“Shit,” Holden said.
“You’re a good captain, and you can have my back in a fight anytime. But you’re a crap criminal. You just don’t know how to act like anyone but yourself.”
“Wanna be captain again?” Naomi said. “That job sucks.”
“Ganymede tower, this is Somnambulist repeating our request for a pad assignment,” Naomi said. “We’ve been cleared by the UN patrols, and you’ve had us holding in low orbit for three hours now.”
Naomi flicked off her mic and added, “Asshole.”
The voice that replied was different from the one they’d been requesting landing clearance from for the last few hours. This one was older and less annoyed.
“Sorry, Somnambulist, we’ll get you into the pattern as soon as possible. But we’ve had launches nonstop for the last ten hours, and we still have a dozen ships to get off of the ground before we start letting people land.”
Holden turned on his mic and said, “We talking to the supervisor now?”
“Yep. Senior supervisor Sam Snelling if you’re making notes for a complaint. That’s Snelling with two Ls.”
“No, no,” Holden replied. “Not a complaint. We’ve been watching the outgoing ships flying by. Are these refugee ships? With the tonnage we’ve seen lifting off, it looks like half the moon is leaving.”
“Nope. We do have a few charters and commercial liners taking people off, but most of the ships leaving right now are food freighters.”
“We ship almost a hundred thousand kilos of food a day, and the fighting trapped a lot of those shipments on the surface. Now that the blockade is letting people through, they’re on their way out to make their deliveries.”
“Wait,” Holden said. “I’m waiting to land with relief food supplies for people starving on Ganymede, and you’re launching a hundred thousand kilos of food off the moon?”
“Closer to half a million, what with the backup,” Sam said. “But we don’t own this food. Most of the food production on Ganymede is owned by corporations that aren’t headquartered here. Lot of money tied up in these shipments. Every day it sat on the ground here, people were losing a fortune.”
“I …” Holden started, then after a pause said, “Somnambulist out.”
Holden turned his chair around to face Naomi. Her expression was closed in a way that meant she was as angry as he was.
Amos, lounging near the engineering console and eating an apple he’d stolen from their relief supplies, said, “This surprises you why, Captain?”
An hour later, they got permission to land.
Seen from low orbit and their descent path, the surface of Ganymede didn’t look much different than it ever had. Even at its best, the Jovian moon was a wasteland of gray silicate rock and slightly less gray water ice, the entire thing pocked with craters and flash-frozen lakes. It had looked like a battlefield long before humanity’s ancestors crawled up onto dry land for the first time.
But humans, with their great creativity and industriousness in the domain of destruction, had found ways to make their mark. Holden spotted the almost skeletal remains of a destroyer stretched across the landscape at the end of a long black scar. The shock wave of its impact had flattened smaller domes as far as ten kilometers away. Tiny rescue ships flitted about its corpse, looking less for survivors than for bits of information or technology that had survived the crash and couldn’t be allowed to fall into enemy hands.
The worst damage visible was the complete loss of one of the enormous greenhouse domes. The agricultural domes were gigantic structures of steel and glass with hectares of carefully cultivated soil and meticulously bred and tended crops beneath them. To see one crushed beneath the twisted metal of what looked like a fallen mirror array was shocking and demoralizing. The domes fed the outer planets with their specially bred crops. The most advanced agricultural science in history happened inside them. And the orbiting mirrors were marvels of engineering that helped make it possible. Slamming one into the other, and leaving both lying in ruins, struck Holden as being as stupidly shortsighted as shitting in your water supply to deny your enemy a drink.
By the time the Somnambulist had set her creaking bones to rest on their assigned landing pad, Holden had lost all patience with human stupidity.
So, of course, it came out to meet him.
The customs inspector was waiting for them when they stepped out of the airlock. He was a stick-thin man with a handsome face and an egg-shaped bald head. He was accompanied by two men in nondescript security guard uniforms with Tasers in holsters at their belts.
“Hello, my name is Mr. Vedas. I am the customs inspector for port eleven, pads A14 through A22. Your manifest, please.”
Naomi, once again playing captain, stepped forward and said, “The manifest was transmitted to your office prior to landing. I on’t—”
Holden saw that Vedas wasn’t holding an official cargo-inspection terminal, nor were the guards with him wearing Ganymede Port Authority uniforms. He got the tingling premonition of a bad con job about to be played out. He moved up and waved Naomi off.
“Captain, I’ll take care of this.”
Customs inspector Vedas looked him up and down and said, “And you are?”
“You can call me Mr. Not-putting-up-with-your-bullshit.”
Vedas scowled, and the two security guards shuffled closer. Holden smiled at them, then reached behind his back and under his coat and pulled out a large pistol. He held it at the side of his leg, pointed at the ground, but they stepped back anyway. Vedas blanched.
“I know this shakedown,” Holden said. “You ask to look at our manifest; then you tell us which items we have mistakenly included on it. And while we are retransmitting to your office with our newly amended manifest, you and your goons take the plum items and sell them on what I’m guessing is a thriving black market for food and medicine.”
“I am a legally vested administrator of Ganymede Station,” Vedas squeaked. “You think you can bully me with your gun? I’ll have port security arrest you and impound your entire ship if you think—”
“No, I’m not going to bully you,” Holden said. “But I have had it right up to here with idiots profiting from misery, and I’m going to make myself feel better by having my big friend Amos here beat you senseless for trying to steal food and medicine from refugees.”