The small rational part of Holden’s mind knew Amos was right. And more than that, the person Holden wanted to believe he still was would never consider leaving even a complete stranger behind, much less a guy who’d taken a wound for him. He forced himself to take three deep, slow breaths. Prax knelt by Amos’ side, holding the medkit.
“Naomi,” Holden said, meaning to apologize for yelling at her.
“Alex is on his way,” she replied, her voice tight but not accusing. “He’s a few hours out. Running the blockade won’t be easy, but he thinks he’s got an angle. Where is he putting down?”
Holden found himself answering before he realized he’d made the decision. “Tell him to land in the Somnambulist’s berth. I’m giving her to someone. Meet us outside the airlock when we get there.”
He pulled the mag-key for the Somnambulist out of a pocket on his harness and tossed it to Wendell. “This will get you on the ship you’re taking. Consider it a down payment for services rendered.”
Wendell nodded and tucked the key away, then went back to his injured man. The man appeared to be breathing.
“Can he be carried?” Holden asked Amos, proud of how steady his voice sounded again, trying not to think about the fact that he would have left the man to die a minute before.
“No choice, Cap.”
“Then somebody pick him up,” Holden said. “No, not you, Amos. I need you back on point.”
“I got him,” Wendell said. “I can’t shoot for shit with this hand busted.”
“Prax. Help him,” Holden said. “We’re getting the hell out of here.”
They moved as quickly as injured people could back through the base. Back past the men and women they’d killed getting in and, more frighteningly, the ones they hadn’t. Back past Katoa’s small, still corpse. Prax’s gaze drifted toward the body, but Holden grabbed his jacket and shoved him toward the hatch.
“It’s still not Mei,” he said. “Slow us down and I leave you.”
The threat made him feel like an ass the moment it left his lips, but it wasn’t idle. Finding the scientist’s lost little girl had stopped being the priority the instant they found the black filaments. And as long as he was being honest with himself, leaving the scientist behind would mean not being there when they found his daughter twisted into a monster by the protomolecule, brown goo leaking from orifices she hadn’t been born with, the black threads crawling from her mouth and eyes.
The older Pinkwater man who’d been covering their exit rushed over to help carry the injured man without being asked. Prax handed the wounded man off to him without a word and then slid in place behind Paula as she scanned the hallways ahead with her machine pistol.
Corridors that had seemed boring on the trip in took on a sinister feel on the way back out. The frosted texture that had reminded Holden of spiderwebs when he’d come in now looked like the veins of some living thing. Their pulsing had to be caused by adrenaline making his eyes twitch.
Eight rems burning off Jupiter onto the surface of Ganymede. Even with the magnetosphere, eight rems a day. How quickly would the protomolecule grow here, with Jupiter endlessly supplying the energy? Eros had become something frighteningly powerful once the protomolecule had taken hold. Something that could accelerate at incredible speeds without inertia. Something that could, if the reports were right, change the very atmosphere and chemical composition of Venus. And that was with just over a million human hosts and a thousand trillion tons of rocky mass to work with at the beginning.
Ganymede had ten times as many humans and many orders of magnitude more mass than Eros. What could the ancient alien weapon do with such bounty?
Amos threw open the last hatch to the shadow base, and the crew was back in the higher-traffic tunnels of Ganymede. Holden didn’t see anyone acting infected. No mindless zombies staggering through the corridors. No brown vomit coating the walls and floor, filled with the alien virus looking for a host. No Protogen hired thugs shepherding people into the kill zone.
Protogen is gone.
An itch at the back of his mind that Holden hadn’t even been aware of pushed its way to the front. Protogen was gone. Holden had helped bring them down. He’d been in the room when the architect of the Eros experiment died. The Martian fleet had nuked Phoebe into a thin gas that was sucked into Saturn’s massive gravity. Eros had crashed into the acidic and autoclave-hot atmosphere of Venus, where no human ships could go. Holden himself had taken Protogen’s only sample of the protomolecule away from them.
So who had brought the protomolecule to Ganymede?
He’d given the sample to Fred Johnson as leverage to be used in the peace talks. The Outer Planets Alliance had gotten a lot of concessions in the chaos that followed the brief inner planets war. But not everything they’d wanted. The inner planets fleets in orbit around Ganymede were proof of that.
Fred had the only sample of the protomolecule left in the solar system. Because Holden had given it to him.
“It was Fred,” he said out loud without realizing it.
“What was Fred?” Naomi asked.
“This. What’s happening here. He did this.”
“No,” Naomi said.
“To drive the inner planets out, to test some kind of super-weapon, something. But he did this.”
“No,” Naomi said again. “We don’t know that.”
The air in the corridor grew smoky, the nauseating scent of burning hair and flesh choking off Holden’s reply. Amos held up a hand to halt the group, and the Pinkwater people stopped and took up defensive positions. Amos moved up the corridor to the junction and looked off to his left for several moments.
“Something bad happened here,” he finally said. “I’ve got half a dozen dead, more than that celebrating.”
“Are they armed?” Holden asked.
The Holden who would have tried to talk his way by them, the Holden who Naomi liked and wanted back, barely put up a struggle when he said, “Get us past them.”
Amos leaned out around the corner and fired off a long burst from his auto-shotgun.
“Go,” he said when the echoes of the gunshots had faded away.
The Pinkwater people picked up their wounded and hurried up the corridor and beyond the battle; Prax jogged along close behind, head down and thin arms pumping. Holden followed, a glance showing him dead bodies on fire at the center of a wide hallway. Burning them had to be a message. It wasn’t quite bad enough yet for them to be eating each other. Was it?