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Amos was sitting at a station in ops with his back to her, taking the late watch. To avoid startling him, she cleared her throat. He didn’t move or react, so she walked to the comm station. Looking back at him, she saw that his eyes were closed and his breathing was very deep and regular. Sleeping on a duty watch would get you captain’s mast, at the least, on an MCRN ship. It seemed Holden had let discipline lapse a bit since his Navy days.

Bobbie opened up the comms and found the closest relay for tightbeam traffic. First she called her father. “Hi, Pop. Not sure you should try and answer this. The situation here is volatile and evolving rapidly. But you may hear a lot of crazy shit over the next few days. Some of it might be about me. Just know that I love you guys, and I love Mars. Everything I did was to try and protect you and my home. I might have lost my way a little bit, because things got complicated and hard to figure out. But I think I see a clear path now, and I’m going to take it. I love you and Mom. Tell the boys they suck.” Before she turned off the recording, she reached out and touched the screen. “Bye, Dad.”

She pressed send, but something still felt incomplete. Outside her family, anyone who’d tried to help her in the last three months was sitting on the same ship she was, so it didn’t make sense.

Except, of course, that it did. Because not everyone was on this ship.

Bobbie punched up another number from memory and said, “Hi, Captain Martens. It’s me. I think I know what you were trying to help me see. I wasn’t ready for it then, but it stuck with me. So you didn’t waste your time. I get it now. I know this wasn’t my fault. I know I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m going back to the start now because I understand. Not angry, not hurt, not blaming myself. Just my duty to finish the fight.”

Something loosened in her chest the moment she hit the send button. All the threads had been neatly tied up, and now she could go to Io and do what she needed to do without regret. She let out a long sigh and slid down in the crash couch until she was almost prone. She suddenly felt bone tired. Like she could sleep for a week. She wondered if anyone would get mad if she just crashed out in ops instead of going all the way back down the lift.

She didn’t remember having fallen asleep, but here she was stretched out in the comm station’s crash couch, a small puddle of drool next to her head. To her relief, her robe seemed to have remained mostly in place, so at least she hadn’t bare-assed everyone walking through.

“Gunny?” Holden said in a tone of voice that meant he was saying it again. He was standing over her, a concerned look on his face.

“Sorry, sorry,” she said, sitting up and pulling her robe more tightly around her middle. “I needed to send out some messages last night. Must have been more tired than I thought.”

“Yeah,” Holden said. “It’s no problem. Sleep wherever you like.”

“Okay,” Bobbie said, backing toward the crew ladder. “With that, I think I’ll go down and take a shower and try to turn back into a human.”

Holden nodded as she went, a strange smile on his face. “Sure. Meet me in the machine shop when you’re dressed.”

“Roger that,” she said, and bolted down the ladder.

After a decadently long shower and a change into her clean red-and-gray utility uniform, she grabbed a cup of coffee from the galley and made her way back down to the machine shop. Holden was already there. He had a crate the size of a guitar case sitting on one of the workbenches, and a larger square crate next to his feet on the deck. When she entered the compartment, he patted the crate on the table. “This is for you. I saw when you came on board that you seemed to be missing yours.”

Bobbie hesitated a moment, then walked over to the crate and flipped it open. Inside sat a 2mm electrically fired three-barrel Gatling gun, of the type the Marines designated a Thunderbolt Mark V. It was new and shiny and exactly the type that would fit into her suit.

“This is amazing,” Bobbie said after catching her breath. “But it’s just an awkward club without ammo.”

Holden kicked the crate on the floor. “Five thousand rounds of two-millimeter caseless. Incendiary-tipped.”

“Incendiary?”

“You forget, I’ve seen the monster up close too. Armor piercing doesn’t help at all. If anything, it reduces soft-tissue damage. But since the lab stuck an incendiary bomb into all of them, I figure that means they aren’t fireproof.”

Bobbie lifted the heavy weapon out of the crate and put it on the floor next to her newly reassembled suit.

“Oh, hell yes.”

Chapter Forty-Seven: Holden

Holden sat at the combat control console on the operations deck and watched Ragnarok gather. Admiral Souther, who Avasarala had assured everyone was one of the good guys, had joined his ships with their small but growing fleet of Martians as they sped toward Io. Waiting for them in orbit around that moon were the dozen ships in Admiral Nguyen’s fleet. More Martian and UN ships sped toward that location from Saturn and the Belt. By the time everyone got there, there would be something like thirty-five capital ships in the kill zone, and dozens of smaller interceptors and corvettes, like the Rocinante.

Three dozen capital ships. Holden tried to remember if there had ever been a fleet action of this size, and couldn’t think of one. Including Admiral Nguyen’s and Admiral Souther’s flagships, there would be four Truman-class UN dreadnoughts in the final tally, and the Martians would have three Donnager-class battleships of their own, any one of which could depopulate a planet. The rest would be a mix of cruisers and destroyers. Not quite the heavy hitters the battleships were, but plenty powerful enough to vaporize the Rocinante. Which, if he was being honest, was the part Holden was most worried about.

On paper, his team had the most ships. With Souther and the Martians joining forces, they outnumbered the Nguyen contingent two to one. But how many Earth ships would be willing to fire on their own, just because one admiral and a banished politician said so?It was entirely possible that if actual shooting started, a lot of UN ships might have unexplained comm failures and wait to see how it all came out. And that wasn’t the worst case. The worst case was that a number of Souther’s ships would switch sides once Martians starting killing Earthers. The fight could turn into a whole lot of people pointing guns at each other, with no one knowing whom to trust.

It could turn into a bloodbath.

“We have twice as many ships,” Avasarala said from her constant perch at the comm station. Holden almost objected but changed his mind. In the end, it wouldn’t matter. Avasarala would believe what she wanted to believe. She needed to think all her efforts had been worthwhile, that they were about to pay off when the fleet arrived and this Nguyen clown surrendered to her obviously superior force. The truth was her version wasn’t any more or less a fantasy than his. No one would know for sure until everyone knew for sure.

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