Home > Abaddon's Gate (Expanse #3)(14)

Abaddon's Gate (Expanse #3)(14)
Author: James S.A. Corey

“We came out here with an operational plan,” she said. “If we start rewriting it every time we find an adjustment we’d like to make, we might as well not have bothered.”

Privately, Bull thought the same thing, but with a different inflection. If he’d been XO, the operational plan would have been called a suggested guideline and only opened when he wanted a good laugh. Pa probably knew that. They reached the transit ramp, a softly sloping curve that led from the command and control levels at the head of the Behemoth down to the massive drum of her body. From Pa’s domain to his.

“Look,” Pa said, her mouth twitching into a conciliatory smile, “I’ll make note of it for the refit, but I’m not going to start reallocating until I have an idea of the big picture. I mean, if I start pulling resources out of environmental control to cover this, and next week we find something that needs doing there, I’ll just be pushing it back, right?”

Bull looked down the ramp. Soft lights recessed in the walls filled the air with a shadowless glow like a cheesy vision of heaven. Pa put her hand on his shoulder. She probably meant it to be sympathetic, but it felt like condescension.

“Yeah, okay,” he said.

“It’ll be all right, chief,” she said, giving his trapezius a little squeeze. He nodded and walked down the ramp to the transfer platform. Her footsteps vanished behind him, submerging in the hum of air recyclers. Bull fought the urge to spit.

The Behemoth, back when she’d been the Nauvoo, had been built with a different life in mind. Most ships built for travel between the planets were like massive buildings, one floor above another with the thrust of the Epstein drive at the bottom providing the feeling of weight for whole voyages apart from a few hours in the middle when the ship flipped around to change from acceleration to slowing down. But Epstein or not, no ship could afford the power requirements or the heat generated by accelerating forever. Plus, Einstein had a thing or two to say about trying to move mass at relativistic speeds. The Nauvoo had been a generation ship, its journey measured in light-years rather than light-minutes. The percentage of its life span it could afford to spend under thrust was tiny by comparison. The command and control at the top of the ship and the main engines and the associated parts of engineering at the bottom could almost have belonged to a standard craft connected by a pair of kilometers-long shafts, one for a keel elevator to move people and another that gave access to the skin of the drum.

Everything else was built to spin.

For the centuries out to Tau Ceti, the body of the Nauvoo was meant to turn. Ten levels of environmental engineering, crew quarters, temples, schools, wastewater treatment, machine shops, and forges, and at the center, the vast interior. It would have been a piece of Earth curved back on itself. Soil and farmland and the illusion of open air with a central core of fusion-driven light and heat as gentle and warm as a summer day.

All the rooms and corridors in the body section—the vast majority of the ship—were built with that long, slow, endless season in mind. The brief periods of acceleration and deceleration at the journey’s ends hardly mattered. Except that they were all the ship had now. Those places that should have been floors were all walls, and would be forever. The vast reinforced decks meant to carry a tiny world’s worth of soil were the sides of a nearly unusable well. Someone slipping from the connection where the command and control levels met the great chamber could fall for nearly two full kilometers. Water systems built to take advantage of spin gravity and Coriolis stood on their sides, useless. The Nauvoo had been a marvel of human optimism and engineering, a statement of faith in the twinned powers of God and rigorous engineering. The Behemoth was a salvage job with mass accelerators strapped to her side that would do more damage to herself than to an enemy.

And Bull wasn’t even allowed to fix the problems he knew about.

He passed through the transfer station and down toward his office. The rooms and corridors here were all built aslant, waiting for the spin gravity that would never come. Stretches of bare metal and exposed ducting spoke of the rush to finish it, and then to salvage and remake it. Just walking past them left Bull depressed.

Samara Rosenberg, longtime repair honcho on Tycho Station and now chief engineer on the Behemoth, was waiting in the anteroom, talking with Bull’s new deputy. Serge, his name was, and Bull wasn’t sure what he thought of the man. Serge had been part of the OPA before that was a safe thing to be. He had the traditional split circle insignia tattooed on his neck and wore it proudly. But like the rest of the security force, he’d been recruited by Michio Pa, and Bull didn’t know exactly how things stood. He didn’t trust the man yet, and distrust kept him from thinking all that well of him.

Sam, on the other hand, he liked.

“Hey, Bull,” she said as he dropped onto the foam-core couch. “Did you get a chance to talk to the XO?”

“We talked,” Bull said.

“What’s the plan?” Sam said, folding her arms in a way that meant she already knew.

Bull ran a hand through his hair. When he’d been younger, his hair had been soft. Now it was like he could feel each strand individually against his fingertips. He pulled out his hand terminal and scrolled through. There were five reports waiting, three routine security reports and two occasionals—an injury report and a larceny complaint. Nothing that couldn’t wait.

“Hey, Serge,” Bull said. “You hold the fort here for an hour?”

“Anything you want, chief,” Serge said with a grin. It was probably just paranoia that left Bull hearing contempt in the words.

“All right, then. Come on, Sam. I’ll buy you a drink.”

In a Coalition ship, back when there’d been an Earth-Mars Coalition, there would have been a commissary. In the OPA, there was a bar and a couple mom-and-pop restaurants along with a bare-bones keep-you-alive supply of prepack meals that anyone could get for the asking. The bar was in a wide space that might have been meant for a gymnasium or a ball court, big enough for a hundred people but Bull hadn’t seen it with more than a couple dozen. The lighting had been swapped out for blue-and-white LEDs set behind sand-textured plastic. The tables were flat black and magnetized to hold the bulbs of beer and liquor to them. Nothing was served in glasses.

“Che-che!” the bartender called as Bull and Sam stepped through the door. “Moergen! Alles-mesa, you.”

“Meh-ya,” Sam replied, as comfortable with the mishmash Belter patois as Bull was with Spanish or English. It was her native tongue.

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