Home > Cibola Burn (Expanse #4)(15)

Cibola Burn (Expanse #4)(15)
Author: James S.A. Corey

“Be good to have a full hold before the observer arrives,” Basia said.

“Wouldn’t it just,” Carol said with a smile. “Glad you’re in. Meet at the square at nine.”

“Okay,” Basia said, and she clapped him on the shoulder, turning back to whatever errand she’d been on when she saw him. It was another twenty minutes before he noticed that he hadn’t ever exactly said yes. That was why she ran things, he figured.

His own home was near the edge of the town. They’d made the bricks from the local earth, processed through some of the mining equipment and fired in a kiln powered by combustion. It could only have been more primitive if they’d dug a cave and painted bison on the walls. Lucia was on the little porch area, sweeping the bricks with a broom made from a local grass analog that smelled like manure and peppermint and turned from black to gold when you cut it.

“You don’t know what that thing’s off-gassing,” he said. It was a little joke between them. How she answered would tell a lot about where they stood. A litmus test for the pH of his marriage.

“A third of it’s carcinogenic, a third’s mutagenic, and a third we don’t know what it does,” she said with a smile. So things were good. Basia felt a knot loosen in his belly. He kissed her cheek and ducked into the cool of the house.

“You might as well stop that,” he said. “Wind is just going to push it back.”

Lucia made a few more desultory passes, the grass hissing against the brick, then followed him in. By the standards of Ganymede or the ship, the house was massive. A sleeping room for each of the children and a shared one for them. A room dedicated entirely to food preparation. The captain’s suite on the Barbapiccola boasted fewer square meters than Basia’s home. It was a barbarian palace, and it was his. He sat on a chair by the front window and looked out at the plain.

“Where’s Felcia?” he asked.

“Out,” Lucia said.

“You sound just like her.”

“Felcia is my primary source of information about Felcia,” Lucia said. She was smiling. Laughing a little, even. It was as good a mood as she’d been in for weeks. Basia knew it was a choice. She needed him in a good mood for something, and if he was wise, he’d fight against the manipulation. He didn’t want to, though. He wanted to be able to act for a while as if everything were fine. And so he played along.

“I blame your side of the family. I was always very compliant as a boy. Do we have anything worth eating?”

“More ship’s rations.”

Basia sighed. “No salad?”

“Soon,” she said. “The new crop is doing well. As long as we don’t find anything strange in them, you’ll be able to have all the carrots you want starting next week.”

“Someday we’ll be able to grow in the soil here.”

“Maybe north of here,” Lucia said, and rested her hand on his shoulder as she looked out the window with him. “Even the native fauna have a hard time around here.”

“North. South. Ilus is all here as far as I’m concerned.”

She turned, walking to the kitchen. Basia felt a tug of longing for her, a nostalgia of the body that belonged to a time when they’d been younger, childless, and horny all the time. He heard the pop and hiss of the rations canisters. The smell of sag aloo wafted through the air. Lucia came back in with a palm-sized plate of food for each of them.

“Thank you,” he said.

Lucia nodded and sat in her own chair, her leg curled up under her. Gravity had changed her. The muscles of her arms and shoulders were more pronounced now, the curve of her back when she sat was at a different angle. Ilus was changing them in ways he had never expected, though perhaps he should have. He took a forkful of the sag aloo.

“Going to the mines tomorrow,” he said.

Lucia’s eyebrows rose a fraction. “What for?”

“Maintenance,” he said, and then, because he knew what she was thinking, “Carol asked me.”

“That’s good, then.” Meaning that it was Carol who had asked him to go and not Coop. He felt a stab of shame and then an annoyance that he was ashamed. He pressed his lips together a little more tightly.

“The observer’s coming,” Lucia said, as if she meant nothing by it. “James Holden.”

“I’d heard. It’s good. Gives us leverage against the RCE.”

“I suppose so.”

He could remember a time when they’d laughed together. When Lucia had come from the hospitals on Ganymede full of stories about the patients and the other doctors. They’d eat vat-grown steak as tender as anything harvested from an animal and drink beer fermented there on the little moon. They’d talked for hours, until it was long past time to sleep. Now their conversations were so careful, it was like the words all had glass bones. So he changed the topic.

“It’s strange to think about it,” he said. “I’ll probably never weld in a vacuum again. All those years apprenticing and working, and now everything I do has air around it.”

“Tell me about it. If I’d known how it would all play out, I’d have spent my rotations in the general clinics.”

“Well, you’re the best hand surgeon on the planet.”

“The best hand surgeon on the planet is doing a lot of reading on digestive disorders and gynecological exams,” Lucia said dryly. Her eyes went hard, distant. “We need to talk about Felcia.”

And here it was. The gentleness, the calm, the soft memories. This was where it had been leading. He sat forward, his eyes cast on the ground.

“What’s to say?”

“She’s been talking about what happens next. For her.”

“Same as happens for any of us,” Basia said.

Lucia put another bite in her mouth, chewing slowly, though the food hardly required it. A gust of hard wind pressed in at the window with the soft ticking of grit against the glass. When she spoke, her voice was soft, but implacable.

“She’s thinking of university,” Lucia said. “She’s done the tutorials and examinations on the network. She needs us to give permission before the applications move forward.”

“She’s too young,” Basia said, knowing as the words came out that it was the wrong tack. Frustration knotted his throat and he put his dinner, half eaten, on the armrest.

“She won’t be by the time she gets there,” Lucia said. “If she went with the first shipment and transferred at Medina, she could be on Ganymede or Ceres Station in nineteen months. Twenty.”

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