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Page 58 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Are they stable?” the dark-skinned man asked the medical team.

“If I had the choice,” the woman said, “I wouldn’t move this one.”

“If you didn’t?”

“He’ll probably make it. Keep the high g to a minimum until I can get him to a real medical bay.”

“Excuse me,” Holden said. “Can someone please tell me what the hell’s going on?”

He might as well have been asking the walls.

“We’ve got ten minutes,” the dark-skinned man said.

“Transport ship?”

“Not yet. The secure facility.”

“Splendid,” the woman said sourly.

“Because if you want to ask us any questions,” Holden said, “we should start by getting everybody off Ganymede. If you want your people to still be people, we have to go. That lab we were in had the protomolecule.”

“I want them moved two at a time,” the dark-skinned man said.

“Yes, sir,” the woman replied.

“Are you listening to me?” Holden shouted. “The protomolecule is loose on this station.”

“They’re not listening to us, Jim,” Naomi said.

“Ferguson. Mott,” the dark-skinned man said. “Report.”

The room was silent as someone somewhere reported in.

“My daughter’s missing,” Prax said. “That ship took my daughter.”

They weren’t listening to him either. He hadn’t expected them to. With the exception of Holden and his crew, no one had. The dark-skinned man hunched forward, his expression profoundly focused. Prax felt the hair on the back of his neck rise. A premonition.

“Repeat that,” the dark-skinned man said. And then a moment later: “We’re firing? Who’s we?”

Someone answered. The medical team and the weapons guards had their eyes on the commander too. Their faces were poker-blank.

“Understood. Alpha team, new orders. Get to the port and secure a transport ship. Use of force is authorized. Repeat that: Use of force is authorized. Sergeant Chernev, I need you to cut the prisoners’ leg restraints.”

One of the gun guards did a double take.

“All of them, sir?”

“All of them. And we’re going to need a gurney for this gentleman.”

“What’s going on, sir?” the sergeant asked, his voice strained by confusion and fear.

“What’s going on is I’m giving you an order,” the dark-skinned man said, striding fast out the door. “Now go.”

Prax felt the knife slash as a rough vibration against his ankles. He hadn’t realized his feet were numb until the burning pins-and-needles sensation brought tears to his eyes. Standing hurt. In the distance, something boomed like an empty freight container dropped from a great height. The sergeant cut Amos’ legs free from their bonds and moved on to Naomi. One guard still stood by the supplies. The medical team was sealing the gut-shot man’s belly closed with a sweet-smelling gel. The sergeant bent over.

The glance between Holden and Amos was the only warning Prax had. As casually as a man heading for the restroom, Holden started walking toward the door.

“Hey!” the weapons guard said, lifting a rifle the size of his arm. Holden looked up innocently, all eyes upon him, while behind him Amos brought his knee up into the sergeant’s head. Prax yelped with surprise and the gun swung toward him. He tried to raise his hands, but they were still tied behind him. Wendell stepped forward, put a foot against the medical woman’s hip, and pushed her into the guard’s line of fire.

Naomi was kneeling on the sergeant’s neck; his face was purple. Holden kicked the drill-wielding man in the back of the knee at the same moment that Amos tackled the man with the rifle. The cauterizing drill sparked against the floor with a sound like a finger tapping against glass. Paula had the sergeant’s knife in her hands, backing up against one of her compatriots, sawing at the zip line around his wrists. The rifleman swung his elbow, and Amos’ breath went out in a whoosh. Holden dropped onto the male half of the medical team, pinning the man’s arms with his knees. Amos did something Prax couldn’t see, and the rifleman grunted and folded over.

Paula got through the Pinkwater man’s zip-tie just as the medical woman scooped up the rifle. The freed man pulled the pistol from the fallen sergeant’s holster and leaned forward, pressing the barrel to the medical woman’s temple as she swung the rifle up a quarter second too late.

Everyone froze. The medical woman smiled.

“Checkmate,” she said, and lowered the rifle to the floor.

It had all taken no more than ten seconds.

Naomi took the knife, quickly, methodically slicing through the wrist bindings while Holden followed along behind, disabling the communication webs in the gray unmarked armor and zip-tying their hands and feet. A perfect inversion of the previous situation. Prax, rubbing the feeling back into his fingers, had the absurd image of the dark-skinned man coming back in and barking orders to him. Another boom came, another huge, resonating container being dropped and sounding out like a drum.

“I just want you to know how much I appreciate the way you looked after my people,” Wendell told the pair who made up the medical team.

The woman suggested something obscene and unpleasant, but she smiled while she did it.

“Wendell,” Holden said, rummaging in the box of their belongings and then tossing a card-key to the Pinkwater leader. “The Somnambulist is still yours, but you need to get to her now and get the hell out of here.”

“Preaching to the choir,” Wendell said. “Get that gurney. We’re not leaving him behind now, and we’ve got to get out of here before reinforcements come.”

“Yessir,” Paula said.

Wendell turned to Holden.

“It was interesting meeting you, Captain. Let’s not do this again.”

Holden nodded but didn’t stop putting his armor back on to shake hands. Amos did the same, then distributed their confiscated weapons and items back to them. Holden checked the magazine on his gun and then left through the same door the dark-skinned man had used, Amos and Naomi on his heels. Prax had to trot to catch up. Another detonation came, this one not so distant. Prax thought he felt the ice shake under him, but it might have been his imagination.

“What’s … what’s going on?”

“The protomolecule’s breaking out,” Holden said, tossing a hand terminal to Naomi. “The infection’s taking hold.”

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