by Walt Staples -
“Fresh Fish, door!” the squad leader bawled.
Tyler Takku, Fire Team 6’s “Fresh Fish,” was an ugly little man--though his mother didn’t think so. He was short and squat, as were the others of the fire team. It was a must as they hauled heavy equipment into Avenir’s tight spaces and survivors or bodies out.
The atmosphere feeding from his “bunker gear” or fire armor’s life support system tasted faintly of smoke and burning volatiles; something he’d ceased to notice while in training. It was only at times like this, when he should be concentrating, that the sensation snuck into his awareness. No matter how often the filters were changed out or the bunker gear was cleaned, the bouquet remained. He shook his head, clearing the cobwebs.
The shop’s door was the normal atmosphere-tight kind found on the other businesses on the mall. The large temper-plast windows attempted to not remind patrons that hard vacuum waited its chance outside.
He ran through the Snuffy’s Alphabet—C-A-E-S: Contain the fire-cut Air circulation-cut Electrical current-Search for victims—in his head as he helped place the temporary airlock over the door. Behind the windows the shop looked frightening close to flashover. He bulled his way into the lock ahead of the other firefighters. It was this aggressiveness to get to the fire that caused the Snuffys to refer to each other as “Idjits”—they ran toward danger rather than away.
“Fresh Fish in the lead,” sounded in his earphones from both the internal radio and his gear’s external mikes. One corner of his mind reminded him how happy he’d be when he wasn’t the new guy and had a proper nickname. Then the next new guy would be “Fresh Fish” until christened by the squad.
The atmosphere in the lock was evacuated and replaced with inert nitrogen. There’d be no backdraft when the door was opened. He dropped to his knees and scrambled forward as the emergency charge blew the door halves back into their slots in the jamb. He was conscious of someone behind him directing a heavy stream of CO2 and soda above him through the door as smoke billowed in to mix with the lock’s atmosphere. Vision being useless, he relied on the heads-up display on his visor’s interior for his view of the shop. It occurred to him that he hadn’t noticed what sort of shop it was. Well, if anything had been explosive or oxidizing, he would have been warned forcefully by dispatch.
The picture produced by his radar showed a body on the floor to his right. The thermal overlay showed it as well above 37 degrees C. He sighed as he grabbed it and began to back out, dragging the body behind. He’d hoped his first experience would be a rescue instead of a recovery.
Outside, he cracked his visor and turned away as the med team took over his burden. He stood, looking at the mall’s carpet as he felt the letdown. The heavy slap of a hand landed on his shoulder. “Why so blue, kid?”
He glanced at the squad leader’s smile, then back at the floor. “Guess I just wanted the first one to come out alive.”
“Oh? Well, that one never was.”
Tyler looked around at the squad leader in confusion. “What?”
“You rescued a dressmaker’s manikin.” The other pointed to where a mousey-looking woman was putting a variable geometry dressmaker’s smart-dummy through its paces surrounded by the grinning med team.
The new man cringed. Oh, Lordy, could it get worse?
As if reading his mind, the squad leader gave his shoulder a rough shake. “You done good, kid. That gizmo cost that lady a lot of credits. You probably saved her business.” He walked over to talk to the Fire Marshal.
The lady broke away from the other group and approached Tyler. She smiled at him and he wondered why he had thought her mousey. “I want to thank you so much for saving ‘Edda.’ She’s not covered by my policy yet and it would have taken months to replace her.” He couldn’t decide whether her eyes were blue, gray, or green--and, for some reason, this suddenly seemed very important to him. She colored slightly and looked down. “I was wondering if…if I could thank you with dinner and a vid? Oh. I’m Amy.” She smiled that smile again.
As he helped break down the lock, a blond firefighter jerked on his bunker gear’s rescue strap and grinned at him. “Hey, ‘Dollman,’ great work.”
“Dollman” Takku returned “Bucket-Head” Schmidlap’s grin, as Squad Leader “Rabbit-Tooth” Morgan looked on with a smile and “Fancy-Pants” Brenan continued knocking down the lock’s other side.