Chapter Forty-Three: Holden
A Tycho worker in blue coveralls and a welding mask sealed up the hole in one of the galley bulkheads. Holden watched with his hand shielding his eyes from the harsh blue glare of the torch. When the plate steel was secured in place, the welder flipped her mask up to check the bead. She had blue eyes and a small mouth in a heart-shaped pixie face and a mop of red hair pulled into a bun. Her name was Sam, and she was the team leader on the Rocinante repair project. Amos had been chasing her for two weeks now with no success. Holden was glad, because the pixie had turned out to be one of the best mechanics he'd ever met, and he'd hate for her to focus on anything other than his ship.
"It's perfect," he said to her as she ran one gloved hand over the cooling metal.
"It's okay," she said with a shrug. "We'll grind this down smooth enough, paint it nice, then you'll never even know your ship had a boo-boo." She had a surprisingly deep voice that contrasted with her looks and her habit of using mockingly childlike phrases. Holden guessed that her appearance combined with her chosen profession had led to a lot of people underestimating her in the past. He didn't want to make that mistake.
"You've done amazing work, Sam," he said. He guessed Sam was short for something, but he'd never asked and she'd never volunteered. "I keep telling Fred how happy we are to have you in charge of this job."
"Maybe I'll get a gold star in my next report card," she said while she put her torch away and stood up. Holden tried to think of something to say to that and failed.
"Sorry," she said, turning to face him. "I appreciate your praise to the boss. And to be honest, it's been a lot of fun working on your little girl. She's quite a ship. The beating she took would have blown anything we own into scrap."
"It was a close thing, even for us," Holden replied.
Sam nodded, then began putting the rest of her gear away. As she worked, Naomi climbed down the crew ladder from the upper decks, her gray coveralls hung with electrician's tools.
"How are things up there?" Holden asked.
"Ninety percent," Naomi said as she crossed the galley to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of juice. "Give or take." She took out a second bottle and tossed it to Sam, who caught it one-handed.
"Naomi," Sam said, raising the bottle in mock toast before downing half of it in one swallow.
"Sammy," Naomi said in return with a grin.
The two of them had hit it off right away, and now Naomi was spending a lot of her off time with Sam and her Tycho crowd. Holden hated to admit it, but he missed being the only social circle Naomi had. When he did admit it to himself, like now, it made him feel like a creep.
"Golgo comp in rec, tonight?" Sam said after she'd gulped down the last of her drink.
"Think those C7 chumps are tired of getting their asses handed to them?" Naomi said in return. To Holden, it sounded like they were speaking in code.
"We can throw the first one," Sam said. "Get 'em hooked tight before we drop the hammer and wipe their roll."
"Sounds good to me," Naomi said, then tossed her empty bottle into the recycling bin and started back up the ladder. "See you at eight, then." She tossed a little wave at Holden. "Later, Captain."
Holden said, "How much longer, do you think?" to Sam's back as she finished with her tools.
Sam shrugged. "Couple days, maybe, to get her to perfect. She could probably fly now, if you're not worried about nonessentials and cosmetics."
"Thanks, again," Holden said, holding out his hand to Sam as she turned around. She shook it once, her palm heavily calloused and her grip firm. "And I hope you mop the floor with those chumps from C7."
She gave him a predatory grin.
"It's not even in doubt."
Through Fred Johnson, the OPA had provided the crew with living quarters on the station during the renovation of the Roci, and over the past few weeks, Holden's cabin had almost come to feel like home. Tycho had money, and they seemed to spend a lot of it on their employees. Holden had three rooms to himself, including a bath and a kitchen nook off the public space. On most stations, you'd have to be the governor to have that kind of luxury. Holden had the impression it was fairly standard for management on Tycho.
He tossed his grimy jumpsuit into the laundry bin and started a pot of coffee before jumping into his private shower. A shower every night after work: another almost unthinkable luxury. It would be easy to get distracted. To start thinking of this period of ship repair and quiet home life as normalcy, not interlude. Holden couldn't let that happen.
Earth's assault on Mars filled the newsfeeds. The domes of Mars still stood, but two showers of meteors had pocked the wide slopes of Olympus Mons. Earth claimed that it was debris from Deimos, Mars that it was an intentional threat and provocation. Martian ships from the gas giants were burning hard for the inner planets. Every day, every hour brought the moment closer when Earth would have to commit to annihilating Mars or backing away. The OPA's rhetoric seemed built to ensure that whoever won would kill them next. Holden had just helped Fred with what Earth would see as the largest act of piracy in the history of the Belt.
And a million and a half people were dying right now on Eros. Holden thought of the video feed he'd seen of what was happening to the people on the station, and shuddered even in the heat of the shower.
Oh, and aliens. Aliens that had tried to take over the Earth two billion years ago, and failed because Saturn got in the way. Can't forget the aliens. His brain still hadn't figured out a way to process that, so it kept trying to pretend it didn't exist.
Holden grabbed a towel and turned on the wall screen in his living room while he dried off. The air was filled with the competing scents of coffee, humidity from the shower, and the faintly grassy and floral scent Tycho pumped into all the residences. Holden tried the news, but it was speculation about the war without any new information. He changed to a competition show with incomprehensible rules and psychotically giddy contestants. He flipped through a few feeds that he could tell were comedies, because the actors paused and nodded where they expected the laughs to be.
When his jaw started aching, he realized he was gritting his teeth. He turned off the screen and threw the remote onto his bed in the next room. He wrapped the towel around his waist, then poured a mug of coffee and collapsed onto the couch just in time for his door to chime.
"What?" he yelled at the top of his lungs. No one replied. Good insulation on Tycho. He went to the door, arranging his towel for maximum modesty along the way, and yanked it open.
It was Miller. He was dressed in a rumpled gray suit he'd probably brought from Ceres, and was fumbling around with that stupid hat.
"Holden, hey - " he started, but Holden cut him off.
"What the hell do you want?" Holden said. "And are you really standing outside my door with your hat in your hands?"
Miller smiled, then put the hat back on his head. "You know, I always wondered what that meant."
"Now you know," Holden replied.
"You got a minute?" Miller said.
Holden waited a moment, staring up at the lanky detective. He quickly gave up. He probably outweighed Miller by twenty kilos, but it was impossible to be intimidating when the person you were staring down was a foot taller than you.
"Okay, come in," he said, then headed for his bedroom. "Let me get dressed. There's coffee."
Holden didn't wait for a reply; he just closed the bedroom door and sat on the bed. He and Miller hadn't exchanged more than a dozen words since returning to Tycho. He knew they couldn't leave it at that, as much as he might like to. He owed Miller at least the conversation where he told him to get lost.
He put on a pair of warm cotton pants and a pullover, ran one hand through his damp hair, and went back out to the living room. Miller was sitting on his couch holding a steaming mug.
"Good coffee," the detective said.
"So, let's hear it," Holden replied, sitting in a chair across from him.
Miller took a sip of his coffee and said, "Well - "
"I mean, this is the conversation where you tell me how you were right to shoot an unarmed man in the face, and how I'm just too naive to see it. Right?"
"Actually - "
"I fucking told you," Holden said, surprised to feel the heat rise in his cheeks. "No more of that judge, jury, and executioner shit or you could find your own ride, and you did it anyway."
The simple affirmative took Holden off guard.
Miller took another sip of his coffee, then set the mug down. He reached up and took off his hat, tossed it onto the couch next to him, then leaned back.
"He was going to get away with it."
"Excuse me?" Holden replied. "Did you miss the part where he confessed to everything?"
"That wasn't a confession. That was a boast. He was untouchable, and he knew it. Too much money. Too much power."
"That's bullshit. No one gets to kill a million and a half people and get away with it."
"People get away with things all time. Guilty as hell, but something gets in the way. Evidence. Politics. I had a partner for a while, name of Muss. When Earth pulled out of Ceres - "
"Stop," Holden said. "I don't care. I don't want to hear any more of your stories about how being a cop makes you wiser and deeper and able to face the truth about humanity. As far as I can tell, all it did was break you. Okay?"
"Dresden and his Protogen buddies thought they could choose who lives and who dies. That sound familiar? And don't tell me it's different this time, because everyone says that, every time. And it's not."
"Wasn't revenge," Miller said, a little too hotly.
"Oh really? This wasn't about the girl in the hotel? Julie Mao?"
"Catching him was. Killing him... "
Miller sighed and nodded to himself, then got up and opened the door. He stopped in the doorway and turned around, real pain on his face.
"He was talking us into it," Miller said. "All that about getting the stars and protecting ourselves from whatever shot that thing at Earth? I was starting to think maybe he should get away with it. Maybe things were just too big for right and wrong. I'm not saying he convinced me. But he made me think maybe, you know? Just maybe."
"And for that, you shot him."
Holden sighed, then leaned against the wall next to the open door, his arms crossed.
"Amos calls you righteous," Miller said. "You know that?"
"Amos thinks he's a bad guy because he's done some things he's ashamed of," Holden said. "He doesn't always trust himself, but the fact that he cares tells me he isn't a bad guy."
"Yeah - " Miller started, but Holden cut him off.
"He looks at his soul, sees the stains, and wants to be clean," he said. "But you? You just shrug."
"Dresden was - "
"This isn't about Dresden. It's about you," Holden said. "I can't trust you around the people I care about."
Holden stared at Miller, waiting for him to reply, but the cop just nodded sadly, then put his hat on and walked away down the gently curving corridor. He didn't turn around.
Holden went back inside and tried to relax, but he felt jumpy and nervous. He would never have gotten off Eros without Miller's help. There was no question about it: Tossing him out on his ear felt wrong. Incomplete.
The truth was Miller made his scalp crawl every time they were in the same room. The cop was like an unpredictable dog that might lick your hand or take a bite out of your leg.
Holden thought about calling Fred and warning him. He called Naomi instead.
"Hey," she answered on the second chime. Holden could hear a bar's frantic, alcohol-fueled merriment in the background.
"Naomi," he said, then paused, trying to think of some excuse to have called. When he couldn't think of one, he said, "Miller was just here."
"Yeah, he cornered Amos and me a while back. What did he want?"
"I don't know," Holden said with a sigh. "Say goodbye, maybe."
"What are you doing?" Naomi asked. "Want to meet up?"
"Yes. Yes I do."
Holden didn't recognize the bar at first, but after ordering a scotch from a professionally friendly waiter, he realized it was the same place he'd watched Naomi sing karaoke to a Belter punk song what seemed like centuries before. She wandered in and plopped down across from him in the booth just as his drink showed up. The waiter gave her a questioning smile.
"Gah, no," she said quickly, waving her hands at him. "I've had plenty tonight. Just some water, thanks."
As the waiter bustled away, Holden said, "How did your, uh... What exactly is Golgo, anyway? And how did it go?"
"Game they play here," Naomi said, then took a glass of water from their returning waiter and drank half of it in one gulp. "Like a cross between darts and soccer. Never seen it before, but I seem to be good at it. We won."
"Great," Holden said. "Thanks for coming. I know it's late, but this Miller thing freaked me out a bit."
"He wants you to absolve him, I think."
"Because I'm 'righteous,' " Holden said with a sarcastic laugh.
"You are," Naomi said with no irony. "I mean, it's a loaded term, but you're as close to it as anyone I've ever known."
"I've fucked everything up," Holden blurted out before he could stop himself. "Everyone who's tried to help us, or that we've tried to help, has died spectacularly. This whole fucking war. And Captain McDowell and Becca and Ade. And Shed - " He had to stop and swallow a sudden lump in his throat.
Naomi just nodded, then reached across the table and took his hand in hers.
"I need a win, Naomi," he continued. "I need to do something that makes a difference. Fate or Karma or God or whatever dropped me in the middle of this thing, and I need to know I'm making a difference."
Naomi smiled at him and squeezed his hand.
"You're cute when you're being noble," she said. "But you need to stare off into the distance more."
"You're making fun of me."
"Yeah," she said. "I am. Want to come home with me?"
"I - " Holden started, then stopped and stared at her, looking for the joke. Naomi was still smiling at him, nothing in her eyes but warmth and a touch of mischief. While he watched, one curly lock of hair fell over her eye, and she pushed it up without looking away from him. "Wait, what? I thought you'd - "
"I said don't tell me you love me to get me into bed," she said. "But I also said I'd have gone to your cabin anytime you asked over the last four years. I didn't think I was being subtle, and I'm sort of tired of waiting."
Holden leaned back in the booth and tried to remember to breathe. Naomi's grin changed to pure mischief now, and one eyebrow went up.
"You okay, sailor?" she asked.
"I thought you were avoiding me," he said once he was capable of speech. "Is this your way of giving me a win?"
"Don't be insulting," she said, though there was no hint of anger in her voice. "But I've waited weeks for you to get your nerve up, and the ship's almost done. That means you'll probably volunteer us for something really stupid and this time our luck will run out."
"Well - " he said.
"If that happens without us at least giving this a try once, I will be very unhappy about it."
"Naomi, I - "
"It's simple, Jim," she said, reaching out for his hand and pulling him back toward her. She leaned across the table between them until their faces were almost touching. "It's a yes or no question."