The Bright Green Dot: Clothes
Posted By: 4642 Elitist Bastard<firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: 12 June 2009, 1:13 pm
Thursday, 31 August, 255206:10 Ship Internal Time UNSC Pillar of Autumn interstellar space via Slipstream
I dumped the tray on to the desk, and looked at the Chief. He was still out, lying statically on top of the covers like a corpse. His pale skin didn't help to make him look any more human: in fact, if his chest hadn't been slowly rising and falling, I would have probably felt compelled to go up and shake him awake, just to be safe.
I just hoped he woke up before the breakfast got cold. The croissants and eggs the food machines churned out were excellent, unless you left them for more than half an hour, in which case they tasted like latex substitutes. I'd also got him some coffee, because there was a mysterious absence of anything but dirty water or UNSC rationed lemonade, which had become known around the ship as 'carbonated piss'.
The name was relatively accurate.
I turned my head to face a sudden mewing noise, followed by a deep, repeated purring sound.
"Hello, Jonesy. What are you doing here?"
The cat slinked through the doorway, and threaded herself between my legs. Her beady eyes stared up at me, and her tail whooshed from side to side like a window wiper.
Gently, I bended down, and sat her in my left arm, stroking her under her chin with my fingers. She lifted her head in approval, before taking a brief sniff at the breakfast tray and turning her head in disgust. She was obviously one of those rare specimens who was averse to the effects of caffeine.
All of a sudden, Jonesy's eyes fixated on the Master Chief's sleeping form. Her ears became bat-like and pointy, and she ceased purring.
"What are you doing?" I said, like a suspicious parent to a child feigning innocence. The cat promptly ignored me, and pounced across the room, landing square in the middle of the Master Chief's chest.
The Spartan sprang out of the bed, making the mousetrap motion, flipping the cat on to the floor. Jonesy let out a terrified caterwaul, and darted out of the room, navigating her obstacles with the speed of a whippet but the elegance of a trashcan.
"Oh, god... Chief..." I muttered, as he leapt to his feet and followed the noise out of the room. I set off after him, but he'd already shot ahead.
"Chief! That was the cat!"
"That was the ship's cat, and she's been scared off now."
The Chief stopped, mid-run, setting both his feet back on the ground. The thud reverberated unusually loudly through the corridor.
Slowly, almost with a sense of disappointment, he turned around to face me. A pair of eyes, like two chestnut brown marbles, framed by an emotionless face and thick, bushy Vulcan eyebrows, pointed in my direction, and studied me intensely for a couple of seconds.
Finally, the lips parted slightly, and a deep, hoarse voice croaked an apology that was somehow typically terse but bizarrely verbose at the same time.
"I apologize for my error."
Well done, Chris, I chided myself, make him feel like even more of a pathetic failure.
In an attempt to repair the damage with a sticking plaster, I smiled, and exhaled through my nose in a muted chuckle gesture.
"Don't worry, Chief, it's not your fault. The cat was the one misbehaving."
The Chief said nothing, simply staring at me, blinking occasionally, a touch confused. I swore I could hear his breathing, slightly more strained or even tired than usual... but I was too far away.
"Come back in, I brought you some breakfast.... you'll also be wanting a shower." My mouth was making the trout motion again, so I quickly shut it.
The Spartan nodded once, and slowly re-entered my cabin. He picked up the tray, and examined its contents. Two croissants, a boiled egg, two slices of bacon, two sausages, a plastic knife and fork and a cup of coffee.
"I hope you don't mind coffee," I said, stupidly, "it was either that, water, or the carbonated piss they call lemonade."
The Chief ignored the recycled humor, and took the tray in both hands, sitting back down on his bed. He gave me a brief and silent nod of thanks, and started picking through the food with the little plastic knife and fork.
He looked a tiny bit better than he had last night: his face was less pale and skeletal, and the dark rings around his eyes had faded. However, he was still hardly an image of health: one of the bruises had turned an angry purple on his forehead, and his hair still looked uneven and messy.
The food was typically mixed in quality, the perfectly-boiled egg and plump croissant making up for the bacon, which, on contact with cutlery, appeared to disintegrate into the little wax chips that you melted down to make into mannequins or figures. The coffee was a little grainy, but far better than the stuff on my previous assignment.
I looked up. The Chief stood in front of me, towering upwards, an empty tray in his hands.
"Where does this need to go?"
The thought briefly crossed my mind that the Chief ''should'' know where used food trays went, but then I was reminded of the fact that MREs usually went straight into the recycler chamber.
"Don't worry, Chief," I said, abandoning my own tray and standing, "I'll take it down. You get on and have a shower, you look like you need it. I'll get you some clothes and a towel."
I took the tray from him, and he nodded once. His mouth remained completely neutral, his jaw clenched firmly, not betraying any kind of emotion.
I took the empty tray down to the lower deck, and dumped it into the chute. Eventually, if that reactor got repaired, the chamber could melt down the waste plastic and reconstitute it as spare clips and magazines. Not that they'd be any use: the plastic's quality was too poor for the reconstituted equipment to be any good.
Desperate times, however, called for desperate measures.
I fetched a clean towel and some fresh clothes for the Master Chief, and brought them back upstairs. There was a quiet hiss of running water coming from the next room, and the remains of a black body suit lay on the Chief's bed, scrunched into an untidy pile. I knocked on the door, slid it open, and stuck my head around.
"Chief, cloth my god!"
That was the first time I'd had a chance to fully evaluate the Master Chief's injuries. The skin on his torso and legs was even more pallid than that on his face and hands if that were even possible. Hundreds of faded scars gave an inconsistent, matted texture to it, and a dozen or so fresh bruises and welts were visible, carpeted across his body. One below the left nipple had turned an angry, raging red color, and a green pool of color around it indicated that it was almost certainly infected.
"Is there a problem?" the Chief said, quietly.
"Are you sure you're OK? Those look nasty."
"I'll be fine."
"I can wake a doctor from cryosleep if you want. They won't mind," I lied.
"No, thank you. I can deal with it."
"Right... OK." I hurriedly dropped the clothes on the cabinet and left, muttering something like "let me know if you need anything" so quietly it was probably inaudible.
I swore the Chief looked embarrassed. His face never gave anything away... but there were a few very subtle indicators. A slight increase in the saturation of the red in the cheeks, the widening of the eyes by a tiny amount... I could probably have even said he looked like he was feeling self-conscious.
The extent of the injuries were also something I hadn't been prepared for. I'd never noticed anything... although thinking back, it made sense. He had been walking with a barely-noticeable limp, which I'd dismissed as a figment of my imagination. I'd also noticed the bruises on his face, although those paled into insignificance when I took into account the contusions on the rest of him.
I re-opened the letter I'd sent to Carrie last night.
One thing's for sure: he's not the fearless, confident soldier everyone thinks he is. He's a weary, tired soldier who needs a break. Not that he will
I doubt this message will even clear the censor.
I'd certainly been right there. Feeling slightly helpless, I closed the file and went back to work.