“You have to understand how these things work,” Thorsson said, turning away from her and fiddling with his terminal. “Politics moves slow because the stakes are very high, and no one wants to be the person that screwed it up.”
He put his terminal down and gave her a wink. “Careers are at stake here.”
Thorsson just nodded and tapped on his terminal some more.
For a moment, she was on her back, staring up into the star-filled void above Ganymede. Her men were dead or dying. Her suit radio dead, her armor a frozen coffin. She saw the thing’s face. Without a suit in the radiation and hard vacuum, the red snowfall of flash-frozen blood around its claws. And no one at this table wanted to talk about it because it might affect their careers?
To hell with that.
When the meeting’s attendees had shuffled back into the room and taken their places around the table, Bobbie raised her hand. She felt faintly ridiculous, like a fifth-grade student in a room full of adults, but she had no idea what the actual protocol for asking a question was. The agenda reader shot her one annoyed glance, then ignored her. Thorsson reached under the table and sharply squeezed her leg.
She kept her hand up.
“Excuse me?” she said.
People around the table took turns giving her increasingly unfriendly looks and then pointedly turning away. Thorsson upped the pressure on her leg until she’d had enough of him and grabbed his wrist with her other hand. She squeezed until the bones creaked and he snatched his hand away with a surprised gasp. He turned his chair to look at her, his eyes wide and his mouth a flat, lipless line.
Yellow-sari placed a hand on the agenda reader’s arm, and he instantly stopped talking. Okay, that one is the boss, Bobbie decided.
“I, for one,” Grandma said, smiling a mild apology at the room, “would like to hear what Sergeant Draper has to say.”
She remembers my name, Bobbie thought. That’s interesting.
“Sergeant?” Grandma said.
Bobbie, unsure of what to do, stood up.
“I’m just wondering why no one is talking about the monster.”
Grandma’s enigmatic smile returned. No one spoke. The silence slid adrenaline into Bobbie’s blood. She felt her legs starting to tremble. More than anything in the world, she wanted to sit down, to make them all forget her and look away.
She scowled and locked her knees.
“You know,” Bobbie said, her voice rising, but she was unable to stop it. “The monster that killed fifty soldiers on Ganymede? The reason we’re all here?”
The room was silent. Thorsson stared at her like she had lost her mind. Maybe she had. Grandma tugged once at her yellow sari and smiled encouragement.
“I mean,” Bobbie said, holding up the agenda, “I’m sure trade agreements and water rights and who gets to screw who on the second Thursday after the winter solstice is all very important!”
She stopped to suck in a long breath, the gravity and her tirade seeming to have robbed her of air. She could see it in their eyes. She could see that if she just stopped now, she’d be an odd thing that happened and everyone could go back to work and quickly forget her. She could see her career not crashing off a cliff in flames.
She discovered that she didn’t care.
“But,” she said, throwing the agenda across the table, where a surprised man in a brown suit dodged it as though its touch might infect him with whatever Bobbie had, “what about the f**king monster?”
Before she could continue, Thorsson popped up from his seat.
“Excuse me for a moment, ladies and gentlemen. Sergeant Draper is suffering from some post-combat-related stress and needs attention.”
He grabbed her elbow and drove her from the room, a rising wave of murmurs pushing at their backs. Thorsson stopped in the conference room’s lobby and waited for the door to shut behind him.
“You,” Thorsson said, shoving her toward a chair. Normally the skinny intelligence officer couldn’t have pushed her anywhere, but all the strength seemed to have run out of her legs, and she collapsed into the seat.
“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.