Carver's clock has always caused concern that led to contention in his relationship to Damara. Hers had ticked to zero when she met him, and so she'd always said that he was her soulmate; but if he tried to say the same, she would angrily turn away, or even point out that his was was still going, still heading towards an inevitable conclusion when he would meet someone else. He insisted that wasn't the case all the while, but it still led to long screaming matches in that residential sector on Uxor.
He had even tried to tell himself, sometimes, that one day he would leave her for the day, go and walk and watch the timer tick down, until he would return after his shift, and that would be the day; something would be different when they met, that time, at the door, her hair tied up in a ponytail on top of her head and a flush of exasperation in her cheeks over some antics Dylan had gotten up to. His clock would hit zero, and something would slot into place like never before, even with her, and he'd know. She'd really been his soulmate all along, just as he had been hers. She would believe him, then, surely.
Of course, all of this would turn out to be the pipe dream that something small and petty in the back of his head always reminded him it would be. All of it turned out to be exactly as Damara had always told him; if he had in fact been her soulmate, she was not his, because he met her one last time the day that Marker Shroud 4 was struck by an explosive device that unleashed an electromagnetic pulse across the entirety of Uxor's EarthGov research facility. He had watched ships fall from the sky, had watched people shift into unrecognizably grotesque creatures that he had fought through to try to get home, thinking- this is the time. The timer be damned, she'll see. He had fought with all his might, scowling into the heat of his gun, into the blood storm of the dying monsters in his way.
That last meeting, though, had not been as he had planned. He had found his family not waiting for him in safety, ready to embrace him as their savior and as the soulmate he wished so desperately to be to Damara, the father he struggled to be for Dylan, but as the same monsters he had been fighting for them. They had been warped, too.
There was only one thing left to do, then, and he did. He freed them from the torment of being turned into walking gristle and sinew, of being something beyond death and yet trapped within life. He killed the only things remaining in the place of the two people he loved most in the world that day on Uxor, and then he gave up until he discovered his wife's secret mission, and her rendezvous with Ellie Langford regarding the Marker Source.
It had given him purpose, to see that he could carry something on in his wife's name, even if he could never give her the soulmate she deserved in life. He had joined Langford and her compatriot, Robert Norton, in their quest to see through the Source of the Markers, and destroy it.
His timer had slid into the back of his mind, something omnipresent astride the pulse in his wrist, but otherwise forgotten. He had no use for it anymore, no more waiting left to do for it to tick to zero and prove his point that he had argued so many times. It was wrong, after all. His wife had been his soulmate, and now- now she was gone.
Nicole and he had always fought too much for them to be soulmates, but there had always been something about Ellie that had told Isaac- this girl, she's special. This wasn't to say that Nicole hadn't been special, and hadn't left her own mark on him- God, had she- but there was something different about Ellie, in the shared experience of surviving the Sprawl and the Marker's influence together, even if Isaac had borne more of the brunt of it than she might have, in the long run, with the final battle against it very nearly driving him out of his head once and for all. That confrontation, though, had just led him right back to her; and what better signal could the higher powers governing the universe, whatever they may or may not be, send than that? It was clear to him:
Ellie was his soulmate, and he would just have to wait for her to return for the stupid watch on his wrist to stop ticking after all of this time. He was forty nine years old, after all. It was about goddamn time.
So he waits at his desk with something near to bated breath the day that he knows his timer will finally stop at those exalted zeroes, and he stares at the picture of the two of them, torn in two, held between his fingers and his thumb. The sun shines behind them and he's got some kind of painful smile on his face. It was still soon after the Sprawl, and he had had a migraine like none other for three months following the Marker fight, so he's not all that surprised. Ellie had wished for more, though, and he supposes that must have been part of what she went looking for, ShockPointing back into the cosmos, far beyond the Earthrise apartments on the New Horizons Lunar Colony that Isaac had sequestered himself away in, looking for some semblance of a normal life out of sight of those who would employ him in the Holy War raging between the Unitologists and EarthGov.
Today, though, he thinks, today she must be coming back, must be trying to surprise him after everything. He'd never seen her timer, hidden under bandages during the Sprawl incident and then under bracelets for all the rest of their days together following that, but it must match his. That's the only explanation, because he knows for a goddamn fact he's not leaving this apartment today to run into anyone but her.
So he waits, and watches the numbers tick lower and lower, holding his wrist out before him, eyes darting between it and the picture held in the hand that sprouts from it. Anyone who was watching him would think that he was just observing the image for longer than would be expressly necessary in any sense of the meaning of the word, he guesses. He probably looks half out of his mind doing it- but he's been half out of his mind since the first Marker incident, and holding tight to what remains since the second one, since the nigh-physical attack it had made against his brain when it invaded him and forced him to do battle with the shadows, with his fears, practically with his memories of Nicole herself.
Carver waits in the shadows of the apartment, watching Clarke as he stares at the bisected picture of himself and Ellie, a voicemail from her playing in the background of the room's gentle hum. He's managed to slink his way in through the ventilation system, not that that was an easy task; the paranoid engineer had covered all of the vents entering the room, forcing Carver to get creative with keeping quiet as he made his way through one undetected into the shadows that make up the bathroom and its immediate entrance across from the door where Norton will be distracting the Marker Killer before he makes his entrance of sorts to the scene.
Suddenly, without warning, Clarke comes to his feet, tossing the picture down on the pile of papers, many scrawled upon with Unitological script and symbols. Carver starts faintly, tightening his grasp on his gun in case the other man comes his way, but then the guy just sweeps a bunch of the junk off of the desk and lets it fall, gently floating on the stale air of the room, to land on the grimy metal floor.
Carver sights the clock on Clarke's wrist as he turns, running a hand through his hair, where grey has begun to creep its fingers into the otherwise dark locks lining his scalp. It's full of zeroes, and is blinking, meaning that it's only recently stopped. Is that what he's frustrated about? More importantly, who the hell did the engineer meet recently that's stopped his clock and got him so seemingly conflicted over Langford?
The soldier has no more time to ponder the situation, not that he cares, because the door to Clarke's apartment suddenly gives a quick blip of sound and then slides open with a hush of air and gears shifting. The guy turns, looking confused, and paces towards it, eyebrows rising and lips parting faintly. There seems to be a kind of gentle hope in his expression, despite his having grabbed a plasma cutter from the same table he was just sitting at moments ago, before Carver lunges out of the shadows and knocks him in the head, sending the cutter skittering across the metal floor and the engineer falling to his knees.
Carver quickly takes up position holding Clarke down by the back of his RIG, and aiming his Bullpup Rifle at his head. "Stay down!" he orders gruffly through gritted teeth, and Norton makes his entrance at the door now that the Marker Killer has been subdued- always leaving the soldiers to do the dirty work for him, it seems.
As Norton lectures Clarke, Carver notices a peculiar warmth in his hostage's back, radiating out into him, almost feeling like a strange connection. He pushes it aside and reminds himself to have the Docs check out the engineer's RIG on the Eudora, just so their prize doesn't end up getting killed by it malfunctioning at an inopportune time- particularly once they would reach the Marker Source. The soldier is sure he'll be tasked with accompanying the Marker Killer personally to ensure that whatever shadowy mission they're undertaking at that time gets done properly, and the goddamn things permanently shut down, ridding the galaxy of the monstrosities that he's faced twice, or thrice. It depends on how you look at it now, with Uxor EarthGov research facility's disaster and then Ptolemy and Keyhole Stations' infestations in direct order with each other.
All of this is on his mind still as he's running with Norton to lead Clarke to the transport, but then it all gets blown to Kingdom Come when the Unitologists attack, and he forgets all about it- strange warmth on the engineer's back included.
Carver might have thought of it again, and might have thought more of the zeroes on his own timer when he changed suits- if not for the conflict in the derelict Sovereign Colonies fleet and then Tau Volantis and the chaos of the many Red Markers that they found there after their shuttle crashed and the Unitologists followed.
Carver might have figured it out sooner, might have been just a sharp enough tool- but there was a lot of shit to pay attention to otherwise that felt a lot bigger than having his mind on some stupid clock that had lied to him for years beforehand, in some cases literally, as with the Brethren Moon's rising above the ice planet and its subsequent destruction.
In the ruins after, though, somehow, with a throbbing head, he had thought of it, when he was considering that was going to die in this place, never knowing if Langford ShockPointed back away or died in the derelicts, never knowing if their sacrifices would be in vain.
Then, he'd seen Clarke, and it had been right back to the same old fight, boarding the Terra Nova and facing the splintered Unitologists in their terror and their chants before the Cult Leader, the supposed Prophet- and when they'd ShockePointed towards Earth, suddenly, it was over.
"What're you going to do when we get back to Earth?" Isaac is asking him as he's peeling off his gloves for the flight, putting his boots up on the dash, careful not to jostle the navigational system as he does.
"Me?" Carver asks. "Hell, probably it in a debrief room for about a hundred years, knowing EarthGov. I mean, we flash-thawed Tau Volantis, discovered a new alien species, knocked a moon out of the sky, and waged a war against a religious sect. They've probably got a lot of questions."
"That's not even mentioning finishing off the Necromorphs once and for all, besides the stragglers here and there," Isaac points out, and there's something optimistic in his voice that feels like it bleeds into Carver, making his sore bones feel a little bit better in spite of all that they've gone through the last few days side by side on the ice planet. Maybe it's just some bond that they've forged as brothers in arms of sorts; he had not considered Isaac a friend before, but maybe through the war on the surface, the adrenaline-soaked blur that all of it was, he had changed his mind.
Then again, his eyes fall on his wrist, and he has to wonder- what about this? Who the hell is his soulmate supposed to be, when he wasn't even paying attention for the damn thing to stop ticking because he'd stopped giving a shit about it until he noticed? Sure, he'd seen it was supposed to stop soon the night before all of this had started when he'd gone with Norton to pick up Isaac, but he'd never really thought about it again.
"What about you, Isaac?" Carver asks, because it's polite.
"I... don't really know," the engineer admits. "I've spent years of my life now focusing on being the Marker Killer, either fighting them or hiding from it. And what I didn't spend doing that, I focused on waiting for this damn clock to stop ticking so I'd know who my soulmate was." He flicks the face of the timer beside his pulse with an air of irritation, and the soldier snorts in appreciation. He's mildly enchanted by Clarke's flippancy towards the thing; he's never met someone else who cared so little, or even close to outright hated, the device that was joined to them for their entire life.
"Who was it, anyway?" Carver asks, turning his body in his seat to face the other man. "I mean, I could tell whoever it was, it wasn't Ellie, based on how pissed off you were in your apartment in the Lunar Colony, but that's all."
"I don't know," Isaac says. "That's the thing that's biting me in the ass is, I spent years waiting on this thing- forty nine of 'em, in fact- and then it turns out it didn't even work right. I didn't meet anyone when it went off."
"You were alone?" Carver says, with a gnawing feeling in his gut and something starting to dawn on him as he thinks it over, imagining himself crawling out of the vent as quietly as possible and then standing there around the corner, psyching himself up to peek and find out what Clarke was doing just sitting there at the table.
"All alone," the engineer confirms. "You and Norton showed up a couple minutes later. I could have sworn it was going to be Ellie, and my clock was a few minutes fast. But, no such thing."
"Isaac," Carver says, slowly, feeling a kind of anxiety in the pit of his stomach, "I quit paying attention to my clock years ago, but it was going to stop the same day as yours. And... I was hiding out in that bathroom for a couple of minutes before Norton showed up and I jumped your ass to get you to listen to him."
"Wait, what?" Isaac turns, and his brow is furrowed, a slight grimace of confusion on his face. "Are you saying...?"
"You're supposed to be the smart-ass who knows all about engineering and Markers," Carver tells him, "Put it together, genius."
"We're soulmates," Isaac realizes, eyes widening in shock. They're blue-green, almost the same color as the lights of his suit. Carver hadn't noticed that before.
"I think so," the soldier agrees, as nervous as that makes him feel. He's never really thought anything of his being attracted to men before, had always preferred women, but now. Now, his soulmate is a man, is Isaac Clarke, and he's thinking of the heat of the Marker Killer's back under his hand that day, like a warm connection, brand new from the oven, flowing between them. That was a sign, and he'd missed it then, but he's not missing it now.
Isaac gives a sharp kind of laugh, and that takes Carver with him, chuckling madly and rubbing at his face, feeling the scratch of the whiskers on his chin against his palm as he does so. He raises his eyes back to Clarke's when he's done, and for a moment they are both silent, both drinking in the strange, sudden camaraderie between them.
"I gotta say," Isaac starts, "I thought you were good-looking as soon as we met. I just hated your guts for dragging me along on this damn suicide mission."
"Well, it didn't turn out to be a suicide mission, did it, Isaac?" Carver asks, with a crooked, harsh smile.
"No," Isaac agrees, "No, it didn't, John."
And it's been a long, long time since anyone really called him that.
He's sleeping soundly when Isaac's voice penetrates his rest, drawing him towards the land of wakefulness.
"Carver!" he's saying, "Psst, hey, Carver! We're almost there!"
"Ngh," Carver grunts, and knows its probably unattractive, but doesn't care. He sits forward, scrubbing at his eyes, and dons his gloves again to have his uniform properly put together when he returns to the Earth Defense Force shortly to report on their mission to Tau Volantis and defeat of Danik's forces and plans. "What, we made it?"
"De-shocking to Earth space in 3, 2, 1," reports the Terra Nova's RIG.
The blue rings of light surrounding the ship begin to sparkle, and then there is a harsh, static humming, and, with a spitting sound, it all dispels, and the moon appears ahead, the planet following after it. They both laugh together at the sight, the feeling of giddy glee flowing between them openly as Isaac opens a channel to contact Earth over the radio.
"Earth Orbital Control, this is Isaac Clarke aboard the CMS Terra Nova, requesting clearance, over," the engineer says, voice warm. Where a response should be, there's only sudden, loud static, harsh against Carver's ears. He winces and groans in surprise.
"Are you sure you got the right channel?" he ribs his soulmate apparent, standing and pacing across the cockpit to stand beside him, planting one hand on the dash as it were. "This is over two hundred years old."
"Yeah. No, I changed it over right. Right. Trust me, it's right," Isaac assures him, but he takes hold of the screen and shifts it to the side so he can work the channels himself, all the same. Isaac stares at him with vague irritation, but also mild affection for some reason.
"EarthGov Command, this is Sergeant John Carver, do you read me. Is anyone there?" he says loudly, unnecessarily so, into it, leaning over, as Isaac observes the data feeds.
More static presents itself- there are faint voices within, mumblings, almost, under the white noise, but they're impossible to really make out, so he doesn't bother even giving it a cursory attempt. He's no language specialist of any sort.
"It's weird," he mutters, standing back.
Isaac, looking to his left. Carver peers at the displays, hands going to his hips as he stands there. The engineer switches to yet another channel. "United Mining traffic flow, do you copy?" he says curtly, lips pursed. He shakes his head at the static, and switches the radio once more. "Lunar flight control, this is CMS Terra Nova, does anyone read us out here?"
This time, there is a response. Vile screams and groans emanate from the speakers, filling the cockpit with the ominous, haunting sounds of Necromorphs idling on the other end of the call. Carver looks to Isaac in horror, lips parting slightly as his soulmate looks to him in much the same manner. He pastes on a stoic face, and tries to look tough for the other man. He's a soldier. He can't let himself be dazed by learning that there's still a few more battlefronts left in the war before it ends. This he can handle.
Then, a deeper sound manifests, a rumbling kind of roar that he can feel in his bones, like a primordial thing coming awake, disturbing a silence that should have been left well enough alone.
As they both twist towards the front of the ship, a massive eldritch shape rises, impossibly fast for something of its size, to blot out the Earth and its satellite moon.
Carver grabs for Isaac to tug him free of his seat, nothing in his mind but the rising sound and the urge to run, to escape, as the Brethren Moon takes its unnatural new place before them, but the hallucinations and the radio both are screaming in his ears as the world turns red-orange like fire in his synapses, and then to nothing at all.