P6 cover

Antark: Episode Sixteen
by Alan Augustson
17 May 2017

He tried not to think too much as he vigorously scrubbed his head. Water restrictions being what they were, he could get a ten-minute shower once a week. Under those conditions, he had to focus on the task at hand.

The meeting of the constitutional convention had been a chorus of scorched cats, to steal a line from an old favorite film. It boggled the mind, the trivial shit over which one could get worked up to the point of shrieking. This time, it was the simple question of what to call Willie Ortiz’s job. Ortiz was happy to stick with administrator; that was shot down quickly because it implied bureaucratic rule. President, though technically the best-fit term, also met with considerable distaste, courtesy of recent events in alleged democratic countries.

McGee’s head was already spinning when someone hit upon regent. That struck a chord for many, and triggered conniptions among just as many others. From that point he remained only long enough to stop a senior wildlife researcher from throwing a punch.

Ding.

The one-minute warning. Oh, shit, he thought. He’d meandered and forgot the showers were on timers. And he had barely made it below the neck. McGee instinctively switched to boot-camp showering mode, frantically scrubbing at only the stinkiest bits. Even so, the water cut off abruptly and he was left with his nether regions covered in soap.

“Oh, God damn it…”

“Over here; hurry!” came a woman’s voice from two stalls over. “I’ve got two minutes left!”

Without thinking, McGee stepped over and into the shower stream, hurriedly rinsing himself out, scarcely noticing he was sharing it with an attractive Vietnamese woman. Then the realization struck him and he went beet-red.

“Um… thank you?” he choked.

She laughed, wrapping a towel around herself. “You’re welcome. Peggy Nguyen, by the way.”

“Danny McGee, hi,” he said, smiling calmly and reaching for his towel, and then realizing he’d left it at the other stall. He froze. Should he cover himself? Not much point now, he realized, and stammered an excuse-me as he stepped out and fetched the towel. The lady began drying and dressing, and McGee tried to figure out how not to look, without looking like he was trying not to look.

“I’m sorry; I know that was awkward,” she said, being the grown-up. “I was left hanging like that a couple of times, and I couldn’t let it happen to someone else.”

McGee smiled and nodded, getting his composure back a little. “It’s nice to meet you, and thanks again. You saved my ass.”

“No worries. You’re the Provost Marshal? I think I’ve seen you at the Cop Shop.”

He grinned to hear his own favorite term for the Ops Center, and nodded. “You’ve toured through recently? Or are you a safety specialist, Marshal, or whatever we’re calling it this week?”

“I head a geographic survey crew,” Peggy answered, matter-of-factly fastening her bra. “We’ve been 3D-mapping the Sentinel Range. Of course, we’ve shut that down for the season, but we’ve got a mountain of data points to plot in the meantime.”

“Wow. My role feels so insignificant next to that.”

She snickered. “Well, just keep telling yourself ‘size doesn’t matter’; eventually you’ll believe it.”

“I can think of no appropriate response to that,” McGee grinned as he began dressing.

“Well, give me an inappropriate one. You’re a Marine, after all.”

He stopped dressing. “How did you know? Surely people have more interesting things to talk about than me.”

Nguyen pointed. “You still wear your dog tags.”

Palm met forehead. “I’m unusually dense today,” he sighed.

“You just stepped out of the shower with a pretty girl,” she snickered. “I’d be upset if you were too calm. It’s funny; you don’t at all strike me as the type.”

“‘Type’?”

Marine type,” she answered, with an accusatory look as if McGee knew perfectly well what she’d meant.

“Oh!” he said. “I really don’t think about a ‘type’ all that much. Honestly, there’s as many different kinds of Marines as there are individuals.”

“Not to a Vietnamese, there aren’t,” Peggy smirked, and McGee nodded an embarrassed acknowledgment. “Anyway,” she said as she finished dressing and started for the exit, “with luck I’ll see you at my next rotation. Have a good day; nice getting naked with you.”

“Doesn’t count if I didn’t peek,” he grinned.

“May as well have,” she called over her shoulder as she left. “I did.”

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Social scientist, public policy analyst, emergency management consultant and author. U.S. Marine Corps veteran and former firefighter. Former candidate for U.S. Congress.

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