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Page 213 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Okay,” Alex replied, then hit something on a panel twice and frowned. “Huh, we have a red on the board. Gettin’ a ‘no seal’ on the cargo airlock. Might’ve caught some flak on the way down, I guess. It was pretty hot up there.”

“Well, we’re not going to stop and fix it now,” Holden said. “We keep the bay in vacuum most of the time anyway. If the inner hatch into the cargo area is showing a good seal, just override the alarm and let’s go.”

“Roger,” Alex said, and tapped the override.

“One minute,” Holden said over the shipwide, then turned to Alex. “So I’m curious.”

“’Bout?”

“How’d you manage to slip through that shit-storm up above us, and can you do it again on the way out?”

Alex laughed.

“Simple matter of never bein’ higher than the second-highest threat on anyone’s board. And, of course, not bein’ there anymore when they decide to get around to you.”

“I’m giving you a raise,” Holden said, then began the ten-second countdown. At one, the Roci blasted off of Ganymede on four pillars of superheated steam.

“Rotate us for a full burn as soon as you can,” Holden said, the rumble of the ship’s takeoff giving him an artificial vibrato.

“This close?”

“There’s nothing below us that matters,” Holden said, thinking of the remnants of black filament they’d seen in the hidden base. “Melt it.”

“Okay,” Alex said. Then, once the ship had finished orienting straight up, he said, “Givin’ her the spurs.”

Even with the juice coursing through his blood, Holden blacked out for a moment. When he came to, the Roci was veering wildly from side to side. The cockpit was alive with the sounds of warning buzzers.

“Whoa, honey,” Alex was saying under his breath. “Whoa, big girl.”

“Naomi,” Holden said, looking at a confusing mass of red on the threat board and trying to decipher it with his blood-starved brain. “Who’s firing at us?”

“Everyone.” She sounded as groggy as he felt.

“Yeah,” Alex said, his tension draining some of the good-old-boy drawl out of his voice. “She’s not kidding.”

The swarm of threats on his display began to make sense, and Holden saw they were right. It looked like half of the inner planets ships on their side of Ganymede had lobbed at least one missile at them. He entered the command code to set all the weapons to free fire and sent control of the aft PDCs to Amos. “Amos, cover our asses.”

Alex was doing his best to keep any of the incoming missiles from catching them, but ultimately that was a lost cause. Nothing with meat inside it could outrun metal and silicon.

“Where are we—” Holden said, stopping to target a missile that wandered into the front starboard PDC’s firing arc. The point defense cannon fired off a long burst at it. The missile was smart enough to turn sharply and evade, but its sudden course change bought them a few more seconds.

“Callisto’s on our side of Jupiter,” Alex said, referring to the next sizable moon out from Ganymede. “Gonna get in its shadow.”

Holden checked the vectors of the ships that had fired at them. If any of them were pursuing, Alex’s gambit would only buy them a few minutes. But it didn’t appear they were. Of the dozen or so that had attacked them, over half were moderately to severely damaged, and the ones that weren’t were still busy shooting at each other.

“Seems like we were everyone’s number one threat there for a second,” Holden said. “But not so much anymore.”

“Yeah, sorry about that, Cap. Not sure why that happened.”

“I don’t blame you,” Holden said.

The Roci shuddered, and Amos gave a whoop over the shipwide comm. “Don’t be trying to touch my girl’s ass!”

Two of the closer missiles had vanished off the threat board.

“Nice work, Amos,” Holden said, checking the updated times to impact and seeing that they’d bought another half minute.

“Shit, Cap, the Roci does all the work,” Amos said. “I just encourage her to express herself.”

“Going to duck and cover around Callisto. I’d appreciate a distraction,” Alex said to Holden.

“Okay, Naomi, another ten seconds or so,” Holden said. “Then hit them with everything you’ve got. We’ll need them blind for a few seconds.”

“Roger,” Naomi said. Holden could see her prepping a massive assault package of laser clutter and radio jamming.

The Rocinante lurched again, and the moon Callisto suddenly filled Holden’s forward screen. Alex hurtled toward it at a suicidal rate, flipping the ship and hard burning at the last second to throw them into a low slingshot orbit.

“Three … two … one … now,” he said, the Roci diving tail first toward Callisto, whipping past it so low that Holden felt like he could have reached out the airlock and scooped up some snow. At the same time, Naomi’s jamming package hammered the sensors of the pursuing missiles, blinding them while their processors worked to cut through the noise.

By the time they’d reacquired the Rocinante, she’d been thrown around Callisto by gravity and her own drive in a new vector and at high speed. Two of the missiles gamely tried to come about and pursue, but the rest either limped off in random directions or slammed into the moon. When their two pursuers had gotten back on course, the Roci had opened up an enormous lead and could take her time shooting them down.

“We made it,” Alex said. Holden found the disbelief in his pilot’s voice fairly disconcerting. Had it been that close?

“Never doubted it,” Holden said. “Take us to Tycho. Half a g. I’ll be in my cabin.”

When they were finished, Naomi flopped onto her side in their shared bunk, sweat plastering her curly black hair to her forehead. She was still panting. He was too.

“That was … vigorous,” she said.

Holden nodded but didn’t have enough air to actually speak yet. When he’d climbed down the ladder from the cockpit, Naomi had been waiting, already out of her restraints. She’d grabbed him and kissed him so hard his lip had split. He hadn’t even noticed. They’d barely reached the cabin with their clothes on. What had happened afterward was sort of a blur now to Holden, though his legs were tired and his lip hurt.

Naomi rolled across him and climbed out of the bunk.

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