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“Then open the doors and let us look!” the woman shouted again. While she yelled and the crowd picked up her chant—let us look, let us look— Holden took the security supervisor by the elbow and pulled his head close.

“In about thirty seconds, that mob is going to tear you and your men to pieces trying to get into that ship,” he said. “I think you should let them have it before this turns violent.”

“Violent!” The man gave a humorless laugh. “It’s already violent. The only reason the ship isn’t long gone is because one of them set off a bomb and blew up the docking-clamp release mechanism. If they try to take the ship, we’ll—”

“They will not take the ship,” said a gravelly voice, and a heavy hand came down on Holden’s shoulder. When he turned around, one of the corporate goons was standing behind him. “This ship is Mao-Kwikowski Mercantile property.”

Holden pushed the man’s hand off his shoulder.

“A dozen guys with Tasers and shotguns isn’t going to stop them,” he said, pointing out at the chanting mob.

“Mr.”—the goon looked him up and down once—“Philips. I don’t give a drippy shit what you or the OPA thinks about anything, and especially not my chances of doing my job. So why don’t you f**k off before the shooting starts?”

Well, he’d tried. Holden smiled at the man and began to reach for the holster at the small of his back. He wished that Amos were here, but he hadn’t seen him since they had gotten off the ship. Before he reached the pistol, his hand was enveloped by long slender fingers and squeezed tightly.

“How about this,” Naomi said, suddenly at Holden’s side. “How about we skip past the posturing and I just tell you how this is actually going to work?”

Both Holden and the goon turned to look at Naomi in surprise. She held up one finger in a wait a minute gesture and pulled out her hand terminal. She called someone and turned on the external speaker.

“Amos,” she said, still holding her finger up.

“Yep,” came the reply.

“A ship is trying to leave from port 11, pad B9. It’s full of food we could really use here. If it makes it off the ground, do we have an OPA gunship close enough to intercept?”

There was a long pause; then, with a chuckle, Amos said, “You know we do, boss. Who’m I actually saying this to?”

“Call that ship and have them disable the freighter. Then have an OPA team secure it, strip it of everything, and scuttle it.”

Amos just said, “You got it.”

Naomi closed up the terminal and put it back into her pocket.

“Don’t test us, boy,” she said to the goon, a hint of steel in her voice. “Not one word of that was empty threat. Either you give these people the cargo, or we’ll take the whole damned ship. Your choice.”

The goon stared at her for a moment, then motioned to his team and walked away. Port security followed, and Holden and Naomi had to dodge out of the way of the crowd rushing up the dock and to the loading bay doors.

When they were out of danger of being trampled, Holden said, “That was pretty cool.”

“Getting shot standing up for justice probably seemed very heroic to you,” she said, the steel not quite gone from her voice. “But I want to keep you around, so stop being an idiot.”

“Smart play, threatening the ship,” Holden said.

“You were acting like that ass**le Detective Miller, so I just acted like you used to. What I said was the kind of thing you say when you’re not in a hurry to wave your gun around.”

“I wasn’t acting like Miller,” he said, the accusation stinging, because it was true.

“You weren’t acting like you.”

Holden shrugged, noticing only afterward that it was another imitation of Miller. Naomi looked down at the captain’s patches on the shoulder of her Somnambulist jumpsuit. “Maybe I should keep these …”

A small, unkempt-looking man with salt-and-pepper hair, Chinese features, and a week’s growth of beard walked up to them and nodded nervously. He was literally wringing his hands, a gesture Holden had been pretty sure only little old ladies in ancient cinema made.

He gave them another small nod and said, “You are James Holden? Captain James Holden? From the OPA?”

Holden and Naomi glanced at each other. Holden tugged at his patchy beard. “Is this actually helping at all? Be honest.”

“Captain Holden, my name is Prax, Praxidike Meng. I’m a botanist.”

Holden shook the man’s hand.

“Nice to meet you, Prax. I’m afraid we have to—”

“You have to help me,” Prax said. Holden could see that the man had been through a rough couple of months. His clothes hung off him like a starving man’s, and his face was covered with yellowing bruises from a fairly recent beating.

“Sure, if you’ll see the Supitaya p**n s at the aid station, tell them I said—”

“No!” Prax shouted. “I don’t need that. I need you to help me!”

Holden shot a glance at Naomi. She shrugged. Your call.

“Okay,” Holden said. “What’s the problem?”

Chapter Twelve: Avasarala

A small house is a deeper kind of luxury,” her husband said. “To live in a space entirely our own, to remember the simple pleasures of baking bread and washing our own dishes. This is what your friends in high places forget. It makes them less human.”

He was sitting at the kitchen table, leaning back in a chair of bamboo laminate that had been distressed until it looked like stained walnut. The scars from his cancer surgery were two pale lines in the darkness of his throat, barely visible under the powdering of white stubble. His forehead was broader than when she’d married him, his hair thinner. The Sunday morning sun spilled across the table, glowing.

“That’s crap,” she said. “Just because you pretend to live like a dirt farmer doesn’t make Errinwright or Lus or any of the others less human. There’s smaller houses than this with six families living in them, and the people in those are a hundred times closer to animals than anyone I work with.”

“You really think that?”

“Of course I do. Otherwise why would I go to work in the morning? If someone doesn’t get those half-feral bastards out of the slums, who are you university types going to teach?”

“An excellent point,” Arjun said.

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