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“Yeah,” Bobbie replied. “They really are.”

Bobbie had thought that Mao Station was the most ludicrous display of conspicuous wealth she’d ever seen right up until they boarded the yacht.

While the station was extravagant, it at least served a function. It was Jules Mao’s personal orbital garage, where he could store and service his fleet of private spacecraft. Underneath the glitz there was a working station, with mechanics and support staff doing actual jobs.

The yacht, the Guanshiyin, was the size of a standard cheapjack people-mover that would have transported two hundred customers, but it only had a dozen staterooms. Its cargo area was just large enough to contain the supplies they’d need for a lengthy voyage. It wasn’t particularly fast. It was, by any reasonable measurement, a miserable failure as a useful spacecraft.

But its job was not to be useful.

The Guanshiyin’s job was to be comfortable. Extravagantly comfortable.

It was like a hotel lobby. The carpet was plush and soft underfoot, and actual crystal chandeliers caught the light. Everyplace that should have had a sharp corner was rounded. Softened. The walls were papered with raw bamboo and natural fiber. The first thing Bobbie thought was how hard it would be to clean, and the second thing was that the difficulty was intentional.

Each suite of rooms took up nearly an entire deck of the ship. Each room had its own private bath, media center, game room, and lounge with a full bar. The lounge had a gigantic screen showing the view outside, which would not have been higher definition had it been an actual glass window. Near the bar was a dumbwaiter next to an intercom, which could deliver food prepared by Cordon Bleu chefs any hour of the day or night.

The carpet was so thick Bobbie was pretty sure mag boots wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t matter. A ship like this would never break down, never have to stop the engines during flight. The kind of people who flew on the Guanshiyin had probably never actually worn an environment suit in their lives.

All the fixtures in her bathroom were gold plated.

Bobbie and Avasarala were sitting in the lounge with the head of her UN security team, a pleasant-looking gray-haired man of Kurdish descent named Cotyar. Bobbie had been worried when she first met him. He looked like a friendly high school teacher, not a soldier. But then she’d watched him go through Avasarala’s rooms with practiced efficiency, laying out their security plan and directing his team, and her worries eased.

“Well, impressions?” Avasarala asked, leaning back in a plush armchair with her eyes closed.

“This room is not secure,” Cotyar said, his accent exotic to Bobbie’s ears. “We should not discuss sensitive matters here. Your private room has been secured for such discussions.”

“This is a trap,” Bobbie said.

“Aren’t we finished with that shit yet?” Avasarala said, then leaned forward to give Bobbie a glare.

“She is right,” Cotyar said quietly, clearly unhappy to be discussing such matters in an unsecured room. “I’ve counted fourteen crew on this ship already, and I would estimate that is less than one-third of the total crew of this vessel. I have a team of six for your protection—”

“Seven,” Bobbie interrupted, raising her hand.

“As you say,” Cotyar continued with a nod. “Seven. We do not control any of the ship’s systems. Assassination would be as simple as sealing the deck we are on and pumping out the air.”

Bobbie pointed at Cotyar and said, “See?”

Avasarala waved a hand as if she were shooing flies. “What’s communications look like?”

“Robust,” Cotyar said. “We’ve set up a private network and have been given the backup tightbeam and radio array for your personal use. Bandwidth is significant, though light delay will be an increasing factor as we move away from Earth.”

“Good,” Avasarala said, smiling for the first time since they’d come on the ship. She’d stopped looking tired a while ago and had moved on to whatever tired turns into when it became a lifestyle.

“None of this is secure,” Cotyar said. “We can secure our private internal network, but if they are monitoring outbound and inbound traffic through the array we’re using, there will be no way to detect that. We have no access to ship operations.”

“And,” Avasarala said, “that is exactly why I’m here. Bottle me up, send me on a long trip, and read all my f**king mail.”

“We’re lucky if that’s all they do,” Bobbie said. Thinking about how tired Avasarala looked had reminded her how tired she was too. She felt herself drift away for a moment.

Avasarala finished saying something, and Cotyar nodded and said yes to her. She turned to Bobbie and said, “Do you agree?”

“Uh,” Bobbie said, trying to rewind the conversation in her head and failing. “I’m—”

“You’re practically falling out of your f**king chair. When’s the last time you got a full night’s sleep?”

“Probably about the last time you did,” Bobbie said. The last time all my squaddies were alive, and you weren’t trying to keep the solar system from catching on fire. She waited for the next scathing comment, the next observation that she couldn’t do her job if she was that compromised. That weak.

“Fair enough,” Avasarala said. Bobbie felt another little surge of affection for her. “Mao’s throwing a big dinner tonight to welcome us aboard. I want you and Cotyar to come with. Cotyar will be security, so he’ll stand at the back of the room and look menacing.”

Bobbie laughed before she could stop herself. Cotyar smiled and winked at her.

“And,” Avasarala continued, “you’ll be there as my social secretary, so you can chat people up. Try to get a feel for the crew and the mood of the ship. Okay?”

“Roger that.”

“I noticed,” Avasarala said, her tone shifting to the one she used when she was going to ask for an unpleasant favor, “the executive officer staring at you when we did the airlock meet and greet.”

Bobbie nodded. She’d noticed it too. Some men had a large-woman fetish, and Bobbie had gotten the hair-raising sense that he might be a member of that tribe. They tended to have unresolved mommy issues, so she generally steered clear.

“Any chance you could talk him up at dinner?” Avasarala finished.

Bobbie laughed, expecting everyone else to laugh too. Even Cotyar was looking at her as though Avasarala had made a perfectly reasonable request.

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