Holden had time to see the still standing members of his Pinkwater team disappear into black bags before one came down over his own head and plunged him into darkness.

Chapter Twenty: Bobbie

The Martian delegation had been given a suite of offices in the UN building for their own use. The furniture was all real wood; the paintings on the walls were originals and not prints. The carpet smelled new. Bobbie thought that either everyone in the UN campus lived like a king, or they were just going out of their way to impress the Martians.

Thorsson had called her a few hours after she’d left her run-in with Avasarala at the bar, and had demanded that she meet with him the next day. Now she waited in the lobby of their temporary office suite, sitting in a bergère-style chair with green velvet cushions and a cherry wood frame that would have cost her two years’ salary on Mars. A screen set into the wall across from her played a news channel with the sound muted. It turned the program into a confusing and occasionally macabre slide show of images: two talking heads sitting at a desk in a blue room, a large building on fire, a woman walking down a long white hallway while gesturing animatedly to both sides, a UN battleship parked at an orbital station with severe damage scarring its flank, a red-faced man talking directly into the camera against the backdrop of a flag Bobbie didn’t recognize.

It all meant something and nothing at the same time. A few hours before, this would have frustrated Bobbie. She would have felt compelled to go find the remote and turn the sound up, to add context to the information being thrown at her.

Now she just let the images flow around her like canal water past a rock.

A young man she’d seen a few times on the Dae-Jung but had never actually met hurried through the lobby, tapping furiously on his terminal. When he was halfway across the room, he said, “He’s ready for you.”

It took Bobbie a moment to realize the young man had been talking to her. Apparently her stock had fallen far enough that she no longer warranted face-to-face delivery of information. More meaningless data. More water flowing past her. She pushed herself to her feet with a grunt. Her hours-long walk at one g the previous day had taken more out of her than she’d realized.

She was vaguely surprised to find that Thorsson’s office was one of the smallest in the suite. That meant that either he didn’t care about the unspoken status conferred through office size, or he was actually the least important member of the delegation to still rate a private workspace. She felt no compulsion to figure out which. Thorsson did not react to her arrival, his head bent over his desk terminal. Bobbie didn’t care about being ignored, or about the lesson he was trying to teach her with it. The size of the office meant that Thorsson had no chair for guests, and the ache in her legs was sufficiently distracting.

“I may have overreacted earlier,” he finally said.

“Oh?” Bobbie replied, thinking about where she might find more of that soy-milk tea.

Thorsson looked up at her. His face was trying its mummified-remains version of a warm smile. “Let me be clear. There’s no doubt that you damaged our credibility with your outburst. But, as Martens points out, that is largely my fault for not fully understanding the extent of your trauma.”

“Ah,” Bobbie said. There was a framed photograph on the wall behind Thorsson of a city with a tall metal structure in the foreground. It looked like an archaic rocket gantry. The caption read PARIS.

“So instead of sending you home, I will be keeping you on staff here. You’ll be given an opportunity to repair the damage you’ve done.”

“Why,” Bobbie said, looking Thorsson in the eye for the first time since coming in, “am I here?”

Thorsson’s hint of a smile disappeared and was replaced by an equally understated frown. “Excuse me?”

“Why am I here?” she repeated, thinking past the disciplinary board. Thinking of how hard it would be to get reassigned to Ganymede if Thorsson didn’t send her back to Mars. If he didn’t, would she be allowed to resign? Just leave the corps and buy her own ticket? The thought of no longer being a marine made her sad. The first really strong feeling she’d had in a while.

“Why are you—” Thorsson started, but Bobbie cut him off.

“Not to talk about the monster, apparently. Honestly, if I’m just here as a showpiece, I think I’d rather be sent home. I have some things I could be doing …”

“You,” Thorsson said, his voice getting tighter, “are here to do exactly what I say for you to do, and exactly when I say it. Is that understood, soldier?”

“Yeah,” Bobbie said, feeling the water slide past her. She was a stone. It moved her not at all. “I have to go now.”

She turned and walked away, Thorsson not managing to get a last word out before she left. As she moved through the suite toward the exit, she saw Martens pouring powdered creamer into a cup of coffee in the small kitchen area. He spotted her at the same time.

“Bobbie,” he said. He’d gotten a lot more familiar with her over the last few days. Normally, she’d have assumed it was a buildup to romantic or sexual overtures. With Martens, she was pretty sure it was just another tool in his “how to fix broken marines” tool kit.

“Captain,” she said. She stopped. She felt the front door tugging at her with a sort of psychic gravity, but Martens had never been anything but good to her. And she had a strange premonition that she was never going to see any of these people again. She held out her hand to him, and when he took it, she said, “I’m leaving. You won’t have to waste your time with me anymore.”

He smiled his sad smile at her. “In spite of the fact that I don’t actually feel like I’ve accomplished anything, I don’t feel like I wasted my time. Do we part friends?”

“I—” she started, then had to stop and swallow a lump in her throat. “I hope this didn’t wreck your career or anything.”

“I’m not worried about it,” he said to her back. She was already walking out the door. She didn’t turn around.

In the hallway Bobbie pulled out her terminal and called the number Avasarala had given her. It immediately went to voice mail.

“Okay,” she said, “I’ll take that job.”

There was something liberating and terrifying about the first day on a new job. In any new assignment, Bobbie had always had the unsettling feeling that she was in over her head, that she wouldn’t know how to do any of the things they would ask her to do, that she would dress wrong or say the wrong thing, or that everyone would hate her. But no matter how strong that feeling was, it was overshadowed by the sense that with a new job came the chance to totally recreate herself in whatever image she chose, that—at least for a little while—her options were infinite.

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