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Page 90 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

If his early suspicion was correct and Fred actually had bartered using the protomolecule as currency or, worse, as a weapon, Holden would kill him. He knew that like he knew his own name, and he feared it. That it would be a capital offense and would almost certainly get him burned down on the spot was actually less important than the fact that it would be the final proof that Naomi was right to leave. That he’d turned into the man she feared he was becoming. Just another Detective Miller, dispensing frontier justice from the barrel of his gun. But whenever he pictured the scene, Fred’s admission of guilt and heartfelt appeal for mercy, Holden couldn’t picture not killing him for what he’d done. He remembered being the sort of man who would make a different choice, but he couldn’t actually remember what being that man was like.

If he was wrong, and Fred had nothing to do with the tragedy on Ganymede, then she’d have been right all along, and he had just been too stubborn to see it. He might be able to apologize for that with sufficient humility to win her back. Stupidity was usually a lesser crime than vigilantism.

But if Fred wasn’t the one playing God with the alien supervirus, that was much, much worse for humanity in general. It was an unpleasant thought that the truth that would be worst for humanity was the one that would be best for him. Intellectually, he knew he wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice himself or his happiness to save everyone else. But that didn’t stop the tiny voice at the back of his head that said, Fuck everyone else, I want my girlfriend back.

Something half remembered pushed up from his subconscious and he wrote MORE COFFEE FILTERS on his list of needed supplies.

The wall panel behind him chimed an alert half a second before his hand terminal buzzed to let him know someone was at the airlock, requesting permission to board. He tapped the screen to switch to the airlock’s outer door camera and saw Alex and Sam waiting in the corridor. Sam was still the adorable red-haired pixie in the oversized gray coveralls he remembered. She was carrying a large toolbox and laughing. Alex said something else and she laughed harder, almost dropping her tools. With the intercom off, it was a silent movie.

Holden tapped the intercom button and said, “Come on in, guys.” Another tap cycled the outer airlock doors open. Sam waved at the camera and stepped inside.

A few minutes later, the pressure hatch to engineering banged open, and the ladder-lift whined its way down. Sam and Alex stepped off, Sam dropping her tools onto the metal deck with a loud crash.

“What’s up?” she said, giving Holden a quick hug. “You getting my girl all shot up again?”

“Your girl?” Alex said.

“Not this time,” Holden replied, pointing out the damaged bulkheads in the engineering bay to her. “Bomb went off in the cargo bay, burned a hole there and threw some shrapnel into the power junction there.”

Sam whistled. “Either that shrapnel took the long way around, or your reactor knows how to duck.”

“How long, you think?”

“Bulkhead’s simple,” she said, punching something into her terminal, then tapping her front teeth with its corner. “We can bring a patch in through the cargo bay in a single piece. Makes the job a lot easier. Power junction takes longer, but not a lot. Say four days if I get my crew on it right now.”

“Well,” Holden said, wincing like a man who had to keep admitting to new wrongdoings. “We also have a damaged cargo bay door that will either have to be fixed or replaced. And our cargo bay airlock is kind of messed up.”

“Couple more days, then,” Sam said, then knelt down and began pulling things out of her toolbox. “Mind if I start taking some measurements?”

Holden waved at the wall. “Be my guest.”

“Been watching the news a lot?” Sam said, pointing at the talking heads on the wall monitor. “Ganymede is f**ked, right?”

“Yeah,” Alex said. “Pretty much.”

“But it’s only Ganymede so far,” Holden said. “So that means something I haven’t quite figured out yet.”

“Naomi’s staying with me right now,” Sam said as if they’d been talking about that all along. Holden felt his face go still and tried to fight against it, forcing himself to smile.

“Oh. Cool.”

“She won’t talk about it, but if I find out you did something shitty to her, I’m using this on your dick,” she said, holding up a torque wrench. Alex laughed nervously for a second, then trailed off and just looked uncomfortable.

“I consider myself fairly warned,” Holden said. “How is she?”

“Quiet,” Sam said. “Okay, got what I need. Gonna scoot now and get fabrication to work on cutting this bulkhead patch. See you boys around.”

“Bye, Sam,” Alex said, watching her ride the ladder-lift until the pressure door closed behind her. “I’m twenty years too old, and I’m pretty sure I’ve got the wrong plumbin’, but I like that gal.”

“You and Amos just trade this crush back and forth?” Holden said. “Or should I be worried about you two doing pistols at dawn over her?”

“My love is a pure love,” Alex said with a grin. “I wouldn’t sully it by actually, you know, doin’ anything about it.”

“The kind poets write about, then.”

“So,” Alex said, leaning against a wall and looking at his nails. “Let’s talk about the XO situation.”

“Let’s not.”

“Oh, let’s do,” Alex said, then took a step forward and crossed his arms like a man who was not going to give any ground. “I’ve been flyin’ this boat solo for over a year now. That only works because Naomi is a brilliant ops officer and takes up a whole lotta slack. If we lose her, we don’t fly. And that’s a fact.”

Holden dropped the hand terminal he’d been using into his pocket and slumped back against the reactor shielding.

“I know. I know. I never thought she’d actually do this.”

“Leave,” Alex said.

“Yeah.”

“We’ve never talked about pay,” Alex said. “We don’t get salaries.”

“Pay?” Holden frowned at Alex and banged out a quick drumbeat on the reactor behind him. It echoed like a metal tomb. “Every dime that Fred’s given us that hasn’t gone to pay for operating the ship is in the account I set up. If you need some of it, twenty-five percent of that money belongs to you.”

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