<Appear at med bay 30 min before shift change.>
The message was signed doctor Eira, and was flashing at his wristband when the wake up call sounded. Haylen sent his affirmative before he even began to wonder on why she wanted to see him. It wasn’t exactly uncommon for him to be called to the med bay, right.
They should have docked at the shuttle station over UC01 during the night, and before breakfast, team 2 would sign on and officially go on duty while team 1 would resign from combat duty and prepare for shore leave. The hours between breakfast and lunch had cleaning up and storage shifting on the schedule.
As a Tyrian Tank, Haylen had gotten used to bring all equipment wherever he went, since they could never be sure they’d be picked up where they were dropped, or vice versa. The Union Task Forces, however, went on shorter missions and the ship was their permanent base. Therefore, all the armor sets, spacesuits, breathing equipment and weapons were stored onboard.
It meant that a lot of the ship space was occupied, but it was either that or have each soldier carry it all back and forth every time they left or boarded the ship.
To share equipment would have solved the storage issue partly, but that had been ruled out. Not that it wasn’t adjustable; most equipment was possible to program, calibrate or physically match each individual. Strict hygiene routines made it possible to share equipment with others as well. However, the storage requirements was justified by the decreased risk of soldiers losing items on the go, involuntarily or not.
As Haylen got out of bed and began to get dressed, the answer to why doctor Eira had called him in occurred to him. Putting your pants on shouldn’t leave you completely out of breath, and swallowing shouldn’t feel as if you had a cactus in your throat, right. Clearly, it was a kryvat surge on the rise.
The Praesidia company physician had prescripted one type of immune system affecting medicine that he said had been used successfully for years to keep relapses at bay on a lot of kryvat struck people. It had worked well for Haylen too, so far. It still meant a week or so out of action every time he had a surge, but it was bearable. Not anywhere near the hell it had been the first time after he caught it.
Only doctor Eira had told him to stop taking that medicine a couple of weeks ago, since she wanted to study the kryvat process properly in order to find a better treatment. He hadn’t argued, especially not after she pointed out the potential risk of serious infections that he, due to this particular medication, might not even notice until they killed him.
The prickling sensation in his nose, eyes, and throat quickly grew more intense as he and the rest of the team went to the canteen for breakfast. As they took care of the usual daily chores of tidying up sleeping quarters, toilets and washrooms, he could tell this surge would be extra all.
– – –
Haylen found doctor Eira at the medbay on scheduled time, lecturing Tianyi over her arm. Tianyi rolled her eyes at Haylen as she put her jacket on, which of course the doctor saw.
“You’ll thank me when you’re ninety and still can do push ups, private”, the doctor said sharply, then waved Haylen inside.
“Who says I even want to live that long, doc?” Tianyi grinned, closed the zipper and left the infirmary.
Doctor Eira sighed and went to wash her hands. “Alright, corporal, are you completely sure it’s a kryvat relapse?” She turned to him as she dried her hands with a cloth, nodding for him to sit down at the examination table.
“Yeah, pretty sure”, he said with a sniffle, reaching for one of the tissues he for once had remembered to put in his side pocket before going here.
“That’s great.” She smiled and picked up a scope. “Not that you’re ill of course, but that I got the chance to see at least the start of it first hand. Pity you can’t stay on board, or I’d have a great opportunity to study it. Now, let’s take a look at you. Take off your jacket please.”
He did as he was told. Without the jacket, he soon began to shiver. It wasn’t even noon, and he already had chills.
The doctor did an ordinary physical exam and took some samples, before presenting an inhalation mask for him.
“Now”, she began to explain, “I will prep you with nanobots via this inhalation powder and eye drops. These nanobots will attach to the membranes and send information to a receiver that I will place in your multiport. You already have implants that analyzes everything that goes on in your body and then some, but this system is dedicated to this specific task. First take a breath through your mouth only, hold your breath for five seconds, then breathe out properly and repeat but through your nose only.”
The powder had a weird taste and smell, he noticed, despite not being able to neither taste nor smell much at all at this stage. Doctor Eira applied the eye drops as well and the world got a little hazier for a while.
“And now for the receiver”, the doctor continued. She pressed an injector tool at the multiport that was integrated on his forearm, close to the crook of the arm. It was a permanent implant that most soldiers had to make medical treatment easier and safer.
“There we go.” The doctor gave his arm a quick pat and took the tool away.
Haylen started to cough and hoped that those nanobots were holding on properly. Meanwhile doctor Eira went to a cupboard and fetched a medicine package that she placed beside him on the examination table.
“Cold remedies. Use them as you please, as long as you make notes on what, when, and how much.”
“Got it.” He sniffled and put his jacket on again.
“I also want you to take notes on your symptoms. Not body temperature or pulse or anything else that your implants already keep track of, but what symptoms you experience when and how intense they are.”
She looked at him more sternly. “And when I say notes, corporal, I mean real notes. Not the ‘I feel fine’ or ‘I feel less fine’ kind of observations that you jarheads tend to come up with. I want details. Is that clear?”
“Yes doctor.” He felt less fine now.
She peered at him. “You really have to blow your nose again, don’t you?”
He lifted his chin a little. “Yeah. I really do.”
“Off with you then. And if you have to take a break from all that deck swabbing, you have my permission.”
– – –
Team 2 should have boarded half an hour or so before breakfast, but it wasn’t until the time of the shift change that they finally arrived. As the officers hadn’t appeared yet, the teams waited in the training hall where they were to gather for the shift change.
Haylen took the opportunity to sit down at the wall, leaning his head back at it; his nose was getting too stuffy to breathe through, but it was still as runny as before, so tilting his head back reduced the persisting sniffling somewhat.
“What took you so long, Simone’s oatmeal isn’t good enough for you anymore?” Keith asked Hiroshi as the scout of team 2 irritatedly tossed his backpack at the wall.
“Ask the fuckers in security control. Oh wait, they unfortunately can’t give any information on the current situation”, he added with obvious sarcasm.
“Me and Jiwe met Santo at the base hospital the other day”, Jamal, sniper of team 2, said to Roz as he closed buttons and zippers on his uniform to look proper for the line up, “and Jiwe betted five coins on him being delirious. Please say I win this bet.”
“Congratulations, you just earned five coins”, Roz replied, but she didn’t seem to find the subject as amusing as Jamal and Jiwe, the team 2 medic.
The buzz in the hall didn’t exactly help with Haylen’s growing headache, and his neck was soon protesting against the tilted back position. He leaned his forehead in his hand instead, and so the sniffling was on again.
“Hey, are you ill?” Olena looked at Haylen with concern after giving Rashida a quick hug.
“Wait, what, who’s ill?” Sheng sounded alarmed as his attention snapped to Olena and then Haylen.
Haylen just shook his head dismissively. “Kryvat surge”, he said and stood up to get more tissues from the sink at the wall, sneezing again as he did.
“Because I really don’t want to get sick this tour too”, Sheng continued and moved a few steps away.
“Calm your cogs, Sheng”, Keith said, “it’s not contagious, even to those who deserve it.”
“Maybe you should go lie down”, Olena suggested, ignoring Sheng.
Cory, who was standing nearby as well, said teasingly: “Oh you’d love to help him lie down, wouldn’t you?”
“I definitely would, and you know it”, she replied, unembarrassed, and looked at Haylen again. “But seriously, you look terrible.”
“I’ll manage,” Haylen mumbled and blew his nose.
“Maybe he’s allergic to your approaches”, Cory continued his mocking.
“Just because you can’t handle them it doesn’t mean that other people can’t, my babe.”
They were all interrupted by captain Avril’s sharp “Attention!” and they lined up in their respective teams. The captain gave Haylen one single look, then told him that he could sit down whenever he needed.
The commander was there as well, standing before them with her usual look of confidence and satisfaction. After a brief report on the last tours ups and downs, and the official hand-over between the teams had been made, she got the final word before the teams continued their various duties.
“Team 1, I regret to inform you that your teammate, private Santo, isn’t likely to come back to this ship as a combat soldier again.”
There were scattered disappointed sighs and frustrated curses heard among the soldiers. Losing a team member at some point, in some way or another, was unavoidable in their trade. That didn’t mean there weren’t any reactions to it.
Commander Nihad looked at the soldiers of team 1 and 3 in turns and continued: “But, thanks to your efforts, he is alive and recovering. I will do what I can to find a decent replacement for him until next tour, or you’ll have to suffice with borrowed team 2 members.”
She winked at captain Lace, who only looked at her with raised eyebrows and inclined chin.
Commander Nihad lastly looked at Tianyi, Leon and Haylen. “Recruits, you survived your first tour on the UGS Ignis. Congratulations. Well done.”
She saluted them all, and the soldiers returned the salutation. Haylen was happy he hadn’t given in to captain Avril’s offer to sit down yet.
“Alright, slackers, get a move on”, captain Avril said as the commander left the training hall. “I want to leave this piece of junk in time to catch the 12:30 shuttle this time.”
– – –
The last two hours before lunch were as bad as predicted earlier that morning. Haylen couldn’t stop sneezing and Tianyi couldn’t stop laughing at him. The cold remedies doctor Eira had provided him with took the edge of it, but that was it. His head and neck felt as stuffed with expanding sealing foam, his back ached, and everytime he moved, his pulse raced and he was out of breath in no time. He didn’t need to check his wristband to know he had a fever.
The others made sure he only had to take care of his own gear, but even if he personally had to fill in the checklist and lock everything up, they helped him carry it.
“I can do this”, he tried to protest as Morgan took the space suit box from him. This felt more and more stupid.
But Morgan pointed out that it took him twice the time to carry half the amount of equipment from changing rooms to storage, so there wasn’t really any other option than to surrender. “Besides, your lungs sound as if they’re torn apart when you cough, so consider this me saving your life in return.”
The teams had just sat down to have lunch when a prio 3 alarm went off. That meant that team 3, who were now on prim duty, had time to finish their food before they needed to gear up, but they still hurried up in case that prio level went up a notch. It wasn’t very common with alarms going off when the ship was docked, since there was usually one or two ships in the area just outside orbit, but it happened. Perhaps backup was needed somewhere.
“I bet we’ll get to know more details about the security hold up now”, Keith pointed out.
“Don’t keep your hopes up”, Hiroshi commented sourly.
As soon as team 3 had left to get ready, things calmed down in the canteen. Haylen was leaning his head in his hand, trying to force himself to eat the last on his plate. It was rather painful to swallow. It had taken him three or four more attempts to convince Sheng that he didn’t have a flu or a cold that could be passed on. Still, everytime he coughed or sneezed, the other soldier had given him wary looks.
“I got to say”, Nethan said with a teasing smile, “for a guy your size who looks like a poster boy for the Federation death squads, you have a surprisingly cute sneeze.”
Haylen rubbed his eyes with a sniffle. “Can’ all sound like crazed scale bears, eh…” he mumbled, which made Tianyi burst out in laughter.
Nethan looked at her, eyebrow raised. “Are you one to laugh? Who sound like an angry marmot?”
Tianyi began to protest, but then Felicia came back from wherever she had been.
“Hey team”, she said as she sat down, interrupting the bickering. “I just talked to Santo, and we can go to Sol’s Ward base to see him right after we land. Me and Morgan’s going, who’s with us?”
“Hell yeah”, said Keith.
“Me too”, said Tianyi, “as long as I got time to buy a candy bag for him first.”
“And roll the candies in dust first?” Morgan said.
Tianyi aimed a punch his way that he dodged mainly by leaning back. He was sitting on the other side of the table after all.
“How about you nottiners?” Felicia asked.
Haylen only shook his head and, as on cue, started to cough. If he was to visit Santo, he’d rather do it together with the rest than on his own, but contagious or not, he had learned the hard way not to do anything more than absolutely needed during a surge.
“Okay, stupid question”, Felicia noted and looked at Leon.
“I’m goin’ wit’im to Nineteen”, Leon said, and Haylen realized that he meant him.
“What, you goin’ babysit me?”
“Doc’s orders, not goin’ argue, kin.” Leon scraped his plate clean, unbothered.
“Had enough surges to know how to deal wit’em, eh.”
“Read enough journals to know you fail at times too, eh.” Leon looked at him with a sly smirk.
Haylen gave him what he hoped was a dark look. It was probably more bloodshot though.
“Ey”, Leon said and raised his hand in defence, “she wanted you in hospital care, dis be de result of me negotiatin’ for you. Dat, an’ you’ll get t’rough security easier wit’ a personal medic.”
Leon winked at him. Haylen reluctantly realized that he had a point. He hadn’t travelled with public transits during a surge in a while, but he had learned that even if he had a note on his ID with information about the kryvat, the restrictions and precautions about travellers with infections were enough to overrule any medical note if the security guards were in that mood.
– – –
There was still delays at the shuttle station, but also still no real information about what caused it. Keith’s assumption it had something to do with the alarm earlier wasn’t too far fetched though; they caught a glimpse of team 3 crossing the arrival hall further away in a hurried manner. At least it got Tianyi plenty of time to go buy candy for Santo.
Xander, who was also going on shore leave apparently, sat down next to Haylen on one of the benches in the waiting hall, careful as if he didn’t want to disturb.
“Are you going to the base after free week?” he asked, stroking an escaped strand of deep red hair behind his ear. Since he too was in a uniform, he wore his hair in a ponytail.
“Yeah”, Haylen answered, clearing his throat, “got some training, then some theoreticals to do.”
Hayle had to look at the TR to see if he was serious or not. Xander looked like he meant it one hundred percent.
“If you be a fan of theoreticals.”
Xander looked back puzzled, then snickered and ran a hand over his head. “I’ll be there too, there’s a couple of new systems that all TR:s are to be educated in, and, I was thinking that I might as well take the opportunity to practise my weapon skills at the same time.”
Xander paused to breath. Haylen hoped the itch in his nose would vanish.
“So I was wondering if you might have the time to give me a lesson. If you want to, of course.”
The question surprised him, but not in a bad way. “Shooting lesson, you mean?” Maybe it was a stupid question, but Haylen really didn’t felt at his brightest right now.
“Yes. I mean, I know what end to point at the target and what part to squeeze and all that, but I need some hints on the aiming and such.”
“Yeah, sure. I’ll…-” Haylen interrupted himself as he felt the urge to sneeze, but all that happened eventually was that his eyes teared up and his nose began to run again. He groaned silently and pulled a tissue from his backpack, wishing that the kryvat could have the fucking decency to lay off for five full minutes.
“I’m sorry”, Xander said all of a sudden, “this honestly can wait until you feel better.”
Haylen just shrugged, flipping his schedule up on the wristband. “I’ll feel better next week, so… Pick a time.”
Xander leaned closer and looked at the schedule. He pointed. “Would this work for you?” He looked at Haylen, blinked and leaned back a little, apparently surprised how close he was. At least Haylen hoped it was that, and not him looking too repulsive right now.
“Sure”, he said, and put ‘shooting session’ on the schedule, sending an invitation to Xander before another strong itch required another tissue. “Got it?” he asked once he was done wiping his eyes and nose.
“Yes, thank you.”
Haylen looked at the wristband chart. “I’ll send you my private tag too. I mute the AF one when I’m off duty, so…”
“Oh that’s… That’s great, thank you”, Xander said, stumbling slightly on the words as he confirmed the request.
“Doesn’t mean we’re engaged or anything”, Haylen said and closed the wristband. “That was a joke, Dots”, he added as he noticed Xander’s baffled look.
Xander blinked. And, of course, blushed. “I know”, he said, trying to sound convincing, but gave an awkward little laugh.
Haylen smirked, then had to quickly turn away because this time, he actually did start sneezing.
A few minutes later, the shuttle to Nineteen finally opened for boarding, and Haylen and Leon headed for the gates. Time for his first shore leave as a soldier in a very long time. And all that free time would be wasted on him because of the damn kryvat.