“I usually man the combat ops board,” Holden said.

“Who’s the gunner?” Bobbie asked.

“Yo,” said Alex, pointing at himself.

“You fly and do target acquisition?” Bobbie said. “I’m impressed.”

Alex’s already dark skin grew a shade darker. His aw shucks Mariner Valley drawl had started to go from annoying to charming. And the blush was sweet. “Aw, no. The cap’n does acquisition from combat ops, generally. But I have to manage fire control.”

“Well, there you go,” Bobbie said, turning to Holden. “Give me weps.”

“No offense, Sergeant …” Holden said.

“Gunny,” Bobbie replied.

“Gunny,” Holden agreed with a nod. “But are you qualified to operate fire control on a naval vessel?”

Bobbie decided not to be offended and grinned at him instead. “I saw your armor and the weapons you were carrying in the airlock. You found a MAP in the cargo bay, right?”

“Map?” Avasarala asked.

“Mobile assault package. Marine assault gear. Not as good as my Force Recon armor, but full kit for half a dozen ground pounders.”

“Yeah,” Holden said. “That’s where we got it.”

“That’s because this is a multi-role fast-attack ship. Torpedo bomber is just one of them. Boarding party insertion is another. And gunnery sergeant is a rank with a very specific meaning.”

“Yeah,” Alex said. “Equipment specialist.”

“I’m required to be proficient in all of the weapons systems my platoon or company might need to operate during a typical deployment. Including the weapons systems on an assault boat like this.”

“I see—” Holden started, but Bobbie cut him off with a nod.

“I’m your gunner.”

Like most things in Bobbie’s life, the weapons officer’s chair had been made for someone smaller than her. The five-point harness was digging into her hips and her shoulders. Even at its farthest setting, the fire control console was just a bit too close for her to comfortably rest her arms on the crash couch while using it. All of which would be a problem if they had to do any really high-g maneuvering. Which, of course, they would once the fight started.

She tucked her elbows in as close as she could to keep her arms from wrenching out of their sockets at high g, and fidgeted with the harness. It would have to be good enough.

From his seat behind and above her, Alex said, “This’ll be over quick one way or the other. You probably won’t have time to get too uncomfortable.”

“That’s reassuring.”

Over the 1MC Holden said, “We’re inside the maximum-effective weapon range now. They could fire immediately or twenty hours from now. So stay belted in. Only leave your station in life-threatening emergency and at my direct order. I hope everyone got their catheter on right.”

“Mine’s too tight,” Amos said.

Alex spoke behind her, and it was echoed a split second later over the comm channel. “It’s a condom catheter, partner. It goes on the outside.”

Bobbie couldn’t help laughing and held one hand up behind her until Alex slapped it.

Holden said, “We have greens across the board down here in ops. Everyone check in with go/no-go status.”

“All green at flight control,” Alex said.

“Green at electronic warfare,” Naomi said.

“We’re go down here,” Amos said.

“Weapons are green and hot,” Bobbie said last. Even strapped into a chair two sizes too small for her, on a stolen Martian warship captained by one of the most wanted men in the inner planets, it felt really goddamned good to be there. Bobbie restrained a whoop of joy and instead pulled Holden’s threat display up. He’d already marked the six pursuing UN destroyers. Bobbie tagged the lead ship and let the Rocinante try to come up with a target solution on it. The Roci calculated the odds of a hit at less than .1 percent. She jumped from target to target, getting a feel for the response times and controls. She tapped a button to pull up target info and looked over the UN destroyer specs.

When reading ship specs bored her, she pulled out to the tactical view. One tiny green dot pursued by six slightly larger red dots, which were in turn pursued by six blue dots. That was wrong. The Earth ships should be blue, and the Martians’ red. She told the Roci to swap the color scheme. The Rocinante was oriented toward the pursuing ships. On the map, it looked like they were flying directly at each other. But in reality, the Rocinante was in the middle of a deceleration burn, slowing down to let the UN ships catch up faster. All thirteen of the ships in this particular engagement were hurtling sunward. The Roci was just doing it ass first.

Bobbie glanced at the time and saw that her noodling with the controls had burned less than fifteen minutes. “I hate waiting for a fight.”

“You and me both, sister,” Alex said.

“Got any games on this thing?” Bobbie asked, tapping on her console.

“I spy with my little eye,” Alex replied, “something that begins with D.”

“Destroyer,” Bobbie said. “Six tubes, eight PDCs, and a keel-mounted rapid-fire rail gun.”

“Good guess. Your turn.”

“I f**king hate waiting for a fight.”

When the battle began, it began all at once. Bobbie had expected some early probing shots. A few torpedoes fired from extreme range, just to see if the crew of the Rocinante had full control of all the weapon systems and everything was in working order. Instead, the UN ships had closed the distance, the Roci slamming on the brakes to meet them.

Bobbie watched the six UN ships creep closer and closer to the red line on her threat display. The red line that represented the point at which a full salvo from all six ships would overwhelm the Roci’s point defense network.

Meanwhile, the six Martian ships moved closer to the green line on her display that represented their optimal firing range to engage the UN ships. It was a big game of chicken, and everyone was waiting to see who would flinch first.

Alex was juggling their deceleration thrust to try to make sure the Martians got in range before the Earthers did. When the shooting started, he would put the throttle down and try to move through the active combat zone as quickly as possible. It was why they were going to meet the UN ships in the first place. Running away would just have kept them in range a lot longer.

Then one of the red dots—a Martian fast-attack cruiser—crossed the green line, and alarms started going off all over the ship.

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