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With One Eye Open

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Ripley wakes early. She planned it that way. The system tried to fight her when she did, people aren't supposed to go in and out of hypersleep like this, but she made it listen. She's an old hand at making systems do what she wants (just as long as those systems are computers; people never listen) and this one's no different. She's not going to be out here for another fifty-seven years. Not this time.

This time there isn't another fifty-seven years to spare.

She was the last to go under and waited just long enough to be sure nothing else followed them on board before she finally slept herself. The system brings her out of it less than a week into the trip.

Ripley rolls for the floor, grabbing the gun she'd stowed, and onto her back in the same motion. It's a half-fumbled motion with her head still fuzzy from the hypersleep and the sound of her flesh slapping the metal floor sounds too loud, but nothing snarls or leaps out at her from the corners.

She can almost believe nothing will.

Almost.

She stays where she is for a minute, maybe two, until her head clears and she's sure the room is empty. When she's reasonably convinced it's safe, she gets up to check the tubes. Everyone's still out, readings clear and steady, and she's clear to check the rest of the ship.

She does, but not before she seals the room first.

Just in case.

-

She can't fix Bishop, synthetics aren't her area, but she needs to talk to him.

He looks at her. "We're not there yet," she says, settling beside him. "I—" she picks at the equipment, not quite able to meet his eyes. "I've been thinking about Earth and going back."

"You're right," Bishop rasps, slurring the words with his injuries. "You can't go back there. None of us can." She's still surprised how much that gargling sound worries her. Surprised and guilty at her surprise. "The Company—"

"I know," she nods. "I know." She does. She knows what will happen. Plausible deniability. One survivor is a crackpot, two is a problem, three is a PR nightmare, four a goddamn disaster. The Company will never let her keep Newt. Bishop will be scrapped. Hicks—Hicks'll be shipped off to some backwater rock (possibly even LV-426 itself; she knows they'll never stop trying to get one of those goddamn things into a lab and what better way to get rid of their most credible witness than to send him after it) never to be seen or heard from again.

Bishop is right, but, "Hicks needs treatment and you—" She doesn't know if they even treat synthetics. For all she knows they just scrap them in favor of a better model.

She's not going to let that happen to him. She can't. She can't let any of them go.

Bishop hesitates, looking almost guilty. "There are places that you can go—places that will take care of that kind of thing."

"For a price."

His guilt melts into an amused smile. "Yes, for a price, but that won't be a problem."

Ripley's eyebrow rises and his smile just widens in answer. She likes it. It's the kind of smile that could almost make her forget what he is. "Bishop."

"You'd be surprised what kind of things people will say with a synthetic in the room," he says, sounding smug. "It's like they think we aren't people."

"Funny that," she says, letting herself smile too. "So, if I were to listen to a synthetic with a secret, what would I get?"

"Coordinates and something to trade with."

She recognizes the coordinates, but the information doesn't mean a thing. Bishop, however, seems to believe it'll will net her a small fortune in the right hands.

Given all he's done so far, Ripley's willing to go on a little faith.

-

She resets the coordinates, then checks the ship again before settling into hypersleep until her next scheduled check.

-

The next time she wakes up they're about halfway through the trip. Ripley stares at the ceiling above her, heart pounding as she tries to listen for things that aren't there, and waits before going for the gun. Stupid to be this afraid when she's searched the ship twice, but maybe not. The aliens are patient. They sat in that ship for decades waiting to be discovered again. They would have waited decades more if Newt's parents hadn't stumbled across them.

"They were gone too long," Newt had volunteered, the words muffled against the dirt-smudged knee of her pants, when Ripley had sat down beside her. "Timmy said it was all right, but I knew it wasn't. I knew it never would be and then—his face." Her voice had gone shrill, sharp with the echoes of screams and Ripley had wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

She hadn't said anything in response. She remembered that sick feeling. The certainty that everything had just changed even if you didn't understand how yet.

"They tried to take it off, the doctors, but it didn't work. He—" Newt had started sobbing. "They went back for more. My mom said they thought if they had them to study—"

Ripley had been able to work it out from there. She'd seen the lab and the reports. They'd brought back more than one for study and, somewhere along the line, one of them had gotten loose. Like they always did.

After that...

Twenty years of terraforming, twenty years of building a future in that colony, and the whole thing had fallen apart in a matter of days. Padding through the dark and quiet ship, Ripley tries not to picture the same thing happening to other colonies, to Earth, and fails miserably.

'More of them to study—'

Newt's words echo in Ripley's ears and she tightens her grip on her gun. One more sweep and its back into hypersleep.

-

The next time the system wakes her, its for a proximity alert. Shipping lanes and a freighter with a gremlin-riddled nav system. They don't collide, but it's close.

Ripley checks the ship again, to be sure, and gets dressed. She's tired of cold deck beneath bare feet and, surrounded by the ships and satellites of an inhabited system, she's daring enough to risk the sound of boots on metal. The world should feel real again, but it doesn't and it won't.

She won't be sure there's nothing stowed away until every piece has been ripped away and every hiding place big enough has been revealed.

Looking at Newt through the glass, Ripley lays a hand against the tube. "Sweet dreams, kiddo," she says, even though she knows first-hand that it will be a while before that's possible.

If it ever is.

-

Bishop's coordinates take her to a station. It's a commercial hub with ships of all kinds moving in and out. They slip in easily under a stolen registry that lists them as a freighter, but no one will look too closely.

The station deals in all kind of commercial enterprises.

Ripley wakes Newt when they dock. She makes sure she's smiling and holding a glass of orange juice when she does. "Good morning."

"Are we there yet?" Newt rubs her eyes then pushes her bushy hair out of her face.

"We're somewhere," Ripley replies. She waits until Newt sits up before giving her the juice. "I didn't think it would be a good idea to go back to Earth just yet."

"But we will, right?" Newt asks, wiping juice from her chin. "You said Jonesy is there." She looks mutinous at the implication they aren't going back for him and Ripley's caught off guard. Jonesy had been a throwaway comment in the chatter she'd used to fill the silence as they'd moved Hicks and Bishop to the hypersleep chamber. Just one of a thousand things, but he's the one Newt fixates on now.

"He is," Ripley nods, accepting the instant connection. "And we'll get him."

"Never leave a man behind," Newt says, solemn as a judge. "Or a cat."

Ripley smiles again and kisses her forehead. "Exactly. Now finish your juice. We've got to get you dressed, kiddo. We are going out." She needs to find a doctor, and someone who deals in synthetics, and some supplies. They're not going home for a while. They'll need a little of everything before they head back out. "We have some shopping to do." She flicks a finger against Newt's shirt. "You need clothes. Can't run around in just a t-shirt, you know. It's indecent."

Newt giggles and the sound is so ordinary that, for a second, fifty-seven years haven't passed and she's home with Amy and the universe isn't about to go to hell in a acid-dripping handbasket.

"Drink up," Ripley says, hiding the sudden surge of emotion with a shakey smile. "You need the vitamins."

-

They walk through the spaceport like everyone else. This far out no one pays them—or the ship—much attention at all. Ripley doesn't pay them any attention either. Somehow, it seems better not to. Instead, she holds tight to Newt's hand and follows the directions Bishop had laid out for her.

"They don't know what's out there, do they?" Newt asks when they step into an elevator. The door closes slowly, the machinery grumbling every step of the way, and they get a good look at the people rushing past. Oblivious, every last goddamn one of them. She tries to remind herself that she was one of those people once. She hadn't known what was waiting out there either until it launched itself at her face. "They don't know the aliens are coming."

Ripley thinks about arguing that there's no proof the aliens are coming, but doesn't. It can't be the aliens on LV-426—even if some of them survived the reactor detonation—they'll never make it off-planet, but it doesn't have to be them. They hadn't been native to the planet, they'd been brought there from somewhere else. An unknown somewhere else A somewhere else that's just waiting to be found.

Somewhere Weyland-Yutani is probably spending a fortune looking for.

"No," she says, "they don't."

Newt nods. "We didn't either."

"No, we didn't."

-

They find their doctor. They find their synthetic expert. Ripley even gets her supplies.

It all goes so easily that it makes her a little nervous and she finds herself admitting as much to the newly-repaired Bishop. He's still trying out his new legs, bending one knee and then the other, as if not trusting them to do what he tells them.

Hicks will take longer. He's out of hypersleep but sedated, his synthetic skin-grafts shiny under the artificial lights. Newt's stretched out beside him, her head on his good shoulder, watching Ripley and Bishop's every move.

"We need to get out of here," Bishop agrees. "We can't stay still long. They'll be looking for you."

"I know." Ripley smiles wryly. "First I destroy one of their ships and then I turn around and nuked a million-dollar facility. If Weyland-Yutani has a Ten Most Wanted list, I'm on it."

"Not that I'm aware of," Bishop says, "but for this, they just might create one."

"They'll be looking for this ship. We'll need to get a new one."

"You could," he says, nodding, "but this one is heavily armed. We'll need that. It would be better to disguise this one. Altering the comm signature will be easy, the external markings less so."

"But it can be done?"

He nods. "It can be done."

"Bishop," she smiles. "If I didn't know better I'd think you were a pirate."

"No," he says, "but I have been on ships that hunted them."

"I'll remember that. It might come in handy."

He nods. "It will."

Marine ships have been stolen more than once. Ripley's heard stories. If this works, the Sulaco will join them.

-

They head back out. They need to disappear for a while. Hide out amidst the dozens of backwater planets no one's thought to take a look at yet. There's a lot of stars and a lot of space, hopefully enough to give them the time and distance they need to disappear forever. Seventeen days, Hicks had said.

Ripley counts them off in her head. They're almost there. Long enough for them to be counted overdue, almost long enough for them to come looking, but not enough, yet, to be written off as 'missing, presumed dead'.

Bishop knows of someone, a former Company engineer, who can help them disguise the ship. Hicks—Dwayne—knows someone who can get to Jonesy and ship him out.

They can't do that before the former, however, and it's difficult to explain that to Newt. Ripley wasn't expecting her reaction, but it's a welcome reminder that somewhere underneath all the composure and the calm there's still a little girl waiting to laugh. Maybe cry.

Either way, Newt makes Hicks promise, twice, that they're going to rescue Jonesy and Hicks is still chuckling over that when they fall into bed later. Ripley traces a gentle touch over the still-healing skin on his face. He catches her hand and brings it to his mouth, lips pressing against her palm.

"She's hellbent on rescuing that damn cat of yours," he says, eyes watching her. He watches her a lot, like he's not sure she's real, and that's fair. She does the same thing and, yeah, some days she's not sure he's real either.

Ripley nods. "She can save him. She couldn't save the others."

That's fair too.

-

She still searches the ship. Bishop keeps up a regular patrol, and Hicks too, when he's up to it, but Ripley can't rest.

Which is how she comes across Newt curled up in one of her hidey-holes, doll tucked tight against her chest, looking out at the stars.

"Hiding again," Ripley says, pulling herself up beside Newt. Beneath them Bishop walks down the corridor, apparently oblivious to them as he rounds the corner out of sight. "Bad dreams?"

Newt shakes her head. "I don't dream about the aliens."

"No," Ripley agrees. "You dream about the way things were before." She smiles at the look of surprise. "I do that too."

That gets her a nod. "I hid then," she says, when Ripley's reflection blanks out the starfield. "That's why I'm here."

Ripley's guessed as much, but it isn't easy to hear it. Not when there's such guilt in a little girl's voice. "Hiding was good," she says, running a hand over Newt's hair. "Hiding was very good."

"They all went one way—" Newt squeezes her doll. "I went the other. There were little places. The aliens couldn't reach. It was easier—"

"Not easier," Ripley lifts Newt into her arms, wraps her up tight in a hug and presses a kiss into her hair. "Just smart."

"I wanted them to hide with me," Newt says, sniffling, "but they wouldn't come out from behind the barricades."

And the aliens went in.

Ripley tightens her grip and Newt does the same. "They were scared," Ripley says. "People don't always do smart things when they're scared."

"You do," Newt says.

"Not always," Ripley says.

-

They make landfall again to meet Bishop's contact. Hicks goes with them this time, swinging Newt around to make her giggle, and it's a relief to have another pair of eyes watching.

Even so, Ripley doesn't relax. She keeps her ears open. Some days it's hard to remember if she's listening for news of Weyland-Yutani or for news of colonies going dark, reports of eggs and stomach-bursting aliens.

She just listens and waits to hear.

-

The first time she hears it she doesn't catch on until Hicks elbows her with a little grin. "Think she's talking to you."

Ripley turns her head to see Newt waving wildly from a vendor's stall, looking like any other little girl on the station, smiling as she calls out, again, "Mommy!"

She stops. For a second she's back on the ship, with Bishop half-dead beside her and a terrified Newt in her arms, then she's back again and they're on a planet she can't remember the name of, buying supplies and pretending to be normal.

Like they aren't waiting for the wrong person to open the wrong door on the wrong planet and set the whole nightmare moving again.

She passes a hand down the front of her jacket, feeling for a wound that never happened, and moves forward with a smile that's mostly real.

She's still waiting, but she'll be damned if that's all she's going to do.