She decided that meant her.
Determined to win one of those four coveted slots, she’d thrown herself into her boot camp training with everything she had. It turned out that was quite a lot. Not only did she make it into the top four, she was number one by an embarrassing margin. And then the letter came, ordering her to report to Hecate Base for recon training, and it was all worth it. She called her father and just screamed for two minutes. When he finally got her to calm down and tell him what she was calling about, he screamed back for even longer. You’re one of the best now, baby, he’d said at the end, and the warmth those words put in her heart had never really faded.
Even now, sitting on the gray metal deck in the dirty machine shop on a stolen Martian warship. Even with all her mates torn into pieces and scattered across the frozen surface of Ganymede. Even with her military status in limbo and her loyalty to her nation justifiably in question. Even with all that, You’re one of the best now, baby made her smile. She felt an ache to call her father and tell him what had happened. They’d always been close, and when neither of her brothers had followed in his footsteps by choosing a military career, she had. It had just strengthened the connection. She knew he’d understand what it was costing her to turn her back on everything she held sacred to avenge her team.
And she had a powerful premonition she’d never see him again.
Even if they made it through to Jupiter with half the UN fleet hunting them, and even if when they got there, Admiral Nguyen and the dozen or more ships he controlled didn’t immediately blow them out of the sky, and even if they managed to stop whatever was happening in orbit around Io with the Rocinante intact, Holden was still planning to land and save Prax’s daughter.
The monsters would be there.
She knew it as surely as she’d ever known anything in her life. Each night she dreamed of facing it again. The thing flexing its long fingers and staring at her with its too-large glowing blue eyes, ready to finish what it had started all those months earlier on Ganymede. In her dream, she raised a gun that grew out of her hand, and started shooting it as it ran toward her, black spiderwebs spilling from holes that closed like water. She always woke before it reached her, but she knew how the dream would end: with her shattered body left cooling on the ice. She also knew that when Holden led his team down to the laboratories on Io where the monsters were made, she’d go along with him. The scene from her dream would play out in real life. She knew it like she knew her father’s love. She welcomed it.
On the floor around her lay the pieces of her armor. With weeks of travel on the way to Io, she had time to completely strip and refit it. The Rocinante’s machine shop was well stocked, and the tools were of Martian make. It was the perfect location. The suit had seen a lot of use without much maintenance, but if she was being honest with herself, the distraction was the payoff. A suit of Martian reconnaissance armor was an incredibly complex machine, finely tuned to its wearer. Stripping and reassembling it wasn’t a trivial task. It required full concentration. Every moment she spent working on it was another moment when she didn’t think about the monster waiting to kill her on Io.
Sadly, that distraction was over now. She’d finished with the maintenance, even finding the micro-fracture in a tiny valve that was causing the slow but persistent leak of fluid in the suit’s knee actuator. It was time to just put it all back together. It had the feeling of ritual. A final cleansing before going out to meet death on the battlefield.
I’ve watched too many Kurosawa movies, she thought, but couldn’t quite abandon the idea. The imagery was a lovely way of turning angst and suicidal ideation into honor and noble sacrifice.
She picked up the torso assembly and carefully wiped it off with a damp cloth, removing the last bits of dust and machine oil that clung to the outside. The smell of metal and lubricant filled the air. And while she bolted armor plating back onto the frame, the red enameled surface covered with a thousand dings and scratches, she stopped fighting the urge to ritualize the task and just let it happen. She was very likely assembling her death shroud. Depending on how the final battle went, this ceramic and rubber and alloy might house her corpse for the rest of eternity.
She flipped the torso assembly over and began working on the back. A long gouge in the enamel showed the violence of her passage across Ganymede’s ice when the monster had self-destructed right in front of her. She picked up a wrench, then put it back down, tapping on the deck with her knuckle.
Why had the monster blown itself up at that moment? She remembered the way it had started to shift, new limbs bursting from its body as it watched her. If Prax was right, that was the moment the constraint systems that Mao’s scientists had installed failed. And they’d set the bomb up to detonate if the creature was getting out of their control. But that just pushed the question one level back. Why had their control over the creature’s physiology failed at that precise moment? Prax said that regenerative processes were a good place for constraint systems to fail. And her platoon had riddled the creature with gunfire as it had charged their lines. It hadn’t seemed to hurt it at the time, but each wound represented a sudden burst of activity inside the creature’s cells, or whatever it had in place of cells, as the monster healed. Each was a chance for the new growth to slip the leash.
Maybe that was the answer. Don’t try to kill the monster. Just damage it enough that the program starts to break down and the self-destruct kicks in. She wouldn’t even have to survive, just last long enough to harm the monster beyond its ability to safely repair itself. All she needed was enough time to really hurt it.
She put down the armor plate she was working on and picked up the helmet. The suit’s memory still had the gun camera footage of the fight on it. She hadn’t watched it again after Avasarala’s presentation to the crew of the Roci. She hadn’t been able to.
She pushed herself to her feet and hit the comm panel on the wall. “Hey, Naomi? You in ops?”
“Yep,” Naomi said after a few seconds. “You need something, Sergeant?”
“Do you think you can tell the Roci to talk to my helmet? I’ve got the radio on, but it won’t talk to civilian stuff. This is one of our boats, so I figure the Roci has the keys and codes.”
There was a long pause, so Bobbie put the helmet on a worktable next to the closest wall monitor and waited.
“I’m seeing a radio node that the Roci is calling ‘MCR MR Goliath III 24397A15.’”