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Page 148 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

When there was comm lag, it was difficult not to ramble on. The other person never sent the subtle physical cues that signaled it was their turn to talk. Holden forced himself to stop babbling and wait for a reply. Elise stared at the screen, waiting out the lag. Holden could see how much she’d aged in the years since his last trip home. Her dark brown, almost black, hair was streaked with gray, and the laugh lines around her eyes and mouth had deepened. After five seconds, she waved a hand at the screen in a dismissive gesture. “Oh, Tom will never ride a shuttle to Luna. You know that. He hates microgravity. Just come down and see us here. We’ll throw a party. You can bring your friends here.”

Holden smiled at her. “Mom, I need you guys to come up here because I have someone I want you to meet. Remember the woman? Naomi Nagata, the one I told you about? I told you I’ve been seeing her. I think it might be more than that. In fact, I’m kind of sure about it now. And now we’ll be on Luna while a whole lot of political bullshit gets straightened out. I really want you guys to come up. See me, meet Naomi.”

It was almost too subtle to catch, the way his mother flinched five seconds later. She covered it with a big smile. “More than that? What does that mean? Like, getting married? I always thought you’d want kids of your own someday …” She trailed off, maintaining an uncomfortably stiff smile.

“Mom,” Holden said. “Earthers and Belters can have kids just fine. We’re not a different species.”

“Sure,” she said a few seconds later, nodding too quickly. “But if you have children out there —” She stopped, her smile fading a bit.

“Then they’ll be Belters,” Holden said. “Yeah, you guys are just going to have to be okay with that.”

After five seconds, she nodded. Again, too quickly. “Then I guess we better come up and meet this woman you’re willing to leave Earth behind for. She must be very special.”

“Yeah,” Holden said. “She is.”

Elise shifted uncomfortably for a second; then her smile came back, far less forced. “I’ll get Tom on that shuttle if I have to drag him by the hair.”

“I love you, Mom,” Holden said. His parents had spent their whole lives on Earth. The only outer planets types they knew were the caricature villains that showed up on bad entertainment feeds. He didn’t hold their ingrained prejudices against them, because he knew that meeting Naomi would be the cure for it. A few days spent in her company and they wouldn’t be able to help falling in love with her. “Oh, one last thing. That data I sent you a while back? Hang on to that for me. Keep it quiet, but keep it. Depending on how things fall out over the next couple of months, I may need it.”

“My parents are racists,” Holden said to Naomi later that night. She lay curled against his side, her face against his ear. One long brown leg thrown across his hips.

“Okay,” she whispered.

The hotel suite Avasarala had provided for them was luxurious to the point of opulence. The mattress was so soft that in the lunar gravity it was like floating on a cloud. The air recycling system pumped in subtle scents handcrafted by the hotel’s in-house perfumer. That night’s selection was called Windblown Grass. It didn’t exactly smell like grass to Holden, but it was nice. Just a hint of earthiness to it. Holden had a suspicion that all perfumes were named randomly, anyway. He also suspected that the hotel ran the oxygen just a little higher than normal. He felt a little too good.

“They’re worried our babies will be Belters,” he said.

“No babies,” Naomi whispered. Before Holden could ask what she meant, she was snoring in his ear.

The next day, he woke before Naomi, dressed in the best suit he owned, and headed out into the station. There was one last thing he had to do before he could call this whole bloody affair truly over.

He had to see Jules Mao.

Avasarala had told him that Mao was one of several dozen high-ranking politicians, generals, and corporate leaders rounded up in the mass of arrests following Io. He was the only one Avasarala was going to see personally. And, since they’d caught him on his L5 station frantically trying to get on a fast ship to the outer planets, she’d just had him brought to her on Luna.

That day was the day of their meeting. He’d asked Avasarala if he could be there, expecting a no. Instead, she laughed a good, long time and said, “Holden, there is literally nothing I can think of that will be more humiliating to that man than having you watch me dismantle him. Fuck yes, you can come.”

So Holden hurried out of the hotel and onto the streets of Lovell City. A quick pedicab ride got him to the tube station, and a twenty-minute tube ride took him to the New Hague United Nations complex. A perky young page was waiting for him when he arrived, and he was escorted efficiently through the complex’s twisty maze of corridors to a door marked CONFERENCE ROOM 34.

“You can wait inside, sir,” the perky page chirped at him.

“No, you know?” Holden said, clapping the boy on the shoulder. “I think I’ll wait out here.”

The page dipped his head slightly and bustled off down the corridor, already looking at his hand terminal for whatever his next task was. Holden leaned against the corridor wall and waited. In the low gravity, standing was hardly any more effort than sitting, and he really wanted to see Mao perp-walked down the hallway to his meeting.

His terminal buzzed, and he got a short text message from Avasarala. It said ON OUR WAY.

Less than five minutes later, Jules-Pierre Mao climbed off an elevator into the corridor, flanked by two of the largest military police officers Holden had ever seen. Mao had his hands cuffed in front of him. Even wearing a prisoner’s jumpsuit, hands in restraints, and with armed guards escorting him, he managed to look arrogant and in control. As they approached, Holden stood up straight and stepped in their way. One of the MPs yanked on Mao’s arm to stop him and gave Holden a subtle nod. It seemed to say, I’m down for whatever with this guy. Holden had a sense that if he yanked a pistol out of his pants and shot Mao right there in the corridor, the two MPs would discover they had both been struck with blindness at the same moment and failed to see anything.

But he didn’t want to shoot Mao. He wanted what he always seemed to want in these situations. He wanted to know why.

“Was it worth it?”

Even though they were the same height, Mao managed to frown down at him. “You are?”

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