“I’m heading back to my ship,” Nyx said. “Who’s with me?”
“Now, there’s no need to rush into anything,” the fussy manager said. “I’m sure things are going to calm down eventually. If we just wait here–”
“Fuck that,” Deua said, shoving him aside. “I’m out of here. This job isn’t worth getting killed over.”
“Smart woman.” Nyx followed her. She didn’t glance back as they walked out of the office, but she could hear footsteps behind her. At least some of the office workers had decided to take their chances. Flowers was following too, his gun in his hand but pointed at the floor. He looked a little unsettled, but he was keeping it together well.
Xrrt took up a position at her side and clicked her mandibles together. Her translator parsed that as, “Those two sisters are my great-great-great-great second cousins.”
Centaurian family structures didn’t translate neatly into human terms, but Nyx supposed that was a reasonably close family connection. Each Centaurian hive developed its own variants on language over the generations, so if Xrrt could communicate with the two security officers, they must have been close relatives. “Are they coming with us?”
“They’ll stay with the Benevolence until their maggots leave,” said Xrrt. Her translator stuttered over the word maggot, not quite translatable. Nyx wondered which of the office workers the sisters considered family and which they considered merely incidental. Xrrt had once tried to explain how she thought of the Benevolence’s crew, and Nyx had given up trying to understand sometime around hour three.
Deua didn’t lead them back to the corridor they’d come out of, but to an elevator. She keyed in a special code. “They should be running now, so I can override them with the management codes,” she explained.
Nyx took advantage of the pause to check how many people were following her. Nearly twenty, she guessed. Not everyone who’d been in the office, but close to it. The manager who’d tried to stop them was in the back, trying to look inconspicuous. It didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to send him away. “We’re mostly a cargo ship,” she told Deua. “This isn’t going to be a comfortable ride.”
“I don’t think anyone cares.” The elevator door slid open. Deua put a webbed green hand in front of the door so the sensor would register the blockage and keep it open. “We can’t all fit in one car. If you go first, will you wait for me?”
“I’ll stay right here with you,” Nyx said. “Xrrt, you can go down with the first group. Get them to the ship as quickly as possible, don’t hang around waiting and drawing attention to yourselves. I’ll be right behind you.”
Xrrt paused, rubbing her foreclaws together nervously. Flowers pushed past her to get into the elevator first. “If you don’t make it, I’m commandeering your ship,” he told Nyx.
“Good luck with that,” Nyx replied.
Xrrt conferred with her relatives, who took up positions on either side of Nyx, flanking her. Then she got into the elevator and shot Nyx one last look through the glass as the car began to drop.
As they waited for the car to come back up, Nyx asked Deua, “Did you see the broadcast?”
“Some of it.” Deua crossed her arms over her chest again. “I’m sorry, I can’t imagine what this is like for you.”
“I’ve never been to Earth,” Nyx said. “I grew up near it, but–this isn’t important right now. I wanted to ask you about the flag, just before the message cut out. It didn’t look like the Eridani Confederation flag I recognize, there was a red line in the middle. Does that mean something to you? Like maybe it’s not really a government action, but some sort of rogue entity?”
“It’s Baroa,” said Deua. When Nyx raised her eyebrows, she continued, “You know the laws, the new ones about what we’re supposed to wear and how we’re supposed to live? It’s not the entirety of the government, but it’s a… faction of it. I’m not sure that’s the right word in English. But I recognized the speaker, she’s the leader of that faction. It’s not a rogue entity. It’s an official government action.”
“Ah,” Nyx said softly. She hadn’t even realized she’d been holding onto that hope until it was dashed. The elevator came back up, empty again, and she stepped into the car alongside Deua. “I didn’t realize things had gotten that bad.”
“You’re human,” Deua said as the car began to descend. “There wasn’t any reason for you to notice, until today.”
She was blinking rapidly again, that thin membrane flickering over her dark eyes. Nyx said, “I suppose it’s a big galaxy. But I could have paid more attention.”
The way back to the Benevolence was clear. Xrrt had done as she was told and led the first set of workers back to the ship without waiting for Nyx. It hadn’t been an entirely uneventful trip. Nyx passed a pitted hole in the wall where acid had etched the metal. There was no body crumpled on the ground under it, so it was probably just a warning shot from Xrrt.
She took the lead as they walked to the Benevolence. The door hissed open as she approached. Sera was standing there, her hand on the barrel of her gun. There were bloody smears all along the front of her vest, brown against the olive green, patterned in a way that suggested handprints. Good lord, what had happened here?
Nyx saw the workers onto the ship, then grasped Sera’s shoulder. The woman was so tense she was practically vibrating. “Do you think you can get us out of the dock in ten minutes?”
“It’s all going wrong,” Sera said. She pressed the heels of her palms to her forehead, and Nyx noticed there was blood on her fingers too, dried and caked by the nails. “I just, I don’t know how to fix this. Is fifteen minutes okay?”
“It’ll have to do,” Nyx said.