“I am,” Prax said. “I’m Dr. Praxidike Meng. Chief botanist on the RMD-Southern soy farm project. Who are you?”
“Let the cap’n do this,” Amos said.
“He’s pretty good at it.”
“I’m thinking you’re part of the relief work,” the Martian said. “Long way from the docks. Looks like you lost your way. Maybe you need an escort back to where it’s safe.”
Holden shifted his weight. The assault rifle just happened to slide forward a few inches, not at all provocatively.
“I don’t know,” Holden said. “We’re pretty well protected. I think we can probably take care of ourselves. What kind of fee are you … um, escorts asking?”
“Well now. I count three of you. Call it a hundred in Martian scrip. Five, local.”
“How about you follow us down, and I arrange passage for all of you off this ice ball?”
The Martian’s jaw dropped.
“That’s not funny,” he said, but the mask of power and confidence had slipped. Prax had seen the hunger and desperation behind it.
“I’m going to an old tunnel system,” Holden said. “Someone abducted a bunch of kids right before everything went to hell. They took them there. Doc’s kid was one of the ones that got snatched. We’re going to get her back and politely ask how they knew all this was coming down. Might be resistance. I could use a few people who know what end of the gun points forward.”
“You’re f**king with me,” the Martian said. From the corner of his eye, Prax saw one of the others step forward. A thin woman in cheap protective weave.
“We’re OPA,” Amos said, then nodded at Holden. “He’s James Holden of the Rocinante.”
“Holy shit,” the Martian said. “You are. You’re Holden.”
“It’s the beard,” Holden said.
“My name’s Wendell. Used to work for Pinkwater Security before the bastards took off, left us here. Way I figure, that voids the contract. You want to pick up some professional firepower, you ain’t gonna find better than us.”
“How many you got?”
“Six, counting me.”
Holden looked over at Amos. Prax felt Amos shrug as much as saw it. The other man they’d been talking about was unrelated after all.
“All right,” Holden said. “We tried to talk to local security, but they didn’t give us the time of day. Follow me, back us up, and I give you my word you’ll get off Ganymede.”
Wendell grinned. He’d had one of his incisors dyed red with a small black-and-white design on it.
“Anything you say, boss,” he said. Then, lifting his gun: “Form up! We got us a new contract, people. Let’s get it done!”
The whoops came from all around them. Prax found the thin woman beside him, grinning and shaking his hand like she was running for office. Prax blinked and smiled back, and Amos put his hand on Prax’s shoulder.
“See? Told you. Now let’s get moving.”
The hallway was darker than it had seemed in the video. The ice had thin melt channels, like pale veins, but the frost covering them was fresh. The door looked like any other of a hundred they’d passed on the way in. Prax swallowed. His stomach ached. He wanted to scream for Mei, to call her name and hear her call back.
“Okay,” Naomi said in his ear. “I’ve got the lock disabled. Whenever you guys are ready.”
“No time like the present,” Holden said. “Open it up.”
The seal around the door hissed.
The door opened.
Chapter Fifteen: Bobbie
Three hours into the first big meeting between the Martian and UN diplomats and they’d only just got past introducing everyone and on to reading the agenda. A squat Earther in a charcoal-gray suit that probably cost more than Bobbie’s recon armor droned on about Section 14, Subsection D, Items 1-11, in which they would discuss the effect of past hostilities on commodity pricing pursuant to existing trade agreements. Bobbie looked around, noticed that everyone else at the long oak table was staring with rapt attention at the agenda reader, and stifled the truly epic yawn that was struggling to get out.
She distracted herself by trying to figure out who people were. They’d all been introduced by name and title at some point, but that didn’t mean much. Everyone here was an assistant secretary, or undersecretary, or director of something. There were even a few generals, but Bobbie knew enough about how politics worked to know that the military people in the room would be the least important. The people with real power would be the quiet ones with unassuming titles. There were several of those, including a moonfaced man with a skinny tie who’d been introduced as the secretary of something or other. Sitting next to him was someone’s grandmother in a bright sari, a splash of yellow in the middle of all the dark brown and dark blue and charcoal gray. She sat and munched pistachios and wore an enigmatic half smile. Bobbie entertained herself for a few minutes by trying to guess if Moonface or Grandma was the boss.
She considered pouring a glass of water from one of the crystal decanters evenly distributed across the table. She wasn’t thirsty, but turning her glass over, pouring water into it, and drinking it would burn a minute, maybe two. She glanced down the table and noticed that no one else was drinking the water. Maybe everyone was waiting for someone else to be first.
“Let’s take a short break,” charcoal-suit man said. “Ten minutes, then we can move on to Section fifteen of the agenda.”
People got up and began dispersing toward restrooms and smoking areas. Grandma carried her handbag to a recycling chute and dumped pistachio shells into it. Moonface pulled out his terminal and called someone.
“Jesus,” Bobbie said, rubbing her eyes with her palms until she saw stars.
“Problem, Sergeant?” Thorsson said, leaning back in his chair and grinning. “The gravity wearing on you?”
“No,” Bobbie said. Then, “Well, yes, but mostly I’m ready to jab a stylus into my eye, just for a change of pace.”
Thorsson nodded and patted her hand, a move he was using more often now. It hadn’t gotten any less irritating and paternalistic, but now Bobbie was worried that it might mean Thorsson was working up to hitting on her. That would be an uncomfortable moment.
She pulled her hand away and leaned toward Thorsson until he turned and looked her in the eye.
“Why,” she whispered, “is no one talking about the goddamned monster? Isn’t that why I’m—why we’re here?”