“I can ask for confirmation,” Soren said. “Nguyen should be filing his command report in the next eighteen hours. Once we have that—”
“We’ll know what he said,” Avasarala snapped. “I can tell you that right now. The Martian forces took a threatening position, and he was forced to respond aggressively. La la f**king la. Where did he get the ships?”
“He’s an admiral,” Soren said. “I thought he came with them.”
She turned. The boy looked tired. He’d been up since the small hours of the morning. They all had. His eyes were bloodshot, and his skin pallid and clammy.
“I took apart that command group myself,” she said. “I pared it down until you could have drowned it in a bathtub. And he’s out there now with enough firepower to take on the Martian fleet?”
“Apparently,” Soren said.
She fought the urge to spit. The rumble of the transport engines finally reached her, the sound muffled by distance and the glazing. The light was already gone. To her sleep-deprived mind, it was exactly like playing politics in the Jovian system or the Belt. Something happened—she could see it happen—but she heard it only after the fact. When it was too late.
She’d made a mistake. Nguyen was a war hawk. The kind of adolescent boy who still thought any problem could be solved by shooting it enough. Everything he’d done was as subtle as a lead pipe to the kneecap, until this. Now he’d reassembled his command without her knowing it. And he’d had her pulled from the Martian negotiations.
Which meant that he hadn’t done any of it. Nguyen had either a patron or a cabal. She hadn’t seen that he was a bit player, so whoever called his tune had surprised her. She was playing against shadows, and she hated it.
“More light,” she said.
“Find out how he got those ships,” she said. “Do it before you go to sleep. I want a full accounting. Where the replacement ships came from, who ordered them, how they were justified. Everything.”
“Would you also like a pony, ma’am?”
“You’re f**king right I would,” she said, and sagged against her desk. “You do good work. Someday you might get a real job.”
“I’m looking forward to it, ma’am.”
“Is she still around?”
“At her desk,” Soren said. “Should I send her in?”
“You better had.”
When Bobbie came into the room, a film of cheap paper in her fist, it struck Avasarala again how poorly the Martian fit in. It wasn’t only her accent or the difference in build that spoke of a childhood in the lower Martian gravity. In the halls of politics, the woman’s air of physical competence stood out. She looked like she’d been rousted out of bed in the middle of the night, just like all of them; it was only that it looked good on her. Might be useful, might not, but certainly it was worth remembering.
“What have you got?” Avasarala asked.
The marine’s frown was all in her forehead.
“I’ve gotten through to a couple of people in the command. Most of them don’t know who the hell I am, though. I probably spent as much time telling them I was working for you as I did talking about Ganymede.”
“It’s a lesson. Martian bureaucrats are stupid, venal people. What did they say?”
“You shot at us.”
Avasarala leaned back in her chair. Her back hurt, her knees hurt, and the knot of sorrow and outrage that was always just under her heart felt brighter than usual.
“Of course we did,” she said. “The peace delegation?”
“Already gone,” Bobbie said. “They’ll be releasing a statement sometime tomorrow about how the UN was negotiating in bad faith. They’re still fighting out the exact wording.”
“What’s the hold?”
Bobbie shook her head. She didn’t understand.
“What words are they fighting over, and which side wants which words?” Avasarala demanded.
“I don’t know. Does it matter?”
Of course it mattered. The difference between The UN has been negotiating in bad faith and The UN was negotiating in bad faith could be measured in hundreds of lives. Thousands. Avasarala tried to swallow her impatience. It didn’t come naturally.
“All right,” she said. “See if there’s anything else you can get me.”
Bobbie held out the paper. Avasarala took it.
“The hell is this?” she asked.
“My resignation,” Bobbie said. “I thought you’d want all the paperwork in place. We’re at war now, so I’ll be shipping back. Getting my new assignment.”
“Who recalled you?”
“No one, yet,” Bobbie said. “But—”
“Will you please sit down? I feel like I’m at the bottom of a f**king well, talking to you.”
The marine sat. Avasarala took a deep breath.
“Do you want to kill me?” Avasarala asked. Bobbie blinked, and before she could answer, Avasarala lifted her hand, commanding silence. “I am one of the most powerful people in the UN. We’re at war. So do you want to kill me?”
“I …guess so?”
“You don’t. You want to find out who killed your men and you want the politicians to stop greasing the wheels with Marine blood. And holy shit! What do you know? I want that too.”
“But I’m active-duty Martian military,” Bobbie said. “If I stay working for you, I’m committing treason.” The way she said it wasn’t complaint or accusation.
“They haven’t recalled you,” Avasarala said. “And they’re not going to. The wartime diplomatic code of contact is almost exactly the same for you as it is for us, and it’s ten thousand pages of nine-point type. If you get orders right now, I can put up enough queries and requests for clarifications that you’ll die of old age in that chair. If you just want to kill someone for Mars, you’re not going to get a better target than me. If you want to stop this idiotic f**king war and find out who’s actually behind it, get back to your desk and find out who wants what wording.”
Bobbie was silent for a long moment.
“You mean that as a rhetorical device,” she said at last, “but it would make a certain amount of sense to kill you. And I can do it.”
A tiny chill hit Avasarala’s spine, but she didn’t let it reach her face.