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Page 194 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

She needn’t have worried. As she approached the guarded gate to the outside world, the security system queried her terminal, which assured it of her VIP status. A camera above the guard post scanned her face, compared it to the picture on file, and verified her identity while she was still twenty meters from the gate. When she reached the exit, the guard snapped her a sharp salute and asked if she’d need a ride.

“No, just going for a walk,” she said.

The guard smiled and wished her a good day. She began walking down the street leading away from the UN complex, then turned around to see two armed security personnel following her at a discreet distance. She shrugged and walked on. Somebody would probably lose their job if a VIP like her got lost or hurt.

Once Bobbie was outside the UN compound, her agoraphobia lessened. Buildings rose around her like walls of steel and glass, moving the dizzying skyline far enough up that she no longer saw it. Small electric cars whizzed down the streets, trailing a high-pitched whine and the scent of ozone.

And people were everywhere.

Bobbie had gone to a couple of games at Armstrong Stadium on Mars, to watch the Red Devils play. The stadium had seats for twenty thousand fans. Because the Devils were usually at the bottom of the standings, it generally held less than half that. That relatively modest number was the greatest number of humans Bobbie had ever seen in one place at one time. There were billions of people on Mars, but there weren’t a lot of open spaces for them to gather. Standing at an intersection, looking down two streets that seemed to stretch into infinity, Bobbie was sure she saw more than the average attendance of a Red Devils game just walking on the sidewalks. She tried to imagine how many people were in the buildings that rose to vertigo-inducing heights in every direction around her, and couldn’t. Millions of people, probably in just the buildings and streets she could see.

And if Martian propaganda was right, most of the people she could see right now didn’t have jobs. She tried to imagine that, not having any particular place you had to be on any given day.

What the Earthers had discovered is that when people have nothing else to do, they have babies. For a brief period in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, the population had looked like it might shrink rather than continue to grow. As more and more women went into higher education, and from there to jobs, the average family size grew smaller.

A few decades of massive employment shrinkage ended that.

Or, again, that was what she’d been taught in school. Only here on Earth, where food grew on its own, where air was just a by-product of random untended plants, where resources lay thick on the ground, could a person actually choose not to do anything at all. There was enough extra created by those who felt the need to work that the surplus could feed the rest. A world no longer of the haves and the have-nots, but of the engaged and the apathetic.

Bobbie found herself standing next to a street-level coffee shop and took a seat.

“Can I get you anything?” a smiling young woman with brightly dyed blue hair asked.

“What’s good?”

“We make the best soy-milk tea, if you like that.”

“Sure,” Bobbie said, not sure what soy-milk tea was, but liking those two things separately enough to take a chance.

The blue-haired girl bustled away and chatted with an equally young man behind the bar while he made the tea. Bobbie looked around her, noticing that everyone she saw working was about the same age.

When the tea arrived, she said, “Hey, do you mind if I ask you something?”

The girl shrugged, her smile an invitation.

“Is everyone who works here the same age?”

“Well,” she said. “Pretty close. Gotta collect your pre-university credits, right?”

“I’m not from here,” Bobbie said. “Explain that.”

Blue seemed actually to see her for the first time, looking over her uniform and its various insignias.

“Oh, wow, Mars, right? I want to go there.”

“Yeah, it’s great. So tell me about the credits thing.”

“They don’t have that on Mars?” she asked, puzzled. “Okay, so, if you apply to a university, you have to have at least a year of work credits. To make sure you like working. You know, so they don’t waste classroom space on people who will just go on basic afterward.”

“Basic?”

“You know, basic support.”

“I think I understand,” Bobbie said. “Basic support is the money you live on if you don’t work?”

“Not money, you know, just basic. Gotta work to have money.”

“Thanks,” Bobbie said, then sipped her milk tea as Blue trotted to another table. The tea was delicious. She had to admit, it made a sad kind of sense to do some early winnowing before spending the resources to educate people. Bobbie told her terminal to pay the bill, and it flashed a total at her after calculating the exchange rate. She added a nice tip for the blue-haired girl who wanted more from life than basic support.

Bobbie wondered if Mars would become like this after the terraforming. If Martians didn’t have to fight every day to make enough resources to survive, would they turn into this? A culture where you could actually choose if you wanted to contribute? The work hours and collective intelligence of fifteen billion humans just tossed away as acceptable losses for the system. It made Bobbie sad to think of. All that effort to get to a point where they could live like this. Sending their kids to work at a coffee shop to see if they were up to contributing. Letting them live the rest of their lives on basic if they weren’t.

But one thing was for sure: All that running and exercising the Martian Marines did at one full gravity was bullshit. There was no way Mars could ever beat Earth on the ground. You could drop every Martian soldier, fully armed, into just one Earth city and the citizens would overwhelm them using rocks and sticks.

Deep in the grip of pathos, she suddenly felt a massive weight lift that she hadn’t even realized she’d been carrying. Thorsson and his bullshit didn’t matter. The pissing contest with Earth didn’t matter. Making Mars into another Earth didn’t matter, not if this was where it was headed.

All that mattered was finding out who’d put that thing on Ganymede.

She tossed off the last of her tea and thought, I’ll need a ride.

Chapter Sixteen: Holden

Beyond the door lay a long hallway that looked, to Holden, exactly the same as every other hallway on Ganymede: ice walls with moisture-resistant and insulated structural plates and inset conduit, rubberized walking surface, full-spectrum LEDs to mimic sunlight slanting down from the blue skies of Earth. They could have been anywhere.

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