“You said Jianyu wanted to talk with me?” Mirelle hitched up her jeans. She was wearing a pair of Sera’s spare pants, the knees frayed and the thighs dark with grease stains, and they kept slipping down her narrow hips. Flowers had treated her well enough, all things considered, but he hadn’t thought to bring extra clothes along after a kidnapping.
Sera made a mental note to take her shopping soon. “Maybe give it a few hours. Jianyu’s got some stuff he needs to think about.” He’d brushed past her on their way out without speaking, heading in the direction of his room.
“Oh,” Mirelle said. “Maybe you could show me the rest of the ship? I haven’t had the chance to get a good look at it.”
Sera led her around. She tried to make her stop at the bridge brief. Captain Dysart was still brooding in the captain’s chair, and the view out the front window wasn’t interesting anyway, just a field of stars and the curving metal hull of the station. Mirelle lingered at the navigator’s station, her fingers hovering over but not quite touching the console, until Sera lured her away with promises of a better view from the lower deck.
From that window they could look down at the planet below, a rust-red desert with two ice-covered poles. “It looks like Mars,” Mirelle said, leaning out over the sloped crystal as if she were about to fall into space. Sera fought a brief, irrational impulse to pull her back from the edge. “Back before the terraforming. I saw a picture of it once.”
“When did you see that?” A bubble of hope expanded in her chest, small and fragile.
Mirelle twisted her mouth to the side, the way she did when she was thinking hard. At last, she said, “I read an article about it. Around the time of the four hundredth anniversary of the first colony.”
Sera looked away, feeling that little bubble pop, like it almost always did. Mirelle’s memories of the person she’d been before the accident were fragmented. Sometimes she’d come up with a surprisingly clear memory from her childhood, or a conversation from a decade back recited almost word for word. Most of the time she was the Minervan she’d become, still a child, still learning how the world worked. It wouldn’t do her any good to remind her that she’d visited Mars before, and spent the better part of two days in the history museum.
She covered her disappointment by looking around the edges of the window, checking for signs that the seal with the hull was weakening. It was rare for ship windows to blow like that, but every time you added a new feature to a ship, you introduced a potential point of failure. “Yeah, it does look a lot like Mars.”
“Maybe they’ll terraform it someday,” Mirelle said. “It’s in the right zone, it could even be Earth-like with enough work.
“Maybe,” Sera hedged, “if we ever run out of other planets.” Terraforming took a lot of resources, and even with an infinite supply of money, the full process still had to play out over centuries. A few projects had been ongoing during the heyday of the Coalition, but most of those were faltering now. Why bother eking out a living on a hostile chunk of rock when there was a perfect farm planet in the next system over, ripe for the taking?
“I want to see where we’re supposed to eat,” said Mirelle, stepping back from the window.
Sera took her to the former conference room they’d turned into a dining area, then through the cargo hold to the rear of the ship. The hold was empty now, since she’d dropped their last load of cargo, but Flowers had promised to fill it before they departed. They’d be starting with a light load of contraband, mostly raw cloth, with some cosmetics folded into the piles. Carrying that stuff wasn’t illegal for a human-owned ship, not unless you tried to offload it at the wrong port. And they wouldn’t even be taking it to the wrong port, just to a drop-off point that happened to be very close to one. That was practically legitimate work in Sera’s eyes.
“You’ll have to choose your own room,” Sera told Mirelle as they walked, their boots echoing on the metal deck in the cavernous space. “Most of the crew have their own space in the nose cone.”
“Can I be in the back with you?” Mirelle asked.
“It won’t be comfortable,” said Sera. “The engine’s loud.”
The door to the aft section hissed open, and Sera stepped over the threshold into the space she spent most of her time in. Pilots didn’t have much to do when a ship was traveling faster than light; no human brain could react fast enough to dodge a disaster. As soon as the FTL drive was engaged, a pilot had to trust that her navigator had calculated the route correctly. Since Sera doubled as the ship’s mechanic, she spent more time working on the engines than she did at the pilot’s station. She didn’t like the idea of having anyone, even someone she knew and loved like Mirelle, invading that space.
Mirelle stretched out her hand and pressed her palm flat against a wall. It was vibrating softly, just a low purr. “It’s not that bad.”
“It’ll be louder when the engine’s really working,” Sera told her. “Besides, it’s Coalition regulation for navigators to sleep closest to the bridge. Just in case there’s a problem during FTL travel.”
Mirelle looked at her, wide-eyed with confusion. “Why should I care about Coalition regulations?”
“It’s… just how things work around here.” Mirelle remembered very little about her time in the Coalition. She’d spent the last few years redoing her training as a navigator, with Sera footing the bills to a series of fly-by-night schools in Minervan colonies. In her darkest and most bitter moods, Sera resented the fact that she’d been the one stuck with the burden of remembering everything for the both of them. “Look, it’ll help you get things started off right with Jianyu. I’ll send you some old handbooks.”