Prax felt odd watching himself speak. He had seen plenty of recordings of himself, but the man on the screen was thinner than he’d expected. Older. His voice was higher than the one he heard in his own ears, and less hesitant. The Praxidike Meng who was about to be broadcast out to the whole of humanity was a different man than he was, but it was close enough. And if it helped to find Mei, it would do. If it brought her back, he’d be anyone.
Alex slid his fingers across his controls, rearranging the presentation, connecting the images of Mei to the timeline to Holden. They had set up an account with a Belt-based credit union that had a suite of options for short-term unincorporated nonprofit concerns so that any contributions could be accepted automatically. Prax watched, wanting badly to offer comment or take control. But there was nothing more to do.
“All right,” Alex said. “That’s about as pretty as I can make it.”
“Okay, then,” Prax said. “What do we do with it now?”
Alex looked over. He seemed tired, but there was also an excitement.
“But the review process …”
“There is no review process, Doc. This isn’t a government thing. Hell, it’s not even a business. It’s just us monkeys flying fast and tryin’ to keep our butts out of the engine plume.”
“Oh,” Prax said. “Really?”
“You hang around the captain long enough, you get used to it. You might want to take a day, though. Think it through.”
Prax lifted himself on one elbow.
“Think what through?”
“Sending this out. If it works the way we’re thinking, you’re about to get a lot of attention. Maybe it’ll be what we’re hoping for; maybe it’ll be something else. All I’m saying is you can’t unscramble that egg.”
Prax considered for a few seconds. The screens glowed.
“It’s Mei,” Prax said.
“All right, then,” Alex said, and shifted communication control to the copilot’s station. “You want to do the honors?”
“Where is it going? I mean, where are we sending it?”
“Simple broadcast,” Alex said. “Probably get picked up by some local feeds in the Belt. But it’s the captain, so folks will watch it, pass it around on the net. And …”
“We didn’t put our hitchhiker in, but the filament out of that glass case?We’re kind of announcing that the protomolecule’s still out there. That’s gonna boost the signal.”
“And we think that’s going to help?”
“First time we did something like this, it started a war,” Alex said. “ ‘Help’ might be a strong word for it. Stir things up, though.”
Prax shrugged and hit send.
“Torpedoes away,” Alex said, chuckling.
Prax slept on the station, serenaded by the hum of the air recyclers. Amos was gone again, leaving only a note that Prax shouldn’t wait up. It was probably his imagination that made the spin gravity seem to feel different. With a diameter as wide as Tycho’s, the Coriolis effect shouldn’t have been uncomfortably noticeable, and certainly not when he lay there, motionless, in the darkness of his room. And still, he couldn’t get comfortable. He couldn’t forget that he was being turned, inertia pressing him against the thin mattress as his body tried to fly out into the void. Most of the time he’d been on the Rocinante, he’d been able to trick his mind into thinking that he had the reassuring mass of a moon under him. It wasn’t, he decided, an artifact of how the acceleration was generated so much as what it meant.
As his mind slowly spiraled down, bits of his self breaking apart like a meteor hitting atmosphere, he felt a massive welling-up of gratitude. Part of it was to Holden and part to Amos. The whole crew of the Rocinante. Half-dreaming, he was on Ganymede again. He was starving, walking down ice corridors with the certainty that somewhere nearby, one of his soybeans had been infected with the protomolecule and was tracking him, bent on revenge. With the broken logic of dreams, he was also on Tycho, looking for work, but all the people he gave his CV to shook their heads and told him he was missing some sort of degree or credential he didn’t recognize or understand. The only thing that made it bearable was a deeper knowledge—certain as bone—that none of it was true. That he was sleeping, and that when he woke, he would be somewhere safe.
What did wake him at last was the rich smell of beef. His eyes were crusted like he’d been crying in his sleep, the tears leaving salt residues where they’d evaporated. The shower was hissing and splashing. Prax pulled on his jumpsuit, wondering again why it had TACHI printed across the back.
Breakfast waited on the table: steak and eggs, flour tortillas, and black coffee. Real food that had cost someone a small fortune. There were two plates, so Prax chose one and started eating. It had probably cost a tenth of the money he had from Nicola, but it tasted wonderful. Amos ducked out of the shower, a towel wrapped around his hips. A massive white scar puckered the right side of his abdomen, pulling his navel off center, and a nearly photographic tattoo of a young woman with wavy hair and almond-shaped eyes covered his heart. Prax thought there was a word under the tattooed face, but he didn’t want to stare.
“Hey, Doc,” Amos said. “You’re looking better.”
“I got some rest,” Prax said as Amos walked into his own room and closed the door behind him. When Prax spoke again, he raised his voice. “I want to thank you. I was feeling low last night. And whether you and the others can actually help find Mei or not—”
“Why wouldn’t we be able to find her?” Amos asked, his voice muffled by the door. “You ain’t losing respect for me, are you, Doc?”
“No,” Prax said. “No, not at all. I only meant that what you and the captain are offering is … it’s a huge …”
Amos came back out grinning. His jumpsuit covered scars and tattoos as if they’d never been.
“I knew what you meant. I was just joshing you. You like that steak? Keep wondering where they put the cows on this thing, don’t you?”
“Oh no, this is vat-grown. You can tell from the way the muscle fibers grow. You see how these parts right here are layered? Actually makes it easier to get a good marbled cut than when you carve it out of a steer.”
“No shit?” Amos said, sitting across from him. “I didn’t know that.”