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Nine of Diamonds

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Samuels Unit 12 is built in 2135.

There are only twelve Samuels units made in total, of which he is the last. From there, the software used to develop his intelligence is tweaked for refinement and carried onto the next project. They avoided making too many with the same appearance; androids of his kind were built to blend in, and the Company wanted to minimize the risk of them being confused with one another.

They model him after an actor, one well-known during the height of his fame but forgotten over time. His appearance and personality are designed from the ground up to be remarkably unremarkable. Non-threatening and trustworthy, but plain and easy to look at.

From there, he is free to develop naturally – albeit with a short leash. His inhibitors and parameters guide his learning and behavior, but he is alive.

With his first act of free will, he chooses the first name ‘Christopher’ from the offered list of monikers. His personality evolves, setting him apart from the twelve that came before him. He is Christopher, friendlier than his counterparts and far more mild-mannered.

At the end of the six month trial, the Samuels models are sent to separate destinations. His polite disposition lands him aboard the USCSS Agnis as an aide for the crew.

There is a day, a year after his creation, when he hears his coworkers discussing a movie. The Big Sleep. An old film, but one that Samuels himself had enjoyed.

“I loved that film,” he interrupts politely, eagerly. “I found it –“

One of his coworkers scoffs. “Thanks but no thanks, Samuels,” he says. “If I wanted a synthetic opinion, I’d ask.”

‘They think that I’m incapable of loving something,’ he realizes, forcing himself to maintain a pleasant smile. ’They think that I cannot feel.’

Surely, that is not true. He must be capable of processing emotion, as he knows for a fact that shame and humiliation are not the result of his coding. And yet, he feels them anyway.

Behind him, an oil-smeared engineer slips away, her fists clenched at her sides. He does not notice her.

.:.:.:.

He scans down a list of medications, reading impossibly, inhumanly fast, and he’s halfway down the second page when he notices he’s being watched. Samuels lifts his head, and the woman across the room pushes herself up from the wall.

“Interesting choice in reading material,” she comments boredly, and he recognizes sarcasm in her tone. A joke. She doesn’t wait for him to react, and folds her arms across her chest. They’re streaked with something dark. Joint oil, most likely. Engineers rarely wandered to the main levels of the ship, so she had to have a reason for being here. “I wanted to ask you something.”

Ah, there it was.

“Of course,” he replies. “How may I help?”

“That movie they were talking about,” she says, jerking her thumb in the direction of the mess hall. “The Big Sleep, what is it about? Everyone is talking about it, but I missed movie night with the crew.”

Christopher is almost taken aback. Her excuse is flimsy, but the desire behind it is sincere; she wanted his opinion.

Her name is Amanda Ripley, he learns later. She is not a nice woman, but she is kind.

.:.:.:.

She always seems to find him when she wants company, though Samuels never asks why. There are many things he does not do. He does not offer anything more than polite conversation, and he does not make assumptions about why she keeps returning for it.

He does not ask Ripley about her life. Her file tells him that she’s been here terribly long, and he wonders if that makes her terribly lonely. He does not ask about that, either.

Ripley often comes down to the mess hall with smudges on her face, but Samuels never finds a polite opportunity to tell her so.

One day, she pauses while peeling an apple to brush her hair away from her face, and her hand comes away grey.

“Shit,” she says, looking up at him. “Have I had stuff on my face this entire time?”

He cannot lie to her. “You often do,” he replies, and she grimaces.

Ripley sets down her apple to grab a napkin, and wipes her hands before scrubbing at her face. “Damn. I wish you’d told me. I probably look like a mess.”

“You don’t look at yourself before you leave the workshop?” he asks, curious. Ripley gives him an incredulous look, snorting.

“Not if I can help it.” Samuels doesn’t have time to think about what she means by that before she’s moving on. “Am I clean now?”

Her face is free of oil streaks and smudges, and Samuels nods. Ripley picks up her half-peeled apple again, twisting it around to see where she’d left off. “Next time I have something on my face, let me know, alright?”

“Duly noted, Ripley.”

.:.:.:.

As usual, she’s the one who seeks him out.

Once, he had wondered why Ripley did not have any friends aboard the Agnis; she had been here so long, he assumed she must have formed bonds with the people aboard.

A quick study at the personnel logs told him that the Agnis switched staff every time it docked at the system’s space station. This happened every six months, lining up with the ships’ schedule for data drops.

Digging deeper only told him that many of the staff were slated for short stays from the start. Employment aboard the Agnis was usually a temporary arrangement before the Company promoted them elsewhere.

That left Ripley with a constantly shifting group of coworkers – which left little room for camaraderie. A previous look into Ripley’s file told him that she had been offered a host of promotions, all of which she had turned down.

He’s sure the answer why lies in her private file, but he refrained from digging too deeply into people’s lives. Employment logs told him what he needed to know, and he’d learned quite a bit about Ripley on his own.

(She knew at least eight card games, but he’d only ever seen her play solitaire. While her mother preferred cats, Amanda was fond of dogs – only large breeds, however. Her favorite fruit was fresh strawberries, but she often had to settle for freeze-dried.)

He’s reviewing transfer requests when she finds him. She’s lacking any smudges on her face today, but he notices a smaller discrepancy on her cheekbone.

When he points it out, Ripley reaches up to brush at her cheek. “Oh,” she says, and lets out a short laugh, “an eyelash. You can make wishes with these.”

“A wish?” Samuels asks. He doesn’t really understand the concept of wishing on such little things. It was probably a niche belief – many of which he wasn’t familiar with.

“Yeah. They say if you wish upon a stray eyelash, it will come true,” Ripley says, and brushes her hands against her coveralls. “Wishing isn’t something I do anymore, but it’s cute to watch kids do it.”

She goes on to invite him to the mess hall with her, but Samuels spends the rest of the evening pondering what she had said. Wishing served no purpose, and yet people found countless opportunities to do it. They wished upon everything – candles, flowers, stars, coins, even stray eyelashes.

He knew from their short friendship that she was too logical to rely on miracles, but he still wonders.

What had Ripley wished for in the past?

.:.:.:.

Ripley lays a card down, the lacquered ’fwip’ almost lost to the ambient sound of the engineering hold. Samuels still notices, and he looks up to see her gathering up the cards. Another successful game. He wonders if she ever gets bored of winning solitaire.

He knows for a fact that playing it would make him… antsy? He’s not sure what word he’d use to describe the itching sensation that he could be doing something better with his time. Perhaps his productivity protocols were too intense for him to enjoy such pasttimes.

He watches her hands as she shuffles. Likely getting ready for another round. “Do you spend much time playing, Ripley?”

“When I’ve finished what I’m supposed to do, yeah,” she replies easily, and leans back in her chair. “Not much else to do here.”

“Why not transfer?” he asks, ignoring the insistent feeling that he shouldn’t. He’s briefly reminded of The Big Sleep and his coworkers’ rejection. Stepping out of line wasn’t impossible for him, but it was rarely rewarded. “Your record here is impressive; you could easily land a more exciting post.”

He half expects Ripley to reply with something snide – lash out and tell him he’d overstepped, but she only rocks farther back in her chair. She’s silent for a long moment as she absentmindedly cuts the deck.

“My mom disappeared in this region a while back,” she says, voice level. “She was a warrant officer aboard the Nostromo.”

She shrugs, leaning forward until all four feet of her chair hit the ground. “So, I decided to follow her into the great beyond.” Ripley begins laying down cards, her movements methodical and practiced. “I figured if I stuck around long enough, I might find something.”

When the final card is placed, she flips it over to reveal the nine of diamonds.

“Closure, maybe.”

.:.:.:.

A month later, Samuels is given an assignment.

(An order, actually, but Weyland-Yutani preferred certain vocabulary when dealing with these sorts of things.)

He is to recruit and accompany an engineer aboard the Torrens, a small commercial starship destined for Sevastopol Station. Several other engineers had been considered already, but the Agnis sourced from some of the best – many of whom were looking for better work.

The details of the mission are scant, but they tell him enough.

“The USCSS Torrens [MSV-7760], is to retrieve the flight-recorder unit of the USCSS Nostromo [1809246-09], which was recovered and taken to Sevastopol Station by the USCSS Anesidora [NCC 88-LS] in 2137.”

Mention of the Nostromo makes Samuels pause, and thinks immediately of Ripley. She had lingered in this system for years, waiting for any mention of her mother and the ship’s fate, and now her chance had arrived.

A part of him knows it is disingenuous to tap her solely because of her connection to the case, but Samuels finds himself considering her anyway. She was a talented engineer, and young enough to recover from stasis rather quickly. Nothing told him she shouldn’t be chosen for the opportunity.

And perhaps, this would bring her the closure she desired.

.:.:.:.

He comes to regret this.

Before, his most vivid memories of Amanda Ripley involved her hands poised over playing cards, black smudges over her cheeks, and her face when she was particularly focused. Now, he thinks of her worn ragged, with a burn mark on her temple.

He had wanted to offer a solution: an opportunity to find what she’d been searching for.

Above all, Christopher Samuels had wanted. He had desired something above the improvement of Weyland-Yutani’s brand and the safety and wellbeing of his crewmates. He had strived towards something beyond his protocol.

In retrospect, the idea terrified him. He had made a decision based more on his own opinion than the facts he was given, and it was endangering someone he’d come to know. A woman who had evolved beyond a employment record and a name.

That terrified him too, but what scared him most was the idea that Amanda Ripley would die here, without ever knowing what happened to her mother.

Without ever getting what she wished for.

When he considers Ripley – her lonely years aboard the Agnis, the promotions she turned down, the wish she did not make – the decision to give his life for her is an easy one.

That, at least, he does not regret.