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?”
Thorsson patted her hand paternally, a move that irritated Bobbie more than it calmed her.
“The data doesn’t lie, Sergeant. The zone of radio blackout moved. And always at its center was the … thing. The Anomaly,” Thorsson said, then turned away from her to speak to the chubby guy and the redhead.
Bobbie sat back, feeling the energy move away from her in the room, like she was the one person at the dance without a date. But since Thorsson hadn’t dismissed her, she couldn’t just leave.
Redhead said, “Based on our radio loss data, that puts insertion here”—she pointed at something on the map—“and the path to the UN outpost is along this ridge.”
“What’s in that location?” Thorsson said with a frown.
Chubby pulled up a different map and pored over it for a few seconds.
“Looks like some old service tunnels for the dome’s hydro plant. This says they haven’t been used in decades.”
“So,” Thorsson said. “The kind of tunnels one might use to transport something dangerous that needs to be kept secret.”
“Yes,” Redhead said, “maybe they were delivering it to that Marine outpost and it got loose. The marines cut and ran when they saw it was out of control.”
Bobbie gave a dismissive laugh before she could stop herself.
“You have something to add, Sergeant Draper?” Thorsson said.
Thorsson was looking at her with his enigmatic smile, but Bobbie had worked with him long enough now to know that what he hated most was bullshit. If you spoke up, he wanted to make sure you actually had something useful to say. The two civilians were looking at her with surprise, as though she were a cockroach that had suddenly stood up on two legs and started speaking.
She shook her head.
“When I was a boot, you know what my drill sergeant said was the second most dangerous thing in the solar system, after a Martian Marine?”
The civvies continued to stare at her, but Thorsson nodded and mouthed the words along with her as she next spoke.
“A UN Marine.”
Chubby and Redhead shared a look and Redhead rolled her eyes for him. But Thorsson said, “So you don’t think the UN soldiers were running from something that got out of their control.”
“Not a f**king chance, sir.”
“Then give us your take on it.”
“That UN outpost was staffed by a full platoon of Marines. Same strength as our outpost. When they finally started running, there were six left. Six. They fought almost to the last man. When they ran to us, they weren’t trying to disengage. They were coming so we could help them continue the fight.”