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Page 115 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

From off camera, Nagata asked, “So you blame the media?”

“Absolutely,” Avasarala said as the image shifted to a picture of a toddler with smiling black eyes and dark pigtails. “We have absolute faith in Dr. Meng’s love and dedication to Mei, and we are pleased to be part of the effort to bring her safely home.”

The recording ended.

“All right,” Avasarala said. “Any comments?”

“I don’t actually work for the OPA anymore,” Holden said.

“I’m not authorized to represent the Martian military,” Bobbie said. “I’m not even sure I’m still supposed to be working with you.”

“Thank you for that. Are there any comments that matter?” Avasarala asked. There was a moment’s silence.

“Worked for me,” Praxidike Meng said.

There was one way that the Rocinante was infinitely more expansive than the Guanshiyin, and it was the only one that she cared about. The tightbeam was hers. Lag was worse and every hour took her farther from Earth, but knowing that the messages she sent were getting off the ship without being reported to Nguyen and Errinwright gave her the feeling of breathing free. What happened once they reached Earth, she couldn’t control, but that was always true. That was the game.

Admiral Souther looked tired, but on the small screen it was hard to tell much more than that.

“You’ve kicked the beehive, Chrisjen,” he said. “It’s looking an awful lot like you just made yourself a human shield for a bunch of folks that don’t work for us. And I’m guessing that was the plan.

“I did what you asked, and yes, Nguyen took meetings with Jules-Pierre Mao. First one was just after his testimony on Protogen. And yes, Errinwright knew about them. But that doesn’t mean very much. I’ve met with Mao. He’s a snake, but if you stopped dealing with men like him, you wouldn’t have much left to do.

“The smear campaign against your scientist friend came out of the executive office, which, I’ve got to say, makes a damn lot of us over here in the armed forces a bit twitchy. Starts looking like there’s divisions inside the leadership, and it gets a little murky whose orders we’re supposed to be following. If it gets there, our friend Errinwright still outranks you. Him or the secretary-general comes to me with a direct order, I’m going to have to have a hell of a good reason to think it’s illegal. This whole thing smells like skunk, but I don’t have that reason yet. You know what I’m saying.”

The recording stopped. Avasarala pressed her fingers to her lips. She understood. She didn’t like it, but she understood. She levered herself up from her couch. Her joints still ached from the race to the Rocinante, and the way the ship would sometimes shift beneath her, course corrections moving gravity a degree or two, left her vaguely nauseated. She’d made it this far.

The corridor that led to the galley was short, but it had a bend just before it entered. The voices carried well enough that Avasarala walked softly. The low Martian drawl was the pilot, and Bobbie’s vowels and timbre were unmistakable.

“—that tellin’ the captain where to stand and how to look. I thought Amos was going to toss her in the airlock a couple of times.”

“He could try,” Bobbie said.

“And you work for her?”

“I don’t know who the hell I work for anymore. I think I’m still pulling a salary from Mars, but all my dailies are out of her office budget. I’ve pretty much been playing it all as it comes.”

“Sounds rough.”

“I’m a marine,” Bobbie said, and Avasarala paused. The tone was wrong. It was calm, almost relaxed. Almost at peace. That was interesting.

“Does anyone actually like her?” the pilot asked.

“No,” Bobbie said almost before the question was done being asked. “Oh hell no. And she keeps it like that. That shit she pulled with Holden, marching on his ship and ordering him around like she owned it? She’s always like that. The secretary-general? She calls him a bobble-head to his face.”

“And what’s with the potty mouth?”

“Part of her charm,” Bobbie said.

The pilot chuckled, and there was a little slurp as he drank something.

“I may have misunderstood politics,” he said. And a moment later: “You like her?”

“I do.”

“Mind if I ask why?”

“We care about the same things,” Bobbie said, and the thoughtful note in her voice made Avasarala feel uncomfortable eavesdropping. She cleared her throat and walked into the galley.

“Where’s Holden?” she asked.

“Probably sleeping,” the pilot said. “The way we’ve been keepin’ the ship’s cycle, it’s about two in the morning.”

“Ah,” Avasarala said. For her, it was mid-afternoon. That was going to be a little awkward. Everything in her life seemed to be about lag right now, waiting for the messages to get through the vast blackness of the vacuum. But at least she could prepare.

“I’m going to want a meeting with everyone on board as soon as they’re up,” she said. “Bobbie, you’ll need your formal wear again.”

It took Bobbie only a few seconds to understand.

“You’ll show them the monster,” she said.

“And then we’re going to sit here and talk until we figure out what exactly it is they know on this ship. It has the bad guys worried enough they were willing to send their boys to kill them,” she said.

“Yeah, about that,” the pilot said. “Those destroyers cut back to a cruising acceleration, but they aren’t turning back yet.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Avasarala said. “Everybody knows I’m on this ship. No one’s going to shoot at it.”

In the local morning and Avasarala’s subjective early evening, the crew gathered again. Rather than bring the whole powered suit into the galley, she’d copied the stored video and given it to Naomi. The crew members were bright and well rested apart from the pilot, who had stayed up entirely too late talking to Bobbie, and the botanist, who looked like he might just be permanently exhausted.

“I’m not supposed to show this to anyone,” Avasarala said, looking pointedly at Holden. “But on this ship, right now, I think we all need to put our cards on the table. And I’m willing to go first. This is the attack on Ganymede. The thing that started it all off. Naomi?”

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