“Then you ran into something that your training couldn’t prepare you for, and against which you had no defense. And you lost your teammates and friends.”

Bobbie started to reply and realized she’d been holding her breath, so instead of speaking, she exhaled explosively. Martens didn’t stop talking.

“We need you, Roberta. We need you back. I haven’t been where you are, but I know a lot of people who have, and I know how to help you. If you let me. If you talk to me. I can’t take it away. I can’t cure you. But I can make it better.”

“Don’t call me Roberta,” Bobbie said so quietly that she could barely hear herself.

She took a few short breaths, trying to clear her head, trying not to hyperventilate. The scents of the cargo bay washed over her. The smell of rubber and metal from her suit. The acrid, competing scents of gun oil and hydraulic fluid, old and aged right into the metal no matter how many times the Navy boys swabbed the decks. The thought of thousands of sailors and marines passing through this same space, working on their equipment and cleaning these same bulkheads, brought her back to herself.

She moved over to her reassembled gun and picked it up off the mat before the spreading pool of gun oil could touch it.

“No, Captain, talking to you is not what’s going to get me better.”

“Then what, Sergeant?”

“That thing that killed my friends, and started this war? Somebody put that thing on Ganymede,” she said, and seated the gun in its housing with a sharp metallic click. She gave the triple barrels a spin with her hand, and they turned with the fast oily hiss of high-quality bearings. “I’m going to find out who. And I’m going to kill them.”

Chapter Nine: Avasarala

The report was more than three pages long, but Soren had managed to find someone with the balls to admit it when he didn’t know everything. Strange things were happening on Venus, stranger than Avasarala had known or guessed. A network of filaments had nearly encased the planet in a pattern of fifty-kilometer-wide hexagons, and apart from the fact that they seemed to carry superheated water and electrical currents, no one knew what they were. The gravity of the planet had increased by 3 percent. Paired whirlwinds of benzene and complex hydrocarbons were sweeping the impact craters like synchronized swimmers where the remains of Eros Station had smashed into the planetary surface. The best scientific minds of the system were staring at the data with their jaws slack, and the reason no one was panicking yet was that no one could agree on what they should panic about.

On one hand, the Venusian metamorphosis was the most powerful scientific tool ever. Whatever happened did so in plain sight of everyone. There were no nondisclosure agreements or anti-competition treaties to be concerned with. Anyone with a scanner sensitive enough could look down through the clouds of sulfuric acid and see what was going on today. Analyses were confidential, follow-up studies were proprietary, but the raw data was orbiting the sun for anyone to see.

Only, so far, it was like a bunch of lizards watching the World Cup. Politely put, they weren’t sure what they were looking at.

But the data was clear. The attack on Ganymede and the spike in the energy expended on Venus had come at exactly the same time. And no one knew why.

“Well, that’s worth shit,” she said.

Avasarala closed down her hand terminal and looked out the window. Around them the commissary murmured softly, like the best kind of restaurant, only without the ugly necessity of paying for anything. The tables were real wood and arranged carefully so that everyone had a view and no one could be overheard unless they wanted to be. It was raining that day. Even if the raindrops hadn’t been pelting the windows, blurring city and sky, she’d have known by the smell. Her lunch—cold sag aloo and something that was supposed to be tandoori chicken—sat on the table, untouched. Soren was still sitting across from her, his expression polite and alert as a Labrador retriever’s.

“There’s no data showing a launch,” Soren said. “Whatever’s on Venus would have to have gotten out to Ganymede, and there’s no sign of that at all.”

“Whatever’s on Venus thinks inertia’s optional and gravity isn’t a constant. We don’t know what a launch would look like. As far as we know, they could walk to Jupiter.”

The boy’s nod conceded the point.

“Where do we stand on Mars?”

“They’ve agreed to meet here. They’ve got ships on the way with the diplomatic delegation, including their witness.”

“The marine? Draper?”

“Yes, ma’am. Admiral Nguyen is in charge of the escort.”

“He’s playing nice?”

“So far.”

“All right, where do we go from here?” Avasarala asked.

“Jules-Pierre Mao’s waiting in your office, ma’am.”

“Run him down for me. Anything you think’s important.”

Soren blinked. Lightning lit the clouds from within.

“I sent the briefing …”

She felt a stab of annoyance that was half embarrassment. She’d forgotten that the background on the man was in her queue. There were thirty other documents there too, and she’d slept poorly the night before, troubled by dreams in which Arjun had died unexpectedly. She’d had widowhood nightmares since her son had died in a skiing accident, her mind conflating the only two men she’d ever loved.

She’d meant to review the information before breakfast. She’d forgotten. But she wasn’t going to admit it to some European brat just because he was smart, competent, and did everything she said.

“I know what’s in the briefing. I know everything,” she said, standing up. “This is a f**king test. I’m asking what you think is important about him.”

She walked away, moving toward the carved oak doors with a deliberate speed that made Soren scramble a little to keep up.

“He’s the corporate controlling interest of Mao-Kwikowski Mercantile,” Soren said, his voice low enough to carry to her and then die. “Before the incident, they were one of Protogen’s major suppliers. The medical equipment, the radiation rooms, the surveillance and encryption infrastructure. Almost everything Protogen put on Eros or used to construct their shadow station came from a Mao-Kwik warehouse and on a Mao-Kwik freighter.”

“And he’s still breathing free air because …?” she said, pushing through the doors and into the hallway beyond.

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