“We’re in a shooting war,” Avasarala said. “I don’t think the Navy would want to spare a ship to haul my old bones out there. Besides which, I’m coordinating the investigation into Venus, aren’t I? Blank check and all.”
Errinwright grinned exactly as if he’d meant it.
“I’ve got you taken care of. Jules-Pierre Mao is taking a yacht from Luna to Ganymede to oversee his company’s humanitarian aid efforts. He’s offered a berth. It’s better accommodations than you get at the office. Probably better bandwidth too. You can monitor Venus from there.”
“Mao-Kwik is part of the government now? I hadn’t known,” she said.
“We’re all on the same side. Mao-Kwik is as interested as anyone in seeing those people cared for.”
Avasarala’s door opened and Roberta Draper loomed into the office. She looked like crap. Her skin had the ashy look of that of someone who hadn’t slept in too long. Her jaw was set. Avasarala nodded toward the chair.
“I take up a lot of bandwidth,” she said.
“Won’t be a problem. You’ll get first priority on all communications channels.”
The Martian sat down across the desk, well out of the camera’s cone. Bobbie braced her hands on her thighs, elbows to the sides, like a wrestler getting ready to step into the cage. Avasarala made herself not glance at the woman.
“Can I think about it?”
“Chrisjen,” Errinwright said, bringing his hand terminal closer in, his wide, round face filling the screen. “I told the secretary-general that this might not fly. Even in the best yacht, traveling out to the Jovian system is a hard journey. If you’ve got too much to do or if you’re at all uncomfortable with the trip, you just say so and I’ll find someone else. They just won’t be as good as you.”
“Who is?” Avasarala said with a toss of her hand. Rage was boiling in her gut. “Fine. You’ve talked me into it. When do I leave?”
“The yacht’s scheduled for departure in four days. I’m sorry for the tight turnaround, but I didn’t have confirmation until about an hour ago.”
“If I were a religious man, I’d say it meant something. I’ll have the details sent to Soren.”
“Better send it to me directly,” Avasarala said. “Soren’s going to have a lot on his plate already.”
“Whatever you like,” he said.
Her boss had secretly started a war. He was working with the same corporations that had let the genie out of the bottle on Phoebe, sacrificed Eros, and threatened everything human. He was a frightened little boy in a good suit picking a fight he thought he could win because he was pissing himself over the real threat. She smiled at him. Good men and women had already died because of him and Nguyen. Children had died on Ganymede. Belters would be scrambling for calories. Some would starve.
Errinwright’s round cheeks fell a millimeter. His brows knotted just a bit. He knew that she knew. Because of course he did. Players at their level didn’t deceive each other. They won even though their opponents knew exactly what was happening. Just like he was winning against her right now.
“Are you feeling all right?” he asked. “I think this is the first conversation we’ve had in ten years where you haven’t said something vulgar.”
Avasarala grinned at the screen, reaching out her fingertips as if she could caress him.
“Cunt,” she said carefully.
When the connection dropped, she put her head in her hands for a moment, blowing out her breath and sucking it back in hard, focusing. When she sat up, Bobbie was watching her.
“Evening,” Avasarala said.
“I’ve been trying to find you,” Bobbie said. “My connections were blocked.”
“We need to talk about something. Someone. I mean, Soren,” Bobbie said. “You remember that data you wanted him to take care of a couple days ago?He handed it off to someone else. I don’t know who, but they were military. I’ll swear to that.”
So that’s what spooked him, Avasarala thought. Caught with his hands in the cookie jar. Poor idiot had underestimated her pet Marine.
“All right,” she said.
“I understand that you don’t have any reason to trust me,” Bobbie said, “but … Okay. Why are you laughing?”
Avasarala stood up, stretching until the joints in her shoulders ached pleasantly.
“At this moment, you are literally the only one on my staff who I trust as far as I can piss. You remember when I said that the thing on Ganymede wasn’t us?It wasn’t then but it is now. We’ve bought it, and I assume we’re planning to use it against you.”
Bobbie stood up. Her face, once just ashen, was bloodless.
“I have to tell my superiors,” she said, her voice thick and strangled.
“No, you don’t. They know. And you can’t prove it yet any more than I can. Tell them now and they’ll broadcast it, and we’ll deny it and blah blah blah. The bigger problem is that you’re coming back to Ganymede with me. I’m being sent.”
She explained everything. Soren’s false intelligence report, what it implied, Errinwright’s betrayal, and the mission to Ganymede on the Mao-Kwik yacht.
“You can’t do that,” Bobbie said.
“It’s a pain in the ass,” Avasarala agreed. “They’ll be monitoring my connections, but they’re probably doing the same here. And if they’re shipping me to Ganymede, you can be dead sure that nothing is going to happen there. They’re putting me in a box until it’s too late to change anything. Or that’s what they’re trying, anyway. I’m not giving away the f**king game yet.”
“You can’t get on that ship,” Bobbie said. “It’s a trap.”
“Of course it’s a trap,” Avasarala said, waving a hand. “But it’s a trap I have to step into. Refuse a request from the secretary-general? That comes out, and everyone starts thinking I’m about to retire. No one backs a player who’s going to be powerless next year. We play for the long term, and that means looking strong for the duration. Errinwright knows that. It’s why he played it this way.”
Outside, another shuttle was lifting off. Avasarala could already hear the roar of the burn, feel the press of thrust and false gravity pushing her back. It had been thirty years since she’d been out of Earth’s gravity well. This wasn’t going to be pleasant.