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Page 35 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Good to know. And the Martians?”

“They’re here, ma’am.”

She sighed, plucked at her sari, and lifted her chin.

“Let’s go stop the war, then,” she said.

Chapter Thirteen: Holden

Amos, who’d finally turned up a few hours after the food riot carrying a case of beer and saying he’d done some “recon,” was now carrying a small case of canned food. The label claimed it was “chicken food products.” Holden hoped that the hacker Prax was leading them to would see the offering as at least being in the spirit of his requested payment.

Prax led the way with the manic speed of someone who had one last thing to do before he died, and could feel the end close on his heels. Holden suspected this wasn’t far from the truth. The small botanist certainly looked like he’d been burning himself up.

They’d taken him aboard the Somnambulist while they’d gathered the supplies they’d need, and Holden had forced the man to eat a meal and take a shower. Prax had begun stripping while Holden was still showing him how to use the ship’s head, as if waiting for privacy would waste precious time. The sight of the man’s ravaged body had shocked him. All the while, the botanist spoke only of Mei, of his need to find her. Holden realized that he’d never in his life needed anything as badly as this man needed to see his daughter again.

To his surprise, it made him sad.

Prax had been robbed of everything, had all his fat boiled away; he’d been rendered down to the bare minimum of humanity. All he had left was his need to find his little girl, and Holden envied him for it.

When Holden had been dying and trapped in the hell of Eros Station, he had discovered that he needed to see Naomi one last time. Or barring that, to see that she was safe. It was why he hadn’t died there. That and having Miller at his side with a second gun. And that connection, even now that he and Naomi were lovers, was a pale shadow compared to the thing driving Prax. It left Holden feeling like he’d lost something important without realizing it.

While Prax had showered, Holden had gone up the ladder to ops, where Naomi had been working to hack her way into Ganymede’s crippled security system, pulled her out of her chair, and held her for a few moments. She stiffened with surprise for a second, then relaxed into his embrace. “Hi,” she whispered in his ear. It might be a pale shadow, but it was what he had right now, and it was pretty damn good.

Prax paused at an intersection, his hands tapping at his thighs as if he were hurrying himself along. Naomi was back on the ship, monitoring their progress through locators they all carried and with the remnants of the station’s security cameras.

At Holden’s back, Amos cleared his throat and said in a voice low enough that Prax wouldn’t hear, “If we lose this guy, I don’t like our chances of finding our way back too quick.”

Holden nodded. Amos was right.

Even at the best of times, Ganymede was a maze of identical gray corridors and occasional parklike caverns. And the station certainly wasn’t at her best now. Most of the public information kiosks were dark, malfunctioning, or outright destroyed. The pubnet was unreliable at best. And the local citizens moved like scavengers over the corpse of their once-great moon, alternately terrified and threatening. He and Amos were both openly wearing firearms, and Amos had mastered a sort of constant glower that made people automatically put him onto their “not to be f**ked with” list. Not for the first time, Holden wondered what sort of life Amos had been leading prior to his signing up for a tour on the Canterbury, the old water hauler they’d served together on.

Prax came to a sudden halt in front of a door that looked like a hundred other doors they’d already passed, set into the wall of a gray corridor that looked like every other gray corridor.

“This is it. He’s in here.”

Before Holden could respond, Prax was hammering on the door. Holden took a step back and to the side, giving himself a clear view of the doorway past Prax. Amos stepped to the other side, tucking the case of chicken under his left arm and hooking his right thumb into his waistband just in front of the holster. A year of patrolling the Belt, cleaning up the worst jackals that the governmental vacuum had left behind, had instilled some automatic habits in his crew. Holden appreciated them, but he wasn’t sure he liked them. Working security certainly hadn’t made Miller’s life any better.

The door was yanked open by a scrawny and shirtless teenager with a big knife in his other hand.

“The f**k—” he started, then stopped when he saw Holden and Amos flanking Prax. He glanced at their guns and said, “Oh.”

“I’ve brought you chicken,” Prax replied, pointing back at the case Amos carried. “I need to see the rest of the camera footage.”

“Coulda got that for you,” Naomi said in Holden’s ear, “given enough time.”

“It’s the ‘enough time’ part that’s a problem,” Holden subvocalized back at her. “But that’s definitely plan B.”

The skinny teen shrugged and opened the door the rest of the way, gesturing for Prax to enter. Holden followed, with Amos bringing up the rear.

“So,” the kid said. “Show it, sabé?”

Amos put down the case on a filthy table and removed a single can from the box. He held it up where the kid could see it.

“Sauce?” the kid said.

“How about a second can instead?” Holden replied, moving over to the kid and smiling up at him agreeably. “So go get the rest of the footage, and we’ll get out of your hair. Sound good?”

The kid lifted his chin and pushed Holden an arm’s length back.

“Don’t push up on me, macho.”

“My apologies,” Holden said, his smile never wavering. “Now go get the damned video footage you promised my friend here.”

“Maybe no,” the kid said. He flapped one hand at Holden. “Adinerado, si no? Quizas you got more than chicken to pay. Maybe a lot.”

“Let me get this straight,” Holden replied. “Are you shaking us down? Because that would be—”

A meaty hand came down on his shoulder, cutting him off.

“I got this one, Cap,” Amos said, stepping between Holden and the kid. He held one of the chicken cans in his hand, and he was tossing it lightly and catching it.

“That guy,” Amos said, pointing at Prax with his left hand while continuing to toss the chicken with his right, “got his baby girl snatched. He just wants to know where she is. He’s willing to pay the agreed-upon price for that information.”

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