Sleep can be a safe haven at the end of a stressful day, our dreams a welcome escape from reality. Not so for Doctor Samara Quinlan, whos work always has a way of following her home.
Doctor Samara Quinlan sat up in an instant and rubbed her eyes, trying to adjust to the angry red glow of emergency lighting. The echoes of the crash were already fading. Thunder? An explosion? Close, whatever it was. Distant klaxons began wailing an alarm, and seconds later, combat boots scrambled down the hallway outside her quarters. Predictable. Soon would come the rhythms of gunfire and the screams of dying men. The dream was always the same, though it rarely started with such a literal bang.
Samara threw back the sheets and wandered her living space like a ghost, marveling at the detail of it all. Her mind was a formidable thing, even in sleep. Recurring lucid dreams might be useful for someone of her IQ, problem-solving simulations that could offer new perspectives on nagging challenges. But this was not a lucid dream – it was a nightmare. It was always a nightmare.
Samara had stared into the many eyes of Subject 16 for months with nothing but a thick sheet of glass and a few feet of amniotic fluid separating them. 16 was a perfect weapon, all muscle and tooth and claw. But the eyes were a thing of beauty, with wide rectangular pupils surrounded by amber-colored irises. Sometimes they would flit and flutter, and the claws would stretch and scrape the walls of the chamber. In those fleeting moments, Samara was certain that the creature was dreaming, long before brain activity scans confirmed as much. She often wondered if 16 dreamt as vibrantly as she, and if the dreams were a pleasant escape, unlike her own.
During her waking hours, Samara Quinlan was a woman of focus and ambition, blessed with a knack for compartmentalization of thought and feeling. In her sleep, guilt and horror ran amok. It was the price she paid for her achievements. She woke daily in bedding made damp with nervous sweat, feeling more exhausted than she had been when she retired the night before. Of course, there were pills that could help. The black, dreamless sleep they offered was heavenly, but her work suffered when she was on the meds and that was unacceptable. For now, the nightmares were just another part of her career, a task to be checked off the list before moving on to more important things.
Samara moved like a dancer, gliding between her desk and dining table, twirling around the armchair, fingers walking along the bookshelf. Aside from the hellish lighting, this part of the experience was almost pleasant. Now fully aware that she was dreaming, Samara paused to note the subtle differences from reality. There was a breeze, humid and sweet, coming in through an open window. But her room had no windows – the walls were made of solid concrete and steel. Curious, she drifted toward the opening, breathing deep the pleasant aroma of the Brazilian jungle outside. Her fingers explored the jagged edges of the broken wall, a hole just big enough to squeeze through. She reached through the gap and collected a shallow pool of rainwater in the cup of her hand. These details were entirely new, and she was eager to explore their meaning when she finally woke.
The comms panel on the wall lit up and chimed. This was also new. She pressed her thumb to the screen. “Yes?”
A burst of static, then a breathless voice. “It’s awake,” the man said. “It got out.”
Samara swallowed. At least the nightmare was finally taking some familiar turns. “Lock down. Get Ramirez on—”
“Ramirez is dead. The blast doors are down but we lost it, Doc. It could be anywhere by now.”
Samara listened to rain pattering on the leaves outside, the sounds and smells of a gentle storm drifting in through the breach. She looked at the droplets racing down her palm, exploring the length of her arm, then dripping from her elbow. Goosebumps spread across her flesh, altering the course of the water. “It’s with me,” she said. “Send a fireteam.”
Subject 16 unfolded from the shadows of the kitchenette and stood at its full height in the middle of the room, staring down at Samara with its hackles raised. A dotted line of bullet holes riddled its flesh, crossing the mass of mouths and eyes that made up its tortured face. Three of the eyes had been ruptured but were already healing. All of them were fixed on Samara.
“My beautiful juggernaut,” Samara said. Her knees weakened, and she eased herself down onto the edge of the bed. “Look at what they’ve done to you.”
The creature made a soft cooing sound, expressing emotions unreadable. One of its many wounds began to seal up, pushing a deformed bullet onto the floor. Its long fingers spread from arms that reached for her, claws extending with a whisper, and in a single stride the distance between them was closed.
Doctor Samara Quinlan closed her eyes and turned her head, savoring the scent of rain. It was not hard to convince herself that she was still dreaming. Soon, a black, dreamless sleep would be hers, and the price of her crimes would be paid in full. A weak smile crossed her lips as she said, “Goodni—"