Prax turned toward the man who’d started wars and saved planets, suddenly shy and uncertain.
“Get help,” he said, and walked forward.
Chapter Eleven: Holden
Santichai and Melissa Supitaya p**n were a pair of eighty-year-old earthborn missionaries from the Church of Humanity Ascendant, a religion that eschewed supernaturalism in all forms, and whose theology boiled down to Humans can be better than they are, so let’s do that. They also ran the relief depot headquarters with the ruthless efficiency of natural-born dictators. Minutes after arriving, Holden had been thoroughly dressed down by Santichai, a frail wisp of a man with thinning white hair, about his altercation with customs officials at the port. After several minutes of trying to explain himself, only to be shouted down by the tiny missionary, he finally just gave up and apologized.
“Don’t make our situation here any more precarious,” Santichai repeated, apparently mollified by the apology but needing to drive this point home. He shook a sticklike brown finger in Holden’s face.
“Got it,” Holden said, holding up his hands in surrender. The rest of his crew had vanished at Santichai’s first angry outburst, leaving Holden to deal with the man alone. He spotted Naomi across the large open warehouse space of the relief depot, talking calmly to Melissa, Santichai’s hopefully less volatile wife. Holden couldn’t hear any shouting, though with the voices of several dozen people and the grinding gears and engine whine and reverse alerts of three lift trucks, Melissa could have been flinging grenades at Naomi and he probably wouldn’t have heard it.
Looking for an opportunity to escape, Holden pointed at Naomi across the room and said, “Excuse me, I—”
Santichai cut him off with a curt wave of one hand that sent his loose orange robes swirling. Holden found himself unable to disobey the tiny man.
“This,” Santichai said, pointing in the direction of the crates being brought in from the Somnambulist, “is not enough.”
“The OPA promised us twenty-two thousand kilos of protein and supplements by last week. This is less than twelve thousand kilos,” Santichai said, punctuating his statement with a sharp poke at Holden’s bicep.
“I’m not in charge of—”
“Why would they promise us things they have no intention of delivering? Promise twelve thousand if that is what you have. Do not promise twenty-two thousand and then deliver twelve,” he said, accompanied by more poking.
“I agree,” Holden said, backing out of poke range with his hands up. “I totally agree. I’ll call my contact on Tycho Station immediately to find out where the rest of the promised supplies are. I’m sure they’re on the way.”
Santichai shrugged in another swirl of orange.
“See that you do,” he said, then steamed off toward one of the lift trucks. “You! You! Do you see the sign that says ‘medicine’? Why are you putting things that are not medicine in that place?”
Holden used this distraction to make good his escape, and jogged over to Naomi and Melissa. Naomi had a form open on her terminal and was completing some paperwork while Melissa watched.
Holden glanced around the warehouse space while Naomi worked. The Somnambulist was just one of almost twenty relief ships that had landed in the last twenty-four hours, and the massive room was quickly filling up with crates of supplies. The chill air smelled of dust and ozone and hot oil from the lift trucks, but under it there was a vaguely unpleasant smell of decay, like rotting vegetation. As he watched, Santichai darted across the warehouse floor, shouting instructions to a pair of workers carrying a heavy crate.
“Your husband is something else, ma’am,” Holden said to Melissa.
Melissa was both taller and heavier than her tiny husband, but she had the same shapeless cloud of thinning white hair he had. She also had bright blue eyes that nearly disappeared in her face when she smiled. As she was doing now.
“I’ve never met anyone else in my life who cared more about other people’s welfare, and less about their feelings,” she said. “But at least he’ll make sure everyone is well fed before he tells them all the many things they did wrong.”
“I think that does it,” Naomi said, hitting the key to send the filled-out form to Melissa’s terminal, a charmingly outdated model she pulled out of a pocket in her robe when it chimed receipt.
“Mrs. Supitaya p**n ,” Holden said.
“Melissa, how long have you and your husband been on Ganymede?”
“Almost,” she said, tapping her finger against her chin and staring off into the distance, “ten years? Can it be that long? It must be, because Dru had just had her baby, and he—”
“I’m wondering because the one thing no one outside of Ganymede seems to know is how this”—Holden gestured around him—“all got started.”
“Well, the UN and Martian soldiers started shooting at each other; then we started seeing system failures —”
“Yes,” Holden said, cutting in again. “I understand that. But why? Not one shot during the entire year that Earth and Mars have jointly held this moon. We had a war before the whole Eros thing, and they didn’t bring it here. Then all at once everyone everywhere is shooting? What kicked that off?”
Melissa looked puzzled, another expression that made her eyes almost disappear in a mass of wrinkles.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I’d assumed they were shooting each other everywhere in the system. We don’t get much news right now.”
“No,” Holden said. “It’s just here, and it was just for a couple of days. And then it stopped, with no explanation.”
“That is odd,” Melissa said, “but I don’t know that it matters. Whatever happened, it doesn’t change what we need to do now.”
“I suppose not,” Holden agreed.
Melissa smiled, embraced him warmly, then went off to check someone else’s paperwork.
Naomi hooked her arm through Holden’s, and they started toward the warehouse exit into the rest of the station, dodging crates of supplies and aid workers as they went.
“How can they have had a whole battle here,” she said, “and no one knows why?”
“They know,” Holden said. “Someone knows.”
The station looked worse on the ground than from space. The vital, oxygen-producing plants that lined the corridor walls were turning an unhealthy shade of yellow. Many corridors didn’t have lights, and the automatic pressure doors had been hand cranked and then wedged open; if one area of the station suddenly lost pressure, many adjoining sections would as well. The few people they ran into either avoided their eyes or stared at them with open hostility. Holden found himself wishing he were wearing his gun openly, rather than in a concealed holster at the small of his back.