218 days since the last attack.
Ripley eyed the people scattered around the mess hall. She'd been out for nearly two years and most of the people were new. Either she didn't remember them—her memory was flaky these days, except for the thing she wanted to forget most—or everyone she knew had died. There'd been two Kaiju attacks since she got injured, they'd had to move bases when the Los Angeles Shatterderdome had been destroyed, she'd expected to find a lot of people missing. But the reality of it was almost more than she could bear.
Most of the new faces ignored her, focused on their food and company. Some looked at her apprehensively. She had a reputation now. Used to be she was one of them, a Ranger like so many others. Now the pilots looked at her with pity, the military recruits with disdain, and the scientists with curious eyes. But she craved solitude, and at least her reputation brought her that.
879 days since she’d lost her co-pilot, her crew, and her Jaeger; you didn’t invite that kind of bad mojo at your table. She would've been better off if she’d lost herself as well.
But when they'd found her on the Oregon coastline, half-dead, Weyland-Yutani had had her picked her up, patched her up, and dropped her at the Sydney Shatterdome. Apparently, they couldn’t afford to lose their investment. They would have been cheaper off letting her rot.
“We’ve spent millions on your training and education. Contractually you’re obligated to serve in any position possibly, until the Kaiju crisis is averted, or the Corp has been disbanded. Your drift partner might be deceased, but that doesn’t mean you can’t share your expertise and teach.” Burke had patted her on the shoulder. “We can make sure that what happened to you won’t happen again, Ripley. Help us do that.”
She hadn’t had a choice.
Didn’t mean they could make her like it, or be nice about it. She’d try and kick some wisdom in the heads of the still stupidly hopeful recruits, whether it took or not wasn’t much her concern. She didn't think she'd be found drift-compatible with anyone—too much trauma—but she'd face that when it came.
She was supposed to be death anyway, might as well die again fighting. Or helping others fight.
She ate her lunch in silence until a group of people joined her at her table. They ignored her like only Corp recruits could: by talking loudly and without restraint, whether the subject was Kaijus and how to kill them, the quality of the food, or her person.
"Maaaaan, I don't know," the one closest to her said. So far he'd spoken the most, the loudest, and had had the least to say. "Losing your drift partner like that... Must fuck you up in the head, man."
The Corporal sitting next to him swatted him on the back of the head. "Shut up, Hudson," he said. He turned to her. "Sorry for your loss."
Ripley shrugged and stood up. "He's not wrong."
225 days since the last attack
The Shatterdome housed a lot of people, working as crew on the Jaeger program, so it took until her shift at the loading bay before she spoke the Corporal again. Apparently, the suits from Weyland-Yutani had figured they could use all those soldiers in mech suits to do some heavy lifting. The marshall couldn't really object. The corp financed pretty much the entire Jaeger program, and mech suit piloting was good for the muscle memory needed to drive an actual Jaeger.
"I didn't sign up for this shit," Hudson was yelling from the other side of the loading bay. "I signed up to kick some alien ass, not to be some kind of pack mule!"
"Could've fooled me!" Vasquez yelled back. "You've always been an ass."
Ripley shook her head. She couldn't grasp why some of these soldiers felt so little fear at the idea of facing a Kaiju. She woke up every night still, tasting the ocean on her tongue, smelling the acrid stench of the Kaiju blue, hearing the screams of Amanda in her ears. Last night it took her at least 3 minutes until she realized the screaming she was hearing was her own.
She strained her arms to lift the heavy crates, stacking them neatly. She probably wouldn't drive a Jaeger ever again, but this she could do. It was boring work, but soothing.
"You know your way around a loader," the Corporal said.
"It's not a Jaeger, but it has its use," Ripley responded.
"Pretty sure you'd be useful even without a suit."
Ripley ignored him, but she moved the next crate with a smile on her face. It'd been 886 days since she last smiled.
3 days since the last attack.
It's been 3 days since she slept. She can't sleep. It's not the dreams nor the memories. Her body just won't shut off. She can taste the brine again, it's in her food, her tea, even her toothpaste taste like salt and acid.
The Shatterdome is quiet. They've lost the Spunk Meister, his pilots activating its self-destruction function as the last defense of the Sydney coast. The Sue Laco had been downed before that, her pilots drowned.
They'd need to train new pilots. Lambert and Parker had been the last pilots Ripley had known before Facehugger had killed 5000 people, including Amanda. Now the only one with over 2 years of experience was her, and she didn't have a drift partner.
She didn't want anyone in her head, couldn't bear to share her mind like that anymore. She had a skill, she had training. The next attack would come fast, faster than the last one, and the world needed to be defended.
She just didn't have it in her anymore.
46 days since the last attack.
Vasquez and Drake fought well together. There never was any doubt about their Drift compatibility—they thought alike before they ever Drifted—but there had been doubts about their capability to fight strategically with a Jaeger.
"What use is strategy, when you've got a double plasma cannon blaster?" Drake said one evening in the mess hall. Vasquez smiled while doing their handshake. "Right on".
"Recklessness will get you killed," Ripley said. She didn't speak much at these late night gatherings, but she'd noticed that she slept a couple of hours more when she'd let herself be surrounded by people beforehand. Their company wasn't bad and they did value her experience, even though she rarely shared it.
After all, she'd gotten her co-pilot killed, so who was she to offer advice. She'd tell them to run away to survive, if only there was a place left to run to.
"She's right," Hicks said next to her. "Imagine the damage you can do when you use your double plasma cannon blaster strategically."
Drake's eyes shone with an unholy glee, as if he was already imagining the possibilities.
Ripley bumped her empty glass into Hick's. "Good advice."
Maybe she should ask him for some of her own. It had been 10 days since she decided that she'd have to pilot again, that she couldn't let others fight and risk their lives, while she sat back. She still hadn't found the nerve. She still didn't want to share her brain.
She took another drink. She wouldn't ask tonight. Tomorrow it would be 11 days. Good a day as any.
219 days since the last attack.
He opened his door shirtless when she knocked on it. They've known each other for over a year, trained together, worked together, and yet it was the first time she saw him shirtless. She liked the look of him. She'd lost count of how many days it's been since she liked the look of anyone.
She was tempted to act on it, to let herself be distracted by her attraction. But she couldn't postpone this any longer. The next Kaiju attack would happen soon, and they needed to be in sync by then.
"I want you to Drift with me," she said, looking him in the eye.
"Was waiting for you to ask," was all he said.
He pulled on his shirt, and lead the way to the Tech bay. There was nothing to do for her but follow him, even though she was taken aback by his easy agreement. She knew she was no price, she had no idea why anyone would willingly want to share her memories.
They were almost completely strapped in when she remembered to warn him. "This will hurt."
"The Drifting process is completely painless," the ignorant Tech who was strapping them in said.
"Not Drifting, my memories," Ripley explained. "They'll hurt."
"Guessed as much. Mine might too." Hicks didn't explain further.
It was the first time Ripley realized that she didn't really know Hicks. But she liked working with him. Maybe that was enough for now. Maybe they'd get more days to get to know the real versions of themselves, not the public ones.
Ripley closed her eyes when the countdown started. Braced herself for the moment their brains linked up.
She tasted brine on her lips and fire in her lungs. The smoke was new. To her surprise, the first thing she saw wasn't Amanda's face being smashed in by a Kaiju claw, but a house burning and a boy screaming.
She hurt and she was terrified, as was the boy, who must have been Hicks. But the moment flashed by, and soon she was greeted by the familiar sight of the ocean heaving and the Kaiju approaching. She hurt and she was terrified, but she was not alone anymore.
Hicks was a soothing and calminpresencese in her brain. He was terrified too, and for some reason, that was what made it bearable.
They moved the training mech suits into the starting formation, the familiar motion settling her even more.
It has been 1205 days since Ripley last Drifted. She didn't realize how much she missed it.
The clock has been reset.
Vasquez and Drake were on point in Tropic Thunder but the Kaiju was a level 4 and they were in trouble. Ripley and Hicks were on defense in Nostromo Night. They couldn't help until they got the order.
"No recklessness, remember?" Hicks said.
Tropic Thunder released its double plasma canon blaster, but the Kaiju seemingly shrugs it off.
"We need to get in there and help them, we won't be able to take it out alone either," Ripley yells at Hicks, at Command, at the dark skies above them. She won't look on while her fellow pilots are being pummeled. That wasn't why she got back into a Jaeger.
"Nostromo Night, move in."
When the command comes, Hicks and Ripley sigh, in sync. She can feel his fear, his worry, his dread, but underneath that there's also confidence in her, and so much determination to survive. Determination to rescue their friends.
"That's not mine, that's yours," Hicks said.
She almost asked if the admiration and affection and attraction were hers alone too, but there wasn't time for that. They had a Kaiju to kill.
Ripley screamed the entire fight.
16 hours since the last attack.
It's been 1 hour since her last orgasm. Fucking co-pilots wasn't the most professional course of action, she knew. But she figured this kind of recklessness might actually pay off.
They were still alive. Maybe it was time to start living.