“Do you want it?”

“It doesn’t matter if I want it. I’ll be offered it because if the bobble-head doesn’t offer it, people will think he’s slighting me. And I’ll take it because if I don’t, people will think I’m not hungry enough to be afraid of any longer. I’ll be answering directly to the secretary-general. I’ll have more power, more responsibility. More friends and more enemies. It’s the price of playing.”

“Seems like there should be an alternative.”

“There is. I could retire.”

“Why don’t you?”

“Oh, I will,” Avasarala said. “The day my son comes home. What about you? Are you looking to quit?”

“You mean am I still planning to get myself killed?”

“Yes, that.”

There was a pause. That was good. It meant Bobbie was actually thinking about her answer.

“No,” she said. “I don’t think so. Going down in a fight’s one thing. I can be proud of that. But just getting out to get out. I can’t do that.”

“You’re in an interesting position,” Avasarala said. “You think about what to do with it.”

“And what position is that? Ronin?”

“A traitor to your government and a patriotic hero. A martyr who didn’t die. A Martian whose best and only friend is about to run the government of Earth.”

“You’re not my only friend,” Bobbie said.

“Bullshit. Alex and Amos don’t count. They only want to get into your pants.”

“And you don’t?”

Avasarala laughed again. Bobbie was at least smiling. It was more than she’d done since she’d come back. Her sigh was deep and melancholy.

“I still feel haunted,” she said. “I thought it would go away. I thought if I faced it, it would all go away.”

“It doesn’t go away. Ever. But you get better at it.”

“At what?”

“At being haunted,” Avasarala said. “Think about what you want to do. Think about who you want to become. And then see me, and I will make it happen for you if I can.”

“Why?” Bobbie asked. “Seriously, why? I’m a soldier. I did the mission. And yes, it was harder and stranger than anything I’ve ever done, but I got it done. I did it because it needed doing. You don’t owe me anything.”

Avasarala hoisted an eyebrow.

“Political favors are how I express affection,” she said.

“Okay, people,” Alex’s voice said across the ship’s PA. “We’re back up and commencing burn in thirty seconds unless someone says otherwise. Everybody get ready to weigh something.”

“I appreciate the offer,” Bobbie said. “But it may be a while before I know if I want to take it.”

“What will you do, then? Next, I mean.”

“I’m going home,” she said. “I want to see my family. My dad. I think I’ll stay there for a while. Figure out who I am. How to start over. Like that.”

“The door’s open, Bobbie. Whenever you want it, the door is open.”

The flight back to Luna was a pain in the ass. Avasarala spent seven hours a day in her crash couch, sending messages back and forth against different levels of lag. On Earth, Sadavir Errinwright was quietly celebrated, his career with the UN honored with a small and private ceremony, and then he went off to spend more time with his family or farm chickens or whatever he was going to do with the remaining decades until death. Whatever it was, it wouldn’t involve wielding political power.

The investigation into the Io base was ongoing, and heads were quietly rolling on Earth. But not on Mars. Whoever in the Martian government had been bidding against Errinwright, they were going to get away with it. By losing the most powerful biological weapon in human history, they’d saved their own careers. Politics was full of little ironies like that.

Avasarala put together her own new office in absentia. By the time she stepped into it, it would already have been running for a month. It felt like driving a car while sitting in the backseat. She hated it.

In addition, Mei Meng had decided she was funny, and spent part of each day monopolizing her attention. She didn’t have time to play with a little girl, except that of course she did. So she did. And she had to exercise so that they wouldn’t have to put her in a nursing home when she got back to a full g. The steroid cocktail gave her hot flashes and made it hard to sleep. Both her granddaughters had birthdays she could attend only on a screen. One had twenty minutes’ lag; one had four.

When they passed the cloud of protomolecule monsters speeding in toward the sun, she had nightmares for two nights running, but they gradually stopped. Every one of them was being tracked by two governments, and Errinwright’s little packets of death were all quiescent and speeding quietly and happily toward their own destruction.

She couldn’t wait to be home.

When they docked on Luna, it was like a starving woman with a slice of apple touched to her lips, but not allowed to bite. The soft blue and white of the daylight planet, the black and gold of night. It was a beautiful world. Unmatched in the solar system. Her garden was down there. Her office. Her own bed.

But Arjun was not.

He was waiting for her on the landing pad in his best suit with a spray of fresh lilacs in his hand. The low gravity made him look younger too, if a little bloodshot about the eyes. She could feel the curiosity of Holden and his crew as she walked toward him. Who was this man that he could stand to be married to someone as abrasive and hard as Chrisjen Avasarala? Was this her master or her victim? How would that even work?

“Welcome home,” Arjun said softly as she leaned into his arms.

He smelled like himself. She put her head against his shoulder, and she didn’t need Earth so badly any longer.

This was home enough.

Chapter Fifty-Three: Holden

Hi, Mom. We’re on Luna!”

The light delay from Luna was less than six seconds for a round trip, but it was enough to add an awkward pause before each response. Mother Elise stared out at him from his hotel room’s video screen for five long heartbeats; then her face lit up. “Jimmy! Are you coming down?”

She meant down the well. Coming home. Holden felt an ache to do exactly that. It had been years since he’d been to the farm in Montana that his parents owned. But this time he had Naomi with him, and Belters didn’t go to Earth. “No, Mom, not this time. But I want all of you to come meet me up here. The shuttle ride is my treat. And UN Undersecretary Avasarala is hosting, so the accommodations are pretty posh.”

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