The first book in the landmark Expanse series!
Leviathan Wakes is James S. A. Corey's first novel in the epic New York Times best-selling series The Expanse, a modern masterwork of science fiction in which humanity has colonized the solar system.
Two hundred years after migrating into space, mankind is in turmoil. When a reluctant ship's captain and washed-up detective find themselves involved in the case of a missing girl, what they discover brings our solar system to the brink of civil war and exposes the greatest conspiracy in human history.
A Hachette Audio production.
Release date: June 15, 2011
Print pages: 592
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James S.A. Corey
Three-quarters of a kilometer long, a quarter of a kilometer wide—roughly shaped like a fire hydrant—and mostly empty space inside, the Canterbury was a retooled colony transport. Once, it had been packed with people, supplies, schematics, machines, environment bubbles, and hope. Just under twenty million people lived on the moons of Saturn now. The Canterbury had hauled nearly a million of their ancestors there. Forty-five million on the moons of Jupiter. One moon of Uranus sported five thousand, the farthest outpost of human civilization, at least until the Mormons finished their generation ship and headed for the stars and freedom from procreation restrictions.
And then there was the Belt.
If you asked OPA recruiters when they were drunk and feeling expansive, they might say there were a hundred million in the Belt. Ask an inner planet census taker, it was nearer to fifty million. Any way you looked, the population was huge and needed a lot of water.
So now the Canterbury and her dozens of sister ships in the Pur’n’Kleen Water Company made the loop from Saturn’s generous rings to the Belt and back hauling glaciers, and would until the ships aged into salvage wrecks.
Jim Holden saw some poetry in that.
He turned back to the hangar deck. Chief Engineer Naomi Nagata towered over him. She stood almost two full meters tall, her mop of curly hair tied back into a black tail, her expression halfway between amusement and annoyance. She had the Belter habit of shrugging with her hands instead of her shoulders.
“Holden, are you listening, or just staring out the window?”
“There was a problem,” Holden said. “And because you’re really, really good, you can fix it even though you don’t have enough money or supplies.”
“So you weren’t listening,” she said.
“Not really, no.”
“Well, you got the basics right anyhow. Knight’s landing gear isn’t going to be good in atmosphere until I can get the seals replaced. That going to be a problem?”
“I’ll ask the old man,” Holden said. “But when’s the last time we used the shuttle in atmosphere?”
“Never, but regs say we need at least one atmo-capable shuttle.”
“Hey, Boss!” Amos Burton, Naomi’s earthborn assistant, yelled from across the bay. He waved one meaty arm in their general direction. He meant Naomi. Amos might be on Captain McDowell’s ship; Holden might be executive officer; but in Amos Burton’s world, only Naomi was boss.
“What’s the matter?” Naomi shouted back.
“Bad cable. Can you hold this little fucker in place while I get the spare?”
Naomi looked at Holden, Are we done here? in her eyes. He snapped a sarcastic salute and she snorted, shaking her head as she walked away, her frame long and thin in her greasy coveralls.
Seven years in Earth’s navy, five years working in space with civilians, and he’d never gotten used to the long, thin, improbable bones of Belters. A childhood spent in gravity shaped the way he saw things forever.
At the central lift, Holden held his finger briefly over the button for the navigation deck, tempted by the prospect of Ade Tukunbo—her smile, her voice, the patchouli-and-vanilla scent she used in her hair—but pressed the button for the infirmary instead. Duty before pleasure.
Shed Garvey, the medical tech, was hunched over his lab table, debriding the stump of Cameron Paj’s left arm, when Holden walked in. A month earlier, Paj had gotten his elbow pinned by a thirty-ton block of ice moving at five millimeters a second. It wasn’t an uncommon injury among people with the dangerous job of cutting and moving zero-g icebergs, and Paj was taking the whole thing with the fatalism of a professional. Holden leaned over Shed’s shoulder to watch as the tech plucked one of the medical maggots out of dead tissue.
“What’s the word?” Holden asked.
“It’s looking pretty good, sir,” Paj said. “I’ve still got a few nerves. Shed’s been tellin’ me about how the prosthetic is gonna hook up to it.”
“Assuming we can keep the necrosis under control,” the medic said, “and make sure Paj doesn’t heal up too much before we get to Ceres. I checked the policy, and Paj here’s been signed on long enough to get one with force feedback, pressure and temperature sensors, fine-motor software. The whole package. It’ll be almost as good as the real thing. The inner planets have a new biogel that regrows the limb, but that isn’t covered in our medical plan.”
“Fuck the Inners, and fuck their magic Jell-O. I’d rather have a good Belter-built fake than anything those bastards grow in a lab. Just wearing their fancy arm probably turns you into an asshole,” Paj said. Then he added, “Oh, uh, no offense, XO.”
“None taken. Just glad we’re going to get you fixed up,” Holden said.
“Tell him the other bit,” Paj said with a wicked grin. Shed blushed.
“I’ve, ah, heard from other guys who’ve gotten them,” Shed said, not meeting Holden’s eyes. “Apparently there’s a period while you’re still building identification with the prosthetic when whacking off feels just like getting a hand job.”
Holden let the comment hang in the air for a second while Shed’s ears turned crimson.
“Good to know,” Holden said. “And the necrosis?”
“There’s some infection,” Shed said. “The maggots are keeping it under control, and the inflammation’s actually a good thing in this context, so we’re not fighting too hard unless it starts to spread.”
“Is he going to be ready for the next run?” Holden asked.
For the first time, Paj frowned.
“Shit yes, I’ll be ready. I’m always ready. This is what I do, sir.”
“Probably,” Shed said. “Depending on how the bond takes. If not this one, the one after.”
“Fuck that,” Paj said. “I can buck ice one-handed better than half the skags you’ve got on this bitch.”
“Again,” Holden said, suppressing a grin, “good to know. Carry on.”
Paj snorted. Shed plucked another maggot free. Holden went back to the lift, and this time he didn’t hesitate.
The navigation station of the Canterbury didn’t dress to impress. The great wall-sized displays Holden had imagined when he’d first volunteered for the navy did exist on capital ships but, even there, more as an artifact of design than need. Ade sat at a pair of screens only slightly larger than a hand terminal, graphs of the efficiency and output of the Canterbury’s reactor and engine updating in the corners, raw logs spooling on the right as the systems reported in. She wore thick headphones that covered her ears, the faint thump of the bass line barely escaping. If the Canterbury sensed an anomaly, it would alert her. If a system errored, it would alert her. If Captain McDowell left the command and control deck, it would alert her so she could turn the music off and look busy when he arrived. Her petty hedonism was only one of a thousand things that made Ade attractive to Holden. He walked up behind her, pulled the headphones gently away from her ears, and said, “Hey.”
Ade smiled, tapped her screen, and dropped the headphones to rest around her long slim neck like technical jewelry.
“Executive Officer James Holden,” she said with an exaggerated formality made even more acute by her thick Nigerian accent. “And what can I do for you?”
“You know, it’s funny you should ask that,” he said. “I was just thinking how pleasant it would be to have someone come back to my cabin when third shift takes over. Have a little romantic dinner of the same crap they’re serving in the galley. Listen to some music.”
“Drink a little wine,” she said. “Break a little protocol. Pretty to think about, but I’m not up for sex tonight.”
“I wasn’t talking about sex. A little food. Conversation.”
“I was talking about sex,” she said.
Holden knelt beside her chair. In the one-third g of their current thrust, it was perfectly comfortable. Ade’s smile softened. The log spool chimed; she glanced at it, tapped a release, and turned back to him.
“Ade, I like you. I mean, I really enjoy your company,” he said. “I don’t understand why we can’t spend some time together with our clothes on.”
“Holden. Sweetie. Stop it, okay?”
“Stop trying to turn me into your girlfriend. You’re a nice guy. You’ve got a cute butt, and you’re fun in the sack. Doesn’t mean we’re engaged.”
Holden rocked back on his heels, feeling himself frown.
“Ade. For this to work for me, it needs to be more than that.”
“But it isn’t,” she said, taking his hand. “It’s okay that it isn’t. You’re the XO here, and I’m a short-timer. Another run, maybe two, and I’m gone.”
“I’m not chained to this ship either.”
Her laughter was equal parts warmth and disbelief.
“How long have you been on the Cant?”
“You’re not going anyplace,” she said. “You’re comfortable here.”
“Comfortable?” he said. “The Cant’s a century-old ice hauler. You can find a shittier flying job, but you have to try really hard. Everyone here is either wildly under-qualified or seriously screwed things up at their last gig.”
“And you’re comfortable here.” Her eyes were less kind now. She bit her lip, looked down at the screen, looked up.
“I didn’t deserve that,” he said.
“You didn’t,” she agreed. “Look, I told you I wasn’t in the mood tonight. I’m feeling cranky. I need a good night’s sleep. I’ll be nicer tomorrow.”
“I’ll even make you dinner. Apology accepted?”
He slipped forward, pressed his lips to hers. She kissed back, politely at first and then with more warmth. Her fingers cupped his neck for a moment, then pulled him away.
“You’re entirely too good at that. You should go now,” she said. “On duty and all.”
“Okay,” he said, and didn’t turn to go.
“Jim,” she said, and the shipwide comm system clicked on.
“Holden to the bridge,” Captain McDowell said, his voice compressed and echoing. Holden replied with something obscene. Ade laughed. He swooped in, kissed her cheek, and headed back for the central lift, quietly hoping that Captain McDowell suffered boils and public humiliation for his lousy timing.
The bridge was hardly larger than Holden’s quarters and smaller by half than the galley. Except for the slightly oversized captain’s display, required by Captain McDowell’s failing eyesight and general distrust of corrective surgery, it could have been an accounting firm’s back room. The air smelled of cleaning astringent and someone’s overly strong yerba maté tea. McDowell shifted in his seat as Holden approached. Then the captain leaned back, pointing over his shoulder at the communications station.
“Becca!” McDowell snapped. “Tell him.”
Rebecca Byers, the comm officer on duty, could have been bred from a shark and a hatchet. Black eyes, sharp features, lips so thin they might as well not have existed. The story on board was that she’d taken the job to escape prosecution for killing an ex-husband. Holden liked her.
“Emergency signal,” she said. “Picked it up two hours ago. The transponder verification just bounced back from Callisto. It’s real.”
“Ah,” Holden said. And then: “Shit. Are we the closest?”
“Only ship in a few million klicks.”
“Well. That figures,” Holden said.
Becca turned her gaze to the captain. McDowell cracked his knuckles and stared at his display. The light from the screen gave him an odd greenish cast.
“It’s next to a charted non-Belt asteroid,” McDowell said.
“Really?” Holden said in disbelief. “Did they run into it? There’s nothing else out here for millions of kilometers.”
“Maybe they pulled over because someone had to go potty. All we have is that some knucklehead is out there, blasting an emergency signal, and we’re the closest. Assuming…”
The law of the solar system was unequivocal. In an environment as hostile to life as space, the aid and goodwill of your fellow humans wasn’t optional. The emergency signal, just by existing, obligated the nearest ship to stop and render aid—which didn’t mean the law was universally followed.
The Canterbury was fully loaded. Well over a million tons of ice had been gently accelerated for the past month. Just like the little glacier that had crushed Paj’s arm, it was going to be hard to slow down. The temptation to have an unexplained comm failure, erase the logs, and let the great god Darwin have his way was always there.
But if McDowell had really intended that, he wouldn’t have called Holden up. Or made the suggestion where the crew could hear him. Holden understood the dance. The captain was going to be the one who would have blown it off except for Holden. The grunts would respect the captain for not wanting to cut into the ship’s profit. They’d respect Holden for insisting that they follow the rule. No matter what happened, the captain and Holden would both be hated for what they were required by law and mere human decency to do.
“We have to stop,” Holden said. Then, gamely: “There may be salvage.”
McDowell tapped his screen. Ade’s voice came from the console, as low and warm as if she’d been in the room.
“I need numbers on stopping this crate,” he said.
“How hard is it going to be to put us alongside CA-2216862?”
“We’re stopping at an asteroid?”
“I’ll tell you when you’ve followed my order, Navigator Tukunbo.”
“Yes, sir,” she said. Holden heard a series of clicks. “If we flip the ship right now and burn like hell for most of two days, I can get us within fifty thousand kilometers, sir.”
“Can you define ‘burn like hell’?” McDowell said.
“We’ll need everyone in crash couches.”
“Of course we will,” McDowell sighed, and scratched his scruffy beard. “And shifting ice is only going to do a couple million bucks’ worth of banging up the hull, if we’re lucky. I’m getting old for this, Holden. I really am.”
“Yes, sir. You are. And I’ve always liked your chair,” Holden said. McDowell scowled and made an obscene gesture. Rebecca snorted in laughter. McDowell turned to her.
“Send a message to the beacon that we’re on our way. And let Ceres know we’re going to be late. Holden, where does the Knight stand?”
“No flying in atmosphere until we get some parts, but she’ll do fine for fifty thousand klicks in vacuum.”
“You’re sure of that?”
“Naomi said it. That makes it true.”
McDowell rose, unfolding to almost two and a quarter meters and thinner than a teenager back on Earth. Between his age and never having lived in a gravity well, the coming burn was likely to be hell on the old man. Holden felt a pang of sympathy that he would never embarrass McDowell by expressing.
“Here’s the thing, Jim,” McDowell said, his voice quiet enough that only Holden could hear him. “We’re required to stop and make an attempt, but we don’t have to go out of our way, if you see what I mean.”
“We’ll already have stopped,” Holden said, and McDowell patted at the air with his wide, spidery hands. One of the many Belter gestures that had evolved to be visible when wearing an environment suit.
“I can’t avoid that,” he said. “But if you see anything out there that seems off, don’t play hero again. Just pack up the toys and come home.”
“And leave it for the next ship that comes through?”
“And keep yourself safe,” McDowell said. “Order. Understood?”
“Understood,” Holden said.
As the shipwide comm system clicked to life and McDowell began explaining the situation to the crew, Holden imagined he could hear a chorus of groans coming up through the decks. He went over to Rebecca.
“Okay,” he said, “what have we got on the broken ship?”
“Light freighter. Martian registry. Shows Eros as home port. Calls itself Scopuli…”
Detective Miller sat back on the foam-core chair, smiling gentle encouragement while he scrambled to make sense of the girl’s story.
“And then it was all pow! Room full up with bladeboys howling and humping shank,” the girl said, waving a hand. “Look like a dance number, ’cept that Bomie’s got this look he didn’t know nothing never and ever amen. You know, que?”
Havelock, standing by the door, blinked twice. The squat man’s face twitched with impatience. It was why Havelock was never going to make senior detective. And why he sucked at poker.
Miller was very good at poker.
“I totally,” Miller said. His voice had taken on the twang of an inner level resident. He waved his hand in the same lazy arc the girl used. “Bomie, he didn’t see. Forgotten arm.”
“Forgotten fucking arm, yeah,” the girl said as if Miller had spoken a line of gospel. Miller nodded, and the girl nodded back like they were two birds doing a mating dance.
The rent hole was three cream-and-black-fleck-painted rooms—bathroom, kitchen, living room. The struts of a pull-down sleeping loft in the living room had been broken and repaired so many times they didn’t retract anymore. This near the center of Ceres’ spin, that wasn’t from gravity so much as mass in motion. The air smelled beery with old protein yeast and mushrooms. Local food, so whoever had bounced the girl hard enough to break her bed hadn’t paid enough for dinner. Or maybe they did, and the girl had chosen to spend it on heroin or malta or MCK.
Her business, either way.
“Follow que?” Miller asked.
“Bomie vacuate like losing air,” the girl said with a chuckle. “Bang-head hops, kennis tu?”
“Ken,” Miller said.
“Now, all new bladeboys. Overhead. I’m out.”
The girl’s eyes made a slow track up Miller, shoes to knees to porkpie hat. Miller chuckled. He gave the chair a light push, sloping up to his feet in the low gravity.
“He shows, and I asked, que si?” Miller said.
“Como no?” the girl said. Why not?
The tunnel outside was white where it wasn’t grimy. Ten meters wide, and gently sloping up in both directions. The white LED lights didn’t pretend to mimic sunlight. About half a kilometer down, someone had rammed into the wall so hard the native rock showed through, and it still hadn’t been repaired. Maybe it wouldn’t be. This was the deep dig, way up near the center of spin. Tourists never came here.
Havelock led the way to their cart, bouncing too high with every step. He didn’t come up to the low gravity levels very often, and it made him awkward. Miller had lived on Ceres his whole life, and truth to tell, the Coriolis effect up this high could make him a little unsteady sometimes too.
“So,” Havelock said as he punched in their destination code, “did you have fun?”
“Don’t know what you mean,” Miller said.
The electrical motors hummed to life, and the cart lurched forward into the tunnel, squishy foam tires faintly squeaking.
“Having your outworld conversation in front of the Earth guy?” Havelock said. “I couldn’t follow even half of that.”
“That wasn’t Belters keeping the Earth guy out,” Miller said. “That was poor folks keeping the educated guy out. And it was kind of fun, now you mention it.”
Havelock laughed. He could take being teased and keep on moving. It was what made him good at team sports: soccer, basketball, politics.
Miller wasn’t much good at those.
Ceres, the port city of the Belt and the outer planets, boasted two hundred fifty kilometers in diameter, tens of thousands of kilometers of tunnels in layer on layer on layer. Spinning it up to 0.3 g had taken the best minds at Tycho Manufacturing half a generation, and they were still pretty smug about it. Now Ceres had more than six million permanent residents, and as many as a thousand ships docking in any given day meant upping the population to as high as seven million.
Platinum, iron, and titanium from the Belt. Water from Saturn, vegetables and beef from the big mirror-fed greenhouses on Ganymede and Europa, organics from Earth and Mars. Power cells from Io, Helium-3 from the refineries on Rhea and Iapetus. A river of wealth and power unrivaled in human history came through Ceres. Where there was commerce on that level, there was also crime. Where there was crime, there were security forces to keep it in check. Men like Miller and Havelock, whose business it was to track the electric carts up the wide ramps, feel the false gravity of spin fall away beneath them, and ask low-rent glitz whores about what happened the night Bomie Chatterjee stopped collecting protection money for the Golden Bough Society.
The primary station house for Star Helix Security, police force and military garrison for the Ceres Station, was on the third level from the asteroid’s skin, two kilometers square and dug into the rock so high Miller could walk from his desk up five levels without ever leaving the offices. Havelock turned in the cart while Miller went to his cubicle, downloaded the recording of their interview with the girl, and reran it. He was halfway through when his partner lumbered up behind him.
“Learn anything?” Havelock asked.
“Not much,” Miller said. “Bomie got jumped by a bunch of unaffiliated local thugs. Sometimes a low-level guy like Bomie will hire people to pretend to attack him so he can heroically fight them off. Ups his reputation. That’s what she meant when she called it a dance number. The guys that went after him were that caliber, only instead of turning into a ninja badass, Bomie ran away and hasn’t come back.”
“And now nothing,” Miller said. “That’s what I don’t get. Someone took out a Golden Bough purse boy, and there’s no payback. I mean, okay, Bomie’s a bottom-feeder, but…”
“But once they start eating the little guys, there’s less money coming up to the big guys,” Havelock said. “So why hasn’t the Golden Bough meted out some gangster justice?”
“I don’t like this,” Miller said.
Havelock laughed. “Belters,” he said. “One thing goes weird and you think the whole ecosystem’s crashing. If the Golden Bough’s too weak to keep its claims, that’s a good thing. They’re the bad guys, remember?”
“Yeah, well,” Miller said. “Say what you will about organized crime, at least it’s organized.”
Havelock sat on the small plastic chair beside Miller’s desk and craned to watch the playback.
“Okay,” Havelock said. “What the hell is the ‘forgotten arm’?”
“Boxing term,” Miller said. “It’s the hit you didn’t see coming.”
The computer chimed and Captain Shaddid’s voice came from the speakers.
“Miller? Are you there?”
“Mmm,” Havelock said. “Bad omen.”
“What?” the captain asked, her voice sharp. She had never quite overcome her prejudice against Havelock’s inner planet origins. Miller held up a hand to silence his partner.
“Here, Captain. What can I do for you?”
“Meet me in my office, please.”
“On my way,” he said.
Miller stood, and Havelock slid into his chair. They didn’t speak. Both of them knew that Captain Shaddid would have called them in together if she’d wanted Havelock to be there. Another reason the man would never make senior detective. Miller left him alone with the playback, trying to parse the fine points of class and station, origin and race. Lifetime’s work, that.
Captain Shaddid’s office was decorated in a soft, feminine style. Real cloth tapestries hung from the walls, and the scent of coffee and cinnamon came from an insert in her air filter that cost about a tenth of what the real foodstuffs would have. She wore her uniform casually, her hair down around her shoulders in violation of corporate regulations. If Miller had ever been called upon to describe her, the phrase deceptive coloration would have figured in. She nodded to a chair, and he sat.
“What have you found?” she asked, but her gaze was on the wall behind him. This wasn’t a pop quiz; she was just making conversation.
“Golden Bough’s looking the same as Sohiro’s crew and the Loca Greiga. Still on station, but… distracted, I guess I’d call it. They’re letting little things slide. Fewer thugs on the ground, less enforcement. I’ve got half a dozen mid-level guys who’ve gone dark.”
He’d caught her attention.
“Killed?” she asked. “An OPA advance?”
An advance by the Outer Planets Alliance was the constant bogeyman of Ceres security. Living in the tradition of Al Capone and Hamas, the IRA and the Red Martials, the OPA was beloved by the people it helped and feared by the ones who got in its way. Part social movement, part wannabe nation, and part terrorist network, it totally lacked an institutional conscience. Captain Shaddid might not like Havelock because he was from down a gravity well, but she’d work with him. The OPA would have put him in an airlock. People like Miller would only rate getting a bullet in the skull, and a nice plastic one at that. Nothing that might get shrapnel in the ductwork.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “It doesn’t smell like a war. It’s… Honestly, sir, I don’t know what the hell it is. The numbers are great. Protection’s down, unlicensed gambling’s down. Cooper and Hariri shut down the underage whorehouse up on six, and as far as anyone can tell, it hasn’t started up again. There’s a little more action by independents, but that aside, it’s all looking great. It just smells funny.”
She nodded, but her gaze was back on the wall. He’d lost her interest as quickly as he’d gotten it.
“Well, put it aside,” she said. “I have something. New contract. Just you. Not Havelock.”
Miller crossed his arms.
“New contract,” he said slowly. “Meaning?”
“Meaning Star Helix Security has accepted a contract for services separate from the Ceres security assignment, and in my role as site manager for the corporation, I’m assigning you to it.”
“I’m fired?” he said.
Captain Shaddid looked pained.
“It’s additional duty,” she said. “You’ll still have the Ceres assignments you have now. It’s just that, in addition… Look, Miller, I think this is as shitty as you do. I’m not pulling you off station. I’m not taking you off the main contract. This is a favor someone down on Earth is doing for a shareholder.”
“We’re doing favors for shareholders now?” Miller asked.
“You are, yes,” Captain Shaddid said. The softness was gone; the conciliatory tone was gone. Her eyes were dark as wet stone.
“Right, then,” Miller said. “I guess I am.”
Captain Shaddid held up her hand terminal. Miller fumbled at his side, pulled out his own, and accepted the narrow-beam transfer. Whatever this was, Shaddid was keeping it off the common network. A new file tree, labeled JMAO, appeared on his readout.
“It’s a little-lost-daughter case,” Captain Shaddid said. “Ariadne and Jules-Pierre Mao.”
The names rang a bell. Miller pressed his fingertips onto the screen of his hand terminal.
“Mao-Kwikowski Mercantile?” he asked.
Miller whistled low.
Maokwik might not have been one of the top ten corporations in the Belt, but it was certainly in the upper fifty. Originally, it had been a legal firm involved in the epic failure of the Venusian cloud cities. They’d used the money from that decades-long lawsuit to diversify and expand, mostly into interplanetary transport. Now the corporate station was independent, floating between the Belt and the inner planets with the regal majesty of an ocean liner on ancient seas. The simple fact that Miller knew that much about them meant they had enough money to buy and sell men like him on open exchange.
He’d just been bought.
“They’re Luna-based,” Captain Shaddid said. “All the rights and privileges of Earth citizenship. But they do a lot of shipping business out here.”
“And they misplaced a daughter?”
“Black sheep,” the captain said. “Went off to college, got involved with a group called the Far Horizons Foundation. Student activists.”
“OPA front,” Miller said.
“Associated,” Shaddid corrected him. Miller let it pass, but a flicker of curiosity troubled him. He wondered which side Captain Shaddid would be on if the OPA attacked. “The family put it down to a phase. They’ve got two older children with controlling interest, so if Julie wanted to bounce around vacuum calling herself a freedom fighter, there was no real harm.”
“But now they want her found,” Miller said.
“They didn’t see fit to share that information.”
“Last records show she was employed on Tycho Station but maintained an apartm
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