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Bobbie found herself glad she didn’t have a gun.

She found another access hatch in the head and tore it open. But to her surprise, the service corridor ended just a few feet above her head. Something in the structure of the ship was cutting her off. Having never seen the Guanshiyin from the outside, she had no idea what it might be. But she needed to get another five decks up, and she wasn’t about to let this stop her.

A ten-minute search turned up a service hatch through the outer hull. She’d torn off two inner hull hatches on two different decks, so if she got it open, those two decks would lose their air. But the central ladder corridor was sealed at Avasarala’s deck, so her people would be fine. And the whole reason she was doing this was the sealed hatch to the upper decks, which seemed to be where most of the crew was.

She thought about the six men down in the galley and felt a pang. Sure, they’d shot first, but if any of them were still alive, she had no desire to asphyxiate them in their sleep.

It turned out not to be a problem. The hatch led into a small airlock chamber, about the size of a closet. A minute later it had cycled through and she climbed out onto the outer hull of the ship.

Triple-hulled. Of course. The lord of the Mao-Kwik empire wasn’t going to trust his expensive skin to anything that wasn’t the safest humans could build. And the ostentatious design of the ship extended to her outer hull as well. While most military ships were painted a flat black that made them hard to spot visually in space, most civilian ships either were left an unpainted gray or were painted in basic corporate colors.

The Guanshiyin had a mural painted on it in vivid colors. Bobbie was too close to see what it was, but under her feet were what appeared to be grass and the hoof of a giant horse. Mao had the hull of his ship painted with a mural that included horses and grass. When almost no one would ever see it.

Bobbie made sure her boot and glove mags were set strong enough to handle the quarter-g thrust the ship was still under, and started climbing up the side. She quickly reached the spot where the dead end between the hulls began, and saw that it was an empty shuttle bay. If only Avasarala had let her do this before Mao had run off with the shuttle.

Triple hulls, Bobbie thought. Maximum redundancy.

On a hunch, she crawled across the ship to the other side. Sure enough, there was a second shuttle bay. But the ship in it wasn’t a standard short-flight shuttle. It was long and sleek, with an engine housing twice as large as that of a normal ship its size. Written in proud red letters across the bow of the ship was the name Razorback.

A racing pinnace.

Bobbie crawled back around to the empty cargo bay and used the airlock there to enter the ship. The military override codes her suit sent to the locked door worked, to her surprise. The airlock led to the deck just below the bridge, the one used for shuttle supply storage and maintenance. The center of the deck was taken up by a large machine shop. Standing in it were the captain of the Guanshiyin and his senior staff. There were no security personnel or weapons in sight.

The captain tapped his ear in an ancient can you hear me? gesture. Bobbie nodded one fist at him, then turned the external speakers back on and said, “Yes.”

“We are not military personnel,” the captain said. “We can’t defend ourselves from military hardware. But I’m not going to turn this vessel over to you without knowing your intentions. My XO is on the deck above us, prepared to scuttle the ship if we can’t come to terms.”

Bobbie smiled at him, though she didn’t know if he could see it through her helmet. “You’ve illegally detained a high-level member of the UN government. Acting in my role as a member of her security team, I have come to demand that you deliver her immediately to the port of her choosing, at best possible speed.”

She shrugged with her hands in the Belter way. “Or, you can blow yourselves up. Seems like a drastic overreaction to having to give the undersecretary her radio privileges back.”

The captain nodded and relaxed visibly. Whatever happened next, it wasn’t like he had any choice. And since he didn’t have any choice, he didn’t have any responsibility. “We were following orders. You’ll note that in the log when you take command.”

“I’ll see that she knows.”

The captain nodded again. “Then the ship is yours.”

Bobbie opened her radio link to Cotyar. “We win. Put Her Majesty on, will you?”

While she waited for Avasarala, Bobbie said to the captain, “There are six injured security people down below. Get a medical team down there.”

“Bobbie?” Avasarala said over the radio.

“The ship is yours, madam.”

“Great. Tell the captain we need to make best possible speed to intercept Holden. We’re getting to him before Nguyen does.”

“Uh, this is a pleasure yacht. It’s built to run at low g for comfort. I’d bet it can do a full g if it needs to, but I doubt it does much more than that.”

“Admiral Nguyen is about to kill everyone that actually might know what the f**k is going on.” Avasarala didn’t quite yell. “We don’t have time to cruise around like we’re trying to pick up f**king rent boys!”

“Huh,” Bobbie said. Then, a moment later: “If this is a race, I know where there’s a racing ship …”

Chapter Thirty-Nine: Holden

Holden pulled himself a cup of coffee from the galley coffeepot, and the strong smell filled the room. He could feel the eyes of the crew on his back with an almost physical force. He’d called them all there, and once they’d assembled and taken their seats, he’d turned his back on them and started making coffee. I’m stalling for time, because I forgot how I wanted to say this. He put some sugar in his coffee even though he always drank it black, just because stirring took a few more seconds.

“So. Who are we?” he said as he stirred.

His question was met with silence, so he turned around and leaned back against the countertop, holding his unwanted cup of coffee and continuing to stir.

“Seriously,” he said. “Who are we? It’s the question I keep coming back to.”

“Uh,” Amos said, and shifted in his seat. “My name’s Amos, Cap. You feeling okay?”

No one else spoke. Alex was staring at the table in front of him, his dark scalp shining through his thinning hair under the harsh white of the galley lights. Prax was sitting on the counter next to the sink and looking at his hands. He flexed them periodically as though trying to figure out what they were for.

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