Holden knew she meant Amos. “Yeah. But … is there something I don’t know about him that would make this problematic? Because he’s really—”

“Aqui,” the hacker said, pointing at his screen.

Holden watched as Dr. Strickland carried Mei down an older-looking corridor, the dark-haired woman in tow. They came to a door that looked like an ancient pressure hatch. Strickland did something at the panel next to it, and the three of them went inside.

“No eyes past this,” the hacker said, almost flinching as if in expectation of being punished for the failings of the Ganymede security system.

“Naomi, where does that go?” Holden said, patting the air to let the hacker know he wasn’t to blame.

“Looks like an old part of the original dig,” she said, her words punctuated by pauses as she worked her console. “Zoned for utility storage. Shouldn’t be anything beyond that door but dust and ice.”

“Can you get us there?” Holden asked.

Naomi and Prax both said, “Yes,” at the same time.

“Then that’s where we’re going.”

He gestured for Prax and the hacker to lead the way back out to the front room, then followed them. Amos was sitting at the table, spinning one of the chicken cans on its edge like a thick coin. In the light gravity of the moon, it seemed like it would keep spinning forever. His expression was distant and unreadable.

“You did the job,” Holden said to the hacker, who was staring at Amos, his face twitching from fear to rage and back again. “So you’ll get paid. We aren’t going to stiff you.”

Before the kid could reply, Amos stood up and picked up the case of canned chicken. He turned it over and dumped all the remaining cans on the floor, where a few rolled away to various corners of the small room.

“Keep the change, ass**le,” he said, then threw the empty box into the tiny kitchen nook.

“And with that,” Holden said, “we’ll take our leave.”

After Amos and Prax had gone out the door, Holden backed out, keeping a watchful eye on the hacker to make sure there were no misguided attempts at revenge. He shouldn’t have worried. The minute Amos was out the door, the kid just started picking up the chicken cans and stacking them on the table.

As he backed out and closed the door behind him, Naomi said, “You know what it means, don’t you?”

“Which thing?” he replied, then said to Amos, “Back to the ship.”

“Prax said all the kids with Mei’s particular disorder were missing,” Naomi continued. “And her doctor is the one who took her out of school.”

“So we can probably assume he, or people working with him, took the others,” Holden agreed.

Amos and Prax were walking together up the corridor, the big man still wearing his distant look. Prax put a hand on his arm, and Holden heard him whisper, “Thank you.” Amos just shrugged.

“Why would he want those kids?” Naomi asked.

“The better question to me is, how did he know to take them just hours before the shooting started?”

“Yeah,” Naomi said, her voice quiet. “Yeah, how did he know that?”

“Because he’s the reason why things went pear-shaped,” Holden replied, saying out loud what they were both thinking.

“If he’s got all of those kids, and he or the people he’s with were able to start a shooting war between Mars and Earth to cover up the snatch …”

“Starts to feel like a strategy we’ve seen before, doesn’t it? We need to know what’s on the other side of that door.”

“One of two things,” Naomi said. “Nothing, because after the snatch they got the hell off this moon …”

“Or,” Holden continued, “a whole lot of guys with guns.”


The galley of the Somnambulist was quiet as Prax and Holden’s crew watched the video again. Naomi had pieced together all the security footage of Mei’s abduction into a single long loop. They watched as her doctor carried her through various corridors, up a lift, and finally to the door of the abandoned parts of the station. After the third viewing, Holden gestured for Naomi to turn it off.

“What do we know?” he said, his fingers drumming on the table.

“The kid’s not scared. She’s not fighting to get away,” Amos said.

“She’s known Dr. Strickland all her life,” Prax replied. “He would be almost like family to her.”

“Which means they bought him,” Naomi said. “Or this plan has been going on for …”

“Four years,” Prax said.

“Four years,” Naomi repeated. “Which is a hell of a long con to run unless the stakes are huge.”

“Is it kidnapping? If they want a ransom payment …”

“Doesn’t wash. A couple hours after Mei disappears into that hatch,” Holden said, pointing at the image frozen on Naomi’s screen, “Earth and Mars are shooting each other. Somebody’s going to a lot of trouble to grab sixteen sick kids and hide the fact they did it.”

“If Protogen wasn’t toast,” Amos said, “I’d say this is exactly the kind of shit they’d pull.”

“And whoever it is has significant tech resources too,” Naomi said. “They were able to hack the school’s system even before the Ganymede netsec was collapsing from the battle, and insert that woman’s records into Mei’s file without any trace of tampering.”

“Some of the kids in her school had very rich or powerful parents,” Prax said. “Their security would have to be top notch.”

Holden drummed out a last rhythm on the tabletop with both hands, then said, “Which all leads us back to the big question. What’s waiting for us on the other side of that door?”

“Corporate goons,” Amos said.

“Nothing,” Naomi said.

“Mei,” Prax said quietly. “It might be Mei.”

“We need to be prepared for all three possibilities: violence, gathering clues, or rescuing a kid. So let’s put together a plan. Naomi, I want a terminal with a radio link that I can plug into whatever network we find on the other side, and give you a doorway in.”

“Yep,” Naomi said, already getting up from the table and heading toward the keel ladder.

“Prax, you need to come up with a way for Mei to trust us if we find her, and give us details on any complications her illness might cause during a rescue. How quickly do we need to get her back here for her meds? Things like that.”

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