When Holden spoke, his words were measured and calm, which only made the panic behind them more terrifying.

“Naomi, prep the ship. We have to get off this moon. We have to do it right now.”

Chapter Eighteen: Avasarala

What do you think?” the secretary-general asked from the upper left pane of the display. On the upper right, Errinwright leaned forward a centimeter, ready to jump in if she lost her temper.

“You’ve read the briefing, sir,” Avasarala said sweetly.

The secretary-general waved his hand in a lazy circle. He was in his early sixties and wore the decades with the elfin charm of a man untroubled by weighty thoughts. The years Avasarala had spent building herself from the treasurer of the Workers Provident Fund to the district governor of the Maharshta-Karnataka-Goa Communal Interest Zone, he’d spent as a political prisoner at a minimum-security facility in the recently reconstructed Andean cloud forest. The slow, grinding wheels of power had lifted him to celebrity, and his ability to appear to be listening lent him an air of gravity without the inconvenience of an opinion of his own. Had a man been engineered from birth to be the ideal governmental figurehead, he still wouldn’t have achieved the perfection that was Secretary-General Esteban Sorrento-Gillis.

“Political briefs never capture the really important things,” the bobble-head said. “Tell me what you think.”

I think you haven’t read the f**king briefs, Avasarala thought. Not that I can really complain. She cleared her throat.

“It’s all sparring and no fight, sir,” Avasarala said. “The players are top level. Michel Undawe, Carson Santiseverin, Ko Shu. They brought enough military to show that it’s not just the elected monkeys. But so far, the only one who’s said anything interesting is a marine they brought in to be a flower arrangement. Otherwise, we’re all waiting for someone else to say something telling.”

“And what about”—the secretary-general paused and lowered his voice—“the alternative hypothesis?”

“There’s activity on Venus,” Avasarala said. “We still don’t know what any of it means. There was a massive upwelling of elemental iron in the northern hemisphere that lasted fourteen hours. There has also been a series of volcanic eruptions. Since the plan