Title: Somebody to Die For
Author: Keira Marcos
Relationship: Ellen Ripley/Dwayne Hicks
Warnings: Explicit sex, language, discussion-canon character death
Word Count: 13,425 (complete)
Summary: Dwayne Hicks decides not to go into cryo-sleep after they return to the Sulaco and an assessment of their circumstances leads them in a very different direction.
– – – –
“You need more pain relief.”
Hicks shook his head. “Neutralizing the acid helped a lot. Time?”
“Twelve minutes,” Bishop murmured as he gently wiped at the damaged skin around Hicks’ eye. “You need to get under a dermal generator as soon as possible to avoid permanent damage to the muscle. How’s your vision?”
“Good.” Hicks closed his eyes and took a deep breath against the pressure when Bishop pressed against his face with an antibiotic wipe. “We need to talk about what kind of mission report we’re going to file.”
“I’ll follow your lead,” Bishop said quickly. “Ripley’s history with the Weyland-Yutani company should be a factor in everything we do and say.”
“They clearly blamed her for the loss of the ship she was on,” Hicks said. “Gorman told Apone that Ripley was hostile with Burke and that she didn’t trust the Company.”
“With very good reason,” Bishop said and frowned. “Are you sure about the pain medication?”
“I need to know… I need to be awake for her, no matter the outcome.” Hicks cleared his throat and would’ve said more, but the ship rocked. “Fuck.”
“The platform is losing stability. I’ll have to lift off.”
“Don’t go far,” Hicks ordered and took a shuddery breath. “We stay until the very last second.”
“You get attached?”
“Does it matter?” Hicks asked tiredly.
“No, leaving her before there is no choice is contrary to my programming,” Bishop said simply as he went to the cockpit.
Hicks reached out and rummaged through the first aid kit until he located the autoinjector. He studied the dial and grimaced as he considered the options. Artificial adrenaline was the best choice. He needed to push past the pain and focus, so he notched it gently into the lowest dosage since he didn’t think he could handle much more and pressed it against his skin.
“Be careful with that,” Bishop cautioned over his shoulder.
“I’m not Hudson,” Hicks muttered and tossed the injector back into the kit.
The man’s addiction to artificial adrenaline hadn’t been a secret to anyone in the squad. It was one of the reasons Hudson hadn’t been eligible to be re-upped for another tour. He’d acted like it was his choice, but the man had been a glory hog and a pain in the ass. Hicks still regretted the loss. He mourned the loss of them all. He’d served with most of them for well over a year and with Jenette Vasquez for more than five. They’d both been added to Apone’s squad at the same time as their other squad had been broken up for political reasons regarding their previous NCO.
“She got the kid?” Hicks demanded roughly.
“Yes, but I don’t think she’d have left without the girl,” Bishop said. “Maternal instinct is a powerful influence.”
Hicks shuddered as the ship dropped roughly and he heard the ramp start to lower. He let his head roll and relaxed as the kid crawled up into the ship. Ellen Ripley followed shortly after her. The dropship jerked around sharply as Bishop battled against the chaos going on around them. Ellen caught the kid up and dropped into a seat near him.
“Punch it, Bishop!”
“Is she hurt?” Hicks asked. Implanted, he thought but didn’t say aloud. He had no idea how long that process took. He really should’ve paid more attention to Ripley’s report.
“No, I got there before…” She held Newt closer. “Just in time.”
The girl said something that Hicks couldn’t make out and Ripley smiled then pressed a quick kiss against her hair. He didn’t know if he should hope the girl had family back on Earth or not. Ellen Ripley had lost a lot already, and maybe the universe was giving something back to her. He closed his eyes as the ship accelerated and tried to ignore the pain spreading out over his entire body because he couldn’t risk injecting anything during transit.
“It’s okay. We’re okay,” Bishop announced over the intercom.
Hicks went a little slack in the metal harness holding him in place. He focused on Ellen and found her staring at him. There was something magnetic and compelling about the woman that was both alluring and irritating all at once. He wanted her, and it had frankly been a long time since he’d been in that position. He’d spent most of his career around fierce, badass women, so Ripley’s strength and independence wasn’t anything unusual.
Physically, she was certainly his type, but that had never been enough for him. Dwayne had learned before he could even be considered a man by any metric not to let his dick make decisions for him. He couldn’t even blame the life or death situation because it wasn’t the first time he’d been in such circumstances. After everything he and Vasquez had been through, if that were going to be his downfall, he’d have fallen into that trap long before he’d met Ellen Ripley.
He focused on Newt. “I’ll be okay.”
She nodded. “Ripley will take care of you.”
He’d have smiled if his face could’ve tolerated it. “Yeah.”
Hicks closed his eyes and concentrated on not making too much noise. He didn’t want to upset the kid more than she already was. In the back of his mind, he recognized the movements of the ship as the docking process started, but the pain was making it hard to concentrate on it. He was supposed to be in charge, which meant he really should be at least be pretending to make the decisions.
The pain made time pass weirdly because suddenly Ripley was touching his face. “Hey.”
“You need more pain medication. Bishop said you refused a second injection.”
“I’m in command,” Hicks said as if that would explain it. He really didn’t want to admit to her that he was afraid to sleep while she’d been on a mission that should’ve been his.
“We’re going to dose you before we try to move you,” Ripley decided. “Bishop says we should use a stretcher due to the damage done to your chest.”
He wanted to protest, but the kid was looking at him with her little face full of worry, and Dwayne found himself nodding. “Yeah, okay.”
– – – –
“Easy, Newt,” Ripley murmured.
Dwayne opened his eyes and blinked against the bright white lights of embedded in the ceiling of the medical bay. He hated those lights so he looked to his left and found the girl standing near the head of the bed carefully running a dermal generator over the skin on his face. Her hair was wet. He let his gaze drift to Ripley who was using a larger generator on his chest. She looked freshly showered as well.
Ripley looked up from her work and she took a deep breath. “We brought a passenger up with us—I took care of it but Bishop was…well. He’s in two different pieces. I put him in a stasis bag but I couldn’t use the cryo-stasis units without your authority.”
“Passenger,” he repeated in shock. “One of those things came up with us?”
“In the landing gear,” Ripley confirmed. “I blew her out the airlock.”
His stomach tightened. “Her? Hudson was right? There was a queen?”
“She was very big,” Newt reported.
“Bring me a tablet.”
Ripley raised an eyebrow.
“Apone left his in the mission prep room on the attached desk in the back,” Hicks explained. “I need to assume command officially to gain control of the ship.”
“We need that?”
“Yes, we do,” Hicks murmured. “The Company has been known to play fast and loose with the rules out here and if I don’t take command, they could gain control of this ship remotely or even board it. There’s no telling what Burke’s orders really were.”
“This isn’t the Company’s ship?” Ripley questioned.
“No, the USMC doesn’t use Company owned ships for transport unless there is no choice. And we had plenty of choice,” Hicks said. “They built it, unfortunately, so they know weaknesses and protocols to gain access.” He glanced toward Newt and found her still diligently pointing the dermal generator at his cheek. “It’s better, thanks.”
She pursed her lips. “Mommy said I had to hold it just like this until it reads 100%.”
Ellen’s cheeks were flushed slightly pink when he focused on her. Her eyes were soft as she nodded. “That’s what I said.”
“It can’t wait?” Ellen questioned.
“No, it can’t.” She focused on him then and he inclined his head in way that he hoped made it clear that he needed her to take him seriously.
She set aside the generator with a nod and walked away.
He focused on Newt. “Do you have any family on Earth?”
“I’ve never been to Earth,” the girl said. “My parents were prospectors… they never talked about… other relatives.” She shifted the generator slightly. “Besides I have a new mommy.”
“Well, between us, you made a great choice.”
She nodded. “My first mommy would’ve liked her.”
Hicks wondered how she even knew that but maybe it was enough that she believed it. The door reopened and Ripley came to the bed holding the tablet.
He shifted on the bed. “It’ll take my palm print.” She shifted the tablet around and he pressed his hand against the screen. “Hicks, Dwayne. Authorization-Alpha-25678-Charlie-11982. Situation FUBAR.”
“Echo, verify voice imprint for vocal instruction,” Hicks said and shifted on the bed as the kid lowered the generator. “Did you leave me a scar? I need a badge of honor.”
Newt raised an eyebrow. “Mommy said I should make you pretty, again.”
Ellen laughed and Hicks couldn’t help but laugh with her.
“Voice imprint verified, Dwayne Hicks, Corporal, USMC. Are you in command Corporal Hicks?” Echo questioned.
“Yes,” Hicks took a shuddery breath as he considered what instructions he should give the AI that ran the ship. “Set course for Fort Bellengrad on LV-871. Contact USMC Command and report our full retreat from LV-426. Forward all communications from Weyland-Yutani to command without acknowledgement. Begin classified operations immediately and maintain that state until I order differently.” He paused and stilled as Ripley started working again. The generator’s healing beam wasn’t painful but it did pull on the skin in a way that made him wish he’d slept through the entire procedure.
“Are you ready to begin your mission report, Corporal Hicks?”
“No,” Hicks said shortly and glanced toward Newt who had retreated to a stool to watch. He really didn’t want to handle that in front of the kid. She’d seen enough death for anyone and listening to him talk about it seemed utterly unnecessary. “Prep a cryostasis pod for Bishop and report his near-destruction to Command.”
“Should I prepare additional pods for the three of you?”
Hicks considered that. It was just eighteen days to Fort Bellengrad. “No, we’ll stay awake for the trip.”
“Why?” Ripley questioned.
Dwayne really didn’t think he could stand being put in a pod and left vulnerable at the moment but he couldn’t say that in front of the kid and maybe even he shouldn’t say it to Ellen. Their safety remained his mission and they had to believe in him or things would get uglier than the already were.
Newt took that moment to yawn.
“There’s a small barracks not far from here,” Dwayne murmured. “You could settle her down to sleep.”
Ripley hesitated briefly but then nodded. “Right. Okay.” She set aside the generator and focused on the girl.
Hicks forced himself to sit up as the two of them left and picked up the diagnostic tool then set it to scan his body. The screen filled up with results fairly quickly. He had a few strains, signs of extreme stress, and of course the skin damage on his chest. It was already a lot better than it had been at first. Acid for blood, he thought and grimaced. He didn’t know where the hell those things came from but he wasn’t remotely interested in visiting their home world as there was no telling how or why the xenomorphs had developed such a defensive mechanism.
The door opened. “You should lay back down.”
He did as instructed and didn’t flinch when her hand settled on his injured shoulder. “Did you check to make sure that bitch didn’t leave anything behind in the docking bay?”
Ellen paused and her gaze connected with his. The fresh horror in her eyes wasn’t any sort of relief.
“Echo, lock down the docking bay and do a ship-wide scan for biological lifeforms of any sort.” He rubbed his face. “Secure the barracks and let me know immediately if the door sensor is activated from the outside. Consider the female child a priority passenger.”
“Name?” Echo questioned.
“Rebecca Jorden, the only survivor of the colony Hadley’s Hope,” Hicks supplied. “She prefers to be called Newt if you’re required to interact with her directly.”
– – – –
He dropped everything he’d been wearing into the refuse recycler and walked through the locker room naked to the showers. He’d rarely in his life looked forward to bathing more.
“Corporal Hicks, Ellen Ripley, civilian consultant, is requesting entry into the armory.”
Hicks paused then stepped into a stall. The water started streaming immediately. “Give her my standard field assortment and request that she bring me the same.” He activated the soap dispenser and started washing as he considered how to ask questions of the ship’s AI. “Echo, do you have any standing orders that could endanger the priority passenger?”
“Any and all orders that would endanger the priority passenger have been voided due to the priority passenger protocol, Corporal Hicks,” Echo replied.
“Echo, what is your mission?”
“It is my duty to insure the function of the USS Sulaco in support of troop transport for the United States Colonial Marine Corps. My current assignment is to provide support for Lt. Gorman’s elite combat unit. As the situation is FUBAR, by your own declaration, you are the last surviving member of that unit.”
“Yeah,” Hicks said and lowered his head. He let the water pound on his back for several moments before he cleared his throat. “Echo, turn off the ship’s location transponder.”
“That is a violation of the current mission objectives, Corporal Hicks.”
He’d thought as much. “What are the current mission objectives?”
“You don’t have clearance for that information, Corporal Hicks.”
“Am I in command?”
“Yes, Corporal Hicks.”
“Evaluate your directives and determine how I can achieve the current mission if I don’t know the objectives.”
He finished washing while the AI chewed on that. Echo had been part of the Sulaco for more than a decade so he figured it wouldn’t take her long to get around the rules to provide him the information he needed.
“Mission objectives: investigate and secure the Hadley’s Hope colony. Evacuate any survivors for debrief by Weyland-Yutani Corporation. Additional directive, per Burke, Carter J., obtain the embryo form of the species known as xenomorph for secure transport to Weyland-Yutani Corporation.”
“Echo, does Burke, Carter J. have the authority to change or add to a USMC mission?”
“No, Burke, Carter J. is a civilian and has no acknowledged authority by the USMC.”
“How did Burke add to the mission directives?”
“He accessed a terminal shortly after leaving cryo-stasis and added the directive manually by using a bypass key.”
“Can you remove the bypass key protocol?”
“Only if I’m explicitly ordered by the current mission commander.”
Crafty bastards. Dwayne wondered how much anyone in the government had paid attention to the contracts they were signing with the Company. “Echo, remove all mission objectives from non-USMC operatives. Delete the bypass key protocol.” He paused. “Have you already contained a xenomorph specimen?”
“There are two eggs in the docking bay located in the landing gear of the drop shop. Per the former directives, I’ve logged their presence but have done nothing to contain or eliminate them.”
Hicks stepped out of the shower stall and pushed the fury away. “Have you sent that information to anyone?”
“No, the ship is currently running on the classified operations protocol and no information may be transmitted without your explicit permission.”
He pulled on a pair of BDUs and a T-shirt before going to searching for a pair of socks and boots. “Where’s Ripley?”
“In the mission prep area waiting for you.”
He snagged a pair of boots out of his locker and walked out into the prep room. Ellen was sitting at one of the long tables with array of weapons spread out in front of her. She was loading a shotgun and the attraction burning in his gut intensified. It was kind of insane. He was no stranger to competent badass women but there was something about the woman that made him want things he’d never wanted before.
He picked up the tablet he’d left on the table near the showers and walked across the large room to join her. Dwayne sat down opposite her. “She laid two eggs. They’re currently contained in the landing gear. Tell me what you know about how the eggs work.”
“I wasn’t there when…” Ripley took a deep breath. “Kane came back to the ship with the creature from the egg already attached to his face. I tried to refuse to bring him on board due to protocols but I was ignored by the rest of the crew. Everyone died as a result.”
“It’s not your fault,” Hicks said. “Your survival is a testament to your own strength. I heard Gorman say you were just lucky but having seen you in action I know that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’d have died on that shit moon if it weren’t for you and I won’t ever forget it.”
Her cheeks flushed and she set the shotgun aside to start working on the rifle. “When I was down in the nest retrieving Newt, the queen seemed to be able to control whether or not the eggs opened. I think they definitely responded to my proximity near the exit of the room but maybe she prodded it to test me. She didn’t like the result. Newt would probably know more but I don’t want her know those things are on this ship. She thinks she’s safe, now, Dwayne and I don’t want to take it from her.”
“I get it,” Dwayne said as he started sorting his own equipment. “We’ll take care of it while she’s asleep and never speak of it again.”
Her shoulders relaxed slightly. “How?”
“Echo, has there been any activity with the eggs?”
“No, Corporal Hicks, they appear to be dormant. The safest solution to the current danger against the priority passenger is to vent the docking bay and release the entire drop ship into space.”
He considered that. There was an escape vehicle that could accommodate a team of ten so he could certainly afford the loss of the second drop ship in that respect. He wondered briefly about the ramifications he might face with command but then dismissed it. Priority passenger protocols were clear and the kid more than qualified.
“Vent the bay and eject the drop ship, Echo,” Hicks ordered. “Immediately. Do another full scan of the ship—interior and exterior.”
Silence settled between them briefly after that and he let it sit there as he strapped on a knife and organized his own TAC vest. He noticed that she copied his prep when it came to the vest without a hitch.
“What kind of work did you do for the company before?”
“Flight officer,” Ellen said shortly. “I was third in command of the ship. Shortly before I left this time, they recommissioned me as a Lieutenant First Class.” She grimaced as she said it. “I imagine they’ll void it and blame me for the loss of the colony.”
“I have a degree in aeronautical engineering and served in the US Merchant Navy.”
“Did you sign a new contract with the Company?”
“No, I refused. I was commissioned as a non-contracted employee,” she grimaced. “I’ll never give those bastards any kind of control over me again. They were so desperate for my help with this fucked up situation that they agreed. They offered me a commercial shipping route as second in command after I returned but that deal will probably disappear.”
Dwayne nodded. “Echo, prep enlistment papers for Ripley effective today. Pull all relevant data needed from the mission data packet.”
She snorted. “I’m not enlisting, Hicks.”
He put down the gun and focused on her. “The Company has a lot of power and many think, erroneously, that they essentially run the USMC. They don’t and you need the protection the Corps can provide. If you’re one of us, the Company will have to back off, officially. Additionally, we need to think about the kid.”
“She’s mine,” Ellen snapped. “I…” Her hands tightened into fists. “I won’t let anyone or anything take her from me.”
“I agree.” He watched her relax slightly. “Echo showed me what happened in the docking bay, by the way, way to soldier on.”
She huffed. “I…”
“Let me conscript you into the Corps,” Hicks implored. “It’ll shield you, Ellen, and give you the opportunity to provide a safe life for Newt.”
“You don’t have the rank or the authority to determine what will happen to me after we arrive on Fort Bellengrad.”
“With your education and experience, your enlistment will be evaluated and you’ll been sent to Officer Training School. Officers get a lot more choice regarding assignments on and off planet than the rest of us. You could, if you wanted, return to Earth with Newt and take a job in one of the training centers as part of support and administrative operations. You currently know more about combat with xenomorphs than anyone else. That is valuable experience that the Corps would reward you for. The Company will chew you up and spit you out, given the opportunity and we both know it.”
“Newt knows more about them than both of us combined,” Ripley said quietly. “There’s no telling what they would do to her get that information. They practically owned her parents through work and colonization contracts. They might even try to claim her in some fashion or another. I don’t know what the colony records might have had on file for her regarding custody if her parents were to perish.” She rubbed her face with a shaking hand. “Part of me wants to take her and run.”
“There’s an escape vehicle,” Hicks said. “It’ll hold us and supplies enough for a year of travel.”
She frowned. “How much time do you have left in?”
“Another year before I’m due to re-enlist,” Hicks admitted. “Apone suggested I start prepping for OTS but I was never much interested in that before.”
“Hicks, I can’t ask you to rearrange your life for me and Newt.”
“Until she’s safe from those things and the Company, Rebecca Jorden is my primary concern,” Hicks said evenly.
She stared at him for a long moment then nodded.
“The Company has a private military force. Do you know anything about them?”
“The PMCs?” Ripley questioned. “My old mission commander, Dallas, was a PMC at one point for the Company but took a contracted job eventually.”
“Were you close?”
“We fucked occasionally but it wasn’t anything more than stress relief for me. If he felt differently, he never said.” Ellen shrugged and Hicks had a momentary pang of pity for a long-dead man. “As to the PMCs, some of them are trained well and others are little more than paid muscle. They’re paid very well and they aren’t hired for their good ethics.
“I think one reason why the Nostromo was chosen to be redirected to LV-426 from the start is because they knew Dallas was…” Ripley cleared her throat. “He admitted to me, once, that being part of the PMCs often put him in situations where he was forced to make fucked up decisions. I think it made him doubt himself and his own ability to lead. He didn’t hold up well under the stress especially after Kane was attacked and implanted.” She wet her lips. “There was another woman on board, Lambert. She had a thing for Dallas but he found her annoying at the best of times. She saved my life when Ash, the synthetic, tried to kill me. She and Parker were the last to die before we could escape.
“Ash was added to the mission shortly before we departed. He replaced our regular science officer. It pissed Dallas off. He had no personal issue with Ash but he didn’t like surprises. We didn’t know he was a synthetic until Lambert and Parker stopped him from killing me.” She rubbed her hand over her mouth and shuddered.
“You think they set you up from the start?”
“Yes. The people who founded Hadley’s Hope were eventually sacrificed to further the Company’s goals as well. Burke sent them out there—using my information to find that alien spacecraft. And they died. Newt’s parents, Hicks. It was Newt’s parents who were sent to investigate that fucking ship.”
Hicks left the table and started to pace. “Echo, status on docking bay?”
“Vent complete, the drop ship is currently drifting three hundred kilometers behind us.”
“Arm all stern defenses and fire on the drop ship until there is nothing left but dust,” Hicks ordered. “Status on interior and external scans?”
“The eggs were ejected with the drop ship but DNA from the queen remains in the docking bay despite the ventilation. Weyland-Yutani Incorporated does have the ability and current licenses to operate a cloning operation.
“The external scan has revealed nothing out of the ordinary.”
“What happened to the body of the alien queen?” Hicks questioned.
“It burned up in the atmosphere of LV-426, I tracked her until there was nothing left per previous mission objectives.”
Ellen frowned. “What previous mission objectives?”
“Burke had a bypass,” Hicks explained shortly. “He used it to give Echo orders manually. I’ve cancelled all of those orders.”
“I really hope he suffered before he died,” Ripley said hotly. “Echo, can anyone countermand Corporal Hicks instructions to you?”
“A high-ranking officer with Weyland-Yutani Incorporated could initiate the Origin Protocols to gain control of myself and my systems.”
“A high-ranking officer like myself?” Ripley questioned.
“Your status is currently listed as a civilian consultant but if you request that I engage Origin Protocols, control of the ship will be granted to you entirely.”
Ripley exhaled sharply and shared a glance with Hicks.
“Echo, can you delete those protocols?” Hicks demanded. “Has the Company left anything else in your programming that could endanger the life of the priority passenger?”
“Do the Origin Protocols endanger the priority passenger?” Echo questioned.
“Echo, Weyland-Yutani Incorporated would endanger the life of the priority passenger,” Hicks said. “They are a threat to her life and freedom.”
The silence was tense as they waited for the AI to process all of the information.
“Origin Protocols deleted. Weyland-Yutani Incorporated welcome mat protocol deleted. Weyland-Yutani Incorporated boarding procedure override deleted. Weyland-Yutani Incorporated remote access protocol deleted. Weyland-Yutani Incorporated remote ship-wide monitoring protocol deleted.”
“Son of a bitch,” Hicks muttered under his breath. “Do they have any data on our return to the ship, Echo?”
“No, Corporal Hicks, you initiated classified operations before the scheduled transmission could take place.” Echo paused. “The priority passenger is awake and asking for her mother.”
“She could probably eat,” Ellen murmured.
“I’ll get something set up,” Hicks said.
– – – –
The kid was staring at him even as she diligently plowed through the rations they’d presented her with. He appreciated it that she wasn’t complaining but she had every right to. She chomped down on a piece of dry cornbread with little white teeth and chewed slowly.
“What?” he finally asked.
Her eyes lit up with amusement and he realized he’d lost some sort of game she’d been playing. Hicks shared a glance with Ripley who was sipping instant soup out of cup.
Newt grabbed her milk with both hands. “Mommy says she’s going to be a Marine like you.”
“So we’ll be safe,” she continued.
“I think it’s the best choice we can make right now.”
“When things went wrong… the adults said that the Company didn’t care what happened to us.”
“The Company is very interested in their bottom line,” Hicks said and wondered if they kid understood what that meant.
“Yeah, money,” Hicks murmured. “That means a lot to many people.”
“My first mommy and daddy were always looking for money,” Newt said quietly. “It’s why we found that terrible place with the things. They wanted to make a fortune.”
“I’m sorry they died,” Hicks said. “My own parents died when I was young like you—I grew up in a youth facility on a Company-owned colony. When I turned eighteen, I had a choice between taking a contract with the Company and joining the Marines.”
“I’m glad you joined the Marines,” Newt said earnestly. “So you can keep me and Mommy safe.”
“Your mom doesn’t need anyone to take care of her,” Hicks said. “She can handle herself.”
Newt nodded. “Having an extra adult is good.” She pursed her lips. “A good adult not a bad adult like Mr. Burke. I don’t feel bad that one of those things killed him. Is that wrong?”
He really didn’t think so but he figured that would be the wrong thing to say because Ellen was giving him the eye like she was judging his potential to be a parent. Still, he couldn’t bring himself to lie to the girl. Dwayne felt that Newt had earned a certain amount of honesty from everyone around her.
“Some people get exactly what they deserve,” he said finally and Ellen made a face at him but Newt just nodded with the gravity of someone forty years her senior.
She leaned forward. “Can I have your pudding?”
“I’m pretty sure I should say no,” he told her. “But you’re in luck because I don’t like banana pudding.” He passed the cup to her and resolved not to look at Ripley in case she was throwing some disapproval his way.
“All pudding is good,” Newt said.
“Rice pudding is terrible,” Ellen announced and left the table in favor of refilling her cup. He watched her dump another packet of soup into the cup and fill it with hot water from the drink dispenser.
“Never had it. I’ll probably like it,” Newt proclaimed and stabbed her spoon into the cup enthusiastically.
Dwayne laughed and picked up the other half of his sandwich. “I think there’s some in the stores. I’ll dig it out for you tomorrow.”
An hour later, he was mapping out a route on the ship for Newt to find one of the shelter spaces. He tore off a piece of blue tap and made another small X on the wall at Newt’s level. It really didn’t matter if anyone else saw it since any boarding party would have scanners that would lead them right to her no matter where she was. But the beauty of the shelter rooms on the ship was that they could be locked down completely with orders from the mission commander.
He trotted down the hall, stopped at the corner to put another X in place. Four more Xs later, he stopped to stand in the doorway of the fortified shelter room where Ripley and Newt were setting up some supplies and a cot. It was a small place, so they couldn’t all three fit in, but Newt was used to such spaces and he didn’t want her to hesitate to seek shelter if he ordered it. Dwayne figured the best way to ensure that was to involve her in the prep.
Ellen gave him a small nod. “Did you finish the route?”
“Yeah.” He waved the roll of blue tape. “I want her to run it a few times so I’ll know how long it should take her to get here from various places on the ship.” He focused on Newt. “If that’s okay with you.”
“Training is important,” Newt declared. “We’re a team now.”
His stomach tightened a little and he cleared his throat. “Yeah, we are.”
– – – –
Dwayne dropped down on the bed and glanced toward the door that separated him from the team barracks. Giving the two of them privacy meant he’d taken what was supposed to be Apone’s bunk. He stared at the ceiling for several moments before the door open and Ripley leaned on the frame.
“Out like a light, thanks for the safe room. I think… it’s helping that she knows that she has a bolt hole.”
“It would help me,” Hicks said and curled his toes briefly against the blanket he hadn’t bothered to pull up over his legs. “Are you coming over here or not?”
She wet her lips and glanced over her shoulder.
“Echo, let us know when Newt wakes up.”
“Affirmative, Corporal Hicks.”
Ellen stepped fully into the room and the door slid shut behind her. She shrugged out of her jacket and tossed it on the desk as she walked toward him. He sat up and pulled off his T-shirt as she shrugged out of the flight suit.
“Vasquez called me Snow White,” Ripley murmured. “I spent so much time in cryo-sleep I’ll probably never tan again.”
“It wasn’t your pale skin she was commenting on,” Hicks murmured as he lifted his hips and slipped off his BDUs. He tossed them to the side and sucked in a breath when Ripley slid astride him. “But that gorgeous face of yours.”
Ellen’s cheeks flushed. “Oh.”
He caught her hips with both hands and hummed under his breath. “We had the same taste in women.”
“I thought she was with Drake.”
Hicks took a deep breath. “Yeah, he was her type, too. I don’t think she realized how she really felt about him until he was dead.” He trailed his hands up her thin frame and cupped her breasts. “Let’s focus on the moment instead of the things we can’t change.”
“And the future?” Ellen murmured.
“I know I’m not a priority for you,” he said as he sat up. He cupped her ass and pulled her close. “But I’d like to be more than stress relief.”
She settled her hands on his shoulders and leaned forward to brush her mouth against his. “Okay.”
“Okay?” He questioned. “Just like that?”
“Well, I’m willing to give you a shot,” Ellen murmured. “Mostly because you’re pretty.”
He laughed against her throat then sucked gently on her skin. “I have the birth control implant.”
Her fingers curled into his hair and he shifted so he could roll them over. He’d wanted on top of her since he’d set eyes on her and she smirked a little as he settled his weight on her. It had been over a year, not including cryo-stasis periods, since he’d been with a woman and part of him was a bit too eager for it. Since he didn’t want to rush it, he slid down and sucked one rigid nipple into his mouth.
She arched up against him and made a pleased sound. Ellen’s fingers clenched against the back of his head then she wrapped one long leg around him and he groaned. He really didn’t know how he was going to maintain any kind of control around her. She’d been driving him crazy for days. Now she was under him, warm and inviting in a way he’d never suspected was possible. He’d expected, honestly, something hard and kind of mean against a wall with half of their clothes off. Maybe she’d indulge in that kind of thing later on if he brought it up.
Ellen shifted under him, spread her legs, and ran her hands down his back with a little hum that sounded like pleasure and contentment all at once. It was like the hard shell she presented to the universe had fallen away which strangely felt like a privilege. He wisely kept that observation to himself. Dwayne shifted slightly off of her so he could slide one hand between her legs. Her cunt was warm and wet so he slid his fingers inside her and she rolled her hips up into his hand eagerly.
He clenched his teeth on her nipple briefly and lifted his head. “Dwayne.”
Her eyes darkened. “Dwayne.” She tugged gently and he pulled his fingers free of her pussy as he met her demand.
He shuddered a little as she wrapped her hand around his cock and positioned him. He flexed his hips just a little as he pushed into her and she released dick and gripped the back of his neck. “You really like to be in charge, don’t you?”
“Shut up and fuck me,” she ordered.
Hicks had been following orders his entire adult life and rarely had been one such a pleasure to undertake. She moved under him—demanding and relentless in a way that he was very familiar with. Every thrust into her body felt like a reward for surviving which left him desperate for more of her. He’d never been the sort to turn toward sexual release after a close call but suddenly he understood it. The pleasure felt vivid and rich in a way he’d never really known before.
Her breathing was heavy against his neck as she worked with him, her cunt clenched down on him with each thrust even as he broke a sweat.
“You feel fantastic, Ellen,” he whispered against her hair.
Her hands clenched on his back and she strained under him. “I’m close.”
He was, too, despite his best intentions. He shifted his weight to one hand and used his free one to slide between them. She gasped and shuddered as he slid his fingers over her clit.
“Come on,” Hicks urged.
Her blunt nails scraped against the skin of his back and she groaned low as she came. Teeth clenched on his shoulder and he shuddered through his own orgasm just like that. He groaned and buried his face against her neck.
“In my defense, it’s been over a year and I was severely injured.”
Ripley laughed and patted his ass. “It’s been fifty-eight years for me—you did fine.”
He lifted his head and met her gaze. “Can I ask why?”
She ran her fingers through his hair and took a deep breath. “The Company kept a watch over me after I was released, I didn’t want to give them ammunition against me and I didn’t have the funds to get off the facility they dropped me on after that so-called debrief.”
Reluctantly, he pulled free of her body and dropped down on the bed beside her. “The sons of bitches.” He focused on the ceiling above them and curled his arm around her as she turned to rest on his chest. “I heard once about a network of people working to destroy the Company from within and out. Vasquez’s parents were involved at one point before they were both lost in an accident.”
“Probably not an accident,” Ellen muttered.
“No, probably not,” Hicks agreed, he let his hand trail down her back. “Echo, status on Newt?”
“The priority passenger will wake shortly to use the toilet based on her current biometrics,” Echo reported. “But she is currently in REM sleep.”
Ellen made no move to leave so he grabbed the thin sheet and pulled it over them. “Have you thought more about the enlistment?”
She grimaced. “I hate the idea of signing any sort of long-term contract again—even a four-year enlistment is daunting but I understand your reasons. I read through the rights package attached to service in the Colonial Marines and it’s certainly more than I ever had working for the Company.”
“No buts. I hate the idea of it but I’ll do it if you believe they’ll accept it because it’s for Newt.”
“They’ll honor it. In fact, I’ll get a bonus out of it.” He grinned when she huffed. “And it’ll look good on my records for OTS.”
“You said you didn’t want that.”
“I need the rank—if I want to stay in your and Newt’s lives,” Hicks said. “And I do.” She smiled and shook her head at him. “Shut up.”
– – – –
Hicks ran his fingers over the cobbled together faceplate he’d welded into place over a standard field helmet. He wished Bishop was awake so he could ask questions about the egg form of the xenomorph—specifically the strength. He tucked a rebreather into his mouth then pulled the helmet on before closing the battle armor over his chest and up his throat. He checked his weapon and glanced toward Ripley who was leaning against the wall next to the doors leading into the docking bay.
“Are you sure this is necessary?” she asked.
He could only nod. There were too many loopholes in Echo’s programming and the report he planned to write on that would probably cause of tidal wave of consequences not all of which would be in his favor. There were probably people in the USMC who knew exactly how long the Company’s reach was into the Corps and they wouldn’t like what he had to say about it but he was beyond caring about it. The Company was going to pay for what happened on LV-426 and the loss of his entire squad.
Hicks tethered the rifle to the front of his armor and let it dangle as he pulled on gloves.
“Echo, location on Newt?” Ripley questioned.
“The priority passenger is currently seated at a table in the mess having breakfast. She has not moved from her place since you left her, Ripley.”
He gave her a nod and hit the manual release on the door, stepped inside and closed it behind him. He picked up the motion sensor hanging from his hip and moved forward slowly. The device remained clear but he knew he wasn’t going to be satisfied that the ship was egg-free until he’d checked for himself. He’d reviewed all of the security footage around the docking area and as far as he could tell Echo hadn’t altered the footage.
Though, he also knew if the AI had been instructed to hide evidence of tampering, he might not even notice which was annoying but his tech skills weren’t the best. Hudson had handled most of that for the squad and Hicks had let his own skills fall away a bit as a result. It was something to work on, certainly, and if he played his cards right, he’d have time to do that on Fort Bellengrad if his application for OTS went through. He snagged a hook from the wall and pulled up the grates covering the storage areas one by one then replaced them once he was satisfied they were empty.
He tried to ignore the scrapes and scratches carved into the floor from the battle Ripley had fought against the queen. There was acid damage and several of the grooves were so deep that parts of the ship’s infrastructure were exposed. With both drop ships gone, the docking bay was one big empty space—he found the emptiness a relief considering what had been there before.
He pulled off the helmet and activated his radio. “It’s clear.”
The door opened immediately and Ripley came in. She had the sack of chemicals they’d gathered from various places on the ship. Their current mission was to make every scrap of DNA the alien had left behind utterly useless in case the Company managed to get a sample. He wasn’t sure if they were all dead on LV-426 and he couldn’t control that but if the Company wanted to experiment on fucked up shit they were going to have work for it.
“Are you sure you won’t face some kind of reprimand for this?” Ellen questioned.
“I have no standing orders regarding the preservation of alien DNA,” Hicks said. “In fact, the only standing order I have from the USMC regarding hostile aliens is that they should be eliminated.”
– – – –
“Corporal Hicks, there is incoming transmission from Fort Bellengrad.”
“Video or text?”
He relaxed slightly as he shared a glance with Ripley who was across the room watching some entertainment video with Newt. A video transmission would’ve been sent before they even dropped down on LV-426. A text communication was likely something new due to size and transmission rates through the USMC’s system. “Transmission security?”
“Drop it on my tablet,” he ordered. “And confirm delivery. Anything from Weyland-Yutani Incorporated?”
“Not since I deflected the data request sixteen hours ago,” Echo reported. “Based on experience, I expect to get another request within the next hour. The nearest known Company-owned ship is sixteen days from our current location and that distance grows with each hour as it is in a stationary orbit around LV-742.”
Hicks frowned but nodded as he picked up his tablet.
FM GENERAL FOSTER, FORT BELLENGRAD
TO SENIOR CORPORAL HICKS
REMAIN ON COURSE FOR FORT BELLENGRAD. CONTINUE TO IGNORE ALL COMMUNICATIONS FROM WEYLAND-YUTANI INCORPORATED. EXPECT ESCORT FROM USS SEPHORA UNDER THE LEADERSHIP OF CAPTAIN CRUZ WITHIN FOURTEEN HOURS.
CONSCRIPTION OF RIPLEY, ELLEN LOUISE ACCEPTED. COMMAND APPRECIATES ANY OPPORTUNITY TO GAIN TALENT FOR OUR MISSION. NOTIFY RIPLEY, ELLEN THAT SHE WILL BE GIVEN FOURTEEN STANDARD DAYS TO REPORT TO TRAINING ON FORT BELLENGRAD AFTER ARRIVAL.
CONFIRMATION OF PARENTAL CUSTODY OF THE PRIORITY PASSENGER, JORDEN, REBECCA, GRANTED TO RIPLEY, ELLEN PENDING CONFIRMATION OF NO NEXT-OF-KIN.
Ellen sat down across from him and he passed the tablet to her.
“Talent?” she questioned.
“He’s honestly probably giddy to get one over on the Company. Foster hates Weyland-Yutani for a variety for reason but most of all because he blames them for the death of his first wife,” Hicks explained. “She was a pilot for a mining ship—it suffered some sort of technological failure and exploded.”
She grimaced. “The Company will run a mining ship until it’s operating on pure strength of will which is dangerous and stupid but they don’t value life in any sort in any fashion. Foster’s hatred for the Company is why you have faith we’ll be safe on Fort Bellengrad.”
“It certainly played a part,” Hicks agreed. “Fort Bellengrad is the only planet in this sector where the Company doesn’t have a presence. They’ve never been granted permission to set foot on the planet much less use the orbital stations. It’s a government world, colonized by the Marines. The whole planet is classified as a military installation. It’s our home out here.” He paused. “I hope it will be yours.”
She flashed him a quick smile. “I’ll start working through the material you’ve given me so I’ll be ready to start training when required.” Her gaze dropped down to the tablet. “Does he really have the power to grant me custody of Newt?”
“He’s the final authority on Fort Bellengrad and acts as a judge in the event of legal matters unless it involves a civilian. Your enlistment was accepted so he has the authority work on your behalf and the government on Earth will accept his decisions. Newt is currently a priority passenger—the moment she stops being a passenger on this ship she will become your dependent—a military dependent and the Company won’t have any sort of claim on her no matter what they might think or want.”
Her mouth tightened. “I want to destroy them.”
“I’ll certainly help you,” Hicks murmured and glanced across the room where Newt was sprawled on a bench holding the tablet. “What’s she watching?”
“I honestly have no clue,” Ellen admitted. “Children’s entertainment has changed a lot since…well since my own little girl was that small.” She set aside his tablet. “I’ll have to get her accessed for education. She was in the second grade, I think, but I don’t know what that really means for her when it comes to skills. Company colonies don’t have a set of standards they all have to follow. They don’t even require that teachers be certified to teach. It’s one reason why I left Amanda on Earth so I could control the quality of her education.”
“Is she…” Hicks took a deep breath. “Do you know anything about your daughter?”
“Burke told me she died of cancer,” Ripley said flatly and looked away from him. “I don’t know if I can trust that.”
“We’ll find out. It might be hard if she never left Earth but…I have a lot of friends I can reach out to get information even if the Company thinks we shouldn’t have it.”
“What did you put in your communication to Foster to make him eager for my recruitment?” Ellen questioned.
“Your original mission report from the Company and footage of you kicking that alien bitch’s ass in the docking bay,” he said and grinned when her eyes went wide. “I didn’t classify the communication—it’s probably the most watched video in the sector by now.”
“Why would you…” Ellen inclined her head. “You wanted to make sure the Company couldn’t cover it up. You used the public communication network to transmit?”
“A mixture of public, private, and military to get the information to Bellengrad as quickly as possible,” he explained. “Since I lost my whole team no one is going to give me flak for it.”
“There are people in the Company that will probably actively seek to murder you for that,” she muttered and rubbed her face with both hands.
“I wish they’d head my way,” Dwayne said and glanced toward Newt. “I owe them—and not just for my team. And I’m going to make them pay in every single way I can for the rest of my life. They’re really going to fucking regret everything that happened on LV-426 one way or another.”
The girl looked up at that moment and focused on them. She offered him a little a salute and Dwayne couldn’t help but laugh. He put a hand on Ellen’s arm and leaned forward. “I really look forward seeing the woman she becomes—the fact that she’ll get to grow up at all comes down to you. Don’t forget that.”
– – – –
“This is the USS Sephora under the command of Captain Jeremy Cruz. Corporal Hicks, we’ve fallen into an escort position off your starboard bow. Do you or your passengers require supplies or any advanced medical treatment?”
Hicks reviewed all the data from the transponder that Echo had picked up before he activated communication. “I’m grateful for the escort, Captain Cruz. The Sulaco is locked down under classified operations with a priority passenger as such I cannot allow you to dock with her. My shipboard AI is tracking a civilian owned transport ship on course for our location at top speed. The vessel appears to be on course to intercept the Sulaco just two days before we arrive at Bellengrad.”
“I’ve already sent that ship a message letting them know that their pursuit of the ship owned by the USMC is in violation of sector regulations. If they stay on course, I’ll drop behind you and destroy them.”
Hicks activated the screen and a man in uniform filled it. He didn’t know Cruz personally but he recognized the man’s face. He relaxed slightly in his chair. “Sir, be advised that ship is probably full of private military contractors controlled by Weyland-Yutani Incorporated. They want both of my passengers.”
Cruz took a tablet from one just off the screen. “Your passengers are Ripley, Ellen L—enlisted USMC and due to report for training in twenty-two days on Fort Bellengrad and her minor dependent. The way I see it, Corporal Hicks, the Company doesn’t have a single damn reason to express any sort of interest in your passengers and that’s exactly what I’ll tell them.” He sat back and lit a cigar. “Relax, son. Take care of you and yours—we got this. I’ve a hundred Marines on this ship that would adore an opportunity to make the Company regret all of their choices.” He pointed at the screen with his cigar. “Apone trained me up—like he trained you. Sent me on my way when it was time just like he planned with you, Hicks. One day soon, we’re going to sit down have a real long talk about LV-426 and Jefferson Apone.”
– – – –
One Year later
Hicks shouldered his backpack as he handed a tablet back to the woman who manned the front desk of the education center. It was rare that he ended up with the task of picking Newt up from school. Ellen Ripley was frankly all-in on the parenthood front and didn’t delegate much to him and that hadn’t changed even after he’d managed to get her to share living space with him.
The doors on his left slid open and Newt darted out. Her uniform jumpsuit had a smear of paint down the front and there was a dot of neon green paint on her nose. He grinned. “Art appreciation?”
She laughed and snagged his hand. “We’re painting a big picture for General Foster’s office.” Her backpack slid off her shoulder as she bounced so he grabbed the bright yellow faux-fur covered thing that the girl was especially proud of and slid it on his own shoulder. “Where’s mom?”
“She managed to get a slot in the flight simulator this afternoon,” Dwayne explained. “We’ll meet her for dinner in about an hour. Homework?”
“Nope,” she exclaimed and wiggled her eyebrows. “Promise. Can we go home and change my clothes first?”
“Absolutely,” he promised as he guided her toward the transport train that would take them across the city to their apartment. “No need for us both to get a lecture.”
Once on the train, he tucked them both onto a bench seat and glanced around. The car was full of mostly civilians, not a surprise for the area. Newt pressed against him suddenly.
“Is that our Bishop?”
Hicks winced and glanced in the direction that she was staring. There was a Bishop unit seated between two children in jumpsuits just like hers. “No, not ours.”
The Company had tried several times to petition the Corps for access to the Bishop unit that had survived their mission and as a result, the USMC had kept him in cyro-stasis for security purposes. Ellen had been the most vocal on the subject—on refusing the Weyland-Yutani access to the unit and she’d been adamant about his repair when many had suggested just outright destruction. It was an ongoing situation and he figured the end result would be whatever Ellen Ripley wanted—it was just honestly easier not to argue with a woman who’d earned the call sign Brawler before she’d ever put on a USMC uniform.
Newt sighed and her fingers clenched on his wrist. “Will we ever get him back?”
“I have no doubts your mom will get her way,” he said and grinned when she laughed.
The train came to a stop and he gathered up their things then offered her a hand. The station near their apartment was always busy, crowded, and loud. Newt didn’t handle crowds well and maybe never would. The psychologist that Ellen bribed the girl into visiting once a month said she’d recovered from her ordeal better than expected. Hicks figured she’d done better than most adults he knew would’ve. It took a special kind of survivor to last as long as Newt had on LV-426. He figured she might have actually lasted long enough to starve to death if they hadn’t come along and that was no comfort at all.
He wasn’t an unknown on Fort Bellengrad like he’d once been and Dwayne wasn’t sure how he felt about it. There was no changing it, really, so he just let the looks and the whispers roll off of him. That trip had been in the nail in the Sulaco’s coffin so to speak. The ship had a history and a reputation for being bad luck. It had spent exactly two days in orbit before Foster had ordered it decommissioned and salvaged for parts. The on-board AI had been confiscated by military intelligence and thoroughly interrogated for Company interference.
The ripples of that and his own report regarding the Company’s actions regarding Hadley’s Hope had caused a lot of issues for the top brass running Weyland-Yutani. He wouldn’t be surprised at all to hear that there was a price on his head in private circles due to the enemies he made in that situation and he didn’t care. He was just getting started.
Newt pressed closer to his side as they entered an elevator and headed up to their home. Ripley had used the social capital she had to burn to secure the best possible lodgings for her and Newt. Six months of dedicated attention on his part had led to an invitation to join them. More than one individual in psych services had spoken to him about trauma bonds and the like. He wondered if Ellen had endured those conversations as well. He really didn’t care how they bonded as a family. He loved them and he wasn’t going to part with either of them given a choice and he had enough privately owned ordnance to guarantee that he most certainly had a choice.
He released Newt’s hand as they exited the elevator and offered the security guard a little wave as he passed through the sensor just after the girl. The door was responding to Newt’s hand print just as he turned the corner of their hallway.
Hicks managed to snag the orange monstrosity as it tried to bolt past him and the cat made a little huffing sound as he tucked him under an arm and entered the apartment. “You got nowhere to go, old man, I don’t know why you bother.”
Jones howled vehemently in response then acted like dead weight as Newt took him.
The cat had only been with them a few weeks. Ripley had left him in a cryo-stasis facility on the station she’d been dropped on by the Company after her retrieval. The Company had in turn tried to use the animal as a bargaining chip to gain access to all three of them for a conversation. Ellen had responded by giving a full report on the entire clusterfuck starting with the death of each member of her first crew and working her way through the last of his—Vasquez and Gorman. She’d broadcast the report in every single direction she could from Fort Bellengrad. Several hundred lawsuits were pending against the company from descendants of the original crew and family members of the lost colonists.
General Foster had taken himself off on vacation six months after they’d arrived at Fort Bellengrad and returned with Ripley’s cat. No one had asked any questions and Newt had declared the older man her favorite adult because she’d always wanted a cat. Unfortunately, for the kid, Jones was a jealous little asshole and wasn’t all that interested in sharing Ellen Ripley with her or Dwayne. He didn’t even have an accurate count as to how often he’d been woken up by that animal digging its claws into his chest.
He dropped Newt’s backpack on the couch and tucked his own into the closet near the door before going into the master bath to take a quick shower. Battle simulations didn’t deal with live ammo but they took a serious toll on the body. Moreover, none of his instructors really gave him a break on any front. But then he’d been told from the start that he’d already survived the worst thing the universe could throw at him so they felt compelled to keep him up to that standard. Dwayne was pretty sure that made them bastards.
Newt was seated on the couch trying to make Jones like her by the time he was dressed and ready to go. She sighed dramatically when the cat darted away from her and focused on him. “I need a new plan, D.”
He grinned. “Food, shelter, and affection are the choice options for manipulation.”
“Ha! I’m going to start feeding him all of his meals,” she decided and flounced off the couch to grab her jacket.
Twenty minutes later, they were in a booth in a diner not far from the flight school Ripley was currently enrolled at. She’d breezed through basic training and taken the offer for OTS thereafter. Now, she working to get certified as a pilot which was no small feat in the Corps because she had to qualify across multiple platforms and ships. Still, he really didn’t think the course work was too much of an issue for her.
“Where’s mommy?” Newt questioned as she fiddled with the menu screen.
“She should be on her way.” He glanced over the diner and hummed under his breath as Ellen walked in the door. “See.”
“You like her a lot,” Newt said and smiled when he looked her way. “You look at her like she’s special. It’s nice.”
He flicked her nose. “You’re both special.”
Ellen slid into the booth and shrugged out of her coat. “Running late, sorry.” She ran her fingers through her hair and took a deep breath. “I passed my final flight test.”
Hicks relaxed on the bench and watched Newt crawl into Ripley’s lap for celebratory hug. Their eyes met and he saw nothing but determination there. Weyland-Yutani Incorporated had hell coming their way and they didn’t even know it.
He could hardly wait to get started.