2950-09-27 – Tales from the Service: An Officer’s Confidance 

Sergeant Hassan Russel rolled his shoulders as the can-opener rig finished disassembling the outer plates of his armored Rico suit. He waited until the inner framing split along carefully fitted seams, then hopped down nearly a meter to the deck plating below. After nearly a full twenty-four hours of operating almost continuously in the suit, he knew he reeked, with his smart-fabric bodysuit’s evaporative wicking never quite able to keep up with the perspiration of combat, even simulated combat. 

Fortunately, the cycle of post-op debriefings was usually not held for a few hours after the Marines re-embarked, allowing everyone the opportunity to wash themselves, grab a bite to eat, and even catch a nap. Hassan doubted he would be able to do more than one of those things, however; as one of his unit’s two sergeants, he knew a vast array of administrative and logistical forms would be waiting on his slate when he returned to his bunk in the onboard barracks. 

As soon as he took headcount and made sure that all twenty of his men – Beaumont and Szarvas, downed by simulated enemy fire, had been re-embarked separately – had been successfully extracted from their Rico suits, Hassan dismissed them to whatever recuperative activities they thought best. Most headed for the lift that would take them up to the mess deck, as that was where they knew to find the simulated-killed members of the unit. 

Hassan headed instead for the bank of acoustic scrubber stalls next to the arsenal and can-opener compartment. Normally, Sergeant Escarro and Lieutenant Yeung would have done the same, but Escarro had been downed in the exercise, and Lieutenant Yeung’s temporary replacement was nowhere to be seen. That was just as well; at the moment, Hassan wanted to see neither of them. 

Finding none of the eight stalls occupied, Hassan set one to its maximum settings, then stripped off his sweat-soiled bodysuit and tossed it into the chute. Since there was no need to wait for an acoustic scrubber to warm up, he stepped in, wincing as the emitters bombarded his skin with high-intensity ultrasonic waves, inexorably stripping off the dust and grime. 

“I told you he’d try something.” 

Hassan turned around and found Lieutenant Coughlan standing in the doorway, her arms folded. Though she was also dressed only in her own bodysuit, she looked far less grimy and bedraggled than he would have expected. Hassan felt self-conscious for not having pulled the privacy screen for his stall into place, even though he usually didn’t bother. Even so, he saluted as smartly as was possible stark naked. 

Coughlan rolled her eyes and waved her hand, seeming not to notice his nakedness. Probably, she didn’t; after all, she had to be a graduate of Camp Cactus, just like every other Marine. The few women who volunteered for service as Marines were given no special considerations save a slightly altered diet and one or two extra issues of sanitary products. 

Hassan relaxed and returned to his shower, turning around to let the acoustics scrape grime off his chest. As he did, he heard the adjacent stall activate. Though she had as much a right to shower in the grunt section as Lieutenant Yeung, it struck him as deliberately out of place. 

“Acoustics are just as good as privacy jammers.” Coughlan was barely audible over the humming of the scrubber machines. “So let’s talk off the record.” 

Hassan froze for several seconds. After he’d thrown Escarro into the path of simulated enemy fire, he’d had plenty of time to consider the possibility that Coughlan had entrapped both of them; they could both be busted down for brawling during a combat operation. “I have nothing to say off the record or on it.” 

“Commendable. So maybe I’ll talk first, then maybe you’ll have something to say.” Coughlan paused for several seconds, perhaps focusing on the task of cleaning herself. “Escarro has nothing to say either. He said you and him miscalculated a quick peek over the hill and only you got back to cover in time. Unless you have a different story, my plan is to mock you both in the debrief for trying to get yourselves killed in the stupidest way possible and leave it at that.” 

Hassan frowned, but said nothing. He’d started the operation thinking Coughlan was just trying not to have her boat rocked in an overly cautious way, and he’d spent most of it wondering whether she’d bring the hammer down on him for doing what she’d suggested but never ordered. Now, he suspected he’d misjudged her on both accounts. 

“Since on the record, I’m going to have to call you an idiot, I’m going to expect you and Escarro to act appropriately humiliated. Make it good, Russel.” 

“I think I can do that... on the record.” Hassan winced. He thought he knew what the Lieutenant was getting at. 

“Good man.” Coughlan chuckled. “Off the record, Escarro and I both owe you a drink, but something tells me I’ll be paying for both of them.” 

A moment later, she shut off her stall’s acoustics. Hassan couldn’t help himself; he turned around and snuck a look at her as she walked out past him to the dispenser filled with fresh, auto-fitting shipboard fatigues. He immediately wished he hadn’t; Marine training taught every cadet to de-sexualize nudity as much as possible, and he knew he was looking at Lieutenant Coughlan in a way he had never seen another Marine. He quickly turned away, knowing that opening the door to biological pressures would only cause him trouble, and that he had plenty of that already. 

“Don’t worry.” Hassan almost jumped from the sound of Coughlan’s voice, and turned to find her standing right in front of his stall, matter-of-factly pulling on fresh fatigues. A day and a night of suit operations followed by the scrubbers had stripped off her characteristic makeup, and the only thing its absence revealed was the deep bags under her lively eyes. “If I’ve judged him right, Escarro will think better next time.” 

Despite himself, Hassan chuckled. “God, I hope he thinks at all next time, Lieutenant. He’s a good Marine mostly.”  

“One of the best, by all reports. Off the record, he’s right, in a way.” Coughlan shrugged, fitting her tunic over her shoulders. A moment later, twin holographic rank insignias appeared over her shoulders. “I’m a piss-poor replacement for someone like Yeung.” 

Hassan suppressed an instinct to disagree; even in the context of an informal, off-the-record chat, he knew it unwise to contradict his superior. As far as he’d seen, Coughlan had done all right on the ground, but her opinion was law, and his was meaningless. He grunted noncommittally and focused on playing the scrubbers over his lower back, which always seemed to become a lake of sweat during extended suit ops. 

Coughlan stood there and said nothing for several seconds before finally turning and marching away. Hassan counted the paces of her bare feet on the deck. Just as she reached the doorway, she stopped once more. “Better wrap up, Russel. Briefing in one-ten.” 

“Aye, Lieutenant.” Hassan replied, turning to snap another salute. By the time he did, however, Lieutenant Coughlan was gone. 


This concludes the account sent in by Lieutenant Coughlan and Sergeant Russell,

t least, the parts we deemed interesting to this audience. There are elements of it which seem strange for an account presented jointly by these two people, but I will not pry into the meaning of the inclusion of these details here, as it does not impact my impression of the truth of the story. 

Naval Intelligence has vetted this story and signed off on it, and I can confirm that a Marine exercise was conducted within the date range covered in their supporting paperwork. Obviously, the story demonizes one Sergeant Escarro, but I can find no record of this person existing, and the public service records of the two submitters do not allow an easy identification of this person. Most likely the account has been anonymized sufficiently to protect a man they consider to be a “good Marine” despite obvious flaws in his character. 

[N.T.B. - I hope they cleared this with the real person who Escarro is based on before sending it to us; given what we are told of Lieutenant Coughlan, I suspect this would be something she would have thought of, if this story did prove to be mostly true.]