“Bobbie,” he said, his smile not even pretending to be genuine.
Bobbie couldn’t bring herself to respond, so she just nodded and collapsed into her chair. One glance at the darkened windows in Avasarala’s office told her the old lady wasn’t in yet. Bobbie pulled up her to-do list on the desktop screen.
“She had me add a lot of people,” Soren said, referring to the list of people Bobbie was supposed to call in her role as Martian military liaison. “She really wants to get a hold of an early draft of the Martian statement on Ganymede. That’s your top priority for the day. Okay?”
“Why?” Bobbie said. “The actual statement came out yesterday. We both read it.”
“Bobbie,” Soren said with a sigh that said he was tired of explaining simple things to her, but a grin that said he really wasn’t. “This is how the game is played. Mars releases a statement condemning our actions. We go back channel and find an early draft. If it was harsher than the actual statement that was released, then someone in the dip corps argued to tone it down. That means they’re trying to avoid escalating. If it was milder in the early draft, then they’re deliberately escalating to provoke a response.”
“But since they know you’ll get those early drafts, then that’s meaningless. They’ll just make sure you get leaks that give you the impression they want you to have.”
“See? Now you’re getting it,” Soren said. “What your opponent wants you to think is useful data in figuring out what they think. So get the early draft, okay? Do it before the end of the day.”
But no one talks to me anymore because now I’m the UN’s pet Martian, and even though I’m not a traitor, it is entirely possible that everyone else thinks I am.
Bobbie pulled up the newly revised list and made the first connection request of the day.
“Bobbie!” Avasarala yelled from her desk. There was any number of electronic means for getting Bobbie’s attention, but she almost never saw Avasarala use them. She yanked her earbud free and stood up. Soren’s smirk was of the psychic variety; his face didn’t change at all.
“Ma’am?” Bobbie said, taking a short step into Avasarala’s office. “You bellowed?”
“No one likes a smart-ass,” Avasarala said, not looking up from her desk terminal. “Where’s my first draft of that report? It’s almost lunchtime.”
Bobbie stood a little straighter and clasped her arms behind her back.
“Sir, I regret to inform you that I have been unable to find anyone willing to release the early draft of the report to me.”
“Are you standing at attention?” Avasarala said, looking up at her for the first time. “Jesus. I’m not about to march you out to the firing squad. Did you try everyone on the list?”
“Yes, I—” Bobbie stopped for a moment and took a deep breath, then took a few more steps into the office. Quietly she said, “No one talks to me.”
The old woman lifted a snow-white eyebrow.
“It is?” Bobbie said.
Avasarala smiled at her, a warm, genuine smile, then poured tea out of a black iron pot into two small teacups.
“Sit down,” she said, waving at a chair next to her desk. When Bobbie remained standing, Avasarala said, “Seriously, sit the f**k down. Five minutes talking to you and I can’t tilt my head forward again for an hour.”
Bobbie sat, hesitated, and took one of the small teacups. It wasn’t much larger than a shot glass, and the tea inside it was very dark and smelled unpleasant. She took a small sip and burned her tongue.
“It’s a Lapsang souchong,” Avasarala said. “My husband buys it for me. What do you think?”
“I think it smells like hobo feet,” Bobbie replied.
“No shit, but Arjun loves it and it’s not bad once you get used to drinking it.”
Bobbie nodded and took another sip but didn’t reply.
“Okay, so,” Avasarala said, “you’re the Martian who was unhappy and got tempted over to the other side by a powerful old lady with lots of shiny prizes to offer. You’re the worst kind of traitor, because ultimately everything that’s happened to you since you came to Earth was because you were pouting.”
“Shut the f**k up now, dear, the grown-up is talking.”
Bobbie shut up and drank her awful tea.
“But,” Avasarala continued, the same sweet smile on her wrinkled face, “if I were on the other team, you know who I’d send misinformation leaks to?”
“Me,” Bobbie said.
“You. Because you’re desperate to prove your value to your new boss, and they can send you blatantly false information and not really care if they f**k your shit up in the long run. If I were the Martian counterespionage wonks, I’d have already recruited one of your closest friends back home and be using them to funnel a mountain’s worth of false data your direction.”
My closest friends are all dead, Bobbie thought.
“But no one—”
“Is talking to you from back home. Which means two things. They are still trying to figure out my game in keeping you here, and they don’t have a misinformation campaign in place because they’re as confused as we are. You’ll be contacted by someone in the next week or so. They’ll ask you to leak information from my office, but they’ll ask it in such a way that winds up giving you a whole lot of false information. If you’re loyal and spy for them, great. If not and you tell me what they asked for, also great. Maybe they’ll get lucky and you’ll do both.”
Bobbie put the teacup back on the desk. Her hands were in fists.
“This,” Bobbie said, “is why everyone hates politicians.”
“No. They hate us because we have power. Bobbie, this isn’t how your mind likes to work, and I respect that. I don’t have time to explain things to you,” Avasarala said, the smile disappearing like it had never been. “So just assume I know what I’m doing, and that when I ask you to do the impossible, it’s because even your failure helps our cause somehow.”
“We’re on the same team here. Team Let’s-Not-Lose-Together. That is us, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” Bobbie said, glancing at the Buddha in his shrine. He smiled at her serenely. Just one of the team, his round face seemed to say. “Yes it is.”