Avasarala didn’t see it.
“I hate spin gravity,” Avasarala said, sipping at a cup of steaming tea. They’d be on the station for only three hours, while cargo was transferred from the shuttle to Mao’s yacht, but they’d been assigned a suite of four full-sized bedrooms, each with its own shower, and a massive lounge area. A huge screen pretended to be a window, the crescent Earth with her continent-veiling clouds hung on the black. They had a private kitchen staffed by three people, whose biggest task so far had been making the assistant undersecretary’s tea. Bobbie considered ordering a large meal just to give them something to do.
“I can’t believe we’re about to climb on a ship owned by this man. Have you ever known anyone this wealthy to go to jail? Or even be prosecuted? This guy could probably walk in here and shoot you in the face on a live newsfeed and get away with it.”
Avasarala laughed at her. Bobbie suppressed a surge of anger. It was just fear looking for an outlet.
“That’s not the game,” Avasarala said. “No one gets shot. They get marginalized. It’s worse.”
“No, it’s not. I’ve seen people shot. I’ve seen my friends shot. When you say, ‘That’s not the game,’ you mean for people like you. Not like me.”
Avasarala’s expression cooled.
“Yes, that’s what I mean,” the old woman said. “The level we’re playing at has different rules. It’s like playing go. It’s all about exerting influence. Controlling the board without occupying it.”
“Poker is a game too,” Bobbie said. “But sometimes the stakes get so high that one player decides it’s easier to kill the other guy and walk away with the money. It happens all the time.”
Avasarala nodded at her, not replying right away, visibly thinking over what Bobbie had said. Bobbie felt her anger replaced with a sudden rush of affection for the grumpy and arrogant old lady.
“Okay,” Avasarala said, putting her teacup down and placing her hands in her lap. “I hear what you’re saying, Sergeant. I think it’s unlikely, but I’m glad you’re here to say it.”
But you aren’t taking it seriously, Bobbie wanted to shout at her. Instead, she asked the servant who hovered nearby for a mushroom and onion sandwich. While she ate it, Avasarala sipped tea, nibbled on a cookie, and made small talk about the war and her grandchildren. Bobbie tried to be sure to make concerned noises during the war parts and awww, cute noises when the kids were the topic. But all she could think about was the tactical nightmare defending Avasarala on an enemy-controlled spacecraft would be.
Her recon suit was in a large crate marked FORMAL WEAR and being loaded onto the Mao yacht even as they waited. Bobbie wanted to sneak off and put it on. She didn’t notice when Avasarala stopped speaking for several minutes.
“Bobbie,” Avasarala said, her face not quite a frown. “Are my stories about my beloved grandchildren boring you?”
“Yeah,” Bobbie replied. “They really are.”
Bobbie had thought that Mao Station was the most ludicrous display of conspicuous wealth she’d ever seen right up until they boarded the yacht.
While the station was extravagant, it at least served a function. It was Jules Mao’s personal orbital garage, where he could store and service his fleet of private spacecraft. Underneath the glitz there was a working station, with mechanics and support staff doing actual jobs.
The yacht, the Guanshiyin, was the size of a standard cheapjack people-mover that would have transported two hundred customers, but it only had a dozen staterooms. Its cargo area was just large enough to contain the supplies they’d need for a lengthy voyage. It wasn’t particularly fast. It was, by any reasonable measurement, a miserable failure as a useful spacecraft.
But its job was not to be useful.
The Guanshiyin’s job was to be comfortable. Extravagantly comfortable.
It was like a hotel lobby. The carpet was plush and soft underfoot, and actual crystal chandeliers caught the light. Everyplace that should have had a sharp corner was rounded. Softened. The walls were papered with raw bamboo and natural fiber. The first thing Bobbie thought was how hard it would be to clean, and the second thing was that the difficulty was intentional.
Each suite of rooms took up nearly an entire deck of the ship. Each room had its own private bath, media center, game room, and lounge with a full bar. The lounge had a gigantic screen showing the view outside, which would not have been higher definition had it been an actual glass window. Near the bar was a dumbwaiter next to an intercom, which could deliver food prepared by Cordon Bleu chefs any hour of the day or night.
The carpet was so thick Bobbie was pretty sure mag boots wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t matter. A ship like this would never break down, never have to stop the engines during flight. The kind of people who flew on the Guanshiyin had probably never actually worn an environment suit in their lives.
All the fixtures in her bathroom were gold plated.
Bobbie and Avasarala were sitting in the lounge with the head of her UN security team, a pleasant-looking gray-haired man of Kurdish descent named Cotyar. Bobbie had been worried when she first met him. He looked like a friendly high school teacher, not a soldier. But then she’d watched him go through Avasarala’s rooms with practiced efficiency, laying out their security plan and directing his team, and her worries eased.
“Well, impressions?” Avasarala asked, leaning back in a plush armchair with her eyes closed.
“This room is not secure,” Cotyar said, his accent exotic to Bobbie’s ears. “We should not discuss sensitive matters here. Your private room has been secured for such discussions.”
“This is a trap,” Bobbie said.
“Aren’t we finished with that shit yet?” Avasarala said, then leaned forward to give Bobbie a glare.
“She is right,” Cotyar said quietly, clearly unhappy to be discussing such matters in an unsecured room. “I’ve counted fourteen crew on this ship already, and I would estimate that is less than one-third of the total crew of this vessel. I have a team of six for your protection—”
“Seven,” Bobbie interrupted, raising her hand.
“As you say,” Cotyar continued with a nod. “Seven. We do not control any of the ship’s systems. Assassination would be as simple as sealing the deck we are on and pumping out the air.”
Bobbie pointed at Cotyar and said, “See?”