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Page 254 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

It was the commentary that took his time and attention.

He heard Alex and Amos in the galley, their voices calm and conversational. It reminded him of living in the group housing at university. The awareness of other voices, other presences, and the comfort that came from those familiar sounds. It wasn’t that different from reading the comment threads.

I LOST MY SON FOUR YEARS AGO, AND I STILL CAN’T IMAGINE WHAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH RIGHT NOW. I WISH THERE WAS MORE I COULD DO.

He had the list down to only a few dozen. It was mid-afternoon in the arbitrary world of ship time, but he was powerfully sleepy. He debated leaving the remaining messages until after a nap, and decided to read through them without requiring himself to respond to each one. Alex laughed. Amos joined him.

Prax opened the fifth message.

YOU ARE A SICK, SICK, SICK MOTHERFUCKER, AND IF I EVER SEE YOU, I SWEAR TO GOD I WILL KILL YOU MYSELF. PEOPLE LIKE YOU SHOULD BE RAPED TO DEATH JUST SO YOU KNOW WHAT IT FEELS LIKE.

Prax tried to catch his breath. The sudden ache in his body was just like the aftermath of being punched in the solar plexus. He deleted the message. Another came in, and then three more. And then a dozen. With a sense of dread, Prax opened one of the new ones.

I HOPE YOU DIE.

“I don’t understand,” Prax said to the terminal. The vitriol was sudden and constant and utterly inexplicable. At least, it was until he opened one of the messages that had the link to a public newsfeed. Prax put in a request, and five minutes later, his screen went blank, the logo of one of the big Earth-based news aggregators glowed briefly in blue, and the title of the feed series—The Raw Feed—appeared.

When the logo faded out, Nicola was looking out at him. Prax reached for the controls, part of his mind insisting that he’d somehow slipped into his private messages, even as the rest of him knew better. Nicola licked her lips, looked away, then back at the camera. She looked tired. Exhausted.

“My name’s Nicola Mulko. I used to be married to Praxidike Meng, the man who put out a call for help finding our daughter … my daughter, Mei.”

A tear dripped down her cheek, and she didn’t wipe it away.

“What you don’t know—what no one knows—is that Praxidike Meng is a monster of a human being. Ever since I got away from him, I’ve been trying to get Mei back. I thought his abuse of me was between us. I didn’t think he’d hurt her. But information has come back to me from friends who stayed on Ganymede after I left that …”

“Nicola,” Prax said. “Don’t. Don’t do this.”

“Praxidike Meng is a violent and dangerous man,” Nicola said. “As Mei’s mother, I believe that she has been emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by him since I left. And that her alleged disappearance during the troubles on Ganymede are to hide the fact that he’s finally killed her.”

The tears were flowing freely down Nicola’s cheeks now, but her voice and eyes were dead as last week’s fish.

“I don’t blame anyone but myself,” she said. “I should never have left when I couldn’t get my little girl away too …”

Chapter Thirty-Seven: Avasarala

I don’t blame anyone but myself,” the teary-eyed woman said, and Avasarala stopped the feed, sitting back in her chair. Her heart was beating faster than usual and she could feel thoughts swimming just under the ice of her conscious mind. She felt like someone could press an ear to her skull and listen to her brain humming.

Bobbie was sitting on the four-poster. She made the thing look small, which was impressive in itself. She had one leg tucked up under her and a pack of real playing cards laid out in formation on the crisp gold-and-green bedspread. The game of solitaire was forgotten, though. The Martian’s gaze was on her, and Avasarala felt a slow grin pulling at her lips.

“Well, I’ll be f**ked,” she said. “They’re scared of him.”

“Who’s scared of who?”

“Errinwright is moving against Holden and this Meng bastard, whoever he is. They actually forced him to take action. I couldn’t get that out of him.”

“You don’t think the botanist was diddling his kid?”

“Might have been, but that”—she tapped on the still, tearful face of the botanist’s ex-wife—“is a smear campaign. I’ll bet you a week’s pay that I’ve had lunch with the woman coordinating it.”

Bobbie’s skeptical look only made Avasarala smile more broadly.

“This,” Avasarala said, “is the first genuinely good thing that’s happened since we got on this floating whorehouse. I’ve got to get to work. Goddamn, but I wish I was back at the office.”

“You want some tea?”

“Gin,” she said, engaging the camera on her terminal. “We’re celebrating.”

In the focus window, she looked smaller than she felt. The rooms had been designed to command attention whatever angle she put herself in, like being trapped in a postcard. Anyone who rode in the yacht would be able to brag without saying a word, but in the weak gravity her hair stood out from her head like she’d just gotten out of bed. More than that, she looked emotionally exhausted and physically diminished.

Put it away, she told herself. Find the mask.

She took a deep breath, made a rude gesture into the camera, and then started recording.

“Admiral Souther,” she said. “Thank you so much for your last message. Something’s come to my attention that I thought you might find interesting. It looks like someone’s taken a fresh dislike to James Holden. If I were with the fleet instead of floating around the f**king solar system, I’d take you out for a cup of coffee and talk this over, but since that’s not happening, I’m going to open some of my private files for you. I’ve been following Holden. Take a look at what I’ve got and tell me if you’re seeing the same things I am.”

She sent the message. The next thing that would have made sense would be contacting Errinwright. If the situation had been what they were both pretending it was, she’d have kept him involved and engaged. For a long moment, she considered following the form, pretending. Bobbie loomed up on her right, putting the glass of gin on the desk with a soft click. Avasarala picked it up and sipped a small taste of it. Mao’s private-label gin was excellent, even without the lime twist.

Nah. Fuck Errinwright. She pulled up her address book and started leafing through entries until she found what she wanted and pressed record.

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