“Sorry,” Holden said quietly to Naomi as he opened it. “I know I sort of agreed not to do that anymore. But I didn’t have time to—”

“No,” Naomi said, her voice sad. “That bastard deserved to die. And I know you’ll feel like shit about it later. That’s good enough for me.”

The panel opened, and a simple button lay on the other side. It wasn’t even red, just a plain industrial white. “This is what blows the ship?”

“No timer,” Naomi said.

“Well, this is an anti-boarding fail-safe. If someone opens this panel and presses this button, it’s because the ship is lost. They don’t want it on a timer someone can just disarm.”

“This is an engineering problem,” Naomi said. She already knew what he was thinking, and she was trying to get an answer out before he could say it. “We can solve this.”

“We can’t,” Holden said, waiting to feel the sorrow but instead feeling a sort of quiet peace. “There are a couple hundred very angry zombies trying to get up the elevator shaft right now. We won’t come up with a solution that doesn’t leave me stranded in here anyway.”

A hand squeezed his shoulder. He looked up, and Larson said, “I’ll press it.”

“No, you don’t have to—”

Larson held out his arm. The sleeve of his environment suit had a tiny tear where the elevator doors had closed on it. Around the tear was a palm-sized brown stain.

“Just rotten f**king luck, I guess. But I watched the Eros feeds like everyone else,” Larson said. “You can’t risk taking me. Pretty soon I might be …” He paused and pointed back toward the elevator with his head. “Might be one of those.”

Holden took Larson’s hand in his. The thick gloves made it impossible to feel anything. “I’m very sorry.”

“Hey, you tried,” Larson said with a sad smile. “At least now I won’t die of thirst in a suit locker.”

“Admiral Souther will know about this,” Holden said. “I’ll make sure everyone knows.”

“Seriously,” Larson said, floating next to the button that would turn the Agatha King into a small star for a few seconds. He pulled off his helmet and took a long breath. “There’s another airlock three decks up. If they aren’t in the elevator shaft yet, you can make it.”

“Larson, I—”

“You should go away now.”

Holden had to strip off his suit in the King’s airlock. It was covered in the goo, and he couldn’t risk taking it onto the Razorback. He absorbed a few rads while he stole another UN vac suit from one of the lockers and put it on instead. It looked exactly like the one Larson was wearing. As soon as he was back on the Razorback, he sent the remote command codes to Souther’s ship. He was nearly back to the Rocinante when the King vanished in a ball of white fire.

Chapter Fifty: Bobbie

The captain just left,” Amos said to Bobbie when he came back into the machine shop. She floated half a meter above the deck inside a small circle of deadly technology. Behind her sat her cleaned and refitted recon suit, a single barrel of the newly installed gun gleaming inside the port on its right arm. To her left floated the recently reassembled auto-shotgun Amos favored. The rest of the circle was formed by pistols, grenades, a combat knife, and a variety of weapon magazines. Bobbie took one last mental inventory and decided she’d done all she could do.

“He thinks maybe he’s not coming back from this one,” Amos continued, then bent down to grab the auto-shotgun. He looked it over with a critical eye, then gave her an appreciative nod.

“Going into a fight where you know you aren’t coming back gives you a sort of clarity,” Bobbie said. She reached out and grabbed her armor, pulling herself into it. Not an easy thing to do in microgravity. She had to twist and shimmy to get her legs down into the suit before she could start sealing up the chest. She noticed Amos watching her. He had a dopey grin on his face.

“Seriously. Now?” she said. “We’re talking about your captain going off to his death, and all that’s going through your head right now is ‘Ooh, boobies!’”

Amos continued to grin, not chastened at all. “That bodysuit don’t leave a lot to the imagination. That’s all.”

Bobbie rolled her eyes. “Believe me, if I could wear a bulky sweater inside my fully articulated, power-assisted combat suit, I still wouldn’t. Because that would be stupid.” She hit the controls to seal the suit, and her armor folded around her like a second skin. She closed the helmet, using the suit’s external speakers to talk to Amos, knowing it would make her voice robotic and inhuman.

“Better put your big-boy pants on,” she said, the sound echoing around the room. Amos took an unconscious step back. “The captain isn’t the only one that might not be coming back.”

Bobbie climbed onto the ladder-lift and let it take her all the way up to the ops deck. Avasarala was belted into her couch at the comm station. Naomi was in Holden’s usual spot at the tactical panel. Alex would be up in the cockpit already. Bobbie opened her visor to speak using her normal voice.

“We cleared?” she asked Avasarala.

The old lady nodded and held up one hand in a wait gesture while she spoke to someone on her headset mic. “The Martians have already dropped a full platoon,” she said, pushing the mic away from her face. “But their orders are to set up a perimeter and seal the base while someone further up the food chain decides what to do.”

“They’re not going to—” Bobbie started, but Avasarala cut her off with a dismissive wave of her hand.

“Fuck no,” she said. “I’m further up the food chain, and I’ve already decided we’re going to glass this abattoir as soon as you’re off the surface. I’m letting them think we’re still discussing it so you have time to go get the kids.”

Bobbie nodded her fist at Avasarala. Recon Marines were trained to use the Belters’ physical idiom when in their combat armor. Avasarala just looked baffled at the gesture and said, “So stop playing with your hand and go get the f**king kids.”

Bobbie headed back to the ladder-lift, connecting to the ship’s 1MC as she went. “Amos, Prax, meet me in the airlock in five minutes, geared up and ready to go. Alex, put us on the deck in ten.”

“Roger that,” Alex replied. “Good hunting, soldier.” She wondered if they might have become friends, given enough time. It was a pleasant thought.

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