The kid shrugged and started to speak, but Amos held up a finger to his lips and shushed him.
“And now, when that price is ready to be paid,” Amos said, his tone friendly and conversational, “you want to shake him down because you know he’s desperate. He’ll give anything to get his girl back. This is a fat payday, right?”
The kid shrugged again. “Que no—”
Amos smashed the can of chicken food product into the kid’s face so fast that for a moment Holden couldn’t figure out why the hacker was suddenly lying on the ground, blood gushing from his nose. Amos settled one knee onto his chest, pinning him to the floor. The can of chicken went up and then pistoned down into the kid’s face again with a sharp crack. He started to howl, but Amos clamped his left hand over the boy’s mouth.
“You piece of shit,” Amos yelled, all the friendliness gone from his voice, leaving just a ragged animal rage that Holden had never heard there before. “You gonna hold a baby girl hostage for more f**king chicken?”
Amos smashed the can into the hacker’s ear, which immediately bloomed red. His hand came away from the kid’s mouth, and the boy started yelling for help. Amos raised the can of chicken one more time, but Holden grabbed his arm and pulled him up off the gibbering kid.
“Enough,” he said, holding on to Amos and hoping the big man didn’t decide to clobber him with the can instead. Amos had always been the kind of guy who got into bar fights because he enjoyed them.
This was something different.
“Enough,” Holden said again, and then held on until Amos stopped struggling. “He can’t help us if you bash his brains out.”
The kid scooted backward across the floor and had his shoulders up against the wall. He nodded as Holden spoke, and held his bleeding nose between his finger and thumb.
“That right?” Amos said. “You going to help?”
The kid nodded again and scrambled to his feet, still pressed against the wall.
“I’ll go with him,” Holden said, patting Amos on the shoulder. “Why don’t you stay here and take a breather.”
Before Amos could answer, Holden pointed at the terrified hacker.
“Better get to work.”
“There,” Prax said when the video of Mei’s abduction came up again. “That’s Mei. That man is her doctor, Dr. Strickland. That woman, I don’t know her. But Mei’s teacher said that she came up in their records as Mei’s mother. With a picture and authorization to pick her up. Security is very good at the school. They’d never let a child go without that.”
“Find where they went,” Holden said to the hacker. To Prax he said, “Why her doctor?”
“Mei is …” Prax started, then stopped and started over. “Mei has a rare genetic disease that disables her immune system without regular treatments. Dr. Strickland knows this. Sixteen other kids with her disorder are missing too. He could keep them … he could keep Mei alive.”
“You getting this, Naomi?”
“Yep, riding the hacker’s trail through security. We won’t need him again.”
“Good,” Holden said. “Because I’m pretty sure this bridge is thoroughly burned once we walk out the door.”
“We always have more chicken,” Naomi said with a chuckle.
“Amos made sure the kid’s next request will be for plastic surgery.”
“Ouch,” she replied. “He okay?”
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.