And maybe, somewhere along the way, he’d find Mei.

There was still hope.

Chapter Eight: Bobbie

The Harman Dae-Jung was a Donnager-class dreadnought, half a kilometer in length, and a quarter million tons dry weight. Her interior docking bay was large enough to hold four frigate-class escort ships and a variety of lighter shuttles and repair craft. Currently, it held only two ships: the large and almost opulent shuttle that had ferried the Martian ambassadors and state officials up for the flight to Earth, and the smaller and more functional Navy shuttle Bobbie had ridden up from Ganymede.

Bobbie was using the empty space to jog.

The Dae-Jung’s captain was being pressured by the diplomats to get them to Earth as quickly as possible, so the ship was running at a near-constant one g acceleration. While this made most of the Martian civilians uncomfortable, it suited Bobbie just fine. The corps trained at high g all the time and did lengthy endurance drills at one g at least once a month. No one ever said it was to prepare for the possibility of having to fight a ground war on Earth. No one had to.

Her recent tour on Ganymede hadn’t allowed her to get in any high-g exercise, and the long trip to Earth seemed like an excellent opportunity to get back into shape. The last thing she wanted was to appear weak to the natives.

“Anything you can do I can do better,” she sang to herself in a breathless falsetto as she ran. “I can do anything better than you.”

She gave her wristwatch a quick glance. Two hours. At her current leisurely pace, that meant twelve miles. Push for twenty? How many people on Earth regularly ran for twenty miles? Martian propaganda would have her believe that half of the people on Earth didn’t even have jobs. They just lived off the government dole and spent their meager allowances on drugs and stim parlors. But probably some of them could run for twenty miles. She’d bet Snoopy and his gang of Earther marines could have run twenty miles, the way they were running from—

“Anything you can do I can do better,” she sang, then concentrated on nothing but the sound of her shoes slapping on the metal deck.

She didn’t see the yeoman enter the docking bay, so when he called out to her, she twisted in surprise and tripped over her own feet, catching herself with her left hand just before she would have dashed her brains out on the deck. She felt something pop in her wrist, and her right knee bounced painfully off the floor as she rolled to absorb the impact.

She lay on her back for a few moments, moving her wrist and knee to see if there was any serious damage. Both hurt, but neither had any grating sensation in it. Nothing broken, then. Barely out of the hospital and already looking for ways to bang herself up again. The yeoman ran up to her and dropped into a crouch at her side.

“Jesus, Gunny, you took a hell of a spill!” the Navy boy said. “A hell of a spill!”

He touched her right knee where the bruise was already starting to darken the bare skin below her jogging shorts, then seemed to realize what he was doing and yanked his hand back.

“Sergeant Draper, your presence is requested at a meeting in conference room G at fourteen fifty hours,” he said, squeaking a little as he rattled off his message. “How come you don’t carry your terminal with you? They’ve had trouble tracking you down.”

Bobbie pushed herself back up to her feet, gingerly testing her knee to see if it would hold her weight.

“You just answered your own question, kid.”

Bobbie arrived at the conference room five minutes early, her red-and-khaki service uniform sharply pressed and marred only by the white wrist brace the company medic had given her for what turned out to be a minor sprain. A marine in full battle dress and armed with an assault rifle opened the door for her and gave her a smile as she went by. It was a nice smile, full of even white teeth, below almond-shaped eyes so dark they were almost black.

Bobbie smiled back and glanced at the name on his suit. Corporal Matsuke. Never knew who you’d run into in the galley or the weight room. It didn’t hurt to make a friend or two.

She was pulled the rest of the way into the room by someone calling her name.

“Sergeant Draper,” Captain Thorsson repeated, gesturing impatiently toward a chair at the long conference table.

“Sir,” Bobbie said, and snapped off a salute before taking the seat. She was surprised by how few people were in the room. Just Thorsson from the intelligence corps and two civilians she hadn’t met.

“Gunny, we’re going over some of the details in your report; we’d appreciate your input.”

Bobbie waited a moment to be introduced to the two civilians in the room, but when it became clear Thorsson wasn’t going to do it, she just said, “Yes, sir. Whatever I can do to help.”

The first civilian, a severe-looking redheaded woman in a very expensive suit, said, “We’re trying to create a better timeline of the events leading up to the attack. Can you show us on this map where you and your fire team were when you received the radio message to return to the outpost?”

Bobbie showed them, then went step by step through the events of that day. Looking at the map they’d brought, she saw for the first time how far she’d been flung across the ice by the impact of the orbital mirror. It looked like it had been a matter of centimeters between that and being smashed into dust like the rest of her platoon …

“Sergeant,” Thorsson said, his tone of voice letting her know he’d said it a couple of times before.

“Sir, sorry, looking at these photos sent me woolgathering. It won’t happen again.”

Thorsson nodded, but with a strange expression Bobbie couldn’t read.

“What we’re trying to pinpoint is precisely where the Anomaly was inserted prior to the attack,” the other civilian, a chubby man with thinning brown hair, said.

The Anomaly they called it now. You could hear them capitalize the word when they said it. Anomaly, like something that just happens. A strange random event. It was because everyone was still afraid to call it what it really was. The Weapon.

“So,” the chubby guy said, “based on how long you had radio contact, and information regarding loss of radio signal from other installations around that area, we are able to pinpoint the source of the jamming signal as the Anomaly itself.”

“Wait,” Bobbie said, shaking her head. “What? The monster can’t have jammed our radios. It had no tech. It wasn’t even wearing a damned space suit to breathe! How could it be carrying jamming equipment?”