“Aren’t you tired?” Isa asked Theresa.
Theresa looked up from the debris she was tearing apart. Her hands were sore from gripping the crowbar, and sweat was collecting under her suit. She was the only one still cracking apart metal, looking for valuable computing components and hidden trinkets. All the Lorak had stopped hours ago, and the rest of the humans were busy trying to track down their next payday.
“Sure I am,” Theresa said between gasps.
Isa wiggled her antennae in confusion. “Then why don’t you stop?”
“Because I can’t,” Theresa said. “We’re not done yet.”
She put the crowbar in a seam on the metal, then picked up a hammer and whacked the end of it. The metal shrieked, and Theresa pushed. The seam split, and the wires in the metal were exposed.
“And here I told myself I would never be one of those people who stole copper wire for a living,” Teresa said.
“It’s not stealing if no one owns it anymore,” A Lorak pointed out, unhelpfully.
Theresa just nodded in acknowledgement so he wouldn’t get offended and went back to work. Isa started pulling the wires out of the split metal.
They cleared the rest of the salvage in two hours. By then, Theresa had blisters despite the gloves and the calluses, and the Lorak were sore and hungry.
Back on the main deck Quick Sliver, which was still scooping up more debris from the ship they were deconstructing, Shishab, Carlos, and Markus were waiting for her. She knew it was serious the second she walked in and saw the two men waiting by the cabin door.
“What’s up?” She asked.
“The Canteron are closing in on Earth,” Markus said.
“Shit,” Theresa said. She threw her work gloves onto the control console and put an arm on Shishab’s chair to lean against. She fanned her face with the other one. “When did we find out?”
“An hour ago,” Markus said. “The peace keepers are broadcasting their location. We just now figured out where their bearing is pointed.”
“How long will it take them?” Theresa felt Shishab shift in his chair and looked at him. He was usually fine with people touching his mobility chair and leaning on it, especially Theresa, but things changed day to day. He was just reaching for the ship’s controls to reposition its clamps closer to the debris field, and a moment later, he settled himself against her side.
“Two months,” Shishab said, “at the most. They will need to stop and refuel, and that may take a day. We’ll have a better sense of when they’ll arrive then.”
“That’s so soon,” Theresa murmured.
“What are we going to do?” Markus asked.
“Are we going to do anything?” Carlos added.
“Why are you asking me?” Theresa said.
“Because you’ve made all the decisions about the Canteron,” Carlos said, “and you care the most about how it goes with them.”
Theresa turned to the display screen and pulled up the information about the movement of the Canteron war fleet. They were being tracked by what seemed like a hundred different organizations, and the galactic library was publicizing all of it. The whole quadrant of the galaxy was angry about the fleet of warships passing through, even though they weren’t attacking anyone else, and no one really owned the space between stars systems. No one owned anything out there. Not even the ships they’d purchased for good money back planet-side. Hence the very healthy pirate economy feasting on the corpses of unfortunate ships that met bad fates out in the no-mans-land between stars. And sometimes helped them on their way, if they felt like they had something to prove.
The Library was also continuing to publish reports and updates from their researchers on Earth. They had last updated their on-board database three days ago when refueling, and there were all sorts of new documents available. Theresa pulled up the specs on the Canteron war fleet.
“Well?” Carlos prompted. “What do you think?”
“Chill out,” Theresa said, “I’m still reading up on what kind of engines they have.”
“So I want to know how long we have to argue about what to do.” She stood up from the console. Her arms and legs felt weak from dismantling steel all morning. “Captain, we might be leaving your ship soon—”
“No,” Shishab cut her off, “if you decide you want to go fight the Canteron, the Quick Sliver will go with you.”
“Thank you,” Theresa said, keeping a straight face despite the shock she was feeling.
Shishab clicked his antennae again. “Chasing Canteron War ships around the Galaxy has been profitable so far,” he deflected. Theresa was almost certain there was more to it than that, but she wasn’t going to push the issue.
“So are we going home?” Markus asked.
Theresa thought about Earth. There was always a chance the Canteron would blow the whole planet up, or drop nuclear bombs on its surface. If she had been the general of their war fleet, that’s what she would have done to Earth. She never would have given humanity the opportunity to get off its surface.
And if that’s what the Canteron were going to do, the only defense that could possibly be mounted was in the space between planets in the solar system. But there wasn’t a fleet of human warships waiting to spring on the Canteron. In fact, they probably didn’t have any advanced spacecraft on Earth at all. They hadn’t when Theresa had left Earth three years ago, and three years wasn’t nearly long enough to develop a home-grown faster-than-light engine.
After so many years yearning for space travel, it was horrifying that so few humans had made it off Earth in the last decade. But, then again, Earth was their home. It was difficult to leave the only planet you had ever known, and even harder when you had to board an alien spacecraft from one very specific location in Nevada, United States of America, to do it. The US was a notoriously hostile and prickly country if you were an outsider. And it wasn’t really surprising how few aliens had actually visited Earth when the only spaceport was in the middle of a desert.
So there was no way humans were going to be able to mount a defense in Earth’s Orbit except with remote-controlled missiles. Which might get the job done, but might not.
No, the only way to make absolutely certain that humanity wasn’t snuffed out on Earth was to chase down the Canteron and decimate their army. Again. And hope that they had some back up doing it.
“We should fight the Canteron,” Theresa decided.
“Hell yes!” Markus exclaimed, “I’m going to tell the others.” He headed out the door.
“Can’t say I’m surprised,” Carlos said, “but can I ask why?”
“Because if we don’t do it, nobody else is going to,” Theresa said. “And if no one does anything, then Earth probably isn’t going to survive.”
“It is possible we won’t get there in time,” Shishab said.
The thought made her flinch, but Theresa just shrugged, “then we will have some fantastic salvaging opportunities. And we can draw straws to see who has to repopulate the Galaxy with who.”,
Carlos made a face at her, “let’s not do that.”
“Let’s not,” Theresa agreed. “We’d better hope that we make it to Earth before the Canteron.”
“Aren’t you tired?” Isa asked Theresa.