It turned and looked at Bobbie, still flat on her back.
Up close, she could see that it had bright blue eyes. A glowing, electric blue. They were beautiful. She raised her gun and held down the trigger for half a second before she realized she’d run out of ammo long before. The creature looked at her gun with what she would have sworn was curiosity, then looked into her eyes and cocked its head to one side.
This is it, she thought. This is how I go out, and I’m not going to know what did it, or why. Dying she could handle. Dying without any answers seemed terribly cruel.
The creature took one step toward her, then stopped and shuddered. A new pair of limbs burst out of its midsection and writhed in the air like tentacles. Its head, already grotesque, seemed to swell up. The blue eyes flashed as bright as the lights in the domes.
And then it exploded in a ball of fire that hurled her away across the ice and slammed her into a low ridge hard enough for the impact-absorbing gel in her suit to go rigid, freezing her in place.
She lay on her back, fading toward unconsciousness. The night sky above her began to flash with light. The ships in orbit, shooting each other.
Cease fire, she thought, pressing it out into the blackness. They were retreating. Cease fire. Her radio was still out, her suit dead. She couldn’t tell anyone that the UN Marines hadn’t been attacking.
Or that something else had.
Chapter Two: Holden
The coffeemaker was broken again.
Jim Holden clicked the red brew button in and out several more times, knowing it wouldn’t matter, but helpless to stop himself. The massive and gleaming coffeemaker, designed to brew enough to keep a Martian naval crew happy, refused to make a single cup. Or even a noise. It wasn’t just refusing to brew; it was refusing to try. Holden closed his eyes against the caffeine headache that threatened in his temples and hit the button on the nearest wall panel to open the shipwide comm.
“Amos,” he said.
The comm wasn’t working.
Feeling increasingly ridiculous, he pushed the button for the 1MC channel several more times. Nothing. He opened his eyes and saw that all the lights on the panel were out. Then he turned around and saw that the lights on the refrigerator and the ovens were out. It wasn’t just the coffeemaker; the entire galley was in open revolt. Holden looked at the ship name, Rocinante, newly stenciled onto the galley wall, and said, “Baby, why do you hurt me when I love you so much?”
He pulled out his hand terminal and called Naomi.
After several moments, she finally answered, “Uh, hello?”
“The galley doesn’t work, where’s Amos?”
A pause. “You called me from the galley? While we are on the same ship? The wall panel just one step too far away?”
“The wall panel in the galley doesn’t work either. When I said, ‘The galley doesn’t work,’ it wasn’t clever hyperbole. It literally means that not one thing in the galley works. I called you because you carry your terminal and Amos almost never does. And also because he never tells me what he’s working on, but he always tells you. So, where is Amos?”
Naomi laughed. It was a lovely sound, and it never failed to put a smile on Holden’s face. “He told me he was going to be doing some rewiring.”
“Do you have power up there? Are we hurtling out of control and you guys were trying to figure out how to break the news to me?”
Holden could hear tapping from Naomi’s end. She hummed to herself as she worked.
“Nope,” she said. “Only area without power seems to be the galley. Also, Alex says we’re less than an hour from fighting with space pirates. Want to come up to ops and fight pirates?”
“I can’t fight pirates without coffee. I’m going to find Amos,” Holden said, then hung up and put his terminal back in his pocket.
Holden moved to the ladder that ran down the keel of the ship, and called up the lift. The fleeing pirate ship could only sustain about 1 g for extended flight, so Holden’s pilot, Alex Kamal, had them flying at 1.3 g to intercept. Anything over 1 g made the ladder dangerous to use.
A few seconds later, the deck hatch clanged open, and the lift whined to a stop at his feet. He stepped on and tapped the button for the engineering deck. The lift began its slow crawl down the shaft, deck hatches opening at its approach, then slamming shut once he had passed.
Amos Burton was in the machine shop, one deck above engineering. He had a complex-looking device half disassembled on the workbench in front of him and was working on it with a solder gun. He wore a gray jumpsuit several sizes too small for him, which strained to contain his broad shoulders when he moved, the old ship name Tachi still embroidered on the back.
Holden stopped the lift and said, “Amos, the galley doesn’t work.”
Amos waved one thick arm in an impatient gesture without stopping his work. Holden waited. After another couple seconds of soldering, Amos finally put down the tool and turned around.
“Yep, it doesn’t work because I got this little f**ker yanked out of it,” he said, pointing at the device he’d been soldering.
“Can you put it back?”
“Nope, at least not yet. Not done working on it.”
Holden sighed. “Is it important that we disable the galley to fix this thing just before confronting a bloodthirsty band of space pirates? Because my head is really starting to ache, and I’d love to get a cup of coffee before, you know, doing battle.”
“Yep, it was important,” Amos said. “Should I explain why? Or you want to take my word for it?”
Holden nodded. While he didn’t miss much about his days in the Earth Navy, he did find that he occasionally got nostalgic for the absolute respect for the chain of command. On the Rocinante the title “captain” was much more nebulously defined. Rewiring things was Amos’ job, and he would resist the idea that he had to inform Holden anytime he was doing it.
Holden let it drop.
“Okay,” he said. “But I wish you’d warned me ahead of time. I’m going to be cranky without my coffee.”
Amos grinned at him and pushed his cap back on his mostly bald head.
“Shit, Cap, I can cover you on that,” he said, then reached back and grabbed a massive metal thermos off the bench. “I made some emergency supplies before I shut the galley down.”
“Amos, I apologize for all the mean things I was thinking about you just now.”
Amos waved it off and turned back to his work. “Take it. I already had a cup.”