He had to get help. His gaze drifted to the list of children’s names. He had to get help, but first he’d check, just check. He’d go to … go to …
He closed his eyes, frowned. He knew the answer. He knew that he knew. The security station. He’d go there and ask about each of them. He opened his eyes, writing security station down under the list, capturing the thought. Then UN outreach station. Mars outreach. All the places he’d been before, day after day, only now with new questions. It would be easy. And then, when he knew, there was something else he was supposed to do. It took a minute to figure out what it was, and then he wrote it at the bottom of the page.
“They’re all gone,” Prax said, his breath ghosting white in the cold. “They’re all his patients, and they’re all gone. Sixteen out of sixteen. Do you know the probability of that? It’s not random.”
The security man hadn’t shaved in days. A long, angry ice burn reddened his cheek and neck, the wound fresh and untreated. His face must have touched an uninsulated piece of Ganymede. He was lucky to still have skin. He wore a thick coat and gloves. There was frost on the desk.
“I appreciate the information, sir, and I’ll see it gets out to the relief stations —”
“No, you don’t understand, he took them. They’re sick, and he took them.”
“Maybe he was trying to keep them safe,” the security man said. His voice was a gray rag, limp and weary. There was a problem with that. Prax knew there was a problem with that, but he couldn’t remember what it was. The security man reached out, gently moving him aside, and nodded to the woman behind him. Prax found himself staring at her like he was drunk.
“I want to report a murder,” she said, her voice shaking.
The security man nodded, neither surprise nor disbelief in his eyes. Prax remembered.
“He took them first,” he said. “He took them before the attack happened.”
“Three men broke into my apartment,” the woman said. “They … My brother was with me and he tried to stop them.”
“When did this happen, ma’am?”
“Before the attack,” Prax said.
“A couple hours ago,” the woman said. “Fourth level. Blue sector. Apartment 1453.”
“Okay, ma’am. I’m going to take you over to a desk here. I need you to fill out a report.”
“My brother’s dead. They shot him.”
“And I’m very sorry about that, ma’am. I need you to fill out a report so we can catch the men who did this.”
Prax watched them walk away. He turned back to the line of the traumatized and desperate waiting their turns to beg for help, for justice, for law. A flash of anger lit him, then flickered. He needed help, but there wasn’t any to be had here. He and Mei were a pebble in space. They didn’t signify.
The security man was back, talking to a tall pretty woman about something horrible. Prax hadn’t noticed the man returning, hadn’t heard the beginning of the woman’s tale. He was starting to lose time. That wasn’t good.
The small sane part of his brain whispered that if he died, no one would look for Mei. She’d be lost. It whispered that he needed food, that he’d needed it for days. That he didn’t have very much time left.
“I have to go to the relief center,” he said aloud. The woman and the security man didn’t seem to hear. “Thanks anyway.”
Now that he had started to notice his own condition, Prax was astonished and alarmed. His gait was a shuffle; his arms were weak and ached badly, though he couldn’t remember having done anything to earn the pain. He hadn’t lifted anything heavy or gone climbing. He hadn’t done his daily exercise routine any time that he could remember. He didn’t remember the last time he’d eaten. He remembered the shudder of the falling mirror, the death of his dome, like it was something that had happened in a previous lifetime. No wonder he was falling apart.
The corridors by the relief center were packed like a slaughterhouse. Men and women, many of them who looked stronger and healthier than he was, pushed against each other, making even the widest spaces feel narrow. The closer he got to the port, the more light-headed he felt. The air was almost warm here, the barn-hot of bodies. It stank of keytone-acrid breath. Saint’s breath, his mother called it. The smell of protein breakdown, of bodies eating their own muscles to survive. He wondered how many people in the crowd knew what that scent was.
People were yelling. Shoving. The crowd around him surged back and forth the way he imagined waves might press against a beach.
“Then open the doors and let us look!” a woman shouted, far ahead of him.
Oh, Prax thought. This is a food riot.
He pushed for the edges, trying to get out. Trying to get away. Ahead of him, people were shouting. Behind him, they pushed. Banks of LEDs in the ceiling glowed white and gold. The walls were industrial gray. He put a hand out. He’d gotten to a wall. Somewhere, the dam burst, and the crowd flowed suddenly forward, the collective movement threatening to pull him swirling away into the flow. He kept a hand on the wall. The crowd thinned, and Prax staggered forward. The loading bay doors stood open. Beside them Prax saw a familiar face but couldn’t place it. Someone from the lab, maybe? The man was thick-boned and muscular. An Earther. Maybe someone he’d seen in his travels through the failing station. Had he seen the man grubbing for food? But no, he looked too well fed. There was no gauntness to his cheeks. He was like a friend and also a stranger. Someone Prax knew and also didn’t. Like the secretary-general or a famous actor.
Prax knew he was staring, but he couldn’t stop. He knew that face. He knew it. It had to do with the war.
Prax had a sudden flashbulb memory. He was in his apartment, holding Mei in his arms, trying to calm her. She was barely a year old, not walking, the doctors still tinkering to find the right pharmaceutical cocktail to keep her alive. Over her colic wail, the news streams were a constant alarmed chatter. A man’s face played over and over.
My name is James Holden and my ship, the Canterbury, was just destroyed by a warship with stealth technology and what appear to be parts stamped with Martian Navy serial numbers.
That was him. That was why he recognized the face and felt that he’d never seen it before. Prax felt a tug from somewhere near the center of his chest and found himself stepping forward. He paused. Beyond the loading doors, someone whooped. Prax took out his hand terminal, looked at his list. Sixteen names, sixteen children gone. And at the bottom of the page, in simple block characters: Get help.