When not in cryo, I have a hard time getting any kind of sleep in space. It’s been a few hours since we were shipped up to Crandall Station to get ready for a task that we haven’t received a lot of information about. I’ve been tossing and turning the whole time, feeling like my body’s clock had just been smashed to bits.
I can hear Hudson snoring next to me. The only thing separating us is a thin metal wall-we’re basically sleeping in closets. I know it’s a temporary thing, but still. Sunlight was spilling through the window, making it difficult for me to comprehend that it’s time to fucking sleep already.
The next thing I knew, the lights came on and I heard Apone telling us all to get our asses up and ready to get moving. I squeezed my eyes shut and groaned with everyone else, feeling like I only slept five minutes.
“You’re gonna get three weeks, people, so no bitching and moaning about sleep,” he said. “Looking at you, Drake.”
I didn’t even offer a grunt.
Our ship, the USS Sulaco, had been fueled up for the journey to some rock known as LV-426. The only thing we knew so far was that a colony had stopped communicating with Earth, and us lucky ducks were gonna go find out what happened. The other thing we knew was that a civvie woman was going to come with us. I dunno. She ran into a violent alien creature and thinks that’s why the colony has gone silent. However, I also overheard someone say that she has PTSD over what happened to her. That’s something I’m a little too familiar with.
The civvie wasn’t the biggest change we had to deal with, though. Captain Viano, the officer in charge of our team, didn’t make it back from our last mission. It hit all of us pretty hard, especially Apone. He’s been pretty quiet since we got back. He had worked with her for years, since long before I got assigned to the team, and even though she stayed pretty distant from everyone else, the two of them still had some kind of bond that went a bit beyond a purely professional relationship.
In Viano’s place, we had a new officer, a Lieutenant Scott Gorman. Gorman got transferred over from command of another RIFT after they got taken off of combat status following a mission that went wrong. Other than that, I don’t think anyone knows anything about him. He didn’t say much when he walked with us through the airlock. In fact, he looked kinda shy.
Well, maybe not shy, but distant. Not sure what was on his mind, but I wasn’t about to judge him for thinking. He was lean and fit, with his head nearly shaven, just like what you’d expect from an officer. The thing that was confusing all of us was the fact that he was what we call a “butter bar”, or just a Second Lieutenant. Seconds aren’t supposed to have command of RIFT teams. That’s a privilege reserved for First Lieutenants and Captains, who have more combat experience. The last thing any of us needed was to be heading into combat led by an officer with no experience. But then again, Gorman also looked way too old for his rank, which was even more confusing. All I could guess was that we might learn more later, or we might not.
Hudson was grinning while we dressed down for cryosleep. He waited until some of the others walked away before saying, “When we get back, I only got four more weeks on my contract, man.”
“I know. You haven’t stopped talking about it ever since you had one more year left on your fucking contract,” I muttered. “Got anything else you can talk about that won’t annoy the crap outta us?”
“Well, when we come back to Earth, I’m gonna need your help with something.” Hudson leaned in to whisper. “I’m gonna marry Miranda when I get my discharge, man. I gotta pick out a nice ring for her. Could you help me with that? Please, man?”
I sighed. “Fine. I know Vasquez and I have a couple months before we gotta meet with some representative about our contracts and whether we can become civvies again. I definitely want to ask her to marry me when we’re out and on our own.”
“And I’ll help you with that, man.” He gave me a goofy smile. “That day’s gonna be here before you know it.”
“Yeah. Don’t forget I’m your best man.” I closed my locker, and followed everyone out to the cryosleep chamber. The civilian woman was getting in the tube next to mine, but I didn’t pay any attention to her as I walked down to where Wierzbowski was laying down in his. “You doing okay?”
“I called Eliza this morning,” he replied. “She’s alright, I guess. Not looking forward to not being able to talk to me for the next six weeks, but I left her a present at home.”
“Oh? And what’s that?”
“Letters. She likes quirky, romantic things like that, so I wrote out some short letters to her and hid them around the apartment.” Wierzbowski smirked. “She’ll find them whenever she’s doing stuff like cleaning or laundry. I made one real easy so she’ll get the hint and think it’s a scavenger hunt.”
“I think her quirkiness has been rubbing off on you too much.”
“Hey, that’s my wife you’re talking about.” Wierzbowski laughed before getting on his back in the cryotube. “Have a nice sleep, Drake.”
I wouldn’t count on it. “You, too, bud.” I grabbed his hand before walking back to my tube. I spotted our new lieutenant, and I was able to see he was pretty damn fit for an officer. He then turned, and I spotted a tattoo on his right shoulder. A Celtic symbol of some kind. As I lay down, Bishop came around to paste electrodes to our bodies that keep track of our vitals while we’re hibernating. I’ve been in cryosleep before, but that experience has changed a bit since I developed PTSD.
Dreaming in cryo is different from dreaming in natural sleep. Your dreams can be long and very vivid. I’ve heard that they can last for literally hours or even days in extended cryo. And you don’t have the comfort of being able to wake up, breathe, and then go back to sleep. The machine can sense when your vitals go nuts during a nightmare, and it will pump a little more gas in to calm you down and send you back to more restful state… but then the nightmares will start back up again. The first time was terrifying, and I was nearly removed from the mission because I was struggling to recover. My therapist wasn’t present. Just Dietrich and the medic from one of the unit accompanying us. It took them awhile to get me to calm down and breathe, and, frankly, it was embarrassing, even though I know I don’t have full control over my nightmares.
I’ve improved greatly when it comes to my PTSD. I haven’t had a bad nightmare in months. My last thought before the tube closed on me was a prayer asking for gentle dreams.
I dreamt a wide variety of things in the three weeks I was out. First, I was running along the bottom of a canyon, trying to find my way out. There were a lot of bends and turns and the sun was beating down on me and I just couldn’t stop running. I had to keep going, and I didn’t know why. Finally, the canyon ended in a gently sloping hill leading aboveground. When I got out, I could stop running. Only the hill was getting further and further away. I started panicking, and I screamed as the hill disappeared altogether.
I don’t fully remember the next dream, but I know it involved a fancy ball with an ice chandelier and Hudson was dancing while drunk. I think he stripped down to his underwear at one point, but, like I said, I don’t remember. It was probably a premonition about his wedding.
The final dream was equally fuzzy. I remember seeing a lot of snow and ice, a lot of tall pines with their branches weighed down by snow, similar to a dream I had when we went on a mission to LV-400 several years before. If I had been sleeping normally, I would’ve jolted up. I became aware of my heart beating a little faster. Air rushed around me as I realized the cryotube was opening up, but I couldn’t quite move yet. The lights above us flicked on, and I remained still, letting blood flow to my half-asleep form.
Someone coughed, and people began sitting up, trying to shake the cryo out. The civilian woman was looking around at us, observing us like we were zoo exhibits. I sat up next, feeling my nose was a tad stuffed up. Some people get a little clogged when they come out of cryo, and I’m no exception. I muttered something about how we’re not paid enough to do this, to which Dietrich replied, “Not enough to wake up to your face, Drake.”
Fuck you. “What? Is that a joke?” Deep-down, I was pissed that Dietrich said that not only in front of the civvie woman, but in front of the new lieutenant that was put in charge of us for this mission. I saw him getting out of his cryotube and stretching a little before looking around at us.
I tried not to make my embarrassment palpable. Before leaving my cryotube, I noticed Hicks looking at the woman. He gave her a very small smile, as if to tell her we were normally a harmless bunch and she had nothing to worry about.
Hudson was coughing as he got up, and then I heard him complain that the floor was freezing. I mean, he wasn’t wrong, but it’s not like anyone is going to give a couple shits.
Wierzbowski rubbed his face as he walked over to the lockers to get some clothes on. He sighed a little as Hudson danced past, making a beeline for his locker so he could get his socks on. In the meantime, Vasquez was already dressed and doing pull-ups using the bars hanging just below the ceiling. She then paused, and looked at Ferro, asking who the civilian woman was.
“She’s supposed to be some kind of consultant,” Ferro replied, zipping up her flight suit. “Apparently, she saw an alien once.”
“Whoopie-fucking-doo,” Hudson snorted as he put on his T-shirt. “Hey, I’m impressed.”
I had to agree that I wasn’t all that impressed, either. After all, each one of us has encountered some alien or another during our service; me, especially, considering I’m friends with a Weyland-Yutani xenologist, Rykell Delhoun. On the other hand, I think we were all a bit worried about just how stable this woman was after she blew up on Bishop right after boarding when Hicks explained he was an android.
Smirking at Vasquez, I joined her in doing some pull-ups. She can do them much better than me, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to either impress her or make her roll her eyes. Whether she likes to admit it or not, she’s a showoff. And so am I. Sometimes. Not all the time. But sometimes.
Gorman walked by us after getting dressed, taking a good long look at how we generally behave. He heard our typical locker room banter, and caught Wierzbowski gazing at a small photograph of himself and his wife on their honeymoon. Wierzbowski gave a sad sigh before tucking the picture away, and turned to face me. He opened his mouth to say something, but then stopped when he saw Gorman watching us from the corner of his eye.
“How long have you been married?” Gorman asked.
“It’ll be two years this August,” Wierzbowski replied.
Gorman held up his left hand to show us his ring. “Five in October. Kids?”
“No. We haven’t… really discussed that much.”
“Ah. I get it. All I’ve got at home are a couple of cats.”
I half-expected Wierzbowski to start talking about how weird Eliza’s cat can be sometimes, but I sensed he really wasn’t in a talkative mood right now, which I can understand. I didn’t say a word until Gorman walked away. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Wierzbowski replied. “Weird hypersleep dreams, that’s all.”
“Mine were a little odd, too. Hudson was only in his skivvies in one of them.”
“I don’t think that’s a dream. That’s a fucking nightmare.”
I smirked. “At least the skivvies stayed on.” My stomach grumbled a complaint about being empty for three weeks, so I wasted no time in pulling my cap out of my locker and flopped it on my head before moving across the room to grab a tray of food from the dispenser.
Gorman was sitting across from the civvie woman, occasionally looking over at us. I sat next to Wierzbowski with my tray of the absolutely lowest tier of food you can serve a Marine, and waited for Bishop to pour orange juice in each of our glasses.
Conversations were mostly kept amongst ourselves until Spunkmeyer bitched, “What’s this crap supposed to be?”
“Cornbread, I think,” Frost replied.
“It’s good for you, boy, eat it,” Hicks added.
Spunkmeyer kept eating, but I could tell that he’s had enough of bad cornbread. He went back to talking with Ferro. When he thought no one was looking, he leaned over to kiss her cheek.
Hudson, of course, needed all the attention to be on him. If he wasn’t trying to bribe you for your food, he was being loud and obnoxious about one thing or another. He pulled his service knife out of his belt, and started begging Bishop to “do the thing with the knife.” In short, “the thing with the knife” is where you spread your fingers on a flat surface and stab the tip of the knife in between them as fast as you can while (hopefully) not stabbing yourself. I’ve done it a few times to myself, sometimes sober, sometimes not. Hudson had taught this to Bishop awhile back because we all wanted to see just how fast his android reflexes could go.
Bishop really didn’t want to do it, but did it anyway. I sighed before getting up and marching over to put my arms around Hudson and force his hand on the table so Bishop could do the knife trick on him.
“Hey, what’re you doing, man? What’re you doing?” Hudson squirmed.
“Don’t move,” I said, holding him tighter. “Hudson, shut up.”
“Quit messing around, Drake! Bishop, hey, man!” Hudson just about peed himself when Bishop put the knife between his fingers. “Hey, not me, man!”
“Yeah, you.” I smirked.
Bishop looked at him, completely accepting of our behavior. “Trust me.”
So he does the trick with the knife, and Hudson is screaming because one wrong move and he could lose a finger. Everyone was laughing their heads off, even Apone, but eventually the fun was over and Apone told us to knock it off. Hudson was left staring at his hand and the knife in shock. I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually did wet his pants. Placing his tray back in front of him, I patted his arms before walking away. “Enjoy your meal.”
“That wasn’t funny, man,” Hudson replied, clearly still amazed he had all his fingers.
I sat back down next to Wierzbowski, who really didn’t have a reaction to what he just witnessed. Neither did Gorman, who looked wholly unimpressed. Hell, he looked sad, even, and a part of me was tempted to ask what was on his mind. Perhaps that wasn’t the craziest thing he just witnessed, or he expected better behavior out of us.
I turned my focus back to Wierzbowski. I knew for damn sure his mind was clearly elsewhere. I was about to say something about how we were going to be home before we knew it, when a clattering sound interrupted all of us. We turned our heads to see the civilian woman had knocked a tray of cornbread out of Bishop’s hands.
“Just stay away from me, Bishop, you got that straight?”
Some of us went back to our food. I looked at Hicks, who was calmly observing what went on while gently tapping the perpetual motion toy in the middle of the table.
“Guess she don’t like the cornbread, either,” Frost said.
“Honestly, who the fuck is this person?” I asked.
“Ripley. I was told she’s the only survivor of an alien attack on a space-tug called the Nostromo. Drifted in cryo for fifty-seven years or some crazy number like that,” Hicks replied.
“Fuck,” I said. “Why does she have such a big problem with Bishop, though? This is twice now.”
“Android on her last mission turned on the whole crew. She’s gonna brief us on what happened later, so, behave.”
I’m pretty sure there was a lot that I didn’t understand about what was going on. We were gathered in the loading bay to hear Ripley and Gorman talk about what we were potentially going up against.
The way Ripley described this supposed alien was ringing a bell in my head. As she talked, the bell kept ringing, louder and louder…
Attaches to the face, implants something, explodes out of the chest and becomes something bigger. Holy fuck, that’s what we saw on LV-400.
To be real, I’m not surprised no one really remembered that. It was four years ago. While Ripley’s encounter was a nightmare because her crew had no weapons, ours was nothing. Not to mention, the Annexers have dealt with it before. They had the situation way under control.
I stopped listening as I dug through my memories. I took a silent breath, suddenly feeling nauseated as I thought about LV-400 and its aftermath. The lab in Gateway… the silver flowers.
You’re alright, Drake. Steady, boy. I opened my eyes, resuming focus on the briefing.
“Drake, are you listening?”
I glanced forward to see Gorman looking at me.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I’m… listening… sir,” I said, not wanting to tell him what I was thinking about.
“Stay behind when we’re done with the briefing.”
I frowned. Wierzbowski glanced at me from his place behind a stack of ordinance. I swallowed hard, afraid I was in trouble with our new officer.
Gorman didn’t look upset, but I could tell Ripley was upset that we weren’t acting like we were taking this seriously. First, I zoned out, then Hudson and Vasquez started being a couple of smartasses. Admittedly, I always appreciate Vasquez’s confidence. Makes me feel good no matter what, but it sure as hell pissed off Ripley, and she snapped, “Are you finished?” to them.
Yeah. Like you’re in charge of us, lady. We all looked at her, silent, and I saw Gorman and Apone exchange glances. The looks they gave us told us to just shut up and pay attention. No more goofing around.
When the briefing ended, Gorman beckoned for me to follow him. We walked a ways from the others, not wanting them to hear our conversation. I was still a little anxious, and remained silent until he spoke to me.
“You can say anything to me,” he said. “What’s going on?”
I looked down, though a part of me was afraid he’d tell me to look him in the eye. He didn’t say anything, and just let me take my time. I didn’t know how to say what was going on inside my head. “Nothing… Nothing I feel like I can discuss… at the moment.”
Gorman nodded. “Okay. That’s understandable. Look, I won’t have anyone get on that dropship unless they’re certain they can do this.”
I made eye contact with him. “I can do this.”
“So, you’re okay. You’re positive you can go fight.”
“Alright.” Gorman held out his hand. “Don’t hesitate to say anything to me, Drake.”
I nodded. “Thanks.”
He patted my shoulder. “Go get suited up, Marine.”
I headed down to the armory to prep my smartgun and get my armor on. Vasquez was already with hers, rubbing it down with a dust rag. We were alone, so I saw this as a perfect opportunity to talk. “We got some time. Mind if I discuss something with you?”
“Is it about our meeting with the reps in a couple months?” she asked, not looking up from her weapon.
“Yeah, in a way. I know we’ve talked about this before, but I’m starting to think that we need to start… seriously talking about… you know, the m-word.”
“You can say ‘marriage,’ Drake, I don’t care.”
“Okay. Marriage. Yeah. I want to know your thoughts. Are you ready?”
Vasquez paused, tightly clutching the rag against the barrel of her smartgun. “If we are allowed to become civilians again, pop the question whenever you damn well want. I will say yes. Right now, I have no idea what… I’m good for as a civilian. I’ve been doing this for six years. I don’t know anything else.”
I thought for a moment. “Do you want to stay in the Marines? You know if you stay, I’ll stay.”
“I can’t do that to you, Drake.”
“I don’t want you to be unhappy.”
“And I don’t want you to be unhappy. I’ll find something outside. With my record being wiped, I can become a cop or security guard or something like that.”
“Alright. If that will make you happy.”
“Being with you will make me happy. I don’t have anyone else to confide in. You’re it. Losing you would be like committing suicide. Does ‘I love you’ mean anything to you, dumbass?”
“As a matter of fact, it does.” I put my arms around her, rubbing her arms and nuzzling her face. “I love you, too. I love you more than life itself. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and I want to be able to wake up next to you every single morning, and if you’re still sleeping, I’m gonna kiss the tip of your nose until you wake up.”
Vasquez was trying really hard not to smirk. “You’re gonna have a lot of bruises from me punching you every morning.”
“You’re not upset I want Hudson as my best man, are you?”
“As long as he doesn’t eat the fucking cake before we have a chance to look at it.”