video feed. “They must have seen us coming.” He switched off the turret system as a precaution.

“I wonder if Yuri and Kat dealt with the turrets,  Allison muttered. “I don’t see them out there.” She pushed one of the Pacificans aside. “Looks like they were trying to erase a bunch of data. Guess they didn’t want us to know what they were doing.”

“Can you find out?” Leon asked.

“Not me,” Allison said. “Kat is the resident Techie. I’d bet that Yuri could also manage.” She connected her hand held to the console. “I’ll download everything they do have. Maybe we’ll be able to use it when we return to the ship.”

“Guess it doesn’t matter too much,” Leon said. “We’ve just gotta find the crates. How long until you’re done getting the data?”

“About thirty seconds left,” Allison said. “The download is a bit big and it’s been a while since I had maintenance done on this thing.”

“You should take it to Grace after this,” Leon said.

“As long as she doesn’t throw a wrench at me,” Allison said. “Okay, let’s go.”

They hurried down the corridor, there  was no sign of life. They checked the next door and reached a storehouse with crates lined up. There  was no sign of anyone.

Leon opened a crate. “Not the guns we’re looking for,” he said. “But concerning.”

“Those are a lot of explosives,” Allison said. “And I  somehow doubt they’re being stockpiled for totally innocuous reasons.”

She opened the nearest crate. “And more fun, innocent explosives.”

“Whatever they were planning, it was gonna  be big,” Leon stated.

“I’m not sure we can say it was something they were planning,” Allison said. “If these guys were the only ones, they wouldn’t have had any reason to purge their systems. I’ll bet they’re one part of a larger force.”

They continued going through the crates, eventually locating the ones they’d bee hired to find.

“Looks like the mission’s a wrap,” Allison said. “Let’s find Yuri and Kat and get these things loaded.”

*****

The pair managed to find the shuttle with some difficulty. the Radiant Healer had touched down beside it.

“Someone better have a good reason for using my ship,” Leon said.

“Looks like the shuttle’s seen better days,” Allison  said. “I hope Kat wasn’t hurt.” She moved around the back. “Sealed. They must be holding the atmosphere in with force fields.”

“So, either Kat was hurt or her suit was damaged,” Leon said. “Grace must be on board making it space worthy.”

“Strange,” Allison said. “I wonder where  Yuri is.”

“She might be helping,” Leon said. “She’s good at that. Come on. Let’s get those crates over here while we wait.”

They went back and hauled the crates near the shuttle. They were contemplating scavenging some of the explosives as well when the back of the shuttle opened and Paul exited.

“Fuzzy, Allison,” he said.

“Is Kat okay?” Allison asked.

“She’ll be fine,” Paul said. “She had some exposure damage from where her suit tore but I’ve corrected it and treated her arm. She’ll be fine when we get her back aboard the Cerberus.”

“And where’s Yuri?” Leon asked.

Paul glanced at Allison. “I’m afraid she had to be taken to engineering. Grace is working on repairs.”

“How bad is it?” Allison asked, her voice low.

“I can’t say,” Paul stated. “She’s a mechanical life form. I’m not particularly qualified to gauge the extent of her damage.”

Kat emerged from the shuttle, holding her injured arm. “Ophelia’s going to land the Cerberus,” she reported. “It looks like Grace is going to be busy for a while yet and it’s the quickest way to retrieve all of us and the shuttle.”

“That bad, is it?” Allison asked.

Paul pat her shoulder. “She’s going to get through this,” he spoke in a calm, comforting voice. “Don’t worry. Grace will get her through this.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 53: The One to Lead Them

It didn’t take long for everyone to return to examine the divinely made weapons that had been left by Athena. Lilac chose a pair of bagh nakh with long, sharp blades. Wilfred selected a  zweihänder.

“Are you going to take anything, Gail?” Jenna asked.

Gail waved dismissively. “Athena didn’t bring those toys for me. Nor do I need them.”

“Fine,” Jenna said. “Then we’ll just have the rest taken away.” She looked around. “I know we’ve got an alarm system, but I suggest we still keep a nightly watch. Just to be on the safe side. Besides, it  may give us a few extra minutes  to prepare.”

“Couldn’t  hurt,” Wilfred agreed. “This place is quite old  and it doesn’t look like Hephaestus bothered maintaining it.”

Jenna nodded. “We’ll do a triple rotation in pairs. Each team can keep watch for three hours. I’ll take the first shift tonight with Inés. Wilfred and  Lilac can take  the second  shift. Gail and Sylvie can take the third.”

“Just a moment,” Lilac said. She moved close to Jenna and whispered, loudly enough that everyone in the room could still hear her. “Are you sure you wanna work with her? She sleeps with girls. She might try something.”

Jenna laughed out loud. When she spoke, she didn’t bother whispering. “I don’t think my cousin here is going to try anything. And who cares if she takes women to bed? I’ve had men and women both in my time. I rather prefer the latter.”

Lilac looked away, her face flushing.

“Oh you poor dear,” Gail said, mockingly. “Are you the only child of Gaia here? Surrounded by children of the moon and one of the sun. It must be so difficult for you.”

“Gail, there’s no need to be mean,” Jenna chided. “She’s clearly not used to being around so many of us.” She looked around the group. “I’ll come up with some formations the seven of us can use and we can start practising them tomorrow, if we have free time.”

“Who put you in charge?” Lilac muttered.

“I’m in charge because I’m the oldest  one here with real combat experience,” Jenna said. She looked at Gail. “You’re the only one here older than me. Do you object?”

“The command is all yours,” Gail said. “I suspect the only one who would really want it besides you is the young mortal there.” She gestured at Sylvie.

Jenna winked at Sylvie. “Hope you don’t mind me taking charge.”

“I’ll defer to your experience,” Sylvie said.

“Then it’s settled,” Jenna said. “Unless someone else has an objection?”

There was silence in response to her query.

*****

That night, Inés took the first watch with Jenna. They sat atop the wall. Jenna was writing by the light of their lantern, periodically looking out across the area to see if anything was approaching.

It was strange, knowing that below them the realm of mortals was bustling with activity. Some would be watching the skies, looking up at the realm and seeing only clouds.

“Hey,” Jenna said. “Does Sylvie happen to have a lover?”

“No,” Inés answered. “She’s never made love in her life. She does have a lady she likes, though.”

“I see,” Jenna said. They sat in silence a while longer. “How  much does she like this lady?”

Inés sighed. “Hate to break it to you, since you’re clearly interested, but she’s been deeply in love with her for a long time and I don’t think that’s gonna change any time soon, if ever.”

“Pity,” Jenna said. “I would have quite liked to have her, if only for a little while.”

“I can understand that,” Inés said. “I’ve had women I would have liked to get involved with, but couldn’t because they weren’t interested or already had someone they were seeing exclusively.”

“Not the one woman type?” Jenna asked.

“Nope,” Inés answered. “I’m completely up front about it so that every woman I get involved with knows that she’s not the only one.”

“I used to be like that,” Jenna said. “But then I got older. All my lovers started getting old, dying. While I remained young. After a while, I decided I’d stay with one for their lifetime. Less painful that way.”

I’m sorry,” Inés said. “I didn’t mean to bring back painful memories.”

“No,” Jenna said. “I brought it up.”

Inés gazed out at the outskirts, not knowing what else to say. That’s when she spotted something unusual in the sky. “Are my eyes playing tricks on me, or are those birds really big?”

Jenna rose and looked over. “Caucasian Eagles,” she said. “damn things can lift an elephant and they’re children of Echidna.  We’re under attack!”

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Voyages of the Cerberus 109: Tragedy & Triumph

Kat did her best to manoeuvre the shuttle between Yuri and as many of  the turrets as she could. Bullets sprayed across the hull. Kat lowered her body, hoping that the shuttle wouldn’t go down. She opened the hatch.

Yuri dodged and weaved her  way towards the shuttle. turrets firing from behind. Kat glanced back in time to see Yuri getting pushed into the shuttle by turret fire. She hurriedly closed the hatch and turned to retreat. The shuttle’s wind shield shattered opening the cockpit up to fire.

Keeping down, Kat turned to retreat. Pushing through the sudden sharp pain. She focused on getting away from the turrets. finally, they were clear. She went to activate the communicator with her right arm, but couldn’t. She switched to her left. “Cerberus, this is Kat,” she reported. “We need Grace down here quickly. Yuri was hit.”

******

“Leon, lend me one of your plasma knives and cover the door,” Allison said. “I am about to be brilliant.”

“Work quickly,” Leon said, tossing it to her. She grinned and moved inside the sleeping quarters while he continued taking shots at the pacificans.

*****

The new Elegant Simurgh landed near the damaged shuttle. Grace hurriedly clambered out of the cockpit, grabbed her tools from the side and ran over. Icily eyeing the damage to the shuttle as she approached.

She eyed Kat with concern. “You should’ve called for Paul as well,” she said. “That shoulder does not look good.”

“It’ll be fine,” Kat said. “I managed to patch the breach in the suit and it’s nothing life threatening. I’m much more worried about Yuri. She seems to have gone off line.”

Grace examined the android. Yuri’s left arm had been blown off. The synthetic skin on that side of her head had been shredded, revealing patches of the metallic skeleton beneath.

Grace went to work. Checking her status, assessing the level of damage. She shook her head. “Not good. There’s damage to her neural network. I’ll have to shut everything down and try to restore her memory and personality from her backups.”

“You can do it, right?” Kat asked.

“I don’t know,” Grace said. “The backups seem to be intact, but the neural damage may have corrupted the data. And if it’s going to stand a chance of success, I’ll have to repair her brain perfectly. Even a slight mistake could mean permanent damage.” She  stood. “Can you help me get her into the Simurgh with  one arm? I wouldn’t ask, and it’ll be a tight fit, but I’ll be able to concentrate better on the ship.”

“I can manage,” Kat said. “You’ll be carrying most of the weight.”

Grace nodded. “I’ll send Paul down for  you after I’ve got her safely in my laboratory area.”

*****

An explosion sounded in the sleeping chamber. Within seconds, the enemy fire had died down.

The pacificans cautiously made their way forward, suspecting a trap. They moved in formation, keeping close.

They crowded around the door frame, peering in, ready to retract their heads at the slightest sign of trouble. All seemed clear. They moved inside.

The far wall had had a hole blown into it. They moved to examine it, staying in formation and on guard. The hole was fairly small, but just large enough that their enemies could have squeezed through.

Their squadron leader examined the edges, wondering how they managed to get through without cutting themselves on the jagged pieces of metal.

Their investigation was interrupted when their rear guard dropped. They turned, quickly. Not getting distracted as more fell. Two blasters were hanging from a hole in the ceiling. Allison and Leon glanced down into the room as they fired. The metal piece that Allison had cut out of the roof was moved to the side now that they didn’t need it to make it look intact.

The pacificans tried to regroup and return fire, but there were too few of them left and they quickly fell. Allison and Leon dropped back into the room.

“Told you that I’m awesome,” Allison said.

“Let’s just hurry and get to that control room before we run into more,” Leon said. “I’ll praise your guile  later.”

“If there are more,” Allison said. “They might’ve thrown all they had at us,” she shrugged. “Just make sure you praise me in front of Yuri.”

They hurried down the now empty corridor and deeper into the installation.

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The Grand Pilgrimage 52: Frenzied Queen

“Not like that,” Sylvie said. “You want to tighten your stance. You’ve got too many openings.”

“Can’t I just scratch wildly at the enemy until they get turned to shreds?” Lilac asked.

“Not if you want to survive,” Sylvie said. “You need focus, control. You need to learn to take the defensive. To wait for an opening or to force the enemy’s hand to create one. When the time comes, you need to strike quickly and accurately. Here, watch me.”

Sylvie took the hastily constructed wooden practice bagh nakh and took a defensive position. She carefully circled the training dummy, launched some quick jabs with her right arm, keeping the left  in a protective position. She finished by rolling forward and giving the dummy a slashing uppercut.

“You think  a defensive style is the way to go?” Inés asked.

Sylvie  looked back at her. “The idea is to keep Echidna’s children at bay, correct? A defence focused style will allow Miss Ristin to do that with less risk to herself.” She handed the training bagh nakh back to Lilac. “Try it like that.”

“All right,” Lilac said. She looked down at her feet. “So, I put them like this? Then I bring the weapons like this…”

“That’s better,” Sylvie encouraged. She looked at Inés and Serena. “So, what do you two need?”

“Athena dropped off some weapons for Lilac and Wilfred to choose from,” Inés reported. “She also mentioned something about a ‘frenzied queen.’ Ring any bells?”

“Frenzied Queen?” Sylvie muttered. “I think I read a poem that mentioned her once.”

“Did you?” Inés asked. “So, what did it say about her?”

“Not much,” Sylvie said. “It was listing great warriors. Her verses went something like ‘and from a distant land she set sail. All  the  people for her to hail. Came the frenzied queen in daylight. Her foes to be buried by night.’ That was all there was about her.”

“Doesn’t really help,” Serena said.

“Why did Athena mention her any way?” Sylvie asked.

“I guess she’s my sister,” Inés said. “Athena warned me to stay away from her.”

“And you’re curious about why,” Sylvie observed.

“Wouldn’t you be?” Inés asked.

“I suppose  I  would at that,” Sylvie said. “You will heed her warning?”

“Of course,” Inés said. “I am still her priestess. But I would still like to know why.”

“Maybe Jenna knows,”  Serena suggested. “She did say that she had spent over a century walking among mortals.”

“Good thinking!” Inés said. “Let’s go find her and Wilfred.”

*****

“You really have no experience fighting,” Jenna said. “How do you live nearly a hundred years without ever learning how to fight?”

“Madame,” Wilfred said. “I have always viewed violence as the preferred problem solving method of the immature and unintelligent.”

“Really hard to believe you’re a son of Ares,” Jenna said. She shrugged. “Well, you’re strong. So you should stand a good chance of getting through this. If you’ll  work with the rest of us and put some effort into training.” She turned around. “Hello, Cousin. What can I do for  you?”

“Athena brought some weapons for Lilac and Wilfred to use,” Inés reported. “I also wanted to see if you knew anything about the ‘frenzied queen?'”

“I know of her,” Jenna answered. “She was a bit before my time. Supposedly, she ruled the Empire of Ocanila with an iron fist. Under her rule, they conquered and expanded at an alarming rate. Those kingdoms that resisted were razed. Stories say that she fought on the front lines personally but was never even injured. Until she went to bathe ion the ocean and was dragged under by a freak wave. After that Ocanila went into decline. They lost territory and, eventually, got absorbed by a larger kingdom.”

“A conqueror, huh,” Inés muttered.

“More  than that,” Wilfred said. “Sorry, but I have studied the rise and fall of Ocanila. the frenzied queen was said to be a brutal, depraved woman. Any who opposed her were tortured in public displays for her amusement. Some accounts even claim that those tortured didn’t have to oppose her and that some of the victims were servants who hadn’t done their duties according to her standards. She had a large harem. Every time she took  a new city, kingdom or village she’d line up the citizens and take any man, woman or child who pleased her as a part of it. All surviving accounts from those within her harem agree that, while they were treated relatively well, they lived in fear. Any one of them who  was unfaithful to her would be tortured to death. Any she grew tired of would either be sent to one of the outlying parts of the kingdom or killed. Depending on how long she’d enjoyed their company.”

“That actually reminds me of something,” Jenna said. “There was a story about one of her relatives being a part of her harem, wasn’t there?”

“Her mother,” Wilfred answered. “The first person who she took into her harem. At least by a couple accounts.”

“She put her own mother and children in her harem?” Serena asked. “But… that’s…”

“Despicable,” Inés finished.

“Why do you want to know about the frenzied queen any way?” Jenna asked.

“Oh, I heard she was in another group,” Inés said. “Guess she’s a daughter of the Gods too.”

“I’d hate to be in her group,” Jenna said.

“I’m torn,” Wilfred said. “While it seems unlikely that she’s anything approaching pleasant, it would be interesting to speak with one of history’s great villains.”

“Well, head to the outpost and pick out your weapon when you finish training,” Inés said. “Let’s go, Serena.”

Serena looked back, waiting for Jenna and Wilfred to be out of sight. “Are you okay?” she asked.

Inés shrugged. “Well, I know  why Athena warned me away from her. It is kind of hard to imagine myself related to someone like that, though.”

“I know,” Serena agreed. “You’re so kind and noble. She’s so… not.”

Inés laughed. “Hey, you don’t have to flatter me. Whatever she is, she’s got nothing to do with me. I didn’t even know she existed until just a couple hours ago. Her crimes were centuries before I was born. I’ll just listen to Athena and  keep away from her.”

“Right,”  Serena nodded. “But if you need to talk, I’ll be right here for  you.” She reached forward and gently clasped Inés’ hand. They continued on their way. Hand in hand.

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Voyages of the Cerberus 108: Attack on the Base

“The tractor beam won’t hold up under those conditions for a long period,” Grace reported. “But it will last long enough for your plan.”

“Thanks,” Kat said. “We’ll begin the operation asap. Yuri, are you ready?”

“I will fulfill my function,” Yuri answered.

Allison hugged her. “Be careful out there. I don’t wanna be a widow.”

“Technically, Yuri said. “We would have to enter a marital union for you to qualify as a widow.”

“Don’t get pedantic on me,” Allison said. “Not now.”

“I will do my utmost to suffer minimal damage,” Yuri said.

“Can’t Grace just fix her if she does take damage?” Leon asked. Allison shot him a dirty look.

“Grace is a highly skilled engineer,” Yuri acknowledged. “However, there is an extent of damage that she would be unable to repair. There is also the risk that my personality or memory circuits will sustain damage. She may be able to repair my systems in that event, but I will not be myself any longer.”

“I’d really hate to see that happen,” Allison said. “The person you are is so beautiful… it would be really sad if anything happened to you to change that.”

“I will endeavour  to prevent it,” Yuri promised.

“Let’s try to keep a positive outlook,” Kat said. “We’ll commence the operation and we’ll all get out of this intact.”

*****

The Cerberus shuttle towed the Pacifican shuttle over the crater. Kat carefully lined up their cargo, trying to be mindful of the tractor’s power gauge, and released it. The shuttle fell, crashing in front of the base. The auto turrets fired as it came down, but desisted when it came to a halt. They sat, trained on it, waiting for any sign of movement.

A metal fragment flung out of the shuttle.  It was swiftly shot to shreds. That was when Yuri made her move. She emerged from the shuttle, fired off several shots of her blaster and quickly ducked behind the shuttle as the turrets fired.

*****

The Cerberus shuttle moved in,  hovering above the base. Leon and Allison dropped down. Leon began cutting. Allison moved quickly behind the upper turrets. Her fear of approaching the deadly machines forgotten in her determination to stop them firing at Yuri. She planted the explosives and  fell back to Leon’s position, detonating them.

The upper turrets were engulfed in the shattering blasts, reduced to scrap. Leon and Allison moved down into the base. They nodded at one another and hurried down the corridor, checking for the control room. Pistols silenced and at the ready.

The first door they checked led to a storage room. Quite possibly where the missing weapons were being kept. Allison made a mental note of it for when the base was secure. The next led to a very messy cafeteria. The third was a restroom. There was a pacifican emerging from the stall. Leon shot him without hesitation.

The fourth door was a target range. Three pacificans turned and opened fire. Allison and Leon quickly ducked behind the wall near the door. Allison rigged one of the spare explosives. Leon gave her a quizzical look. She hurriedly tossed it into the room and hit the switch. She  hurried inside, keeping low to the ground. The pacificans had taken cover, but she could make their shadows out even through the smoke. She opened fire. Two shadows fell. She was looking for the third when a blaster bolt soared past her head. She followed its path to the third shadow. She  barely had time to register that  they’d been pointing their weapon at her when they fell. Leon nodded at her from the doorway and relaxed his weapon. She nodded at him and they continued their search.

*****

Yuri knew  that she could not stay in cover indefinitely. The concentrated turret fire would cut through the shuttle, even with the turret numbers culled, and she would be torn asunder. Escape would not be viable. Not with the level of fire. Ergo, she would have to destroy some of the turrets. She readied her own blaster, quickly plotted a course and ran out, opening fire at the turrets.

*****

Their pacifican opponents had heard  their skirmish in the shooting range. They were trying to make their way through the next corridor, but a group of pacificans had set up a barricade and were firing at them from behind cover. Leon and Allison were at a disadvantage, having only the doorway of a barracks style sleeping chamber to hide themselves.

Allison glanced at the bunks. They were  bolted to the floor. Given time, they could get  them out and try to use them, but it wasn’t a viable option. It would take both of them top lift the thing and they’d be very vulnerable. She took mental stock of what they did have. She had an explosive left. They had their blasters. Leon had some knives in his belt. The barracks had the bunks complete with sheets and blankets as well as two corpses in a state of undress. The question was, how could they use those things to get out of this situation?

*****

Kat lowered the shuttle to hover just outside of the range of the turrets. Even Yuri couldn’t evade them for too long. She would have to take a risk to rescue the android. Grace would understand, she hoped. She  grit her teeth and moved the shuttle into the turret zone.

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The Grand Pilgrimage 51: Athena’s Warning

“You’re a bouncer, don’t you use a sword, dagger or anything?” Inés asked.

Lilac looked at her like she was crazy. “The idea is to get the rowdy patrons out when they cause trouble, not evicerate them. I just use my fists.”

“Okay, okay,” Inés said. “No evisceration. Got it. Maybe we should get you a pair of bagh nakh. They aren’t the same as fighting with your fists by any means, but they’ll probably be the closest weapon that matches your style.”

“I don’t even want to be here,” Lilac complained. “I wanna be back home. Finding a nice young thing to shag and getting drunk off my ass.”

“Well, just think about it this way,” Inés said. “We’ll get through here. You’ll survive thanks to my training and you’ll be getting drunk and taking all the young ladies to bed you want.”

“Ladies?”  Lilac asked. “you shag ladies?”

“Damn right,” Inés said. “But whatever, find young men. Either way, let’s get started on your training.”

“I dunno,” Lilac said. “Are you gonna be staring at my bum?”

“No,” Inés said. “Now can we please start the training?”

“Well I suppose,” Lilac agreed. “If you aren’t gonna stare at my bum.”

Inés sighed. Dealing with this woman was going to try her patience.

“How about I train you,” Sylvie volunteered. “I’ve never taken a woman to bed. Would that make you more comfortable?”

Lilac examined her. “But you’re just a mortal, aren’t you?”

“Yes,  but I trained the same way Inés  did and I’ll teach you the same techniques she would,” Sylvie said.

“Well, all right,” Lilac agreed. She allowed herself to be led away by Sylvie. Pointedly covering up her bottom as she went.

“You know, if that woman wasn’t such a pain in the ass I’d point out  that Sylvie likes women, she just hasn’t slept with any yet,” Inés said. “Too busy pining over Illyana.”

“I think she said that to spare you the trouble,” Serena said.

“I know,” Inés said. “Remind me to do something nice for her when this is all over.” She shrugged. “Sylvie’s probably a better choice to train her any way. She’s more patient than me.”

“Well, you’re still adjusting to finding out  your dad’s Poseidon and all,” Serena said. “It’s funny, all these half Gods look like they’re in their early twenties and yet some of them have lived for over a century.”  She leaned  back and examined Inés. “You know, before we came here. Before we heard the truth, I thought your strength was going to kill you and  I’d be left behind, mourning. Looks like you’ll still be young and beautiful when I’m a grizzled, eighty year old  woman.”

“Maybe,” Inés said. “But I’ll wager you’ll still be a total babe at eighty years old.”

“Oh?” Serena asked. “So you’ll still make love to me then?”

“Absolutely,” Inés said. “As long as you want me to.” She leaned over and kissed Serena. For a time they stood there, caught in one another’s embrace. Finally, reluctantly, they moved apart. “Tonight.” Inés whispered.

“I’ll look forward to it,” Serena said.

“Ladies.” They turned around. Athena was standing behind them. “Hephaestus sent some weapons for Lilac and Wilfred. Have them pick out what they like and leave the rest. I’ll pick them up later.”

“Jenna and Eri… Gail already have some?” Inés asked.

“Jenna does,” Athena said. “Gail shouldn’t need one. Her magical abilities vastly exceed any you’ve ever seen. Possibly any you will see. Even among the half bloods, she is exceptional. She will be your team’s greatest weapon. Be cautious with how you deal with her.”

“Got it,” Inés said. She stared at the ground, looking briefly up at Athena and back down. This was her Goddess, the one she’d devoted herself to. She felt more nervous speaking with her than she had when Poseidon had boarded their ship. “Hey, Athena,” she began “am I… am I a disappointment as one of your priestesses?”

“Not many would still serve one of the pantheon upon learning of their divine heritage,” Athena said. “But why do you doubt yourself?”

“Well,” Inés said. “It’s just… Sylvie always says I’m… lecherous and there are times when I care more about bedding cute ladies than I do about serving the greater good.”

“I know,” Athena said. “I have watched your journey with some interest. No, Inés, you aren’t a  disappointment. You, Sylvie and Serena have all gone beyond what is expected of initiates. Even those in their final trial. Truth be told, I am proud of you. All of you. As for your dalliances with pretty women… Well, you rather remind me of myself as a young Goddess.”

“Really?” Inés asked. “Do you still…”

“That is not something that needs concern you,” Athena said. “One more thing, Inés. Stay away from your sister. She may have been released from Tartarus, but I suspect she hasn’t changed much from the frenzied queen of old.”

With that, Athena vanished.

“Frenzied queen?” Inés asked. “Where have I heard that before?”

“Did Athena just say she’s had a bunch of dalliances with women?” Serena asked. “What happened to her being a virgin Goddess?”

“There are people who still consider me a virgin because I’ve never lain with a man,” Inés said. “Doesn’t matter how  many women I’ve been with. I’ve always suspected that she and Artemis both have rules against their priestesses getting with men but none against women because they don’t want to subject their followers to rules they wouldn’t follow. Never thought I’d know for sure.”

“I guess,” Serena said. “Should we check on Sylvie’s progress?”

“Yeah,” Inés agreed. “I also want to see if she knows what the frenzied queen thing is about.”

 

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Voyages of the Cerberus 107: In the Crater

“Who do you guys think lifted the crates?” Allison asked.

“Dirty thieves who need punched in the face,” Leon answered.

“Nice, specific answer right there,” Allison said.”

“There is insufficient evidence to give a specific name,” Yuri stated. “However, it is probable that the perpetrators were responsible for the shuttle’s crash. If that is the case then we can also deduce that it was someone who knew the route and cargo of the shuttle in advance.”

“Meaning that they had access to pacifican government files,” Kat finished. “So we’re looking at a spy for a rival government, terrorists who gained access or possibly a crime cartel with a mole.”

“The first option is highly unlikely,” Yuri said. “A rival government would pilfer the design schematics, possibly even make off with one of the prototypes ion order too reverse engineer it, but they would not risk taking entire crates.”

“A spy probably wouldn’t be hiding out on a moon with them either,” Allison said. “They would have had an escape plan. Gotten away while pacifican forces were stripping the shuttle. Which do you think, Leon? Terrorists or cartel?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Leon said. “Either way they have the weapons and they won’t let them go easily.”

“A lovely observation,” Allison muttered. “Why do I ever ask you anything?”

“I’m landing the shuttle,” Kat said. “We’ll move to the signal on foot. Slowly and carefully. Keep your eyes out for signs of the enemy, stay close and keep transmissions to a minimum.”

*****

The four of them approached the signal. Kat  kept her instruments scanning for signs of monitoring equipment.

“Looks  like the coordinates are in the crater,” she said. “No sign of surveillance equipment.”

“Wouldn’t expect there to be,” Allison said. “Even thugs, low lives and other general scum aren’t going to have their equipment operating on a supposedly vacant moon. Draws too much attention. I’ll bet they’ve got close range, low power stuff in the crater itself by their tents or whatever passes for a base.”

“Doesn’t hurt to  check,” Kat said. “Yuri, take a peek into the crater and make a full report on what you see.”

“Acknowledged,” Yuri stated.

“Why are you sending my girlfriend into potential danger?” Allison asked.

“The risk is low,” Kat said. “And I’m sending her because she has the best vision and she only needs a short glance to take everything in.”

“I have scanned the crater,” Yuri reported. “There is a base with a shield generator to block ordinary scans. The base possesses automated turret defences. There were no life forms in sight. It is, however, safe to conclude that there will be significant opposition within.”

“Did they spot you?” Kat asked.

“Unlikely,” Yuri answered. “The alarm system appears to be connected to the turrets. The moment an intruders engages, the beings inside will be alerted.”

“Any way to sneak in?” Kat asked.

“There is one visible entrance,” Yuri stated. “It would not be possible to reach without activating the turrets. Unless we can take control of the turrets themselves, sneaking in does not seem viable.”

“What if we got back in the shuttle and dropped from the shuttle to the top of the base?” Allison asked. “Then we could cut our way inside and to hell with the turrets.”

“I do not believe that would work,” Yuri stated. “The top of the base is within range of some of the turrets.”

“So, we blow the turrets and force our way in,” Leon said. “Unless you have a less reckless option?”

“There  might be,” Kat said. “Yuri, were the turrets the auto-locking single target type, the full dispersal type or the remotely controlled type?”

“They are the auto-locking variety,” Yuri answered.

“That’s good news,” Kat said. “Then I have a plan.”

“We find a giant robot and get them to lock onto that until they use up all their ammo?” Allison asked.

“Please be serious for once,” Kat said. “What we need, is a diversion. We need to get those things locked onto someone who can move quickly enough to evade them. While that person creates a diversion, we take the shuttle. Drop two people on the roof. One of them blows the  turrets up there while the other cuts their way in.”

“And you’re telling me to be serious?” Allison asked. “No one can move that fast. The targeting computers would zero in on their movement  pattern before we could even land on the roof. Unless there’s a bunch of cover down there.”

“There is no cover,” Yuri stated.

“No ordinary person could, I agree,” Kat said. “But someone with a highly sophisticated mechanical brain with more power than the targeting computers would stand a chance.” She looked at Yuri.

“No, no no no no no no no and definitely no,” Allison said. “You can’t send…”

“Allison,” Yuri interrupted. “It is not an impossible plan. There  is a chance that I will be capable of evading the turrets.”

“I won’t forgive you if she gets killed,” Allison said.

“Then we’ll have to make her chances better,”  Kat said. “We’ll just have to go back for the pacifican shuttle.”

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The Grand Pilgrimage 50: Introductions

“Sorry, Ladies,” Inés said. “I never suspected that I’d get us caught in anything like this.”

“Not your fault,” Sylvie said. “Not like you could’ve known that you’re Poseidon’s daughter or that the Gods themselves were going to call on you.”

“Besides,” Serena said. “It’ll make for a great tale. I’ll bet the other  priestesses are going to be super impressed that we saw Athena herself.”

“If we survive this,” Sylvie said. She looked up at their pegasi and felt somewhat reassured knowing that they were there.

They arrived at their post. A relic from the first war between the Gods and Titans. The guard post was made of a material they couldn’t identify. There was a large wall made of the same  material with small sentry holes for them to peer through. The guard building had some comfortable beds with an alarm mechanism designed to activate should anything get near the wall.

Inés examined their companions. Lilac was pale skinned with green eyes and braided platinum blonde hair. She was about a hundred fifty eight centimetres tall. Wilfred was tan skinned with a shaved head and curled black moustache. He had brown eyes and was a good ten centimetres taller than Lilac. Jenna had spiky red hair and heterochromatic eyes, one green the other a bright blue. She was just over  a hundred seventy centimetres tall. Eritos was massive. Over two hundred twenty centimetres tall She was also striking in her strangeness. She had pointed ears  with eyes that shifted in colour every ten to twenty seconds. They went from pink to violet to yellow to green to red and back to pink to repeat the cycle. Her multi-coloured hair went down to the small of her back. There was no pattern to the colours in her hair, just a mesh of red, purple, orange, indigo, yellow, green, and blue.

Lilac nudged Wilfred’s ribs. “You must be super excited. Being put in a team with so many beauties.”

Wilfred absent-mindedly rubbed the spot she’d nudged and sighed. “Madame, even if I was so inclined, we are all related.”

Lilac looked confused for a moment. “Are we?” she asked.

“Certainly,” Jenna chimed in. “Poseidon and Zeus are brothers. Which makes me and this one cousins.” she pointed to Inés  “Ares and Dionysus are  both sons of Zeus which makes you two cousins and me your aunt. Eris is a daughter of Zeus which makes the tall one there your cousin as well.”

“Oh,” Lilac muttered. “But they’re Gods so it’s not really the same, is it?”

Jenna pat her head and addressed the group. “We should get to know one another a bit. Since we are working together. I’m Jenna Serpen. I’ve  been living in Olympus for the past seventy years. Before that I  was a mercenary  for a hundred and some years. I forget just how many.I got tired of fighting and took my father up on his offer to stay up here, but I’m confident that I’ve still got my skills. Miss Lilac, you introduce yourself next.”

“Me?” Lilac asked. “Lilac Ristin. Forty three. I was working as a bouncer at a pub when I got dragged up here. This is my first time seeing Olympus.”

“Wilfred McAlistair,” Wilfred stated. “Eighty six, if you must know. I must confess, I’ve never fought before. I was a travelling scholar and, to be honest, I find the whole idea of dragging us up here on the grounds of our parentage and asking us to fight asinine.”

Eritos burst out laughing, loudly. Even her voice was strange. It sounded like two women talking at once. One with a soft melodious voice. The other with a deep, strong voice. “Imagine,” she said. “A pacifist son of Ares, God of War and a scholar to boot. How amusing.”

“And what about you?” Jenna asked. “Eritos, was it?”

“Please, call me Gail,” Eritos said. “I’m… older than you by a fair portion of time. If you must know what I’ve been doing… well, I’ve spent a lot of time idling. Now, I believe the daughter of Poseidon is next. Judging by her armour, I’d say she’s a warrior priestess, but let’s pretend we don’t notice and listen to her explain it herself.”

“You didn’t exactly say much about yourself,” Inés snapped. “Well, whatever. I’m Inés, just Inés. Not even twenty yet. Warrior priestess dedicated to Athena. My companions are Sylvie Fortunio and Serena Rabelle. We were on a pilgrimage to Drahaven when this whole thing happened.”

“At least there’s one other warrior,” Jenna said. “Young though you are.” She looked around the group. “I propose that I take command of the group, given my seniority as a warrior. Any objections?” No one spoke. “Good. Inés, I’ll need your help to train these three for combat. As much as we can before we get thrown into battle.”

“Sure,” Inés said. “Don’t know how good of a teacher I’ll be, but I’ll try.”

“Focus on these two,” Gail said. “I’ll be just fine.” She snapped her fingers and vanished.

“Good way to get killed,” Jenna Muttered. “I get the feeling she’ll be difficult. Guess it can’t be helped. I’ll train Wilfred. You take Lilac.”

*****

A Quick Message from the Writer

Hey everyone, those of you who also read Voyages of the Cerberus have seen this basic message already, but I know that there are people who just read one or the other. So, I’ll repeat myself a bit. First off, thank you all for reading. It does mean a lot to me and I do appreciate it. Secondly, given the time of year, I want to wish you all a joyous and secure holiday season whether you celebrate Hearth’s Warming, Hogswatch, the Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Christmas, or any other holiday.

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