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Page 225 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

It was the first time in Holden’s memory that Amos had called him by his first name. Holden nodded back at him, then went about straightening out his thigh armor.

“Yeah,” he said. “I just yelled at Alex for not being scared enough.”

Amos had finished with his armor and was pulling his favorite auto-shotgun out of his locker.

“No shit?”

“Yeah. He made a joke and I’m scared out of my skull, so I yelled at him and threatened to relieve him.”

“Can you do that?” Amos asked. “He’s kind of our only pilot.”

“No, Amos. No, I can’t kick Alex off the ship any more than I can kick you or Naomi off the ship. We’re not even a skeleton crew. We’re whatever you have when you don’t have a skeleton.”

“Worried about Naomi leaving?” Amos said. He kept his voice light, but his words hit like hammer blows. Holden felt the air go out of him, and had to focus on breathing again for a minute.

“No,” he said. “I mean, yes, of course I am. But that’s not what has me freaked out right now.”

Holden picked up his assault rifle and looked at it, then put it back in his locker and took out a heavy recoilless pistol instead. The self-contained rockets that were its ammunition wouldn’t impart thrust and send him flying all over the place if he fired it in zero g.

“I watched you die,” he said, not looking at Amos.

“Huh?”

“I watched you die. When that kidnap team, whoever the hell they were, took us. I saw one of them shoot you in the back of the head, and I saw you drop face-first on the floor. There was blood everywhere.”

“Yeah, but I—”

“I know it was a nonlethal round. I know they wanted us alive. I know the blood was your broken nose when your head slammed into the floor. I know all of that now. At the time, what I knew was that you’d just been shot in the head and killed.”

Amos slid a magazine into his shotgun and racked a round but, other than that, didn’t make a sound.

“All of this is really fragile,” Holden said, waving around at Amos and the ship. “This little family we have. One f**kup, and something irreplaceable gets lost.”

Amos was frowning at him now. “This is still about Naomi, right?”

“No! I mean, yes. But no. When I thought you were dead, it knocked all the wind out of me. And right now, I need to focus on getting that thing off the ship, and all I can think about is losing one of the crew.”

Amos nodded, slung the shotgun over his shoulder, and sat down on the bench next to his locker.

“I get it. So what do you want to do?”

“I want,” Holden said, sliding a magazine into his pistol, “to get that f**king monster off my ship. But please promise me you won’t die doing it. That would help a lot.”

“Cap,” Amos said with a grin. “Anything that kills me has already killed everyone else. I was born to be the last man standing. You can count on it.”

The panic and fear didn’t leave Holden. They squatted on his chest now just the way they had before. But at least he didn’t feel so alone with them.

“Then let’s go get rid of this stowaway.”

The wait inside the cargo bay airlock was endless as the inner door sealed, the pumps sucked all the air out of the room, and then the outer door cycled open. Holden fidgeted and rechecked his gun half a dozen times while he waited. Amos stood in a relaxed slump, his huge shotgun cradled loosely in his arms. The upside, if there was an upside to the wait, was that with the cargo bay in vacuum, the airlock could make as much noise as it wanted without alerting the creature to their presence.

The last of the external noise disappeared, and Holden could hear only himself breathing. A yellow light came on near the outer airlock door, warning them of the null atmosphere on the other side.

“Alex,” Holden said, plugging a hardline into the airlock terminal. Radio was still dead all over the ship. “We’re about to go in. Kill the engines.”

“Roger that,” Alex replied, and the gravity dropped away. Holden kicked the slide controls on his heels to turn up his magnetic boots.

The cargo bay on the Rocinante was cramped. Tall and narrow, it occupied the starboard side of the ship, crammed into the unused space between the outer hull and the engineering bay. On the port side, the same space was filled with the ship’s water tank. The Roci was a warship. Any cargo it carried would be an afterthought.

The downside to this was that while under thrust, the cargo bay turned into a well with the cargo doors at the bottom. The various crates that occupied the space latched on to mounts on the bulkheads or in some cases were attached with electromagnetic feet. With thrust gravity threatening to send a person tumbling seven meters straight down to the cargo doors, it would be an impossible place to fight effectively.

In microgravity, it became a long hallway with lots of cover.

Holden entered the room first, walking along the bulkhead on magnetic boots, and took cover behind a large metal crate filled with extra rounds for the ship’s point defense cannons. Alex followed, taking up a position behind another crate two meters away.

Below them, the monster seemed to be asleep.

It huddled motionless against the bulkhead that separated the cargo bay from engineering.

“Okay, Naomi, go ahead and open it up,” Holden said. He jiggled the trailing line of cable to get it unhooked from a corner of the crate and gave it a little slack.

“Doors opening now,” she replied, her voice thin and fuzzy in his helmet. The cargo doors at the bottom of the room silently swung open, exposing several square meters of star-filled blackness. The monster either didn’t notice the doors opening or didn’t care.

“They hibernate sometimes, right?” Amos said, the cable running from his suit to the airlock looking like a high-tech umbilical cord. “Like Julie did when she got the bug. Hibernated in that hotel room on Eros for a couple weeks.”

“Maybe,” Holden replied. “How do you want to approach this? I’m almost thinking we should just go down there, grab the thing, and toss it out the door. But I have strong reservations about touching it.”

“Yeah, wouldn’t want to take our suits back inside with us,” Amos agreed.

Holden had a sudden memory of coming in after playing outside, and taking all his clothes off in the mudroom before Mother Tamara would let him into the rest of the house. This would be pretty much the same, only a lot colder.