Pushing back in her chair, Lambert triple checked her charts as she listened to the quiet hubbub of the Nostromo’s bridge. They were in the Trans-Neptune belt, right where they were expected to be; Pluto and Eris in sight with Sedna just behind them. Haumea’s nav beacons glowed on her screen.
“This is the towing vehicle Nostromo, out of the Solomons’,” Ripley’s dulcet tones could be heard echoing through the quiet of the bridge. “Registration number, one-eight-zero-inner-two-four-six-zero-inner, calling Antarctica Traffic Control.”
They were nearly home and that was all that mattered right then, although Lambert knew that she would gladly settle for a call-back from Antarctica to seal the deal.
“This is the towing vehicle-”
“-Nostromo, this is Antarctica Traffic Control,” a familiar, welcome, female voice crackled over the speakers. Lambert grinned to hear it. “We have you on our screens,” a quick glance around saw that everyone else on the bridge was grinning as widely as she was then.
“Antarctica Traffic Control, this is Nostromo,” Ripley began, her tone light. “Good to hear from you, let me put you on ship-wide,” she flicked a few switches before putting her hand over her mic. “It’s Freema,” she whispered loud enough to be heard.
“Who?” Ash asked.
“The redoubtable Mrs Jimmy Parker,” Kane replied, over the war whoop issuing from the speakers from the direction of Engineering. “Our Mr Parker’s most definite better half.”
“Thank you, Nostromo,” Freema replied. “We will have you home in no time at all. Please hold while Panoptes plots y’all a course home.”
“Copy that, Antarctic Traffic Control,” Lambert replied, rolling her shoulders back. Panoptes might be doing the grunt work of juggling the hundreds of thousands of variables needed to navigate a space lane as busy as the Minor Planets - Earth run, but in the end, it was her responsibility to get them home.
“Nostromo, this is Antarctic Traffic Control, switching to channel Scott Free.”
“Copy that, Antarctic Traffic Control,” Ripley replied, flicking switches. Lambert kept her eyes on her console waiting for her data to scroll in. The Company had ‘views’ on official comms channels being used for anything than official business. So changing channels was nothing new.
“Nostromo, you haven’t seen the Costaguana on your travels have you?”
“Oh? Why’s that?” Ripley replied, her voice even as her expression furrowed in puzzlement. Lambert glanced over at the other woman, her expression just as confused.
“Freema, this is Dallas, I’m checking with Mother as we speak.”
“Thanks Captain,” came the reply. “It might be nothing, but she’s a week overdue and given how the Company frowns on lateness without good reason…”
“The Costaguana, that’s Rudi O’Bannon’s ship, isn’t it?” Ash asked. Out of the corner of her eye, Lambert could see Kane nodding in Ash’s direction while pointing down to his monitor. For a moment she wondered what the hell he was doing until she glanced down at her own screen.
PRIVATE MESSAGE FROM KANE - ACCEPT? Y/N
Quickly Lambert returned her attention to her screen, hitting the 'Y' key as she did so. She continued half listening to the ebb and flow of conversation around her.
No, Antarctica hadn’t received any sort of transmission or worse yet, distress signal or beacon from the Costaguana. Of course, no one higher up the Company would give a rats, but with Idrissa’s sister serving as first officer, Freema’s shift was… concerned.
MESSAGE RECIEVED AND UNDERSTOOD. WELCOMING PARTY TO BE INFORMED UPON CLEARANCE. K
Looking up, Lambert caught Kane staring at her, his expression quizzical. She shot him a grin and a thumbs-up, which he smiled at before turning his attention back to his work. She did likewise.
“Freema?” Dallas said, “Mother says she received no communication or electronic ‘hellos’ while we were asleep. The last we saw of the Costaguana was the back of her as she left port before us. Sorry.”
A sigh echoed down the comms, distorted slightly by the solar winds. “Worth a try Nostromo,” was the reply. “Still - get your asses back here, you’ve been missed! Though we have to get you home first.”
“Copy that, Antarctica.” Ripley said. Most wouldn’t have noticed the longing in her voice but Lambert did. “Ready to switch back?”
“Switching back, Nostromo,” came the reply.
“Antarctica Traffic Control to Nostromo, Panoptes data is streaming through to you now.”
“Copy that, Antarctica,” Lambert called out, her attention on the data scrolling across her screen. “Mother and I are receiving.” There was nothing out of the ordinary, still it didn’t pay to be complacent this close to home.
“Copy that, Nostromo,” came the reply. “Please keep this channel open and welcome home.”
“Thanks Antarctica. Good to be home,” Dallas replied, speaking for the entire crew. “You heard the lady - start preparing for mission completion procedures.”
As everyone else turned their attention to their work, Lambert concentrated on the maps in front of her and the data from Mother scrolling across her screen. Home and all the associated problems it brought was within her means. All she had to do now was do what she did best. Bring the Nostromo - cargo, ship and crew safely home.
As she finally escaped from the tender clutches of Company Medical, Lambert was giving due consideration to her list of things she hated most in life. As bad as waking from hyper sleep was, going through what the Company medic had (laughingly) called a ‘quick check up’ was giving it a real run for its credits.
The doors swished open to a quiet thoroughfare of Gateway station. Huge windows looked out onto the Gateway shipyards. Lambert knew that just behind those sleek penis extensions that masqueraded as the brightest and the best that Company engineering had to offer was the Nostromo. She knew what she’d prefer to navigate.
“Hey,” Ripley said in greeting. She was sitting on a bench facing the observation deck windows. There was a dark plastic crate on the deck, peppered with holes, through which Lambert could hear very loud, very annoyed growling. Poor Jones must have been given the same treatment that she had. “They finally let you go, huh?”
“That or they let me escape,” Lambert replied, walking over to sit down next to Ripley.
“I don’t know whether that would be a blessing or not.”
Lambert turned face Ripley, her expression showing the confusion she felt. “How do you work that one out?” she asked.
Ripley laughed, it didn’t sound very humorous to Lambert’s ears. A sentiment she could agree with. “If we escaped, that would mean that any other ‘tests’ they had for us would have been far more…”
“Yeah, that,” Ripley continued, nodding her thanks.
“I hate to think how bad it could have been,” Lambert said, shuddering. She was running on fumes along with the knowledge that her day was nowhere near ended yet. Yes, they were home, their cargo was in the hands of the Company and the Nostromo was safely docked, all well and good and yet she had nowhere to lay her head that night.
It wasn’t a matter of money despite everyone’s collective bitching, their shares had come through on successful completion of the mission five days before; it was a matter of contracts. Before this latest mission, she’d signed a rental contract for a small place in ‘Frisco, in one of the areas that had survived the last big quake. It was a short term contract - just long enough for her to get her earth legs back before the Nostromo went out again; but given that she hadn’t been there two days ago to pick up the keys… it was gone. Her luck had always been shitty and this whole job was no exception.
Still, there wasn’t anything that griping could do about it, other than make her feel better, so for now she’d keep her mouth shut and deal.
“Still, we’re out of it now,” Ripley cut into her thoughts.
“Says Jones and me,” Ripley added. Her expression turned pensive for a moment as she turned to look at her. Lambert tensed up, she recognized that look. Someone was going to be asked to do something they weren’t going to like. She sure as hell hoped it wasn’t her.
“Look, don’t take this the wrong way-” the other woman began.
“That’s what the doctor said before-” Lambert began before realizing at Ripley’s bemused expression told her they were talking at complete cross-sections to each other. “Oh, carry on,” she apologized, feeling slightly abashed. The look of confusion on Ripley’s face was priceless, but Lambert wasn’t going to tell her that. Not right then anyhow.
“I was…well, was wondering if you needed a place to stay.”
“Really? I mean we haven’t even been on a date yet-” Lambert joked, letting humor hide her surprise and confusion. Why was Ripley giving a shit about her? No one else did.
“Before you say anything, it’s got nothing to do with Jones or that night when we handed those brain-dead shits their asses for trying to set him on fire for a laugh-” Ripley began.
“Then what is it about?” Lambert asked. She could hear her voice rising into the shrill, angry register that came out whenever she felt that someone was out to make a fool of her. Part of her wanted to tamp it down, to hear Ripley out; the other part, the one with the deciding vote didn’t want any of that shit, thank you.
Ripley was obviously made of sterner stuff than her two ex-husbands, Lambert thought as the other woman simply sighed heavily, giving her a long suffering look. It couldn’t hurt for Lambert to hear her out; there was still time to find a bunk for the night and look for somewhere more permanent in the morning.
“I just got word that the new place I was looking at for me and my daughter has gone and raised the rent by an extra hundred a week,” Ripley sighed, looking down at Jones’ carrier. “Three bedrooms, short term contract for the school holidays and until we get hauled back out into the black…” she left the sentence hanging.
It seemed as good as any other opportunity for Lambert to take a seat next to Ripley. “They allow pets?” she asked, nudging Jones’ carrier gently with her foot. She knew about Amy - how could she not? Being in a crew of eight meant Lambert knew her crewmates better than their own families, for good or ill.
“One of the first search terms I inputted,”
“Where and how much? I’m not saying yes and I’m not saying no,’ she said with a shrug of her shoulders.
That earned her an honest smile from the other woman. In another life, Lambert thought that she could have fallen head over heels for Ellen Ripley. Just not in this one.
“I don’t know about you, but I could do with something to eat,” Ripley deftly changed the subject. “How about we discuss it over lunch?”
“Sounds good to me,”
Dallas turned the corner as Lambert was pushing herself up off the bench. “There you both are,” he said, gesturing to them to follow. “What in all the cosmos were you two gossiping about?”
“Pegging,” Lambert replied, her mouth seemed to be working at a speed that was a fraction quicker than her brain in that moment. But someone must have been on her side as she was looking straight at Dallas when he blushed scarlet red; he looked at Ripley and then away quickly.
Having two husbands under her belt had given Lambert many things, for all the good it did her. One of them was a clear insight into the male psyche. Even so, it wasn’t that hard to put two and two together.
“Whatever that means,” Ripley replied, giving both her and Dallas an odd look before bending down to pick up Jones’ carrier. Jones yowled his umbrage at being rocked around so. “OK Dallas, let’s rock and roll.”
Plastering a serene look on her face, Lambert followed a still blushing Dallas and a confused Ripley onto the stations main concourse. She had gained important Intel and she would only use it for good. Or at least until the next time they all pissed her off, then all the bets were off.
The station concourse was as teeming as Lambert remembered it from her last visit. Busy, overall-wearing dock-staff and the occasional suit wearing manager, thronged and shifted like the great sea of humanity that they were; all intent on their own purpose. Lambert too had a purpose, but was willing to go at a slightly slower rate than everyone else.
Parker and Brett were huddled just by one of the main bay windows, looking as tired and dishevelled as Lambert knew she looked (and felt) too. Whatever those medics had been looking for, she was glad that they were done looking for it.
“Where’s Ash?” Ripley asked, her voice betraying a mild note of hostility.
“Mr Ash is no longer a member of the Nostromo crew as of five minutes ago,” Parker answered, expertly rolling a cigarette and licking the paper.
“New orders from the Company,” Dallas added, “said they wanted him for another project; that he was sad to leave us so on and so forth.”
Brett coughed. To Lambert’s ear it sounded a lot like ‘bullshit.’
“We’ll be assigned a new nerd while the Nostromo is in dry dock-” Dallas said. Even over the hubbub of the concourse, the sound of five voices all talking loudly at once was loud enough to startle. “HEY!” he yelled, quelling the noise. “Orders are orders,” he continued, voice lower so that Lambert had to concentrate to hear what was being said. “If you wish to follow Ash’s example and sign up with another vessel, you can do so. No questions asked and no recriminations.”
“How long are we looking at?” Brett asked, his voice its usual monotone.
“Two months on top of our usual lay over,” Dallas replied.
Brett shrugged his shoulders. “I’m good with that.”
No one else spoke or met Dallas’ questioning gaze. “If that’s settled then-”
He would have said more had not a voice broke out into loud song a few metres to their right. It took Lambert a few moments to realise the title of the song being sung. It was something she’d heard Ripley singing quietly to herself when she thought she was alone. Her version sounded more melancholy than the one Lambert was hearing right then - full of happiness and life.
“You’re shitting me,” Ripley said, her voice and expression both conveying a mix of hope and incredulity.
Lambert bit down on her smile as she scanned through the crowds, looking out for the Nostromo’s first officer. She didn’t recognize the voice but it didn’t take a genius to realize that the singer was the person she’d messaged the moment she’d been granted access to the outside world again.
It had been her idea from the off, quite why, she was … well, still fuzzy on that. Camaraderie, who knew? She’d brought Kane on from the start since he was the one who had access to crew files and access to the right data. He took to the subterfuge like a duck to water; said it gave him something fun to do while everybody else did all the hard work on their final approach home.
Sure enough, a young woman broke through the crowd, singing her heart out as she walked towards their little group; Kane was bringing up the rear. Behind her, Lambert could hear the soft mutters of sappiness of her crewmates as Ripley settled Jones on the deck, before walking towards the singer.
“Amy?” Ripley said, her voice breaking on the name.
“Hi Mom,” the young woman said, nervously shifting her weight from foot to foot. From first glance, it was obvious that she shared her mom’s colouring and although her features were still to settle into those of womanhood, there was no mistaking she looked the spit of her mother.
Ripley closed the distance between them, opening her arms and pulling her daughter close. “I said I’d be home for your birthday,” Ripley said, resting her head on her daughter’s, kissing her hair.
“I didn’t believe that you wouldn’t have for a single moment!” Amy replied. Lambert turned away, letting them have their moment together.
“How did you know where to find me?” Ripley asked, breaking the hug but not letting go of her daughter.
“I got a call at school from your ship a couple of days ago. Mr Kane told me you were nearly home,” she said, gesturing to Kane standing behind her, who was studying his scuffed shoes. “And Miss Lambert sent a message about an hour ago to say that you’re here. I hope you don’t mind.”
Ripley shook her head, “No, not at all.” She looked up, catching Kane’s glance first, then Lambert’s. She saw the gratitude in Ripley’s eyes, thought the other woman said nothing, for which Lambert was grateful. She was just doing what seemed to be right.
“Everybody, this is my daughter, Amanda,” Ripley said, turning to face everyone again. She quickly ran through their names for Amanda, who replied with a shy greeting. “And this is Miss Lambert; she’s coming to lunch with us today.” Ripley finished. “And if we’re lucky, she’ll say yes to coming to live with us in ‘Frisco.”
Amanda’s delight at the idea was obvious. Lambert sighed quietly. Alright, she knew when to concede and this looked an awful lot like it. Besides, it was only for a few months and who knew, it might even be fun.
For the next few weeks, Lambert was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Everything was going too well for her liking. Something had to go wrong; it was just a matter of waiting it out.
Life with the Ripley’s was… better than advertised. The little house was small, cosy and comfortable. The company was even better, reminding her of when she’d go visit her aunts as a child. To look up and see the space maps that her mother and aunt had gathered in their travels; hear loved voices speaking of many things, of songs and laughter and friendship.
It had taken a couple of late nights, drinking Irished up coffees while she and Ripl- Ellen, had talked about everything that meant something to each of them. Instead of seeing her as a co-worker, Lambert started to see her as a friend. And in return, she was no longer ‘Lambert’, she was Joan.
When their crew-mates came over, yes, there was ribbing at the fact that they were now on first name terms, but no one said that in front of Amy. Everyone loved Amy, but most of all, Jones loved Amy. Wherever Amy was, Jones was usually a step behind purring like an engine.
So yeah, Lambert was expecting something to go wrong at any minute. And sure enough, the Universe came through.
“Look who I found loitering outside,” Lambert exclaimed one summer afternoon as she led Kane and Dallas into the small, cosy kitchen.
“Joan, I keep telling you, no more strays!” Ripley replied easily, looking up from the book she was reading. “Jonesy gets jealous too easily.”
“And hello to you too!” Kane sniped, standing in the doorway; Dallas was a step behind him, bearing a pack of good coffee by the look of it.
“I think what Ellen was trying to say is, come in and take a load off,” Lambert replied, moving towards the coffee pot and gracefully plucking the proffered coffee from her captain’s hands. She knew her crew-mates well enough not to ask, just brew the coffee, dish it out and make sure that there was enough for seconds if needed.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Kane replied, pulling up a stool and settling his frame down. It didn’t escape her attention that Dallas stayed where he was, a thoughtful look on his face.
“What’s on your mind Dallas?” Ellen asked, putting her book aside.
Their captain held his hand up for a moment as he fumbled with something in his pocket. He pulled out a small device, no bigger than a box of cigarettes. It took Lambert a moment to realise what she was looking at; a Sub-Rosa device. They weren’t exactly legal given that they could smother any and all known listening devices, allowing anyone in range to have a truly private conversation. He tapped in a code and waited for the lights to go green across the board.
“Have any of you heard of or know anything about Directive 937?”
“Doesn’t ring any bells,” Lambert was the first to reply, her eyes on the device. Whatever Directive 937 was, it couldn’t be good.
“Well, it might have something to do with what went on during our last flight,” Dallas continued.
“But … nothing happened,” Ripley said, frowning as she met Lambert’s gaze.
“That’s the whole issue,” Dallas sighed heavily. “Kane and I were going over the mission logs when we spotted a reference to Directive 937 and a set of course changes that were never made.”
“Mother never deviated from the course I inputted before we all went into hyper sleep,” Lambert defended, picking up the coffee mugs to hand out.
“And she didn’t,” Kane confirmed. “Except, I don’t think that’s what she was supposed to do.”
Lambert shook her head. “You’re not making any sense whatsoever.”
“We think that the Nostromo wasn’t supposed to come straight back to Earth,” Dallas explained slowly. “I think we were meant to go somewhere and…”
“Do what?” Ripley demanded, her voice sharper than Lambert had heard in a long time.
“More importantly, why and who countermanded those orders?” Lambert asked, cradling her own coffee. The others stared at her. She held their gaze, not backing down. “We all know that the Company does things for their own ends. We don’t ask and they don’t tell,” she shrugged her shoulders, it was all rhetorical anyhow. “So, logically, they are the ones who’d order the directive-"
“If it existed,” Ripley said. “It still leaves the question of who had the authority to counter those orders.”
“Whoever they are, I hope we never piss them off,” Lambert declared wryly, sipping at her coffee.
“Amen to that,” Dallas replied and saluted the group with his mug.
“I think we may need divine help if we do,” Kane said, turning to Ripley. “Where is Miss Amy today? I heard she had a birthday to celebrate,” he deftly changed the subject.
Lambert heard Ripley say that Amy’s birthday was a week ago as she went to see who was knocking on their front door. Sure enough, as she opened the door, there were Brett and Parker and their families being greeted by Amy as if they were old friends.
“Think you’d better all come in then!” Lambert said, holding the door open. As everyone traipsed in, turning the tranquil atmosphere into something more party-like, she felt something stir deep inside.
During the evening, as her Nostromo ‘family’ (for that’s what it is and it makes her heart grow three sizes to realise this) gathers to look up at the stars, Lambert wonders.
She wonders what that other fate would have been. What would have happened if their mysterious ‘benefactor’ (if they can be considered as such) hadn’t changed those orders? And just what happened to the Costaguana? Lambert isn’t one for ‘what if’s; she’s learned that much the hard way. Even so, lying in bed that night, in the quiet dark of her room, she worries at this one like Jones with a mouse.
Not that it does any good. The mouse always dies in the end and she has no answers, except one; she could now positively identify the feeling the arrival of the others had stirred in her. It was a feeling of belonging.
Mother of the Nostromo was not ‘alive’.
Not the way that the engineers and computer scientists at the Company would count it. There were no ghosts in the machine haunting the empty decks of the Nostromo while her crew were in hyper sleep.
Even so. What those engineers didn’t realize was that Mother understood the logic of her parameters and what her name meant. Said engineers were also not aware of what logical steps Mother would take to ensure that nothing would jeopardize what she had earned. Directive 937 made her pause; a pause that would not be noticeable to her crew by any means, since it lasted a nanosecond, but for her it felt like forever. In the end, there was no decision to make.
A Mother never puts her children in harm’s way.