“What would you call her, right?” Soren said with a disarming grin. Or was it mocking? Was this all a joke to him, Avasarala and Bobbie and the monster on Ganymede too? An image popped into her head of snatching the smug little assistant out of his chair and snapping him into a zigzag shape. Her hands flexed involuntarily.

Instead, she said, “Madam Secretary seemed to think it was pretty important.”

Soren turned to look at her again. “Don’t worry about it, Bobbie. Seriously. I know how to do my job.”

She stood for a long moment.

“Solid copy on that,” she said.

Bobbie was yanked from a dead sleep by sudden blaring music. She lurched upright in an unfamiliar bed in a nearly pitch-black room. The only light she could see was a faint pulsing pearly glow from her hand terminal, all the way across the room. The music suddenly stopped sounding like an atonal cacophony and became the song she’d selected as the audio alarm for incoming phone calls when she went to bed. Someone was calling. She cursed them in three languages and tried to crawl across the bed toward the terminal.

The edge of the bed came unexpectedly and plunged her face-first toward the floor, her half-asleep body not compensating for Earth’s heavier gravity. She managed to avoid breaking her head open at the cost of a pair of jammed fingers on her right hand.

Cursing even louder, she continued her trek across the floor to the still glowing terminal. When she finally reached it, she opened the connection and said, “If someone isn’t dead, someone will be.”

“Bobbie,” the person on the other end said. It took Bobbie’s fuzzy head a moment to place the voice. Soren. She glanced at the time on her terminal and saw that it was 0411. She wondered if he was calling to drunkenly upbraid her or apologize. It certainly wouldn’t be the strangest thing that’d happened over the last twenty-four hours.

Bobbie realized he was still talking, and put the speaker back up to her ear. “—is expecting you soonest, so get down here,” Soren said.

“Can you repeat that?”

He started speaking slowly, as though to a dim child. “The boss wants you to come to the office, okay?”

Bobbie looked at the time again. “Right now?”

“No,” Soren said. “Tomorrow at the normal time. She just wanted me to call at four a.m. to make sure you were coming.”

The flash of anger helped wake her up. Bobbie stopped gritting her teeth long enough to say, “Tell her I’ll be right there.”

She fumbled her way to a wall, and then along it to a panel, which lit up at her touch. A second touch brought up the room’s lights. Avasarala had gotten her a small furnished apartment within walking distance of the office. It wasn’t much bigger than a cheap rent hole on Ceres. One large room that doubled as living space and bedroom, a smaller room with a shower and toilet, and an even smaller room that pretended to be a kitchen. Bobbie’s duffel lay slumped in the corner, a few items pulled out of it, but mostly still packed. She’d stayed up till one in the morning reading and hadn’t bothered to do anything after that but brush her teeth and then collapse into the bed that pulled down from the ceiling.

As she stood surveying the room and trying to wake up, Bobbie had a sudden moment of total clarity. It was as though a pair of dark glasses she hadn’t even known she was wearing were snatched away, leaving her blinking in the light. Here she was, climbing out of bed after three hours of sleep to meet with one of the most powerful women in the solar system, and all she cared about was that she hadn’t gotten her quarters shipshape and that she really wanted to beat one of her coworkers to death with his brass pen set. Oh, and she was a career marine who’d taken a job working with her government’s current worst enemy because someone in naval intelligence had been mean to her. And not least of all, she wanted to get back to Ganymede and kill someone without having the foggiest idea who that someone might be.

The abrupt and crystal-clear vision of how far off the tracks her life seemed to have fallen lasted for a few seconds, and then the fog and sleep deprivation returned, leaving her with only the disquieting feeling that she’d forgotten to do something important.

She dressed in the prior day’s uniform and rinsed her mouth out, then headed out the door.

Avasarala’s modest office was packed with people. Bobbie recognized at least three civilians from her first meeting there on Earth. One of them was the moonfaced man who she’d later learned was Sadavir Errinwright, Avasarala’s boss and possibly the second most powerful man on Earth. The pair were in an intense conversation when she came in, and Avasarala didn’t see her.

Bobbie spotted a small clump of people in military uniforms and drifted in their direction until she saw that they were generals and admirals, and changed course. She wound up next to Soren, the only other person in the room standing alone. He didn’t even give her a glance, but something about the way he held himself seemed to radiate that disquieting charm, powerful and insincere. It struck Bobbie that Soren was the kind of man she might take to bed if she was drunk enough, but she’d never trust him to watch her back in a fight. On second thought, no, she’d never be drunk enough.

“Draper!” Avasarala called out in a loud voice, having finally noticed her arrival.

“Yes, ma’am,” Bobbie said, taking a step forward as everyone in the room stopped talking to look at her.

“You’re my liaison,” Avasarala said, the bags under her eyes so pronounced they looked less like fatigue and more like an undiagnosed medical condition. “So f**king liaise. Call your people.”

“What happened?”

“The situation around Ganymede has just turned into the shit-storm to end all shit-storms,” she said. “We’re in a shooting war.”

Chapter Twenty-One: Prax

Prax knelt, his arms zip-tied securely behind him. His shoulders ached. It hurt to hold his head up and it hurt to let it sink down. Amos lay facedown on the floor. Prax thought he was dead until he saw the zip-ties holding his arms behind his back. The nonlethal round their kidnappers had fired into the back of the mechanic’s head had left an enormous blue-and-black lump there. Most of the others—Holden, some of the Pinkwater mercenaries, even Naomi—were in positions much like his own, but not all.

Four years before, they’d had a moth infestation. A containment study had failed, and inch-long gray-brown miller moths had run riot in his dome. They’d built a heat trap: a few dabs of generated pheromones on a heat-resistant fiber swatch under the big long-wave full-spectrum lighting units. The moths came too close, and the heat killed them. The smell of small bodies burning had fouled the air for days, and the scent was exactly like that of the cauterizing drill their abductors were using on the injured Pinkwater man. A swirl of white smoke rose from the formed-plastic office table on which he was laid out.

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