“Are you about to do something really stupid?” she asked.
“I’m about to keep these people from being shot for the crime of being hungry,” he said, wincing at the self-righteous tone even as he said it.
“Don’t,” Naomi said, letting him go, “pull your gun on anyone.”
“They have guns.”
“Guns plural. You have gun singular, which is why you will keep yours in your holster, or you’ll do this by yourself.”
That’s the only way you ever do anything. By yourself. It was the kind of thing Detective Miller would have said. For him, it had been true. That was a strong enough argument against doing it that way.
“Okay.” Holden nodded, then resumed pushing his way to the front. By the time he reached it, two people had become the focus of the conflict. A gray-haired port security man wearing a white patch with the word supervisor printed on it and a tall, thin dark-skinned woman who could pass for Naomi’s mother were yelling at each other while their respective groups looked on, shouting agreements and insults.
“Just open the damn door and let us look!” yelled the woman in a tone that let Holden know this was something she was repeating again and again.
“You won’t get anything by yelling at me,” the gray-haired supervisor yelled back. Beside him, his fellow security guards held their shock sticks in white-knuckled grips and the corporate boys held their shotguns in a loose cradle that Holden found far more threatening.
The woman stopped shouting when Holden pushed his way up to the supervisor, and stared at him instead.
“Who …?” she said.
Holden climbed up onto the loading dock next to the supervisor. The other guards waved their shock prods around a little, but no one jabbed him. The corporate thugs just narrowed their eyes and shifted their stances a bit. Holden knew that their confusion about who he was would only last so long, and when they finally got past it, he was probably going to get uncomfortably intimate with one of those cattle prods, if not just blasted in the face with a shotgun. Before that could happen, he thrust his hand out to the supervisor and said in a loud voice that would carry to the crowd, “Hi there, I’m Walter Philips, an OPA rep out of Tycho Station, and here as personal representative of Colonel Frederick Johnson.”
The supervisor shook his hand like a man in a daze. The corporate gorillas shifted again and held their guns more firmly.
“Mr. Philips,” the supervisor said. “The OPA has no authority …”
Holden ignored him and turned to the woman he’d been shouting at.
“Ma’am, what’s all the fuss?”
“That ship,” she said, pointing at the door, “has almost ten thousand kilos of beans and rice on it, enough to feed the whole station for a week!”
The crowd murmured agreement at her back and shuffled forward a step or two.
“Is that true?” Holden asked the supervisor.
“As I said,” the man replied, holding up his hands and making pushing motions at the crowd as though he could drive them back through sheer force of will, “we are not allowed to discuss the cargo manifests of privately owned—”
“Then open the doors and let us look!” the woman shouted again. While she yelled and the crowd picked up her chant—let us look, let us look— Holden took the security supervisor by the elbow and pulled his head close.
“In about thirty seconds, that mob is going to tear you and your men to pieces trying to get into that ship,” he said. “I think you should let them have it before this turns violent.”
“Violent!” The man gave a humorless laugh. “It’s already violent. The only reason the ship isn’t long gone is because one of them set off a bomb and blew up the docking-clamp release mechanism. If they try to take the ship, we’ll—”
“They will not take the ship,” said a gravelly voice, and a heavy hand came down on Holden’s shoulder. When he turned around, one of the corporate goons was standing behind him. “This ship is Mao-Kwikowski Mercantile property.”
Holden pushed the man’s hand off his shoulder.
“A dozen guys with Tasers and shotguns isn’t going to stop them,” he said, pointing out at the chanting mob.
“Mr.”—the goon looked him up and down once—“Philips. I don’t give a drippy shit what you or the OPA thinks about anything, and especially not my chances of doing my job. So why don’t you f**k off before the shooting starts?”
Well, he’d tried. Holden smiled at the man and began to reach for the holster at the small of his back. He wished that Amos were here, but he hadn’t seen him since they had gotten off the ship. Before he reached the pistol, his hand was enveloped by long slender fingers and squeezed tightly.
“How about this,” Naomi said, suddenly at Holden’s side. “How about we skip past the posturing and I just tell you how this is actually going to work?”
Both Holden and the goon turned to look at Naomi in surprise. She held up one finger in a wait a minute gesture and pulled out her hand terminal. She called someone and turned on the external speaker.
“Amos,” she said, still holding her finger up.
“Yep,” came the reply.
“A ship is trying to leave from port 11, pad B9. It’s full of food we could really use here. If it makes it off the ground, do we have an OPA gunship close enough to intercept?”
There was a long pause; then, with a chuckle, Amos said, “You know we do, boss. Who’m I actually saying this to?”
“Call that ship and have them disable the freighter. Then have an OPA team secure it, strip it of everything, and scuttle it.”
Amos just said, “You got it.”
Naomi closed up the terminal and put it back into her pocket.
“Don’t test us, boy,” she said to the goon, a hint of steel in her voice. “Not one word of that was empty threat. Either you give these people the cargo, or we’ll take the whole damned ship. Your choice.”
The goon stared at her for a moment, then motioned to his team and walked away. Port security followed, and Holden and Naomi had to dodge out of the way of the crowd rushing up the dock and to the loading bay doors.
When they were out of danger of being trampled, Holden said, “That was pretty cool.”
“Getting shot standing up for justice probably seemed very heroic to you,” she said, the steel not quite gone from her voice. “But I want to keep you around, so stop being an idiot.”