“Callisto’s on our side of Jupiter,” Alex said, referring to the next sizable moon out from Ganymede. “Gonna get in its shadow.”
Holden checked the vectors of the ships that had fired at them. If any of them were pursuing, Alex’s gambit would only buy them a few minutes. But it didn’t appear they were. Of the dozen or so that had attacked them, over half were moderately to severely damaged, and the ones that weren’t were still busy shooting at each other.
“Seems like we were everyone’s number one threat there for a second,” Holden said. “But not so much anymore.”
“Yeah, sorry about that, Cap. Not sure why that happened.”
“I don’t blame you,” Holden said.
The Roci shuddered, and Amos gave a whoop over the shipwide comm. “Don’t be trying to touch my girl’s ass!”
Two of the closer missiles had vanished off the threat board.
“Nice work, Amos,” Holden said, checking the updated times to impact and seeing that they’d bought another half minute.
“Shit, Cap, the Roci does all the work,” Amos said. “I just encourage her to express herself.”
“Going to duck and cover around Callisto. I’d appreciate a distraction,” Alex said to Holden.
“Okay, Naomi, another ten seconds or so,” Holden said. “Then hit them with everything you’ve got. We’ll need them blind for a few seconds.”
“Roger,” Naomi said. Holden could see her prepping a massive assault package of laser clutter and radio jamming.
The Rocinante lurched again, and the moon Callisto suddenly filled Holden’s forward screen. Alex hurtled toward it at a suicidal rate, flipping the ship and hard burning at the last second to throw them into a low slingshot orbit.
“Three … two … one … now,” he said, the Roci diving tail first toward Callisto, whipping past it so low that Holden felt like he could have reached out the airlock and scooped up some snow. At the same time, Naomi’s jamming package hammered the sensors of the pursuing missiles, blinding them while their processors worked to cut through the noise.
By the time they’d reacquired the Rocinante, she’d been thrown around Callisto by gravity and her own drive in a new vector and at high speed. Two of the missiles gamely tried to come about and pursue, but the rest either limped off in random directions or slammed into the moon. When their two pursuers had gotten back on course, the Roci had opened up an enormous lead and could take her time shooting them down.
“We made it,” Alex said. Holden found the disbelief in his pilot’s voice fairly disconcerting. Had it been that close?
“Never doubted it,” Holden said. “Take us to Tycho. Half a g. I’ll be in my cabin.”
When they were finished, Naomi flopped onto her side in their shared bunk, sweat plastering her curly black hair to her forehead. She was still panting. He was too.
“That was … vigorous,” she said.
Holden nodded but didn’t have enough air to actually speak yet. When he’d climbed down the ladder from the cockpit, Naomi had been waiting, already out of her restraints. She’d grabbed him and kissed him so hard his lip had split. He hadn’t even noticed. They’d barely reached the cabin with their clothes on. What had happened afterward was sort of a blur now to Holden, though his legs were tired and his lip hurt.
Naomi rolled across him and climbed out of the bunk.
“I’ve got to pee,” she said, pulling on a robe and heading out the door. Holden just nodded to her, still not quite capable of speech.
He shifted over to the middle of the bed, stretching out his arms and legs for a moment. The truth was the Roci’s cabins were not built for two occupants, least of all the crash couches that doubled as beds. But over the course of the last year, he’d spent more and more time sleeping in Naomi’s cabin, until it sort of became their cabin and he just didn’t sleep anywhere else anymore. They couldn’t share the bunk during high-g maneuvers, but so far they’d never been asleep anytime the ship had needed to do high-g maneuvering. A trend that was likely to continue.
Holden was starting to doze off when the hatch opened and Naomi came back in. She tossed a cold, wet washcloth onto his belly.
“Wow, that’s bracing,” Holden said, sitting up with a start.
“It was hot when I left the head with it.”
“That,” Holden said while he cleaned up, “sounded very dirty.”
Naomi grinned, then sat on the edge of the bunk and poked him in the ribs. “You can still think of sex? I would’ve thought we got that out of your system.”
“A close brush with death does wonderful things for my refractory period.”
Naomi climbed into the bunk next to him, still wrapped in her robe.
“You know,” she said, “this was my idea. And I’m all in favor of reaffirming life through sex.”
“Why do I get the feeling that there is a ‘but’ missing at the end of that sentence?”
“Ah, there it is.”
“There’s something we need to talk about. And this seems a good time.”
Holden rolled over onto his side, facing her, and pushed up onto one elbow. A thick strand of hair was hanging in her face, and he brushed it back with his other hand.
“What did I do?” he said.
“It’s not exactly anything you’ve done,” Naomi said. “It’s more what we’re heading off to do right now.”
Holden put his hand on her arm but waited for her to continue. The soft cloth of her robe clung to the wet skin beneath it.
“I’m worried,” she said, “that we’re flying off to Tycho to do something really rash.”
“Naomi, you weren’t there, you didn’t see —”
“I saw it, Jim, through Amos’ suitcam. I know what it is. I know how much it scares you. It scares the hell out of me too.”
“No,” Holden said, his voice surprising him with its anger. “No you don’t. You weren’t on Eros when it got out, you never—”
“Hey, I was there. Maybe not for the worst of it. Not like you,” Naomi said, her voice still calm. “But I did help carry what was left of you and Miller to the med bay. And I watched you try to die there. We can’t just accuse Fred of—”
“Right now—and I mean right now—Ganymede could be changing.”