“You,” he repeated. Then, to someone on his terminal, he said, “Get down here, now.”

“You,” he said a third time, pointing at Bobbie, then paced back and forth in front of her chair.

A few minutes later, Captain Martens came trotting into the conference room lobby. He pulled up short when he saw Bobbie slouched in her chair and Thorsson’s angry face.

“What—” he started, but Thorsson cut him off.

“This is your fault,” he said to Martens, then spun to face Bobbie. “And you, Sergeant, have just proven that it was a monumental mistake to bring you along. Any benefit that might have been gained from having the only eyewitness has now been squandered by your … your idiotic tirade.”

“She—” Martens tried again, but Thorsson poked a finger into his chest and said, “You said you could control her.”

Martens gave Thorsson a sad smile.

“No, I never said that. I said I could help her given enough time.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Thorsson said, waving a hand at them. “You’re both on the next ship to Mars, where you can explain yourselves to a disciplinary board. Now get out of my sight.”

He spun on his heel and slipped back into the conference room, opening the door only wide enough for his narrow body to squeeze through.

Martens sat down in the chair next to Bobbie and let out a long breath.

“So,” he said. “What’s up?”

“Did I just destroy my career?” she asked.

“Maybe. How do you feel?”

“I feel …” she said, realizing how badly she did want to talk with Martens, and becoming angered by the impulse. “I feel like I need some air.”

Before Martens could protest, Bobbie stood up and headed for the elevators.

The UN complex was a city in its own right. Just finding a way out took her the better part of an hour. Along the way, she moved through the chaos and energy of government like a ghost. People hurried past her in the long corridors, talking energetically in clumps or on their hand terminals. Bobbie had never been to Olympia, where the Martian congressional building was located. She’d caught a few minutes of congressional sessions on the government broadcast when an issue she cared about was being discussed, but compared to the activity here at the UN, it was pretty low-key. The people in this building complex governed thirty billion citizens and hundreds of millions of colonists. By comparison, Mars’ four billion suddenly seemed like a backwater.

On Mars, it was a generally accepted fact that Earth was a civilization in decay. Lazy, coddled citizens who lived on the government dole. Fat, corrupt politicians who enriched themselves at the expense of the colonies. A degrading infrastructure that spent close to 30 percent of its total output on recycling systems to keep the population from drowning in its own filth. On Mars, there was virtually no unemployment. The entire population was engaged either directly or indirectly in the greatest engineering feat in human history: the terraforming of a planet. It gave everyone a sense of purpose, a shared vision of the future. Nothing like the Earthers, who lived only for their next government payout and their next visit to the drugstore or entertainment malls.

Or at least, that was the story. Suddenly Bobbie wasn’t so sure.

Repeated visits to the various information kiosks scattered through the complex eventually got her to an exit door. A bored guard nodded to her as she passed by, and then she was outside.

Outside. Without a suit.

Five seconds later she was clawing at the door, which she now realized was an exit only, trying to get back in. The guard took pity on her and pushed the door open. She ran back inside and collapsed on a nearby settee, gasping and hyperventilating.

“First time?” the guard asked with a smile.

Bobbie found herself unable to speak, but nodded.

“Mars or Luna?”

“Mars,” she said once her breathing had slowed.

“Yeah, I knew it. Domes, you know. People who’ve been in domes just panic a bit. Belters lose their shit. And I mean completely. We wind up shipping them home drugged up to keep them from screaming.”

“Yeah,” Bobbie said, happy to let the guard ramble while she collected herself. “No kidding.”

“They bring you in when it was dark outside?”


“They do that for offworlders. Helps with the agoraphobia.”


“I’ll hold the door open a bit for you. In case you need to come back in again.”

The assumption that she’d give it a second try instantly won Bobbie over, and she actually looked at the guard for the first time. Earther short, but with beautiful skin so dark it was almost blue. He had a compact, athletic frame and lovely gray eyes. He was smiling at her without a trace of mockery.

“Thank you,” she said. “Bobbie. Bobbie Draper.”

“Chuck,” he replied. “Look at the ground, then slowly look to the horizon. Whatever you do, don’t look straight up.”

“I think I got it this time, Chuck, but thanks.”

Chuck gave her uniform a quick glance and said, “Semper fi, Gunny.”

“Oohrah,” Bobbie replied with a grin.

On her second trip outside, she did as Chuck had recommended and looked down at the ground for a few moments. This helped reduce the feeling of massive sensory overload. But only a little. A thousand scents hit her nose, competing for dominance. The rich aroma of plants and soil she would expect in a garden dome. The oil and hot metal from a fabrication lab. The ozone of electric motors. All of them hit her at once, layered on top of each other and mixed with scents too exotic to name. And the sounds were a constant cacophony. People talking, construction machinery, electric cars, a transorbital shuttle lifting off, all at once and all the time. It was no wonder it had caused a panic. Just two senses’ worth of data threatened to overwhelm her. Add that impossibly blue sky that stretched on forever …

Bobbie stood outside, eyes closed, breathing until she heard Chuck let the door close behind her. Now she was committed. Turning around and asking Chuck to let her back in would be admitting defeat. He’d clearly done some time in the UNMC, and she wasn’t going to look weak in front of the competition. Hell no.

When her ears and nose had gotten more accustomed to the barrage of inputs, she opened her eyes again, looking down at the concrete of the walkway. Slowly, she lifted them till the horizon was in view. Ahead of her lay long sidewalks passing through meticulously tended green space. Beyond it in the distance was a gray wall that must have stood ten meters high, with guard towers regularly spaced on it. The UN complex had a surprising amount of security. She wondered if she’d be able to get out.

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