On the flight to the derelict, I was silent while observing the rest of my teammates. I was really queasy and my heart was pounding. Honestly, I’m not sure how else to describe the feelings in that dropship on the way to the derelict ship. I could tell from everyone’s expressions that we were nervous and unsure, even though we did trust Gorman.
Gorman was trying to distract himself by watching our vital sign monitors. I don’t think he doubted the plan he formed with Hicks, Apone, and Ripley, but I think he was worried about the casualties it could produce. No one wants to be the guy sending notices to families that their Marine’s been killed. With me, there would be no notice. There would be nothing.
“Coming up on the coordinates,” Ferro reported. “I’m not seeing-what the fuck?!” she interrupted herself.
Spunkmeyer’s voice was shocked as he said, “Big fucking alien ship ahead! Look at the size of that thing!”
“I see it,” Gorman said tensely as the ship came into view on the monitors. From my position, I could see it was a large, almost horseshoe-shaped structure like nothing I had ever seen before.
“We’ll have to set down on that rise towards the forward section of the ship,” Ferro said. “It looks like there are a couple of large openings torn in the hull towards the back. I’d say that’s your most likely entry point.”
“Take us in, Ferro,” ordered Gorman. “We’ll drive the rest of the way.”
It was no surprise that the area the ship was looked no different to where the colony was. It was dark, overcast, dusty, and there was no life aside from us-and the fucking eggs, of course. There was a minor difference, though, and that was the ship’s resting place looked much darker, more dusty. Out of all the depictions of hell I’ve ever seen, I’m surprised no artist has ever done something that looked like LV-426, but I can also see why; it’s too fucking intimidating. It’s worse than Antarctica, the Sahara, and LV-400 put together. For me, it’s like looking into the corners of my brain where my PTSD nests. There’s nothing, aside from a monster I can’t describe using words alone.
That monster has been woken up a few times over the course of this mission. Maybe it lifted its head a little, before going back to sleep, but for me, that’s too much. It’s taken me so long to get it to just find a dark spot in my brain and stay there. I don’t want to go through the sheer hell of putting it back again. I don’t have the energy to fight that battle again.
I wasn’t too surprised Ripley was reluctant to accompany us to the derelict. This was the place where everything went wrong for her. I was tempted to say something, but I wasn’t too sure she’d accept my thoughts after I’ve been a real ass toward her this whole time.
I tried to put myself in her place, imagining the derelict was full of silver flowers. When I opened my mouth to say something (although, to be real, I don’t know what I was going to say, or how I was going to say it), I noticed Ripley making eye contact with me.
“What, Drake?” she asked.
Well, I trapped myself in this one. “Yeah, I guess… um… L-Look, I didn’t mean for us to get off on the wrong foot. I know this isn’t a fucking pleasure cruise, but… I don’t want you coming away from this thinking I’m an awful person. I really do understand what you’re going through-”
“You know what it’s like to have your entire crew, people you’ve worked with for years, slaughtered in front of you? You know what it’s like to waste your life away in hypersleep, and wake up finding out your daughter has already passed on?”
“N-No, but… I know what it’s like to feel… to feel as though nothing is going right, to be… absolutely terrified, to be so upset and angry and… it’s hard to explain, sometimes. Trauma’s a bitch, and… even though I don’t know what specifically you went through, I do understand every feeling you might be having afterward. They make it hard to talk to people, even people you’ve known for a long time. And, I completely understand… how it feels to be alone. Totally and emotionally alone. It hurts, and you don’t know when or if you’ll ever find somebody who’ll take the time out of their life to care and just listen to everything you want to say. I thought I wasn’t going to find anyone, and eventually, I did. I found my best friends and brothers when I thought I was going to be alone for the rest of my life. I know things just seem… bleak and awful for you, but… believe me, if you try to maintain hope and seek out help, things will get better. I promise.”
When I look back on this, I really wish someone had told me this exact same thing when I was diagnosed with PTSD. Maybe even before that. Deep down, I wanted someone around who understood. Hicks tried to be that, but his own problems kept clouding his vision, and that wasn’t his fault. It took him a long time to heal himself and start helping me. I knew I came across as someone who preferred to be alone, and there’s a part of me that does; I tend to function better by myself, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want friends I can turn to when I need help. I know I want my current friends around when I make the transition to civilian life. I want that as much as I want to get married to Vasquez.
A lighter feeling filled my chest when I saw I had gotten through to Ripley. I could see the muscles in her face relax a little, and she no longer looked at me like I was a major asshole. In fact, she finally looked at me like I was another human being, not just one of the Marines. I highly doubt she wondered if I had once been a juvenile felon.
“In so many ways, Drake, you’re right. Trusting people has been close to impossible these last few weeks. Some didn’t believe my story, at first. Your commanding officers were the first to believe it whole-heartedly, and they told me your unit would take care of the colony, that you’re one of the best in the business.”
I smiled. “That must have been General Russell. He’s the commander of the 3rd Division, over our regiment. Hell, he probably put Gorman in charge, and he made a good choice.” I glanced over in Gorman’s direction. “I do get it, though; even though you know people believe you, it’s hard to open up. I suffered through that with a couple of the guys here.”
“Well, what happened to you?”
“You know the laboratory station in to Gateway? I got sent there and was accidentally poisoned by silver flowers. I… lived, but the doctors almost lost me a couple times. I had been in some bad situations before that, but that was a different experience altogether, and it stuck with me. It’s still stuck with me. I can manage it now, but I couldn’t manage anything, period, four years ago. I know the silver flower isn’t anything like these aliens. I did have my moments where I wanted to destroy every last silver flower in existence, and I tried. Once. Didn’t go so well. Don’t ever take a flamethrower to a silver flower; they explode.”
A very weak smile crossed Ripley’s face; it quickly faded, though. “I’m very sorry, Drake.”
“And I’m sorry, too.” I clutched my smartgun tight with one hand to hold out my other. “No hard feelings?”
Ripley took my hand in a firm, professional grip. “No hard feelings.”
I gave a lopsided grin, a weight finally lifting off my shoulders. I can deal with her.
For once, I was grateful for the weight of my smartgun. Why? Because it meant I was exempt from having to help carry the weight of the three-hundred pound nuclear warhead into the derelict. That’s right, we had to carry the damn thing. We do have small cargo carriers that we could have put it on, but nothing we could guarantee would fit inside the corridors of the derelict. The only choice was to carry it in the APC until we found an entry point in the hull, and then carry it by hand. Wierzbowski, being much bigger than Crowe, had offered to switch places with him and help carry it, while Crowe stayed behind in the APC with Frost, along with Ripley.
Before we left, Gorman turned back to Frost and Crowe. “Watch out for her and the others in the dropship,” he ordered. “If it looks like this is going to go wrong and none of us are going to make it, just get them out of here. Don’t put them at risk for us.”
“Got it, Lieutenant,” Frost said reluctantly. He hesitated and then added, “Sure wish I was going with you guys.”
“So do I,” Gorman admitted.
The one mercy that came with carrying the warhead is that it did have handles. Wierzbowski, Hudson, Dietrich, and Hicks each grabbed a handle, and began hefting the thing through the gap in the ship’s hull. It was so heavy that all four of them had their weapons slung and were using both hands. Gorman and I led the way, Gorman scanning ahead of us with his motion tracker while Vasquez and Apone brought up the rear, Apone scanning behind.
It was unbearably warm inside the derelict. Sweat was rolling down our faces in waves, and the air was stuffy. It was also dark, but what little we could see with our shoulder lamps revealed rib-like patterns on the walls and ceiling of the passageway we walked down, oddly similar to the alien hive. Personally, I couldn’t tell if it was the design of the ship itself, or if we actually did walk right into another hive.
One thing I will note is the sheer bizarreness of the ship’s interior. There were several design… choices, I guess you could call them, that resembled parts of the human body. Hell, a lot of the ship looked somewhat organic, and I really hoped that was just by design and not a sign that this thing had been literally alive at one point. That’s just freaky.
We actually managed to make it down several halls before Wierzbowski and the others had to take a break. Gingerly setting the warhead down, he, Hudson, Dietrich, and Hicks sat down next to it, resting their arms.
Wierzbowski took a swig of water from his canteen. “This place looks like the manifestation of somebody’s nightmares,” he muttered.
“Got that right, pal,” I replied, still looking ahead. The air was almost like soup. Hicks has described summers in Alabama as like breathing in soup for months on end. This was worse, and it certainly didn’t have the pretty scenery like Alabama does.
Not even a minute passed when we looked over at Gorman for further orders. He looked a little lost and distant. Something was on his mind. A second later, he shook his head, and turned to us. “Okay, let’s keep moving.”
“Sir, are you alright?” Wierzbowski asked.
“I’m alright,” Gorman said. “Let’s find that chamber, set the bomb, and get outta here.”
We ventured through several more halls before coming upon a large room that was covered in green, leathery-looking eggs. All were surrounded by a bluish haze that I assumed was from the sheer humidity of this place. The air was least breathable here, and I could hear Wierzbowski’s wheezing deep within his lungs. I struggled to get in a breath in myself, and I could also hear my PTSD in my brain saying, “Yoohoo! I’m still here, Drake! Go ahead, keep trying to breathe. I’ll grab you in a few seconds and drag your ass down to your personal hell.”
Fuck off, already.
“Aside from this egg chamber, I’m not seeing anything that Dallas and the others reported seeing,” Ripley said through our headsets. “You must’ve gone through a different entrance point.”
“You mean there was more to see?” I snorted.
“They found a lifeform of some kind. It was between eight and nine feet long, and looked like it had been formed into a large chair with a long device hooked up to it, like a weapon or a computer of some kind.”
“What did this lifeform look like?” Apone asked.
“It had a head or helmet that had an elephant-like trunk or device on it.”
My thoughts came to a screeching halt. “You said this thing was about eight or nine feet, and had an elephant-like trunk?”
That matches Aran. He had a weird-looking helmet. Hudson said it looked like an elephant with no ears. “Interesting,” I said.
Gorman stepped forward, keeping his gun pointed at the eggs. There was a platform extending outward, giving a rather intimate view of the eggs, something I wasn’t comfortable with. However, the platform also seemed to be far away enough for the spiders inside to not react to Gorman’s presence. He paused at the very end of the platform, still sweeping his gun from side to side. I felt a bit nervous watching him. As much as I don’t think any of the eggs would open as long as Gorman was on the platform, he was still really, really close.
“I think we should set the warhead here.” Gorman gestured to the ground under his boots.
“Here as in, the platform, or in the middle of this… field of death?” I asked.
“Right here, where I’m standing.”
I moved out of the way so Wierzbowski and the others could bring the bomb over. Stepping back onto the ledge-like structure overlooking the eggs, I remained focused on them, ready to shoot anything that moved that wasn’t one of us.
I thought it was a trick of the darkness when I saw something moving above us. Not wanting to shoot at nothing and scare everyone, I waited. Plus, if it was one of the creatures, I didn’t want its carcass falling on the others and gushing acid all over them.
My blood froze when it got close enough for me to see that it indeed was an alien, but it looked vastly different to the ones in the processor. It was bigger, and had a pale bluish-gray hue instead of the pitch black. The blade at the end of its tail seemed as long as that of a scythe.
It looked right at me, not making another movement. I know most animals don’t respond well to eye contact, but this guy wasn’t doing anything, just staring me down. I kept my eyes locked on it, then aimed my smartgun at it.
It turned and made a run for it. I started shooting, just narrowly missing it as it crawled into a hole in the ceiling. “Shit!” I hissed.
“Drake, what the hell was that about?!” Gorman snarled.
“There was one of those things on the ceiling,” I said.
There wasn’t just one alien on the ceiling. Oh, no, there was not. They weren’t wall-to-wall like the colony, but they still swarmed out of nowhere. The strange thing was that they weren’t attacking. Not yet, anyway.
An egg started opening near Gorman. A spider flailed its legs, scrambling to get out. It took all of five seconds for Gorman to shoot it with his pulse rifle, and that sent the aliens on the ceiling into a rage.
All bets were off. Everyone was firing at eggs and aliens and the air was filled the horrendous stink of acid. My eyes were watering and I could feel an awful stinging sensation in my sinuses. The chamber was turning into a thick pool of indescribable goo and innards. Aliens were screeching and Gorman was yelling orders above everyone else.
“Drake! With me!” Gorman got on one side of the warhead. “Apone! We need to set this bitch now and get the fuck outta here!”
“Dietrich, get over here!” Apone shouted. “Guard my ass while we set the nuke!”
Gorman was punching in his authorization code when I saw a pale shape rapidly skittering toward him. It let out a shrill sound as it coiled its tail, preparing to jump at the lieutenant. I swung my smartgun towards it and blew it apart before it could make the leap.
I felt something wet fall on my right arm. At first, I thought it was just sweat. Then I noticed how thick and slimy this substance was as it slowly ran down my arm.
My stomach clenched hard when I heard something above me. It sounded like claws on the wall, followed by a soft hissing. My heart sped up, and I felt like time was slowing down.
Wierzbowski saw it before I could. I have never heard the man scream like I did in this moment.
A pair of long, blue, bony claws grabbed me tight, keeping my mouth shut. One claw was around my head, the other had dug under my armor and gripped my belly. I felt more slime running all over my arms.
The last thing I heard before blacking out was Wierzbowski’s howling. “DRAAAKE!”
It echoed across my mind right before the alien started squeezing my neck and I passed out.
Only once before have I watched various events of my life play out in front of my mind’s eye, and that was when I was close to death from the silver flower. I heard the laugh of my older sister-she was three when I was born-as she held me when I was around six months old. Then she kissed my forehead before hugging me tight. I heard the repetitive talks from my teachers about how I don’t try hard enough in class, even though I have proved that I have potential. From middle school onward, I was becoming aware of how much other people wanted from me, but I didn’t know what I wanted for myself. I heard over and over that it is extremely selfish and wrong to want things for yourself, that you should strive to help others.
I didn’t know what to do, I was so confused. I wanted happiness. I wanted to be proud of myself. My father told me that I just needed to explore myself to find what I wanted, but I suppressed that. I was tired of people looking at me like I was destined to be evil. I heard my teachers telling my parents how I put little effort into working with others, that maybe I needed a long talk on why being alone isn’t good for me.
That’s why I snapped. That’s why I decided running away was the best course of options. I felt like running away and being alone would allow me to find out who I was and what I wanted.
When I look back, I know that wouldn’t have done anything for me. Not only that, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and became in murderer in less than five minutes.
Those five minutes set my life on a different course. I don’t know where I’d be if things didn’t turn out the way they have. I don’t know where I’d be without Vasquez, without Hudson, without everyone I’ve ever met on this journey.
I’ll be honest. Without them, I would’ve either gotten myself killed, or taken my own life. A part of me thinks that maybe I would’ve found something if I had successfully ran away from home. However, I probably wouldn’t have joined the Marines, like Spunkmeyer, who enlisted when he was only seventeen. It didn’t cross my mind, not to mention, I wasn’t smart enough to forge my own documents to enlist underage.
I remembered going into the prison complex for the first time. It was a relatively small series of buildings nestled in the woods, far away from civilization. I was escorted out with around thirty other new inmates. People think children are innocent little things until they see a juvenile prison facility. The majority of inmates are all between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, and they will scare the shit out of you as much as an adult inmate will.
We were processed, given clothes, given our cell number, and sent off with some rules. My first night was an experience, to say the least. I didn’t sleep. I remained as far away from the bars as possible, hoping no one could see me in the dark. I listened to the crying and the taunting and the purely disgusting things these kids would say. I lay on my cot, quiet and scared. I wondered just how I was going to survive here.
Two years passed before I met Vasquez. We didn’t connect with each other instantly, but we did feel something when we first met. It wasn’t love; it was an understanding, sympathy, empathy, whatever. It turned into love, though, but we kept that understanding of each other. Basically, it was that understanding, that ability to really get each other’s emotions, even after years of suppressing them, that allowed our relationship to thrive. We went from friends to lovers. I can vividly remember our first kiss was the day before someone came around with the opportunity of a lifetime for us.
It was a late afternoon. We were hiding in an abandoned warehouse-like building. There was silence, aside from shouting outside. The deep, warm orange of a sunset was spilling in through the grimy windows. Vasquez had told me she had a dream where she kissed me, on the cheek, and that she’d been waiting all day to tell me because she felt like it was the stupidest dream she’d ever have. All I did was smile and laugh.
We spent some time just looking at each other, thinking about the idea of kissing. Then, we slowly leaned into each other. I gently held Vasquez as our heads got closer, and I felt her hands behind my head. Our lips touched, and I was enveloped in a state of blissful happiness. It was the happiest I had been in a long, long time. I had finally got something I wanted; I had love, and I was never letting go of it. My heart belonged to Vasquez and her heart belonged to me, and it’s been that way ever since.
When we ended the kiss, we stayed where we were, nuzzling each other. Vasquez was more closed off than I was, but that was one of the few times she became vulnerable. That was when I knew she felt I was perfect for her. We trusted each other on a level that ran a lot deeper than most other couples. We met and bonded in a place where happiness did not exist. Falling in love was just a bonus.
To be honest, I’ve had moments where I take her for granted. I know that I had been wrong or neglectful in those moments, but still, all my feelings for her are running so deep inside me that they can’t be pulled out. No other woman in the world can do for me what Vasquez does. No other man in the world can do for Vasquez what I do. That’s just how it is.
I watched my days in boot camp fly across my mind. Every insult, every lengthy exercise session, every agonizing moment my division would have to stand in front of our bunks till the ungodly hours of the morning because someone had a crease in their bedsheets. Every single time a drill sergeant would tell me I less than dirt because I came from prison. That’s all I was to them; a former prisoner who didn’t deserve a shred of redemption. I had no history, no personality, no potential.
You may not think it, but I did believe, at first, that I was truly going to redeem myself and get the fucking guilt off my shoulders when I agreed to join the Marines and terminate my life sentence. I can remember being told it was a simple, five-year contract, and then I’d be evaluated on my discipline. If I did well enough, I’d get a full pardon, which means my prison sentence would be eliminated and my criminal record would be wiped. After that, I could either sign a new contract with the Marines or go back to civilian life.
You pretty much know the rest of the story. It all flashed across my unconscious mind.
Something didn’t feel right when I came around. I couldn’t move, and a faint sense of panic began forcing my senses awake faster. My vision was blurred, and slowly came into focus. I spotted something familiar, though, and that was my chestplate lying on the ground.
Why the fuck did I feel like I was off the ground?
My head and the back of my neck were aching. It took me awhile to get a good look at my surroundings, and then I realized what had just happened. That alien in the egg chamber had taken me to a nest, and glued me to the wall, just like the colonists.
I was certain we were still in the derelict. Surely, I was close to the rest of my unit, so I screamed at the top of my lungs into the pitch darkness. “Hudson! Hicks! Wierzbowski! Vasquez! Gorman!”
Nothing. Not even an echo.
I could hear the dripping of slime from the fresh resin pinning me to the ugly, misshapen wall. My heart continued to pound hard in my ribcage. Swallowing hard, I tried to think.
No, there’s no fucking time to think, Drake. You need to get out of there before one of those spider-things gets you.