Chubby picked a leather satchel up off the floor and started rummaging in it. Redhead watched, as though what he was doing was far more interesting than anything Bobbie had to say.
“If this were some secret UN thing that those Marines were tasked to deliver or protect, they wouldn’t have come. They’d have died doing it rather than abandon their mission. That’s what we would have done.”
“Thank you,” Thorsson said.
“I mean, it wasn’t even our fight, and we fought to the last marine to stop that thing. You think the UN Marines would do less?”
“Thank you, Sergeant,” Thorsson said again, louder. “I tend to agree, but we have to explore all possibilities. Your comments are noted.”
Chubby finally found what he was looking for. A small plastic box of mints. He took one out, then held the box out to Redhead to take one. The sickly sweet smell of spearmint filled the air. Around a mouthful of mint, Chubby said, “Yes, thank you, Sergeant. I think we can proceed here without taking up more of your time.”
Bobbie stood up, snapped another salute at Thorsson, and left the room. Her heart was going fast. Her jaw ached where she was grinding her teeth.
Civvies didn’t get it. No one did.
When Captain Martens came into the cargo bay, Bobbie had just finished disassembling the gun housing on her combat suit’s right arm. She removed the three-barrel Gatling gun from its mount and placed it on the floor next to the two dozen other parts she’d already stripped off. Next to them sat a can of gun cleaner and a bottle of lubricant, along with the various rods and brushes she’d use to clean the parts.
Martens waited until she had the gun on the cleaning mat, then sat down on the floor next to her. She attached a wire brush to the end of one of the cleaning rods, dipped it in the cleaner, and began running the brush through the gun, one barrel at a time. Martens watched.
After a few minutes, she replaced the brush with a small cloth and swabbed the remaining cleanser out of the barrels. Then a fresh cloth soaked in gun lubricant to oil them. When she was applying lube to the complex mesh of gears that composed the Gatling mechanism and ammo feed system, Martens finally spoke.
“You know,” he said, “Thorsson is naval intelligence right from the start. Straight into officer training, top of his class at the academy, and first posting at fleet command. He’s never done anything but be an intelligence wonk. The last time he fired a gun was his six weeks as a boot, twenty years ago. He’s never led a fire team. Or served in a combat platoon.”
“That,” Bobbie said, putting down her lubricant then standing up to put the gun back together, “is a fascinating story. I really appreciate you sharing it.”
“So,” Martens continued, not missing a beat. “How f**ked up do you have to be before Thorsson starts asking me if maybe you aren’t a little shell-shocked?”
Bobbie dropped the wrench she was holding, but caught it with her other hand before it could hit the deck.
“Is this an official visit? Because if not, you can f—”
“Me now? I’m not a wonk,” Martens said. “I’m a marine. Ten years as an enlisted man before I was offered OCS. Got dual degrees in psychology and theology.”
The end of Bobbie’s nose itched, and she scratched it without thinking. The sudden smell of gun oil let her know that she’d just rubbed lubricant all over her face. Martens glanced at it but didn’t stop talking. She tried to drown him out by putting the gun together as noisily as possible.
“I’ve done combat drills, CQB training, war games,” he said, speaking a little louder. “Did you know I was a boot at the same camp where your father was first sergeant? Sergeant Major Draper is a great man. He was like a god to us boots.”
Bobbie’s head snapped up and her eyes narrowed. Something about this headshrinker acting like he knew her father felt dirty.
“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.
“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.