No one ever said that the good people in the world are all nice guys. Most good people are antiheroes in their own right, myself included.
“Good” is a bit of a muddied definition. It depends on the person. I know I’m not the definition of evil, because I’ve risked myself for my team in combat. I can experience love, and I do care about others. It’s just hard to show sometimes, especially when not a lot of people show me the same thing. I’m kinda pushing its meaning. For one thing, I’ve been to prison, my emotions can be all over the place, and I just punched a little animal that has done nothing but love me ever since I met him.
Okay, he has been annoying on occasion, and it’s not like he’s a kitten or a puppy or a baby bunny. Hell, I don’t know what’s under his helmet. He could be something that’s really fucking ugly, like I had said before. Could really be worse than a naked Hudson under there.
Still, I went too far in hitting Little Shit. I knew it. Vasquez knew it, and Redding knew it.
Vasquez straight-up punched me in the jaw, demanding to know why I smacked Little Shit and cursing at me in Spanish. I couldn’t really blame her for doing that, and, then again, we’ve gotten into worse fights in the past. I mean, we always make up in the end, but, still.
She also told me that my moodiness has been getting out of hand, and she was about to wrap her hands around my throat to throttle me when Redding stepped in between us.
“Do I need to radio Apone right now and tell him that you two are fighting now? Do I need to treat the two of you like children?” Redding asked, flicking his gaze between us, before settling on me. “Drake, you are in enough shit already! Are you always this impossible to deal with?”
“Wow, I didn’t realize that, genius. I know I’m impossible! I’ve always been impossible! What do you want me to be?! A pushover?!”
“No, we don’t want you to be a pushover!” Vasquez shouted. “No one wants you to be a pushover! You’re one of the toughest Marines we have, and here you are hitting animals and getting upset that we can’t go home!”
“I want to put this mission behind me!” I yelled back. “We went into this poorly. We should’ve demanded from these stupid critters to go down into these tunnels sooner-”
“How were we supposed to know they would actually help us until we actually interacted with them and gained their trust?” Redding asked. “We’d be out here a lot longer if we hadn’t gained their trust. Not to mention, we didn’t even know these tunnels existed until now.”
A knot abruptly formed in my empty stomach, and I knew Redding wasn’t reading between the lines of what I was saying. It’s not his fault, though. I felt so exhausted I didn’t want to argue or yell anymore, so I looked at the ground, swallowing past a lump in my throat. “I’ve been feeling like a failure ever since we stepped into the campsite, and you didn’t say one fucking word. That’s what I’ve been trying to say.”
Redding was looking at me like he had done something wrong. “Drake, I’m sorry.”
I wasn’t entirely sure how to respond to Redding saying “sorry.” After what happened earlier, especially with him taking a jab at my past, I really didn’t know if I should believe him.
“Drake, I’m sorry I couldn’t better see your frustration and try to help you.”
Vasquez touched my shoulder again. “Just accept his apology.”
“How can I accept his apology? How do I even know it’s an apology?” I asked.
“I’m not having another argument with you. Not when shit has hit the fan and we’re only bringing one explorer home!”
“Yeah, well, someone should’ve told both of them that this place is dangerous and no one should be coming here for any reason. It’s that simple.”
“It’s not like we can change the past, damn it! Just accept Redding’s apology and move on! And apologize to your little friend while you’re at it.”
When Vasquez said “change the past,” I started to feel sick. I felt sick because I was thinking about my own past, and how much I wish I could change it. I had to turn away for a moment. I had to think long and hard about… what I’ve done, and how I ended up here. I made… so many mistakes, and I just wish I could forget them. Turning back toward Vasquez and Redding, I looked at Little Shit, sighing, “Well? If I apologize to you, are you gonna accept it?”
Little Shit began muttering to himself. He unslung his rifle, and, for a moment, I thought he was going to shoot me, but, instead, he trotted up to me and whacked my hip with the butt of his rifle before screaming at me.
I honestly didn’t think that was going to hurt so much, but it hurt beyond all belief. I crumpled to the ground, grabbing my hip in pain.
“I will admit, you kinda deserved that,” Vasquez said.
“Are you alright?” Redding asked.
“I just got smacked with a rifle! How do you think I feel?!” I grunted.
“Would you like to be escorted to-”
“No! Vasquez’s right; I deserved that. Little Shit, I’m sorry.”
Making some kind of snuffling sound, Little Shit walked over to me, crawling on my side.
I figured this was humiliating enough, and glanced up at Redding while still holding my hip. “And I accept your apology. I’ll try not to be too much of an ass the rest of this mission. Also… Vasquez, I’m sorry for not… for not being in control of my emotions.”
Vasquez sighed, observing Little Shit perching on me. “Drake, outside the Marines, I don’t care what you do with your emotions. Inside the Marines, you shove it down your throat.”
Frankly, I wish it was that simple.
There was no doubt Apone was going to find out about my outburst, and the sarge stated that I was “most certainly” going to be punished as soon as this mission was over.
“First, you attacked a Marine NCO. Second, you and Vasquez disobeyed my orders not to venture out alone together, and, third, you assaulted an ally of ours. Yes, Private, I am considering these little aliens to be allies,” Apone growled. “That explorer was in their tunnel system, and without them, we probably wouldn’t have found him. You oughtta be thankful that we encountered them, or else we would’ve been here a lot longer than we should be.”
That was exactly what Redding had said, so now I felt like a much bigger moron.
Since the mission is just about over, I can worry about what’s next, and, frankly, I didn’t really want to. I’ve been punished before, for minor things. I think this was probably going to be the worst so far.
I caught a glimpse of the surviving explorer when we went back to the dropship. He had been strapped down to a stretcher, being attended to by Dietrich, who confirmed that this guy wasn’t infected with any parasites.
Honestly, I don’t know how to describe the fact that even though the man is safe, physically, I feel bad. We couldn’t get to him sooner, and we couldn’t save his partner. I didn’t become a Marine to fail. This… This job is practically all I have.
Hicks, Hudson, Vasquez, and Crowe went out with a scouting party of gas mask creatures to make sure their home was safe. I stayed behind on Apone’s orders, left to basically stew in fermenting emotions. Wierzbowski was in the dropship, helping Frost start putting equipment away for the flight back up to the transport. I sat outside on one of the snowmobiles outside the dropship, letting the cold sting my cheeks. About an hour passed before Apone joined me, sitting next to me on the snowmobile and pulling out a cigar.
“There’s a big difference between failing and quitting, Drake,” he said, breaking a silence I hoped didn’t become uncomfortable. “Both Redding and Crowe told me that was something bothering you this whole time. How come?”
“I dunno,” I sighed. “I… had a bad dream in hypersleep… right before we came here.”
“Yeah? What kind of dream?” Apone seemed interested, like he actually wanted to help me.
Somehow, some subconscious instinct just wasn’t letting me open up. Instincts I had gained in prison and boot camp that I was struggling to sever. But if someone was willing to help me, I needed to say something, even if it wasn’t everything. I sighed heavily. “I was… just slogging through the snow, with everything weighing me down… and I heard a lot of screeching.”
“Well, it was either a coincidence, or it really was some kind of premonition. I don’t see why it would lead you to think you’re failing, though.” Apone gave me a look, taking the cigar out of his mouth. “I’ve noticed you don’t talk to anyone unless it’s to directly insult them to their face.”
“I went to prison. That’s how I communicated in prison. It stuck with me when I went to boot camp.”
“Hey, prison’s different from the Corps, Drake. I know you and Vasquez don’t have anyone anymore, and maybe USCM Command made a good choice in allowing you guys in. You seem to want to turn yourselves around, channel yourselves into something more productive, you know what I mean?”
I nodded, glancing at him despite knowing shame was written all over my face.
“We all have moments where we utilize the wrong emotion, and it doesn’t make you a failure. You didn’t need to get mad at Redding. Hell, you don’t even need to get mad at yourself.” Apone shrugged. “It happens. I’m just glad your actions didn’t get anyone killed.”
“That’s my problem. I feel like we could’ve gotten both explorers if we didn’t waste time with these little guys, like if we had gotten straight to the point with them.”
“Drake, we have no control over the weather, no control over these ‘little guys,’ and we certainly don’t want to be bringing home some alien parasite.” Apone looked at me. “You understand what I’m saying?”
“Lots of shit out there you can’t control, and don’t you dare try to control it. That’s when you start losing focus of what you actually can control: yourself.”
“I get it.” I sighed heavily. “Am I still being punished?”
Apone looked me right in the eye, and nodded. “You bet your ass you are.”
Little Shit was staring up at me as I followed Vasquez into the dropship. I couldn’t see exactly what was on his face, but I felt like he was sad I was leaving.
Sighing, I stepped off the dropship, opening my arms. “Come here.”
Squeaking, he raced into my arms, gripping me tightly. I held him for way longer than I should have, still trying to make myself feel better. Little Shit cooed, and bumped his helmet against my cheek.
“I can’t take you home with me,” I whispered. “This place is your home, and I really don’t you pissing wherever you feel like all over the base. The MPs would probably shoot you over it.” I patted his helmet. “Just… stay here, okay? Maybe I’ll visit some other time.”
Little Shit purred and squeaked.
I set him down. “So long, buddy. You’re annoying, but… hey, you and your friends saved our asses. You’re tough little guys. Don’t worry; I still got that jewel of tears you gave me.”
Tilting his head, Little Shit snorted and made a moaning sound, then touched his chest, and pointed at me.
I could only guess that meant “I love you,” in the way that a pet loves its master, but I still felt like these little creatures were too sentient and advanced to be pets.
Unless it was a part of their culture. They seemed to yearn for human contact, human touch. They seemed to want to be a part of someone’s life, to make them happy. That thought made me feel somewhat bad for leaving Little Shit, but, like I said, this was his home and he should stay. I gave him one last pat on his helmet before climbing aboard the dropship.
Strapping herself in for the ride back up, Vasquez glanced at me, saying, “You’re not taking your little friend with you?”
I shook my head. “Nah. I told him to stay. I think he understands. Or, at least, I hope he understands.”
As we flew back up to the transport, I really came to terms with the fact that this mission was over, and, yes, I was really disappointed. Not in the unit, but in me. You might think I’m being selfish by thinking that, because at the end of the day, a mission is judged by the performance of a unit as a whole, not by each individual Marine unless someone massively fucks up. Command is not going to look at my outburst, aside from the fact that I got into a fight with Redding.
Yeah, I’m probably going to get a few days in the brig for that. Not a big deal. I’ve done brig-time before. Not quite ready to say what for. Someday. Just not today.
Our next stop was going to be Gateway to either get our next briefing or go back down to Earth for base assignment. I left the dropship with the others, glancing over my shoulder at Crowe, Wierzbowski, and Frost taking out the snowmobiles to get them cleaned and checked out before putting them back in storage. Everyone walked quickly to their lockers to shed the heavy winter gear in place for comfortable clothing to wear until Apone ordered us to get ready for cryo.
I spent most of my time away from everyone else after putting my gear and weapon away, writing in my journal. Given that I didn’t have time between getting out of cryo and the whole mission, I had to wait a little while before actually documenting everything in the journal. Looking over it, I feel like I made a good choice in deciding to keep this thing.
Our last base was in South Africa, near Cape Town. The USCM is starting some kind of agreement with the South African military to form a new Marine division, sort of like what we have with Britain and Australia, which is why Wierzbowski and Crowe are with us. So, a lot of our time was spent doing exercises with South African troops and having them live with us on base to experience the USCM lifestyle. It was on a free day that I took a trip into the city where I found this exact book in a shop overlooking the water. I don’t think anyone who knows me thinks I’m the type of person who’d keep a journal. I think most people who claim to know me think I can’t read or write. I guess they don’t actually know me, then. Anyway, I bought the book and a package of pens, and here we are today. I wasn’t really sure what to do with it when I first got it, so I actually didn’t write in it until I was given my punishment on Gateway, where I have what feels like all the time in the world.
I guess this is a way for me to get my thoughts without actually talking to anyone. It’s almost like a sane way of talking to myself. I can process my thoughts, or at least try to.
I was interrupted from my thoughts when Apone and Hicks walked over. “OK, Drake, let’s have a talk about what happened the last couple days,” Hicks said, sitting on the bench.
“Sure,” I replied, closing my journal. “I fucked up, that’s what. What more is there to say?”
“I… wouldn’t say that, but, in a way, you kinda did.” Hicks took a moment to think. “You know what you did wrong, I’ll give you that, but as per regulations, you will be separated from the unit when we get to Gateway.”
“How long? Couple days?”
Hicks looked at Apone, who chewed his cigar before speaking. “Three weeks.”
My stomach fell. “Three weeks? For a fight where neither of us were badly hurt?”
Hicks sighed. “Drake, we were just talking with Command. There’s someone on Gateway who’d like to meet you.”
“Command won’t say, but they trust him and said you’ll be in good hands for the duration of your sentence. Believe me when I say I’d rather put you in solitary for three days, but I’m following Command’s orders. Go get ready for cryo. We’ll arrive at Gateway in a week.”