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Page 114 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“I’m not sure you’re helping, Prax.”

The outer airlock cycled open with a distant hum. The lights clicked from red to green.

“Whoa,” Alex said.

“Problem?” Holden snapped.

“No, it’s just—”

The inner door opened, and the biggest person Prax had seen in his entire life stepped into the room wearing a suit of some sort of strength-augmenting armor. If it weren’t for the transparent faceplate, he would have thought it was a two-meter-tall bipedal robot. Through the faceplate, Prax saw a woman’s features: large dark eyes and coffee-with-cream skin. Her gaze raked them with the palpable threat of violence. Beside him, Amos took an unconscious step back.

“You’re the captain,” the woman said, the suit’s speakers making her voice sound artificial and amplified. It didn’t sound like a question.

“I am,” Holden said. “I’ve got to say, you looked a little different on-screen.”

The joke fell flat and the giant stepped into the room.

“Planning to shoot me with that?” she asked, pointing toward Holden’s gun with a massive gauntleted fist.

“Would it work?”

“Probably not,” the giant said. She took another small step forward, her armor whining when she moved. Holden and Amos took a matching step back.

“Call it an honor guard, then,” Holden said.

“I’m honored. Will you put them away now?”

“sure.”

Two minutes later, the guns were stowed, and the huge woman, who still hadn’t given her name, tapped something inside the helmet with her chin and said, “Okay. You’re clear.”

The airlock cycled again, red to green, with the hum of the opening doors. The woman who came in this time was smaller than any of them. Her gray hair was spiking out in all directions, and the orange sari she wore hung strangely in the low thrust gravity.

“Undersecretary Avasarala,” Holden said. “Welcome aboard. If there’s anything I can—”

“You’re Naomi Nagata,” the wizened little woman said.

Holden and Naomi exchanged glances, and Naomi shrugged.

“I am.”

“How the f**k do you keep your hair like that? I look like a hedgehog’s been humping my skull.”

“Um—”

“Looking the part is half of what’s going to keep you all alive. We don’t have time to screw around. Nagata, you get me looking pretty and girlish. Holden—”

“I’m an engineer, not a damned hairstylist,” Naomi said, anger creeping into her voice.

“Ma’am,” Holden said, “this is my ship and my crew. Half of us aren’t even Earth citizens, and we don’t just take your commands.”

“All right. Ms. Nagata, if we’re going to keep this ship from turning into an expanding ball of hot gas, we need to make a press statement, and I’m not prepared to do that. Would you please assist me?”

“Okay,” Naomi said.

“Thank you. And, Captain? You need a f**king shave.”

Chapter Forty-One: Avasarala

After the Guanshiyin, the Rocinante seemed dour, mean, and utilitarian. There was no plush carpeting, only fabric-covered foam to soften corners and angles where soldiers might be thrown when the ship maneuvered violently. Instead of cinnamon and honey, the air had the plastic-and-heat smell of military air recyclers. And there were no expansive desk, no wide solitaire-ready bed, and no private space apart from a captain’s lounge the size of a public toilet stall.

Most of the footage they’d taken had been in the cargo bays, angled so that no ammunition or weaponry was in the image. Someone who knew Martian military vessels could tell where they were. To everyone else, it would be an open space with cargo crates in the background. Naomi Nagata had helped put the release together—she was a surprisingly good visual editor—and when it became clear that none of the men could manage a professional-sounding voice-over, she’d done that too.

The crew assembled in the medical bay, where the mechanic Amos Burton had changed the feed to display from her hand terminal. Now he was sitting on one of the patient beds, his legs crossed, smiling amiably. If Avasarala hadn’t seen the intelligence files on Holden’s crew, she’d never have guessed what the man was capable of.

The others were spread out in a rough semicircle. Bobbie was sitting beside Alex Kamal, the Martians unconsciously grouping together. Praxidike Meng stood at the back of the room. Avasarala couldn’t tell if her presence made him uncomfortable or if he was always like that.

“Okay,” she said. “Last chance for feedback.”

“Wish I had some popcorn,” Amos said, and the medical scanner flashed once, showed a broadcast code and then white block letters: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.

Avasarala and Holden appeared on the screen. She was speaking, her hands out before her as if illustrating a point. Holden, looking sober, leaned toward her. Naomi Nagata’s voice was calm, strong, and professional.

“In a surprising development, the deputy to Undersecretary of Executive Administration Sadavir Errinwright met with OPA representative James Holden and a representative of the Martian military today to address concerns over the potentially earth-shattering revelations surrounding the devastating attack on Ganymede.”

The image cut to Avasarala. She was leaning forward to make her neck longer and hide the loose skin under her chin. Long practice made her look natural, but she could almost hear Arjun laughing. A runner at the bottom of the screen identified her by name and title.

“I expect to be traveling with Captain Holden to the Jovian system,” Avasarala said. “The United Nations of Earth feel very strongly that a multilateral investigation into this is the best way to restore balance and peace to the system.”

The image shifted to Holden and Avasarala sitting in the galley with the botanist. This time the little scientist was talking and she and Holden pretended to listen. The voice-over came again.

“When asked about the accusations leveled against Praxidike Meng, whose search for his daughter has become the human face of the tragedy on Ganymede, the Earth delegation was unequivocal.”

Then back to Avasarala, her expression now sorrowful. Her head shaking in an almost subliminal negation.

“Nicola Mulko is a tragic figure in this, and I personally condemn the irresponsibility of these raw newsfeeds that allow statements from mentally ill people to be presented as if they were verified fact. Her abandonment of her husband and child is beyond dispute, and her struggles with her psychological issues deserve a more dignified and private venue.”

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