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Page 255 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Ms. Corlinowski, I’ve just seen the leaked video accusing Praxidike Meng of screwing his cute little five-year-old daughter. When exactly did UN media relations turn into a f**king divorce court? If it gets out that we were behind that, I would like to know whose resignation I’m going to hand to the newsfeeds, and right now I’m thinking it’s yours. Give my love to Richard, and get back to me before I fire your incompetent ass out of spite.”

She ended the recording and sent it.

“She was the one that arranged it?” Bobbie asked.

“Might have been,” Avasarala said, taking another bite of gin. It was too good. If she wasn’t careful, she’d drink a lot of it. “If it wasn’t, she’ll find who it was and serve them up on a plate. Emma Corlinowski’s a coward. It’s why I love her.”

Over the next hour, she sent a dozen more messages out, performance after performance after performance. She started a liability investigation into Meng’s ex-wife and whether the UN could be held responsible for slander. She put the Ganymede relief coordinator on high alert, demanding everything she could get about Mei Meng and the search for her. She put in high-priority requests to have the doctor and the woman from Holden’s broadcast identified, and then sent a twenty-minute rambling message to an old colleague in data storage, with a small, tacit request for the same information made in the middle of it all.

Errinwright had changed the game. If she’d had freedom, she’d have been unstoppable. As it was, she had to assume that every move she made would be cataloged and acted against almost as soon as she made it. But Errinwright and his allies were only human, and if she kept a solid flow of demands and requests, screeds and wheedling, they might overlook something. Or someone on a newsfeed might notice the uptick in activity and look into it. Or, if nothing else, her efforts might give Errinwright a bad night’s sleep.

It was what she had. It wasn’t enough. Long years of practice with the fine dance of politics and power had left her with expectations and reflexes that couldn’t find their right form there. The lag was killing her with frustration, and she took it out on whomever she was recording for at the moment. She felt like a world-class musician standing before a full auditorium and handed a kazoo.

She didn’t notice when she finished her gin. She only put the glass to her mouth, found it empty, and realized it wasn’t the first time she’d done it. Five hours had passed. She’d had only three responses so far out of almost fifty messages she’d sent out. That was more than lag. That was someone else’s damage control.

She didn’t realize that she was hungry until Cotyar came with a plate, the smell of curried lamb and watermelon wafting in with him. Avasarala’s belly woke with a roar, and she turned off her terminal.

“You’ve just saved my life,” she told him, gesturing at the desk.

“It was Sergeant Draper’s idea,” he said. “After the third time you ignored her asking.”

“I don’t remember that,” she said as he put the dish in front of her. “Don’t they have servants on this thing? Why are you bringing the food?”

“They do, ma’am. I’m not letting them in here.”

“That seems extreme. Feeling jumpy, are you?”

“As you say.”

She ate too quickly. Her back was aching, and her left leg was tingling with the pins and needles she got now from sitting too long in one position. As a young woman, she’d never suffered that. On the other hand, she hadn’t had the ability to pepper every major player in the United Nations and be taken seriously. Time took her strength but it gave her power in exchange. It was a fair trade.

She couldn’t wait to finish her meal, turning on the terminal while she gulped the last of it down. Four waiting messages. Souther, God bless his shriveled little heart. One from someone at the legal council whose name she didn’t recognize, and another from someone she did. One from Michael-Jon, which was probably about Venus. She opened the one from Souther.

The admiral appeared on her screen and she had to stop herself from saying hello. It was only a video recording, not a real conversation. She hated it.

“Chrisjen,” the admiral said. “You’re going to have to be careful with all this information you’re sending me. Arjun’s going to get jealous. I wasn’t aware of our friend Jimmy’s part in instigating this latest brouhaha.”

Our friend Jimmy. He wasn’t saying the name Holden out loud. That was interesting. He was expecting some kind of filtering to be sniffing out Holden’s name. She tried to guess whether he thought the filter would be on his outgoing messages or her incoming. If Errinwright had half a brain—which he did—he’d be watching the traffic both ways for both of them. Was he worried about someone else? How many players were there at the table? She didn’t have enough information to work with, but it was interesting, at least.

“I can see where your concerns might lead you,” Souther said. “I’m making some inquiries, but you know how these things are. Might find something in a minute, might find something in a year. You don’t be a stranger, though. There’s more than enough going on out here that I can wish I could take you up on that lunch. We’re all looking forward to seeing you again.”

There was a barefaced lie, Avasarala thought. Still, nice of him to say it. She scraped her fork along the bottom of the plate, a thin residue of curry clinging to the silver.

The first message was some young man with a Brazilian accent explaining to her that the UN had nothing to do with the video footage released of Nicola Mulko, and therefore could not be held responsible for it. The second was the boy’s supervisor, apologizing for him and promising a fully formed brief by the end of the day, which was considerably more like it. The smart people were still afraid of her. That thought was more nourishing than the lamb.

As she reached for the screen, the ship shifted under her, gravity pulling her slightly to the side. She put her hand on the desk; the curry and the remnants of gin churned her gut.

“Were we expecting that?” she shouted.

“Yes, ma’am,” Cotyar called from the next room. “Scheduled course correction.”

“Never happens at the f**king office,” she said, and Michael-Jon appeared on her screen. He looked mildly confused, but that could have been just the angle of his face. She felt a sick dread.

For a moment, the Arboghast floated before her again, coming apart. Without intending it, she paused the feed. Something in the back of her mind wanted to turn away. Not to know.