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Page 283 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Done,” Naomi said, and made the call.

“Get everyone buttoned up in their suits, Amos,” Holden continued. “Do a hat check here before you go below. I hope we don’t start shooting, but what I hope will happen and what actually happens are almost never the same.”

“Roger,” Amos said, then climbed out of his couch and began clumping around the deck on magnetic boots, checking the seals on everyone’s helmets.

“Test test test,” Holden said over the crew radio. One by one everyone on the ship responded with the affirmative. Until someone with a higher pay grade than his decided which way things were going to go, there wasn’t much else he could do.

“Wait,” Avasarala said, then hit a button on her console, and an outside channel started playing on their suit radios.

“—launch immediately against targets on Mars. We have a battery of missiles carrying a lethal biological weapon ready to fire. You have one hour to leave Io orbit or we will launch immediately against targets on Mars. We have a—”

Avasarala turned the channel off again.

“It seems a third party has joined the circle jerk,” Amos said.

“No,” Avasarala replied. “It’s Nguyen. He’s outnumbered, so he’s ordered his Mao cronies on the surface to make the threat to back us off. He’ll—Oh, shit.”

She hit her panel again and a new voice spoke over the radio. This one was a woman’s voice with a cultured Martian accent.

“Io, this is Admiral Muhan of the Martian Congressional Republic Navy. You fire anything bigger than a bottle rocket and we will glass the whole f**king moon. Do you read me?”

Amos leaned over to Prax. “Now, you see, all this is them cocking their guns.”

Prax nodded. “Got it.”

“This,” Holden said, listening to the barely restrained fury in the Martian admiral’s voice, “is about to get seriously out of hand.”

“This is Admiral Nguyen aboard the UNN Agatha King,” a new voice said. “Admiral Souther is here illegally, at the behest of a civilian UN official with no military authority. I hereby order all ships under Admiral Souther’s command to immediately stand down. I further order that the captain of Souther’s flagship place the admiral under arrest for treason and—”

“Oh, do shut up,” Souther replied over the same channel. “I’m here as part of a legal fact-finding mission regarding improper use of UN funds and material for a secret biological weapon project on Io. A project which Admiral Nguyen is directly responsible for in contravention of UN directives—”

Avasarala cut the link.

“Oh, this ain’t good,” Alex said.

“Well,” Avasarala said, then opened the faceplate on her helmet and let out a long sigh. She opened her purse and pulled a pistachio out of it. She cracked it and thoughtfully ate the meat, then put the shell in the nearby recycling chute. A tiny bit of the skin floated away in the microgravity. “No, actually, it should be fine. This is all posturing. As long as they keep comparing dicks, no one will shoot.”

“But we can’t just wait here,” Prax said, shaking his head. Amos was floating in front of him, checking his helmet. Prax shoved him away and tried to get to his feet. He drifted away from his crash couch but didn’t think to turn on his boot mags. “If Mei is down there, we have to go. They’re talking about glassing the moon. We have to get there before they do it.”

There was a high violin-string whine at the back of Prax’s voice. The tension was getting to him. It was getting to all of them, but Prax was the one who was going to show it worst and first. Holden shot a look at Amos, but the big man just looked surprised at having been pushed away by the much smaller scientist.

“They’re talking about destroying the base. We have to go down there!” Prax continued, the panic in his voice starting to shine through.

“We’re not doing anything,” Holden said. “Not until we have a better idea how this is going to shake out.”

“We came all this way so that we can not do anything?” Prax demanded.

“Doc, we don’t want to be the ones to move first,” Amos said, and put a hand on Prax’s shoulder, pulling him back down to the deck. The little botanist violently shrugged it off without turning around, then shoved off his couch toward Avasarala.

“Give me the channel. Let me talk to them,” Prax said, reaching for her comm panel. “I can—”

Holden launched himself out of his crash couch, catching the scientist mid-flight and hurling them both across the deck and into the bulkhead. The thick layer of anti-spalling padding absorbed their impact, but Holden felt the air go out of Prax when his hip slammed into the smaller man’s belly.

“Gah,” Prax said, and curled up into a floating fetal ball.

Holden kicked on his boot mags and pushed himself down to the deck. He grabbed Prax and pushed him across the compartment to Amos. “Take him below, stuff him in his bunk, and sedate the shit out of him. Then get to engineering and get us ready for a fight.”

Amos nodded and grabbed the floating Prax. “Okay.” A moment later the two of them disappeared down the deck hatch.

Holden looked around the room, seeing the shocked looks from Avasarala and Naomi but ignoring them. Prax’s need for his daughter to take precedence over everything else had almost put them all in danger again. And while Holden intellectually understood the man’s drive, having to stop him from killing them all every time Mei’s name came up was stress he didn’t need right then. It left him angry and needing to snap at someone.

“Where the hell is Bobbie?” he said to no one in particular. He hadn’t seen her since they had put in to orbit around Io.

“Just saw her in the machine shop,” Amos replied over the radio. “She was fieldstripping my shotgun. I think she’s doing all the guns and armor.”

“That’s—” Holden started, ready to yell about something. “That’s actually really helpful. Tell her to button up her suit and turn her radio on. Things might be going south in a hurry here.”

He took a few seconds to breathe and calm himself down, then returned to the combat operations station.

“You okay?” Naomi asked over their private channel.

“No,” he said, chinning the button to make sure only she heard his reply. “No, I’m actually scared to death.”

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