Private Damon Baird silently shut the door behind him and flipped the light switch. A single naked bulb on the ceiling flickered to life, flooding the bunk with yellow light. Crinkling his nose against the stale air, Baird surveyed his new home. The room approximated a water closet in both size and cleanliness. A rusted metal bed frame cast grotesque shadows on the wall, and a lumpy mattress sagged in the corner. A dull mirror solemnly decorated the far wall. Scowling, Baird kicked the frame. It screeched across the floor on two legs and thudded on the back wall. The remaining legs slammed down, causing the mattress to sigh and slump defeatedly on the ground. "Oh, sure, Delta Squad gets it so good!" Baird seized the mattress and flung it onto the bed. "Yeah, we get a whole night of sleep after blowing up a fucking lambent Brumak! And now we get to ship out at fucking four in the morning to blow up a lambent Corpser, or whatever the hell will be next."
He wiped a section of the mirror clean and mock-saluted his image, blue eyes glinting in the dim light. "Thank you, Colonel Hoffman, sir, for this luxurious reprieve, sir! Yes, I feel like such a big damn hero now, sir!" Baird snorted and tossed his hip bag onto the bed. It creaked wearily and sank under the weight. Baird stared at it blankly, then shook his head.
Rubbing his face, he turned to the dirty mirror. Windburn and five o'clock shadow made sandpaper of his skin. Dirt and dried sweat streaked his face, matted his short blonde hair. His calloused fingers studied the shadows beneath his eyes. A sigh escaped chapped lips.
Pulling a cloth from his pocket, Baird cleaned a spatter of dried blood off his goggles. The blue lenses gleamed atop his forehead, a second set of eyes. Reaching over his shoulder, he popped the Lancer off his back. The cloth swept down the barrel and across the saw blade. Satisfied, he propped the rifle against the wall. Dropping the blackened rag, he yanked his Boltok from his thigh holster. He laid it near the butt of the Lancer, letting his hand linger over the revolving chamber.
Moving to the center of the room, Baird loosened the straps and buckles on his armor. The heavy pieces clanged like a struck gong; the smaller ones clattered like hailstones on a tin roof. With a groan of relief, the soldier rolled his shoulders, stretched his back and arms. He kicked the armor under the bed before peeling off the black undersuit he wore to prevent chafing. Stripped to a dirty wifebeater and slate-colored boxers, he stood and appreciated the way his lungs swelled with unrestricted breaths. After a few minutes, he rolled the suit into a ball and tossed it into a corner.
The cot loomed against the wall. Its frame sunk into a twisted smile, leering at him. Baird eyed it before slowly sitting down. It buckled; the feet screeched painfully for a second, then it held, tormenting him with the knowledge that it could collapse the moment it chose to spite him. With a sigh somewhere between relief and exhaustion, Baird reached for his hip bag. "I've got about seven hours before we ship. That should be enough to get the gist of these..." Tugging free a sheaf of Locust documents, he flung the bag aside. He pulled a pen from a pocket in his shorts. "Let's see..."
The bulb died. Baird threw his arms skyward in the gloom. "Oh, come on!"
Someone chuckled. Narrowing his eyes, Baird twisted to glare at the doorway. Corporal Dominic Santiago grinned at him, his teeth a white beacon through the darkness. His left hand kept a firm grip on the sagging 'one size fits all' pajama pants provided by the COG. A thin grey towel draped casually over his shoulder. His dark hair was black from wet, and his skin was the healthy, raw pink of the recently scrubbed. Droplets ran down his bare chest, plinking on the floor and pooling about his still-soaked feet. "It's just me, man," the Latino teased, flipping the switch a few times. The light sputtered on and off.
Baird glowered at him. "Great. To what do I owe the pleasure of you dripping all over my floor?"
Shrugging, Dom flicked the light on and entered the room. "Yourself. Seriously, man, dropping all your shit? Not cool."
"Come on, Dom, you weren't even sleeping," the private complained, snapping the documents for emphasis.
"No, I was showering," the corporal retorted, "and the noise practically gave me a heart attack. You are aware you're on the second floor?"
"Oh, shut up. You're fine."
"I slipped and nearly cracked my head open on the tile."
"Don't 'Baird' me; I'm already in a bad mood."
Dom cocked a brow, his lips twisting into a smirk. Baird eyed him, brows raised, but quickly scowled. "What?"
Dom's grin widened. "Aren't you always in a bad mood?"
Shaking his head, Baird reclined again. He laid the Locust documents on his stomach, then picked up the top page and studied it as intently as he could manage. Dom cocked a brow as the private flapped a dismissive hand in his direction. "Look, Dom, buddy, I've got shit to do, so-"
"I'll leave when you apologize."
Baird flung the page down to better stare at the Latino. Dom's teeth gleamed at him. Baird scowled and picked up the page again. "Get out."
Pursing his lips in thought, Dom stroked his chin. "Apologize or I'll sit on your bed."
Baird felt his mouth drop open. His eyes found the puddle on the floor, traveled up the damp pants to the rivulets rolling down the torso. His lips moved of their own accord. "You wouldn't."
The grin widened. Dom stepped forward. The puddle splished as his bare foot slapped on the metal.
Baird sat straight, scattering the papers across his lap. A few slipped off the mattress and sighed on the floor as he protested, "Hell fucking no, Dom; I have one mattress and no sheets; you will not do this to me-"
"I'm siiitting..." the corporal sang, easing closer to the bed. The water slid forward, liquid tendrils caressing the fallen pages.
"Dom, son of a- motherfucking- fine! Fine! Okay! Loud noise equals bad. Duly noted. My humblest apologies. Can you go now?"
Dom hesitated, inches from the bed. For the first time, his eyes darted away from Baird's glare. "Well..."
The private groaned, covering his face with his hands. "What?"
"It's just one other little thing I'm supposed to tell you-"
"Oh, fantastic. Please, enlighten me. I am all ears."
Biting his lip, the corporal straightened and scratched his head. His other hand tightened on his oversize pants. His gaze drifted downward; eyes widened involuntarily. He watched the water seep forward, consuming the parchment, dissolving the ink. Dom felt his lips part, but no words rose. With a roll of his eyes, Baird leaned forward.
"Hello? Before I die of old age?"
Jerking his head up, Dom gave the private a withering stare. "Alright, fine. Geez. I was trying to think of a way to say this tactfully and respectfully, but it's not like that's your strong suit either."
"Marcus-" Dom hesitated, then concluded swiftly, "Marcus wants you to actually sleep for once instead of working on your translations. He said to make it an order."
Baird bolted upright. The last of the papers fluttered to the floor, gently plishing in the puddles. Dom winced, but the private took no notice. "Are you shitting me?! He's ordering me to sleep?!" Baird rubbed his face, pinched the bridge of his nose. "This is a joke. You're joking."
"Come on, man, would I do that to you?"
Baird focused tired blue eyes on the corporal.
"Okay, yeah, maybe. But seriously, not this time." Dom smiled sheepishly, raising his hands in surrender. "Don't shoot the messenger?"
The private stared blankly at him, then slumped onto his cot, which creaked loudly in protest. "This is bullshit. What's he going to do next, order me when to breathe?"
Dom cast his gaze to the dampened papers around his feet. The Locust characters were already blurring; the ink from Baird's pen had nearly vanished. "Baird-"
"I said don't 'Baird' me!"
Narrowing his eyes, Dom retorted, "I'm just trying to help."
The words hung on the stale air, thick now with tension and moisture. Slowly, Baird drew himself upwards. He flexed his hands, ignorant of the water swilling about his toes. "You want to help?" His voice came low and soft.
The corporal's gaze flickered, darting towards the door. Swallowing, he forced himself to refocus, eyes locking with Baird's. "Yeah."
The blonde snorted. "Wow, that was spoken with real confidence. I feel really supported right now."
Baird contemplated Dom's flat expression, then scoffed. "Alright, fine. You want to help? Then let me do what I do."
"You need to sleep," Dom insisted.
"You think I don't want to? You think I like staying up all night trying to read this shit?!" Baird stalked towards the corporal, jabbing a finger at him. "I don't do it because I fucking enjoy it. I do it because it could be valuable." Baird backed Dom against a wall. "It's not like I'm shitting away my time touching myself. I could read their battle plans, learn their motives, their weak points. A piece of scrap paper could be the key to winning this war. Doesn't that matter to any of you?" He waited for a response, then shoved the corporal. Metal clanged. "Doesn't it?!"
Dom met Baird's gaze levelly, his mouth drawn into a tight line. "Of course it does."
Baird released him, stepping back. "Of course it does," he echoed bitterly. He turned away, then froze, eyes wide, water rippling from his feet. He stared at the papers for a moment. Then, resignedly, he crouched, collected the limp, illegible sheets. He wadded them into a ball and tossed it into the far corner. Dom averted his eyes from the figure, watching the ball melt into a pile of pulp. His lips parted slightly, but no words came. Finally, Dom turned back and reached for the private's shoulder. "Baird-"
The blonde held up a hand for silence. "Just get out."
Biting his lip, the Latino took a step towards Baird, arm still outstretched. "Look, man, I didn't-"
Baird jerked his shoulder away. "I apologized for the noise, right? So we're done here."
Dom watched as Baird approached the cot. It loomed against the wall, stretching with its shadow. Baird eyed the leering frame, then scowled and flopped onto the mattress. The bed shrieked and skidded lower, legs bent. A small hint of pleasure ran through the private at this minute triumph. Then he heard Dom shout something, and he glanced up in time to see the barrel of the gun.