Nell banked left, into the laser fire. The Silent Serpent rolled and Claw fell on top of Xendri, knocking her to the wall, which was now, or at least for the moment, the floor. There was another shudder as the laser-fire struck the ship. Xendri closed her eyes, thinking this was the end, but after one heartbeat and then another, they were still flying.
Claw was climbing off Xendri as the ship righted itself once more.
“What happened?” Xendri questioned struggling to her feet.
Instead of answering, Nell simply tapped the scanner screen with her metal-tipped tail. Xendri climbed onto the back of the pilot’s chair to be able to see over Claw’s shoulder. Below them, or was it above now? Xendri could never really tell, in space, and besides, Nell was still pulling them away and maneuvering deftly to keep any of the rest of the shots being fired from hitting them. Somewhere away from them, a mangled-looking version of their cargo bay dropped with what seemed like agonizing slowness toward the Delkrit city.
There was a moment of anticipatory silence and then the scanners lit up, reporting the explosions, one after the other, as the bombs caused a cascade reaction within the Delkrit vessel. Captain Claw let out an unexpected whoop, breaking the silence as he thrust his fist in the air. “Good job, Nell! Now get us out of here as fast as you can!”
Nell nodded, trying to catch her breath now that adrenaline was no longer ruling her. “Got it, Captain.”
Xendri just blinked, feeling shaken. The turret’s laser fire had come within inches of hitting their armed cargo and blowing them all to bits and pieces, and instead it had hit the stubborn clamp, freeing the bombs and saving their lives.
It occured to her in that instance that out in space, survival was balanced on the head of a pin. And if nothing else, Xendri intended to survive.
Two days later, the Silent Serpent landed safely on Mars with only a skeleton crew left, the rest having been asked politely to depart at the last station they’d passed through.
“I’m selling the ship,” Captain Claw announced to the few of them that remained. “Vox, excellent work setting up the gold exchange on Denain. With what we’ve made, split up evenly between us, plus the sale of the Silent Serpent to the scrapyard, I’ll have enough to retire.”
Xendri blinked a few times, confused. “What about the rest of us?”
“Well, that’s up to you, of course,” Claw allowed, “but I’m thinking that with your cuts combined, you might just have enough to buy a ship of your own, or cobble one together from used parts, at least. I’d be willing to help put you in touch with the right people.”
“But who’d be Captain?” Quattro asked the pertinent question.
“Not me,” Nell said. “I’m not the ‘Captaining’ type. I’ll happily fly whatever, wherever you tell me to, but I’d just as easily catch a ride on the next ship out of here.”
Vox, Xendri, and Quattro looked around at each other, but when Vox said nothing, Quattro and Xendri both spoke at the same time, drowning one another out.
“Listen, you don’t need to decide now,” Claw suggested. “Why don’t you sleep on it for the night? We can meet in the morning at the scrapyard to go over the options and the numbers.”
Claw’s authority still ingrained in them, they filed out, talking amongst themselves. All but Xendri. She lingered behind, watching Captain Claw. Finally his eyes fell on her and she mustered up the courage to ask, “What makes a good Captain?”
Claw smiled, his expression wistful, “The best kind of Captain is one who asks questions like that,” he told her, adding after a beat, “You’ll figure it out.”
“Me?” Xendri was taken aback by his endorsement.
“Vox and Nell don’t want it, and Quattro really wouldn’t make a good Captain, so that leaves you. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not only that you’re the only logical choice, you’ve got the spark, I can see it. You want to know what’s out there, what lies beyond the next Jump Gate, and the one after that.”
Xendri found herself nodding. “That’s why I left home.”
Claw put a hand on Xendri’s carapaced shoulder. “I think ‘Captain Xendri’ has a nice ring to it, don’t you?”
To be continued…