Hudson’s mind almost went blank when the stew passed his lips. How long had it been since his last meal? He snorted; Those damned MRE’s had hardly passed for food… He was shoveling the last bits of the ambrosia into his mouth when his host returned with more food, a bottle, and some goblets. S’losseshek slid over another seat and clicked it in place opposite Hudson.
“Please say you appreciate properly brewed alcohol. I’ve met some oomans who actually forbid the consumption of it.”
“I ain’t one of ‘em, that’s for damned sure,” Hudson replied, accepting the goblet offered.
“Grandmother Zaf’el taught me it is custom to say words before starting to drink alcohol. Health, wealth, and love to all here.” The massive alien raised his goblet, then downed its contents in one gulp.
Hudson was loathing looking like a sissy by sipping it first, so he took a big slug. Whatever the hell this hooch was, it was sweet and hot as blazes going down. He gasped and his entire body spasmed.
S’losseshek slapped Hudson’s shoulder jovially and grinned his approval, “Smooth, eh? It’s Amber Mead, fermented ganworm honey, the best in the quadrant. One of several fine exports I distribute on behalf of Hiveworld.”
“Hiveworld? Is that where we’re headed?” Hudson did not like the sound of that.
“Indeed we are,” smiled S’lossehek as he ladled more stew into Hudson’s tray, “It’s Grandfather Joshua’s planet, where he lives with Grandmother Zaf’el. “ The alien leaned forward, “I’ll bet you’d never guess it, but I am a descendant of Earth oomans, just like you! My great-grandmother was an Earth female named Kelly Matthews. She married my Great-Grandfather S’Loss the Yautja, from whom I inherit my handsome mandibles, coloring, and stature. Are these things not wondrous? You and I might even share blood!”
Hudson smiled awkwardly, trying not to appear rude, “Well, I doubt my blood is anywhere near as dangerous as yours…” He took up his spoon and resumed eating.
S’losseshek poured himself more mead. “Ah, I sense discomfort on your part. Yes, my blood is acid, a gift from my xenomorph forebears. There are advantages to being what my ooman friend Rachel, calls “a mutt”. You are familiar with this designation?”
Hudson smiled again in spite of himself, “Sure do. I’ll take a good mutt over a purebred any day. Your friend sounds like she’s from Earth too, North Americaland like me.”
“Yes, she is from a place designated Justice Indiana, U.S.A.”
“U. S. of A.? The North American continent was unified under Canada by the Treaty of Montreal almost seventy years ago!”
“Ah yes… it was mentioned to me that you are from the same timeline as my grandmother will be—” S’lossehek read the confusion and distress on Hudson’s face, “As you can see, there is much that you will have to learn when we reach Hiveworld. Grandmother Zaf’el went through a similar period of disbelief and adjustment. Finish your meal and I will show you the showering room, the lavatory, and your bunk. You have been through a great deal in the past few days. Relax and renew your strength. All will be well, I promise you.”
The clouds of Hiveworld swirled pink and blue through the foreword view-screen of S’lossehek’s vessel, “The Halo's Death”. Hudson had to admit, the sight was quite pretty.
“We’ll be over the Northern Continent in a moment,” said S’losseshek in his gruffly cheerful way, “It’s mid-winter, so the rains haven’t started yet. The winter humidity might make an ooman like you a bit uncomfortable at first, but you’ll adjust. Simply take things slowly and you’ll be fine.”
They landed in a large courtyard and eased into one of a dozen hangers. There was no sign of anyone. S’losseshek seemed unconcerned. “It is midmorning, and all are in the hive. Here, I put your armor in this case. You won’t need it, but I figured they are the only possessions you have. Let’s go find my family.”
“Thanks,” Hudson hadn’t allowed himself to think about things too deeply. There was undoubtedly a helluva lot more things to adjust to besides the heat, which blasted him in the face the second the hatch opened. He was drenched in humidity and sweat within seconds.
S’losseshek turned and grinned at him, inhaling deeply, “AAAAhhh! There’s no place like home! Come on, ooman cousin! Good food and good company await us!”
Rachel and Raul’s transport had arrived earlier in the day. They visited with their daughter a while, then headed for the climate-controlled beach-side cabana Aunt Lydia stayed in most of the time to pay their respects to the ancient earth woman. Lydia had arrived on Hiveworld over thirty years previously, when she was 83 years of age. The weaker gravity, advanced medical care, and healthful food had enabled her to maintain a relatively active life until the last few years. Now her devoted hive family carried her wherever she needed to go, refusing to let her overexert herself. She was adored and respected, her stories and memories lovingly recorded by drones whose sole purpose in life was to care for her. Lydia had balked at first, but learned to appreciate “her boys”, knowing that back on Earth, she would almost certainly have succumbed to old age and poor health decades ago. Toddask, Lydia’s chief caregiver greeted the Patriarch and Matriarch with great reverence.
“Welcome to the abode of Auntie Lydia, most respected of the Hive!” He shut the door behind them quickly and ushered them in to the parlor area. Lydia was seated on a large, comfortable-looking futon, surrounded by large pillows strewn on the floor. The old woman radiated joy at the sight of her friends.
“Rachel, sweetie! You look stunning! And Raul, you old dog, you’re still as handsome as ever! Come here and give an old lady a big hug!” After they exchanged embraces, she bade them sit. “Todd, Sweetie, be a dear and get us some cold drinks and a snack, please.”
Rachel’s eyebrows shot up as the drone left.“Todd? Beloved?”
“Let an old lady have her jokes, baby. I renamed his brothers “Poolboy, Beefcake, and Hunky”. After the first ten years, they started to actually look almost good to me. I think if I ever said I needed male companionship of the romantic type, they’d fight each other for the honor, the little darlings.” Lydia chuckled, “Too bad I can’t get past the lack of eyes and the scorpion tail. Hell, who am I foolin’? I’d drop dead in the first 30 seconds anyway! ”
Rachel giggled, “What a great way to go, though!”
Lydia laughed heartily, “I could never put the guilt of lovin’ me to death on any of my boys! I appreciate them too much, that’s for sure!”
The drone returned with the refreshments and took up his station behind his mistress, massaging her shoulders as one of his brothers served their guests. “So, I hear we got company comin’.”
“Yes, we do,” said Raul, “as you must have heard, another Earth human, one that we believe is from Zaf’el’s home era.”
“Mmmmmmmm mmm, things just never cease to amaze! I can’t wait to talk to him!”
“It’s cooler on the beach on the opposite side of the hive,” S’losseshek told his companion.
“Fantastic,” muttered Hudson, following the big alien right into the entrance without blinking. All he cared about was sea breezes and a cool dip in the water. He even nodded greetings to the xenomorphs he passed. There were women too, who smiled and went about their business alongside the bugs. Hudson started peeling off his drenched clothes the minute he reached the Oceanside opening, trotting past a small, decidedly Hawaiian-looking structure before diving into the waves wearing only his boxers.
A middle-aged woman came out of the building and waylaid S’losseshek.
“Was that him I saw streaking by?”
“Yes, I think he’s not thrilled with the warmth of our paradise,” laughed the hybrid, tossing aside his gear and heading into the breakers, “By the way, hello, Rachel!”
“Howdy, Little S’lossy! I’ll join you guys in a bit.”
Hudson had not realized how much the sticky heat had affected him until after he’d dived into the surf. It was as though a fog had lifted in his brain, and all was now revealed in crystal clarity. The closest thing he had for a friend at the moment was an eyeless, drooling eight-foot-tall monster, a xenomorph. He’d strolled right through anentire hive of xenomorphs without a shot being fired. It made him wonder about the people he’d left behind: Hicks, Vasquez, Gorman, Ripley and the little girl, Newt. Had they made it out alive? Had the synthetic, Bishop, been able to complete his part in the rescue of his comrades? If they’d been caught, they were all long gone by now…dead and deader. Hudson flinched and almost inhaled a lungful of seawater when a huge black shape shot past him. He surfaced, took a breath, and resubmerged to find S’losseshek smiling at him. The alien motioned for him to follow and turned away. Hudson could not see any reason to disobey, and tried to keep up as his strange companion swam off using his tail like an alligator. They hugged the shoreline, passing reefs filled with colorful sea life. S’losseshek veered off and emerged from the surf in a shady cove. Hudson stayed in the sea, treading water.
“I don’t think I’m ready to leave the cool water just yet,” he called.
“That’s fine. I’m just going to grab a spear for you from my storage shed.” The alien trotted off into the jungle, and returned moments later with the weapon. He handed it to Hudson. “I figured we could be of use to the Hive while we’re enjoying ourselves. The fishing is easy in this stretch of ocean. “
Hudson felt somewhat ambiguous about aiding a hive in any fashion. The fact that fishing had never been an area of interest to him didn’t help. Still, this xenomorph mutt had been nothing but gracious and thoughtful. If he held the thought that he was assisting this ally, things settled in Hudson’s gut better. His host shot ahead of him once more and was lost to view. Hudson took a breath and looked around. A second later, a school of fish swam right at him, fleeing S’losseshek’s jaws. The Colonial Marine missed the first, but jabbed at another and impaled it. The alien snatched one too, and grinned as he exuded silk to tie around the tails of their catch. The scene was repeated a dozen times, until they had quite a load to drag behind them on their way home.
Hudson found himself laughing along with his fellow fisherman as they headed up onto the beach. His good mood lessened at the sight of several pure blood-looking xenomorphs approaching them. The middle-aged woman emerged from the cabana as well, wearing only a crystal necklace. The big xenomorph that was holding her hand also sported a crystal, and Hudson wondered if they might be like wedding bands. The thought made him shudder inside at the thought of what that meant. He looked down when the naked woman approached him.
“You know, I’ve been here so long, I forget sometimes that skinny dipping was not a universally accepted pastime back on earth. You look red as a beet, Private Hudson. Therefore, I’ll have mercy on you and see you when we’re done swimming.” She tugged the xenomorph’s hand, “Let’s go, Angelface.” Her companion growled and let her lead him off.
S’losseshek handed Hudson his clothes and draped his arm around his shoulders.” Come on with me and we’ll visit Aunt Lydia, cousin. She’s an earth ooman too. Very old and very wise. You can offer her some of our catch as a sign of respect.”
To be continued…