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Page 11 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“Who ordered you to commence firing, and why?”

Of course he couldn’t be asking why her people had started the fight. Didn’t he know about the monster?

“Don’t you know about the monster?”

Captain Thorsson didn’t move, but the corners of his mouth dropped into a frown, and his forehead bunched up over his nose.

“Monster,” he said, none of the warmth gone from his voice.

“Sir, some kind of monster … mutant … something attacked the UN outpost. The UN troops were running to us to escape it. We didn’t fire on them. This … this whatever it was killed them, and then it killed us,” she said, nauseated and pausing to swallow at the lemony taste in her mouth. “I mean, everyone but me.”

Thorsson frowned for a moment, then reached into one pocket and took out a small digital recorder. He turned it off, then set it on a tray next to Bobbie’s bed.

“Sergeant, I’m going to give you a second chance. Up to now, your record has been exemplary. You are a fine marine. One of our best. Would you like to start over?”

He picked up the recorder and placed a finger on the delete button while giving her a knowing look.

“You think I’m lying?” she said. The itchy feeling in her limbs resolved itself into a very real urge to reach out and snap the smug bastard’s arm off at the elbow. “We all shot at it. There will be gun camera footage from the entire platoon of this thing killing UN soldiers and then attacking us. Sir.”

Thorsson shook his hatchet-shaped head at her, narrowing his eyes until they almost disappeared.

“We have no transmissions from the platoon for the entire fight, and no uploaded data—”

“They were jamming,” Bobbie interrupted. “I lost my radio link when I got close to the monster too.”

Thorsson continued as though she had not spoken. “And all of the local hardware was lost when an orbital mirror array fell onto the dome. You were outside of the impact area, but the shock wave threw you nearly another quarter of a kilometer. It took us some time to find you.”

All of the local hardware was lost. Such a sterile way of putting it. Everyone in Bobbie’s platoon blown into shrapnel and vapor when a couple thousand tons of mirror fell out of orbit onto them. A monitor started sounding a low, chiming alert, but no one else paid it any attention, so she didn’t either.

“My suit, sir. I shot at it too. My video will still be there.”

“Yes,” Thorsson said. “We’ve examined your suit’s video log. It’s nothing but static.”

This is like a bad horror movie, she thought. The heroine who sees the monster, but no one will believe her. She imagined the second act, in which she was court-martialed in disgrace, and only got her redemption in the third act, when the monster showed up again and killed everyone who didn’t believe —

“Wait!” she said. “What decompression did you use? My suit is an older model. It uses the version 5.1 video compression. Tell the tech that, and have them try it again.”

Thorsson stared at her for a few moments, then pulled out his hand terminal and called someone.

“Have Sergeant Draper’s combat suit brought up to her room. Send a tech with video gear with it.”

He put the terminal away and then gave Bobbie another of those frightening smiles.

“Sergeant, I admit that I am extremely curious about what you want me to see. If this is still a ruse of some kind, you’ve only bought yourself a few more moments.”

Bobbie didn’t reply, but her reaction to Thorsson’s attitude had finally shifted from frightened through angry to annoyed. She pushed herself up in the narrow hospital bed and turned sideways, sitting on the edge and tossing the blanket to the side. With her size, her physical presence up close usually either frightened men or turned them on. Either way it made them uncomfortable. She leaned toward Thorsson a bit and was rewarded when he pushed his chair back an equal amount.

She could tell from his disgusted expression that he immediately knew what she’d done, and he looked away from her smile.

The door to the room opened and a pair of Navy techs wheeled in her suit on a rack. It was intact. They hadn’t wrecked it taking her out. She felt a lump come up in her throat, and swallowed it back down. She wasn’t going to show even a moment’s weakness in front of this Thorsson clown.

The clown pointed at the senior of the two techs and said, “You. What’s your name?”

The young tech snapped off a salute and said, “Petty Officer Electrician’s Mate Singh, sir.”

“Mr. Singh, Sergeant Draper here is claiming that her suit has a different video compression than the new suits, and that’s why you were unable to read her video data. Is this correct?”

Singh slapped himself on the forehead with his palm.

“Shit. Yeah,” he said. “I didn’t think— This is the old Mark III Goliath suit. When they started making the Mark IV, they completely rewrote the firmware. Totally different video storage system. Wow, I feel pretty stupid—”

“Yes,” interrupted Thorsson. “Do whatever you need to do to display the video stored on that suit. The sooner you do, the less time I will have to dwell on the delays caused by incompetence.”

Singh, to his credit, did not reply. He immediately plugged the suit into a monitor and began working. Bobbie examined her suit. It had a lot of scratches and dings but appeared otherwise undamaged. She felt a strong urge to go put it on and then tell Thorsson where he could stick his attitude.

A new set of shakes moved up her arms and legs. Something fluttered in her neck like the heartbeat of a small animal. She reached up and touched it. It was her pulse. She started to say something, but the tech was pumping his fist and high-fiving his assistant.

“Got it, sir,” Singh said, then began the playback.

Bobbie tried to watch, but the picture kept getting fuzzy. She reached for Thorsson’s arm to get his attention, but missed somehow and just kept tipping forward.

Here we go again, she thought, and there was a brief moment of free fall before the blackness.

“God dammit,” the sharp voice said. “I goddamn well told you this would happen. This soldier has suffered internal injuries and a nasty concussion. You can’t just pump her full of speed and then interrogate her. It’s irresponsible. It’s f**king criminal!”

Bobbie opened her eyes. She was back in bed. Thorsson sat in the chair by her side. A stocky blond woman in hospital scrubs stood at the foot of her bed, her face flushed and furious. When she saw Bobbie was awake, she moved to her side and took her hand.

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