Jianyu was in the dining room, trying to get down a bowl of something green he’d found in the fridge, when Sera found him. She pulled up a chair across from him and said, “Are you really eating that?”
“It was labelled edible,” he said, turning his spoon over and letting a wad of greenish goo plop back into the bowl. “I think it’s some kind of algae.”
“Is it any good?”
“It’s chewy,” said Jianyu. “And also runny at the same time.” He pushed the bowl over to her so she could poke at it with the spoon.
“The next crew member we hire has got to be a cook.” Sera dug through the green slop, leaving a channel that collapsed in on itself.
“I’m sorry about… earlier,” Jianyu said. “Things are going to be different with a second navigator.”
“Mm. Are you going to finish this?” When Jianyu shook his head, Sera fished something metallic out of one of her pockets and dropped it into the bowl. It released a little puff of smoke as it sank, and left a scum of bubbles behind on the surface.
“What was that?” Jianyu asked, uncertain if he actually wanted to know.
“Ion capacity limiter. Those idiots who were working on the ship saw the pilot’s station didn’t have one, so they thought they’d install one. And they charged way too much for it.”
“Couldn’t you just give it back? Maybe you could get some money back.”
Sera rubbed her knuckles along her scarred jaw. “Just between us, let’s allow the captain to believe we have one. It’s sort of an essential part.”
“I mean, under Coalition regulations, it was. But you can get an extra two percent thrust without it.”
“I know, I know,” Jianyu said. “This is where you tell me I need to learn to tolerate risk.”
“What? This is about reducing risk.” Sera held her thumb and forefinger together, less than an inch apart. “Sometimes it’s so close. Just check our data for the flight out of Heimstätte. At maximum allowed speed with a limiter on the ion rocket, our engine section would have been directly in the path of a missile. Every little bit of thrust makes it a little less likely that we’ll end up smeared across some random patch of space.”
Jianyu made a sour face at her. Sera grinned. “And every extra navigator means we’re a lot less likely to end up in the middle of a star. So get used to working with Mirelle.”
“It’s just that–there was this ship called the Assimilation, and it–”
“Disappeared. I know.” Sera looked down at the bowl, her smile fading. “I had friends on that ship.”
Jianyu hadn’t thought of that, but she was about the right age for it. The final flight of the Assimilation had been in one of the Coalition’s last years, while he’d been so far out in space he hadn’t even been able to receive the news. “Maybe disappeared isn’t the right word for it,” he told her. “Things don’t just vanish from space and time. It could still be out there somewhere.”
“Well, it’s nice to think about it that way.” Sera stirred the algae again, the ion limiter clanking against the bottom of the bowl. The door to the dining room opened and she stood up. “I better throw this out.”
She pushed past Captain Dysart, who gave her a quick nod before turning to Jianyu. “Do you have a moment?”
“Of course, captain.” Jianyu straightened in his chair as the captain took the seat Sera had just vacated. She laced her hands on the tabletop and looked up at him, her expression unreadable.
“Captain,” said Jianyu, “I wanted to apologize for what I said earlier. I shouldn’t have tried to question your orders.”
“Actually, I’m the one who needs to apologize,” Captain Dysart said. “I should have found room in the budget for a second navigator years ago. And I should have started preparing you for a more senior role. If this were a Coalition ship, you’d be supervising a junior navigator by now.”
“I–thank you, captain.” For all the time Jianyu had spent thinking about what things had been like if the Coalition were still standing, he hadn’t imagined how his role on the Benevolence would change. It was hard to imagine himself as anything other than the ship’s most junior navigator.
Captain Dysart tilted her head to one side and said, “Do you know what a ship like this runs on?”
Money, Jianyu almost said, because he’d spent long enough with Sera for her to rub off on him a little. Rocket fuel was his next thought. “Cooperation?” he guessed.
The captain smiled. “Close, but not quite. A ship like the Benevolence runs on trust.”
Jianyu nodded, as if that made sense to him.
“I can’t do your job, or Sera’s, or Weyland’s, or Xrrt’s. I can’t afford to hire four other people who know how to do those jobs to oversee all of you. I just have to trust that you all know what you’re doing, because if any one of you messes it up, we’ll all die. And all of you have to trust each other.” Captain Dysart paused and glanced down at her hands, still resting on the table, before she continued. “And all of you have to trust me to make decisions. Who we work with, what we put in the cargo hold, how much time and money we spend on repairs. I know you aren’t always in agreement with the decisions I make.”
“But I trust you, captain,” Jianyu said, without hesitation.
She looked up at him, smiling. “Exactly. And that’s why I’m asking you to put some trust in Mirelle, because you’re her commanding officer now.”
Jianyu opened his mouth, couldn’t think of anything to say, and closed it again. He wasn’t even sure if the Benevolence had a formal hierarchy anymore. Over the last few years, each member of the crew had become a department of one.
“You’ll check her calculations, to the extent that they can be checked, and give her advice on where to improve. I’ll get reports on her work from you, and on her fitness for duty from Weyland. If you truly believe she can’t do the job safely, then I’ll trust your judgement, but I hope you’ll give her a chance. Oh, and you’ll be getting a small raise. Just a higher percentage of future jobs, not a salary. Does that work for you?”
“That’s great. Thank you, captain.” For the first time in years, Jianyu let himself imagine sharing the navigator’s position. It wasn’t quite as terrifying as he’d pictured. It would even be relaxing to delegate some of the work, just the short-haul flights. Maybe this would all work out just fine.