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Page 79 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

The attack on Ganymede had been on one hand a proof of concept assault, on the other a crippling blow to the outer planets’ food supply. The OPA had never been on the list of bidders. And then Nguyen had gone to the Jovian system to collect the goods, James Holden and his pet botanist had walked in on some part of it, and Mars had figured out they were about to lose the trade.

Avasarala wondered how much Errinwright had given Jules-Pierre Mao to outbid Mars. It would have had to be more than just money.

Earth was about to get its first protomolecule weapon, and Errinwright had kept her out of the loop because whatever he was going to do with it, she wasn’t going to like it. And she was one of the only people in the solar system who might have been able to stop him.

She wondered whether she still was.

“Thank you, Soren,” she said. “I appreciate this. Do we know where she is?”

“She’s looking for you,” Soren said, and a sly smile tugged at his lips. “She may be under the impression that you’re asleep. It is pretty late.”

“Sleep? Yes, I remember that vaguely,” Avasarala said. “All right. I’m going to need to talk to Errinwright.”

“Do you want me to have her arrested?”

“No, I don’t.”

The disappointment barely showed.

“How should we move forward?” Soren asked.

“I’ll talk to Errinwright,” she said. “Can you get me some tea?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, and practically bowed his way out of the room.

Avasarala leaned back in her chair. Her mind felt calm. Her body was centered and still, like she’d ended a particularly long and effective meditation. She pulled up the connection request and waited to see how long Errinwright or his assistant would take to respond. As soon as she made the request, it was flagged PRIORITY PENDING. Three minutes later, Errinwright was there. He spoke from his hand terminal, the picture jumping as the car he was in bumped and turned. It was full night wherever he was.

“Chrisjen!” he said. “Is anything wrong?”

“Nothing in particular,” Avasarala said, silently cursing the connection. She wanted to see his face. She wanted to watch him lie to her. “Soren’s brought me something interesting. Intelligence thinks my Martian liaison’s a spy.”

“Really?” Errinwright said. “That’s unfortunate. Are you arresting her?”

“I don’t think so,” Avasarala said. “I think I’ll put my own flag on her traffic. Better the devil we know. Don’t you agree?”

The pause was hardly noticeable.

“That’s a good idea. Do that.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Since I’ve got you here, I needed to ask you something. Do you have anything that requires you in the office, or can you work on a ship?”

She smiled. Here was the next move, then.

“What are you thinking about?”

Errinwright’s car reached a stretch of smoother pavement and his face came into clearer focus. He was wearing a dark suit with a high-collared shirt and no tie. He looked like a priest.

“Ganymede. We need to show that we’re taking the situation out there seriously. The secretary-general wants someone senior to go there physically. Report back on the humanitarian angle. Since you’re the one who’s taken point on this, he thought you’d be the right face to put on it. And I thought it would give you the chance to follow up on the initial attack too.”

“We’re in a shooting war,” Avasarala said. “I don’t think the Navy would want to spare a ship to haul my old bones out there. Besides which, I’m coordinating the investigation into Venus, aren’t I? Blank check and all.”

Errinwright grinned exactly as if he’d meant it.

“I’ve got you taken care of. Jules-Pierre Mao is taking a yacht from Luna to Ganymede to oversee his company’s humanitarian aid efforts. He’s offered a berth. It’s better accommodations than you get at the office. Probably better bandwidth too. You can monitor Venus from there.”

“Mao-Kwik is part of the government now? I hadn’t known,” she said.

“We’re all on the same side. Mao-Kwik is as interested as anyone in seeing those people cared for.”

Avasarala’s door opened and Roberta Draper loomed into the office. She looked like crap. Her skin had the ashy look of that of someone who hadn’t slept in too long. Her jaw was set. Avasarala nodded toward the chair.

“I take up a lot of bandwidth,” she said.

“Won’t be a problem. You’ll get first priority on all communications channels.”

The Martian sat down across the desk, well out of the camera’s cone. Bobbie braced her hands on her thighs, elbows to the sides, like a wrestler getting ready to step into the cage. Avasarala made herself not glance at the woman.

“Can I think about it?”

“Chrisjen,” Errinwright said, bringing his hand terminal closer in, his wide, round face filling the screen. “I told the secretary-general that this might not fly. Even in the best yacht, traveling out to the Jovian system is a hard journey. If you’ve got too much to do or if you’re at all uncomfortable with the trip, you just say so and I’ll find someone else. They just won’t be as good as you.”

“Who is?” Avasarala said with a toss of her hand. Rage was boiling in her gut. “Fine. You’ve talked me into it. When do I leave?”

“The yacht’s scheduled for departure in four days. I’m sorry for the tight turnaround, but I didn’t have confirmation until about an hour ago.”

“Serendipity.”

“If I were a religious man, I’d say it meant something. I’ll have the details sent to Soren.”

“Better send it to me directly,” Avasarala said. “Soren’s going to have a lot on his plate already.”

“Whatever you like,” he said.

Her boss had secretly started a war. He was working with the same corporations that had let the genie out of the bottle on Phoebe, sacrificed Eros, and threatened everything human. He was a frightened little boy in a good suit picking a fight he thought he could win because he was pissing himself over the real threat. She smiled at him. Good men and women had already died because of him and Nguyen. Children had died on Ganymede. Belters would be scrambling for calories. Some would starve.

Errinwright’s round cheeks fell a millimeter. His brows knotted just a bit. He knew that she knew. Because of course he did. Players at their level didn’t deceive each other. They won even though their opponents knew exactly what was happening. Just like he was winning against her right now.

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