“It won’t take you long,” her new boss continued. “There’s almost nothing there. Lots of bullshit by overpaid consultants who think they can hide the fact that they don’t actually know anything by talking twice as long.”
Bobbie nodded, but the feeling of being in over her head had started to outcompete her excitement at a new opportunity.
“Ma’am, is Sergeant Draper cleared to access—” Soren said.
“Yes. I just cleared her. Bobbie? You’re cleared,” Avasarala said right over the top of him. “Stop busting my balls, Soren. I’m out of tea.”
Bobbie made a conscious effort not to turn around and look at Soren. The situation was uncomfortable enough without driving home the fact that he’d just been humiliated in front of a foreigner with exactly seventeen minutes on the job.
“Yes, ma’am,” Soren said. “But I was wondering whether you should alert the security service about your decision to clear the sergeant. They do like to be in the loop on that kind of thing.”
“Meow meow cry meow meow,” Avasarala said. “That’s all I heard you say.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Soren said.
Bobbie finally looked back and forth between them. Soren was being dressed down in front of a new team member who was also technically the enemy. His expression hadn’t changed. He looked like he was humoring a demented grandmother. Avasarala made an impatient clicking sound with her teeth.
“Was I not clear? Have I lost the ability to speak?”
“No, ma’am,” Soren said.
“Bobbie? Can you understand me?”
“Good. Then get out of my office and do your jobs. Bobbie, read. Soren, tea.”
Bobbie turned to leave and found Soren staring at her, his face expressionless. Which was, in its way, more disconcerting than a little well-justified anger would have been.
As she walked past him, Avasarala said, “Soren, wait. Take this to Foster in data services.” She handed Soren what looked like a memory stick. “Make sure you get it to him before he leaves for the day.”
Soren nodded, smiled, and took the small black wafer from her. “Of course.”
When he and Bobbie had left Avasarala’s office, and Soren had closed the door behind them, Bobbie let out a long whistling exhale and smiled at him.
“Wow, that was awkward. Sorry about—” she started, but stopped when Soren held up his hand, casually dismissing her concern.
“It’s nothing,” he said. “She’s actually having a pretty good day.”
While she stood gaping and looking at him, Soren turned away from her and tossed the memory stick onto his desk, where it slid under the wrapper of a half-eaten package of cookies. He sat down and put on a headset, then began scrolling through a list of phone numbers on his desktop terminal. If he noticed her continued presence, he gave no sign.
“You know,” Bobbie said finally, “I just have some stuff to read, so if you’re busy, I could take that thing to the data services guy. I mean, if you’re busy with other stuff.”
Soren finally looked at her quizzically.
“Why would I need you to do that?”
“Well,” Bobbie said, glancing at the time on her terminal, “it’s pretty close to eighteen hundred local, and I don’t know what time you guys usually close up shop, so I just thought—”
“Don’t worry about it. The thing is, my whole job is making her”—he jerked his head toward the closed door—“calm and happy. With her, everything’s top priority. And so nothing is, you know? I’ll do it when it needs doing. Until then, the bitch can bark a little if it makes her feel happy.”
Bobbie felt a cool rush of surprise. No, not surprise. Shock.
“You just called her a bitch?”
“What would you call her, right?” Soren said with a disarming grin. Or was it mocking? Was this all a joke to him, Avasarala and Bobbie and the monster on Ganymede too? An image popped into her head of snatching the smug little assistant out of his chair and snapping him into a zigzag shape. Her hands flexed involuntarily.
Instead, she said, “Madam Secretary seemed to think it was pretty important.”
Soren turned to look at her again. “Don’t worry about it, Bobbie. Seriously. I know how to do my job.”
She stood for a long moment.
“Solid copy on that,” she said.
Bobbie was yanked from a dead sleep by sudden blaring music. She lurched upright in an unfamiliar bed in a nearly pitch-black room. The only light she could see was a faint pulsing pearly glow from her hand terminal, all the way across the room. The music suddenly stopped sounding like an atonal cacophony and became the song she’d selected as the audio alarm for incoming phone calls when she went to bed. Someone was calling. She cursed them in three languages and tried to crawl across the bed toward the terminal.
The edge of the bed came unexpectedly and plunged her face-first toward the floor, her half-asleep body not compensating for Earth’s heavier gravity. She managed to avoid breaking her head open at the cost of a pair of jammed fingers on her right hand.
Cursing even louder, she continued her trek across the floor to the still glowing terminal. When she finally reached it, she opened the connection and said, “If someone isn’t dead, someone will be.”
“Bobbie,” the person on the other end said. It took Bobbie’s fuzzy head a moment to place the voice. Soren. She glanced at the time on her terminal and saw that it was 0411. She wondered if he was calling to drunkenly upbraid her or apologize. It certainly wouldn’t be the strangest thing that’d happened over the last twenty-four hours.
Bobbie realized he was still talking, and put the speaker back up to her ear. “—is expecting you soonest, so get down here,” Soren said.
“Can you repeat that?”
He started speaking slowly, as though to a dim child. “The boss wants you to come to the office, okay?”
Bobbie looked at the time again. “Right now?”
“No,” Soren said. “Tomorrow at the normal time. She just wanted me to call at four a.m. to make sure you were coming.”
The flash of anger helped wake her up. Bobbie stopped gritting her teeth long enough to say, “Tell her I’ll be right there.”
She fumbled her way to a wall, and then along it to a panel, which lit up at her touch. A second touch brought up the room’s lights. Avasarala had gotten her a small furnished apartment within walking distance of the office. It wasn’t much bigger than a cheap rent hole on Ceres. One large room that doubled as living space and bedroom, a smaller room with a shower and toilet, and an even smaller room that pretended to be a kitchen. Bobbie’s duffel lay slumped in the corner, a few items pulled out of it, but mostly still packed. She’d stayed up till one in the morning reading and hadn’t bothered to do anything after that but brush her teeth and then collapse into the bed that pulled down from the ceiling.