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Page 288 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

He took a compact semiautomatic pistol and holster out of the locker. Naomi watched while he loaded the weapon’s magazine and three spares, but she didn’t speak. He had just pushed the last round into the final magazine when Amos floated into the compartment, dragging a large red suit behind him.

“This is our best, Cap,” he said. “For when shit has gone truly wrong. Should be plenty for the levels they’ve got in that ship. Max exposure time is six hours, but the air supply only lasts two, so that’s not an issue.”

Holden examined the bulky suit. The surface was a thick, flexible rubbery substance. It might deter someone attacking with their fingernails or teeth, but it wouldn’t stop a knife or a bullet. The air supply was contained under the suit’s radiation-resistant skin, so it made for a big, awkward lump on the wearer’s back. The difficulty he had pulling the suit to himself and then stopping it told him its mass was considerable.

“Won’t be moving fast in this, will I?”

“No,” Amos said with a grimace. “They’re not made for a firefight. If the bullets start flying, you’re f**ked.”

Naomi nodded but said nothing.

“Amos,” Holden said, grabbing the mechanic’s arm as he turned to leave. “The gunny’s in charge once you hit the surface. She’s a pro, and this is her show. But I need you to keep Prax safe, because he’s kind of an idiot. The only thing I ask you to do is get that man and his little girl safely off the moon and back to this ship.”

Amos looked hurt for a moment. “Of course I will, Captain. Anything that gets to him or that baby will already have killed me. And that ain’t easy to do.”

Holden pulled Amos to him and gave the big man a quick hug. “I feel sorry for anything that tries. No one could ask for a better crewman, Amos. Just want you to know that.”

Amos pushed him away. “You act like you’re not coming back.”

Holden shot a look at Naomi, but her expression hadn’t changed. Amos just laughed for a minute, then clapped Holden on the back hard enough to rattle his teeth. “That’s bullshit,” Amos said. “You’re the toughest guy I know.” Without waiting for Holden to reply, he headed out to the crew ladder, and then down to the deck below.

Naomi pushed lightly against the bulkhead and drifted over to Holden. Air resistance brought her to a stop half a meter from him. She was still the most agile person in microgravity he’d ever met, a ballerina of null g. He had to stop himself from hugging her to him. The expression on her face told him it wasn’t what she wanted. She just floated in front of him for a moment, not saying anything, then reached out and put one long, slender hand against his cheek. It felt cool and soft.

“Don’t go,” she said, and something in her voice told him it would be the last time.

He backed up and began shrugging his way into the hazmat suit. “Then who? Can you see Avasarala fighting through a mob of vomit zombies? She wouldn’t know the CIC from the galley. Amos has to go get that little girl. You know he does, and you know why. Prax has to be there. Bobbie keeps them both alive.”

He got the bulky suit over his shoulders and sealed up the front but left the helmet lying against his back. The boot mags came on when he hit them with his heels, and he pushed down to the deck and stuck there.

“You?” he asked Naomi. “Do I send you? I’d bet on you against a thousand zombies any day of the week. But you don’t know the CIC any better than Avasarala does. How does that make sense?”

“We just got right again,” she said. “That’s not fair.”

“But,” he said, “tell the Martians that me saving their planet makes us even on this whole ‘you stole our warship’ issue, okay?” He knew he was making light of the moment and immediately hated himself for it. But Naomi knew him, knew how afraid he was, and she didn’t call him on it. He felt a rush of love for her that sent electricity up his spine and made his scalp tingle.

“Fine,” she said, her face hardening. “But you’re coming back. I’ll be here on the radio the whole time. We’ll work through this together, every step. No hero bullshit. Brains instead of bullets, and we work the problems together. You give me that. You better give me that.”

Holden finally pulled her into his arms and kissed her. “I agree. Please, please help me make it back alive. I’d really like that.”

Flying the Razorback to the crippled Agatha King was like taking a race car to the corner market. The King was only a few thousand kilometers from the Rocinante. It seemed close enough for an EVA pack and a really strong push. Instead, he flew what was probably the fastest ship in the Jupiter system in teakettle mode at about 5 percent thrust through the debris of the recent battle. He could sense the Razorback straining at the leash, responding to his tiny bursts of steam with sullen reproach. The distance to the stricken flagship was short enough, and the path treacherous enough, that programming in a course would take more time than just flying by stick. But even at his languid pace, the Razorback seemed to have a hard time keeping its nose pointed at the King.

You don’t want to go there, the ship seemed to be saying. That’s an awful place.

“No, no, I really don’t,” he said, patting the console in front of him. “But just get me there in one piece, okay, honey?”

A massive chunk of what must have once been a destroyer floated past, the ragged edges still glowing with heat. Holden tapped the stick and pushed the Razorback sideways to get a bit more distance from the floating wreckage. The nose drifted off course. “Fight all you want, we’re still going to the same place.”

Some part of Holden was disappointed that the transit was so dangerous. He’d never flown to Io before, and the view of the moon at the edge of his screens was spectacular. A massive volcano of molten silicate on the opposite side of the moon was throwing particles so high into space he could see the trail it left in the sky. The plume cooled into a spray of silicate crystals, which caught Jupiter’s glow and glittered like diamonds scattered across the black. Some of them would drift off to become part of Jupiter’s faint ring system, blown right out of Io’s gravity well. In any other circumstance, it would have been beautiful.

But the hazardous flight kept his attention on his instruments and the screens in front of him. And always, the growing bulk of the Agatha King, floating alone at the center of the junk cloud.