Prax didn’t reply; he just rolled onto his side and shook. It took Holden a moment to realize Prax was weeping. He left without saying anything else. What else was there to say?
Holden took the ladder-lift up, planning to go to ops and read the detailed damage reports Naomi and the Roci were compiling. He stopped when he got to the personnel deck and heard two people speaking. He couldn’t hear what they were saying, but he recognized Naomi’s voice, and he recognized the tone she used when she was having an intimate conversation.
The voices were coming from the galley. Feeling a little like a Peeping Tom, Holden moved closer to the galley hatch until he could make out the words.
“It’s more than that,” Naomi was saying. Holden almost walked into the galley, but something in her tone stopped him. He had the terrible feeling she was talking about him. About them. About why she was leaving.
“Why does it have to be more?” the other person said. Amos.
“You almost beat a man to death with a can of chicken on Ganymede,” Naomi replied.
“Gonna hold a little girl hostage for some food? Fuck him. If he was here, I’d smash him again right now.”
“Do you trust me, Amos?” Naomi said. Her voice was sad. More than that. Frightened.
“More than anyone else,” Amos replied.
“I’m scared out of my wits. Jim is rushing off to do something really dumb on Tycho. This guy we’re taking with us seems like he’s one twitch from a nervous breakdown.”
“And you,” she continued. “I depend on you. I know you’ve always got my back, no matter what. Except maybe not now, because the Amos I know doesn’t beat a skinny kid half to death, no matter how much chicken he asks for. I feel like everyone’s losing themselves. I need to understand, because I’m really, really frightened.”
Holden felt the urge to go in, take her hand, hold her. The need in her voice demanded it, but he held himself back. There was a long pause. Holden heard a scraping sound, followed by the sound of metal hitting glass. Someone was stirring sugar into coffee. The sounds were so clear he could almost see it.
“So, Baltimore,” Amos said, his voice as relaxed as if he were going to talk about the weather. “Not a nice town. You ever heard of squeezing? Squeeze trade? Hooker squeeze?”
“No. Is it a drug?”
“No,” Amos said with a laugh. “No, when you squeeze a hooker, you put her on the street until she gets knocked up, then peddle her to johns who get off on pregnant girls, then send her back to the streets after she pops the kid. With procreation restrictions, banging pregnant girls is quite the kink.”
“Yeah, you know, ‘squeezing out puppies’? You never heard it called that?”
“Okay,” Naomi said, trying to hide her disgust.
“Those kids? They’re illegal, but they don’t just vanish, not right away,” Amos continued. “They got uses too.”
Holden felt his chest tighten a little. It wasn’t something he’d ever thought about. When, a second later, Naomi spoke, her horror echoed his.
“Jesus got nothing to do with it,” Amos said. “No Jesus in the squeeze trade. But some kids wind up in the pimp gangs. Some wind up on the streets …”
“Some wind up finding a way to ship offworld, and they never go back?” Naomi asked, her voice quiet.
“Maybe,” Amos said, his voice as flat and conversational as ever. “Maybe some do. But most of them just … disappear, eventually. Used up. Most of them.”
For a time, no one spoke. Holden heard the sounds of coffee being drunk.
“Amos,” she said, her voice thick. “I never—”
“So I’d like to find this little girl before someone uses her up, and she disappears. I’d like to do that for her,” Amos said. His voice caught for a moment, and he cleared it with a loud cough. “For her dad.”
Holden thought they were done, and started to slip away when he heard Amos, his voice calm again, say, “Then I’m going to kill whoever snatched her.”
Chapter Thirty: Bobbie
Prior to working for Avasarala at the UN, Bobbie had never even heard of Mao-Kwikowski Mercantile, or if she had, she hadn’t noticed. She’d spent her whole life wearing, eating, or sitting on products carted through the solar system by Mao-Kwik freighters without ever realizing it. After she’d gone through the files Avasarala had given her, she’d been astonished at the size and reach of the company. Hundreds of ships, dozens of stations, millions of employees. Jules-Pierre Mao owned significant properties on every habitable planet and moon in the solar system.
His eighteen-year-old daughter had owned her own racing ship. And that was the daughter he didn’t like.
When Bobbie tried to imagine being so wealthy you could own a spaceship just to compete in races, she failed. That the same girl had run away to be an OPA rebel probably said a lot about the relationship of wealth and contentment, but Bobbie had a hard time being that philosophical.
She’d grown up solidly Martian middle class. Her father had done twenty as a Marine noncom and had gone into private security consulting after he’d left the corps. Bobbie’s family had always had a nice home. She and her two older brothers had attended a private primary school, and her brothers had both gone on to university without having to take out student loans. Growing up, she’d never once thought of herself as poor.
She did now.
Owning your own racing ship wasn’t even wealth. It was like speciation. It was conspicuous consumption befitting ancient Earth royalty, a pharaoh’s pyramid with a reaction drive. Bobbie had thought it was the most ridiculous excess she’d ever heard of.
And then she climbed off the short flight shuttle onto Jules-Pierre Mao’s private L5 station.
Jules didn’t park his ships in orbit at a public station. He didn’t even use a Mao-Kwik corporate station. This was an entire fully functioning space station in orbit around Earth solely for his private spaceships, and the whole thing done up like peacock feathers. It was a level of extravagance that had never even occurred to her.
She also thought it made Mao himself very dangerous. Everything he did was an announcement of his freedom from constraint. He was a man without boundaries. Killing a senior politician of the UN government might be bad business. It might wind up being expensive. But it would never actually be risky to a man with this much wealth and power.