The morning greeted Carol with a pounding headache, dry lips, and sluggish muscles. She had never been hungover before, and she wondered why on earth anyone would continue getting drunk after experiencing it just once. No matter what was said, she was going to stick with her single glass of moscato in the future.
Holmes looked only slightly better than she felt, with dark circles under his eyes. She met him with a simple “Hello,” then continued on her quest for breakfast. He had grown accustomed to her ignoring him whenever she wanted the semblance of solitude, and didn’t attempt any conversation. In fact, he was relieved when she made a beeline for the coffee, and knowingly passed him the first cup.
“Fun night, huh?” Holmes said after a few minutes of sipping in silence. “Well, maybe not so much for you, but I had a blast.”
“Don’t jump to conclusions,” Carol replied. “Lambert took me home last night.” It was an uncharacteristic thing for her to imply – the result of having spent so much time around the military’s sense of humor – but it was worth stepping out of her comfort zone to see the way the young soldier’s mouth dropped.
“Wow, he must have been way more drunk than he let on!” Holmes exclaimed.
Carol punched him in the arm.
Appearing as if in response to their summons, Lambert entered the cafeteria and quickly located them. He distractedly handed Carol a large water bottle as he consulted his little notebook. She was surprised to discover it wasn’t water; it was something slightly sweet, and slightly fruity, and slightly salty, but instead of revolting her, drinking it felt strangely good and helped ease the ache in her muscles. The captain wasn’t the slightest bit affected by the previous night, and Carol tried to recollect how many glasses she had seen him drain. It had been more than she had.
“Commander, you have a doctor’s appointment in thirty minutes,” Lambert said.
“What for?” she asked.
He rapped his knuckles against the top of her head. “Full physical, plus brain scans. We want to keep a close eye on how the Suit is affecting you.”
“Too bad you didn’t do that for MSG Hartmann, huh?” she said flippantly, annoyed that he had aggravated her headache. Lambert didn’t react, but from the way his mouth pressed into a tighter line, she suspected she had gone too far.
“We need to leave right now if we’re going to get there on time. Move, commander!” Lambert barked.
Carol regretted her spiteful comment. She had the feeling that Lambert had intended to give her some extra time to care for her hangover, but instead she had provoked him into rushing her. From the look in his eyes, she wouldn’t even be allowed to finish her coffee.
The captain continued, “Holmes, you won’t be needed. You’re on leave for today.”
“Yes, sir!” Holmes grinned, and Carol noticed his hand subconsciously brush his pocket. He was going to spend all day chatting with his girlfriend. She found oddly relieving that he had a personal life, unlike herself – or, she guessed, Lambert.
Lambert took Carol to the hospital. He was horrendously out-of-place in the waiting room, and paced around impatiently like a nervous cat until they were called. A nurse brought Carol to a curtained alcove, where she donned the customary gown while Lambert stood stiffly outside, and then led her to an exam room.
The doctor performed a routine physical, then she was led to another wing where all the high-tech machinery was kept. For the next few hours, technicians subjected her to one scan after another. She didn’t mind – most of it was lying still, and it was nice to relax her fatigued body.
When the technicians were finished, she was told that she was dehydrated and they wanted to put her on fluids, so a nurse led her to a private room and helped set her up in bed with an IV. Carol was asleep as soon as she closed her eyes.
Lambert had slipped away to attend to outstanding duties on base, then returned to the hospital to consult the doctor privately. “All the results are normal so far,” the doctor said, pulling up images of Carol’s brain on a computer screen. “Except we did find one anomaly: there’s something in her brain stem, about a quarter of an inch in diameter.”
“Do you know what it is?” Lambert asked, frowning at the section that the doctor had highlighted on the scan. It was hard to make out, but there was definitely some sort of spot in the picture.
“Not without cutting her open for a look – but, given its location, that would likely kill her,” the doctor explained. “It could be a tumor, but…” He trailed off, seemingly unwilling to complete the thought. “None of the scans gave a clear picture; we can’t even tell how long it has been there.” He looked at the paperwork on his clipboard before continuing, “I can tell you one thing though: the EEG revealed that it’s sending electrical signals to the rest of her brain.”
“This is classified information,” Lambert said slowly. “Carol does not need to know.”
“Yes, sir. We kept her detained like you asked, but she’s ready to go at anytime.”
“Thank you, doctor.”
A nurse woke Carol and told her that it was time to leave. She dressed in her regular clothes and went out to the entry way, where Lambert was waiting for her. He was unusually polite, and even held open the car door as she climbed inside, causing Carol to break into a cold sweat. There had to be something seriously wrong with her.
It took her several minutes to work up the nerve to ask in a tiny voice, “Is it terminal?”
“No, Carol, you’re completely fine,” Lambert muttered in reply, keeping himself unnaturally focused on driving.
“Something has to be going on,” she pressed. She knew Lambert well enough to know it was extremely atypical for him to behave this way. How he said her name was too abstracted, and lacking any of his usual condescension. Lambert’s face darkened slightly, but he didn’t give in to her nagging.
“It’s been a long day, commander. Now leave it.”
They returned to base in silence.