They’d watched the broadcast in stunned silence, just like everyone else. Then the final message had begun, and the Security Lockdown screen cut in. The three of them had looked at each other as the strange stillness that had fallen over the crowd began to break down.
“Let’s get the hell off this station,” said Flowers, “and then let’s get as far away from this mess as we can possibly go.”
Nyx grabbed his arm before he could rise. “No chance. I’m going to Earth.”
“What?” Flowers yelped, and Xrrt said something her translator couldn’t handle.
“I’ll explain on the ship,” said Nyx. “Let’s get back there and make sure the rest of the crew’s all right.”
Getting back to the Benevolence wasn’t as easy as she’d thought it was going to be. Nyx pelted along the corridor, with Flowers right behind her and Xrrt bringing up the rear. They weren’t the only ones running. There was a crowd at the elevator, bodies pressed too thick for Nyx to slip through. Xrrt pushed into the scrum to get a better view and returned to tell them that the elevators weren’t working. Someone threw something at the glass, venting anger or frustration, and it bounced back into the crowd.
They backtracked, looking for another route through the station. Flowers caught up to Nyx and jogged alongside her. “You can’t go to Earth,” he said.
“I can and I will,” Nyx told him. “We all saw the size of that bomb. The kind of debris an explosion like that picks up can last for months in the atmosphere. Crops are going to fail, people are going to die without food. They’ll need supplies from off-planet. And we’ve got a perfectly good cargo hold.”
“You don’t have any money for food,” Flowers told her.
They hit a dead end, tried the doors and discovered they were all locked, backtracked until they found another path. “I can pick up supplies at cost, or maybe even less. We’ll ship them over from Mars.” Nyx glanced over at Flowers, who looked at her like she’d just grown an extra head. “You said you wanted media attention. This is the way to get it. We’ll show up in uniform, be a part of the relief mission. Don’t worry about the price. It’s what the Coalition would do.”
“Yeah, it is,” said Flowers. “No wonder it fell apart.”
They found themselves in another intersection of two perpendicular hallways. Nyx paused. “I’m not sure which way to go.”
“You don’t know the way back to your own ship?” Flowers asked.
Nyx looked around. There was a screen for visitors on the wall, but it had the same Security Lockdown message as every other electronic readout on the station. If there were any other guideposts planned for this station, they hadn’t been installed yet. “I know the way back, I just don’t know how to get from this level to the one we’re supposed to be on without an elevator. Let’s go this way,” she said, picking the path that led into the heart of the station on the theory that they’d be more likely to run into someone who knew the right directions. Less than a minute later, they stopped dead, unable to keep going because the corridor in front of them was blocked by a press of bodies.
Two security officers, both Centaurian, were backed up against a wall. They had similar carapaces, dark reddish-brown with a pattern of pale grey flecks–probably sisters. They were flanking an Eridani in business attire and a nametag that marked her as part of station management. A small mob had gathered around them. The Eridani had planted herself in front of a door in the wall and was speaking in the measured, careful voice of someone who didn’t have any better weapons than words.
Nyx looked around, sizing up the mob, and saw mostly humans. Most of them didn’t have guns, but they’d improvised with a variety of objects that looked like mining tools. This could get nasty.
Flowers nudged her in the ribs. “Might be an access corridor,” he said, tipping his chin at the distant door. “We can probably get to the Benevolence if we can find a way into that area.”
“I don’t know why you care about getting back to the Benevolence.” Nyx took a few steps forward, closer to the crowd. Something crunched under her feet. There was broken glass on the floor, sparkling in the artificial light. “We’re heading straight for Earth as soon as we get underway.”
“You can drop me off at the next occupied planet,” said Flowers. “I just want to get off this station. And then I’ve gotta come up with a story for Buddy about what happened on Lotan.”
“Yeah, you do that.” They’d reached the crowd now. Nyx tried to shove her way through the back of it, hoping they might be able to get past and find another route back to the Benevolence, but she didn’t have much luck.
“What’s the plan?” Flowers asked her.
“No idea. I just want to see what’s happening.”
The Eridani managed was still speaking, but she was being shouted down. Nyx caught a fragment of her speech: “–not sure yet who’s responsible, but as a representative of Interstellar Systems I strongly condemn these actions, and I’m sure that as soon as we hear back from corporate–”
“Give this to corporate,” someone yelled, and the manager ducked as a bag full of bolts smashed into the wall inches from her bald green head. The Centaurian officers sprang forward, and the crowd surged back. Nyx stumbled backward into Xrrt’s thorax and felt two pairs of chitin-covered limbs wrap protectively around her chest to keep her on her feet. She leaned as far to the side as she could get within the bounds of that confinement, craning her head to see if there were any escape routes. They were boxed in, with a crowd on either side and their backs to the wall.
“Well, this isn’t great,” she said, and then some idiot just had to fire a gun.