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Page 273 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

When reading ship specs bored her, she pulled out to the tactical view. One tiny green dot pursued by six slightly larger red dots, which were in turn pursued by six blue dots. That was wrong. The Earth ships should be blue, and the Martians’ red. She told the Roci to swap the color scheme. The Rocinante was oriented toward the pursuing ships. On the map, it looked like they were flying directly at each other. But in reality, the Rocinante was in the middle of a deceleration burn, slowing down to let the UN ships catch up faster. All thirteen of the ships in this particular engagement were hurtling sunward. The Roci was just doing it ass first.

Bobbie glanced at the time and saw that her noodling with the controls had burned less than fifteen minutes. “I hate waiting for a fight.”

“You and me both, sister,” Alex said.

“Got any games on this thing?” Bobbie asked, tapping on her console.

“I spy with my little eye,” Alex replied, “something that begins with D.”

“Destroyer,” Bobbie said. “Six tubes, eight PDCs, and a keel-mounted rapid-fire rail gun.”

“Good guess. Your turn.”

“I f**king hate waiting for a fight.”

When the battle began, it began all at once. Bobbie had expected some early probing shots. A few torpedoes fired from extreme range, just to see if the crew of the Rocinante had full control of all the weapon systems and everything was in working order. Instead, the UN ships had closed the distance, the Roci slamming on the brakes to meet them.

Bobbie watched the six UN ships creep closer and closer to the red line on her threat display. The red line that represented the point at which a full salvo from all six ships would overwhelm the Roci’s point defense network.

Meanwhile, the six Martian ships moved closer to the green line on her display that represented their optimal firing range to engage the UN ships. It was a big game of chicken, and everyone was waiting to see who would flinch first.

Alex was juggling their deceleration thrust to try to make sure the Martians got in range before the Earthers did. When the shooting started, he would put the throttle down and try to move through the active combat zone as quickly as possible. It was why they were going to meet the UN ships in the first place. Running away would just have kept them in range a lot longer.

Then one of the red dots—a Martian fast-attack cruiser—crossed the green line, and alarms started going off all over the ship.

“Fast movers,” Naomi said. “The Martian cruiser has fired eight torpedoes!”

Bobbie could see them. Tiny yellow dots shifting to orange as they took off at high g. The UN ships immediately responded. Half of them spun around to face the pursuing Martian ships and opened up with their rail guns and point defense cannons. The space on the tactical display between the two groups was suddenly filled with yellow-orange dots.

“Incoming!” Naomi yelled. “Six torpedoes on a collision course!”

Half a second later, the torpedoes’ vector and speed information popped up on Bobbie’s PDC control display. Holden had been right. The skinny Belter was good at this. Her reaction times were astonishing. Bobbie flagged all six torpedoes for the PDCs, and the ship began to vibrate as they fired in a rapid staccato.

“Juice coming,” Alex said, and Bobbie felt her couch prick her in half a dozen places. Cold pumped into her veins, quickly becoming white-hot. She shook her head to clear the threatening tunnel vision while Alex said, “Three … two …”

He never said one. The Rocinante smashed into Bobbie from behind, crushing her into her crash couch. She remembered at the last second to keep her elbows lined up, and avoided having her arms broken as every part of her tried to fly backward at ten gravities.

On her threat display, the initial wave of six torpedoes fired at them winked out one by one as the Roci tracked and shot them down. More torpedoes were in the air, but now the entire Martian wing had opened up on the Earthers, and the space around the ships had become a confusion of drive tails and detonations. Bobbie told the Roci to target anything on an approach vector and shoot at it with the point defenses, leaving it up to Martian engineering and the universe’s good graces.

She switched one of the big displays to the forward cameras, turning it into a window on the battle. Ahead of her the sky was filled with bright white flashes of light and expanding clouds of gas as torpedoes detonated. The UN ships had decided that the Martians were the real threat, and all six of them had spun to face the enemy ships head-on. Bobbie tapped a control to throw a threat overlay onto the video image, and suddenly the sky was full of impossibly fast blobs of light as the threat computer put a glowing outline on every torpedo and projectile.

The Rocinante was coming up fast on the UN destroyers, and the thrust dropped to two g. “Here we go,” Alex said.

Bobbie pulled up the torpedo targeting system and targeted the drive cones of two of the ships. “Two away,” she said, releasing her first two fish into the water. Bright drive trails lit the sky as they streaked off. The ready-to-fire indicator went red as the ship reloaded the tubes. Bobbie was already selecting the drive cones of the next two UN ships. The instant the ready indicator went green, she fired them both. She targeted the last two destroyers, then checked on the progress of her first two torpedoes. They were both gone, shot down by the destroyers’ aft PDCs. A wave of fast-moving blobs of light hurtled toward them, and Alex threw the ship sideways, dancing out of the line of fire.

It wasn’t enough. A yellow atmosphere warning light began rotating in the cockpit, and a ditone Klaxon sounded.

“We’re hit,” Holden said, his voice calm. “Dumping the atmosphere. Hope everyone has their hat on tight.”

As Holden shut down the air system, the sounds of the ship faded until Bobbie could hear only her own breathing and the faint hiss of the 1MC channel on her headset.

“Wow,” Amos said over the comm. “Three hits. Small projectiles, probably PDC rounds. Managed to go right through us without hitting anything that mattered.”

“It went through my room,” the scientist, Prax, said.

“Bet that woke you up,” Amos said, his voice a grin.

“I soiled myself,” Prax replied without a hint of humor.

“Quiet,” Holden said, but there was no malice in it. “Stay off the channel, please.”

Bobbie let the rational, thinking part of her mind listen to the back-and-forth. She had no use for that part of her brain right now. The part of her mind that had been trained to acquire targets and fire torpedoes at them worked without her interference. The lizard was driving now.