They'd all been ordered out on these types of missions before - a Bug Hunt. So far no one had ever found anything worth all the expense of bringing in the United States Colonial Marine Corps (USCM), just a few oversized lice on some prison world, a report of creatures that may or may not have killed a whole bunch of survivors from a crash on a world that went dark every few decades, and a few other alien creatures that were basically harmless. So here was another civilian talking about monsters she and her crew encountered on some moon fifty-seven years earlier. The only reason why they were listening at all was because the colony was owned by Weyland Yutani, part of its frontier terraforming operations, and a few days earlier it had gone dark.
Knowing Weyland-Yutani they were more worried about their investment than the colonists. People were a cheap commodity, found starving on a hundred worlds including the vastly overpopulated Earth, and willing to uproot their families and move to Hell for the chance of a better life... eventually. Most of the guys in his platoon came from the Colonies, given the choice of back-breaking work in the fields or mines, or enlisting in the USCM.
Hicks had faced that same choice five years earlier. He had watched his father grow old before his time, crippled by laboring in the fields from dawn to dusk, 18 hours of sunlight per day on Cameron V. Maybe he didn't have to pick up the rocks and break them up by hand but he spent those 18 hours a day hunched over the controls of the harvester and back hoe, rented for an extortionate amount from Weyland Yutani because the machinery had to be transported to the planet. His mother had worked alongside his father when she could, along with Hicks' brothers and sister. Hicks was the only one of his family who did not fall in love with the land. He preferred to hunt so when he saw the enlistment officer at the school it hadn't taken much to persuade him to give up Colonial life for that of a Colonial Marine.
He had done okay for himself though. He had earned some stripes and the respect of his men, and he took home more pay than his brothers and sister combined. Hicks sent most of it back home as his contribution to the family, but he kept back enough for a few luxuries on top of his billet rent, like the cigarettes he smoked. He drew in on one now as he listened to the civilian brought on to the mission.
The woman - Ripley - sounded solemn and earnest as she described the creatures, but even Hicks was skeptical. Monsters that gestated inside people, and had acid for blood?
He wondered if she had hallucinated the whole thing. He had never dreamed in hypersleep but then he had never slept for over fifty years, just a few months at a time. Hicks had heard rumors of some people dreaming in hypersleep but that's all they were - rumors. For this mission they had spent two months in hypersleep in order to reach the outer colony. LV-426 was one of three moons orbiting the planet Calpamos in the Zeta II Reticuli system, 39 light years from Earth. The planet itself was a gas giant, and no terraforming was going to make that habitable. However, once the moon had been terraformed Weyland Yutani would no doubt turn its attention to harvesting rare minerals from the planet.
From an earlier briefing, before they went into the sleep pods, he had learned the colonists had called their moon, Acheron. It had seemed a strange choice at first as in Greek Mythology Acheron was one of the five rivers of the Underworld, the River of Woe... or maybe it was aptly named. Many of these colony worlds were in a woeful state during the terraforming years. The colonists were trapped inside the habitats for more than a decade before the atmosphere was deemed breathable, and barely at that. Some colonists would live and die without ever seeing sunlight again, and all in the hope of providing a better life for their children one day.
Ripley surprised them all when she was able to handle a Power Loader with greater skill than some of the more experienced operators. She was confident and a pleasure to watch, using the Power Loader as an extension to herself rather than as a cumbersome tool, and she helped make light work of storing all the equipment ready for the arrival at Acheron. He noticed she became quieter the closer they came to Acheron, and as they piled into the dropship ready to land on Acheron her almost palpable fear gave greater credence to her story of monsters. She believed every word of her story, that was clear but, whatever the case, Hicks took advantage of a skill he'd learned early on in his life, grabbing some sleep while he had a chance. The bumpiness of the ride never bothered him, no different to the rocking harvester plowing endless fields back on Cameron V, the cabin practically his crib from babyhood.
His first serious concerns came when they found a hole in the metal floor... and the floor beneath that, and the one beneath that, and so on down several levels. This was some serious acid to have eaten through multiple floors and if these monsters truly existed and had this blood then killing them would be that much harder and more dangerous. If it went through metal this easily then human skin and bone stood no chance against it. He watched as the rest of them came to the same realization, already knowing it was inevitable one of these so-called Bug Hunts would end up as the real thing eventually. They were about to encounter an alien creature so deadly it could wipe out a colony in days. Something that could never be allowed to escape this world.
Hours later, with all of them exhausted from the battles and the losses, they took a short respite. The Sarge was missing and Lieutenant Gorman unconscious leaving Hicks in charge. The dropship was gone and Bishop was making the long journey through a small pipe to realign the colony's antenna so he could remote-pilot the second dropship down from the Sulaco. He had taken Ripley aside to show her how to use one of the weapons, impressed by how quickly she picked it up. For two hours they had a semblance of peace.
Hicks might have been a farm boy but he wasn't stupid. The terraforming had started on Acheron twenty years ago and nothing major had happened to it until after Ripley was picked up in space, reporting her story of the Nostromo's encounter with the alien life form. It was too much of a coincidence, and Hicks wondered if Weyland Yutani had deliberately sent some innocent colonist out to investigate these monsters, likely not telling them anything about the creature they might encounter. It was also no coincidence how two of the 'facehuggers' could get free inside the laboratory and the doors seal. He believed her when she confronted the Weyland Yutani executive tagging along on this mission.
All hell broke loose and all that mattered was surviving to tell the story. So many of them were already dead or missing, and the missing would be vaporized when the reactor blew, a kinder, quicker death than the one awaiting them as incubators for more of the alien creatures.
Hicks could only hope he, Ellen, and the kid, Newt, would be among the survivors, and if he did survive, he would never look at any mission as just another bug hunt, not ever again.