“Fine,” she said, her face hardening. “But you’re coming back. I’ll be here on the radio the whole time. We’ll work through this together, every step. No hero bullshit. Brains instead of bullets, and we work the problems together. You give me that. You better give me that.”
Holden finally pulled her into his arms and kissed her. “I agree. Please, please help me make it back alive. I’d really like that.”
Flying the Razorback to the crippled Agatha King was like taking a race car to the corner market. The King was only a few thousand kilometers from the Rocinante. It seemed close enough for an EVA pack and a really strong push. Instead, he flew what was probably the fastest ship in the Jupiter system in teakettle mode at about 5 percent thrust through the debris of the recent battle. He could sense the Razorback straining at the leash, responding to his tiny bursts of steam with sullen reproach. The distance to the stricken flagship was short enough, and the path treacherous enough, that programming in a course would take more time than just flying by stick. But even at his languid pace, the Razorback seemed to have a hard time keeping its nose pointed at the King.
You don’t want to go there, the ship seemed to be saying. That’s an awful place.
“No, no, I really don’t,” he said, patting the console in front of him. “But just get me there in one piece, okay, honey?”
A massive chunk of what must have once been a destroyer floated past, the ragged edges still glowing with heat. Holden tapped the stick and pushed the Razorback sideways to get a bit more distance from the floating wreckage. The nose drifted off course. “Fight all you want, we’re still going to the same place.”
Some part of Holden was disappointed that the transit was so dangerous. He’d never flown to Io before, and the view of the moon at the edge of his screens was spectacular. A massive volcano of molten silicate on the opposite side of the moon was throwing particles so high into space he could see the trail it left in the sky. The plume cooled into a spray of silicate crystals, which caught Jupiter’s glow and glittered like diamonds scattered across the black. Some of them would drift off to become part of Jupiter’s faint ring system, blown right out of Io’s gravity well. In any other circumstance, it would have been beautiful.
But the hazardous flight kept his attention on his instruments and the screens in front of him. And always, the growing bulk of the Agatha King, floating alone at the center of the junk cloud.
When he was within range, Holden signaled the ship’s automated docking system, but as he’d suspected, the King didn’t respond. He piloted up to the nearest external airlock and told the Razorback to maintain a constant distance of five meters. The racing ship was not designed to dock with another ship in space. It lacked even a rudimentary docking tube. His trip to the King would be a short spacewalk.
Avasarala had gotten a master override code from Souther, and Holden had the Razorback transmit it. The airlock immediately cycled open.
Holden topped off the hazmat suit’s air supply in the Razorback’s airlock. Once he got onto Nguyen’s flagship, he couldn’t trust the air, even in the suit-recharging stations. Nothing from the King could be allowed inside his suit. Nothing.
When his stored-air gauge read 100 percent, he turned on the radio and called Naomi. “I’m going in now.”
He kicked off his boot mags, and a sharp push against the inner airlock door sent him across the short gap to the King.
“I’m getting a good picture,” Naomi said. The video link light on his HUD was on. Naomi could see everything he could see. It was comforting and lonely at the same time, like making a call to a friend who lived very far away.
Holden cycled the airlock. The two minutes while the King closed the outer door and then pumped air into the chamber seemed to last forever. There was no way to know what would be on the other side of the inner airlock door when it finally opened. Holden put his hand on the butt of his pistol with a nonchalance he didn’t feel.
The inner door slid open.
The sudden screech of his hazmat suit’s radiation alarm nearly gave him a heart attack. He chinned the control that killed the audible alarm, though he kept the outside radiation level meter running. It wasn’t data that actually did him any good, but the suit was reassuring him that it could handle the current levels, and that was nice.
Holden stepped out of the airlock into a small compartment filled with storage lockers and EVA equipment. It looked empty, but a small noise from one of the lockers alerted him, and he turned just in time to see a man in a UN naval uniform burst out of the locker and swing a heavy wrench at his head. The bulky hazmat suit kept him from moving quickly, and the wrench struck a ringing blow off the side of his helmet.
“Jim!” Naomi yelled over the radio.
“Die, you bastard!” the Navy man yelled at the same time. He took a second swing, but he wasn’t wearing mag boots, and without the push off the bulkhead to give him momentum, the swing did little more than start spinning the man around in the air. Holden grabbed the wrench out of his hand and threw it away. He caught the man to stop his spinning with his left hand and drew his pistol with his right.
“If you cracked my suit, I’m going to throw you out that airlock,” Holden said. He began flipping through suit status screens while keeping his pistol pointed at the wrench enthusiast.
“It looks okay,” Naomi said, relief evident in her voice. “No reds or yellows. That helmet is tougher than it looks.”
“What the hell were you doing in that locker?” Holden asked the man.
“I was working here when the … it … came on board,” the man said. He was a compact-looking Earther, with pale skin and flaming red hair cut close to the scalp. A patch on his suit said LARSON. “All the doors sealed up during emergency lockdown. I was trapped in here, but I could watch what was happening on the internal security system. I was hoping to grab a suit and get out the airlock, but it was sealed too. Say, how’d you get in here?”
“I have admiralty-level overrides,” Holden said to him. Quietly, to Naomi he said, “At current radiation levels, what’s survival odds for our friend here?”
“Not bad,” Naomi said. “If we get him into sick bay in the next couple of hours.”
To Larson he said, “Okay, you’re coming with me. We’re going to CIC. Get me there fast, and you’ve got a ride off this tub.”
“Yes, sir!” Larson said with a salute.