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Page 98 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

She hated low gravity. Even if the acceleration was perfectly smooth and the yacht never had to shift or move to avoid debris, her guts were used to a full g pulling things down. She hadn’t digested anything well since she’d come on board, and she always felt short of breath.

Her system chimed. A new report from Venus. She popped it open. The preliminary analysis of the wreckage from the Arboghast was under way. There was some ionizing in the metal that was apparently consistent with someone’s theory of how the protomolecule functioned. It was the first time a prediction had been confirmed, the first tiny toehold toward a genuine understanding of what was happening on Venus. There was an exact timing of the three energy spikes. There was a spectral analysis of the upper atmosphere of Venus that showed more elemental nitrogen than expected. Avasarala felt her eyes glazing over. The truth was she didn’t care.

She should. It was important. Possibly more important than anything else that was happening. But just like Errinwright and Nguyen and all the others, she was caught up in this smaller, human struggle of war and influence and the tribal division between Earth and Mars. The outer planets too, if you took them seriously.

Hell, at this point she was more worried about Bobbie and Cotyar than she was about Venus. Cotyar was a good man, and his disapproval left her feeling defensive and pissed off. And Bobbie looked like she was about to crack. And why not? The woman had watched her friends die around her, had been stripped of her context, and was now working for her traditional enemy. The marine was tough, in more ways than one, and having someone on the team with no allegiance or ties to anyone on Earth was a real benefit. Especially after f**king Soren.

She leaned back in her chair, unnerved by how different it felt when she weighed so little. Soren still smarted. Not the betrayal itself; betrayal was an occupational hazard. If she started getting her feelings hurt by that, she really should retire. No, it was that she hadn’t seen it. She’d let herself have a blind spot, and Errinwright had known how to use it. How to disenfranchise her. She hated being outplayed. And more than that, she hated that her failure was going to mean more war, more violence, more children dying.

That was the price for screwing up. More dead children.

So she wouldn’t screw up anymore.

She could practically see Arjun, the gentle sorrow in his eyes. It isn’t all your responsibility, he would say.

“It’s everyone’s f**king responsibility,” she said out loud. “But I’m the one who’s taking it seriously.”

She smiled. Let Mao’s monitors and spies make sense of that. She let herself imagine them searching her room for some other transmission device, trying to find who she’d been speaking to. Or they’d just think the old lady was losing her beans.

Let ’em wonder.

She closed out the Venus report. Another message had arrived while she was in her reverie, flagged as an issue she’d requested follow-up on. When she read the intelligence summary, her eyebrows rose.

“I’m James Holden, and I’m here to ask for your help.”

Avasarala watched Bobbie watching the screen. She looked exhausted and restless both. Her eyes weren’t bloodshot so much as dry-looking. Like bearings without enough grease. If she’d needed an example to demonstrate the difference between sleepy and tired, it would have been the marine.

“So he got out, then,” Bobbie said.

“Him and his pet botanist and the whole damned crew,” Avasarala said. “So now we have one story about what they were doing on Ganymede that got your boys and ours so excited they started shooting each other.”

Bobbie looked up at her.

“Do you think it’s true?”

“What is truth?” Avasarala said. “I think Holden has a long history of blabbing whatever he knows or thinks he knows all over creation. True or not, he believes it.”

“And the part about the protomolecule? I mean, he just told everyone that the protomolecule is loose on Ganymede.”

“He did.”

“People have got to be reacting to that, right?”

Avasarala flipped to the intelligence summary, then to feeds of the riots on Ganymede. Thin, frightened people, exhausted by tragedy and war and fueled by panic. She could tell that the security forces arrayed against them were trying to be gentle. These weren’t thugs enjoying the use of force. These were orderlies trying to keep the frail and dying from hurting themselves and each other, walking the line between necessary violence and ineffectiveness.

“Fifty dead so far,” Avasarala said. “That’s the estimate, anyway. That place is so ass-fucked right now, they might have been going to die of sickness and malnutrition anyway. But they died of this instead.”

“I went to that restaurant,” Bobbie said.

Avasarala frowned, trying to make it into a metaphor for something. Bobbie pointed at the screen.

“The one they’re dying in front of? I ate there just after I arrived at the deployment. They had good sausage.”

“Sorry,” Avasarala said, but the marine only shook her head.

“So that cat’s out of the bag,” she said.

“Maybe,” Avasarala said. “Maybe not.”

“James Holden just told the whole system that the protomolecule’s on Ganymede. In what universe is that maybe not?”

Avasarala pulled up a mainstream newsfeed, checked the flags, and pulled the one with the listed experts she wanted. The data buffered for a few seconds while she lifted her finger for patience.

“—totally irresponsible,” a grave-cheeked man in a lab coat and kufi cap said. The contempt in his voice could have peeled paint.

The interviewer appeared beside him. She was maybe twenty years old, with hair cut short and straight and a dark suit that said she was a serious journalist.

“So you’re saying the protomolecule isn’t involved?”

“It isn’t. The images James Holden and his little group are sending have nothing to do with the protomolecule. That webbing is what happens when you have a binding agent leak. It happens all the time.”

“So there isn’t any reason to panic.”

“Alice,” the expert said, turning his condescension to the interviewer. “Within a few days of exposure, Eros was a living horror show. In the time since hostilities opened, Ganymede hasn’t shown one sign of a live infection. Not one.”

“But he has a scientist with him. The botanist Dr. Praxidike Meng, whose daughter—”

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