Home > Abaddon's Gate (Expanse #3)(10)

Abaddon's Gate (Expanse #3)(10)
Author: James S.A. Corey

“No deal.” The words were like a reflex. They came from her spine, the decision too obvious to require her brain.

Travin pulled back the envelope, the plastic hissing against the table. The soft tutting sound of tongue against teeth was as sympathetic as it was false.

“You have moved heaven and earth,” he said. “You have bribed. You have bought. You have arranged. And when you say that you have held nothing in reserve, I believe you. So now you come to my table and tell me no deal? No deal is no deal.”

“I paid you.”

“I don’t care. We are partners. Full partners. Whatever you are getting from this, I am getting too. Or else there are other people, I think, who would be very interested to hear about what the infamous Mao have been so quietly doing.”

The two men on the couch were paying attention to her now. Their gazes were on her. She turned to look over her shoulder. The door to the gamblers’ den was metal, and it was locked. The window was wide. The security wire in it was the sort that retracted if you wanted the glass to open and let the filthy breeze of the city in to soil the air. The insect-eyed one stood up.

Her implants were triggered by rubbing her tongue against the roof of her mouth. Two circles, counterclockwise. It was a private movement, invisible. Internal. Oddly sensual. It was almost as easy as just thinking. The suite of manufactured glands tucked in her throat and head and abdomen squeezed their little bladders empty, pouring complex chemistry into her blood. She shuddered. It felt like orgasm without the pleasure. She could feel conscience and inhibition sliding away like bad dreams. She was fully awake and alive.

All the sounds in the room—the roar of street traffic, the muffled cacophony of the gambling decks, Travin’s nasty voice—went quieter, as if the cocktail flowing into her had stuffed foam in her ears. Her muscles grew tense and tight. The taste of copper filled her mouth. Time slowed.

What to do? What to do?

The thugs by the couch were the first threat. She moved over to them, gravity’s oppressive grip forgotten. She kicked the bodybuilder in the kneecap as he rose, the little beer coaster of bone ripping free of its tendons and sliding up his thigh. His face was a cartoon of surprise and alarm. As he began to crumple, she lifted her other knee, driving it up into his descending larynx. She’d been aiming for his face. Throat just as good, she thought as the cartilage collapsed against her knee.

The insect-eyed one lunged for her. He moved quickly, his own body modified somehow. Fused muscular neurons, probably. Something to streamline the long, slow gap when the neurotransmitters floated across the synapses. Something to give him an edge when he was fighting some other thug. His hand fastened on her shoulder, wide, hard fingers grabbing at her. She turned in toward him, dropping to pull him down. Palm strike to the inside of the elbow to break his power, then both her hands around his wrist, bending it. None of her attacks were conscious or intentional. The movements came flowing out of a hindbrain that had been freed of restraint and given the time to plan its mayhem. It was no more a martial art than a crocodile taking down a water buffalo was; just speed, strength, and a couple billion years of survival instinct unleashed. Her tai chi instructor would have looked away in embarrassment.

The bodybuilder sloped down to the floor, blood pouring from his mouth. The insect-eyed man pulled away from her, which was the wrong thing to do. She hugged his locked joints close to her body and swung from her hips. He was bigger than she was, had lived in the gravity well all his life. He buffed up with steroids and his own cheap augmentations. She didn’t need to be stronger than him, though. Just stronger than the little bones in his wrist and elbow. He broke, dropping to his knee.

Melba—not Clarissa—swung around him, sliding her right arm around his neck, then locking it with the left, protecting her own head from the thrashing that was about to come. She didn’t need to be stronger than him, just stronger than the soft arteries that carried blood to his brain.

Travin’s gun fired, gouging a hole in the couch. The little puff of foam was like a sponge exploding. No time. She shrieked, pulling the power of the scream into her arms, her shoulders. She felt the insect-eyed man’s neck snap. Travin fired again. If he hit her, she’d die. She felt no fear, though. It had been locked away where she couldn’t experience it. That would come soon. Very soon. It had to be done quickly.

He should have tried for a third bullet. It was the smart thing. The wise one. He was neither smart nor wise. He did what his body told him to and tried to get away. He was a monkey, and millions of years of evolution told him to flee from the predator. He didn’t have time for another mistake. She felt another scream growing in her throat.

Time skipped. Her fingers were wrapped around Travin’s neck. She’d been driving his skull into the corner of his desk. There was blood and scalp adhering to it. She pushed again, but he was heavy. There was no force behind her blow. She dropped him, and he fell to the floor moaning.


Alive, she thought. The fear was back now, and the first presentiment of nausea. He was still alive. He couldn’t still be alive when the crash came. He’d had a gun. She had to find what had happened to it. With fingers quickly growing numb, she pulled the little pistol from under him.

“Partners,” she said, and fired two rounds into his head. Even over the gambling decks, they had to have heard it. She forced herself to the metal door and checked the lock. It was bolted. Unless someone had a key or cut through it, she was all right. She could rest. They wouldn’t call the police. She hoped they wouldn’t call the police.

She slid to the floor. Sweat poured down her face and she began shaking. It seemed unfair that she’d lose time during the glorious and redemptive violence and have to fight to stay conscious through the physiological crash that followed, but she couldn’t afford to sleep. Not here. She hugged her knees to her chest, sobbing not because she felt sorrow or fear, but because it was what her flesh did when she was coming down. Someone was knocking at the door, but the sound was uncertain. Tentative. Just a few minutes, and she’d be… not all right. Not that. But good enough. Just a few minutes.

This was why glandular modification had never taken root in the military culture. A squad of soldiers without hesitation or doubt, so full of adrenaline they could tear their own muscles and not care, might win battles. But the same fighters curled up and mewling for five minutes afterward would lose them again. It was a failed technology, but not an unavailable one. Enough money, enough favors to call in, and enough men of science who had been cured of conscience. It was easy. The easiest part of her plan, really.

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