Most of the footage they’d taken had been in the cargo bays, angled so that no ammunition or weaponry was in the image. Someone who knew Martian military vessels could tell where they were. To everyone else, it would be an open space with cargo crates in the background. Naomi Nagata had helped put the release together—she was a surprisingly good visual editor—and when it became clear that none of the men could manage a professional-sounding voice-over, she’d done that too.
The crew assembled in the medical bay, where the mechanic Amos Burton had changed the feed to display from her hand terminal. Now he was sitting on one of the patient beds, his legs crossed, smiling amiably. If Avasarala hadn’t seen the intelligence files on Holden’s crew, she’d never have guessed what the man was capable of.
The others were spread out in a rough semicircle. Bobbie was sitting beside Alex Kamal, the Martians unconsciously grouping together. Praxidike Meng stood at the back of the room. Avasarala couldn’t tell if her presence made him uncomfortable or if he was always like that.
“Okay,” she said. “Last chance for feedback.”
“Wish I had some popcorn,” Amos said, and the medical scanner flashed once, showed a broadcast code and then white block letters: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.
Avasarala and Holden appeared on the screen. She was speaking, her hands out before her as if illustrating a point. Holden, looking sober, leaned toward her. Naomi Nagata’s voice was calm, strong, and professional.
“In a surprising development, the deputy to Undersecretary of Executive Administration Sadavir Errinwright met with OPA representative James Holden and a representative of the Martian military today to address concerns over the potentially earth-shattering revelations surrounding the devastating attack on Ganymede.”
The image cut to Avasarala. She was leaning forward to make her neck longer and hide the loose skin under her chin. Long practice made her look natural, but she could almost hear Arjun laughing. A runner at the bottom of the screen identified her by name and title.
“I expect to be traveling with Captain Holden to the Jovian system,” Avasarala said. “The United Nations of Earth feel very strongly that a multilateral investigation into this is the best way to restore balance and peace to the system.”
The image shifted to Holden and Avasarala sitting in the galley with the botanist. This time the little scientist was talking and she and Holden pretended to listen. The voice-over came again.
“When asked about the accusations leveled against Praxidike Meng, whose search for his daughter has become the human face of the tragedy on Ganymede, the Earth delegation was unequivocal.”
Then back to Avasarala, her expression now sorrowful. Her head shaking in an almost subliminal negation.
“Nicola Mulko is a tragic figure in this, and I personally condemn the irresponsibility of these raw newsfeeds that allow statements from mentally ill people to be presented as if they were verified fact. Her abandonment of her husband and child is beyond dispute, and her struggles with her psychological issues deserve a more dignified and private venue.”
From off camera, Nagata asked, “So you blame the media?”
“Absolutely,” Avasarala said as the image shifted to a picture of a toddler with smiling black eyes and dark pigtails. “We have absolute faith in Dr. Meng’s love and dedication to Mei, and we are pleased to be part of the effort to bring her safely home.”
The recording ended.
“All right,” Avasarala said. “Any comments?”
“I don’t actually work for the OPA anymore,” Holden said.
“I’m not authorized to represent the Martian military,” Bobbie said. “I’m not even sure I’m still supposed to be working with you.”
“Thank you for that. Are there any comments that matter?” Avasarala asked. There was a moment’s silence.
“Worked for me,” Praxidike Meng said.
There was one way that the Rocinante was infinitely more expansive than the Guanshiyin, and it was the only one that she cared about. The tightbeam was hers. Lag was worse and every hour took her farther from Earth, but knowing that the messages she sent were getting off the ship without being reported to Nguyen and Errinwright gave her the feeling of breathing free. What happened once they reached Earth, she couldn’t control, but that was always true. That was the game.
Admiral Souther looked tired, but on the small screen it was hard to tell much more than that.
“You’ve kicked the beehive, Chrisjen,” he said. “It’s looking an awful lot like you just made yourself a human shield for a bunch of folks that don’t work for us. And I’m guessing that was the plan.
“I did what you asked, and yes, Nguyen took meetings with Jules-Pierre Mao. First one was just after his testimony on Protogen. And yes, Errinwright knew about them. But that doesn’t mean very much. I’ve met with Mao. He’s a snake, but if you stopped dealing with men like him, you wouldn’t have much left to do.
“The smear campaign against your scientist friend came out of the executive office, which, I’ve got to say, makes a damn lot of us over here in the armed forces a bit twitchy. Starts looking like there’s divisions inside the leadership, and it gets a little murky whose orders we’re supposed to be following. If it gets there, our friend Errinwright still outranks you. Him or the secretary-general comes to me with a direct order, I’m going to have to have a hell of a good reason to think it’s illegal. This whole thing smells like skunk, but I don’t have that reason yet. You know what I’m saying.”
The recording stopped. Avasarala pressed her fingers to her lips. She understood. She didn’t like it, but she understood. She levered herself up from her couch. Her joints still ached from the race to the Rocinante, and the way the ship would sometimes shift beneath her, course corrections moving gravity a degree or two, left her vaguely nauseated. She’d made it this far.
The corridor that led to the galley was short, but it had a bend just before it entered. The voices carried well enough that Avasarala walked softly. The low Martian drawl was the pilot, and Bobbie’s vowels and timbre were unmistakable.
“—that tellin’ the captain where to stand and how to look. I thought Amos was going to toss her in the airlock a couple of times.”
“He could try,” Bobbie said.
“And you work for her?”
“I don’t know who the hell I work for anymore. I think I’m still pulling a salary from Mars, but all my dailies are out of her office budget. I’ve pretty much been playing it all as it comes.”