“If you get on that ship, they’ll kill you,” Bobbie said, making each word its own sentence.

“That’s not how this game gets played,” Avasarala said. “What they—”

The door opened again. Soren had a tray in his hands. The teapot on it was cast iron, with a single handleless enamel cup. He opened his mouth to speak, then saw Bobbie. It was easy to forget how much larger she was until a man Soren’s height visibly cowered before her.

“My tea! That’s excellent. Do you want any, Bobbie?”


“All right. Well, put it down, Soren. I’m not drinking it with you standing there. Good. And pour me a cup.”

Avasarala watched him turn his back on the marine. His hands didn’t shake; she’d give the boy that much. Avasarala stood silent, waiting for him to bring it to her as if he were a puppy learning to retrieve a toy. When he did, she blew across the surface of the tea, scattering the thin veil of steam. He carefully didn’t turn to look at Bobbie.

“Will there be anything else, ma’am?”

Avasarala smiled. How many people had this boy killed just by lying to her? She would never know for certain, and neither would he. The best she could do was not another.

“Soren,” she said. “They’re going to know it was you.”

It was too much. He looked over his shoulder. Then he looked back, greenish with anxiety.

“Who do you mean?” he said, trying for charm.

“Them. If you’re counting on them to help your career, I just want you to understand that they won’t. The kind of men you’re working for? Once they know you’ve slipped, you’re nothing to them. They have no tolerance for failure.”


“Neither do I. Don’t leave anything personal at your desk.”

She watched it in his eyes. The future he’d planned and worked for, defined himself by, fell away. A life on basic support rose in its place. It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t nearly enough. But it was all the justice she could manage on short notice.

When the door was closed, Bobbie cleared her throat.

“What’s going to happen to him?” she asked.

Avasarala sipped her tea. It was good, fresh green tea, brewed perfectly—rich and sweet and not even slightly bitter.

“Who gives a shit?” she said. “The Mao-Kwik yacht leaves in four days. That’s not much time. And neither of us is going to be able to take a dump without the bad guys knowing. I’m going to get you a list of people I need to have drinks or lunch or coffee with before we leave. Your job is to arrange it so I do.”

“I’m your social secretary now?” Bobbie said, bristling.

“You and my husband are the only two people alive who I know aren’t trying to stop me,” Avasarala said. “That’s how far down I am right now. This has to happen, and there is no one else I can rely on. So yes. You’re my social secretary. You’re my bodyguard. You’re my psychiatrist. All of it. You.”

Bobbie lowered her head, breathing out through flared nostrils. Her lips pursed and she shook her massive head once quickly—left, then right, then back to center.

“You’re f**ked,” she said.

Avasarala took another sip of her tea. She should have been ruined. She should have been in tears. She’d been cut off from her own power, tricked. Jules-Pierre Mao had sat there, not a meter from where she was now, and laughed down his sleeve at her. Errinwright and Nguyen and whoever else was in his little cabal. They’d tricked her. She’d sat there, pulling strings and trading favors and thinking that she was doing something real. For months—maybe years —she hadn’t noticed that she was being closed out.

They’d made a fool of her. She should have been humiliated. Instead, she felt alive. This was her game, and if she was behind at halftime, it only meant they expected her to lose. There was nothing better than being underestimated.

“Do you have a gun?”

Bobbie almost laughed.

“They don’t like having Martian soldiers walking around the United Nations with guns. I have to eat lunch with a dull spork. We’re at war.”

“All right, fine. When we get on the yacht, you’re in charge of security. You’re going to need a gun. I’ll arrange that for you.”

“You can? Honestly, though, I’d rather have my suit.”

“Your suit? What suit?”

“I had custom-fit powered armor with me when I came here. The video feed of the monster was copied from it. They said they were turning it over to your guys to confirm the original footage hadn’t been faked.”

Avasarala looked at Bobbie and sipped her tea. Michael-Jon would know where it was. She’d call him the next morning, arrange to have it brought on board the Mao-Kwik yacht with an innocuous label like WARDROBE stamped on the side.

Probably thinking she needed to be convinced, Bobbie kept talking. “Seriously. Get me a gun, I’m a soldier. Get that suit for me, I’m a superhero.”

“If we’ve still got it, you’ll have it.”

“All right, then,” Bobbie said. She smiled. For the first time since they’d met, Avasarala was afraid of her.

God help whoever makes you put it on.

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Holden

Gravity returned as Alex brought the engine up, and Holden floated down to the deck of the cargo bay airlock at a gentle half g. They didn’t need to go fast now that the monster was outside the ship. They just needed to put some distance between the ship and it, and get it into the drive’s star-hot exhaust plume, where it would be broken down into its various subatomic particles. Even the protomolecule couldn’t survive being reduced to ions.

He hoped, anyway.

When he touched down on the deck, he intended to turn on the wall monitor and check the aft cameras. He wanted to watch the thing be torched, but the moment his weight came down, a white-hot spike of pain took his knee. He yelped and collapsed.

Amos drifted down next to him, then kicked off his boot mags and started to kneel. “You okay, Cap?” he said.

“Fine. I mean, for I-think-I-blew-out-my-knee levels of fine.”

“Yeah. Joint injury’s a lot less painful in microgravity, ain’t it?”

Holden was about to reply when a massive hammer hit the side of the ship. The hull rang like a gong. The Roci’s engine cut off almost instantly, and the ship snapped into a flat spin. Amos was lifted away from Holden and thrown across the airlock to slam against the outer door. Holden slid along the deck to land standing upright against the bulkhead next to him, his knee collapsing under him so painfully he nearly blacked out.

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