“Nope!” Holden said. “But I have to say, for some reason, it feels great.”
“And when the euphoria passes?”
“I’ll make a plan.”
Her smile grew reflective and she tugged on her lock of hair.
“I’m not ready to move back to the ship right now,” Naomi said, reaching across the table to take his hand in hers. “But by the time the Roci is patched up, I’ll need my cabin back.”
“I’ll move the rest of my stuff out immediately.”
“Jim,” she said, squeezing his fingers once before letting go. “I love you, and we’re not okay yet. But this is a good start.”
And yes, Holden thought, it really was.
Holden woke up in his old cabin on the Rocinante feeling better than he had in months. He climbed out of his bunk and wandered naked through the empty ship to the head. He took an hour-long shower in water he actually had to pay for now, heated by electricity the dock would be charging him for by the kilowatt-hour. He walked back to his bunk, drying skin made pink by the almost scalding water as he went.
He made and ate a large breakfast and drank five cups of coffee while catching up on the technical reports on the Roci’s repairs until he was sure he understood everything about what had been done. Holden had switched to reading a column about the state of Mars-Earth relations by a political humorist when his terminal buzzed at him, and a call came through from Amos.
“Hey, Cap,” he said, his big face filling the small screen. “You coming over to the station today? Or should we come meet you on the Roci?”
“Let’s meet here,” Holden replied. “Sam and her team will be working today and I want to keep an eye on things.”
“See you in a few, then,” Amos said, and killed the connection.
Holden tried to finish the humor column but kept getting distracted and having to read the same passage over again. He finally gave up and cleaned the galley for a while, then set the coffee-maker to brew a fresh pot for Amos and the work crew when they arrived.
The machine was gurgling happily to itself like a content infant when the deck hatch clanged open and Amos and Prax climbed down the crew ladder and into the galley.
“Cap,” Amos said, dropping into a chair with a thump. Prax followed him into the room but didn’t sit. Holden grabbed mugs and pulled two more cups of coffee, then set them on the table.
“What’s the news?” he said.
Amos answered with a shit-eating grin and spun his terminal across the table to Holden. When Holden looked at it, it was displaying the account information for Prax’s “save Mei” fund. It had just over half a million UN dollars in it.
Holden whistled and slumped into a chair. “Jesus grinned, Amos. I’d hoped we might … but never this.”
“Yeah, it was a little under 300k this morning. It’s gone up another 200k just over the last three hours. Seems like everyone following the Ganymede shit on the news has made little Mei the poster child for the tragedy.”
“Is this enough?” Prax cut in, anxiety in his voice.
“Oh, hell yes,” Holden said with a laugh. “Way more than enough. This will fund our rescue mission just fine.”
“Also, we got a clue,” Amos said, pausing dramatically to sip his coffee.
“Yep,” Amos said, adding a little more sugar to his cup. “Prax, send him that message you got.”
Holden watched the message three times, grinning wider with each viewing. “The security video on your presentation. I believe I know the man in it,” the elderly gentleman on the screen was saying. “But his name isn’t Strickland. When I worked with him at Ceres Mining and Tech University, his name was Merrian. Carlos Merrian.”
“That,” Holden said after his final viewing, “is what my old buddy Detective Miller might have called a lead.”
“What now, chief?” Amos asked.
“I think I need to make a phone call.”
“Okay. The doc and I will get out of your hair and watch his money roll in.”
They left together, Holden waiting until the deck hatch slammed behind them to send a connection request to the switchboard at Ceres M&T. The lag was running about fifteen minutes with Tycho’s current location, so he settled back and played a simple puzzle game on his terminal that left his mind free to think and plan. If they knew who Strickland had been before he was Strickland, they might be able to trace his career history. And somewhere along the way, he’d stopped being a guy named Carlos who worked at a tech school, and became a guy named Strickland who stole little kids. Knowing why would be a good start to learning where he might be now.
Almost forty minutes after sending out the request, he received a reply. He was a little surprised to see the elderly man from the video message. He hadn’t expected to connect on his first try.
“Hello,” the man said. “I’m Dr. Moynahan. I’ve been expecting your message. I assume you want to know the details about Dr. Merrian. To make a long story short, he and I worked together at the CMTU biosciences lab. He was working on biological development constraint systems. He was never good at playing the university game. Didn’t make many allies while he was here. So when he crossed some ethical gray areas, they were only too happy to run him out of town. I don’t know the details on that. I wasn’t his department head. Let me know if you need anything else.”
Holden watched the message twice, taking notes and cursing the fifteen-minute lag. When he was ready, he sent a reply back.
“Thank you so much for the help, Dr. Moynahan. We really appreciate it. I don’t suppose you know what happened after he was kicked out of the university, do you? Did he go to another institution? Take a corporate job? Anything?”
He hit send and sat back to wait again. He tried the puzzle game but got annoyed and turned it off. Instead, he pulled up the Tycho public entertainment feed and watched a children’s cartoon that was frantic and loud enough to distract him.
When his terminal buzzed with the incoming message, he almost knocked it off the table in his haste to start the video.
“Actually,” Dr. Moynahan said, scratching at the gray stubble on his chin while he spoke, “he never even made it in front of the ethics review. Quit the day before. Made a lot of fuss, walking through the lab and yelling that we weren’t going to be able to push him around anymore. That he had a bigwig corporate job with all the funding and resources he wanted. Called us small-minded pencil pushers stagnating in a quagmire of petty ethical constraints. Can’t remember the name of the company he was going to work for, though.”