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Holden felt his chest tighten a little. It wasn’t something he’d ever thought about. When, a second later, Naomi spoke, her horror echoed his.

“Jesus.”

“Jesus got nothing to do with it,” Amos said. “No Jesus in the squeeze trade. But some kids wind up in the pimp gangs. Some wind up on the streets …”

“Some wind up finding a way to ship offworld, and they never go back?” Naomi asked, her voice quiet.

“Maybe,” Amos said, his voice as flat and conversational as ever. “Maybe some do. But most of them just … disappear, eventually. Used up. Most of them.”

For a time, no one spoke. Holden heard the sounds of coffee being drunk.

“Amos,” she said, her voice thick. “I never—”

“So I’d like to find this little girl before someone uses her up, and she disappears. I’d like to do that for her,” Amos said. His voice caught for a moment, and he cleared it with a loud cough. “For her dad.”

Holden thought they were done, and started to slip away when he heard Amos, his voice calm again, say, “Then I’m going to kill whoever snatched her.”

Chapter Thirty: Bobbie

Prior to working for Avasarala at the UN, Bobbie had never even heard of Mao-Kwikowski Mercantile, or if she had, she hadn’t noticed. She’d spent her whole life wearing, eating, or sitting on products carted through the solar system by Mao-Kwik freighters without ever realizing it. After she’d gone through the files Avasarala had given her, she’d been astonished at the size and reach of the company. Hundreds of ships, dozens of stations, millions of employees. Jules-Pierre Mao owned significant properties on every habitable planet and moon in the solar system.

His eighteen-year-old daughter had owned her own racing ship. And that was the daughter he didn’t like.

When Bobbie tried to imagine being so wealthy you could own a spaceship just to compete in races, she failed. That the same girl had run away to be an OPA rebel probably said a lot about the relationship of wealth and contentment, but Bobbie had a hard time being that philosophical.

She’d grown up solidly Martian middle class. Her father had done twenty as a Marine noncom and had gone into private security consulting after he’d left the corps. Bobbie’s family had always had a nice home. She and her two older brothers had attended a private primary school, and her brothers had both gone on to university without having to take out student loans. Growing up, she’d never once thought of herself as poor.

She did now.

Owning your own racing ship wasn’t even wealth. It was like speciation. It was conspicuous consumption befitting ancient Earth royalty, a pharaoh’s pyramid with a reaction drive. Bobbie had thought it was the most ridiculous excess she’d ever heard of.

And then she climbed off the short flight shuttle onto Jules-Pierre Mao’s private L5 station.

Jules didn’t park his ships in orbit at a public station. He didn’t even use a Mao-Kwik corporate station. This was an entire fully functioning space station in orbit around Earth solely for his private spaceships, and the whole thing done up like peacock feathers. It was a level of extravagance that had never even occurred to her.

She also thought it made Mao himself very dangerous. Everything he did was an announcement of his freedom from constraint. He was a man without boundaries. Killing a senior politician of the UN government might be bad business. It might wind up being expensive. But it would never actually be risky to a man with this much wealth and power.

Avasarala didn’t see it.

“I hate spin gravity,” Avasarala said, sipping at a cup of steaming tea. They’d be on the station for only three hours, while cargo was transferred from the shuttle to Mao’s yacht, but they’d been assigned a suite of four full-sized bedrooms, each with its own shower, and a massive lounge area. A huge screen pretended to be a window, the crescent Earth with her continent-veiling clouds hung on the black. They had a private kitchen staffed by three people, whose biggest task so far had been making the assistant undersecretary’s tea. Bobbie considered ordering a large meal just to give them something to do.

“I can’t believe we’re about to climb on a ship owned by this man. Have you ever known anyone this wealthy to go to jail? Or even be prosecuted? This guy could probably walk in here and shoot you in the face on a live newsfeed and get away with it.”

Avasarala laughed at her. Bobbie suppressed a surge of anger. It was just fear looking for an outlet.

“That’s not the game,” Avasarala said. “No one gets shot. They get marginalized. It’s worse.”

“No, it’s not. I’ve seen people shot. I’ve seen my friends shot. When you say, ‘That’s not the game,’ you mean for people like you. Not like me.”

Avasarala’s expression cooled.

“Yes, that’s what I mean,” the old woman said. “The level we’re playing at has different rules. It’s like playing go. It’s all about exerting influence. Controlling the board without occupying it.”

“Poker is a game too,” Bobbie said. “But sometimes the stakes get so high that one player decides it’s easier to kill the other guy and walk away with the money. It happens all the time.”

Avasarala nodded at her, not replying right away, visibly thinking over what Bobbie had said. Bobbie felt her anger replaced with a sudden rush of affection for the grumpy and arrogant old lady.

“Okay,” Avasarala said, putting her teacup down and placing her hands in her lap. “I hear what you’re saying, Sergeant. I think it’s unlikely, but I’m glad you’re here to say it.”

But you aren’t taking it seriously, Bobbie wanted to shout at her. Instead, she asked the servant who hovered nearby for a mushroom and onion sandwich. While she ate it, Avasarala sipped tea, nibbled on a cookie, and made small talk about the war and her grandchildren. Bobbie tried to be sure to make concerned noises during the war parts and awww, cute noises when the kids were the topic. But all she could think about was the tactical nightmare defending Avasarala on an enemy-controlled spacecraft would be.

Her recon suit was in a large crate marked FORMAL WEAR and being loaded onto the Mao yacht even as they waited. Bobbie wanted to sneak off and put it on. She didn’t notice when Avasarala stopped speaking for several minutes.

“Bobbie,” Avasarala said, her face not quite a frown. “Are my stories about my beloved grandchildren boring you?”

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