Every time Kate makes another rescue, when the scream of alarms is a distant memory and her heart stops pounding in her chest, she finds herself asking the same silent question; how many more? How many times will she throw herself into the fire, engines screaming murder, COVAS blaring silenced warnings, knuckles turning white on the wheel? How many times will she watch the refugees huddle in the cargo hold, eyes wide with relief and fear, faces caked in black soot or crimson blood?
There is certainly no shortage of tragedy out here, not when the multiverse is her oyster. There will always be another failed gas-seal, another burst valve-line, another fire that spreads too far, another reactor close to critical load. She knows she will never run out of work to do, so long as she keeps seeking it out. And there can be no doubt that is her intention; a lancer ship doesn’t need Class-4 heat shields, or passenger harnesses in the hold, or thrusters engineered to within an inch of their life for fast take-off.
She knows others think she flies for fame or fortune. There are stories of the Stargazer in every port; they talk of how she made thirty-seven trips to a single doomed station in the Thargoid Blitz, or how she returned twice to Pell after Hope Eyrie and Finity’s End gave up trying. But all their praise rings hollow, and she takes her payments in fuel and discounted repairs.
No, she keeps going back because she feels like an imposter. She didn’t lose anyone when the SS Heart went up in flames; she had no family left, all her friends and coworkers made it out, and she was planning on leaving that ship anyway. It never felt like home. So why when she closes her eyes is she back there, her cockpit alive with unfamiliar warnings, Emergency Flight Control screaming for her to withdraw, the evacuation ships pulling back one by one, and the SS Heart screaming on towards destruction with untold thousands still aboard?
She wants nothing more than to take her friends’ advice, to put on some music, throw Stargazer into supercruise, and sleep until she finds herself in some undiscovered wonderland. But so long as she feels like this, and feels like she hasn’t earned that feeling, she cannot rest. So whenever she finds herself asking how many more, she gives herself the same answer: one more time.