“Sergeant Draper, don’t try to move. You took a fall and aggravated some of your injuries. We’ve got you stabilized, but you need to rest now.”
The doctor looked up at Thorsson as she said it, her face placing exclamation marks after every sentence. Bobbie nodded at her, which made her head feel like a bowl of water being carried in shifting gravity. That it didn’t hurt probably meant they’d shot her full of every pain medication they had.
“Sergeant Draper’s assistance was crucial,” Thorsson said, not a hint of apology in his lovely voice. “Because of it, she may have just saved us from an all-out shooting war with Earth. Risking one’s own life so others don’t have to is pretty much the definition of Roberta’s job.”
“Don’t call me Roberta,” Bobbie mumbled.
“Gunny,” Thorsson said. “I’m sorry about what happened to your team. But mostly I’m sorry for not believing you. Thank you for responding with professionalism. We avoided a serious mistake because of it.”
“Just thought you were an ass**le,” Bobbie said.
“That’s my job, soldier.”
Thorsson stood up. “Get some rest. We’re shipping you out as soon as you’re well enough for the trip.”
“Shipping me out? Back to Mars?”
Thorsson didn’t answer. He nodded to the doctor, then left. The doctor pushed a button on one of the machines near Bobbie’s bed, and something cool shot into her arm. The lights went out.
Gelatin. Why do hospitals always serve gelatin?
Bobbie desultorily poked her spork at the quivering mound of green on her plate. She was finally feeling good enough to really eat, and the soft and see-through foods they kept bringing her were growing more unsatisfying. Even the high-protein, high-carbohydrate slop they cranked out on most Navy ships sounded good right then. Or a thick mushroom steak covered in gravy with a side of couscous …
The door to her room slid open and her doctor, who she now knew was named Trisha Pichon but who insisted that everyone call her Dr. Trish, came in along with Captain Thorsson and a new man she didn’t know. Thorsson gave her his creepy smile, but Bobbie had learned that it was just the way the man’s face worked. He seemed to lack the muscles necessary for normal smiling. The new man wore a Marine chaplain’s uniform of indeterminate religious affiliation.
Dr. Trish spoke first.
“Good news, Bobbie. We’re turning you loose tomorrow. How do you feel?”
“Fine. Hungry,” Bobbie said, then gave her gelatin another stab.
“We’ll see about getting you some real food, then,” Dr. Trish said, then smiled and left the room.
Thorsson pointed at the chaplain. “This is Captain Martens. He’ll be coming with us on our trip. I’ll leave you two to get acquainted.”
Thorsson left before Bobbie could respond, and Martens plopped himself down in the chair next to her bed. He stuck out his hand, and she shook it.
“Hello, Sergeant,” he said. “I—”
“When I marked my 2790 form as ‘none’ for religious faith, I was serious about that,” Bobbie said, cutting him off.
Martens smiled, apparently not offended by her interruption or her agnosticism.
“I’m not here in a religious capacity, Sergeant. I’m also a trained grief counselor, and since you witnessed the death of every person in your unit, and were almost killed yourself, Captain Thorsson and your doctor agree that you might need me.”
Bobbie started to make a dismissive reply, which was cut off by the lump in her chest. She hid her discomfort by taking a long drink of water, then said, “I’m fine. Thanks for coming by.”
Martens leaned back in the chair, his smile never wavering.
“If you were really all right after what you’ve been through, it would be a sign that something was wrong. And you’re about to be thrown into a situation with a lot of emotional and intellectual pressure. Once we get to Earth, you won’t have the luxury of having an emotional breakdown or post-traumatic stress responses. We have a lot of work to—”
“Earth?” Bobbie pounced on the word. “Waitaminute. Why am I going to Earth?”
Chapter Five: Avasarala
Chrisjen Avasarala, assistant to the undersecretary of executive administration, sat near the end of the table. Her sari was orange, the only splash of color in the otherwise military blue-and-gray of the meeting. The seven others with seats at the table were the heads of their respective branches of the United Nations military forces, all of them men. She knew their names, their career paths and psychological profiles, pay rates and political alliances and who they were sleeping with. Against the back wall, personal assistants and staff pages stood in uncomfortable stillness, like the shy teenagers at a dance. Avasarala snuck a pistachio out of her purse, cracked the shell discreetly, and popped the salted nut into her mouth.
“Any meeting with Martian command is going to have to wait until after the situation on Ganymede is stabilized. Official diplomatic talks before then are only going to make it seem like we’ve accepted the new status quo.” That was Admiral Nguyen, youngest of the men present. Hawkish. Impressed with himself in the way that successful young men tended to be.
General Adiki-Sandoval nodded his bull-wide head.
“Agreed. It’s not just Mars we need to think about here. If we start looking weak to the Outer Planets Alliance, you can count on a spike in terrorist activity.”
Mikel Agee, from the diplomatic corps, leaned back on his chair and licked his lips anxiously. His slicked-back hair and pinched face made him look like an anthropomorphic rat.
“Gentlemen, I have to disagree—”
“Of course you do,” General Nettleford said dryly. Agee ignored him.
“Meeting with Mars at this point is a necessary first step. If we start throwing around preconditions and obstacles, not only is this process going to take longer, but the chances for renewed hostilities go up. If we can take the pressure off, blow off some steam—”
Admiral Nguyen nodded, his face expressionless. When he spoke, his tone was conversational.
“You guys over at Dip have any metaphors more recent than the steam engine?”
Avasarala chuckled with the others. She didn’t think much of Agee either.
“Mars has already escalated,” General Nettleford said. “Seems to me our best move at this point is to pull the Seventh back from Ceres Station. Get them burning. Put a ticking clock on the wall, then see if the Martians want to stand back on Ganymede.”