Alien 3

By: Alan Dean Foster

‘Let me know if there’s any change in her condition.’

‘Like if she should conveniently expire?’

Andrews glared at him. ‘I’m already upset enough over this as it is, Clemens. Be smart. Don’t make it worse. And don’t make me start thinking of it and you in the same breath.

There’s no need for excessive morbidity. It may surprise you to learn that I hope she lives. Though if she regains consciousness she may think otherwise. Let’s go,’ he told his factotum. The two men departed.

The woman moaned softly, her head shifting nervously from side to side. Physical reaction, Clemens wondered, or side effects of the medication he’d hastily and hopefully dumped into her system? He sat watching her, endlessly grateful for the opportunity to relax in her orbit, for the chance simply to be close to her, study her, smell her. He’d all but forgotten what it was like to be in a woman’s presence. The memories returned rapidly, jolted by her appearance. Beneath the bruises and strain she was quite beautiful, he thought. More, much more, than he’d had any right to expect.

She moaned again. Not the medication, he decided, or pain from her injuries. She was dreaming. No harm there. After all, a few dreams couldn’t hurt her.

The dimly lit assembly hall was four stories high. Men hung from the second floor railing, murmuring softly to each other, some smoking various combinations of plant and chemical.

The upper levels were deserted. Like most of the Fiorina mine, it was designed to accommodate far more than the couple of dozen men presently gathered together in its cavernous depths.

They had assembled at the superintendent’s request. All twenty-five of them. Hard, lean, bald, young and not so young, and those for whom youth was but a fading warm memory.

Andrews sat confronting them, his second-in-command Aaron nearby. Clemens stood some distance away from both prisoners and jailers, as befitted his peculiar status.

Two jailers, twenty-five prisoners. They could have jumped the superintendent and his assistant at any time, overpowered them with comparative ease. To what end? Revolt would only give them control of the installation they already ran. There was nowhere to escape to, no better place on Fiorina that they were forbidden to visit. When the next supply ship arrived and ascertained the situation, it would simply decline to drop supplies and would file a report. Heavily armed troops would follow, the revolutionaries would be dealt with, and all who had participated and survived would find their sentences extended.

The small pleasures that might be gained from defiance of authority were not worth another month on Fiorina, much less another year or two. The most obdurate prisoners realized as much. So there were no revolts, no challenges to Andrews’s authority. Survival on and, more importantly, escape from Fiorina depended on doing what was expected of one. The prisoners might not be content, but they were pacific.

Aaron surveyed the murmuring crowd, raised his voice impatiently. ‘All right, all right. Let’s pull it together, get it going. Right? Right. If you please, Mr. Dillon.’

Dillon stepped forward. He was a leader among the imprisoned and not merely because of his size and strength.

The wire rimless glasses he wore were far more an affectation, a concession to tradition, than a necessity. He preferred them to contacts, and of course the Company could hardly be expected to expend time and money to provide a prisoner with transplants. That suited Dillon fine. The glasses were antiques, a family heirloom which had somehow survived the generations intact. They served his requirements adequately.

The single dreadlock that hung from his otherwise naked pate swung slowly as he walked. It took a lot of time and effort to keep the hirsute decoration free of Fiorina’s persistent bugs, but he tolerated the limited discomfort in order to maintain the small statement of individuality.

He cleared his throat distinctly. ‘Give us strength, Oh Lord, to endure. We recognize that we are poor sinners in the hands of an angry God. Let the circle be unbroken . . . until the day.

Amen.’ It was a brief invocation. It was enough. Upon its conclusion the body of prisoners raised their right fists, lowered them silently. The gesture was one of acceptance and resignation, not defiance. On Fiorina defiance bought you nothing except the ostracism of your companions and possibly an early grave.

Because if you got too far out of line Andrews could and would exile you from the installation, with comparative impunity. There was no one around to object, to check on him, to evaluate the correctness of his actions. No independent board of inquiry to follow up a prisoner’s death. Andrews proposed, Andrews imposed. It would have been intolerable save for the fact that while the superintendent was a hard man, he was also fair. The prisoners considered themselves fortunate at that. It could easily have been otherwise.

He surveyed his charges. He knew each of them intimately, far better than he would have liked to, had he been given the option. He knew their individual strengths and weaknesses, distastes and peccadilloes, the details of their case histories.

Some of them were scum, others merely fatally antisocial, and there was a broad range in between. He cleared his throat importantly.

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