As soon as Airman Rhodes reported for duty at the rear of the wash house he let his feelings be known. “Aw, shit. Eight hours with you?”
Airman Berd awkwardly flapped one hand in the air and forced a toothy smile. “Together again, huh Rhodes?”
It was painful enough folding freshly steamed laundry all shift, but having to do it alone with Berd was intolerable. “This isn’t a play date; we’re here to work. Got it?”
“Everyone’s here to work, Rhodes; it’s a military base.”
They worked together in silence for an hour or so, falling into an uncomfortable rhythm if alternately walking toward and away from each other as they matched up the corners of an endless supply of fitted sheets. But Berd was like a tea kettle, and after his lid had been shut too long he started to whistle, and pretty soon you couldn’t stop the words from spilling over.
“I’m just saying it would be nice to drill more. You don’t think so?”
“No, Berd. No one fucking thinks so. We’ve got PT six days a week as it is, and God knows we spend enough time in classroom. Volunteer for the front if that’s what you want.” Rhodes shoved his sheet corners hard into Berd’s shoulders.
“It’s not that. But we’re at war. Shouldn’t we be prepared?”
“Prepared for what, the clap? You know why we’re folding sheets? Because the admirals are sleeping easy. We’re not at Camp Omicron, we’re on Dodeca–HQ–safest place in the galaxy. The closest thing we’ll see to combat is fighting the shower for 30 more seconds of hot water.”
A fresh cart of sheets rolled through the passageway from the steam room. They passed another half hour in silence when the entire station shook without warning like an earthquake with hypothermia.
“What the hell was that? Think a cruiser busted an airlock?”
Dodeca shuddered again. “I don’t think so,” said Berd.
They both jumped at the sound of the intercom. “Battle stations. Battle stations. All hands. Dodeca is under siege. This is not a drill. Repeat, this is not a drill.”
Rhodes and Berd locked eyes, too stupefied to come to grips with the fact that they were already needed elsewhere.