“Trouble?” Prax asked.
“Yeah. Don’t worry. It’s not about you. This has been brewin’ for a while now.”
“I’m sorry,” Prax said.
“Had to happen. Best to get it over with one way or the other,” Alex said, but there was an unmistakable dread in his voice. Prax felt himself liking the man. The wall terminal chirped and then spoke in Amos’ voice.
“What’ve you got now?”
Alex pulled the terminal close, the articulated arm bending and twisting on complicated joints, then tapped on it with the fingers of one hand while keeping hold of the coffee with the other. The terminal flickered, datasets converting to graphs and tables in real time.
“Ten percent,” Alex said. “No. Twelve. We’re moving up. What’d you find?”
“Cracked seal,” Amos said. “And yeah, you’re very f**king clever. What else we got?”
Alex tapped on the terminal and Holden reappeared from the hallway, now without his case.
“Port sensor array took a hit. Looks like we burned out a few of the leads,” Alex said.
“All right,” Amos said. “Let’s get those bad boys swapped out.”
“Or maybe we can do something that doesn’t involve crawling on the outside of a ship under thrust,” Holden said.
“I can get it done, Cap,” Amos said. Even through the tinny wall speaker, he sounded affronted. Holden shook his head.
“One slip, and the exhaust cooks you down to component atoms. Let’s leave that for the techs on Tycho. Alex, what else have we got?”
“Memory leak in the navigation system. Probably a fried network that grew back wrong,” the pilot said. “The cargo bay’s still in vacuum. The radio array’s as dead as a hammer for no apparent reason. Hand terminals aren’t talking. And one of the medical pods is throwing error codes, so don’t get sick.”
Holden went to the coffee machine, talking over his shoulder as he keyed in his preferences. His cup said Tachi too. Prax realized with a start that they all did. He wondered who or what a Tachi was.
“Does the cargo bay need EVA?”
“Don’t know,” Alex said. “Lemme take a look.”
Holden took his coffee mug out of the machine with a little sigh and stroked the brushed metal plates like he was petting a cat. On impulse, Prax cleared his throat.
“Excuse me,” he said. “Captain Holden? I was wondering, if the radio gets fixed or there’s a tightbeam available, if maybe there was a way I could use some time on the communications array?”
“We’re kind of trying to be quiet right now,” Holden said. “What are you wanting to send?”
“I need to do some research,” Prax said. “The data we got on Ganymede from when they took Mei. There are images of the woman who was with them. And if I can find what happened to Dr. Strickland … I’ve been on a security-locked system since the day she went missing. Even if it was just the public access databases and networks, it would be a place to start.”
“And it’s that or sit around and stew until we get to Tycho,” Holden said. “All right. I’ll ask Naomi to get you an access account for the Roci’s network. I don’t know if there’ll be anything in the OPA files, but you might as well check them too.”
“Sure,” Holden said. “They’ve got a pretty decent face-recognition database. It’s inside their secure perimeter, so you might need to have one of us make the request.”
“And that would be all right? I don’t want to get you in trouble with the OPA.”
Holden’s smile was warm and cheerful.
“Really, don’t worry about that,” he said. “Alex, what’ve we got?”
“Looks like cargo door’s not sealin’, which we knew. We may have taken a hit, blown a hole in her. We’ve got the video feed back up … hold on …”
Holden shifted to peer over Alex’s shoulder. Prax took another swallow of his food and gave in to curiosity. An image of a cargo bay no wider than Prax’s palm took up one corner of the display. Most of the cargo was on electromagnetic pallets, stuck to the plates nearest the wide bay door, but some had broken loose, pressed by thrust gravity to the floor. It gave the room an unreal, Escher-like appearance. Alex resized the image, zooming in on the cargo door. In one corner, a thick section of metal was bent inward, bright metal showing where the bend had cracked the external layers. A spray of stars showed through the hole.
“Well, at least it ain’t subtle,” Alex said.
“What hit it?” Holden said.
“Don’t know, Cap,” Alex said. “No scorching as far as I can see. But a gauss round wouldn’t have bent the metal in like that. Just would have made a hole. And the bay isn’t breached, so whatever did it didn’t make a hole on the other side.”
The pilot increased the magnification again, looking closely at the edges of the wound. It was true there were no scorch marks, but thin black smudges showed against the metal of the door and the deck. Prax frowned. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again.
Holden said what Prax had been thinking.
“Alex? Is that a handprint?”
“Looks like one, Cap, but …”
“Pull out. Look at the decking.”
They were small. Subtle. Easy to overlook on the small image. But they were there. A handprint, smeared in something dark that Prax had the strong suspicion had once been red. The unmistakable print of five naked toes. A long smear of darkness.
The pilot followed the trail.
“That bay’s in hard vacuum, right?” Holden asked.
“Has been for a day and a half, sir,” Alex said. The casual air was gone. They were all business now.
“Track right,” Holden said.
“Okay, stop. What’s that?”
The body was curled into a fetal ball, except where its palms were pressed against the bulkhead. It lay perfectly still, as if they were under high g and it was held against the deck, crushed by its own weight. The flesh was the black of anthracite and the red of blood. Prax couldn’t tell if it had been a man or a woman.
“Alex, do we have a stowaway?”
“Pretty sure that ain’t on the cargo manifest, sir.”
“And did that fellow there bend his way through my ship with his bare hands?”
“Looks like maybe, sir.”