Gray Hearts: Chapter 8

Out of all the people I met in that lab, the last person I expected to be spending any time with outside of the hospital was Miranda. Her personality is vastly different to mine and I certainly wasn’t about to tell her what was wrong with me, but the one thing we did have in common was that we genuinely cared about Hudson. Besides, I didn’t want to spend all my time here with an Annexer, as nice as Athaval’s company was.

I haven’t written much in the last couple days because nothing too exciting happened. I figured Miranda was my best option for knowing what was going on with Hudson, because I trusted her. I don’t know why I trusted her. She really seemed to care about Hudson, and a part of me wondered if it was because this was what she was training for.

I also wondered why I didn’t see any of the other scientists out in the real world. Even Farlas, because he seems to be the most normal out of all of them. Washington is a large city, so it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re just somewhere else entirely. Still, it was weird to me, and hard not to notice.

It was hard for me to sleep at night. If I wasn’t having nightmares, I was thinking about having nightmares, or about having flashbacks. I was completely preoccupied with the idea that I have post-traumatic stress, even though a psychologist hasn’t taken a look at me. When I wasn’t terrified of experiencing what happened on Gateway again, I was thinking about how to hide this from everyone else. There were only two people I trusted now with this: Vasquez and Delhoun. That was it.

I started writing down various thoughts and feelings in a list format, rather than complete sentences, and I stared at them for almost an hour before starting this entry. I don’t know what to make of it. Almost all of it translates to “I’m scared” or “I’m sad.” I feel both at the same time. Right now, even. Two intense emotions, pulling at each other, pulling at me, and I don’t know what to do about it. I don’t know how to live with it.

A chill went down my spine when I considered the fact that I could lose myself at base. What if I started panicking so bad that I wanted to just die, in a place where everyone on the team could witness it? All I could do was hope it happened at night, but that conjured up some other horrible images. If I actually go through with it, how was Vasquez going to react? She doesn’t show emotion very often, but in a situation like that… I can’t think about it.

I’ve had bad dreams about losing her, whether it’s in combat or some other situation. They started right after we unofficially got married, and even though I don’t have them as often, they still pop up occasionally. When they do, I always find myself going into her quarters and refusing to leave until I really feel like I had returned to reality. I don’t think I’d survive long after losing her, and I don’t think she’d want to go on without me.

But how do I fight that fear and panic? That… screeching voice in my head telling me that I can’t live with the nightmares and flashbacks and fear that this is going to get me sent back to prison? How do I make it shut up and let me move on? At this point I don’t know, but I need to figure out a way before I go back to Australia.

I wound up falling asleep while working on my last entry. Miraculously I slept peacefully, and I think it’s because my body’s been begging for some actual sleep for the last few nights. I guess that’s the only way to get the voice and the excess thinking to stop—deprive myself of sleep. I know I can’t keep doing that, though. It’s not healthy and when I return to Australia Dietrich will be on my ass constantly about not getting enough sleep. She’s already a demonic entity; I don’t need her turning into Satan just because I miss a few hours of sleep.

With nothing better to do, I had breakfast with Miranda on a day where Farlas asked me to come in because he needed another blood sample from me. Miranda has the same look every morning—frazzled, overwhelmed, and appearing as though she has no life outside of her classes and internship. It’s really sad, honestly, but she appreciated the company. That surprised me greatly, because no one other than Vasquez enjoys spending time with me. She did spend a lot of time focusing on her paperwork rather than me, but it’s not like I cared.

“You’re lucky you don’t have to deal with this, Mark,” Miranda said, yanking me out of my thoughts.

I had been spreading cold, hard cream cheese on a bagel (with a flimsy fucking plastic knife) for the last several minutes, wondering which dumbass in the restaurant forgot to put it in the warmer before giving it to me, and I glanced over at Miranda. Frankly, even if I stayed in school and didn’t get myself arrested, I didn’t see myself going to college. I put down the knife and stared at my masterpiece of a bagel that looked like it had been run over by a tractor, pondering if I should tell Miranda my story.

I had nothing to gain from telling her, but what did I have to lose? I can leave out some details, make sure she doesn’t know I’m depressed and traumatized, make sure she doesn’t have anything she could report to my superiors. Taking a breath and making eye contact with her, I said, “Nope, I don’t have to deal with college. Hell, I probably won’t ever have to deal with college.”

“There’s nothing you want to do after you leave the Marines?” Miranda raised an eyebrow.

I shrugged. “I don’t know yet. Besides, I was in prison. What college would want me?” I knew my record would be cleared if I could complete my contract and no college would ever find out about it from a background check, but it was the simplest way to get across that college wasn’t in my future plans.

Miranda thought for a moment. “So, you were let in through that Second Chance Program I heard about?”

I nodded. “You’re sitting across from a murderer.”

Miranda smiled at me. “I never would have guessed.”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“No, because I never suspected you ever did anything like that.”

Well, that’s a first. “Yeah, well, I did. I was supposed to be in for the rest of my life, then this opportunity came up.” I paused. The whole reason I enlisted was to stay with Vasquez. There was no way Miranda could know about that. “I jumped without thinking about it. Now I have no idea what I’m doing. All I know is this is my way of righting my wrongs.”

“You’ve been a gentleman the last few days I’ve known you, Mark. I had no reason to think you were a murderer.” Miranda put her papers back in her folder. “What exactly did you do?”

I bit my lip, briefly going back to my bagel. “I’m not ready to talk about it yet.”

“Okay. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. I can’t imagine… it’s easy for you to talk about or even think about.”

No, it’s not easy to talk about. Or think about. I glanced back at Miranda. “I haven’t gone one day without thinking about it. I don’t think I’ll ever stop. No offense, but… it’s not something the average person is ever going to understand. I’m sorry.”

“Like I said, I can’t imagine what it’s like, living with… the fact that you killed someone.”

“No, and I don’t want you to ever go through that. No one should have to go through that.” I had to change the topic. I was inching dangerously close to every single little thing that was hurting me at the moment, even though everything I just mentioned to Miranda was killing me inside. Hell, it nearly actually did kill me. Sighing, I said, “What are you working on with Doctor Farlas today?”

“Hudson. That’s all I’ve been told,” Miranda replied. “He’s vague because Hornby tells him to be vague. They don’t want me talking about it outside of the hospital.”

“Given that you’re hanging around me, I can see you don’t have any friends to blab to.”

Miranda’s expression changed, and I realized what I said probably wasn’t appropriate, but before I could open my mouth to apologize, she said, “Well, you’re right. With the shit-load of work I have to do, I don’t have time to have friends or maintain relationships.” She gave a smile I can only describe as sad. “Hell, I’ve lost two boyfriends because I could never set aside any time for them. I’m a year away from graduation and I haven’t accomplished anything.”

“You have your internship. I’d say that’s something. It’s more than I’ll ever do.”

“Aw, Mark, don’t say that. You have your whole life ahead of you. And you’re not going to leave the Marines in debt.”

I bit my lip. “No, I will leave the Marines in debt. I went into the Marines in debt. Emotional debt. At least you can pay off financial debt. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to pay this off.”

Miranda fell silent. Instead of continuing the conversation, she finished her breakfast. I don’t think she really understood what I was talking about, and frankly I’m glad she didn’t, because it meant she hasn’t faced life imprisonment for three murders.

I spent my time away from the lab wandering the city, usually alone. Occasionally, I’d be joined by Athaval if he caught me leaving the hotel, but most of the time I was by myself.

I did just that: wander. Think. Try to make sense of what’s happened since leaving Australia. Try to make sense of what’s happened since Gateway. It was starting to make sense but it also wasn’t. It felt more confusing and less confusing at the same time. I understood what was happening to me, but I didn’t understand what it would do to me in the long run. Was I going to get over it? Was I going to recover? Was I going to lose everything in the process? I will if the Marines find out about it, so I have to keep it to myself. The only two people I could trust from now on were Vasquez and Delhoun.

Being out in the city and among people comforted and scared me at the same time. I felt less alone, but I also felt extremely alone. I was afraid that I was going to have a flashback at any moment. I was afraid if that happened, no one was going to help me. At the same time, I don’t deserve any help. I’m a murderer, for fuck’s sake.

I stayed out until sunset. When I got hungry, I went to a diner in a mall near the hotel. The diner had a massive balcony, and I’ll admit it was nice to sit out there and watch the sky turn pink and darken to red and orange as the lights of Washington turned on one by one.

“Interesting seeing you here, Drake.”

I was yanked from my thoughts by Dr. Farlas standing by my table. He gestured to the chair across from me, asking, “You wouldn’t mind I join you, would you?”

I shook my head. “No, it’s okay.”

Nodding, Farlas sat down. For once, he was wearing civilian clothes instead of a lab coat. I think the lack of sterile-white was what made me say it was okay for him to join me, and he seemed to understand that. “You look less tense. Perhaps it’s because we’re not in a lab setting.”

I shrugged. “You could say that.”

Farlas nodded. “I don’t live my entire life in a lab. Hornby and Adril stay late, which is fine. They live for their work. I like to enjoy my life whenever I can.” He looked at me. “Frankly, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to talk to you outside of the laboratory. It’s a very tense and stressful environment and it’s not the best place to get to know someone.”

“Why would you want to get to know me?” I asked.

“Why would I not?”

“Because I’m not exactly fascinating.”

“Everyone is fascinating when you take the time to listen to them, and I imagine you’re tired of feeling like a lab rat.”

“I am, but that doesn’t mean I’m interested in socializing.”

Farlas grinned a little. “See, I’ve learned something about you. You’re introverted. You don’t like having company very much.”

Gee, thanks for pointing it out, Captain Obvious. I picked up my whiskey glass and swirled the ice around before taking a sip. “No, I don’t like having company.”

“That I find interesting because you’re part of a Reconnaissance In Force Team. They’re designed around the idea of keeping close-knit Marines together, of building bonds to strengthen team cohesiveness.”

“Yeah, this has only been drilled into me since fucking basic.” I sighed, realizing I was starting to sound rude. “Sorry. I’m not… used to someone wanting to just talk to me. Like I said, I’m not fascinating, but I’m certainly not average.”

“You enlisted as part of the Marines’ Second Chance Program.” Farlas gave me a sympathetic look. “It was in your papers when I received them. It was never a secret.”

I looked down at the table.

“It doesn’t make you any less of a human being, Drake.”

“I killed three people. How does that not make me any less of a human being?”

“If you feel remorse, you’re still human. Guilt, too, and you clearly feel guilty.”

I didn’t want to spill my guts to Farlas, nor did I want to be lulled into a false sense of security. The bigger question was, did Farlas actually care? I wanted to think he did, so I looked at him and said, “I’ve felt guilty since I did it. That feeling hasn’t left me, not in the last several years, and it probably never will. I said that to Miranda this morning. She doesn’t understand, and you know what? I’m glad she doesn’t understand, because no one should have to deal with this.”

Farlas didn’t respond at first. I expected him to react the same way Miranda did this morning—just ignore me and keep going about his business simply because he had no clue what I was going through. When I stopped overthinking it, I came to realize he was actually thinking about what I said just before he replied, “Guilt is powerful, and complex. I have never been in your position, but regardless of what you’ve done, whether it’s murder or lying or stealing or cheating, guilt has the same effect, and it makes it difficult to hide that you’ve done something wrong, because it eats at you. It can change you.”

I couldn’t deny that was true, but how much have I really changed? Actually, I feel like I’ve changed for the worst. I’ve gotten weaker. I’m now afflicted with something so mentally and emotionally destructive that it could lead me to end my own life if it gains too much control over me. It’s change alright, but it’s certainly not good change. Am I able to change for the better? At this point, I doubt it. I highly doubt it.

Dropping eye contact with Farlas, I came to the realization that I’m going to have to change for the better in order to maintain my relationship with Vasquez. I can’t afford to go further and further into the dark cesspit my mind is becoming. I have to get out of it. Somehow. Can I ignore it? Maybe. Maybe if I fight it—on my own—I can make it go away. I have no other choice. If Apone or Viano find out what’s wrong with me, I could get kicked out. I could be sent back to prison, with no hope of getting out. Worse yet, I could be made homeless. Just thrown out onto the streets. Either way, I would have no future. No Vasquez. Nothing. I know I wrote about this before, but now I was dead-set on keeping my trauma from overrunning my life. The question was how.

“Are you alright, Drake?” Farlas asked, pulling me from my thoughts.

I nodded. “Yeah, just thinking.”

“About what?”

“None of your business.”

Farlas nodded a little. “My apologies, son.”

I decided to change the subject. “When will Hudson be released? My unit can’t be without him forever.”

Farlas looked around, then back at me. “Let’s have dinner, and then I will take you somewhere private we can talk.”

There wasn’t much talk while we ate, and I wasn’t one to care. I was just curious about what Farlas had to say about Hudson that was so sensitive.

Farlas was kind enough to pay for both our meals afterward, even though I insisted he didn’t have to. He led me out of the restaurant and as we walked down the block to a Metro Station, I suddenly became paranoid that this was a trap to shut me up. Then again, I had the feeling that this wasn’t Farlas’s intention. But it could be. Maybe playing nice with me hadn’t worked. Maybe he and Hornby thought giving me what I wanted would keep me quiet. Maybe now they needed to up the ante.

Farlas led me to a park near the World War II memorial. It was a lot quieter than during the day. You can hear traffic and planes entering and leaving Reagan International. There were some people out, but it wasn’t nearly as packed. The fountain in the center of the memorial was probably the loudest thing there, which is why Farlas took me there. We paced around the pool as we talked, and looking back on it, I was amazed at how relaxed I became being there. Maybe it was the sound of the water and the fact that it wasn’t dead silent there. Or maybe it was the fact that Farlas treated me like just another person.

“I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been times during the day, and even at night, where we’ve nearly lost Hudson,” Farlas started.

I gave him a look. “Why didn’t you tell me about this?”

“I’m sorry, Drake. Hornby has been… nervous around you, because you’ve been questioning what he’s doing.”

“No shit.”

“I don’t like being secretive around you. Or anyone. That is why I want your complete trust. I want you to promise that you won’t tell anyone what I’m about to tell you.”

“That depends on what you tell me. No amount of begging will stop me from going right to the Pentagon if I find out you’re hurting Hudson on purpose. I might not be friends with him, but I’ve caused enough pain in my life. I’m not about to cause anymore by standing by and letting Hudson get hurt.”

Farlas fell silent for a moment. “I’ve been fighting with Hornby on speeding up Hudson’s recovery. He’s insistent on studying all symptoms to get an accurate documentation on the flower’s effects. That is all.”

“So, this is being delaying because Hornby is too curious for his own good?”

“I understand his purpose, but—”

“He’s going to kill Hudson if he keeps this up.” My face heated up with anger. “Why don’t you grow a pair of balls and do something about it? If you don’t, I will. He’s not a toy for you to experiment with.”

Farlas looked defeated. “You don’t believe me when I say that I’ve tried, do you?”

“No. Until you prove it to me, no. Up until now, you’ve been a coward. You’ve lied to me, and tried to cover Hornby’s ass. Actually do something for a change.”

“Drake, would you like me to explain why I haven’t been able to do more?”

“I’ve heard enough. Either fix Hudson now, or do it under the eyes of the Marines. This is your last warning. We’ve been here almost two weeks and you’ve done jack-shit to help Hudson.” With that, I stormed away from Farlas, leaving him alone at the fountain. I turned back once, and saw him staring into the water with his hands in his pockets.

A part of me felt bad, knowing he didn’t have full control over Hudson’s situation, but it didn’t help that he had lied to me about Hudson nearly dying or that he was barely doing anything to safeguard Hudson’s life. He was a medical dummy to them.

As I walked away, I found myself trying to hide my tears. I felt like throwing up and screaming and crying at the same time. Hudson’s an idiot at times, sure, but he didn’t hurt anyone. He didn’t deserve this. If anyone deserved this kind of treatment, it was me. Who would miss me if I died on the table? Who would care if I was suffering?

Vasquez. Vasquez would. She’d shoot up the lab just to save me. She’d come in with full gear to get me out of there, and damn it, I’d do the same for her. Stepping down into the Metro Station to go back to the hotel, I started to think. I’m not going to redeem myself until I start stepping up to the plate. If anyone’s going to save Hudson, it’s me. I’m the only one here who can do it, and I have to.

Looking back on things, I know that after everything I had found out I should have just called Viano and told her what Hornby and Adril were doing. She would have reported it up the chain of command and they would have done something about it to make sure Hudson got properly treated regardless of what Hornby and Adril intended. I don’t know why I didn’t. Part of me thinks it’s just because I was too stressed out to remember that. Another part of me thinks I’m so used to being alone and not being able to rely on anyone else that I felt like it was something that I needed to personally take care of it, but then there’s a third voice whispering that I was making myself do it to try to prove to myself that I really am worth something.

The Metro station was quiet as I walked down the stairs. There was the sound of the trains coming in and pulling away. My mind was still hard at work trying to figure out what to do to help Hudson. There was no way Farlas was actually going to listen to me at this point. He’s too much of a coward.

Every part of me wanted to assume he was a coward, but I highly doubt he would just let Hudson die if it came down to it. Despite that, I still didn’t feel like I could rely on Farlas to pull through and actually help Hudson. I haven’t seen any evidence so far that suggests he’s tried to stop Hornby and Adril from going too far with their research.

Maybe he needed help. Well, either that or a swift kick in the ass to push him in the right direction. If he’s gonna get kicked in the ass, it better be from me. I can’t let Hudson suffer anymore.

Turning around, I jogged up the steps and back into the streets towards the memorial, but when I got there I didn’t see Farlas. Cursing to myself, I looked around and spotted him walking down a path to the Washington Monument. Not wanting to startle him, I followed at a distance.

Farlas didn’t stop once as he followed the path around the obelisk toward the streets. He didn’t seem to know I was there. Once we were in the streets, I did my best to not look suspicious. I kept my eyes on Farlas’s back, studying his jacket and the back of his head so I didn’t lose him.

When I saw him jog down into the Metro I realized it was going to be difficult to conceal myself, especially at this hour. There was Farlas and a small group of people holding brochures, and that was it. I watched from the upper platform as the train rolled in. They don’t stick around long, so after Farlas got in I ran down the stairs and hurled myself into the car behind Farlas’s.

I’ll admit, my landing wasn’t smooth. The doors nearly closed on me and I grunted as I squeezed myself into the empty car. Seeing Farlas’s head turn, I ducked below the window. I stood up as the train lurched away, breathing a sigh of relief when I saw Farlas was facing forward now and not paying any attention to what was going on behind him.

Holding onto the railing above, I debated with myself over whether or not what I was doing was right. A part of me felt like whatever happens to Hudson at this point is beyond my control. Another part of me felt like I had to do something, no matter what it took.

That part was telling me I didn’t have a choice and that if I didn’t do this, I was never going to redeem myself what I had done to get myself in prison. Then again, what does Hudson have to do with the people I killed? Well, he’s my teammate. I would have never met him if I hadn’t been given this opportunity to right my wrongs by serving in the Marines, even though I only took it to stay with Vasquez.

I guess that’s the real reason. I want to stay with Vasquez. This has nothing to do with Hudson, or my victims. This has everything to do with Vasquez, and I wasn’t sure if that was a good enough reason. It has to be. I’m not thinking of myself. I’m thinking of her. I want to be the best man I can be for her.

I glared at the back of Farlas’s head. And it starts with making sure you don’t kill Hudson.

The train stopped in Pentagon City, where the laboratory is. I watched Farlas get out before following, still staying several yards behind him. As we headed to the stairs, I got in his blind spot. My heart was beating faster and faster as we went. Was he going to the lab, or somewhere else?

After a couple of blocks, it was clear to me that we were going to the lab, but why? I was gripped by fear when some little voice in my head started telling me that he was going to kill Hudson, but what little rationale I had left told me that couldn’t be the case. What reason would he have to kill Hudson? The Marines would shut down his and Hornby’s little science fair project faster than you can blink. He had nothing to gain from it, and a hell of a lot to lose.

Then I thought of Miranda. Even if she didn’t know what was going on, she could still get caught up in everything if Hornby and the others really were doing something illegal. I didn’t want to see her go to prison, and looking back on it, I don’t think Farlas did either.

He showed his credentials to a security camera outside the hospital entrance before I heard the loud clunk of the magnetic locks releasing. Obviously I couldn’t follow him, so I stayed on the other side of the road. Sitting at a bus stop, I put my head in my hands. I hate not knowing what’s going on. It’s worse when the “not knowing” involves someone you care about.

Over an hour passed, and I was starting to want to go back to my hotel and go to bed, even though I was telling myself that was not an option. It couldn’t be, not while Hudson’s life was at stake. That didn’t mean I wasn’t tired, though. It was definitely strange out here in the middle of the night. Nobody else was around. A few groups of people passed by, and I think some of them assumed I was up to no good, or high or drunk or something like that. Wouldn’t be the first time someone’s thought that.

I watched the moon moving across the sky, and although it’s June, the air was a bit cold, at least for me. I was stiff and keep arguing with myself whether or not I should go back to the hotel and figure out what to do in the morning. Just as I began to convince myself that was the best idea, I saw the hospital’s main entrance doors open, and Farlas walked out. He got to the sidewalk before seeing me across the street, and froze before crossing the road over to me. “What are you doing here, Drake? It’s almost eleven o’clock at night.”

“I know,” I said, standing up. “I was just about to ask you the same thing.”

“I had some business to take care of.”

“Oh? What kind of business?”

“Nothing that concerns you. Things will be clear to you in the morning.”

Something deep inside me snapped. I grabbed Farlas by his shoulders, dragging him over to an alley behind the bus stop. I pinned him against the wall before pulling his right arm behind his back. “I told you once I am sick and fucking tired of the games you and Hornby are playing! You are literally toying with Hudson’s life, and neither of you seem to care whether he dies or not, as long as you get what you want!”

“That is not what we are doing, Drake!”

“That’s what it sure as hell looks like!” I tried not to let my hands shake. “Now, you’re going to tell me what you did in there, or I’m going to drag your ass all the way to the Pentagon. You can try your pathetic excuses with an officer there. They won’t be as nice as I’m being right now.”

I felt Farlas relax a little in my grip. “Alright. I thought about what you said at the memorial. I went in to treat Hudson. The process has already started and he will be on his feet by morning.”

My grip tightened. “You better be telling me the truth. Are you telling me the truth? Because if I find out you just lied to my face, your life is going to be made a living hell!”

“I’m telling you the truth, Drake. As long as Hornby doesn’t interfere, Hudson will be awake in the morning, and you both can go home.”

“Make sure Hornby doesn’t interfere, got it?”

Farlas nodded.

Reluctantly, I let go of him. “Don’t make me regret trusting you.”

“You won’t. Let’s … go get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.” With that, he turned to head down the street, deeper into the city. I went down to the Metro station knowing damn well I’d be back at the lab in the morning.

I wrote my previous entry after I woke up at around five AM and couldn’t fall back asleep. I could hear the people in the room next to me getting up. They were ready and out of their room within twenty minutes. Sometimes I wish I had that kind of energy, but it’s nice to have the opportunity to just lie awake in a warm bed and think.

It was that morning where I realized just how long it had been since I slept in a bed like this. A very soft and very large bed. Vasquez and I spent our alone-time nights in hotels with beds like this, and it hit me that it’s been a while since we took time for ourselves. A long while. A few weeks before the mission to LV-400, in fact, and that was over two months ago. I just can’t believe it’s been that long. We usually try to set aside a date at least once a month. We should do that when I go back to Australia.

How can we maintain our relationship when it’s becoming more and more obvious just how fucking broken I am? What if I start having flashbacks when we’re having dinner? Or, worse, when we’re having sex? I stared up at the ceiling, not wanting my thoughts to go off the rails. Vasquez is one of two people I trust with what’s going on. If anyone can help pull me through this, it’s her, but I know I can’t be completely reliant on her. It’s not fair to her.

Around eight, I finally dragged myself out of bed, got dressed, and left the room. A part of me was hoping that we were going to be leaving DC today but another part of me was worried that we weren’t. As nice as it is here, I wish I was here under better circumstances.

I had to go through the mall to get to the Metro. As much as I tried avoiding looking at myself in the mirrors along the wall, it wasn’t easy. What had happened the last few days? What had happened since I arrived? Well, I found out I could have a mental disorder. It nearly killed me, and now I’m scared. Scared of myself. Frankly, I’ve always been scared of myself. Ever since I was caught in the woods, I’ve been scared. I couldn’t believe I had killed three people. I didn’t think I was capable of it, and I knew it was my own fault for running away. I didn’t think I could survive two more years at home, two more years of high school, two more years of feeling completely inadequate and that I wouldn’t be able to provide for myself. Two more fucking years. I couldn’t do it. If anyone wants to call me a coward, use that. I know I’m a coward. I couldn’t even stand up for myself.

It took a moment for me to realize I had been staring into my own reflection for the last several minutes. Shaking my head, I turned to keep walking.

The Metro platform was packed that morning, with people from all walks of life. There were white-collar workers, blue-collar workers, tourists, military. All of them were oblivious to the fact that there was a murderer walking among them.

I looked down at the floor while waiting for the train to show up. On board, I stood in the center aisle staring ahead and not paying attention to anyone around me. The crowd thinned out as the train made its stops. At mine, I got out with several other people and walked with them up the stairs to the street I had been on the previous night. The contrast between day and night was stark. It was busier, louder, and more active. The sun was out and already beating down on everyone. The heat was certainly welcome after the cold air of last night.

I found myself anxious as to what awaited me in Hudson’s room. Was he going to be alive or dead? Sick or healthy?

When I got to the lab and made it up to the floor Hudson was on, I saw Miranda talking with Farlas, who was leaning against the doorway to Hudson’s room. They both looked over when the elevator arrived.

“Hi, Mark,” Miranda said. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to see if what Farlas told me last night is true,” I replied. “Is Hudson alright?”

“He’s awake if you want to see him.”

I followed the two into the room. Hudson was sitting up in bed, staring ahead blankly. He glanced over at me when I walked in. “Drake? Holy crap, it’s good to see you, man.”

“Good to see you, too,” I said. “How … How are you?”

“I have no idea where I am or what’s going on.”

Hornby walked over from where he was placing blood samples in a refrigerator. “Like I’ve said to you before, you’re in a hospital, in Washington, DC, being treated for Agphyte poisoning.”

“I know that, man.” Hudson gave Hornby a dirty look, but he also looked a little nervous around him. “Am I … good, now?”

“By some miracle, yes.” Hornby looked over at Farlas. “I was going to run some final tests, but at some point during the night, your fever broke. Your body has already begun the flushing process, and will continue to do so for some time. Other than that, we have no further need for you or Private Drake.”

“You can go home,” Miranda added. She glanced at Hudson. “I-I know you don’t remember much of what happened, but … do you remember me?”

Hudson rubbed his face. “I do, a little bit. You were nice to me, that’s all I remember. Why?”

“Just curious.”

“Doctor Farlas will arrange for your flight back to Australia,” Hornby continued. “It’s been a fascinating experience to study both of you.”

“I’ll bet it was,” I growled. After Miranda led Hudson out of the room, I turned on Hornby, my rage rising inside. “You sadistic son of a bitch. You were going to test him until he died on you!”

“How many times are we going to have to go over this with you, Drake? That was never our intention. We are in a race with terrorist organizations! We must do what is necessary to prevent anyone else from suffering as you and Hudson have.” Hornby glared at Farlas. “You know what’s at stake and you took this opportunity away from us.”

“Putting a man through near-death experiences over and over again isn’t an acceptable way to get results,” Farlas snapped. “Do you have any idea what would happen to us if Drake wasn’t willing to accept me finally deciding that curing Hudson was the right thing to do here? We could be in prison for the rest of our lives.”

“Is that all you fucking animals care about?” I asked. “Your careers? Not Hudson’s life. Your fucking careers.”

“If we can’t create a viable antidote, there’s no knowing how many people could have to go through what you and Hudson did. I would have thought you of all people would understand the need to sacrifice one to save many.”

“Do you have any idea how tough a decision like that is for Apone and Viano to make? It’s hard, because they’re sending a Marine out to die. They at least understand that we all have value. You just see a guinea pig, and you’re so blinded by your own ambition that you’d kill people if it means scientific advancement.” I first looked Hornby in the eye, then Farlas. “Besides, if you want to kill anyone for this, take me. I’m a fucking murderer. No one will miss me.”

“Mark, that’s not true,” Miranda said from behind me. “No one’s going to kill anyone to find an antidote. That’s the opposite of what we’re striving for. I know you’ve had a hard time, but that doesn’t mean no one loves you or cares about you. I care about you. Hudson cares about you. He was asking for you during the times he was awake. I’m sure the rest of your unit cares about you, too. Don’t you have a family back—”

“No. And don’t bring it up ever again.” My face flushed, and I tried not to look more enraged than I already was in front of Hornby and Farlas.

“I think you’ve made your point, Drake,” Farlas said. “Let’s part on good terms.”

“You know what? I don’t know if I want to leave on good terms with you.”

“This is a battle between emotions and logic. You’re basing everything on your emotions. Perhaps, in time, you’ll be able to see things from our perspective, or at least try to understand.”

“I’ll try to understand when it isn’t one of my teammates on the table.”

Time has passed since I last spoke to Farlas, and even though I might never admit this to him, I do see he is right in some capacity. They have no other way of figuring out how to fix silver flower poisoning. A computer simulation isn’t possible because they have to input the information first, and how else can they get the information they need? The computer isn’t going to magically figure it out for them. A living subject is their best option. Once they have what they need, no one else has to suffer. That’s the logical answer. I may have ruined it.

That still doesn’t give them the right to hurt Hudson without him saying they can use him to aid their research. At the same time, why do I care about somebody else’s life when I was in prison for taking three? Philosophical bullshit isn’t my strong suit.

Hudson had only been in Hornby’s “care” for two weeks and he looked like he had been starved for a month. I expected him to want to eat something before we boarded our flight, but he didn’t want anything other than water. He also wasn’t as loud as he usually is. He was distant and withdrawn, like me.

“That was really two weeks, man?” Hudson asked.

“That was really two weeks,” I said. “Are you starting to remember anything?”

He shook his head. “Faintly. Just … flashes. Moments. That intern, Miranda, shows up. I remember …” He looked down at his boots. “Nothing. I don’t remember anything, man.”

If he really doesn’t remember anything, I’m jealous. I wish I could forget what happened on Gateway. Instead, it keeps coming back when it isn’t wanted. On the flight back to Australia, I had a flashback when one of the attendants showed us the respirators that will drop down in case of an emergency. Instead of listening like a normal person, I retreated into my own head and saw myself having one of those damn things put on my face. Hudson said he noticed I was staring without blinking, looking like I wasn’t even there.

I wasn’t there, Hudson. I really wasn’t. I was somewhere I didn’t want to be. I was in my own personal hell, dying and being revived over and over while doctors screamed at each other and slammed defibrillators on my chest. Over and over. All the while, I couldn’t move and couldn’t breathe. There was intense pain every time the paddles hit me. I wasn’t actually experiencing that, though. So why did it feel so real?

When I came out of it, I faced the window, my arms folded over my chest, watching clouds go by. I tried not to think about what I just went through, or what I went through during the whole trip. Things were going to be different. A lot more different, and probably frightening. I had to hide this for the next four years, and I don’t know if I can. I hope I can, because the alternative is going back to prison for being a liability.

“You okay, Drake?” Hudson asked. “You weren’t looking too good a minute ago.”

“I’m fine,” I said. “Just thinking.”

“About what?”

“About none of your business.”

Hudson put his hand on my shoulder. “Okay, man. Just trying to help.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond to that. I don’t know if I can trust him. Given his loudness and tendency to get drunk, I wouldn’t be surprised if he just blurted out my problems in the middle of a crowded bar, with every single Marine in in the unit listening.

He’s lucky to not remember what happened in Hornby’s lab. When we got back to base, everyone was happy to see him, and he was happy to see them. I didn’t really get the same greeting. Vasquez never greets me excitedly for obvious reasons. She’s not really an excitable person anyway. I was glad to see her, but I didn’t know how to explain what happened the last several weeks. I mean, I already know I have to tell her what’s wrong, but do I tell her I nearly jumped out a window or wanted to give myself up to Hornby’s experiments? I don’t know.

During evening chow, Vasquez put her hand on my knee, and that reminded me of why I didn’t kill myself. Her. She loves me, and I love her. I don’t want to imagine her reaction. I can’t. I have to push through this for her. My thoughts were interrupted by Dietrich complaining that Hudson was being disgusting by putting mustard on a cheesesteak, followed by Spunkmeyer muttering about cheesesteaks being the only good thing Philadelphia has to offer. Just normal mealtime conversations, which I was glad to be witnessing again. Everyone else might be getting back to normal, but I know I wasn’t, and I probably never will.

Chapter 7………………………………………………………………………………..Mission Reports

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