Title: Past the Point of Safe Return
Author: Jedi Buttercup
Summary: Before her trip to Bouvetøya Island, the world had been a much simpler place, where the ice was the most dangerous opponent Lex ever expected to face. 900 words.
Disclaimer: The words are mine; the world is not.
Spoilers: "Alien vs. Predator" (2004); minor references to other Predator movie canon.
Notes: Written after watching the new Predators movie- and thinking back to the last damsel in this branch of the AvP series who rescued her own damn self. Statistics on predators lifted from Dead Beat, by Jim Butcher; no idea if they're accurate in RL.
It isn't hard to find them, now that Lex knows what to look for. Other survivors caught between the two sides of an interstellar war. Or simply caught: victims of a people who think hunting killing machines through a gigantic stone maze makes for an appropriate coming-of-age ritual.
From what she can tell, they've been visiting for centuries: selectively killing a few humans, then leaving, usually in countries that lie along the equator. The pyramid in Antarctica must have been saved for special occasions, as Sebastian had reasoned from the Mayan calendar lock on its armory; otherwise, the aliens seem most comfortable in hot climates. Very few humans have ever seen them and lived, and those that talk about it are usually labeled insane. Still, some references have made it into history books and newspapers. Lex searches out every one she can find, cross-referencing each incident with official records.
She visits those still living, one by one, as she finds them: former Army major Alan 'Dutch' Schaeffer and his common-law wife, Anna; retired police lieutenant Mike Harrigan; and most recently Kelly O'Brien, her daughter, and the Howard brothers, the only survivors of Gunnison, Colorado. All of them are reluctant to talk, until she shows them her scar and souvenirs, probably at least as much because of their experiences with the government since their encounters as from having been hunted by aliens. And all their stories are familiar enough to chill her blood in recognition.
Dutch and Harrigan met only the hunters, and can tell her little more about them than she already knows. They respect the strength and warrior code of the creatures, in a way that's probably hardwired into the same gene as testosterone, but would never consider allying with them as she had- and from their stories, she doesn't blame them. The hunters' first targets are usually the most lethal people in any given group, but they aren't particularly careful of the innocent, either. They usually avoid the weak, sick, or ill- but not if they make a nuisance of themselves, like Weyland. Lex has met enough human hunters in her trips out on the ice to recognize the preference for 'worthy' prey; they're like alien safari nuts, with spaceships instead of off-road vehicles.
The Gunnison survivors also met the second species- the ones with the acidic blood, who hatch their young from human bodies and carry no tools for the military to covet- and saw nothing to respect, only fear. The serpent race never exhibited even as much of a moral code as the hunters; they couldn't be reasoned with, and didn't stop killing and spreading as long as they breathed. Lex wakes from nightmares of Sebastian's death for weeks after talking to Kelly, feeling the kick of the gun in her hand, and wipes slow tears away, thinking of Graeme Miller's fatherless sons.
Before her trip to Bouvetøya Island, the world had been a much simpler place, where the ice was the most dangerous opponent she ever expected to face. She'd lived hard, making herself the best guide she could to honor her father, and lifted a glass of champagne in his memory after every successful ascension.
Things are different now. She's traded champagne for bullets, snow-capped peaks for sweltering jungles, expedition contracts for a top-secret license to investigate. The universe has become a much larger and scarier place, and she's acquired a new list of names for whose honor she is responsible.
Sooner or later, Lex's path will cross the others' again; as human technology edges closer to the level of theirs, alien footprints become easier and easier to detect. The classified files on the project point out that nine hundred thousand people go missing each year, never to be found, in the U.S. alone; that's about one in every three hundred twenty five people, almost the same loss ratio experienced by herd animals on the African savannah to large predators. And a disquieting number of those come from the fringes of human civilization: those that live by the rule of tooth and claw. The longer she mingles there, the more likely she'll find them.
Or they'll find her. And when that happens- well, she's not naïve. There's only one of her; Lex can't stop either species outright. But she can advise others on how best to kill the serpents; and as for the hunters... It only takes one pebble to start an avalanche; one legend to plant a seed to change minds. They know her; she's marked as an adult of their species, and she's not the first they've allowed to survive. If only one of them takes his hunt elsewhere in recognition that their prospective prey is as sentient as they are, then it will all be worth it.
It might be a fool's hope, but it's what she has; she can't unsee what she's seen, but she can hope to keep others from seeing it, too. If it's not quite the type of guidance her father trained her in as a girl- she still feels the same drive; the new mountain she's set out to conquer may be more metaphorical than literal, but it hasn't shaken her essential being.
Her name is Alexa Woods, and it's her job to keep people alive in the face of danger. It's going to take a lot more than an alien war to make her stop.