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.
“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?”