She clutched her chest, cradling the new life that was erupting from her even as she fell gracefully towards the immense vat of molten metal. As she reached the superheated liquid her eyes flew open but instead of searing pain, followed instantaneously by oblivion, she found she was lying on her back inside a hypersleep capsule. Beyond the transparent canopy Ripley could see the blinking of indicator lights, mostly flickering in amber or red. Her eyes scanned the darkness of the room beyond, wondering if it was policy to turn off all illumination while there was no one awake to see. Still, the lights should have cut in as soon as the computer started the wake up sequence.
One other anomaly teased at her still sleep-fuddled mind. Why hadn't the canopy raised? Ripley reached upwards, her fingertips brushing the inside of her sleeper unit. She looked to the left and saw the small panel inset into the edge that had what they labeled a 'liveman switch'. It was the opposite of a deadman's switch, placed internally as a placebo to those afraid of becoming trapped inside -- fully awake. She was grateful to those paranoid people now.
Ripley turned onto her side on the slightly raised bed of the capsule. Her fingers flipped up the small access panel but a slither of movement within the shadows beyond caught at her peripheral vision, causing her to hesitate. She swallowed hard, chuckling softly at her own paranoia. It was probably just some discarded object moving with the slight vibration coming from the Sulaco's powerful engines. She reached out for the switch once more, depressing it quickly. The canopy cracked open, slowly rising.
It came out of the darkness, leaping towards the growing opening in her unit with its bony fingers. She let out a cry of fear, stabbing her finger at the abort switch. As the canopy began to close she pushed hard at the two fingers that had breached her safe haven, forcing them out before the canopy could amputate them and release the facehugger's acid blood into her safe haven.
Ripley rolled onto her back, mouth open and gasping as she fought to regain a hold of her breathing before she hyperventilated. It had retreated a few feet and then leaped again, landing on the transparent canopy just above her face, its embryo-laying tubule pushing against the durable canopy like some obscene slobbering tongue as it fought to reach her.
"No. No. No."
Suddenly, the darkness and her unnatural waking made sense. With Hicks and Bishop injured, and Newt being but a child, she had taken sole responsibility for the wake up call but the computer had registered the alien presence and had overridden the normal wake up procedures to protect her.
But what was she to do now?
How many eggs had the queen laid before Ripley killed her? No... She wouldn't have had time to lay any eggs. So where had this one come from? Her eyes widened. In their hurry to escape, had any of them checked the Drop Ship? What if one of the missing marines, impregnated with an alien, had managed to get on-board?
It was unlikely, as they would have announced their presence... unless it was Burke. He could have stowed away in one of the limited hypersleep capsules beneath the flooring of the Drop Ship, hoping to avoid discovery until he reached the relative security of the Company. Perhaps he thought they might be able to save him, and in return they would have the alien he carried.
Why had he come out of sleep, though? Or maybe the sleeper unit had no effect upon it and it had continued to grow inside of Burke.
She closed her eyes at the grisly image of Burke being awoken from hypersleep by the sudden trauma of his chest exploding. Shaking off the image, Ripley noticed that the facehugger had become still, slowly crawling away, and she wondered if it had been attracted to her movement. She squeezed her eyes shut tight, whimpering softly at the dilemma she now faced.
The sleeper unit had resisted the alien facehugger's attempts to reach her and, hopefully, would continue to do so. But could she return to sleep knowing that the next time she awoke she might come face to face with the queen, or the discovery that they had reached Earth and unleashed these creatures onto the whole of humanity?
Her eyes slid sideways, looking at the small girl sleeping peacefully alongside her. Beyond, she could just make out the heavily bandaged face of Hicks and beyond him, just the plastic membrane that covered the head and torso of the severely damaged android, Bishop.
None of them looked as if they had been disturbed and Ripley wondered if this was a nightmare... and if any of them were having similar nightmares while they slept. They did say that, in hypersleep, everything but the animal side of your brain shuts down but her nightmare had, technically, come during that transition from hypersleep to normal sleep. But still, the primal fear of what they had been through could easily have affected their animal part, bringing them all horrific dreams.
She closed her eyes, shutting out the sight of the sleepers, realizing that she was procrastinating. From what she *could* see, none of their capsules had been breached. She realized that the capsule must be composed of the same material that the Colonists had used on Acheron to hold the facehuggers that the medical staff had removed from unfortunate Colonists.
How long did the facehuggers survive once they had hatched from their egg? The Colonists had placed them into suspension fields and yet all but two had been dead when they reached the medical lab. But had they been there hours, or days, or weeks?
The journey to LV-426, Acheron, had taken weeks. How long had she been asleep on the Sulaco this time? She wondered if the computer could hear her and then decided it was worth taking the risk of speaking.
"Computer. ETA to Earth?"
"Two years, eight months at current speed."
"What!" She whispered in shock.
Two years? The Sulaco was one of the fastest transport ships of its time, built specifically for the Colonial Marines to give them a quick response to any off-world emergencies. Even the Nostromo, now sixty years out of date, could have reached Earth faster than that. Something had happened to the helm controls to slow the ship down.
"How long since we left Acheron?"
"Sixteen days, nine hou--"
"Who ordered speed reduction?"
"Order 468-dash-0-dash-C8 of the code gives computer clearance to reduce or stop vessel if a danger is detected onboard that needs to be contained."
"Biohazard, intruder alert--"
"Stop. Has an emergency call been sent."
"Estimated response time."
"Fifteen days, two hours and forty-three minutes."
At first it didn't make sense for the Sulaco to slow down but then Ripley realized that they would want to keep the ship well away from Earth until they had discovered the nature of the problem on-board. She closed her eyes again, considering her options.
"Send a new message. Extreme biohazard. Sulaco to be destroyed on contact. No one is to come on-board."
Having sealed their fate, Ripley looked across, trying to make out first Bishop and then Hicks in the darkness. Bishop was still lost beneath the plastic membrane protecting his exposed circuitry but, now that her eyes had adjusted, she could make out Hicks quite clearly. His handsome face had slackened in sleep, soft lips parted to reveal a glint of white teeth. His head and his left eye were covered in a pristine white bandage, and she could make out the ghost of heavier bandages covering his chest and left arm as a reflection in the canopy above him.
Next to her, Newt continued sleeping peacefully and Ripley hoped that she had good dreams as she fell into hypersleep. A sob caught in her throat. They deserved to live -- all of them. It was so unfair. She dwelt, briefly, on the people they had lost to the aliens: the crew of the Nostromo, the Colonists on Acheron and all those gung-ho Marines, and then she pressed a switch that would send her back into hypersleep, praying that the nightmare would end here.
Riddick released the controls as the skiff broke through the atmosphere, setting it onto autopilot. He stretched; his muscles and joints creaking as he eased away the tension of the last day.
Day? Night? Which had it been?
He glanced over his shoulder to see the huddled forms of Jack and the Imam as they unstrapped from the seats they had commandeered soon after take-off. They moved to the front of the skiff to hunch over beside him, staring out the window at the planet below. It was wreathed in darkness, caught in the shadow of the larger planet that lay between it and triple stars at the center of the planetary system. It seemed likely that the gravitational pull of the giant would keep the smaller one locked behind it for several days, perhaps months or even years, until some other gravitational force pulled it free.
As they moved out of the shadow cast by the ringed giant, Riddick could no longer make out the distant shape of the hell planet but he didn't care if he never saw it again. He reached back to the controls and switched on the navigation computer. It was antiquated by today's standards but Riddick hoped it would still be adequate to pinpoint their current location so he could set a course to put them onto one of the trade lanes.
Nothing happened and he frowned. He tried again and was rewarded with a message telling him that it was searching. Riddick knew a little about the way these things worked; it was seeking a reference point. His mouth dropped open in shock when it finally responded and, momentarily, Riddick wished Fry had lived long enough to see this.
The transport ship must have gone off course, and that explained how it could fall into the path of a uncharted meteor shower, though Riddick wondered what that shower had consisted of to make those fragments tear through the ship like a hot knife through butter. Unless... he looked back at the giant, eyeing the ring curiously. Had the ship gone through the ring of material encircling that planet?
Again, it no longer mattered. What was of a concern to Riddick was that they had drifted months off course and were too far away from the normal traffic routes to expect an easy rescue. Worse still, the skiff had only enough air for three days at best, and no food. Fortunately, they had stocked up with water before racing against the fall of night to bring the power cells back to the skiff. Still, it was the air that counted and that gave them only three days before they would be forced to land back on the planet.
Riddick studied the star map, wondering what their best option might be. Common sense told him that they should aim for somewhere only a day away leaving them a day to wait and then another day to get back to the planet before the air ran out.
He felt a twinge of guilt as he considered how easy it would be to stretch out the air by removing some of those breathing it. However, this last planet fall, and their fight to survive the bloodthirsty denizens of that world, had made far more of an impact on him than he cared to admit.
Something inside him had changed.
Years of fending for himself in the darkness of the prison system had turned him into a loner, thinking only of his own survival. However, for all her faults and despite her initial attempt to jettison the passengers during the crash, Fry had reached out and dragged him back into the midst of humanity. She had shown him the true meaning of self-sacrifice when she refused to abandon the others, and then once more when she came back for *him* -- and lost her own life in the process.
In a sense he owed it to her to keep Jack and the Imam alive, and not to allow her sacrifice to have been in vain.
"Am I reading this right?"
Riddick nodded grimly as he looked deep into the Imam's chocolate brown eyes. He could already sense the survivor guilt tearing at the edges of the man's soul as he recalled the young acolytes who had been traveling with him to the new Mecca. Riddick looked away, not wanting to dwell on their grisly deaths... and read confusion on Jack's face.
The girl seemed a little young to be traveling on her own and he knew she was not as tough as she made out.
"The ship had been moving off course, maybe for weeks before it crashed."
"So... where are we? Are we lost?"
"No. We're not lost... but we're not any place where we can be found either."
"Then we'll go on until we reach some place better?"
He decided that there was little point in destroying her fragile hopes so soon after they had escaped the hell below. They fell into silence and, soon after, Riddick convinced Jack to sleep but he knew the Imam would not sleep. Abu al-Walid still had his misgivings about him but Riddick couldn't blame him. After all, he had been willing to leave them all behind, and would have done so if Fry hadn't reached the skiff before he had fired the engines.
The Imam motioned towards the back of the skiff near to where Jack had curled up on the floor.
"Why don't you sleep while I watch the screens."
As a show of faith, Riddick nodded his head and moved aside, stretching out on the uncomfortable floor. He closed his eyes but for the first time in many years he fell asleep instantly with no fear for his safety, instinctively knowing that he would not have to watch his back.
He didn't expect to dream but images came to him of light and dark, of life and death. He saw Shazza picked up by a whirlwind of darkness, her body ripped apart and devoured by the voracious creatures as they spun her away. They had both been behind the others and had dropped flat to the dusty ground as the creatures swooped down over them. Her mistake was in panicking rather than waiting; in making another run for the ship. They had gone for her immediately, buying him time to reach the relative safety of the ship instead. More nightmare images swept through him; watching through 'shined' eyes as the creatures fought over Ogilvie's remains, and then as they attacked and devoured the cowardly mercenary, Johns, who had wanted to sacrifice Jack to the creatures.
He awoke with a start, feeling the discomfort of cold sweat trickling down his face and body. He had few regrets for letting the creatures take Johns except on a primitive level. Johns had been a good-looking man: broad of shoulder, trim of waist, and with an ass that had tempted him on one too many occasions. However, Johns had not spent most of his adult life walking in the shadows of an all male prison where a few minutes of sweaty sex with the right man could be the highlight of your month... or your worst nightmare if he turned out to be the wrong man.
It was too bad that Johns had turned out to be the wrong sort of man.
Riddick thought he had learned to tell the difference; seeing through the smooth patter of the psychos very quickly. He'd learned the hard way, but it had still not stopped him from making a mistake with Johns; letting lust override intuition.
He shrugged off the morbid thoughts and images from the past, stretching to ease the kinks from abused muscles. Riddick hissed as his stretching pulled at his injuries and he blinked several times in the dim light of the skiff. When he looked to where Jack had made her bed he saw her sitting with her back to the wall, her knees drawn up and her face ashen. Riddick gave a wry smile; understanding how shock worked once the immediacy of the threat had passed and the adrenaline had left your system.
She gave a series of small nods and then looked forward to where the Imam still sat in the pilot's seat watching the monitors. Riddick didn't bother to ask if he'd seen anything of any value as the Imam would have volunteered the information right away if that had been the case. He stood over the man, hunched over so he could read the displays.
Amazingly, he had slept for nine hours but he could tell just by looking at al-Walid that the Imam had not slept at all. Dark bruises of fatigue ringed dulled, listless eyes.
"You have to trust me."
The man sighed, nodding his head wearily. Riddick slid into the pilot's seat that the Imam vacated, not bothering to check where the man had made his bed. He heard a soft murmuring and realized the man was saying his prayers, and Riddick had to hold back on a soft chuckle of ridicule. He couldn't understand how this man could still praise God after all he had been through, but then that hell planet had probably been the worst experience of al-Walid's life whereas it had been just one more event in a whole lifetime of shit for Riddick. He heard the Imam praying for a miracle, praying for a ship to find them before they were forced to turn back, and that was one prayer he could say 'Amen' to.
Eventually it went quiet except for the sound of soft footsteps approaching. Riddick turned and looked up at Jack.
"We're going to have to go back, aren't we?"
"Maybe... but we still have another day before we make that decision. Something might turn up."
Thirty-two hours later, after a unanimous decision to go on rather than return to the hell they had left, a soft beep woke Riddick from a second sleep. He joined the Imam and Jack, his lips curling in relief as the slowly approaching ship identified itself. However, the joy was short-lived as the ship completed its message by warning them away... it was the Colonial Marines' ship, Sulaco.
Another nightmare tore through Ripley as she awoke for a second time. This time she had dreamed she was a clone -- half-human, half-alien -- caught battling the aliens on-board a Company ship with a renegade female android and a motley assortment of pirates. Every face was one she recognized from her past; from pilot school, from her first assignment off-world, and even from among long-dead family and friends.
The room was still dim with just the illumination from the flashing amber and red lights to break the darkness, casting much of the room into creepy shadow... but her canopy was still shut tight. She recalled her previous awakening and remained still, her eyes darting about, seeking the facehugger -- or its vicious parent.
Part of her had hoped never to awaken, preferring to die peacefully in her sleep as the ship was vaporised by the approaching Colonial vessel. She spoke softly.
"Biohazard threat still active. Colonial vessel, Sherlock, ETA ten days, four hours, thirty-one minutes."
"Why have you woken me?"
"Unknown civilian vessel approaching. Vessel is sending out a mayday. I am programmed to respond."
"They can't dock here."
"The vessel contains no hypersleep capsules. I estimate that they do not have sufficient air to reach another suitable destination."
"Better they die out there than in here with..." Ripley closed her eyes, once more awed by the vagaries of the universe, or a capricious God that enjoyed catching people between a rock and a hard place. "Can you patch me through to them."
"Affirmative. Line is open."
"This is the Sulaco. Do not attempt to dock with this ship."
"We are the only survivors of a crash. We do not have enough air to--"
"There is another Colonial vessel, ETA ten days--"
"It will be too late. We will be dead by then."
"You'll be dead if you dock here. The things on this ship have already destroyed a colony."
Ripley frowned as a deep-voiced chuckle came through from the civilian ship followed by a single remark, "deja vu."
Her eyes widened in shock. She had hoped that only Acheron had fallen foul of the aliens but what if she had been wrong? What if these people had been Colonists who fled Acheron when the creatures started to take over? Or another colony close by that had been trading with Acheron? The Company would not have left the Colonists without an emergency ship. If that one had crashed then perhaps this was its lifeboat. However, her own lifeboat from the Nostromo, the Narcissus, had contained not only a single hypersleep unit but a state of the art oxygen generator as well to allow for more than one survivor. The single capsule would be used in strict rotation so no one had to spend the entire journey awake. Why was this one not similarly equipped?
"Are you from Acheron?"
"Acheron? No." The first voice returned, containing just the slightest lilt on the accent; lighter than the sardonic, deep voice she had heard moments before, so there had to be at least two people on board the approaching ship. "We were on a civilian transport that drifted off course and ran into a meteor storm. It destroyed the ship. We found this skiff at an abandoned colony on the planet. There are three of us."
"And the aliens?"
It was the deeper-voiced man who replied, sardonically. "Weren't so much alien as bloodthirsty inhabitants that only came out at night. Unfortunately, the whole planet just passed into the shadow of another and it doesn't look like its coming out the other side for some time to come."
"Not the same ones then," she murmured softly, though now aghast to discover there were more nasty creatures out there than the ones she had already encountered.
"Look, lady. This ship has no freezers and no air--"
"You won't live long enough to enjoy either on-board here."
"We're coming on-board."
"NO! No... wait." She knew from the tone in his deep voice that they had no intention of staying away. They were desperate. "In the docking bay is a Drop Ship. It has freezers built under the flooring. Three of them... and an air generator. Don't attempt to bring your ship inside... use the umbilical on the outer hatchway. Go straight to the Drop Ship. Check it's clean and then get out of there... FAST!" Ripley swallowed hard, knowing she might be condemning them to a horrific death if they were caught by one of the alien facehuggers. "Good luck. Ripley, out."
Riddick glanced across at the Imam and then back at Jack, seeing the fear in both sets of eyes, but then the Imam gave himself a mental shake. He glanced out of the window to the rapidly approaching ship.
"Does this skiff have a way of telling how many people are on-board that ship?"
Riddick pressed a few keys and spoke in a low voice. A schematic of the Sulaco appeared on the screen and they watched as the computer swept the entire ship from prow to stern. Four lights blipped in a single area close to the center of the ship in what had to be the hypersleep chamber.
"Reading three humans and an android."
He frowned, so where were these aliens Ripley spoke of? He switched to motion detectors and, slowly, a new picture built up. There was something small moving in the Hypersleep chamber, and two other large blips near the ship's engine core but Riddick was not stupid. He knew the sensor would not pick up anything keeping still. For all he knew these creature might be hibernating while they waited for fresh meat to arrive, just like the creatures on the planet they had left behind.
"We have to save them."
Riddick cocked his head to one side at the insanity he just heard from the Imam.
"We escaped from the planet by the grace of God... and I've been wondering why he spared us... and now I know. He brought us here to help these people."
"I told you once before... I believe in your God... and I hate him." Riddick snorted in disbelief. "Nothing you said has altered that. *He* can go to hell."
"They need us. One of those creatures is in there with them... that's why they haven't tried to reach this Drop Ship themselves. They are trapped in their hypersleep capsules."
Riddick turned away but the Imam grabbed his arm. He winced as the fingers closed around a gash across the biceps and shook off the hand.
"I have watched you from the start. I have seen how you have struggled to overcome the horrors of your past... to no longer be the outcast, walking in the shadows while others enjoy the light. You have come so far, Riddick. God is giving you this chance to take another step closer to him."
Confusion raced through Riddick as old emotions from his childhood resurfaced from a time when he had belonged; from a time before he made a terrible mistake and ended up on a prison world. He'd never killed before he went to that hellhole; but had learned to kill without remorse, without conscience, in order to survive.
The chances of escape from the prison planet were next to zero so he had paid for a shine job on his eyes, to give him the ability to see in the darkness as he never expected he would ever see daylight again. He'd expected to live out his life in the shadows of that prison but the opportunity to escape had come and he'd grasped at it willingly.
His only mistake had been to allow his sexual attraction to Johns to overcome his senses; allowing him to believe that Johns could be on his side, and bedding the man. It was while he slept after their first frantic coupling that Johns tried to slip the restrainers on him. He had bested Johns that time, slipping his knife he kept under the pillow into the sweet spot just alongside the spine near the base. However, Johns had survived and come after him, filled with vengeance... and with greed for the ever-increasing bounty on his head. Once more the power of attraction had stayed his hand at the fatal moment, and he had ended up on-board that transport ship, locked into a hypersleep capsule that would not allow him the mercy of sleep; muzzled like a dog.
That is what reaching out to humanity had done to him in the past.
No, he reprimanded himself, that was what unbridled lust had done to him.
His thoughts returned to Fry and the sacrifice she had made when she left the safety of the skiff to save him. She had made a promise -- a rash promise -- to not leave anyone living behind and, in honor of her sacrifice, he had made the same one to himself. But did these three humans on the Sulaco count among that number? Or was this just another cosmic joke being played upon him by a cruel God?
Another thought struck him. Did any of it truly matter? Perhaps it was his destiny to fight for every moment of his life.
"We get Jack to the Drop Ship first, secure it... and then we get the others."
The Imam nodded, grinning broadly, and laid his dark hand upon Riddick's bare forearm. "How far that little candle throws its beams. So shines a good deed in a naughty world."
Riddick gave the Imam a strange look, not certain if he was being mocked or praised. He let it go, moving back to the pilot's seat to commence docking procedures. He docked the skiff as quietly as possible, leaving the Imam and Jack to monitor the motion sensors while he secured the umbilical and locked it into place. Silently, he wished there had been a medical kit onboard the skiff but it must have been removed decades before. They had done their best to seal any wounds, hoping that the smell of their blood would not attract the creatures that had infested the Sulaco.
Riddick opened the airlock and stepped into the darkened interior of the ship. The corridor stretching out before him was long and empty, showing no sign of any life or of any destruction. He felt Jack's hand grabbing hold of the hem of his torn singlet, understanding her fear, but he had spent the past decade of his life in such darkness. It was no stranger to him, and with his doctored eyes he could see far more than with normal eyes.
They moved swiftly through the seemingly dead ship, following the path Riddick had memorised from the schematic. He breathed a sigh of relief when they reached the docking bay within a few minutes, having seen nothing unusual on their journey. Ahead, in a darkness broken only by the illumination of various flashing computer lights, he could easily make out the form of the Drop Ship. He motioned the others to silence, placing a hand over their mouths. Then he pushed them to a recess in the wall and motioned them to stay.
Using his special eyesight, he checked along the outside of the ship, looking for any anomalies. He cocked his head and listened carefully but could hear nothing stir within the immense bay. Taking a chance, he opened the ship, muscles tensed as the noise of the ramp descending echoed around him. He knew his eyesight was fallible, recalling that moment on the planet when they'd asked him to check the interior of another ship.
"Looks clear to me," he murmured softly, and stepped inside.
Unlike most people, Riddick felt no inclination to turn on the lights. Instead, he checked through the interior from back to front, and then back again, reassuring himself that it was safe before beckoning the others to join him.
Ripley's words came back to him. 'Go straight to the Drop Ship. Check it's clean and then get out of there... FAST', but he had made a promise to al-Walid. He turned to Jack.
"Stay here. Don't touch anything. Don't turn on the lights... and once I seal the door, don't open it unless it's someone human knocking."
She nodded. Taking a deep breath, Riddick turned to the Imam.
"Time to go light a candle."
As he stepped back towards the ramp, Riddick stopped and picked up an object lying on the floor partially concealed under the row of seats that lined the interior of the Drop Ship. It was a portable motion detector. He pursed his lips and switched it on, relieved to see nothing moving on the scope within fifty meters of their position although, once again, he knew not to rely on such things. He'd discovered in prison that motion detectors were only good if you were standing still and the prey was moving... not the other way around. He handed the device to the Imam knowing that it would be better if he kept his special eyes on their dark surroundings and leave the Imam to watch the scope.
Riddick stayed close by, watching carefully until the ramp had sealed the entrance to the Drop Ship, and then they moved swiftly away. He was aware of al-Walid trying to stay as close to him as possible, knowing his visibility was substantially reduced in the extremely dim emergency lighting that barely made an impact against the encroaching shadows.
They stopped at intersections, sweeping the path ahead with both eyes and the detector but nothing stirred. Ahead of them, Riddick could see the open bulkhead door that led into the living quarters and hypersleep chamber. He wondered if they had left the door open or if someone -- or something -- had opened it while they slept in their freezers.
Moving through the outer living quarters, he spotted a long pole that he guessed the Marines had used for sparring exercises. He hefted it, and removed the caps from the ends to reveal sharp points. Whatever its former purpose, it was now a weapon.
Riddick paused by the door, back against the wall and then whipped his head around the frame to peer inside, pulling back quickly. He had made out an ovoid shape on the floor next to the closest freezer but the top seemed to have been peeled back, exposing the innards. Something told him that whatever they had seen on the sensors on-board the ship earlier had come from that thing, and it was still in the room, motionless, but he had no idea what shape or form it took. All he knew was that Ripley had considered it dangerous enough to stay locked inside her hypersleep capsule rather than face the creature.
Another thought struck him. The ovoid shape looked like an egg but if it *was* an egg then something big had laid it. An odd skittering noise caught at his sensitive hearing and he looked across to see the Imam's eyes widen, flicking from the scope to the deep shadows in the room beyond. Whatever it was, it was heading towards them... fast.
Riddick stepped out to meet the creature head on, the makeshift spear held in readiness. It looked like a large severed hand racing towards him but it leaped up at the last moment, aiming for his face. Riddick thrust the spear towards it, piercing it mid-body. Its finger-like legs flayed wildly for a moment and then fell still, hanging loose. Riddick gave a small gasp as the end of his spear disintegrated, eaten away by what passed for blood, the clawed body dropping to the floor only a few feet away. He prodded at it with what remained of his spear but it was dead, the floor beneath it sizzling as whatever passed for blood ate through that too.
"Is it all clear?"
"Looks clear to me," he murmured.
"Wait. There's something else moving in there."
But Riddick grinned. He could see what was moving, and it wasn't anything more alien than a woman that he knew had to be Ripley. They stepped into the room and sealed the door behind them but the woman's eyes were looking frantically from them to the floor beyond the next hypersleep capsule, and she was saying something but her words would not penetrate the canopy. Riddick had a sudden suspicion that whatever had laid these eggs had left one for each of the humans sleeping here, and perhaps even a fourth in the belief that the android was also a potential meal. He nodded to her, realizing by her continued stillness that she suspected the creatures reacted as much to movement as to sight and scent.... and that meant that there was something else registering on Imam's motion detector. Riddick flipped the remains of the spear around in his hand, being careful to avoid the acid-eaten end.
It came crawling over the top of the canopy, its bony fingers clicking against the transparent lid only a foot above the sleeping child's face. It leaped, suddenly, but Riddick was ready and he threw the spear, skewering the creature mid-flight. It tumbled to the ground, its fingers clawing at the hard wood that had pierced it through the strange tubule beneath its body. Once more, Riddick saw waves of heat rising as its acid blood dissolved the wood in seconds, and then the flooring beneath its body but, like the other, it slowly curled its fingers up in the rigor of death.
Riddick looked around the large chamber hoping to spot something else he could use as a weapon but there was nothing... unless... He would be taking a big gamble that the aliens had registered the android as a non-lifeform and had placed only three eggs in the room, but if he was right then the remaining egg with its grisly occupant would also be between the second and third capsules. He motioned al-Walid to remain as still as possible, deciding to lure the hatching creature to him. Swiftly, he moved to the first unoccupied capsule and raised the canopy, leaving his finger poised over the close control. He could see the top of the egg slowly peeling back, and then the bony fingers appeared. It paused at the top and then launched itself at him. Swiftly, he pressed the control that set the canopy dropping back into place. The creature was far stronger than he anticipated, its prehensile tail wrapping around his forearm, fingers clawing for a hold as the tubule thrust at his mouth like an obscene tongue. Suddenly, al-Walid was beside him, loosening the creature's grip on his forearm and with one last desperate shove, Riddick threw the creature off him and into the foot of the capsule. He punched the creature hard as it tried to scrabble free... and then it was too late for it as the canopy closed, sealing the facehugger inside.
A quick scan proved that his intuition had been correct. There had been only the three eggs. The canopy on the first capsule rose slowly and Riddick waited as Ripley sat up. She ordered the lights raised by just a small amount, enough for normal eyes to see better.
"We have to get out of here. Now."
She reached over and started to activate the wake-up sequence for the capsule next to her that contained a girl far younger than Jack, with long blond hair. Riddick moved to the third capsule, his finger ready to key in the opening sequence... and he froze.
Inside, sleeping peacefully beneath a layer of white bandages, was the most beautiful man he'd ever seen. Tufts of short blond hair stood proud above the pristine head bandage. Long, blond eyelashes curled away from high cheekbones, frozen in sleep. His soft, inviting lips were slightly parted, begging to be kissed like a princess in an old fairy story.
Riddick's eyes swept the strong torso, clad only in boxers and the heavy bandages wrapped around his chest and arm. He could make out the fine down of golden hair around the man's navel, thickening as it swept beneath the low waistband of the Marine-issue boxers. Strong, lean thighs, muscular without being too well defined, were sparsely covered in more of the soft golden curls...
"He got splattered in alien blood."
Riddick winced, recalling the blood that had dissolved his spear, and realizing the damage it would have inflicted on delicate human flesh. He looked back and saw ancient eyes staring back at him from a little girl's elfin face. He had seen that same look before; had seen it in his own eyes. It was the look of those haunted by having seen too much, too young.
"Are you going to leave Hicks here?" She asked cautiously.
Riddick looked across at the Imam. His strong survival instincts told him to turn away from the beautiful man; to leave him in this dreamless, forever sleep. But another part of him -- the animal part -- was consumed by a heart-wrenching desire for this damaged man, a desire stronger than he had ever felt for anything in his life. He reminded himself of Johns and his betrayal, but there was something about the man sleeping here that made his heart cry out to trust again.
"I'll carry him."
"We won't make it." Her tiny voice seemed full of certainty, and as a sudden blipping noise crackled from the discarded motion detector, her voice dropped to a quivering whisper. "They're here."
Imam picked up the motion detector, his eyes widening.
"There are two things heading this way... and they are big."
"What about Bishop?"
Ripley had moved over to the fourth capsule and Riddick said nothing. Instead he gave her a hard stare before he pressed the button that would start the wake-up sequence for the sleeping Hicks, and then he turned away to watched as the canopy rose. It would be difficult enough trying to reach the Drop Ship hampered by one injured man without someone else having to carry the head and torso of a damaged android. Choices had to be made, and a human life outweighed that of a machine, even an expensive thinking machine like an android. But he realized that had no right to dictate choices to Ripley.
As soon as there was enough clearance, Riddick reached inside the capsule and hauled the still comatose man out and over his shoulder. He looked up to see regret cross Ripley's face as she moved away from the fourth capsule empty-handed.
They opened the door and raced through the outside quarters, stopping at the doorway that opened into the long corridor that led towards to the docking bay. Reaching the first intersection, Riddick glanced quickly round the corner and froze. In the distance, his 'shined' eyes could make out the forms of two large creatures moving swiftly in their direction. He gained an impression of bony protuberances and sharp teeth on a strangely cylindrical head with arms and legs ending in cruel, bony claws.
He pushed them back and they raced down the corridor to the previous intersection.
"In here." Ripley ordered them all into a small storage room and sealed the door shut. She pushed aside several small crates and pointed to the airduct vent. Riddick carefully dropped his burden to the floor and pushed his fingers through the grill, gaining a firm hold before pulling hard. He snarled in exertion and then barely caught himself from falling backwards when the vent cover gave way under his brute strength.
Ripley, the girl called Newt and then the Imam plunged into the dark hole. Riddick leaned over to grab a hold of the injured man called Hicks and was surprised to find one pain-filled, brilliant green eye staring back up at him. In that split second he saw that Hicks was everything Johns could never be. He read true courage and honor, and saw the hardening in the man's eye that was so reminiscent of that final look on Fry's face. It was a look that told Riddick that like Fry -- and unlike Johns -- Hicks was willing to sacrifice himself to save the others.
"Go. I'll hold them off. Give you time to escape." His soft, pain-filled voice was barely a whisper.
"Don't work like that."
Riddick backed into the vent and hauled Hicks in after him. The going was tortuously slow and he knew he was hurting the Marine but Hicks made no sound; not even the smallest whimper. Riddick froze when he heard a sound from far behind Hicks, realizing that the aliens had found the storage room and were trying to break through. He knew it would be only a matter of minutes before they succeeded and came into the airduct after them. He reached an intersection, his eyes and ears trying to make out which direction the others had taken.
"Left... left goes to the docking bay."
Riddick nodded and dragged Hicks round to the left, not needing to ask how Hicks knew where they were supposed to be headed. It made perfect sense to try and get off the Sulaco, which meant taking the Drop Ship. Ahead he could hear the sounds of Ripley, Newt and al-Walid but instead of the sound receding, it was getting closer. He stopped, uncertain what to do and then saw Ripley approaching fast. He knew her normal eyes would not have seen him yet so he called out as loud as he dared.
"They split up... It's coming."
They were trapped in the airduct unless Hicks had the strength to drag himself back to the intersection... unless... it would be a tight squeeze but... Riddick slithered over the prone form of Hicks, hearing the muffled cry of pain. His hands made contact with warm flesh, groin reacting instinctively as his body pressed against Hicks, his senses tingling in want as he registered the soft bulge at Hick's groin and the firm muscles of thigh, belly and chest... and then he was across. He turned his large frame in the tight space and grabbed Hicks by the ankles, dragging him back towards the intersection, reaching it only moments before Ripley and the others. He let them pick a turn and followed after, his hands under Hicks' armpits once more.
"Leave me. I'm slowing you down."
"No." Riddick continued to drag Hicks through the dark airduct.
"You haven't got a choice," Hicks whispered raggedly, his green eye staring up at Riddick, filled with fear and resignation before looking back down the shaft. Riddick looked back along the airduct... and into the face of a monster.
The creature had reached Hicks, grasping onto his legs and tugging him backwards. Riddick held on, grimly, recalling the look on Fry's face in that last second before the bloodthirsty night creatures on that planet had ripped her from his arms. He didn't understand why but he didn't want to lose Hicks; didn't want to let him disappear into the darkness with this alien.
He felt his fingers slipping as he played tug-of-war with the creature, and then screamed out his rage as Hicks shot away into the darkness, just as Fry had done. The sound of the second creature approaching spurred him out of his sudden despair, reigniting his survival instincts, and he turned and fled. He reached another intersection and saw al-Walid straining to keep the heavy blades of a fan motionless. Riddick crawled through swiftly, barely making it before the Imam's strength gave way. The fan restarted, forming a barrier between them and the second creature. It snarled, baring multiple sets of teeth on an extending jaw, and then it turned and scurried away.
Riddick followed the others, his heart beating sluggishly in his chest in despair for a man who probably didn't even know his name; a man he had only just met and would never see again. Yet, somehow, Hicks had slipped beneath all his defenses without even trying, with just a look and a few words of self-sacrifice.
Heartsick, he dropped down beside the others, surprised to realize that they had made it into the docking bay.
"Will it be quick?"
Ripley stared at him, her eyes dulled with loss. "No."
"What do you mean?"
"If they didn't kill him outright... in the airduct... then they have plans to use him as a host for one of their own."
"The creatures you killed in the hypersleep chamber. They plant the embryo of one of those... things into a living host. Within a few hours it emerges... by tearing its way through the chest wall of its victim."
Riddick was stunned. He thought those creatures in the chamber had been attacking with the intention of devouring fresh meat so they could grow into those other things. Now the true horror of Hicks' situation struck him.
"I can't let that happen."
"You can't go back. You'll never find him in time."
"I have to try. I have an idea where they would have taken him." He motioned towards the Drop Ship. "Get it ready. If I'm not back in twenty-five minutes... then I'm not coming back."
Ripley nodded, understanding the unspoken words and silently promising that she would destroy the ship rather than leave Riddick and Hicks to suffer the same fate as both the Colonists of Acheron and the unfortunate Marines who had gone to rescue them.
"Wait." She hurried to a rack standing close to the ship. "You'll need these."
She opened a hidden compartment and drew out two weapons from an armory. One was a flamethrower, the other a pulse rifle made especially for the Space Marines. He accepted both with a nod of thanks but discarded the flamethrower in the corridor beyond the docking bay.
What use was a weapon that would blind him if he used it?
Hicks awoke to a world of pain. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious but he knew it couldn't have been long as the alien was still beside him. He tried to move but realized he had been encased in the sticky resin that, even now, was still being secreted by the large creature.
The alien warrior noticed his movement and leaned in, its fetid breath fanning over Hicks face as it hissed. Outer and inner jaws snapped out, biting at the air only centimeters from his face. He tried to control his erratic breathing, silently taunting himself.
You're a Marine. You are one of the best. Don't be like Hudson.
He recalled Hudson's rising hysteria and fear-filled eyes. How many times had Hudson come close to losing it before *they* finally took him? But had he suffered the same fate, encased in this strange resin, waiting to be impregnated with an alien embryo? How long did incubation take? Had Hudson been granted a fiery death when the Processing Station exploded, taking all of Hadley's Hope with it, or had he suffered the pain of the alien's birth?
Hicks watched in morbid fascination as the second alien carried one of the familiar eggs towards him and placed it on the ground just below him. It backed away, fading into the shadows beyond and Hicks had no idea if it had gone away or found a place to sit and watch the birth of another of its kind.
He closed his eyes, remaining motionless, and let his thoughts flow free. He recalled Bishop giving him an injection while they were waiting on the Drop Ship, to ease the pain of his acid-burned flesh. Ripley had gone, unable to leave the little girl to face her terrible fate alone, convinced that she could find her and bring her to safety, untouched, before the Processing Station exploded. Twenty-six minutes... that's all the time they had left before that catastrophic explosion... but Hicks had not known if she had made it until he came to full awareness with a stranger above him, and then heard her voice and saw Newt pass by.
She *had* made it -- that time -- but had luck still been on her side this time? Or was she being cocooned along with the others, both the known and the unknown ones?
All Hicks knew for certain was that no one would be coming for him.
This whole mission had been like a nightmare, and he prayed this was the case, hoping he would wake up in the barracks or in his hypersleep capsule to discover it had all been a bad dream. He squeezed his eyes shut and opened them again to the same terrible vision of hanging from the wall in what had once been the engineering section with the strange egg placed just below.
Then he thought of the stranger who had tried to drag him to safety.
Who was he? Where had he come from?
Hicks had learned to read most people and he recalled the same look on the man's face that he had seen in Newt's eyes. Whoever he was, he had felt pain, and he had seen horrors beyond imagining but there had been far more in the strangely shining dark eyes that stared directly into his own. He had seen conflict, confusion... and desire.
Hicks almost laughed as he felt his abused body try to react to the memory of the man's hard, muscular body crawling over his in the ventilation duct. He wasn't certain but he thought he had felt evidence of the man's desire, recalling the feel of the hard bulge pressing along the length of his body as he crawled over him, igniting something within deep within Hicks as their groins touched momentarily.
As the alien warrior dragged him away he had heard the man bellow in pain and loss, and he knew that had been for him.
He could feel the tightness of tears fighting to fall and tried to convince himself that he cried out of physical pain rather than for his fate and for any missed opportunities. He didn't know why he had fixated on a stranger when he didn't even know the man's name, but something inside told him that there should have been far more between them than that one fleeting moment.
By now *he* was probably dead, or awaiting his fate some place close by. Hicks felt a sudden urge to call out, wanting that man to know he was not alone but fear held his tongue in case he discovered that it was *he* who would be dying alone.
Damn it, you're a Marine, Hicks. Die like a Marine. Die fighting.
"Is anyone out there?"
He was surprised by the weakness in his own voice. Movement below made him drop his eyes to the egg and he watched, strangely curious as the top slowly peeled back with a sticky slurping noise to reveal a pulsating interior. He could see a single bony protuberance cocooned in a gelatinous substance that he thought of as the white of a egg. It started to move, slowly birthing from its egg, its fingers twitching as it clawed its way to the rim.
Sudden movement caught his eye and he looked up momentarily. A dark shape had lunged out of darkness and Hicks felt both fragile hope and renewed fear as he gained an impression of weirdly shining eyes before his attention fell back to the obscene egg and its grotesque occupant. The egg was shoved aside, rolling a little way down the corridor and the facehugger came spinning free but two shots from a pulse rifle gave it no chance to regain its balance and zero in on them.
The stranger dropped the rifle to the ground and began to tear at the sticky resin encasing Hicks, and Hicks found he was mesmerized by the powerful muscles that rippled beneath smooth, dirt and blood streaked skin. As his limbs were freed he fell forward into those arms and he looked up to find those mysterious eyes looking straight into his again. Once more, he felt the force of his attraction to this stranger. Lips descended upon his; warm and soft, then hard and demanding, tongue plunging into his mouth in deep possession... and then they were apart.
Looking into the stranger's face, Hicks saw the man's strong resolve, and saw the determination not to waste another moment.
He felt his mind reeling as his weakened body was pulled against the strong frame. The heady scent of blood and male sweat filled his senses and part of him knew that this was more than some innate reaction fueled by a biological need to survive. Sex had always been more exhilarating just before a mission... and just after but there was something about this man, an instant attraction that went beyond the sexual.
"We have to move fast."
The voice was deep and smooth, sending shivers along Hicks' spine. He nodded and, allowing the stranger to take most of his weight, they raced along a corridor that had ceased to look like part of the Sulaco. Instead, the walls were lined with strange ridges made of the same alien secretions that had encased him. He recalled finding the same strange moldings in Hadley's Hope, close to where Ripley believed there would be a huge queen laying these eggs and he prayed -- hard -- that they wouldn't come across her in their desperate race to safety.
An alien warrior screeched ahead of them and the stranger shoved Hicks aside, letting him fall to the ground, while he aimed the pulse rifle. He started firing immediately, and Hicks presumed he did not want the creature to get too close in case they were sprayed in the same acid blood that had injured him back on Acheron.
Its head exploded like a ripe watermelon, splattering blood and gore across the corridor, and every place it landed hissed and smoked as the acid began to eat through the metal. Riddick hauled him back onto his feet and started to move forward but Hicks hesitated.
"What is it?"
He looked down at his bare feet, swallowed hard and then deep a deep breath, nodding his agreement to go on but the stranger had understood the problem. He threw Hicks over his shoulder and ran through the mess as fast as he could, trying to leap over the worst areas. On the other side he dropped Hicks to the ground and frantically pulled off his boots before the acid finished eating its way through the soles.
Hicks could only sit and watch, unable to assist in any way. The boots were thrown some distance away, landing in more of the acid blood and sizzling instantly. In the dim light Hicks had no idea how bad the stranger had been injured but he saw no more than a small grimace cross the man's face as he pushed back onto his, now, bare feet.
Hicks grabbed the offered arm. He slung his right arm around the man's broad, muscular shoulder, accepting the arm that wrapped around his back at waist height. Then they were moving again, hobbling down the corridor as fast as possible. They had almost reached the outer door to the docking bay when a klaxon sounded, and the stranger howled in frustration. On the wall outside a large light blinked in warning that the bay had depressurized. They heard a whoosh from beyond as the Drop Ship launched, leaving them behind.
They slumped to the floor and Hicks turned frustrated eyes to the stranger, horrified that his rescue had doomed them both. He cried inside, hating the fact that this man had left the safety of the Drop Ship and come back to him for nothing.
"I'm sorry... and I don't even know your--"
"Riddick. And I'm not sorry." He leaned back against the corridor wall, eyes closed.
Hicks saw the flamethrower lying discarded on the floor and he caressed its cool surface for a moment before gripping it tightly. Perhaps they could reach the queen and destroy her and her remaining eggs? Then he frowned as another thought occurred to him.
"How did you get here?"
Riddick's eyes opened wide. "The skiff."
Riddick felt like smacking his head against the wall of the corridor. How could he have forgotten about the skiff? The small craft wouldn't hold more than three days of air but they didn't need any more than that, just enough to reach the Drop Ship. He hauled Hicks to his feet and together they hobbled onwards, retracing the route he had used to reach the docking bay when they first arrived.
Within a few minutes they were close to the umbilical but Hicks drew them to a halt.
"We have to make sure nothing's in there. Can't afford to let any of those things escape."
"I'll go... I can see better than you."
Riddick nodded and left Hicks leaning heavily against the corridor wall. He approached the skiff cautiously. He had killed only one of the larger aliens so there was at least one more prowling around that he knew about. Riddick's sixth sense kicked in as soon as he reached the open hatchway. He was certain they had closed it behind them in case they were forced to return... so something or someone had opened it since then.
He glanced into the darkened interior, his 'shined' eyes searching for anything that ought not belong. It helped that he had become overly familiar with the interior of the skiff over the past days due to their enforced confinement. Something moved, slowly uncoiling from the beneath the pilot's console, moving out of the deep shadows. Riddick saw saliva dripping from its sharp teeth as the inner jaw extended with a hiss. He gave a silent curse. He couldn't risk killing the creature in here using the pulse rifle as the acid blood would destroy the instrument panel or, perhaps, even breach the hull of the small vessel. He slowly backed away as the creature uncurled to the maximum height allowed within the cramped compartment, moving into the small stretch of umbilical attaching the skiff to the Sulaco. It came forward, matching him step for step but Riddick knew that would not last for much longer.
Once clear of the hatchway Riddick knew he would have to run as fast as possible, hoping to gain enough ground so he could turn and fire without fear of being splattered in the alien's blood.
Part of him recalled the voracious creatures on the planet he had escaped from, how they had a blind spot directly in front. But this creature had no discernible weaknesses that he could use to his advantage except...
He stepped back into the corridor, knowing this would be his only chance as the larger bulk of the alien warrior would hamper its passage through the umbilical. He turned, running hard and shouting to Hicks in warning. The alien screeched, its bloodthirsty cry echoing along the dimly lit corridor. When he knew he had gained sufficient distance from the skiff, and only a few feet from where he left Hicks, Riddick slid to a halt, turning and dropping to one knee. He raised the pulse rifle and pulled the trigger, his heart freezing in disbelief and shock when nothing happened. The alien warrior was hurtling towards him, jaws extended, and Riddick frantically slapped at the useless weapon.
He yelled in pain as an orange-red flare of light illuminated the corridor, searing his eyes with its intensity and blinding him with its brilliance. A scream of agony erupted from the alien warrior but Riddick could only press his hands to his pain-filled eyes.
Riddick felt Hicks' arm upon his shoulder. Ignoring his loss of vision, he pushed up to his feet and grabbed hold of Hicks, letting Hicks be his guide back to the skiff. Working blindly, from memory alone, he sealed the skiff's hatchway and slammed his hand against the umbilical release.
Hicks crawled into the pilot's seat, adrenaline keeping him going when his body should have given in, and he fired up the engine. They dropped away from the Sulaco and he punched in for maximum acceleration, wanting to put as much distance between them and the Sulaco as possible. Moments later a shock-wave struck them, sending the small skiff hurtling out of control. Hicks fought with the controls but he was severely hampered by the heavy bandages across his chest and left shoulder. He lost his seating and hit the floor hard, body crashing into first one wall and then the other before finally fetching up against something firm yet warm to the touch.
Hazard lights flashed while warning systems sent out a cacophony of blares and frantic beeps. The skiff stabilized and Hicks drew away from the warmth of Riddick's body, dragging himself back into the pilot's seat.
"The Sulaco's gone. Ripley must have destroyed it."
Hicks ran a quick system check and sighed in relief when the on-board computer diagnosed no problems. He dropped his head to the console, silently giving thanks for another small miracle; these twenty to thirty year old skiffs had been built to take a lot of punishment. He reached for the communications panel.
"Ripley? This is Hicks."
"Hicks?" He heard the relief in Ripley's voice and grinned but another younger voice came through before he could answer; that of a child or young woman though it was not Newt.
"Is Riddick with you?"
"Yeah. He's here... but he's hurt."
Ripley came back, "Are you both... clean?"
"Yeah... we're clean. Though it was a close call."
"I have you on our screens. It'll take us a couple of hours to reach you... you've been thrown a fair distance in the opposite direction to us."
"Drop Ship status?"
"Good. It's good."
"See you in two hours then. Hicks out."
Hicks pushed the palm of his hand against his left eye and groaned softly. He looked across at Riddick with his remaining eye and chuckled.
"What a pair. One good eye between two of us." He sobered. "I want to thank--"
"Don't need to."
"Is it bad?" He indicated towards then realized Riddick probably couldn't see the gesture but the man understood anyway.
"No. Just too much light. It'll clear."
"I'll dim the cabin lights."
"Sounds romantic," Riddick answered in a deep and melodic voice that held a hint of mischief despite the pain he had to be suffering.
Hicks laughed nervously having had the same crazy thought. He placed the lights on the lowest setting and then slipped from the pilot's seat to the floor. Moving slowly, trying hard to ignore his own pain, he shuffled back until he was seated next to Riddick with his back to the skiff's wall. He could feel the heat pouring from Riddick and he turned his head to try and make out the strong profile in the dimmed interior but then he looked away.
He thought about Hudson who'd had just four weeks remaining before he left the Marines, and of the life the man had already laid out for himself. It didn't seem fair, but Hicks had learned long ago not to make too many plans in their line of work. In the darkness of the skiff it was easy to picture the faces of the men and women he had known and lost on this mission.
Apone had been his mentor in many ways, always pushing at him, telling him he could be far more than just a grunt. He'd often told him he'd make good officer material if he would just put in the effort but Hicks had never wanted the responsibility. This recent mission had shown him, all too clearly, that he *could* lead when it came down to it, but it had also shown him that he'd been both right and wrong about himself. He hadn't enjoyed being responsible for the lives of others, but neither had he liked being in a position where someone he couldn't trust had control over his life -- and death.
Gorman had been just one more in a long line of lieutenants who'd come to them unprepared for the reality of warfare. He made mistakes that cost lives, and though he had redeemed himself at the end, Hicks couldn't help wondering why they had sent him. Most likely, no one had taken Ripley's account of what happened to the Nostromo seriously; no one except Burke.
Images of the others flashed through his mind; Vasquez, Frost, Dietrich, Drake, Spunkmeyer, Ferro, Crowe and Wierzbowski. All of them dead along with Burke and every Colonist on Acheron apart from one small girl who had survived against all odds. He thought of Bishop and wondered if he was waiting on the Drop Ship with the others though he couldn't recall seeing the android during their flight through the airducts.
What it all came down to was a single decision made; that it was time to leave the Marines. He'd only six or seven months left until he could leave voluntarily but he didn't want to end up like Hudson, sent on a final tour that would take him to an early grave. Hicks knew he had saved enough to buy his release as soon as he had finished rehabilitation.
With his decision made he turned his attention back to the handsome man seated beside him.
"So... what's your story?"
What's my story?
This was a God-given opportunity to practice being someone other that Richard B. Riddick, murderer and escaped felon, but Riddick knew that he couldn't fool this man... and even if he could he found he didn't want to. Still, for the first time in his life he actually felt ashamed of being what he was. He wished he could tell Hicks that he was a 'connoisseur' like Ogilvie, or a company pilot like Fry... or even a bounty hunter like Johns.
"I'm a murderer. I escaped from prison, was recaptured and was being transported back to prison when the ship we were on crashed."
Riddick waited, expecting some reaction from Hicks... a pulling away physically, or some condemnation in his voice.
"That explains the eyes." Hicks murmured softly and he shifted position but it served only to increase the contact between them rather than move them apart. "This skiff is decades old, and has limited use as a lifeboat--"
"We found it on the planet. The previous owners weren't alive to make any objections."
"What killed them?"
"The dark." Riddick moved until he was facing Hicks. His vision had started to clear and he could almost make out some of Hicks' features beneath the now dirtied bandage. "Your aliens are not the only monsters out there. Different type, same result. No more colony."
Hicks nodded in weary acceptance.
"Figures." His eyelid drooped and he seemed unable to keep it open. "I'm tired."
"I'll watch over you."
"Okay." Hicks smiled, hearing more than a simple promise in the warm voice.
Riddick saw the single eye close and knew Hicks had fallen asleep almost instantly, too drained by recent events to stay awake. He felt Hicks' head drop onto his shoulder, and he smiled.
Some instinct told him that he had reached a turning point in his life; that he had ceased to walk in the shadows, but that he wouldn't be walking this new path alone. He reached across and laid a hand, possessively, upon Hicks' thigh.
In just under two hours they would dock with the Drop Ship. Ten days after that they would rendezvous with another Colonial Marines' vessel and, if God had finished playing games with him, then sometime in between, Richard B. Riddick would cease to exist.
Hicks stepped off the freighter and surveyed the busy concourse. The journey from Earth had taken fifteen days and though he had spent the entire trip in hypersleep, he did not feel rested.
Two months had passed since his miraculous escape from the Sulaco. He had spent most of it in the hospital having treatment to heal his acid-burned skin. It was fortunate that the burns had not been too severe and, for that, he could only be thankful that he had been wearing body armor at the time.
His thoughts returned to Drake, remembering how the acid blood had splattered across the man's face, eating into his skin. Hicks had been lucky that he was hit mostly in the chest where the armor was thickest. None of the acid had hit his face but the chemical reaction of acid on metal had released a vapor that had burned him there and on his arm. He was also fortunate that Ripley had kept her head and helped him to rip off the armor. Her swift reaction had probably saved his life as well as his skin.
His face had healed fast, and the skin grafts on his shoulder and arm had ensured there was no noticeable scarring. He had been more than grateful to regain most of his vision in the left eye too though he was unlikely to ever have his full sight restored. Still, it was far better than he had hoped.
He used those eyes now to scan the concourse, trying to spot a familiar figure among all the people but there was no one waiting by the gate. Hicks hefted his bag over his shoulder, feeling a twinge at the pull of new skin. He walked through the gate and gradually merged into the crowd, looking for a bank of videophones so he could make a call.
He found a bank of sorry-looking phone booths and slid into one, reaching into his top pocket to extract a tattered piece of paper containing just a single set of numbers. His sixth sense kicked in just before he started to tap in the number, and he turned his head swiftly to find a grinning Riddick leaning up against the booth.
Hicks grinned back at him in welcome and then looked beyond him.
"Where are the others?"
"Told them you were due in tomorrow."
Hicks frowned. He had been expecting to see Ripley at least and he wondered at Riddick's subterfuge. He thought, momentarily of the three others.
Ripley had nothing to return to on Earth except a low paid job on the cargo docks, running loaders and forklifts, as Burke had reneged on his promise. He was to have had her reinstated as a company pilot before they left for Acheron. Still he had, at least, convinced them to let her have her pilot's license back... for what that was worth without a ship of her own, and with a record that would not impress any prospective employer.
With all her family dead on Acheron, Newt had no place to go except for an orphanage with the faint hope of being fostered on some backwater planet. However, Ripley had asked for guardianship and Newt was considered old enough to make her own decision. She chose to stay with Ripley.
The third member of their group was Jack. Like Newt she had no immediate family and, as she was considered an adult, the authorities were not interested in her situation. She had been traveling on a cheap ticket to the home planet of distant relatives. They had, begrudgingly, promised to let her stay with them until she found work and a place of her own. However, instead of traveling on she had remained with Ripley -- and with Riddick.
It should have seemed strange that they had all stuck together but the bonds they had formed in those dark days had held them as fast as those he had formed with his Marine unit.
He thought of his unit. As the only surviving member he had felt lost without Apone, Vasquez and the others -- even Hudson -- and he had readily reached out to these others... and to Riddick.
While he underwent treatment for his injuries, and organized his early release, he had kept in contact with them, taking part in any decisions they made for their joint future. Between them they had raised sufficient cash to put down a part-payment on a battered old freighter using the compensation money claimed back from the various companies involved in their recent tragedies.
It wasn't a large ship but it was already starting to pay for itself as they took on cargo and passengers for short journeys.
Hicks licked his lips cautiously. "So... we got plans for today?"
"Could say that."
Hicks felt growing excitement even though it was difficult to read Riddick as his eyes were concealed behind a fashionable pair of darkened glasses, but the curl of Riddick's lips told him everything he needed to know. Hicks picked up his bag and indicated for Riddick to lead on. They walked in silence but the occasional brush of arm or hip sent eager anticipation through him for greater contact.
As they walked, Hicks turned his thoughts away from the building desire and back to the Drop Ship.
Ripley had hesitated over the hypersleep capsules but had relaxed when the floor panels slid back to reveal nothing unusual. She explained her belief that one of the Marines -- or Burke -- had managed to reach the Drop Ship and had crawled into one of the capsules in the belief that it would freeze the growing embryo too. However, Hicks knew it was far more plausible that several of the alien queen's offspring, newly emerged from their hosts' bodies, had come on-board attached to her in some way.
That had left just a single problem for them -- Riddick.
Jack and the Imam, Abu al-Walid, had already made a pact with Riddick -- before they met with the Sulaco -- to tell the authorities that Riddick had died on that planet. Neither Ripley, Newt nor he had any objections to making a similar pact and so, Richard B. Riddick ceased to exist. Riddick assumed the identity of John 'Zeke' Ezekial, one of the unfortunate passengers who had survived the crash only to be killed and eaten by the night creatures. Zeke had seemed the most appropriate choice as, like Shazza Montgomery, he had been a lone prospector with no family or close friends to worry about.
Hicks grimaced, recalling the intense pain he had struggled with from his acid burns. Once that pact had been made it had made sense to place him into one of the three capsules as there was little left in the on-board medical kit to help ease his pain. At least in sleep he would gain some reprieve. He had kept his eyes locked onto Riddick's until they became too heavy, and by the time they brought him out of hypersleep, Riddick had gone.
A small prospector's vessel had hailed them and Riddick had left rather than face the possibility of being identified as an escaped felon by the Captain of the Sherlock. But he had left having promised to rendezvous with the others; a promise that he had kept.
"Do I still call you Zeke?"
"Yeah. Kinda grown on me."
Riddick led him to a small motel on the outskirts of the busy spaceport and then up to a cheap but clean room. Barely had Hicks stepped across the threshold when he was grabbed by strong arms and pulled into a hard embrace. Eager lips sought his, tongue plundering his mouth and Hicks groaned in acceptance, letting his bag drop unheeded to the floor.
He'd dreamed of this from the moment that they'd met, wanting to touch and taste the more heavily muscled man. Riddick kicked out and the door slammed behind them, shutting out the rest of the world as they focused only on each other. Within moments they had maneuvered to the bed, stripping as they went, falling heavily as the edge of the bed struck the back of Hicks' knees.
"Damn... anyone would think we hadn't been laid in years."
"Just seems like it."
Riddick rose up onto one elbow and looked down at Hicks. He reached across and dimmed the lights, then removed the dark shades from his eyes. Hicks stared up into the silvery eyes, unmoving as Riddick's hand traced over the slightly raised ridges of the still slowly healing flesh on his shoulder and arm. Tingles of electricity raced down from the over-sensitive nerve endings, pulsing into his groin, and Hicks reached up to make his own exploration of Riddick's hard body.
He mirrored Riddick's hand as it swept from shoulder to hip, curling the palm of his hand around one firmly curved ass cheek as Riddick's hand cupped his in turn. He didn't resist as he was pulled over until they were lying face to face, mouths seeking contact once more. Slowly, they rocked together, hard shafts bumping and pressing, seeking greater contact, greater friction as they kissed hungrily.
Hicks felt the first ripple of impending orgasm flow over him, and he pressed harder against the firm body, gripping his lover tighter, his lips crushed against Riddick's. He was gasping, desperate for release as his senses climbed higher and higher. Then, suddenly, Riddick gasped into his mouth, his strong fingers digging with bruising strength into Hicks' ass as the heat of his release pulsed between them, giving Hicks the friction he needed to reach his own climax.
They held on tight as the last tremors raced through their bodies, hips still thrusting gently as they sought to hold onto the pleasure for just a little longer, but finally they released each other, flopping back onto the mattress.
Hicks could hear Riddick's fast breathing, and could hear his own in perfect synchronization. He closed his eyes and grinned. His dreams of this moment had been a grim shadow compared to the reality. All his fears of finding this reality some how lacking had disappeared completely, vanquished by the pleasure they had found in each other's arms.
Hicks laughed softly.
And this was only the beginning.
He felt gentle movement on the bed and when he opened his eyes he found Riddick raised on one elbow, looking down at him again. In sudden realization, he knew why Riddick had arranged for them to meet alone. Until this moment, all they'd had together might have been explained away as the attraction and urgency of two men fighting to survive, like a biological imperative to mate just to prove they still lived.
Hicks had been afraid that the intensity of his feelings for Riddick had been a product of their situation, and that those feelings might have passed by the time they met up again. This fear of finding they had nothing between them in the aftermath of their battle to survive must have been just as strong in Riddick.
As he looked up into those shining, pleasure-sated, smiling eyes, Hicks knew that those fears had been unwarranted -- for both of them. Whatever strange connection they had made on-board the Sulaco had not diminished even with the months separating them.
As Riddick brushed his lips with a softer caress, Hicks smiled. He felt as if he had spent his entire life walking in the shadows as the plaything of others; to be used and abused as his commanders saw fit. For the first time he felt in complete control of his life and, at this moment in time, he knew exactly what he wanted.
Hicks reached out to what he wanted and pulled Riddick into a deeper kiss fueled by renewed passion. Tomorrow they would face Ripley, Jack and Newt, making them aware of his new relationship with Riddick within their strange new family. Yet, somehow, he knew there would be no objections, and with the last of his fears falling away, Hicks gave himself up to the pleasure he'd found in his lover's arms as they started a new life -- together.