She shrugged with her hands in the Belter way. “Or, you can blow yourselves up. Seems like a drastic overreaction to having to give the undersecretary her radio privileges back.”

The captain nodded and relaxed visibly. Whatever happened next, it wasn’t like he had any choice. And since he didn’t have any choice, he didn’t have any responsibility. “We were following orders. You’ll note that in the log when you take command.”

“I’ll see that she knows.”

The captain nodded again. “Then the ship is yours.”

Bobbie opened her radio link to Cotyar. “We win. Put Her Majesty on, will you?”

While she waited for Avasarala, Bobbie said to the captain, “There are six injured security people down below. Get a medical team down there.”

“Bobbie?” Avasarala said over the radio.

“The ship is yours, madam.”

“Great. Tell the captain we need to make best possible speed to intercept Holden. We’re getting to him before Nguyen does.”

“Uh, this is a pleasure yacht. It’s built to run at low g for comfort. I’d bet it can do a full g if it needs to, but I doubt it does much more than that.”

“Admiral Nguyen is about to kill everyone that actually might know what the f**k is going on.” Avasarala didn’t quite yell. “We don’t have time to cruise around like we’re trying to pick up f**king rent boys!”

“Huh,” Bobbie said. Then, a moment later: “If this is a race, I know where there’s a racing ship …”

Chapter Thirty-Nine: Holden

Holden pulled himself a cup of coffee from the galley coffeepot, and the strong smell filled the room. He could feel the eyes of the crew on his back with an almost physical force. He’d called them all there, and once they’d assembled and taken their seats, he’d turned his back on them and started making coffee. I’m stalling for time, because I forgot how I wanted to say this. He put some sugar in his coffee even though he always drank it black, just because stirring took a few more seconds.

“So. Who are we?” he said as he stirred.

His question was met with silence, so he turned around and leaned back against the countertop, holding his unwanted cup of coffee and continuing to stir.

“Seriously,” he said. “Who are we? It’s the question I keep coming back to.”

“Uh,” Amos said, and shifted in his seat. “My name’s Amos, Cap. You feeling okay?”

No one else spoke. Alex was staring at the table in front of him, his dark scalp shining through his thinning hair under the harsh white of the galley lights. Prax was sitting on the counter next to the sink and looking at his hands. He flexed them periodically as though trying to figure out what they were for.

Only Naomi was looking at him. Her hair was pulled up into a thick tail, and her dark, almond-shaped eyes were staring right into his. It was fairly disconcerting.

“I’ve recently figured out something about myself,” Holden continued, not letting Naomi’s unblinking stare throw him off. “I’ve been treating you all like you owe me something. And none of you do. And that means I’ve been treating you like shit.”

“No,” Alex started without looking up.

“Yes,” Holden said, and stopped until Alex looked up at him. “Yes. You maybe more than anyone else. Because I’ve been scared to death and cowards always look for an easy target. And you’re about the nicest person I know, Alex. So I treated you badly because I could get away with it. And I hope you forgive me for that, because I really hate that I did it.”

“Sure, I forgive you, Cap,” Alex said with a smile and his heavy drawl.

“I’ll try to earn it,” Holden answered, bothered by the easy reply. “But Alex said something else to me recently that I’ve been thinking about a lot. He reminded me that none of you are employees. We’re not on the Canterbury. We don’t work for Pur’n’Kleen anymore. And I don’t own this ship any more than any of you do. We took contracts from the OPA in exchange for pocket money and ship expenses, but we never talked about how to handle the excess.”

“You opened that account,” Alex said.

“Yeah, there’s a bank account with all of the extra money in it. Last I checked, there was just under eighty grand in there. I said we’d keep it for ship expenses, but who am I to make that decision for the rest of you? That’s not my money. It’s our money. We earned it.”

“But you’re the captain,” Amos said, then pointed at the coffeepot.

While Holden fixed him a cup, he said, “Am I? I was the XO on the Canterbury. It made sense for me to be the captain after the Cant got nuked.”

He handed the cup to Amos and sat down at the table with the rest of the crew. “But we haven’t been those guys for a long time now. Who we are now is four people who don’t actually work for anyone—”

Prax cleared his throat at this, and Holden nodded an apology at him. “Anyone long term, let’s say. There is no corporation or government granting me authority over this crew. We’re just four people who sort of own a ship that Mars will probably try to take back the first chance they get.”

“This is legitimate salvage,” Alex said.

“And I hope the Martians find that compelling when you explain it to them,” Holden replied. “But it doesn’t change my point: Who are we?”

Naomi nodded a fist at him. “I see where you’re going. We’ve left a lot of this kind of stuff just up in the air because we’ve been running full tilt since the Canterbury.”

“And this,” Holden said, “is the perfect time to figure that stuff out. We’ve got a contract to help Prax find his little girl, and he’s paying us so we can afford to run the ship. Once we find Mei, how do we find the next job? Do we go looking for a next job? Do we sell the Roci to the OPA and retire on Titan? I think we need to know those things.”

No one spoke. Prax pushed himself off the counter and started rummaging through the cabinets. After a minute or two, he pulled out a package that read CHOCOLATE PUDDING on the side and said, “Can I make this?”

Naomi laughed. Alex said, “Knock yourself out, Doc.”

Prax pulled a bowl out and began mixing ingredients into it. Oddly enough, because the botanist was paying attention to something else, it created a sense of intimacy for the crew. The outsider was doing outside things, leaving them to talk among themselves. Holden wondered if Prax knew that and was doing it on purpose.