“Captain Dysart, can you hear me?” Sera said, holding down the button that should have allowed her to respond to the captain. Nothing happened. The captain kept speaking as if she hadn’t heard anyone trying to respond, pleading for calm.
Sera messed with the settings, trying to figure out how the system was letting her receive a broadcast without sending it. When the console didn’t give up any answers, she pried open the casing and took a look at the insides.
The Benevolence hadn’t had anyone to crew the communications station in a long time. A section of the transmitter array was missing, probably cannibalized by some previous mechanic looking for extra parts. The ship still should have been able to send out a broadcast, but it wasn’t going to be possible from this station.
The navigator and pilot stations weren’t designed to allow crew members to broadcast outside the ship. Most of the other empty stations had been picked to pieces over the years. The captain’s station could still broadcast, and Sera had no doubts that Captain Dysart would answer a call from it.
She hesitated at the edge of the dais, looking up at the station. It was just a chair, the same as any other on the bridge. Well, maybe the faux-leather cover was a little nicer. She could see the impression that Captain Dysart had worn into it over the years, the outline where the fabric had been worn shiny by its occupant. It had been a long time since Sera had cared about anyone’s rank, but she’d been with the Benevolence for a while now, and the rest of the crew’s habits had worn off on her. She’d gotten used to thinking of the captain as–different, somehow. Special. You didn’t just sit in her chair.
But Sera was the most senior crew member on board at the moment. On board and conscious, that was, because Jianyu wasn’t in any position to take command. Hell, Sera was probably an officer, technically, because the highest ranking pilot on a Coalition ship was supposed to be an officer. That was her, even if she was also by that logic the lowest ranking pilot.
She sat down in the captain’s chair and turned on her console. Getting it to recognize her as an authorized user was the work of a few seconds, since she’d been the one who last serviced it. Captain Dysart was still talking, and Sera cut her off with, “Captain Dysart, can you hear me?”
There was silence at first, and then a babble of voices on the other end of the line. Sera assumed the captain was one of them, although she couldn’t tell who was speaking or what they were trying to say. It sounded like an argument. Then Captain Dysart came on again, saying, “Sera, is that you?”
“You need to get back to the ship right now.” The captain would–well, probably not fix everything, but at least with her on board they’d be able to leave this station. “Is Xrrt with you?”
“Hang on, this is still–how do I switch to a private channel?” Another indistinct conversation as several people tried to talk over each other, and then the captain was back. “Okay, it’s just us now. Xrrt’s here with me. What’s happening?”
“You know about Earth, right?” Sera said. She hoped she wasn’t the one who’d be breaking the news to the captain.
“Yes, I know.” Captain Dysart’s voice was calm, but not totally without emotion. “I know everyone’s on edge right now, but I think if we can just convince the station to keep calm–”
Sera cut her off. “Someone attacked Jianyu. He’s still not conscious, and it’s–it’s pretty bad, captain. We need you here.”
Whatever argument was happening on the other end went on for a long time. Sera picked at a tear in the fabric over the chair’s armrest, worrying at it until the lining showed through underneath. At last the captain said, “Okay, I’m going to override the lockdown and allow all ships to depart from the docks. But I need to bring a few people with me.”
“I don’t care, just get back here,” Sera told her. It felt weird giving orders to her own captain. “I need to check in with Weyland.”
“I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Sera signed off and went back to the lab. Jianyu was still on the floor, lying silently with his eyes closed. Someone had tucked a pillow under his head and cleaned the blood off his face. There were still red spatters down the front of his shirt. Sera wondered if the stains would come out. Jianyu hated shopping for clothes. “Is he awake?”
“Sedated,” Weyland said. He was peeling off a pair of bloody gloves. Sera looked away as he dropped them in the trash.
Sera gestured to her own skull. “How’s it going in there?”
“He’ll live.” Weyland paused, then glanced over at Mirelle, who was removing her own pair of gloves. “We’ll be down to one navigator for a while.”
Sera looked down at her own hands. She had blood under her fingernails. “Xrrt and the captain are on their way back. We’re leaving as soon as they get here.”
“Good,” said Weyland. “Where are we going?”
Sera thought about it. She’d been flying with the Benevolence long enough that she had a pretty good idea of what Captain Dysart was going to do. “The Sol system,” she said.
“Oh, I’ve always wanted to go there,” said Mirelle.