Amos slurped down the last of his coffee and said, “So, you called this meeting, Cap. You have something in mind?”
“Yeah,” Holden said, taking a moment to think. “Yeah, kind of.”
Naomi put a hand on his arm and smiled at him. “We’re listening.”
“I think we get married,” he said with a wink at Naomi. “Make it all nice and legal.”
“Wait,” she said. The look on her face was more horrified than Holden would have hoped.
“No, no, that’s sort of a joke,” Holden said. “But only sort of. See, I was thinking about my parents. They formed their initial collective partnership because of the farm. They were all friends, they wanted to buy the property in Montana, and so they made a group large enough to afford it. It wasn’t sexual. Father Tom and Father Caesar were already sexual partners and monogamous. Mother Tamara was single. Fathers Joseph and Anton and Mothers Elise and Sophie were already a polyamorous civil unit. Father Dimitri joined a month later when he started dating Tamara. They formed a civil union to own the property jointly. They wouldn’t have been able to afford it if they were all paying taxes for separate kids, so they had me as a group.”
“Earth,” Alex said, “is a weird freakin’ place.”
“Eight parents to a baby ain’t exactly common,” Amos said.
“But it makes a lot of economic sense with the baby tax,” Holden said. “So it’s not unheard of, either.”
“What about people making babies without paying the tax?” Alex asked.
“It’s tougher to get away with than you think,” Holden said. “Unless you never go to a doctor or only use black markets.”
Amos and Naomi shared a quick look that Holden pretended not to see.
“Okay,” Holden continued. “Forget babies for a minute. What I’m talking about is incorporating. If we plan to stick together, let’s make it legal. We can draft up incorporation papers with one of the independent outer planets stations, like Ceres or Europa, and become joint owners of this enterprise.”
“What,” Naomi said, “does our little company do?”
“Exactly,” Holden said in triumph.
“Uh,” Amos said again.
“No, I mean, that’s exactly what I’ve been asking,” Holden continued. “Who are we? What do we want to do? Because when this contract with Prax is over, the bank account will be well padded, we’ll own a high-tech warship, and we’ll be free to do whatever we damn well want to do.”
“Jesus, Cap,” Amos said. “I just got half a hard-on.”
“I know, right?” Holden replied with a grin.
Prax stopped mixing things in his bowl and stuck it in the refrigerator. He turned and looked at them with the careful movements of someone who feared he’d be asked to leave if anyone noticed him. Holden moved over to him and put an arm around his shoulder. “Our friend Prax here can’t be the only guy who needs to hire a ship like this, right?”
“We’re faster and meaner than just about anything a civvy can dig up,” Alex said with a nod.
“And when we find Mei, it will be as high profile as you could hope for,” Holden said. “What better advertising could we get than that?”
“Admit it, Cap,” Amos said. “You just kind of like being famous.”
“If it gets us jobs, sure.”
“We’re much more likely to wind up broke, out of air, and drifting through space dead,” Naomi said.
“That’s always a possibility,” Holden admitted. “But, man, aren’t you ready to be your own boss for a change? If we find we can’t make it on our own, we can always sell the ship for a giant sack of money and go our separate ways. We have an escape plan.”
“Yeah,” Amos said. “Fuck yeah. Let’s do this. How do we start?”
“Well,” Holden said. “That’s another new thing. I think we have to vote. No one of us owns the ship, so I think we vote on important stuff like this from now on.”
Amos said, “All in favor of making ourselves into a company to own the ship, raise your hand.”
To Holden’s delight, they all raised their hands. Even Prax started to, realized he was doing it, and then put it back down.
“I’ll get us an attorney on Ceres and start the paperwork,” Holden said. “But that leads to something else. A company can own a ship, but a company can’t be the registered captain. We’ll need to vote for whoever holds that title.”
Amos started laughing. “Gimme a f**king break. Raise your hand if Holden isn’t the captain.”
No hands went up.
“See?” Amos said.
Holden started to speak but stopped when something uncomfortable happened in his throat and behind his sternum.
“Look,” Amos said, his face kind. “You’re just that guy.”
Naomi nodded and smiled at Holden, which only made the ache in his chest pleasantly worse. “I’m an engineer,” she said. “There isn’t a program on this ship I haven’t tweaked or rewritten, and I could probably take her apart and put her back together by myself at this point. But I can’t bluff at cards. And I’m never going to be the one that stares down the joint navies of the inner planets and says, ‘Back the hell off.’”
“Roger that,” Alex said. “And I just want to fly my baby. That’s all and that’s it. If I get to do that, I’m happy.”
Holden started to speak, but to his surprise and embarrassment, the minute his mouth opened, his eyes teared up. Amos saved him.
“I’m just a grease monkey,” he said. “I push tools. And I mostly wait for Naomi to tell me when and where to push ’em. I got no desire to run anything bigger than that machine shop. You’re the talker. I’ve seen you face down Fred Johnson, UN naval captains, OPA cowboys, and drugged-up space pirates. You talk out your ass better than most people do using their mouth and sober.”
“Thank you,” Holden finally said. “I love you guys. You know that, right?”
“Plus which,” Amos continued, “no one on this ship will try harder to jump in front of a bullet for me than you will. I find that appealing in a captain.”
“Thanks,” Holden said again.
“Sounds settled to me,” Alex said, getting up and heading toward the ladder. “Gonna go make sure we’re not aimed at a rock or somethin’.”