In Transit

Do Some Harm, Part 18 - Astra Nullius
Women Are From Mars, Part 1

Nyx

Three days later, the crew of the Benevolence still wasn’t dead.

Nyx reviewed the data Mirelle forwarded her, although it didn’t make any sense. She had neither the hardware nor the training to understand what exactly she’d done. Mirelle told her it was simple. Sera told her it was impossible. Jianyu couldn’t tell them anything at all; Weyland still had him heavily sedated.

During the ship’s night cycle she spent hours awake in her narrow bed, staring at the ceiling, listening to the ship purring under her. Everything felt normal. Everything felt off-kilter, like the whole universe was spinning around a new axis. When she closed her eyes she saw Earth’s atmosphere blossoming with white-hot fire. When she slept she dreamed of the ship slipping sideways through time and space, hopelessly off course, until it slid through a final terrible fold and she woke up sweating.

Nyx convened a meeting in Weyland’s lab, just the ship’s crew, all of them huddled around Jianyu’s unconscious body like he’d have something to contribute to the conversation. She tried to project calm, her hands clasped behind her back, nails digging into her wrist. “I don’t understand how it works, but it’s working,” she said. “I’ll consider that a win.”

“We’re all going to die,” Sera said. She was high on something, Nyx was pretty sure. Her eyes were red and she couldn’t stop picking at the fabric of her vest. She’d tried to wash it but the stains down the front were still there, dark blotches on the olive green fabric.

Mirelle rolled her eyes and said, “We’re not going to die.”

“What I don’t understand is how Buddy found us so quickly,” Nyx cut in. “How did he get the news about his daughter and get to the station so fast?”

“Simple,” Mirelle repeated. She held her hands in the air, parallel with her palms flat and facing inwards. Then she brought her hands together. It looked like she was trying to explain a concept visually. Nyx had no clue what she meant by it. Sera shook her head and started rubbing the knuckles of her left fist over her jaw, running them back and forth over her old scars.

Weyland was watching the argument with his usual neutral expression. Nyx wondered if he was worried about the possibility of them all ending up inside a star, or getting reduced to their component atoms, or whatever it was that happened when navigators fucked up. Maybe he just didn’t understand what the hell was going on. “How’s Jianyu doing?” Nyx asked him.

“His neural activity is stabilizing,” Weyland said. “I may be able to wake him up in two more days.”

“Well, that’s some good news,” Nyx said.

On the fourth day, they dropped back into the customary flow of space and time at exactly the planet they’d been planning to stop by. Nyx made Sera wait an extra day, then told Weyland to give her a drug test before she’d allow her pilot to take the Benevolence down into the atmosphere. It was a smooth ride by Sera’s standards, easing on down through the atmospheric friction instead of blazing through with the chemical thrusters firing on full power. Their passengers disembarked. They looked glad to get the hell off the Benevolence.

They returned to low orbit, catching up on the most recent news they could get from Earth. The planet’s atmosphere was still a mess in the news feeds, with so much debris kicked up that the whole globe was shrouded in thick cloud cover. Nyx wished there was a way to get to the Sol system faster. She remembered Mirelle saying simple and bringing her hands together. She didn’t ask Mirelle if it was possible, but she thought about it for a long time.

The next day, Weyland brought Jianyu out of sedation. He talked complete nonsense for an hour, just strings of syllables that didn’t match any language. Nyx suggested that Sera babysit him because she’d stayed sober, and because Nyx was pretty sure she was going to do it whether she had permission or not. A few hours later, Sera sent a message to her com screen letting her know that Jianyu was speaking English again. He was, of course, insisting that he was ready to get back to work.

“I’m not asking you to chart the course,” Nyx told him as he sat down at the navigator’s station and pushed the chair back to its customary place. “Just review Mirelle’s data and tell me if you spot any irregularities.”

“Am I looking for anything in particular?” Jianyu asked. Weyland hovered behind him with a neural probe in one gloved hand and a wad of paper towels in the other.

“You’ll know it if you see it,” Nyx said.

Jianyu plugged the cable into his neural port. His eyes went distant, then began to roll up until there was only a sliver of dark iris showing. A trickle of blood ran out of his nose. “Cut the connection,” Nyx said.

Weyland yanked the cable out of Jianyu’s head and shoved the neural probe in. He mopped up the blood on Jianyu’s face, then peeled off his gloves neatly, inside-out to contain the biological waste.

It took him a while to regain the ability to speak in recognizable words. The first thing he said that Nyx could understand was, “What the fuck was that?”

“Is it a problem?” she asked him.

“It’s brilliant,” Jianyu said. When he smiled, she noticed that there was still a smear of blood on his upper lip.

Xrrt

The man who called himself Flowers did not disembark with the rest of the passengers. Xrrt ran a discreet background check on him, not because she thought he could really be a threat to her crew, but because she had the sense that he might be staying for a while. He was like all the others: small, vulnerable, with external tissue as soft and flexible as a newly hatched maggot.

He had a whole variety of identity chips embedded in his arms. Some were clean; some were wanted for crimes in a few systems, but nothing particularly concerning came up during her searches. Living with Sera had taught Xrrt to forgive a certain amount of legal untidiness.

Flowers was polite to her, but then again, most humans were. It wasn’t difficult to command a certain amount of respect when you had eight claws and a healthy acid production. She watched him interact with the rest of the crew, especially the smaller ones, the ones who he might be able to harm. He was direct with Nyx, cordial to Weyland, rude to Sera but no more than she was to him. He maintained a polite distance from Mirelle. Well, he’d kidnapped her not long ago, so that wasn’t too surprising. Xrrt was finding herself growing protective of Mirelle, already fretting about her safety. She was so very small and the universe was so full of things that could pierce her skin.

The Benevolence had dropped off its passengers and refueled several days ago, but Nyx was keeping them in orbit. She wanted more tests run on Mirelle. She wanted a clearer sense of the news from Earth. She wanted to find additional help with security before they headed into an active war zone. She wanted to know what to do with Flowers, who she didn’t trust but needed to keep working with because he was still in communication with this mysterious client. When she came to Xrrt for help on those last two points, Xrrt wasted several frustrating soliloquies on her translator before she could make it say, “Why does that man call himself Flowers?”

It wasn’t quite the question she’d intended to ask, but it was close enough. Nyx gestured at one of her forearms with her opposing hand. “It’s because of the tattoos,” she said. “The flowers–oh, I forgot, they must not look like flowers to you.”

Xrrt said, I have seen flowers before. I admire their ultraviolet fluorescence. I see why your people would want to decorate yourselves with flowers, but I do not understand how they can look like marks on your skin. I do not understand why any of you would puncture your skin voluntarily. I worry about the delicacy of your skin all the time. But since you have told me that his arms look like flowers, I will trust you that this is what you see.

Her translator said, “I’ll take your word for it.”

Later that day, she asked Flowers to accompany her to the room she used as an armory. It wasn’t a place she went often. Her people didn’t have a use for weapons that required fingers. She’d kept the guns left over from the Benevolence’s days with Coalition anyway, just in case anyone on the crew needed them.

Flowers gave a low, appreciative whistle when he saw the racks of rifles and the nearly hung pistols, enough for a whole Coalition ship’s security team. Xrrt unlocked one of the larger rifles and passed it over to him. It was a plasma weapon, so of course she kept it unloaded on board the ship. He checked the cartridge slot anyway to make sure it was empty.

“This is a nice piece,” he told her. “Why are you showing it to me?”

Xrrt said, We are heading into a dangerous region of the galaxy. I know that I am not enough to protect the crew alone. We need additional security officers, but it is difficult to recruit people who are willing to follow Nyx at the best of times, and this is not the best of times. You seem like someone who knows how to handle a weapon. More importantly, you seem like someone who doesn’t have a place in the galaxy at the moment. The Benevolence could be your home, if you want to stay for a while.

Her translator said, “I’m recruiting for the security team. You don’t have anywhere better to be.” That, she thought, got the point across more or less as she’d intended it.

Flowers laughed at that. He looked down at the gun in his hands. “No one’s calibrated this thing for a while. The dampener probably needs adjusting.”

Xrrt unfolded a panel from the wall. It was just the right height for humans to use as a workbench. Sera had stowed a weapon repair kit behind it. The tools were impossible for Xrrt to use; some of them she couldn’t even pick up, no matter how carefully she maneuvered her smaller set of forelimbs. Flowers got to work quickly, his many-jointed fingers swift and sure. Xrrt watched him work.

After a while, he said, “It’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”

Sometimes, it was best to remain silent. It wasn’t just because the translator would stumble over what she was trying to say. Humans needed silence now and then. Their minds ran wild in it. Xrrt had learned to tolerate it when she’d left her hive, and experienced for the first time how the rest of the galaxy lives without the constant swell of hive-song.

Flowers worked for a while longer without speaking. He finished what he was doing to the rifle, shut the toolbox, and closed the panel back up. “Do I have to wear one of those stupid uniforms and call you boss?”

Xrrt spread her foreclaws and moved them up and down, approximating a human shrug. She said, I have overseen a full security team for the Coalition. I sent all of them into danger. Many of them died, and I mourned them. I do not understand why clothing is so important to so many sentient species, but they took pride in it. It does not matter to me what you call me, so long as you are willing to risk your life for my crew.

Her translator said, “I don’t care what you call me.”

Flowers laughed. “All right,” he said. “I’ll think about it. But I won’t be calling you boss.”

Weyland

Mirelle sat patiently as Weyland slid the neural probe out of her head and read through the results. The captain had asked him to do an extra exam on her before they headed to the Sol system. He wasn’t sure why, exactly. Her neurological readouts were normal–or rather, they were wildly outside the realm of what should be possible, but they were within the range of normal for her.

Weyland tried to tell her as much. She listened attentively, a little furrow forming between her brows as he attempted to explain. “I don’t understand what the problem is,” she said. “Everyone’s making a big deal out of nothing special.”

“I don’t understand either,” Weyland admitted. “I’ll tell Captain Dysart you’re not putting yourself at any risk by continuing to work.”

He dismantled the equipment he’d been using and placed the metal spike of the neural probe into the autoclave for sterilization. Mirelle lingered in his lab, a few steps behind him, watching as he broke the seal on a fresh set of pipettes. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“I’m testing the nutritional content of the fluid in the meat vats,” Weyland told her.

“Can I watch?” When he looked at her, confused, she frowned again. “I’m sorry if I’m intruding.”

“It’s fine,” Weyland said. It wasn’t that he minded the company. The rest of the crew just didn’t seem to enjoy hanging out in his lab, especially when he was working on the meat vats.

He cracked open a vat and began taking samples. Mirelle leaned over, staring down into the clear liquid with fascination. The mass in this vat was well-defined, nearly ready for harvesting. Its cells had blossomed up out of the original sample, dividing and growing without limits. “I didn’t think it would look like that,” she said.

“What did you think it would look like?”

“Like dinner, I guess, in nice little cuts. But look, it’s got veins” The mass in the vat twitched. She jumped back and yelped. “It’s moving!”

“It’s muscle tissue. It’s supposed to move, and it needs blood flow so it doesn’t die.” Weyland finished collecting his samples and closed the lid on the vat. When he looked up, Mirelle’s face was twisted up in an expression that Weyland recognized as pain. She didn’t look injured. “Are you all right?”

“It’s just–you must think I’m stupid for not knowing what meat looks like.” She touched the side of her head with two fingers. “I must have known once, but I can’t remember anymore.”

“Not knowing something yet doesn’t make you stupid,” Weyland said. “There are plenty of things I don’t know.”

“Oh, please. You’re a doctor. You know everything important.”

“I don’t know what food is supposed to taste like,” Weyland said.

Mirelle looked at him, her lips slightly parted, the furrow back between her brows. Weyland met her gaze impassively. He felt hot shame twisting in his gut, the fear that once again he’d asked the wrong question, that he’d given the game away. “I’ve tried food I haven’t cooked,” he said, trying to explain. “It tastes better than what I make. I don’t understand why. I tried using spices and the rest of the crew just got mad and said it made the food hurt too much to eat. Except for Xrrt, who doesn’t have the ability to detect capsaicin.”

Mirelle said, “Did you know Sera and Jianyu have a bet about you?”

“No, I didn’t know that.” Weyland moved on to the next vat, unscrewing the lid and taking samples. “What are they betting on?”

“They’re trying to figure out your story. Who you really are.” He fumbled a pipette. It bobbed on the surface of the liquid, spinning in a lazy circle. “I think it’s a mean thing to do to someone who’s supposed to be your friend.”

“What do they think about me?” The anxiety intensified, a burning curl of fear right through the core of him. He’d have to leave if they found out. He wasn’t sure if they’d want him to stay. He wasn’t sure if it would be safe for him to stay, if they knew the truth.

“Sera thinks you’re a robot,” Mirelle said. “I think that’s dumb, but she says she’s met some advanced robots and nobody could tell the difference.”

Relief flooded over him, the sensation so strong it made his knees feel weak. He fished the pipette out and got back to work. “That’s an interesting theory. Did she have an explanation for that time I broke my leg right in front of her?”

“I don’t think Sera’s all that smart.” Mirelle drifted over to one of the smallest vats, the one Weyland had carefully left unlabelled. He stopped taking samples to watch her, but she just ran her hands over the metal surface of the sealed tank. “Sometimes I think I don’t like her all that much.”

“I thought the two of you were supposed to be best friends,” Weyland said. “I thought she was your mother.”

Mirelle tapped the side of her head again. “We were best friends. But now I can’t remember anything about that. And she took care of me, but–I’m not sure I want to end up like her.”

“I get it,” Weyland said. “You want to decide who to be on your own.”

“Exactly.” She smiled. Weyland was beginning to appreciate the fact that not all smiles were the same. Hers was open and sweet, her eyes crinkling up at the corners. Weyland could get used to being smiled at like that. He moved on to the next vat, barely paying attention to what he was doing. He didn’t have to focus on the work at all. His hands just moved, guided by memories he couldn’t consciously recall.

Jianyu

Jianyu kept having to fight the sense that he was sitting in someone else’s seat. He kept looking to his right, expecting to see Sera at the pilot’s station, but instead he was just staring at Mirelle. Captain Dysart had decided to put Jianyu in the empty communications station closest to the navigator’s station, as if proximity to the action was going to mean anything when Mirelle was running the calculations.

He rubbed the center of his forehead, where a throbbing pain had taken up residence. Weyland had warned him that he’d have some strange symptoms, the after-effects of burnout and a direct shock from a stun baton. The headache had started yesterday. At least his senses were returning to normal. He’d spent the first day after waking up tasting sounds and smelling textures.

He looked right again without thinking. Sera caught his eye over Mirelle’s head. She shot him a worried expression. He gave her a thumbs up.

“Take it easy,” Captain Dysart said behind them. “No surprises.”

Of course he’d watched other navigators work before. He’d been the junior navigator on the Benevolence for the entirety of her trip into unknown space, looking up to the more senior members of his team for guidance. He’d travelled all his life as a passenger on ships, never even stepping foot on the bridge of most of them. Putting his trust in other navigators had always been part of his life.

He still felt a sick twist of anticipation as he watched Mirelle plug the cable into her neural port. Even though he’d reviewed the data of her last trip, he couldn’t fully explain what she’d done. The numbers just–worked, when they shouldn’t have. In the combination of euphoria and grogginess he’d felt after waking up from sedation, he’d thought it was brilliant. Now he couldn’t remember what exactly she’d done to move the Benevolence without sweeping the pursuing ship up in the same fold of spacetime.

Math wasn’t supposed to be subjective. Reality was more fluid than it looked, but everything that existed had constants.

Jianyu stared out the window as the starlight blurred. He wasn’t used to seeing this view. At this point in a trip he was usually buried deep in his own head, plotting a route that would allow the Benevolence to take a straight path through the universe’s curves. The way the light distorted and smeared across the clear crystal was beautiful, but it also made his headache worse.

He stood by while Weyland took Mirelle’s readings. “I’d like to review her calculations,” he said.

Weyland shook his head. “You’re off work for at least two weeks. Captain’s orders.”

Jianyu looked up at Captain Dysart, who shrugged and pointed her thumb back at the door. “And I’m standing by those orders. Get some rest.”

“Yes, sir.” Jianyu tried not to sound sullen, but it was a struggle. He went back to his room, sat down on his bed, and scrolled through his com screen looking for a song that fit his mood. The titles swam in front of his vision, the letters nearly as blurry as the starlight. Weyland had warned him that he’d have trouble reading text for at least a week.

Sera came in without knocking and flopped down cross-legged at the foot of his bed. “What’s this noise?” she yelled over the music’s pounding beat.

Jianyu couldn’t remember the band’s name. The singer was Eridani, the lyrics shocking to some sensibilities but tame by human standards. He hadn’t listened to it since he was a teenager. “It’s sort of like Eridani punk rock,” he said when he’d turned the volume down low enough for conversation.

“What does it mean?”

“Uh…” Jianyu listened to the lyrics, trying to remember the general jist of the song. “She’s saying it’s okay to show your elbows in public.”

“Wow, shocking stuff,” said Sera, scratching the scars over her own left elbow.

Jianyu didn’t ask her why she was here. He had the feeling he already knew why she’d decided to check up on him right now. He didn’t want to talk about what he was feeling about not being the Benevolence’s only navigator, wasn’t even sure he could put it into words if she asked.

Sera said, “Have you ever been to the Sol system?”

“Never,” Jianyu said. “I think I have some second cousins on Earth, but I never visited them. My parents moved all over the place for work, but home system diplomacy’s a specialized field.” His parents had preferred to operate in the wider galaxy, beyond the complicated politics and red tape of each Coalition species’ native system.

“I grew up there,” said Sera. “Not on Earth, but not so far away.”

Jianyu had never heard Sera talk about her childhood before. “What’s it like there?”

“The ceilings are low.” She held a hand over her head, mimicking an overhang. “Everything feels taller out here. You’re going to have to get used to ducking.”

“Right,” said Jianyu. “I’ll approach doorways with caution.”

“People won’t be friendly there,” Sera said. She paused, picking at the front of her jacket. “Especially not right now.”

Jianyu said, very softly, “Yeah, I know.”

“You should stick close to me, yeah? Just in case. And I know you don’t like carrying a gun, but maybe you should give it a try.”

Jianyu’s throat felt thick. He looked up at the ceiling. “I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe.”

Sera

Sera was doing just fine. This was all perfectly all right with her: nodding to Flowers in the hallway like he was a part of the team now, talking about work with Mirelle like she hadn’t hurled the Benevolence impossibly through time and space, listening without objecting as the captain detailed her plan to buy a bunch of supplies on Mars and just give them away. This was going to be the new normal now. This was fine. She could be fine with this.

She’d gotten through worse and weirder situations, she told herself. Her life had never been particularly safe or predictable. The nice little routine she’d settled into on the Benevolencecouldn’t have lasted anyway.

And then one day the captain sat down next to her at dinner and said, as casually as if she were asking for a repair, “I’ll need your measurements.”

“My what?” Sera asked. It was just the two of them in the converted meeting space that served as the ship’s dining room. Dinner was a pile of ground beef patties between green slabs that almost, if you didn’t think about it too carefully, tasted like bread.

“I need to make sure I’m ordering you a uniform that fits,” said Captain Dysart. “We’ll have to fudge it on your rank, but that doesn’t matter so much at the moment.”

“Why are you ordering me a uniform?”

“Everyone’s getting one. We’re not going to be able to convince anyone we’re working for the Coalition if we’re not showing up in uniform,” she said. Sera realized that the captain was already wearing her purple uniform shirt, and her dark trousers had a strangely boxy cut that she recognized from her brief days with the Coalition. “Unless you kept your original uniform, then we can modify what you’ve already got.”

“I didn’t hang onto it,” said Sera.

“No problem. Just send me your measurements, and I’ll get it sorted out on Mars.”

Captain Dysart took a bite of her sandwich. She looked calm. No–she looked downright content, like she was finally in her element. Sera swallowed thickly, the lump of meat sticking in her throat. “You don’t have to get me a uniform. Maybe I could just… hang out in the background, you know?”

“We’ll need everyone on the crew to look the part,” the captain said. “What’s the matter? Do you get nervous in front of cameras?”
“Yeah, something like that,” said Sera.

“It’s funny, Weyland said exactly the same thing. You won’t have to do any interviews, I’ll handle that.”

“Okay,” Sera said. “I’ll send you those measurements.”

She picked at her food and listened to Captain Dysart spinning grand plans. When the captain left, she loaded a plate and took it to Jianyu’s room. Jianyu was blasting music again, in English this time. He sat up when Sera came in and turned the volume down. “What’s bothering you?”

Sera passed him the plate and flopped down on the end of his bed. “Did you know the captain’s going to make us wear uniforms?”

“Yeah, she said she was going to find a new shirt for me,” Jianyu said. “I’m not sure how she’s going to get one in my size, but she said she’d manage.”

“That doesn’t bother you?”

“No, why should it?”

Sera rolled over onto her back and stared at the ceiling. Jianyu’s bed was hideously uncomfortable, just a thin layer of padding over an old steel tabletop. He said he liked it that way. “Do you really want to work for the Coalition again?”

“More than anything,” Jianyu said. “I know this is just–pretending, I guess, it’s not the real deal. But it feels like the right thing to do right now, you know? It feels like coming home.”

“Huh.” Home was a subject Sera had been trying not to think about too much lately. “You don’t think it’s going to be weird, seeing me in a uniform? Like I’m really a part of the Coalition?”

“You said you trained with the Coalition,” said Jianyu.

“Yeah, but–that was a long time ago. A lot’s changed since then. I’ve changed.”

“Think of it this way,” said Jianyu. “If the Coalition did still exist today, would you join it?”

Sera frowned up at the ceiling. She tried to imagine herself–the woman she was now, not the girl she’d been–marching up to a recruitment station and enlisting. The Coalition had always been lax about background checks; she wouldn’t have been able to get in the first time without their willingness to look the other way. Maybe she’d even pass the psychological tests, if she was willing to lie. Maybe she’d even want to lie again, for the chance to be a part of an organization that felt like it meant something.

“I wouldn’t go back to the way things were at the end,” she said. “When everything was breaking down, and people started fighting, and you didn’t know who you could trust. But for a while… maybe it wasn’t all that bad.”

“By the way,” Jianyu said, “I’m technically your superior officer now.”

Sera stretched her foot out and kicked him lightly in the thigh. He laughed. “If you try to discipline me, I’m going to rewire your sound system so it only plays Falacerian synth-punk.”“Joke’s on you,” Jianyu told her, “I love synth-punk.”

Nyx

Nyx didn’t remember the trip to the Sol system being quite this quick from their former location. Mirelle assured her that it was normal to be able to reach Mars in less than a week. Jianyu frowned over the timeline but admitted he had no way to check her calculations right now.

A ship slipping through spacetime took on its own internal rhythm. The lights dimmed and brightened on a predictable schedule, imitating an imaginary day halfway between the 24-hour cycle of Earth and the 29-hour cycle of Epsilon Eridani. The Coalition had chosen a 27-hour day as a compromise between its two surface-dwelling species; Centaurians and Falacerians largely lived underground, while Minervans took on the circadian rhythms of their host bodies. So much of life in the Coalition had been about living in the spaces between what was ideal, about finding a compromise that worked well enough for everyone.

Nyx had never concerned herself with those kinds of decisions when she’d been a part of the Coalition. As a captain, she’d worked within the rulebook when it was convenient, and found new ways to interpret those rules when they failed to account for the strange new challenges of life beyond the boundaries of known space. Now she found herself staying up late into the ship’s night cycle, scrolling through old handbooks, remembering the way things had worked before.

An hour before they were due to drop back into the normal flow of time, Nyx assembled the crew on the bridge. She stood in front of the window, between the navigator’s and pilot’s stations, facing the interior of the ship. The window curved just enough that she could see the distorted starlight in her peripheral vision, wavering as the perspective bent and shifted with the Benevolence’s changing position. The starlight slid over the purple fabric of her shirt, catching on the silver insignia on her breast: five silver dots, arranged in a circle.

Mirelle and Sera looked up at her from their seats. Mirelle seemed composed, sitting with her hands in her lap. Sera had at least managed to clean her vest off, which meant she looked about as good as she had in a while. Jianyu was sitting beside Mirelle, looking grim. Weyland had his usual inscrutable expression. Xrrt was strapped into her modified chair, but leaning over to speak with Flowers, who had his boots propped up up on the nearest console.

It wasn’t much of a crew, according to all her old handbooks. They barely had the numbers to pass muster on a repair barge, never mind a real starship. The idea of this handful representing the entirety of the Coalition was laughable.

But this was what she had to work with. This was the best chance she was going to get to make things right. She’d spent her whole career learning to compromise, and now she was going to have to make this work.

“The problem with living through history,” she began, “is that you can only see it clearly after it’s over with. With the perfect vision of hindsight, it’s possible to put events in a larger context. To see that everything worked out, or everything failed, for a reason. But in the midst of a chaotic time, all you can see is what’s in front of you.”

She wasn’t sure if any of them understood what she was getting at, but they were all looking at her expectantly. She continued, “Some day, in the future, I know we’ll be able to look back on this moment and see it as part of a grander trajectory. I hope we’ll be able to say, yes, this is the moment where we chose to make the galaxy a better place, and look at everything we accomplished after that decision.”

Sera looked like she was itching to interject. Nyx continued before she could. “Or perhaps we’ll say, this is the moment we decided to make some easy cash. Or this is the moment we tried something new, and it didn’t work out, but it was part of the process of learning what does work.”

The Benevolence hummed under her, a soft vibration travelling up through the soles of her feet. Her crew was watching, waiting. “Starting now, you are all working on a Coalition starship. We cannot follow every rule the Coalition laid out. We have no diplomats to protect us. We have no higher officers to appeal to. We may have some money, just enough to keep us flying, if we play our cards right.”

That got a raised eyebrow and a smirk from Flowers, who was still lounging with his feet up. But the others were with her, at least, especially as she said, “I am not asking you to rebuild the entirety of the Coalition alone. I am not expecting that the trajectory we’re on now will end where it started. What I’m asking you to do, what I’m hoping we can achieve, is to make the small parts of the universe we can reach a kinder place. I ask you all to live in the spirit the Coalition intended, in the service of a peaceful galaxy.”

She looked down at Mirelle, who was still sitting patiently, and Sera, who was squinting up at her as if she didn’t quite recognize her own captain. “Begin preparations for arrival near Mars. We’ll be touching down near Uchronia City.”

Mirelle picked up the cable that would connect her with the ship’s navigation system. Sera began to punch commands into her console. Nyx headed for her chair, and turned at last to face the starlight.


Do Some Harm, Part 18 - Astra Nullius
Women Are From Mars, Part 1

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