It didn’t look like a hospital to Mei. It looked like one of the abandoned tubes that Daddy talked about sometimes. Leftover spaces from when Ganymede had first been built that no one used anymore except as storage. This one had a kind of airlock at the end, though, and when they passed through it, things looked a little more like a hospital. They were cleaner, anyway, and there was the smell of ozone, like in the decontamination cells.
“Mei! Hi, Mei!”
It was one of the big boys. Sandro. He was almost five. Mei waved at him as Doctor Strickland walked past. Mei felt better knowing the big boys were here too. If they were, then it was probably okay, even if the woman walking with Doctor Strickland wasn’t her mommy. Which reminded her …
“We’re going to go see Mommy in just a few minutes,” Doctor Strickland said. “We just have a couple more little things we need to do first.”
“No,” Mei said. “I don’t want that.”
He carried her into a room that looked a little like an examination room, only there weren’t any cartoon lions on the walls, and the tables weren’t shaped like grinning hippos. Doctor Strickland put her onto a steel examination table and rubbed her head. Mei crossed her arms and scowled.
“I want Mommy,” Mei said, and made the same impatient grunt that Daddy would.
“Well, you just wait right here, and I’ll see what I can do about that,” Doctor Strickland said with a smile. “Umea?”
“I think we’re good to go. Check with ops, load up, and let’s release it.”
“I’ll go let them know. You stay here.”
The woman nodded, and Doctor Strickland walked back out the door. The woman looked down at her, the pretty face not smiling at all. Mei didn’t like her.
“I want my painting,” Mei said. “That’s not for you. That’s for Mommy.”
The woman looked at the painting in her hand as if she’d forgotten it was there. She unrolled it.
“It’s Mommy’s space monster,” Mei said. This time, the woman smiled. She held out the painting, and Mei snatched it away. She made some wrinkles in the paper when she did, but she didn’t care. She crossed her arms again and scowled and grunted.
“You like space monsters, kid?” the woman asked.
“I want my mommy.”
The woman stepped close. She smelled like fake flowers and her fingers were skinny. She lifted Mei down to the floor.
“C’mon, kid,” she said. “I’ll show you something.”
The woman walked away and for a moment Mei hesitated. She didn’t like the woman, but she liked being alone even less. She followed. The woman walked down a short hallway, punched a key-code into a big metal door, like an old-fashioned airlock, and walked through when the door swung open. Mei followed her. The new room was cold. Mei didn’t like it. There wasn’t an examination table here, just a big glass box like they kept fish in at the aquarium, only it was dry inside, and the thing sitting there wasn’t a fish. The woman motioned Mei closer and, when Mei came near, knocked sharply on the glass.
The thing inside looked up at the sound. It was a man, but he was naked and his skin didn’t look like skin. His eyes glowed blue like there was a fire in his head. And something was wrong with his hands.
He reached toward the glass, and Mei started screaming.
Chapter One: Bobbie
Snoopy’s out again,” Private Hillman said. “I think his CO must be pissed at him.”
Gunnery Sergeant Roberta Draper of the Martian Marine Corps upped the magnification on her armor’s heads-up display and looked in the direction Hillman was pointing. Twenty-five hundred meters away, a squad of four United Nations Marines were tromping around their outpost, backlit by the giant greenhouse dome they were guarding. A greenhouse dome identical in nearly all respects to the dome her own squad was currently guarding.
One of the four UN Marines had black smudges on the sides of his helmet that looked like beagle ears.
“Yep, that’s Snoopy,” Bobbie said. “Been on every patrol detail so far today. Wonder what he did.”
Guard duty around the greenhouses on Ganymede meant doing what you could to keep your mind occupied. Including speculating on the lives of the Marines on the other side.
The other side. Eighteen months before, there hadn’t been sides. The inner planets had all been one big, happy, slightly dysfunctional family. Then Eros, and now the two superpowers were dividing up the solar system between them, and the one moon neither side was willing to give up was Ganymede, breadbasket of the Jovian system.
As the only moon with any magnetosphere, it was the only place where dome-grown crops stood a chance in Jupiter’s harsh radiation belt, and even then the domes and habitats still had to be shielded to protect civilians from the eight rems a day burning off Jupiter and onto the moon’s surface.
Bobbie’s armor had been designed to let a soldier walk through a nuclear bomb crater minutes after the blast. It also worked well at keeping Jupiter from frying Martian Marines.
Behind the Earth soldiers on patrol, their dome glowed in a shaft of weak sunlight captured by enormous orbital mirrors. Even with the mirrors, most terrestrial plants would have died, starved of sunlight. Only the heavily modified versions the Ganymede scientists cranked out could hope to survive in the trickle of light the mirrors fed them.
“Be sunset soon,” Bobbie said, still watching the Earth Marines outside their little guard hut, knowing they were watching her too. In addition to Snoopy, she spotted the one they called Stumpy because he or she couldn’t be much over a meter and a quarter tall. She wondered what their nickname for her was. Maybe Big Red. Her armor still had the Martian surface camouflage on it. She hadn’t been on Ganymede long enough to get it resurfaced with mottled gray and white.
One by one over the course of five minutes, the orbital mirrors winked out as Ganymede passed behind Jupiter for a few hours. The glow from the greenhouse behind her changed to actinic blue as the artificial lights came on. While the overall light level didn’t go down much, the shadows shifted in strange and subtle ways. Above, the sun—not even a disk from here as much as the brightest star—flashed as it passed behind Jupiter’s limb, and for a moment the planet’s faint ring system was visible.
“They’re going back in,” Corporal Travis said. “Snoop’s bringing up the rear. Poor guy. Can we bail too?”