Home > Cibola Burn (Expanse #4)(2)

Cibola Burn (Expanse #4)(2)
Author: James S.A. Corey

The two of them were hunched over the table like there was an invisible chessboard between them. A game of concentration and intellect that wrapped them both up until they couldn’t see the world around them. In a lot of ways, that was true. She took her chair without either of them acknowledging she’d arrived.

“Mars,” her brother said, “is the most studied planet there is. It doesn’t matter how many new datasets you get that aren’t about Mars. They aren’t about Mars! It’s like saying that seeing pictures of a thousand other tables will tell you about the one you’re already sitting at.”

“Knowledge is good,” her nephew said. “You’re the one who always told me that. I don’t know why you’re getting so bent about it now.”

“How are things for you, Bobbie?” her sister-in-law said sharply, carrying a bowl to the table. Rice and peppers to use as a bed for the gumbo and a reminder to the others that there was a guest. The two men scowled at the interruption.

“Good,” Bobbie said. “The contract with the shipyards came through. It should help us place a lot of vets in new jobs.”

“Because they’re building exploration ships and transports,” her nephew said.


“Sorry, Mom. But they are,” David replied, not backing down. Bobbie scooped the rice into her bowl. “All the ships that are easy to retrofit, they’re retrofitting, and then they’re making more so that people can go to all the new systems.”

Her brother took the rice and the serving spoon, chuckling under his breath to make it clear how little he respected his son’s opinion. “The first real survey team is just getting to the first of these places —”

“There are already people living on New Terra, Dad! There were a bunch of refugees from Ganymede —” He broke off, shooting a guilty glance at Bobbie. Ganymede wasn’t something they talked about over dinner.

“The survey team hasn’t landed yet,” her brother said. “It’s going to be years before we have anything like real colonies out there.”

“It’s going to be generations before anyone walks on the surface here! We don’t have a fucking magnetosphere!”

“Language, David!”

Her sister-in-law returned. The gumbo was black and fragrant with a sheen of oil across the top. The smell of it made Bobbie’s mouth water. She put it on the slate trivet and handed the serving spoon to Bobbie.

“And how’s your new apartment?” she asked.

“It’s nice,” Bobbie said. “Inexpensive.”

“I wish you weren’t living in Innis Shallow,” her brother said. “It’s a terrible neighborhood.”

“No one’s going to bother Aunt Bobbie,” her nephew said. “She’d rip their heads off.”

Bobbie grinned. “Naw, I just look at them mean, and they —”

From the living room, there was a sudden glow of red light. The newsfeed had changed. Bright red banners showed at the top and bottom, and on the screen, a jowly Earth woman looked soberly into the camera. The image behind her was of fire and then a stock image of an old colony ship. The words, black against the white of the flames, read TRAGEDY ON NEW TERRA.

“What happened?” Bobbie said. “What just happened?”

Chapter One: Basia

Basia Merton had been a gentle man, once. He hadn’t been the sort of man who made bombs out of old metal lubricant drums and mining explosives.

He rolled another one out of the little workshop behind his house and toward one of First Landing’s electric carts. The little stretch of buildings spread to the north and south, and then ended, the darkness of the plain stretching to the horizon. The flashlight hanging from his belt bounced as he walked, casting strange moving shadows across the dusty ground. Small alien animals hooted at him from outside the circle of light.

Nights on Ilus – he wouldn’t call it New Terra – were very dark. The planet had thirteen tiny, low-albedo moons spaced so consistently in the same orbit that everyone assumed they were alien artifacts. Wherever they’d come from, they were more like captured asteroids than real moons to someone who grew up on the planet-sized satellites of Jupiter. And they did nothing to catch and reflect the light of Ilus’ sun once it set. The local nighttime wildlife was mostly small birds and lizards. Or what Ilus’ new human inhabitants thought of as birds and lizards. They shared only the most superficial external traits and a primarily carbon base with their terrestrial namesakes.

Basia grunted with effort as he lifted the barrel onto the back of the cart, and a second later an answering grunt came from a few meters away. A mimic lizard, curiosity drawing it right up to the edge of the light, its small eyes glittering. It grunted again, its wide, leathery, bullfrog-shaped head bobbing, and the air sac below its neck inflating and deflating with the sound. It waited for a moment, staring at him, and when he didn’t respond, it crawled off into the dark.

Basia pulled elastic straps out of a toolbox and began securing the barrels to the bed of the cart. The explosive wouldn’t go off just from falling on the ground. Or that was what Coop said, anyhow. Basia didn’t feel like testing it.

“Baz,” Lucia said. He flushed with embarrassment like a small boy caught stealing candy. Lucia knew what he was doing. He’d never been able to lie to her. But he’d hoped she would stay inside while he worked. Just her presence made him wonder if he was doing the right thing. If it was right, why did it make him so ashamed to have Lucia see him?

“Baz,” she said again. Not insisting. Her voice sad, not angry.

“Lucy,” he said, turning around. She stood at the edge of his light, a white robe clutched around her thin frame against the chill night air. Her face was a dark blur.

“Felcia’s crying,” she said, her tone not making it an accusation. “She’s afraid for you. Come talk to your daughter.”

Basia turned away and pulled the strap tight over the barrels, hiding his face from her. “I can’t. They’re coming,” he said.

“Who? Who’s coming?”

“You know what I mean. They’re going to take everything we made here if we don’t make a stand. We need time. This is how you get time. Without the landing pad, they’ve got to use the small shuttles. So we take away the landing pad. Make them rebuild it. No one’s going to get hurt.”

“If it gets bad,” she said, “we can leave.”

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