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Orbits

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She’d run with him, of course. Half dragged him into her tiny Figueroa class shuttle and bolted from the commercial lanes, barely stopping to strap them both in.

The USS Fidanza had been commissioned for deep space in situ R&D, the kind that’s too dangerous to engage in anywhere else. She was one of a kind, bleeding edge tech all the way, and Hicks was sure she’d cost at least a thousand times more than the last ship Ripley had destroyed.

Still, that wasn’t why Ripley had run. Sensible as it might have been, that wasn’t her style.

No, when they’d finally come up for air, she showed him the blurry images she’d saved. They wouldn’t be enough for anyone else, but Hicks had understood all too well. The Fiddy was a military vessel through and through, 100% Government-run, but the fresh specimens she’d carried were marked with Weyland-Yutani’s seal.

----

The dreams didn’t stop, not even when he was awake. And his wasn’t the only side of the bed that shook in the night and lay empty and sweat-drenched as often as not.

They took jobs at small outposts, anything they could find. Anything to keep moving, always pushing from one place to the next. They saved every credit they could, knowing they’d need the stash eventually, for something. For some crisis or another.

His beard grew in thick, an itchy camouflage that made him envy her bald head. He refused to admit it, but envy wasn’t the reason she caught him staring so often.

She teased him for a while, obliquely, until one day she called him over when she was already towel-draped and handed him the razor. His hands were steady as he passed the blade over her scalp, soothing its path with his fingers, and noting the goosebumps rising on her arms. He navigated it carefully around her ears and across the tender skin at the back of her neck, and he managed to finish the job before leaning in to kiss there, if only just.

They both slept pretty well that night when sleep finally claimed them, but that was a rare thing. An exception to the rules of their existence.

-----

It was months before it occurred to Hicks to ask. One day he looked up at her in the middle of tying his boots and started laughing at himself--a big, rolling bellyful of laughter forcing its way out of his lips all at once.

Lips twitching, she stopped shoving clothes into their duffle and watched him. When he didn’t stop, she sat down on the bed, folded her arms, crossed her ankles, and settled against the wall to watch the Hicks show.

When he finally slowed down, she raised a brow at him.

“I,” he said simply, “am an idiot,” and flopped down on the bed next to her.

“I see.” She scooted down next to him and threaded her fingers into his hair. “And what brought this realization on?”

He could hear the smile in her voice when she added, “Not that I’m arguing the point.”

Flipping over to stare at the ceiling, he asked what he should have thought to ask even before she’d cut him free in the reclamation tank. “How in the hell did you find me?”

“Ah,” she said, unsurprised. “I was wondering when you’d want to know that.”

“And I’m wondering how...” he hauled himself over and paused to kiss her thoroughly before finishing his thought, “how I even managed to tie my own shoes for all those years before I met you.”

She looked down at his feet pointedly.

Purely for effect, he shifted his leg to let the ship’s gravity pull his left boot to the floor with a dull thud. She laughed. Damn, but did he love hearing her laugh.

He contorted to press his face into her stomach and planted a long, wet raspberry where her shirt rode up. “Spill,” he demanded.

She tugged him up by his hair, still laughing. “You’re not the only one who knows how to use a tracker,” she said and then kissed any reply he might have sputtered right out of his brain.

-----

Sometimes, he wondered if they actually shared a dreamscape.

They ran from the same monsters, both human and xenomorph. When she thrashed and fought against the covers, she was almost as likely to be shouting for his Sgt. Martina as for Drake or Vasquez.

Despite the fact that Ripley never talked about her, Hicks had a clear image of Amy in his mind: twelve-years-old, with her mother’s curls tinged red, a dusting of freckles across the bridge of her nose, and so straightforward she made him blush in the quiet parts of his dreams, before she was torn away in a fury of clacking teeth and burning, acidic slime. He’d failed to save her so many times, he honestly forgot sometimes that he’d never so much as glimpsed her image, that he’d made her up entire.

-----

That night, when he woke gasping, she was watching him from across the room in the low, omnipresent light of the station at night.

She sat on the floor, straight-backed against the wall, smoking, a report from the comms kiosk in the lobby in her hands. Judging by the pile of butts in what was left of last night’s dinner on the table next to her, she’d been smoking--chain smoking--for hours. He wasn’t used to the smell anymore, which was probably why she’d camped out under the vent. Ellen Ripley had smoked for years, so whoever she was this week didn’t. Usually.

She didn’t usually go anywhere near the media kiosks, either. They might be anonymous, but search histories were crawled regularly.

Calm and serious in that way she had that Hicks counted on and feared in equal measure, she announced, “We have to go back,” and took another long drag. Hicks tried to swallow his stomach back down, or at least to keep breathing around it.

The floor was cold against his bare ass; he hadn’t bothered to put on shorts before sliding down the wall next to her. He tugged gently at the report sheet, and she let him take it, turning away to exhale a long gust of smoke away from his face.


Rebecca Jordan, 10, lone survivor of the outpost known as Hadley’s Hope, has been remanded into structured care after being released by her latest foster family for disruptive and incorrigible behaviour.

“She won’t sleep,” said Rebecca’s former foster mother, who asked that we not use her name. “She keeps the other children up all night with her noise, and she’s surly during the day. She has trouble with her schoolwork, and she was tested before placement--her brain is fine. She just isn’t trying.” Clearly distraught, she adds, “Really, we kept her longer than we should. It’s high time for this child to face the consequences for her behaviour. She’s lucky the judge isn’t sending her to an orbital prison.

“Those Company people really know how to run a facility, and their psy-reorienting is top notch,” the foster mother continued. “Why, a lot of those kids go on to be productive citizens once they finish paying off their contracts. It’s sad, of course, about the... well, that they’ll never have families, but... I mean, I certainly can’t afford to pay for her care!”

In two weeks, assuming no one steps forward to contest her commitment, Miss Jordan will be transferred to the Weyland-Yutani Corps Youth Re-engineering facility at Luna 8. Her induction will include extensive evaluation of her physical and mental suitability, routine sterilization and vaccination, and the development of a personalized program to insure her future compliance and productivity. She will be sheltered at the facility until she ages out at 16 and is transferred to the Yutani Service Corps, which she will serve until her fortieth birthday when she will become a free citizen if she passes her evals.

Staff Reporter, New Texas Line Beacon

His hands shook and Ripley’s smoke curled sourly in his stomach as he flipped to look at the next sheets. It had been quite a while since they’d checked, but he was still listed as MIA. There was no mention of Ripley in conjunction with the loss of the Fidanza. There were no warrants for either of them. It wasn’t a guarantee, but it was as close as they could expect.

He plucked the cigarette from her hands. She watched his hands, mesmerized as he snuffed it out carefully.

“You’re going to try for custody.”

She nodded.

“I can’t be anywhere near that, not without...” He shook his head, “Not and keep you clean.”

She nodded again. Her face didn’t move at all.

He stood and offered his hand. She let him pull her up. They piled into their narrow bed and drew the covers up over their heads. He didn’t think there was even the smallest chance either of them would sleep, but the warmth of her skin and the solid darkness they so rarely indulged in had its own kind of magic. He was drifting, loose and languid, when she started petting his face. He leaned into it, encouraging, but still falling asleep.

Nestling into his side, she sighed, “There were too many ghosts in our bed, anyway, you know.”

“Yeah,” he said, and kissed the top of her head. “I know.”

-----

Her hands wrapped around him tightly, heedless of his ribs, but Hicks didn’t care. She shook against him, pressed vital and hot through his thin tee. His side should have been screaming where the raw burns touched her, but the pain was distant, irrelevant.

Face burried in her neck, Hicks inhaled deeply, breathing her in, along with fresh decon fumes and the bittersweet memory they brought. He did it again, breathing in her strength and willing it to feed his courage.

They held onto each other like that for a long time and only broke apart at a the rough banging against the hull.

Hicks raised his head and glared out the small window set in the battered airlock door. The man on the other side scowled in answer and tapped his wrist but didn’t come inside the small craft.

Burrowing back into her warmth, Hicks said, “I think my ride’s getting antsy.”

Ripley snorted. “Your ride can go fuck himself. Hell, for what we’re paying him, your ride can go pay someone else to fuck him.”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “He’s not wrong about the schedule, though.” Still, he didn’t move away. He might not have, ever, but she did. She’d always been the stronger of them.

She rubbed at her face, shifting to take all her weight on her own feet. His own balance didn’t come back as easily, and he didn’t think it was because of the abuse he’d taken to sell this scheme.

“I guess it’s time,” she said, opening the pod and making a grand gesture toward it with her whole arm.

He chuckled tiredly and didn’t move away from her.

“Did you need me to make the voices...” she cut herself off, voice breaking, and he watched thoughts of Newt settle across her features. They’d tried everything that day on the Sulaco--silly voices, bribery, shadow puppets--but nothing had worked to convince Newt to be closed into such a small space. In the end, they’d all stayed awake, and the Sulaco had diverted to Antilles Base to make the journey manageable. One of the corpsman onboard had trained in combat psychiatry before deciding the new rules weren’t for him, and he didn’t think Newt would ever be able to tolerate hypersleep, or not without a lot of cautious therapy, at least.

Hicks closed his eyes against the memory. This has to work. He sucked in a breath, and when he opened them again, Ripley was watching him.

“This has to work...” she said, and the question in it made his heart clench.

“It will,” he said with all the confidence he usually borrowed from her.

“It will,” he said again, even more firmly, as he climbed into the pod.

It will work because Ellen Ripley will damn well make it work, he thought.

No, he knew.

She leaned down and kissed him like he was made of glass, like he was sleeping-fucking-beauty. And he let her, because she was Ellen Ripley, and she could do absolutely anything.