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Page 269 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Do you need me to go over it again?” she said, the smirk mocking him. They were sitting together in the galley, where she’d been describing for him the Martian intelligence on the best way to engage the Munroe-class light destroyer.

No! he wanted to yell. I heard you. I’m not a freak. I have a lovely girlfriend that I’m totally committed to, so stop treating me like some kind of bumbling teenage boy who’s trying to look down your dress!

But then he’d look up at her again, and his hindbrain would start bouncing back and forth between attraction and fear, and his language centers would start misfiring. Again.

“No,” he said, staring at the neatly organized list of bullet points she’d forwarded to his hand terminal. “I think this information is very … informative.”

He saw the smirk widen out of the corner of his eye and focused more intently on the list.

“Okay,” Bobbie said. “I’m going to go catch some rack time. With your permission, of course. Captain.”

“Permission granted,” Holden said. “Of course. Go. Rack.”

She pushed herself to her feet without touching the arms of the chair. She’d grown up in Martian gravity. She had to mass a hundred kilos at one g, easy. She was showing off. He pretended to ignore it, and she left the galley.

“She’s something, isn’t she?” Avasarala said, coming into the galley and collapsing into the recently vacated chair. Holden looked up at her and saw a different kind of smirk. One that said the old lady saw right through him to the warring lizards at the back of his head. But she wasn’t a giant Polynesian woman, so he could vent his frustration on her.

“Yeah, she’s a peach,” he said. “But we’re still going to die.”

“What?”

“When those destroyers catch us, which they will, we are going to die. The only reason they aren’t raining torpedoes down on us already is because they know our PDC network can take out anything fired at this range.”

Avasarala leaned back in her chair with a heavy sigh, and the smirk shifted into a tired but genuine smile. “I don’t suppose there’s any chance you could find an old woman a cup of tea, could you?”

Holden shook his head. “I’m sorry. No tea drinkers on the crew. Lots of coffee, though, if you’d like a cup.”

“I’m actually tired enough to do that. Lots of cream, lots of sugar.”

“How about,” Holden said, pulling her a cup, “lots of sugar, lots of a powder that’s called ‘whitener.’”

“Sounds like piss. I’ll take it.”

Holden sat down and pushed the sweetened and “whitened” cup of coffee across to her. She took it and grimaced through several long swallows.

“Explain,” she said after another drink, “everything you just said.”

“Those destroyers are going to kill us,” Holden repeated. “The sergeant says you refuse to believe that UN ships will fire on you, but I agree with her. That’s naive.”

“Okay, but what’s a ‘PDC network’?”

Holden tried not to frown. He’d expected any number of things from the woman, but ignorance hadn’t been one.

“Point defense cannons. If those destroyers fire torpedoes at us from this distance, the targeting computer for the PDCs won’t have any trouble shooting them down. So they’ll wait until they get close enough that they can overwhelm us. I give it three days before they start.”

“I see,” Avasarala said. “And what’s your plan?”

Holden barked out a laugh with no humor in it. “Plan? My plan is to die in a ball of superheated plasma. There is literally no way that a single fast-attack corvette, which is us, can successfully fight six light destroyers. We aren’t in the same weight class as even one of them, but against one, a lucky shot maybe. Against six? No chance. We die.”

“I’ve read your file,” Avasarala said. “You faced down a UN corvette during the Eros incident.”

“Yeah, one corvette. We were a match for her. And I got her to back down by threatening the unarmed science ship she was escorting. This isn’t even remotely the same thing.”

“So what does the infamous James Holden do at his last stand?”

He was silent for a while.

“He rats,” Holden said. “We know what’s going on. We have all the pieces now. Mao-Kwik, the protomolecule monsters, where they’re taking the kids … everything. We put all the data in a file and broadcast it to the universe. They can still kill us if they want to, but we can make it a pointless act of revenge. Keep it from actually helping them.”

“No,” Avasarala said.

“Uh, no? You might be forgetting whose ship you’re on.”

“I’m sorry, did I seem to give a f**k that this is your ship? If I did, really, I was just being polite,” Avasarala said, giving him a withering glare. “You aren’t going to f**k up the whole solar system just because you’re a one-trick pony. We have bigger fish to fry.”

Holden counted to ten in his head and said, “Your idea is?”

“Send it to these two UN admirals,” she said, then tapped something on her terminal. His buzzed with the received file. “Souther and Leniki. Mostly Souther. I don’t like Leniki, and he hasn’t been in the loop on this, but he’s a decent backup.”

“You want my last act before being killed by a UN admiral to be sending all of the vital information I have to a UN admiral.”

Avasarala leaned back into her chair and rubbed her temples with her fingertips. Holden waited. “I’m tired,” she said after a few moments. “And I miss my husband. It’s like an ache in my arms that I can’t hold him right now. Do you know what that’s like?”

“I know exactly what that ache feels like.”

“So I want you to understand that I’m sitting here, right now, coming to terms with the idea that I won’t see him again. Or my grandchildren. Or my daughter. My doctors said I probably had a good thirty years left in me. Time to watch my grandkids grow up, maybe even see a great-grandchild or two. But instead, I’m going to be killed by a limp-dick, whiny sonofabitch like Admiral Nguyen.”

Holden could feel the massive weight of those six destroyers bearing down on them, murder in their hearts. It felt like having a pistol pushed into his ribs from behind. He wanted to shake the old woman and tell her to hurry up.