“So he got out, then,” Bobbie said.
“Him and his pet botanist and the whole damned crew,” Avasarala said. “So now we have one story about what they were doing on Ganymede that got your boys and ours so excited they started shooting each other.”
Bobbie looked up at her.
“Do you think it’s true?”
“What is truth?” Avasarala said. “I think Holden has a long history of blabbing whatever he knows or thinks he knows all over creation. True or not, he believes it.”
“And the part about the protomolecule? I mean, he just told everyone that the protomolecule is loose on Ganymede.”
“People have got to be reacting to that, right?”
Avasarala flipped to the intelligence summary, then to feeds of the riots on Ganymede. Thin, frightened people, exhausted by tragedy and war and fueled by panic. She could tell that the security forces arrayed against them were trying to be gentle. These weren’t thugs enjoying the use of force. These were orderlies trying to keep the frail and dying from hurting themselves and each other, walking the line between necessary violence and ineffectiveness.
“Fifty dead so far,” Avasarala said. “That’s the estimate, anyway. That place is so ass-fucked right now, they might have been going to die of sickness and malnutrition anyway. But they died of this instead.”
“I went to that restaurant,” Bobbie said.
Avasarala frowned, trying to make it into a metaphor for something. Bobbie pointed at the screen.
“The one they’re dying in front of? I ate there just after I arrived at the deployment. They had good sausage.”
“Sorry,” Avasarala said, but the marine only shook her head.
“So that cat’s out of the bag,” she said.
“Maybe,” Avasarala said. “Maybe not.”
“James Holden just told the whole system that the protomolecule’s on Ganymede. In what universe is that maybe not?”
Avasarala pulled up a mainstream newsfeed, checked the flags, and pulled the one with the listed experts she wanted. The data buffered for a few seconds while she lifted her finger for patience.
“—totally irresponsible,” a grave-cheeked man in a lab coat and kufi cap said. The contempt in his voice could have peeled paint.
The interviewer appeared beside him. She was maybe twenty years old, with hair cut short and straight and a dark suit that said she was a serious journalist.
“So you’re saying the protomolecule isn’t involved?”
“It isn’t. The images James Holden and his little group are sending have nothing to do with the protomolecule. That webbing is what happens when you have a binding agent leak. It happens all the time.”
“So there isn’t any reason to panic.”
“Alice,” the expert said, turning his condescension to the interviewer. “Within a few days of exposure, Eros was a living horror show. In the time since hostilities opened, Ganymede hasn’t shown one sign of a live infection. Not one.”
“But he has a scientist with him. The botanist Dr. Praxidike Meng, whose daughter—”
“I don’t know this Meng fellow, but playing with a few soybeans makes him as much an expert on the protomolecule as it makes him a brain surgeon. I’m very sorry, of course, about his missing daughter, but no. If the protomolecule were on Ganymede, we’d have known long ago. This panic is over literally nothing.”
“He can go on like that for hours,” Avasarala said, shutting down the screen. “And we have dozens like him. Mars is going to be doing the same thing. Saturating the newsfeeds with the counter-story.”
“Impressive,” Bobbie said, pushing herself back from the desk.
“It keeps people calm. That’s the important thing. Holden thinks he’s a hero, power to the people, information wants to be free blah blah blah, but he’s a f**king moron.”
“He’s on his own ship.”
Avasarala crossed her arms. “What’s your point?”
“He’s on his own ship and we’re not.”
“So we’re all f**king morons,” Avasarala said. “Fine.”
Bobbie stood up and started pacing the room. She turned well before she reached the wall. The woman was used to pacing in smaller quarters.
“What do you want me to do about it?” Bobbie asked.
“Nothing,” Avasarala said. “What the hell could you do about it? You’re stuck out here with me. I can hardly do anything, and I’ve got friends in high places. You’ve got nothing. I only wanted to talk to someone I didn’t have to wait two minutes to let interrupt me.”
She’d taken it too far. Bobbie’s expression eased, went calm and closed and distant. She was shutting down. Avasarala lowered herself to the edge of the bed.
“That wasn’t fair,” Avasarala said.
“If you say so.”
“I f**king say so.”
The marine tilted her head. “Was that an apology?”
“As close to one as I’m giving right now.”
Something shifted in Avasarala’s mind. Not about Venus, or James Holden and his poor lost girl appeal, or even Errinwright. It had to do with Bobbie and her pacing and her sleeplessness. Then she got it and laughed once mirthlessly. Bobbie crossed her arms, her steady silence a question.
“It isn’t funny,” Avasarala said.
“You remind me of my daughter.”
She’d pissed Bobbie off, and now she was going to have to explain herself. The air recyclers hummed to themselves. Something far off in the bowels of the yacht groaned like they were on an ancient sailing ship made from timber and tar.
“My son died when he was fifteen,” Avasarala said. “Skiing. Did I tell you this? He was on a slope that he’d run twenty, thirty times before. He knew it, but something happened and he ran into a tree. They guessed he was going something like sixty kilometers an hour when he hit. Some people survive an impact like that, but not him.”
For a moment, she was there again, in the house with the medic on the screen giving her the news. She could still smell the incense Arjun had been burning at the time. She could still hear the raindrops against the window, tapping like fingertips. It was the worst memory she had, and it was perfect and clear. She took a long, deep shuddering breath.
“I almost got divorced three times in the next six months. Arjun was a saint, but saints have their limits. We fought about anything. About nothing. Each of us blamed ourselves for not saving Charanpal, and we resented it when the other one tried to take some responsibility. And so, of course, my daughter suffered the worst.