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Page 258 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“You are,” he said, then paused for a beat. “Lovely.”

It was her turn to blush.

“Aren’t you married?” Bobbie asked with a grin, happy for the distraction. The simple humanity in discomfort with mating signals made the monster in her head seem very far away.

“Yes,” Cotyar replied, attaching the final lead to a sensor at the small of her back. “Very. But I’m not blind.”

“Thank you,” Bobbie said, and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. After a few moments’ struggle with the tight spaces, she sat down into the suit’s open chest and slid down until her legs and arms were fully inside. “Button me up.”

Cotyar sealed up the chest as she’d shown him, then put the helmet on her and locked it in place. Inside the suit, her HUD flashed through the boot routine. A gentle, almost subliminal hum surrounded her. She activated the array of micro-motors and pumps that powered the exo-musculature, and then sat up.

Cotyar was looking at her, his face a question. Bobbie turned on the external speaker and said, “Yeah, it all looks good in here. Green across the board.”

She pushed herself to her feet effortlessly and felt the old sensation of barely restrained power running through her limbs. She knew if she pushed off hard with her legs, she’d hit the ceiling with enough force to severely damage it. A sudden motion of her arm could hurl the heavy four-poster bed across the room or shatter Cotyar’s spine. It made her move with the deliberate gentleness of long training.

Cotyar reached under his jacket and pulled out a sleek black pistol of the slug-throwing variety. Bobbie knew the security team had loaded them with high-impact plastic rounds, guaranteed not to knock holes in the ship. It was the same kind of round Mao’s security team would be using. He started to hold it out to her, but then looked at the thickness of her armored fingers, and at the much smaller opening of the trigger guard, and shrugged apologetically.

“I won’t need it,” she said. Her voice sounded harsh, metallic, inhuman.

Cotyar smiled again.

“As you say.”

Bobbie punched the button to call the keel elevator, then walked back and forth in the lounge, letting her reflexes get used to her armor. There was a nanosecond delay between attempting to move a limb and having the armor react. It made walking around feel vaguely dreamlike, as if the act of wanting to move your limbs and the moving of the limbs themselves were separate events. Hours of training and use had mostly overcome the sensation when Bobbie wore her armor, but it always took a few minutes of moving around to get past the oddness of it.

Avasarala walked into the lounge from the room they were using as the communications center and sat down at the bar. She poured herself a stiff shot of gin, then squeezed a piece of lime into it almost as an afterthought. The old lady had been drinking a lot more lately, but it wasn’t Bobbie’s place to point it out. Maybe it was helping her sleep.

When the elevator didn’t arrive after several minutes, she thumped over to the panel and hit the button a few more times. A small display said OUT OF SERVICE.

“Damn,” Bobbie said to herself. “They really are kidnapping us.”

She’d left the external speakers on, and the harsh voice coming out of her suit echoed around the room. Avasarala didn’t look up from her drink but said, “Remember what I said.”

“Huh?” Bobbie said, not paying attention. She climbed awkwardly up the crew ladder to the deck hatch above her head and hit the button. The hatch slid open. That meant that everyone was still pretending that this wasn’t a kidnapping. They could explain away the elevator. Explaining why the undersecretary was locked out of the rest of the ship would be harder. Maybe they figured a woman in her seventies would be reluctant to climb around the ship on ladders, so killing the lift was good enough. They might have been right. Avasarala certainly didn’t look like she was up to a two-hundred-foot climb, even in the low gravity.

“None of these people were on Ganymede,” Avasarala said.

“Okay,” Bobbie replied to the seeming non sequitur.

“You won’t be able to kill enough of them to bring your platoon back,” Avasarala finished, tossing off the last of her gin, then pushing away from the bar and heading off to her room.

Bobbie didn’t reply. She pulled herself up to the next deck and let the hatch slide shut behind her.

Her armor had been designed for exactly this sort of mission. The original Goliath-class scout suits had been built for Marine boarding parties in ship-to-ship engagements. That meant they were designed for maximum maneuverability in tight spaces. No matter how good the armor was, it was useless if the soldier wearing it couldn’t climb ladders, slip through human-sized hatches, and maneuver gracefully in microgravity.

Bobbie climbed the ladder to the next deck hatch and hit the button. The console responded with a red warning light. A few moments of looking at the menus revealed why: They’d parked the crew elevator just above the hatch and then disabled it, creating a barricade. And that meant they knew something was up.

Bobbie looked around the room she was in, another relaxation lounge, nearly identical to the one she’d just left, until she found the likeliest place for them to have hidden their cameras. She waved. This won’t stop me, guys.

She climbed back down and went into the luxurious bathroom space. On a ship this nice, it couldn’t properly be called the head. A few moments’ probing found the fairly well-hidden bulkhead service hatch. It was locked. Bobbie tore it off the wall.

On the other side were a tangle of piping and a narrow corridor barely large enough to stuff her armor into. She climbed in and pulled herself along the pipes for two decks, then kicked the service hatch into the room and climbed in.

The compartment turned out to be a secondary galley, with a bank of stoves and ovens along one wall, several refrigeration units, and lots of counter space, all in gleaming stainless steel.

Her suit warned her that she was being targeted, and changed the HUD so that the normally invisible infrared beams aimed at her became faint red lines. Half a dozen were painting her chest, all coming from compact black weapons held by Mao-Kwik security personnel at the other end of the room.

Bobbie stood up. To their credit, the security goons didn’t back up. Her HUD ran through the weapons database and informed her that the men were armed with 5mm submachine guns with a standard ammo capacity of three hundred rounds and a cyclic rate of ten rounds per second. Unless they were using high-explosive armor-piercing rounds, unlikely with the ship’s hull right behind her, the suit rated their danger level as low.