Clipped Wings: Chapter 4

Larkins was woken the next morning by the sound of all three of her roommates getting dressed. She sat up and touched her head gently. Apparently she had slept off most of the hangover, because all she felt was a slight queasiness and a tightness in her head. She dropped to the floor, realizing she was still wearing her pants from the day before. She picked up her uniform jacket, pulled it on, and began buttoning it. She did her best to avoid making eye contact with any of the others, but she still saw Collins give her a look that warned her it was better not to open her mouth under any circumstances. She hadn’t planned on saying anything anyway, so it made no difference.

When she was finished getting dressed, Larkins followed the others out into the hall towards the mess hall, joining the male members of the team on the way down. Sloan was already sitting at the head of the table with a cup of coffee and a plate of food. She didn’t look up or say anything as they entered. Larkins grabbed her food and took her usual place at the bottom of the table, as far away from everyone else as she possibly could be. Sloan still said nothing, but Larkins could feel a nervous tension radiating around the room. She knew that everyone was aware of what she had done last night, and what was about to happen. The only question was how bad the punishment would be.

Larkins barely paid any attention to her food as she ate, more preoccupied with imagining what was coming. Sloan’s unpredictable nature meant that it could be anything. If someone had a wrinkle in their uniform sleeve during inspection, it could mean a public berating and push-ups, or extra chores. Not doing something exactly the way Sloan wanted it done could mean a harder workout during exercise period, higher expectations for performance during their range sessions, or even reduced or withheld rations. Larkins had been on the receiving end of every punishment Sloan could think of, and she had no idea what the punishment for her actions would be. In some ways that was worse than the punishment itself.

Sloan waited until everyone had finished eating before standing up and announcing, “You have thirty seconds to get out onto the line and ready for inspection.” She held up her wrist to show her watch for emphasis.

There was an immediate scramble as everyone got up and made a dash for the door. There was no pushing or shoving to be in the front; if anyone was late, they would all be punished equally, so there was no point in trying to be first in position. Larkins was ninth in line from the left, with Fleming on her left and Mathis on her right. Sloan stalked up and down the line with a lit cigarette between her lips, eying the Marines closely. She finished near the middle of the line and stood in front of Collins, who was four places up from Larkins. Taking the cigarette from her mouth, Sloan held it out and tapped the ash off onto the front of Collins’ jacket, cleared her throat, and spit scornfully on the corporal’s boot before looking up and down the line of Marines again. “Worse than pathetic. Shameful, even. I’d strip the uniforms off every fucking one of you if I thought for a second Command would actually send me men and women who deserve to call themselves Marines.”

She turned to Collins. “Corporal, as my second-in-command, do you think you’ve done a satisfactory job at inspiring the members of this unit to be professional and representative of the United States Colonial Marine Corps?”

Larkins was confused as to why Sloan was going after Collins first, but she had a feeling it was only going to be a matter of time before she was back in the sadistic sergeant’s sights. Meanwhile, Collins was trapped in yet another one of Sloan’s trick questions. Her voice shaking slightly, Collins said, “No, ma’am.”

Sloan laughed harshly. “If nothing else, at least you’re honest. I’d say you’re correct, Corporal. You’ve failed pathetically at the most important part of your job. I should put you all on ration bars and water for a week for showing up for inspection looking as sloppy as this, and Collins, maybe going without food for a day or two would help you rethink your approach to helping me command this unit. But for right now, there’s a more pressing matter than needs to be dealt with and I would much rather get it out of the way as quickly and publicly as possible so we can all be aware of it and go back to our duties that much sooner.”

She began pacing the line of Marines again and Larkins tried not to shut her eyes or cringe, knowing that Sloan’s attention had turned to her. “Last night,” Sloan began sternly, “as some of you might know, a member of this unit was caught in a drunken state in their bunk. There were multiple witnesses and the individual in question was caught with an alcohol bottle in their hand. Corporal Larkins!”

Sloan spun to face Larkins, her voice sharp. “Yes, ma’am?” Larkins asked, trying to prepare herself for whatever was coming.

“Step out of line and stand front and center facing the rest of the unit.”

Larkins obeyed, taking several steps forward and then down so she was in line with Visalli, who was in the center of the row.

“Corporal Collins, was it Corporal Larkins you discovered drunk in the women’s quarters?”

A trickle of sweat coursed down Collins’ face and her eyes flicked to Larkins for a fraction of a second, showing pity mixed with resignation before the other corporal looked straight forward again and declared firmly, “Yes, ma’am, it was Corporal Larkins.”

Sloan turned to Larkins. “Corporal Larkins, is it correct that you were discovered drunk in the women’s quarters by Corporal Collins?”

Larkins licked her lips, which were drying out in the unbearable heat. She could feel her undershirt already growing damp with sweat. “Yes, ma’am.”

“And are you aware of the punishment for drunken and disorderly conduct on a United States Colonial Marine Corps base, Corporal?”

Larkins swallowed. Although Reconnaissance In Force Teams were technically bound by the same regulations as the rest of the Marine Corps, their independent nature meant that most violations of the rules were taken care of internally and there was a good deal of leeway as to what punishment might actually be given, with most punishments being nowhere near as serious as they were for regular infantry. For regular infantry, simply getting caught drunk while not actually causing a disturbance or interfering with regular duties meant a court-martial that could end in a sentence to several months’ confinement and partial forfeiture of pay, but for a RIFT member, the punishment was summarily decided on by the team sergeant or RIFT platoon leader and while it could vary from unit to unit depending on the strictness of the enforcing officer or NCO and the seriousness of the offense, it was usually only a day or two in confinement, extra chores for a few days following that, and a stern “Don’t do that again, idiot,” from the platoon leader and every NCO in the team until it was drilled into the offender’s head not to repeat their mistakes. With Sloan, however, there was no guessing and no way of knowing what she had planned, so Larkins meekly said, “No, ma’am.”

Sloan took a menacing step forward. “I suppose you haven’t thought to read the damn Marine Corps handbook lately, have you, Corporal?”

She waited until Larkins opened her mouth and then held up her hand, silencing the pilot. “Don’t waste my time answering that question, Corporal. I already know you haven’t.” Her voice grew harsh. “Do you confess to consuming alcohol and becoming drunk in violation of regulations, Corporal Larkins?”

Larkins felt her hands shaking as she forced out, “Yes, ma’am. I do.”

“Then in that case, the punishment for your behavior is five days confinement on reduced rations, with additional chores to be assigned on completion of your confinement period.”

Larkins could hardly hold back her gasp of shock as she thought of the tight, cramped confinement cells that had been built to hold military prisoners and knew she could never last five days in one of them. She might have been able to make it through one day if that was the extent of her punishment, but not five. There was no way. Completely forgetting herself in a panic, she let her composure break and began babbling desperately, “Five days?! Ma’am, please, no, I can’t do that! I’m claustrophobic-I can’t stand small, tight spaces like that! I’ll do anything you want-extra chores, extra exercise, anything! Please, just not five days! I can’t do it, I can-”

“Shut the fuck up!” Sloan roared in her face. Larkins cringed away from her, falling silent but still not fully able to control her panic. The enraged sergeant continued shouting in her face, “It’s seven days now, you rat-fuck of a slob! And no food for the rest of the day or tomorrow! We’ll see if that makes you clean up your behavior and act like you’re a fucking Marine! Collins, Wilderman, get this worthless piece of shit out of my sight. Lock her in a cell and bring me the key. And Collins, when you’re finished, get your ass into my office. We’re going to have a little lesson on keeping your uniform and boots properly cleaned. I don’t ever want to see you looking like this at inspection again.”

The corporal and the smartgunner both stepped out of line, each taking one of Larkins’ arms and pulling her along towards the small building that housed the confinement cells on the other side of the compound. Neither of them said a word to her and she had nothing to say to them. She wanted to break away and run, but there was nowhere she could go. She would get caught if she went into the town and she wouldn’t last more than a day or two on her own in the desert with no supplies. She wasn’t ready to die yet. So she forced herself to keep going even as they entered the confinement building. The entire building was hardly larger than a big room inside a house. There were four cells, two on each side of the central hallway, which had a desk for a guard just inside the main door. Each cell was only six feet by five feet, just large enough for a narrow cot, toilet, and sink. The door and walls were solid metal with a thin slit running around the outside wall near the roof to let light in, a viewport in the door at eye level, and a slot and ledge lower down in the door for passing in or taking out plates when the prisoners were served food.

Even though she knew it wouldn’t do any good, Larkins couldn’t help turning to Collins as the corporal gave her a goading push into one of the cells. “You know this isn’t right. You’re the fucking second-highest person on this base. You should be doing something about this.”

Collins sighed, an exhausted expression on her face. “Give me a break, Larkins. We both know there’s nothing I could do, and even if I thought there was, I wouldn’t try. I’ve had it from Sloan just as badly as you have and I’m done sticking out my neck for people who don’t give a shit about me, especially you. All I want is to get through each day without Sloan causing me too much trouble and you’re not making that easy.”

She slammed the cell door in Larkins’ face and Larkins heard the key turning in the lock a moment before the viewport was slid open and Collins looked in. “I suggest you take the next few days to think about how you’re going to act around all of us, Larkins. I’ll let you in on a little secret. A lot of us are getting really sick and fucking tired of the shitty way you’ve been acting since Hanstad bought it. We’ve got it hard enough without your bad attitude dragging everyone else down. You want to roll around and play in the fucking mud, go ahead. But don’t you dare think for a second of forcing us to get our boots muddy because of you.”

Larkins had nothing to say to that. She could only glare at Collins. “Fuck you, then.”

The viewport slid shut and she heard the sound of Collins and Wilderman walking towards the entrance. Realizing she was alone now, Larkins sat heavily down on the edge of the cot. She looked around at the walls, so close on every side, and shuddered, bringing her arms up to wrap around her torso and hug herself anxiously. She had always hated small spaces ever since she was young. There was no particular cause of the fear, or at least not one she could remember, but the mere thought of being in a cramped place was terrifying for her. To actually be there… Larkins swallowed nervously and swung her legs up onto the cot, looking around again. Were the walls getting closer?

“Don’t be a dumbass,” she scolded herself out loud, trying to ignore the anxiety building in her chest. But just to be sure, she looked again. No. The walls did seem to be getting closer. Her breath catching, Larkins slid back on the cot until she was pressed up against the corner of the cell, whispering to herself, “It’s not real. Just your imagination. It’s not real, damn it!”

But her pathetic attempts to reassure herself were useless. It felt like the walls were still growing closer, pressing in on Larkins as if determined to crush her. “No,” she said, putting her hands up against the walls that formed the corner she was backed into and pushing back firmly. It was no good. Reason went out the window as Larkins began to panic. “It’s not real!” she gasped again. “I’m going to be alright!”

The hard, unforgiving metal surfaces seemed to mock Larkins as they draw ever tighter, and she swore she could feel herself being pressed in from every side, about to be crushed. “I’ll be alright!” she cried out again, trying to convince herself as she let go of the advancing walls and hugged herself again, feeling her body shaking with uncontrollable terror. “I’ll be alright!”

She felt the cold metal press in against her body, the pressure growing stronger and stronger until she heard rather than felt her bones snapping. That was when Larkins covered her ears with her hands and let out a scream of agony and terror that echoed around the rapidly shrinking space and her own head until it was the only sensation she could feel.

Larkins woke up sprawled out across the hard surface of the cot, one arm hanging off the edge and the left side of her face pressed into the thin mattress that barely deserved the name. At first, she was confused. Her last memory was of being pressed in and crushed. But as she looked around, she realized that what she had been through hadn’t been real. The cell walls were where they belonged. She wasn’t injured.

“It was all in my head,” she gasped weakly, sitting up. “Oh, Skye. Stupid, stupid Skye. You weak motherfucker. Pathetic half-assed excuse for a human.”

She would have gotten up and paced angrily to try to relieve the frustrated energy building inside her if there had been more room, but that wasn’t an option, so she stayed on the bed and continued to curse and insult herself, using every swear word and slur she could think of until she ran out. But it still wasn’t enough. There were no words that could express her rage at her own weak mind for failing her. In her anger, Larkins glared down at the scars on her hands and arms. That was it. Maybe she had been right the first time. She deserved to be punished for being so weak.

But she didn’t have her switchblade with her so she got up quickly, checking frantically around the room for something else to use. “Nothing!” she exclaimed furiously when her search ended with no results. “Fucking nothing!”

It made sense, of course. It was a bad idea to put anything in a prison cell that could be used as a weapon. But it didn’t solve her problem. “How… how am I going to do this?” she asked herself, still too enraged to realize what exactly she was trying to do to herself. “Think, Skye! Think, damn it!”

She slammed the back of her head against the wall of the cell so hard she saw colored lights in front of her eyes. She collapsed onto the cot again as the lights faded and left her vision blurred. It was when she lifted her hands to rub at her eyes that she saw what she was looking for. She kept her fingernails carefully trimmed, not just because of Sloan and regulations, but out of practicality. But although they were short, they were also naturally sharp. They were perfect for what she needed.

Sitting back up on the edge of the cot, Larkins held her left forearm in her lap. The upper half of her forearm just a few inches below the elbow was the perfect place. It would hurt and bleed without her needing to do too much damage. Pressing the tips of the nails on her right hand to the skin, Larkins began digging in, dragging sideways across her arm as she did. She gasped in pain and saw gouges and torn skin appearing on her arm, but no blood. She did it again and again until she hit a vein and the blood began to seep out. The pain made her let out a sound that was somewhere between a grunt and a gasp. All the rage left her in an instant and Larkins was left panting in shock and horror. “Okay,” she gasped weakly. “Okay. What the fuck was that?”

She had promised herself a long time ago that she would never deliberately injure herself again. Now she had broken that promise. “Idiot. Idiot, idiot, idiot.”

She hadn’t cut herself seriously, but a thin trickle of blood was running down her arm towards her wrist. She looked around for something to use as a bandage and finally settled for tying one corner of the thin sheet from the cot around her arm. It would hold until the wound clotted and stopped bleeding.

Feeling much calmer and slightly saner, Larkins adjusted the thin pillow on the cot and lay down, trying to relax as she talked to herself, half out loud and half in her mind. “So, that happened. Don’t hate yourself too much, Skye. You had a moment of weakness. That’s it.” She looked at her arm again, seeing a bit of red soaking through the white sheet. I’m not going to do that again. I can’t let my anger at myself get out of control. I’m not going to be in here forever, and when I get out my team is going to need me as their skilled, experienced pilot, not some panicky, hallucinating, self-harming bitch. “You just can’t let yourself down, Skye. It’s not an option. They might all be pieces of shit, but they’re still human and you owe them. You owe them your best.”

But how could she give them her best when she was so weak? She had lost control of herself and there had been nothing she could do to stop it. Worse, she had lost control three times. First when she started drinking the night before and didn’t stop, then during the hallucination, and then during her maddened quest to punish herself for giving into the hallucination. She had been… weak.

Maybe Mathis was right. Maybe I was weak and got Hanstad killed. What does that make me? Incompetent and a failure at best? A murderer at worst? Larkins drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. She didn’t want to think of herself as a murderer. She didn’t even want to think of herself as incompetent or a failure. All the insults that had been thrown at her in the last day came rushing back. Insufferable bitch. Selfish. Lazy. Incompetent. Shitty excuse for a Marine. Stupid motherfucker.

It was too much for Larkins to bear. Everything in her head was running around and around in a dizzying circle too quickly for her to stop. The more she let herself feel the shame and humiliation, the angrier she became at her own weakness. The more she acknowledged her weakness, the more shame and humiliation she felt as she realized that the tough, uncaring persona she had built around herself was beginning to crumble. It was too much for her to deal with. “I need a drink,” she muttered wishfully to herself, thinking of the sensation of the vodka burning down her throat and numbing the pain and heartache and longing to feel that once more. Hugging herself again, Larkins closed her eyes and fell into an anxious sleep.

The lack of a day-night cycle meant that for a long time Larkins had no idea what time it really was. For all she knew, she was awake while everyone else was sleeping. The lack of mealtimes didn’t help, both due to the lack of a routine event to help her reset her body’s clock and also because of her hunger. There was a plastic cup on the edge of the sink that she could use to drink from, but the water tasted like a mixture of iron and mud and did nothing to make her feel less hungry. The pains gradually grew worse and worse and all she could do was hope that she was getting close to the time when Sloan would let someone bring food in for her to eat. She could feel herself getting weaker from starvation, but it wasn’t like there was anything she wanted to do or even could do in the confined space. All she could do was lie on the cot, trapped with her own thoughts. It wasn’t a pleasant place to be. At some point in the clusterfuck that had been her life since their return from the last mission, something had changed inside Larkins. Her cool, tough composure was falling apart and being replaced by something dark, angry, and bitter. And she was ashamed to admit it to herself but she also couldn’t stop mentally berating and scolding herself. She fed the growing anger blindly and hated it at the same time. She drank water periodically, but it wasn’t doing enough. It didn’t provide a burning distraction in her throat. It didn’t numb the pain and make her forget. It wasn’t what she really wanted.

Finally, the viewport slid open and she heard Wilderman calling, “Larkins, you awake?”

Dizzily, Larkins sat up, looking up to see the smartgunner watching her through the slit in the door.

“Wilderman? Wha… what time is it?”

The tall man’s voice was firm but not harsh. “0815. Sunday. You’ve been in here for over forty-eight hours. Sloan finally said you could have food.”

“Finally. Give.” Larkins was too hungry and in too much pain to be polite. Wilderman didn’t even open the food delivery ledge and instead shoved a single ration bar through the viewport. It fell to the floor and Larkins stared in disbelief. “That’s it? Can’t you at least get me one more?”

“I’m sorry,” he said, almost apologetically. “Sloan explicitly said you get one bar per mealtime until you’re out of here.”

“Couldn’t you sneak more in?” Larkins asked desperately, picking up the bar, tearing off the wrapper, and stuffing the pathetic excuse for a meal in her mouth as quickly as she could.

“I’m sorry,” Wilderman repeated. “I’m afraid Sloan would find out. I don’t want to end up in here with you.”

“Wilderman,” Larkins began to plead around her mouthful of food, but he had already stepped away from the viewport, saying, “I’ve got to go. I’ll get in trouble if I stay too long and you might too. It’s better for both of us this way.”

He slid the viewport shut and Larkins realized it was no use. There was nothing more to say. She slumped back on the bed, closing her eyes.

Although the ration bar didn’t completely satisfy her hunger, it did make Larkins feel stronger. It was just enough of a push to nudge her out of the self-destructive mindset she had been trapped in since waking up from her hallucination. She wasn’t dead yet. Sloan hadn’t won yet. She would be out in a few more days if she could just stay sane. She still had a chance at winning this battle. She just had to hold on.

But holding on was said much more easily than it was done. Solitude and a lack of mental stimulation meant that the only thing Larkins could do for the next five days when she couldn’t sleep was retreat into her mind. She spent almost every moment fighting with herself, trying to stay strong and fight back against the darkness that was doing its best to force itself on her and overwhelm her. She didn’t have any more hallucinations, but that didn’t mean she felt one bit more comfortable about being trapped in such a confined space and no matter what else she thought of, that was always in the back of her mind. She tried to keep up an exercise routine but there wasn’t much she could do in the cramped cell besides push-ups and crunches, and even that didn’t help her escape the invasive thoughts. All it really did was make her sweat harder, and without any clean clothing or a way to take a shower, it made her smell worse so she finally gave up.

The lack of proper food didn’t help either. Just as Wilderman said, a single ration bar was delivered three times a day. He was usually the one who brought it, but not always. No matter who it was, they never stayed around to talk long. Larkins didn’t really want to talk to anyone anyway. She wouldn’t even admit to herself that after being isolated for so long, she wouldn’t mind simply interacting with another person.

After what seemed like far longer than the week Sloan had sentenced to her, a key clicked in the lock and the door opened. Silvain was standing there. “It’s over, Larkins. Sloan said your time’s up. It’s 2200 hours. She wants to see you in her office before you go to bed.”

Larkins imagined that if they had been on Earth or a nicer planet, she would take a few deep breaths of fresh air as she stepped out of the confinement building. But there was no fresh air outside, only the stale, dusty smell and unbearable heat. Silvain walked alongside her back to the main building but said nothing and disappeared as soon as they were inside. Larkins made her way to Sloan’s office and rapped sharply on the door.

“Come in,” Sloan said sternly from inside. Larkins opened the door and entered to see Sloan leaning back in her chair, feet up on her desk as she read from a magazine, a desk fan blowing on her face and a glass of clear water next to it. Larkins gave the glass a brief covetous glance, thinking of the muddy-tasting, unfiltered water in the cell before coming to attention and saluting Sloan. “Corporal Larkins reporting as ordered, ma’am.”

Sloan put her feet down and set the magazine on the desk. “So what do you have to say for yourself, Corporal?”

“Ma’am?” Larkins questioned, not sure what Sloan wanted.

Rolling her eyes, Sloan said sarcastically, “I see a week in lock-up hasn’t helped your IQ at all. Have you learned your lesson?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Larkins said, keeping her head straight.

Sloan stood up, approaching Larkins and beginning to walk in circles around her, so close that Larkins could hear the other woman breathing. “Bullshit,” Sloan countered. “You’re a fucking liar. You haven’t learned anything.”

Larkins remained perfectly still as her pulse sped up, afraid that her ordeal wasn’t over after all. Sloan continued, “You’re going to do it again. Maybe not tonight, or tomorrow night, but eventually, you’re going to cave. You’re weak, Larkins. You always have been and now that you’ve been down that road once, you’re not going to stop. And I won’t stop you either, or at least not directly. You’re going to do it again because I’m going to let you. And then I’m going to punish you again and again until you never want to look at a fucking bottle again. I’m going to break this out of you or break you trying. I’ll turn you into either a real Marine or a complete failure.”

“Ma’am,” protested Larkins weakly, not even believing herself as she said, “I’m not going to do it again. I won’t.”

“Did I ask you to contradict me?!” Sloan yelled suddenly, making Larkins jerk back with fright. “Did I?”

“No, m-ma’am,” stammered the unfortunate corporal.

Sloan stopped pacing in front of Larkins and pointed to the insignia on her sleeve. “What’s this, Larkins?”

Confused, Larkins answered, “Your Command Sergeant insignia, ma’am.”

Sloan grabbed Larkins’ own sleeve, pressing her thumb to the double chevron patch. “And this?”

“My corporal’s stripes, ma’am.”

“That’s right. Command Sergeant and Corporal. Superior and subordinate. And if you ever forget that,” Sloan leaned in so closely that Larkins was forced to breathe in the air the sergeant was exhaling, “for even a second, I’ll rip these stripes off your sleeve and shove them down your insubordinate throat. Do we understand each other crystal fucking clear?”

Larkins swallowed. It was a crazy threat, but Sloan was insane enough to follow through on it. “Yes, ma’am. Crystal fucking clear.”

Sloan released Larkins’ jacket and stepped back. “You smell like a fucking trash processing plant, Larkins. We’re going to go down to the showers and I’m going to time you. I’ll give you sixty seconds to get in, get clean, and get out and dressed. If you’re not, you’d better hope I’m in a forgiving mood because otherwise you won’t be getting a breath of sleep tonight.”

Larkins had no choice. They made a quick stop for her to pick up clean clothing from her room before heading down to the showers. Sloan waited until Larkins entered one of the shower stalls and closed the door before saying loudly, “Your time starts now!”

Larkins counted to herself as she stripped down and threw her dirty clothing over the door. Ten seconds to get undressed, twenty-five to shower, ten to dry off, and another fifteen to get dressed. She moved as quickly as she could, barely feeling the water as she washed off. She shut the water off quickly when she was done, scrubbed over herself with her towel, and pulled on her clean clothing as fast as possible, yanking the door open in her haste to get out. Sloan was watching with a triumphant smirk. “Sixty-three seconds, Corporal.”

Larkins’ shoulders dropped with disappointment as she stared weakly at Sloan, whose smirk didn’t fade as she ordered, “Get on the ground. Push-up position.”

Larkins obeyed numbly, knowing what Sloan wanted. “How many, ma’am?”

“One for each second it took you,” was the cold reply.

Larkins began doing the required push-ups, only to feel Sloan’s boot on her back a second before she was shoved back down to the floor.

“Did I tell you to be silent, Corporal? I want you to count. And not so fast. Slowly.”

Sloan released her and Larkins started over, counting out as she raised herself off the ground, “One. Two. Three. Four…” Larkins could practically feel how much Sloan was enjoying humiliating her. The sergeant hovered over her, almost standing on top of her. Fast push-ups were no problem. Larkins could have done sixty-three in about a minute. But the slow push-ups Sloan demanded were much more difficult. Her arms were beginning to ache badly near the end until she finally gasped out, “Sixty-two, sixty-three!”

She let her arms go slack, keeping just enough pressure to stop her face from slamming into the floor as she dropped downward again.

“Satisfactory,” Sloan decided. “Now get your miserable ass off the fucking floor. You’re not a damn snake, although I think there’s a case for you being a worm.”

With that parting insult, she walked towards the door, calling over her shoulder, “See yourself to your quarters. I don’t want to see your bitch face again for the rest of the night.”

Larkins got up and stared after her, rubbing her aching arms weakly. She turned to pick up her dirty clothing to take with her, but as she did so she caught her reflection in the mirror. Abandoning the clothing, she stepped closer to get a better look, noticing the worn-out expression on her face. Her short red hair was getting close to the point where it needed to be cut. She had gone for a cropped style similar to a crewcut in basic training and had never looked back. She wasn’t one to take pride in her appearance or even show that she cared, but she did privately like the short hair better. Then she noticed her eyes. She had been named for her eyes. Her parents hadn’t been able to decide what to name her until she was born. When they saw her bright blue eyes, they had immediately chosen “Skye” as her name. It was where her callsign had come from. Skye Larkins. Skylark. Her eyes were still just as blue as they had been when she was young, but now they were bloodshot and tired-looking. She needed sleep. Proper sleep. “Not much chance of that happening,” she muttered to herself as she bent over again to pick up her clothing.

Carrying the dirty uniform, Larkins walked down the hall to the women’s quarters and dropped the clothing in the basket once she was inside, looking around at her roommates. Mathis seemed to be fast asleep, turned in her bunk to face the wall. Collins was definitely asleep, lying on her back with a fan blowing on her, and Larkins glared at her. Cowardly bitch. You’ve been sleeping in here all nice and cozy while I was suffering in a cell because you didn’t have it in you to stand up for me. Hope you have nightmares, motherfucker.

Reverdin was the only one awake. She was lying in her bunk above Mathis, reading a book quietly. She looked over as Larkins jumped into her own bunk. “You okay, Larkins?”

She sounded like she actually cared, and while Larkins tried not to give a fuck, there was a tiny part of her that appreciated the concern, so instead of ignoring Reverdin or telling her to mind her own business, she said, “Yeah. I’m okay.”

All Reverdin said was, “Good,” before she went back to reading her book. Larkins lay down and tried to get somewhat comfortable in her bed before closing her eyes and doing her best to fall asleep. “Please,” she whispered to herself, making sure Reverdin couldn’t hear, “No nightmares tonight.”

Chapter 3……………………………………………………………………………………………Chapter 5

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