“I need to talk to Naomi, but she’s not accepting connections from me. Do you think you could track her down?”
Discomfort pursed Amos’ lips like he’d sucked on an old lemon.
“I’m not going to pick a fight,” Holden said. “We just didn’t leave it in the right place. And it’s my fault, so I need to fix it.”
“I know she was hanging out down in that one bar Sam told us about last time. The Blauwe Blome. But you make a dick of yourself and I’m not the one that told you.”
“Not a problem,” Holden said. “Thanks.”
The captain turned to leave and then stopped in the doorway. He looked like someone still half in a dream.
“What’s bumpy?” he asked. “You said it was bumpy.”
“The doc was looking to hire on some Luna private security squad to track the kid down. Didn’t work out and he kind of took it bad.”
Holden frowned. Prax felt the heat of a blush pushing up his neck.
“I thought we were finding the kid,” Holden said. He sounded genuinely confused.
“Doc wasn’t clear on that.”
“Oh,” Holden said. He turned to Prax. “We’re finding your kid. You don’t need to get someone else.”
“I can’t pay you,” Prax said. “All my accounts were on the Ganymede system, and even if they’re still there, I can’t access them. I just have what people are giving me. I can probably get something like a thousand dollars UN. Is that enough?”
“No,” Holden said. “That won’t buy a week’s air, much less water. We’ll have to take care of that.”
Holden tilted his head like he was listening to something only he could hear.
“I’ve already talked to my ex-wife,” Prax said. “And my parents. I can’t think of anyone else.”
“How about everyone?” Holden said.
“I’m James Holden,” the captain said from the huge screen of the Rocinante’s pilot capsule, “and I’m here to ask for your help. Four months ago, hours before the first attack on Ganymede, a little girl with a life-threatening genetic illness was abducted from her day care. In the chaos that—”
Alex stopped the playback. Prax tried to sit up, but the gimbaled copilot’s chair only shifted under him, and he lay back.
“I don’t know,” Alex said from the pilot’s couch. “The green background kinda makes him look pasty, don’t you think?”
Prax narrowed his eyes a degree, considered, then nodded.
“It’s not really his color,” Prax said. “Maybe if it was darker.”
“I’ll try that,” the pilot said, tapping at his screen. “Normally it’s Naomi who does this stuff. Communications packages ain’t exactly my first love. But we’ll get it done. How about this?”
“Better,” Prax said.
“I’m James Holden, and I’m here to ask for your help. Four months ago …”
Holden’s part of the little presentation was less than a minute, speaking into the camera from Amos’ hand terminal. After that, Amos and Prax had spent an hour trying to create the rest. Alex had been the one to suggest using the better equipment on the Rocinante. Once they’d done that, putting together the information had been easy. He’d taken the start he’d made for Nicola and his parents as the template. Alex helped him record the rest—an explanation of Mei’s condition; the security footage of Strickland and the mysterious woman taking her from the day care; the data from the secret lab, complete with images of the protomolecule filament; pictures of Mei playing in the parks; and a short video from her second birthday party, when she smeared cake frosting on her forehead.
Prax felt odd watching himself speak. He had seen plenty of recordings of himself, but the man on the screen was thinner than he’d expected. Older. His voice was higher than the one he heard in his own ears, and less hesitant. The Praxidike Meng who was about to be broadcast out to the whole of humanity was a different man than he was, but it was close enough. And if it helped to find Mei, it would do. If it brought her back, he’d be anyone.
Alex slid his fingers across his controls, rearranging the presentation, connecting the images of Mei to the timeline to Holden. They had set up an account with a Belt-based credit union that had a suite of options for short-term unincorporated nonprofit concerns so that any contributions could be accepted automatically. Prax watched, wanting badly to offer comment or take control. But there was nothing more to do.
“All right,” Alex said. “That’s about as pretty as I can make it.”
“Okay, then,” Prax said. “What do we do with it now?”
Alex looked over. He seemed tired, but there was also an excitement.
“But the review process …”
“There is no review process, Doc. This isn’t a government thing. Hell, it’s not even a business. It’s just us monkeys flying fast and tryin’ to keep our butts out of the engine plume.”
“Oh,” Prax said. “Really?”
“You hang around the captain long enough, you get used to it. You might want to take a day, though. Think it through.”
Prax lifted himself on one elbow.
“Think what through?”
“Sending this out. If it works the way we’re thinking, you’re about to get a lot of attention. Maybe it’ll be what we’re hoping for; maybe it’ll be something else. All I’m saying is you can’t unscramble that egg.”
Prax considered for a few seconds. The screens glowed.
“It’s Mei,” Prax said.
“All right, then,” Alex said, and shifted communication control to the copilot’s station. “You want to do the honors?”
“Where is it going? I mean, where are we sending it?”
“Simple broadcast,” Alex said. “Probably get picked up by some local feeds in the Belt. But it’s the captain, so folks will watch it, pass it around on the net. And …”
“We didn’t put our hitchhiker in, but the filament out of that glass case?We’re kind of announcing that the protomolecule’s still out there. That’s gonna boost the signal.”
“And we think that’s going to help?”
“First time we did something like this, it started a war,” Alex said. “ ‘Help’ might be a strong word for it. Stir things up, though.”