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Page 128 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

I’ve watched too many Kurosawa movies, she thought, but couldn’t quite abandon the idea. The imagery was a lovely way of turning angst and suicidal ideation into honor and noble sacrifice.

She picked up the torso assembly and carefully wiped it off with a damp cloth, removing the last bits of dust and machine oil that clung to the outside. The smell of metal and lubricant filled the air. And while she bolted armor plating back onto the frame, the red enameled surface covered with a thousand dings and scratches, she stopped fighting the urge to ritualize the task and just let it happen. She was very likely assembling her death shroud. Depending on how the final battle went, this ceramic and rubber and alloy might house her corpse for the rest of eternity.

She flipped the torso assembly over and began working on the back. A long gouge in the enamel showed the violence of her passage across Ganymede’s ice when the monster had self-destructed right in front of her. She picked up a wrench, then put it back down, tapping on the deck with her knuckle.

Why then?

Why had the monster blown itself up at that moment? She remembered the way it had started to shift, new limbs bursting from its body as it watched her. If Prax was right, that was the moment the constraint systems that Mao’s scientists had installed failed. And they’d set the bomb up to detonate if the creature was getting out of their control. But that just pushed the question one level back. Why had their control over the creature’s physiology failed at that precise moment? Prax said that regenerative processes were a good place for constraint systems to fail. And her platoon had riddled the creature with gunfire as it had charged their lines. It hadn’t seemed to hurt it at the time, but each wound represented a sudden burst of activity inside the creature’s cells, or whatever it had in place of cells, as the monster healed. Each was a chance for the new growth to slip the leash.

Maybe that was the answer. Don’t try to kill the monster. Just damage it enough that the program starts to break down and the self-destruct kicks in. She wouldn’t even have to survive, just last long enough to harm the monster beyond its ability to safely repair itself. All she needed was enough time to really hurt it.

She put down the armor plate she was working on and picked up the helmet. The suit’s memory still had the gun camera footage of the fight on it. She hadn’t watched it again after Avasarala’s presentation to the crew of the Roci. She hadn’t been able to.

She pushed herself to her feet and hit the comm panel on the wall. “Hey, Naomi? You in ops?”

“Yep,” Naomi said after a few seconds. “You need something, Sergeant?”

“Do you think you can tell the Roci to talk to my helmet? I’ve got the radio on, but it won’t talk to civilian stuff. This is one of our boats, so I figure the Roci has the keys and codes.”

There was a long pause, so Bobbie put the helmet on a worktable next to the closest wall monitor and waited.

“I’m seeing a radio node that the Roci is calling ‘MCR MR Goliath III 24397A15.’”

“That’s me,” Bobbie said. “Can you send control of that node down to the panel in the machine shop?”

“Done,” Naomi said after a second.

“Thanks,” Bobbie said, and killed the comm. It took her a moment to re-familiarize herself with the Martian military video software, and to convince the system to use out-of-date data-unpacking algorithms. After a few false starts, the raw gun camera footage from her fight on Ganymede was playing on the screen. She set it to endless loop and sat back down on the deck with her suit.

She finished bolting the back armor on and began attaching the torso’s power supply and main hydraulic system during the first play-through. She tried not to feel anything about the images on screen, nor to attach any significance to them or think of them as a puzzle to be solved. She just concentrated on her work on the suit with her mind and let her subconscious chew on the data from the screen.

The distraction caused her to redo things occasionally as she worked, but that was fine. She wasn’t on a deadline. She finished attaching the power supply and main motors. Green lights lit up on the hand terminal she had plugged into the suit’s brain. On the wall screen by her helmet, a UN soldier was hurled across the surface of Ganymede at her. A confusion of images as she dodged away. When the image steadied, both the UN Marine and her friend Tev Hillman were gone.

Bobbie picked up an arm assembly and began reattaching it to the torso. The monster had picked up a soldier in a suit of armor comparable to her own and then thrown him with enough force to kill instantly. There was no defense against that kind of strength except not to get hit. She concentrated on putting the arm back together.

When she looked up at the screen again, the feed had restarted. The monster was running across the ice, chasing the UN soldiers. It killed one of them. The Bobbie on the video began firing, followed by her entire platoon opening up.

The creature was fast. But when the UN soldiers suddenly turned to open a firing lane for the Martians, the creature didn’t react quickly. So maybe fast in a straight line, but not a lot of lateral speed. That might be useful. The video caught up again to the UN soldier being thrown into Private Hillman. The creature reacted to gunfire, to injuries, even though they didn’t slow it down. She thought back to the video she’d seen of Holden and Amos engaging the creature in the Rocinante’s cargo hold. It had largely ignored them until Amos started shooting it, and then it had erupted into violence.

But the first creature had attacked the UN troop station. So at least to some degree, they could be directed. Given orders. Once they no longer had orders, they seemed to lapse into a default state of trying to get increased energy and break the constraints. While in that state, they ignored pretty much everything but food and violence. The next time she ran into one, unless it had specifically been ordered to attack her, she could probably pick her own battleground, draw it to her where she wanted to be. That was useful too.

She finished attaching the arm assembly and tested it. Greens across the board. Even if she wasn’t sure whom she was working for, at least she hadn’t forgotten how to do her job.

On the screen, the monster ran up the side of the big mech Yojimbo and tore the pilot’s hatch off. Sa’id, the pilot, was hurled away. Again with the ripping and throwing. It made sense. With a combination like enormous strength and virtual immunity to ballistic damage as your tool set, running straight at your opponent, then ripping them in two was a pretty winning strategy. Throwing heavy objects at lethal speeds went hand in hand with the strength. And kinetic energy was a bitch. Armor might deflect bullets or lasers, and it might help cushion impacts, but no one had ever made armor that could shrug off all the kinetic energy imparted by a large mass moving at high speed. At least not in something a human could wear. If you were strong enough, a garbage Dumpster was better than a gun.