Home > Cibola Burn (Expanse #4)(9)

Cibola Burn (Expanse #4)(9)
Author: James S.A. Corey

“Havelock,” Murtry said.

“Sir.” Havelock nodded back, taking hold of a handhold and turning himself so that his head was in the same basic orientation as everyone else’s. A few seconds later, Reeve, Murtry’s second, floated in.

Murtry nodded. “Close the door, Reeve.”

“Trajan?” Wei asked, but from the bleak sound of her voice, she already suspected the answer.

“Trajan died in the shuttle,” Murtry said. “Smith? You’re getting promoted.”

“Sorry to hear that, sir,” Smith said. “Trajan was a good officer, and a professional. She’ll be missed.”

“Yeah,” Murtry said. “So we’re here to talk about the response plan.”

“Drop a rock on the squatters?” Wei said, her voice joking in a way that had nothing to do with humor. Murtry smiled anyway.

“We’re going to play it a little more by the book for now,” Murtry said. “Besides, we still have people down there. I’ve sent back to the home office, and I’ve asked for latitude in how we engage the issue. I’m fairly sure, given the circumstances, we’ll have cover from them if it comes to that.”

“We’re a year and a half from anywhere,” Wei said. The implication – No one can stop us from doing anything we choose – hung in the air.

“We’re also hours away from every screen and newsfeed from Earth to Neptune,” Reeve said. “This sucks, but we’ve got the moral high ground. If we overreact, it’ll be another round of the evil corporations oppressing the poor Belters. We’re in a post-Protogen world. We don’t win that.”

“Didn’t know they’d made you political officer,” Wei said, and Reeve’s jaw went tight. When Murtry spoke, his voice was calm and level and threatening as a rattlesnake.

“That. We’re not doing that.”

“Sir?” Reeve said.

“The thing where we start sniping at each other. We don’t do that here.”

Wei and Reeve looked at each other.

“I’m sorry, sir,” Wei said. “I was out of line.”

“Not a problem, because it’s not going to happen again,” Murtry said. “What action have we seen from the Barbapiccola?”

“Nothing,” Wei said. “The Belters sent condolences and offers of aid, as if there was a damn thing they could do.”

“Are they warming up the engines?”

“Not that I can tell,” Wei said.

“We’re keeping an eye on that,” Murtry said. It was a statement and a question.

“We could take custody of the ship,” Wei said. “It was Mao-Kwikowski before they got broken up. Its salvage status is very murky. Call it illegal, put a few people on her, and we could shut her down.”

“Noted,” Murtry said. “How is the crew, Havelock?”

“Shocked, sir. Scared. Angry. They’re scientists. They looked on the squatters as an annoyance and a threat to their data. For most of them, this is outside their experience.”

Murtry stroked his chin with the back of his hand. “What are they going to do about it?”

“So far? Get drunk. Yell at each other or at us. Design theoretical judicial systems. Most of them seem to want the whole thing to just go away so they can get on with their research.”

Murtry chuckled. “God bless the eggheads. All right.”

“We still have the two light atmospheric shuttles,” Havelock went on. “I can get pilots for them, and we can evacuate the people we have on the ground.”

“No evac. The squatters don’t get to win this,” Murtry said. “No one that goes down there comes back up. We put more people down there to support them. Whatever their research is, we make damned sure it’s moving forward and everyone down there sees it’s moving forward.”

“Yes, sir,” Havelock said, feeling vaguely embarrassed.

“Reeve, you’re going down. Deal with the locals. Find out what you can. Keep our people safe. We want a show of force.”

“But nothing strong enough they can use it for sympathy on the newsfeeds back home,” Reeve said as if he were agreeing.

“Wei, I want your eyes on the enemy ship. If it starts warming up its drive, I want to know.”

“Permission to put my comm laser upgrade into effect?”

The Edward Israel didn’t have torpedo tubes or gauss guns. The closest they had to a weapon was an ancient comm laser that could be hacked to cutting strength. The ship had been designed when the dangers of space were all about radiation and air supply, not intentional violence. It was almost quaint.

“No,” Murtry said. “Just monitor what they’re doing, listen to the chatter, and bring it back to me. If someone needs to make the call, that’s me. No initiative. Understood?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Havelock, you’re going to be up here coordinating with the team on the ground. Use the shuttles however they need to be used to get personnel and materials down to the surface. We’re here to establish a base. We’ll start establishing it.”

“And if there’s another attack, sir?” Wei asked.

“Then that’s a decision the squatters will have made, and we’ll respect their choice,” Murtry said.

“I’m not sure what you mean, sir,” she said.

Murtry’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. “There’s a dignity in consequences.”


Havelock’s quarters were only slightly larger than the cells in the brig, but much more comfortable. He was webbed into his crash couch at the end of his shift when a soft knock came at the door and Murtry pulled himself in. The security chief was scowling, but no more so than usual.

“Anything up, chief?” Havelock asked.

“You’ve worked with Belters,” Murtry said. “What do you think of ’em?”

“They’re people,” Havelock said. “Some are better than others. I still have friends on Ceres.”

“Fine. But what do you think of Belters?”

Havelock shifted, the motion setting him drifting up against his restraints as he thought. “They’re insular. Tribal, almost. I think what they have most in common is that they don’t like inner planet types. A Martian can sometimes pass, though. They have the whole low-g physiology thing.”

“So mostly they hate Earthers,” Murtry said.

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