“Is that built for atmosphere?”
“Nope. Kinda looks that way, though. That’s the Chesapeake. Or it will be, anyway. She’s designed for sustained high g. I think they’re talkin’ about running the poor bastard at something like eight g for a couple of months.”
“All the way where?” Prax asked, doing a little napkin-back math in his head. “It would have to be outside the orbit of … anything.”
“Yep, she’ll be going deep. They’re going after that Nauvoo.”
“The generation ship that was supposed to knock Eros into the sun?”
“That’s the one. They cut her engines when the plan went south, but she’s been cruisin’ on ever since. Wasn’t finished, so they can’t bring her around on remote. Instead, they’re buildin’ a retriever. Hope they manage too. The Nauvoo was an amazin’ piece of work. Of course, even if they get her back, it won’t keep the Mormons from suing Tycho into nonexistence if they can figure out how.”
“Why would that be hard?”
“OPA doesn’t recognize the courts on Earth and Mars, and they run the ones in the Belt. So it’s pretty much win in a court that doesn’t matter or lose in one that does.”
“Oh,” Prax said.
On the screens, Tycho Station grew larger and more detailed. Prax couldn’t tell what detail of it brought it into perspective, but between one heartbeat and the next, he understood the scope and size of the station before him and let out a little gasp. The construction sphere had to be half a kilometer across, like two complete farm domes stuck bottom to bottom. Slowly, the great industrial sphere grew until it filled the screens, starlight replaced by the glow from equipment guides and a glass-domed observation bubble. Steel-and-ceramic plates and scaffolds took the place of the blackness. There were the massive drives that could push the entire station, like a city in the sky, anywhere in the solar system. There were the complex swivel points, like the gimbals of a crash couch made by giants, that would reconfigure the station as a whole when thrust gravity took rotation’s place.
It took his breath away. The elegance and functionality of the structure lay out before him, as beautiful and simple and effective as a leaf or a root cluster. To have something so much like the fruits of evolution, but designed by human minds, was awe-inspiring. It was the pinnacle of what creativity meant, the impossible made real.
“That’s good work,” Prax said.
“Yup,” Alex said. And then on the shipwide channel: “We’ve arrived. Everyone strap in for docking. I’m going to manual.”
Prax half rose in his couch.
“Should I go to my quarters?”
“Where you are’s as good as anyplace. Just put the web on in case we bump against somethin’,” Alex said. And then, his voice changing to a stronger, more clipped cadence: “Tycho control, this is the Rocinante. Are we cleared for docking?”
Prax heard a distant voice speaking to Alex alone.
“Roger that,” Alex said. “We’re comin’ in.”
In the dramas and action films that Prax had watched back on Ganymede, piloting a ship had always looked like a fairly athletic thing. Sweating men dragging hard against the control bars. Watching Alex was nothing like it. He still had the two joysticks, but his motions were small, calm. A tap, and the gravity under Prax changed, his couch shifting under him by a few centimeters. Then another tap and another shift. The heads-up display showed a tunnel through the vacuum outlined in a blue and gold that swept up and to the right, ending against the side of the turning ring.
Prax looked at the mass of data being sent to Alex and said, “Why fly at all? Couldn’t the ship just use this data to do the docking itself?”
“Why fly?” Alex repeated with a laugh. “’Cuz it’s fun, Doc. Because it’s fun.”
The long bluish lights of the windows in Tycho’s observation dome were so clear Prax could see the people looking out at him. He could almost forget that the screens in the cockpit weren’t windows: The urge to look out and wave, to watch someone wave back, was profound.
Holden’s voice came over Alex’s line, the words unidentifiable and the tone perfectly clear.
“We’re looking fine, Cap,” Alex said. “Ten more minutes.”
The crash couch shifted to the side, the wide plane of the station curving down as Alex matched the rotation. To generate even a third of a g on a ring that wide would demand punishing inertial forces, but under Alex’s hand, ship and station drifted together slowly and gently. Before Prax had gotten married, he’d seen a dance performance based on neo-Taoist traditions. For the first hour, it had been utterly boring, and then after that, the small movements of arms and legs and torso, shifting together, bending, and falling away, had been entrancing. The Rocinante slid into place beside an extending airlock port with the same beauty Prax had seen in that dance, but made more powerful by the knowledge that instead of skin and muscles, this was tons of high-tensile steel and live fusion reactors.
The Rocinante eased into her berth with one last correction, one last shifting of the gimbaled couches. The final matching spin had been no more than any of the small corrections Alex had made on the way in. There was a disconcerting bang as the station’s docking hooks latched on to the ship.
“Tycho control,” Alex said. “This is the Rocinante confirming dock. We have seal on the airlock. We are reading the clamps in place. Can you confirm?”
A moment passed, and a mutter.
“Thank you too, Tycho,” Alex said. “It’s good to be back.”
Gravity in the ship had shifted subtly. Instead of thrust from the drive creating the illusion of weight, it now came from the spin of the ring they were clamped to. Prax felt like he was tilting slightly to the side whenever he stood up straight, and had to fight the urge to overcompensate by leaning the other way.
Holden was in the galley when Prax reached it, the coffee machine pouring black and hot, with just the slightest bend to the stream. Coriolis effect, a dimly remembered high school class reminded Prax. Amos and Naomi came in together. They were all together now, and Prax felt the time was right to thank them all for what they’d done for him. For Mei, who was probably dead. The naked pain on Holden’s face stopped him.
Naomi stood in front of him, a duffel bag over her shoulder.
“You’re heading out,” Holden said.