Home > The Churn: An Expanse Novella (Expanse #3.5)(13)

The Churn: An Expanse Novella (Expanse #3.5)(13)
Author: James S.A. Corey

“Because he’s Burton.”

“And I’m not. You were the one who said I’d be important to him if I made it through this shitstorm. This is part of that.”

“I said Burton would see you as important,” Lydia said. “There is more to you than what he sees. There’s more to you than what anybody sees.”

“Well,” Timmy said. “You.”

Even I do not know your depths floated at the back of her throat like a cough. She didn’t have it in her to say the words. If it was true, so what? When had truth ever been her friend? Instead she took another bite of the beef. He did the same. She imagined that he was giving her the time to gather herself. It might even have been true. The perfectly straight lightning bolt of a railgun transport lit the black sky, its thunder rolling after it like a wave. The ginger and pepper burned her lips, her throat, her tongue, and she took another bite, welcoming the pain. It was always pleasant when pain was on the outside.

“And who will you be to yourself?” she said at last. “Doesn’t what you think matter more than what he does?”

Timmy’s brow furrowed. “Yeah, I don’t know what you just said.”

“Who are you going to be to yourself, if you do this?” She put down her fork, leaned across the space between them. She lifted his shirt as she had countless times before, and the erotic charge of it was still there. Never absent. She pressed her palm against his breast, her skin against his skin in the place above his heart. “Who will you be in there?”

Timmy’s face went perfectly still in the unnerving way it sometimes did. His eyes were flat as a shark’s, his mouth like a plaster cast mold of himself. Only his voice was the same, bright and amiable.

“You know there ain’t no one in there,” he said.

She let her fingertips stray to the side, brushing through the coarse hair she knew so well. She felt the hardness of his nipple against her thumb. “Then who will you put there? Burton?”

“He’s the guy with the power,” Timmy said.

“Not the power to kill Erich,” she said. “Not the power to make you kill him. That is you and only you. People like us? We aren’t righteous. But we can pretend to be, if we want, and that’s almost the same as if it were true.”

“I get the feeling you’re asking me for something. I don’t know what it is.”

“I am not a good person,” she said.

“Hey. Don’t—”

“If I were, though? If I were that woman? What would I want you to do?”

Timmy took another mouthful of beef, his jaw working slowly. In his concentration, she saw the echoes of all the versions of himself that she had known from baby to toddler to young man to this, now before her. She folded her hands on her lap.

“That’s a long way to say I shouldn’t do it,” he said.

“Is that what I said?” she asked.

Erich’s yawn came from the doorway. Lydia felt the blood rush from her face, tasted the penny-bright flush of fear as if she had been caught doing something illicit. Erich came into the light, scratching his sleep-tousled hair with his good hand. “Hey,” he said. “Did I hear you get back, big guy? What’s the word?”

Timmy was quiet, his gaze fixed on Lydia, his expression empty as a mask.

“Guys?” Erich said, limping forward. “What’s the matter? Is something wrong?”

Timmy’s sigh was so low that Lydia barely heard it. The boy she had loved for so long, and in so many ways, put on his cheerful smile and looked away from her. She felt tears pricking her eyes.

“Yeah, bad news,” Timmy said. “Burton’s not taking the whole thing very well. He’s put out paper on you.”

Erich sat down, the blood draining from his face. He grabbed his bad arm reflexively, unaware that he was doing it, and looked from Timmy to the woman and back. His heart thudded like a drum in his ears. Timmy licked his fork clean and put it down. The woman was still as stone. Erich felt his world fall out from underneath him, and that he had known it would was less of a comfort than he’d expected. Anyone looking in at the little circle of light from the shadows would have seen only three faces in the black, like a family portrait of refugees. Erich broke the silence.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, pretty sure,” Timmy said. “Seeing as how I got the contract.”

Erich stopped breathing. Timmy stared at him, expressionless for several infinitely long seconds.

“We’ve gotta find a way to get you out,” his big friend finally said, and Erich started breathing again.

“There’s no way out,” he said. “Burton’ll track me down anywhere.”

“What about that deck?” Timmy asked. “It ain’t your old one, but can you still sample with it?”

“What do you mean?” Erich said.

“You’ve got the escape plan for Burton. The clean one. Why don’t you put your sequence on it? Use it to get out of here?”

“I can, sure, but they’ve already got my other deck, remember? I put my DNA on a record, the flag goes up, and I’m in for questioning.”

“Yeah,” Timmy said. “Well maybe you could…Shit. I don’t know. Maybe you could think of something.”

“I knew,” Erich said. “The second I saw those bastards coming down the street, I knew it was over for me. I’m dead. It’s just a matter of time is all.”

“That’s always true,” Lydia said, her mind taken with other matters. “For everyone.”

“Might as well be you,” Erich said to Timmy, giving his friend permission. Terror and love warring in his chest.

“Nope,” Timmy said, cocking his head to one side as if he’d only just made the decision in that moment.

“Erich,” Lydia started.

“As long as I’m alive,” Erich said, ignoring her, “Burton’s not safe. He’s not going to let me slide.”

Timmy frowned, then grunted in surprise. Maybe pleasure.

“What?” Erich said.

“Just that it works the other way too,” Timmy said, levering himself up to his feet. “Anyway, I gotta go back in.”

“Back in?” Erich said.

Timmy brushed his hands across his wide thighs. “The city. I gotta go back to the city. Burton’s expecting me.”

“You’re not going to tell him where I am, are you?” Erich asked. Timmy started laughing and Lydia took it up. Erich looked from one to the other, confused.

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