Winnie looked around a second time, and began to examine her wound. Pulling a cloth from one of her pockets, she began wrapping it around her leg.
I waited until she finished, though I knew I didn’t have a lot of time before the silver flower toxin got to me. I knocked on the glass. Winnie’s ears flicked up, and she faced me.
“Get help,” I said. “Get help!”
Winnie carefully got up, limping over to the door, and put her paws on the glass. She was concerned, I could tell, as her ears drooped a little, and she began sniffing the glass, eyes fixed on me.
“Winnie, get help,” I begged. “Please!”
With a single chirp, she hobbled off in the direction of Delhoun’s quarters. She couldn’t run, but she tried, leaving drops of blood as she went.
I felt like my lungs were tightening, but I couldn’t take a full breath in. I continued to take as little breaths as possible, but I was feeling sick and dizzy. My body didn’t want to go through this again. As a last ditch attempt, I yanked off my T-shirt, wrapping it around my nose and mouth, hoping it would filter out the toxin, or at least slow it down. I drew in a breath, but although I didn’t feel tight anymore, I was beginning to feel lightheaded. I held my breath for as long as I could.
The PA system beeped, and I heard a robotic voice announcing a complete lockdown of the station. Everyone was to stay within their areas. The only people allowed in and out of anywhere were Marshals and Gateway Security. Even androids had to stay within their designated spots. When the announcement was over, I heard Delhoun’s voice coming over a radio in the flower lab.
“Drake! Drake, can you hear me? If you can hear me, take this radio and activate the two-way channel. Stay low to the ground. When you get the radio, get under one of the tables.”
I got on my stomach to crawl over to where the radio was sitting, on a desk. Still holding my breath, I reached up, trying to grab the radio. Once I had it, I moved under the nearest table, still lying flat on my belly. I took my shirt off my mouth after pressing a button on the radio, saying, “I can hear you, Delhoun. I think you were right; the guy that cut the power is a former Seegson worker. He locked me in the room with the flowers.”
“Don’t waste your breath, Drake. Listen, every door has been sealed from the outside. I can leave my quarters, but I’m not allowed to. I’m trying to contact the Marshals to get you out of there. Are you alright?”
“Well, I almost got shot. I can barely breathe. I don’t know how much time I’ve got before I return to la-la land.”
I could’ve sworn I heard Delhoun laugh a little. “I’m going to help you delay that for as long as possible. First step is staying under the table and low to the ground. The toxin likes to rise up, and it takes a while for it to sink. Do you have any cloth? A large piece of it?”
“I’m already using my shirt.”
“Good. Keep your breathing even. Don’t draw in too deep or too shallow.”
“How’s Winnie doing?”
“She’s going to be fine, fortunately. The bullet missed a major artery in her leg. I’m going to properly treat her as soon as I have access to my lab. For now, I’ve stopped the bleeding.”
“Where’s your android?”
“I don’t know. That’s what I’m worried about.”
“Yeah. Piece of shit attacked me.”
“He did?!” Delhoun sounded shocked. “Whoever this intruder is must’ve meddled with him. I made damn sure my Working Joe knows you’re not a threat.” Delhoun was quiet for a minute. “Even breathing, Drake. Don’t want me to turn your vital signs off now, do you?”
“I don’t know,” I moaned.
“Listen: if things get bad, I’m going out there, and I’m going to rescue you. This man could be hidden in the station for a long time, and you can’t afford to wait that long.”
By now, any idiot could see that Delhoun was doing this out of the kindness of his heart. There were multiple instances where he could’ve easily disposed of me and not face consequences. I wasn’t a guinea pig to him, at least not anymore. Nope. I was a genuine friend, and there was a part of me-what softness in my soul I had left-that was grateful.
I felt like I was in that room for hours. I mumbled to Delhoun that I wanted to fall asleep, but he said no, explaining that I needed to be as in-control of my breathing as possible. Then he said only ten minutes had gone by. At that point, I hoped I did breathe in some of the silver flower toxin just so my vitals would go nuts and Delhoun would charge down here wielding a pickaxe to break into the lab.
I heard Delhoun sigh. “We’re reaching a point where you really can’t resist this anymore. How are you feeling?”
“Feel like I smacked my head against the wall,” I said. “Feeling lightheaded. My chest feels like someone’s sitting on it.”
Delhoun fell silent. I could picture him rubbing his face while thinking. “Can’t delay this any longer. Drake, I’m coming down there. I don’t give a fuck what anyone does regarding my actions during a lockdown; I’m not letting you die in there. Do you think you’re experiencing any hallucinations?”
“No. Not yet, anyways. You want me to let you know if I do?”
“There won’t be a need to. Victims completely lose control of themselves when experiencing hallucinations brought on by this toxin. You think it’s real. You try to see what it is. You step into the dense cloud of poison, and you breathe it in, then you pass out. That’s what happened to you last time. I should be there soon. If not… hang in there, alright? You’ll be okay.”
At this point, I felt like ropes had been tied around my lungs, and were being pulled tighter and tighter. I wanted to breathe deeply. Then the ghostly shapes appeared. I saw Annexers crawling down the walls, dropping on the floor, wandering around in typical animal fashion. One of them approached me, sniffing my head and pawing at me. I reached out, touching its helmet. I drew in a deep breath, and pain gripped my chest. I was then struggling to get a breath in, and my heart began pounding.
“Hang in there, Drake! Hang in there!” Delhoun’s voice was still over the radio, but it sounded further away, like he was shouting into a large tunnel.
“You’re a marvelous piece of work, Drake,” one of the Annexers said. “Are we trying to be a hero today?”
Another Annexer laughed. “You think your squad misses you. Yeah, I have a hard time believing that. They can find a new smartgunner.” The animal moved closer to me, tilting its head. “Vasquez will find someone else to mess around with. You can be replaced easily.”
My throat was closed. I was on the verge of panicking.
“Wouldn’t be here if you could just follow directions.”
A third Annexer came forward. “Oh, no, no, no, he’s bored. Very, very bored. Can’t sit still for a second.” Its tail brushed my cheek. “Bored. Restless. Unreliable. Reckless. Lost. No good to himself or others.”
All the other Annexers began laughing, and I covered my face. My chest continued to tighten. The laughing got louder and louder. It morphed into screeching and howling. They stepped closer to me, standing over me. I could practically feel them grinning maliciously.
I screamed back at them, and I suddenly found myself being grabbed and lifted by some unseen force. A distant, familiar voice was saying, “Drake, I’ve brought oxygen!” I felt something being strapped to my face, and took in a deep breath. The tightness lessened a little, but the dizziness was still there.
Delhoun was standing in front of me, holding me up. He was wearing a respirator of his own, and wore two tanks of oxygen on his back.
“Breathe deeply,” he was saying. “You’re going to be alright.” He began walking with me out of the lab. “You’re alright. I’ll get you to the hospital as soon as possible.”
I felt like the bones in my legs had disappeared. I continued breathing in that sweet, sweet oxygen as Delhoun led me down the hallway, then we heard gunshots behind us. Delhoun shielded me with his body as he yanked a handgun from his belt, firing back at the man who had attacked me earlier.
“You take one more shot, Doctor, and I’ll make sure your Working Joe never sees the light of day again!” the guy shouted.
“Keep your dirty hands off my android!” Delhoun snarled. “I can easily repair it, but I can’t exactly repair my Annexer and Drake here, can I?!” He kept his gun trained on the intruder. “Pity Seegson isn’t around anymore, then you would’ve had a formidable defense in your trial for attempting to murder a Marine!”
All Delhoun had to do was give the guy a good, clean headshot. That was it. At least, that’s what I would’ve done if I wasn’t in the condition I was in.
I’m not sure what Delhoun was going to do next, but I would never find out, largely because we heard the clicking of several weapons, and four Marshals came around the corner in front of us, ordering Delhoun and the intruder to drop their pistols. Delhoun put his on the floor, calmly, putting his hands above his head. The intruder simply tossed his gun aside, glaring at the Marshals. A pair of cuffs were slapped on him, and he was led away.
What happened to him, I don’t know. I never bothered to find out. I can only assume he was going to be sent to a prison station orbiting a lonely planet just beyond the known universe. I did find out after that the Marines retaliated by sending a unit out to a Seegson base on LV-510 to search for any other plans these ex-Seegson terrorists might have and make sure we’d catch them before something like this ever happened again.
I was laid up in the hospital for the next two days, being given a really strong antidote that would hopefully cleanse my body of the silver flower toxin. The doctors didn’t want to give it to me the first time because of how strong it was, but decided to do it this time because I was still wasn’t recovered from that first poisoning. The antidote made me dizzy and I needed to use the bathroom all the time because it was forcing everything out through my kidneys. It was also making me sweat a lot, and being sweaty all the time is just not attractive. My temperature was slightly elevated, and I didn’t want to do anything at all because of how uncomfortable I was.
When the doctors confirmed I was clean, I was sent back to Delhoun to rest. I still had a fever that was said to break in a matter of hours, and I felt like I had been sitting in one of those amusement park rides that do nothing but spin you around and around as hard as it can. Delhoun, in his typical manner, made me sit in his kitchen and prepared an ice-cold citrus drink. He was even okay with spiking it though a splash of whiskey.
“Didn’t know you drank,” I said when he took the bottle out of the refrigerator.
“Not regularly,” Delhoun replied. “Only on occasion. Once a week, maybe.”
Winnie, who was lying next to me with her leg wrapped in bandages, lifted her head up and screeched when someone walked into the room. It was one of the Marshals we had seen in the hall during the incident a few nights prior. He was just there to thank both of us for helping catch the intruder.
Delhoun spent several days working on his android and fixing it and tinkering and all that. Brayden Wright-the disgruntled Seesgon employee who shot Winnie and almost murdered me-did tamper with the Working Joe, but not bad enough to where the damn thing couldn’t be repaired. Do I really care? I’m not entirely sure, but I know that Delhoun would be disappointed if he lost his android, and because I’ve developed a friendship with him, I wouldn’t let something bad happen to the things Delhoun values.
I spent those last few days resting. There was no doubt I was sick, largely because of all the medicine I was given and the aftereffects of the silver flower toxin. Delhoun said no one’s ever gone through two big doses of this toxin, much less survive a dose as large as the first one, and the research on it wasn’t complete, which meant I was a guinea pig. Again.
No matter. My sentence was going to be up in a few days. I was looking forward to going back to my squad.
I got a chance to look at myself in a mirror, though. After shaving in Delhoun’s bathroom, I just stood and stared at myself, and I was nothing pretty to look at. I had definitely not gotten heavier, despite eating so well. Nope, I had lost some weight, and not from exercise, which, to be honest, is sad. I had dark circles under my eyes and light red marks from all the machinery that I had been hooked up to.
I expected my punishment to be uneventful, and dismal, and boring, and just… nothing. Now, I don’t know which was worse: me getting constantly poisoned by flowers, or complete boredom.
There was a knock at the door, and Delhoun called, “Drake! Everything alright in there?”
I sighed, rubbing my face. “Yes. You can come in if you want.”
The door opened, and Delhoun stepped in, wearing his bathrobe and carrying a small radio. “I hope you didn’t use all my shaving cream,” he said, looking at the sink. He glanced at me, frowning when he saw the look on my face. “You look like you’re deep in thought. What’s bothering you?”
“Thinking about everything that’s gone on since I came here.”
“You know most of it isn’t your fault, right? You didn’t bring Mr. Wright here, you didn’t intend to get yourself poisoned by the silver flowers. Lots of things you can’t control, Drake, and you have to learn to accept it, understand that not everything is your fault.” Delhoun set his radio on the sink. “It’s not healthy to pin the blame on yourself all the time. It’s not right to pin blame on others all the time. Sometimes, you have to remain silent. Remaining silent allows you to work in the background, and listen. No one suspects you of anything and no one will bother you for any reason.” He looked at me, offering a grin. “Don’t dwell too much on what’s happened. It’s over. That’s all that matters.”
I didn’t have much of an appetite, but I got myself breakfast anyway. After sitting down with a couple pieces of toast, I glanced at Winnie, who was preparing her own breakfast on the counter. “Sorry I let you get hurt.”
She looked at me, ears raised, and chirped.
“I hope you’re telling me to fuck off,” I replied. “Not like I’m the kind of person that deserves forgiveness.”
Winnie tilted her head before trotting over to me and resting her head on my knee.
“Well, you’re not that smart anyway. Of course you’d forgive me.” I ran my finger along the white streak of fur on her head. “I still don’t get why you trust me. Was I too nice to you? Was I really that… relieving of boredom in your life?”
She glanced up at me, and cooed.
“I guess I was.” I sighed. “You’re gonna miss me when I leave. You’re gonna miss me, and then you’re gonna beg Delhoun to get another friend.” I smiled a little, knowing I was going to miss her as well. “Enjoy your remaining time with me.”
Delhoun walked into the room, wearing his khaki jacket. “She must really like you, Drake,” he said.
“Thanks for pointing out the obvious.”
“You’re welcome.” Delhoun poured himself a cup of coffee before sitting at the table, watching Winnie go back over to making her breakfast. “I hope you don’t think your stay here was all bad. Matter of fact, I think it was more of an analysis of yourself than a punishment. I honestly didn’t think you were going to do anything while you were here. I kind of expected you to sleep and wander the halls the whole time. Didn’t think you’d try to talk to me, or get along with Winnie. I’m surprised you opened up as much as you did. Not many people are willing to talk to me in the way you did.”
“Why? Do they think you’re weird, too?”
“Sure do.” Delhoun took a sip of his coffee.
“Well, I definitely think you’re a little weird. Smart as fuck, but weird.”
Offering no reply, Delhoun glanced around the room, sighing while looking out a small window into space. “I like what I do, but I don’t like being out here in space.”
“It’s dark. It’s lonely.” He fixed his gaze on me, ruby eyes seemingly looking into my soul. “I can’t wait to return to Earth for a few weeks. It’ll give myself and Winnie a chance to relax. Maybe you can visit, that is, if you’re not busy over the next two weeks.”
“I think I’ll be busy. Besides, we have to actually miss each other before deciding to visit. Don’t want to ruin that by seeing each other too often.”
It’s been awhile since I picked up my journal, mainly because I wanted things to happen, things that had meaning, before I wrote them down. Really, I just didn’t want to be wasting paper on everyday things that happened.
I’m back with my squad now, but I’m going to recount everything that happened the morning my sentence was up, just to pass some time.
Before I could eat breakfast, I was sent down to an examination room to be deemed medically fit to leave the station. The doctors were especially nitpicky because of my double dose of silver flower toxin. They got into arguments about whether or not it was safe for me to leave because I was still a little weak from all the treatments, and then they all agreed I could leave because they would give Apone this big file on what happened, what I went through, and what I could and couldn’t do for the next week or so. That all sucks because I’m eager to get back in the action and I don’t want to sit around anymore.
I tried not to be cranky during the examination, even though I wanted to enjoy some real food before going back to the bland rations. I did my best to be patient and let the doctors run their tests and ask me questions and tell me that I needed to be careful for a week because of a bunch of stuff I had a hard time understanding because I wasn’t listening.
When I finally left the examination room, I went to Delhoun’s kitchen, hoping he had a good breakfast for me. He did, in fact, and laid out pancakes and bacon and eggs and fruit and toast and biscuits and all the good stuff I was never going to see again in a long time.
“Look, cornbread’s not bad,” I said, telling Delhoun about some of the stuff we have in the Marines, “but it gets boring and kinda gross after a while.”
“I’m just glad you appreciate what I do for you, Drake,” Delhoun replied. “I’ll miss you, that’s for sure. I think Winnie will, too.”
Winnie gave me a look like she wasn’t sure she wanted to admit Delhoun was right.
“At least I know one thing you two have in common.”
“What?” I replied.
“You’re both messy eaters.” Delhoun gestured to the drops of syrup by my plate.
About an hour after breakfast, we got word that a transport docked and Apone was coming to get me from Delhoun’s lab. When he entered, he shook Delhoun’s hand, asked if I was any trouble, and Delhoun said, “Drake was an absolute pleasure. I really hope we can meet up again.”
Apone glanced at me, chewing on his cigar and jerking his thumb in my direction. “Him? A pleasure?”
“It’s a long story,” I mumbled.
Winnie charged into the lab, screaming as she jumped in my arms. She hugged my neck and wrapped her tail around my waist, whining and squeaking. I smiled weakly, patting her soft head. “I’ll see you again, girl, don’t worry,” I whispered. “Be good, OK?”
She kept whining even as Delhoun pulled her off me. I was about turn and leave with Apone when Delhoun took my hand to firmly shake it. “Good luck. I hope the next time I see you isn’t because you need to be punished again.”
The tracking collar had been removed that morning, and my neck felt really cold without it. I hated it, but I got used to it. “Well… I hope the collar was a success for you.”
“That was not the most important thing to come out of this,” Delhoun replied. “I got to connect with someone not just as an acquaintance, but as a friend. I’m not lying when I say I’ll miss you. Be careful out there.”
I felt a little achy inside, but I wasn’t on the verge of crying. I nodded, and then walked away with Apone, waving to Delhoun and Winnie until the doors closed behind us.
As we boarded the transport, I was greeted very warmly by the rest of my squad. Hudson thumped me on the shoulder and roughly tousled my hair. Hicks shook my hand and said it wasn’t the same without me-the same thing I heard in my hallucinations. Even Vasquez owned up to missing me, saying it was pretty quiet without me, but Hudson had tried to make up for it-another thing I heard in my hallucinations.
The whole time everyone was telling me how much they missed me (or how they jokingly said they could’ve gone “one more fucking day” without me), I thought back to the hallucinations. I was glad they missed me. I was glad to be back.