“I’m just …” the Pinkwater man said through his sedation haze. “You just go ahead, finish that without me. I’ll be over …”
“Another bleeder,” one of their abductors said. She was a thick-featured woman with a mole under her left eye and blood-slicked rubber gloves. “Right there.”
“Check. Got it,” said the man with the drill, pressing the metal tip back down into the patient’s open belly wound. The sharp tapping sound of electrical discharge, and another small plume of white smoke rising from the wound.
Amos rolled over suddenly, his nose a bloody ruin, his face covered in gore. “I bight be wrong about dis, Cab’n,” he said, the words fighting out past the bulbous mess of his nose, “’ut I don’d dink dese fellas are station security.”
The room Prax had found himself in when the hood had been lifted had nothing to do with the usual atmosphere of law enforcement. It looked like an old office. The kind a safety inspector or a shipping clerk might have used in the ancient days before the cascade had started: a long desk with a built-in surface terminal, a few recessed lights shining up on the ceiling, a dead plant— Sanseviera trifasciata—with long green-brown leaves turning to dark slime. The gray-armored guards or soldiers or whatever they were had been very methodical and efficient. Prisoners were all along one wall, bound at the ankles and wrists; their hand terminals, weapons, and personal effects were stowed along the opposite wall with two guards set to do nothing but make sure no one touched them. The armor they’d stripped off Holden and Amos was in a pile on the floor next to their guns. Then the pair that Prax thought of as the medical team had started working, caring for the most desperately wounded first. They hadn’t had time yet to go on to anybody else.
“Any idea who we’re dealing with here?” Wendell asked under his breath.
“Not OPA,” Holden said.
“That leaves a pretty large number of suspects,” the Pinkwater captain said. “Is there somebody you’ve pissed off I should know about?”
Holden’s eyes took on a pained expression and he made a motion as close to a shrug as he could manage, given the circumstances.
“There’s kind of a list,” he said.
“Another bleeder here,” the woman said.
“Check,” the drill man said. Tap, smoke, the smell of burning flesh.
“No offense meant, Captain Holden,” Wendell said, “but I’m starting to wish I’d just shot you when I had the chance.”
“None taken,” Holden replied with a nod.
Four of the soldiers came back into the room. They were all squat Earther types. One—a dark-skinned man with a fringe of gray hair and an air of command—was subvocalizing madly. His gaze passed over the prisoners, seeing them without seeing them. Like they were boxes. When his eyes were on Prax, the man nodded but not to him.
“Are they stable?” the dark-skinned man asked the medical team.
“If I had the choice,” the woman said, “I wouldn’t move this one.”
“If you didn’t?”
“He’ll probably make it. Keep the high g to a minimum until I can get him to a real medical bay.”
“Excuse me,” Holden said. “Can someone please tell me what the hell’s going on?”
He might as well have been asking the walls.
“We’ve got ten minutes,” the dark-skinned man said.
“Not yet. The secure facility.”
“Splendid,” the woman said sourly.
“Because if you want to ask us any questions,” Holden said, “we should start by getting everybody off Ganymede. If you want your people to still be people, we have to go. That lab we were in had the protomolecule.”
“I want them moved two at a time,” the dark-skinned man said.
“Yes, sir,” the woman replied.
“Are you listening to me?” Holden shouted. “The protomolecule is loose on this station.”
“They’re not listening to us, Jim,” Naomi said.
“Ferguson. Mott,” the dark-skinned man said. “Report.”
The room was silent as someone somewhere reported in.
“My daughter’s missing,” Prax said. “That ship took my daughter.”
They weren’t listening to him either. He hadn’t expected them to. With the exception of Holden and his crew, no one had. The dark-skinned man hunched forward, his expression profoundly focused. Prax felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. A premonition.
“Repeat that,” the dark-skinned man said. And then a moment later: “We’re firing? Who’s we?”
Someone answered. The medical team and the weapons guards had their eyes on the commander too. Their faces were poker-blank.
“Understood. Alpha team, new orders. Get to the port and secure a transport ship. Use of force is authorized. Repeat that: Use of force is authorized. Sergeant Chernev, I need you to cut the prisoners’ leg restraints.”
One of the gun guards did a double take.
“All of them, sir?”
“All of them. And we’re going to need a gurney for this gentleman.”
“What’s going on, sir?” the sergeant asked, his voice strained by confusion and fear.
“What’s going on is I’m giving you an order,” the dark-skinned man said, striding fast out the door. “Now go.”
Prax felt the knife slash as a rough vibration against his ankles. He hadn’t realized his feet were numb until the burning pins-and-needles sensation brought tears to his eyes. Standing hurt. In the distance, something boomed like an empty freight container dropped from a great height. The sergeant cut Amos’ legs free from their bonds and moved on to Naomi. One guard still stood by the supplies. The medical team was sealing the gut-shot man’s belly closed with a sweet-smelling gel. The sergeant bent over.
The glance between Holden and Amos was the only warning Prax had. As casually as a man heading for the restroom, Holden started walking toward the door.
“Hey!” the weapons guard said, lifting a rifle the size of his arm. Holden looked up innocently, all eyes upon him, while behind him Amos brought his knee up into the sergeant’s head. Prax yelped with surprise and the gun swung toward him. He tried to raise his hands, but they were still tied behind him. Wendell stepped forward, put a foot against the medical woman’s hip, and pushed her into the guard’s line of fire.