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Page 293 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

She tapped the trigger on her gun. Fifty rounds streaked downrange, crossing the distance from her gun to the creature in less than a third of a second. All fifty slammed into it, shedding very little of their kinetic energy as they passed through. Just enough to burst the tip of each round open and ignite the self-oxidizing flammable gel they carried. Fifty trails of short-lived but very intense flame burned through the monster.

Some of the black filament bursting from the exit wounds actually caught fire, disappearing with a flash.

The monster launched itself toward Bobbie at a dead run that should have been impossible in low gravity. Each push of its limbs should have launched it high into the air. It stuck to the silicate surface of Io as though it were wearing magnetic boots on a metal deck. Its speed was breathtaking. Its blue eyes blazed like lightning. The long, improbable hands reached out for her, clenching and grasping at nothing as it ran. It was all just like in her dreams. And for a split second, Bobbie just wanted to stand perfectly still and let the scene play out to the conclusion she’d never gotten to see. Another part of her mind expected her to wake up, soaking with sweat, as she had so many times before.

Bobbie watched as it ran toward her, and noted with pleasure the burnt black injuries the incendiary bullets had cut through its body. No sprays of black filament and then the wounds closing like water. Not this time. She’d hurt it, and she wanted to go on hurting it.

She turned away and took off in a bounding run at a ninety-degree angle to its path. Her suit kept the targeting laser locked on to the monster, so she could track its location even without turning around to look. As she’d suspected, it turned to follow her, but it lost ground. “Fast on the straightaways,” Bobbie said to it. “But you corner like shit.”

When the creature realized she wasn’t going to just stand still and let it get close to her, it stopped. Bobbie stumbled to a stop, turning to watch it. It reached down and tore up a big chunk of ancient lava bed, then reached down to grip the ground with its other hand.

“Here it comes,” Bobbie said to herself.

She threw herself to the side as the creature’s arm whipped forward. The rock missed her by centimeters as she hurtled sideways. She hit the moon’s surface and skidded, already returning fire. This time she fired for several seconds, sending hundreds of rounds into and through the creature.

“Anything you can do I can do better,” she sang under her breath. “I can do anything better than you.” The bullets tore great flaming chunks out of the monster and nearly severed its left arm. The creature spun around and collapsed. Bobbie bounced back to her feet, ready to run again if the monster got back up. It didn’t. Instead, it rolled over onto its back and shook. Its head began to swell, and the blue eyes flashed even brighter. Bobbie could see things moving beneath the surface of its chitinous black skin.

“Boom, motherfucker!” she yelled at it, waiting for the bomb to go off.

Instead, it bounced suddenly to its feet, tore a portion of its own abdomen off, and threw it at her. By the time Bobbie realized what had just happened, the bomb was only a few meters from her. It detonated and blew her off her feet. She went skidding across Io’s surface, her armor blaring warnings at her. When she finally came to a stop, her HUD was flashing a Christmas display of red and green lights. She tried to move her limbs, but they were as heavy as stone. The suit’s motion control processor, the computer that interpreted her body’s movements and turned them into commands for the suit’s actuators, had failed. The suit was trying to reboot it while simultaneously trying to reroute and run the program in a different location. A flashing amber message on the HUD said PLEASE STAND BY.

Bobbie couldn’t turn her head yet, so when the monster leaned down over her, it took her completely by surprise. She stifled a scream. It wouldn’t have mattered. The sulfur atmosphere on Io was far too thin for sound waves to travel in. The monster couldn’t have heard her. But while the new Bobbie was at peace with the idea of dying in battle, enough of the old Bobbie remained that she was not going to go out screaming like a baby.

It leaned down to look at her; its overlarge and curiously childlike eyes glowed bright blue. The damage her gun had done seemed extensive, but the creature appeared not to notice. It poked at her chest armor with one long finger, then convulsed and vomited a thick spray of brown goo all over her.

“Oh, that’s disgusting,” she yelled at it. If her suit had been opened up to the outside, getting that protomolecule shit on her would have been the least of her problems. But still, how the hell was she going to wash this crap off?

It cocked its head and regarded her curiously. It poked again at her armor, one finger wriggling into gaps, trying to find a way in to her skin. She’d seen one of these things rip a nine-ton combat mech apart. If it wanted into her suit, it was coming in. But it seemed reluctant to damage her for some reason. As she watched, a long, flexible tube burst out of its midsection and began probing at her armor instead of the finger. Brown goo dribbled out of this new appendage in a constant stream.

Her gun status light flickered from red to green. She spun up the barrels to test it and it worked. Of course, her suit was still telling her to “please stand by” when it came to actually moving. Maybe if the monster got bored and wandered in front of her gun, she could get some shots off.

The tube was probing at her armor more insistently now. It pushed its way into gaps, periodically shooting brown liquid into them. It was as repulsive as it was frightening. It was like being threatened by a serial killer that was also fumbling at her clothing with a teenager’s horny insistence.

“Oh, to hell with this,” she said to it. She was about through with letting this thing grope her while she lay helpless on her back. The suit’s right arm was heavy, and the actuators that made her strong when it was working also resisted movement when it was not. Pushing her arm up was like doing a one-arm bench press while wearing a lead glove. She pressed up anyway until she felt something pop. It might have been in the suit. It might have been in her arm. She couldn’t tell yet, because she was too wired for pain to set in.

But when it popped, her arm came up, and she pushed her fist up against the monster’s head.

“Buh-bye,” she said. The monster turned to look curiously at her hand. She held down the trigger until the ammo counter read zero and the gun stopped spinning. The creature had ceased to exist from the shoulders up. She dropped her arm back to the ground, exhausted.