“Um, I’m not sure I can walk,” he said. “My knee.”
“Hang tight, Doc.” Amos’ voice came from the speaker. “I’ll come take a look at it. I’m pretty much the closest thing we’ve got to a medic unless you wanna hand it over to the med bay.”
“Just don’t try to weld him back together,” Holden said. “It doesn’t work.”
The link went silent. While he waited, Prax checked his incoming messages. The list was too long for the screen, but that had been true since the initial message had gone out. The message titles had changed.
BABY RAPERS SHOULD BE TORTURED TO DEATH
DON’T LISTEN TO THE HATERS
I BELIEVE YOU
MY FATHER DID THE SAME THING TO ME
TURN TO JESUS BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE
He didn’t open them. He checked the newsfeeds under his own name and Mei’s and had seven thousand active feeds with those keywords. Nicola’s only had fifty.
There had been a time that he’d loved Nicola, or thought that he had. He’d wanted to have sex with her as badly as he’d wanted anything before in his life. He told himself there had been good times. Nights they’d spent together. Mei had come from Nicola’s body. It was hard to believe that something so precious and central to his life had also been part of a woman who, by the evidence, he’d never really known. Even as the father of her child, he hadn’t known the woman who could have made that recording.
He opened the hand terminal’s recording fields, centered the camera on himself, and licked his lips.
Twenty seconds later, he closed the field and erased the recording. He had nothing to say. Who are you, and who do you think I am? came closest, and he didn’t care about the answer to either one.
He went back to the messages, filtering on the names of the people who’d been helping him investigate. There was nothing new since the last time.
“Hey, Doc,” Amos said, lumbering into the small room.
“I’m sorry,” Prax said, putting his terminal back into its holder beside the crash couch. “It was just that during that last burn …”
He gestured to his knee. It was swollen, but not as badly as he’d expected. He’d thought it would be twice its normal size, but the anti-inflammatories that had been injected into his veins were doing their job. Amos nodded, put a hand on Prax’s sternum, and pushed him back into the gel.
“I got a toe that pops out sometimes,” Amos said. “Little tiny joint, but get it at the wrong angle on a fast burn, hurts like a bitch. Try not to tense up, Doc.”
Amos bent the knee twice, feeling the joint grind. “This ain’t that bad. Here, straighten it out. Okay.”
Amos wrapped one hand around Prax’s ankle, braced the other on the frame of the couch, and pulled slowly and irresistibly. Prax’s knee bloomed with pain, and then a deep, wet pop and a nauseating sensation of tendons shifting against bone.
“There you go,” Amos said. “We go back into burn, make sure you got that leg in the right place. Hyperextend that again right now, we’ll pop your kneecap off, okay?”
“Right,” Prax said, starting to sit up.
“I’m sorry as hell to do this, Doc,” Amos said, putting a hand on his chest, pushing him back down. “I mean, you’re having a lousy day and all. But you know how it is.”
Prax frowned. Every muscle in his face felt bruised.
“What is it?”
“All this bullshit they’re saying about you and the kid? That’s all just bullshit, right?”
“Of course,” Prax said.
“Because you know, sometimes things happen, you didn’t even mean them to. Have a hard day, lose your temper, maybe? Or shit, you get drunk. Some of the things I’ve done when I really tied one on? I don’t even know about until later.” Amos smiled. “I’m just saying if there’s a grain of truth, something that’s getting all exaggerated, it’d be better if we knew it now, right?”
“I never did anything that she said.”
“It’s okay to tell me the truth, Doc. I understand. Sometimes guys do stuff. Doesn’t make ’em bad.”
Prax pushed Amos’ hand aside and brought himself up to sitting. His knee felt much better.
“Actually,” he said, “it does. That makes them bad.”
Amos’ expression relaxed, his smile changed in a way Prax couldn’t quite understand.
“All right, Doc. Like I said, I’m sorry as hell. But I did have to ask.”
“It’s okay,” Prax said, standing up. For a moment, the knee seemed like it might give, but it didn’t. Prax took a tentative step, then another. It would work. He turned toward the galley, but the conversation wasn’t finished. “If I had. If I had done those things, that would have been okay with you?”
“Oh, f**k no. I’d have broken your neck and thrown you out the airlock,” Amos said, clapping him on the shoulder.
“Ah,” Prax said, a gentle relief loosening in his chest. “Thank you.”
The other three were in the galley when Prax and Amos got there, but it still felt half full. Less. Naomi and Alex were sitting across the table from each other. Neither of them looked as ruined as Prax felt. Holden turned from the wall with a formed-foam bowl in either hand. The brown slurry in them smelled of heat and earth and cooked leaves. As soon as it caught his nose, Prax was ravenous.
“Lentil soup?” Holden asked as Prax and Amos sat on either side of Alex.
“That would be wonderful,” Prax said.
“I’ll just take a tube of goo,” Amos said. “Lentils give me gas, and I can’t see popping an intestine next time we accelerate being fun for anyone.”
Holden put a fresh bowl in front of Prax and handed a white tube with a black plastic nipple to Amos, then sat beside Naomi. They didn’t touch, but the connection between them was unmistakable. He wondered whether Mei had ever wanted him to reconcile with Nicola. Impossible now.
“Okay, Alex,” Holden said. “What’ve we got?”
“Same thing we had before,” Alex said. “Six destroyers burning like hell toward us. A matching force burning after them, and a racing pinnace heading away from us on the other side.”
“Wait,” Prax said. “Away from us?”
“They’re matching our course. Already did the turnaround, and they’re getting up to speed to join us.”