They didn’t understand, but they didn’t need to. The real message came five hours later. It came on a public newsfeed, and it was delivered by Secretary-General Esteban Sorrento-Gillis. The old man was brilliant at looking somber and energetic at the same time. If he hadn’t been the executive of the largest governing body in the history of the human race, he’d have made a killing promoting health drinks.

The whole crew had gathered by now—Amos, Naomi, Holden, Alex. Even Prax. They were sandwiched into the ops deck, their combined breaths just slightly overloading the recyclers and giving the deck a feeling of barn heat. All eyes were on the screen as the secretary-general took the podium.

“I have come here tonight to announce the immediate formation of an investigative committee. Accusations have been made that some individuals within the governing body of the United Nations and its military forces have taken unauthorized and possibly illegal steps in dealing with certain private contractors. If these accusations are true, they must be addressed in the most expedient possible manner. And if unfounded, they must be dispelled and those responsible for spreading these lies called to account.

“I need not remind you all of the years I spent as a political prisoner.”

“Oh f**k me,” Avasarala said, clapping her hands in glee. “He’s using the outsider speech. That man’s ass**le must be tight enough right now to bend space.”

“I have dedicated my terms as secretary-general to rooting out corruption, and as long as I have this gavel, I shall continue to do so. Our world and the solar system we all share must be assured that the United Nations honors the ethical, moral, and spiritual values that hold us all together as a species.”

On the feed, Esteban Sorrento-Gillis nodded, turned, and strode away in a clamor of unacknowledged questions, and the commentators flowed into the space, talking over each other in all the political opinions of the spectrum.

“Okay,” Holden said. “So did he actually say anything?”

“He said Errinwright is finished,” Avasarala said. “If he had any influence left at all, that announcement would never have been made. Goddamn, I wish I was there.”

Errinwright was off the board. All that left was Nguyen, Mao, Strickland or whoever he was, their half-controlled protomolecule warriors, and the building threat of Venus. She let a long breath rattle through her throat and the spaces behind her nose.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, “I have just solved our smallest problem.”

Chapter Forty-Six: Bobbie

One of Bobbie’s most vivid memories was of the day she got her orders to report to the 2nd Expeditionary Force Spec War training facility. Force Recon. The top of the heap for a Martian ground pounder. In boot camp, they’d trained with a Force Recon sergeant. He’d been wearing a suit of gleaming red power armor, and they’d watched him demonstrate its use in a variety of tactical situations. At the end, he’d told them that the top four boots from her class would be transferred to the Spec War facility on the slopes of Hecates Tholus and trained to wear the armor and join the baddest fighting unit in the solar system.

She decided that meant her.

Determined to win one of those four coveted slots, she’d thrown herself into her boot camp training with everything she had. It turned out that was quite a lot. Not only did she make it into the top four, she was number one by an embarrassing margin. And then the letter came, ordering her to report to Hecate Base for recon training, and it was all worth it. She called her father and just screamed for two minutes. When he finally got her to calm down and tell him what she was calling about, he screamed back for even longer. You’re one of the best now, baby, he’d said at the end, and the warmth those words put in her heart had never really faded.

Even now, sitting on the gray metal deck in the dirty machine shop on a stolen Martian warship. Even with all her mates torn into pieces and scattered across the frozen surface of Ganymede. Even with her military status in limbo and her loyalty to her nation justifiably in question. Even with all that, You’re one of the best now, baby made her smile. She felt an ache to call her father and tell him what had happened. They’d always been close, and when neither of her brothers had followed in his footsteps by choosing a military career, she had. It had just strengthened the connection. She knew he’d understand what it was costing her to turn her back on everything she held sacred to avenge her team.

And she had a powerful premonition she’d never see him again.

Even if they made it through to Jupiter with half the UN fleet hunting them, and even if when they got there, Admiral Nguyen and the dozen or more ships he controlled didn’t immediately blow them out of the sky, and even if they managed to stop whatever was happening in orbit around Io with the Rocinante intact, Holden was still planning to land and save Prax’s daughter.

The monsters would be there.

She knew it as surely as she’d ever known anything in her life. Each night she dreamed of facing it again. The thing flexing its long fingers and staring at her with its too-large glowing blue eyes, ready to finish what it had started all those months earlier on Ganymede. In her dream, she raised a gun that grew out of her hand, and started shooting it as it ran toward her, black spiderwebs spilling from holes that closed like water. She always woke before it reached her, but she knew how the dream would end: with her shattered body left cooling on the ice. She also knew that when Holden led his team down to the laboratories on Io where the monsters were made, she’d go along with him. The scene from her dream would play out in real life. She knew it like she knew her father’s love. She welcomed it.

On the floor around her lay the pieces of her armor. With weeks of travel on the way to Io, she had time to completely strip and refit it. The Rocinante’s machine shop was well stocked, and the tools were of Martian make. It was the perfect location. The suit had seen a lot of use without much maintenance, but if she was being honest with herself, the distraction was the payoff. A suit of Martian reconnaissance armor was an incredibly complex machine, finely tuned to its wearer. Stripping and reassembling it wasn’t a trivial task. It required full concentration. Every moment she spent working on it was another moment when she didn’t think about the monster waiting to kill her on Io.

Sadly, that distraction was over now. She’d finished with the maintenance, even finding the micro-fracture in a tiny valve that was causing the slow but persistent leak of fluid in the suit’s knee actuator. It was time to just put it all back together. It had the feeling of ritual. A final cleansing before going out to meet death on the battlefield.