In the center of the room, there were tables with built-in terminals to pipe in encrypted information from a thousand different sources. Privacy baffles kept even the waitstaff from glimpsing over the shoulders of the middle-range administrators drinking their dinners while they worked. And in the back were dark wooden tables in booths that recognized her before she sat down. If anyone below a certain status walked too close, a discreet young man with perfect hair would sweep up and see them to a different table, elsewhere, with less important people.
Avasarala sipped her gin and tonic while the threads of implication wove and rewove themselves. Nguyen couldn’t have enough influence to put Errinwright against her. Could the Martians have asked that she be removed? She tried to remember who she’d been rude to and how, but no good suspect came to mind. And if they had, what was she going to do about it?
Well, if she couldn’t be party to the Martian negotiations in an official capacity, she could still have contacts on an informal basis. Avasarala started chuckling even before she knew quite why. She picked up her glass, tapped the table to let it know it was permitted to let someone else sit there, and made her way across the bar. The music was soft arpeggios in a hypermodern tonal scale, which managed to sound soothing despite itself. The air smelled of perfume too expensive to be applied tastelessly. As she neared the bar, she saw conversations pause, glances pass between one young fount of ambition and another. The old lady, she imagined them saying. What’s she doing here?
She sat down next to Draper. The big woman looked over at her. There was a light of recognition in her eyes that boded well. She might not know who Avasarala was, but she’d guessed what she was. Smart, then. Perceptive. And f**king hell, the woman was enormous. Not fat either, just … big.
“Buy you a drink, Sergeant?” Avasarala asked.
“I’ve had a few too many already,” she said. And a moment later: “All right.”
Avasarala lifted an eyebrow, and the bartender quietly gave the marine another glass of whatever she’d been having before.
“You made quite an impression today,” Avasarala said.
“I did,” Draper said. She seemed serenely unconcerned about it. “Thorsson’s going to ship me out. I’m done here. May just be done.”
“That’s fair. You’ve accomplished what they wanted from you anyway.”
Draper looked down at her. Polynesian blood, Avasarala guessed. Maybe Samoan. Someplace that evolution had made humans like mountain ranges. Her eyes were narrowed, and there was a heat to them. An anger.
“I haven’t done shit.”
“You were here. That’s all they needed from you.”
“What’s the point?”
“They want to convince me that the monster wasn’t theirs. One argument they’ve made is that their own soldiers—meaning you—didn’t know about it. By bringing you, they’re showing that they aren’t afraid to bring you. That’s all they need. You could sit around with your thumb up your ass and argue about the offside rule all day. It would be just as good for them. You’re a showpiece.”
The marine took it in, then raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t think I like that,” she said.
“Yes, well,” Avasarala said, “Thorsson’s a cunt, but if you stop working with politicians just for that, you won’t have any friends.”
The marine chuckled. Then she laughed. Then, seeing Avasarala’s gaze on her own, she sobered.
“That thing that killed your friends?” Avasarala said while the marine was looking her in the eye. “It wasn’t one of mine.”
Draper’s inhalation was sharp. It was like Avasarala had touched a wound. Which made sense, because she had. Draper’s jaw worked for a second.
“It wasn’t one of ours either.”
“Well. At least we’ve got that settled.”
“It won’t do any good, though. They won’t do anything. They won’t talk about anything. They don’t care. You know that? They don’t care what happened as long as they all protect their careers and make sure the balance of power isn’t tilted the wrong way. None of them f**king care what that thing was or where it came from.”
The bar around them wasn’t silent, but it was quieter. The mating dance was now only the second most interesting thing happening at the bar.
“I care,” Avasarala said. “As a matter of fact, I’ve just been given a very great deal of latitude in finding out what that thing was.”
It wasn’t entirely true. She’d been given a huge budget to implicate or rule out Venus. But it was close, and it was the right frame for what she wanted.
“Really?” Draper said. “So what are you going to do?”
“First thing, I’m going to hire you. I need a liaison with the Martian military. That should be you. Can you handle it?”
No one at the bar was talking to anybody now. The room might have been empty. The only sounds were the soft music and Draper’s laughter. An older man wearing clove-and-cinnamon cologne walked by, drawn by the quiet spectacle without knowing what it was.
“I’m a Martian Marine,” Draper said. “Martian. You’re UN. Earth. We aren’t even citizens of the same planet. You can’t hire me.”
“My name’s Chrisjen Avasarala. Ask around.”
They were silent for a moment.
“I’m Bobbie,” Draper said.
“Nice to meet you, Bobbie. Come work for me.”
“Can I think about it?”
“Of course,” Avasarala said, and had her terminal send Bobbie her private number. “So long as when you’re done thinking, you come work for me.”
At the VIP apartments, Avasarala tuned the system to the kind of music Arjun might be listening to just then. If he wasn’t already asleep. She fought back the urge to call him. It was late already, and she was just drunk enough to get maudlin. Sobbing into her hand terminal about how much she loved her husband wasn’t something she longed to make a habit of. She pulled off her sari and took a long, hot shower. She didn’t drink alcohol often. Usually she didn’t like how it dulled her mind. That night it seemed to loosen her up, give her brain the little extra jazz it needed to see connections.
Draper kept her connected to Mars, even if not to the day-by-day slog of the negotiations. That was a good start. There would be other connections too. Foster, in data services, could be brought in. She’d need to start routing more work through him. Build a relationship. It wouldn’t do to march in and insist on being his new best friend just because he happened to be managing the encryption requests for Nguyen. A few no-strings-attached cupcakes first. Then the hook. Who else could she—