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Page 53 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

Eight rems burning off Jupiter onto the surface of Ganymede. Even with the magnetosphere, eight rems a day. How quickly would the protomolecule grow here, with Jupiter endlessly supplying the energy? Eros had become something frighteningly powerful once the protomolecule had taken hold. Something that could accelerate at incredible speeds without inertia. Something that could, if the reports were right, change the very atmosphere and chemical composition of Venus. And that was with just over a million human hosts and a thousand trillion tons of rocky mass to work with at the beginning.

Ganymede had ten times as many humans and many orders of magnitude more mass than Eros. What could the ancient alien weapon do with such bounty?

Amos threw open the last hatch to the shadow base, and the crew was back in the higher-traffic tunnels of Ganymede. Holden didn’t see anyone acting infected. No mindless zombies staggering through the corridors. No brown vomit coating the walls and floor, filled with the alien virus looking for a host. No Protogen hired thugs shepherding people into the kill zone.

Protogen is gone.

An itch at the back of his mind that Holden hadn’t even been aware of pushed its way to the front. Protogen was gone. Holden had helped bring them down. He’d been in the room when the architect of the Eros experiment died. The Martian fleet had nuked Phoebe into a thin gas that was sucked into Saturn’s massive gravity. Eros had crashed into the acidic and autoclave-hot atmosphere of Venus, where no human ships could go. Holden himself had taken Protogen’s only sample of the protomolecule away from them.

So who had brought the protomolecule to Ganymede?

He’d given the sample to Fred Johnson as leverage to be used in the peace talks. The Outer Planets Alliance had gotten a lot of concessions in the chaos that followed the brief inner planets war. But not everything they’d wanted. The inner planets fleets in orbit around Ganymede were proof of that.

Fred had the only sample of the protomolecule left in the solar system. Because Holden had given it to him.

“It was Fred,” he said out loud without realizing it.

“What was Fred?” Naomi asked.

“This. What’s happening here. He did this.”

“No,” Naomi said.

“To drive the inner planets out, to test some kind of super-weapon, something. But he did this.”

“No,” Naomi said again. “We don’t know that.”

The air in the corridor grew smoky, the nauseating scent of burning hair and flesh choking off Holden’s reply. Amos held up a hand to halt the group, and the Pinkwater people stopped and took up defensive positions. Amos moved up the corridor to the junction and looked off to his left for several moments.

“Something bad happened here,” he finally said. “I’ve got half a dozen dead, more than that celebrating.”

“Are they armed?” Holden asked.

“Oh yeah.”

The Holden who would have tried to talk his way by them, the Holden who Naomi liked and wanted back, barely put up a struggle when he said, “Get us past them.”

Amos leaned out around the corner and fired off a long burst from his auto-shotgun.

“Go,” he said when the echoes of the gunshots had faded away.

The Pinkwater people picked up their wounded and hurried up the corridor and beyond the battle; Prax jogged along close behind, head down and thin arms pumping. Holden followed, a glance showing him dead bodies on fire at the center of a wide hallway. Burning them had to be a message. It wasn’t quite bad enough yet for them to be eating each other. Was it?

There were a few bodies lying outside the fire, bleeding out on the corrugated metal floors. Holden couldn’t tell if they were Amos’ handiwork. The old Holden would have asked. The new one didn’t.

“Naomi,” he said, wanting to hear her voice.

“I’m here.”

“We’re seeing trouble out here.”

“Is it …” He heard the dread in her voice.

“No. Not the protomolecule. But the locals may be bad enough. Seal up the ’locks,” Holden told her, the words coming to him without thought. “Warm up the reactor. If something happens to us, leave and rendezvous with Alex. Don’t go to Tycho.”

“Jim,” she said, “I—”

“Don’t go to Tycho. Fred did this. Don’t go back to him.”

“No,” she said. Her new mantra.

“If we aren’t there in half an hour, go. That’s an order, XO.”

At least she would get away, Holden told himself. No matter what happened on Ganymede, at least Naomi would make it out alive. A vision of the nightmare Julie, dead in her shower, but with Naomi’s face flashed in his mind. He didn’t expect the little yelp of grief that escaped him. Amos turned and looked back at him, but Holden waved him on without a word.

Fred had done this.

And if Fred had, then Holden had too.

Holden had spent a year playing enforcer to Fred’s politician. He’d hunted ships and killed them for Fred’s grand OPA government experiment. He’d changed the man he’d been into the man he was now, because some part of him believed in Fred’s dream of the liberated and self-governed outer planets.

And Fred had secretly been planning … this.

Holden thought of all the things he’d put off so that he could help Fred build his new solar system order. He’d never taken Naomi to meet his family back on Earth. Not that Naomi herself could have ever gone to Earth. But he could have flown his family up to Luna to meet her. Father Tom would have resisted. He hated travel. But Holden had no doubt that in the end he would have gotten them all to come meet her once he explained how important she’d become to him.

And meeting Prax, seeing his need to find his daughter, made Holden realize how badly he wanted to know what that was like. To experience that sort of hunger for the presence of another human being. To present another generation to his parents. To show them that all the effort and energy they had put into him had paid off. That he was passing it along. He wanted, almost more than he’d wanted anything before, to see the looks on their faces when he showed them a child. His child. Naomi’s child.

Fred had taken that from him, first by wasting his time as the OPA’s leg breaker, and now by this betrayal. Holden swore to himself that if he made it off Ganymede, Fred would pay for all of it.

Amos halted the group again, and Holden noticed that they were back at the port. He shook himself out of his reverie. He didn’t remember how they’d gotten there.

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