When the Nostromo landed on planet LV-426 in Ridley Scott's Alien, the only sign of life was one of the universe's most dangerous creatures, and as fans of the films know, a failed colonization on the planet took place after Dallas and his crew paid it a visit. Christopher Golden explores how that society was overrun in Alien: River of Pain, and Titan Books has given us an excerpt to share with Daily Dead readers.
"Concluding the all-new, official trilogy set in the Alien Universe!
A new adventure featuring the Colonial Marines and leading directly into the second movie, Aliens.
The massively acclaimed Alien franchise is one of the most successful of all time, beginning with the first film in 1979. When Ellen Ripley finally returned to Earth, she learned that the planet LV-426--the planet from Alien--has been colonized. This novel will reveal for the first time the fate of the colonists, of the Colonial Marines who accompanied them, and how there came to be one survivor: the girl known as Newt."
Alien: River of Pain
by Christopher Golden
DATE: 15 MARCH, 2173
Russ Jorden stared at the beads of sweat on his wife’s forehead and felt a tightening in his heart. She squeezed his hand so hard he felt the bones grind together, and he could see that she was holding her breath, her face scrunched into a mask of fury and pain.
“Breathe, Anne,” he pleaded. “Come on, honey, breathe.”
Anne gasped and her whole body relaxed a moment before she pursed her lips and began to blow out long drafts of air. Her face had been pale for hours, but now she looked almost gray and the circles beneath her eyes were bruise-blue. She let her head loll to one side and her eyes pleaded with him to do something, though they both knew the best he could do was be at her side and keep loving her.
“Why won’t she just get here?” Anne asked.
“She’s all cozy in there,” Russ replied. “It’s warm and she can hear your heartbeat. It’s a big, scary universe out here.” Anne glanced down at her enormous belly, which had shifted dramatically lower in the past few hours. She frowned, her forehead etched with stern lines.
“Come on out, baby girl. If you’re gonna be a part of this family, you’ve got to be courageous, and a little bit crazy.”
Russ laughed softly, but he couldn’t give in to the humor of the words the way he normally would have. Anne had been in labor for seventeen hours, and for the past three, her cervix had been stuck at seven centimeters dilated and sixty percent effaced. Dr. Komiskey had given her drugs to jump-start the process, with a warning that forcing the uterus into action might amplify the usual pain of labor.
Anne gave a deep groan, and her breathing quickened. “Russell...”
“She’ll be here soon,” he vowed. “I promise.” Silently he added, C’mon, Rebecca. It’s time.
The nurse came into the room as Anne gritted her teeth and arched her back, her entire body going tense. Russ held his breath along with her—seeing Anne in pain made him want to scream. He glanced over in panic and frustration.
“Can’t you do anything for her, Joel?”
The nurse, slender and dark, gave a sympathetic shake of his head.
“I’ve told you, Russ. She wanted to go natural, the way she did with Tim. Now it’s too late to give her anything that would offer any significant relief. The painkillers she’s already taken are the best we can do without endangering the baby.”
Anne swore at him. Joel moved to the bedside and put a hand on her shoulder as she began to breathe again, easing down from another contraction.
“Dr. Komiskey will be here in a second to evaluate you again.”
Russ glared at him. “And if she hasn’t progressed?”
“I don’t want a cesarean!” Anne snapped between gasps.
Joel patted her shoulder.
“You know it’s perfectly safe. And if you’re worried about scarring—”
“Don’t be stupid. C-sections haven’t left a scar since my grandmother was born,” Anne said breathlessly.
“That’s what I’m saying,” the nurse replied. “For the sake of the baby—”
Stricken, Anne turned to stare at him.
“Joel, is there something wrong with the baby?”
“Not now,” Joel said. “Everything we’ve seen looks perfectly normal, and all blood and genetic tests show a healthy child. But there can be complications if... Look, this is really something Dr. Komiskey should be talking to you about.”
“Damn it, Joel, we’ve known you two years now,” Russ barked. “The colony’s not that big. If there’s something to worry about—”
“No. Just stop,” Joel said, holding up a hand. “If you were on your own, you’d have something to worry about. But you’re not alone. You’ve got the med-staff looking out for you and your baby, and the whole colony waiting for the little girl to show her face.”
Anne cried out and squeezed Russ’s hand again. He stared at his wife’s beautiful face, contorted with pain, and realized that one of the beads of moisture on her cheek wasn’t sweat at all, but a tear, and he knew they had let it go on too long.
“Get Komiskey in here,” Russ snapped.
“She’ll be here any—” Joel began.
“Okay, okay.” Joel rushed from the room, leaving the Jordens alone with their fear and hope and a baby who didn’t seem to want to meet them.
Worried silence fell between Russ and Anne.
Exhausted, she used the low ebbs between the agonizing crests of her contractions to breathe and rest and pray that when Dr. Komiskey returned, her cervix would be fully dilated so that she could push the baby out.
“I don’t understand,” she whispered tiredly. “Tim took four hours from first contraction to last. And my back... God, my back didn’t hurt like this. What’s wrong?”
Russ stared at the white smoothness of the monitors stationed above and beside the bed. If the baby went into distress, alarms would go off, but for the moment the monitors blinked green and blue and made no sound but a soft, almost musical hum. Beyond the monitors, quiet and dark, there stood a much larger machine, a huge unit with a mostly transparent hood.
If Komiskey had to surgically remove the baby, she would move Anne into that unit. It wasn’t scarring that frightened Anne, but the idea that she would no longer be treated by human hands. The natal surgery unit would perform the C-section essentially by itself, and the thought terrified both of the Jordens. Humans might make errors, but at least they cared about the outcome. Machines did not understand consequences, or the value of life.
“Did we make a mistake?” Anne rasped.
Russ pressed a cold, damp cloth against her forehead.
“Timmy was so easy,” he said. “We couldn’t have known it would be like this. Trying to deliver naturally made sense at the time.”
“Not that,” his wife said, one hand fluttering weakly upward, moving her fingers as if she could erase his reply. “I mean coming to Acheron. To Hadley’s Hope.”
Russ frowned. “We had no choice. There was no work at home. We were lucky to get the opportunity to work off-planet. You know—”
"I do,” she rasped, and then she began to stiffen, hissing breath through her teeth as another contraction came on. “But having children... here...”
The monitors flickered red, just for an instant, as Anne went rigid and roared in pain.
“That’s it!” Russ snapped. He jumped from his seat, knocking the chair over behind him, and turned toward the door, but Anne would not release her grip on his hand. He turned to plead with her and saw that the monitor lights were all back to green. No alarms had sounded.
He didn’t care. That one flicker had been enough.
As he drew a breath to shout the doctor’s name again, Dr. Theodora Komiskey came breezing through the door, a squat woman with blue eyes and a mass of brown curls. Joel followed dutifully in her wake.
“Let’s see how far we’ve come,” the doctor said, smiling and upbeat as ever.
“Halfway across the fucking universe,” Russ growled.
He despised the false cheer so many doctors wore like a mask, and wanted to scream the smile off Dr. Komiskey’s face, but that wouldn’t have done anything to help Anne or the baby. Instead, he could only stand there while the barrel-shaped woman pulled on a pair of medical gloves, perched on a stool, and reached up between Anne’s thighs, feeling around as if searching for something she’d lost.
“I can feel her head,” Dr. Komiskey said, concern in her voice. “And now I understand the trouble. The baby’s presenting in the posterior position—”
Russ felt his heart clench.
“What does that mean?”
Komiskey ignored him, addressing Anne instead. “She’s facing your abdomen, which means the back of her skull is putting pressure on your sacrum—your tailbone. The good news is that you’re fully dilated and effaced. Your baby is about to make her big debut as the adorable princess of Hadley’s Hope.”
Russ hung his head. “Thank God.”
“What’s...” Anne said, sucking in a breath. “What’s the bad news?”
“The bad news is that it’s gonna hurt like hell,” Komiskey said.
Anne shook with relief.
“I’m ready when you are, Theo. Let’s get the little newt out of there.”
Russ smiled. They’d been calling the baby that for months, imagining her growing from tiny speck to odd little newt to full-fledged fetus.
“All right, then,” Dr. Komiskey said. “When the next contraction hits, you’re going to—”
But Anne didn’t need to be told. She’d already given birth once. The contraction hit her and she shouted again, but this time her roar sounded less like a scream of pain and more like a battle cry.
Thirteen minutes later, Dr. Komiskey slipped Rebecca Jorden into her mother’s arms. Russ smiled so wide that his face hurt, his chest so full of love he thought it might burst. As Anne kissed the baby girl’s forehead, Russ touched her tiny hand and his infant daughter gripped his finger tightly, already strong.
“Hello, little newt,” Anne whispered to the baby, and kissed her again. “Better be careful or that nickname’s gonna stick.”
Russ laughed and Anne turned to smile at him. Newt, he thought. You’re a lucky little girl.
DATE: 2 APRIL, 2173
Russ hung his head. “Thank God.”
When the new recreational center at the Hadley’s Hope colony opened, nobody bothered with anything as formal or old-fashioned as a ribbon cutting. Al Simpson, the colony’s administrator, unlocked the door and swung it open, and the party began. The Finch brothers brought some of their homemade whiskey, Samantha Monet and her sister had decorated the facility, and Bronagh Flaherty, the cook, put out a selection of cakes and cookies that she had made for the occasion.
The star of the evening, however, was two-and-a-half- week-old Newt Jorden. Al Simpson stood in the corner of the main room and sipped at a mug of hot Irish coffee, watching the rest of the colonists take turns fussing over the baby girl.
Swaddled in a blanket, cradled in her mother’s arms, she was a beautiful little thing, no question about that. As a rule, Al had no fondness for babies. More often than not they were crying, crapping machines and looked like shriveled, hairless monkeys. Not little Newt, though. He’d barely heard a peep out of her since the party began, and she had big lovely peepers that made her seem like a curious old soul gazing out from within a ruddy, healthy baby face.
The Jordens’ boy, Tim, had been an infant himself when they first arrived on LV-426, but Newt was a reason for the whole colony to celebrate—the first baby actually born on Acheron. Al thought that if all of the colony’s future babies turned out like Newt, it wouldn’t be so bad having them around. But he had a feeling that Newt would be an exception, and that he wasn’t about to change his feelings toward newborns... or children in general, now that he thought about it.
“Cute kid,” a voice said beside him.
Al flinched, coffee sloshing out of his mug. He swore as it burned his fingers and quickly switched the mug from his right to left hand.
“Don’t sneak up on me like that,” he said as he shook the coffee droplets from his fingers, and then blew on them.
“Damn, Al, I’m sorry about that,” Greg Hansard said, wincing in sympathy.
Al shook his fingers again, but the pain had started to fade.
“Good thing I put a good dollop of Irish cream in there,” he said. “Cooled it down a bit.”
Hansard smiled. “Well, now, if you’re not badly burned you might just have to show me where you’re hiding that bottle.”
Al didn’t really want to share, but Hansard was the colony’s chief engineer, and always good company. He supposed he could spare a few ounces of his private stock.
“I might be persuaded,” he said, taking a long sip from his mug. Before he troubled himself to get Hansard a cup, he wanted to drink his own coffee while it was still hot. “You’re right, though. The Jorden kid is kind of adorable. I don’t know where she gets it, considering the parents.”
Hansard uttered a dry laugh.
“They are pretty scruffy.”
Al grinned, hiding the smile behind his cup as he glanced around. He had always been a man full of opinions, but the colonists were all stuck with each other and it would complicate relationships around Hadley’s Hope if the colonial administrator started talking shit about people behind their backs. On the other hand, it wasn’t Anne Jorden’s wild, unruly curls that irritated him, or the fact that Russ always looked as if he’d had too much to drink the night before.
“Wildcatters are pretty much always scruffy, aren’t they?” Al said quietly.
“They’re trouble, is what they are,” Hansard replied. He nodded toward the cluster of people still cooing and ahhing over the baby. Otto Finch had crouched down to talk to young Tim, the Jordens’ son, and had handed him some kind of furry doll. “Nice enough people, the Jordens. But I worry about the boy.”
Al frowned, turning to him. He didn’t like the sound of that.
“What do you mean?”
Hansard grimaced, brows knitted as if already regretting that he’d spoken.
“Greg, you brought it up,” Al said. “I’m the administrator. I can’t let it go. If you think there’s a problem—”
“Depends what you mean by ‘problem.’”
Al glanced over at the Jordens again. Father and mother looked tired, but they both were smiling happily, so proud of their little family. They were surveyors employed by the colony, but like half of the survey team, they moonlighted on the side as wildcatters— prospectors—searching sectors of the planetoid’s surface for mineral deposits, meteor crash sites, and other things of interest to the company. The colony’s Weyland-Yutani science team used prospectors to retrieve soil and mineral samples, and to map out sections of the planet. The excursions were often very dangerous.
“It’s not just that the lifestyle is crazy,” Hansard said thoughtfully. “Yeah, colonists are going to have kids. That’s the nature of what we’re doing here. But wildcatting is risky, and Anne and Russ don’t seem to recognize the dangers involved. Bad enough for most of them—who’s going to raise their kids if something goes wrong? And the Jordens... well, they take it a step further, don’t they? Just today, Russ took Tim out with him in the tractor, prospecting ten kilometers north.”
Al stared at him. “You’re sure of this?”
Hansard nodded. “I don’t want to start something. Not tonight, anyway. But the kid’s not safe out there. I’ve been in more of the damn atmo-storms than anyone, and if the tractor gets stuck...”
Al held up a hand.
“I’m with you, but there’s no rule against it. I’ve mentioned it to several of the prospectors before, but they look at it the same way farmers do—it’s a family business, and if they take their kids out into the fields, they’re just teaching them for the future, giving them a sense of proprietorship.”
“I didn’t say I agreed with them.” Al scratched the back of his neck, suddenly feeling tired. “I blame Weyland- Yutani, if you want to know the truth.”
Hansard arched an eyebrow.
“Dangerous opinion, Al. Talk like that can cost your job.”
“We’re floating on a desolate rock where they’re trying to seed a little civilization. I don’t think they’re gonna care what I say as long as I do my job. And since when are you so in love with the company?”
“I’m not,” Hansard admitted. “But I’m well paid, and when I leave here—when all the work is finally done— I’m hoping to get an easier assignment. Hell, since my first day on Acheron I’ve been wondering who I pissed off to end up here.”
“Maybe they just had faith in you. Obviously not an easy job, trying to make this place livable.” Al sipped his mug again, letting the coffee warm him and the alcohol loosen him up. No matter how high they set the heat inside the colony buildings, he still felt cold. Just too damn far from the sun, he thought.
He lowered his voice and glanced around to make sure he wasn’t overheard.
“My point is that they tend to recruit daredevils and dimwits as colonists, not to mention people who are looking for a new start because they’ve burned all their bridges back home.”
“You like the Jordens, though,” Hansard said.
Al shrugged. “I like ’em fine, but they’re too cavalier, too desperate to earn bonuses. The science team uses wildcatters because they’re willing to take risks. I just worry they’re going to put us all at risk one of these days. We’ve got a lot of years to go before this colony is fully established and populated. A decade or more. With that kind of time, anything could go wrong.”
He looked over at Anne Jorden, who cradled her new baby close, kissing her soft cheeks and whispering love into her ears. Russ had knelt down beside young Tim, who pouted with his arms defiantly crossed, apparently upset over something to do with the baby.
“Mark my words,” Al said, “if we ever have any serious trouble on this dirtball, it’s gonna be because of people like them.”
DATE: 16 MAY, 2179
For the first time in Jernigan’s career, it looked like he’d claim salvage on a ship he hadn’t even been looking for. He stood in the airlock that led into the retrieval bay and suited up, watching his two companions and wondering what they were thinking.
Not that it was hard to imagine what Landers would be thinking. The greedy bastard would just be eager to see what goodies the drifting vessel might contain. Fleet, though... he was an enigma. Jernigan had spent three years and four expeditions trying to figure him out. Landers laughed and said he should give up, that Fleet was almost an alien species. But Jernigan wasn’t a quitter.
“Target ship gathered,” a buzzing voice said in his earpiece. Moore, up on the flight deck. He was their eyes and ears right now, and Jernigan was comfortable with that.
“Any indication of its origins?” Jernigan asked.
“Negative. No beacons, no transmission, no signs of life. I’ve hailed another dozen times since you guys went to suit up. Nothing. No auto-response from on- board computers, no sign that it’s even picking up my transmissions. Quiet as the grave.”
“So what do you think?” Landers asked. “Some old military shuttle?”
“Not military,” Moore said, and Jernigan saw Landers’ disappointment in the way he slumped. Anything military wasn’t legally salvage, but way out here there was no one to police what they stripped out, packaged up, and sold to the highest bidder. Usually they went for ships or orbiting stations that they knew had been damaged or abandoned. The information was sent by the company who owned the wreck, or sometimes by private contacts who knew who to speak to, and how much a good salvage could net.
There was often dubious information passed on from shady sources, and several times he’d found himself boarding vessels that showed signs of forced abandonment or criminal activity. Once he’d found the remains of a firefight.
Deep-salvage had never been the most respectable of professions, but Jernigan really didn’t give a shit what people thought. He had his own moral code, and he was quite proud to do a job that most people wouldn’t.
Sometimes they’d reach a target vessel and find survivors on board. That changed everything. They still charged the company the cost of time and transport, but there was never a cut of anything larger. Even Landers had never raised any objection when they pulled back from stripping or towing in a ship that still had a living crew member or passenger.
Not quite respectable, never quite criminal.
“Not military,” Jernigan said. “But no indication where it comes from? No ship’s signature attached?”
“No, but it is old,” Moore said. “Don’t think I’ve seen anything like it outside of history holos.” He paused, then added, “Right, just docking and pressurizing. Hold onto your nuts.”
A soft vibration passed through the ship, and when Jernigan looked through the viewing port he saw moisture condense rapidly on the other side, turning quickly to ice. He made sure his suit’s climate control systems were set to a comfortable level, then waited for all of the lights to turn green.
Landers and Fleet were experienced salvage workers, and Jernigan had no hesitation about working with either of them. They’d boarded at least twenty vessels and stations together, and seen each other through a few hairy moments. This one would go like clockwork.
He was sure of it.
As always, he felt the seed of excitement. One day, he was certain, they’d find something amazing.
When the lights were green, the three men left the airlock and entered the hold. Fleet fired up the remote cutting robot, trundling it across to the ship using a handheld control unit and igniting its cutting laser. He glanced at Landers, who’d taken position at a small panel close to where the salvaged ship had been gripped tight by a network of grappling arms.
Landers did one more quick check across all systems, then nodded.
“Clean as a virgin’s pussy,” he said. “Nothing in there to cause worry.”
“And what would you know about virgins’ pussies?” Fleet asked.
“Ask your sister,” Landers said. Fleet didn’t answer, or give any indication that he’d even heard. He steered the cutting robot toward the ship, used a scanner to measure the door and plan a cut. Then he hit deploy.
It took the laser a minute to cut through. Jernigan swayed slightly from foot to foot.
Weird-looking ship, he thought. Old shuttle, maybe. Not a lifeboat. There was evidence of damage around the door’s exterior—scrapes and scratches, and a blast-scar close to the engines. Like everything they found and salvaged, this vessel had a story to tell.
The door fell inward with a heavy clang. Fleet withdrew the cutter and sent in a scanner. None of them expected that they’d find anything surprising, but they all knew the rules. Better safe than sorry.
The scanner did its work.
“Anything?” Jernigan asked.
“Looks like a hypersleep capsule,” Fleet said.
“Oh, man,” Landers said. “Anyone alive in there?” Jernigan hated the hint of disappointment in his colleague’s voice.
“Can’t tell,” Fleet said. “Let’s check it out.”
The scanner withdrew and Jernigan went first, the other two following him in. There was a space suit splayed over the flight chair, and what looked like some sort of grappling gun dropped on the controls. The single hypersleep pod was coated in a layer of frost.
Jernigan brushed his hand across the curved canopy, revealing the striking woman inside. Hunkered down next to her was a cat. Holy cow. He hadn’t seen a cat since he was a kid.
“Bio readouts are all in the green—looks like she’s alive,” he said. He slipped off his helmet and sighed. “Well, there goes our salvage, guys.”
And that’s a face with a story to tell, for sure, he thought.
DATE: 10 JUNE, 2179
The hum of the dropship turned into a metallic groan as it hit the atmosphere of LV-426. Capt. Demian Brackett kept his boots flat on the floor and held onto the safety rig that kept him locked into his seat. The vessel slewed wickedly from side to side for several seconds before straightening out, and then it bounced like a speedboat skipping across high seas.
Alarms began to sound, red lights blinking all over the cockpit up front.
“What’ve we hit?” he shouted to the pilot.
The woman didn’t turn around, too focused on keeping them on course.
“Just the atmosphere,” she replied. “Acheron’s never smooth sailing.” She slapped a couple of buttons and the alarms died, though the lights continued to blink in distress.
Brackett gritted his teeth as the dropship filled with the noise of atmospheric debris plunking and scraping the hull. There seemed to be a lot of it.
“Am I missing something?” he called, raising his voice to be heard over the noise of the debris peppering the ship. “Haven’t they been terraforming this planet for fifteen years?”
“More,” the pilot shouted. “You should’ve seen what it was like trying to land here ten years ago, when I first got here.”
No, thanks, Brackett thought. He had a stomach like iron, but even he had begun to feel queasy. His jaw hurt from clenching his teeth. Gonna scramble my brains, he thought, as the whole dropship shook violently around him.
For a moment the barrage ceased. He started to relax, and then the ship plummeted abruptly, as if their controlled freefall had just become a suicide run. Cursing silently, he braced himself and twisted around to try to see through the cockpit to the outside.
“I’d rather not die on the first day of my command,” he called. “Y’know, if it’s no trouble for you.”
The pilot glanced back at him, a scowl on her face.
“Take a breath, Captain. Seven crashes, and I’ve never had a passenger die on me.”
They hit another air pocket and the drop threw him forward a second before the atmosphere thickened again, jerking him back so hard he slammed his head against the hull of the ship.
Son of a—
“Here you go, handsome,” the pilot announced. The retro-rockets kicked in, lofted them up a dozen feet, and then began to lower them slowly. She guided the dropship gingerly forward and descended until it settled gently to the ground.
A hydraulic hiss came from the ship, as if it were exhaling right along with him, and Brackett released the catch on his restraints. The emergency lights shut down and the cabin brightened into a blue-white glow.
“Safe and sound, just like I promised,” the pilot said. She disengaged the door locks and stood up from her seat, a mischievous smile on her face. For the first time, Brackett noticed her curves, and the way she looked at him.
“As good as your word,” he said. “Yet I just now realized that I don’t even know your name.”
“Tressa,” she said, holding out her hand. “At your service.”
“Demian Brackett,” he said as they shook.
She stepped over to the starboard door and entered a code into a control pad. The door hissed open, and a short ramp slid out with a rattle, clunking onto the planetary surface.
“So what crime did you commit to get stuck out here at the ass-end of the universe?” Tressa asked.
Brackett smiled. “I’m a good marine,” he said. “I go where I’m told.”
The wind began to howl, blowing a scouring dust into the ship. He took a look outside and his smile faded. Acheron was a world of black and gray, save for the growing colony whose buildings were mere silhouettes in the obscuring storm. After several seconds the wind died down again, giving him a better view, but there wasn’t much more to see. Box structures, a glassoid greenhouse hemisphere, and in the distance the towering, ominous, hundred-and- fifty-foot high atmosphere processor, belching oxygen into the air.
“Home sweet home.”
“Yeah,” Tressa said, “you’re not gonna get a lot of beach days. How long are you stationed here?”
Brackett picked up the duffel filled with his gear and slung it over his shoulder.
“Until they reassign me.”
She tilted her head and cocked her hip and he flattered himself into thinking he saw regret in her eyes.
“Well, I hope we meet again, Captain Brackett. Somewhere far from Acheron.”
There was somebody in the room with Ellen Ripley. She kept her eyes closed. The smell of disinfectant filled the air, and she heard the comforting sound of medical machines. The sensation of sheets against her skin and a mattress beneath her back was luxurious.
None of it prevented her from feeling like shit.
She felt no danger from the presence, no threat, and yet in her memory there was a deep, heavy weight of darkness striving to break through. It was a solid mass somewhere within her, and its gravity was relentless.
I’m so tired, she thought. But as she opened her eyes at last, she knew that she was lucky to be alive. A nurse bustled around her, checking readouts, fine-tuning the equipment, taking notes. As she watched the woman going about her work, Ripley caught sight of a window that had never been open before. It offered a wide, uninterrupted view out into space, the complex arms and habitation pods of a space station she did not recognize... and the surface of the planet below.
A planet she recognized as home.
Something warm flushed through her, spreading from her core and touching her cheeks. Happiness, and hope. She’d made it. She had survived the Nostromo, defeated the beast, and made it back home. She’d be seeing Amanda again soon.
Yet something was far from right. She felt sick in the pit of her stomach, and not just as a result of being clumsily pulled out of hypersleep. That darkness in her memory was pregnant with terror, bulging with nightmares waiting to be birthed. It lured her in. She thought of Dallas, Kane and the others, and the terrible fate that had befallen them, and in her mind their faces were old and sad, like faded photographs found at the bottom of an old suitcase.
She thought of the bastard Ash, and he seemed not so distant.
There was something else, too. Something... closer.
“How are we today?” the nurse asked.
Ripley tried to speak, but her tongue felt swollen and dry. She smacked her lips together.
“Terrible,” she croaked.
“Well, better than yesterday, at least,” the nurse said. She sounded so chirpy and upbeat, but there was something impersonal about her voice, too. As if she wanted to keep one step removed from her patient.
“Where am I?” Ripley asked.
“You’re safe. You’re at Gateway Station, been here a couple of days.” She helped Ripley sit up and rearranged the pillows behind her. “You were pretty groggy at first, but now you’re okay.”
This is wrong, Ripley thought. Gateway Station? She’d never heard of it. She’d been away for a while, true, but unless this place was top secret, even military, she’d have known about it.
“Looks like you’ve got a visitor,” the nurse said. Ripley turned around, and when the door opened it wasn’t the man she saw, but the cat he carried.
“Jonesy!” she said, and her smile felt good. “Hey, come here.” She reached out for the cat and the man brought him forward. “Where were you, you stupid cat? How are you? Where have you been?”
The guy sat as she made a fuss. She knew how foolish it looked and sounded, her talking to a cat. But it was Jonesy. Her link to the past, the Nostromo, and—
That darkness inside, luring her in with its dreadful gravity. Maybe she just needed to puke.
“Guess you two have met, huh?”
Ripley looked at the man for the first time, and took an instant dislike to him. What he said next did nothing to dilute that.
“I’m Burke, Carter Burke. I work for the Company.” He paused, then added, “But don’t let that fool you, I’m really an okay guy.”
Okay? Ripley thought. Yeah, right. Smooth, shifty, slick, won’t meet my eyes. Dammit, I still feel like shit. She wanted him to go away, to leave her with Jonesy and her pains, and that thing inside—the memory, that terrible threat—which she had yet to understand.
But he was Company, which meant that he was here for a reason.
“I’m glad to see you’re feeling a little better,” he smarmed. “They tell me that all the weakness and disorientation should pass soon. It’s just natural side effects of an unusually long hypersleep.” He shrugged. “Something like that.”
And there it is, Ripley thought. The beginning of the truth. Nothing can turn out fine. I’m not that lucky.
“What do you mean?” she asked. “How long was I out there?”
Burke’s slickness melted away, and he suddenly seemed uncomfortable. She preferred him smarmy.
“Has no one discussed this with you yet?” he asked.
“No,” Ripley said. “But, I mean...” She looked from the window again. “I don’t recognize this place.”
“I know,” Burke said. “Ahh... okay. It’s just that this might be a shock to you.”
How long? Ripley thought, and Amanda stared at her from memory.
“It’s longer than—” he began.
“How long?” she demanded. Amanda, in her mind’s eye, was crying. “Please.”
“Fifty-seven years,” he said.
No. No, no way, that’s not possible, that’s not— But in her memory her crew were faded figures, whispers on the tip of her tongue. Ash, though. He was almost still there.
That’s the thing, you were out there for fifty-seven years. What happened was, you had drifted right through the core systems, and it’s really just... blind luck that a deep-salvage team found you when they did.”
Ripley’s heart beat faster.
Amanda turned away from her, fading, becoming a shadow of a memory just like her old crew.
No! Ripley thought. Amanda! I came through so much to get back to you and—
What had she gone through? That weight within her pulsed, almost playful with the promise of sickening, shattering revelation.
“It was one in a thousand, really,” Burke said, but his voice was becoming more distant, less relevant. “You’re damn lucky to be alive, kiddo.”
Kiddo. She’d called Amanda “kiddo.” She tried now, but her voice would not work, and her little girl was lost to her.
“You could have been floating around out there forever...” His words faded to nothing, all meaning stolen by what was happening inside her. That weight she carried, beginning to reveal itself at last.
Ripley tried to catch her breath. Jonesy hissed at her. Cats saw everything.
But when the unbearable weight broke open at last, it wasn’t a memory at all.
It was one of them.
She felt it inside her, invading, squirming inside her ribcage as it prepared to be born in sick, evil mockery of the daughter she had lost. She flipped back on the bed in agony, thrashing her arms. Burke tried to hold her down, shouting for help. She knocked a glass from his hand and heard it shattering on the floor. Her drip stand fell, ripping a needle from her arm.
Others rushed into the room. They didn’t know what was wrong and there was no way she could tell them, no way to explain, other than to plead with them to help.
“Please!” she said. “Kill me!”
It pushed and bulged, cracking ribs, stretching skin, and through the white-hot blaze of agony she rolled up her gown and saw—
Ripley snapped awake in her bed, hand clutched to her chest. She felt rapid, fluttering movement, but it was only the beating of her heart.
Reality crashed in, and it was awful. She looked from the window and saw the beautiful curve of the Earth. So near and yet so far—but that no longer mattered. To Ripley it no longer felt like home.
The small screen on the med-monitor unit beside her bed flickered into life, and her nurse’s face appeared.
“Bad dreams again?” she asked. “You want something to help you sleep?”
“No!” Ripley snapped. “I’ve slept enough.” The nurse nodded and the screen went blank.
Jonesy had been sleeping on the bed with her. The medics didn’t like it, but Burke had persuaded them that it would do her good. After the shock she’s had, she had heard him telling them. She supposed she should have been grateful to him, but her first opinion stuck.
She didn’t like the little fuck.
“Jonesy,” she said, picking up the cat and cuddling him to her. “It’s all right, it’s all right. It’s over.”
But that dark, heavy weight remained within her, something very much a part of her and yet unknown. And in saying those calming words to the cat, she was only trying to persuade herself.
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