Even now, just hours after nearly being cut in two by a highspeed projectile, Prax was belowdecks with Naomi and Avasarala, patching holes inside the ship. He hadn’t even been asked. He’d just climbed out of his bunk and pitched in.
Holden stood above one of the bullet entry points on the ship’s outer hull. The small projectile had left a perfectly round hole and almost no dimpling. It had passed through five centimeters of high-tensile alloy armor so quickly it hadn’t even dented it.
“Found it,” Holden said. “No light coming out, so it looks like they’ve already patched it on the inside.”
“Coming,” Amos said, then clumped across the hull on magnetic boots, a portable welding torch in his hand. Bobbie followed in her fancy powered armor, carrying big sheets of patch material.
While Bobbie and Amos worked on sealing up the outer hull breach, Holden wandered off to find the next hole. Around him, the three remaining Martian warships drifted along with the Rocinante like an honor guard. With their drives off, they were visible only as small black spots that moved across the star field. Even with the Roci telling his armor where to look, and with the HUD pointing the ships out, they were almost impossible to see.
Holden tracked the Martian cruiser on his HUD until it passed across the bright splash of the Milky Way’s ecliptic. For a moment, the entire ship was a black silhouette framed in the ancient white of a few billion stars. A faint cone of translucent white sprayed out from one side of the ship, and it drifted back into the star-speckled black. Holden felt a desire to have Naomi standing next to him, looking up at the same sights, that bordered on a physical ache.
“I forget how beautiful it is out here,” he said to her over their private channel instead.
“You daydreaming and letting someone else do all the work?” she replied.
“Yeah. More of these stars have planets around them than don’t. Billions of worlds. Five hundred million planets in the habitable zone was the last estimate. Think our great-grandkids will get to see any of them?”
“When this is over.”
“Also,” Naomi said, “at least one of those planets has the protomolecule masters on it. Maybe we should avoid that one.”
“Honestly? That’s one I’d like to see. Who made this thing? What’s it all for? I’d love to be able to ask. And at the very least, they share the human drive to find every habitable corner and move in. We might have more in common than we think.”
“They also kill whoever lived there first.”
Holden snorted. “We’ve been doing that since the invention of the spear. They’re just scary good at it.”
“You found that next hole yet?” Amos said over the main channel, his voice an unwelcome intrusion. Holden pulled his gaze away from the sky and back to the metal beneath his feet. Using the damage map the Roci was feeding to his HUD, it took only a moment to find the next entry wound.
“Yeah, yeah, right here,” he said, and Amos and Bobbie began moving his direction.
“Cap,” Alex said, chiming in from the cockpit. “The captain of that MCRN cruiser is lookin’ to talk to you.”
“Patch him through to my suit.”
“Roger,” Alex said, and then the static on the radio shifted in tone.
“I read you. Go ahead.”
“This is Captain Richard Tseng of the MCRN Cydonia. Sorry we weren’t able to speak sooner. I’ve been dealing with damage control and arranging for rescue and repair ships.”
“I understand, Captain,” Holden said, trying to spot the Cydonia again but failing. “I’m out on my hull patching a few holes myself. I saw you guys drive by a minute ago.”
“My XO says you’d asked to speak to me.”
“Yes, and thank her on my behalf for all the help so far,” Holden said. “Listen, we burned through an awful lot of our stores in that skirmish. We fired fourteen torpedoes and nearly half of our point defense ammunition. Since this used to be a Martian ship, I thought maybe you’d have reloads that would fit our racks.”
“Sure,” Captain Tseng said without a moment’s hesitation. “I’ll have the destroyer Sally Ride pull alongside for munitions transfer.”
“Uh,” Holden said, shocked by the instant agreement. He’d been prepared to negotiate. “Thanks.”
“I’ll pass along my intel officer’s breakdown of the fight. You’ll find it interesting viewing. But the short version is that first kill, the one that broke open the UN defense screen and ended the fight? That was yours. Guess they shouldn’t have turned their backs on you.”
“You guys can take credit for it,” Holden said with a laugh. “I had a Martian Marine gunnery sergeant doing the shooting.”
There was a pause; then Tseng said, “When this is over, I’d like to buy you a drink and talk about how a dishonorably discharged UN naval officer winds up flying a stolen MCRN torpedo bomber crewed by Martian military personnel and a senior UN politician.”
“It’s a damn good story,” Holden replied. “Say, speaking of Martians, I’d like to get one of mine a present. Do you carry a Marine detachment on the Cydonia?”
“Got any Force Recon Marines in that group?”
“Yes. Again, why?”
“There’s some equipment we’ll need that you’ve probably got in storage.”
He told Captain Tseng what he was looking for, and Tseng said, “I’ll have the Ride give you one when we do the transfer.”
The MCRN Sally Ride looked like she’d come through the fight without a scratch. When she pulled up next to the Rocinante, her dark flank looked as smooth and unmarred as a pool of black water. After Alex and the Ride’s pilot had perfectly matched course, a large hatch in her side opened up, dim red emergency lighting spilling out. Two magnetic grapples were fired across, connecting the ships with ten meters of cable.
“This is Lieutenant Graves,” a girlish voice said. “Prepared to begin cargo transfer on your order.”
Lieutenant Graves sounded like she should still be in high school, but Holden said, “Go ahead. We’re ready on this end.”
Switching channels to Naomi, he said, “Pop the hatches, new fish coming aboard.”
A few meters from where he was standing, a large hatch that was normally flush with the hull opened up into a meter-wide and eight-meter-long gap in the skin of the ship. A complicated-looking system of rails and gears ran down the sides of the opening. At the bottom sat three of the Rocinante’s remaining ship-to-ship torpedoes.