The kind voice said, “I don’t care if it kills her, Doctor. I need to speak to this soldier, and I need to do it now. So you give her whatever you need to give her to make that happen.”
Bobbie smiled to herself, not parsing the words the nice voice said, just the kindly, warm tone. It was good to have someone like that to take care of you. She started to fall back asleep, the coming blackness a welcome friend.
White fire shot up Bobbie’s spine, and she sat bolt upright in bed, as awake as she’d ever been. It felt like going on the juice, the chemical cocktail they gave sailors to keep them conscious and alert during high-g maneuvers. Bobbie opened her eyes and then slammed them shut again when the room’s bright white light nearly burned them out of her sockets.
“Turn off the lights,” she mumbled, the words coming out of her dry throat in a whisper.
The red light seeping in through her closed eyelids dimmed, but when she tried to open them again, it was still too bright. Someone took her hand and held it while a cup was put into it.
“Can you hold that?” the nice voice said.
Bobbie didn’t answer; she just brought the cup to her mouth and drank the water in two greedy swallows.
“More,” she said, this time in something resembling her old voice.
She heard the sounds of someone scooting a chair and then footsteps away from her on a tile floor. Her brief look at the room had told her she was in a hospital. She could hear the electric hum of medical machines nearby, and the smells of antiseptic and urine competed for dominance. Disheartened, she realized she was the source of the urine smell. A faucet ran for a moment, and then the footsteps came toward her. The cup was put back into her hand. She sipped at it this time, letting the water stay in her mouth awhile before swallowing. It was cool and delicious.
When she was finished, the voice asked, “More?”
She shook her head.
“Maybe later,” she said. Then, after a moment: “Am I blind?”
“No. You’ve been given a combination of focus drugs and powerful amphetamines. Which means your eyes are fully dilated. Sorry, I didn’t think to lower the lights before you woke up.”
The voice was still filled with kindness and warmth. Bobbie wanted to see the face behind that voice, so she risked squinting through one eye. The light didn’t burn into her like it had before, but it was still uncomfortable. The owner of the nice voice turned out to be a very tall, thin man in a naval intelligence uniform. His face was narrow and tight, the skull beneath it pressing to get out. He gave her a frightening smile that didn’t extend past a slight upturn at the corners of his mouth.
“Gunnery Sergeant Roberta W. Draper, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force,” he said, his voice so at odds with his appearance that Bobbie felt like she was watching a movie dubbed from a foreign language.
After several seconds, he still hadn’t continued, so Bobbie said, “Yes, sir,” then glanced at his bars and added, “Captain.”
She could open both eyes now without pain, but a strange tingling sensation was moving up her limbs, making them feel numb and shaky at the same time. She resisted an urge to fidget.
“Sergeant Draper, my name is Captain Thorsson, and I am here to debrief you. We’ve lost your entire platoon. There’s been a two-day pitched battle between the United Nations and Martian Congressional Republic forces on Ganymede. Which, at most recent tally, has resulted in over five billion MCR dollars of infrastructure damage, and the deaths of nearly three thousand military and civilian personnel.”
He paused again, staring at her through narrowed eyes that glittered like a snake’s. Not sure what response he was looking for, Bobbie just said, “Yes, sir.”
“Sergeant Draper, why did your platoon fire on and destroy the UN military outpost at dome fourteen?”
This question was so nonsensical that Bobbie’s mind spent several seconds trying to figure out what it really meant.
“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.”