Home > The Churn: An Expanse Novella (Expanse #3.5)(9)

The Churn: An Expanse Novella (Expanse #3.5)(9)
Author: James S.A. Corey

“The world changes you and you can’t stop it from doing so. You have to let go of being someone who doesn’t matter now. Because if you live through this time—just live through it and nothing more—you will be more important to Burton. You can’t avoid it. You can only choose what your importance is. Will you be someone he can rely upon, or someone he can’t?”

Timmy took a deep breath in through his nose and sighed it out. His eyes were flat and hard. “I think I maybe fucked up again.”

“Only maybe,” Lydia said. “There still may be time to repair the error, yes? Go find your friend. You can bring him here.”

Timmy’s head jerked up. Lydia rubbed his shoulders gently, beginning at the base of his neck and stroking out to the bulges of muscle where his arms began, then back again. It was a gesture she had made with him since he was a child, a physical idiom in their own private language. Her heart ached at the sacrifice she was making. The world changes you, she thought. Hadn’t she just said that?

“Bring him here? Y’sure about that?”

“It’s all right,” she said. “It’s temporary.”

“Okay then,” he said. She felt a tug of regret that he had given in so quickly, but it passed quickly. “I’ll leave you the good boat.”

“The good boat?” she said to his retreating back.

“The one we came in.”

The door closed. The gray that passed for darkness swallowed him up, and five minutes later she heard what might have been a skiff splashing in among the waves. Or it might only have been her imagination. She pulled herself into the warm, stinking, plastic embrace of the sleeping bag and stared at the ceiling and waited to see whether he returned.

* * *

All through Baltimore, the struggle between law and opportunity continued, but most of the citizens allied themselves with neither side. The unlicensed coffee shop filled with customers looking for a cheap way to make their dinners on basic seem more palatable, and then with younger people who either didn’t have the currency or else the inclination to take amphetamines before descending to the one-night rai clubs on barricaded streets. A few parents came home from actual jobs, proud to spend real money for a stale muffin and give their credits to the gray-market daycares run out of neighborhood living rooms. Very few people stood wholly for the law or wholly against it, and so for them the catastrophe of the churn was an annoyance to be avoided or endured or else a titillation on the newsfeeds. That it was a question of life and death for other people spoke in its favor as entertainment.

Erich, sitting at the rented deck with a newsfeed spooling past, felt the distance between himself and the others who shared his space more keenly than they did. His sense of dread, of a chapter of his own life ending, was unnoticed by the heavyset woman who brewed the coffee and the thin man at the edge of the rooftop who spent his hours sending messages about tangled romantic involvements. To the other habitués of the coffee shop, Erich was just the crippled man who was hogging the deck. An annoyance and an amusement, and no one would particularly notice or care if he vanished from the world.

Timmy arrived just after midnight, his broad, amiable smile softening the distance in his eyes. To anyone who didn’t look at him closely, he seemed unthreatening, and no one looked at him closely. He pulled a welded steel chair up to the bolted-down deck and sat at Erich’s side. The newsfeed was set to local. A pale-skinned woman with the Outer Planets Association split circle tattooed on her sternum and Loca Griega teardrops on her cheeks had blood pouring from her nose and left eye while she struggled against two Star Helix enforcers in gear so thick they barely seemed human. Erich smiled, trying to hide the relief he felt at Timmy’s return.

“Loca,” Erich said, nodding at the feed. “They’re having a bad night too.”

“Lot of that going around,” Timmy said.

“Yeah, right? You…heard from Burton?”

“No. Didn’t try to find him yet either,” Timmy said with a shrug. “You want to hang out here some more, or you about ready to go?”

“I don’t know where to go,” Erich said, a high violin whine coming in at the back of his voice.

“I got that covered,” Timmy said.

“You got a bolt-hole? Jesus, that’s where you’ve been all this time, isn’t it? Getting someplace safe to hide?”

“Kind of. But, you know, you ready?”

“I need to stop someplace. Get a deck.”

Timmy frowned and nodded at the table before them. There’s one right there was in his eyes. Erich pointed at the bolts anchoring the machine to the wooden tabletop. Timmy’s expression went empty and he stood up.

“Hey,” Erich said. “What’re you…Timmy? What are you—”

The thick woman who brewed the coffee looked up at the broad-shouldered young man. The coffee bar had been hers for three years, and she’d seen enough of the regulars to recognize trouble.

“Hey,” the large man—boy, really—said, his voice making the word half apology. “So look. I don’t mean to be a dick or anything, but I kind of need that deck.”

“You can use it here, you buy some coffee. Or rates are printed on the side,” the woman said, crossing her arms.

The big kid nodded, his brow knotting. He took a scuffed and stained black-market credit chip and pressed it into her palm.

“Shit, Jones,” she said, blinking at the credit balance on the tiny LED display. “How much coffee you want?”

The kid had already turned back to the table where the cripple with the baby arm had been sitting all day. He hit the table with his fist hard enough that everyone on the rooftop turned to look at him. After the third hit, the wood of the tabletop started to splinter. There was blood on the big boy’s knuckles, and the cripple was shifting back and forth anxiously as the table fell to sticks and splinters. The boy pulled her little deck free with a creaking sound. The bolts still hung from it, the wood torn out from around them. Blood dripped from his hands as he tucked the machine under his arm and nodded to the cripple.

“Anything else you need?” Timmy asked.

Erich had to fight not to smile. “No, I think I’m good now.”

“All right then. We should go.” Timmy turned to the woman and lifted his swelling hand to her in a wave. “Thanks.”

She didn’t say anything, but pushed the credit stick into her apron and waddled back to get a broom. They were gone before she returned, walking down the stairway to the street.

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