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Page 23 of Caliban's War (Expanse 2)

“It’s true. And if he were here right now, he’d be telling you to listen to me.”

“Fuck you,” Bobbie said. She imagined her father wincing at the use of obscenity to hide her fear. “You don’t know shit.”

“I know that when a gunnery sergeant with your level of training and combat readiness almost gets taken out by a yeoman still at the tail end of puberty, something is goddamned wrong.”

Bobbie threw the wrench at the ground, knocking over the gun oil, which began to spread across her mat like a bloodstain.

“I f**king fell down! We were at a full g, and I just … I fell down.”

“And in the meeting today? Yelling at two civilian intelligence analysts about how Marines would rather die than fail?”

“I didn’t yell,” Bobbie said, not sure if that was the truth. Her memories of the meeting had become confused once she was out of the room.

“How many times have you fired that gun since you cleaned it yesterday?”

“What?” Bobbie said, feeling nauseated and not sure why.

“For that matter, how many times had you fired it since you cleaned it the day before that? Or the one before that?”

“Stop it,” Bobbie said, waving one hand limply at Martens and looking for a place to sit back down.

“Have you fired that gun even once since you’ve come on board the Dae-Jung? Because I can tell you that you’ve cleaned it every single day you’ve been on board, and several times you’ve cleaned it twice in one day.”

“No, I—” Bobbie said, finally sitting down with a thump on an ammo canister. She had no memory of having cleaned the gun before that day. “I didn’t know that.”

“This is post-traumatic stress disorder, Bobbie. It’s not a weakness or some kind of moral failure. It’s what happens when you live through something terrible. Right now you’re not able to process what happened to you and your men on Ganymede, and you’re acting irrationally because of it,” Martens said, then moved over to crouch in front of her. She was afraid for a moment that he’d try to take her hand, because if he did, she’d hit him.

He didn’t.

“You’re ashamed,” he said, “but there’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’re trained to be tough, competent, ready for anything. They taught you that if you just do your job and remember your training, you can deal with any threat. Most of all, they taught you that the most important people in the world are the ones standing next to you on the firing line.”

Something twitched in her cheek just under her eye, and Bobbie rubbed at the spot hard enough to make stars explode in her vision.

“Then you ran into something that your training couldn’t prepare you for, and against which you had no defense. And you lost your teammates and friends.”

Bobbie started to reply and realized she’d been holding her breath, so instead of speaking, she exhaled explosively. Martens didn’t stop talking.

“We need you, Roberta. We need you back. I haven’t been where you are, but I know a lot of people who have, and I know how to help you. If you let me. If you talk to me. I can’t take it away. I can’t cure you. But I can make it better.”

“Don’t call me Roberta,” Bobbie said so quietly that she could barely hear herself.

She took a few short breaths, trying to clear her head, trying not to hyperventilate. The scents of the cargo bay washed over her. The smell of rubber and metal from her suit. The acrid, competing scents of gun oil and hydraulic fluid, old and aged right into the metal no matter how many times the Navy boys swabbed the decks. The thought of thousands of sailors and marines passing through this same space, working on their equipment and cleaning these same bulkheads, brought her back to herself.

She moved over to her reassembled gun and picked it up off the mat before the spreading pool of gun oil could touch it.

“No, Captain, talking to you is not what’s going to get me better.”

“Then what, Sergeant?”

“That thing that killed my friends, and started this war? Somebody put that thing on Ganymede,” she said, and seated the gun in its housing with a sharp metallic click. She gave the triple barrels a spin with her hand, and they turned with the fast oily hiss of high-quality bearings. “I’m going to find out who. And I’m going to kill them.”

Chapter Nine: Avasarala

The report was more than three pages long, but Soren had managed to find someone with the balls to admit it when he didn’t know everything. Strange things were happening on Venus, stranger than Avasarala had known or guessed. A network of filaments had nearly encased the planet in a pattern of fifty-kilometer-wide hexagons, and apart from the fact that they seemed to carry superheated water and electrical currents, no one knew what they were. The gravity of the planet had increased by 3 percent. Paired whirlwinds of benzene and complex hydrocarbons were sweeping the impact craters like synchronized swimmers where the remains of Eros Station had smashed into the planetary surface. The best scientific minds of the system were staring at the data with their jaws slack, and the reason no one was panicking yet was that no one could agree on what they should panic about.

On one hand, the Venusian metamorphosis was the most powerful scientific tool ever. Whatever happened did so in plain sight of everyone. There were no nondisclosure agreements or anti-competition treaties to be concerned with. Anyone with a scanner sensitive enough could look down through the clouds of sulfuric acid and see what was going on today. Analyses were confidential, follow-up studies were proprietary, but the raw data was orbiting the sun for anyone to see.

Only, so far, it was like a bunch of lizards watching the World Cup. Politely put, they weren’t sure what they were looking at.

But the data was clear. The attack on Ganymede and the spike in the energy expended on Venus had come at exactly the same time. And no one knew why.

“Well, that’s worth shit,” she said.

Avasarala closed down her hand terminal and looked out the window. Around them the commissary murmured softly, like the best kind of restaurant, only without the ugly necessity of paying for anything. The tables were real wood and arranged carefully so that everyone had a view and no one could be overheard unless they wanted to be. It was raining that day. Even if the raindrops hadn’t been pelting the windows, blurring city and sky, she’d have known by the smell. Her lunch—cold sag aloo and something that was supposed to be tandoori chicken—sat on the table, untouched. Soren was still sitting across from her, his expression polite and alert as a Labrador retriever’s.

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