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Page 133 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“—illegal and unprecedented seizure. Admiral Souther is to be escorted to the brig until—”

Five incoming comm requests lit up, each listing a name and short-form transponder ID. She ignored them all for the broadcast controls. As soon as the live button went active, she looked into the camera.

“This is Assistant Undersecretary Chrisjen Avasarala, representing the civilian government of Earth,” she said. “Legal and appropriate command of this force is given to Admiral Souther. Anyone rejecting or ignoring his orders will be subject to legal action. I repeat, Admiral Souther is in legally authorized command of—”

Naomi made a low grunting sound. Avasarala stopped the broadcast and turned.

“Okay,” Holden said. “That was bad.”

“What?” Avasarala said. “What was bad?”

“One of the Earth ships just took three torpedo hits.”

“It that a lot?”

“The PDCs aren’t stopping them,” Naomi said. “Those UN torpedoes all have transponder codes that mark them as friends, so they’re sailing right through. They typically don’t expect to be getting shot at by other UN ships.”

“Three is a lot,” Holden said, strapping into the crash couch. She didn’t see him touch any of the controls, but he must have, because when he spoke, it echoed through the ship as well as the speakers in her helmet. “We have just gone live. Everyone has to the count of twenty to get strapped in someplace safe.”

“Solid copy on that,” Bobbie replied from wherever she was on the ship.

“Just got the doc strapped in and happy,” Amos said. “I’m on my way to engineering.”

“Are we heading into this?” Alex asked.

“We’ve got something like thirty-five capital ships out there, all of them much, much bigger than us. How about we just try to keep anyone from shooting us full of holes.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex said from the pilot’s deck. Any vestige of democracy and vote taking was gone. That was a good thing. At least Holden had control when there had to be a single voice in command.

“I have two fast movers coming in,” Naomi said. “Someone still thinks we’re the bad guys.”

“I blame Avasarala,” Bobbie said.

Before Avasarala could laugh, gravity ticked up and slewed to the side, the Rocinante taking action beneath her. Her couch shifted and creaked. The protective gel squeezed her and let her go.

“Alex?”

“On ’em,” Alex said. “I wouldn’t mind getting a real gunner, sir.”

“Are we going to have enough time to get her up here safely?”

“Nope,” Alex said. “I’ve got three more incoming.”

“I can take PDC control from here, sir,” Bobbie said. “It’s not the real thing, but it’s something the rest of you won’t have to do.”

“Naomi, give the PDCs to the sergeant.”

“PDC control transferred. It’s all yours, Bobbie.”

“Taking control,” Bobbie said.

Avasarala’s screen was a tangle of incoming messages in a flickering array. She started going through them. The Kennedy was announcing that Souther’s command was illegal. The Triton’s first officer was reporting that the captain had been relieved of duty, and requested orders from Souther. The Martian destroyer Iani Chaos was trying to reach Avasarala for clarification of which Earth ships it was permitted to shoot at.

She pulled up the tactical display. Circles in red and green marked the swarm of ships; tiny silver threads showed what might have been streams of PDC fire or the paths of torpedoes.

“Are we red or green?” Avasarala asked. “Who’s who on this f**king thing?”

“Mars is red, Earth is green,” Naomi said.

“And which Earth ones are on our side?”

“Find out,” Holden said as one of the green dots suddenly vanished. “Alex?”

“The Darius took the safeties off its PDCs, and now it’s spraying down everything in range whether it’s friend or foe. And … shit.”

Avasarala’s chair shifted again, seeming to rise from under her, pressing her back into the gel until it was hard to lift her arms. On the tactical screen, the cloud of ships, enemy and friendly and ambiguous, shifted slightly, and two golden dots grew larger, proximity notations beside them counting quickly down.

“Madam Assistant whatever you are,” Holden said, “you could respond to some of those comm requests now.”

Avasarala’s gut felt like someone was squeezing it from below. The taste of salt and stomach acid haunted the back of her tongue. She was beginning to sweat in a way that had less to do with temperature than nausea. She forced her hands out to the control panel just as the two golden dots vanished.

“Thank you, Bobbie,” Alex said. “I’m heading up. Gonna try to get the Martians between us and the fighting.”

She started making calls. In the heat of a battle, all she had to offer was this: making calls. Talking. The same things she always did. Something about it was actually reassuring. The Greenville was accepting Souther’s command. The Tanaka wasn’t responding. The Dyson opened the channel, but the only sound was men shouting at each other. It was bedlam.

A message came in from Souther, and she accepted it. It included a new IFF code, and she manually accepted the update. On the tactical, most of the green dots shifted to white.

“Thank you,” Holden said. Avasarala swallowed her You’re welcome. The antinausea drugs seemed to be working for everyone else. She really, really didn’t want to throw up inside her helmet. One of the six remaining green dots blinked out of existence and another turned suddenly to white.

“Ooh, right in the back,” Alex said. “That was cold.”

Souther’s ID showed up again on Avasarala’s console, and she hit accept just as the Roci shifted again.

“—the immediate surrender of the flagship King and Admiral Augusto Nguyen,” Souther was saying. His shock of white hair was standing up off his head as if the low thrust gravity was letting it expand like a peacock’s tail. His smile was sharp as a knife. “Any vessel that still refuses to acknowledge my orders as legal and legitimate will forfeit this amnesty. You have thirty seconds from this mark.”

On the tactical display, the threads of silver and gold had, for the most part, vanished. The ships shifted positions, each moving along its own complex vectors. As she watched, all the remaining green dots turned to white. All except one.

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