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Page 259 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

Bobbie made sure her external speakers were still on and said, “Okay, fellas, let’s—”

They opened fire.

For one long second, the entire galley was in chaos. High-impact plastic rounds bounced off her armor, deflected off the bulkheads, and skipped around the room. They blew apart containers of dried goods, hurled pots and pans off their magnetic hooks, and flung smaller utensils into the air in a cloud of stainless steel and plastic shards. One round took a particularly unlucky bounce and hit one of the security guards in the center of his nose, punching a hole into his head and dropping him to the floor with an almost comic look of surprise on his face.

Before two seconds could tick by, Bobbie was in motion, launching herself across the steel island in the center of the room and plowing into all five remaining guards with her arms outstretched, like a football player going in for a tackle. They were hurled against the far bulkhead with a meaty thud, then slumped to the ground motionless. Her suit started to put up life-sign indicators on her HUD for them, but she shut it off without looking. She didn’t want to know. One of the men stirred, then started to raise his gun. Bobbie gently shoved him, and he flew across the room to crumple against the far bulkhead. He didn’t move again.

She glanced around the room, looking for cameras. She couldn’t find one but hoped it was there anyway. If they’d seen this, maybe they wouldn’t throw any more of their people at her.

At the keel ladder, she discovered that they’d blocked the elevator by jamming the floor hatch open with a crowbar. Basic ship safety protocols wouldn’t allow the elevator to move to another deck unless the deck above was sealed. Bobbie yanked out the crowbar and threw it across the room, then hit the call button. The lift climbed up the ladder shaft to her level and stopped. She jumped on and hit the button that would take her to the bridge, eight decks up. Eight more pressure hatches.

Eight more possible ambushes.

She tightened her hands into fists until the knuckles stretched painfully inside her gauntlets. Bring it.

Three decks up the elevator stopped, the panel informing her that all the pressure hatches between her and the bridge had been overridden and forced open. They were willing to risk a hole in the ship emptying out half the ship’s air rather than let her up to the bridge. It was sort of gratifying to be scarier than sudden decompression.

She climbed off the lift onto a deck that appeared to be mostly crew quarters, though it must have been evacuated. There wasn’t a soul in sight. A quick tour revealed twelve small crew cabins and two bathrooms that could reasonably be called heads. No gold plating on the fixtures for the crew. No open bar. No twenty-four-hour-a-day food service. Looking at the fairly Spartan living conditions of the average crew member on the Guanshiyin brought home Avasarala’s last words to her. These were just sailors. None of them deserved to die for what had happened on Ganymede.

Bobbie found herself glad she didn’t have a gun.

She found another access hatch in the head and tore it open. But to her surprise, the service corridor ended just a few feet above her head. Something in the structure of the ship was cutting her off. Having never seen the Guanshiyin from the outside, she had no idea what it might be. But she needed to get another five decks up, and she wasn’t about to let this stop her.

A ten-minute search turned up a service hatch through the outer hull. She’d torn off two inner hull hatches on two different decks, so if she got it open, those two decks would lose their air. But the central ladder corridor was sealed at Avasarala’s deck, so her people would be fine. And the whole reason she was doing this was the sealed hatch to the upper decks, which seemed to be where most of the crew was.

She thought about the six men down in the galley and felt a pang. Sure, they’d shot first, but if any of them were still alive, she had no desire to asphyxiate them in their sleep.

It turned out not to be a problem. The hatch led into a small airlock chamber, about the size of a closet. A minute later it had cycled through and she climbed out onto the outer hull of the ship.

Triple-hulled. Of course. The lord of the Mao-Kwik empire wasn’t going to trust his expensive skin to anything that wasn’t the safest humans could build. And the ostentatious design of the ship extended to her outer hull as well. While most military ships were painted a flat black that made them hard to spot visually in space, most civilian ships either were left an unpainted gray or were painted in basic corporate colors.

The Guanshiyin had a mural painted on it in vivid colors. Bobbie was too close to see what it was, but under her feet were what appeared to be grass and the hoof of a giant horse. Mao had the hull of his ship painted with a mural that included horses and grass. When almost no one would ever see it.

Bobbie made sure her boot and glove mags were set strong enough to handle the quarter-g thrust the ship was still under, and started climbing up the side. She quickly reached the spot where the dead end between the hulls began, and saw that it was an empty shuttle bay. If only Avasarala had let her do this before Mao had run off with the shuttle.

Triple hulls, Bobbie thought. Maximum redundancy.

On a hunch, she crawled across the ship to the other side. Sure enough, there was a second shuttle bay. But the ship in it wasn’t a standard short-flight shuttle. It was long and sleek, with an engine housing twice as large as that of a normal ship its size. Written in proud red letters across the bow of the ship was the name Razorback.

A racing pinnace.

Bobbie crawled back around to the empty cargo bay and used the airlock there to enter the ship. The military override codes her suit sent to the locked door worked, to her surprise. The airlock led to the deck just below the bridge, the one used for shuttle supply storage and maintenance. The center of the deck was taken up by a large machine shop. Standing in it were the captain of the Guanshiyin and his senior staff. There were no security personnel or weapons in sight.

The captain tapped his ear in an ancient can you hear me? gesture. Bobbie nodded one fist at him, then turned the external speakers back on and said, “Yes.”

“We are not military personnel,” the captain said. “We can’t defend ourselves from military hardware. But I’m not going to turn this vessel over to you without knowing your intentions. My XO is on the deck above us, prepared to scuttle the ship if we can’t come to terms.”

Bobbie smiled at him, though she didn’t know if he could see it through her helmet. “You’ve illegally detained a high-level member of the UN government. Acting in my role as a member of her security team, I have come to demand that you deliver her immediately to the port of her choosing, at best possible speed.”

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