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Page 241 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“I have your message,” she said. “I’m … I’m so sorry, Praxidike. I wish there was more I could do. Things aren’t so good here on Ceres. I will talk with Taban. He makes more than I do, and if he understands what’s happened, he might want to help too. For my sake.

“Take care of yourself, old man. You look tired.”

On the screen, Mei’s mother leaned forward and stopped the recording. An icon showed an authorized transfer code for eighty FusionTek Reál. Prax checked the exchange rates, converting the company scrip to UN dollars. It was almost a week’s salary. Not enough. Not near enough. But still, it had been a sacrifice for her.

He pulled the message back up, pausing it in the gap between two words. Nicola looked out at him from the terminal, her lips parted barely enough for him to see her pale teeth. Her eyes were sad and playful. He’d thought for so long that it was her soul and not just an accident of physiology that gave her that look of fettered joy. He’d been wrong.

As he sat, lost in history and imagination, a new message appeared. It was from Luna. Persis-Strokes. With a feeling somewhere between anxiety and hope, he went to the attached spreadsheet. At the first set of numbers, his heart sank.

Mei might be out there. She might be alive. Certainly Strickland and his people were there. They could be found. They could be caught. There was justice to be had.

He just couldn’t afford it.

Chapter Thirty-Two: Holden

Holden sat in a pull-down chair in the Rocinante’s engineering bay reviewing the damage and making notes for Tycho’s repair crew. Everyone else was gone. Some more than others, he thought.

REPLACE STARBOARD ENGINEERING BULKHEAD.

SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE TO PORT-SIDE POWER CABLE JUNCTION, POSSIBLY REPLACE ENTIRE JUNCTION BOX.

Two lines of text representing hundreds of work hours, hundreds of thousands of dollars in parts. It also represented the aftermath of coming within a hand’s breadth of fiery annihilation for the ship and crew. Describing it in two quick sentences felt almost sacrilegious. He made a footnote of the types of civilian parts that Tycho was likely to have available that would work with his Martian warship.

Behind him, a wall monitor streamed a Ceres-based news show. Holden had turned it on to keep his mind occupied while he tinkered with the ship and made notes.

Which was all bullshit, of course. Sam, the Tycho engineer who usually took the lead on their repair jobs, didn’t need his help. She didn’t need him making lists of parts for her. She was, in every sense, better qualified to be doing what he was doing right now. But as soon as he turned the job over to her, he wouldn’t have any reason to stay on the ship. He would have to confront Fred about the protomolecule on Ganymede.

And maybe lose Naomi in the process.

If his early suspicion was correct and Fred actually had bartered using the protomolecule as currency or, worse, as a weapon, Holden would kill him. He knew that like he knew his own name, and he feared it. That it would be a capital offense and would almost certainly get him burned down on the spot was actually less important than the fact that it would be the final proof that Naomi was right to leave. That he’d turned into the man she feared he was becoming. Just another Detective Miller, dispensing frontier justice from the barrel of his gun. But whenever he pictured the scene, Fred’s admission of guilt and heartfelt appeal for mercy, Holden couldn’t picture not killing him for what he’d done. He remembered being the sort of man who would make a different choice, but he couldn’t actually remember what being that man was like.

If he was wrong, and Fred had nothing to do with the tragedy on Ganymede, then she’d have been right all along, and he had just been too stubborn to see it. He might be able to apologize for that with sufficient humility to win her back. Stupidity was usually a lesser crime than vigilantism.

But if Fred wasn’t the one playing God with the alien supervirus, that was much, much worse for humanity in general. It was an unpleasant thought that the truth that would be worst for humanity was the one that would be best for him. Intellectually, he knew he wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice himself or his happiness to save everyone else. But that didn’t stop the tiny voice at the back of his head that said, Fuck everyone else, I want my girlfriend back.

Something half remembered pushed up from his subconscious and he wrote MORE COFFEE FILTERS on his list of needed supplies.

The wall panel behind him chimed an alert half a second before his hand terminal buzzed to let him know someone was at the airlock, requesting permission to board. He tapped the screen to switch to the airlock’s outer door camera and saw Alex and Sam waiting in the corridor. Sam was still the adorable red-haired pixie in the oversized gray coveralls he remembered. She was carrying a large toolbox and laughing. Alex said something else and she laughed harder, almost dropping her tools. With the intercom off, it was a silent movie.

Holden tapped the intercom button and said, “Come on in, guys.” Another tap cycled the outer airlock doors open. Sam waved at the camera and stepped inside.

A few minutes later, the pressure hatch to engineering banged open, and the ladder-lift whined its way down. Sam and Alex stepped off, Sam dropping her tools onto the metal deck with a loud crash.

“What’s up?” she said, giving Holden a quick hug. “You getting my girl all shot up again?”

“Your girl?” Alex said.

“Not this time,” Holden replied, pointing out the damaged bulkheads in the engineering bay to her. “Bomb went off in the cargo bay, burned a hole there and threw some shrapnel into the power junction there.”

Sam whistled. “Either that shrapnel took the long way around, or your reactor knows how to duck.”

“How long, you think?”

“Bulkhead’s simple,” she said, punching something into her terminal, then tapping her front teeth with its corner. “We can bring a patch in through the cargo bay in a single piece. Makes the job a lot easier. Power junction takes longer, but not a lot. Say four days if I get my crew on it right now.”

“Well,” Holden said, wincing like a man who had to keep admitting to new wrongdoings. “We also have a damaged cargo bay door that will either have to be fixed or replaced. And our cargo bay airlock is kind of messed up.”

“Couple more days, then,” Sam said, then knelt down and began pulling things out of her toolbox. “Mind if I start taking some measurements?”

Holden waved at the wall. “Be my guest.”

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