Home > Abaddon's Gate (Expanse #3)(7)

Abaddon's Gate (Expanse #3)(7)
Author: James S.A. Corey

“We planning to shoot anybody?” Bull asked.

“Hopefully it won’t come to that,” Fred said.

The gantry’s gentle upward slope brought them to a platform arch. In the star-strewn blackness, a great plain of steel and ceramic curved away above them, lit by a thousand lights. Looking out at it was like seeing a landscape—this was too big to be something humans had made. It was like a canyon or a mountain. The meadow-filled caldera of some dead volcano. The scale alone made it impossible to see her as a ship. But she was. The construction mechs crawling along her side were bigger than the house Bull had lived in as a boy, but they looked like football players on a distant field. The long, thin line of the keel elevator stretched along the body of the drum to shuttle personnel from engineering at one end to ops at the other. The secondary car, stored on the exterior, could hold a dozen people. It looked like a grain of salt. The soft curve was studded with turreted rail guns and the rough, angry extrusions of torpedo tubes.

Once, she’d been the Nauvoo. A generation ship headed to the stars carrying a load of devout Mormons with only an engineered ecosystem and an unshakable faith in God’s grace to see them through. Now she was the Behemoth. The biggest, baddest weapons platform in the solar system. Four Donnager-class battleships would fit in her belly and not touch the walls. She could accelerate magnetic rounds to a measurable fraction of c. She could hold more nuclear torpedoes than the Outer Planets Alliance actually had. Her communications laser was powerful enough to burn through steel if they gave it enough time. Apart from painting teeth on her and welding on an apartment building–sized sharkfin, nothing could have been more clearly or effectively built to intimidate.

Which was good, because she was a retrofitted piece of crap, and if they ever got in a real fight, they were boned. Bull slid a glance at Ashford. The captain’s chin was tilted high and his eyes were bright with pride. Bull sucked his teeth.

The last threads of weight let go as the platform and gantry matched to the stillness of the Behemoth. One of the distant construction mechs burst into a sun-white flare as the welding started.

“How long before we take her out?” Ashford asked.

“Three days,” Fred said.

“Engineering report said the ship’ll be ready in about ten,” Bull said. “We planning to work on her while we’re flying?”

“That was the intention,” Fred said.

“Because we could wait another few days here, do the work in dock, and burn a little harder going out, get the same arrival.”

The silence was uncomfortable. Bull had known it would be, but it had to be said.

“The crew’s comfort and morale need as much support as the ship,” Fred said, diplomacy changing the shapes of the words. Bull had known him long enough to hear it. The Belters don’t want a hard burn. “Besides which, it’s easier to get the in-transit work done in lower g. It’s all been min-maxed, Bull. You ship out in three.”

“Is that a problem?” Ashford said.

Bull pulled the goofy grin he used when he wanted to tell the truth and not get in trouble for it.

“We’re heading out to throw gang signs at Earth and Mars while the Ring does a bunch of scary alien mystery stuff. We’ve got a crew that’s never worked together, a ship that’s half salvage, and not enough time to shake it all down. Sure it’s a problem, but it’s not one we can fix, so we’ll do it anyway. Worst can happen is we’ll all die.”

“Cheerful thought,” Ashford said. The disapproval dripped off him. Bull’s grin widened and he shrugged.

“Going to happen sooner or later.”

Bull’s quarters on Tycho Station were luxurious. Four rooms, high ceilings, a private head with an actual water supply. Even as a kid back on Earth, he hadn’t lived this well. He’d spent his childhood in a housing complex in the New Mexican Shared Interest Zone, living with his parents, grandmother, two uncles, three aunts, and about a thousand cousins, seemed like. When he turned sixteen and declined to go on basic, he’d headed south to Alamogordo and worked his two-year service stripping down ancient solar electricity stations from the bad old days before fusion. He’d shared a dorm with ten other guys. He could still picture them, the way they’d been back then, all skinny and muscled with their shirts off or tied around their heads. He could still feel the New Mexican sun pressing against his chest like a hand as he basked in the radiation and heat of an uncontrolled fusion reaction, protected only by distance and the wide blue sky.

When his two-year stint was up, he tried tech school, but he’d gotten distracted by hormones and alcohol. Once he’d dropped out, his choices were pretty much just the military or basic. He’d chosen the one that felt less like death. In the Marines, he’d never had a bunk larger than the front room of his Tycho Station quarters. He hadn’t even had a place that was really his own until he mustered out. Ceres Station hadn’t been a good place for him. The hole he’d taken had been up near the center of spin, low g and high Coriolis. It hadn’t been much more than a place to go sleep off last night’s drunk, but it had been his. The bare, polished-stone walls, the ship surplus bed with restraining straps for low g. Some previous owner had chiseled the words besso o nadie into the wall. It was Belter cant for better or nothing. He hadn’t known it was a political slogan at the time. The things he’d gotten since coming to Tycho Station—the frame cycling through a dozen good family pictures from Earth, the tin Santos candleholder that his ex-girlfriend hadn’t taken when she left, the civilian clothes—would have filled his old place on Ceres and not left room for him to sleep. He had too much stuff. He needed to pare it down.

But not for this assignment. The XO’s suite on the Behemoth was bigger.

The system chimed, letting him know someone was at the door. From long habit, Bull checked the video feed before he opened the door. Fred was shifting from one foot to the other. He was in civilian clothes. A white button-down and grandpa pants that tried to forgive the sag of his belly. It was a losing fight. Fred wasn’t out of shape any more than Bull was. They were just getting old.

“Hey,” Bull said. “Grab a chair anywhere. I’m just getting it all together.”

“Heading over now?”

“Want to spend some time on the ship before we take her out,” Bull said. “Check for stray Mormons.”

Fred looked pained.

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