“We can’t get there,” he said.
The others were silent for a moment.
“That’s not a good answer,” Holden said. “Find a different one.”
Prax took a long breath. If they doubled back, they could go down a level, head to the west, and try getting to the corridor from below, except that a blast strong enough to break through here would almost certainly have compromised the level below too. If they kept going to the old tube station, they might be able to find a service corridor—not that he knew there was one, but maybe—and it might lead in the right direction. Three more detonations came, shaking the ice. With a sound like a baseball bat hitting a home run, the wall beside him cracked.
“Prax, buddy,” Amos said, “sooner’d be better.”
They had environment suits, so if they opened the door, the vacuum wouldn’t kill them. But there would be debris choking it. Any strike hard enough to break through to the surface would …
“We can’t get there … through the station tunnels,” he said. “But we can go up. Get to the surface and go that way.”
“And how do we do that?” Holden asked.
Finding an access way that wasn’t locked down took twenty minutes, but Prax found one. No wider than three men walking abreast, it was an automated service unit for the dome exteriors. The service unit itself had long since been cannibalized for parts, but that didn’t matter. The airlock was still working under battery power. Naomi and Prax fed it the instructions, closed the inner door, and cycled the outer open. The escaping pressure was like a wind for a moment, and then nothing. Prax walked out onto the surface of Ganymede.
He’d seen images of the aurora from Earth. He’d never imagined he’d see anything like it in the blackness of his own sky. But there, not just above him but in lines from horizon to horizon, were streaks of green and blue and gold—chaff and debris and the radiating gas of cooling plasma. Incandescent blooms marked torch drives. Several kilometers away, a gauss round slammed into the moon’s surface, the seismic shock knocking them from their feet. Prax lay there for a moment, watching the water ejecta geyser up into the darkness and then begin to fall back down as snow. It was beautiful. The rational, scientific part of his mind tried to calculate how much energy transfer there was to the moon when a rail-gun-hurled chunk of tungsten hit it. It would be like a miniature nuke without all the messy radiation. He wondered if the round would stop before it hit Ganymede’s nickel-iron core.
“Okay,” Holden said over the cheap radio in Prax’s emergency suit. The low end of the sound spectrum was lousy, and Holden sounded like a cartoon character. “Which way now?”
“I don’t know,” Prax said, rising to his knees. He pointed toward the horizon. “Over there somewhere.”
“I need more than that,” Holden said.
“I’ve never been on the surface before,” Prax said. “In a dome, sure. But just out? I mean, I know we’re close to it, but I don’t know how to get there.”
“All right,” Holden said. In the high vacuum over his head, something huge and very far away detonated. It was like the old cartoon lightbulb of someone getting an idea. “We can do this. We can solve this. Amos, you head toward that hill over there, see what you can see. Prax and Naomi, start going that direction.”
“I don’t think we need to do that, sir,” Naomi said.
Naomi raised her hand, pointing back behind Holden and Prax both.
“Because I’m pretty sure that’s the Roci setting down over there,” she said.
Chapter Twenty-Two: Holden
The secret landing pad lay in the hollow of a small crater. When Holden crested the lip and saw the Rocinante below him, the sudden and dizzying release of tension told him how frightened he’d been for the last several hours. But the Roci was home, and no matter how hard his rational mind argued that they were still in terrible danger, home was safe. As he paused a moment to catch his breath, the scene was lit with bright white light, like someone had taken a picture. Holden looked up in time to see a fading cloud of glowing gas in high orbit.
People were still dying in space just over their heads.
“Wow,” Prax said. “It’s bigger than I expected.”
“Corvette,” Amos replied, obvious pride in his voice. “Frigate-class fleet escort ship.”
“I don’t know what any of that means,” Prax said. “It looks like a big chisel with an upside-down coffee cup on the back.”
Amos said, “That’s the drive—”
“Enough,” Holden cut in. “Get to the airlock.”
Amos led the way, sliding down the crater’s icy wall hunched down on his heels and using his hands for balance. Prax went next, for once not needing any help. Naomi went third, her reflexes and balance honed by a lifetime spent in shifting gravities. She actually managed to look graceful.
Holden went last, fully prepared to slip and go down the hill in a humiliating tumble, then pleasantly surprised when he didn’t.
As they bounded across the flat floor of the crater toward the ship, the outer airlock door slid open, revealing Alex in a suit of Martian body armor and carrying an assault rifle. As soon as they were close enough to the ship that they could cut through the orbital radio clutter, Holden said, “Alex! Man, is it good to see you.”
“Hey, Cap,” Alex replied, even his exaggerated drawl not able to hide the relief in his voice. “Wasn’t sure how hot this LZ would be. Anyone chasin’ you?”
Amos ran up the ramp and grabbed Alex in a bear hug that yanked him off his feet.
“Man, it’s f**king good to be home!” he said.
Prax and Naomi followed, Naomi patting Alex on the shoulder as she went by. “You did good. Thank you.”
Holden stopped on the ramp to look up one last time. The sky was still filled with the flashes and light trails of ongoing battle. He had the sudden visceral memory of being a boy back in Montana, watching massive thunderheads flash with hidden lightning.
Alex watched with him, then said, “It was a bit hectic, comin’ in.”
Holden threw an arm around his shoulder. “Thanks for the ride.”
Once the airlock had finished cycling and the crew had removed their environment suits and armor, Holden said, “Alex, this is Prax Meng. Prax, this is the solar system’s best pilot, Alex Kamal.”