“Nyx,” Du said, coming up behind her, “is there anything I can do?”
“Captain.” Nyx stood up straighter, an instinctive gesture. “Uh, I mean, Admiral. Thank you for the offer, but I think we can take it from here.”
“Please, call me Xinyi,” she said. “I’m not your superior officer anymore, just a friend. Although I really would be happy to help.”
Nyx had begun her career in the Coalition under Captain Du, serving as a junior officer on the Eloquence. Some days it felt like that had been a different lifetime, and some days it felt like just yesterday that she’d stepped on board her very first Coalition vessel. Du had been a good captain, kind to her subordinates but not overly familiar with the youngest members of her crew. In time Nyx had moved on to the Compassion, and then she’d been given the captain’s chair on the Benevolence, and then everything had fallen apart.
Xinyi was looking around the bridge, and it was obvious that she wasn’t impressed by what she saw. Sure, the Benevolence could have used some touch-ups. Sera’s style of repairs was ruthlessly practical, with raised solder marks left unfiled and wires hanging out of abandoned consoles where she’d cannibalized hard-to-find parts. There had been many mechanics before her, none particularly skilled at maintaining the Coalition’s sleek and seamless look without the Coalition’s endless supply of free replacement parts. Nyx had learned to live with it, although now, under her old captain’s eye, she felt faintly ashamed that she hadn’t done more to tidy up.
“I noticed your copilot’s station is empty,” said Xinyi. “Mind if I sit there?”
“I’d be honored.” Lowering her voice, Nyx added, “To be honest, Sera could use the help.”
“I noticed. Why is she still flying?”
“We’re a little short-staffed at the moment. I’d planned to take a break after this quick run, but, well, you know.” Nyx spread her arms, a gesture encompassing the ship and its new passengers.
Xinyi was giving her a strange look. Nyx realized that she was looking at the cast on her wrist. The ship wasn’t the only thing looking a little beat up at the moment. “ I am, of course, grateful that you were available to pick us up on such short notice,” Xinyi said. “After this, I think you should take that break. Consider it friendly advice,” she added, barely heading off Nyx’s instinctive yes, Captain.
“We’ll definitely do that,” Nyx said. “Right after we’re done here.” How long has she been telling herself the same thing? They were always on the verge of having a chance to relax after just one more quick run.
Weyland approached, his com screen in his hand. His expression was neutral, his bearing unruffled–but then, it almost always was. “Captain, could I have a word with you?”
“Of course,” Nyx said. She expected Xinyi to stick around, but the older woman only gave her a thin smile and moved off to the copilot’s station to begin strapping in. “What is it, Weyland?”
“I’ve been checking the crew’s medical charts,” he said. “I don’t think they should be flying right now.”
“I know, but we’re going to do it anyway,” said Nyx, waving him off with her uninjured hand.
Weyland didn’t budge. “A standard takeoff in a ship the size and condition of the Benevolence exposes the human body to 2 gs of force. With the way Sera flies, the average for the Benevolence is closer to 3 gs…”
Nyx pinched the bridge of her nose as Weyland enumerated the many delicate structures of human anatomy that could snap under strain. Under other circumstances, delivered by a less monotonous storyteller, it might have been fascinating. Spaceflight was risky even for a species as strong as the Eridani or as a hard-shelled as the Centaurians. Even without letting the vacuum in, there were so many ways to die.
Now Weyland was going on about neural overload. Nyx held up a hand, and when that didn’t stop him, she said, “I acknowledge that this isn’t ideal. But do you know what happens when a human’s hit directly with a plasma rifle bolt?”
“Yes,” said Weyland. “The heat vaporizes organic material on contact, causing the expanding gas to–”
“This is a war zone,” said Nyx, flatly. “We’re getting out of it. End of discussion.”
Weyland nodded. If he disagreed with that decision, he didn’t show it. “Yes, captain,” he said, and went to his seat.
Nyx sat down in her own chair, looking down at the rest of the crew. She caught herself scratching an itch under her cast and forced herself to keep her palm flat on her armrest. Just ahead of her, Xinyi had pulled up a diagnostic report of the ship’s systems at her station. A good portion of it was solid red. The Benevolence’s computer still occasionally glitched out and tried to diagnose problems in the portion of the ship that had been blown off years before. Sera was tapping out a string of commands on the pilot’s console. Nyx buckled her harness, then killed time fiddling with it, tightening the straps and loosening them again.
At last she felt a familiar thrum through the soles of her feet as the Benevolence’s chemical thrusters powered up. Remembering the dozens of passengers the ship was carrying, Nyx used her own console to send a reminder to strap in. The view from the forward window tilted, the open field panning to a clear blue sky, and the thrust of takeoff pushed Nyx back into her seat.