“But it’s yours,” Prax said, turning to Holden with something like hope. “You set up the account.”
“I took the Rocinante’s fees already. Trust me, you paid us generously,” Holden said, hand out in a gesture of refusal. “What’s still in there’s all yours. Well, yours and Mei’s.”
Avasarala scowled. That changed her personal calculus a little. She’d thought this would be the right time to lock Prax into a contract, but Jim Holden had once again ridden in at the last moment and screwed everything up.
“Congratulations,” Avasarala said. “Has either of you seen Bobbie? I need to talk to her.”
“Last I saw, she was heading for the machine shop.”
“Thanks,” Avasarala said, and kept pulling herself along. If Praxidike Meng was independently wealthy, that made him less likely to take on the job of rebuilding Ganymede for purely financial reasons. She could probably work the civic pride angle. He and his daughter were the face of the tragedy there, and having him running the show would mean more to people than all the facts and figures of how screwed they’d all be without the food supplies back online. He might be the kind of man who’d be swayed by that. She needed to think about it.
Once again, she was moving slowly and carefully enough that she heard the voices before she reached the machine shop. Bobbie and Amos, both of them laughing. She couldn’t believe that she was walking in on an intimate moment, but it had that tickle-fight sound to it. Then Mei shrieked with delight, and Avasarala understood.
The machine shop was the last place in the ship, with the possible exception of engineering, that Avasarala would have thought about playing with a little girl, but there she was, arms and legs flailing through the air. Her shoulder-length black hair flowed around her in a whirl, following the gentle end-over-end spin of her body. Her face was bright with pleasure. Bobbie and Amos stood at opposite ends of the shop. As Avasarala watched, Bobbie caught the little girl out of the air and launched her back toward Amos. Soon, Avasarala thought, the girl would start losing her milk teeth. She wondered how much of all this Mei would remember when she was an adult.
“Are you people crazy?” Avasarala said as Amos caught the girl. “This isn’t a playground.”
“Hey there,” Amos said, “we weren’t planning on staying long. The captain and the doc needed a minute, so I figured I’d haul the kiddo down here. Give her the tour.”
“When they send you to play catch with a child, they don’t mean that she’s the f—that she’s the ball,” Avasarala said, moving across to him. “Give that child to me. None of you people has any idea how to take care of a little girl. It’s amazing you all lived to adulthood.”
“Ain’t wrong about that,” Amos said amiably, holding out the kid.
“Come to your nana,” Avasarala said.
“What’s a nana?” Mei asked.
“I’m a nana,” Avasarala said, gathering the child to her. Her body wanted to put the girl against her hip, to feel the weight bearing down on her. In microgravity holding a child felt odd. Good, but odd. Mei smelled of wax and vanilla. “How much longer before we can get some thrust? I feel like a f—like a balloon floating around in here.”
“Soon as Alex and Naomi finish maintenance on the drive computers, we’re out of here,” Amos said.
“Where’s my daddy?” Mei asked.
“Good,” Avasarala said. “We’ve got a schedule to keep, and I’m not paying you people for floating lessons. Your daddy’s talking to the captain, Mei-Mei.”
“Where?” the girl demanded. “Where is he? I want my da!”
“I’ll get you back to him, kiddo,” Amos said, holding out a massive hand. He shifted his attention to Avasarala. “She’s good for about five minutes, then it’s ‘Where’s Daddy?’”
“Good,” Avasarala said. “They deserve each other.”
“Yeah,” the big mechanic said. He pulled the child close to his center of gravity and launched up toward the galley. No handhold for him. Avasarala watched him go, then turned to Bobbie.
Bobbie floated, her hair sprayed softly out around her. Her face and body were more relaxed than Avasarala remembered ever having seen them. It should have made her seem at peace, but all she could think was that the girl looked drowned.
“Hey,” Bobbie said. “Did you hear back from your tech guys on Earth?”
“I did,” Avasarala said. “There was another energy spike. Bigger than the last ones. Prax was right. They are networked, and worse than that, they don’t suffer lag. Venus reacted before the information about the battle could have reached it.”
“Okay,” Bobbie said. “That’s bad, right?”
“It’s weird as tits on a bishop, but who knows if it means anything? They’re talking about spin-entanglement webs, whatever the hell those are. The best theory we’ve got is that it’s like a little adrenaline rush for the protomolecule. Some part of it is involved with violence, and the rest goes on alert until it’s clear the danger’s passed.”
“Well, then it’s scared of something. Nice to know it might have a vulnerability somewhere.”
They were silent for a moment. Somewhere far off in the ship, something clanged and Mei shrieked. Bobbie tensed, but Avasarala didn’t. It was interesting to see people who hadn’t been around a child react to Mei. They couldn’t tell the difference between pleasure and alarm. Avasarala found that on this ship, she and Prax were the only experts in children’s screaming.
“I was looking for you,” Avasarala said.
“I’m here,” Bobbie said, shrugging.
“Is that a problem?”
“I don’t follow. Is what a problem?”
“That you’re here?”
She looked away, her expression closing down. It was what Avasarala had expected.
“You were going down there to die, only the universe f**ked you over again. You won. You’re alive. None of the problems go away.”
“Some of them do,” Bobbie said. “Just not all. And at least we won your game.”
Avasarala’s cough of a laugh was enough to set her spinning slightly. She reached out to the wall and steadied her drift.
“That’s the game I play. You never win. You just don’t lose yet. Errinwright? He lost. Soren. Nguyen. I took them out of the game and I stayed in, but now? Errinwright’s going to retire with extreme prejudice, and I’m going to be given his job.”