“I don’t have time for you right now, Sergeant.”
“Okay,” Bobbie said, and went back to her desk.
Soren kept fidgeting like he had more to say, so Bobbie didn’t call the next person on her list. She waited for him to speak. Probably the cookie thing had been a mistake on her part. Really, it wasn’t a big deal. If she weren’t under so much pressure, it wasn’t the sort of thing she’d probably even notice. When Soren finally spoke up, she’d apologize for being so pushy about it and then offer to buy him a new package. Instead of speaking, he stood up.
“Soren, I—” Bobbie started, but Soren ignored her and unlocked a drawer on his desk. He pulled out a small bit of black plastic. Probably because she’d just heard him say the name Foster, Bobbie recognized it as the memory stick Avasarala had given him a few days earlier. Foster was the data services guy, so she assumed he was finally getting around to taking care of that little task, which would at least get him away from the office for a few minutes.
Until he turned and headed for the elevators.
Bobbie had done a little gofer work running things back and forth to data services and knew that their office was on the same floor and in the opposite direction of the elevators.
She was tired. She was half sick with guilt and she wasn’t even all that sure what she felt guilty about. She disliked the man anyway. The hunch that popped into her head was almost certainly a result of her own paranoia and addled image of the world.
She got up, following him.
“This is really stupid,” she said to herself, smiling and nodding at a page who hurried by. She was over two meters tall on a planet of short people. She wasn’t going to blend.
Soren climbed into an elevator. Bobbie stopped outside the doors and waited. Through the aluminum-and-ceramic doors, she heard him ask someone to press one. Going all the way to the street level, then. She hit the down button and took the next elevator to the bottom floor.
Of course, he wasn’t in sight when she got there.
A giant Martian woman running around the lobby of the UN building would draw a little attention, so she scrapped that as a plan. A wave of uncertainty, failure, and despair lapped at the shoreline of her mind.
Forget that it was an office building. Forget that there were no armed enemy, no squad behind her. Forget that, and look at the logic of the situation on the ground. Think tactically. Be smart.
“I need to be smart,” she said. A short woman in a red suit who had just come up and pressed the elevator call button overheard her and said, “What?”
“I need to be smart,” Bobbie told her. “Can’t go running off half-cocked.” Not even when doing something insane and stupid.
“I … see,” the woman said, then pushed the elevator call button again several times. Next to the elevator control panel was a courtesy terminal. If you can’t find the target, restrict the target’s degrees of freedom. Make them come to you. Right. Bobbie hit the button for the lobby reception desk. An automated system with an extremely realistic and sexually ambiguous voice asked how it could assist her.
“Please page Soren Cottwald to the lobby reception desk,” Bobbie said. The computer on the other end of the line thanked her for using the UN automated courtesy system and dropped the connection.
Soren might not have his terminal on, or it could be set to ignore incoming pages. Or he might ignore this one all on his own. She found a couch with a sight line to the desk and shifted a ficus to provide her cover.
Two minutes later, Soren trotted up to the reception desk, his hair more windblown than usual. He must have already been all the way outside when he got the page. He began talking to one of the human receptionists. Bobbie moved across the lobby to a little coffee and snack kiosk and hid as best she could. After typing on her desk for a moment, the receptionist pointed at the terminal next to the elevators. Soren frowned and took a few steps toward it, then looked around nervously and headed toward the building entrance.
Once Bobbie was outside, her height was both an advantage and a disadvantage. Being a head and a half taller than most everyone around her meant that she could afford to stay pretty far behind Soren as he hurried along the sidewalk. She could spot the top of his head from half a city block away. At the same time, if he looked behind him, he couldn’t miss her face sticking up a good third of a meter out of the crowd.
But he didn’t turn around. In fact, he appeared to be in something of a hurry, pushing his way through the knots of people on the busy sidewalks around the UN campus with obvious impatience. He didn’t look around or pause by a good reflective surface or backtrack. He’d been nervous answering the page, and he was being pointedly, angrily not nervous now.
Whistling past the graveyard. Bobbie felt her muscles soften, her joints grow loose and easy, her hunch slip a centimeter closer to certainty.
After three blocks he turned and went into a bar.
Bobbie stopped a half block away and considered. The front of the bar, a place creatively named Pete’s, was darkened glass. If you wanted to duck in somewhere and see if people were following you, it was the perfect place to go. Maybe he’d gotten smart.
Maybe he hadn’t.
Bobbie walked over to the front door. Getting caught following him had no consequences. Soren already hated her. The most ethically suspect thing she was doing was cutting out early to pop into a neighborhood bar. Who was going to rat on her? Soren? The guy who cut out just as early and went to the same damn bar?
If he was in there and doing nothing more than grabbing an early beer, she’d just walk up to him, apologize for the cookie thing, and buy him his second round.
She pushed the door open and went inside.
It took her eyes a moment to adjust from the early-afternoon sunlight outside to the dimly lit bar. Once the glare had faded, she saw a long bamboo bar top manned by a human bartender, half a dozen booths with about as many patrons, and no Soren. The air smelled of beer and burnt popcorn. The patrons gave her one look and then carefully went back to their drinks and mumbled conversations.
Had Soren ducked out the back to ditch her? She didn’t think he’d seen her, but she wasn’t exactly trained for tailing people. She was about to ask the bartender if he’d seen a guy run through, and where that guy might have gone, when she noticed a sign at the back of the bar that said POOL TABLES with an arrow pointing left.
She walked to the back of the bar, turned left, and found a smaller, second room with four pool tables and two men. One of them was Soren.