Facebook Google+ Twitter

Page 18 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Hello, my name is Mr. Vedas. I am the customs inspector for port eleven, pads A14 through A22. Your manifest, please.”

Naomi, once again playing captain, stepped forward and said, “The manifest was transmitted to your office prior to landing. I on’t—”

Holden saw that Vedas wasn’t holding an official cargo-inspection terminal, nor were the guards with him wearing Ganymede Port Authority uniforms. He got the tingling premonition of a bad con job about to be played out. He moved up and waved Naomi off.

“Captain, I’ll take care of this.”

Customs inspector Vedas looked him up and down and said, “And you are?”

“You can call me Mr. Not-putting-up-with-your-bullshit.”

Vedas scowled, and the two security guards shuffled closer. Holden smiled at them, then reached behind his back and under his coat and pulled out a large pistol. He held it at the side of his leg, pointed at the ground, but they stepped back anyway. Vedas blanched.

“I know this shakedown,” Holden said. “You ask to look at our manifest; then you tell us which items we have mistakenly included on it. And while we are retransmitting to your office with our newly amended manifest, you and your goons take the plum items and sell them on what I’m guessing is a thriving black market for food and medicine.”

“I am a legally vested administrator of Ganymede Station,” Vedas squeaked. “You think you can bully me with your gun? I’ll have port security arrest you and impound your entire ship if you think—”

“No, I’m not going to bully you,” Holden said. “But I have had it right up to here with idiots profiting from misery, and I’m going to make myself feel better by having my big friend Amos here beat you senseless for trying to steal food and medicine from refugees.”

“Ain’t bullying so much as stress relief,” Amos said amiably.

Holden nodded at Amos.

“How angry does it make you that this guy wants to steal from refugees, Amos?”

“Pretty f**king angry, Captain.”

Holden patted his pistol against his thigh.

“The gun is just to make sure ‘port security’ there doesn’t interfere until Amos has fully worked out his anger issues.”

Mr. Vedas, customs inspector for port eleven, pads A14 through A22, turned and ran as though his life depended on it, with his rent-a-cops in hot pursuit.

“You enjoyed that,” Naomi said. Her expression was odd and evaluating, her voice in the no-man’s-land between accusing and not.

Holden holstered his gun.

“Let’s go find out what the hell happened here.”

Chapter Seven: Prax

The security center was on the third layer down from the surface. The finished walls and independent power supply seemed like luxury items compared with the raw ice of other places on the station, but really they were important signals. The way some plants advertised their poisons by bright foliage, the security center advertised its impregnability. It wasn’t enough that it was impossible to tunnel through the ice and sneak a friend or a lover out of the holding cells. Everyone had to know that it was impossible—know just by looking—or else someone would try it.

In all his years on Ganymede, Prax had been there only once before, and then as a witness. As a man there to help the law, not to ask help from it. He’d been back twelve times in the last week, waiting in the long, desperate line, fidgeting and struggling with the almost overpowering sense that he needed to be somewhere else doing something, even if he didn’t know what exactly it was.

“I’m sorry, Dr. Meng,” the woman at the public information counter said from behind her inch-thick wire-laced window. She looked tired. More than tired, more than exhausted even. Shell-shocked. Dead. “Nothing today either.”

“Is there anyone I can talk to? There has to be a way to—”

“I’m sorry,” she said, and her eyes looked past him to the next desperate, frightened, unbathed person that she wouldn’t be able to help. Prax walked out, teeth grinding in impotent rage. The line was two hours long; men and women and children stood or leaned or sat. Some were weeping. A young woman with red-rimmed eyes smoked a marijuana cigarette, the smell of burning leaves over the stink of close-packed bodies, the smoke curling up past the NO SMOKING sign on the wall. No one protested. All of them had the haunted look of refugees, even the ones who’d been born here.

In the days since the official fighting had stopped, the Martian and Earth militaries had retreated back behind their lines. The breadbasket of the outer planets found itself reduced to a wasteland between them, and the collected intelligence of the station was bent to a single task: getting away.

The ports had started out under lockdown by two military forces in conflict, but they’d soon left the surface for the safety of their ships, and the depth of panic and fear in the station could no longer be contained. The few passenger ships that were permitted out were packed with people trying to get anywhere else. The fares for passage were bankrupting people who’d worked for years in some of the highest-paying material science positions outside Earth. The poorer people were left sneaking out in freight drones or tiny yachts or even space suits strapped onto modified frames and fired off toward Europa in hopes of rescue. Panic drove them from risk to risk until they wound up somewhere else or in the grave. Near the security stations, near the ports, even near the abandoned military cordons set up by Mars and the UN, the corridors were thick with people scrambling for anything they could tell themselves was safety.

Prax wished he was with them.

Instead, his world had fallen into a kind of rhythm. He woke at his rooms, because he always went home at night so that he would be there if Mei came back. He ate whatever he could find. The last two days, there hadn’t been anything left in his personal storage, but a few of the ornamental plants in the parkways were edible. He wasn’t really hungry anyway.

Then he checked the body drops.

The hospital had maintained a scrolling video feed of the recovered dead to help in identification for the first week. Since then, he’d had to go look at the actual bodies. He was looking for a child, so he didn’t have to go through the vast majority of the dead, but the ones he did see haunted him. Twice he’d found a corpse sufficiently mutilated that it might have been Mei, but the first had a stork-bite birthmark at the back of her neck and the other’s toenails were the wrong shape. Those dead girls were someone else’s tragedies.