According to Delhoun, the reason why the door to the silver flower lab was open in the first place was because someone had tried to get in to steal some of the flowers. There was no way to know for sure who it was, and the Marshal that Delhoun talked to hadn’t been able to give him much detail, for obvious security reasons, but Delhoun’s guess was that it was someone connected to Seegson Corporation. Seegson may have been put out of business years ago, but that didn’t mean there weren’t former workers who were upset about the whole debacle. Given Weyland-Yutani’s size, influence, and advancements, you’d think it’d be difficult for someone to infiltrate a facility and sabotage it. Yeah, I think there wouldn’t be a need for the Marines, or our cousins the Colonial Marshals, if that was true. I think it was the year before I went to prison that there was a massive bombing in Tokyo by a bunch of former Seegson employees that turned to terrorism. And now apparently they were working with more established terrorist groups as well.
As far as Delhoun could tell, Winnie had sensed something not quite right when the power went out. I’m not sure how, and even he wasn’t sure. But she went out to have a look around, and found the lab open, probably scaring off whoever was inside before they could get any of the flowers, since none of them were missing. Luckily she didn’t suffer the effects of the gas nearly as bad as I did because she could smell it and got down low to the floor away from the gas fast enough. All that lead to was that there was someone inside the station who didn’t belong. Someone who likely cut the power, and who had managed to hide themselves from security. My first instinct was to say, “Let me go and blow their brains out,” but Delhoun said that because I was a prisoner, I was not allowed to be handling weapons.
This stinks. Not to mention I still had another twenty-four hours before my systems were clear of the silver flower toxin, and it would be yet another twenty-four hours before I would be cleared of any side effects from both the toxin and the meds being delivered through an IV drip. Then again, there was a lot that really wasn’t known about this flower.
So, this stinks. Royally.
Delhoun wasn’t being given a lot of information regarding the station’s intruder. I thought the entire place would be on full alert, but only certain sectors of the station were. All hangars were closed. The surgical labs were closed. All rooms with patients who wouldn’t be released within forty-eight hours were locked and only accessible by doctors and nurses with keycards. Because I was going to be released tomorrow, my room was unlocked. Delhoun’s lab was still open as well, and he was pissed, because he was certain this intruder was a former Seegson employee looking to steal his android.
Yeah, Delhoun came up with the idea that this intruder was from Seegson, not anybody in charge of the station. Then again, I made up my mind that I was going to trust him, so, I decided to go along with what he said and keep my eyes and ears open for evidence.
But, just fuck this idea that I am just going to sit around and not do anything. No, I’m going to go out there and find this intruder and slam his skull against the wall.
Truth be told, I did not want to wait to be released. I wanted to go look for this son-of-a-bitch now.
First of all, I would have to unhook myself from all the machinery, and… I don’t know how. I also know that I still have traces of silver flower toxin circulating in my bloodstream, and the doctors said letting me go now would mean Delhoun would have to take me back in a wheelchair, because I can’t walk without the risk of passing out.
Winnie could see I was bored and upset, so she began giving me little gifts to try and cheer me up. Shortly after lunch, she trotted into my room, hopped on the bed, and took a tiny bag of chocolate candies from one of her pockets.
I rubbed Winnie’s head in thanks. “Hey, maybe you can go find this intruder.”
Winnie shook her head.
“Why not?” I folded my arms over my chest in mock disappointment. “Are you chicken?”
“Well, now that doesn’t answer my question.” I tilted my head. “You’re one big chicken, aren’t you?”
“You don’t wanna go out there because you’re chicken.”
Giving a grumpy snort, Winnie sat on my bladder, so I needed to call a nurse in order to use a bathroom.
When I was scheduled to be released from the hospital room, a doctor and two nurses wanted to make sure I could walk before actually letting me go. They helped me out of bed, and told me to take three steps forward. I was a little dizzy, but not to the point where I thought I was going to pass out. I walked without an issue, so I was turned over to Delhoun.
“Any word on this intruder?” I asked after Delhoun led me to his kitchen.
“Nothing. Something will happen sooner or later. A person has to find food, water, basic stuff to survive. I heard one of the Marshals say that starvation or thirst might drive them into an area where they can be captured,” Delhoun said. “Speaking of starvation and thirst, I’ll bet you’re hungry right about now.”
“The hospital food wasn’t bad,” I replied. “Not as good as your pancakes, though.”
“Thank you. I’ve been using my great-grandmother’s recipe for years.” Delhoun turned to face me. “If I didn’t get interested in extraterrestrial mammals, I’d have opened up my own restaurant. I don’t know why, but I’ve felt cooking is the freest art you can set your mind to. You can do it by yourself, in your own home, and it’s something you can market to anyone.”
“At least you’re able to think of something besides your work,” I said.
“Exactly.” Delhoun set a jug of syrup on the table. “I know I said my budget was cut, but I figured you deserved something special when you got out of the hospital. Recovering from silver flower toxin is rough.”
“So… is surviving silver flowers rare?”
“No, not at all. What you went through is rare, because silver flowers generally don’t grow in such close proximity to each other. In the wild, they grow in tiny clusters of around three to four plants, and the effect they have is small compared to what you went through. You still would have experienced mild hallucinations, breathing would be labored, and you would feel sick to your stomach, but you wouldn’t have passed out. The toxin would remain in your system for around six to twelve hours, and after that, you’d be fine. According to all research, you should have died after breathing in the toxin of a combined three hundred and fifty flowers, but I was able to get you out before it would’ve been deemed hopeless.”
I found myself thinking about the fact that I had been hovering inches above death. I know that as a soldier I’m faced with my own mortality on a regular basis, but I thought that being shot would have a different feeling compared to suffocating. It still meant death. It still meant… I was going somewhere else.
There was a part of me that wondered why I lived. Was it pure luck? Did I have a greater purpose that I needed to accomplish? Does someone think I deserve to live out the rest of my life until I can barely remember my own name?
I swallowed past a lump in my throat, and I lost my appetite. I began feeling really dizzy. Pushing my plate away, I stood up, saying, “I’m gonna go lay down,” not making eye contact with Delhoun as I left the room.
I’m not sure how long I was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling while comprehending the fact that I had been so close to death. I thought about the dreams I had while unconscious. Would those dreams have continued? Would I leave the physical world and stay in my dreams?
What would happen if Vasquez and Hudson and Apone and Hicks found out? What would they say if they learned I had died because I’m a complete idiot? They’d probably make fun of me, then mourn me. They’d miss me for sure. Every time I see them in my dreams (and hallucinations), they tell me they miss me, but I don’t know if that’s true or not.
I couldn’t sit and think for much longer. I was alive, and that was all that mattered. I had lived to kick ass another day.
Now, it was time to go find whoever cut the power, and I was not planning on being very merciful, because the power outage had basically led to a chain of events of me getting poisoned by a bunch of alien flowers.
Delhoun turned off the lights in his personal wing for the night, and I waited until he was asleep before I got Winnie, who was curled up in a den-like structure not too far from Delhoun’s bed. I don’t know if she was sleeping or not, but, either way, I had to hope and pray she didn’t start screaming at me.
Peering into the room, I was relieved that Delhoun was facing away from me. I quietly crept in, and whispered, “Hey, Winnie!”
Her head lifted, and she turned to look at me.
I put my finger to my lips. “Don’t make a sound. Come on.”
Winnie got up and stretched, still looking at me, before flopping back down.
I sighed, then hissed, “Winnipeg, get over here this instant, young lady!”
She jolted up, giving me an angry squeak. While muttering, she left the den, clearly upset I used her full name.
I closed Delhoun’s door quietly after Winnie left, and then I bent down to whisper, “Now, you and I are going to go exploring.”
I think she knew I was really going to look for the station’s intruder, but she went along with it, and hopped up on my shoulders.
Truth be told, I was still suffering somewhat from the silver flower toxin and the meds used to treat it. There was pressure in my sinuses, the muscles in my chest ached, and I occasionally thought I heard someone whispering my name. I knew I was supposed to be resting and letting my body get rid of the toxin through its own means, but I didn’t want to rest. Frankly, I was starting to think that you didn’t need a cell to punish someone; just stick them in an environment where there isn’t much to do and they’re alone with their thoughts most of the time. OK, I guess that’s basically what a cell is, but, you know what I mean.
As I walked around the station, I realized that I haven’t exactly experienced a true day-night cycle in a while. A twenty-four-hour clock is used, but because we’re in space, there’s no real day. It’s always night. Maybe that’s why my dreams were full of sunlight; I miss it. I want it.
No one was really walking around in a vast area below Delhoun’s lab. It looked like a large classroom, devoid of people. There were model skeletons and anatomy holograms and a few rooms nearby marked with signs warning you about how they’re housing cadavers for research and surgical practice.
Winnie was sniffing the air. She didn’t like this room one bit, and neither did I. I felt like someone had taken an icicle and was sliding it down my spine.
Then, we heard footsteps. Winnie tensed up, and arched her back as she prepared to spring at whatever was approaching us. I held my breath, certain it was a security guard coming to take me back to Delhoun. That was when I felt Winnie dig her claws into my left shoulder. The person who entered the room was wearing a heavy gray jacket walk into the room and holding what I presumed to be some type of stun baton. In the dim light, I saw it was a man, clean-shaven, with dark brown hair that was graying near his temples. His face was angular, and he looked as though he hadn’t had some proper rest in weeks. His voice was low and raspy. “Private Mark Drake. A pleasure to meet you.”
“How do you know my name?” I asked.
“It’s not hard to get information when you really want to.. You’re under the protection of Doctor Rykell Delhoun. You were just hospitalized for inhaling the toxic fumes of… silver flowers. Impressive, that you survived a dose that would’ve killed anything of your size.” He pointed the baton at me. “I should be thankful your status as a prisoner prohibits you from carrying any weapons. As a Marine, I believe you work with a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ philosophy, correct? We don’t need you getting in even further trouble for hurting a civilian, now, do we?”
Winnie hissed. I was glancing around the room, trying to find a solution.
The man flicked his gaze between me and Winnie. “Quiet little fucker, aren’t you?”
My stomach knotted tightly, and I slowly approached him, my hands raised. “Winnie, stand down,” I whispered.
Winnie gave a surprised squeal.
“I said, stand down.” I didn’t break eye contact with the strange man. “We can talk this out, can’t we? Come on. You know my name. My turn to know yours. Only fair. Maybe I can help you out of here. I hate this place. You see this stupid collar? Fucking hate it. We can help each other out, right?” I was standing directly next to him now.
“What are you playing at?” The man lowered the baton.
“I’m saying that I can help you.”
“You don’t even know what I want.”
“No?” I gave him a charming smile. “Well, I don’t care.” I grabbed the back of his head, and smacked his face against a desk. As he pressed his hands to his face to check for blood, I promptly kicked him right under his ribs, sending him to the floor. In the process, he dropped the stun baton, and I picked it up, crouching next to him and pointing it at his neck. “You cutting the power resulted in me getting a lungful of that silver flower shit,” I growled. “I’m being nice by not shoving this thing up your ass. I could-”
I was suddenly yanked from behind, and whipped around to face Delhoun’s Working Joe. “You are becoming hysterical,” it said as it put its hands near my throat.
“Get him! Not me!” I shouted. “I’m your master’s friend!” I tried to pry the cold, rubber hands from my neck, and then I heard a screeching yowl before a flash of black tackled the android. Winnie battered the Working Joe’s face with her paws, hissing and screaming while the android tried to pull her off.
I shouldn’t have gotten distracted by Winnie. A second later, I heard a click, and whirled around to see the man aiming a handgun to my face.
“Nice play, Drake,” he grunted, his face still contorted in pain from when I kicked him.
I grabbed his arm a split-second before the gun went off, and tried to wrestle the weapon from his grasp. Remembering the stun baton, I tried driving it into his chest, but I missed, smashing the baton into the floor. The man shoved me aside, scrambling up and trying to run. The baton useless, I gave chase, yelling at Winnie, “Leave the android, let’s go!”
Winnie sprinted after me. The intruder glanced over his shoulder before making a turn into a hallway. He ran past the gym, and towards the room containing the silver flowers. I skidded to a halt, almost falling, not wanting to get closer to that room. I spent all of maybe five minutes in that room, but that was long enough for me to decide I don’t want to be in there ever again.
I wanted to throw something. If I didn’t do something, that nutcase was going to get away.
I didn’t have to look around for long. Winnie charged forward, leaping on top the intruding man. She raked her claws down his back and was about to plunge them into his neck when the thump-thump of two suppressed gunshots filled the hall. Winnie screeched and the man flung her to the ground, blood pooling from a wound on her left leg. She was howling in pain, and I found my heart sinking as I became torn over what to do. I wanted to help her, but I also wanted to stop the intruder.
She’ll live. It won’t take me long to take this guy out. She’ll be alright. Not the worst thing that can happen to her. I swallowed past a lump in my throat. Every muscle in my body was tensing up. There were so many things I wanted to do, but couldn’t; the guy had his gun pointed in my face. He approached me, and I could see he was shaking.
“Get up,” he snarled, grabbing me by the tracking collar. Blood was dripping down his back, leaving tiny puddles on the floor. “Can’t have you fucking around with me anymore! I’ll get that Working Joe, and I’ll help bring Seegson back! We were the only people capable of competing with Weyland-Yutani and their damn dysfunctional androids!”
I felt like I was going to throw up. Tears were streaming down my face, and I could barely breathe. My life was flashing before my eyes. Then he looked at the gun, and then at the door to the flower lab. “I’ve got a more interesting idea, Drake.” He pressed several keys on the control panel and the door opened. He waved at the open door with the gun. “Get in there.”
I didn’t want to go anywhere near that room, but I didn’t have a choice. The moment I stepped inside, he sneered, “You’re not going to survive this a second time, Drake. This is all going to look like complete idiocy on your part when security comes and finds your corpse and your pet’s.” The door closed when he left, and he decided to smash the lock for good measure.
Winnie was still lying in the hallway, presumably unconscious.
I hoped she was unconscious. Huddled by the door of the lab, I tried not to breathe too much or too deeply, but I was upset over Winnie. I cared about her, that much I will admit to myself in private, and I don’t want to be the one who caused her to get hurt.
The feeling of being a failure had come back, like a swift kick in the ass. I put my head on my knees. I thought about Vasquez. I thought about Hudson. I thought about Apone and Hicks and Wierzbowski. I thought about Redding, Crowe, Dietrich, Frost, Spunkmeyer, and Ferro. I thought about Delhoun. I even thought about Little Shit and his tribe of plucky Annexers.
What could do I other than think? I hoped I could last long enough for someone to find me, before the toxic fumes of the flowers took hold me once more.
Winnie lifted her head up, slowly. I was overcome with joy, and I wanted to bang on the glass and call to her, but I knew that would cost me my breath. She looked around, and I could see her sides rising and falling rapidly. I hated seeing her in pain, so I squeezed my eyes shut, lowering my head in silent prayer that she was going to be alright.