Space is a never-ending silence that stretches across suns and planets. It's empty and deadly and beautiful in a way that hurts your insides. She finds it the most comforting thing she's ever encountered, despite all the monsters that roam in it.
You're not supposed to dream in cryo. It's designed to be a state of complete peace and relaxation.
But when the last thing you remember is death, the feeling sticks with you.
Eyes fluttering, she lays her palm flat against the three inch reinforced pane of glass that separates her from the world. Her fingers fan out, cooled by the glass. They've been found, she realizes. The sounds of people are fuzzy all around her and the swish of the cryo-chamber as it opens lands as a puff of air across her brow. The glass drags across her fingers as it moves.
Voices are nothing but white noise against a grey background, but she manages to pick out certain words.
alive… child… also… three…
Ripley tries to blink, tries to signal that she's waking up, when she feel a warm presence brush past her wrist — a hand — she curls her fingers into its skin. Getting her eyes to open has never felt harder than it does now. They feel glued shut at her lashes, but she forces them wide and stares as a medical team hovers around her. They've been found but she needs to see, to touch, to smell Newt. Hicks. Her mind even flashes an image of Bishop.
"Please, tell me…" her voice trails off as someone from the medical team speaks over her.
"This one is waking up!"
She senses people scrambling around her. Hands that push her wrists down. Someone is clamping her feet together.
Suddenly everything in her is on alert and she pushes against the forces holding down.
"Inoculate her," someone orders and Ripley feels the needle against her skin. Metal pricks at the soft skin on the inside of her elbow where the veins are blue and bright.
The darkness feels like she images space would.
The room is blindingly white. It's the color of snow when it first falls on the ground, pure, and uncontaminated. Sterile. She knows better than to feel safe and comfortable in it. She woke to the bright halogen light over her thin bed, her bones heavy in her skin, and her lips dry. There had been a glass of water on the one piece of furniture in the room, a small table by her bed, and she drank some.
Fifteen have past since then, and still nobody has entered the room. She's tried the door already, not in anyway surprised to have found it locked, and sat back down on the bed. The sheets are crisp under her hands. She wonders if they're waiting for her to act out — part of her wonders if they're waiting for her chest to rip open — and acknowledge the fact she knows they're watching.
She doesn't. A useless action.
This is not her first time dealing with the Company at any rate.
She feels like a cigarette. Funny, since she quit 50 years ago. Suddenly, she wonders how much time she's lost this time.
Across the room, the white door finally opens.
They come at her with questions she answered before. They tell her it's been six months and three days. It feels like should be longer as if space stretched out time as they floated through it. She doesn't-can't-won't believe them until they show her three different calendars and a newsreel. The world is still going to the shits; it's nice to know there are still things to count on.
They talk at her. They ask her questions that she's already answered.
"Check the last report I've had with your people. My story hasn't changed, expect for the names. Now, where are Hicks and Newt?"
"Who is Newt?"
"The girl! Where is the girl?" she yells.
"She is fine. You'll see her soon." Every answer she gets is clinical, clipped, robotic. She thinks of Bishop, and how he had more humanity in him than these people. She thinks of Hicks and Newt.
"I want to see her, goddamit!"
They don't let her see Newt, but their fingers fly over their data pad as they study the look on her face.
When she asks for cigarettes, she gets a look, but the next day she has a pack. She remembers quitting because her daughter watched a special on the news and made her promise to quit. As Ripley lights her first cigarette in years up, she can't help but think in how many ways that old promise doesn't even matter anymore.
She doesn't stop asking about Hicks and Newt. They keep telling her nothing. She lights another cigarette.
It goes on like this for days. Until.
"Unless you fucking let me see Corporal Dwayne Hicks or Rebecca, you can just shove all your precious answers up your ass."
When they try to restrain her, she punches the doctor out for good measure.
They escort her to the mess hall of wherever the hell it is they are at.
She hears Newt before she sees hers.
And then there's a warm body colliding with her stomach and over the now much cleaner mess that is Newt's soft hair she notices that Newt didn't come alone. He looks a little worse for the wear, but he's alive, even if that sling isn't doing anything for his appearance.
"How are you doing, Corporal?" she asks, running a hand through Newt's hair. The girl's face is still plastered against the medical scrubs she's wearing, like just holding Ripley gives her some measure of comfort.
"Alive," he shrugs, his lips quirking in not quiet smile, "Hell of a welcome they've given us."
Ripley sighs, "Yeah, one hell of a welcome."
Four days later, she's sitting in a different cafeteria, eating the same bland food they keep shoveling at her, all too aware of the eyes that still follow her around. Newt is still quietly next to her, coloring with the dark pens that the Company doctor's let her have. They have no use for pink and blues and yellow, and they won't get them for Newt, even when she asks. The ink makes all the pictures she makes look like distorted nightmares, and it makes Ripley wonder if maybe it's exactly what the doctors and the Company wants to see: their nightmares.
Ripley pushes her tray away and looks over to where the smiles that Newt draw look tried and fake. She tucks back a strand of the girl's hair, faking a smile at the grin she receives when Hicks sits down.
Ever since the other day they've let them interact with each other more. They've moved her from her white room to a grey room in a different section of the space station they're in, and while there's more furniture in the rooms, she has her own food processor, and the door isn't locked form the outside anymore, but it still feels like prison.
"They're letting us go," Hicks says, as he looks down to see what Newt is creating today. His eyes are dark, but he also fakes a smile when Newt looks up at him.
Ripley arches her eyebrow, "How do you know?"
"One of the soldiers over heard the doctors talking and felt he should share. Apparently, we're no used to them anymore."
"And how exactly were we 'of use' before?"
Hick's eyes narrow and flit to Newt for second, "From the looks of it they were hoping that one of us…"
He trails off but Ripley understands just what he's not saying. The Company is still interested in harvesting the aliens, for whatever purpose they want—probably military, weapons, it's the only thing she can reason these monsters are good for. Suddenly she's all too glad that they seem to want to be rid of their little group.
"Doesn't surprise me; knowing their history," Leaning back in her seat, she looks around the mess at all these people who work for the Company. Most of them probably aren't even aware of selfish souls that pull at their strings. It makes Ripley sick.
Hicks frowns, "Yeah, but Ripley, here's the thing. From what the SF heard, they're not planning to let us—"
"Then we're just going to have find a way around that," she cuts him off, because she knows what he was going to say. The Company knows better than to keep them together, where they can spread the word of what really happened on LV-426.
He looks nervous for second before he takes one more look at where Newt is pretending not to pay attention to them and nods.
"Whatever you say."
The next day they let her know. Officially.
"We apologize for any inconvenience that you've had to endure while under our care… we hope that you understand that what has occurred had been deemed classified and you are prohibited from speaking to anyone not directly affiliated with the Company of the events that transpired… In light of your services we are reinstating your pilot's license and awarding you with a severance package…."
She tunes then out, she's heard this song before, until they get to the part that she really cares about.
"Do you have any questions?"
She crosses her arms crosses her chest, tilting her head, "Yeah, I got a question. What are you planning to do with Newt? She's got no family."
Dr. Matthias gives her an empty look through his lashes, "The situation for the girl has been handled. She'll be put into foster care."
Ripley feels her nail bite into her skin, "Fuck foster care, I'll take her."
"It would not be favorable for the both of you to remain together," the asshole says and Ripley reminds herself that she doesn't hate all doctors she just hates him.
"I don't care if it's favorable to you or any one. You put her under my care or you won't like what I do."
He looks over his shoulder to the assistant that follows him around, "We'll relay your query."
"You do that."
"Any other questions?"
Ripley shakes her head. She won't ask about Hicks, she knows better.
That night at dinner Newt clings to her and Dwayne's sides more than she has since that first day when they saw each other again. It's clear that the little girl has heard the news of their imminent departure.
Over the Newt's hair, she meets Dwayne's eyes and pulls Newt's coloring tools closer to her.
She writes down six things.
Dwayne looks down at the chicken scratch that is her handwriting and nods.
By the end of dinner Newt had drawn another nightmare over what Ripley wrote. The words lost in scribbles of sharp black lines.
For whatever reason, the Company agrees to let Newt stay with her. She figures it's much simpler than fighting her for one little girl.
She's sure that the fact that this way they can spy on two of them at the same time instead of sending three sets of spooks works to their advantage, too.
They're soulless bastards, but for once Ripley can't complain.
They say their good-byes to Hicks at the Company doors with Company eyes on them.
Newt clings to him and cries big tears. Ripley smiles as Newt makes him promise to write all them time, the look on his face is almost worth the fact that from now on everywhere they go they'll be watched.
All that money that the Company gave her and Newt for their silence is put into an account that she never touches. She opens two more accounts in which she slowly puts her earnings. She looks for a job by the dock and makes sure that Newt goes to school. She makes friends with some captains and one of them gives her a deal on an old ship. Nothing fancy but flight ready and sturdy.
She spends the next three months fixing it up.
Newt still has nightmares that have crawling into bed with Ripley every night, but now Ripley makes sure she can draw with every color of the rainbow.
A rainy Saturday afternoon, they pass a pet shop.
There's a litter of kittens in the window.
Newt presses her face against the glass and follows a tiny Calico with her blue eyes.
Ripley sighs but lets herself be led inside. At least now she'll have some company when she can't sleep at night.
Hicks calls once. Mostly he talk with Newt who fills him in on everything she and Ripley do. He doesn't say much and neither does she; they both know that the conversations are monitored, but he lets her know that he hasn't forgotten the words she wrote down when he asks Newt about what new things she's made and his eyes are right on Ripley's.
Newt loves the ship. She crawls through the vent she can fit in and some that she can't. Ripley thinks that Newt is trying to make sure she knows every hiding place the ship has to offer, in case she ever need to use them. Ripley wishes that the girl didn't have to think about such things, but she can't help think that it's a good way for Newt to spend her time as Ripley fixes the old rust bucket.
As the weeks pass, the Company spooks that follow then around blend into the background, and soon they disappear altogether.
Everyone they know think Newt is her daughter and that she's just a single mom working as a loader on the docks. They're not the kind of people anyone really asks questions about and gradually they fade into the background as well.
One night, Ripley shares a drink at a bar with a captain known to get the right papers for the right prices. They talk about the best crankshaft for her engine.
Four days later she gets a package in the mail.
Newt hides on the ship, popping out and scaring Ripley at random intervals. She always warns Newt not do that, her hands tight on the gun she keeps tucked into her back, but as Newt scurries away, she's also always laughing.
Nobody seems to care about them anymore.
She finds a Bishop model for sale in the junkyard one day.
She stares at the vacant eyes and thin lips.
She pauses for a beat before walking away.
The next day Newt squeals when she sees the newest addition to the ship.
"It's not the same Bishop, Newt." Part of her still regrets spending money on the synthetic. Artificial human, she hears in her memories.
Newt smiles, "We'll teach him to be."
Ten months after the Company lets them go, Ripley lowers the cargo hold of her small ship and smirks.
"Six months have done you some good," she says as Hicks makes his way up the ramp. The sling is gone, his hair is longer, and he has that look a worn solider gets when he has just made it home.
"You too, Ellen," he drops his one pack on the metal floor. The sound it makes reverberates through the room.
She looks behind her, where she can hear Newt and Bishop making dinner. The cat is sleeping somewhere. (They have the apartment paid up until the end of year—the company money finally was good for something and for the most part they won't be missed. People leave these dock for a better life all the time and the Company seems to be appeased with the fact that they haven't make any noise about according to the headlines "Tragic Loss of the Terra-forming Community due to Unforeseen Technical Issues.")
"Were you followed?" she has to ask. She trusts that he's been careful since they left each other's company he is a solider at the end of the day, but what they know is more valuable to the company than what they pretend to do.
"Spooks don't care to follow ex-solider that seems to be living out of the bottle anymore," he shares offhandedly as she closes the ramp behind him. "This was one heck of a plan to get away from them."
"No, this is one heck of a plan to start bringing them down," she answers back, her hand picking up his discarded bag and making her way back to where Newt and Bishop are waiting. "Come on solider, lift off is in ten minutes."
Space is a never-ending silence, so empty and beautiful it gets inside you and fills you up, making your chest hurt each time you breath.
She wakes up from nightmares almost every night, still. Some nights she's not alone in this. Newt crawls between her and Dwayne the nights the nightmares are the worst. Their days are slow as they drift from around the planet and across the stars as she and Dwayne pick up jobs as the come.
The Company is never far from her thoughts and neither are the monsters that they covet and haunt her dreams. Dreams where Hicks and Newt didn't survive and she's left alone for centuries. Dreams that she's grateful to wake up from. One day she'll find what she needs to take them down, because she knows (feels) this isn't over.
For now though, she can live with what she has and what she won't allow anyone to take away from her.