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“I’ve got to pee,” she said, pulling on a robe and heading out the door. Holden just nodded to her, still not quite capable of speech.

He shifted over to the middle of the bed, stretching out his arms and legs for a moment. The truth was the Roci’s cabins were not built for two occupants, least of all the crash couches that doubled as beds. But over the course of the last year, he’d spent more and more time sleeping in Naomi’s cabin, until it sort of became their cabin and he just didn’t sleep anywhere else anymore. They couldn’t share the bunk during high-g maneuvers, but so far they’d never been asleep anytime the ship had needed to do high-g maneuvering. A trend that was likely to continue.

Holden was starting to doze off when the hatch opened and Naomi came back in. She tossed a cold, wet washcloth onto his belly.

“Wow, that’s bracing,” Holden said, sitting up with a start.

“It was hot when I left the head with it.”

“That,” Holden said while he cleaned up, “sounded very dirty.”

Naomi grinned, then sat on the edge of the bunk and poked him in the ribs. “You can still think of sex? I would’ve thought we got that out of your system.”

“A close brush with death does wonderful things for my refractory period.”

Naomi climbed into the bunk next to him, still wrapped in her robe.

“You know,” she said, “this was my idea. And I’m all in favor of reaffirming life through sex.”

“Why do I get the feeling that there is a ‘but’ missing at the end of that sentence?”

“But—”

“Ah, there it is.”

“There’s something we need to talk about. And this seems a good time.”

Holden rolled over onto his side, facing her, and pushed up onto one elbow. A thick strand of hair was hanging in her face, and he brushed it back with his other hand.

“What did I do?” he said.

“It’s not exactly anything you’ve done,” Naomi said. “It’s more what we’re heading off to do right now.”

Holden put his hand on her arm but waited for her to continue. The soft cloth of her robe clung to the wet skin beneath it.

“I’m worried,” she said, “that we’re flying off to Tycho to do something really rash.”

“Naomi, you weren’t there, you didn’t see —”

“I saw it, Jim, through Amos’ suitcam. I know what it is. I know how much it scares you. It scares the hell out of me too.”

“No,” Holden said, his voice surprising him with its anger. “No you don’t. You weren’t on Eros when it got out, you never—”

“Hey, I was there. Maybe not for the worst of it. Not like you,” Naomi said, her voice still calm. “But I did help carry what was left of you and Miller to the med bay. And I watched you try to die there. We can’t just accuse Fred of—”

“Right now—and I mean right now—Ganymede could be changing.”

“No—”

“Yes. Yes it could. We could be leaving a couple million dead people behind right now who don’t know it yet. Melissa and Santichai? Remember them? Now think of them stripped down to whatever pieces the protomolecule finds most useful at the moment. Think of them as parts. Because if that bug is loose on Ganymede, then that’s what they are.”

“Jim,” Naomi said, a warning in her voice now. “This is what I’m talking about. The intensity of your feelings isn’t evidence. You are about to accuse a man who’s been your friend and patron for the last year of maybe killing an entire moon full of people. That isn’t the Fred we know. And you owe him better than that.”

Holden pushed up to a sitting position, part of him wanting to physically distance himself from Naomi, the part of him that was angry with her for not sympathizing enough.

“I gave Fred the last of it. I gave it to him, and he swore right to my face he’d never use it. But that’s not what I saw down there. You call him my friend, but Fred has only ever done what would advance his own cause. Even helping us was just another move in his political game.”

“Experiments on kidnapped children?” Naomi said. “A whole moon—one of the most important in the outer planets—put at risk and maybe killed outright? Does that make any sense to you? Does that sound like Fred Johnson?”

“The OPA wants Ganymede even more than either inner planet does,” Holden said, finally admitting the thing he’d feared since they’d found the black filament. “And they wouldn’t give it to him.”

“Stop,” Naomi said.

“Maybe he’s trying to drive them off, or he sold it to them in exchange for the moon. That would at least explain the heavy inner planets traffic we’ve been seeing—”

“No. Stop,” she said. “I don’t want to sit here and listen to you talk yourself into this.”

Holden started to speak, but Naomi sat up facing him and gently put her hand over his mouth.

“I didn’t like this new Jim Holden you’ve been turning into. The guy who’d rather reach for his gun than talk? I know being the OPA’s bagman has been a shitty job, and I know we’ve had to do a lot of pretty rotten things in the name of protecting the Belt. But that was still you. I could still see you lurking there under the surface, waiting to come back.”

“Naomi,” he said, pulling her hand away from his face.

“This guy who can’t wait to go all High Noon in the streets of Tycho? That’s not Jim Holden at all. I don’t recognize that man,” she said, then frowned. “No. That’s not right. I do recognize him. But his name was Miller.”

For Holden, the most awful part was how calm she was. She never raised her voice, never sounded angry. Instead, infinitely worse, there was only a resigned sadness.

“If that’s who you are now, you need to drop me off somewhere. I can’t go with you anymore,” she said. “I’m out.”

Chapter Twenty-Three: Avasarala

Avasarala stood at her window, looking out at the morning haze. In the distance, a transport lifted off. It rode an exhaust plume that looked like a pillar of bright white cloud, and then it was gone. Her hands ached. She knew that some of the photons striking her eyes right now had come from explosions light-minutes away. Ganymede Station, once the safest place without an atmosphere, then a war zone, and now a wasteland. She could no more pick out the light of its death than pluck a particular molecule of salt from the ocean, but she knew it was there, and the fact was like a stone in her belly.

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