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Page 117 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

She sent the message. If she knew Errinwright, he wouldn’t get back to her immediately. There would be an hour or two of evaluation, weighing what she’d said, and then when she’d been left to stew for a while, he’d reply.

She hoped he’d be sane about it. He had to.

She needed to sleep. She could feel the fatigue gnawing at the edges of her mind, slowing her, but when she lay down, rest felt as far away as home. As Arjun. She thought about recording a message for him, but it would only have left her feeling more powerfully isolated. After an hour, she pulled herself up and walked through the halls. Her body told her it was midnight or later, and the activity on board—music ringing out of the machine shop, a loud conversation between Holden and Alex about the maintenance of the electronics systems, even Praxidike’s sitting in the galley by himself, apparently grooming a box of hydroponics cuttings—had a surreal late-night feeling.

She considered sending another message to Souther. The lag time would be much less to him, and she was hungry enough for a response that anything would do. When the answer came, it wasn’t a message.

“Captain,” Alex said over the ship-wide comm. “You should come up to ops and look at this.”

Something in his voice told Avasarala that this wasn’t a maintenance question. She found the lift to ops just as Holden went up, and pulled herself up the ladder rather than wait. She wasn’t the only one who’d followed the call. Bobbie was in a spare seat, her eyes on the same screen as Holden’s. The blinking tactical data scrolled down the screen, and a dozen bright red dots displayed changes. She didn’t understand most of what she saw, but the gist was obvious. The destroyers were on the move.

“Okay,” Holden said. “What’re we seeing?”

“All the Earth destroyers hit high burn. Six g,” Alex said.

“Are they going to Io?”

“Oh, hell no.”

This was Errinwright’s answer. No messages. No negotiations. Not even an acknowledgment that she’d asked him to restrain himself. Warships. The despair only lasted for a moment. Then came the anger.

“Bobbie?”

“Yeah.”

“That part where you told me I didn’t understand the danger I was in?”

“And you told me that I didn’t how the game was played.”

“That part.”

“I remember. What about it?”

“If you wanted to say ‘I told you so,’ this looks like the right time.”

Chapter Forty-Two: Holden

Holden had spent a month at the Diamond Head Electronic Warfare Lab on Oahu as his first posting after officer candidate school. During that time, he’d learned he had no desire to be a naval intelligence wonk, really disliked poi, and really liked Polynesian women. He’d been far too busy at the time to actively chase one, but he’d thoroughly enjoyed spending his few spare moments down at the beach looking at them. He’d had a thing for curvy women with long black hair ever since.

The Martian Marine was like one of those cute little beach bunnies that someone had used editing software on and blown up to 150 percent normal size. The proportions, the black hair, the dark eyes, everything was the same. Only, giant. It short-circuited his neural wiring. The lizard living at the back of his brain kept jumping back and forth between Mate with it! and Flee from it! What was worse, she knew it. She seemed to have sized him up and decided he was only worth a tired smirk within moments of their meeting.

“Do you need me to go over it again?” she said, the smirk mocking him. They were sitting together in the galley, where she’d been describing for him the Martian intelligence on the best way to engage the Munroe-class light destroyer.

No! he wanted to yell. I heard you. I’m not a freak. I have a lovely girlfriend that I’m totally committed to, so stop treating me like some kind of bumbling teenage boy who’s trying to look down your dress!

But then he’d look up at her again, and his hindbrain would start bouncing back and forth between attraction and fear, and his language centers would start misfiring. Again.

“No,” he said, staring at the neatly organized list of bullet points she’d forwarded to his hand terminal. “I think this information is very … informative.”

He saw the smirk widen out of the corner of his eye and focused more intently on the list.

“Okay,” Bobbie said. “I’m going to go catch some rack time. With your permission, of course. Captain.”

“Permission granted,” Holden said. “Of course. Go. Rack.”

She pushed herself to her feet without touching the arms of the chair. She’d grown up in Martian gravity. She had to mass a hundred kilos at one g, easy. She was showing off. He pretended to ignore it, and she left the galley.

“She’s something, isn’t she?” Avasarala said, coming into the galley and collapsing into the recently vacated chair. Holden looked up at her and saw a different kind of smirk. One that said the old lady saw right through him to the warring lizards at the back of his head. But she wasn’t a giant Polynesian woman, so he could vent his frustration on her.

“Yeah, she’s a peach,” he said. “But we’re still going to die.”

“What?”

“When those destroyers catch us, which they will, we are going to die. The only reason they aren’t raining torpedoes down on us already is because they know our PDC network can take out anything fired at this range.”

Avasarala leaned back in her chair with a heavy sigh, and the smirk shifted into a tired but genuine smile. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you could find an old woman a cup of tea, could you?”

Holden shook his head. “I’m sorry. No tea drinkers on the crew. Lots of coffee, though, if you’d like a cup.”

“I’m actually tired enough to do that. Lots of cream, lots of sugar.”

“How about,” Holden said, pulling her a cup, “lots of sugar, lots of a powder that’s called ‘whitener.’”

“Sounds like piss. I’ll take it.”

Holden sat down and pushed the sweetened and “whitened” cup of coffee across to her. She took it and grimaced through several long swallows.

“Explain,” she said after another drink, “everything you just said.”

“Those destroyers are going to kill us,” Holden repeated. “The sergeant says you refuse to believe that UN ships will fire on you, but I agree with her. That’s naive.”