"Visual on the MAV," Mark heard Beck say, on the comlink, as he waited. Was there something odd about Beck's voice?
Since he didn't really have anything to do, or think about, at the moment, other than wait for Beck to reach him, and plenty of things that he didn't want to think about, at the moment, he tried to decipher why Beck's voice sounded different than it had, the last time they'd talked.
It had been a year and a half ago. On Sol 6. Beck had stayed in the Hab, while Mark and the others had gone on the EVA to collect samples. The storm had blown in, they'd helped each other to suit up, before heading out to the MAV. One of the last things he could remember seeing, the last time he'd seen any of his crewmate's faces-was Beck, the EVA specialist, helping Johanssen to hurriedly suit up, giving her a smile, his hands holding her helmet out to her, far more gently than they'd done for Mark, or Lewis, or anyone else.
It had stuck with him, he supposed, because in the flurry of activity, Mark had noticed, once again, that Beck had it bad for Johanssen. Everyone had noticed, of course. Beck didn't tend to hold those cards very close to his chest, after all. Commander Lewis had been more-or-less forced to declare that Johanssen was off-limits to all the men on the crew. Before they'd even left Earth.
And how many times had Mark had to listen to Chris drone on and on about her, when it was just the two of them, on the trip to Mars. By the time Hermes was orbiting the red planet, it had gotten pretty fucking old. And he had no doubt whatsoever that as soon as they were back on Earth, Chris was going to try his damndest to break his way out of the friend-zone, and turn his attraction to the pretty SysOp into something real.
Mark honestly had no idea if it would work - how often do guys really make it out of the friend-zone, anyway? But when the Iris probe had suffered a RUD at launch, well… he'd made the decision to try and nudge things Beck's way a little bit, if he could.
Had it worked? He had no idea.
But Beck's voice had sounded a little different. Cool.
And then, there he was. Mark couldn't see his face, against the helmet's bright, reflective coating. He didn't greet him. Not really. Just called out on the com for data on his relative velocity every few seconds, until he managed to get a handful of Hab canvas. The first human he'd seen in a year and a half had closed hands on the wrecked remainder of the MAV. Mark held his breath.
Without comment, he attached a carabiner to Mark, and once latched, he quickly unfastened the straps holding Mark into place on the acceleration couch, and shoved off, his MMU thrusters silent in the vacuum of space.
The sudden motion had Mark's broken ribs grinding in his chest, so he shut off his mic, lest any embarrassing noises reach the ears of his crewmates. Hermes drew closer and closer, as Vogel reeled them in, unseen, and Mark tried to stay calm. And failed, hard.
It was hard. His ribs were killing him. And he was finally-fucking finally-almost back to the relative safety of the Hermes. His vision was blurry from broken blood vessels. And maybe some tears, too, if he were being totally honest. The end result was that by the time they reached Airlock 2, the combination of chest pain, low blood pressure, and high heart rate had left him in a state of semiconsciousness.
"Watney? Are you still with us?" Beck's voice sounded in his ears, sounding tinny and really far away.
"Uh huh," he mumbled. Beck didn't hear him, though.
"Just go limp," he said, floating Mark down the corridor towards Beck's quarters that also served as the ship's sick bay. "Watney? Do you read?"
Mark managed to turn his mic back on, a short while after Beck had secured him on the exam table.
"Been having a pretty boring day," Mark joked, weakly, and then drew in his breath sharply, hissing. "And I think I broke some ribs. Sorry." Beck was silent, as he listened to the com chatter between Vogel and Martinez, as Hermes executed a minor course correction.
Having failed at breaking the ice, apparently, they waited, in what seemed like an interminable awkward silence, for the ship to repressurize.
Where is everyone, he wondered. He wanted out of this EVA suit, he wanted to see some human faces, get some high fives. Something that wasn't a potato, to eat. He watched as Beck prepared medical supplies, somewhat clumsily in his EVA suit. Everything was taking so long, moving so slowly.
"Pressure normal," came Johanssen's voice over the com, finally. Beck started to de-suit, helmet first. It struck Mark again, how odd it was, that Beck was both the last human he'd seen, and now the first. He looked tired and drawn, Mark thought. Like he hadn't been sleeping well. He shucked off the rest of his EVA suit and secured it, before he rounded on Mark and unlatched his helmet.
Beck's nose wrinkled, brow furrowed. He looked kind of horrified, actually.
"What, do I have a head wound or something?" Mark said, voice worried and quiet against the noisy backdrop of the ship. His eyes were wide.
Beck shook his head. Thanks to the microgravity, it wasn't too much of an ordeal to slide the top half of Mark's EVA suit over his head, after Mark pulled his arms into the center, careful to avoid his ribs.
Oh. It was the smell, wasn't it? He hadn't had a proper bath in, well, a long time. Cleaning up with only a limited amount of water, when you didn't even have a clean towel, let alone soap, didn't get you very far, Mark thought, wryly.
Beck passed him a handful of painkillers and a bottle of water with a drinking valve on top, to wash them down, and matter-of-factly sliced the seams of Mark's flight suit with some shears, to remove it. Then, he swung the x-ray machine over to confirm that Mark had, indeed, broken two ribs. It took a while. Mark winced when he saw the fresh bruises, dark and angry, welling up. His skin hadn't been in the best shape to begin with, what with the pressure sores, poor nutrition, and general lack of hygiene. A sustained period of 12Gs during the launch hadn't done him any favors.
It had been a really long sol, Mark thought, sleepily, as Beck continued to work him over, checking his vitals again and taking a blood sample. Mark was starting to drift.
No, he corrected himself. Mission Day 687. No more sols. Fuck Mars, and the horse it rode in on. But why was Beck not talking to him? That was kind of strange. He closed his eyes, exhausted. All the jittery adrenaline from earlier events had faded away, taking his energy with it.
Beck had finished with the examination, and commenced with taping up Mark's ribs. By the time he was finished, the painkillers had kicked in, apparently, and Mark had fallen asleep, less than two hours after they'd pulled him aboard.
He continued, methodically cleaning each of the pressure wounds and covering them with waterproof bandaging. Mark slept on, not even wincing at the touch of antiseptic on open skin. Beck noted the size and placement of the antenna scar on his abdomen for the charts, and checked it for adhesions. It had been a clumsy job, but Mark had managed to pull the edges of the wound together, with only a small amount of adhesion and scar tissue. He was lucky it hadn't killed him.
Finally, satisfied that he had done all that he could do, for the meantime, he scooped Mark up, and settled him onto his own bunk, recoiling again, a little, at the smell of him. He secured a telemetry strap around Mark's middle, to monitor him as well as hold him in place until the centripetal gravity resumed, and then covered him with one of the navy blue, NASA-issue blankets.
He had hastily secured Mark's EVA suit, and his own, earlier, so that they wouldn't be floating around and getting in his way while he worked. But now, they needed to be returned to Airlock 2.
And frankly, it wouldn't be a terrible idea, Beck thought, if he went ahead and locked Mark's helmet into place, to help contain that stench a little bit. He reached for it, when something fell out, floating into his hands.
A little souvenir, from Mars? He examined it a little more closely, and then, recognizing it suddenly, he turned it over in his hands, and looked back at Mark, suspiciously.