Alien 3

By: Alan Dean Foster



Self-care was not a function with which it had been equipped.

The surface of Fiorina was as barren as its sky, a riot of grey-black stone scoured by howling winds. A few twisted, contorted growths clung to protected hollows in the rock.

Driving rain agitated the surface of dank, cold pools.

The inanimate shapes of heavy machinery dotted the mournful landscape.

Loaders,

transports,

and immense excavators and lifters rested where they had been abandoned, too massive and expensive to evacuate from the incredibly rich site which had once demanded their presence. Three immense burrowing excavators sat facing the wind like a trio of gigantic carnivorous worms, their drilling snouts quiescent, their operator compartments dark and deserted. Smaller machines and vehicles clustered in groups like so many starving parasites, as if waiting for one of the larger machines to grind to life so they might eagerly gather crumbs from its flanks.

Below the site dark breakers smashed methodically into a beach of gleaming black sand, expending their energy on a lifeless shore. No elegant arthropods skittered across the surface of that shadowy bay, no birds darted down on skilled, questing wings to probe the broken edges of the incoming waves for small, edible things.

There were fish in the waters, though. Strange, elongated creatures with bulging eyes and small, sharp teeth. The human transients who called Fiorina home engaged in occasional arguments as to their true nature, but as these people were not the sort for whom a lengthy discussion of the nature of parallel evolution was the preferred mode of entertainment, they tended to accept the fact that the ocean-going creatures, whatever their peculiar taxonomy, were edible, and let it go at that. Fresh victuals of any kind were scarce. Better perhaps not to peer too deeply into the origins of whatever ended up in the cookpot, so long as it was palatable.

The man walking along the beach was thoughtful and in no particular hurry. His intelligent face was preoccupied, his expression noncommittal. Light plastic attire protected his perfectly bald head from the wind and rain. Occasionally he kicked in irritation at the alien insects which swarmed around his feet, seeking a way past the slick, treated plastic. While Fiorina’s visitors occasionally sought to harvest the dubious bounty of its difficult waters, the more primitive native life-forms were not above trying to feast on the visitors.

He strolled silently past abandoned derricks and fossilized cranes, wholly intent on his thoughts. He did not smile. His attitude was dominated by a quiet resignation born not of determination but indifference, as though he cared little about what happened today, or whether there was a tomorrow. In any event he found far more pleasure in gazing inward. His all too familiar surroundings gave him little pleasure.

A sound caused him to look up. He blinked, wiping cold drizzle from his face mask. The distant roar drew his gaze to a point in the sky. Without warning a lowering cloud gave violent birth to a sliver of descending metal. It glowed softly and the air around it screamed as it fell.

He gazed at the place where it had struck the ocean, pausing before resuming his walk.

Halfway up the beach he checked his chronometre, then turned and began to retrace his steps. Occasionally he glanced out to sea. Seeing nothing, he expected to find nothing. So the limp form which appeared on the sand ahead of him was a surprise. He increased his pace slightly and bent over the body as wavelets lapped around his feet. For the first time his blood began to race slightly. The body was that of a woman, and she was still alive. He rolled her over onto her back.

Stared down into Ripley’s unconscious, salt-streaked face.

He looked up, but the beach still belonged to him alone.

Him, and this utterly unexpected new arrival. Leaving her to go for help would mean delaying treatment which might save her life, not to mention exposing her to the small but still enthusiastic predators which inhabited parts of Fiorina.

Lifting her beneath her arms, he heaved once and managed to get her torso around his shoulders. Legs straining, he lifted.

With the woman on his shoulders and back he headed slowly toward the weather lock from which he’d emerged earlier.

Inside he paused to catch his breath, then continued on toward the bug wash. Three prisoners who’d been working outside were busy delousing, naked beneath the hot, steady spray that mixed water with disinfectant. As medical officer, Clemens carried a certain amount of authority. He used it now.

‘Listen up!’ The men turned to regard him curiously.

Clemens interacted infrequently with the prisoners except for those who sought him out for sick call. Their initial indifference vanished as soon as they spotted the body hanging from his shoulders. ‘An EEV’s come down.’ They exchanged glances. ‘Don’t just stand there,’ he snapped, trying to divert their attention from his burden. ‘Get out on the beach. There may be others. And notify Andrews.’

They hesitated, then began to move. As they exited the wash and began grabbing at their clothes, they stared at the woman Clemens carried. He didn’t dare set her down.





II


Andrews didn’t like working the Communicator. Every use went down in his permanent record. Deep-space communication was expensive and he was expected to make use of the device only when absolutely and unavoidably necessary. It might develop that his judgment would not agree with that of some slick-assed bonehead back at headquarters, in which case his accumulated pay might be docked, or he might be denied a promotion. All without a chance to defend himself, because by the time he made it out of the hellhole that was Fiorina and back home, the cretin who’d docked him would probably be long since dead or retired.

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