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Page 74 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“I get it. So what do you want to do?”

“I want,” Holden said, sliding a magazine into his pistol, “to get that f**king monster off my ship. But please promise me you won’t die doing it. That would help a lot.”

“Cap,” Amos said with a grin. “Anything that kills me has already killed everyone else. I was born to be the last man standing. You can count on it.”

The panic and fear didn’t leave Holden. They squatted on his chest now just the way they had before. But at least he didn’t feel so alone with them.

“Then let’s go get rid of this stowaway.”

The wait inside the cargo bay airlock was endless as the inner door sealed, the pumps sucked all the air out of the room, and then the outer door cycled open. Holden fidgeted and rechecked his gun half a dozen times while he waited. Amos stood in a relaxed slump, his huge shotgun cradled loosely in his arms. The upside, if there was an upside to the wait, was that with the cargo bay in vacuum, the airlock could make as much noise as it wanted without alerting the creature to their presence.

The last of the external noise disappeared, and Holden could hear only himself breathing. A yellow light came on near the outer airlock door, warning them of the null atmosphere on the other side.

“Alex,” Holden said, plugging a hardline into the airlock terminal. Radio was still dead all over the ship. “We’re about to go in. Kill the engines.”

“Roger that,” Alex replied, and the gravity dropped away. Holden kicked the slide controls on his heels to turn up his magnetic boots.

The cargo bay on the Rocinante was cramped. Tall and narrow, it occupied the starboard side of the ship, crammed into the unused space between the outer hull and the engineering bay. On the port side, the same space was filled with the ship’s water tank. The Roci was a warship. Any cargo it carried would be an afterthought.

The downside to this was that while under thrust, the cargo bay turned into a well with the cargo doors at the bottom. The various crates that occupied the space latched on to mounts on the bulkheads or in some cases were attached with electromagnetic feet. With thrust gravity threatening to send a person tumbling seven meters straight down to the cargo doors, it would be an impossible place to fight effectively.

In microgravity, it became a long hallway with lots of cover.

Holden entered the room first, walking along the bulkhead on magnetic boots, and took cover behind a large metal crate filled with extra rounds for the ship’s point defense cannons. Alex followed, taking up a position behind another crate two meters away.

Below them, the monster seemed to be asleep.

It huddled motionless against the bulkhead that separated the cargo bay from engineering.

“Okay, Naomi, go ahead and open it up,” Holden said. He jiggled the trailing line of cable to get it unhooked from a corner of the crate and gave it a little slack.

“Doors opening now,” she replied, her voice thin and fuzzy in his helmet. The cargo doors at the bottom of the room silently swung open, exposing several square meters of star-filled blackness. The monster either didn’t notice the doors opening or didn’t care.

“They hibernate sometimes, right?” Amos said, the cable running from his suit to the airlock looking like a high-tech umbilical cord. “Like Julie did when she got the bug. Hibernated in that hotel room on Eros for a couple weeks.”

“Maybe,” Holden replied. “How do you want to approach this? I’m almost thinking we should just go down there, grab the thing, and toss it out the door. But I have strong reservations about touching it.”

“Yeah, wouldn’t want to take our suits back inside with us,” Amos agreed.

Holden had a sudden memory of coming in after playing outside, and taking all his clothes off in the mudroom before Mother Tamara would let him into the rest of the house. This would be pretty much the same, only a lot colder.

“I find myself wishing we had a really long stick,” Holden said, looking around at the various objects stored in the cargo bay, hoping to find one that suited his need.

“Uh, Cap’n?” Amos said. “It’s looking at us.”

Holden turned back around and saw Amos was right. The creature hadn’t moved anything but its head, but it was definitely staring up at them now, its eyes a creepy illuminated-from-within blue.

“Well, okay,” Holden said. “It’s not hibernating.”

“You know, if I can knock it off that bulkhead with a shot or two, and Alex kicks on the engine, it might just tumble right out the back door and into the exhaust plume. That oughta take care of it.”

“Let’s think about—” Holden said, but before he could finish his thought, the room strobed several times with the muzzle flash of Amos’ shotgun. The monster was hit multiple times and knocked into a spinning lump floating toward the door.

“Alex, just—” Amos said.

The monster blurred into action. It flung one arm toward the bulkhead, the limb actually seeming to get longer to reach it, and yanked down hard enough to bend the steel plates. The creature hurtled up to the top of the cargo bay so fast that when it hit the crate Holden was hiding behind, the magnetic feet lost their seal. The cargo bay seemed to spin as the impact threw Holden back. The crate, just behind him, matched his velocity. Holden slammed against the bulkhead a split second before the crate did, and the magnetic pallet snapped onto the new wall, trapping Holden’s leg beneath it.

Something in his knee bent badly, and the pain turned the world red for a moment.

Amos began firing his gun into the monster at close range, but it casually backhanded him and threw him into the cargo airlock hard enough to bend the inner door. The outer door slammed shut the second the inner door was compromised. Holden tried to move but his leg was pinned by the crate, and with electromagnets rated to hold a quarter ton of weight under a ten-g burn, he wouldn’t be moving it anytime soon. The crate controls that would shut the magnets off showed the orange glow of a full seal ten centimeters beyond his reach.

The monster turned back to look at him. Its blue eyes were far too large for its head, giving the creature a curious, childlike look. It reached out one oversized hand.

Holden fired into it until his gun was empty.

The miniature, self-contained rockets the recoilless gun used as ammunition exploded in tiny puffs of light and smoke as they hit the creature, each one pushing it farther back and tearing large chunks of its torso away. Black filaments sprayed out and across the room like a line drawing representation of blood splatter. When the last rocket hit, the monster was blown off the bulkhead and thrown down the cargo bay toward the open doors.

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