“Oh no!” I cried reflexively, and that pissed me off. I was a PFC in the Colonial Marines. A Smartgun operator. More manly than some of the men in my squad. Why was I crying out in panic and pain? I’d just gunned down one of those fucking bug-monsters with my pistol at point-blank range, pinning its ugly fucking head to the wall of the duct with my booted foot.
That was the problem.
As I blew its pathetic brains out its fucking acid blood splattered all over my right calf, destroying my leg. How the fuck was I going to get out of there alive?
Great. It was Gorman the Asshole.
“Come on, Vasquez!” he said, putting his arms around me to drag me to the exit. “We gotta get you out of here.”
No shit, we gotta get me out of there!
“Gorman, you always were an asshole.”
Another of those things appeared, clambering over the body of the one that ruined my leg, coming straight for us. Gorman unloaded three three-round bursts from his sidearm into the fucker’s head. It collapsed on the other one, their combined acid blood burning through the floor of the duct. Their bodies fell away.
I’d never admit it out loud to anyone, but this whole thing at Hadley’s Hope was the most horrifying thing I’d ever seen. How the fuck were these mindless things killing us so easily? Of course, if we’d had better leadership things wouldn’t have been so one-sided. And now Gorman was trying to redeem himself.
“Gorman! Vasquez! Come on!” Ripley screamed. I had to admit that my respect for her had really grown. She seemed like some traumatized civvie when we first met her. A consultant. Like combatants needed consultants. But she took command from Gorman and helped get us out of that first ambush. And when we found that girl, Newt, the mama bear in Ripley really came out. She was fierce when she needed to be.
“Can you crawl?” Gorman shouted while unloading his gun into some more of those things.
“Yeah,” I answered, emptying my gun while he reloaded his.
“Good. Get the fuck out of here!” He turned to fire some more and lob a grenade. “That’s an order, private!”
“Goddammit Gorman!” I don’t know what came over me, but I kissed his cheek before fleeing as best as I could. Shockwaves from the grenade’s explosion knocked me down, and I heard Ripley and Newt scream.
Gorman was burned from the blast of his grenade, and he was still firing that pea-shooter of his at those aliens. Yeah, he was redeeming himself. Better late than never. I got to the end of the duct and was knocked out of it by the shockwave of another explosion. The fireball I just barely escaped told me that Gorman had just detonated at least three grenades at the same time. He just bought us some time.
And paid for it with his life.
Okay, maybe he wasn’t such an asshole after all.
“Vasquez!” Hicks called out. “Can you walk?”
“Not really,” I hissed. The leg was really starting to bother me now. Yanking the bandana off my head, I used it for a makeshift tourniquet just below my right knee.
“Hicks, we’ve got to find Newt!” Ripley insisted. Part of me thought she was crazy, wanting to go back into that fucking hellhole for the girl. But at the same time I think I would’ve insisted the same thing.
“She’s right Hicks,” I said. “You can’t leave her to those fucking things.”
“Dammit! Here!” He gave me his pistol and all the ammo he had for it, keeping only his pulse rifle. “Get to the surface and wait for the dropship. No heroics. Your job is to keep yourself alive, understand?”
“Yes sir!” I barked, limping hastily to the lift cursing in Spanish the whole way. By choosing my first language I could really pour my fury into my words and hide the fact that I was starting to cry. Tears hadn’t stung my eyes in years, and this hellacious place brought them up. That, and the pain in my leg.
Get angry, Jenette, I told myself, and I did. But that anger just brought on more tears.
I had to remember that tears weren’t a sign of weakness. I’d seen a lot of gruesome shit before, but no so much so fast in so short a period of time. Our battle here was hopeless. The best we could hope for was to get away before the reactor blew. That would take care of those things better than we could.
I let myself cry for a while. For Drake, who probably wouldn’t have died if I hadn’t shot that fucking thing when it was so close to him. For Gorman and Hudson, who at their ends both showed more guts than I’d given them credit for. For Newt, knowing that her family and everyone else she knew in this fucking universe died horribly and that if Ripley and Hicks didn’t save her she’d be next. I cried for everyone else who didn’t make it, and for my own damn leg.
I lost all track of time, waiting there for the dropship as well as Ripley, Hicks, and Newt. But when I next saw Ripley she was supporting Hicks. His armor was gone and he was wounded. They didn’t have Newt with them. That was bad. Very bad.
Bishop and Ripley got me and Hicks into the dropship’s passenger area and we returned to the processing center. Ripley then went in alone to rescue Newt.
This was no traumatized civvie. This was a badass fighter going alone into a hive of some of the most vicious monsters in the goddamn galaxy.
But the dropship was lifting off the platform.
After inserting Ripley.
“Bishop, what the fuck are you doing?”
“Private Vasquez,” he said in that calm voice that gave me the creeps, “this platform is unstable and this area could collapse. I need to keep us airborne. I can stay nearby and when they come out we can get out of here.”
Okay, that made perfect sense. I had to trust the android because I wasn’t qualified to pilot the damn dropship.
“What can we do?” I hated feeling useless.
“The xenomorphs have shown remarkable adaptability, strength, speed, and stealth,” he explained. “I don’t want to take any chances, not after the sacrifices you and your squad mates made. When I first remotely contacted the Sulaco, I patched into the mainframe and uploaded everything I’ve learned about the xenomorphs in order to reprogram some of the mobile sentries. They won’t fire on movement now, but only on targets that match xenomorph physiology. The sentries will be in the hangar when we arrive. They’ll be programmed to use flamethrowers to minimize the risk of that corrosive blood causing a hull breach.”
“What, are you expecting them to get off planet somehow?” I sneered.
“Actually, yes. It’s possible when I touch down to extract Ripley and Newt, one or more might try to stow away on board or even try to cling to the outside of the dropship. I haven’t been able to determine how long they can survive in a vacuum, so it’s possible that even clinging to the outside they could survive until we reach the Sulaco.”
I suppressed a shudder. No need for the android to know how human I was.
“I’ve also propagated my programming into various subsystems throughout the ship,” Bishop continued. “We’re down to almost zero crew, so I thought maybe more copies of me could help run things.”
We fell silent then and began nervously waiting for Ripley and Newt, and we didn’t talk about the fact that we had a finite amount of time before the whole place blew the fuck up. At least if it happened that way there would be a chance that Ripley and Newt would die quickly instead of—
I was not even going to think about that. To distract myself I limped over to the weapons console.
“Private Vasquez, the weapons this ship carries are for large scale engagements.”
“I know that, Bishop.”
“If in the event Ripley and Newt are followed by xenomorphs it might be difficult to defend them with the arsenal at your disposal.”
“Then I’ll fire very carefully,” I snapped. “Do you really think that I’ll be so fucking careless to shoot them as they escape? And remember, if it does happen that would be kinder than letting those fucking things have them!”
“I’m sorry,” Bishop replied. “I should’ve know that you’d be aware of your limitations as well as the limitations of the dropship’s weapons.”
I was really too stressed out for this.
“Just keep us as steady as you can, Bishop,” I replied.
He was right, though. This wasn’t a platform for close range fighting. I had to be very careful with my weapons choices, so I decided to limit myself to the Gatling gun and the Zeus missiles. The smoke missiles would be best for knocking those fuckers down without the risk of their acid blood flying everywhere, but they could impair Ripley’s and Newt’s vision. The aliens didn’t even seem to have eyes, so the smoke probably wouldn’t hinder their ability to attack.
My options were awful.
“Look!” I cried.
Ripley was on the platform, carrying Newt and looking hopeless. The other lift door opened and a monstrous alien appeared.
There was no way I’d be able to use any of the dropship’s weapons. That big bitch was just too close.
Bishop managed to maneuver the dropship close enough so that Ripley and Newt could board, and we took off for the safety of the mother ship. It turned out that Bishop’s precautions were good ideas. The fucking queen somehow managed to stow away on the dropship and attacked once the airlock on the Sulaco was closed.
Everything happened at once. Bishop was ripped in half by the Queen. Newt scurried to take cover under the floor. Ripley ran for one of the power-loader garages. I knew she was resourceful, but I wasn’t sure how an exoskeleton forklift was going to help.
Bishop’s sentries were holding that giant monster at bay, but they weren’t very maneuverable.
“Vasquez, are you able to drive one of those cargo carts?” Bishop’s voice asked over the PA.
“Yeah, I can drive with my left foot.”
“Good. Get one, and get Newt to a garage. Their doors are air-tight and I think we can expel the Queen into space. I’ll have a sentry escort you.”
Getting to a garage was easier said than done, even when riding an armed escort. But the Queen seemed more concerned about Ripley. It was like the thing was actually intelligent enough to want revenge or something.
It made my skin crawl.
I got the cart and sped back out into the hangar to get Newt. The Queen had disabled one of the sentries, and was starting to focus on me.
“Newt! Climb on! Quick!”
The girl obeyed without question. Turning the cart around, I prepared to charge back to the garage.
The Queen was heading right toward us.
“Get away from them, you bitch!”
Ripley appeared from another garage in one of the power-loader. I’d never seen anyone attempt to use one of those as an assault platform, but that was exactly what she did. She was punching the Queen with that thing, even using its welding torch like a mini flamethrower.
“Get Newt out of here!” Ripley screamed.
“Not without you!” Newt screamed back.
We were starting to lose sentries, either because they were running out of fuel for their flamethrowers or because the Queen was taking them out.
“Move to the nearest garage!” Bishop’s voice boomed over the PA. More sentries, these armed with Smartguns, entered the hangar, firing at the Queen. That acid blood starting hitting the floor. “I’m patching into the dropship to use its weapons. A hull breach could be immanent, and I’ll be opening the airlock at any rate. Get to safety, quick!”
Obeying Ripley and Bishop, I headed to the nearest garage even as Newt screamed in protest. But Ripley wasn’t far behind us. Good thing too, because Bishop started to open the outer hangar doors. Anything not bolted down was getting sucked out as the pressure dropped.
We just made it to the garage as the dropship roared to life. Safe behind our air-tight door, we watched as the dropship’s Gatling gun ripped the Queen apart. Acid blood splattered everywhere, including on the door of our garage.
“Out now!” Ripley cried and we fled the little room, through another air-tight door just as the garage door to the hangar corroded through.
The dropship shut down and the last of the Queen’s body parts were sucked out into space. Bishop’s top half was still in the hangar, saved by his android’s grip being strong enough to resist the rapid change in pressure that sucked everything else out.
“I’ll commandeer a power-loader to get my torso later,” Bishop’s voice said. “But the three of you should get to the infirmary.”
“What about Hicks?” Ripley asked. “He’s still in the dropship.”
“The dropship’s hatch is open,” I said flatly. “There’s probably no air left in it.”
“Hicks!” Newt cried.
“Ripley, you could put on a pressure suit, arm yourself, and inspect the dropship,” I suggested. “Bishop can’t do it even if he remotely controls a power-loader. It won’t fit into the passenger area.”
“What about the security cameras on board the dropship?” Ripley asked.
“We could try those,” Bishop confirmed. “But that would only be effective if Corporal Hicks in in view of camera.”
“Bishop, where’s the nearest locker with a p-suit?” Ripley asked, grim determination returning to her voice. How long could she keep going? It had to be pure adrenaline by now. “And I’ll need you to guide me to an armory.” Turning to us she said, “You two get to the infirmary. I’ll be there soon.”
“No buts Newt,” I said. “Let’s go.”
“But I wanna go with Ripley.”
“It could be dangerous,” I countered. “You need to stay here.”
“But if Ripley dies, I wanna die too!”
My blood went cold, and Ripley looked stunned. She recovered quickly, dropping to one knee and holding the girl by the shoulders.
“Newt, this ship won’t have pressure suits in your size.” Ripley couldn’t have had any way of knowing that, but I kept my mouth shut. “Vasquez and you both need to get to the infirmary. One thing at a time.” She kissed Newt on top of her head and sped off, following the directions Bishop was giving her to get the gear she’d need.
“Let’s go, Newt.”
“I wish you could carry me.”
“So do I, but right now that’s not gonna work.” Without any prompting, Newt offered herself as a crutch to help me walk.
We started making our way to the infirmary, and it was slow going. I couldn’t feel my right leg below the knee anymore, but I could vividly remember the searing pain of that thing’s blood burning me. I was still hoping the leg could be saved, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
“You’re not putting all your weight on me, are you?” the girl asked.
I was not going to let this child take care of me. She’d been through way too much already.
“No. I only need help balancing.” It was a lie, but she didn’t need to know that.
Finally, we were there. It was about time, too. The last of my adrenaline was wearing off.
“Okay Newt, I need you to climb into one of the med capsules.” She just stared at me. “Look, I can’t lift you in and we need to be sure you’re okay.”
“I don’t have one of those things in me, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
Shit! Did she have to ask that?
“I’m sure you don’t,” I replied, struggling to remain calm. “But there’s other ways you might be hurt. Stress hormones and stuff like that. Please Newt. If I don’t get you checked out by the time Ripley gets back, she’ll kill me.”
“Will she be back?”
Why the fuck was she so calm when she asked shit like that? Goddammit, she’d been through way the fuck too much. This would be so much easier if she was hysterical.
“I hope so,” I said simply.
Wordlessly she got undressed and climbed into a capsule and remained eerily calm as the lid closed over her. I was a little uncomfortable with being around someone else’s naked kid, but clothing would interfere with the capsule’s processes. They must’ve had them at the colony because she knew what to do without me telling her. The diagnostic process started, and soon she was sedated. And as Newt had assured me, she wasn’t impregnated. Ripley had gotten her out of the Hive in time.
“Thank God!” I cried, collapsing into a weeping heap. I would’ve killed her myself quickly with a shot to the back of the head to spare her from having one of those things exploding from her tiny chest. That I even considered killing a child to spare her made me want to puke. But it would’ve been the merciful thing to do.
I woke with a start, reflexively drawing my sidearm. Shit. I’d dozed off on the floor next to Newt’s capsule.
“I’m here, Ripley.”
“Vasquez! What happened?” Ripley asked, helping me into a chair. She must’ve noticed that I’d been crying because she hastily said, “Never mind. Hicks—”
“Hicks is dead,” I said flatly, and Ripley nodded. “No atmosphere, exposed to zero pressure. Must’ve been a fucking mess.” She was staring at me in horror. “Sorry! I—” And I was crying again. Seriously, what the fuck? Hadn’t I run out of tears yet? I was supposed to be too badass for this!
“It wasn’t pretty,” Ripley said. “How’s Newt?”
“She’s okay,” I sniffed. “No sign of impregnation.”
“That’s a relief. But how is she otherwise?”
I winced. Of course. Ripley had really bonded with the girl and would be concerned for more than just the possibility that one of those things was inside her. We studied the readout on the capsule.
“Looks like she just needs food, water, and a shitload of therapy,” Ripley announced.
“And a family.”
I said that?
“Yeah,” Ripley agreed. “Your turn. Let’s get you in a capsule.”
“Okay,” I replied, too tired to argue.
She helped strip me out of my combat gear and clothes, both of us trying to not look at my leg. And then I was in the medical capsule, the lid closing over me.
* * *
I woke to find the capsule had amputated my right leg just below the knee. Well, I was half expecting that.
“Ah, you’re awake,” Bishop’s voice sounded from nearby. “Would you like to get up?”
“Very well.” The capsule opened and I saw clean clothes waiting for me on a chair, as well as a pair of crutches. “Ripley and Newt are in the captain’s quarters.”
It was actually the top half of Bishop in a motorized wheelchair. He’d been cleaned up and strapped into the chair, but he was mobile again. That’s when I noticed that my clothes were on a chair just like his. I suddenly wondered how many were kept aboard ships like this.
Getting out of the capsule, I got dressed, stowing the crutches on the back of the wheelchair. The short walk across the infirmary left me tired, so I just rolled to the captain’s quarters.
It was a pretty nice cabin, actually. Newt was sound asleep on the sofa in the sitting room and Ripley was sitting wearily at the table nearby.
“How long has she been asleep?” I asked as I rolled up to the table.
“Only about an hour,” Ripley replied. “I’ve got some good news. The rescue ship will be here in about a week.”
“What? I thought it would take seventeen days for them to get here.”
“You were in the infirmary for a long time, Vasquez.”
Of course. Why did I think I just dozed off, had my leg cut off, and was up and running again all in the same day?
“What about you?”
“No embryos in my body,” Ripley smiled. “The ship seems to be clean, too. Only the Queen made it aboard.” We were just silent for a while. It was weird. Newt was sleeping peacefully and Ripley was sitting there sipping coffee.
She had to be clean. If she’d been infected, she would’ve jumped out an airlock before she’d endanger Newt.
I hated thinking there were monsters hiding everywhere.
“I need a shower,” I announced and rolled toward the cabin’s bathroom. I didn’t really need one, but I wanted to be alone without actually leaving the captain’s quarters.
“Will you be alright?” Ripley called after me.
“I know how to shower.”
“You only have one leg.”
“One and a half,” I snapped. But really, she was just trying to help. And I suddenly found myself wanting her to help me. Considering how wobbly I was back at the infirmary…
“A little help might be a good idea,” I admitted, willing myself to not blush.
“Okay then.” Locking the door to the suite, Ripley checked on Newt once more then went to the bedroom and stripped. I rolled in and pretty much did the same. As I sat at the foot of the bed, Ripley approached to help me stand.
I could tell she was staring at the stump below my right knee.
“Vasquez,” she whispered.
I was suddenly tired of us calling each other by our last names.
“Jenette,” I replied. “You can call me Jenette, Ellen.”
“Jenette,” Ellen repeated, kneeling down in front of me.
“It’s something we learn to live with,” I explained softly. “The idea that whenever we go out on a mission, that something like this might happen.”
“I hope Burke died slow,” she spat.
She reached out tentatively, looking up at me. I nodded, and gently she touched what was left of my right leg, cradling it lovingly as if it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
She kissed me, just below the knee. And she was crying. And then I was crying, too.
It was a different kind of crying this time. This tenderness after the brutality we’d been through since arriving here was just so touching, no pun intended. I touched her chin, lifting her face so I could see her eyes.
She raised up off her haunches and kissed me for real. We were both naked and we were kissing with Newt asleep on the sofa in the next room.
“Jenette, do you still want to shower?” Ellen asked. “You would’ve been bathed in the medical capsule.”
She was right. It wasn’t like I was still smeared by the grime and gore of the fighting.
“No, I just want to go to bed.” I couldn’t really tell what that look on Ellen’s face meant so I added, “And sleep. I’d rather not sleep alone, but if Newt needs you…”
“Let me just leave the door open,” Ellen said.
“And you won’t mind sharing a bed?”
“I’d love to, Jenette.”
God, it was good to hear my first name again. And for some reason, I loved hearing her say it.
Ellen went to turn down the lights in the sitting room, and I scrabbled under the covers waiting for her to return. I was pretty sure I was done with crying for the night, but I was tired of being strong. So I decided that if I needed to cry some more I’d just let it happen. How long had we been at Hadley’s Hope? It seemed like a very, very long time. But I knew that wasn’t true. It was just the sheer horror of what went on down there that made it seem longer.
I, PFC Jenette Vasquez, Smartgun operator for the Colonial Marines, was traumatized.
What the fuck?
Ellen returned, and I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Yeah, I wanted her. I wanted her bad. But now would not be a good time. It wasn’t that I was too tired, it was that I knew I was not emotionally ready for that. The lights went out and she slipped under the covers with me. Almost immediately, we were in each other’s arms, our bodies pressed up against each other.
“Good night, Jenette.” Ellen kissed me again. “Sleep well.”
With Ellen holding me, I really did think I’d be able to sleep well.
* * *
There were still nightmares that night, but every time I woke and got past the who-the-fuck, where-the-fuck, what-the-fuck and realized it was over I was able to drift back to sleep. I woke up a lot that night. If Ellen slept as fitfully as me, she must’ve been waking up when I was sleeping. But she had to be exhausted. She wasn’t combat trained, and the shit she’d done was just amazing. If I hadn’t been wounded and unable to walk, I would’ve gone into the Hive with her. Yeah, it would’ve been insane, but to leave Newt to that kind of death would’ve been cruel.
It hit me again: it was over. The rescue ship would be here in a matter of days and we could leave LV-426 behind us where it fucking belonged. I spooned up to Ellen, wrapping my arms around her but taking care to not touch her breasts. Desire and love were two very different things, and I didn’t want to act just out of desire. Not yet, at least. With Drake, well, we were the best of friends who’d decided that we could have sex with each other and it wouldn’t ruin our friendship. I could tell that I was getting attracted to Ellen. Hell, I never called Drake by his first name. I decided that I was just going to focus on how warm and comfortable I was just then, and not think about sex or love.
When I got to the point where I woke up and knew I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, I propped myself up to stare at Ellen’s sleeping face. I was about to lean over and kiss her when I saw Newt. It looked like she was kneeling next to the bed with her face inches from Ellen’s. Though it felt like an invasion of privacy, there was something about the blank curious look on Newt’s face that kept me from getting angry.
“How long have you been there?” I asked her.
“About an hour, I think.”
“Mmm.” Ellen stretched against me and I did everything I could to not react.
“Are you awake Ripley?” Newt asked.
“I am now,” she yawned. Then her eyes snapped open. “Newt! What’re you doing here?”
“Did you guys have sex last night?” the girl asked bluntly. I was pretty sure that my face looked just as red as Ellen’s did. “Don’t look so surprised. All us kids got sex ed at Hadley’s Hope. It wasn’t just about pregnancy and diseases. I know what men can do together and I know what women can do together. There were gay people at the colony. They even taught us that it’s okay to not want to have sex at all.”
“No, we didn’t have sex,” I replied simply.
Ellen tried to pull the covers closer around her chest as she sat up.
“Ripley, I’m gonna grow some of those you know. I know what they are.”
“Sorry. I was in hypersleep for fifty-seven years,” Ellen explained, blushing. “Things seem to have changed during that time.”
“Ellen, life in the colonies is different than back on Earth,” I said. “Older kids help out more with younger kids in nurseries so they know about boobs, and sex ed is also taught really young as it could help with the survival of the colony. Not just for reproduction, but for mental health too. That’s why Newt also knows about people being asexual as well.”
“You call her Ellen?” Newt asked.
“That’s my name,” Ellen smiled. “Ellen Ripley.”
“And my first name’s Jenette.”
“Can I still call you Ripley and Vasquez?”
“Sure you can,” Ellen replied warmly.
“Good. Can I have breakfast now?”
“Okay,” Ellen said. She seemed to hesitate, then just threw the covers off and got up. She found some generic coveralls in a locker and I started to follow suit.
“Vasquez!” Newt cried. “Your leg!” The girl clambered up on the bed to stare at my stump, and the three of us had become very still.
Goddammit, just when I thought that maybe she wouldn’t have to see any more fucked up bullshit I make it worse by allowing her to see my leg.
“My pulse rifle was out of ammo,” I explained to Newt. “But I still had my pistol. This was while we were trying to escape through the ducts. One of the aliens attacked me real close. I pinned its head to the wall with my foot and shot it.”
“And its blood got on your leg and burned it,”
“And the medical capsule couldn’t fix it so it cut your leg off.”
I was not going to cry.
She threw her arms around me, seizing me in a fierce hug.
“Newt, I’m okay,” I said softly. “We got out of there and we’re gonna be alright now. Okay?”
“Okay,” she sniffled.
“Okay. Lemme get dressed now. You guys go on ahead. I’ll be there soon.”
Wordlessly, she went over to the wheelchair and brought me the clothes Ellen left there last night. That bothered me. I didn’t want either of them treating me like I was disabled. Yeah, the bottom half of my right leg was gone. But I was still PFC Vicious Bitch!
“Come on, Newt,” Ellen said. “Let’s get you some breakfast. We’ll be in the mess.”
“Okay, I’ll meet you there.”
They left me, and I settled down to think for a moment.
There was no way in hell I was going to let Newt take care of me. Ellen, maybe. But Newt? No way. I thought about leaving the chair in the cabin and only using the crutches, but I was still feeling a little unsteady. And I suddenly didn’t want to send the wrong message to Newt. I’d never ask her for help. But she needed to know that it was okay to not be perfectly strong all the time.
Did I really just think that?
Yeah, I did.
Because it was true.
Newt had been strong for too long. She needed to be a child again, if that was even possible. Her family was dead, all killed by those fucking things. Would it be possible for her to ever have a childhood?
Could I somehow help with that? Could Ellen?
Rolling into the mess hall, the scents of breakfast made me realize just how hungry I was. That was a welcome distraction. I was tired of the thoughts replaying in my mind. I rolled over to fill a tray with food and bring it over to Ellen and Newt. Bishop was there too, sitting somewhat detached and working with a minicomp. But the chair’s controls kind of prevented me from really getting close to the table. So I parked the chair near the door, grabbed the crutches, and walked over to join them. I decided that bacon and coffee were the two most valuable things in the galaxy.
Well, two of the most valuable things. I was getting seriously attached to both Ellen and Newt. And I really liked watching the two of them together. They were totally bonding. It was as if they’d always been together.
Which made me think of something.
“So how long was Newt in a medi cap?”
“Only about a day,” Ellen replied.
“And how long were you in one?”
“Me? I wasn’t.” It got quiet and Ellen added, “If I’d been impregnated, you’d both be dead by now.”
“That’s not what I meant, Ellen,” I soothed. “You should get yourself checked out too. Too much adrenaline can fu—I mean—mess you up. It wouldn’t hurt to be sure.”
I censored myself because of Newt. Why now? If those F-bombs Hudson dropped had been explosives, he would’ve cleared the Hive by himself. And Newt had heard plenty of those. It was like I’d gone all maternal all of a sudden.
“Well, I wasn’t wounded or injured,” Ellen retorted.
“It would still be a good idea to have you evaluated as a precaution,” Bishop said, finally joining our conversation.
When Newt got up to take her tray back for seconds I kind of whispered to Ellen, “It would set a good example for Newt. She’s been through too much already. She needs to know that it’s okay to not be strong sometimes.”
Newt returned with her weight in food on the tray. Ellen looked at the girl, then at me, and seemed to deflate a bit. “Okay. I guess a check-up is a good idea. But don’t let Newt have any dessert after lunch. That’s only for after dinner.”
“Aww!” Newt exclaimed as I winked at her.
“I saw that, Jenette.”
“So long as she balances dessert with the right amount of—”
“Save it, Bishop.” Ellen shot the android a withering look, and me and Newt snickered.
“Bishop, can we play basketball again after breakfast?” the girl asked excitedly.
“How the hell do you move fast enough in that chair?” I asked.
“I don’t use this motorized one,” Bishop explained. “It can’t turn fast enough. So I use one of the push-chairs.”
“But you’ve got perfect aim!” I protested. “And you’re stronger! That’s not fair to Newt!”
“We changed his programming,” Newt proclaimed happily. “He showed me how to program him to lose perfect sight of the basket and how sometimes he throws too hard and sometimes not hard enough.”
“It’s all randomized,” Bishop added. “Additionally, I’m not permitted inside the three-point line when I’m on offense, and a three-point shot for me has to be from half-court at the very least.”
“He usually wins anyway,” Newt pouted.
“Finish your breakfast, or just put the leftovers away, and we can go play.” The android actually sounded excited.
She bounded out of her chair, taking her tray to put the food away, and bounded toward the door.
“Come on, Bishop!” Newt ran off, with Bishop following closely after her.
“You trust him,” I said simply.
“Yeah, I do,” Ellen confirmed. “He’s really good with her, too. That thing about altering his programming so he’d be less accurate? It’s true. He’s been teaching her, giving her lessons. In fact, a lot of their basketball playing has been a subtle physics class.”
I nodded. “I guess she should be in school.”
“Bishop and I talked about that. I mentioned that I wanted to put some normalcy in her life and he suggested that we play with her in a way that would help teach her. Less structure to try to ease her back into things.” Ellen got quiet for a moment. “She doesn’t always sleep through the night. Bishop stands, well, actually sits guard outside the captain’s cabin to be sure she doesn’t go exploring.”
“She got lost one night and it was really triggering for her. She didn’t leave my side for two days after that.”
“Newt has seen more than anyone her age ever should’ve seen!” It pissed me off so much, what she’d gone through.
“Yeah, and it’s been a long time since I last raised…”
“Raised a child?” I didn’t know Ellen had any kids.
“My daughter died of cancer while I was adrift in hypersleep.”
I seized her hand across the table. “Let’s raise Newt! As our daughter. You and me.”
“It’s possible she has grandparents on Earth who might want to raise her considering their kids, Newt’s parents, are dead now.”
Hearing that was like a sucker punch, and that’s when I realized just how attached I’d gotten to the girl.
“It’s something we have to consider, Jenette.”
Ellen said “we.”
I felt like a girl again, falling in love for the first time. While that was cool in a way, it was so totally unlike the woman I’d grown into. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. It wasn’t as if being a Colonial Marine meant I’d become incapable of love. Not at all. But I was a woman, and not a girl anymore. Feeling suddenly giddy was embarrassing.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s get you to the infirmary.”
Just as we were about to step into the corridor, Bishop rocketed past in a push-style wheelchair, his android’s muscles propelling him along a lot faster than if he’d been using a motorized one. Sitting on the chair, strapped to his chest, was Newt, squealing with delight.
“What have I told you two about that?” Ellen barked as they turned a corner with precise control.
“Another physics lesson?” I asked, smiling.
Ellen sighed. “Actually, yes.” We started walking. “This time about acceleration and braking to take turns, trajectories, center of gravity, momentum. I can’t stop them from doing it.”
“Well, it keeps her busy.”
“Yeah,” Ellen agreed. “And she really needs that right now.”
“And you need to be checked out,” I announced as we arrived at the infirmary.
With a heavy sigh, Ellen got undressed and climbed into a medical capsule.
“Aren’t you going to kiss me goodnight?” she murmured.
I leaned over and put a kiss right in the middle of her bush. Then I kissed my way up her belly, between her breasts, up her throat until our lips met.
“Your timing sucks, Vasquez,” she scolded me. I was really pleased by the flush of her skin.
“We’ll talk about sucks when you get out.”
“Don’t you mean we’ll talk about licks?”
“Sucks, licks, nibbles. We’ll have a lot to talk about.” I winked wickedly as the lid closed. Ellen had just enough time to give me the finger before she was sedated. “We’ll talk about fingers, too.”
Grabbing my crutches, I went off to the ship’s rec center to watch Bishop play with Newt.