Even waiting for Avasarala finally to notice her couldn’t fully dampen that feeling.
Standing in Avasarala’s office reinforced Bobbie’s impression that the Martian suite was intended to impress. The deputy secretary was important enough to get Bobbie transferred out of Thorsson’s command and into a liaison role for the UN with a single phone call. And yet her office had cheap carpet that smelled unpleasantly of stale tobacco smoke. Her desk was old and scuffed. No cherrywood chairs here. The only things that looked lovingly tended in the room were the fresh flowers and the Buddha shrine.
Avasarala radiated weariness. There were dark circles under her eyes that hadn’t been there during their official meetings and hadn’t been visible in the dim lights of the bar where she’d made her offer. Sitting behind her giant desk in a bright blue sari, she looked very small, like a child pretending to be a grown-up. Only the gray hair and crow’s-feet ruined the illusion. Bobbie suddenly pictured her instead as a cranky doll, complaining as children moved her arms and legs and forced her to go to tea parties with stuffed animals. The thought made her cheeks ache from restraining the grin.
Avasarala tapped at a terminal on her desk and grunted with irritation. No more tea for you, gramma dolly, you’ve had enough, Bobbie thought, then stifled a laugh. “Soren, you’ve moved my f**king files again. I can’t find a goddamned thing anymore.”
The stiff young man who’d brought Bobbie into the office and then sort of melted into the background cleared his throat. It made Bobbie jump. He was closer behind her than she’d realized.
“Ma’am, you asked me to move a few of the—”
“Yes, yes,” Avasarala interrupted, tapping harder on the terminal’s screen, as if that would make the device understand what she wanted. Something about that made Bobbie think of people who started talking louder when trying to communicate with someone who spoke a different language.
“Okay, there they are,” Avasarala said with irritation. “Why you’d put them …”
She tapped a few more times and Bobbie’s terminal chimed.
“That,” she said, “is the report and all of my notes on the Ganymede situation. Read them. Today. I may have an update later, once I’ve had a little polite questioning done.”
Bobbie pulled out her terminal and scrolled quickly through the documents she’d just been sent. It went on and on for hundreds of pages. Her first thought was Did she really mean read all of this today? This was quickly followed by Did she really just hand me everything she knows? It made her own government’s recent treatment of her look even worse.
“It won’t take you long,” her new boss continued. “There’s almost nothing there. Lots of bullshit by overpaid consultants who think they can hide the fact that they don’t actually know anything by talking twice as long.”
Bobbie nodded, but the feeling of being in over her head had started to outcompete her excitement at a new opportunity.
“Ma’am, is Sergeant Draper cleared to access—” Soren said.
“Yes. I just cleared her. Bobbie? You’re cleared,” Avasarala said right over the top of him. “Stop busting my balls, Soren. I’m out of tea.”
Bobbie made a conscious effort not to turn around and look at Soren. The situation was uncomfortable enough without driving home the fact that he’d just been humiliated in front of a foreigner with exactly seventeen minutes on the job.
“Yes, ma’am,” Soren said. “But I was wondering whether you should alert the security service about your decision to clear the sergeant. They do like to be in the loop on that kind of thing.”
“Meow meow cry meow meow,” Avasarala said. “That’s all I heard you say.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Soren said.
Bobbie finally looked back and forth between them. Soren was being dressed down in front of a new team member who was also technically the enemy. His expression hadn’t changed. He looked like he was humoring a demented grandmother. Avasarala made an impatient clicking sound with her teeth.
“Was I not clear? Have I lost the ability to speak?”
“No, ma’am,” Soren said.
“Bobbie? Can you understand me?”
“Good. Then get out of my office and do your jobs. Bobbie, read. Soren, tea.”
Bobbie turned to leave and found Soren staring at her, his face expressionless. Which was, in its way, more disconcerting than a little well-justified anger would have been.
As she walked past him, Avasarala said, “Soren, wait. Take this to Foster in data services.” She handed Soren what looked like a memory stick. “Make sure you get it to him before he leaves for the day.”
Soren nodded, smiled, and took the small black wafer from her. “Of course.”
When he and Bobbie had left Avasarala’s office, and Soren had closed the door behind them, Bobbie let out a long whistling exhale and smiled at him.
“Wow, that was awkward. Sorry about—” she started, but stopped when Soren held up his hand, casually dismissing her concern.
“It’s nothing,” he said. “She’s actually having a pretty good day.”
While she stood gaping and looking at him, Soren turned away from her and tossed the memory stick onto his desk, where it slid under the wrapper of a half-eaten package of cookies. He sat down and put on a headset, then began scrolling through a list of phone numbers on his desktop terminal. If he noticed her continued presence, he gave no sign.
“You know,” Bobbie said finally, “I just have some stuff to read, so if you’re busy, I could take that thing to the data services guy. I mean, if you’re busy with other stuff.”
Soren finally looked at her quizzically.
“Why would I need you to do that?”
“Well,” Bobbie said, glancing at the time on her terminal, “it’s pretty close to eighteen hundred local, and I don’t know what time you guys usually close up shop, so I just thought—”
“Don’t worry about it. The thing is, my whole job is making her”—he jerked his head toward the closed door—“calm and happy. With her, everything’s top priority. And so nothing is, you know? I’ll do it when it needs doing. Until then, the bitch can bark a little if it makes her feel happy.”
Bobbie felt a cool rush of surprise. No, not surprise. Shock.
“You just called her a bitch?”