She didn’t know how many torpedoes she’d fired when there was an enormous flash of light and the camera display blacked out for a second. When it came back, one of the UN destroyers was torn in two, the rapidly separating pieces of hull spinning away from each other, trailing a faint gas cloud and small bits of jetsam. Some of those things flying out of the shattered ship would be UN sailors. Bobbie ignored that. The lizard rejoiced.

The destruction of the first UN ship tipped the scales, and within minutes the other five were heavily damaged or destroyed. A UN captain sent out a distress call and immediately signaled surrender.

Bobbie looked at her display. Three UN ships destroyed. Three heavily damaged. The Martians had lost two destroyers, and one of their cruisers was badly damaged. The Rocinante had three bullet wounds that had let all her air out, but no other damage.

They’d won.

“Holy shit,” Alex said. “Captain, we have got to get one of these.”

It took Bobbie a minute to realize he was talking about her.

“You have the gratitude of the UN government,” Avasarala was saying to the Martian commander. “Or at least the part of the UN government I run. We’re going to Io to blow up some more ships and maybe stop the apocalypse. Want to come with?”

Bobbie opened a private channel to Avasarala.

“We’re all traitors now.”

“Ha!” the old lady said. “Only if we lose.”

Chapter Forty-Four: Holden

From the outside, the damage to the Rocinante was barely noticeable. The three point defense cannon rounds fired by one of the UN destroyers had hit her just forward of the sick bay and, after a short diagonal trip through the ship, exited through the machine shop, two decks below. Along the way, one of them had passed through three cabins in the crew deck.

Holden had expected the little botanist to be a wreck, especially after his crack about soiling himself. But when Holden had checked on him after the battle, he’d been surprised by the nonchalant shrug the scientist had given.

“It was very startling,” was all he’d said.

It would be easy to write it off as shell shock. The kidnapping of his daughter, followed by months of living on Ganymede as the social structure collapsed. Easy to see Prax’s calm as the precursor to a complete mental and emotional breakdown. God knew the man had lost control of himself half a dozen times, and most of them inconvenient. But Holden suspected there was a lot more to Prax than that. There was a relentless forward motion to the man. The universe might knock him down over and over again, but unless he was dead, he’d just keep getting up and shuffling ahead toward his goal. Holden thought he had probably been a very good scientist. Thrilled by small victories, undeterred by setbacks. Plodding along until he got to where he needed to be.

Even now, just hours after nearly being cut in two by a highspeed projectile, Prax was belowdecks with Naomi and Avasarala, patching holes inside the ship. He hadn’t even been asked. He’d just climbed out of his bunk and pitched in.

Holden stood above one of the bullet entry points on the ship’s outer hull. The small projectile had left a perfectly round hole and almost no dimpling. It had passed through five centimeters of high-tensile alloy armor so quickly it hadn’t even dented it.

“Found it,” Holden said. “No light coming out, so it looks like they’ve already patched it on the inside.”

“Coming,” Amos said, then clumped across the hull on magnetic boots, a portable welding torch in his hand. Bobbie followed in her fancy powered armor, carrying big sheets of patch material.

While Bobbie and Amos worked on sealing up the outer hull breach, Holden wandered off to find the next hole. Around him, the three remaining Martian warships drifted along with the Rocinante like an honor guard. With their drives off, they were visible only as small black spots that moved across the star field. Even with the Roci telling his armor where to look, and with the HUD pointing the ships out, they were almost impossible to see.

Holden tracked the Martian cruiser on his HUD until it passed across the bright splash of the Milky Way’s ecliptic. For a moment, the entire ship was a black silhouette framed in the ancient white of a few billion stars. A faint cone of translucent white sprayed out from one side of the ship, and it drifted back into the star-speckled black. Holden felt a desire to have Naomi standing next to him, looking up at the same sights, that bordered on a physical ache.

“I forget how beautiful it is out here,” he said to her over their private channel instead.

“You daydreaming and letting someone else do all the work?” she replied.

“Yeah. More of these stars have planets around them than don’t. Billions of worlds. Five hundred million planets in the habitable zone was the last estimate. Think our great-grandkids will get to see any of them?”

“Our grandkids?”

“When this is over.”

“Also,” Naomi said, “at least one of those planets has the protomolecule masters on it. Maybe we should avoid that one.”

“Honestly? That’s one I’d like to see. Who made this thing? What’s it all for? I’d love to be able to ask. And at the very least, they share the human drive to find every habitable corner and move in. We might have more in common than we think.”

“They also kill whoever lived there first.”

Holden snorted. “We’ve been doing that since the invention of the spear. They’re just scary good at it.”

“You found that next hole yet?” Amos said over the main channel, his voice an unwelcome intrusion. Holden pulled his gaze away from the sky and back to the metal beneath his feet. Using the damage map the Roci was feeding to his HUD, it took only a moment to find the next entry wound.

“Yeah, yeah, right here,” he said, and Amos and Bobbie began moving his direction.

“Cap,” Alex said, chiming in from the cockpit. “The captain of that MCRN cruiser is lookin’ to talk to you.”

“Patch him through to my suit.”

“Roger,” Alex said, and then the static on the radio shifted in tone.

“Captain Holden?”

“I read you. Go ahead.”

“This is Captain Richard Tseng of the MCRN Cydonia. Sorry we weren’t able to speak sooner. I’ve been dealing with damage control and arranging for rescue and repair ships.”

“I understand, Captain,” Holden said, trying to spot the Cydonia again but failing. “I’m out on my hull patching a few holes myself. I saw you guys drive by a minute ago.”