“Seven in here,” Holden said, pointing at the open torpedo rack. “And seven on the other side.”

“Roger,” said Graves. The long, narrow white shape of a plasma torpedo appeared in the Ride’s open hatch, with sailors wearing EVA packs flanking it. With gentle puffs of compressed nitrogen, they flew the torpedo down along the two guidelines to the Roci; then, with the help of Bobbie’s suit-augmented strength, they maneuvered it into position at the top of the rack.

“First one in position,” Bobbie said.

“Got it,” Naomi replied, and a second later the motorized rails came to life and grabbed the torpedo, pulling it down into the magazine.

Holden glanced at the elapsed time on his HUD. Getting all fourteen torpedoes transferred and loaded would take hours.

“Amos,” he said. “Where are you?”

“Just finishing that last patch down by the machine shop,” the mechanic replied. “You need something?”

“When you’re done with that, grab a couple EVA packs. You and I will go get the other supplies. Should be three crates of PDC rounds and some sundries.”

“I’m done now. Naomi, pop the cargo door for me, wouldja?”

Holden watched Bobbie and the Ride’s sailors work, and they had two more torpedoes loaded by the time Amos arrived with two EVA packs.

“Lieutenant Graves, two crew from the Rocinante requesting permission to board and pick up the rest of the supplies.”

“Granted, Rocinante.”

The PDC rounds came in crates of twenty thousand and at full gravity would have weighed more than five hundred kilos. In the microgravity of the coasting ships, two people with EVA packs could move one if they were willing to take their time and recharge their compressed nitrogen after every trip. Without a salvage mech or a small work shuttle available, there wasn’t any other choice.

Each crate had to be pushed slowly toward the aft of the Rocinante through a twenty-second-long “burn” from Amos’ EVA pack. When it got to the aft of the ship next to the cargo bay door, Holden would do an equally long thrust from his pack to bring the crate to a stop. Then the two of them would maneuver it inside and lock it to a bulkhead. The process was long, and at least for Holden, each trip had one heart-racing moment when he was firing the brakes to stop the crate. Every time, he had a brief, panicky vision of his EVA pack failing and him and the crate of ammo drifting off into space while Amos watched. It was ridiculous, of course. Amos could easily grab a fresh EVA pack and come get him, or the ship could drop back, or the Ride could send a rescue shuttle, or any other of a huge number of ways he’d be quickly saved.

But humans hadn’t been living and working in space nearly long enough for the primitive part of the brain not to say, I’ll fall. I’ll fall forever.

The people from the Ride finished bringing over torpedoes about the time Holden and Amos had locked the last crate of PDC ammo into the cargo bay.

“Naomi,” Holden called on the open channel. “We all green?”

“Everything looks good from here. All of the new torpedoes are talking to the Roci and reporting operational.”

“Outstanding. Amos and I are coming in through the cargo bay airlock. Go ahead and seal the bay up. Alex, as soon as Naomi gives the all clear, let the Cydonia know we can do a fast burn to Io at the captain’s earliest pleasure.”

While the crew prepped the ship for the trip to Io, Holden and Amos stripped off their gear and stowed it in the machine shop. Six gray disks, three on each bulkhead across the compartment from each other, showed where the rounds had ripped through this part of the ship.

“What’s in that other box the Martians gave you?” Amos asked, pulling off one oversized magnetic boot.

“A present for Bobbie,” Holden said. “I’d like to keep it quiet until I give it to her, okay?”

“Sure, no problem, Cap’n. If it turns out to be a dozen long-stemmed roses, I don’t want to be there when Naomi finds out. Plus, you know, Alex …”

“No, it’s a lot more practical than roses—” Holden started, then rewound the conversation in his head. “Alex? What about Alex?”

Amos shrugged with his hands, like a Belter. “I think he might have a wee bit of a thing for our ample marine.”

“You’re kidding.” Holden couldn’t picture it. It wasn’t as though Bobbie were unattractive. Far from it. But she was also very big, and quite intimidating. And Alex was such a quiet and mild guy. Sure, they were both Martians, and no matter how cosmopolitan a person got, there was something comforting in reminders of home. Maybe just being the only two Martians on the ship was enough. But Alex was pushing fifty, balding without complaint, and wore his love handles with the quiet resignation of a middle-aged man. Sergeant Draper couldn’t be more than thirty and looked like a comic book illustration, complete with muscles on her muscles. Unable to stop himself, his mind began trying to figure out how the two of them would fit together. It didn’t work.

“Wow,” was all he could say. “Is it mutual?”

“No idea,” Amos replied with another shrug. “The sergeant ain’t easy to read. But I don’t think she’d do him any deliberate harm, if that’s what you’re asking. Not that, you know, we could stop her.”

“Scares you too, does she?”

“Look,” Amos said with a grin. “When it comes to scrapes, I’m what you might call a talented amateur. But I’ve gotten a good look at that woman in and out of that fancy mechanical shell she wears. She’s a pro. We’re not playing the same sport.”

Gravity began to return in the Rocinante. Alex was bringing up the drive, which meant they were beginning their run to Io. Holden stood up and took a moment to let his joints adjust to the sensation of weight again. He clapped Amos on the back and said, “Well, you’ve got a full load of torpedoes and bullets, three Martian warships trailing you, one angry old lady in tea withdrawal, and a Martian Marine who could probably kill you with your own teeth. What do you do?”

“You tell me, Captain.”

“You find someone else for them to fight.”

Chapter Forty-Five: Avasarala

As I see it, sir,” Avasarala said, “the die is already cast. We effectively have two courses of policy already in play. The question now is how we move forward. So far I’ve been able to keep the information from getting out, but once it does, it will be devastating. And since it is all but certain that the artifact is able to communicate, the chances of an effective military usage of these protomolecule-human hybrids is essentially nil. If we use this weapon, we will be creating a second Venus, committing genocide, and removing any moral argument against using weapons like accelerated asteroids against the Earth itself.

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