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Page 300 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“My parents are racists,” Holden said to Naomi later that night. She lay curled against his side, her face against his ear. One long brown leg thrown across his hips.

“Okay,” she whispered.

The hotel suite Avasarala had provided for them was luxurious to the point of opulence. The mattress was so soft that in the lunar gravity it was like floating on a cloud. The air recycling system pumped in subtle scents handcrafted by the hotel’s in-house perfumer. That night’s selection was called Windblown Grass. It didn’t exactly smell like grass to Holden, but it was nice. Just a hint of earthiness to it. Holden had a suspicion that all perfumes were named randomly, anyway. He also suspected that the hotel ran the oxygen just a little higher than normal. He felt a little too good.

“They’re worried our babies will be Belters,” he said.

“No babies,” Naomi whispered. Before Holden could ask what she meant, she was snoring in his ear.

The next day, he woke before Naomi, dressed in the best suit he owned, and headed out into the station. There was one last thing he had to do before he could call this whole bloody affair truly over.

He had to see Jules Mao.

Avasarala had told him that Mao was one of several dozen high-ranking politicians, generals, and corporate leaders rounded up in the mass of arrests following Io. He was the only one Avasarala was going to see personally. And, since they’d caught him on his L5 station frantically trying to get on a fast ship to the outer planets, she’d just had him brought to her on Luna.

That day was the day of their meeting. He’d asked Avasarala if he could be there, expecting a no. Instead, she laughed a good, long time and said, “Holden, there is literally nothing I can think of that will be more humiliating to that man than having you watch me dismantle him. Fuck yes, you can come.”

So Holden hurried out of the hotel and onto the streets of Lovell City. A quick pedicab ride got him to the tube station, and a twenty-minute tube ride took him to the New Hague United Nations complex. A perky young page was waiting for him when he arrived, and he was escorted efficiently through the complex’s twisty maze of corridors to a door marked CONFERENCE ROOM 34.

“You can wait inside, sir,” the perky page chirped at him.

“No, you know?” Holden said, clapping the boy on the shoulder. “I think I’ll wait out here.”

The page dipped his head slightly and bustled off down the corridor, already looking at his hand terminal for whatever his next task was. Holden leaned against the corridor wall and waited. In the low gravity, standing was hardly any more effort than sitting, and he really wanted to see Mao perp-walked down the hallway to his meeting.

His terminal buzzed, and he got a short text message from Avasarala. It said ON OUR WAY.

Less than five minutes later, Jules-Pierre Mao climbed off an elevator into the corridor, flanked by two of the largest military police officers Holden had ever seen. Mao had his hands cuffed in front of him. Even wearing a prisoner’s jumpsuit, hands in restraints, and with armed guards escorting him, he managed to look arrogant and in control. As they approached, Holden stood up straight and stepped in their way. One of the MPs yanked on Mao’s arm to stop him and gave Holden a subtle nod. It seemed to say, I’m down for whatever with this guy. Holden had a sense that if he yanked a pistol out of his pants and shot Mao right there in the corridor, the two MPs would discover they had both been struck with blindness at the same moment and failed to see anything.

But he didn’t want to shoot Mao. He wanted what he always seemed to want in these situations. He wanted to know why.

“Was it worth it?”

Even though they were the same height, Mao managed to frown down at him. “You are?”

“Awww, come on,” Holden said with a grin. “You know me. I’m James Holden. I helped bring down your pals at Protogen, and now I’m about to finish that job with you. I’m also the one that found your daughter after the protomolecule had killed her. So I’ll ask again: Was it worth it?”

Mao didn’t answer.

“A dead daughter, a company in ruins, millions of people slaughtered, a solar system that will probably never have peaceful stability again. Was it worth it?”

“Why are you here?” Mao finally asked. He looked smaller when he said it. He wouldn’t make eye contact.

“I was there, in the room, when Dresden got his and I’m the man who killed your pet admiral. I just feel like there’s this wonderful symmetry in being there when you get yours.”

“Antony Dresden,” Mao said, “was shot in the head three times execution style. Is that what passes for justice with you?”

Holden laughed. “Oh, I doubt Chrisjen Avasarala is going to shoot you in the face. Do you think what’s coming will be better?”

Mao didn’t reply, and Holden looked at the MP and gestured toward the conference room door. They almost looked disappointed as they pushed Mao into the room and attached his restraints to a chair.

“We’ll be waiting out here, sir, if you need us,” the larger of the two MPs said. They took up flanking positions next to the door.

Holden went into the conference room and took a chair, but he didn’t say anything else to Mao. A few moments later, Avasarala shuffled into the room, talking on her hand terminal.

“I don’t give a f**k whose birthday it is, you make this happen before my meeting is over or I’ll have your nuts as paperweights.” She paused as the person on the other end said something. She grinned at Mao and said, “Well, go fast, because I have a feeling my meeting will be short. Good talking to you.”

She sank into a chair directly across the table from Mao. She didn’t look at Holden or acknowledge him at all. He suspected that the record would never reflect his presence in the room. Avasarala put her terminal on the tabletop and leaned back in her chair. She didn’t speak for several tense seconds. When she did, it was to Holden. She still didn’t look at him.

“You’ve gotten paid for hauling me back here?”

“Payment’s cleared,” Holden said.

“That’s good. I wanted to ask you about a longer-term contract. It would be civilian, of course, but—”

Mao cleared his throat. Avasarala smiled at him.

“I know you’re there. I’ll be right with you.”

“I’ve already got a contract,” Holden said. “We’re escorting the first reconstruction flotilla to Ganymede. And after that, I’m thinking we’ll probably be able to get another escort gig from there. Still a lot of people relocating who’d rather not get stopped by pirates along the way.”

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