Chapter 01: Separation Anxiety

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AUTHOR'S NOTE: If you see any errors of any kind, please tell me in the comments. I'd really appreciate it!

"Mike?...Mike? Mike?"

Mike Ellis jerked awake, sitting up straight in the uncomfortable chair he'd apparently fallen asleep in, hand already dropping to where his pistol rested in its holster on his hip. "What?" he asked, looking around frantically. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing, you just...you were having nightmares, I think," Laura replied.

"Sorry," he murmured, trying to remember what he'd been dreaming about. He got only vague images: fire, blood, the pale, black-veined gripping hands of the unrelenting dead. But, perhaps mercifully, it was no more specific than that. The emotions were still there, though: a swirling maelstrom of horror and loss.

"It's fine, Mike," Laura replied. She reached out, across the space between their seats, and took his hand. They were each seated at one of the primary workstations, maintaining the controls of the cargo vessel they had taken from the derelict military outpost.

With his free hand, Mike rubbed sleep from his eyes and tried to gather his thoughts. It felt as though they had been scattered by a powerful mental gust. "How long was I out?" he asked, looking out the windows. It was early morning now, the sun just beginning to rise. Below, all he could see were barren wastelands.

"Maybe an hour," Laura replied.

"We were talking about something," he murmured, frowning, trying to recall why he'd gone to sleep. He sighed. "I'm sorry, I freaking nodded off in the middle of our conversation.

"Mike, it's fine," she repeated. "We're exhausted, we've been through a lot."

He finished rubbing sleep from his eyes and looked over the controls. "God, that was stupid of me. I'm the only one who can fly this thing," he muttered.

"I'd have woken you if there was something serious happening," Laura replied. "We're doing fine so far."

He grunted in response, feeling irritable and exhausted, his mind wrapped in wool, making him sluggish. Mike took a moment to look over the controls. They'd been in the air for four hours now, mainly flying on autopilot. He knew now how Laura must have felt as she and the few survivors in her crew flew down from the far north, desperately hunting for signs of life. They had found nothing so far. Just a handful of burning towns and overrun outposts. The plan, currently, was to head to Jackson, and try to render assistance to those trying to make it off-planet. They'd been talking, getting to know each other better.

"Um...you were telling me about, uh, your parents. Growing up," he said, looking over at her again as he confirmed that the ship was still fine, they were still on course, and that nothing immediately required his attention. She paused, gathering her thoughts, and as she did, he found himself struck by just how beautiful she was. Even though she was a mess, or maybe because she was, her chestnut brown hair pulled into a rough, functional ponytail, bags under her bloodshot eyes, stains and rips in her uniform, her skin pale from lack of sleep and sun, and stress, she still looked great to him. It wasn't entirely her looks and her body, although she was very attractive, it was really more her...presence. She had the air of someone who knew what they were doing, who knew what they wanted, and was willing to get it. She had a commanding persona.

But now that he'd gotten to know her better, he could tell that it was...not an act. She did know what she was doing. More than that, she wasn't all confidence and certainty. She was afraid, she was anxious, she was uncertain at times. Much like himself. And that only made her more appealing. Someone who thought they knew what they were doing at all times was a moron. Self-doubt, in certain doses, was healthy.

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