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The Blue by Stephanie Void
The old man looked decidedly uncomfortable.
I watched him from across the café as I relaxed, sipping what never would have passed for coffee if I had been planetside. The sandwich I was eating wasn’t much better—it was supposed to be protein-avocado-lettuce, but all I could identify was the lettuce. The few wilted leaves languished among an unidentifiable paste on the bread, but at least it was food. I had been hungry after the long flight to Blodwyn Base. And here, in space, I was lucky to even get the lettuce.
Taking a bite of the sandwich, I directed my attention to the old man again. He had walked to the café’s counter and was talking to the curly-haired girl behind the counter, who was placing rolls of bread into the bakery case. The old man’s hands were shaking violently as he bent over the glass of the bakery case to look at the pastries inside.
I took another sip of my coffee, swallowing it quickly to avoid tasting it.
The old man wiped his brow with the back of one hand as he paid for a pastry and the girl handed it to him. The girl turned back to her baking and the man walked over to sit down at one of the tables about ten feet from me.
The café’s only other patron, a middle-aged woman, finished her coffee and left, leaving me alone with the old man.
The lack of people didn’t surprise me. I had only arrived at Blodywn Base a few hours ago, my body still adjusted to Iron Horn Base time, not Blodwyn Base time, which meant that I was eating breakfast at 3 p.m. Now, after two years on Iron Horn Base, I was on my way home, stuck for a two-day layover on Blodwyn Base.
I was happy to be going home to see my family, whom I hadn’t seen since I had left for Horatio Nelson Military Academy on Iron Horn Base two years ago. My little sister Katelyn would be twelve years old now, I realized with a smile.
As much as I looked forward to seeing Katelyn and my parents again, I wished it could have been under better circumstances. The reason I was going home now was because I’d been dismissed from my military training for an indefinite amount of time. It would be years, at least, before I could go back.
The accident hadn’t been my fault. It hadn’t been anyone’s fault. It had happened during a training accident in zero gravity in the artificial gravity room. The training room was still brand new; my group had been one of the first groups to train inside it. The artificially-generated zero gravity had flickered for just a moment, but it was enough to send all of us falling to the floor, which in my case had been thirty feet below me. I had hit the floor hard, some of the training equipment crashing down onto me.
At least, that’s what the doctors, nurses, and my friends had told me. They had told me that my spine had been severed just above the hip. I didn’t remember any of it happening. All I knew about it was that now, and for the next few years while my spine grew back fully, I couldn’t do any military training. Instead, I would live with most of my torso encased in a tight vest made of plastic, metal, and technology. The vest pumped medicine into my body and generated electrical currents that made my nerves and bones grow back.
It had worked fast. It had only been six months since the accident, and already I could walk again. But it would take years until everything healed and grew back to the point where I could do rigorous military training again—if I was lucky. There was also a chance that I, Alan Michael Wolf, star cadet, would never be able to be in the military again.
It had been my dream to be in the military’s Stellar Intrepid branch, the one in charge of exploration and investigation. I loved the idea of investigating the wonders of space for the rest of my life. Now it all hinged on how well my body healed over the next few years.
I had gotten used to the medical vest holding me together. Though it was bulky, I was able to wear loose clothing over it and no one could notice it was there.
I finished my sandwich with my eyes still on the old man, who looked sweaty and pale.
He had a glass of water in front of him, but when he reached for it with a shaky hand, he missed, knocking it over instead.
I got to my feet to go over to him.
“Sir, are you all right?” I asked him, moving closer.
The old man looked up at me, let out a strangled gasp, and tumbled from his seat, collapsing onto the floor.
“Help!” I shouted, moving to him. We were still alone—wait, there had been the girl serving baked good behind the counter. I shouted for her, thankful that we were at the only café on Blodwyn Base which employed people instead of being entirely self-serve.
She had been engrossed in baking, her back to us, but spun around upon hearing my shouts, curly ponytail bouncing.
“What is it?” She saw the old man on the floor. “Is he hurt?”
“He collapsed!” I cried. “He needs help. Can you call Medical?”
She didn’t need a second prompting. Darting to the wall behind her, she slammed her palm down on a circular red button. Immediately it lit up and a box popped out of the wall beside it.
“I’ve summoned Medical,” she said, grabbing to box and hurrying over to us with it. “This is the first aid kit. I—I don’t really know how to use it,” she said, eyes widening at the sight of the old man’s still form. “Do you know how to use it?” she asked, voice growing high and panicky. “I’m new to this job! This has never happened before! I’m sorry!”
A grim smile touched my lips. Well, there was one part of my military training which would not go to waste: at least I still knew how to use a first-aid kit.
I placed a finger under the old man’s nostrils and felt his pulse. Good. He was breathing and had a heartbeat.
“Can you get me the enhanced thermometer?” I asked the girl. I ripped the old man’s button-down shirt open and placed the circular enhanced thermometer she handed me on his chest.
“Will he be all right?” she asked breathlessly. I wanted to comfort her, but I really didn’t know what to say; I wasn’t the best at talking to females on a good day. The female cadets had been housed in a different dormitory on Iron Horn Base, which meant that other than my family and the nurses who had cared for me after my injury, I hadn’t had a conversation with a female in about two years.
Also, the old man on the floor might be at death’s door, for all I knew. No wonder I could barely form a sentence.
The thermometer beeped, and I leaned over the display. Temperature: normal. Blood pressure: way down. Heart rate: way down.
“Adrenaline. He needs it. Tube with the yellow stripe,” I managed to say. She grabbed it in the span of a second and shoved it into my hand.
“You may want to look away,” I warned, ripping away the seal on the needle. Then I stabbed the needle into the old man’s chest.