Home > Cibola Burn (Expanse #4)(3)

Cibola Burn (Expanse #4)(3)
Author: James S.A. Corey

“No,” Basia said, surprised to hear the violence in his voice. He turned and took a few steps, putting her face in the light. She was weeping. “No more leaving. We left Ganymede. Left Katoa and ran away and my family lived on a ship for a year while no one would give us a place to land. We’re not running again. Not ever running again. They took all the children from me they get to take.”

“I miss Katoa too,” Lucia said. “But these people didn’t kill him. It was a war.”

“It was a business decision. They made a business decision, and then they made a war, and they took my son away.” And I let them, he didn’t say. I took you and Felcia and Jacek, and I left Katoa behind because I thought he was dead. And he wasn’t. The words were too painful to speak, but Lucia heard them anyway.

“It wasn’t your fault.”

Yes, it was floated at the back of his mouth, but he swallowed.

“These people don’t have any right to Ilus,” he said, struggling to make his voice sound reasonable. “We were here first. We staked claim. We’ll get the first load of lithium out, get the money in, then we can hire lawyers back home to make a real case. If the corporations already have roots here when that happens, it won’t matter. We just need time.”

“If you do this,” Lucia said, “they’ll send you to jail. Don’t do that to us. Don’t do that to your family.”

“I’m doing this for my family,” he said softly. It was worse than yelling. He hopped up behind the controls and stomped on the accelerator. The cart lurched off with a whine. He didn’t look back, couldn’t look back and see Lucy.

“For my family,” he said again.

He drove away from his house and the ramshackle town that they’d started out calling First Landing back when they’d picked the site off the Barbapiccola’s sensor maps. No one had bothered to rename it when it had moved from being an idea to being a place. He drove toward the center of town, two rows of prefab buildings, until he hit the wide stretch of flattened dirt that served as the main road and turned toward the original landing site. The refugees who’d colonized Ilus had come down from their ship in small shuttles, so the only landing pad they’d needed was a flat stretch of ground. But the Royal Charter Energy people, the corporate people, who had a UN charter giving the world to them, would be coming down with heavy equipment. Heavy lift shuttles needed an actual landing pad. It had been built in the same open fields that the colony had used as their landing site.

That felt obscene to Basia. Invasive. The first landing site had significance. He’d imagined it someday being a park, with a monument at the center commemorating their arrival on this new world. Instead, RCE had built a giant and gleaming metal monstrosity right over the top of their site. Worse, they’d hired the colonists to build it, and enough of them had thought it was a good idea that they’d actually done it.

It felt like being erased from history.

Scotty and Coop were waiting for him at the new landing pad when he arrived. Scotty was sitting on the edge of the metal platform, legs dangling over the side, smoking a pipe and spitting on the ground below his feet. A small electric lamp that sat beside him colored him with an eerie green light. Coop stood a little way off, looking up at the sky with bared teeth. Coop was an old-school Belter, and the agoraphobia treatments had been harder for him than others. The thin-faced man kept staring up at the void, fighting to get used to it like a kid pulling off scabs.

Basia pulled the cart up to the edge of the pad and hopped out to undo the straps holding the barrel bombs down.

“Give me a hand?” he said. Ilus was a large planet, slightly over one gravity. Even after six months of pharma to build his muscles and bones everything still felt too heavy. The thought of lifting the barrels back to the ground made the muscles in his shoulders twitch in anticipated exhaustion.

Scotty slid off the landing pad and dropped a meter and a half to the ground. He pushed his oily black hair out of his eyes and took another long puff on his pipe. Basia caught the pungent, skunky smell of Scotty’s bathtub-grown cannabis mixed with freeze-dried tobacco leaves. Coop looked over, his eyes fighting for focus for a moment, and then the thin, cruel smile. The plan had been Coop’s from the start.

“Mmm,” Coop said. “Pretty.”

“Don’t get attached,” Basia said. “They won’t be around long.”

Coop made a booming sound and grinned. Together they pulled the four heavy barrels off the cart and stood them in a row next to the pad. By the last one, they were all panting with effort. Basia leaned against the cart for a moment in silence while Scotty smoked off the last of his pipe and Coop set the blasting caps on the barrels. The detonators sat in the back of the cart like sleeping rattlesnakes, the red LEDs dormant for now.

In the darkness, the township sparkled. The houses they’d all built for themselves and one another glittered like stars brought down from the sky. Beyond them, there were the ruins. A long, low alien structure with two massive towers rising up above the landscape like a termite hill writ large. All of it was run through with passageways and chambers that no human had designed. In daylight, the ruins shone with the eerie colors of mother-of-pearl. In the night, they were only a deeper darkness. The mining pits were off past them, invisible as all but the dimmest glow of the work lights on the belly of the clouds. Truth was Basia didn’t like the mines. The ruins were strange relics of the empty planet’s past, and like anything that was uncanny without posing a threat, they faded from his awareness after the first few months. The mines carried history and expectations. He’d spent half a lifetime in tunnels of ice, and tunnels that ran through alien soil smelled wrong.

Coop made a sharp noise and shook his hand, cursing. Nothing blew up, so it couldn’t be that bad.

“You think they’ll pay us to rebuild it?” Scotty asked.

Basia cursed and spat on the ground.

“We wouldn’t have to do this if it wasn’t for people wanting to suck on RCE’s tit,” he said as he rolled the last barrel into place. “They can’t land without this. All we had to do was not build it.”

Scotty laughed out a cloud of smoke. “They were coming anyway. Might as well take their money. That’s what people said.”

“People are idiots,” Basia said.

Scotty nodded, then smacked a mimic lizard off the passenger seat of the cart with one hand and sat down. He put his feet up on the dash and took another long puff on his pipe. “We gonna have to get gone, if we blow this. That blasting powder makes serious boom.”

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