“Sergeant?” the lieutenant said.
The marine stepped back.
“No, sir. No problem.”
The lieutenant turned around and shook Naomi’s hand.
“Captain Estancia, it has been a pleasure. Our people will be radioing you with landing clearance shortly. I’m sure the people of Ganymede will be grateful for the supplies you’re bringing.”
“Happy to help,” Naomi said, and gave the young officer a brilliant smile.
When the UN troops had cycled back through the airlock and flown away in their skiff, Naomi let out a long breath and began massaging her cheeks.
“If I had to smile one second longer, my face was going to crack apart.”
Holden grabbed Amos by the sleeve.
“What. The. Fuck,” he said through gritted teeth, “was that all about?”
“What?” Naomi said.
“Amos here did just about everything he could to piss the marines off while you were gone. I’m surprised they didn’t shoot him, and then me half a second later.”
Amos glanced down at Holden’s hand, still gripping his arm, but made no move to pull free.
“Cap, you’re a good guy, but you’d be a shitty smuggler.”
“What?” Naomi said again.
“The captain here was so nervous even I started to think he was up to something. So I kept the marines’ attention until you got back,” Amos said. “Oh, and they can’t shoot you unless you actually touch them or draw a weapon. You were a UN Navy boy. You should remember the rules.”
“So …” Holden started.
“So,” Amos interrupted. “If the lieutenant asks them about us, they’ll have a story to tell about the ass**le engineer who got in their faces, and not the nervous guy with the patchy beard who kept trying to hide in the corner.”
“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.