Chapter 11- Claude

“Pwahh… that was close,” Claude announced as she stepped off her lift onto the hanger catwalk.  The other pilots’ looks of curiosity faded as she took a matching pink pocket mirror out of her Ryder armor, opening it and immediately beginning to primp her hair and admire her reflection.  “I almost got a little sweaty there for a moment… how’s my complexion?”

Not bothering to wait for an answer, she began touching up her make up, completely failing to notice the other pilots’ increasingly unimpressed glares.

“Welcome aboard the Sunrider,” called out Kayto as he stepped off the lift, striding towards the pink pilot, equally oblivious to the disapproval of his other pilots.  Behind him, Ava immediately crossed her arms and walked over to the others, joining their line up and mimicking their poses pointedly.  “I’m Captain Kayto Shields,” Kayto saluted.

“Hmm?” Claude continued to apply make up for a moment before Kayto’s presence distracted her gaze.  “Oh, Ooooaaahhhh…”

Fumbling slightly, she blushed and snapped the pocket mirror shut, returning it to a slot on her thigh where a sidearm would have normally clipped.  Evidently, the woman’s priorities were clear.

“C-captain…” she said breathlessly, eyes enraptured on him and jaw slightly slack.  “My captain… in shining armor…”  Unseen to everyone else present, a parade of well toned men in all manner of unlikely and revealing “military” dress danced across her field of vision, substituting under Kayto’s head each in turn, fulfilling Claude’s personal definition of “Hot Buffet.”

“Uhh… sorry, didn’t catch the last bit there,” said Kayto genuinely.  “Shining what?”

The other pilots and Ava diverted their gazes, exasperated, unsure if it was worse that Kayto was completely oblivious to all things women or that someone as empty-headed as Claude appeared to be had clawed her way aboard, in a pink Ryder no less.

“Oh uhh… never mind that..” answered Claude vaguely as she wiped the corner of her mouth.  “O-oh my… you’re much more handsome than you looked on my monitor…”

“Umm… thanks?” Kayto smiled awkwardly and rubbed his neck, perhaps unconsciously sensing the four pairs of eyes searing glares into the back of his head.  “You look pretty good, yourself,” he offered innocently, looking her over casually.  Despite the unusual pink Ryder armor, it was clear that Claude was not a woman who had ever struggled with image problems.  Tall and lithe with not-insubstantial cleavage, her body seemed to qualify her more as a fashion or swimsuit model as opposed to a Ryder pilot.  With fine cheekbones and delicate features, her face was also well-balanced, although ruined slightly by her absent and vague facial expression.  The entire package was framed with her thick, luscious pink hair which fell to her waist in almost liquid, shining tumbles, undoubtedly the product of hours of shampooing and hair blowing with an array of hair care products that neared Chigara’s toolkit in complexity and diversity.

“Oh, oh my,” Claude giggled happily.  “It’s a little too early to flirt with the damsel in distress, Captain, especially with all these other women in the hanger.  Perhaps somewhere more private toni-”

“Arggghhh!” Ava could hold herself back no longer.  “Just get to business already, Captain!” she demanded in a strangled voice that threatened divine punishment if he failed to comply.

“I guess the Captain likes her…” whispered Chigara jealously.  “Both of her… wow… they must be D’s or something…”

“Shh!” Asaga shushed her with a conspiratorial wink.  “Maybe it’s a form of special interrogation.”

“Not any interrogation I’ve ever seen,” shot back Icari under her breath.  “If anyone’s going to be doing interrogating, it’s Ava… she sounds like she’s practically ready to bust out some chains and a whip on the Captain’s ass.”

“SHUT UP.” Ava’s face turned alarmingly red as she hissed out of the corner of her mouth.

“Hey, hey,” Kayto raised his hands defensively, having completely missed the end of Claude’s offer and the entire exchange. “Just a little banter to lighten up the mood…  Anyways, what were you doing all the way out here?  Didn’t you know this entire region of space is crawling with pirates?” he asked Claude.

“I was just delivering medical supplies as part of a relief mission to Tautenia when I was stopped by the pirates.  Medicine and medical equipment fetch quite the price on the black market out here.  I imagine I would have been killed if it were not for your timely rescue,” explained Claude happily, not sounding the least bit upset at the turn of events.  “It looks like I’m in your debt now, Captain.”

“You don’t exactly strike me as the freighter pilot type…” observed Kayto.

“Oh no,” Claude gave a high pitched, girlish giggle that made the other women cringe.  “I’m a doctor.”

Nearly everyone in the room felt the floor drop out from underneath them.  That woman… a doctor?  Ava, Icari, Asaga, and Chigara all stared at Claude with varying states of disbelief as she gave everyone a dazzling smile.

“Oh,” Kayto recovered first.  “O-of course you are!  Well that explains everything… except the Ryder piloting part.”

“You pick up odd skills like that if you work in the Neutral Rim too long,” replied Claude dismissively, waving her hand with disinterest.  “My work often calls me to underprivileged planets.”

“How did you come by the Ryder?” Kayto asked, interested.  “It looks like a custom job…”

“It was a gift!” Claude smiled fondly at her pink Ryder.  “From the big-hearted but primitive folk of Onislar for the medical supplies, expertise, and technology I brought to their world.”

“Primitive?”  Kayto frowned, uncomprehending.  “How did they manage to build you a Ryder then?”

“Oh, they didn’t build it,” giggled Claude, a little mischievously this time.  “I don’t even think they knew what it was.  Bianca was pretty beat up when they gave it to me.  They said it came down from the sky just like I did.  Maybe it was an experimental Ryder someone lost control of or maybe someone just threw it out, who knows?  Either way, I took it with me when I left and got it fixed up and painted my favorite color!  Ever since, I’ve been learning to fly it on my spare time!”

“I see… well, we were glad to be of assistance, doctor.  We’d be glad to give you a ride back to Tautenian orbit; you can take a shuttle down to the surface once we get there,” Kayto offered, not entirely convinced with her explanation, but willing to let it slide for the moment.

“Oh no, Captain!” Claude shook her head vigorously and began running her hands through her hair with nervous energy.  “I couldn’t possibly leave without repaying my debt to you and your crew!  Not to mention… leaving before… benefits… uhhh…” Claude’s last sentence drifted into incoherence as she drooled slightly.

“Didn’t catch that last part again,” frowned Kayto, leaning forward slightly.

“Uhh,” Claude wiped her lips quickly.  “I meant to say ‘not to mention that my freighter’s been destroyed now.’  How could I possibly help the Tautenians without my supplies?  I’d have to return to Alliance Space and get more funding before I could resume my mission… say… I don’t suppose you’d need a doctor on this ship,” Claude offered shamelessly.  “I would be happy to take care of you… and your crew, of course… as repayment for my debt and passage.”

“Actually…” Kayto’s tone quickened excitedly as he considered the proposal.  “We do… Sunrider’s sickbay has been offline since we had to leave before they could transfer a physician on board.  Our sickbay’s been dark ever since we left Cera.”

“Well!” Claude’s tone was triumphant.  “That simply will not do, Captain.  Your crew is even more under-served than the Tautenians!  Doctor Triello, at your service, Captain!”

“Wow, talk about luck!” Kayto turned happily towards Ava.  “Hey Ava!  We’ve finally got ourselves a ship doctor!”

“Oh Captain!” Claude gushed, grabbing hold of Kayto’s arm.  “I’m so glad we could meet like this!”

“It’s our pleasure, doctor,” said Kayto graciously, untangling himself from her while trying not to be impolite.  “To be honest, I’ve been getting worried about the sickbay and the crew…”

“Something’s not right here…” muttered Icari through closed lips.  “I know we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers but… her?!”

“Unbelievable…” sighed Ava undertone.  “He’s just completely eating out of her hand… and that’s probably the way Ms. Doe Eyes likes it…”

“Huh… looks like you might have quite a formidable rival here Chigara… but I think the Captain still prefers brains… or at least not the complete lack thereof,” observed Asaga, confiding to Chigara.

“E-eh?  Eeehh!” Chigara gave a start, clapping a hand over her mouth as she involuntarily let loose with a surprised squeak.  “R-rival!?  Asaga!  Shhh!”

“All right people,” Kayto clapped his hands and turned to the rest, who quickly cut their side conversations short.  “Great job out there, take a break, you deserve it.  Ava, could you show the doctor to our sickbay first?”

“Yes, Sir!” Ava answered stiffly.  “You heard the Captain!  Clear the deck!” she barked at the other pilots, scattering them.  “You… come with me.”  Ava gestured at Claude who happily pranced towards her.

“Ta, ta, Captain!  I’ll see you soon for your check up!” Claude blew a kiss in his direction as an ominous tick formed over Ava’s temple once again.

******

“Captain.  A word with you.”  Ava strode into the CIC at the end of Kayto’s shift, her expression grave.

“Is there a problem?”

“Possibly.”  Ava drew up next to him, talking quietly to avoid being overheard.

“Has there been a problem getting the doctor set up?” asked Kayto.

“Not at all,” Ava replied.  “She’s already gotten to work, seems like her patients were really satisfied; I’ve never seen the crew so eager to get routine medical screening… there was practically a line coming out of her office earlier.”

“They’re just happy we’ve finally got a doctor,” said Kayto with a smile.  “I’m glad they’re taking ship health so seriously.  Anyways, so what’s the problem then?”

“I’ve been doing some digging into our new doctor’s background, routine personnel screening.  The problem is… I can’t find her license in the Alliance Medical Association’s database,” Ava’s eyes narrowed suspiciously as she related the information.

“That’s unusual, but not unheard of,” Kayto pointed out.  “Maybe she’s licensed through a different accrediting body?”

“Possibly, although the AMA is the largest and most well-respected authority for medical licensing.  A lot of Neutral Rim planets have their own accrediting bodies.  She would have needed to been licensed through one of the smaller groups because I can’t seem to find her in any of the major neutral medical license databases either,” said Ava her skepticism rising.

“Weird…” Kayto shrugged.  “Well, keep up the search, Ava.  She’s got to be licensed by someone.”

“That’s one option,” Ava said bluntly, making no doubt as to what she thought was the alternative explanation.

“Hey now…” Kayto spoke with a tone of surprise.  “You don’t think she’s lying do you?  Do you?!”

Ava crossed her arms and gave him an unimpressed look, half a glare in its own right.  “Why don’t you save us a whole lot of trouble and just ask her, Captain?”

“I suppose…  Sure, I’ll do it,” agreed Kayto.  “I guess… I’ll just… go.  Now.”

Ava’s facial expression did not budge an inch, although she allowed one eyebrow to cock upwards, as though asking him why he was still in the CIC.  Clearly, nothing about the conversation had ever been a request.

“I… should go,” Kayto bumbled.  “You have the CIC, Commander.”

******

“U-umm…” Chigara poked her head into the sickbay.  “Did you want to see me, doctor?”

“Ahh, yes!  Come in, come right in and have a seat!” called Claude as Chigara entered.

“What did you- E-eeaagh!” Chigara yelped in surprise as the sickbay doors closed and she walked into one of the exam berths where Claude was getting ready.

The pink haired pilot had changed from Ryder armor into her medical uniform, although the term implied a certain degree of modesty.  What she had actually chosen to wear was something else entirely.  Tight and revealing, the uniform looked like she had acquired it at a night club rather than a medical supply store.  A white cut-away halter top opened revealingly, allowing her ample cleavage to stand proudly from her chest, and tapered down over her slim waist, just barely touching a white miniskirt with a slit that left nothing to the imagination.  Her long, slender legs were bare, finishing with a set of matching white high heels.  If it were not for the red medical cross on a matching nurse’s hat on top of her head, the entire ensemble might have been mistaken entirely.

“W-what are you wearing!?!” demanded Chigara, sinking onto the exam table, legs weak.

“Standard medical attire,” dismissed Claude shamelessly.  “Don’t worry about it.”  Heels clicking, she walked until she was practically looming over her stunned patient.  “Just relax, it’s just going to be a standard medical exam.”

“U-uh… OK…” Chigara gulped.

“So…” Claude stared into Chigara’s eyes.  “What’s your relation with the Captain?”

“E-eh?!” Chigara stuttered in surprise.

“Hugs, kisses?  Holding hands?  Slept together?  How many times?  Or are you just friends?” Claude asked, rapid fire, not letting Chigara answer.

“WHAT DOES THAT HAVE TO DO WITH MY HEALTH!?!” screamed Chigara, tomato red.

“Just answer the questions,” admonished Claude sternly.  “Oh well, it’s no use.  I can see already you’re a difficult patient.  We’ll just skip the interview for now, and move on shall we?”

“F-fine…” Chigara said, ashen-faced.

“OK then… take off your clothes,” instructed Claude.

“W-what!?!” yelped Chigara.

“I need to do a physical exam, checking body proportions and all,” said Claude, rolling her eyes.  “Come on, don’t be shy, we’re all women here!  Take off your clothes!”

“F-forget it!” Chigara blushed even deeper, although she gave Claude a defiant glare.  “My proportions are fine, thank you!  What kind of doctor did you say you were again?”

“Patient reticent and uncooperative,” said Claude in a stage whisper, jotting on her patient chart.  “Refused physical exam.  May I see your ID to confirm your service number?  I need it to record that you deferred the exam for medical-legal reasons,” she said stiffly.

“H-here…” Chigara gave Claude her ID badge, somewhat relieved, but also thrown by the sudden professionalism.

“OK…” Claude tapped the stylus on her holo decisively.  “Time for your gynecological exam!”

Chigara turned pale, the blood draining out of her face at the prospect.

“I’ve got a speculum somewhere here…” muttered Claude, bending over to check in her desk, flashing Chigara with her panties not-so-inadvertently.

“E-eah!!!”  Chigara hopped up from the table and bolted for the door as Claude had her back turned to her.  Without a backwards glance, she slapped the sickbay door controls and ran out, almost headfirst into Kayto.

“C-captain!” Chigara swallowed her panic and tried to appear as normal as possible.

“Chigara?” Kayto gave her a pale, sweaty visage a look of concern.  “What’s the matter?  You don’t look so good…”

“O-oh!”  Chigara waved her hands with agitation.  “I-it’s nothing!  Captain!  I was just here for my… medical exam…”

“I see,” Kayto gave her a reassuring smile.  “It’s good that you came to get checked out; disease can spread quickly on a starship with all the different places we dock with and we’ve been without a doctor for so long…”

“O-oh, yes… checked…” Chigara said, giving a high-pitched and unnatural giggle.  “I… I’ll see you later, Captain!”

“OK…” said Kayto slowly as his Chief Engineer fled.  “I wonder what that was all about?” he thought.

Walking into the Sunrider’s sickbay, Kayto examined the stark and white circular room with recessed lighting.  A holographic fish tank and various water features made the waiting room a peaceful, tranquil place, Sunrider’s designers taking pains to create an atmosphere where patients could feel at ease.  Several recessed doors led to various other exam rooms, sickbeds, and even a small operating theater, fulfilling any emergent need for medical attention that the crew might encounter.

“Doctor Triello?”

“O-oh!”  Claude’s voice drifted out of an exam room.  “Captain!  I’ve been waiting for you, please, come in!”

Kayto walked into the exam room, the door hissing shut behind him as his eyes fell on Claude’s uniform.

“What the?!”  Kayto jumped back in shock, banging painfully into the door behind him.  “D-doctor?”

“Relax, Captain,” giggled Claude, grabbing his hand and pulling him in.  Forcefully, she shoved her dazed patient onto the exam table.  “Standard medical uniform, that’s all.”

“On which planet?” demanded Kayto, suddenly having a suspicious theory as to why the crew seemed so eager to complete their routine health screening.

“Come, come, Captain,” Claude pouted.  “That’s hardly the way to start a trusting doctor-patient relationship!  Or is there some ordinance about doctors not being allowed to wear their professional attire on a military ship?”

“Uhh…” Kayto’s eyebrows almost disappeared past his hairline as he regarded Claude’s idea of “professional” dress.  “I’m not certain, you’ll have to check with Ava on that one.”

“Well, let’s get started then,” Claude said, clapping her hands together.  “So many patients… I heard this ship’s been without a physician for more than a month since your initial departure!  As I said, that simply will not do!”

“I wouldn’t say there was much of a choice,” Kayto said defensively.  “Between not having a doctor and getting blown up by the PACT, it seemed like the right thing to do for crew health.”

“We’ll have to fix this right now; first I’ll need you to take off your shirt,” said Claude, her eyes becoming glazed as she reached out to unbutton Kayto’s uniform.

“Uhh… I can manage myself, thanks,” said Kayto quickly, hastening to undo his own uniform before she could reach him.

“O-oohh…” Claude stepped almost uncomfortably close as she stared at Kayto’s chest and abdominals.  “Not body builder material, but not shabby either… lean and tight…” she muttered to herself, some saliva starting to pool at the corners of her lips.

“Something the matter, doctor?” queried Kayto.  “You’re looking at me pretty intensely…”

“No, no… nothing’s the matter at all,” answered Claude slowly and absently.  “But I should do a physical exam just in case… let me just…”  Reaching out suddenly, she laid hands on his bare skin, rubbing up and down his chest and ribs with only the barest pretense of palpating for anything even near an organ.  “Ooohhh… oh my…”

“That doesn’t sound good…” Kayto said uncomfortably.

“No, no… it’s good… very good…”  Claude backed up slightly, mouth slightly agape as she panted softly.  “Now… now it’s time for you to take off your trousers… Captain…”

“Uhh… is that really necessary?” asked Kayto skeptically.

“YOUR PANTS!  NOW!” demanded Claude excitedly as Kayto unwillingly acquiesced, stripping down to a pair of boxer briefs.  “Oooohhhh….”

“Oh what?”

“Uhh… oh, why did you stop there?  I mean,” Claude’s eyes bulged eagerly.  “Haven’t you ever had a medical exam, Captain?  The underwear too!”

“I don’t-”

“Doctor’s orders!  Captain, I’m just a trained professional doing her job; it’s nothing to be shy about,” Claude insisted in a moment of lucidity.

Completely at a loss, Kayto took off his undergarment as well, stark naked on the exam table.

“Oooohhhh… very… nice…” Claude’s eyes crossed slightly as she feasted her eyes, overcome once again by her ulterior motives.  Without taking her eyes off him, she slipped a tiny bottle out of her pocket, drizzling lubricant over her hand.

“Umm… what.. are you doing?” asked Kayto, reddening as every thought in his brain came to a screeching halt and deserted him.  “S-say…” his voice came out strangely high pitched.  “You are a doctor right?  Of medicine?  You wouldn’t happen to have your medical license somewhere, would you?”

“What are you insinuating, Captain?” asked Claude in a dramatic voice as she worked the lubricant with her fingers.  “Of course I am!  My license was on board the Mochi, so you’ll have to take the issue up with the pirates, I’m afraid…  Now, enough about me… this visit’s about you!”

“Really, I- W-WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” Kayto practically yelped as Claude stepped forward and grabbed him forcefully between his legs, stroking vigorously with her lubricated hand.

“Taking a semen sample… Ufufufufu…” Claude didn’t even bother trying to hide her panting anymore.  Leaning in and looking up provocatively, she stuck her chest out, giving Kayto full blast of her “medical uniform.”

“Uhh… gurk… isn’t there… some standardized… hurk… device…” Kayto’s eyes crossed and his mind completely shut down, leaving him a gibbering wreak as Claude plied him with her ministrations.

“Some things are just worth doing the old fashioned way…” Claude panted excitedly as she sped up, emboldened by the obvious result of her attention.

“CAPTAIN!”  Ava’s voice sounded from outside the exam room.

Both Kayto and Claude froze, the former’s jaw dropping open in horror as the blood drained from his face… and his erection.  In slow motion, the exam room door slid open, admitting Ava, who had fluffed up indignantly.

“Captain I’ve- AAAIIIIIEEEE!” Ava shrieked in shock, fury, and just for the sake of shrieking as she saw Kayto’s predicament and Claude, still holding onto him.  “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE!?!”

“HURK… A-Ava?!” Kayto gasped hoarsely, as he helplessly watched Ava’s face blanch white and flush red in under half a second.

“Medical Exam~” said Claude in a sing-song, but breathless voice, completely unabashed, finally releasing him and straightening her back.

“D-don’t even give me that!” screamed Ava as she swiped Claude’s hat off the top of her head.  “Captain!  This little skeever isn’t a doctor at all!  Look at this!” Ava shoved a bulletin towards him while making a studied point of not looking at his naked body.

Snatching the bulletin and glancing at it for the merest of moments before using it to cover himself as best as possible, Kayto blubbered.  “I-I knew that!”

“Medical license suspended for malpractice,” hissed Ava, rounding on Claude and advancing on her as the other woman shrank away.  “Gross negligence, inappropriate conduct, non-standard of care medicine… You’ve been caught masquerading as a licensed doctor on over a dozen planets and been censured by just about every accrediting body in the galaxy!”

“Fire Saviors!” Kayto shouted.  “I mean, damn it!  Get me my clothes and I’ll fire her!”

Ava practically hurled his uniform at his face.

“You heard the Captain,” said Ava, glaring at Claude.  “You’re relieved of your position as ship physician.  Also, I’m placing you under arrest.”

Claude’s eyes widened in horror and her jaw dropped.  “F-for what?” she squealed.

“For what?” Ava cried, exasperated.  “Weren’t you listening to any of that?!  You’re under arrest for the impersonation of a medical professional!”

“And assaulting a superior officer!” threw in Kayto as he struggled with his clothing, hopping on one leg with the other stuck in his trousers.  Ava ignored him.

The door hissed open once again and all eyes turned.

“H-hello?  I think I forgot my ID badge here… W-what’s all the commotion?  OH… oh my…” Chigara’s head poked in tentatively before she caught sight of Kayto, still completely undressed save for his boxer briefs and his hopelessly tangled pants.  Without changing facial expressions, Chigara’s eyes rolled up into her skull and she pitched forward, landing on the ground with a painful thud.

“Chigaraaa!” Kayto rushed to her, forgetting about his pants and tripping and falling flat himself, sprawling on top of her.

“Wowowow…” Claude started drooling again.

“Unbelievable…” Ava said faintly.  “Unbelievable…”

******

Kayto sat in his office chair, taking an unreasonable amount of comfort in the tight embrace of his Cera Space Force uniform and looking across the desk warily at Claude, now dressed in the far more subdued garb of a crew uniform.  Tears streamed down her face as she sniffled pitifully, staring into her lap.

“Captain, I’ve placed our ‘doctor’ under arrest.  What should we do with her?” asked Ava, features stern.

“Send a transmission to the nearest Alliance patrol base.  We’ll rendezvous with them and transfer her custody over to them,” decided Kayto.

“C-captain…” Claude gave a massive sniff and raised her gaze, her mauve eyes swimming with tears and pleading in expression.  “Captain… you wouldn’t do that to me would you?  You see… I just wanted to help!  I never meant any harm by it… I just can’t ever stand by when I see people in need of medical attention, I can’t help myself!  The only reason my medical license was suspended was because I was too busy delivering supplies and care to worlds the Alliance hadn’t sanctioned yet!  Please, you have to believe me!”

Ava crossed her arms skeptically, unmoved.  “Hmph.”

Kayto frowned.  Claude appeared to be earnest, and he even suspected a grain of truth somewhere in her story, but having witnessed her standard of care firsthand, he could not, in good conscience, allow her to continue running rampant without some kind of oversight.  “We’re on serious Ryuvian business,” said Kayto humorlessly.  “Once we’re done, we’ll see that you’re transferred to Alliance custody with a fair trial, that’s probably what’s best for all of us.  Sunrider will also not press any charges, so unless you have any outstanding warrants for arrest, you should be free to go.”

Claude nodded, sniffing wetly again.  “If you’re doing something related to Ryuvia, you probably want to head to the Mnemosyne Abyss.”

“What?” Kayto arched an eyebrow at the information, completely caught off guard that Claude had been sitting on top of the intelligence the whole time.  Suddenly, what had been a slip of the tongue became yet another stroke of luck, although this one would hopefully yield better fruit than the last one.

“I think you had better explain yourself,” said Ava cautiously, although curiosity warmed her tone slightly.

“Well…” Claude gave a small smile, trying to win their good graces once again.  “I’ve been to Tautenia on medical missions a few times now.  The locals would tell me all sorts of stories, including one about an ancient space battle from Ryuvian times.  You see, it’s not that the Tautenians don’t remember their history as a spacefaring people, but they consider their planet a shelter from the dangers of the Mnemosyne Abyss.  According to their history, thousands of ships once clashed their in one of the greatest battles ever witnessed.  Even now, thousands of years later, ghost ships and the souls of their dead crew continue to fight and patrol in the derelict ship graveyard, destroying any ship foolish enough to enter the abyss.  It’s because of their firm belief in this story that they’ve never tried to leave orbit since then.”

“Fascinating…” mused Kayto.  “Can we really go on the word of locals from a dark planet though?”

“It’s not some local tall tale,” insisted Claude.  “The Tautenians were genuinely concerned whenever I would come and go.  I think they told me the story to warn me, not to scare me.  Besides, we don’t call it the Mnemosyne Abyss for no reason; few ships have ever explored that area of space and come back, but those that do sometimes bring back Ryuvian relics.”

“What do you think, Captain?” inquired Ava, clearly intrigued.

“It’s the best lead we’ve got for now,” said Kayto with a shrug.  “At least it’s worth an investigation.  Set a course for the Mnemosyne Abyss.”

“And the good ‘doctor?’  What do you want to do?” asked Ava.

“Looks like we’ll be making at least one stop before heading back to Alliance space…” Kayto’s voice trailed.  Claude continued to look dejected, not meeting his eyes as she slumped with resignation.  As inappropriate as she had been, Kayto felt a twinge of guilt.  She might have not been a good doctor, but her heart seemed to be more or less in the right place.  Punishing her even more, especially given her latest contribution, seemed to border on malice and Kayto felt something give in his conscience.  After all, who had Claude really hurt as a result of her escapade?  “Take her to the hanger,” he decided, finding a loophole in his desire to dispense justice and mercy simultaneously.

“Captain?” Ava’s tone was incredulous, but Claude perked up, looking at him gratefully.

“She’s a better pilot than she is a doctor,” he pointed out, although the contest was, arguably, reasonably close.  “I think she could make herself useful aboard Sunrider.”

“C-Captain…” Claude’s voice was tremulous.  “You’re giving me another chance?  Oh… Captain!  You’re so kind and generous…  My hero…”  Claude’s voice trailed off as her imagination began editing her memories and the current scene in real time.

“Uhh…” Kayto eyed the increasingly vacant expression on her face warily. “Just stay away from the sickbay and we’ll consider you on probation for now.”

“T-thank you Captain!” Claude squealed happily.  “I promise I’ll do my best!  I won’t let you down again!”

“Unbelievable…” Ava dropped her face into her hands for a moment before gathering her wits again.  “Come on, then,” she said wearily, deciding not to argue.  “The hanger’s right below us…  Captain,” Ava turned, looking over her shoulder as she and Claude walked to the door.  “Are you sure about this, the Mnemosyne Abyss, I mean.”

“It’s worth a try; who knows… maybe we’ll find some Lost Technology that can make the Veniczar disappear.”

CHAPTER 12 >>>>