Chapter 30
Waking Up to a New Day
ESS Ticonderoga, Radek Orbital Naval Base, Martian Sphere
Date: Sat 22 Nov 122
Time: UST 1734

The harsh blue-white light was not what Matt was hoping for from Heaven or what he feared from Hell. The grey alloy walls and steady beep-beep of an EKG indicated that he was, against all odds, alive.
A familiar voice said, "Welcome back ta the land a' the livin', Cav."
Matt turned his head to see Lydia sitting in a chair at his bedside. She was dressed in a hospital gown and had her arm in a sling and bandages wrapped around her head. An IV stand was next to her with the line going into her other arm.
"Didn't think we'd both end up in Sickbay," she said.
Dr. Kim appeared from the other side, glancing at a DataPad as she said, "Major Harold, I was not expecting you to be a guest here. Lieutenant Han, on the other hand, will soon have a standing reservation."
"Ha ha, Doc."
"Lieutenant, would you mind stepping out?" Dr. Kim asked. "I have to discuss Major Harold's condition with him."
"Aw, do I hafta?"
"So long as we're just talking, I don't mind her being in here," Matt said.
"I am sorry, but I must insist."
"Alright, alright, I'm goin', Doc."
Lydia cursed under her breath as she stood up--apparently from the pain of her injuries and not because she was told to leave--, took hold of her IV stand and limped out of the room. When the door closed behind her, Dr. Kim said, "You are lucky to be alive, Major. A lot of people are wondering how you survived that blast. Though you took a decent dose of radiation, it is far below what I would expect, given the circumstances. You will be here for treatment for the next week, but you should have no significant long-term side-effects. I am usually reluctant to use the word 'miracle', but 'improbable' fails to catch the spirit of the circumstances."
"What happened to the Hades?" Matt asked.
"Utterly destroyed, thanks to you. Now the Sheolites are on their last legs. I hear the last of them will likely be wiped out within the next 48 hours. For all intents and purposes, the war is won and you deserve no small measure of the credit for ending it."
Matt did not take much pleasure in the news. Of course he was glad to hear the war was almost over, but it was more bitter than sweet.
"I will leave you to rest," Dr. Kim said. "The call button is on your right. You were unconscious for the first 24 hours, so the worst of it should be over for you."
"Thank you, Doctor," Matt replied.
There was little for Matt to do but lie there. He felt tired and weak and sick to his stomach and he was not entirely sure it was just the radiation to blame.
It may have been minutes, it may have been hours, but a nurse peeked into the door and said, "Major Harold, you have a visitor."
Matt half-heartedly waved and Sean walked in.
"Hey, Cav," he said. "Damn, man. Ya won the war for us."
"Stop it, Kodiak," Matt said. "I kamikazed a cap ship. That's all."
"Maybe you ain't brushed up on your history lately, but kamikazes don't make a habit a' comin' back for more."
"Just don't make any more of it than what it is. Please."
Sean was quiet for a moment. He gave Matt a pitying look before starting awkwardly, "Look, man, I can see you're hurtin' in more ways'n one, but I wanted ya ta hear it from me first an' not that asshole Pes-sedes."
Matt knew this would not be good news, but there was nothing to be gained by avoiding it.
"What is it?"
"Our last sortie went sour, man. Lost some Rittern."
"I lost Lampoon, Alpha lost Ruan and Charlie lost Kowalchek. Sabado didn't make it neither."
Four Rittern lost in a single sortie. After making it so long together, it was hard to take losing so many in one fell swoop. Yes, he had seen worse in his career, but never under his command and because he was not there, he felt the guilt all the more keenly.
"I'm sorry, Cav."
"No, it's alright. I appreciate you telling me. I'm sorry to hear about Lampoon."
Sean went quiet again. Matt reflected on the blame he deserved for what happened, but Sean seemed to know what he was thinking and spoke up.
"Ya couldn't a' changed nothin' if ya was there," he said, "so don't start thinkin' otherwise. Hell, ya prolly saved more a' us by what ya did."
Matt nodded weakly, but he was not particularly convinced.
"Is there anythin' I can get ya?" Sean asked.
Matt shook his head. Even if there was anything he wanted, what he was allowed to have was no doubt highly restricted.
"No," he replied. "I just need some rest."
"Sure thing, man. I'll, uh, I'll check up on ya tamorra. If that's alright with ya."
"Yeah, sure."
As Sean was heading out, Lydia was coming back in.
"Hey there, kid," Sean said. "Nice gown. Make sure your ass don't hang out, not that you've got any ass ta hang out."
Lydia flipped him off.
"Yeah, fuck you too, mick."
For all their vitriolic back-and-forth, there was no actual malice between them, as evidence by Lydia's almost immediate follow-up.
"See ya made it out in one piece," she said.
"Only in the flesh, kid," Sean replied, patting her on the shoulder. "Only in the flesh. You two take it easy now."
As Lydia was limping over to the chair she was sitting in before, Matt felt guilty about it, but he was in no mood for company.
"Nyx, I'm sorry, but I'd like to get some rest now."
Lydia did not take the hint and went ahead and sat down.
"Go right on ahead," she said. "I don't mind."
"Nyx, you don't have to sit up with me."
This did not deter her in the slightest.
"Bein' alone ain't all it's cracked up ta be."
As much as Matt wanted to be alone, there was no point in pushing the issue any further. He probably would not find any sleep until exhaustion or medication overcame him, but he closed his eyes all the same. After a few moments of silence, Lydia started to speak.
"Ya don't hafta say nothin', but there's somethin' I wanna say. My life's been 'bout nothin' but killin' Shellies for a long damn time. People'd talk 'bout the war bein' over an' I couldn't imagine it. What else do I got? But ya know somethin'? Part a' me feels like I'm wakin' up, like it was all jus' a nightmare an' that nightmare's over."
The nightmare is over? Maybe. Matt would like to believe that, but a dark part of him thought that the nightmare would never end.