“Okay, but what’s a ‘PDC network’?”

Holden tried not to frown. He’d expected any number of things from the woman, but ignorance hadn’t been one.

“Point defense cannons. If those destroyers fire torpedoes at us from this distance, the targeting computer for the PDCs won’t have any trouble shooting them down. So they’ll wait until they get close enough that they can overwhelm us. I give it three days before they start.”

“I see,” Avasarala said. “And what’s your plan?”

Holden barked out a laugh with no humor in it. “Plan? My plan is to die in a ball of superheated plasma. There is literally no way that a single fast-attack corvette, which is us, can successfully fight six light destroyers. We aren’t in the same weight class as even one of them, but against one, a lucky shot maybe. Against six? No chance. We die.”

“I’ve read your file,” Avasarala said. “You faced down a UN corvette during the Eros incident.”

“Yeah, one corvette. We were a match for her. And I got her to back down by threatening the unarmed science ship she was escorting. This isn’t even remotely the same thing.”

“So what does the infamous James Holden do at his last stand?”

He was silent for a while.

“He rats,” Holden said. “We know what’s going on. We have all the pieces now. Mao-Kwik, the protomolecule monsters, where they’re taking the kids … everything. We put all the data in a file and broadcast it to the universe. They can still kill us if they want to, but we can make it a pointless act of revenge. Keep it from actually helping them.”

“No,” Avasarala said.

“Uh, no? You might be forgetting whose ship you’re on.”

“I’m sorry, did I seem to give a f**k that this is your ship? If I did, really, I was just being polite,” Avasarala said, giving him a withering glare. “You aren’t going to f**k up the whole solar system just because you’re a one-trick pony. We have bigger fish to fry.”

Holden counted to ten in his head and said, “Your idea is?”

“Send it to these two UN admirals,” she said, then tapped something on her terminal. His buzzed with the received file. “Souther and Leniki. Mostly Souther. I don’t like Leniki, and he hasn’t been in the loop on this, but he’s a decent backup.”

“You want my last act before being killed by a UN admiral to be sending all of the vital information I have to a UN admiral.”

Avasarala leaned back into her chair and rubbed her temples with her fingertips. Holden waited. “I’m tired,” she said after a few moments. “And I miss my husband. It’s like an ache in my arms that I can’t hold him right now. Do you know what that’s like?”

“I know exactly what that ache feels like.”

“So I want you to understand that I’m sitting here, right now, coming to terms with the idea that I won’t see him again. Or my grandchildren. Or my daughter. My doctors said I probably had a good thirty years left in me. Time to watch my grandkids grow up, maybe even see a great-grandchild or two. But instead, I’m going to be killed by a limp-dick, whiny sonofabitch like Admiral Nguyen.”

Holden could feel the massive weight of those six destroyers bearing down on them, murder in their hearts. It felt like having a pistol pushed into his ribs from behind. He wanted to shake the old woman and tell her to hurry up.

She smiled at him.

“My last act in this universe isn’t going to be f**king up everything I did right up to now.”

Holden made a conscious effort to ignore his frustration. He got up and opened the refrigerator. “Hey, there’s leftover pudding. Want some?”

“I’ve read your psych profile. I know all about your ‘everyone should know everything’ naive bullshit. But how much of the last war was your fault, with your goddamned endless pirate broadcasts? Well?”

“None of it,” Holden said. “Desperate psychotic people do desperate psychotic things when they’re exposed. I refuse to grant them immunity from exposure out of fear of their reaction. When you do, the desperate psychos wind up in charge.”

She laughed. It was a surprisingly warm sound.

“Anyone who understands what’s going on is at least desperate and probably psychotic to boot. Dissociative at the least. Let me explain it this way,” Avasarala said. “You tell everyone, and yeah, you’ll get a reaction. And maybe, weeks, or months, or years from now, it will all get sorted out. But you tell the right people, and we can sort it out right now.”

Amos and Prax walked into the galley together. Amos had his big thermos in his hand and headed straight toward the coffeepot. Prax followed him and picked up a mug. Avasarala’s eyes narrowed and she said, “Maybe even save that little girl.”

“Mei?” Prax said immediately, putting the mug down and turning around.

Oh, that was low, Holden thought. Even for a politician.

“Yes, Mei,” Avasarala replied. “That’s what this is about, right, Jim? Not some personal crusade, but trying to save a little girl from very bad people?”

“Explain how—” Holden started, but Avasarala kept talking right over the top of him.

“The UN isn’t one person. It isn’t even one corporation. It’s a thousand little, petty factions fighting against each other. Their side’s got the floor, but that’s temporary. That’s always temporary. I know people who can move against Nguyen and his group. They can cut off his support, strip him of ships, even recall and court-martial him given enough time. But they can’t do any of that if we’re in a shooting war with Mars. And if you toss everything you know into the wind, Mars won’t have time to wait and figure out the subtleties; they’ll have no choice but to preemptively strike against Nguyen’s fleet, Io, what’s left of Ganymede. Everything.”

“Io?” Prax said. “But Mei—”

“So you want me to give all the info to your little political cabal back on Earth, when the entire reason for this problem is that there are little political cabals back on Earth.”

“Yes,” Avasarala said. “And I’m the only hope she’s got. You have to trust me.”

“I don’t. Not even a little bit. I think you’re part of the problem. I think you see all of this as political maneuvering and power games. I think you want to win. So no, I don’t trust you at all.”