“Cap, there’s a tunnel coming off to the right just before the pressure door,” Amos said, stopping and dropping to one knee to cover the unexpected corridor.
It didn’t appear on the map. That meant that new tunnels had been dug after the station specs had last been updated. Modifications like that meant he had even less information than he’d thought. It wasn’t a good thing.
“Okay,” Holden said, pointing at the thin woman with the machine pistol. “You are?”
“Paula,” she said.
“Paula, this is your intersection. Try not to shoot anyone that doesn’t shoot at you first, but do not let anyone past you for any reason.”
“Solid copy on that,” Paula said, and took up a position looking down the side corridor with her weapon at the ready.
Amos pulled a grenade off his harness and handed it to her.
“Just in case shit goes down,” he said. Paula nodded, settled her back against the wall. Amos, taking point, moved toward the pressure door.
“Naomi,” Holden said, looking over the door and locking mechanism. “Pressure door, uh, 223-B6. Pop it.”
“Got it,” she said. A few seconds later, Holden heard the bolts retract.
“Ten meters to the next mapped intersection,” he said, then looked at the Pinkwater people and picked one gruff-looking older man at random. “That’s your intersection when we get there.”
The man nodded, and Holden gestured at Amos. The mechanic took hold of the hatch with his right hand and began counting down from five with his left. Holden took up a position facing the door, his assault rifle at the ready.
When Amos hit one, Holden took a deep breath, and he burst through the door as Amos yanked it open a split second later.
Just another ten meters of corridor, dimly lit by the few LEDs that hadn’t failed in the decades since its last use. Years of micro-frost melt had built a texture over the surface of the walls like dripping spiderwebs. It looked delicate, but it was mineralized as hard as stone. It reminded Holden of a graveyard.
Amos began advancing to the intersection and the next hatch, his gun aimed down the hallway. Holden followed him, his rifle tracking right as he kept it aimed at the side passage, the reflex to cover every possible ingress point to their position having become automatic over the last year.
His year as a cop.
Naomi had said this wasn’t him. He’d left the Navy without seeing live combat outside pirate hunting from the comfort of a warship’s operations deck. He’d worked for years on the Canterbury, hauling ice from Saturn to the Belt without ever having to worry about something more violent than drunken ice buckers fighting out their boredom. He’d been the peacemaker, the one who always found the way to keep things cool. When tempers flared, he’d keep it calm or keep it funny or just sit for a shift and listen to someone rave and rant whatever it was out of their system.
This new person he’d become reached for his gun first and talked second. Maybe she was right. How many ships had he slagged in the year since Eros? A dozen? More? He comforted himself with the thought that they were all very bad people. The worst kind of carrion eaters, using the chaos of war and the retreat of the Coalition Navy as an opportunity to pillage. The kind of people who’d strip all the expensive parts off your engine, steal your spare air, and leave you adrift to suffocate. Every one of their ships he’d shot down had probably saved dozens of innocent ships, hundreds of lives. But doing it had taken something from him that he occasionally felt the lack of.
Occasions like when Naomi had said, This isn’t you.
If they tracked down the secret base where Mei had been taken, there was a good chance they’d have to fight to get her back. Holden found himself hoping it would bother him, if for no other reason than to prove that it still could.
“Cap? You okay?”
Amos was staring at him.
“Yeah,” Holden said, “I just need a different job.”
“Might not be the best moment for a career change, Cap.”
“Fair point,” Holden said, and pointed to the older Pinkwater man he’d singled out before. “This is your intersection. Same instructions. Hold it unless I call you.”
The older guy shrugged and nodded, then turned to Amos. “Don’t I get a grenade too?”
“Nah,” Amos said, “Paula’s cuter than you.” He counted down from five, and Holden went through the door, same as last time.
He’d been ready for another featureless gray corridor, but on the other side there was a wide-open space, with a few tables and dusty equipment scattered haphazardly around the room. A massive 3-D copier emptied of resin and partially disassembled, a few light industrial waldoes, the kind of complex automated supply cabinet that usually lurked under desks in scientific labs or medical bays. The mineralized webwork was on the walls but not the boxes or equipment. A glass-walled cube two meters to a side sat off in one corner. One of the tables had a small bundle of sheets or tarps piled on it. Across the room another hatch stood closed.
Holden pointed to the abandoned equipment and said to Wendell, “See if you can find a network access point. If you can, plug this into it.” He handed Naomi’s hastily rigged network bridge to him.
Amos sent two of the remaining Pinkwater people up to the next hatch to cover it, then came back to Holden and gestured with his gun toward the glass box.
“Big enough for a couple kids,” he said. “Think that’s where they kept ’em?”
“Maybe,” Holden said, moving over to examine it. “Prax, can you—” Holden stopped when he realized the botanist had gone over to the tables and was standing next to the bundle of rags. With Prax standing next to the bundle, Holden’s perspective shifted and suddenly it didn’t look like a pile of rags at all. It looked very much like a small body under a sheet.
Prax was staring at it, his hand darting toward it and then pulling back. He was shaking all over.
“This … this is …” he said to no one in particular, his hand moving out and back again.
Holden looked at Amos, then gestured at Prax with his eyes. The big mechanic moved over to him and put a hand on his arm.
“How’s about you let us take a look at that, okay?”
Holden let Amos guide Prax a few steps away from the table before he moved over to it. When he lifted the sheet to look under, Prax made a sharp noise like the intake of breath before a scream. Holden shifted his body to block Prax’s view.