- First Time
- Science Fiction
– – – –
Hicks ran his fingers over the cobbled together faceplate he’d welded into place over a standard field helmet. He wished Bishop was awake so he could ask questions about the egg form of the xenomorph—specifically the strength. He tucked a rebreather into his mouth then pulled the helmet on before closing the battle armor over his chest and up his throat. He checked his weapon and glanced toward Ripley who was leaning against the wall next to the doors leading into the docking bay.
“Are you sure this is necessary?” she asked.
He could only nod. There were too many loopholes in Echo’s programming and the report he planned to write on that would probably cause of tidal wave of consequences not all of which would be in his favor. There were probably people in the USMC who knew exactly how long the Company’s reach was into the Corps and they wouldn’t like what he had to say about it but he was beyond caring about it. The Company was going to pay for what happened on LV-426 and the loss of his entire squad.
Hicks tethered the rifle to the front of his armor and let it dangle as he pulled on gloves.
“Echo, location on Newt?” Ripley questioned.
“The priority passenger is currently seated at a table in the mess having breakfast. She has not moved from her place since you left her, Ripley.”
He gave her a nod and hit the manual release on the door, stepped inside and closed it behind him. He picked up the motion sensor hanging from his hip and moved forward slowly. The device remained clear but he knew he wasn’t going to be satisfied that the ship was egg-free until he’d checked for himself. He’d reviewed all of the security footage around the docking area and as far as he could tell Echo hadn’t altered the footage.
Though, he also knew if the AI had been instructed to hide evidence of tampering he might not even notice which was annoying but his tech skills weren’t the best. Hudson had handled most of that for the squad and Hicks had let his own skills fall away a bit as a result. It was something to work on, certainly, and if he played his cards right he’d have time to do that on Fort Bellengrad if his application for OTS went through. He snagged a hook from the wall and pulled up the grates covering the storage areas one by one then replaced them once he was satisfied they were empty.
He tried to ignore the scrapes and scratches carved into the floor from the battle Ripley had fought against the queen. There was acid damage and several of the grooves were so deep that parts of the ship’s infrastructure were exposed. With both drop ships gone, the docking bay was one big empty space—he found the emptiness a relief considering what had been there before.
He pulled off the helmet and activated his radio. “It’s clear.”
The door opened immediately and Ripley came in. She had the sack of chemicals they’d gathered from various places on the ship. Their current mission was to make every scrap of DNA the alien had left behind utterly useless in case the Company managed to get a sample. He wasn’t sure if they were all dead on LV-426 and he couldn’t control that but if the Company wanted to experiment on fucked up shit they were going to have work for it.
“Are you sure you won’t face some kind of reprimand for this?” Ellen questioned.
“I have no standing orders regarding the preservation of alien DNA,” Hicks said. “In fact, the only standing order I have from the USMC regarding hostile aliens is that they should be eliminated.”
– – – –
“Corporal Hicks, there is incoming transmission from Fort Bellengrad.”
“Video or text?”
He relaxed slightly as he shared a glance with Ripley who was across the room watching some entertainment video with Newt. A video transmission would’ve been sent before they even dropped down on LV-426. A text communication was likely something new due to size and transmission rates through the USMC’s system. “Transmission security?”
“Drop it on my tablet,” he ordered. “And confirm delivery. Anything from Weyland-Yutani Incorporated?”
“Not since I deflected the data request sixteen hours ago,” Echo reported. “Based on experience, I expect to get another request within the next hour. The nearest Company-owned ship is sixteen days from our current location and that distance grows with each hour as it is in a stationary orbit around LV-742.”
Hicks frowned but nodded as he picked up his tablet.
FM GENERAL FOSTER, FORT BELLENGRAD
TO SENIOR CORPORAL HICKS
REMAIN ON COURSE FOR FORT BELLENGRAD. CONTINUE TO IGNORE ALL COMMUNICATIONS FROM WEYLAND-YUTANI INCORPORATED. EXPECT ESCORT FROM USS SEPHORA UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF LT. REID WITHIN FOURTEEN HOURS.
CONSCRIPTION OF RIPLEY, ELLEN LOUISE ACCEPTED. COMMAND APPRECIATES ANY OPPORTUNITY TO GAIN TALENT FOR OUR MISSION. NOTIFY RIPLEY, ELLEN THAT SHE WILL BE GIVEN FOURTEEN STANDARD DAYS TO REPORT TO TRAINING ON FORT BELLENGRAD AFTER ARRIVAL.
CONFIRMATION OF PARENTAL CUSTODY OF THE PRIORITY PASSENGER, JORDEN, REBECCA, GRANTED TO RIPLEY, ELLEN PENDING CONFIRMATION OF NO NEXT-OF-KIN.
Ellen sat down across from him and he passed the tablet to her.
“Talent?” she questioned.
“He’s honestly probably giddy to get one over on the Company. Foster hates Weyland-Yutani for a variety for reason but most of all because he blames them for the death of his first wife,” Hicks explained. “She was a pilot for a mining ship—it suffered some sort of technological failure and exploded.”
She grimaced. “The Company will run a mining ship until it’s operating on pure strength of will which is dangerous and stupid but they don’t value life in any sort in any fashion. Foster’s hatred for the Company is why you have faith we’ll be safe on Fort Bellengrad.”
“It certainly played a part,” Hicks agreed. “Fort Bellengrad is the only planet in this sector where the Company doesn’t have a presence. They’ve never been granted permission to set foot on the planet much less use the orbital stations. It’s a government world, colonized by the Marines. The whole planet is classified as a military installation. It’s our home out here.” He paused. “I hope it will be yours.”
She flashed him a quick smile. “I’ll start working through the material you’ve given me so I’ll be ready to start training when required.” Her gaze dropped down to the tablet. “Does he really have the power to grant me custody of Newt?”
“He’s the final authority on Fort Bellengrad and acts as a judge in the event of legal matters unless it involves a civilian. You’re enlistment was accepted so he has the authority work on your behalf and the government on Earth will accept his decisions. Newt is currently a priority passenger—the moment she stops being a passenger on this ship she will become your dependent—a military dependent and the Company won’t have any sort of claim on her no matter what they might think or want.”
Her mouth tightened. “I want to destroy them.”
“I’ll certainly help you,” Hicks murmured and glanced across the room where Newt was sprawled on a bench holding the tablet. “What is she watching?”
“I honestly have no clue,” Ellen admitted. “Children’s entertainment has changed a lot since…well since my own little girl was that small.” She set aside his tablet. “I’ll have to get her accessed for education. She was in the second grade, I think, but I don’t know what that really means for her when it comes to skills. Company colonies don’t have a set of standards they all have to follow. They don’t even require that teachers be certified to teach. It’s one reason why I left Amanda on Earth so I could control the quality of her education.”
“Is she…” Hicks took a deep breath. “Do you know anything about your daughter?”
“Burke told me she died of cancer,” Ripley said flatly and looked away from him. “I don’t know if I can trust that.”
“We’ll find out. It might be hard if she never left Earth but…I have a lot of friends I can reach out to get information even if the Company thinks we shouldn’t have it.”
“What did you put in your communication to Forester to make him eager for my recruitment?” Ellen questioned.
“Your original mission report from the Company and footage of you kicking that alien bitch’s ass in the docking bay,” he said and grinned when her eyes went wide. “I didn’t classify the communication—it’s probably the most watched video in the sector by now.”
“Why would you…” Ellen inclined her head. “You wanted to make sure the Company couldn’t cover it up. You used the public communication network to transmit?”
“A mixture of public, private, and military to get the information to Bellengrad as quickly as possible,” he explained. “Since I lost my whole team no one is going to give me flak for it.”
“There are people in the Company that will probably actively seek to murder you for that,” she muttered and rubbed her face with both hands.
“I wish they’d head my way,” Dwayne said and glanced toward Newt. “I owe them—and not just for my team. And I’m going to make them pay in every single way I can for the rest of my life. They’re really going to fucking regret everything that happened on LV-426 one way or another.”
The girl looked up at that moment and focused on them. She offered him a little a salute and Dwayne couldn’t help but laugh. He put a hand on Ellen’s arm and leaned forward. “I really look forward seeing the woman she becomes—the fact that she’ll get to grow up at all comes down to you. Don’t forget that.”
– – – –
“This is the USS Sephora under the command of Captain Jeremy Cruz. Corporal Hicks, we’ve fallen into an escort position off your starboard bow. Do you or your passengers require supplies or any advanced medical treatment?”
Hicks reviewed all the data from the transponder that Echo had picked up before he activated communication. “I’m grateful for the escort, Captain Cruz. The Sulaco is locked down under classified operations with a priority passenger as such I cannot allow you to dock with her. My shipboard AI is tracking a civilian owned transport ship on course for our location at top speed. The vessel appears to be on course to intercept the Sulaco just two days before we arrive at Bellengrad.”
“I’ve already sent that ship a message letting them know that their pursuit of the ship owned by the USMC is in violation of sector regulations. If they stay on course, I’ll drop behind you and destroy them.”
Hicks activated the screen and a man in uniform filled it. He didn’t know Cruz personally but he recognized the man’s face. He relaxed slightly in his chair. “Sir, be advised that ship is probably full of private military contractors controlled by Weyland-Yutani Incorporated. They want both of my passengers.”
Cruz took a tablet from one just off the screen. “ Your passengers are Ripley, Ellen L—enlisted USMC and due to report for training in twenty-two days on Fort Bellengrad and her minor dependent. The way I see it, Corporal Hicks, the Company doesn’t have a single damn reason to express any sort of interest in your passengers and that’s exactly what I’ll tell them.” He sit back and lit a cigarette. “Relax, son. Take care of you and yours—we got this. I’ve a hundred Marines on this ship that would adore an opportunity to make the Company regret all of their choices.” He pointed at the screen with his cigarette. “Apone trained me up—like he trained you. Sent me on my way when it was time just like he planned with you, Hicks. One day soon, we’re going to sit down have a real long talk about LV-426 and Jefferson Apone.”
– – – –
One Year later
Hicks shouldered his backpack as he handed a tablet back to the woman who manned the front desk of the education center. It was rare that he ended up with the task of picking Newt up from school. Ellen Ripley was frankly all-in on the parenthood front and didn’t delegate much to him and that hadn’t changed even after he’d managed to get her to share living space with him.
The doors on his left slid open and Newt darted out. Her uniform jumpsuit had a smear of paint down the front and there was a dot of neon green paint on her nose. He grinned. “Art appreciation?”
She laughed and snagged his hand. “We’re painting a big picture for General Foster’s office.” Her backpack slid off her shoulder as she bounced so he grabbed the bright yellow faux-fur covered thing that the girl was especially proud of and slid it on his own shoulder. “Where’s mom?”
“She managed to get a slot in the flight simulator this afternoon,” Dwayne explained. “We’ll meet her for dinner in about an hour. Homework?”
“Nope,” she exclaimed and wiggled her eyebrows. “Promise. Can we go home and change my clothes first?”
“Absolutely,” he promised as he guided her toward the transport train that would take them across the city to their apartment. “No need for us both to get a lecture.”
Once on the train, he tucked them both onto a bench seat and glanced around. The car was full of mostly civilians, not a surprise for the area. Newt pressed against him suddenly.
“Is that our Bishop?”
Hicks winced and glanced in the direction that she was staring. There was a Bishop unit seated between two children in jumpsuits just like hers. “No, not ours.”
The Company had tried several times to petition the Corps for access to the Bishop unit that had survived their mission and as a result, the USMC had kept him in cyro-stasis for security purposes. Ellen had been the most vocal on the subject—on refusing the Weyland-Yutani access to the unit and she’d been adamant about his repair when many had suggested just outright destruction. It was an ongoing situation and he figured the end result would be whatever Ellen Ripley wanted—it was just honestly easier not to argue with a woman who’d earned the call sign Brawler before she’d ever put on a USMC uniform.
Newt sighed and her fingers clenched on his wrist. “Will we ever get him back?”
“I have no doubts your mom will get her way,” he said and grinned when she laughed.
The train came to a stop and he gathered up their things then offered her a hand. The station near their apartment was always busy, crowded, and loud. Newt didn’t handle crowds well and maybe never would. The psychologist that Ellen bribed the girl into visiting once a month said she’d recovered from her ordeal better than expected. Hicks figured she’d done better than most adults he knew would’ve. It took a special kind of survivor to last as long as Newt had on LV-426. He figured she might have actually lasted long enough to starve to death if they hadn’t come along and that was no comfort at all.
He wasn’t an unknown on Fort Bellengrad like he’d once been and Dwayne wasn’t sure how he felt about it. There was no changing it, really, so he just let the looks and the whispers roll off of him. That trip had been in the nail in the Sulaco’s coffin so to speak. The ship had a history and a reputation for being bad luck. It had spent exactly two days in orbit before Foster had ordered it decomissioned and salvaged for parts. The on board AI had been confiscated by military intelligence and thoroughly interrogated for Company interference.
The ripples of that and his own report regarding the Company’s actions regarding Hadley’s Hope had caused a lot of issues for the top brass running Weyland-Yutani. He wouldn’t be surprised at all to hear that there was a price on his head in private circles due to the enemies he made in that situation and he didn’t care. He was just getting started.
Newt pressed closer to his side as they entered an elevator and headed up to their home. Ripley had used the social capital she had to burn to secure the best possible lodgings for her and Newt. Six months of dedicated attention on his part had led to an invitation to join them. More than one individual in psych services had spoken to him about trauma bonds and the like. He wondered if Ellen had endured those conversations as well. He really didn’t care how they bonded as a family. He loved them and he wasn’t going to part with either of them given a choice and he had enough privately owned ordnance to gguarantee he most certainly had a choice.
He released Newt’s hand as they exited the elevator and offered the security guard a little wave as he passed through the sensor just after the girl. The door was responding to Newt’s hand print just as he turned the corner of their hallway.
Hicks managed to snag the orange monstrosity as it tried to bolt past him and the cat made a little huffing sound as he tucked him under an arm and entered the apartment. “You got nowhere to go, old man, I don’t know why you bother.”
Jones howled vehemently in response then acted like dead weight as Newt took him.
The cat had only been with them a few weeks. Ripley had left him in a cryo-stasis facility on the station she’d been dropped on by the Company after her retrieval. The Company had in turn tried to use the animal as a bargaining chip to gain access to all three of them for a conversation. Ellen had responded by giving a full report on the entire clusterfuck starting with the death of each member of her first crew and working her way through the last of his—Vasquez and Gorman. She’d broadcast the report in every single direction she could from Fort Bellengrad. Several hundred lawsuits were pending against the company from descendants of the original crew and family members of the lost colonists.
General Foster had taken himself off on vacation six months after they’d arrived at Fort Bellengrad and returned with Ripley’s cat. No one had asked any questions and Newt had declared the older man her favorite adult because she’d always wanted a cat. Unfortunately, for the kid, Jones was a jealous little asshole and wasn’t all that interested in sharing Ellen Ripley with her or Dwayne. He didn’t even have an accurate count as to how often he’d been woken up by that animal digging its claws into his chest.
He dropped Newt’s backpack on the couch and tucked his own into the closet near the door before going into the master bath to take a quick shower. Battle simulations didn’t deal with live ammo but they took a serious toll on the body. Moreover, none of his instructors really gave him a break on any front. But then he’d been told from the start that he’d already survived the worst thing the universe could throw at him so they felt compelled to keep him up to that standard. Dwayne was pretty sure that made them bastards.
Newt was seated on the couch trying to make Jones like her by the time he was dressed and ready to go. She sighed dramatically when the cat darted away from her and focused on him. “I need a new plan, D.”
He grinned. “Food, shelter, and affection as the choice options for manipulation.”
“Ha! I’m going to start feeding him all of his meals,” she decided and flounced off the couch to grab her jacket.
Twenty minutes later, they were in a booth in a diner not far from the flight school Ripley was currently enrolled at. She’d breezed through basic training and taken the offer for OTS thereafter. Now, she working to get certified as a pilot which was no small feat in the Corps because she had to qualify across multiple platforms and ships. Still, he really didn’t think the course work was too much of an issue for her.
“Where’s mommy?” Newt questioned as she fiddled with the menu screen.
“She should be on her way.” He glanced over the diner and hummed under his breath as Ellen walked in the door. “See.”
“You like her a lot,” Newt said and smiled when he looked her way. “You look at her like she’s special. It’s nice.”
He flicked her nose. “You’re both special.”
Ellen slid into the booth and shrugged out of her coat. “Running late, sorry.” She ran her fingers through her hair and took a deep breath. “I passed my final flight test.”
Hicks relaxed on the bench and watched Newt crawl into Ripley’s lap for celebratory hug. Their eyes met and he saw nothing but determination there. Weyland-Yutani Incorporated had hell coming there way and they didn’t even know it.
He could hardly wait to get started.