“Seriously? That’s the best you’ve got?” Holden replied. “Look, forget the debate about legality and what constitutes actual governmental authority for a minute. Look at the ladar returns you’re getting from my ship. While you are in a cobbled-together light freighter that someone welded a homemade gauss cannon onto, I’m in a state-of-the-art Martian torpedo bomber with enough firepower to slag a small moon.”
The voice on the other end didn’t reply.
“Guys, even if you don’t recognize me as the appropriate legal authority, can we at least agree that I can blow you up anytime I want to?”
The comm remained silent.
Holden sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose. In spite of the caffeine, his headache was refusing to go away. Leaving the channel open to the pirate ship, he opened another channel to the cockpit.
“Alex, put a short burst from the forward point defense cannons through that freighter. Aim for midships.”
“Wait!” yelled the kid on the other ship. “We surrender! Jesus Christ!”
Holden stretched out in the zero g, enjoying it after the days of acceleration, and grinned to himself. No one gets shot today indeed.
“Naomi, tell our new friends how to give remote control of their ship to you, and let’s take them back to Tycho Station for the OPA tribunals to figure out. Alex, once they have their engines back up, plot us a return trip at a nice comfortable half g. I’ll be down in sick bay trying to find aspirin.”
Holden unbuckled his crash couch harness and pushed off to the deck ladder. Along the way, his hand terminal started beeping. It was Fred Johnson, the nominal leader of the OPA and their personal patron on the Tycho corporation’s manufacturing station, which was also now doubling as the de facto OPA headquarters.
“Yo, Fred, caught our naughty pirates. Bringing them back for trial.”
Fred’s large dark face crinkled into a grin. “That’s a switch. Got tired of blowing them up?”
“Nope, just finally found some who believed me when I said I would.”
Fred’s grin turned into a frown. “Listen, Jim, that’s not why I called. I need you back at Tycho on the double. Something’s happening on Ganymede …”
Chapter Three: Prax
Praxidike Meng stood in the doorway of the staging barn, looking out at the fields of softly waving leaves so utterly green they were almost black, and panicked. The dome arched above him, darker than it should have been. Power to the grow lights had been cut, and the mirrors … He couldn’t think about the mirrors.
The flickers of fighting ships looked like glitches on a cheap screen, colors and movements that shouldn’t have been there. The sign that something was very wrong. He licked his lips. There had to be a way. There had to be some way to save them.
“Prax,” Doris said. “We have to go. Now.”
The cutting edge of low-resource agricultural botany, the Glycine kenon, a type of soybean so heavily modified it was an entirely new species, represented the last eight years of his life. They were the reason his parents still hadn’t seen their only granddaughter in the flesh. They, and a few other things, had ended his marriage. He could see the eight subtly different strains of engineered chloroplasts in the fields, each one trying to spin out the most protein per photon. His hands were trembling. He was going to vomit.
“We have maybe five more minutes to impact,” Doris said. “We have to evacuate.”
“I don’t see it,” Prax said.
“It’s coming fast enough, by the time you see it, you won’t see it. Everyone else has already gone. We’re the last ones. Now get in the lift.”
The great orbital mirrors had always been his allies, shining down on his fields like a hundred pale suns. He couldn’t believe that they’d betray him. It was an insane thought. The mirror plummeting toward the surface of Ganymede—toward his greenhouse, his soybeans, his life’s work—hadn’t chosen anything. It was a victim of cause and effect, the same as everything else.
“I’m about to leave,” Doris said. “If you’re here in four minutes, you’ll die.”
“Wait,” Prax said. He ran out into the dome. At the edge of the nearest field, he fell to his knees and dug into the rich black soil. The smell of it was like a good patchouli. He pushed his fingers in as deep as he could, cupping a root ball. The small, fragile plant came up in his hands.
Doris was in the industrial lift, ready to descend into the caves and tunnels of the station. Prax sprinted for her. With the plant to save, the dome suddenly felt horribly dangerous. He threw himself through the door and Doris pressed the control display. The wide metal room of the lift lurched, shifted, and began its descent. Normally, it would have carried heavy equipment: the tiller, the tractor, the tons of humus taken from the station recycling processors. Now it was only the three of them: Prax sitting cross-legged on the floor, the soybean seedling nodding in his lap, Doris chewing her lower lip and watching her hand terminal. The lift felt too big.
“The mirror could miss,” Prax said.
“It could. But it’s thirteen hundred tons of glass and metal. The shock wave will be fairly large.”
“The dome might hold.”
“No,” she said, and Prax stopped talking to her.
The cart hummed and clanked, falling deeper under the surface ice, sliding into the network of tunnels that made up the bulk of the station. The air smelled like heating elements and industrial lubricant. Even now, he couldn’t believe they’d done it. He couldn’t believe the military bastards had actually started shooting each other. No one, anywhere, could really be that shortsighted. Except that it seemed they could.
In the months since the Earth-Mars alliance had shattered, he’d gone from constant and gnawing fear to cautious hope to complacency. Every day that the United Nations and the Martians hadn’t started something had been another bit of evidence that they wouldn’t. He’d let himself think that everything was more stable than it looked. Even if things got bad and there was a shooting war, it wouldn’t be here. Ganymede was where the food came from. With its magnetosphere, it was the safest place for pregnant women to gestate, claiming the lowest incidence of birth defects and stillbirth in the outer planets. It was the center of everything that made human expansion into the solar system possible. Their work was as precious as it was fragile, and the people in charge would never let the war come here.