“Got everything you wanted?” Sera asked.
“Yes. Can we go back to the ship now? I don’t want to be late.” Mirelle had read the Coalition handbooks Sera had sent her in their entirety, and had spent the last hour reminding her that regulations required all crew members to be present and accounted for at least three hours before departure. Sera had a feeling she’d get along with Jianyu just fine, and they’d drive everyone else crazy together.
“Let’s get coffee,” Sera said, grabbing her arm and steering her toward a cafe. It was on a corridor set up to mimic a planetside street, with little round tables and chairs out front. Sera ordered for them both and then dragged her chair around so her back was to the store and she had a clear line of sight in either direction. “Before we head back to the ship, I wanted to go over the story again.”
Mirelle rolled her eyes. “I know, I know.”
“First off, what’s my name?”
“Sera,” Mirelle said, “not Maritsa, not Selina, I know already.”
“How did we meet?”
“Chance encounter during a salvage operation. But I already told Weyland you’re my mom, so find a way to work that into the story somehow.”
Sera, halfway through a gulp of coffee, nearly choked. “You did what?” she asked once she’d finished spluttering.
“He was just being polite. You know, getting to know me, like normal people do.” Mirelle had a new edge to her voice, one Sera hadn’t heard before. “And anyway, you told me to get to know him better, just so you can win that stupid bet.”
Mirelle crossed her arms and looked away, her rosebud lips pressed flat. Sera scanned the concourse for the other members of the Benevolence’s crew. They were alone, thank goodness, or as alone as you could ever be on a space station full of strangers.
“Tell me the story,” Sera prompted her again.
“Are you even still looking for him?” Mirelle asked.
“Of course I am.”
“It just doesn’t seem like you’re looking very hard.”
“It’s a big galaxy,” Sera said. “He’s just one person, and he’s not exactly making himself easy to find.”
“Maybe if you tried actually telling people–”
“No.” She tried to be stern, but even to her own ears she just sounded frustrated. “Mirelle, look at me. I’m not trying to hide anything from you, I promise. I’ll forward you any updates I get from the information broker, and we’ll talk about them. Privately.”
Mirelle said, “I thought you said you liked this crew. Why are you lying to them?”
“I’m not lying. I’m just being selective about what they need to know about me.”
“You lied about your name.” Mirelle was really digging in now. That stubbornness was one of the only reliable remainders of the old Mirelle she’d grown up with–the now-vanished consciousness that Sera still, in unguarded moments, thought of as the real Mirelle. “You lied about the Coalition ship you were on. And where you grew up. And how much training you actually got as a pilot.”
“Those aren’t lies, that’s just backstory,” Sera said. Even by her own lax standards, it was a weak excuse.
Mirelle started to speak, but Sera held up her hand for silence. The ambient noise of the concourse had changed. Just a few minutes ago there had been footsteps, laughter, the clink of silverware. Now there was only the sound of an announcer reading a news broadcast. Sera had tuned it out as nothing more than background noise, but now she pulled out her com screen and synced it to the most recent news feed. Mirelle craned her head to see the screen, her curiosity winning out over her sulkiness.
The broadcast was from the Sol system. That made it a week old at the very least. A signal could travel faster than a ship, bouncing from
“Oh my god,” Mirelle said at the pictured changed, “that’s Earth.”
“I know,” Sera said. It was a familiar image, the globe against the black void, only there was a ragged crater where a significant portion of North America’s western coast ought to be. The atmosphere was still relatively clear, striated with no more than the normal patterns of white clouds, which must have meant the video was taken very shortly after the strike. A direct hit that large would probably throw debris into the atmosphere that would take a long time to clear.
One week earlier, hundreds of light-years away, Earth had been attacked. This, Sera realized with a horrible twisting feeling in the pit of her stomach, was the very first broadcast as it happened. Which meant that no one on this station knew yet why it had been hit, or more importantly, who hit it. She explained this to Mirelle in a frantic whisper.
“I don’t understand,” Mirelle whispered back. “Couldn’t it just be an asteroid strike?”
“Asteroids that close to an inhabited planet would be tracked and destroyed,” Sera explained. “It has to be an intentional attack.”
“Who’d do something like that?”
“I don’t know. Maybe another species. Maybe Luna.” Now that was a thought as chilling as it was plausible. They sat through a few minutes in silence, watching the screen change as the announcer did her best to stick to her script. There was footage of the missile, or rock, or whatever it was coming in. The moon was visible in the frame, just a waning sliver of it, almost new. It could have come from Luna. Well, shit.
And then the picture changed again, to some Eridani dignitary in the official figure-concealing robes of state. The expression on her gray-green face was carefully controlled, her hands folded on her podium in the correct formal posture, but there was something in her eyes that wasn’t the solemnity of a diplomat reaching out with condolences.“People of Earth,” she began. Sera had just a moment to register that she spoke in a language native to Epsilon Eridani, even though her mouth would have no trouble forming human language, even though every diplomat who dealt with humans had to know at least one of Earth’s native tongues. And there was something off about the flag behind her too, the colors were different, the Eridani brown and green bisected with a bright slash of red. “Consider this our formal declaration of war.”
The com screen vibrated, startling Sera so much that she dropped it. The buzz seemed to be coming from all around her; the conversation was coming back now, people swearing and muttering to each other as every screen up and down the concourse lit up with the words Security Lockdown.