Chapter 10 - Alone
*It goes without saying that Alien(s), the story and all related characters as well as the xenomorphic beast belongs to the writers, cast and crew of the show. I claim no ownership or association to the film or franchise of the Alien movies.*
"I can't lie to you about your chances, but . . . you have my sympathies."
– Ash (Synthetic)
Newt held her breath. She stilled, not frozen but waiting. Watching. One hand stayed up, clutching the opened ceiling panel. Her chest hurt. Her lungs burned but she didn't dare take a breath and give herself away. The thing in the dark, so near to her in the cramped closet, moved again and she heard something slide against the floor. Something heavy and hard slinking stealthily out from under a shelf.
Relief swept through Newt's body in a current of weakness.
Timmy hesitated for only a second, but then rushed out of his hiding place to fling himself into his sister's arms. He nearly knocked Newt off her perch in his haste and then clung to her as if she were the salvation he had been waiting for. Unease tightened in Newt's stomach and she shoved her brother off of her. She was happy to see him, but she didn't want to be touched. The contact made her skin crawl.
Timmy looked momentarily confused by this. His eyes were dark and lidded with exhaustion and fear and Newt imagined that hers must look just like that. Or worse. Had she seen more than her brother? She doubted he would have had the courage – or the emotional numbness – to walk through a hall bristling with monsters.
Even though Newt wasn't interest in being touched, she allowed Timmy to tentatively reach out and hold her hand. He flinched a little, as if expecting his sister to quickly pull away but she didn't. She endured the contact the way she would have endured having her blood drawn by a doctor. She didn't want to do it but she sat still and just let it happen. Like something that would be over soon.
"Where did you go?" Timmy asked, keeping his voice soft. Barely more than a breath of sound.
Newt said nothing. It was surprisingly difficult to speak. She couldn't quite manage it. Her ears rang from the silence she didn't have the nerve to break. Timmy must have thought it was a slight against him. He looked a little hurt and the mere idea that he thought she was being rude was funny. She hurt his feelings? Now?
The emotion was enough to bust through Newt's silence. She muttered the first thing that came to her. "What happened?"
"I hid," Timmy said, as if that wasn't already obvious.
Newt shook her head.
"The monsters came," Timmy elaborated. "They came and I ran away."
He lowered his eyes, and the shame in them was palpable. He looked scared and sick but also defiant. After only a few seconds, Timmy glanced up at Newt and almost bared his teeth at her. An open challenge. What would she have done?
But Newt was in no condition to judge him. She didn't have the energy for that.
Certainly, neither of them had the time for it.
The cramped closet was dark and from the slight space at the bottom of the door, shadows moved over the floor. Low, predatory clicking tapped all around the two children. The door rattled sharply. A monster was there, right on the other side. Newt did not breathe. She did not move or even blink. The dull pain in her chest flared again but she was so frightened that she didn't even notice it.
Lots of narrow, sharp little legs skittered and Newt saw their shadow, too, from beneath the door. They were trapped. The creatures knew where she was hiding!
Trapped but not quite ready to just give up, Newt let go of Timmy's cold hand and climbed nimbly up into the ceiling. Her brother didn't notice. He stayed where he was, frozen in terror, and gaped at the closed door. He had to know that the door wouldn't keep the creatures out . . . he had to know how vulnerable he was sitting on the floor but he did not move!
"Timmy!" Newt called, as loudly as she dared.
The door rattled again as the monster knocked sharply against the steel. The spider-hand-creature scurried past again. She heard its thick tail slap against the floor with a hard thunk-thunk!
"Timmy, up here!" Newt tried again.
This time, her little brother glanced up. His face was white as powdered chalk. His eyes wide and pleading. He seemed to be begging, imploring his sister to come down and save him. But she couldn't. Newt may have wanted to but she knew that she could not. Was it fear that kept her hidden in the ceiling? Or sense? A deep understanding that had nothing at all to do with emotion. Her heart cried out for her brother but she knew – knew it absolutely – that she would die if she went down for him. She had to make a decision and that choice . . . was to save herself.
She tried one more time, as the steel door bent and swelled inward from the force of the monsters leaning into it. "Timmy! Climb up!"
He shook his head. No.
Newt gasped. The thick metal screaming a protest as it bent and twisted and finally broke open. With one hand and no conscious decision, Newt slid the ceiling panel back into place. The furious hiss and whistle from the monster nearly drowned out Timmy's agonized scream. A high, shrill sound she never would have imagined could come from a boy. Or a girl. The noise hurt her head just by listening to it and in that moment, the exact second where the panel would have closed completely sealing Newt into the ceiling where she could hide and wait . . . she saw what happened to her brother.
The sharp, eight-legged hand-monster launched into the closet and slapped over Timmy's face. Legs locking around the contours of Timmy's skull. Muscular tail coiled around his throat.
Timmy flailed, pain and panic seizing him. He kicked his legs. Arched his back so that his chest heaved upwards, reaching towards the ceiling. Towards Newt; the sister who had not saved him. His hands slammed on the floor, fingers hooking into claws. He scrabbled desperately, mindlessly and the horror of what was being done to him was unimaginable. He was awake. He was still awake.
The black monster lifted its head and howled. A sound that was perversely joyous. Or else triumphant.
Not caring if they saw the motion, Newt slid the ceiling panel all the way back into place. She sealed herself into the dark and curled in on herself. Drawing her knees up to her chin, she thought that maybe she would cry but there were no tears . . .
It was too dangerous to journey up to the kitchens anymore.
Though the kitchens and their stores were far, far away from the atmosphere processing plant where the monsters had their nest, Newt knew the creatures would often leave a scout in there to ambush the little human girl who continued to evade them.
Newt felt that the monsters were becoming angry with her. How could one little scrap of flesh and bone escape them for so long? So she had begun to avoid the area entirely.
That complicated things. There were still so many supplies in the kitchen pantry she could pilfer but the risks just weren't worth it. So now she was forced to go into apartments one at a time in search of food and packets of water rations . . . especially now that the water filtration system had stopped working. Newt was afraid just to go down and see if she could repair it herself, though she didn't know how to fix anything even if it were perfectly safe to make the trip.
So she would leave her little nest – the square 'cave' in the ventilation that Timmy had once shown to her; that he built for both of them – more often than she would have liked. She needed water. She needed food, too, but for now water was a more pressing concern.
Newt felt cold as she slunk stealthily through the ventilation. It was painful to imagine that she'd once used those tunnels for games. She missed the complex and often shifting alliances that had once been her whole world. The games the Hadley's Hope children played had never been just an after-school activity. These alliances, the campaigns, had been deadly serious even if no one ever actually got hurt. And she missed the complicated simplicity of it.
These tunnels were still Newt's whole life, only now it was a deadly earnest game she played. One misstep and it would be over. She would be dead and a part of her wondered if maybe that would be for the best. She had begun to wonder that more and more often, as time passed. As days of hunted isolation stretched into weeks. No one would save her, because there was no one left. She was sure of it. If anybody was still alive, hiding like she was, she would have found some sign of it before now. No, she was alone. And she didn't know why she was still fighting to survive. It would have been so easy to just fling herself down one of the processor shafts. The fall would kill her . . . and so long as the monsters weren't the ones to get her, it would be okay.
She wanted to take that from them, at least. They would never get her, no matter what.
The ventilation ducts really did amplify noises. Even those sounds that came from the corridors outside. And she was hearing something. Not the familiar hiss or heavy footfall of the creatures. Not the scurrying of a spider-hand. These sounded like voices.
Startled, Newt shut her eyes and breathed deeply. Had she lost her mind? The isolation and omnipresent terror, always just there, could have driven her mad. Was she hallucinating? Loneliness was a terrible thing.
Newt took another deep, deep breath and listened carefully.
Light, cautious footfalls thumped in the corridor and it sounded like it was almost right next to the duct she was in. They were so close!
Curiosity had Newt following. Confident in her ability to avoid detection. She followed the footsteps and voices up to the med lab.
"Hey, Hicks!" a voice called out. "I think we've got something here."
A male voice. A man's voice and Newt flinched away from the sound. She wasn't interested in men. The voice hadn't been particularly threatening but it was deeper than a woman's and that frightened her. Newt had gone too long without hearing a person speak and it seemed so, so harsh to her. A noise that grated in her ears and that might draw the creatures up from their hiding places. It was safest to just get away, now. The monsters would be coming.
But then, as she moved steadily away from the loud people in the med bay, another voice spoke.
"One of us?"
Newt hesitated, almost turning back to peek out and see who was there. It was a woman's voice. Taught and strong but still distinctly feminine and something inside of Newt melted at the sound. Like the voice of an angel. The cold inside of Newt thawed just a little and for the first time in so long, she felt the prickle of tears. She felt longing.
This was dangerous.
Newt hurried away, coming to where the duct got too narrow for her to squeeze through. A part of the 'ceiling' was bent and twisted, having collapsed during the initial battle for the colony. A fight Newt had missed, no less. But there was nothing she could do for that, now.
Carefully, she removed the panel opening the duct into the corridor and waited. The voices had gone silent but she thought that she could just hear the thump of boots.
She couldn't stay here. She couldn't risk remaining in the duct for too long because the spider-hands used them sometimes. She needed to get back to her 'cave' where she could curl up and sleep for a little while. Was it worth the risk?
Yes. The other duct was only a few feet away. She could make it if she was fast.
Kicking off with her feet, Newt launched herself across the open corridor with her eyes locked on the slats of the panel on the other side. Safety!
Fire and light erupted all around her. Deafeningly loud! Newt thought her head would explode from the sound and her heart slammed against her ribs from sheer panic. Too much noise. The monsters would hear this!
"Hold up!" someone called.
Another voice said, "Ripley."
Newt crouched behind a large pipe, nearly underneath it as she struggled to catch her breath. She had not expected to be shot at! Her eyes were large and wild and she tried to peek out and see what the people with guns were doing.
She saw faces peering in at her. Curious, unfamiliar eyes of men with helmets. No, no. This was wrong. They were going to die if they stayed out there, and that was okay. Newt felt safer alone. She was lonely, certainly, but it was better to be by herself. She needed that quiet. That stillness. It helped her to stay alert and aware of the monsters moving around.
A hand reached in, stretching to grab a hold of Newt. The woman was speaking but in her panic, the words were nonsensical. She couldn't make sense of any of it. But the woman's voice was soothing. So soft it weakened Newt's resolve to stay away.
Distracted, she didn't see the hand close over her wrist but the sensation of warm flesh and the strength in that grip broke whatever calm Newt had been trying for. Terror coursed like liquid heat through her body and she bite down hard on that hateful hand. The man yelped and pulled back and Newt defaulted to what she was best at. She escaped. First into the floors, but there was nowhere to go from there and she knew it.
With the sharp cleverness of the prey-animal, of a mouse or a hare, she scurried around so that the people grew confused and then, quick as a darting minnow, she slid into the ventilation.
"Wait!" someone called from behind her.
Newt would not wait. She crawled on her hands and knees as quickly as she could, tumbling head over heels into her sanctuary of blankets and toys and food packet. Something big and heavy and clumsy was in the duct directly behind her. She spun around and pushed on the grate, struggling to keep it shut as the woman on the other side pushed back.
Hunger and thirst had weakened Newt even further than she had imagined. She couldn't keep struggling against the woman's greater strength so instead she released the panel and flung herself backward. Buried herself in a corner and watched the human woman glanced around the small space with a look of mild astonishment.
Newt's chest heaved as she breathed, struggling to pull in the air she so desperately needed but fear was making it hard. There were rubber bands tightening around her lungs.
Newt's gaze moved cautiously away from the human woman. Her mind worked furiously for an escape and she realized – almost like she suddenly remembered – that there was another way out of this duct.
With no warning at all, Newt spun and dug her fingers into the grate. She tugged hard, pulling the panel out but before she could launch through it, strong arms wrapped mercilessly around her middle. The woman pulled Newt back, away from her safe escape and held her as Newt cried. Nonsensical noises coming from her throat as she tried desperately to get away.
"It's okay. It's okay," the woman was saying. She wouldn't let Newt go, no matter how hard the girl struggled. She held Newt firmly to her chest. Holding her. Cradling her.
Newt fought a little longer, instinct driving her to run but she was still only a child. And the warmth of the woman's body, the steady pulse of her heart against Newt's, was too much for the little girl. She cried once more, a fierce denial, and then calmed herself. Comforted and, somehow, enchanted by the sensation of living warmth. Of arms wrapped so protectively around her.
Newt sighed, leaning exhaustedly against the woman's chest and stared up at the rotating fan that was her sanctuary's ceiling. She let the woman hold her, comfort her, and in that moment Newt knew that she was lost . . .