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Page 201 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

Half a beat later, the secretary-general barked out a laugh and wagged his finger at the screen before the green connection-ended message took his place. Errinwright sat back, his palms pressed to his temples. Avasarala picked up her cup of tea and sipped it with her eyebrows lifted and her gaze on the camera, inviting him to say something. The tea wasn’t quite down to tepid.

“All right,” Errinwright said. “You win.”

“We’re impeaching him?”

He actually chuckled. Wherever he was, it was dark outside his windows, so he was on the same side of the planet that she was. That they were both in night gave the meeting a sense of closeness and intimacy that had more to do with her own exhaustion than anything else.

“What do you need to resolve the Venus situation?” he asked.

“Resolve?”

“Poor choice of words,” he said. “From the beginning of this, you’ve had your eye on Venus. Keeping things calm with the Martians. Reining in Nguyen.”

“Noticed that, did you?”

“These talks are stalled, and I’m not going to waste you on babysitting a deadlock. We need clarity, and we need it a month ago. Ask for the resources you need, Chrisjen, and either rule Venus out or get us proof. I’m giving you a blank check.”

“Retirement at last,” she said, laughing. To her surprise, Errinwright took it seriously.

“If you want, but Venus first. This is the most important question either of us has ever asked. I’m trusting you.”

“I’ll see to it,” she said. Errinwright nodded and dropped the connection.

She leaned forward on her desk, fingertips pressed to her lips. Something had happened. Something had changed. Either Errinwright had read enough about Venus to get his own set of the heebie-jeebies, or someone wanted her off the Martian negotiation. Someone with enough pull to get Errinwright to kick her upstairs. Did Nguyen have patrons that powerful?

Yes, it gave her what she wanted. After all she’d said—and meant when she’d said it—she couldn’t refuse the project, but the success had a bitter aftertaste. Perhaps she was reading too much into it. God knew she hadn’t been getting enough sleep, and fatigue left her paranoid. She checked the time. Ten o’clock p.m. She wouldn’t make it back to Arjun that night. Another morning in the depressing VIP quarters, drinking the weak coffee and pretending to care what the latest ambassador from the Pashwiri Autonomous Zone thought about dance music.

Screw it, she thought, I need a drink.

The Dasihari Lounge catered to the full range in the complex organism that was the United Nations. At the bar, young pages and clerks leaned into the light, laughing too loud and pretending to be more important than they were. It was a mating dance only slightly more dignified than presenting like a mandrill, but endearing in its own fashion. Roberta Draper, the Martian Marine who’d shat on the table that morning, was among them, a pint glass dwarfed by her hand and an amused expression on her face. Soren would probably be there, if not that night, another time. Avasarala’s son would probably have been among them if things had gone differently.

In the center of the room, there were tables with built-in terminals to pipe in encrypted information from a thousand different sources. Privacy baffles kept even the waitstaff from glimpsing over the shoulders of the middle-range administrators drinking their dinners while they worked. And in the back were dark wooden tables in booths that recognized her before she sat down. If anyone below a certain status walked too close, a discreet young man with perfect hair would sweep up and see them to a different table, elsewhere, with less important people.

Avasarala sipped her gin and tonic while the threads of implication wove and rewove themselves. Nguyen couldn’t have enough influence to put Errinwright against her. Could the Martians have asked that she be removed? She tried to remember who she’d been rude to and how, but no good suspect came to mind. And if they had, what was she going to do about it?

Well, if she couldn’t be party to the Martian negotiations in an official capacity, she could still have contacts on an informal basis. Avasarala started chuckling even before she knew quite why. She picked up her glass, tapped the table to let it know it was permitted to let someone else sit there, and made her way across the bar. The music was soft arpeggios in a hypermodern tonal scale, which managed to sound soothing despite itself. The air smelled of perfume too expensive to be applied tastelessly. As she neared the bar, she saw conversations pause, glances pass between one young fount of ambition and another. The old lady, she imagined them saying. What’s she doing here?

She sat down next to Draper. The big woman looked over at her. There was a light of recognition in her eyes that boded well. She might not know who Avasarala was, but she’d guessed what she was. Smart, then. Perceptive. And f**king hell, the woman was enormous. Not fat either, just … big.

“Buy you a drink, Sergeant?” Avasarala asked.

“I’ve had a few too many already,” she said. And a moment later: “All right.”

Avasarala lifted an eyebrow, and the bartender quietly gave the marine another glass of whatever she’d been having before.

“You made quite an impression today,” Avasarala said.

“I did,” Draper said. She seemed serenely unconcerned about it. “Thorsson’s going to ship me out. I’m done here. May just be done.”

“That’s fair. You’ve accomplished what they wanted from you anyway.”

Draper looked down at her. Polynesian blood, Avasarala guessed. Maybe Samoan. Someplace that evolution had made humans like mountain ranges. Her eyes were narrowed, and there was a heat to them. An anger.

“I haven’t done shit.”

“You were here. That’s all they needed from you.”

“What’s the point?”

“They want to convince me that the monster wasn’t theirs. One argument they’ve made is that their own soldiers—meaning you—didn’t know about it. By bringing you, they’re showing that they aren’t afraid to bring you. That’s all they need. You could sit around with your thumb up your ass and argue about the offside rule all day. It would be just as good for them. You’re a showpiece.”

The marine took it in, then raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t think I like that,” she said.

“Yes, well,” Avasarala said, “Thorsson’s a cunt, but if you stop working with politicians just for that, you won’t have any friends.”

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