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Page 270 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

She smiled at him.

“My last act in this universe isn’t going to be f**king up everything I did right up to now.”

Holden made a conscious effort to ignore his frustration. He got up and opened the refrigerator. “Hey, there’s leftover pudding. Want some?”

“I’ve read your psych profile. I know all about your ‘everyone should know everything’ naive bullshit. But how much of the last war was your fault, with your goddamned endless pirate broadcasts? Well?”

“None of it,” Holden said. “Desperate psychotic people do desperate psychotic things when they’re exposed. I refuse to grant them immunity from exposure out of fear of their reaction. When you do, the desperate psychos wind up in charge.”

She laughed. It was a surprisingly warm sound.

“Anyone who understands what’s going on is at least desperate and probably psychotic to boot. Dissociative at the least. Let me explain it this way,” Avasarala said. “You tell everyone, and yeah, you’ll get a reaction. And maybe, weeks, or months, or years from now, it will all get sorted out. But you tell the right people, and we can sort it out right now.”

Amos and Prax walked into the galley together. Amos had his big thermos in his hand and headed straight toward the coffeepot. Prax followed him and picked up a mug. Avasarala’s eyes narrowed and she said, “Maybe even save that little girl.”

“Mei?” Prax said immediately, putting the mug down and turning around.

Oh, that was low, Holden thought. Even for a politician.

“Yes, Mei,” Avasarala replied. “That’s what this is about, right, Jim? Not some personal crusade, but trying to save a little girl from very bad people?”

“Explain how—” Holden started, but Avasarala kept talking right over the top of him.

“The UN isn’t one person. It isn’t even one corporation. It’s a thousand little, petty factions fighting against each other. Their side’s got the floor, but that’s temporary. That’s always temporary. I know people who can move against Nguyen and his group. They can cut off his support, strip him of ships, even recall and court-martial him given enough time. But they can’t do any of that if we’re in a shooting war with Mars. And if you toss everything you know into the wind, Mars won’t have time to wait and figure out the subtleties; they’ll have no choice but to preemptively strike against Nguyen’s fleet, Io, what’s left of Ganymede. Everything.”

“Io?” Prax said. “But Mei—”

“So you want me to give all the info to your little political cabal back on Earth, when the entire reason for this problem is that there are little political cabals back on Earth.”

“Yes,” Avasarala said. “And I’m the only hope she’s got. You have to trust me.”

“I don’t. Not even a little bit. I think you’re part of the problem. I think you see all of this as political maneuvering and power games. I think you want to win. So no, I don’t trust you at all.”

“Hey, uh, Cap?” Amos said, slowly screwing the top onto his thermos. “Ain’t you forgetting something?”

“What, Amos? What am I forgetting?”

“Don’t we vote on shit like this now?”

“Don’t pout,” Naomi said. She was stretched out on a crash couch next to the main operations panel on the ops deck. Holden was seated across the room from her at the comm panel. He’d just sent out Avasarala’s data file to her two UN admirals. His fingers itched with the desire to dump it into a general broadcast. But they’d debated the issue for the crew, and she’d won the vote. The whole voting thing had seemed like such a good idea when he’d first brought it up. After losing his first vote, not so much. They’d all be dead in two days, so at least it probably wouldn’t happen again.

“If we get killed, and Avasarala’s pet admirals don’t actually do anything with the data we just sent, this was all for nothing.”

“You think they’ll bury it?” Naomi said.

“I don’t know, and that’s the problem. I don’t know what they’ll do. We met this UN politician two days ago and she’s already running the ship.”

“So send it to someone else too,” Naomi said. “Someone who you can trust to keep it quiet, but can get the word out if the UN guys turn out to be working for the wrong team.”

“That’s not a bad idea.”

“Fred, maybe?”

“No.” Holden laughed. “Fred would see it as political capital. He’d use it to bargain with. It needs to be someone that has nothing to gain or lose by using it. I’ll have to think about it.”

Naomi got up, then came over to straddle his legs and sit on his lap facing him. “And we’re all about to die. That’s not making any of this any easier.”

Not all of us.

“Naomi, gather the crew up, the marine and Avasarala too. The galley, I guess. I have some last business to announce. I’ll meet you guys there in ten minutes.”

She kissed him lightly on the nose. “Okay. We’ll be there.”

When she disappeared from sight down the crew ladder, Holden opened up the chief of the watch’s locker. Inside were a set of very out-of-date codebooks, a manual of Martian naval law, and a sidearm and two magazines of ballistic gel rounds. He took out the gun, loaded it, and strapped the belt and holster around his waist.

Next he went back to the comm station and put Avasarala’s data package into a tightbeam transmission that would bounce from Ceres to Mars to Luna to Earth, using public routers all the way. It would be unlikely to send up any red flags. He hit the video record button and said, “Hi, Mom. Take a look at this. Show it to the family. I have no idea how you’ll know when the right time to use it is, but when that time comes, do with it whatever seems best. I trust you guys, and I love you.”

Before he could say anything else or think better of the whole thing, he hit the transmit key and turned the panel off.

He called up the ladder-lift, because riding it would take longer than climbing the ladder and he needed time to think out exactly how to play the next ten minutes. When he reached the crew deck, he still didn’t have it all figured out, but he squared his shoulders and walked into the galley anyway.

Amos, Alex, and Naomi were sitting on one side of the table, facing him. Prax was in his usual perch on the counter. Bobbie and Avasarala sat sideways on the other side of the table so that they could see him. That put the marine less than two meters away, with nothing between her and him. Depending on how this went, that might be a problem.

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