Despite learning a lot about Annexers from both Winnie and Delhoun, nothing was going to prevent me from becoming restless. Only a week into my sentence, and I began feeling irritable and depressed. I missed every little thing about my squad, every strength and every flaw. I missed Hudson’s cocky, goofy nature. I missed Vasquez and the relationship we’ve been building since juvie. I missed Apone and Hicks and their well-earned airs of authority. I missed Wierzbowski and his overall quietness, even though we haven’t spoken much to each other. It was strange waking up every morning and not hearing everyone’s nonsense and banter. Maybe I didn’t fully get along with everyone, but they were still my teammates. I needed somewhere to belong, and it looked like this partly dysfunctional motley crew was going to be that.
There was a part of me that felt like bursting into tears. Maybe I’ve already failed, and it’s my doing. Maybe they don’t miss me at all. Maybe they were all glad I wasn’t there anymore.
Winnie didn’t prevent me from feeling lonely, but when I finally cracked one afternoon, she cuddled up against me on my bed, letting me hold her as I began to cry. That emotional release was what got me in trouble on LV-400. I cursed myself for not being better at holding this all in. Still, what would happen if I did hold it in? I’d just become more and more unbearable to be around, and I’m already a pain in the butt as it is. That’s not how a functional squad is made.
But here, I was all alone. No Vasquez. No Hudson. No one. I was on my own and I couldn’t do anything about it. If I was going to make myself a better Marine, a better teammate, and a better man, I was going to have to do some things by myself.
I guess one of the things I had to do to make my stay here more bearable was to become better friends with Delhoun. I had to trust him, and he had to trust me. In all honesty, I’ve seen some nutty scientists, and although I think Delhoun has a shit-ton of bats in his belfry, he’s more sane than any other scientist I’ve encountered.
He seemed to enjoy having a “guest” around. Maybe he was a little restless, too, but after a week of me being in his lab, he slowed down in terms of doing nice things for me. He didn’t cook as much, making one or two courses for a meal instead of four or five.
“Please accept my apologies, Drake,” Delhoun said while pouring himself a cup of coffee one morning. “I received word my budget has been cut a little and I’m trying to save money by spending less on food.”
“Sorry to hear that,” I replied.
“Oh, don’t be. Not like my research has done much, anyway.”
My level of pity for Delhoun wasn’t as high as it should be, but I decided to take this opportunity to be nice to him. He controlled the collar around my neck, after all, and I’d rather we be on friendly terms. “I don’t think you haven’t made any contributions to science. Come on, someone out there thinks your research is more important than anything else.”
“Well, it’s pretty obvious that most people in charge here don’t. I wish I had more of a say, but, that’s the price I pay for wanting to be in command of my own field. Less people, less influence, less funding, less chances to show your research off to the world.” Delhoun shrugged. “That’s the way things work, and we must learn to accept things as they are. There are things we can and cannot control, and it is important in life that we learn to decipher exactly what those things are.”
“Huh. Apone told me something similar just before we left LV-400,” I said.
“I don’t believe you told me what specifically you did to get yourself sent here,” Delhoun replied, rubbing his shaven chin.
“For starters, I got into a fight with one of our corporals. I was having some emotional issues, and I… thought the best way of dealing with them was to take it out on everybody, which… I know now is wrong.”
“I see. What was bothering you at the time?”
“I was afraid the mission was going to be a failure. I had a weird dream while in hypersleep, and I kept feeling as though everyone in the squad wasn’t understanding what I was saying, so, I got mad at him.”
“But, you didn’t actually hurt anyone.”
“Ah, so this was all the result of a dream.”
“I wouldn’t say all of it. Most of it was due to the fact that I’m terrible at managing my emotions. Always have been.”
Delhoun shook his head, clicking his tongue. “I don’t think that’s the case, Drake. Yes, it’s true some of us at better at managing our emotions than others, but it doesn’t make you a failure for not being good at it. Some of us have our heart closer to our skin than we’d like, and it can be difficult to stifle the connection between the heart and the brain.”
“You’re nuts if you think I use my heart more often than my brain.”
Another headshake. “Then why do you interact with Winnie? You saw she was bored, and you took upon yourself to entertain her, make her happy.”
“I felt bad for her, that’s all.”
“That’s still a heart reaction rather than a brain one.” Delhoun smiled. “You’re human. Don’t feel bad about it, and don’t feel like you’re failing at something when you take how your heart feels into consideration.”
I was about to say something to the effect of “I guess you’re right,” when the lights in the room and the hallway flickered before shutting off entirely. Out in the hall, Winnie let out an ear-shattering shriek that sound like an Annexer curse, but before Delhoun or I could say anything, the emergency lights came on, the eerie green glow illuminating the room just enough for us to see.
Delhoun went into his office and I could hear him talking on the phone. Video call systems would be down, but audio communications are tied into the emergency power systems on all space stations. He returned in a few minutes, saying, “They think the power outage was an accident. Someone tripped over a wire or something, or pressed the wrong button. Lights should be back on in a few minutes.”
We sat waiting in silence, and sure enough, a few minutes later, the lights came back on. We looked around, and suddenly realized Winnie was gone.
“Winnie!” Delhoun called. No answer. We took a quick look around his quarters, but she wasn’t there.
“Let’s take a look outside,” Delhoun suggested. Out in the main hall, we looked both ways down the hall, but couldn’t see any sign of her.
“She’s got to be out here somewhere,” Delhoun said. “You take the right and I’ll go left.”
I went down several halls, calling for Winnie. It was too early for most other people to be up, so there was no one else around. Down one of the longer hallways, I saw an open door into one of the labs, and I approached it, calling for Winnie again. I heard a faint growl in response.
As I got closer to the door, I saw light. Many little lights, actually. I entered the room to find it was a massive, dark chamber, full of rows upon rows of glowing silver flowers. The flowers looked as though they were made of metal, and each one gave a soft, white glow around their petals.
Winnie was hiding under one of the tables, but when she heard my voice, she started screaming, and not in a cheerful way. In fact, it sounded worried and panicked. She was acting like she had seen something terrifying. I looked around, not seeing anything threatening, but I was starting to feel sick. The room began to spin, and then I saw a ghost-like figure emerge from a corner. The figure looked strangely like Vasquez. She approached me, putting a hand on my shoulder. “You’re paler than usual. Everything okay?”
I couldn’t answer. My mouth was dry and my throat was tight. My lungs abruptly tightened. What the hell is going on?
“We miss you, Drake. A lot. There’re a lot of things I want to tell you. Things you might be thinking of right now, in your drug-riddled brain. You look awful. I’ve never seen such a sick-looking man before. Drake… listen. Why aren’t you listening?”
I gasped, struggling to breathe. The other Marines were beginning to appear in the room. It felt like all the air had been suddenly sucked from the room.
“Having fun out here all by yourself, man?” Hudson asked. His voice sounded like it was far away.
“Huh,” Hicks said. “Never seen that shade of pale before. Picking up strange diseases here, Drake?”
“Of course he is,” Dietrich replied. She gave me the same dirty look she’s always given me, but … she’s still the medtech, and, wait, I needed a medtech now. My entire chest felt like it had been crushed under a thousand-pound lead weight. That time Hudson fell on me when he was drunk was nothing compared to this.
I wanted to run, but I couldn’t. I wanted to breathe, but I couldn’t. Most of all, I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. I grabbed my throat and my chest and I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out, and then I felt myself falling over as I passed out.
My dreams weren’t peaceful. I saw myself running. Running down long hallways, tunnels, trenches, forest paths, and empty deserts. I saw people I knew, some suffering, some who didn’t know who I was. I saw myself crying, screaming. I saw myself trapped, grabbing onto the bars of a tiny cage. I saw myself trying to escape a falling building. I saw myself hugging someone, and I couldn’t tell who it was. They were crying, and so was I.
The dreams abruptly dissipated, and I heard panicked voices.
“We’re gonna lose him! Damn it, where’re those defibrillators?!”
Blurry shapes were standing above me. One of them held up a pair of small, flat objects. I heard a muffled “Clear!” and the objects were slammed against my chest. I jolted, and blacked out again, going right back to dreamland.
I was sitting in a green meadow, bathed in sunlight. I heard insects and birds. I saw a forest ahead of me, and then I saw someone coming towards me.
Vasquez put her smartgun on the ground before jogging up to me. She gave me a half-cocked smile, saying, “Are you alright?”
Somehow, I couldn’t talk. I still felt as though my internal organs were being squeezed in a fist, especially my chest.
“You know we miss you, right? I miss you.”
I managed to nod. I was trying to tell her I was in pain. Why couldn’t I convey that?
“Can’t talk to save your life, can you?” Vasquez sat next to me, taking my hand. “Never were all that good at talking. You could never convey yourself properly, and yet we understand each other. I don’t think you see it, but, the other guys kinda understand you as well. We’re a team and we get used to each other after a while. We see how we close ourselves off and open ourselves up.” She looked at me. “You are a closed book, Drake.”
I gave her a hug, but before I could give her a kiss, she put her hand over my mouth.
“Look, when you open a book, you read it from front to back. You don’t start reading from the middle. Right?”
I nodded again, a little confused.
“Hey, I started reading from the beginning a long time ago. I guess it’s okay for me to open up to the middle.” Vasquez put her head on my shoulder, holding me tightly. “You’ve got your moments of stupidity, Drake.” Her voice seemed to change, and I could hear her choking on tears. “Just wish you had been a little less moody and used your head more. Maybe we’d be off kicking ass somewhere, together, as it should be. Not the same without you around. It’s quieter, but Hudson’s louder.”
It was frustrating being unable to talk, but I had no way of communicating words to her. Shortly after Vasquez told me that everything was quieter without me but Hudson was still a pain in the ass, the world started to fade and blur.
The first thing to let me know I was still alive was the steady beeping of a heartrate monitor. I slowly opened my eyes, seeing I was in a brightly lit room. A bulky breathing mask was strapped to my face, and I felt cool, refreshing air rushing in and out of my lungs.
“Drake?” a familiar voice said. “If you can hear me, look to your left.”
With much effort, I looked to my left, seeing a worried Delhoun standing next to the bed.
“Oh, good.” Delhoun breathed a sigh of relief. “I had been told that you were almost lost, and even if you made it, you might be in a coma for some time. I’m glad they were wrong.”
I couldn’t talk with the breathing mask on and a tube down my throat, and all I could do was look at Delhoun, who was soon taken out of the room by a nurse. I was tired, and confused, and disturbed. My dreams had been very vivid and fast-paced, and I was afraid they all carried some kind of meaning.
About ten hours after I woke up, the respirator was taken off, and I was allowed to sit up. I was hungry and dehydrated, and I still wanted to know what I had seen in that room with all the flowers. The nurses didn’t want to give me a lot in terms of food, but they gave me a lot of water. I also wanted to talk to Delhoun, and see Winnie.
After I drank two bottles of water, I was allowed to see Delhoun. He came in my room, carrying Winnie, and dismissed the nurses, closing the door when they left. He set Winnie on the bed, letting her curl up on my lap. “I don’t know if you remember,” he started, “I said they almost lost you.”
“I remember,” I replied. “I just… don’t know what happened.”
“What happened was you walked into a room marked ‘biohazard’ while looking for Winnie. Those silver flowers give off a toxic fume that restricts your airways and makes you hallucinate.”
“So, that’s why I saw all my teammates in that room.” I rubbed my face with a bedsheet, not wanting to cry in front of Delhoun. “They… were telling me they missed me.”
“Interesting.” Delhoun nodded a little. “I think it means you’re very lonely and restless here. You miss them, too, don’t you?”
“I do, but, before this all happened… I was thinking that I’ve gotta pull through this. I’m not always going to have people I know around me. There are some things I have to do alone, and this is one of them.”
“Well, you don’t exactly have a choice with this, son.”
To be honest, I didn’t think Delhoun was that much older than me. He certainly didn’t look older than me, but I found out he was thirty, which is pretty young in my eyes, and really young to be calling me “son,” given I’m in my early twenties. I figured it had something to do with mentality and experience. I’m the stupid kid who can’t control his emotions. He’s the older gentleman who’s seen a good deal of shit and hasn’t been able to enjoy life the way he should. I’m the one who’s lost and he’s the guy who has to guide me back. I didn’t like the feeling of being told that I was hotheaded and poorly guided and… just an overall dumbass, but there was also a warm, somewhat comforting feeling with the fact that somebody could see I needed help becoming a better person.
I wanted and needed that, but I didn’t know how to express it.
“Drake, I told you yesterday morning that there are a lot of things in life we have no control over, and I understand how frustrating it can be to feel as though you have no control. I know you don’t like me all that much as a person-”
“That’s not true,” I said. “No, I think you’re an… you’re an okay person. I don’t dislike you. In fact, I respect you. A lot more than you realize.”
A weak smile crossed over Delhoun’s face. “Really? Is that so?”
“Yeah, ‘course it is. You’re not a bad guy. You’re a little weird with your pets and your creepy fucker of an android, but still, an okay guy.”
Delhoun’s smile broadened slightly, but then he grew serious again. “Before I forget to tell you again, while you were being treated, I found out the real reason the power went out.”