The Mess-Deck was mixture of khaki and olive uniforms. Info-screens were positioned in periodic intervals above the tables, displaying a commercial for the Interplanetary Marine Corps. They grabbed their trays and slopped food that reminded Jeanne of the stuff she was served in secondary school. Jeanne looked around for the familiar faces of her platoon. She spotted the silvery head of Platoon Sergeant Aesgir. She made her way past a pair of Ensigns discussing technical specs, and sat down at the table.
“Ah look! The rest of Kitty Squad is here! Had a good sleep?” greeted PSgt. Asgeir.
“I’ve had better,” replied Jeanne.
“How’s Ivanova?” asked a woman with orange frizzy hair.
“I’m fine Rolland,” rasped STpr. Ivanova as she plopped down next to Jeanne.
“You don’t sound fine.”
“She just had some trouble with the oxy-fluid, that’s all. I’ve already talked to Mom to give her a check up,” stated Sgt. Marlowe as she slid onto the other side of Jeanne.
“That’s the last thing Mom needs, another reason to worry,” japed Senior Trooper Noyla Rolland.
“Don’t let him know that. You’ll get a firm scolding,” grunted Sgt. Marlowe chewing on a particularly tough piece of meat. “What the fuck’s this supposed to be?”
Jeanne leaned over to look, “Steak… I think.”
“Mmph, it feels like rubber.”
“Maybe it is,” grunted Ivanova.
“Work continues as the search for survivors of the Government Complex Bombing drags on. Numerous people from dozens of planets have flocked to Jorrig in an attempt to help.” The Info-screen now broadcasted a news bulletin. Jeanne turned her attention from her food to the display.
“It’s been nearly two months since the bombing and work to clear the damage is still in progress. The official casualty count has not be released, but rumors estimate the total to be over two hundred thousand.” Jeanne’s eyes glazed as she remembered the letter she had received shortly before they shipped out of Port Erikson. It was from her mother. The contents informed her that her father, a government official, had died in the bombing.
She called up the memory of the last time they had all been together. She and her brother, Jack had been relaxing in the family pool, while her mother in her seemingly impossible youth sunbathed on the beach chair on the deck. Her father stood at the grill supported by a mechanical pair of legs, made visible by his shorts. The smell of freshly cooked burgers filled her nose as she asked her father how much longer it would be until they could eat. Before he could answer, Jack had performed a beautiful cannonball right next to her, spraying water over her and the pool deck. She remember taking a swing at him. She grinned, but that faded as she remembered how much she missed them.
Then she was back on the mess deck, staring at canned corn, mashed potatoes and rubbery steak. She absent-mindedly pushed the kernels around with her spork.
“Lankford? Lankford!?” Someone was calling her name.
“Huh?” she looked around. Marlowe’s hand was on her shoulder.
“Are you good?” asked Ruby.
“Y-y-yeah,” she stammered, pushing a loose lock behind her ear, “I’m good.” Marlowe looked from her face to the Info-screen. She reached up and changed the frequency.
“I can’t know how you feel Jeanne,” whispered Marlowe, “But I’m here for you, we all are.”
“Thanks,” mumbled Jeanne.