“Are you feeling all right?” he asked. “I think this is the first conversation we’ve had in ten years where you haven’t said something vulgar.”
Avasarala grinned at the screen, reaching out her fingertips as if she could caress him.
“Cunt,” she said carefully.
When the connection dropped, she put her head in her hands for a moment, blowing out her breath and sucking it back in hard, focusing. When she sat up, Bobbie was watching her.
“Evening,” Avasarala said.
“I’ve been trying to find you,” Bobbie said. “My connections were blocked.”
“We need to talk about something. Someone. I mean, Soren,” Bobbie said. “You remember that data you wanted him to take care of a couple days ago?He handed it off to someone else. I don’t know who, but they were military. I’ll swear to that.”
So that’s what spooked him, Avasarala thought. Caught with his hands in the cookie jar. Poor idiot had underestimated her pet Marine.
“All right,” she said.
“I understand that you don’t have any reason to trust me,” Bobbie said, “but … Okay. Why are you laughing?”
Avasarala stood up, stretching until the joints in her shoulders ached pleasantly.
“At this moment, you are literally the only one on my staff who I trust as far as I can piss. You remember when I said that the thing on Ganymede wasn’t us?It wasn’t then but it is now. We’ve bought it, and I assume we’re planning to use it against you.”
Bobbie stood up. Her face, once just ashen, was bloodless.
“I have to tell my superiors,” she said, her voice thick and strangled.
“No, you don’t. They know. And you can’t prove it yet any more than I can. Tell them now and they’ll broadcast it, and we’ll deny it and blah blah blah. The bigger problem is that you’re coming back to Ganymede with me. I’m being sent.”
She explained everything. Soren’s false intelligence report, what it implied, Errinwright’s betrayal, and the mission to Ganymede on the Mao-Kwik yacht.
“You can’t do that,” Bobbie said.
“It’s a pain in the ass,” Avasarala agreed. “They’ll be monitoring my connections, but they’re probably doing the same here. And if they’re shipping me to Ganymede, you can be dead sure that nothing is going to happen there. They’re putting me in a box until it’s too late to change anything. Or that’s what they’re trying, anyway. I’m not giving away the f**king game yet.”
“You can’t get on that ship,” Bobbie said. “It’s a trap.”
“Of course it’s a trap,” Avasarala said, waving a hand. “But it’s a trap I have to step into. Refuse a request from the secretary-general? That comes out, and everyone starts thinking I’m about to retire. No one backs a player who’s going to be powerless next year. We play for the long term, and that means looking strong for the duration. Errinwright knows that. It’s why he played it this way.”
Outside, another shuttle was lifting off. Avasarala could already hear the roar of the burn, feel the press of thrust and false gravity pushing her back. It had been thirty years since she’d been out of Earth’s gravity well. This wasn’t going to be pleasant.
“If you get on that ship, they’ll kill you,” Bobbie said, making each word its own sentence.
“That’s not how this game gets played,” Avasarala said. “What they—”
The door opened again. Soren had a tray in his hands. The teapot on it was cast iron, with a single handleless enamel cup. He opened his mouth to speak, then saw Bobbie. It was easy to forget how much larger she was until a man Soren’s height visibly cowered before her.
“My tea! That’s excellent. Do you want any, Bobbie?”
“All right. Well, put it down, Soren. I’m not drinking it with you standing there. Good. And pour me a cup.”
Avasarala watched him turn his back on the marine. His hands didn’t shake; she’d give the boy that much. Avasarala stood silent, waiting for him to bring it to her as if he were a puppy learning to retrieve a toy. When he did, she blew across the surface of the tea, scattering the thin veil of steam. He carefully didn’t turn to look at Bobbie.
“Will there be anything else, ma’am?”
Avasarala smiled. How many people had this boy killed just by lying to her? She would never know for certain, and neither would he. The best she could do was not another.
“Soren,” she said. “They’re going to know it was you.”
It was too much. He looked over his shoulder. Then he looked back, greenish with anxiety.
“Who do you mean?” he said, trying for charm.
“Them. If you’re counting on them to help your career, I just want you to understand that they won’t. The kind of men you’re working for? Once they know you’ve slipped, you’re nothing to them. They have no tolerance for failure.”
“Neither do I. Don’t leave anything personal at your desk.”
She watched it in his eyes. The future he’d planned and worked for, defined himself by, fell away. A life on basic support rose in its place. It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t nearly enough. But it was all the justice she could manage on short notice.
When the door was closed, Bobbie cleared her throat.
“What’s going to happen to him?” she asked.
Avasarala sipped her tea. It was good, fresh green tea, brewed perfectly—rich and sweet and not even slightly bitter.
“Who gives a shit?” she said. “The Mao-Kwik yacht leaves in four days. That’s not much time. And neither of us is going to be able to take a dump without the bad guys knowing. I’m going to get you a list of people I need to have drinks or lunch or coffee with before we leave. Your job is to arrange it so I do.”
“I’m your social secretary now?” Bobbie said, bristling.
“You and my husband are the only two people alive who I know aren’t trying to stop me,” Avasarala said. “That’s how far down I am right now. This has to happen, and there is no one else I can rely on. So yes. You’re my social secretary. You’re my bodyguard. You’re my psychiatrist. All of it. You.”
Bobbie lowered her head, breathing out through flared nostrils. Her lips pursed and she shook her massive head once quickly—left, then right, then back to center.