Aliens(2)

By: Alan Dean Foster





Wearing full pressure suits, the three boarders entered their airlock. They carried portable lights and other equipment. Air being too precious to abandon to vacuum, they waited patiently while the oxygen was inhaled by their ship. Then the outer-lock door slid aside.



Their first sight of the lifeboat was disappointing: no internal lights visible through the port in the door, no sign of life within. The door refused to respond when the externa controls were pressed. It had been jammed shut from inside After the men made sure there was no air in the lifeboat's cabin, a robot welder was put to work on the door. Twin torches flared brightly in the darkness, slicing into the door from two sides. The flames met at the bottom of the barrier Two men braced the third, who kicked the metal aside. The way was open.



The lifeboat's interior was as dark and still as a tomb. A section of portable grappling cable snaked along the floor. Its torn and frayed tip ended near the exterior door. Up close to the cockpit a faint light was visible. The men moved toward it.



The familiar dome of a hypersleep capsule glowed from within. The intruders exchanged a glance before approaching Two of them leaned over the thick glass cover of the transparent sarcophagus. Behind them, their companion was studying his instrumentation and muttered aloud.



'Internal pressure positive. Assuming nominal hull and systems integrity. Nothing appears busted; just shut down to conserve energy. Capsule pressure steady. There's power feeding through, though I bet the batteries have about had it Look how dim the internal readouts are. Ever see a hypersleep capsule like this one?'



'Late twenties.' The speaker leaned over the glass and murmured into his suit pickup. 'Good-lookin' dame.'



'Good-lookin', my eye.' His companion sounded disappointed. 'Life function diodes are all green. That means she's alive There goes our salvage profit, guys.'



The other inspector gestured in surprise. 'Hey, there's something in there with her. Nonhuman. Looks like it's alive too. Can't see too clearly. Part of it's under her hair. It's orangish.'



'Orange?' The leader of the trio pushed past both of them and rested the faceplate of his helmet against the transparent barrier. 'Got claws, whatever it is.'



'Hey.' One of the men nudged his companion. 'Maybe it's an alien life-form, huh? That'd be worth some bucks.'



Ripley chose that moment to move ever so slightly. A few strands of hair drifted down the pillow beneath her head, more fully revealing the creature that slept tight against her. The leader of the boarders straightened and shook his head disgustedly.



'No such luck. It's just a cat.'





Listening was a struggle. Sight was out of the question. Her throat was a seam of anthracite inside the lighter pumice of her skull; black, dry, and with a faintly resinous taste. Her tongue moved loosely over territory long forgotten. She tried to remember what speech was like. Her lips parted. Air came rushing up from her lungs, and those long-dormant bellows ached with the exertion. The result of this strenuous interplay between lips, tongue, palate, and lungs was a small triumph of one word. It drifted through the room.



'Thirsty.'



Something smooth and cool slid between her lips. The shock of dampness almost overwhelmed her. Memory nearly caused her to reject the water tube. In another time and place that kind of insertion was a prelude to a particularly unique and loathsome demise. Only water flowed from this tube, however It was accompanied by a calm voice intoning advice.



'Don't swallow. Sip slowly.'



She obeyed, though a part of her mind screamed at her to suck the restoring liquid as fast as possible. Oddly enough, she did not feel dehydrated, only terribly thirsty.



'Good,' she whispered huskily. 'Got anything more substantial?'



'It's too soon,' said the voice.



'The heck it is. How about some fruit juice?'



'Citric acid will tear you up.' The voice hesitated considering, then said, 'Try this.'



Once again the gleaming metal tube slipped smoothly into her mouth. She sucked at it pleasurably. Sugared iced tea cascaded down her throat, soothing both thirst and her first cravings for food. When she'd had enough, she said so, and the tube was withdrawn. A new sound assailed her ears: the trill of some exotic bird.



She could hear and taste; now it was time to see. Her eyes opened to a view of pristine rain forest. Trees lifted bushy green crowns heavenward. Bright iridescent winged creatures buzzed as they flitted from branch to branch. Birds trailed long tail feathers like jet contrails behind them as they dipped and soared in pursuit of the insects. A quetzal peered out at her from its home in the trunk of a climbing fig.

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