I'm glad I didn't accidentally leave my journals behind when I went rummaging through my stuff before I hopped on a jet to the States. That would've been terrible, and made this plane trip even more boring than it already is.

While at the airport not that long ago, some woman commented on my journals. She didn't see what was inside, but she noted the fact that I was carrying them (I didn't bother putting them in my backpack because I knew I was going to want them for the flight). I tried to ignore her, but she asked me if I was a writer. I was honest; I said "no," and that they were for my personal thoughts and feelings.

I probably shouldn't have said that, because she started going on about how writing my thoughts is good for my mental health and that going back and reading previous entries can help you process your emotions and whatnot. I took a breath, and told her that I've been doing this for a few months and my mental health is still shitty.

Again, I shouldn't have said that.

Wow, this trip is off to a fucked-up start. There's this, and then there's the fact that Aran is trying to blow our budget by buying giant pretzels at food stands.

You can imagine that going through a terminal followed by an eight-foot-tall snow-white humanoid is a thrilling experience. Even with all of the documents Delhoun provided us, it wasn't able to shield us from confused looks by everyone at the Brisbane airport. My frustration only got worse with the knowledge that we'd be on the plane for almost twenty hours.

Now that we're taking off, I'll take the time to recount everything that's happened over the last two days. Good thing I bought five blank books.

After I got released from a three-week punishment for threatening to hit Bishop, my squad's android, I was returned to my unit with some added baggage, namely, a double dose of toxic fumes from a lab full of silver flowers. Because of these flowers, I've been really sick, and I haven't been able to do much in terms of what the Colonial Marines normally do. Doctor Delhoun tried keeping my mind occupied by having me work in his animal shelter for Annexers, which are these rat-like aliens that are far smarter than they look. I tried caring for the babies of a particularly aggressive Annexer named Dakota. That worked out OK. Then, I found out an Engineer, named Aran, bonded with Dakota fifteen years ago and was trying to get her back by sneaking around the facility. Apparently, he thought it was a genius idea to bring me along just because he saw me with the babies.

In the meantime, I was having a fight with Vasquez because I picked a bad time to ask about sex. Vasquez sorta thought that because I had a near-death experience, I'd want more change out of life. She's not wrong, but we both handled our emotions poorly that night. We made up. Eventually.

And then, because Aran dragged me out of bed in the middle of the night, none of the other Marines knew where I was in the morning, so they were all sent to look for me. Poor Hudson walked into a building where a botanist called Doctor Hornby is working with those stupid flowers. He breathed in the toxin, and he's now in a life support unit over in Washington, D.C. Aran and I are going to see him, as well as spy on Hornby a little.

The other Marines were devastated to learn that Hudson had been sent overseas. Apone, especially, was pissed.

"Drake, if you didn't run off, we wouldn't have this issue," he said, pointing at me as we stood in the hallway outside the mess area of the base.

I hate the feeling of being singled out. Almost instantly, my heart fell in my stomach and sat there, floating like a dead animal you find in the pool when you take the cover off in spring. I knew better than to argue with Apone, but I still wanted to defend myself. "We wouldn't have this issue if Doctor Hornby had put signs on that building."

No one said anything, but Vasquez gave me a sharp elbow to my left side.

"Can't do anything about that, now," Hicks sighed, leaning against the wall with his arms folded over his chest. "Hopefully, we'll get word on Hudson, soon."

"I hope so, too, but I'm gonna have to think before I decided to give Drake a medal," Apone replied. He glanced over his shoulder at Hicks, clearly respecting him, but then glared at me. "You seem to be dragging a lot of shit around. Ever since that mission to LV-400, you've been moody, sad, irritable. This is not a psychiatric ward, Private, this is the Colonial Marine Corps! Either you drop whatever load of shit you're carrying, or you quit. I didn't let you and Vasquez into my unit so you could be babied and feel superior to everyone else just because you've been through a hellhole." Apone approached me, and I could see his frustration with me on the surface of his eyes. "Maybe it was a mistake to have you under Delhoun's protection. He's been trying to fatten you up and gave you the best excuse there is to sit around and do nothing. When you finally pass that flower shit, Drake, you're not getting anymore special treatment. Everyone around you has been busting their ass while you lay on it and play with rodent babies all day. That is not why you're here. You're here because Goddamn Weyland-Yutani thought kids like you deserve a second chance. Don't you fucking think about wasting that second chance, Drake, do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir." I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach.

"Good. Now, get your ass in that mess hall before I kick it there."

A mix of emotions had sapped my appetite. I followed everyone into the mess hall, where Bishop was setting out plates of powdered eggs, milk, and sausage. My thoughts were all over the place, especially when we all realized that it was very quiet without Hudson. Shame made my insides feel heavy, and I found I was taking too many steps back in my progress of not blaming myself for everything. In fact, it got worse.

Vasquez touched my knee under the table, and looked at me from the corner of her eye. I didn't feel much better. I honestly wanted to sink into the floor and hide.

After breakfast was light physical training. I really wanted to push myself, even though I had four more days until I was supposed to see results from Doctor Hornby's injection. Instead of pushing myself and being victorious, I pushed myself and threw up in a tire lying on the ground. I cursed myself, and I could almost feel my self-esteem dropping through the bottom of my heart.

Shortly before lunch, I went into the base's gym, still wanting to push myself. I was alone, so no one could see me spontaneously break down when I failed. I stood in front of a punching bag, pretending everything I hated about myself was written all over it. As I socked the bag, I didn't notice Vasquez walking into the gym, dropping a bag of spare clothing on a bench. She watched me for a few seconds before approaching me, not even bothering to greet me. "I hope you're not mad at Apone for what he said."

I gave the bag one more punch before turning to face Vasquez. "I'm not mad at Apone. I'm mad at me. He's absolutely right; I was given a second chance, and I'm fucking it up."

"I don't think you're fucking it up, Drake."

"You're just saying that to make me feel better."

"No, I'm really not. You've made good use of your second chance." Vasquez folded her arms over her chest. "So you've had a few bad experiences. That's life."

I nodded. "I just wish I wasn't . . . you know-"

"Made to look like it's your fault?"

"Exactly." I weakly smiled. "You read my mind."

"No. I've just been around you for so long that I have a good idea of what you're thinking about." Vasquez looked over her shoulder before grabbing my hand to squeeze it hard. My smile became more genuine as I squeezed her hand as well, and then she took my chin in her other hand, shaking my head. "You're really stupid when it comes to your emotions," she said. "I don't think you can deny that."

I felt an urge tugging in my gut, a desire to share a tender moment. Needless to say, as I was about to brush the back of my hand against Vasquez's soft cheek, the door to the gym opened, rendering any and all affection between us at that time impossible. We both looked to see a shirtless Spunkmeyer walking in, and Vasquez abruptly slapped me, making it look like we were just fooling around like comrades instead of lovers.

Over the course of that day, I continued to feel like Apone was antagonizing me, and I continued to feel like I deserved it. Normal people would say I shouldn't feel like I deserved it, because in life, shit happened, and I just had the worst luck ever. I honestly felt like every glance I was given created a bruise on my heart, but I didn't want anyone to see that. I wanted to prove I could function, prove I was tougher than anyone in the room.

Right before evening chow, though, Doctor Delhoun entered the base, looking concerned. I could hear him talking to Apone, who tried to tell him off in a rather colorful fashion. That was the day I found out Delhoun's pottymouth goes beyond f-bombs, though I'm pretty sure there were some words in there that would only be understood by his fellow Canadians. It became silent when Hudson's name was brought up, and then Apone gave Delhoun the OK to see me.

Entering the hallway, Delhoun smiled when he saw me. "Drake."

"What?" I replied.

"Come with me, please. I need to speak to you in private."


"It's about Hudson."

Sighing, I followed Delhoun outside, where we climbed into his modified Jeep. He didn't start it; instead, he closed the doors, turned on the air conditioner, and faced me. "Three hours ago, Doctor Hornby disappeared. I haven't been able to get in contact with him. His facility is devoid of people, and he's left no notes as to where he is. My biggest fear is that he's gone to Washington to study Hudson."

I thought for a moment. I knew I had the impression I was being studied when I was poisoned, and I didn't want Hudson going through the same thing. "What're we gonna do about it?"

"That's the hard part. I know Hornby. He was devastated when he learned Weyland-Yutani will cut his budget if he doesn't produce substantial research. He could see Hudson as an opportunity to study the silver flower's effects without much interference, and if he's not thinking straight, things could go awry." Delhoun glanced out the window, then back at me. "I want you and Aran to go to D.C."

"Why me? And why Aran?"

"Well, you can't exactly do anything with the Marines, now, can you?"

I gave another sigh. "That's the issue; this morning . . . Apone . . . basically accused you of making me soft and that I've been lazy and that I'm . . . I'm wasting my second chance."

"I can see why he thinks I'm making you soft, but, then again, he wasn't with us on the orbital hospital. You definitely deserve some credit for getting that Seegson employee who broke in."

I shrugged. "I don't feel it."

Delhoun raised an eyebrow. "Don't tell me you're blaming yourself again."

"Sorry. I am. I wish I didn't, but I am. I've been feeling horrible all day." I struggled to keep my voice under control.

"Take this trip, then."


"Number one, it'll give you a chance to collect your thoughts and analyze yourself in an environment where you're a little freer. Second, you'll probably get a chance to talk to Hudson. You've worked with him for some time. Surely, in a setting where he's feeling a little groggy and less . . . impulsive, shall I say, he'll manage to have a heart-to-heart conversation with you."

"So, all that matters is what he thinks? Whether or not he thinks I saved his life or not?"

"Maybe. He's not going to remember much. Just be honest with him about what happened."

"And . . . why do you want Aran tagging along?"

"He's in the same boat as you, mentally. Dakota has shown signs of improvement since alerting you to Hudson's unfortunate accident, but she's still not ready to get along with anyone, including Aran. He's been feeling down, lately, because of that, and I think you two can help each other."

I shook my head, not making eye contact with Delhoun. "I still don't know what it is about me that made him think I'd be a good choice to accompany him to help Dakota."

"I don't think you understand just how lonely Aran is. Imagine if you were isolated from humanity for years on end, just wandering the known universe and wishing you had someone with you, sharing your experience. The Engineers are mysterious for sure, but they're not that dissimilar from us. Aran is lacking many components in his life that create a massive risk of depression, and since you two have already formed a connection, I think you should continue to build on that connection. Give him the friendship he needs."

"Oh, alright. I'll take him along." I looked at Delhoun. "Did you get permission from Apone to just take me away?"

"I already talked to him about it. Pack enough for a week. I'll take you and Aran to the airport."

After packing a duffel bag and a backpack full of clothes and hygiene products, as well as my journals, I decided to say good-bye to Vasquez. I was lucky to find her alone near her bedroom, because there was a lot I wanted to say.

She didn't seem too happy about the fact that I was going away again. In fact, I think she was afraid I was going to have another near-death experience. It was difficult for her to cover that up, and her tough exterior began to crack.

For the first time in a long time, she told me she loved me. We gave each other a tight hug, and then she called me a moron, and I smirked.

"I'll be back, OK?" I said.

"You better," Vasquez replied. "I don't want to wake up one day and here you're lying in a hospital next to Hudson."

"I promise, you won't hear that." Now, that's a promise I shouldn't be making, because God only knows what's going to happen on this trip. Then again, I cared about Vasquez. We tease each other, we call each other names, but we care about each other. We've been with each other for a long time, and we would do anything for each other. I decided to solidify that by holding onto her tighter. I should've done a better job with how my face looked, because something was probably better than no expression at all.

"You're a magnificent animal, Drake. Big, dumb, yet . . ." Vasquez jabbed my chest, "you have a heart."

"Lemme tell you a secret: I hate my heart," I whispered.

"Don't. You kinda need it to live."

Now I had the chance to run my finger against her cheek. She then ran hers along my jawline, then grabbed my face to kiss me. She then pushed my head away, taking a breath. I adjusted the strap on my duffel bag, unable to find something more to say. I knew I was going to think of everything I wanted to say when I was away from her, and that was my heart started to hurt just now.

I stopped writing for a few hours because Aran was bored and a little restless. He actually managed to sleep a little, but he woke up with a start, and told me that he was having nightmares about this one time he was hitchhiking on a garbage dumper ship. The crew was rather small, and very quiet. Aran could remember walking in the corridors where no one had walked in probably years. He remembered how lonely it was, and his nightmares only enhanced that.

He didn't go into detail, but I put away my journal and talked to him. I don't know how he's going to last twenty hours on the plane without going insane. I mean, he's done things like this before, where he's on a transport for hours, maybe even days or weeks on end, and I can imagine he just didn't want to go through that again.

"Hey, you have someone suffering with you," I said.

He didn't write out a reply, but he did offer me a bag of chocolate-covered peanuts. I thought I didn't have an appetite until my stomach voiced its opinion, so I took the bag, pouring some of its contents in my mouth.

There was a point where Aran glanced over my shoulder at my journal, but he changed his mind a second later. In all honesty, that said a lot about him. Knowing when to back off is important in any kind of friendship, and he proved he was aware of that, which was something I was grateful for.

Author's Note: Drake is back after a not-so-long wait. I don't know what to say; when I have an idea, I write it. When I'm motivated, I write.

Already, we're introduced to conflict between Apone and Drake, but it can also be seen as a catalyst for Drake's emotional progress. No one wants to be singled out for their faults, especially by their boss. Drake's got a number of options: take the heat and learn from it, or feel bad about it. It's natural for people to feel bad after such a confrontation, but it's not the most healthy.

One can tell you live the geek life when you remember a character as minor as Spunkmeyer. Poor guy almost walked in on Drake sharing a moment with Vasquez. Happy reading - Cat