“Looks like cargo door’s not sealin’, which we knew. We may have taken a hit, blown a hole in her. We’ve got the video feed back up … hold on …”
Holden shifted to peer over Alex’s shoulder. Prax took another swallow of his food and gave in to curiosity. An image of a cargo bay no wider than Prax’s palm took up one corner of the display. Most of the cargo was on electromagnetic pallets, stuck to the plates nearest the wide bay door, but some had broken loose, pressed by thrust gravity to the floor. It gave the room an unreal, Escher-like appearance. Alex resized the image, zooming in on the cargo door. In one corner, a thick section of metal was bent inward, bright metal showing where the bend had cracked the external layers. A spray of stars showed through the hole.
“Well, at least it ain’t subtle,” Alex said.
“What hit it?” Holden said.
“Don’t know, Cap,” Alex said. “No scorching as far as I can see. But a gauss round wouldn’t have bent the metal in like that. Just would have made a hole. And the bay isn’t breached, so whatever did it didn’t make a hole on the other side.”
The pilot increased the magnification again, looking closely at the edges of the wound. It was true there were no scorch marks, but thin black smudges showed against the metal of the door and the deck. Prax frowned. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again.
Holden said what Prax had been thinking.
“Alex? Is that a handprint?”
“Looks like one, Cap, but …”
“Pull out. Look at the decking.”
They were small. Subtle. Easy to overlook on the small image. But they were there. A handprint, smeared in something dark that Prax had the strong suspicion had once been red. The unmistakable print of five naked toes. A long smear of darkness.
The pilot followed the trail.
“That bay’s in hard vacuum, right?” Holden asked.
“Has been for a day and a half, sir,” Alex said. The casual air was gone. They were all business now.
“Track right,” Holden said.
“Okay, stop. What’s that?”
The body was curled into a fetal ball, except where its palms were pressed against the bulkhead. It lay perfectly still, as if they were under high g and it was held against the deck, crushed by its own weight. The flesh was the black of anthracite and the red of blood. Prax couldn’t tell if it had been a man or a woman.
“Alex, do we have a stowaway?”
“Pretty sure that ain’t on the cargo manifest, sir.”
“And did that fellow there bend his way through my ship with his bare hands?”
“Looks like maybe, sir.”
“I’m looking at it too.” Naomi’s voice came from the terminal a moment before Amos’ low whistle. Prax thought back to the mysterious sounds of violence in the lab, the bodies of guards they hadn’t fought, the shattered glass and its black filament. Here was the experiment that had slipped its leash back at that lab. It had fled to the cold, dead surface of Ganymede and waited there until a chance came to escape. Prax felt the gooseflesh crawling up his arms.
“Okay,” Holden said. “But it’s dead, right?”
“I don’t think so,” Naomi said.
Chapter Twenty-Five: Bobbie
Bobbie’s hand terminal began playing reveille at four thirty a.m. local time: what she and her mates might have grumbled and called “oh dark thirty” back when she’d been a marine and had mates to grumble with. She’d left her terminal in the living room, lying next to the pull-down cot she used as a bed, the volume set high enough to have left her ears ringing if she’d been in there with it. But Bobbie had already been up for an hour. In her cramped bathroom, the sound was only annoying, bouncing around her tiny apartment like radio in a deep well. The echoes were a sonic reminder that she still didn’t have much furniture or any wall hangings.
It didn’t matter. She’d never had a guest.
The reveille was a mean-spirited little joke Bobbie was playing on herself. The Martian military had formed hundreds of years after trumpets and drums had been a useful means of transmitting information to troops. Martians lacked the nostalgia the UN military had for such things. The first time Bobbie had heard a morning reveille, she’d been watching a video on military history. She’d been happy to realize that no matter how annoying the Martian equivalent—a series of atonal electronic blats—was, it would never be as annoying as what the Earth boys woke up to.
But now Bobbie wasn’t a Martian Marine anymore.
“I am not a traitor,” Bobbie said to her reflection in the mirror. Mirror Bobbie looked unconvinced.
After the blaring trumpet call’s third repetition, her hand terminal beeped once and fell into a sullen silence. She’d been holding her toothbrush for the last half hour. The toothpaste had started to grow a hard skin. She ran it under warm water to soften it back up and started brushing her teeth.
“I’m not a traitor,” she said to herself, the toothbrush making the words unintelligible. “Not.”
Not even standing here in the bathroom of her UN-provided apartment, brushing her teeth with UN toothpaste and rinsing the sink with UN-provided water. Not while she clutched her good Martian toothbrush and scrubbed until her gums bled.
“Not,” she said again, daring mirror Bobbie to disagree.
She put the toothbrush back into her small toiletry case, carried it into the living room, and placed it in her duffel. Everything she owned stayed in the duffel. She’d need to move fast when her people called her home. And they would. She’d get a priority dispatch on her terminal, the red-and-gray border of the MCRN CINC-COM flashing around it. They’d tell her that she needed to return to her unit immediately. That she was still one of them.
That she wasn’t a traitor for staying.
She straightened her uniform, slid her now quiet terminal into her pocket, and checked her hair in the mirror next to the door. It was pulled into a bun so tight it almost gave her a face-lift, not one single hair out of place.
“I’m not a traitor,” she said to the mirror. Front hallway mirror Bobbie seemed more open to this idea than bathroom mirror Bobbie had. “Damn straight,” she said, then slammed the door behind her when she left.
She hopped on one of the little electric bikes the UN campus made available everywhere, and was in the office three minutes before five a.m. Soren was already there. No matter what time she came in, Soren always beat her. Either he slept at his desk or he was spying on her to see what time she set her alarm for each morning.