Home > Abaddon's Gate (Expanse #3)(8)

Abaddon's Gate (Expanse #3)(8)
Author: James S.A. Corey

“I’m pretty sure we got them all out the first time,” he said, playing along. “But it’s a big place. You can look around if you want.”

Bull opened his dresser, his fingers counting through T-shirts. He had ten. There was a sign of decadence. Who needed ten T-shirts? He pulled out five and dropped them on the chair by his footlocker.

“It’s going to be all kinds of hell if they get rights to the Nauvoo back,” he said. “All the changes we’re making to her.”

“They won’t,” Fred said. “Commandeering the ship was perfectly legal. It was an emergency. I could list you ten hours of precedent.”

“Yeah, but then we salvaged it ourselves and called it ours,” Bull said. “That’s like saying I’ve got to borrow your truck, but since I ran it into a ditch and hauled it back out, it’s mine now.”

“Law is a many-splendored thing, Bull,” Fred said. He sounded tired. Something else was bothering him. Bull opened another drawer, threw half his socks into the recycler, and put the others on his T-shirts.

“Just if the judge doesn’t see it that way, could be awkward,” Bull said.

“The judges on Earth don’t have jurisdiction,” Fred said. “And the ones in our court system are loyal to the OPA. They know the big picture. They’re not going to take our biggest ship off the board and hand it back over. Worst case, they’ll order compensation.”

“Can we afford that?”

“Not right now, no,” Fred said.

Bull snorted out a little laugh. “Ever wonder what we did wrong that got us here? You’re driving one of the biggest desks in the OPA, and I’m XO to Ashford. That ain’t a sign we’ve been living our lives right, man.”

“About that,” Fred said. “We’ve had a little change of plan.”

Bull opened his closet, his lips pressing thin. Fred hadn’t just come to chew the fat. There was a problem. Bull took two suits out of the closet, both still wrapped in sticky preservative film. He hadn’t worn either one in years. They probably didn’t fit.

“Ashford thought it would be better to have Michio Pa as the XO. We talked about it. I’m reassigning you as chief security officer.”

“Third-in-command now,” Bull said. “What? Ashford think I was going to frag him and take his chair?”

Fred leaned forward, his fingers laced. The gravity of his expression said he knew it was a crap situation but was making the best of it.

“It’s all about how it looks,” Fred said. “This is the OPA’s navy. The Behemoth is the Belt’s answer to Mars’ and Earth’s heaviest hitters. Having an Earther on the bridge doesn’t send the right message.”

“All right,” Bull said.

“I’m in the same position. You know that. Even after all this time, I have to work twice as hard to command loyalty and respect because of where I’m from. Even the ones who like having me around because they think I make Earth look weak don’t want to take orders from me. I’ve had to earn and re-earn every scrap of respect.”

“Okay,” Bull said. Security officer was going to mean less time in uniform. With a sigh, he put both suits on the chair.

“I’m not saying that you haven’t,” Fred said. “No one knows better than I do that you’re the best of the best. There are just some constraints we have to live with. To get the job done.”

Bull leaned against the wall, his arms crossed. Fred looked up at him from under frost-colored brows.

“Sir, I been flying with you for a long time,” Bull said. “If you need to ask me something, you can just do it.”

“I need you to make this work,” Fred said. “What’s going on out there is the most important thing in the system, and we don’t know what it is. If we embarrass ourselves or give the inner planets some critical advantage, we stand to lose a lot of ground. Ashford and Pa are good people, but they’re Belters. They don’t have the same experience working with Earth forces that you and I do.”

“You think they’re going to start something?”

“No. Ashford will try his hardest to do the right thing, but he’ll react like a Belter and be surprised when other people don’t.”

“Ashford has only ever done a right thing because he’s afraid of being embarrassed. He’s a pretty uniform surrounding vacuum. And you can’t rely on that.”

“I’m not,” Fred agreed. “I’m sending you out there because I trust you to make it work.”

“But you’re not giving me command.”

“But I’m not giving you command.”

“How about a raise?”

“Not that either,” Fred said.

“Well, heck,” Bull said. “All the responsibility and none of the power? How can I turn down an offer like that?”

“No joking. We’re screwing you over, and the reasons are all optics and political bullshit. But I need you to take it.”

“So I’ll take it,” Bull said.

For a moment, the only sound was the quiet ticking of the air recycler. Bull turned back to the task of putting his life in a footlocker again. Somewhere far above him, hidden by tons of steel and ceramic, raw stone and vacuum, Behemoth waited.

Chapter Three: Melba


hen she walked into the gambling house, Melba felt eyes on her. The room was lit by the displays on the game decks, pink and blue and gold. Most of them were themed around sex or violence, or both. Press a button, spend your money, and watch the girls put foreign and offensive objects inside themselves while you waited to see whether you’d won. Slot machines, poker, real-time lotteries. The men who played them exuded an atmosphere of stupidity, desperation, and an almost tangible hatred of women.

“Darling,” an immensely fat man said from behind the counter. “Don’t know where you think you come to, but you come in the wrong place. Maybe best you walk back out.”

“I have an appointment,” she said. “Travin.”

The fat man’s eyes widened under their thick lids. Someone in the gloom called out a vulgarity meant to unease her. It did, but she didn’t let it show.

“Travin in the back, you want him, darling,” the fat man said, nodding. At the far end of the room, through the gauntlet of leers and threat, a red metal door.

All of her instincts came from before, when she was Clarissa, and so they were all wrong now. From the time she’d been old enough to walk, she’d been trained in self-defense, but it had all been anti-kidnapping. How to attract the attention of the authorities, how to deescalate situations with her captors. There had been other work, of course. Physical training had been part of it, but the goal had always been to break away. To run. To find help.

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