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Page 257 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“I’m not going to be able to do that, ma’am. If you will just be patient, we’ll get you to Ganymede safe and in one piece. I’m sure any repairs we need can be done there.”

Avasarala leaned close to the terminal.

“I can come up there and we can have this conversation personally,” she said. “Captain. You know the laws as well as I do. Turn on the beacon or give me communications access.”

“Ma’am, you are the guest of Jules-Pierre Mao, and I respect that. But Mr. Mao is the owner of this vessel, and I answer to him.”

“No, then.”

“I’m very sorry.”

“You’re making a mistake, shithead,” Avasarala said, and dropped the connection.

Bobbie came into the room. Her face was bright, and there was a hunger about her, like a running dog straining at the leash. Gravity shifted a degree. A course correction, but not a change.

“How’d it go?” Bobbie asked.

“I am declaring this vessel in violation of laws and standards,” Avasarala said. “Cotyar, you’re witness to that.”

“As you say, ma’am.”

“All right, then. Bobbie. Get me control of this f**king ship.”

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Bobbie

What else do you need from us?” Cotyar asked. Two of his people were moving the big crate marked FORMAL WEAR into Avasarala’s room. They were using a large furniture dolly and grunting with effort. Even in the gentle quarter g of the Guanshiyin’s thrust, Bobbie’s armor weighed over a hundred kilos.

“We’re sure this room isn’t under surveillance?” Bobbie said. “This is going to work a lot better if they have no idea what’s about to happen.”

Cotyar shrugged. “It has no functioning eavesdropping devices I’ve been able to detect.”

“Okay, then,” Bobbie said, rapping on the fiberglass crate with her knuckle. “Open it up.”

Cotyar tapped something on his hand terminal and the crate’s locks opened with a sharp click. Bobbie yanked the opened panel off and leaned it against the wall. Inside the crate, suspended in a web of elastic bands, was her suit.

Cotyar whistled. “A Goliath III. I can’t believe they let you keep it.”

Bobbie removed the helmet and put it on the bed, then began pulling the various other pieces out of the webbing and setting them on the floor. “They gave it to your tech guys to verify some video stored in the suit. When Avasarala tracked it down, it was in a closet, collecting dust. No one seemed to care when she took it.”

She pulled out the suit’s right arm. She hadn’t expected them to get her any of the 2mm ammo the suit’s integrated gun used, but was surprised to find that they’d completely removed the gun from the housing. It made sense to remove all the weapons before handing the suit off to a bunch of civilians, but it still annoyed her.

“Shit,” she said. “Won’t be shooting anyone, I guess.”

“If you did,” Cotyar said with a smile, “would the bullets even slow down as they went through both of the ship’s hulls and let all the air out?”

“Nope,” Bobbie said, laying the last piece of the suit on the floor, then pulling out the tools necessary to put it all back together again. “But that might be a point in my favor. The gun on this rig is designed to shoot through other people wearing comparable armor. Anything that will shoot through my suit here will probably also hole the ship. Which means —”

“None of the security personnel on this vessel will have weapons capable of penetrating your armor,” Cotyar finished. “As you say. How many of my people will you want with you?”

“None,” Bobbie said, attaching the fresh battery pack Avasarala’s techs had provided to the back of the armor and getting a lovely green “fully charged” light from the panel. “Once I get started, the obvious counterplay will be to grab the undersecretary and hold her hostage. Preventing that is your job.”

Cotyar smiled again. There was no humor in it.

“As you say.”

It took Bobbie just under three hours to assemble and field prep her suit. It should have taken only two, but she forgave herself the extra hour by remembering that she was out of practice. The closer the suit got to completion, the tighter the knot in her stomach grew. Some of it was the natural tension that came before combat. And her time in the Marines had taught her to use it. To let the stress force her to recheck everything three times. Once she was in the thick of it, it would be too late.

But deep down, Bobbie knew that the possibility of violence wasn’t the only thing twisting up her insides. It was impossible to forget what had happened the last time she’d worn this suit. The red enamel of her Martian camouflage was pitted and scraped from the exploding monster and her high-speed skid across Ganymede’s ice. A tiny bit of fluid leakage on the knee reminded her of Private Hillman. Hilly, her friend. Wiping off the helmet’s faceplate made her think of the last time she’d spoken to Lieutenant Givens, her CO, just before the monster had ripped him in two.

When the suit was finished and lying on the floor, opened up and waiting for her to climb inside, she felt a shudder run up her spine. For the first time ever, the inside looked small. Sepulchral.

“No,” she said to no one but herself.

“No?” Cotyar asked, sitting on the floor next to her, holding the tools he thought she might need next. He’d been so quiet during the assembly procedure she’d sort of forgotten he was there.

“I’m not afraid of putting this back on,” she said.

“Ah,” Cotyar replied with a nod, then put the tools into the toolbox. “As you say.”

Bobbie pushed herself to her feet and yanked the black unitard she wore under the armor out of the crate. Without thinking about it, she stripped down to her panties and pulled the skintight garment on. She was pulling the wire leads out of her armor and connecting them to the various sensors on the bodysuit when she noticed that Cotyar had turned his back to her, and that his usually light brown neck was turning beet red.

“Oh,” she said. “Sorry. I’ve stripped down and put this on in front of my squaddies so many times I don’t even think about it anymore.”

“No reason to apologize,” Cotyar said without turning around. “I was only taken by surprise.”

He risked a peek over his left shoulder, and when he saw that she was fully covered by the bodysuit, he turned back to help her wire it up to the armor.

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