When he was within range, Holden signaled the ship’s automated docking system, but as he’d suspected, the King didn’t respond. He piloted up to the nearest external airlock and told the Razorback to maintain a constant distance of five meters. The racing ship was not designed to dock with another ship in space. It lacked even a rudimentary docking tube. His trip to the King would be a short spacewalk.
Avasarala had gotten a master override code from Souther, and Holden had the Razorback transmit it. The airlock immediately cycled open.
Holden topped off the hazmat suit’s air supply in the Razorback’s airlock. Once he got onto Nguyen’s flagship, he couldn’t trust the air, even in the suit-recharging stations. Nothing from the King could be allowed inside his suit. Nothing.
When his stored-air gauge read 100 percent, he turned on the radio and called Naomi. “I’m going in now.”
He kicked off his boot mags, and a sharp push against the inner airlock door sent him across the short gap to the King.
“I’m getting a good picture,” Naomi said. The video link light on his HUD was on. Naomi could see everything he could see. It was comforting and lonely at the same time, like making a call to a friend who lived very far away.
Holden cycled the airlock. The two minutes while the King closed the outer door and then pumped air into the chamber seemed to last forever. There was no way to know what would be on the other side of the inner airlock door when it finally opened. Holden put his hand on the butt of his pistol with a nonchalance he didn’t feel.
The inner door slid open.
The sudden screech of his hazmat suit’s radiation alarm nearly gave him a heart attack. He chinned the control that killed the audible alarm, though he kept the outside radiation level meter running. It wasn’t data that actually did him any good, but the suit was reassuring him that it could handle the current levels, and that was nice.
Holden stepped out of the airlock into a small compartment filled with storage lockers and EVA equipment. It looked empty, but a small noise from one of the lockers alerted him, and he turned just in time to see a man in a UN naval uniform burst out of the locker and swing a heavy wrench at his head. The bulky hazmat suit kept him from moving quickly, and the wrench struck a ringing blow off the side of his helmet.
“Jim!” Naomi yelled over the radio.
“Die, you bastard!” the Navy man yelled at the same time. He took a second swing, but he wasn’t wearing mag boots, and without the push off the bulkhead to give him momentum, the swing did little more than start spinning the man around in the air. Holden grabbed the wrench out of his hand and threw it away. He caught the man to stop his spinning with his left hand and drew his pistol with his right.
“If you cracked my suit, I’m going to throw you out that airlock,” Holden said. He began flipping through suit status screens while keeping his pistol pointed at the wrench enthusiast.
“It looks okay,” Naomi said, relief evident in her voice. “No reds or yellows. That helmet is tougher than it looks.”
“What the hell were you doing in that locker?” Holden asked the man.
“I was working here when the … it … came on board,” the man said. He was a compact-looking Earther, with pale skin and flaming red hair cut close to the scalp. A patch on his suit said LARSON. “All the doors sealed up during emergency lockdown. I was trapped in here, but I could watch what was happening on the internal security system. I was hoping to grab a suit and get out the airlock, but it was sealed too. Say, how’d you get in here?”
“I have admiralty-level overrides,” Holden said to him. Quietly, to Naomi he said, “At current radiation levels, what’s survival odds for our friend here?”
“Not bad,” Naomi said. “If we get him into sick bay in the next couple of hours.”
To Larson he said, “Okay, you’re coming with me. We’re going to CIC. Get me there fast, and you’ve got a ride off this tub.”
“Yes, sir!” Larson said with a salute.
“He thinks you’re an admiral.” Naomi laughed.
“Larson, put on an environment suit. Do it fast.”
“Sir, yes sir!”
The suits they had in the airlock storage lockers would at least have their own air supplies. That would cut down on damage from the radiation the young sailor was absorbing. And an airtight suit would reduce the risk of protomolecule infection as they made their way through the ship.
Holden waited until Larson had shrugged into a suit, then transmitted the override code to the hatch and it slid open. “After you, Larson. Command information center, as fast as you can. If we run into anyone, especially if they’re throwing up, stay away and let me deal with them.”
“Yes, sir,” Larson said, his voice fuzzy over the static-filled radio, then pushed off into the corridor. He took Holden at his word and led him on a fast trip through the crippled Agatha King. They stopped only when a sealed hatch blocked their way, and then only long enough for Holden’s suit to convince it to open.
The areas of the ship they moved through didn’t look damaged at all. The bioweapon pod had hit farther aft, and the monster had headed straight to the reactor room. According to Larson, it had killed a number of people on the way, including the ship’s entire contingent of Marines when they tried to stop it. But once it had entered engineering, it mostly ignored the rest of the crew. Larson said that shortly after it got into engineering, the shipwide security camera system had gone off-line. With no way to know where the monster was, and no way out of the airlock storage room, Larson had hidden in a locker to wait it out.
“When you came in, all I could see was this big, lumpy red thing,” Larson explained. “I thought maybe you were another one of those monsters.”
The lack of visible damage was a good thing. It meant all the hatches and other systems they came across still worked. The lack of a monster rampaging through the ship was even better. The thing that had Holden worried was the lack of people. A ship this size had over a thousand crew persons. At least some of them should be in the areas of the ship they were passing through, but so far they hadn’t run across a single one.
The occasional puddle of brown goo on the floor was not an encouraging sign.
Larson stopped at a locked hatch to let Holden catch his breath. The heavy hazmat suit was not built for long treks, and it was starting to fill up with the stink of his own sweat. While he took a minute to rest and let the suit’s cooling systems try to bring his temperature down, Larson said, “We’ll be going past the forward galley to one of the elevator bays. The CIC is on the deck just above. Five, ten minutes tops.”