“You can’t do that,” Sera said.
Du’s voice was icy. “I think I know more than you about how to fly.”
Sera took her hand off the yoke and keyed in a new set of manual commands: full power to the ion rocket and the secondary chemical thrusters. “I’ve had worse flights than this.”
A warning popped up on her console: Admiral Du was requesting control of the ship’s primary flight functions. Sera didn’t have the time to turn around in her chair to see Nyx’s face, but she knew her captain well enough to understand that she was struggling with this decision. “Trust me, captain,” she said. “She can’t control the Benevolence.”
They were picking up speed. Sera brought the ship in an arc, heading around the main force, hoping the pursuing human vessels would drop off when they saw the enemy. The ship shook as the chemical thrusters fired at full force. Nyx’s voice was soft, barely audible over the sound of rattling metal. “Tell me why I should.”
“Because I took the primary capacitor out of the copilot’s station two months ago,” Sera said. “It’s still got full permissions to control of the ship, but there’s no steering.”
Du swore, at some length, in both English and Chinese. Sera turned her focus to the field of battle. Most of the encroaching vessels were falling toward the planet, but a collection of smaller Eridani ships were creating a blockade. She had heard of the technique: the slower dreadnoughts would try to herd the human vessels toward the atmosphere, but if they tried to escape, they’d be cut off. Human ships were awkward in atmosphere, and on the ground, humans troops wouldn’t stand a chance.
Her screen was flashing again. Someone was firing at them. Human or Eridani, she wasn’t sure, but the force field that protected their hull was just for deflecting debris. It wouldn’t stand up to real fire.
“Everybody hang onto something,” she said.
“Uh, should I be on guns?” Jianyu asked.
“No,” Sera said. “We can’t waste energy heating plasma. But Admiral Du, I need you for this part.”
For a moment she thought Du would refuse. Instead, in a clipped voice, she said, “Tell me what to do.”
Sera yanked on the yoke, turning the ship’s nose up away from the planet. Two of the nearby Eridani ships must have noticed, because they began to move, closing the gap to prevent the Benevolence from escaping. Sera checked the readouts one last time. The chemical thrusters’ fuel was running low, and every possible volt of power was going into the ion rocket.
“When I give the word,” Sera said, “I need you to open the cargo bay doors. All of them. Override the airlocks so they open at the same time as the interior doors.”
Their window was closing. Sera made a minute adjustment to their flight path, aiming dead center between the two closest ships. Spaceflight had a strange way of changing her perception of speed; they were going hundreds of miles per hour, and yet as the chemical thrusters finally ran out of fuel and powered down, a strange stillness settled over the ship as if they were drifting powerless in the void. The two warships closed the distance, massive hulks moving with the grace of microgravity.
“On my word,” she said when there was no turning back, just the two ships ahead and the narrow path between them, “Now.”
The ship lurched as the cargo bay’s doors blew, sending hundreds of vats of algae flying across space. They weren’t the missiles she would have chosen, but as far as the Eridani were concerned, the Benevolence was now the center of a field of unknown debris. One tried firing a round of plasma into the field, spraying metal and water in a glittering cloud. The other veered off course, trying to avoid the friendly fire. And then a heartbeat later they were outside the blockade.
The Benevolence was lighter now, and she kept going faster. The G force of their thrust pushed Sera back in her seat. Something unpleasant was happening in her shoulder as her half-healed muscle tore under the strain, and her vision was narrowing, the stars at the edges of the window going dark. She didn’t have the luxury of passing out right now.
The ships were turning too, but not fast enough. Another few minutes at full speed, and they’d be able to engage the faster than light drive safely. Sera could hang on for another minute. She could hold off the darkness creeping across the sky for that long. Another thirty seconds. Her whole side was throbbing now, but she could do it.
It took a lot of effort to turn her head. Jianyu’s eyelids were fluttering as he calculated their path through spacetime. Her display flashed. They had their route. She tried to reach for her console, but when she took her hand off the yoke, it was difficult to raise it to the screen. “I need,” she began, but couldn’t get the rest of the words out.
The stars shifted and blurred. It wasn’t just her eyes this time. Admiral Du must have engaged the faster-than-light drive. The pressure on her shoulder vanished as the ion rocket powered down, leaving them adrift in the bubble of spacetime created by the drive as it folded space around the ship. Without the pressure there was just the pain, and the darkness nibbling away at the edge of her vision, and a dull sense of alarm as Jianyu’s head fell forward and blood ran from his nose.
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