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Page 186 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“The inexplicable didn’t used to eat planets,” she said. “Even if the thing on Ganymede didn’t come up off Venus on its own, it’s pretty damn clear that it’s related. And if we did it—”

“If we built that, it’s because we found a new technology, and we’re using it,” Errinwright said. “Flint spear to gunpowder to nuclear warheads, it’s what we do, Chrisjen. Let me worry about that. You keep your eye on Venus and don’t let the Martian situation get out of control.”

“Yes, sir,” she said.

“Everything’s going to be fine.”

And, looking at the dead screen where her superior had been, Avasarala decided that maybe he even thought it was true. Avasarala wasn’t sure any longer. Something was bothering her, and she didn’t yet know what it was. It only lurked there, just underneath her conscious mind, like a splinter in a fingertip. She opened the captured video from the UN outpost on Ganymede, went through the mandatory security check, and watched the Marines die again.

Kiki and Suri were going to grow up in a world where this had happened, where Venus had always been the colony of something utterly foreign, uncommunicative, and implacable. The fear that carried would be normal to them, something they didn’t think about any more than they did their own breath. On her screen, a man no older than Soren emptied an assault rifle clip into the attacker. The enhanced images showed the dozens of impacts cutting through the thing, the trails of filament coming out its back like streamers. The soldier died again. At least it had been quick for him. She paused the image. Her fingertip traced the outline of the attacker.

“Who are you?” she asked the screen. “What do you want?”

She was missing something. It happened often enough that she knew the feeling, but that didn’t help. It would come when it came. All she could do until it did was keep scratching where it itched. She shut down the files, waiting for the security protocols to make sure she hadn’t copied anything, then signed out and turned to the window.

She found that she was thinking about the next time. What information they’d be able to get the next time. What kind of patterns she’d be able to glean from the next time. The next attack, the next slaughter. It was already perfectly clear in her mind that what had happened on Ganymede was going to happen again, sooner or later. Genies didn’t get put back into bottles, and from the moment the protomolecule had been set loose on the civilian population of Eros just to see what it would do, civilization had changed. Changed so fast and so powerfully that they were still playing catch-up.

Playing catch-up.

There was something there. Something in the words, like a lyric from a song she almost remembered. She ground her teeth and stood up, pacing the length of her window. She hated this part. Hated it.

Her office door opened. When she turned to look at Soren, he flinched back. Avasarala took her scowl down a couple of notches. It wasn’t fair to scare the poor bunny. He was probably just the intern who’d pulled the short straw and gotten stuck with the cranky old woman. And in a way, she liked him.

“Yes?” she said.

“I thought you’d want to know that Admiral Nguyen sent a note of protest to Mr. Errinwright. Interference in his field of command. He didn’t copy the secretary-general.”

Avasarala smiled. If she couldn’t unlock all the mysteries of the universe, she could at least keep the boys in line. And if he wasn’t appealing to the bobble-head, then it was just pouting. Nothing was going to come of it.

“Good to know. And the Martians?”

“They’re here, ma’am.”

She sighed, plucked at her sari, and lifted her chin.

“Let’s go stop the war, then,” she said.

Chapter Thirteen: Holden

Amos, who’d finally turned up a few hours after the food riot carrying a case of beer and saying he’d done some “recon,” was now carrying a small case of canned food. The label claimed it was “chicken food products.” Holden hoped that the hacker Prax was leading them to would see the offering as at least being in the spirit of his requested payment.

Prax led the way with the manic speed of someone who had one last thing to do before he died, and could feel the end close on his heels. Holden suspected this wasn’t far from the truth. The small botanist certainly looked like he’d been burning himself up.

They’d taken him aboard the Somnambulist while they’d gathered the supplies they’d need, and Holden had forced the man to eat a meal and take a shower. Prax had begun stripping while Holden was still showing him how to use the ship’s head, as if waiting for privacy would waste precious time. The sight of the man’s ravaged body had shocked him. All the while, the botanist spoke only of Mei, of his need to find her. Holden realized that he’d never in his life needed anything as badly as this man needed to see his daughter again.

To his surprise, it made him sad.

Prax had been robbed of everything, had all his fat boiled away; he’d been rendered down to the bare minimum of humanity. All he had left was his need to find his little girl, and Holden envied him for it.

When Holden had been dying and trapped in the hell of Eros Station, he had discovered that he needed to see Naomi one last time. Or barring that, to see that she was safe. It was why he hadn’t died there. That and having Miller at his side with a second gun. And that connection, even now that he and Naomi were lovers, was a pale shadow compared to the thing driving Prax. It left Holden feeling like he’d lost something important without realizing it.

While Prax had showered, Holden had gone up the ladder to ops, where Naomi had been working to hack her way into Ganymede’s crippled security system, pulled her out of her chair, and held her for a few moments. She stiffened with surprise for a second, then relaxed into his embrace. “Hi,” she whispered in his ear. It might be a pale shadow, but it was what he had right now, and it was pretty damn good.

Prax paused at an intersection, his hands tapping at his thighs as if he were hurrying himself along. Naomi was back on the ship, monitoring their progress through locators they all carried and with the remnants of the station’s security cameras.

At Holden’s back, Amos cleared his throat and said in a voice low enough that Prax wouldn’t hear, “If we lose this guy, I don’t like our chances of finding our way back too quick.”

Holden nodded. Amos was right.

Even at the best of times, Ganymede was a maze of identical gray corridors and occasional parklike caverns. And the station certainly wasn’t at her best now. Most of the public information kiosks were dark, malfunctioning, or outright destroyed. The pubnet was unreliable at best. And the local citizens moved like scavengers over the corpse of their once-great moon, alternately terrified and threatening. He and Amos were both openly wearing firearms, and Amos had mastered a sort of constant glower that made people automatically put him onto their “not to be f**ked with” list. Not for the first time, Holden wondered what sort of life Amos had been leading prior to his signing up for a tour on the Canterbury, the old water hauler they’d served together on.

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