She didn’t realize that she was hungry until Cotyar came with a plate, the smell of curried lamb and watermelon wafting in with him. Avasarala’s belly woke with a roar, and she turned off her terminal.
“You’ve just saved my life,” she told him, gesturing at the desk.
“It was Sergeant Draper’s idea,” he said. “After the third time you ignored her asking.”
“I don’t remember that,” she said as he put the dish in front of her. “Don’t they have servants on this thing? Why are you bringing the food?”
“They do, ma’am. I’m not letting them in here.”
“That seems extreme. Feeling jumpy, are you?”
“As you say.”
She ate too quickly. Her back was aching, and her left leg was tingling with the pins and needles she got now from sitting too long in one position. As a young woman, she’d never suffered that. On the other hand, she hadn’t had the ability to pepper every major player in the United Nations and be taken seriously. Time took her strength but it gave her power in exchange. It was a fair trade.
She couldn’t wait to finish her meal, turning on the terminal while she gulped the last of it down. Four waiting messages. Souther, God bless his shriveled little heart. One from someone at the legal council whose name she didn’t recognize, and another from someone she did. One from Michael-Jon, which was probably about Venus. She opened the one from Souther.
The admiral appeared on her screen and she had to stop herself from saying hello. It was only a video recording, not a real conversation. She hated it.
“Chrisjen,” the admiral said. “You’re going to have to be careful with all this information you’re sending me. Arjun’s going to get jealous. I wasn’t aware of our friend Jimmy’s part in instigating this latest brouhaha.”
Our friend Jimmy. He wasn’t saying the name Holden out loud. That was interesting. He was expecting some kind of filtering to be sniffing out Holden’s name. She tried to guess whether he thought the filter would be on his outgoing messages or her incoming. If Errinwright had half a brain—which he did—he’d be watching the traffic both ways for both of them. Was he worried about someone else? How many players were there at the table? She didn’t have enough information to work with, but it was interesting, at least.
“I can see where your concerns might lead you,” Souther said. “I’m making some inquiries, but you know how these things are. Might find something in a minute, might find something in a year. You don’t be a stranger, though. There’s more than enough going on out here that I can wish I could take you up on that lunch. We’re all looking forward to seeing you again.”
There was a barefaced lie, Avasarala thought. Still, nice of him to say it. She scraped her fork along the bottom of the plate, a thin residue of curry clinging to the silver.
The first message was some young man with a Brazilian accent explaining to her that the UN had nothing to do with the video footage released of Nicola Mulko, and therefore could not be held responsible for it. The second was the boy’s supervisor, apologizing for him and promising a fully formed brief by the end of the day, which was considerably more like it. The smart people were still afraid of her. That thought was more nourishing than the lamb.
As she reached for the screen, the ship shifted under her, gravity pulling her slightly to the side. She put her hand on the desk; the curry and the remnants of gin churned her gut.
“Were we expecting that?” she shouted.
“Yes, ma’am,” Cotyar called from the next room. “Scheduled course correction.”
“Never happens at the f**king office,” she said, and Michael-Jon appeared on her screen. He looked mildly confused, but that could have been just the angle of his face. She felt a sick dread.
For a moment, the Arboghast floated before her again, coming apart. Without intending it, she paused the feed. Something in the back of her mind wanted to turn away. Not to know.
It wasn’t hard to understand how Errinwright and Nguyen and their cabal would turn their backs on Venus, on the alien chaos that was becoming order and more than order. She felt it too, the atavistic fear lurking at the back of her mind. How much easier to turn to the old games, the old patterns, the history of warfare and conflict, deception and death. For all its horror, it was familiar. It was known.
As a girl, she’d seen a film about a man who saw the face of God. For the first hour of the film, he had gone through the drab life of someone living on basic on the coast of southern Africa. When he saw God, the film switched to ten minutes of the man wailing and then another hour of slowly building himself back up to do the same idiot life he’d had at the beginning. Avasarala had hated it. Now, though, she almost understood. Turning away was natural. Even if it was moronic and self-destructive and empty, it was natural.
War. Slaughter. Death. All the violence that Errinwright and his men—and she felt certain they were almost all of them men—were embracing, they were drawn to because it was comforting. And they were scared.
Well, so was she.
“Pussies,” she said, and restarted the playback.
“Venus can think,” Michael-Jon said instead of hello or any other social pleasantry. “I’ve had the signal analysis team running the data we saw from the network of water and electrical currents, and we’ve found a model. It’s only about a sixty percent correlation, but I’m comfortable putting that above chance. It’s got different anatomy, of course, but its functional structure is most like a cetacean doing spatial reasoning problems. I mean, there’s still the problem of the explanatory gap, and I can’t help with that part, but with what we’ve seen, I’m fairly sure that the patterns we saw were it thinking. They were the actual thoughts, like neurons firing off.”
He looked into the camera as if expecting her to answer and then looked mildly disappointed when she didn’t.
“I thought you’d want to know,” he said, and ended the recording.
Before she could formulate a response, a new message from Souther appeared. She opened it with a sense of gratitude and relief that she was slightly ashamed of.
“Chrisjen,” he said. “We have a problem. You should check the force assignments on Ganymede and let me know if we’re seeing the same things.”
Avasarala frowned. The lag now was over twenty-eight minutes. She put in a standard request, expedited it, and stood up. Her back was a solid knot. She walked to the common area of the suite. Bobbie, Cotyar, and three other men were sitting in a circle, the deck of cards distributed among them. Poker. Avasarala walked toward them, rolling through the hips where movement hurt. Something about lower gravity made her joints ache. She lowered herself to Bobbie’s side.