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Page 54 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Looks clear,” Amos said.

“Naomi,” Holden said, “what does it look like around the ship?”

“Looks clear here,” she said. “But Alex is worried that—”

Her voice was cut off by an electronic squeal.

“Naomi? Naomi!” Holden yelled, but there was no response. To Amos he said, “Go, double-time it to the ship!”

Amos and the Pinkwater people ran toward the docks as quickly as their injured bodies and the unconscious teammate would let them. Holden brought up the rear, shouldering his assault rifle and flicking off the safety as he ran.

They ran through the twisting corridors of the port sector, Amos scattering pedestrians with loud shouts and the unspoken threat of his shotgun. An old woman in a hijab scurried away before them like a leaf driven before a storm. She was dead already. If the protomolecule was loose, everyone Holden passed was dead already. Santichai and Melissa Supitaya p**n  and all the people they’d come to Ganymede to save. The rioters and killers who’d been normal citizens of the station before their social ecosystem collapsed. If the protomolecule was loose, all of them were as good as dead.

So why hadn’t it happened?

Holden pushed the thought aside. Later—if there was a later—he could worry about it. Someone shouted at Amos, and Amos fired his shotgun into the ceiling once. If port security still existed outside of the vultures trying to take a cut of every incoming shipment, they didn’t try to stop them.

The outer airlock door of the Somnambulist was closed when they reached it.

“Naomi, you there?” Holden asked, fumbling in his pockets for the swipe card. She didn’t reply, and it took him a moment to remember he’d given the card to Wendell. “Wendell, open the door for us.”

The Pinkwater leader didn’t reply.

“Wendell—” Holden started, then stopped when he saw that Wendell was staring, wide-eyed, at something behind him. Holden turned to look and saw five men—Earthers, all of them—in plain gray armor without insignias. All were armed with large bore weapons.

No, Holden thought, and brought his gun up and across them in a full auto sweep. Three of the five men dropped, their armor blooming red. The new Holden rejoiced; the old was quiet. It didn’t matter who these men were. Station security or inner planet military or just leftover mercenaries from the now destroyed shadow base, he’d kill them all before he let them stop him from getting his crew off this infected moon.

He never saw who fired the shot that took his leg out from under him. One second he was standing, emptying the magazine of his assault rifle into the gray-armored fire-team, and the next a sledgehammer blow hit the armor on his right thigh, knocking him off his feet. As he fell, he saw the two remaining gray-armored soldiers go down as Amos’ auto-shotgun unloaded in a single long roar.

Holden rolled to his side, looking to see if anyone else was hurt, and saw that the five on his side had been only half of the enemy team. The Pinkwater people were raising their hands and dropping their weapons as five more gray-armored soldiers came down the corridor from behind.

Amos never saw them. He dropped the expended magazine from his auto-shotgun and was pulling a new one off his harness when one of the mercenaries aimed a large weapon at the back of his head and pulled the trigger. Amos’ helmet flew off and he was slapped forward onto the corrugated-metal decking with a wet crunch. Blood splashed across the floor where he hit it.

Holden tried to get a new magazine into his assault rifle, but his hands wouldn’t cooperate and before he could reload his gun, one of the soldiers had crossed the distance and kicked the rifle away from him.

Holden had time to see the still standing members of his Pinkwater team disappear into black bags before one came down over his own head and plunged him into darkness.

Chapter Twenty: Bobbie

The Martian delegation had been given a suite of offices in the UN building for their own use. The furniture was all real wood; the paintings on the walls were originals and not prints. The carpet smelled new. Bobbie thought that either everyone in the UN campus lived like a king, or they were just going out of their way to impress the Martians.

Thorsson had called her a few hours after she’d left her run-in with Avasarala at the bar, and had demanded that she meet with him the next day. Now she waited in the lobby of their temporary office suite, sitting in a bergère-style chair with green velvet cushions and a cherry wood frame that would have cost her two years’ salary on Mars. A screen set into the wall across from her played a news channel with the sound muted. It turned the program into a confusing and occasionally macabre slide show of images: two talking heads sitting at a desk in a blue room, a large building on fire, a woman walking down a long white hallway while gesturing animatedly to both sides, a UN battleship parked at an orbital station with severe damage scarring its flank, a red-faced man talking directly into the camera against the backdrop of a flag Bobbie didn’t recognize.

It all meant something and nothing at the same time. A few hours before, this would have frustrated Bobbie. She would have felt compelled to go find the remote and turn the sound up, to add context to the information being thrown at her.

Now she just let the images flow around her like canal water past a rock.

A young man she’d seen a few times on the Dae-Jung but had never actually met hurried through the lobby, tapping furiously on his terminal. When he was halfway across the room, he said, “He’s ready for you.”

It took Bobbie a moment to realize the young man had been talking to her. Apparently her stock had fallen far enough that she no longer warranted face-to-face delivery of information. More meaningless data. More water flowing past her. She pushed herself to her feet with a grunt. Her hours-long walk at one g the previous day had taken more out of her than she’d realized.

She was vaguely surprised to find that Thorsson’s office was one of the smallest in the suite. That meant that either he didn’t care about the unspoken status conferred through office size, or he was actually the least important member of the delegation to still rate a private workspace. She felt no compulsion to figure out which. Thorsson did not react to her arrival, his head bent over his desk terminal. Bobbie didn’t care about being ignored, or about the lesson he was trying to teach her with it. The size of the office meant that Thorsson had no chair for guests, and the ache in her legs was sufficiently distracting.

“I may have overreacted earlier,” he finally said.

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