I was completely drained of energy that night when I went to bed, and I felt like I could sleep for a week. After taking my evening pill, I wrote in my journal for a little while before my body’s exhaustion caught up with my brain. I could only hope my dreams were either peaceful, or nonexistent.
But, no, they weren’t.
I dreamt that I was laying out in a lawn chair, on a balcony, off an apartment in some tropical city. The air was warm, and I felt physically at peace. My heart wasn’t pounding. I didn’t feel feverish. Everything felt right.
A hand touched my face, and I looked up to see Vasquez. I kind of expected her to say something sarcastic, but she said nothing. She continued stroking my cheek, then leaned down to kiss me. I sat up in the chair, holding her and continuing the kiss. We remained there for some time, I guess, in a place where we didn’t have to worry about anything. Where we weren’t restricted by time. Where neither of us were going to die anytime soon.
No question I could ask would seem stupid, I hope, but I couldn’t seem to say anything. Our voices seemed to have been taken away. For now, I wouldn’t mind. I went in to have another kiss, only to find Vasquez was gone. Everything was gone. The balcony, the apartment, the city. All gone. The warm weather was gone, too, replaced by a gray sky, rocky terrain, unbearable cold, and pure nothingness.
I was sitting on the ground, my heart throbbing and my head aching. Feelings of hunger began to rip into my belly, and thirst rapidly dried out my mouth and throat. I wanted to stand, but I couldn’t. I felt trapped. So I began to scream.
Abruptly sitting upright, I drew in deep, gulping breaths. I frantically looked around my room, and slowly calmed down when I realized that had only been a dream.
I was cold, and looked down to notice thin trails of sweat running all over my body. With a groan, I got out of bed to wipe myself down with a towel. I felt a little bit better, but I was still cold.
With a sigh, I crawled back in bed, burying myself under the covers and hoping to get some more sleep. When I just couldn’t get back to sleep, I pulled on a shirt and quietly left the room. I headed to Vasquez’s room and knocked softly on the door. “Hey, Vas. You awake?”
I heard a curse in Spanish, followed by, “No, I’m not answering you because I’m fast asleep, dumbass!”
I smirked a little. “Can I come in?”
Opening the door, I saw Vasquez sitting up in bed, looking very annoyed at the fact that I woke her up.
“What the fuck do you want at this hour?” she hissed.
Vasquez sighed, and gestured for me to sit. “Your bad dreams again?”
I nodded. “Bad dreams, plus Dietrich’s little outburst earlier.”
“What exactly did happen when Hornby took you off-base?”
I went into the details of what happened, everything from the building I was in to how Garavich treated me during the exam.
Vasquez rubbed her face, trying to get out the sleep. She sighed again. “You know what? I don’t always agree with Dietrich, but I think she’s right that Hornby’s a suspicious character. He doesn’t seem to tell you much of anything. Only what he feels like telling you.”
“You think he’s hiding something?” I asked.
I shrugged. “Well, maybe he’s under some kind of contract that says he can only say so much about what he’s doing.”
“If that was true, I don’t think he would’ve told you he’s making an antidote.”
“Good point.” I looked at her. “I just hope that’s the last we’ll see of him. He sure pissed off Dietrich.”
“I’m actually shocked she let him live, given how fired up she’ll get if Hudson farts during his yearly physical.”
“That’s Hudson, though.”
“Good point. I’d be upset too if I had to give Hudson an exam. Maybe that’s why I never wanted to be a medtech.”
“You made it clear from the start that you wanted to handle the heavy weapons,” I said, smirking.
“I did. You had no interest, but you fell in love with the smartgun once you got the hang of it.”
I felt well enough the next day to request a pass to go into the city for a few hours. Apone was a little reluctant, but figured letting me get some air would be better overall.
As you may have guessed, I headed to Delhoun’s. Not because I wanted to play with the baby Annexers, but because I wanted to know if he knew Dr. Hornby.
One of the facility’s scientists let me in and led me right to Delhoun, who was in his personal office, having breakfast and looking over some paperwork. “Drake,” he said. “Nice to see you again.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Can I talk to you about a couple things?”
“You may.” Delhoun set his paperwork aside, and looked me in the eye.
“Do you know a… Doctor Hornby?”
Delhoun’s face paled more than it usually is. “Close the door.”
I did, not liking the look on Delhoun’s face.
“Where did you hear that name?”
“He visited-sorta-yesterday. I was suffering from some kind of kidney dysfunction from the silver flower, and he treated me. Yesterday morning he took me to some lab next to a hospital here in Brisbane. He was… very cryptic about what he was doing. It was a quick exam, but… why couldn’t that have been done in my own base?”
“Because Hornby is from the biological division. There are concerns that Agphyte is being developed for use as a bioweapon by terrorist groups, and the company is studying it to try to find an antidote. But they’re also trying to prevent outside groups from getting their hands on it.”
“Like who? Anyone?”
“Any of the alien species we’ve fought in the past and haven’t made peace with. The terrorists involved with Seegson. Yes. Anyone.”
I noticed something from the corner of my eye, down the hallway from Delhoun’s office. The giant snow-white figure I had run into a couple days ago. Aran. “What about his people?”
Delhoun looked out into the hallway to see Aran. “His people… we haven’t exactly made official contact with yet. And we don’t exactly want to if we encounter the wrong group of individuals.”
“Why?” I asked.
“They’re very technologically and scientifically advanced. Many of them consider themselves to be the most advanced race in the galaxy by such a large margin that other races aren’t worth their time or effort. And then there are some factions of his society that are so… obsessed with making scientific discoveries and further advancements that they’re willing to take advantage of other species, even humans.” He glanced at me. “Aran’s a bit of an outlier. He was the first one willing to come to us and warn us about the danger that some of his people posed, and for that he was made an outcast. He’ll probably never be allowed to return home.”
In the time that Delhoun was talking, Aran had come a bit closer to us, and I saw he had a notebook and pen in his large hands. He looked almost interested in me.
Delhoun glanced at me. “I already told you why he’s here.”
“Yeah,” I said. “You said he’s bonded to Dakota.”
“Was, to be precise. It is possible for Annexers to lose their bonds, and I think… Dakota’s lost hers with Aran. I’ve been trying to help get that back.”
“Then, why have me in the mix? What if she bonds to me?”
“Annexers can bond with multiple people if they wish. It’s not unusual. I just felt you could help because of your experience.”
I frowned, switching my gaze between Delhoun and Aran. “Did you tell him about the silver flower incident?”
Delhoun worked his jaw. “Well, yes, but-”
“Oh, some fucking friend you are!”
“Stop. He wanted to know and he promised not to tell anyone.”
I glared at Delhoun, and my anger gradually faded. If I was going to trust Delhoun, I had to trust Aran as well. “Fine. Does he at least believe I can help Dakota?”
“With time, yes.”
I returned to base later to find everyone going about their day. My plan was to just put Hornby and his crap behind me. The silver flowers were a freak accident for me, and like Delhoun had told me, the nightmares would go away with time. At least, I hoped that was true. To be honest, I did experience a couple of nights where I didn’t have any nightmares at all. Or any dreams, period.
We did some training exercises, and it felt good to hold my smartgun again as I moved through the course with Wierzbowski. Felt like nothing had changed, but I knew that might not be a good thing. I hardly know my own teammates. That has to change.
I just didn’t know if I was too late to fix my own image with my teammates. I had been quiet enough so that they don’t know much about me, but I think that’ll backfire. I’ve given them the impression that I’m unapproachable. Personally, I don’t want to come across that way, but I know I’m the one who has to change. I can do that, can I?
My thoughts were interrupted by someone joining me on the couch in the lounge. I could see Ferro through the corner of my eye. She smiled at me a little. “There’s no one else here,” she said. “Maybe now we can talk.”
I shrugged. “About what?”
I looked at the TV before looking back at Ferro. I figured this was my chance to change things. “Okay.” I picked up the remote, pressed the mute button it, and turned to face Ferro. “You start.”
She looked a little surprised, but her smile widened, and she sat cross-legged on the couch to face me. “How are you?”
“Good. You?” Ah, small talk. Well, we all start somewhere.
“Also good. Just got done some clean-up in the hangar bay. Spunkmeyer’s still down there insisting he’s not done, and I’ve learned that when he gets like that it’s best to just leave him alone.”
“He doesn’t strike me as a neat freak,” I snorted.
“No, he really isn’t. But he does care about getting things done right and keeping our space organized so that we can always find what we need when we need it.”
I smirked. “Still sounds a bit nuts. You like him, though, don’t you?”
Ferro blushed. “Like him? You mean… as in a crush-like?”
“Not specifically. I meant as in a friend, though, you can tell me if you’ve got a crush on him or not.”
“Well, yeah, despite his weirdness, he’s a friend and I wouldn’t trade him for another co-pilot. I don’t think it’d go beyond that, though. Isn’t it like that with you and Vasquez?”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You haven’t heard some people say you two look like a couple?”
“Oh, I have. And we’re not a couple. We’re friends.” I usually don’t like lying, but if Vasquez wants to keep us a secret, then I have to respect that.
“Ah, so… you’re open.”
I may have backed myself into a corner here. “You could say that. However, I’d… like to get to know someone before jumping right into a relationship.”
Before the conversation could continue further, Hicks peered into the lounge through the doorway. “Chowtime, you two. Get in line.”
Credit where it’s due, though; Ferro had kept me from thinking about my nightmares for most of the day. Then again, when I was alone in my room that night, there was nothing to stop everything in my head from going out of control.
I managed to fall asleep, but almost as soon as I drifted off, I found myself in the same hospital room on Gateway. Doctors hovered over me, slamming defibrillator paddles on my chest. I could see and feel everything, and it was terrifying.
When I woke up, I felt frozen in place. I was in my room, but I could still see the masked faces. Why were they still there? Am I still dreaming? I opened my mouth to scream, but couldn’t. No sound came out.
The nightmare vision I was having suddenly released me, and I jolted upright, grabbing my chest and breathing hard. I looked around the room frantically, and released my breath. It’s okay. The dreams will stop in time. That’s what everyone’s told you.
I guess the half-awake nightmare was just a premonition of, no, the dreams weren’t going to go away, and they were going to happen during the day as well.
It happened during a training exercise. Wierzbowski was ahead of me, and at some point, he gestured for me to get down. I crouched under a desk and had to move back a little to give Wierzbowski room. He kept looking around the corner, and all I could was wait.
I can remember being under a desk when I was in that lab of flowers. I could hear Delhoun saying I didn’t have a lot of time before I would start feeling the effects of the flowers. I have to get outta here!
Why couldn’t I move? I backed against the wall, breathing hard. My smartgun couldn’t fit under the desk so it struck the edge, and Wierzbowski turned to hiss at me. “What the hell are you doing?”
I couldn’t respond.
“Drake! Are you listening?”
Almost as quickly as it came, the nightmare stopped. I was still shaking, but I was aware of the fact that I wasn’t in the lab anymore. “I’m listening,” I said.
“You could’ve gotten us killed! Wake up!”
It’s really not that common for Wierzbowski to get angry, so if he’s pissed, I know I fucked up.
Taking a breath, I crawled out from under the desk to see Apone storming over to us with Viano at his side. Frankly, I’m not sure which of the two I’m more scared of.
“What the hell is going on over here?!” Apone shouted.
“I’m trying to tell Drake to get up and follow me, but he’s sitting there looking like he’s seen a ghost!” Wierzbowski said.
Apone glared at me. “Where’s your head, Drake? Up your ass? Get it outta there. Right now. You know better.”
I nodded. “Yes, Sarge.”
That left me embarrassed for the rest of the day. I knew I couldn’t freeze up like that in combat. The question I asked myself was whether or not this was something I can control. Privately, I don’t think it is, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try. I can’t let anyone here get the hint that there might be something wrong with me. I could get kicked out of the Marines. I could get sent back to prison, and then I’ll never get another chance to redeem myself.
Vasquez was the only person I told about what really happened during the exercise. She listened attentively, and was quiet when I finished talking. She drew her legs up and rested her chin on her knees as she thought. “So, I’m guessing you’re going to hide this from everyone?” she said, softly.
I nodded. “I don’t have a choice. They could send me back to prison, and I can’t go back. I don’t want to go back. That means… having to leave you, and we’d never be able to see each other again.”
“Good point. But you don’t even know if they’d discharge you over having nightmares.”
“It’s not just the nightmares, though. It’s the things I’m seeing during the day. What if it happens again on the battlefield? I don’t want to be the guy who gets you all killed.”
“Either you try to hide it or you don’t, Drake.” Vasquez shrugged. “I wish I had something better for you.”
“Are you… at all worried?”
“If you weren’t meant to do this, or if we weren’t meant to be together, I think we would’ve seen a sign a long time ago. I highly doubt this is going to be the end for you.” Vasquez grabbed my shoulder, roughly squeezing it. “You gotta keep going, Drake. We didn’t come all this way for nothing. We weren’t put in a Special Forces unit for no reason.”
I grinned a little, glancing at her hand still on my shoulder, and I leaned in for a kiss.
She put her hand on my lips. “One more thing-how come Ferro’s been acting all friendly with you?”
“Oh, that. Well, you kinda got me in a tough spot, sweetheart. I get the feeling she’s looking for, you know, a romantic partner, and you told me I can’t tell anyone that we’re, uh, together, so… I’m not sure what to do with her.”
“You’re gonna have to get creative, Drake. I know you can do that.”
“Me? Creative?” I snorted.
“You write. That’s not creative?”
“I write a journal, but not poetry or stories or stuff like that.”
“Whatever. Point is, don’t let Ferro think you’re single.”
I was about to ask if she had any suggestions when I heard the PA system go off, calling the members of our team to the armory. Vasquez and I both jumped off the bed and ran out into the hallway, knowing that call meant we were about to get sent out. When we saw Apone on the way, we fell into step with him and I asked, “What’s going on?”
“One of the Weyland-Yutani labs in Brisbane was just broken into. Possibly terrorists. They’ve asked us to send in a response team.”
All I could do was nod and jog down to the armory. How many Weyland-Yutani labs are there in Brisbane? I can’t imagine more than the one I was in, and given what Delhoun had told me about the silver flower, I didn’t think it was an average armed break-in.