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Page 43 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

A few decades of massive employment shrinkage ended that.

Or, again, that was what she’d been taught in school. Only here on Earth, where food grew on its own, where air was just a by-product of random untended plants, where resources lay thick on the ground, could a person actually choose not to do anything at all. There was enough extra created by those who felt the need to work that the surplus could feed the rest. A world no longer of the haves and the have-nots, but of the engaged and the apathetic.

Bobbie found herself standing next to a street-level coffee shop and took a seat.

“Can I get you anything?” a smiling young woman with brightly dyed blue hair asked.

“What’s good?”

“We make the best soy-milk tea, if you like that.”

“Sure,” Bobbie said, not sure what soy-milk tea was, but liking those two things separately enough to take a chance.

The blue-haired girl bustled away and chatted with an equally young man behind the bar while he made the tea. Bobbie looked around her, noticing that everyone she saw working was about the same age.

When the tea arrived, she said, “Hey, do you mind if I ask you something?”

The girl shrugged, her smile an invitation.

“Is everyone who works here the same age?”

“Well,” she said. “Pretty close. Gotta collect your pre-university credits, right?”

“I’m not from here,” Bobbie said. “Explain that.”

Blue seemed actually to see her for the first time, looking over her uniform and its various insignias.

“Oh, wow, Mars, right? I want to go there.”

“Yeah, it’s great. So tell me about the credits thing.”

“They don’t have that on Mars?” she asked, puzzled. “Okay, so, if you apply to a university, you have to have at least a year of work credits. To make sure you like working. You know, so they don’t waste classroom space on people who will just go on basic afterward.”

“Basic?”

“You know, basic support.”

“I think I understand,” Bobbie said. “Basic support is the money you live on if you don’t work?”

“Not money, you know, just basic. Gotta work to have money.”

“Thanks,” Bobbie said, then sipped her milk tea as Blue trotted to another table. The tea was delicious. She had to admit, it made a sad kind of sense to do some early winnowing before spending the resources to educate people. Bobbie told her terminal to pay the bill, and it flashed a total at her after calculating the exchange rate. She added a nice tip for the blue-haired girl who wanted more from life than basic support.

Bobbie wondered if Mars would become like this after the terraforming. If Martians didn’t have to fight every day to make enough resources to survive, would they turn into this? A culture where you could actually choose if you wanted to contribute? The work hours and collective intelligence of fifteen billion humans just tossed away as acceptable losses for the system. It made Bobbie sad to think of. All that effort to get to a point where they could live like this. Sending their kids to work at a coffee shop to see if they were up to contributing. Letting them live the rest of their lives on basic if they weren’t.

But one thing was for sure: All that running and exercising the Martian Marines did at one full gravity was bullshit. There was no way Mars could ever beat Earth on the ground. You could drop every Martian soldier, fully armed, into just one Earth city and the citizens would overwhelm them using rocks and sticks.

Deep in the grip of pathos, she suddenly felt a massive weight lift that she hadn’t even realized she’d been carrying. Thorsson and his bullshit didn’t matter. The pissing contest with Earth didn’t matter. Making Mars into another Earth didn’t matter, not if this was where it was headed.

All that mattered was finding out who’d put that thing on Ganymede.

She tossed off the last of her tea and thought, I’ll need a ride.

Chapter Sixteen: Holden

Beyond the door lay a long hallway that looked, to Holden, exactly the same as every other hallway on Ganymede: ice walls with moisture-resistant and insulated structural plates and inset conduit, rubberized walking surface, full-spectrum LEDs to mimic sunlight slanting down from the blue skies of Earth. They could have been anywhere.

“We’re sure this is right, Naomi?”

“That’s the one we saw Mei go through in the hacker’s footage,” she replied.

“Okay,” he said, then dropped to one knee and motioned for his ad hoc army to do the same. When everyone was in a rough circle around him, he said, “Our overwatch, Naomi, has intel on the layout of these tunnels, but not much else. We have no idea where the bad guys are, or even if they’re still here.”

Prax started to object, but Amos quieted him with a heavy hand on his back.

“So we could conceivably leave a lot of intersections at our back. I don’t like that.”

“Yeah,” said Wendell, the Pinkwater leader. “I don’t like that much either.”

“So we’re going to leave a lookout at each intersection until we know where we’re going,” Holden replied, then said, “Naomi, put all their hand terminals on our channel. Guys, put in your ear-buds. Comm discipline is don’t speak unless I ask a direct question, or someone is about to die.”

“Roger,” said Wendell, echoed by the rest of his team.

“Once we know what we’re looking at, I’ll call all the lookouts up to our position if needed. If not, they’re our way out of here if we’re in over our heads.”

Nods all around.

“Outstanding. Amos is point. Wendell, you cover our asses. Everyone else, string out at one-meter intervals,” Holden said, then tapped on Wendell’s breastplate. “We do this thing clean, and I’ll talk to my OPA people about putting a few credits in your accounts in addition to getting you offworld.”

“Righteous,” the thin woman with the cheap armor said, and then racked a round in her machine pistol.

“Okay, let’s go. Amos, Naomi’s map says fifty meters to another pressure door, then some warehouse space.”

Amos nodded, then shouldered his weapon, a heavy automatic shotgun with a thick magazine. He had several more magazines and a number of grenades dangling from his Martian armor’s harness. The metal clicked a little as he walked. Amos headed off down the hallway at a fast walk. Holden gave a quick glance behind, gratified to see the Pinkwater people keeping up the pace and the spacing. They might look half starved, but they knew what they were doing.