“Shit,” she said. “Won’t be shooting anyone, I guess.”
“If you did,” Cotyar said with a smile, “would the bullets even slow down as they went through both of the ship’s hulls and let all the air out?”
“Nope,” Bobbie said, laying the last piece of the suit on the floor, then pulling out the tools necessary to put it all back together again. “But that might be a point in my favor. The gun on this rig is designed to shoot through other people wearing comparable armor. Anything that will shoot through my suit here will probably also hole the ship. Which means —”
“None of the security personnel on this vessel will have weapons capable of penetrating your armor,” Cotyar finished. “As you say. How many of my people will you want with you?”
“None,” Bobbie said, attaching the fresh battery pack Avasarala’s techs had provided to the back of the armor and getting a lovely green “fully charged” light from the panel. “Once I get started, the obvious counterplay will be to grab the undersecretary and hold her hostage. Preventing that is your job.”
Cotyar smiled again. There was no humor in it.
“As you say.”
It took Bobbie just under three hours to assemble and field prep her suit. It should have taken only two, but she forgave herself the extra hour by remembering that she was out of practice. The closer the suit got to completion, the tighter the knot in her stomach grew. Some of it was the natural tension that came before combat. And her time in the Marines had taught her to use it. To let the stress force her to recheck everything three times. Once she was in the thick of it, it would be too late.
But deep down, Bobbie knew that the possibility of violence wasn’t the only thing twisting up her insides. It was impossible to forget what had happened the last time she’d worn this suit. The red enamel of her Martian camouflage was pitted and scraped from the exploding monster and her high-speed skid across Ganymede’s ice. A tiny bit of fluid leakage on the knee reminded her of Private Hillman. Hilly, her friend. Wiping off the helmet’s faceplate made her think of the last time she’d spoken to Lieutenant Givens, her CO, just before the monster had ripped him in two.
When the suit was finished and lying on the floor, opened up and waiting for her to climb inside, she felt a shudder run up her spine. For the first time ever, the inside looked small. Sepulchral.
“No,” she said to no one but herself.
“No?” Cotyar asked, sitting on the floor next to her, holding the tools he thought she might need next. He’d been so quiet during the assembly procedure she’d sort of forgotten he was there.
“I’m not afraid of putting this back on,” she said.
“Ah,” Cotyar replied with a nod, then put the tools into the toolbox. “As you say.”
Bobbie pushed herself to her feet and yanked the black unitard she wore under the armor out of the crate. Without thinking about it, she stripped down to her panties and pulled the skintight garment on. She was pulling the wire leads out of her armor and connecting them to the various sensors on the bodysuit when she noticed that Cotyar had turned his back to her, and that his usually light brown neck was turning beet red.
“Oh,” she said. “Sorry. I’ve stripped down and put this on in front of my squaddies so many times I don’t even think about it anymore.”
“No reason to apologize,” Cotyar said without turning around. “I was only taken by surprise.”
He risked a peek over his left shoulder, and when he saw that she was fully covered by the bodysuit, he turned back to help her wire it up to the armor.
“You are,” he said, then paused for a beat. “Lovely.”
It was her turn to blush.
“Aren’t you married?” Bobbie asked with a grin, happy for the distraction. The simple humanity in discomfort with mating signals made the monster in her head seem very far away.
“Yes,” Cotyar replied, attaching the final lead to a sensor at the small of her back. “Very. But I’m not blind.”
“Thank you,” Bobbie said, and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. After a few moments’ struggle with the tight spaces, she sat down into the suit’s open chest and slid down until her legs and arms were fully inside. “Button me up.”
Cotyar sealed up the chest as she’d shown him, then put the helmet on her and locked it in place. Inside the suit, her HUD flashed through the boot routine. A gentle, almost subliminal hum surrounded her. She activated the array of micro-motors and pumps that powered the exo-musculature, and then sat up.
Cotyar was looking at her, his face a question. Bobbie turned on the external speaker and said, “Yeah, it all looks good in here. Green across the board.”
She pushed herself to her feet effortlessly and felt the old sensation of barely restrained power running through her limbs. She knew if she pushed off hard with her legs, she’d hit the ceiling with enough force to severely damage it. A sudden motion of her arm could hurl the heavy four-poster bed across the room or shatter Cotyar’s spine. It made her move with the deliberate gentleness of long training.
Cotyar reached under his jacket and pulled out a sleek black pistol of the slug-throwing variety. Bobbie knew the security team had loaded them with high-impact plastic rounds, guaranteed not to knock holes in the ship. It was the same kind of round Mao’s security team would be using. He started to hold it out to her, but then looked at the thickness of her armored fingers, and at the much smaller opening of the trigger guard, and shrugged apologetically.
“I won’t need it,” she said. Her voice sounded harsh, metallic, inhuman.
Cotyar smiled again.
“As you say.”
Bobbie punched the button to call the keel elevator, then walked back and forth in the lounge, letting her reflexes get used to her armor. There was a nanosecond delay between attempting to move a limb and having the armor react. It made walking around feel vaguely dreamlike, as if the act of wanting to move your limbs and the moving of the limbs themselves were separate events. Hours of training and use had mostly overcome the sensation when Bobbie wore her armor, but it always took a few minutes of moving around to get past the oddness of it.
Avasarala walked into the lounge from the room they were using as the communications center and sat down at the bar. She poured herself a stiff shot of gin, then squeezed a piece of lime into it almost as an afterthought. The old lady had been drinking a lot more lately, but it wasn’t Bobbie’s place to point it out. Maybe it was helping her sleep.