There’s this moment in the morning when you first wake up. Sometimes it’s disorienting: the walls around and the ceiling above are unfamiliar, and there’s a disconnect. Sometimes it’s jolting: a loud noise, the alarm, a door slamming. And sometimes there’s something missing, something that can’t quite be described until sleep is shed fully. I’ve been having a lot of mornings like that, recently. Where I roll over, and I look for something in the tangle of the sheets next to me that’s not there. I instinctively reach out an arm, and when the muddle in my head clears and I realize I won’t find what I’m looking for, that’s when I missed her the most.
This morning, I woke up to the sound of light breathing.
Then I remembered. And for the first time in a long, long time, everything felt right.
I rolled over on to my side for a while and watched her sleep. The medical pod had opened its shell around me, and the soft plastic bed was almost perfectly level with the cot she must have pulled up alongside it. Camille was curled up in a ball half-way under the blankets. I didn’t catch much of her appearance during the haze of our reunion, so I took my time today. She was a little thinner than before, and her hair was back to its natural color. Her face, which I would hesitantly describe as heart shaped just to put it in a category, had a little dirt streaked on it. She had a nose that was small and a tiny bit sloped. I was biased, but personally I thought it was adorable. There was a smattering of freckles around it, so light you could barely see them. Lips that were neither thick nor thin were currently parted slightly in sleep, and I couldn’t wait to see them smile.
Well, maybe I could wait a little bit. I slowly eased my way out of the medical pod, lowering myself onto the cot. It was just like back before the end. I’d get done at an absurd hour, and have to try to crawl into the bed without waking her up. Camille slept like a rock, so it wasn’t too difficult. She’d always wake me up when she tried to do the same.
She mumbled a little bit as I scooted in next to her, and then reflexively put her head on my chest and nuzzled into my neck. Which meant, as usual, I got a mouth full of hair. I really can’t say I missed that.
But I wasn’t going to ruin the moment. Camille draped herself over me, cuddling me tightly. The comforting weight of her leg was made less pleasant by the fact that it was resting directly on my bladder. Also, her shin was lodged very close to my manly bits and was on a painful collision course with them. I desperately tried to shift my body so it wouldn’t be in imminent danger without waking her up, then I carefully spit out the hair in my mouth and moved my chin up a bit so that it was resting on the top of her head. Much better. And then she mumbled something else and her hand reached up… and flopped directly on my face. I was trying to figure out how to get it off when I suddenly felt her shaking slightly against me and I heard a barely stifled giggle.
“Oh my God, you asshole,” I gasped, shoving her hand off my face, “you’ve been awake this whole time, haven’t you?”
She pulled back her head, that big shit-eating grin I missed so much plastered on her face. She looked at me with her grey eyes crinkled in the corners and a laugh in her voice, “I was wondering how long it would take you to catch on.” She leaned down and kissed me, and I pulled her as close to me as I could.
“I still can’t believe you ruined our heartfelt reunion by passing out,” Camille told me a couple hours later, tracing a finger on my chest. We’d just taken a shower in the medbay’s bathroom, and her slightly damp hair was cool against my collarbone.
I rolled my eyes, “My bad. That blood loss and concussion were totally planned to mess up your day.”
She laughed lightly, “Well, as long as you admit it, I suppose I can forgive you.” Her smile turned into a frown, “Speaking of which, what the hell happened to you? I was asking Adelaide and she was pretty evasive about it.”
I shifted uncomfortably and looked away, “Uh… tripped down a flight of stairs?”
“Was there a wood chipper at the bottom?” she asked scathingly.
“No,” I said hesitantly, “but there might have been a Hive Lord.”
She just stared at me, then sighed, and buried her face in my chest. “Urgh. Now we have to put on clothes and return to reality because there’s no way I’m asking about why you went and got yourself mauled by a fucking Hive Lord during pillow talk,” she grumbled.
“Well, I didn’t actually get mauled by it during pillow talk.” I narrowly dodged a flick to my nose, “But yeah, you’re probably right. There’s a lot of catching up to do, much as I’d love to laze around with you all day.”
Camille nodded and squeezed me tight for a second, then rolled off the cot. I missed her immediately, but I admired the view as she slipped on her ripped looking jeans and pulled her shirt over her head. I got up with a groan, most of my muscles protesting. Engaging in such rigorous activity almost immediately after recovering from extensive injuries was not my best move. Not that I regretted it, it was amazing. I stretched a little to try to work out the kinks, and looked over to see Camille leering at me.
“Gotta say,” she said with a lecherous smile, “The months down here have done you wonders.”
I covered my chest and crossed my legs, “Pervert. I’m not just a piece of meat for you to run your eyes all over.”
“Actually, that’s exactly what you are,” she said and walked past me, smacking my ass as she went. I chuckled and looked for something to wear. I’d been dressed in the hospital gown when I’d woken up. Not sure why they still called them gowns; They were basically simple form-fitting white wraps that could be opened at any point on them. They stuck together using some sort of fancy cohesion principle I didn’t know much about, and could be easily pulled apart and reattached. That made things convenient for the medical pod, but now I wanted something a little less clingy. I spotted a pile of folded clothes, and shrugged on the hoody and sweatpants that were in it.
Camille leaned against the wall next to the door, watching me. “Adelaide fetched you those while you were taking your nap,” she informed me, “make sure to thank her, she really is a nice girl.” She walked through the door into the hallway before I could respond, and I followed her out. I cast a look back at the medbay as the doors closed. I’d have to get the spider-bots to sanitize it.
“Hello Camille, Hello Sam,” Adelaide said as we stood in the hallway, “How was your recovery?”
I grinned up at the ceiling, “Hello to you too. I had an awesome time, thanks.”
“You had an awesome time… recovering?” she said, confused.
Camille laughed, “Don’t act all coy Addy, we won’t judge your voyeuristic tendencies.”
It took a moment to hit her. “Wha- Tha -“ spluttered Adelaide, and I could almost hear the blush in her voice, “I would never- that’s absolutely ridiculous –“ She stopped short. Her voice turned frosty, “You’re just teasing me again, aren’t you?”
“Hey, at least you recognized it this time,” snickered Camille, “You’re already improving.”
I watched the exchange, my eyebrows raised, “I see you two have met?”
“Yup!” Camille beamed at me, “I can’t believe you’re best friends with such a cool alien.”
I had more than a few questions at that, like holy shit she already told you she’s an alien and why are your corrupting pure Adelaide like this, but I decided to roll with it. I much preferred this dynamic to them not getting along. I hadn’t really worried that they wouldn’t, but I never thought they’d become so close so fast.
Adelaide coughed, “Moving on. I believe we should meet in the common area, that will be the most comfortable place to talk. Additionally, Camille, I have adjusted some preliminary clothing designs to your approximate size. Once you check them over, I will set the fabricators to making them.”
I nodded approvingly, and started walking towards the elevator back to the main facility, “Good thinking Adelaide, F-03 hasn’t had much new work recently, I think he’s getting bored.”
“Thanks so much Addy. Also, how is F-03 these days?” said Camille, keeping up with me. She took my hand in hers and intertwined our fingers.
I cast her a glance, “Oh y’know, still fabricating and stuff, he’s a good lad like that. When’d you start calling Adelaide Addy?”
“I must admit, I am curious about that myself,” said Adelaide.
Camille frowned for a second, “Adelaide is way too stuffy. I never got to have a nickname, the name Camille just doesn’t have one that I like, so I might as well give one to her.”
“I always thought Millie was kind of cute,” I said to her.
She made a face at me, “Yeah, no, we’ve been over this.” Adelaide made a curious sound, so Camille explained, “Great Aunt Myrna called me that, and she was just the worst. Used to pinch my cheeks with her disgusting talons and call me ‘Millie pookums’, and she always smelled like mildew.”
When we got to the common room, and there was a spider-bot placing steaming hot mugs of tea on the coffee table. We thanked Adelaide, and then Camille and I shared a look. She sat on the couch and I sat in the armchair across from her. Neither of us wanted her to feel like a third wheel. “Alrighty,” I said, settling in, “My story starts off pretty damn boring, so let’s go with yours first.”
Camille tapped her chin thoughtfully, “Well… Probably the best place to start is when we got disconnected.” I winced a little, trying not to show it on my face. Luckily, she didn’t seem to notice, “I was driving out on the highway, about twenty miles east of Denver on I-70 when they started to attack. One of those motherships – that’s what we started to call the massive airborne Assimilators – came in right over me, heading right to downtown, but it was dropping low-class Assimilators the whole way. I was lucky as hell. It only started to drop them when it was basically above me. If I had been just a little slower… I would’ve had to go through an army of them. Instead, there were just a couple dozen I had to get past.”
She stopped and shuddered, “It was still chaos though. I mean it was pretty late at night, but the highways were never really empty back then. There was this one automated truck that just plowed through a group of them. Saved my ass, I was able to get around it before it crashed. After a while, I knew that I wasn’t going to able to keep driving for long. Cars were starting to pile up, and there wasn’t much room left to weave between them. Then I saw this old pickup truck getting the back torn out by a Worm, and I thought that if I wasn’t going to be able to use the car much longer anyway I might as well take one of the bastards with me. I managed to pin it between my car and the truck, but that didn’t kill it, so it started trying to get to me. The driver of the tru-“
Camille stopped suddenly and her eyes went as round as saucers. She slapped a hand to her forehead, “Oh fuck. I completely forgot to tell Jane I’m here.” I stared at her in confusion, and she explained, “Jane was driving the truck I helped out. She had a gun with her, managed to finish the Worm off while it was pinned, and we made our way east on foot. It was just her and me for a long time, so we got really close. She’s awesome, but she’s also incredibly paranoid. And really, really overprotective.”
I caught on, “So when she figures out that her bosom buddy jumped in a stranger’s creepy white van and took off into the sunset, she might be a little worried?”
Camille snorted, “A little worried is her shooting someone in the knee because she didn’t trust the way they looked at her. This is going to be her tearing the plains up inch by inch to find me.”
“I personally like the plains the way they are. Can you get in contact with her?” I asked.
Adelaide piped up, “If you have a communicator channel, I can connect you to her from Camelot’s network.”
Camille shook her head, “She didn’t have an open channel. She was worried that an unsecured channel might be spied on, lord knows by who, so we had some one-to-one communicators from the military for teams in the field. Ours was in the hovertank.”
“All those ‘one-to-one’ communicators are just encrypted data streams routed through military satellites, and their location is tracked for use in CAS positioning,” I interjected, “and we have access to every military satellite. We just have to narrow down the communicators that are in Burlington.”
“You’d have to sift through tens of thousands of different signals,” Camille said with a frown, “that would take days.”
Adelaide corrected her, “A human would take days, but I am not human. I estimate it will take me between two and three hours to find the communicator.”
“You told me that your group was heading to Sterling to start the project, right? Since you left the hovertank with them, worst comes to worst we just wait a couple days for them to get there, then we go visit them and use that communicator to contact Jane,” I added.
“It shouldn’t come to that, but it is an acceptable back up plan,” said Adelaide, “More importantly, locating the communicator will take all of my concentration, so I will be fully occupied with the task until I find it.”
“Since I’m sure Adelaide wants to listen the rest of your story, we’ll put a pause on it for now. Besides, I need your help on a pretty urgent project for a friend,” I said to Camille, then I addressed Adelaide, “I’ll catch her up while you get to work on the communicator. How about we reconvene in a few hours?”
“Understood, Sam,” she said, “I will begin my data analysis immediately. Would you like me to pull up the modeling software and load a standard prosthetic schematic in the command center?”
“You read my mind, that’d be great. And let me know if you run into any problems. You might be good at the grunt work, but we both know who the brain of the operation is.”
“Ah yes. Who could forget the multitude of excellent ideas that you’ve had. The spider-bot modification come immediately to mind.”
“Oh go play in a memory leak,” I snapped back. I knew I should’ve just left that idea in long term storage. Spiders with human faces still hunted me in my nightmares.
Camille looked at me, “That was some freaky levels of synchronization. Do I have to be worried about you two?”
“Nah,” I replied, “She’s pretty but her attitude is just terrible.” I got up and sat next to her on the couch, and pulled her closer with one arm. She was holding the steaming mug in her hand, and brought her knees up to her chest. Camille rested her head on my shoulder, and her hair draped over me. After a few minutes, I lightly kissed her on the top of the head, then she scooted to the other end of the couch, stretching her legs out and laying her feet in my lap. We made eye contact, and she gave me an almost imperceptible nod. I started to talk, telling her about the past nine months. There were a few parts where I wanted to look away, or gloss over something. But we’d gotten past the point of being able to hide things from each other a long time ago, so there wasn’t really a point. She didn’t say anything the whole time, just let me talk. It didn’t feel like a confession; it was more like I was letting the air out of my lungs after a tightly held breath.
She blinked away frustrated tears when I told her about Amy’s suicide. She held my hand tightly after I choked up talking about letting the advanced team die, and I got a proud smile when I spoke about my first skirmish in a Paladin. Her eyes filled with sadness at the Press Gang, and rage at the raiders. The meeting with the Scouting Team was met with quiet giggles, and the one with the citizens of Fort Morgan a squeeze of my leg. She groaned and covered her face when I told her about Mary’s warning about a dangerous woman named Jane. I could see her barely suppressed curiosity when I gave her my theories on the Assimilators and the Hive Cluster we’d found. At the end, after I described the fight with the Hive Lord, Camille placed herself back in my arms, and gave me a long kiss. She looked into my green eyes with her grey ones. “I’m so proud of you Sam,” she murmured to me, “And I love you so much.”
I closed my eyes rested my forehead against hers, “I love you too.”