The dorm hatch resisted at first, then creaked open when Jayne put his weight against the counterbalance. Below, the lights hesitated, flickered and failed.
Reynolds grimaced and slapped the 'stat console with an open hand. "Still a few -" another blow to the wall unit "- bugs in the system. But not to worry. I'll get our engineer up and she'll set it to rights." The lights came on and, this time, stayed on.
Down the ladder, Jayne stared around the room. The walls were half-finished - the guts and skeleton of the bulkhead hung out for all the world to see. Plain grey steel, age-stained ceramics, utility washunit. A single bunk frame was folded up against the for'ard wall, naked of any bedding. Opposite, bare bolts and half-stripped rigging indicated the quarters had originally held two sleeping racks.
The captain leaned down the open hatch. "Yes?"
"All this is mine, right? I don't got to share this with anyone - that was the deal, like you said."
Reynolds was a hard man to read. Right that second, it looked like he might be trying to laugh, except the expression was having a hard time sticking to his face.
"Yeah, that was the deal. What's the matter - something not to your liking? 'Cause we can always renegotiate." And all of a sudden the man definitely wasn't laughing, and his hand was a lot closer to his sidearm than it had been, and Jayne was standing down a short drop in a room he couldn't get out of.
"Just hold up, no need to start changing things already. I was just looking around." He took a step away from the bottom of the ladder, just to be sure. Then another. And another.
Four full strides across the room, long ways. Three and a mite, the other. Jayne stood square in the middle and turned round and round.
Space under the bed for a locked box - he'd seen other men with such things. Plenty of wall space. With all that bare bracing, he could rig up something to hold his guns proper. No more wrapping them up in blankets, laying them in his spare duds.
Just because he could, Jayne walked back across the - his - room. And again.
Over head, a quick step coming down the passageway. Sounded like the other gun - the woman. Sure enough, her voice hailed Reynolds and they fell to talking. Too low for Jayne to hear, but he was looking at the washstand, which seemed to come with soap.
No towels, though. And come to think of it, that bunk was going to be pretty uncomfortable without anything over the springs. He stepped back to the ladder, intending to holler up and ask about any extra blankets he could buy.
The bundle coming down the hatch was nearly as big as he was, and it was coming fast. Jayne slammed it aside and nearly put a knee into it before he realized the lump was nothing more than a bed pad, still in the wrapping. Reynolds leaned over the hatchway and called down to him.
"Oh, sorry 'bout that. Didn't see you standing there."
"'Cause I wasn't. What's this?"
"Bed pad, for the bunk."
"This is brand new. You think I'm made of money? I can't afford this - you ain't even paid me yet."
Reynolds' head turned so Jayne couldn't see anything but his ear. When Reynolds turned back, his voice was hard. "Bed pad comes with the bunk. Comes with linens. Got no cleaning staff, you're responsible for your own laundry and such. I don't expect hospital shine, but you will keep things tidy. And washed." The woman - Toes? Go-chi? - Something like that - called for the captain. All Jayne could see was the edge of Reynolds' shoulder and the toe of his boot.
"All right, tell them I'm on my way. Jayne -" Jayne looked up from studying the faded store tag on the bed pad and craned his head back. "You just take your time, get settled in. We'll be stopping to re-supply in a day or two, you can get anything you're missing then. Holler if you need anything."
Jayne nodded. Before he could say a word, the hatchway was empty.
He spent a long moment staring at the brand new, store bought, still in the shipping wrap bed pad in his arms. Then he ripped the pad open and slammed the bunk rack down. Free of the wrapping, the pad smelled strange - a sharp, not disagreeable smell, sort of like the smell of an unopened ammo box. The wrapping crinkled in his hands and resisted his efforts to strip it cleanly away. In his haste to lay out the bunk, he got the pad hung twice, but managed to it unstuck both times without tearing the surface.
Leaning over the bunk, he smoothed the pad with his hands, the new material rough and catching on the calluses on his skin. He spread both hands wide and pressed down on the bunk. It yielded, sinking beneath his weight. He released, and the padding sprang up again. And again. And again, no matter where he pushed. Gingerly, he turned around and sat down on the edge, only to spring up as fast as he had sat down. He did it a second time, this time for the length of three whole breaths. When he inspected the pad, it bore the marks of his thighs and buttocks. His fingers traced the edges, and again, and on the third time realized the pad was springing back again. Another breath, and he could neither see nor feel any difference. Good as new.
It was new. No one else had ever slept on this bunk.
Jayne gazed around the monster of a room, sat back a little more on his brand new bed, and wondered when they were cooking chow.
Author's note: 'Hot bunk' is a naval term, indicating the practice (to save precious below-board space) of rotating shifts out of the same beds, so that a person would go to sleep in sheets still warm from the previous occupant.
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to hossgal
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