Mark “Coop” Cooper
Location: Stewart-Benning Training Center, Earth, United Commonwealth of Colonies
“I can see it.”
“I can see it too,” Coop growled back.
Coop was hanging half-in and half-out of an access hatch in the floor of the barracks. Over the previous night and into this morning the temperature had risen ten degrees. Eve, being the squad leader in charge, radioed the situation up to SSG Cunningham and PO3 Janney.
<This isolation is fucking stupid,> Coop thought for the millionth time.
If it wasn’t bad enough that they were claustrophobically packed into an underground barracks, now the damned building was falling apart. This hadn’t been the first time one of the building’s systems had failed. In the middle of their first night of isolation the environmental system had totally shit a brick. Coop and the rest of Echo Company got a crash course in a “what to do if your ship had a hull-breach” situation.
“Helmets on, seal your CMUs, or you’re all going to freeze and swell up until you look like a giant marshmallow. Space is a bitch! It would make you look better, Davenport.” The SSG’s voice yelled over the communication’s system.
It felt like they were enduring the wrath of an angry God from on-high.
Coop knew that empty vacuum wasn’t waiting for him and his squad on the other side of the barracks door, but that didn’t fix the clear lack of air in the building. It didn’t matter if you were in space or on Earth, air was air. First squad had been detailed to fix the malfunction, and after twenty tense minutes they’d restored the system to working order. Now, three days later, something else had gone wrong.
“Reach a little farther and to the left.” Harper was just supposed to be holding the light for Coop, not backseat driving.
The female recruit never shut up.
“I can see it,” Coop repeated through gritted teeth.
For some reason a coil leading into a vat of blue liquid was singed. The part should be silver like the rest of the material surrounding the mechanism, but instead it was a charred black. Coop was trying to get a good angle to scan the miniature barcode on the coil, which was of course on the underside of the part and nearly impossible to get to.
“Any luck, Eve?” The squad leader was standing nearby looking through the technical manual on this particularly antiquated piece of technology. If they figured out what piece it was then they could bypass the scanning process and send the part ID in the TM up to the fabrication units on the surface. Those units could create anything from the raw material fed into them. They’d have a new part in a couple of minutes.
<Just need to figure out what fucking part it is.>
“Fucking piece of shit!” Coop swore as he failed for the fifth time to get the small scanning device into the correct position to scan.
“Let me do it, Coop.” Harper suggested.
Backing out of the access hatch and letting Harper take a crack at it would have been the smart thing to do. Over the last few days everyone in the company had gotten to know everyone else pretty well. You didn’t really have a choice when you were stuck together in a small space.
Everyone in the company knew Harper was good with her hands. Not only because she’d been able to fix multiple things, but also because rumors were going around about her after lights-out activities. Eighty-nine people alone underground was bound to bring some sexual tension. Despite the SSG’s cautionary tales about fraternization, Coop knew there wasn’t much the woman could do if she wasn’t down here.
Coop was also close enough to Harper’s bunk to hear the satisfied grunts of her customers. And they were customers. Harper didn’t please people for free. She took payment; which led to second squad having the best of everything down in this shit-hole. Of course, having the best of shit still meant you had shit.
Still, Coop couldn’t help but admire his squad member’s entrepreneurial spirit. He never would have guessed some rich girl from the ‘burbs would start getting handsy after a few days underground. The military was teaching him a lot about people, and how they reacted to getting dunked neck deep in the suck.
Coop was also starting to figure some stuff out about himself. Not all of it good.
The last few days had left Coop strung out. He hated being trapped underground, he hated having the SSG and PO3 yelling at everyone from whatever comfortable control room they were relaxing in, and he hated not being able to ask Harper for a favor. Technically he could, but that would be the end of his chances with Eve.
So he lashed out.
“Fuck off, Harper, go blow Davenport or something.”
Of all the things he could have said, saying Harper should go perform felacio on Davenport was probably the worst. The squad reject had been creeping on Harper hard since creeping on the girls in the shower, and her status as the nympho-queen hadn’t helped. She’d turned him down multiple times, and it wasn’t going over well.
“Fuck you, Cooper.” To make her point Harper punched him right in the hamstring.
Coop had never been punched in the hamstring before, but he now knew it hurt like hell.
“Son-of-a…” Coop jerked from the pain.
The jerk sent the scanner into the sidewall of the blue liquids container. It held for about half a second before it cracked and blue liquid spewed out.
Searing pain sped up Coop’s arm as he yelled and pulled his hand out of the way. But it was too late.
<Holy shit!> Coop felt the room begin to spin when he got a good look at his hand.
From his wrist to his first set of knuckles his skin was red and blotchy. All the hair was gone, and it throbbed in agony. That wasn’t the worst part. From his first pair of knuckles all the way to the tip of his fingers the rest of his skin was midnight black.
“Thisssss can’t be good.” Coop’s words began to slur and he didn’t know why.
“MEDIC!” Eve yelled as she dropped to his side and pulled his hand away from where he was cradling it to his chest.
“I feeeeel weird.” The room had progressed from a gentle spin to the whirl of an amusement park ride that’s sole mission was to make you puke.
“Hey, stay with me.” Eve slapped Coop’s face hard, but he barely felt it. The nothingness that had completely engulfed his hand was slowly spreading through his body.
“Oh my god…oh my god…oh my god.” Harper was standing a few meters away not-so-quietly freaking out.
“Keep your eyes open, Coop. Keep them open!” Eve did something out of sight, and it helped.
“I just gave you a shot of nanites. That should help until the medics get here.”
It did help. It helped Coop feel like hammered shit.
“Fuck.” The curse came out gurgled.
“Shit…shit…shit.” Eve sliced open the front of Coop’s CMUs with a surgeon’s precision. Coop didn’t even see where the knife came from.
“At least give me a kiss first.” Coop smiled, and then coughed.
He saw the flecks of red fly into the air.
“His lungs are filling up.” Eve tried to suppress a look of panic, but failed. Coop wasn’t far enough gone to know he was in some deep shit.
“Where the fuck is the medic?”
Time seemed to slow down after that. Eve kept talking to him, but the words blended together too much for him to understand. She shook him and slapped him some more, but whatever the nanites had done it had worn off.
<This is rich.> Coop had enough cognitive function to laugh at his situation. <If I knew I’d have died this quick I would have chosen the buttfuckin’ by Big Bubba.>
More coughs and more blood.
Coop lost consciousness just before the medics arrived.
“Rise and shine, Recruit!” A slap to the face snapped Coop out of the weird limbo his mind was in.
“What the shit was that for?” Coop cried out groggily, his limbs flailing in a futile effort to protect himself. They felt like rubber, and Coop barely had any control over them.
“What the shit was that for, Ma’am.”
Coop’s vision cleared enough to see that a woman was talking to him. A woman with a platinum stripe on the side of her CMUs.
“What…Where am I?” Wherever Coop was he wasn’t in the barracks.
The whole room was white, sterile, and smelled like disinfectants. Holoscreens hovered in the air all around his bed. A bed that was more comfortable than anything he’d ever slept in.
“You’re at the base hospital.” The woman answered without looking away from the large PAD in her hand. “You fucked up doing something.” She didn’t have the bedside manner Coop thought a doctor would. “Your skin absorbed a lethal amount of coolant. So do me a favor…”
“Um sure.” Coop mumbled when she waited for him to respond.
“…Whatever you were doing, don’t fucking do it again.” She gave him a hard stare and then left the room.
<That was comforting.> Coop was left to his own devices, but not for long.
“How are we feeling today?” Another woman entered, this one with two gold stripes.
Coop didn’t remember the rank, but there was only one way to address an officer. “Good, Ma’am.”
“That’s good.” The woman had a cute, heart-shaped face, a warm smile, and the attitude Coop expected from a doctor.
She pulled out her own large PAD and checked a few of the screens hovering in the air around him. “The medical nanites are doing their job perfectly.” She smiled at the good readings. “They’ve absorbed and pushed out most of the coolant, but don’t be surprised if your urine is blue for the next few days as they break down the rest of the toxins in your blood stream. “You’re lucky. The initial injection given to you right away saved your life.”
Coop didn’t know whether to feel grateful that Eve cared enough to save his life, or irritated that she’d rub it in his face for the rest of Basic.
The doctor put away her PAD but kept the warm smile. “You’re healthy enough for discharge, but you’ll be on light-duty for the next twenty-four hours.”
All Coop heard was “discharge”.
“Ugh…are you sure.” Coop gripped his stomach like he was in pain. “I’m still having some stomach pain, and I think I might puke.”
The woman gave Coop a look, like he’d been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “Nice try, Recruit. But if I keep you here any longer you’ll recycle into the next class and have to do isolation week all over again.”
Coop grimaced. He definitely didn’t want to have to do that.
“Your instructor will be by to collect you in twenty minutes.” And then, just like the ornery nurse, she was gone.
Twenty minutes later PO3 Janney arrived. Instead of running back to the barracks they took an open-top air -car.
“Why ya in such a good mood?” He asked when they arrived back at the empty plot that had once housed the barracks.
“No reason, Petty Officer. Just glad to be alive.”
There really was a reason besides continuing to breathe. Coop didn’t see it at first, but that doctor had let something slip. She’d said “isolation week”. After four days of shit, and another day in the hospital, that meant there were only two days left.
<I can do two days.>
Knowing that it was almost over made all the difference in the world.