“Nothing,” Avasarala whispered. “He’s just following my lead, but they’ll chew their livers out guessing at it.”
Bobbie stood up. Her expression of incredulity was eloquent.
“This really is how government works, isn’t it?”
“Welcome to the monkey house,” Avasarala said.
“I think I might go get drunk.”
“And I’ll get back to work.”
At the doorway, Bobbie paused. She looked small in the wide frame. A doorframe on a spaceship that left Roberta Draper looking small. There was nothing about the yacht that wasn’t tastefully obscene.
“What happened with her?”
Avasarala closed her terminal.
“Arjun sang to her until she stopped. It took about three hours. He sat on the counter and went through all the songs we’d sung to them when they were little. Eventually, Ashanti let him lead her to her room and tuck her into bed.”
“You hated him too, didn’t you? For being able to help her when you couldn’t.”
“You’re catching on, Sergeant.”
Bobbie licked her lips.
“I want to hurt someone,” she said. “I’m afraid if it’s not them, it’s going to wind up being me.”
“We all grieve in our own ways,” Avasarala said. “For what it’s worth, you’ll never kill enough people to keep your platoon from dying. No more than I can save enough people that one of them will be Charanpal.”
For a long moment, Bobbie weighed the words. Avasarala could almost hear the woman’s mind turning the ideas one way and then another. Soren had been an idiot to underestimate this woman. But Soren had been an idiot in a lot of ways. When at length she spoke, her voice was light and conversational, as if her words weren’t profound.
“No harm trying, though.”
“It’s what we do,” Avasarala said.
The marine nodded curtly. For a moment, Avasarala thought she might be going to salute, but instead, she lumbered out toward the complimentary bar in the wide common area. There was a fountain out there with sprays of water drifting down fake bronze sculptures of horses and underdressed women. If that didn’t make someone want a stiff drink of something, then nothing would.
Avasarala thumbed on the video feed again.
“This is James Holden—”
She turned it off again.
“At least you lost that f**king beard,” she said to no one.
Chapter Thirty-Six: Prax
Prax remembered his first epiphany. Or possibly, he thought, the one he remembered as his first. In the absence of further evidence, he went with it. He’d been in second form, just seventeen, and in the middle of a genetic engineering lab. Sitting there among the steel tables and microcentrifuges, he’d struggled with why exactly his results were so badly off. He’d rechecked his calculations, read through his lab notes. The error was more than sloppy technique could explain, and his technique wasn’t even sloppy.
And then he’d noticed that one of the reagents was chiral, and he knew what had happened. He hadn’t figured anything wrong but he had assumed that the reagent was taken from a natural source rather than generated de novo. Instead of being uniformly left-handed, it had been a mix of chiralities, half of them inactive. The insight had left him grinning from ear to ear.
It had been a failure, but it was a failure he understood, and that made it a victory. The only thing he regretted was that seeing what should have been clear had taken him so long.
The four days since he had sent the broadcast, he’d hardly slept. Instead, he’d read through the comments and messages pouring in with the donations, responding to a few, asking questions of people all over the system whom he didn’t know. The goodwill and generosity pouring out to him was intoxicating. For two days, he hadn’t slept, borne up on the euphoria of feeling effective. When he had slept, he’d dreamed of finding Mei.
When the answer came, he only wished he’d found it before.
“The time they had, they could have taken her anywhere, Doc,” Amos said. “I mean, not to bust your balls or nothing.”
“They could,” Prax said. “They could take her anywhere as long as they had a supply of her medications. But she’s not the limiting factor. The question is where they were coming from.”
Prax had called the meeting without a clear idea of where to have it. The crew of the Roci was small, but Amos’ rooms were smaller. He’d considered the galley of the ship, but there were still technicians finishing the repairs, and Prax wanted privacy. In the end, he’d checked the incoming stream of contributions from Holden’s broadcast and taken enough to rent a room from a station club.
Now they were in a private lounge. Outside the wall-screen window, the great construction waldoes shifted by tiny degrees, attitude rockets flaring and going still in patterns as complex as language. Another thing Prax had never thought about before coming here: The station waldoes had to fire attitude rockets to keep their movements from shifting the station they were attached to. Everything, everywhere, a dance of tiny movements and the ripples they made.
Inside the room, the music that floated between the wide tables and crash-gel chairs was soft and lyrical, the singer’s voice deep and soothing.
“From?” Alex said. “I thought they were from Ganymede.”
“The lab on Ganymede wasn’t equipped to deal with serious research,” Prax said. “And they arranged things so that Ganymede would turn into a war zone. That’d be a bad idea if they were doing their primary work in the middle of it. That was a field lab.”
“I try not to shit where I eat,” Amos said, agreeing.
“You live on a spaceship,” Holden said.
“I don’t shit in the galley, though.”
“Anyway,” Prax said, “we can safely assume they were working from a better-protected base. And that base has to be somewhere in the Jovian system. Somewhere nearby.”
“You lost me again,” Holden said. “Why does it need to be close?”
“Transport time. Mei can go anywhere if there’s a good supply of medications, but she’s more robust than the … the things.”
Holden raised his hand like a schoolboy asking a question.
“Okay, I could be hearing you wrong, but did you just say that the thing that ripped its way into my ship, threw a five-hundred-kilo storage pallet at me, and almost chewed a path straight to the reactor core is more delicate than a four-year-old girl with no immune system?”