As she stood surveying the room and trying to wake up, Bobbie had a sudden moment of total clarity. It was as though a pair of dark glasses she hadn’t even known she was wearing were snatched away, leaving her blinking in the light. Here she was, climbing out of bed after three hours of sleep to meet with one of the most powerful women in the solar system, and all she cared about was that she hadn’t gotten her quarters shipshape and that she really wanted to beat one of her coworkers to death with his brass pen set. Oh, and she was a career marine who’d taken a job working with her government’s current worst enemy because someone in naval intelligence had been mean to her. And not least of all, she wanted to get back to Ganymede and kill someone without having the foggiest idea who that someone might be.
The abrupt and crystal-clear vision of how far off the tracks her life seemed to have fallen lasted for a few seconds, and then the fog and sleep deprivation returned, leaving her with only the disquieting feeling that she’d forgotten to do something important.
She dressed in the prior day’s uniform and rinsed her mouth out, then headed out the door.
Avasarala’s modest office was packed with people. Bobbie recognized at least three civilians from her first meeting there on Earth. One of them was the moonfaced man who she’d later learned was Sadavir Errinwright, Avasarala’s boss and possibly the second most powerful man on Earth. The pair were in an intense conversation when she came in, and Avasarala didn’t see her.
Bobbie spotted a small clump of people in military uniforms and drifted in their direction until she saw that they were generals and admirals, and changed course. She wound up next to Soren, the only other person in the room standing alone. He didn’t even give her a glance, but something about the way he held himself seemed to radiate that disquieting charm, powerful and insincere. It struck Bobbie that Soren was the kind of man she might take to bed if she was drunk enough, but she’d never trust him to watch her back in a fight. On second thought, no, she’d never be drunk enough.
“Draper!” Avasarala called out in a loud voice, having finally noticed her arrival.
“Yes, ma’am,” Bobbie said, taking a step forward as everyone in the room stopped talking to look at her.
“You’re my liaison,” Avasarala said, the bags under her eyes so pronounced they looked less like fatigue and more like an undiagnosed medical condition. “So f**king liaise. Call your people.”
“The situation around Ganymede has just turned into the shit-storm to end all shit-storms,” she said. “We’re in a shooting war.”
Chapter Twenty-One: Prax
Prax knelt, his arms zip-tied securely behind him. His shoulders ached. It hurt to hold his head up and it hurt to let it sink down. Amos lay facedown on the floor. Prax thought he was dead until he saw the zip-ties holding his arms behind his back. The nonlethal round their kidnappers had fired into the back of the mechanic’s head had left an enormous blue-and-black lump there. Most of the others—Holden, some of the Pinkwater mercenaries, even Naomi—were in positions much like his own, but not all.
Four years before, they’d had a moth infestation. A containment study had failed, and inch-long gray-brown miller moths had run riot in his dome. They’d built a heat trap: a few dabs of generated pheromones on a heat-resistant fiber swatch under the big long-wave full-spectrum lighting units. The moths came too close, and the heat killed them. The smell of small bodies burning had fouled the air for days, and the scent was exactly like that of the cauterizing drill their abductors were using on the injured Pinkwater man. A swirl of white smoke rose from the formed-plastic office table on which he was laid out.
“I’m just …” the Pinkwater man said through his sedation haze. “You just go ahead, finish that without me. I’ll be over …”
“Another bleeder,” one of their abductors said. She was a thick-featured woman with a mole under her left eye and blood-slicked rubber gloves. “Right there.”
“Check. Got it,” said the man with the drill, pressing the metal tip back down into the patient’s open belly wound. The sharp tapping sound of electrical discharge, and another small plume of white smoke rising from the wound.
Amos rolled over suddenly, his nose a bloody ruin, his face covered in gore. “I bight be wrong about dis, Cab’n,” he said, the words fighting out past the bulbous mess of his nose, “’ut I don’d dink dese fellas are station security.”
The room Prax had found himself in when the hood had been lifted had nothing to do with the usual atmosphere of law enforcement. It looked like an old office. The kind a safety inspector or a shipping clerk might have used in the ancient days before the cascade had started: a long desk with a built-in surface terminal, a few recessed lights shining up on the ceiling, a dead plant— Sanseviera trifasciata—with long green-brown leaves turning to dark slime. The gray-armored guards or soldiers or whatever they were had been very methodical and efficient. Prisoners were all along one wall, bound at the ankles and wrists; their hand terminals, weapons, and personal effects were stowed along the opposite wall with two guards set to do nothing but make sure no one touched them. The armor they’d stripped off Holden and Amos was in a pile on the floor next to their guns. Then the pair that Prax thought of as the medical team had started working, caring for the most desperately wounded first. They hadn’t had time yet to go on to anybody else.
“Any idea who we’re dealing with here?” Wendell asked under his breath.
“Not OPA,” Holden said.
“That leaves a pretty large number of suspects,” the Pinkwater captain said. “Is there somebody you’ve pissed off I should know about?”
Holden’s eyes took on a pained expression and he made a motion as close to a shrug as he could manage, given the circumstances.
“There’s kind of a list,” he said.
“Another bleeder here,” the woman said.
“Check,” the drill man said. Tap, smoke, the smell of burning flesh.
“No offense meant, Captain Holden,” Wendell said, “but I’m starting to wish I’d just shot you when I had the chance.”
“None taken,” Holden replied with a nod.
Four of the soldiers came back into the room. They were all squat Earther types. One—a dark-skinned man with a fringe of gray hair and an air of command—was subvocalizing madly. His gaze passed over the prisoners, seeing them without seeing them. Like they were boxes. When his eyes were on Prax, the man nodded but not to him.