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Page 49 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

When Holden spoke, his words were measured and calm, which only made the panic behind them more terrifying.

“Naomi, prep the ship. We have to get off this moon. We have to do it right now.”

Chapter Eighteen: Avasarala

What do you think?” the secretary-general asked from the upper left pane of the display. On the upper right, Errinwright leaned forward a centimeter, ready to jump in if she lost her temper.

“You’ve read the briefing, sir,” Avasarala said sweetly.

The secretary-general waved his hand in a lazy circle. He was in his early sixties and wore the decades with the elfin charm of a man untroubled by weighty thoughts. The years Avasarala had spent building herself from the treasurer of the Workers Provident Fund to the district governor of the Maharshta-Karnataka-Goa Communal Interest Zone, he’d spent as a political prisoner at a minimum-security facility in the recently reconstructed Andean cloud forest. The slow, grinding wheels of power had lifted him to celebrity, and his ability to appear to be listening lent him an air of gravity without the inconvenience of an opinion of his own. Had a man been engineered from birth to be the ideal governmental figurehead, he still wouldn’t have achieved the perfection that was Secretary-General Esteban Sorrento-Gillis.

“Political briefs never capture the really important things,” the bobble-head said. “Tell me what you think.”

I think you haven’t read the f**king briefs, Avasarala thought. Not that I can really complain. She cleared her throat.

“It’s all sparring and no fight, sir,” Avasarala said. “The players are top level. Michel Undawe, Carson Santiseverin, Ko Shu. They brought enough military to show that it’s not just the elected monkeys. But so far, the only one who’s said anything interesting is a marine they brought in to be a flower arrangement. Otherwise, we’re all waiting for someone else to say something telling.”

“And what about”—the secretary-general paused and lowered his voice—“the alternative hypothesis?”

“There’s activity on Venus,” Avasarala said. “We still don’t know what any of it means. There was a massive upwelling of elemental iron in the northern hemisphere that lasted fourteen hours. There has also been a series of volcanic eruptions. Since the planet doesn’t have any tectonic motion, we’re assuming the protomolecule is doing something in the mantle, but we can’t tell what. The brains put together a statistical model that shows the approximate energy output expected for the changes we’ve seen. It suggests that the overall level of activity is rising about three hundred percent per year over that last eighteen months.”

The secretary-general nodded, his expression grave. It was almost as if he’d understood any part of what she’d said. Errinwright coughed.

“Do we have any evidence that ties the activity on Venus to the events on Ganymede?” he asked.

“We do,” Avasarala said. “An anomalous energy spike at the same time as the Ganymede attack. But it’s only one datapoint. It might have been coincidence.”

A woman’s voice came from the secretary-general’s feed, and he nodded.

“I’m afraid I’m called to duty,” he said. “You’re doing fine work, Avasarala. Damn fine work.”

“I can’t tell you what that means coming from you, sir,” she said with a smile. “You’d fire me.”

Half a beat later, the secretary-general barked out a laugh and wagged his finger at the screen before the green connection-ended message took his place. Errinwright sat back, his palms pressed to his temples. Avasarala picked up her cup of tea and sipped it with her eyebrows lifted and her gaze on the camera, inviting him to say something. The tea wasn’t quite down to tepid.

“All right,” Errinwright said. “You win.”

“We’re impeaching him?”

He actually chuckled. Wherever he was, it was dark outside his windows, so he was on the same side of the planet that she was. That they were both in night gave the meeting a sense of closeness and intimacy that had more to do with her own exhaustion than anything else.

“What do you need to resolve the Venus situation?” he asked.

“Resolve?”

“Poor choice of words,” he said. “From the beginning of this, you’ve had your eye on Venus. Keeping things calm with the Martians. Reining in Nguyen.”

“Noticed that, did you?”

“These talks are stalled, and I’m not going to waste you on babysitting a deadlock. We need clarity, and we need it a month ago. Ask for the resources you need, Chrisjen, and either rule Venus out or get us proof. I’m giving you a blank check.”

“Retirement at last,” she said, laughing. To her surprise, Errinwright took it seriously.

“If you want, but Venus first. This is the most important question either of us has ever asked. I’m trusting you.”

“I’ll see to it,” she said. Errinwright nodded and dropped the connection.

She leaned forward on her desk, fingertips pressed to her lips. Something had happened. Something had changed. Either Errinwright had read enough about Venus to get his own set of the heebie-jeebies, or someone wanted her off the Martian negotiation. Someone with enough pull to get Errinwright to kick her upstairs. Did Nguyen have patrons that powerful?

Yes, it gave her what she wanted. After all she’d said—and meant when she’d said it—she couldn’t refuse the project, but the success had a bitter aftertaste. Perhaps she was reading too much into it. God knew she hadn’t been getting enough sleep, and fatigue left her paranoid. She checked the time. Ten o’clock p.m. She wouldn’t make it back to Arjun that night. Another morning in the depressing VIP quarters, drinking the weak coffee and pretending to care what the latest ambassador from the Pashwiri Autonomous Zone thought about dance music.

Screw it, she thought, I need a drink.

The Dasihari Lounge catered to the full range in the complex organism that was the United Nations. At the bar, young pages and clerks leaned into the light, laughing too loud and pretending to be more important than they were. It was a mating dance only slightly more dignified than presenting like a mandrill, but endearing in its own fashion. Roberta Draper, the Martian Marine who’d shat on the table that morning, was among them, a pint glass dwarfed by her hand and an amused expression on her face. Soren would probably be there, if not that night, another time. Avasarala’s son would probably have been among them if things had gone differently.

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