Heaven's War
relevant, of course, and neither were three of the four American
Destiny
astronauts.
     
    But here was Zack Stewart.
“Intellectually brilliant,”
the Guoanbu analyst had written.
“Possesses a rare talent for social adaptability, which allowed him to make a successful transition from an academic scientific career to the operational NASA universe.
     
    “His flaw is hesitation. He will weigh all options five times before acting.”
     
    Zhao had recalled those words when watching Stewart reacting to Bynum’s performance. A man who was prone to quick action would have put a stop to that long before Zhao was forced to act.
     
    And now the American was focusing on Zhao. “You’re a man of the world, Dr. Stewart. Whenever NASA engineers visit another country, they’re debriefed. It’s the same in China.”
     
    Weldon stood up. “You
still
didn’t say no.”
     
    “What difference does it make?” Nayar snapped. “China, India, the U.S., who cares now? We are two groups that need to be one.”
     
    Gabriel Jones intoned, “He still murdered a man.”
     
    Zhao stirred at this. “I
killed
a man who was a serious threat.” Now, to use time-honored techniques from his years of training, he went on the offensive. “And what, in all seriousness, are the options here?” He nodded at Weldon, still cradling the Glock. “There are at least four rounds left in the magazine. But you aren’t going to execute me.”
     
    “Don’t be too sure about that,” Weldon said, “and I won’t need a gun to do it.” But Zhao knew he was bluffing and decided to press that point in front of everyone.
     
    “If we’re going to survive here, we need every available pair of hands. And in spite of what Mr. Nayar knows, or thinks he knows…I’m technically trained. That may be useful.”
     
    Weldon looked to Jones, Drake, and Stewart. None of the three called for Zhao’s execution. Then Weldon turned to Nayar. “Any suggestions?”
     
    Nayar was shaking his head. “Do whatever you want with him,” he said. He seemed tired and distracted. Zhao decided the
Brahma
director was no longer a factor.
     
    But Zack Stewart was smirking at him. “Mr. Zhao, you seem to have a keen sense of the world and its workings. Suppose the situation were reversed. What would
you
do with a captive like you?”
     
    “Social norms require some kind of punishment. I should be confined for several days and limited to a strict diet of bread and water.”
     
    Now Stewart laughed out loud. “I’d
pay
for some real bread and water right now.”
     
    “I’m aware of the ironies,” Zhao said. “Obviously some adjustments will be required.”
     
    At that moment a baby screamed nearby, and the whole issue of Zhao’s punishment was tabled, leaving him, finally with a moment to reflect.
     
    For a man who didn’t want to be in India, who hadn’t wanted to be swept up by the Object, who was reluctant to call attention to himself—
     
    And who didn’t want to shoot the American—
     
    Zhao had sure stepped in it.
     

ARRIVAL DAY: ZACK
     
    “She’s just hungry,” Sasha Blaine said.
    Zack and Harley had gone around to the front of the Temple at the sound of the baby’s wail. There, at the edge of the sprawled, exhausted crowd, they had found Sasha Blaine walking the infant like a new mother. Zack recognized the familiar posture, carry, and rocking motion…he had done it enough with a colicky Rachel fourteen or so years in the past. “You’ve done this before,” Zack said.
     
    “Two older sisters and four nieces and nephews. And I worked my way through MIT doing childcare.”
     
    Sasha was even letting the baby suck on her finger.
     
    “Couldn’t someone nurse her?” That was Wade Williams, speaking from the shadows. “Maybe we need a little pioneer spirit,” he said.
     
    “After you, Wade,” Sasha snapped.
     
    “Where’s her mother?” Zack asked.
     
    “Not good,” Sasha said quietly, nodding to the far end of the

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