I had left my journal up on the Sulaco, so I wound up taking a small pad of paper and a pen from an office near the medlab to write down notes. It didn’t surprise me that I didn’t have a shit-ton of notes when I went back through them, but they brought back memories while I organized them in order to write my next few entries.
Standing out in shitty weather was not fun. I’ve dealt with blizzards and sandstorms and hurricanes and tornadoes, but nothing was quite as bad as the rain that poured down all night as we sat up on the rooftops, trying to keep as warm and dry as possible under our rain gear. I was with Gorman, and we had a lot of time to talk. I could go on for pages and pages if I included all of our conversations, so I won’t get started.
There was no sign of the aliens that night. Gorman and I alternated shifts, radioing around to everyone else every ten minutes. We could see them on the other rooftops, making the best of the situation as well. When morning came, Tab and Ripley brought more rations up for us, staying to talk for a minute before leaving to take everyone else their food.
Several more hours of sitting doing nothing followed. I had run out of different positions to get comfortable in, and my ass and feet were getting sore.
Shortly before lunch, Gorman had ventured to tell me some stories about his participation in the Cetii Epsilon IV war, which was the only campaign my unit and his had been involved in together. He was in the middle of telling me how the menace, Corporal Towers, had saved them from a machine gun emplacement with a bulldozer when he was cut off by a loud blast. We looked around and saw smoke rising from the housing part of the colony.
“That’s one of our Claymores,” Gorman said, getting to his feet and trying to take a closer look with his binoculars. I stood with him, hefting my smartgun, waiting for word that we were under attack. Gorman reached for his radio. “Hudson, Crowe, check that out.”
We could see them climbing down the ladder on the outside of the building, and then disappearing behind one of the structures. A few moments later, Hudson responded, “Scratch one more ugly bad guy, Lieutenant! Dumbass walked right in front of the Claymore and got blown to bits!”
Gorman smiled with grim satisfaction. “Good. Set a new Claymore and get back to your post.”
The next few hours were uneventful again. So was that night, and most of the day after that. In the evening of that second day, I had gotten bored and started reading some of the stuff on Gorman’s armor when I got bored. His torso plates were as marked up as that of an enlisted Marine’s, so I decided to ask the question that I’d been thinking about for some time. “Hey, sir? Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” Gorman replied.
“Were you enlisted at some point?”
“Yep. Up until about two years ago.”
“What was your specialty?” I asked, referring to his Military Occupational Specialty, or his job in the Marines.
“I was a Vent Rat.”
I don’t know a whole lot about Vent Rats, other than they have high mortality rates, they’re one of the smallest MOSs because very few people aren’t claustrophobic, and they’re one of the most valuable members you can have on a RIFT. That, and it’s almost unheard of for Vent Rats to become officers. “This’s gotta be interesting,” I said. “How’d you become an officer?”
“Well, I didn’t want to in the first-” Gorman stopped, holding up his hand as he looked down the street. “Drake, I’ve got movement.”
I got up and took a look, flipping down the faceplate of my helmet. The heads-up display immediately activated as I aimed my gun in the direction I was looking, letting the targeting computer do the work. In less than a second, it saw what I did, one of the aliens trying to move stealthily across the open street. Without hesitating, I fired a burst at it, shredding it. The banging of the smartgun blocked out its screams, and what was left of the body collapsed in the middle of the street.
“Take another one off the list,” Gorman said calmly into his radio. “We’re still secure up here.”
“Good to hear it,” Apone said. “Are we keeping score?”
“Yeah, man!” Hudson interrupted. “Me and Crowe call that one the Claymore got. It was right by us!”
“If you want to go that route, dumbass, Wierzbowski and I should split credit,” I pointed out, glad for a moment of levity to break the boredom. “That gives us each half a kill plus the one I just got, which puts Gorman and me in the lead at one and a half.”
“You watch,” Hudson said, and I could imagine his disappointed pout even though I couldn’t see it. “We’ll still get more than anyone else.”
Vasquez sighed heavily into her radio. “Drake, why do you encourage him?”
I was about to respond when Hicks said, “We’re going to be tied with you and Drake in about two seconds, Lieutenant.”
His words were almost immediately followed by the crack of Wierzbowski firing a shot from his rifle.
“Hundred meters,” Wierzbowski said calmly. “Not an impressive shot, but it got the job done.”
I shook my head slowly. There are times when I forget that our gentle giant can be as ruthless as anyone else when it comes to combat. “That puts you in last, Vasquez,” I pointed out.
“With Hudson,” she insisted, earning a protest.
“So you’re saying you’re on the same level as Hudson?” Crowe questioned, the fake surprise clear in his voice. That got even more of an outburst from the technician, and I saw Gorman was smiling, even though his next words were serious. “That’s enough, boys and girls. We’ve had two aliens in as many minutes. Let’s keep an eye out. There might be more.”
We settled back down again, and after a moment, Gorman continued his story. “So as I was saying, I didn’t want to become an officer.”
“Then why did you?”
“I was thrown into that position when my CO died on a mission in Antarctica. Command was so impressed that I was given a merit commission right after.”
“If you didn’t want it, why did you accept it?”
Gorman let out a sigh. “I may not seem like it, but I’m more ambitious than I care to admit. I was a master sergeant when I got my commission. I know I could’ve kept going higher while enlisted, but…” He fell silent for a minute. “I felt I’d go higher as an officer.”
“If you’re ambitious, why do you sound like you regret this?”
“Because I have an extremely poor ability to take care of myself. I’ve put other people ahead of me for as long as I can remember. I care about everyone under me. That’s why I’m more active than most other officers. That, and I know what being in the field is like. It gives me more confidence in my abilities. I feel like I can do more to protect everyone as an officer.”
I shrugged. “Apone’s been able to protect all of us, and he’s still enlisted. I don’t think there’s much of a difference.”
“I respect him for that. I don’t have that satisfaction. I haven’t found my purpose yet.”
“I know what that’s like. Right now, I’m focused on redemption, managing my PTSD, and making sure I can return to civilian life. If I can do all three, I’ll be happy.” My thoughts turned to the brief conversation between Gorman and Wierzbowski when we woke up on the Sulaco. “Didn’t you mention you’re married?”
“Your wife supports you, right?”
“For now, she does. I’m afraid I’m pushing her patience with continuing my career and spending so much time away from her. I’m constantly torn between her, and the Marines I serve with. I don’t want to feel like I’m abandoning anyone, but… I choose the Marines every time, instead of her.”
“You feel like you belong here.”
Gorman looked at me in surprise. “Yeah. I… I do. I’ve been doing this for almost twenty years. I can’t see myself doing anything else.”
“I don’t think that’s something you should be ashamed of. If this is where you feel like you belong, then this is where you belong.”
Gorman nodded a little, then went back to looking through his binoculars. A few seconds later, he glanced over at me. “Thanks, Drake.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank my therapist. He taught me a lot when I went through treatment with him.”
“Honestly, you sound like you’d make a good therapist yourself.”
“I’ve thought about it, but I don’t think I could do it. I can help my friends, but I don’t know if I can help total strangers. Plus, I think there’s something better for me out there. I just don’t know yet.”
“Aren’t I a stranger to you?”
“Not anymore. I invited you for drinks, remember? Anyone I invite for drinks isn’t a stranger to me anymore.”
I read and remember all this now and think about how much I’ve changed. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have been so friendly with Gorman. I would’ve been quiet and closed and wouldn’t be able to help him understand what he was feeling. Looking back at my entries from LV-400 and the silver flower incident on Gateway, it’s really obvious that I was a different person back then. Sometimes I wonder if my journey with PTSD is part of what helped me change. It was definitely a hard road, and a lot of it was ugly. I don’t want to go through it again, but I wonder if it had to happen in order for me to become a better person. I had to take that journey inside myself. I may not become a therapist, but I can help someone else take that journey.
Six days and nights passed at an agonizingly slow pace. Much like the second day, the only action consisted of the occasional Claymore blast killing a lone alien stalking the streets, and either one of us or one of the sentry guns blasting them apart when they ventured into the open.
None of us spent the entire time in our posts on the roof. Even during the day, we kept our six hour shifts, so I occasionally went back to operations to get food or take the chance to dry off for a little while, and talk with Frost. Dietrich never said much when I was there, and neither did Ripley even when she was off-shift from guarding the dropship. Every time I saw Tab off of guard duty, she was sleeping. I couldn’t blame her, after the month of nightmares she had lived through. It was obvious that some of those nightmares made it into her sleep, and a few times when I was there she let out a soft whimper, and one time she jolted straight up into a sitting position, looked around, and then lay back down and went to sleep again without acknowledging anyone or saying a word. I’m not even sure if she was awake or acting out her dreams that time.
In the middle of the sixth night, however, everything went to hell. I was on shift and Gorman was about to go over to operations to get out of the weather for a little while when Frost radioed us. “Lieutenant, we’ve got activity in the access tunnel.”
“What is it?” Gorman stopped dead, scanning the surrounding environment.
“Guns just went into action,” Frost said tensely.
“Lieutenant,” Apone came over the radio, “Look towards the processing plant!”
We both swung to look, and saw a horde of aliens running full speed towards us. The darkness and the storm had hidden them until they were only a short distance away, too close to pick off with gunfire before they overran us.
“Shit! Everyone back to operations!” Gorman snapped. “Let’s go, Drake!”
We both ran for the ladder, climbing down and running through the deep mud of the street to the administration complex, waiting at the entrance until everyone else arrived. Hudson and Crowe made it back quickly, as did Hicks and Wierzbowski. Apone and Vasquez dashed up just as the sound of several of the sentry guns we had placed in the streets opening fire reached us. As we ran up towards operations, Gorman ordered, “Ferro, Spunkmeyer, get the ship prepped in case we need to get out of here! Ripley, Tab, cover them on the roof! Frost, Dietrich, we’re coming in! Get ready!”
We reached operations and Frost closed the door behind us, pulling out his welder and beginning to seal it off. Gorman gestured for each of us to take our defensive positions. There was a tense wait of several moments, and then something slammed against the door. Frost had just finished the welding, and he leapt backwards, almost falling over as he scrambled into position. Something else slammed into the door, and a sizable dent appeared. “That’s thick steel, man!” Frost exclaimed. “What the hell are they doing to it?”
More pounding ensued, and we were all focused on the door now as more dents appeared. Then, with a loud, horrible clanging, the whole door was knocked off of its tracks. It fell out of the doorway, revealing the snarling head of an alien. We all opened fire at once, and the chaos that began in the next second was far worse than even the hive had been. We were able to take down the first few aliens, but some of them managed to get in, ducking behind the bodies of those in front of them and dodging away from our fire, and what had been a well-controlled situation turned into pandemonium far quicker than ever would have happened with an enemy force of humans.
Aliens poured in through the door and in a moment, they were all around us, and we found ourselves firing in every direction, doing our best not to hit each other. Honestly, I think I blocked out most of what happened in the next minute or two, but I do remember some of the aliens finding the stairs up to the roof and scampering up before we could stop them, and then a few moments later, Dietrich shoving me out of the way as an acidic carcass burned its way through the ceiling above us, falling to the floor right where I had been standing.
Truthfully, it’s a miracle none of us were seriously injured by either acid blood or the aliens themselves. At least, partly a miracle. Part of it was also because, well, we’re all damn good at our job. But there was definitely more to our survival than just skill. Luck, fate, God, whatever or whoever you want to believe in, seemed to be on our side.
I’ve managed to hold onto a few other scattered memories from that fight: Hicks’ pulse rifle being knocked out of his hands and sent flying across the room by an alien, only for Apone to blast the creature apart, giving Hicks a chance to draw his shotgun, Crowe pulling out his handgun when his rifle ran dry and standing back to back with Dietrich as they both kept firing, Vasquez shooting right past Frost’s head at an alien, Hudson getting knocked off his feet and almost dragged away until I shot the alien grabbing at him, and finally Gorman shouting, “They’re falling back!”
The few remaining aliens were indeed fleeing, and in a few moments, everything was quiet. We began to check ourselves for injuries, and were relieved to find nothing major. Hicks, Wierzbowski, Apone, and Vasquez all had minor scratches from near misses with the claws of the aliens, Gorman’s arm had been grazed by a bullet from someone, Crowe had thrown away his helmet after it was splattered with acid, and Hudson had apparently bruised his ass when he fell. I knew we were all okay when he began complaining about that.
Ferro, Spunkmeyer, Ripley, and Tab came running down the stairs, demanding to know if we were alright.
“We’re all okay,” Apone calmed them. “Are you four alright?”
Ripley and Tab were both shaking as Ripley replied, “Yeah. Tab… saved my life up there. One of those things was about to grab me when she shot it.”
Tab said weakly, her voice almost a sob, “At least I was good enough to save one person’s life.” She burst into tears and dropped her rifle, clutching at Ripley, who hugged her back.
“Do we still need to get out of here?” Ferro demanded, looking around. I followed her gaze, and for the first time noticed the total chaos. Countless holes of varying sizes had been burned in the floor, walls, and scattered desks and computers. I felt dizzy as I realized just how amazing it was none of us had been hit by the acid blood. When I looked up, I saw that there was more than one hole in the ceiling from an alien body burning through. There were several large holes, each one letting the rain pour in.
Gorman looked around as well. “I don’t know. They seem to be leaving us alone for now, and we might have scared them off for a while. Let’s take a look around and see if we can get a body count. Frost, Dietrich, take Ripley and Tab and check the tunnel. Reload the sentry guns while you’re there. Hicks, Wierzbowski, see if you can go down there,” he pointed through the holes in the floor, “and get an accurate count of how many we got. Everyone else, let’s head outside and see what the sentry guns and traps did.”
The outside was almost as bad as the inside. It looked like almost the entire army of creatures had come for us, and they had paid heavily. It was difficult to get a count of how many had been shredded by the machine guns, torched by the flamethrower-equipped sentry guns, or blown to bits by the grenade launchers and Claymores. Eventually we realized that counting the remains of the heads was the most accurate way, and when we regrouped outside the administration complex, we came up with a final number of about sixty-five to seventy, including the eighteen that we had killed in the past few days.
“We’re counting about thirty in here, Lieutenant,” Hicks reported from inside, and a moment later, Frost added, “Man, it’s damn hard to tell, it’s all such a jumble of monster bits and burned shit, but I’d say we got at least another forty-five in the tunnel, maybe more.”
“Holy shit,” Apone muttered, a sentiment echoed by almost everyone else.
Gorman thought for a minute. “That leaves about fifteen to twenty left. Twenty-five at the most. That shouldn’t be a problem for us. We’ll reload the sentry guns and stay. Although I think,” he smiled sarcastically, “It might be best if we move over to the medlab, considering the mess we made in operations.”
Out of everyone, I thought Hudson would be the most upset about having to stay. However, he was practically dancing around as he cried out, “Hell yeah, man! We kicked ass! Those motherfuckers aren’t so tough now!”
Hicks was much more subdued, but he nodded in agreement. “We stick out the next two weeks, maybe pick off a few more, and it won’t be so bad when the regulars get here. They’ll hopefully only have to deal with about ten or fifteen.”
I took one last look at the alien bodies lying scattered around in the streets as we went back inside. Today was a victory, probably the most important one on this mission, and even though the mission wasn’t over, things had changed. We still had two weeks to go, but despite the fact that they would probably be just as boring as the past week, we didn’t have to be so tense or afraid anymore. We had somehow managed to wipe out about one hundred twenty-five of those things in one short battle, and none of us had gotten killed. We could make it out of this.