Aliens(98)

By: Alan Dean Foster





Below, the acid-weakened outer lock doors groaned. A portion of the inner reinforcing collapsed. The interlocked powerloader and alien queen settled a few centimetres. Ripley felt her arms giving way as she was dragged down, but it was her shoe that came away first. Her leg was free.



Summoning strength from unknown depths, she dragged herself onto the deck just as the inner airlock doors slammed shut. Beneath her, the alien queen uttered another scream of rage and exerted all her incomprehensible strength. The heavy loader squealed as she began to push it aside.



It was half off when the outer doors, honeycombed by acid fell apart, sending chunks of metal, bubbles of acid, the queen and the powerloader spilling out into space. Ripley rose and stumbled to the nearest viewport. The queen's efforts were enough to propel her clear of the Sulaco's artificial gravity field Still screaming and tearing at the powerloader, the queen tumbled slowly back toward the inhospitable world she'd recently fled.



Ripley stared as her nemesis faded to a dot, then a dim point and was at last swallowed by the rolling clouds. Within the cargo bay turbulent air eddied and settled as the Sulaco's cyclers worked to replenish the atmosphere that had been lost.



Bishop was still holding Newt with one hand. His bisected torso trailed artificial inner organs and sparking conduits. His eyelids fluttered, and his head sometimes jerked unpredictably bumping against the deck. His internal regulators had managed to shut off the flow of android blood, fighting a holding action against the massive injury. White encrustation sparkled along the edge of the tear.



He managed a small, grim smile as he eyed the approaching Ripley. 'Not bad for a human.' He regained control of his eyelids long enough to give her an unmistakable wink.



Ripley stumbled over to Newt. The girl looked dazed.



'Mommy—mommy?'



'Right here, baby. I'm right here.' Sweeping the girl up in her arms, she hugged her as hard as she could. Then she headed toward the Sulaco's crew quarters.



Around them, the big ship's systems hummed reassuringly She found her way up to Medical and returned to the cargo hold with a stretcher in tow. Bishop assured her that he could wait With the stretcher's aid she gently loaded the sleeping Hicks and trundled him back to the hospital ward. His expression was peaceful, content. He'd missed the whole thing, luxuriating in the effects of the injection Bishop had given him.



As for the android, he lay on the deck, his hands crossed over his chest and his eyes closed. She couldn't tell if he was dead or sleeping. Better minds than hers would determine that once they got back to Earth.



In sleep Hicks's face lost much of its macho Marine toughness He looked much like any other man. Handsomer though, and certainly more tired. Except that he wasn't like any other man. If it hadn't been for him, she'd be dead, Newt would be dead, all dead. Only the Sulaco would have lived on, an empty receptacle awaiting the return of humans who would never come.



She thought of waking him, decided against it. In a little while, when she was sure that his vital signs were stabilized and the repairs to his acid-scarred flesh well under way, she'd place him in one of the empty, waiting hypersleep capsules.



She turned to inspect the sleeping chamber. Three capsules to prep. If he still lived, Bishop wouldn't need one. The synthetic would probably have found hypersleep confining.



Newt looked up at her. She held two of Ripley's fingers as they strode together up the corridor.



'Are we going to sleep now?'



'That's right, Newt.'



'Can we dream?'



Ripley gazed down at the bright, upturned face and smiled. 'Yes honey. I think we both can.'

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