Home > Cibola Burn (Expanse #4)(14)

Cibola Burn (Expanse #4)(14)
Author: James S.A. Corey

“Exactly,” Coop said. “Slow them down, we wanted, and slow them down we did. Question now is what to do with the time we’ve got left.”

“Could kill them all and drop their bodies down the mine pits,” Loris said, her smile making it clear that she was mostly joking.

“I was thinking we could pooch their transmitter,” Ibrahim said. “All their signal goes through one repeater in their technical hut. Something happened to that, they’d be choked for bandwidth like the rest of us.”

“Would it take their hand terminals down too?” Coop asked.

“Might,” Ibrahim said. “It would certainly make them local and line of sight.”

“Worth considering,” Coop said.

The ruins where they met were a half hour’s fast walk from the town itself. Great towers of strange, bonelike material rose up out of the ground, leaning against one another in patterns that seemed almost random until he caught them at just the correct angle and some ornate symmetry revealed itself. The lower structures were soft at the edges, curved like vertebrae or the gears of some unimaginably nimble machine.

A soft breeze shifted through the ruins with a sound like reed flutes playing in the distance. Something had lived here once, but it was gone now, and its bones were a hiding place for Basia and his cabal. He had the sudden memory of a video he’d seen once of brine shrimp living in the bones of a dead whale.

“Question I have,” Basia said, “is what we’re aiming for. We knock out their bandwidth. What does that get us?”

“Makes it harder for them to show value,” Loris said. “I’ve read the charter same as everyone else. Yes, it’s got a lot of conservation and basic science riders and requirements, but let’s all be clear. RCE is here to make a profit. If we can make it clear that they won’t be able to…”

“That doesn’t matter,” Ibrahim said. “What we need to do is establish our own claim to the planet. Profit and loss comes later.”

“I don’t agree, Bram,” Loris said. “If you look at the history of colonialism, legal precedent and title claims are almost always rationalized after the fact. What you see is —”

“What I see,” Coop cut in, “is the time until the joint OPA/UN observer gets here and changes the game getting shorter. Basia? You want to weigh in?”

Basia cracked his knuckles. “What he needs to see is that RCE isn’t organized and we’ve got a ship full of refined lithium ready for market.”

“So let’s make that happen,” Coop said, smiling his vicious smile.

After the meeting, they left one by one or in pairs, so as not to attract attention. First Pete and Ibrahim, together because they were lovers. Then Scotty, puffing on his pipe. Loris and Caterine. Then, usually, Zadie and Coop. But not today. Today, Coop nodded Zadie on ahead. She made the one-handed nod, the physical idiom of Belters who had to communicate in vacuum suits, and strode out, her too-long limbs giving her a gait that was awkward and graceful at once. Like a giraffe.

“Having a hard time with this, you,” Coop said.

Basia shrugged. “Got off to a bad start. That’s all.”

“You were one of them before. Didn’t fight,” Coop said.

“Didn’t,” he said bitterly.

They had lived together on the ship with all the others for years after Ganymede. They had argued together, the two of them, for the exodus to the new planets that the ring gates had opened. Basia knew Coop. Knew he’d fought with a splinter of the OPA that had never accepted compromise with the inner planets. The split circle of the Outer Planets Alliance was etched in the man’s skin, just over his left shoulder blade. It occurred to Basia, not for the first time, that outer planets had taken on a very new meaning in the last couple years.

“Can be hard,” Coop said. “Especially on the big stations. Ceres. Eros, before. Ganymede. All kind of inners there. You live around them. Work with them. Come to like some of them maybe. And then the order comes, and you have to pop a seal and let someone die. Can’t pass, because then they can start looking for the pattern. Who lived that shouldn’t. Compromises the cell.”

Basia nodded, but his mouth tasted sour. “That what we are? An OPA cell?”

“Resisting Earth’s corporate power grab, ne? There’s worse models.”

“Yeah,” Basia said. “I get your point.”

“You do? Because what I’m seeing is you putting a lot of questions in a lot of heads. Thinking about whether we’re on the path we should be.”

Basia bristled. “That a problem for you?”

“Problem’s for you, mate. Because the more you wonder, the more they wonder. And no matter what I pretend, we all remember who mashed that button.”


The walk back from the meetings always left Basia upset. Everywhere, there were little reminders of what the group of them – his cell – had done and also what they hadn’t. The little hydrology lab down by the wash with its geodesic dome and its drills, like the mining pits in miniature. The exobiologists’ hut out alone on the edge of the township. The unfamiliar faces in the square, the clothing that had been fabricated with RCE templates.

On the flats north of the town, a soccer game was kicking up dust, townsmen including his own son Jacek playing with the corporation’s people. At least they were still on different teams. Basia looped around, entering the town proper on the path that led to the mining pits. The breeze was rising toward a wind, stirring dust devils. High above in the blue arc of sky, a wedge of vast creatures like aerial jellyfish trailed golden streamers from pale white bodies. Lucia said each one was as large as the ship, but he couldn’t bring himself to believe that. He wondered whether anyone had given the creatures a name.


“Carol,” he said with a nod as the big woman fell in step beside him. Carol Chiwewe had been everyone’s first choice for coordinator when they’d landed. Smart and focused and strong-minded without being bullish. She almost certainly guessed that he was involved in what had happened at the landing pad, but it didn’t matter. Some secrets stayed secrets because nobody knew them. Some because nobody told.

“I’m putting together a maintenance crew to head out for the pits. Going out tomorrow. Probably stay for five, six days. You in?”

“There a problem?”

“No, and I think we should keep it that way. Only a few more loads to get up the well before we can ship out.”

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