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Page 222 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Then get the f**k back out there and start calling everyone all over again. This time take detailed notes on who refuses to help you and the exact words they use in their refusal. Okay?”

“Solid copy on that, ma’am.”

“Good,” Avasarala said, smiling gently again. “Get out of my office.”

Familiarity might breed contempt, but Bobbie hadn’t much liked Soren right from the start. Sitting next to him for several days had ratcheted up her dislike to a whole new level. When he wasn’t ignoring her, he was condescending. He talked too loud on his phone, even when she was trying to carry on a conversation of her own. Sometimes he sat on her desk, talking to visitors. He wore too much cologne.

The worst thing was he ate cookies all day.

It was impressive, given his rail-thin build, and Bobbie was not generally the kind of person who cared at all about other people’s dietary habits. But his preferred brand of cookie came out of the break room vending machine in a foil packet that crinkled every time he reached into it. At first, this had only been annoying. But after a couple of days of the Crinkle, Crunch, Chomp, and Smack Radio Theater, she’d had enough. She dropped her latest pointless connection and turned to stare at him. He ignored her and tapped on his desk terminal.

“Soren,” she said, meaning to ask him to dump the damn cookies out on a plate or a napkin so she didn’t have to hear that infuriating crinkle sound anymore. Before she could get more than his name out, he held up a finger to shush her and pointed at his earbud.

“No,” he said, “not really a good—”

Bobbie wasn’t sure if he was talking to her or someone on the phone, so she got up and moved over to his desk, sitting on the edge of it. He gave her a withering glare, but she just smiled and mouthed, “I’ll wait.” The edge of his desk creaked a little under her weight.

He turned his back to her.

“I understand,” he said. “But this is not a good time to discuss— I see. I can probably— I see, yes. Foster won’t— Yes. Yes, I understand. I’ll be there.”

He turned back around and tapped his desk, killing the connection.

“What?”

“I hate your cookies. The constant crinkle of the package is driving me insane.”

“Cookies?” Soren said, a baffled expression on his face. Bobbie thought that it might be the first honest emotion she’d ever seen there.

“Yeah, can you put them on a—” Bobbie started, but before she could finish, Soren grabbed up the package and tossed them into the recycling bin next to his desk.

“Happy?”

“Well—”

“I don’t have time for you right now, Sergeant.”

“Okay,” Bobbie said, and went back to her desk.

Soren kept fidgeting like he had more to say, so Bobbie didn’t call the next person on her list. She waited for him to speak. Probably the cookie thing had been a mistake on her part. Really, it wasn’t a big deal. If she weren’t under so much pressure, it wasn’t the sort of thing she’d probably even notice. When Soren finally spoke up, she’d apologize for being so pushy about it and then offer to buy him a new package. Instead of speaking, he stood up.

“Soren, I—” Bobbie started, but Soren ignored her and unlocked a drawer on his desk. He pulled out a small bit of black plastic. Probably because she’d just heard him say the name Foster, Bobbie recognized it as the memory stick Avasarala had given him a few days earlier. Foster was the data services guy, so she assumed he was finally getting around to taking care of that little task, which would at least get him away from the office for a few minutes.

Until he turned and headed for the elevators.

Bobbie had done a little gofer work running things back and forth to data services and knew that their office was on the same floor and in the opposite direction of the elevators.

“Huh.”

She was tired. She was half sick with guilt and she wasn’t even all that sure what she felt guilty about. She disliked the man anyway. The hunch that popped into her head was almost certainly a result of her own paranoia and addled image of the world.

She got up, following him.

“This is really stupid,” she said to herself, smiling and nodding at a page who hurried by. She was over two meters tall on a planet of short people. She wasn’t going to blend.

Soren climbed into an elevator. Bobbie stopped outside the doors and waited. Through the aluminum-and-ceramic doors, she heard him ask someone to press one. Going all the way to the street level, then. She hit the down button and took the next elevator to the bottom floor.

Of course, he wasn’t in sight when she got there.

A giant Martian woman running around the lobby of the UN building would draw a little attention, so she scrapped that as a plan. A wave of uncertainty, failure, and despair lapped at the shoreline of her mind.

Forget that it was an office building. Forget that there were no armed enemy, no squad behind her. Forget that, and look at the logic of the situation on the ground. Think tactically. Be smart.

“I need to be smart,” she said. A short woman in a red suit who had just come up and pressed the elevator call button overheard her and said, “What?”

“I need to be smart,” Bobbie told her. “Can’t go running off half-cocked.” Not even when doing something insane and stupid.

“I … see,” the woman said, then pushed the elevator call button again several times. Next to the elevator control panel was a courtesy terminal. If you can’t find the target, restrict the target’s degrees of freedom. Make them come to you. Right. Bobbie hit the button for the lobby reception desk. An automated system with an extremely realistic and sexually ambiguous voice asked how it could assist her.

“Please page Soren Cottwald to the lobby reception desk,” Bobbie said. The computer on the other end of the line thanked her for using the UN automated courtesy system and dropped the connection.

Soren might not have his terminal on, or it could be set to ignore incoming pages. Or he might ignore this one all on his own. She found a couch with a sight line to the desk and shifted a ficus to provide her cover.

Two minutes later, Soren trotted up to the reception desk, his hair more windblown than usual. He must have already been all the way outside when he got the page. He began talking to one of the human receptionists. Bobbie moved across the lobby to a little coffee and snack kiosk and hid as best she could. After typing on her desk for a moment, the receptionist pointed at the terminal next to the elevators. Soren frowned and took a few steps toward it, then looked around nervously and headed toward the building entrance.