“Sounds rough.”

“I’m a marine,” Bobbie said, and Avasarala paused. The tone was wrong. It was calm, almost relaxed. Almost at peace. That was interesting.

“Does anyone actually like her?” the pilot asked.

“No,” Bobbie said almost before the question was done being asked. “Oh hell no. And she keeps it like that. That shit she pulled with Holden, marching on his ship and ordering him around like she owned it? She’s always like that. The secretary-general? She calls him a bobble-head to his face.”

“And what’s with the potty mouth?”

“Part of her charm,” Bobbie said.

The pilot chuckled, and there was a little slurp as he drank something.

“I may have misunderstood politics,” he said. And a moment later: “You like her?”

“I do.”

“Mind if I ask why?”

“We care about the same things,” Bobbie said, and the thoughtful note in her voice made Avasarala feel uncomfortable eavesdropping. She cleared her throat and walked into the galley.

“Where’s Holden?” she asked.

“Probably sleeping,” the pilot said. “The way we’ve been keepin’ the ship’s cycle, it’s about two in the morning.”

“Ah,” Avasarala said. For her, it was mid-afternoon. That was going to be a little awkward. Everything in her life seemed to be about lag right now, waiting for the messages to get through the vast blackness of the vacuum. But at least she could prepare.

“I’m going to want a meeting with everyone on board as soon as they’re up,” she said. “Bobbie, you’ll need your formal wear again.”

It took Bobbie only a few seconds to understand.

“You’ll show them the monster,” she said.

“And then we’re going to sit here and talk until we figure out what exactly it is they know on this ship. It has the bad guys worried enough they were willing to send their boys to kill them,” she said.

“Yeah, about that,” the pilot said. “Those destroyers cut back to a cruising acceleration, but they aren’t turning back yet.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Avasarala said. “Everybody knows I’m on this ship. No one’s going to shoot at it.”

In the local morning and Avasarala’s subjective early evening, the crew gathered again. Rather than bring the whole powered suit into the galley, she’d copied the stored video and given it to Naomi. The crew members were bright and well rested apart from the pilot, who had stayed up entirely too late talking to Bobbie, and the botanist, who looked like he might just be permanently exhausted.

“I’m not supposed to show this to anyone,” Avasarala said, looking pointedly at Holden. “But on this ship, right now, I think we all need to put our cards on the table. And I’m willing to go first. This is the attack on Ganymede. The thing that started it all off. Naomi?”

Naomi started the playback, and Bobbie turned away and stared at the bulkhead. Avasarala didn’t watch it either, her attention on the faces of the others. As the blood and carnage played out behind her, she studied them and learned a little more about the people she was dealing with. The engineer, Amos, watched with the calm reserve of a professional killer. No surprise there. At first Holden, Naomi, and Alex were horrified, and she watched as Alex and Naomi slid into a kind of shock. There were tears in the pilot’s eyes. Holden, on the other hand, curled in. His shoulders bent outward from each other, and an expression of banked rage smoldered in his eyes and around the corners of his mouth. That was interesting. Bobbie wept openly with her back to the screen, and her expression was melancholy, like a woman at a funeral. A memorial service. Praxidike—everyone else called him Prax—was the only one who seemed almost happy. When at the segment’s end, the monstrosity detonated, he clapped his hands and squealed in pleasure.

“That was it,” he said. “You were right, Alex. Did you see how it was starting to grow more limbs? Catastrophic restraint failure. It was a fail-safe.”

“Okay,” Avasarala said. “Why don’t you try that again with an antecedent. What was a fail-safe?”

“The other protomolecule form ejected the explosive device from its body before it could detonate. You see, these … things—protomolecule soldiers or whatever—are breaking their programming, and I think Merrian knows about it. He hasn’t found a way to stop it, because the constraints fail.”

“Who’s Marion, and what does she have to do with anything?” Avasarala said.

“You wanted more nouns, Gramma,” Amos said.

“Let me take this from the top,” Holden said, and recounted the attack by the stowaway beast, the damage to the cargo door, Prax’s scheme to lure it out of the ship and reduce it to its component atoms with the drive’s exhaust.

Avasarala handed over the data she had about the energy spikes on Venus, and Prax grabbed that data, looking it over while talking about his determination of a secret base on Io where the things were being produced. It left Avasarala’s head spinning.

“And they took your kid there,” Avasarala said.

“They took all of them,” Prax said.

“Why would they do that?”

“Because they don’t have immune systems,” Prax said. “And so they’d be easier to reshape with the protomolecule. There would be fewer physiological systems fighting against the new cellular constraints, and the soldiers would probably last a lot longer.”

“Jesus, Doc,” Amos said. “They’re going to turn Mei into one of those f**king things?”

“Probably,” Prax said, frowning. “I only just figured that out.”

“But why do it at all?” Holden said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“In order to sell them to a military force as a first-strike weapon,” Avasarala said. “To consolidate power before … well, before the f**king apocalypse.”

“Point of clarification,” Alex said, raising his hand. “We have an apocalypse comin’? Was that a thing we knew about?”

“Venus,” Avasarala said.

“Oh. That apocalypse,” Alex said, lowering his hand. “Right.”

“Soldiers that can travel without ships,” Naomi said. “You could fire them off at high g for a little while, then cut engines and let them go ballistic. How would you find them?”

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