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They found him, just like he’d known they would.

He hadn’t expected it to take them almost two years, but he was absolutely certain that it hadn’t surprised Ripley.

The very first thing he did after he was released from medical was to sort through his messages. Much to the surprise of his company command, he granted immediate interviews to both the prestigious GNN and the trashy Solar Mirror, squeezing in both before they’d thought to tell him not to.

His GNN interview was tucked away discretely and nearly lost in the swirl, but the Mirror prominently featured the story of the lost hero Marine who’d stayed behind on the doomed Fidanza to insure all the crew made it safely away. He’d toed the line--well, two lines, really--and given them an aww-shucks moment as he admitted he didn’t actually remember what had happened to the Fiddy or his actions in her last hours, “The docs think I must’ve had a pretty good concussion when I went under, Ma’am. I’m just fortunate I healed up so well.” The Fiddy, he’d been told, was lost due to a collision with galactic debris.

The reporter had fawned all over him and the healing scars on his neck. He’d ducked his head and managed not to bite her head off when she’d touched them, distracting her with the story of how his shuttle’s autonav had missed the station and tucked in instead with the cloud of space garbage that circled its outer edge. He made it through the rest of the woman’s inane questions by thinking about how hard Ripley would be laughing when she learned he’d spent the better part of two years as space junk... and trying not to resent that he wouldn’t get to watch her do it.

The brass jumped all over him after that, and his official debrief lasted more than a week. He seriously thought about getting “I can’t recall” tattooed on his forehead. He didn’t have to pretend to be still recovering and pretending to be still shaken wasn’t a hard stretch, either. Pretending to be a bit of a glory hound to excuse the business with the media was harder, but his CO had suggested it and he wasn’t in any position to kick at the path of least resistance.

As far as Hicks could tell, they either bought his story or those in the know intuited the thread of mutually assured destruction that ran beneath it. It was all there in black and white in his record, after all. On day three, one of them let slip that his unit hadn’t been scheduled to be sent to the Fiddy, and, yeah, okay, that made a boatload of sense. Someone had hung for that fuckup, for sure.

After they released him, he made himself settle into rehab. He worked his exercises and talked to their shrink in circles of lies, letting enough of his real pathos bleed in that no one doubted him. He didn’t let himself show any interest in anything outside that routine for two excruciating weeks, until he let some of his guys drag him out so that he could whine at them a bit about all his missed time while he drank a lot less than they thought. They practically carried him back to his quarters.

He made himself wait six hours before launching into a media archive binge of epic proportions. He kept watching and reading long after he found, nestled deep in a copy of the New Texas Line Beacon, that Ellen Ripley, fellow survivor of the “disaster” at Hadley’s Hope, was petitioning for custody of the minor, Rebecca Jordan.

Being a fellow, fellow survivor, he searched out a followup article. After two years of legal battles, Ripley was still only her provisional guardian; she had to petition the court for permission to do things most parents took for granted, and the court could take Rebecca away at any time.

Well, fuck.