“What makes them less human is they don’t f**king meditate. A small house isn’t a luxury,” she said, then paused. “A small house and a lot of money, maybe.”
Arjun grinned at her. He had always had the most beautiful smile. She found herself smiling back at him, even though part of her wanted to be cross. Outside, Kiki and Suri shrieked, their small half-naked bodies bolting across the grass. Their nurse trotted along a half second behind them, her hand to her side like she was easing a stitch.
“A big yard is a luxury,” Avasarala said.
Suri burst in the back door, her hand covered in loose black soil and a wide grin on her face. Her footsteps left crumbling dark marks on the carpet.
“Nani! Nani! Look what I found!”
Avasarala shifted in her chair. In her granddaughter’s palm, an earthworm was shifting the pink and brown rings of its body, wet as the soil that dripped from Suri’s fingers. Avasarala made her face into a mask of wonder and delight.
“That’s wonderful, Suri. Come back outside and show your nani where you found that.”
The yard smelled like cut grass and fresh soil. The gardener—a thin man hardly older than her own son would have been—knelt in the back, pulling weeds by hand. Suri pelted out toward him, and Avasarala moved along after her at a stroll. When she came near, the gardener nodded, but there was no space for conversation. Suri was pointing and gesturing and retelling the grand adventure of finding a common worm in the mud as if it were a thing of epics. Kiki appeared at Avasarala’s side, quietly taking her hand. She loved her little Suri, but privately—or if not that, then only to Arjun—she thought Kiki was the smarter of her grandchildren. Quiet, but the girl’s black eyes were bright, and she could mimic anyone she heard. Kiki didn’t miss much.
“Darling wife,” Arjun called from the back door. “There’s someone to talk with you.”
“The house system,” Arjun said. “She says your terminal’s not answering.”
“There’s a reason for that,” Avasarala said.
“It’s Gloria Tannenbaum.”
Avasarala reluctantly handed Kiki’s hand over to the nurse, kissed Suri’s head, and went back toward the house. Arjun held the door open for her. His expression was apologetic.
“These cunts are digging into my grandma time,” she said.
“The price of power,” Arjun replied with a solemnity that was amused and serious at the same time.
Avasarala opened the connection on the system in her private office. There was a click and a moment’s dislocation while the privacy screens came up, and then Gloria Tannenbaum’s thin, eye-browless face appeared on her screen.
“Gloria! I’m sorry. I had my terminal down with the children over.”
“Not a problem,” the woman said with a clean, brittle smile that was as close as she came to a genuine emotion. “Probably for the best anyway. Always assume those are being monitored more closely than civilian lines.”
Avasarala lowered herself into her chair. The leather breathed out gently under her weight.
“I hope things are all right with you and Etsepan?”
“Fine,” Gloria said.
“Good, good. Now why the f**k are you calling me?”
“I was talking to a friend of mine whose wife is stationed on the Mikhaylov. From what he says, it’s being pulled off patrol. Going deep.”
Avasarala frowned. The Mikhaylov was part of a small convoy monitoring the traffic between the deep stations orbiting at the far edge of the Belt.
“Going deep where?”
“I asked around,” Gloria said. “Ganymede.”
“Your friend has loose lips,” Avasarala said.
“I never tell him anything true,” Gloria said. “I thought you should know.”
“I owe you,” Avasarala said. Gloria nodded once, the movement sharp as a crow’s, and dropped the connection. Avasarala sat in silence for a long moment, fingers pressed to her lips, mind following the chains of implication like a brook flowing over stones. Nguyen was sending more ships to Ganymede, and he was doing it quietly.
The why quietly part was simple. If he’d done it openly, she would have stopped him. Nguyen was young and he was ambitious, but he wasn’t stupid. He was drawing conclusions of his own, and somehow he’d gotten to the idea that sending more forces into the open sore that was Ganymede Station would make things better.
“Oh, Nani!” Kiki called. From the lilt of her voice, Avasarala knew there was mischief afoot. She hefted herself up from the desk and headed for the door.
“In here, Kiki,” she said, stepping out into the kitchen.
The water balloon hit her in the shoulder without bursting, bobbled down to the floor, and popped at her feet, turning the stone tiles around her dark. Avasarala looked up, rage-faced. Kiki stood in the doorway leading to the yard, caught between fear and delight.
“Did you just make a mess in my house?” Avasarala asked.
Pale-faced, the girl nodded.
“Do you know what happens to bad children who make a mess in their nani’s house?”
“Do they get tickled?”
“They get tickled!” Avasarala said, and bolted for her. Of course Kiki got away. She was a child of eight. The only time the girl’s joints ached, it was from growing too fast. And of course, eventually she let her nani catch her and tickle her until she screamed. By the time Ashanti and her husband came to gather up their children for the flight back to Novgorod, Avasarala had grass stains on her sari and her hair was standing off her scalp in all directions, like the cartoon image of her lightning-struck self.
She hugged the children twice before they left, sneaking bits of chocolate to them each time, then kissed her daughter, nodded to her son-in-law, and waved to them all from her doorway. The security team followed their car. No one so closely related to her was safe from kidnapping. It was just another fact of life.
Her shower was long, using a lavish volume of water almost too hot for comfort. She’d always liked her baths to approach scalding, ever since she was a girl. If her skin didn’t tingle and throb a little when she toweled off, she’d done it wrong.
Arjun was on the bed, reading seriously from his hand terminal. She walked to her closet, threw the wet towel into the hamper, and shrugged into a cotton-weave robe.
“He thinks they did it,” she said.