The message ended. Avasarala closed her eyes. Around her, the ship was as close and confining as a coffin. The small noises of it pressed in against her until she wanted to scream. Until she wanted to sleep. She let herself weep for a moment. There was nothing else to be done. She had taken her best shot, and there was nothing to be done but meditate and worry.
Half an hour later, her terminal chimed again, waking her from troubled dreams. Errinwright. Anxiety knotted her throat. She lifted a finger to begin the playback, and then paused. She didn’t want to. She didn’t want to go back into that world, wear her heavy mask. She wanted to watch Arjun again. Listen to his voice.
Only, of course, Arjun had known what she would want. It was why he’d said the things he had. She started the message.
Errinwright looked angry. More than that, he looked tired. His pleasant demeanor was gone, and he was a man made entirely of salt water and threat.
“Chrisjen,” he said. “I know you won’t understand this, but I have been doing everything in my power to keep you and yours safe. You don’t understand what you’ve waded into, and you are f**king things up. I wish you had had the moral courage to come to me with this before you ran off like a horny sixteen-year-old with James Holden. Honestly, if there was a better way to destroy any professional credibility you once had, I can’t think what it would have been.
“I put you on the Guanshiyin to take you off the board because I knew that things were about to go hot. Well, they are, only you’re in the middle of them and you don’t understand the situation. Millions of people stand in real danger of dying badly because of your egotism. You’re one of them. Arjun’s another. And your daughter. All of them are in threat now because of you.”
In the image, Errinwright clasped his hands together, pressing his knuckles against his lower lip, the platonic ideal of a scolding father.
“If you come back now, I might—might—be able to save you. Not your career. That’s gone. Forget it. Everyone down here sees that you’re working with the OPA and Mars. Everyone thinks you’ve betrayed us, and I can’t undo that. Your life and your family. That’s all I can salvage. But you have to get away from this circus you’ve started, and you have to do it now.
“Time’s short, Chrisjen. Everything important to you hangs in the balance, and I cannot help you if you don’t help yourself. Not with this.
“It’s last-chance time. Ignore me now, and the next time we talk, someone will have died.”
The message ended. She started it again, and then a third time. Her grin felt feral.
She found Bobbie in the ops deck with the pilot, Alex. They stopped talking as she came in, a question in Bobbie’s expression. Avasarala held up a finger and switched the video feed to display on the ship monitors. Errinwright came to life. On the big screens, she could see his pores and the individual hairs in his eyebrows. As he spoke, Avasarala saw Alex and Bobbie grow sober, leaning in toward the screen as if they were all at a poker table and coming to the end of a high-stakes hand.
“All right,” Bobbie said. “What do we do?”
“We break out the f**king champagne,” Avasarala said. “What did he just tell us? There is nothing in that message. Nothing. He is walking around his words like they’ve got poisoned spikes on them. And what’s he got? Threats. No one makes threats.”
“Wait,” Alex said. “That was a good sign?”
“That was excellent,” Avasarala said, and then something else, something small, fell into place in the back of her mind and she started laughing and cursing at the same time.
“What? What is it?”
“‘If life transcends death, then I will seek for you there. If not, then there too,’” she said. “It’s a f**king haiku. That man has a one-track mind and one train on it. Poetry. Save me from poetry.”
They didn’t understand, but they didn’t need to. The real message came five hours later. It came on a public newsfeed, and it was delivered by Secretary-General Esteban Sorrento-Gillis. The old man was brilliant at looking somber and energetic at the same time. If he hadn’t been the executive of the largest governing body in the history of the human race, he’d have made a killing promoting health drinks.
The whole crew had gathered by now—Amos, Naomi, Holden, Alex. Even Prax. They were sandwiched into the ops deck, their combined breaths just slightly overloading the recyclers and giving the deck a feeling of barn heat. All eyes were on the screen as the secretary-general took the podium.
“I have come here tonight to announce the immediate formation of an investigative committee. Accusations have been made that some individuals within the governing body of the United Nations and its military forces have taken unauthorized and possibly illegal steps in dealing with certain private contractors. If these accusations are true, they must be addressed in the most expedient possible manner. And if unfounded, they must be dispelled and those responsible for spreading these lies called to account.
“I need not remind you all of the years I spent as a political prisoner.”
“Oh f**k me,” Avasarala said, clapping her hands in glee. “He’s using the outsider speech. That man’s ass**le must be tight enough right now to bend space.”
“I have dedicated my terms as secretary-general to rooting out corruption, and as long as I have this gavel, I shall continue to do so. Our world and the solar system we all share must be assured that the United Nations honors the ethical, moral, and spiritual values that hold us all together as a species.”
On the feed, Esteban Sorrento-Gillis nodded, turned, and strode away in a clamor of unacknowledged questions, and the commentators flowed into the space, talking over each other in all the political opinions of the spectrum.
“Okay,” Holden said. “So did he actually say anything?”
“He said Errinwright is finished,” Avasarala said. “If he had any influence left at all, that announcement would never have been made. Goddamn, I wish I was there.”
Errinwright was off the board. All that left was Nguyen, Mao, Strickland or whoever he was, their half-controlled protomolecule warriors, and the building threat of Venus. She let a long breath rattle through her throat and the spaces behind her nose.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” she said, “I have just solved our smallest problem.”
Chapter Forty-Six: Bobbie
One of Bobbie’s most vivid memories was of the day she got her orders to report to the 2nd Expeditionary Force Spec War training facility. Force Recon. The top of the heap for a Martian ground pounder. In boot camp, they’d trained with a Force Recon sergeant. He’d been wearing a suit of gleaming red power armor, and they’d watched him demonstrate its use in a variety of tactical situations. At the end, he’d told them that the top four boots from her class would be transferred to the Spec War facility on the slopes of Hecates Tholus and trained to wear the armor and join the baddest fighting unit in the solar system.