“What have you got?” Avasarala asked.
The marine’s frown was all in her forehead.
“I’ve gotten through to a couple of people in the command. Most of them don’t know who the hell I am, though. I probably spent as much time telling them I was working for you as I did talking about Ganymede.”
“It’s a lesson. Martian bureaucrats are stupid, venal people. What did they say?”
“You shot at us.”
Avasarala leaned back in her chair. Her back hurt, her knees hurt, and the knot of sorrow and outrage that was always just under her heart felt brighter than usual.
“Of course we did,” she said. “The peace delegation?”
“Already gone,” Bobbie said. “They’ll be releasing a statement sometime tomorrow about how the UN was negotiating in bad faith. They’re still fighting out the exact wording.”
“What’s the hold?”
Bobbie shook her head. She didn’t understand.
“What words are they fighting over, and which side wants which words?” Avasarala demanded.
“I don’t know. Does it matter?”
Of course it mattered. The difference between The UN has been negotiating in bad faith and The UN was negotiating in bad faith could be measured in hundreds of lives. Thousands. Avasarala tried to swallow her impatience. It didn’t come naturally.
“All right,” she said. “See if there’s anything else you can get me.”
Bobbie held out the paper. Avasarala took it.
“The hell is this?” she asked.
“My resignation,” Bobbie said. “I thought you’d want all the paperwork in place. We’re at war now, so I’ll be shipping back. Getting my new assignment.”
“Who recalled you?”
“No one, yet,” Bobbie said. “But—”
“Will you please sit down? I feel like I’m at the bottom of a f**king well, talking to you.”
The marine sat. Avasarala took a deep breath.
“Do you want to kill me?” Avasarala asked. Bobbie blinked, and before she could answer, Avasarala lifted her hand, commanding silence. “I am one of the most powerful people in the UN. We’re at war. So do you want to kill me?”
“I …guess so?”
“You don’t. You want to find out who killed your men and you want the politicians to stop greasing the wheels with Marine blood. And holy shit! What do you know? I want that too.”
“But I’m active-duty Martian military,” Bobbie said. “If I stay working for you, I’m committing treason.” The way she said it wasn’t complaint or accusation.
“They haven’t recalled you,” Avasarala said. “And they’re not going to. The wartime diplomatic code of contact is almost exactly the same for you as it is for us, and it’s ten thousand pages of nine-point type. If you get orders right now, I can put up enough queries and requests for clarifications that you’ll die of old age in that chair. If you just want to kill someone for Mars, you’re not going to get a better target than me. If you want to stop this idiotic f**king war and find out who’s actually behind it, get back to your desk and find out who wants what wording.”
Bobbie was silent for a long moment.
“You mean that as a rhetorical device,” she said at last, “but it would make a certain amount of sense to kill you. And I can do it.”
A tiny chill hit Avasarala’s spine, but she didn’t let it reach her face.
“I’ll try not to oversell the point in the future. Now get back to work.”
“Yes, sir,” Bobbie said, then stood and walked out of the room. Avasarala blew out a breath, her cheeks ballooning. She was inviting Martian Marines to slaughter her in her own office. She needed a f**king nap. Her hand terminal chimed. An unscheduled high-status report had just come through, the deep red banner overriding her usual display settings. She tapped it, ready for more bad news from Ganymede.
It was about Venus.
Until seven hours earlier, the Arboghast had been a third-generation destroyer, built at the Bush Shipyards thirteen years before and later refitted as a military science vessel. For the last eight months, she’d been orbiting Venus. Most of the active scanning data that Avasarala had relied on had come from her.
The event she was watching had been captured by two lunar telescopic stations with broad-spectrum intelligence feeds that happened to be at the correct angles, and about a dozen shipborne optical observers. The dataset they collected agreed perfectly.
“Play it again,” Avasarala said.
Michael-Jon de Uturbé had been a field technician when she’d first met him, thirty years before. Now he was the de facto head of the special sciences committee and married to Avasarala’s roommate from university. In that time, his hair had fallen out or grown white, his dark brown skin had taken to draping a bit off of his bones, and he hadn’t changed the brand of cheap floral cologne he wore.
He had always been an intensely shy, almost antisocial, man. In order to maintain the connection, she knew not to ask too much of him. His small, cluttered office was less than a quarter of a mile from hers, and she had seen him five times in the last decade, each of them moments when she needed to understand something obscure and complex quickly.
He tapped his hand terminal twice, and the images on the display reset. The Arboghast was whole once more, floating in false color detail above the haze of Venusian cloud. The time stamp started moving forward, one second per second.
“Walk me through,” she said.
“Um. Well. We start from the spike. It’s just like the one we saw that last time Ganymede started going to hell.”
“Splendid. That’s two datapoints.”
“This came before the fighting,” he said. “Maybe an hour. A little less.”
It had come during Holden’s firefight. Before she could bring him in. But how could Venus be responding to Holden’s raid on Ganymede? Had Bobbie’s monsters been part of that fight?
“Then the radio ping. Right”—he froze the display—“here. Massive sweep in three-second-by-seven-second grid. It was looking, but it knew where to look. All those active scans, I’d assume. Called attention.”
He started the playback again. The resolution went a few degrees grainier, and he made a pleased sound.
“This was interesting,” he said, as if the rest were not. “Radiative pulse of some kind. Interfered with all the telescopy except a strictly visible spectrum kit on Luna. Only lasted a tenth of a second, though. The microwave burst after it was pretty normal active sensor scanning.”