“Oh?” Bobbie replied, thinking about where she might find more of that soy-milk tea.
Thorsson looked up at her. His face was trying its mummified-remains version of a warm smile. “Let me be clear. There’s no doubt that you damaged our credibility with your outburst. But, as Martens points out, that is largely my fault for not fully understanding the extent of your trauma.”
“Ah,” Bobbie said. There was a framed photograph on the wall behind Thorsson of a city with a tall metal structure in the foreground. It looked like an archaic rocket gantry. The caption read PARIS.
“So instead of sending you home, I will be keeping you on staff here. You’ll be given an opportunity to repair the damage you’ve done.”
“Why,” Bobbie said, looking Thorsson in the eye for the first time since coming in, “am I here?”
Thorsson’s hint of a smile disappeared and was replaced by an equally understated frown. “Excuse me?”
“Why am I here?” she repeated, thinking past the disciplinary board. Thinking of how hard it would be to get reassigned to Ganymede if Thorsson didn’t send her back to Mars. If he didn’t, would she be allowed to resign? Just leave the corps and buy her own ticket? The thought of no longer being a marine made her sad. The first really strong feeling she’d had in a while.
“Why are you—” Thorsson started, but Bobbie cut him off.
“Not to talk about the monster, apparently. Honestly, if I’m just here as a showpiece, I think I’d rather be sent home. I have some things I could be doing …”
“You,” Thorsson said, his voice getting tighter, “are here to do exactly what I say for you to do, and exactly when I say it. Is that understood, soldier?”
“Yeah,” Bobbie said, feeling the water slide past her. She was a stone. It moved her not at all. “I have to go now.”
She turned and walked away, Thorsson not managing to get a last word out before she left. As she moved through the suite toward the exit, she saw Martens pouring powdered creamer into a cup of coffee in the small kitchen area. He spotted her at the same time.
“Bobbie,” he said. He’d gotten a lot more familiar with her over the last few days. Normally, she’d have assumed it was a buildup to romantic or sexual overtures. With Martens, she was pretty sure it was just another tool in his “how to fix broken marines” tool kit.
“Captain,” she said. She stopped. She felt the front door tugging at her with a sort of psychic gravity, but Martens had never been anything but good to her. And she had a strange premonition that she was never going to see any of these people again. She held out her hand to him, and when he took it, she said, “I’m leaving. You won’t have to waste your time with me anymore.”
He smiled his sad smile at her. “In spite of the fact that I don’t actually feel like I’ve accomplished anything, I don’t feel like I wasted my time. Do we part friends?”
“I—” she started, then had to stop and swallow a lump in her throat. “I hope this didn’t wreck your career or anything.”
“I’m not worried about it,” he said to her back. She was already walking out the door. She didn’t turn around.
In the hallway Bobbie pulled out her terminal and called the number Avasarala had given her. It immediately went to voice mail.
“Okay,” she said, “I’ll take that job.”
There was something liberating and terrifying about the first day on a new job. In any new assignment, Bobbie had always had the unsettling feeling that she was in over her head, that she wouldn’t know how to do any of the things they would ask her to do, that she would dress wrong or say the wrong thing, or that everyone would hate her. But no matter how strong that feeling was, it was overshadowed by the sense that with a new job came the chance to totally recreate herself in whatever image she chose, that—at least for a little while—her options were infinite.
Even waiting for Avasarala finally to notice her couldn’t fully dampen that feeling.
Standing in Avasarala’s office reinforced Bobbie’s impression that the Martian suite was intended to impress. The deputy secretary was important enough to get Bobbie transferred out of Thorsson’s command and into a liaison role for the UN with a single phone call. And yet her office had cheap carpet that smelled unpleasantly of stale tobacco smoke. Her desk was old and scuffed. No cherrywood chairs here. The only things that looked lovingly tended in the room were the fresh flowers and the Buddha shrine.
Avasarala radiated weariness. There were dark circles under her eyes that hadn’t been there during their official meetings and hadn’t been visible in the dim lights of the bar where she’d made her offer. Sitting behind her giant desk in a bright blue sari, she looked very small, like a child pretending to be a grown-up. Only the gray hair and crow’s-feet ruined the illusion. Bobbie suddenly pictured her instead as a cranky doll, complaining as children moved her arms and legs and forced her to go to tea parties with stuffed animals. The thought made her cheeks ache from restraining the grin.
Avasarala tapped at a terminal on her desk and grunted with irritation. No more tea for you, gramma dolly, you’ve had enough, Bobbie thought, then stifled a laugh. “Soren, you’ve moved my f**king files again. I can’t find a goddamned thing anymore.”
The stiff young man who’d brought Bobbie into the office and then sort of melted into the background cleared his throat. It made Bobbie jump. He was closer behind her than she’d realized.
“Ma’am, you asked me to move a few of the—”
“Yes, yes,” Avasarala interrupted, tapping harder on the terminal’s screen, as if that would make the device understand what she wanted. Something about that made Bobbie think of people who started talking louder when trying to communicate with someone who spoke a different language.
“Okay, there they are,” Avasarala said with irritation. “Why you’d put them …”
She tapped a few more times and Bobbie’s terminal chimed.
“That,” she said, “is the report and all of my notes on the Ganymede situation. Read them. Today. I may have an update later, once I’ve had a little polite questioning done.”
Bobbie pulled out her terminal and scrolled quickly through the documents she’d just been sent. It went on and on for hundreds of pages. Her first thought was Did she really mean read all of this today? This was quickly followed by Did she really just hand me everything she knows? It made her own government’s recent treatment of her look even worse.