Naomi was kneeling on the sergeant’s neck; his face was purple. Holden kicked the drill-wielding man in the back of the knee at the same moment that Amos tackled the man with the rifle. The cauterizing drill sparked against the floor with a sound like a finger tapping against glass. Paula had the sergeant’s knife in her hands, backing up against one of her compatriots, sawing at the zip line around his wrists. The rifleman swung his elbow, and Amos’ breath went out in a whoosh. Holden dropped onto the male half of the medical team, pinning the man’s arms with his knees. Amos did something Prax couldn’t see, and the rifleman grunted and folded over.
Paula got through the Pinkwater man’s zip-tie just as the medical woman scooped up the rifle. The freed man pulled the pistol from the fallen sergeant’s holster and leaned forward, pressing the barrel to the medical woman’s temple as she swung the rifle up a quarter second too late.
Everyone froze. The medical woman smiled.
“Checkmate,” she said, and lowered the rifle to the floor.
It had all taken no more than ten seconds.
Naomi took the knife, quickly, methodically slicing through the wrist bindings while Holden followed along behind, disabling the communication webs in the gray unmarked armor and zip-tying their hands and feet. A perfect inversion of the previous situation. Prax, rubbing the feeling back into his fingers, had the absurd image of the dark-skinned man coming back in and barking orders to him. Another boom came, another huge, resonating container being dropped and sounding out like a drum.
“I just want you to know how much I appreciate the way you looked after my people,” Wendell told the pair who made up the medical team.
The woman suggested something obscene and unpleasant, but she smiled while she did it.
“Wendell,” Holden said, rummaging in the box of their belongings and then tossing a card-key to the Pinkwater leader. “The Somnambulist is still yours, but you need to get to her now and get the hell out of here.”
“Preaching to the choir,” Wendell said. “Get that gurney. We’re not leaving him behind now, and we’ve got to get out of here before reinforcements come.”
“Yessir,” Paula said.
Wendell turned to Holden.
“It was interesting meeting you, Captain. Let’s not do this again.”
Holden nodded but didn’t stop putting his armor back on to shake hands. Amos did the same, then distributed their confiscated weapons and items back to them. Holden checked the magazine on his gun and then left through the same door the dark-skinned man had used, Amos and Naomi on his heels. Prax had to trot to catch up. Another detonation came, this one not so distant. Prax thought he felt the ice shake under him, but it might have been his imagination.
“What’s … what’s going on?”
“The protomolecule’s breaking out,” Holden said, tossing a hand terminal to Naomi. “The infection’s taking hold.”
“I don’d dink dat’ whas habn’ing, Cab’n,” Amos said. With a grimace he grabbed his nose with his right hand and yanked it away from his face. When he let go, it looked mostly straight. He blew a bloody-colored plug of snot out of each nostril, then took a deep breath. “That’s better.”
“Alex?” Naomi said into her handset. “Alex, tell me this link is still up. Talk to me.”
Her voice was shaking.
Another boom, this one louder than anything Prax had ever heard. The shaking wasn’t imagined now; it threw Prax to the ground. The air had a strange smell, like overheated iron. The station lights flickered and went dark; the pale blue emergency evacuation LEDs came on. A low-pressure Klaxon was sounding, its tritone blat designed to carry through thin and thinning air. When Holden spoke, he sounded almost contemplative.
“Or they might be bombarding the station.”
Ganymede Station was one of the first permanent human toeholds in the outer planets. It had been built with the long term in mind, not only in its own architecture, but also in how it would fit with the grand human expansion out into the darkness at the edge of the solar system. The possibility of catastrophe was in its DNA and had been from the beginning. It had been the safest station in the Jovian system. Just the name had once brought to mind images of newborn babies and domes filled with food crops. But the months since the mirrors fell had corroded it.
Pressure doors meant to isolate atmosphere loss had been wedged open when local hydraulics had failed. Emergency supplies had been used up and not replaced. Anything of value that could be turned into food or passage on the black market had been stolen and sold. The social infrastructure of Ganymede was already in its slow, inevitable collapse. The worst of the worst-case plans hadn’t envisioned this.
Prax stood in the arching common space where Nicola and he had gone on their first date. They’d eaten together at a little dulcería, drinking coffee and flirting. He could still remember the shape of her face and the heart-stopping thrill he’d felt when she took his hand. The ice where the dulcería had been was a fractured chaos. A dozen passages intersected here, and people were streaming through them, trying to get to the port or else deep enough into the moon that the ice would shield them, or someplace they could tell themselves was safe.
The only home he’d really known was falling apart around him. Thousands of people were going to die in the next few hours. Prax knew that, and part of him was horrified by it. But Mei had been on that ship, so she wasn’t one of them. He still had to rescue her, just not from this. It made it bearable.
“Alex says it’s hot out there,” Naomi said as the four of them trotted through the ruins. “Really hot. He’s not going to be able to make it to the port.”
“There’s the other landing pad,” Prax said. “We could go there.”
“That’s the plan,” Holden said. “Give Alex the coordinates for the science base.”
“Yes, sir,” Naomi said at the same moment Amos, raising a hand like a kid in a schoolroom, said, “The one with the protomolecule?”
“It’s the only secret landing pad I’ve got,” Holden said.
“Yeah, all right.”
When Holden turned to Prax, his face was gray with strain and fear.
“Okay, Prax. You’re the local. Our armor is vacuum rated, but we’ll need environment suits for you and Naomi. We’re about to run through hell, and not all of it’s going to be pressurized. I don’t have time to take a wrong turn or look for something twice. You’re point. Can you handle it?”