“What the hell?” Stacker woke with a start and instantly regretted it when sunlight stabbed from an open window into his eyeballs. He immediately covered his face with both hands.
When Stacker finally felt he could crack his eyes open again after turning away from the window, he discovered a ridiculously pale foot not three inches away from his head. He lifted the blanket and peered underneath to see if the foot had an owner and was greeted with Herc Hansen’s tattooed ass. “What the hell.” Stacker shoved Herc and he thumped to the floor, fortunately taking the sheet with him.
“Oy! What the hell!”
“Why don’t you tell me.” Stacker sat up on the edge of the bed and looked around. They were in some dive, probably in Australia if the weird abstract art print that looked vaguely like a kangaroo was anything to go by. Also, he could sort of remember touching down in Sydney early in the morning. On which morning, however, Stacker was a little unsure.
“Well…” Herc shrugged and didn’t look particularly apologetic. “If you don’t like looking at my feet stop snoring in my ear all night.”
Stacker ignored him and headed for the tiny bathroom instead. “Make coffee,” he said before firmly shutting the door. He was fully prepared to pretend whatever happened the previous evening hadn’t actually happened, though there was a tiny niggling feeling in the back of his mind that he was forgetting something important.
His rumpled white shirt came off as soon as he had turned on the shower. Stacker looked at himself in the mirror while he waited for the water to heat up. He looked about the same as he felt with eyes red and irritated, scratchy stubble, puffy eyelids, a deep crease in his cheek from a fold in the pillowcase. He turned sideways and glanced in the mirror, noticing the top edge of what looked like some lettering just under his belt. Stacker frowned and turned to look at the spot in the mirror, a growing sense of dread building in his chest. He took his pants off.
‘Hot Dads Club,’ it read in flourishing script, right over his left butt cheek. Stacker touched it and it smudged a bit, so at least he knew he hadn’t been that stupid.
“That better be mine.” Stacker reached for the mug in Herc’s hand.
Herc was (fortunately) now fully clothed as he stood in front of the open window. “Christ, you’re a bear in the morning.”
“You’re not exactly sunshine and daisies either.” Stacker took a sip of his coffee, really not caring how terrible it clearly was as long as it stayed nice and hot until he was finished. He stared out silently at the parking lot for a full minute before grunting, “The fuck happened last night?”
“Well…” Herc stopped and scratched his chin thoughtfully. “I’m hazy on the details, but I remember rum.”
Stacker sighed into his coffee. “Did you write ‘Hot Dads Club’ on my ass?”
“Nah, that was the stripper. I got one too, see?” Herc flashed the top of his smeared temporary tattoo and grinned. “She was a firecracker, that one.”
A fragment of a memory surfaced in Stacker’s brain. Flashy lights, bad booze, women and men in glittery thongs, and a black Sharpie pen getting passed around. There were a few others too—some old air force buddies that were still clinging to life and most of their limbs. At some point they must have left and checked into this motel. Stacker groaned, “We’ve got to stop meeting like this.”
Herc gave him a pointed look over the top of his mug. “I’d never see you at all if we stopped. There’s a fucking ocean in the way, the only time I get you over here is when you want to give me some damn useless medal, seems like.”
“I’m not going to waste PPDC resources on a booty call,” Stacker grumbled.
“Right, Mr. Responsible.” Herc chuckled and patted him on the arm. “I’m going to take a shower now if you didn’t use up all the hot water. Join me if you want.”
Stacker did not, and instead settled in one of the chairs by the window, looking out into the parking lot. A sad and dusty looking Christmas tree blinked unevenly through the window of the motel office across the lot. He wondered where the car he borrowed had ended up. He drove into Sydney from the Shatterdome; naturally, he never intended to get blackout drunk at a strip club.
Stacker thought he should call Mako to tell her he was fine and how he hoped she hadn’t waited up, but he checked his phone and was mortified to find six missed calls and a sappy text message about going to the ‘peach’ tomorrow (he supposed that meant beach, damn autocorrect) he didn’t remember sending. Mako probably thought he had gone mad, which perhaps wouldn’t have been far off the mark, at least temporarily.
There were two voicemails, one from Tendo about something inane and one from Mako, sounding worried as she reminded him to take his medications and listed the time and place for an awards ceremony. That was when Stacker fully remembered what had been bothering him in the shower. He was to present a handful of medals, which, after a cursory search of the small room, appeared to be missing. And they were supposed to be at the ceremony in…five minutes. He pounded on the bathroom door while dialing for a cab. “Where are they? Where are the fucking medals?”
Herc hastily opened the door and poked his head out, still soapy. “The what?”
“The medals! I had four medals to hand out today, didn’t I?” Stacker as a rule didn’t panic, but he couldn’t deny that this was a royal fuck up. “Did I leave them in the car?”
“In the club?” Stacker sighed and started looking up the phone number.
“Well….” Herc’s eyes rounded and he looked slightly anxious about continuing.
Stacker stopped and stared at him. “…What.”
“…We might have given them to the strippers…for ‘excellent services to soldiers in need’…”
Stacker continued staring, unable to yet wrap his head around the concept of that level of drunkenness. “We might have.”
“And by ‘we’ I actually mean just me.”
“Please tell me you’re joking.” Stacker replied, tone flat.
“Really wish I could.” Herc shook his head and looked apologetic. “You were into it at the time, if that makes any difference.”
Stacker didn’t know how he was going to show up at the ceremony with his dignity intact. “That’s it, I’m dead.”
Herc was grinning at him in such a way that Stacker seriously considered punching him right in the nose. “Ehh, who wants to live forever anyway? Not the worst way to go out, if you ask me. At least we had one last good night.”