Jianyu finally began to move as they dragged the wheeled cart through empty hallways toward the Benevolence. By the time they were aboard the ship, he was able to sit up, although he couldn’t get up on Weyland’s exam table on his own. Sera, Weyland, and Mirelle weren’t strong enough to lift him safely, even together, so they did their best to help him slide off the cart onto the floor.
He said something, or tried to. The sound came out mushy, not recognizable as English or Chinese or any flavor of Eridani that Sera had ever heard before. Weyland was getting a probe ready. He asked Mirelle for her com screen, since Sera had used his to get the elevator working again.
Sera sat down at Jianyu’s side. He looked at her, his eyes unfocused, and she wasn’t certain that he recognized her at all. “What happened to him?”
“One of the officers got him with a stun baton,” said Weyland. “I think there may be some additional head trauma.”
Jianyu was trying to stand up. Sera put a hand on his shoulder to keep him down. “Will he be okay?”
Weyland said, “We’ll know more after I run these tests.”
A cold pit was forming in Sera’s stomach, the ache of desperately needing to do something when nothing she could do would make any difference at all. Weyland slid the probe into Jianyu’s neural port, and she watched his face as he checked the readout. She’d always liked Weyland’s bedside manner, poor though it was. He was usually impassive while he worked, almost completely expressionless. Watching someone stay calm in a crisis had a way of making it seem like it wasn’t a big deal after all. But now he was frowning at whatever he was seeing on the screen, and Sera’s doubts were growing.
Jianyu’s eyes were rolled back in his head, only a sliver of dark iris showing. The whites were bloodshot. Blood leaked out of his nose, first a trickle, then a steady stream over his lip. Sera tried to wipe it away with her shirt sleeve, but she only managed to smear it around on his face. “Tell me he’s going to be okay,” she said to Weyland, not because she believed it but because she needed to hear it.
“I’m going to need to do a brain scan,” Weyland said. He removed the probe, and Jianyu slumped forward, not fully unconscious again but not responsive either.
Blood was dripping down his chin, into his lap. “I don’t understand why he bleeds like that,” said Sera, still mopping at his face, still doing nothing useful at all.
Weyland was snapping a complicated-looking piece of equipment together. Either he was too focused on his task to hear her, or he didn’t think she’d want the explanation. Mirelle came over with a box of tissues. “It’s… sort of a pressure release built into the navigation hardware,” she said, pressing a wad of paper into Sera’s hands. “But it’s not supposed to be this bad.”
“So stop it,” Sera snapped at Weyland. He frowned a little harder, and she felt the panic swelling, raw-edged.
Weyland got down on the floor with Jianyu to do the scan. Sera stood up and paced from one end of the lab to the other. She’d wiped her wet hands all over her vest and the thighs of her pants before she realized she was leaving bloody tracks.
“Where’s the captain?” she asked. “Why isn’t Captain Dysart here?”
Jianyu tried to say something again. The cadence was almost recognizable as words this time, but still in an unknown language, still so badly slurred it could have been anything. Weyland was looking increasingly disheartened at whatever he was seeing. Mirelle was standing by with a box of tissues she wasn’t even bothering to use. Sera had to get out of the room before she started screaming.
She went to the bridge, walking quickly as if she could outpace her own thoughts. She’d spent plenty of time in this space while the rest of the crew was elsewhere, making repairs or her own personal modifications. It should have felt like home, but right now it just felt too large and too shabby. The smell of burnt plastic, always faintly present, was almost overwhelming now.
Sera sat at the rarely-used communications station and fiddled with the control panel, looking for a signal. There was a looped message playing from the station, telling ships that there was a security lockdown in place and no one would be able to enter or leave the docks. The voice was crisp, unemotional, almost certainly pre-recorded. Sera listened to it cycle from English to Eridani. When it switched to a growling language she didn’t recognize, she went searching for other stations.
Nothing was coming from the red planet below them except for status reports from exploration drones. They were mostly focused on the composition of nearby rocks. There were a whole lot of news channels available. Sera flipped through them, trying to work backwards and calculate how long it had been since the news had been cut off by the lockdown. These newest reports showed a smudgy cloud over the western North American coast, expanding through the atmosphere. Sera wondered how badly it was going to wreck Earth’s climate. Maybe just for one growing season, she hoped. That would mean a few years of hardship, but not total planetary collapse.
Her panic, barely suppressed, was welling up again. She flipped back to the station’s automated message, thinking that she might be able to find some way to shut it off using the Benevolence’s system. She spent a few minutes on that, letting the task take the edge off her fear, when the message stuttered and changed.
“–urge you not to lash out against people who are not involved in this atrocity,” the new announcer said, and Sera sat up straight in her chair, because she recognized that voice.