“It’s yucky,” she said.
The big man chuckled.
“Well, if it wasn’t before, it sure is now, pumpkin,” he said, unfolding his napkin. “Why don’t you put that right here?”
“I’m sorry,” Prax said. “She’s just—”
“She’s just a kid, Doc,” Amos said. “This is what she’s supposed to do.”
They didn’t call the dinner a dinner. It was a reception sponsored by the United Nations at the New Hague facilities on Luna. Prax couldn’t tell if the wall was a window or an ultrahigh-definition screen. On it, Earth glowed blue and white on the horizon. The tables were spread around the room in a semi-organic array that Avasarala had explained was the current fashion. Makes it look like some ass**le just put them up anywhere.
The room was almost equally people he knew and people he didn’t, and watching them segregate was fascinating in its way. To his right, several small tables were filled with short, stocky men and women in professional suits and military uniforms orbiting around Avasarala and her amused-looking husband, Arjun. They gossiped about funding-system analysis and media-relations control. Every outer planets hand they shook was an inclusion that their subjects of conversation denied. To his left, the scientific group was dressed in the best clothes they had, dress jackets that had fit ten years before, and suits representing at least half a dozen different design seasons. Earthers and Martians and Belters all mixed in that group, but the talk was just as exclusionary: nutrient grades, adjustable permeability membrane technologies, phenotypic force expressions. Those were both his people from the past and his future. The shattered and reassembled society of Ganymede. If it hadn’t been for the middle table with Bobbie and the crew of the Rocinante, he would have been there, talking about cascade arrays and non-visible-feeding chloroplasts.
But in the center, isolated and alone, Holden and his crew were as happy and at peace as if they’d been in their own galley, burning through the vacuum. And Mei, who had taken a fancy to Amos, still wouldn’t be physically parted from Prax without starting to yell and cry. Prax understood exactly how the girl felt, and didn’t see it as a problem.
“So living on Ganymede, you know a lot about low-gravity childbearing, right?” Holden said. “It’s not really that much riskier for Belters, is it?”
Prax swallowed a mouthful of salad and shook his head.
“Oh, no. It’s tremendously difficult. Especially if it’s just a shipboard situation without extensive medical controls. If you look at naturally occurring pregnancies, there’s a developmental or morphological abnormality five times out of six.”
“Five …” Holden said.
“Most of them are germ line issues, though,” Prax said. “Nearly all of the children born on Ganymede were implanted after a full genetic analysis. If there’s a lethal equivalent, they just drop the zygote and start over. Non-germ line abnormalities are only twice as common as on Earth, though, so that’s not so bad.”
“Ah,” Holden said, looking crestfallen.
“Why do you ask?”
“No reason,” Naomi said. “He’s just making conversation.”
“Daddy, I want tofu,” Mei said, grabbing his earlobe and yanking it. “Where’s tofu?”
“Let’s see if we can’t find you some tofu,” Prax said, pushing his chair back from the table. “Come on.”
As he walked across the room, scanning the crowd for a dark, formal suit belonging to a waiter as opposed to a dark, formal suit belonging to a diplomat, a young woman came up to him with a drink in one hand and a flush on her cheeks.
“You’re Praxidike Meng,” she said. “You probably don’t remember me.”
“Um. No,” he said.
“I’m Carol Kiesowski,” she said, touching her collarbone as if to clarify what she meant by I. “We wrote to each other a couple of times right after you put out the video about Mei.”
“Oh, right,” Prax said, trying desperately to remember anything about the woman or the comments she might have left.
“I just want to say I think both of you are just so, so brave,” the woman said, nodding. It occurred to Prax that she might be drunk.
“Son of a f**king whore,” Avasarala said, loud enough to cut through the background buzz of conversations.
The crowd turned to her. She was looking at her hand terminal.
“What’s a whore, Daddy?”
“It’s a kind of frost, honey,” Prax said. “What’s going on?”
“Holden’s old boss beat us to the punch,” Avasarala said. “I guess we know what happened to all those f**king missiles he stole.”
Arjun touched his wife’s shoulder and pointed at Prax. She actually looked abashed.
“Sorry for the language,” she said. “I forgot about her.”
Holden appeared at Prax’s shoulder.
“Fred Johnson just put on a display,” Avasarala said. “Nguyen’s monsters? We’ve been waiting for them to come closer to Mars before we took them down. Transponders are all chirping away, and we’ve got them all tracked tighter than a fly’s … Well, they crossed into the Belt, and he nuked them. All of them.”
“That’s good, though,” Prax said. “I mean, isn’t that good?”
“Not if he’s doing it,” Avasarala said. “He’s flexing muscles. Showing that the Belt’s got an offensive arsenal now.”
A man in uniform to Avasarala’s left started talking at the same time as a woman just behind her, and in a moment, the need to declaim had spread through the whole group. Prax pulled away. The drunk woman was pointing at a man and talking rapidly, Prax and Mei forgotten. He found a waiter at the edge of the room, extracted a promise of tofu, and went back to his seat. Amos and Mei immediately started playing at who could blow their nose the hardest, and Prax turned to Bobbie.
“Are you going to go back to Mars, then?” he asked. It seemed like a polite, innocuous question until Bobbie pressed her lips tight and nodded.
“I am,” she said. “Turns out my brother’s getting married. I’m going to try to get there in time to screw up his bachelor party. What about you? Taking the old lady’s position?”
“Well, I think so,” Prax said, a little surprised that Bobbie had heard about Avasarala’s offer. It hadn’t been made public yet. “I mean, all of the basic advantages of Ganymede are still there. The magnetosphere, the ice. If even some of the mirror arrays can be salvaged, it would still be better than starting again from nothing. I mean, the thing you have to understand about Ganymede …”