Looking back, I find I really don’t have much to say about the next two weeks. They were just as boring as expected, and I think we really scared the hell out of the aliens because we only got a chance to take out one more.
Finally, the day came when we were standing guard on the roofs and an incoming transmission reached us. “RIFT 1, this is the USS Kimmel. Please respond.”
“Reading you, Kimmel. This is Lieutenant Gorman,” Gorman replied.
“We’re preparing to break atmosphere. Are we clear to land on the colony perimeter?”
“Affirmative, Kimmel. We’ll meet you on the ground.”
Everyone else held their positions while Gorman and I jogged over towards the landing pad in time to see the Shenandoah-class troop transport break through the clouds, whipping up even more wind as it set down next to the platform. I was a bit surprised that they brought the entire ship in instead of dropping, but I guess they were trying to make a fast entrance, and they didn’t need to worry about taking enemy fire anyway.
Several of the hatches opened, the ramps dropped, and Marines poured out, moving in well-organized formations. A tall dark-skinned man with the gold oak leaves of a major on his uniform collar approached us, flanked by subordinate officers. “Lieutenant Gorman!” he greeted, returning Gorman’s salute. “I’m Major Derekes, 13th Battalion, here to relieve you.”
Along with the other Marines, we walked back to the colony, explaining the situation to the major as we went. Gorman gave him all the details of the past three weeks, and Derekes interjected questions occasionally. One question he asked was something I had been wondering about myself. “Do you have any theories as to why, in both hives, your unit was ambushed while the rest of the creatures were apparently hibernating?”
Gorman looked at me, and then back. “No, sir, we hadn’t really thought about that. I suppose it’s possible that the creatures that weren’t hibernating were like guards, patrolling for either threats to the hive or potential hosts. There were… two prior trips to the alien ship before us, Ellen Ripley’s crew and a team from the colony, but it’s possible they didn’t make enough noise to wake up the hive. In both the processing plant and the ship, the creatures only woke up after we were force to open fire.”
“And you said there are about twenty of these things left?” Derekes clarified.
“Twenty-five at the most. We got most of them in the attack two weeks ago. That also doesn’t take into account however many we killed in the processing plant, because we aren’t sure how many we got. And I think it’s safe to say they won’t be hibernating any time soon.”
“Alright.” Derekes looked around at the colony, the rotting remains of the alien carcasses, and the defenses we had set up. “You must all be dead tired, Lieutenant. Get your team back up to your ship. We’ll take it from here. I’ll have a team collect your sentry guns and other gear and take it up to your ship in a few hours. If there really are so few of these things left, a direct attack shouldn’t be a problem. We’ll go in and wipe them out.”
I think there were very few missions that we were all happier to be coming home from. As we drew closer to the Sulaco, no one cheered or said anything, even though each of us knew that this shit was certainly over. We’d just gone through a nightmare, and despite the fact that we had all survived, we didn’t exactly get out unscathed. Some of us were wounded, and some of us were going to be reliving these events in our minds for a long time, myself included.
I really believed we were going home once the dropship entered the airlock and passed into the docking bay. A heavy silence passed over us as we waited for the engines to quiet down, and Ferro and Spunkmeyer unbuckled themselves.
“Thanks for traveling with us today. We hope you enjoyed the ride,” Spunkmeyer said. He frowned when he looked at us all. “Everyone… okay?”
“Oh, fuck me in the ass, Spunkmeyer!” Hudson shouted. “You were with us, man! You really think any of us are okay?!’“
“Knock it off, Hudson,” Apone said. “Alright, people, get outta here. Go power down. I’ll be with you in two hours.”
Ripley took care of Newt while the rest of us showered and put on fresh clothes (as fresh as you could get for storage in space). I stood in an absurdly tiny stall, washing the slime and grime off from the hive. My mind was going in every direction you can think of, and I didn’t like it. I was feeling sick, even though my stomach was empty.
I left the shower room, adjusting my shirt, and saw Ripley going into the ladies’ shower room with Newt. I hoped she remembered everything I said to her about how things aren’t always going to be bad. With help and good companions, she should manage her trauma well. I had a feeling that she and Tab might be sticking close as well, given their similar experiences. Hopefully they’d be able to form a friendship that would help them both recover. As for Newt, I think her journey is going to be just as rough as mine. Maybe she’ll stay with Ripley, maybe she’ll want to stay with Spunkmeyer. Both are possible. Ripley never got to see her daughter grow up, so she could take Newt in to have that experience. Spunkmeyer was himself adopted, so he could take Newt in to give her the life and love he never got.
Sighing, I began walking aimlessly around, and found Wierzbowski in the transmission room, recording a message to Eliza.
“…I’ll be in hypersleep when you wake up and see this, but, just know I’m on my way home, I’m okay, and I love you. I hope everything’s been going okay with you. I know you miss me a lot, and I miss you, too. I’ll see you in a few weeks, love.” Wierzbowski submitted his message and then noticed me from the corner of his eye. “How’re you doing, Drake?”
“I don’t know. I think my appetite’s coming back. Other than that, I’m… I’m gonna take a couple days of leave when we get back,” I sighed.
“Well, I know someone’s going to let Eliza know when I’m supposed to arrive at Gateway, but I’d rather let her know I’m coming home myself. Hopefully, she’ll be able to come over to Venice and spend some time with me. I’ll wire her money if she needs it.”
I smiled a little bit. “Hey, you know we gotta do something for Hudson when he leaves.”
“We’ll have a month to plan.”
“Not if we fucking procrastinate on it. I’m thinking it’ll be like a bachelor party; we’ll take him somewhere and he can eat and drink all he wants and nobody’s gonna say a damn word.”
Wierzbowski smiled as well, but his was sadder. “I’m going to miss him. I know I’ve only got six months left on my contract, but that’ll feel like forever.”
“And you’ll only have four months left when Vasquez and I go. Geez. I feel bad leaving you all alone.”
“I’ll have everyone else, but… yeah, I’ll miss you and Hudson especially. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for better friends.”
“Still, you thought I died down there in the hive.”
“Bloody hell, Drake, don’t bring that up. I’m going to have nightmares about that for a long time.”
A freshly showered Hudson came in, his right leg covered in bandages. “Wish they had some beer on this hunk-a-junk, man.” He plopped down in a chair. “Could use a drink.”
“We all could use a drink,” I said. “Even Wierzbowski might have one.”
“Eliza’s been slowly introducing me to wine. I can’t do whiskey anymore; that’s what I got hooked on.” Wierzbowski turned to face Hudson. “Are you gonna send a message to your girlfriend?”
“Yeah, man. Look… when I get out, I’m gonna need you guys’ help. I’m gonna propose to Miranda.”
“I know, right? I need the right ring.”
“All you really need to worry about is the size. Were you planning on doing something special with the gemstone?”
“Nah, I’ll stick with a nice diamond, man. She likes rose-gold, so I’m definitely getting that for the ring itself.”
I grinning. “Look at that. Our Hudson’s growing up.”
“Yeah, he’s not humping random people in bars anymore,” Wierzbowski snorted. “Seems like yesterday I had to pull you out of a fight with this one bitch’s boyfriend because he was about to cut you with shards from a broken beer bottle. Gave him a bloody nose he wasn’t forgetting anytime soon.”
“I think you completely destroyed his nose to the point of no repair. I remember that fight,” I said. “Best fight I ever watched. That’s why one of the squad mottos is ‘Don’t fuck with Wierzbowski.’“
Hudson was red with embarrassment. “Well, that was almost six years ago, man. Things’ve changed, and I regret a lot of those things. I mean, Miranda’s not the reason I changed, but she helped. I really do like her and I feel like we understand each other on a really emotional level. I want to be with her for the rest of my life. Hell, maybe we’ll have kids together.”
“You’re gonna name me their godfather, right?” I asked.
“You’re my best man, and you already wanna be the godfather to my kids? Geez, man.” Hudson smirked. “Of course I would. Does that mean me and Miranda will be the godparents of your children?”
“Actually… I gotta think about that. It’s kind of a toss-up between you, Wierzbowski, and Hicks.”
“Hicks is in the Marines for life. I don’t think he’d be a good idea,” Wierzbowski said, standing up. “I mean, think about it: if something happened to you and Vasquez, Hicks wouldn’t be able to properly care for your son or daughter while serving.”
“He makes a good point, man,” Hudson added.
“Yeah, he does.”
Hicks walked into the room, saying, “Three hours till we get in cryo to go home. Come on down to the chow hall.”
“We better get a real celebratory meal when we get back to Earth,” I muttered.
Instead of snapping at my smartass remark, Hicks sighed and nodded in agreement. “For what we’ve been through, it better be a six course meal with dessert and drinks afterward.”
I followed the others to the mess hall. Everyone sat in the same place they were before the mission briefing. It was honestly surreal, and a part of me wondered if everything down the planet actually happened. I looked around at everyone, seeing the bandages on those of us who had been hurt. Yes, all that shit actually happened. That didn’t stop me from feeling as though it was all a dream. A nightmare, actually. How much of what happened on LV-426 was burned into my memory? How much was going to reappear in dreams and flashbacks?
I’ve come so far in managing my PTSD. I don’t want any setbacks.
That’s life, though. Setbacks happen. It’s how you learn to grow and improve yourself. It doesn’t matter whether a setback happens; what matters is pulling yourself back up. I’ve learned that pulling yourself back up is not easy. Anyone who tells you that you need to get up as fast as possible has never experienced what I have. It’s a slow process. It’s a painful process. There are times where you might have to go through it alone, and times where you need help. It’s not a single hill you have to climb; it’s a mountainous landscape you have to traverse. There are dips and steep cliffs and drop-offs and flat paths. Plus, speeding through your process will create problems. Forcing yourself to do something you really aren’t ready for will make things worse, because you will fail. When you fail, you feel bad about yourself. When you feel bad about yourself, your motivation to continue your journey plummets.
I have moments where I don’t want to go on anymore, not because I want to give up and go jump off the roof of a building, but because I need to let my mind rest. Taking a break doesn’t mean you’re lazy and incapable of doing this; it’s being smart. It’s knowing what your limits are and stopping before you have a breakdown. It’s letting yourself recharge before you continue. Kinda like physical exercise.
“Drake? You okay?”
I snapped out of my thoughts to see Spunkmeyer looking across the table at me, hazel eyes full of concern. Putting my fork in a piece of dry chicken, I futilely tried to look like nothing was bothering me, but then dropped my guard altogether. “I’m… fine, for the most part. Just… thinking.”
Spunkmeyer nodded. “Hey, if you need anything, don’t forget, we’re all here for you.”
He didn’t press me about what was going on in my head; he just knew I was bugged by what just happened. He was extending a hand of help, for whatever it was I needed in the future.
I know when it comes to high school reunions, no one looks forward to those. No one wants to meet up with people they didn’t give two shits about twenty or thirty years ago (I mean, if you didn’t give a shit then, what’re the odds you give a shit now?). I am looking forward to a “squad reunion,” though, if some of us truly go separate ways and don’t live close to anyone else. I already know where I’m going to be, and where Hudson will be. Wierzbowski, too, if he and Eliza choose to remain in DC. Unless an opportunity for a job for either of them comes up, I don’t see them moving away from their friends. I can see us staying real close. Hell, I can see us all having kids together, and our kids growing up together. Maybe-and it’s a big maybe-Hudson and I will truly become family if our kids get married to each other.
I mean, it’s sweet to think about, but I’m not really ready to think that far ahead.
A part of me was not looking forward to going into cryo. I was afraid of being sucked into hours upon hours of nightmares. However, after closing my locker, I knew that was it. I had to get in that fucking tube whether I liked it or not. After all, the next time it opened, I would be home, and have about three months left until my evaluation. Three more months until I’m free to start my own life. That thought was what gave me the strength to do it.
I walked over to Hudson’s tube, where he was already lying down. “You ready?” I asked, not really sure what else to say.
“Absolutely, man,” he said. “You alright?”
“Don’t worry about anything, okay, man? As soon as we get back, we’re going ring-shopping. Try to dream about that, man.”
A small grin tugged at the edges of my mouth. “I’ll try, but I highly doubt I got control over that.” After patting Hudson’s shoulder, I headed down to Wierzbowski. He was sitting on the edge of his cryotube, deep in thought. “And what’re you thinking about, bud?”
Wierzbowski glanced up at me. “I’m just excited to go home, Drake. Thinking about… what to do once we get back to base.”
“Eat. I know I’m going to treat myself to a fried chicken sandwich covered in half-melted Swiss cheese and slices of perfectly crispy bacon, and completely drenched in ranch dressing, on buttery toast, with a side of fresh-outta-the-oil fries, and a big pitcher of beer.”
“You shut up, man! You’re making me hungry!” Hudson whined.
“When are you not hungry, Hudson?” Frost asked.
“He’s got a point, dude,” Spunkmeyer chirped.
“Alright, sweethearts, lay your pretty heads down and close your eyes,” Apone said affectionately. He turned to Bishop, who was standing nearby. “We’re ready, Bishop. Enjoy the trip home. We’ll see you on the other side.”
“Yes sir,” Bishop said, reaching for the controls of the first cryotube.
I lay in silence, hearing my heartbeat get louder as the glass tube closed above me. I took a breath, feeling the cold wash over me. Like the trip out here, my last thought before the cryo claimed me consisted of prayers asking for pleasant dreams.