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Page 122 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Fast movers,” Naomi said. “The Martian cruiser has fired eight torpedoes!”

Bobbie could see them. Tiny yellow dots shifting to orange as they took off at high g. The UN ships immediately responded. Half of them spun around to face the pursuing Martian ships and opened up with their rail guns and point defense cannons. The space on the tactical display between the two groups was suddenly filled with yellow-orange dots.

“Incoming!” Naomi yelled. “Six torpedoes on a collision course!”

Half a second later, the torpedoes’ vector and speed information popped up on Bobbie’s PDC control display. Holden had been right. The skinny Belter was good at this. Her reaction times were astonishing. Bobbie flagged all six torpedoes for the PDCs, and the ship began to vibrate as they fired in a rapid staccato.

“Juice coming,” Alex said, and Bobbie felt her couch prick her in half a dozen places. Cold pumped into her veins, quickly becoming white-hot. She shook her head to clear the threatening tunnel vision while Alex said, “Three … two …”

He never said one. The Rocinante smashed into Bobbie from behind, crushing her into her crash couch. She remembered at the last second to keep her elbows lined up, and avoided having her arms broken as every part of her tried to fly backward at ten gravities.

On her threat display, the initial wave of six torpedoes fired at them winked out one by one as the Roci tracked and shot them down. More torpedoes were in the air, but now the entire Martian wing had opened up on the Earthers, and the space around the ships had become a confusion of drive tails and detonations. Bobbie told the Roci to target anything on an approach vector and shoot at it with the point defenses, leaving it up to Martian engineering and the universe’s good graces.

She switched one of the big displays to the forward cameras, turning it into a window on the battle. Ahead of her the sky was filled with bright white flashes of light and expanding clouds of gas as torpedoes detonated. The UN ships had decided that the Martians were the real threat, and all six of them had spun to face the enemy ships head-on. Bobbie tapped a control to throw a threat overlay onto the video image, and suddenly the sky was full of impossibly fast blobs of light as the threat computer put a glowing outline on every torpedo and projectile.

The Rocinante was coming up fast on the UN destroyers, and the thrust dropped to two g. “Here we go,” Alex said.

Bobbie pulled up the torpedo targeting system and targeted the drive cones of two of the ships. “Two away,” she said, releasing her first two fish into the water. Bright drive trails lit the sky as they streaked off. The ready-to-fire indicator went red as the ship reloaded the tubes. Bobbie was already selecting the drive cones of the next two UN ships. The instant the ready indicator went green, she fired them both. She targeted the last two destroyers, then checked on the progress of her first two torpedoes. They were both gone, shot down by the destroyers’ aft PDCs. A wave of fast-moving blobs of light hurtled toward them, and Alex threw the ship sideways, dancing out of the line of fire.

It wasn’t enough. A yellow atmosphere warning light began rotating in the cockpit, and a ditone Klaxon sounded.

“We’re hit,” Holden said, his voice calm. “Dumping the atmosphere. Hope everyone has their hat on tight.”

As Holden shut down the air system, the sounds of the ship faded until Bobbie could hear only her own breathing and the faint hiss of the 1MC channel on her headset.

“Wow,” Amos said over the comm. “Three hits. Small projectiles, probably PDC rounds. Managed to go right through us without hitting anything that mattered.”

“It went through my room,” the scientist, Prax, said.

“Bet that woke you up,” Amos said, his voice a grin.

“I soiled myself,” Prax replied without a hint of humor.

“Quiet,” Holden said, but there was no malice in it. “Stay off the channel, please.”

Bobbie let the rational, thinking part of her mind listen to the back-and-forth. She had no use for that part of her brain right now. The part of her mind that had been trained to acquire targets and fire torpedoes at them worked without her interference. The lizard was driving now.

She didn’t know how many torpedoes she’d fired when there was an enormous flash of light and the camera display blacked out for a second. When it came back, one of the UN destroyers was torn in two, the rapidly separating pieces of hull spinning away from each other, trailing a faint gas cloud and small bits of jetsam. Some of those things flying out of the shattered ship would be UN sailors. Bobbie ignored that. The lizard rejoiced.

The destruction of the first UN ship tipped the scales, and within minutes the other five were heavily damaged or destroyed. A UN captain sent out a distress call and immediately signaled surrender.

Bobbie looked at her display. Three UN ships destroyed. Three heavily damaged. The Martians had lost two destroyers, and one of their cruisers was badly damaged. The Rocinante had three bullet wounds that had let all her air out, but no other damage.

They’d won.

“Holy shit,” Alex said. “Captain, we have got to get one of these.”

It took Bobbie a minute to realize he was talking about her.

“You have the gratitude of the UN government,” Avasarala was saying to the Martian commander. “Or at least the part of the UN government I run. We’re going to Io to blow up some more ships and maybe stop the apocalypse. Want to come with?”

Bobbie opened a private channel to Avasarala.

“We’re all traitors now.”

“Ha!” the old lady said. “Only if we lose.”

Chapter Forty-Four: Holden

From the outside, the damage to the Rocinante was barely noticeable. The three point defense cannon rounds fired by one of the UN destroyers had hit her just forward of the sick bay and, after a short diagonal trip through the ship, exited through the machine shop, two decks below. Along the way, one of them had passed through three cabins in the crew deck.

Holden had expected the little botanist to be a wreck, especially after his crack about soiling himself. But when Holden had checked on him after the battle, he’d been surprised by the nonchalant shrug the scientist had given.

“It was very startling,” was all he’d said.

It would be easy to write it off as shell shock. The kidnapping of his daughter, followed by months of living on Ganymede as the social structure collapsed. Easy to see Prax’s calm as the precursor to a complete mental and emotional breakdown. God knew the man had lost control of himself half a dozen times, and most of them inconvenient. But Holden suspected there was a lot more to Prax than that. There was a relentless forward motion to the man. The universe might knock him down over and over again, but unless he was dead, he’d just keep getting up and shuffling ahead toward his goal. Holden thought he had probably been a very good scientist. Thrilled by small victories, undeterred by setbacks. Plodding along until he got to where he needed to be.