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Page 59 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“I don’d dink dat’ whas habn’ing, Cab’n,” Amos said. With a grimace he grabbed his nose with his right hand and yanked it away from his face. When he let go, it looked mostly straight. He blew a bloody-colored plug of snot out of each nostril, then took a deep breath. “That’s better.”

“Alex?” Naomi said into her handset. “Alex, tell me this link is still up. Talk to me.”

Her voice was shaking.

Another boom, this one louder than anything Prax had ever heard. The shaking wasn’t imagined now; it threw Prax to the ground. The air had a strange smell, like overheated iron. The station lights flickered and went dark; the pale blue emergency evacuation LEDs came on. A low-pressure Klaxon was sounding, its tritone blat designed to carry through thin and thinning air. When Holden spoke, he sounded almost contemplative.

“Or they might be bombarding the station.”

Ganymede Station was one of the first permanent human toeholds in the outer planets. It had been built with the long term in mind, not only in its own architecture, but also in how it would fit with the grand human expansion out into the darkness at the edge of the solar system. The possibility of catastrophe was in its DNA and had been from the beginning. It had been the safest station in the Jovian system. Just the name had once brought to mind images of newborn babies and domes filled with food crops. But the months since the mirrors fell had corroded it.

Pressure doors meant to isolate atmosphere loss had been wedged open when local hydraulics had failed. Emergency supplies had been used up and not replaced. Anything of value that could be turned into food or passage on the black market had been stolen and sold. The social infrastructure of Ganymede was already in its slow, inevitable collapse. The worst of the worst-case plans hadn’t envisioned this.

Prax stood in the arching common space where Nicola and he had gone on their first date. They’d eaten together at a little dulcería, drinking coffee and flirting. He could still remember the shape of her face and the heart-stopping thrill he’d felt when she took his hand. The ice where the dulcería had been was a fractured chaos. A dozen passages intersected here, and people were streaming through them, trying to get to the port or else deep enough into the moon that the ice would shield them, or someplace they could tell themselves was safe.

The only home he’d really known was falling apart around him. Thousands of people were going to die in the next few hours. Prax knew that, and part of him was horrified by it. But Mei had been on that ship, so she wasn’t one of them. He still had to rescue her, just not from this. It made it bearable.

“Alex says it’s hot out there,” Naomi said as the four of them trotted through the ruins. “Really hot. He’s not going to be able to make it to the port.”

“There’s the other landing pad,” Prax said. “We could go there.”

“That’s the plan,” Holden said. “Give Alex the coordinates for the science base.”

“Yes, sir,” Naomi said at the same moment Amos, raising a hand like a kid in a schoolroom, said, “The one with the protomolecule?”

“It’s the only secret landing pad I’ve got,” Holden said.

“Yeah, all right.”

When Holden turned to Prax, his face was gray with strain and fear.

“Okay, Prax. You’re the local. Our armor is vacuum rated, but we’ll need environment suits for you and Naomi. We’re about to run through hell, and not all of it’s going to be pressurized. I don’t have time to take a wrong turn or look for something twice. You’re point. Can you handle it?”

“Yes,” Prax said.

Finding the emergency environment suits was easy. They were common enough to have essentially no resale value and stowed at brightly colored emergency stations. All the supplies in the main halls and corridors were already stripped, but ducking down a narrow side corridor that linked to the less popular complex where Prax used to take Mei to the skating rink was easy. The suits there were safety orange and green, made to be visible to rescuers. Camouflage would have been more appropriate. The masks smelled of volatile plastic, and the joints were just rings sewn into the material. The suit heaters looked ill cared for and likely to catch on fire if used too long. Another blast came, followed by two others, each sounding closer than the one before.

“Nukes,” Naomi said.

“Maybe gauss rounds,” Holden replied. They might have been talking about the weather.

Prax shrugged.

“Either way, a hit that gets into a corridor means superheated steam,” he said, pressing the last seal along his side closed and checking the cheap green LED that promised the oxygen was flowing. The heating system flickered to yellow, then back to green. “You and Amos might make it if your armor’s good. I don’t think Naomi and I stand a chance.”

“Great,” Holden said.

“I’ve lost the Roci,” Naomi said. “No. I’ve lost the whole link. I was routing through the Somnambulist. She must have taken off.”

Or been slagged. The thought was on all their faces. No one said it.

“Over this way,” Prax said. “There’s a service tunnel we used to use when I was in college. We can get around the Marble Arch complex and head up from there.”

“Whatever you say, buddy,” Amos said. His nose was bleeding again. The blood looked black in the faint blue light inside his helmet.

It was his last walk. Whatever happened, Prax was never coming back here, because here wouldn’t exist. The fast lope along the service corridor where Jaimie Loomis and Tanna Ibtrahmin-Sook had taken him to get high was the last time he’d see that place. The broad, low-ceilinged amphitheater under the old water treatment center where he’d had his first internship was cracked, the reservoir compromised. It wouldn’t flood the corridors quickly, but in a couple of days, the passageways would be filled in. In a couple of days, it wouldn’t matter.

Everything glowed in the emergency LEDs or else fell into shadow. There was slush on the ground as the heating system struggled to compensate for the madness and failed. Twice, the way was blocked, once by a pressure door that was actually still functional, once by an icefall. They met almost no one. The others were all running for the port. Prax was leading them almost directly away from it now.

Another long, curved hall, then up a construction ramp, through an empty tunnel, and …

The blue steel door that blocked their way wasn’t locked, but it was in safety mode. The indicator said there was vacuum on the other side. One of the God-like fists pummeling Ganymede had broken through here. Prax stopped, his mind clicking through the three-dimensional architecture of his home station. If the secret base was there, and he was here, then …

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