By this point, James S.A. Corey’s space opera/political SF thriller series The Expanse needs no introduction. After five books, it has been a New York Times Bestseller, a Hugo nominee, and the inspiration for your new favorite show on Syfy.
So we won’t waste anymore time in getting to the meat here: keep reading for an exclusive excerpt from book six of The Expanse, Babylon’s Ashes, available December 6 from Orbit, and don’t forget to preorder a signed edition before they’re all gone!
“All right, boys and girls,” Alex drawled. “Everybody strapped in and ready?”
“Check,” Holden said on the open channel, and then listened as the others reported in. Including Clarissa Mao. It was an illusion built from anticipation, but Holden felt like the lights were a little brighter, as if after weeks in dock, the Roci was excited to be doing something important too.
“Reactor’s good,” Amos reported from the machine deck.
Alex cleared his throat. “All right. We’re good to go in ten… nine…”
“She’s seen us,” Naomi said. “I’ve got action from her maneuvering thrusters.”
“Fine, then. Three-two-one,” Alex said, and Holden fell back into his crash couch hard. The gel pressed in around him, and the
ship rumbled the deep bass of the drive as it spilled off speed. To the Azure Dragon, it would be like a bright new star had appeared. A supernova light-years away. Or something less dangerous but much, much closer.
“Ladar’s up,” Naomi said. “And . . . I’ve got lock.”
“Is their reactor up?” Holden asked, at the same time that Bobbie said, “Give me fire control.”
Naomi answered both. “Their drive’s cycling up. We probably have half a minute. You have control, Bobbie.”
“Holden,” Bobbie snapped, “please ring the doorbell. Alex, surrender maneuvering to fire control.”
“Done,” Alex said.
Holden switched on the tightbeam. The Roci found a lock at once. “Azure Dragon, this is the Rocinante. You may have heard of us. We are on approach. Surrender—”
Thrust gravity cut out and their crash couches hissed as the ship spun on two axes.
“Surrender at once and prepare for boarding.”
Naomi’s voice was calm and focused. “Enemy reactor is coming up.”
The ship seemed to trip, throwing Holden and Naomi up against their straps. The keel-mounted rail gun pushed the whole ship backward in a solid mathematical relationship to the mass of the two-kilo tungsten round moving at a measurable fraction of c. Newton’s third law expressed as violence. Holden’s gut knotted and he tried to lean forward. The long seconds dragged.
Naomi made a small, satisfied sound in the back of her throat. “Okay, their reactor’s shutting down. They’re dumping core. We’re not seeing nitrogen in the plume. I don’t think they’ve lost air.”
“Nice shooting,” Amos said on the open channel.
“God damn,” Bobbie said as the Roci shifted back. “I have missed the hell out of this.”
Thrust gravity returned, pushing Holden back as they slowed toward the drifting science ship. It was harder now—a solid two g he could feel in his jaw and the base of his skull.
“Please respond, Azure Dragon, or we’ll shoot you some more,” he said.
“This doesn’t feel right,” Naomi said.
“They started it,” Alex said from above them in the pilot’s deck. “Every rock that dropped, they had a part in.”
Holden wasn’t sure that was what she’d meant, but Naomi didn’t press it, so maybe it had been. “Not getting any response, Bobbie,” he said. “How do you want to play it?”
In answer, the former Martian marine climbed down from the gunner’s station, hand over hand in the high gravity. The muscles in her arms were like cords of wire, and her grimace said both that the sheer effort hurt and that she kind of liked it. “Let them know that if they open up on us, they won’t get crash couches on the way to jail,” she said, passing down toward the airlock. “I’m just going to slip into something more comfortable.”
The crash couches shifted a little as Alex bent their trajectory so they wouldn’t melt the Azure Dragon to slag in their drive plume. Bobbie grunted and took a new grip on the handholds.
“You know there’s a lift, right?” Holden said. “Where’s the fun in that?” Bobbie said as she sank out of sight. Naomi shifted against the high gravity so that he could see her face. Her smile was complex—discomfort and pleasure and some- thing that looked like foreboding. “So that’s what she looks like when she takes herself off the leash.”
Shedding the last of their velocity and matching orbit wasn’t fast. Holden listened with half an ear while Alex, Amos, and Naomi coordinated with the Roci’s systems to bring them along- side. Bobbie chimed in now and again when she wasn’t putting her powered armor together and running through its system checks. The greater part of his attention stayed on the enemy. The Azure Dragon floated in silence. An expanding cloud of radioactive gas that had been its fusion core slowly dissipated behind it until it was hardly denser than the surrounding vacuum. No emergency beacon. No announcement of defiance or surrender. No response to his pings and queries. The silence was creepy.
“I don’t think we killed them,” Holden said. “We probably didn’t kill them, did we?”
“Doesn’t seem likely,” Naomi said, “but I suppose we’ll find out. Worst case, we did, and it still makes it easier to keep the rocks from dropping on Earth.”
Something in the tone of her voice caught him. Her eyes were on her monitor, but she didn’t seem focused. Her mind a million kilometers away.
“Are you all right?”
Naomi blinked, shook her head like she was trying to clear it, and put on a smile that was only a little bit forced. “It’s just strange being out here again. And I can’t help wondering whether I know anyone on that ship. It’s not something I thought about much before.”
“Things have changed,” Holden said.
“Yeah, you used to be the one with the high profile,” she said, and her smile became a degree less forced. “Now I’m the one all the best interrogators want to sit down with.”
Alex announced that he had positive lock on the Azure Dragon’s airlock. Override was coming. Bobbie acknowledged it, said she was prepped for boarding action. She’d be back when the enemy was cleared. It all sounded very military, very Martian. There was an excitement in their voices. Some of it was their fear dressing up in party clothes, but some of it wasn’t. For the first time that he could remember, Holden found himself imagining how it would sound in Naomi’s ears. Her friends preparing themselves to attack and possibly kill people who’d grown up the way she had. The way that no one else on the Rocinante would ever totally understand.
They’d worked on all sides of the confused mess that humanity had made of the Belt and the scattering of colonies beyond it. They’d fought pirates for the OPA. Taken contracts with Earth and Mars and private concerns with their own agendas. Thinking of Naomi now, not only as herself but also as the product of the life she’d lived—the life she was still bringing herself to reveal to him—changed how he saw everything. Even himself.
“We had to stop them,” he said.
She turned to him, confusion in her eyes. “Who? These assholes? Of course we did.” A deep clanking sound ran through the ship as the airlocks connected. An alert popped up on Holden’s screen, but he ignored it. Naomi tilted her head as if Holden was a puzzle she hadn’t quite figured out. “Did you think I felt bad for them?”
“No,” Holden said. “Or yes, but not exactly. Everyone on that ship thinks they’re doing the right thing too. When they’re throwing rocks at Earth, it’s to . . . to protect kids on ships that had to run with too little air or bad filters. Or people who lost their ships because the UN changed the tariff laws.”
“Or because they think it’s fun to kill people,” Naomi said. “Don’t romanticize them just because some of the justifications they use are-”
A second clank came, deeper than the first. Naomi’s eyes widened at the same moment Holden felt his gut tighten. It wasn’t a good sound.
“Alex? What was that?”
“I think we got us a little problem, folks.”