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Page 105 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Next hand, you can deal me in,” she said.

The order had come from Nguyen, and at first glance it made no sense at all. Six UN destroyers had been ordered off the Ganymede patrol, sent out at high burn on a course that seemed to lead essentially to nowhere. Initial reports showed that after a decent period of wondering what the f**k, a similar detachment of Martian ships matched course.

Nguyen was up to something, and she didn’t have the first clue what it could be. But Souther had sent it and thought she would see something.

It took another hour to find it. Holden’s Rocinante had departed Tycho Station on a gentle burn for the Jovian system. He might have filed a flight plan with the OPA, but he hadn’t informed Earth or Mars of anything, which meant Nguyen was watching him too.

They weren’t just scared. They were going to kill him.

Avasarala sat quietly for a long moment before she stood up and went back toward the game. Cotyar and Bobbie were at the end of a high-stakes round, which meant the pile of little bits of chocolate candy they were using for chips was almost five centimeters deep.

“Mr. Cotyar,” Avasarala said. “Sergeant Draper. With me, please.”

The cards all vanished. The men looked at each other nervously as she walked back into her bedroom. She closed the door behind them carefully. It didn’t even click.

“I am about to do something that may pull a trigger,” she said. “If I do this, the complexion of our situation may change.”

Cotyar and Bobbie exchanged looks.

“I have some things I’d like to get out of storage,” Bobbie said.

“I’ll brief the men,” Cotyar said.

“Ten minutes.”

The lag between the Guanshiyin and the Rocinante was still too long for conversation, but it was less than it took to get a message back to Earth. The sense of being so far from home left her a little light-headed. Cotyar stepped into the room and nodded once. Avasarala opened her terminal and requested a tightbeam connection. She gave the transponder code for the Rocinante. Less than a minute later, the connection came back refused. She smiled to herself and opened a channel to ops.

“This is Assistant Undersecretary Avasarala,” she said, as if there were anyone else on board who it might be. “What the f**k is wrong with your tightbeam?”

“I apologize, Madam Secretary,” a young man with bright blue eyes and close-cut blond hair said. “That communication channel isn’t available right now.”

“Why the f**k isn’t it available?”

“It’s not available, ma’am.”

“Fine. I didn’t want to do this on the radio, but I can broadcast if I have to.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible,” the boy said. Avasarala took a long breath and let it out through her teeth.

“Put the captain on,” she said.

A moment later, the image jumped. The captain was a thin-faced man with the brown eyes of an Irish setter. The set of his mouth and his bloodless lips told her that he knew what was coming, at least in outline. For a moment, she just looked into the camera. It was a trick she’d learned when she’d just started off. Looking at the screen image let the other person feel they were being seen. Looking into the tiny black pinpoint of the lens itself left them feeling stared down.

“Captain. I have a high-priority message I need to send.”

“I am very sorry. We’re having technical difficulties with the communication array.”

“Do you have a backup system? A shuttle we can power up? Anything?”

“Not at this time.”

“You’re lying to me,” she said. Then, when he didn’t answer: “I am making an official request that this yacht engage its emergency beacon and change course to the nearest aid.”

“I’m not going to be able to do that, ma’am. If you will just be patient, we’ll get you to Ganymede safe and in one piece. I’m sure any repairs we need can be done there.”

Avasarala leaned close to the terminal.

“I can come up there and we can have this conversation personally,” she said. “Captain. You know the laws as well as I do. Turn on the beacon or give me communications access.”

“Ma’am, you are the guest of Jules-Pierre Mao, and I respect that. But Mr. Mao is the owner of this vessel, and I answer to him.”

“No, then.”

“I’m very sorry.”

“You’re making a mistake, shithead,” Avasarala said, and dropped the connection.

Bobbie came into the room. Her face was bright, and there was a hunger about her, like a running dog straining at the leash. Gravity shifted a degree. A course correction, but not a change.

“How’d it go?” Bobbie asked.

“I am declaring this vessel in violation of laws and standards,” Avasarala said. “Cotyar, you’re witness to that.”

“As you say, ma’am.”

“All right, then. Bobbie. Get me control of this f**king ship.”

Chapter Thirty-Eight: Bobbie

What else do you need from us?” Cotyar asked. Two of his people were moving the big crate marked FORMAL WEAR into Avasarala’s room. They were using a large furniture dolly and grunting with effort. Even in the gentle quarter g of the Guanshiyin’s thrust, Bobbie’s armor weighed over a hundred kilos.

“We’re sure this room isn’t under surveillance?” Bobbie said. “This is going to work a lot better if they have no idea what’s about to happen.”

Cotyar shrugged. “It has no functioning eavesdropping devices I’ve been able to detect.”

“Okay, then,” Bobbie said, rapping on the fiberglass crate with her knuckle. “Open it up.”

Cotyar tapped something on his hand terminal and the crate’s locks opened with a sharp click. Bobbie yanked the opened panel off and leaned it against the wall. Inside the crate, suspended in a web of elastic bands, was her suit.

Cotyar whistled. “A Goliath III. I can’t believe they let you keep it.”

Bobbie removed the helmet and put it on the bed, then began pulling the various other pieces out of the webbing and setting them on the floor. “They gave it to your tech guys to verify some video stored in the suit. When Avasarala tracked it down, it was in a closet, collecting dust. No one seemed to care when she took it.”

She pulled out the suit’s right arm. She hadn’t expected them to get her any of the 2mm ammo the suit’s integrated gun used, but was surprised to find that they’d completely removed the gun from the housing. It made sense to remove all the weapons before handing the suit off to a bunch of civilians, but it still annoyed her.

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