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Page 285 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Naomi, give the PDCs to the sergeant.”

“PDC control transferred. It’s all yours, Bobbie.”

“Taking control,” Bobbie said.

Avasarala’s screen was a tangle of incoming messages in a flickering array. She started going through them. The Kennedy was announcing that Souther’s command was illegal. The Triton’s first officer was reporting that the captain had been relieved of duty, and requested orders from Souther. The Martian destroyer Iani Chaos was trying to reach Avasarala for clarification of which Earth ships it was permitted to shoot at.

She pulled up the tactical display. Circles in red and green marked the swarm of ships; tiny silver threads showed what might have been streams of PDC fire or the paths of torpedoes.

“Are we red or green?” Avasarala asked. “Who’s who on this f**king thing?”

“Mars is red, Earth is green,” Naomi said.

“And which Earth ones are on our side?”

“Find out,” Holden said as one of the green dots suddenly vanished. “Alex?”

“The Darius took the safeties off its PDCs, and now it’s spraying down everything in range whether it’s friend or foe. And … shit.”

Avasarala’s chair shifted again, seeming to rise from under her, pressing her back into the gel until it was hard to lift her arms. On the tactical screen, the cloud of ships, enemy and friendly and ambiguous, shifted slightly, and two golden dots grew larger, proximity notations beside them counting quickly down.

“Madam Assistant whatever you are,” Holden said, “you could respond to some of those comm requests now.”

Avasarala’s gut felt like someone was squeezing it from below. The taste of salt and stomach acid haunted the back of her tongue. She was beginning to sweat in a way that had less to do with temperature than nausea. She forced her hands out to the control panel just as the two golden dots vanished.

“Thank you, Bobbie,” Alex said. “I’m heading up. Gonna try to get the Martians between us and the fighting.”

She started making calls. In the heat of a battle, all she had to offer was this: making calls. Talking. The same things she always did. Something about it was actually reassuring. The Greenville was accepting Souther’s command. The Tanaka wasn’t responding. The Dyson opened the channel, but the only sound was men shouting at each other. It was bedlam.

A message came in from Souther, and she accepted it. It included a new IFF code, and she manually accepted the update. On the tactical, most of the green dots shifted to white.

“Thank you,” Holden said. Avasarala swallowed her You’re welcome. The antinausea drugs seemed to be working for everyone else. She really, really didn’t want to throw up inside her helmet. One of the six remaining green dots blinked out of existence and another turned suddenly to white.

“Ooh, right in the back,” Alex said. “That was cold.”

Souther’s ID showed up again on Avasarala’s console, and she hit accept just as the Roci shifted again.

“—the immediate surrender of the flagship King and Admiral Augusto Nguyen,” Souther was saying. His shock of white hair was standing up off his head as if the low thrust gravity was letting it expand like a peacock’s tail. His smile was sharp as a knife. “Any vessel that still refuses to acknowledge my orders as legal and legitimate will forfeit this amnesty. You have thirty seconds from this mark.”

On the tactical display, the threads of silver and gold had, for the most part, vanished. The ships shifted positions, each moving along its own complex vectors. As she watched, all the remaining green dots turned to white. All except one.

“Don’t be an ass**le, Nguyen,” Avasarala said. “It’s over.”

The ops deck was silent for a long moment, the tension almost unbearable. Naomi’s voice was the one to break it.

“I’ve got more fast movers. Oh, I’ve got a lot of them.”

“Where?” Holden snapped.

“From the surface.”

Avasarala didn’t do anything, but her tactical display resized, pulling back until the cluster of ships, red and white and the single defiant green, were less than a quarter of their original size and the massive curve of the moon’s surface impinged on the lower edge of the display. Rising like a solid mass, hundreds of fine yellow lines.

“Get me a count,” Holden said. “I need a count here.”

“Two hundred nineteen. No. Wait. Two hundred thirty.”

“What the hell are they? Are those torpedoes?” Alex asked.

“No,” Bobbie said. “They’re monsters. They launched the monsters.”

Avasarala opened a broadcast channel. Her hair probably looked worse than Souther’s but she was well past vanity. That she could speak without fear of vomiting was blessing enough.

“This is Avasarala,” she said. “The launch you are all seeing right now is a new protomolecule-based weapon that is being used as an unauthorized first strike against Mars. We need to shoot those f**kers out of the sky and do it now. Everyone.”

“We’ve got a coordination override request coming through from Souther’s flagship,” Naomi said. “Surrender control?”

“The hell I will,” Alex said.

“No, but track requests,” Holden said. “I’m not handing control of my ship to a military fire-control computer, but we still need to be part of the solution here.”

“The King’s starting a hard burn,” Alex said. “I think he’s trying to hightail it.”

On the display, the attack from the surface of Io was beginning to bloom, individual threads coming apart in unexpected angles, some corkscrewing, some reaching out in bent paths like an insect’s articulated legs. Any one of them was the death of a planet, and the acceleration data put them at ten, fifteen, twenty g’s. Nothing human survived at a sustained twenty g. Nothing human had to.

Golden flickers of light appeared from the ships, drifting down to meet the threads of Io. The slow, stately pace of the display was undercut by the data. Plasma torpedoes burning full out, and yet it took long seconds for them to reach the main stem. Avasarala watched the first of them detonate, saw the column of protomolecule monsters split into a dozen different streams. Evasive action.

“Some of those are coming toward us, Cap,” Alex said. “I don’t think they’re designed to hole a ship’s hull, but I’m pretty damn sure they’d do it anyway.”

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