She’d guessed correctly that the other ships leaving the station were heading away from earth. All except for one, which followed the Benevolence around the curve of the planet. Sera kept an eye on the proximity chart, monitoring the other ship’s progress. Maybe it was just a pilot who’d wanted to steer clear of the mess near the station.
When she turned the Benevolence’s nose up out of the gravity well, pointed for the stars, the other ship matched her trajectory. Sera took a closer look at the readout. It was a small craft, sleek enough to slip through an atmosphere with ease, but its engines were far too large for its frame. She’d flown ships like that. They were built to carry valuable cargo, and sometimes to take valuable cargo off other people’s hands.
She increased the power flowing to the ion rocket. It fired its own rocket too, speeding up just enough to stay within the radius that would interfere with the Benevolence’s faster-than-light drive. Sera pulled up a detailed readout of the ship’s features. The Benevolence’s computer couldn’t calculate how many guns it had. First it said zero, then the display switched to four hundred, then back to zero again. No one bothered interfering with another ship’s readouts unless they were up to something dirty.
The bridge was full of strangers. She didn’t know how they’d react to the news that they were being pursued. The last thing she needed was panic, someone trying to seize control or surrender. She forwarded the readout to the captain’s station, using her own private control of the system to push it up to the highest priority, and bumped the power level of the ion rocket up higher.
Captain Dysart was smart enough to catch on to the problem right away. She sent a message back to Sera’s station: Can we outrun it?
No, Sera responded. The other ship was increasing its speed. She fired up the chemical thrusters, enough to make the Benevolence shake under her, and she knew it wasn’t going to be enough. She changed course, veering off in one direction and then yanking the ship around hard, but not fast enough to confuse the other pilot. Maybe a real Coalition ship could have managed the maneuver, but the Benevolence was a third of a Coalition ship at most, and not even the most useful third.
Mirelle said, “I can make the calculations now.”
Sera looked over at her. The wire was back in her hand, clenched tight in one pale fist. She hadn’t plugged it into her neural port just yet, but she looked like she was about to do it. “You can’t,” Sera told her.
“I can do it,” Mirelle said. She looked composed, like she didn’t understand they were even being pursued. “It’s not that hard.”
“This ship’s in our space,” Sera said. She typed a message out on her console while she spoke, not willing to say it aloud. We’re being pursued. I need you on guns.
Mirelle glanced down at the navigator’s console, then looked defiantly back up at Sera. “I can work around it.”
“No you can’t,” Sera told her.
“It’s not difficult.”
YES IT IS, Sera typed out. She checked the display and adjusted course again. That asshole was just toying with them now, hanging around just far enough away that they’d spend extra fuel running. YOU’LL KILL EVERYONE, she added before sending the message to Mirelle’s console.
“You always underestimate me,” Mirelle told her.
The captain sent a message to Sera’s console: Can you evade?
Sera was typing out a response when her screen froze up. It jumped with nonsense images for a few seconds, glitching colors and fragmented shapes, then resolved into a face she recognized.
It was a dog, huge and shaggy, grinning at the camera in that toothy canine way. Its pointed ears were forward, alert. Its tongue was half out of its mouth, hanging loosely over its lower lip.
“Son of a bitch,” Sera muttered.
“Technically correct,” Buddy said, his voice rasping through a throat that had been surgically modified to form human speech. “I want what’s mine.”
“Can we call a truce today?” Sera said. She slumped down in her chair a little, working through the pockets that she knew were out of view of her console’s camera. “Earth just got attacked. We should all… come together as species from that planet.”
“Nice try,” said Buddy. “I don’t care.”
“I’ll get your money back.” Sera found the screwdriver she’d been looking for and used it to pop open the access panel under her console. “Hell, I’ll even get those paintings back. The people who have them now are total pushovers.”
“Maybe I would have agreed to that,” said Buddy, “before you killed my daughter.”
Sera ran her fingers over the wires, trying to navigate by feel. This would be a hell of a lot easier if she’d actually trained as a mechanic. “In fairness, she did try to kill me first.”
“I’m going to enjoy killing you.” Drool was collecting at the corners of Buddy’s mouth, thick and shining. “I’m going to make a whole day out of it. Really turn you into an example. Oh, and if your friend Flowers is on board, let him know I’m going to kill him too. And then the rest of your crew, of course.”
Sera curled her finger around what she hoped was the correct wire. She yanked. Buddy’s face blinked out and was replaced by the readout detailing all the ways his ship was superior to the Benevolence.
“Hit the FTL drive now,” Mirelle said.
Sera looked over at her. She’d plugged the wire into her neural port. The rim of her port glowed softly, showing the connection was good. “I’m sorry,” Sera said. “There’s no way I can get this old girl to a safe distance.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Mirelle said. “Just hit it.”
Sera let her finger hover. She turned in her seat, craning her neck to glance back at the captain’s station.
Captain Dysart shrugged. “What have we got to lose?”
She brought her hand down. Beyond the window, the starlight blurred.