“We’re sure this is right, Naomi?”
“That’s the one we saw Mei go through in the hacker’s footage,” she replied.
“Okay,” he said, then dropped to one knee and motioned for his ad hoc army to do the same. When everyone was in a rough circle around him, he said, “Our overwatch, Naomi, has intel on the layout of these tunnels, but not much else. We have no idea where the bad guys are, or even if they’re still here.”
Prax started to object, but Amos quieted him with a heavy hand on his back.
“So we could conceivably leave a lot of intersections at our back. I don’t like that.”
“Yeah,” said Wendell, the Pinkwater leader. “I don’t like that much either.”
“So we’re going to leave a lookout at each intersection until we know where we’re going,” Holden replied, then said, “Naomi, put all their hand terminals on our channel. Guys, put in your ear-buds. Comm discipline is don’t speak unless I ask a direct question, or someone is about to die.”
“Roger,” said Wendell, echoed by the rest of his team.
“Once we know what we’re looking at, I’ll call all the lookouts up to our position if needed. If not, they’re our way out of here if we’re in over our heads.”
Nods all around.
“Outstanding. Amos is point. Wendell, you cover our asses. Everyone else, string out at one-meter intervals,” Holden said, then tapped on Wendell’s breastplate. “We do this thing clean, and I’ll talk to my OPA people about putting a few credits in your accounts in addition to getting you offworld.”
“Righteous,” the thin woman with the cheap armor said, and then racked a round in her machine pistol.
“Okay, let’s go. Amos, Naomi’s map says fifty meters to another pressure door, then some warehouse space.”
Amos nodded, then shouldered his weapon, a heavy automatic shotgun with a thick magazine. He had several more magazines and a number of grenades dangling from his Martian armor’s harness. The metal clicked a little as he walked. Amos headed off down the hallway at a fast walk. Holden gave a quick glance behind, gratified to see the Pinkwater people keeping up the pace and the spacing. They might look half starved, but they knew what they were doing.
“Cap, there’s a tunnel coming off to the right just before the pressure door,” Amos said, stopping and dropping to one knee to cover the unexpected corridor.
It didn’t appear on the map. That meant that new tunnels had been dug after the station specs had last been updated. Modifications like that meant he had even less information than he’d thought. It wasn’t a good thing.
“Okay,” Holden said, pointing at the thin woman with the machine pistol. “You are?”
“Paula,” she said.
“Paula, this is your intersection. Try not to shoot anyone that doesn’t shoot at you first, but do not let anyone past you for any reason.”
“Solid copy on that,” Paula said, and took up a position looking down the side corridor with her weapon at the ready.
Amos pulled a grenade off his harness and handed it to her.
“Just in case shit goes down,” he said. Paula nodded, settled her back against the wall. Amos, taking point, moved toward the pressure door.
“Naomi,” Holden said, looking over the door and locking mechanism. “Pressure door, uh, 223-B6. Pop it.”
“Got it,” she said. A few seconds later, Holden heard the bolts retract.
“Ten meters to the next mapped intersection,” he said, then looked at the Pinkwater people and picked one gruff-looking older man at random. “That’s your intersection when we get there.”
The man nodded, and Holden gestured at Amos. The mechanic took hold of the hatch with his right hand and began counting down from five with his left. Holden took up a position facing the door, his assault rifle at the ready.
When Amos hit one, Holden took a deep breath, and he burst through the door as Amos yanked it open a split second later.
Just another ten meters of corridor, dimly lit by the few LEDs that hadn’t failed in the decades since its last use. Years of micro-frost melt had built a texture over the surface of the walls like dripping spiderwebs. It looked delicate, but it was mineralized as hard as stone. It reminded Holden of a graveyard.
Amos began advancing to the intersection and the next hatch, his gun aimed down the hallway. Holden followed him, his rifle tracking right as he kept it aimed at the side passage, the reflex to cover every possible ingress point to their position having become automatic over the last year.
His year as a cop.
Naomi had said this wasn’t him. He’d left the Navy without seeing live combat outside pirate hunting from the comfort of a warship’s operations deck. He’d worked for years on the Canterbury, hauling ice from Saturn to the Belt without ever having to worry about something more violent than drunken ice buckers fighting out their boredom. He’d been the peacemaker, the one who always found the way to keep things cool. When tempers flared, he’d keep it calm or keep it funny or just sit for a shift and listen to someone rave and rant whatever it was out of their system.
This new person he’d become reached for his gun first and talked second. Maybe she was right. How many ships had he slagged in the year since Eros? A dozen? More? He comforted himself with the thought that they were all very bad people. The worst kind of carrion eaters, using the chaos of war and the retreat of the Coalition Navy as an opportunity to pillage. The kind of people who’d strip all the expensive parts off your engine, steal your spare air, and leave you adrift to suffocate. Every one of their ships he’d shot down had probably saved dozens of innocent ships, hundreds of lives. But doing it had taken something from him that he occasionally felt the lack of.
Occasions like when Naomi had said, This isn’t you.
If they tracked down the secret base where Mei had been taken, there was a good chance they’d have to fight to get her back. Holden found himself hoping it would bother him, if for no other reason than to prove that it still could.
“Cap? You okay?”
Amos was staring at him.
“Yeah,” Holden said, “I just need a different job.”
“Might not be the best moment for a career change, Cap.”
“Fair point,” Holden said, and pointed to the older Pinkwater man he’d singled out before. “This is your intersection. Same instructions. Hold it unless I call you.”