The captain left her with a nicely worded command for her to show up at the ship ASAP as if he had no doubt at all she would. Stevens informed her of the dock and slip number, her expression still stubbornly neutral.
Claudia was sure Bennet only wanted her to report immediately so she wouldn’t have time to figure a way out of the situation. Except, what options did she have? None. If he let the station know who she was, no one would hire her. Who knew what would happen to her then? Like it or not, the Holiday was her only choice. For now.
Gathering her things took only minutes. She stared around the tiny station room, as if it could have come to mean anything to her in the few days she’d spent in it. She knew she was only wasting time, unhappy about Bennet, his sour companion, and what might happen next.
It felt strange heading toward the dock level, especially after having arrived but a handful of days before. With the help of the virtual map tied to her identi-all, she was able to locate the Holiday’s slip without too much trouble.
What she could see of the hull through the plasteel windows was covered in old paint and pitted but looked to be in good condition. Yet the thing that caught her gaze and held it was its Drexon laser cannons. Armaments on a non-military ship and the station didn’t mind?
She jerked half-around, not having expected the voice blaring into the hallway. A small screen lit up next to the station’s permanent airlock. Bennet’s image gave her a lopsided grin.
“About time you made it here.” The seals on the station airlock hissed as they opened. Several green lights on the board below the screen started blinking. “Get inside, then cycle on through. Stevens will be waiting for you.” The screen went blank.
Claudia took a deep breath, one full of anticipation and a smidge of apprehension; then pulled the airlock door open enough to squeeze by. Hitting the close button on the other side, she heard the door seal behind her. She walked the short length of the airlock to where it joined the Holiday’s.
“Prepare to be scanned.” Stevens’ clipped tones blared from the unit at the door. The screen there remained dark. Purple light washed down on Claudia from above with a hum.
The scan was unexpected, especially just to enter a small ship like this. What was Bennet hoping to find? Weapons? Although, if he’d endeared himself to others as he had with her, he might actually have cause to be a little paranoid.
Less than twenty seconds later, the scan shut off, and green lights lit up on the console. The door gave a soft pop and opened, a similar door doing the same on the other side of the small airlock of the ship.
“Welcome to the Holiday. My name is Emma Stevens. I’m second in command. If you have any problems or issues, you’ll come to me.”
Despite the “welcome”, the tight expression on her face wasn’t welcoming at all. Claudia couldn’t fathom why the first mate thought anyone would willingly come to her for anything. She was off-putting, to say the least.
Stevens actually nodded at that. Claudia was surprised to see her defrost half a degree.
“Come, I’ll show you your cabin and work area.” Stevens set off at a brisk pace. “We’re only here for another day. So, do a quick inventory and send me a list of what’s lacking or what needs replacing, I’ll see what I can do before we leave.”
Claudia’s eyebrows went up with honest disbelief; she was glad the woman had already turned away and didn’t see it. Efficiency and communication weren’t exactly what she’d been expecting.
“The Holiday is a class-three Endine merchant cargo ship with mods. Two decks, six pressurized cargo storage units, and a large non-pressurized area. Holds a maximum crew of thirty-five. Currently, we’re only at twenty-three…” She hesitated a moment. “…that is, twenty-four.”
They left the airlock zone behind and emerged into what looked like a main passageway. It didn’t escape Claudia’s notice that thick metal doors seemed to have been added at the junction to cut off the space if necessary. A prudent move, since the Fringes didn’t exactly have safe shipping lanes.
One unexpected thing she noticed was how clean the ship’s interior was. From Bennet’s scarred arms and hoodlum look, she’d not anticipated his ship would be this tidy. For the first time, she found a definite positive point in her current circumstances.
“Only officers are allowed armaments onboard ship,” Stevens continued. “Weapons are dispensed to crew on an as-needed basis only. Since you’re the only member of your department, and an unknown quantity, you’ll be treated as they are where weaponry is concerned.”
That was fine with Claudia. She had no experience with weapons and would be more than happy to keep it that way.
“Bulkhead doors are to remain open at all times; they’re only closed on Captain’s orders or mine, except for those in the holds. Gravity generators remain active under those same conditions. The medbay has a separate unit for emergency use only.”
After that, Stevens took Claudia through the two decks—the bridge, the recreation room/mess hall, the lift. Curious looks raked her as she walked past, but only when they thought Stevens wasn’t looking. Of Bennet, Claudia saw no sign, although she was shown the door leading to his quarters/office.
Claudia hadn’t been sure what to expect with regards to Bennet and the information he’d implied he had on her. Being ignored completely after being ordered aboard hadn’t been it.
They stopped by her assigned cabin only long enough for her to throw her duffel inside and key her thumbprint on the lock. It looked to be the same size as her room at the station. At least, it didn’t appear she’d have to share it. Their last destination was what Claudia had been waiting to see since the moment she stepped foot onboard—the medbay.
And that was when she realized she’d definitely hit bottom.