For a short moment Taylor did and said nothing. She placed the folder on the table between the two chairs and leaned back, staring thoughtfully at her would-be client. He in turn did not look at her. He kept his eyes sternly on the table top, not moving. Taylor wondered what was going through his head at that moment. Maybe he was going over what had happened to him. Maybe he was not thinking at all. And maybe he was contemplating what he would do to her if he could get his hands on her. Briefly closing her eyes, she pushed that thought out of her mind. It had no place there and would only make things more difficult for her if he noticed how she felt.

"My name is Bonnie Taylor," she finally introduced herself and that caused him to glance at her with burning eyes. The contradiction his appearance made to the look in his eyes intrigued her. For now, that was the only reason that she even considered going on.

"I have been appointed to be your lawyer," she added, hoping to receive some kind of response. He only glanced at her again, and then returned to staring at the table top. Intriguing or not, Taylor was starting to feel that his silence was a little awkward.

"In order for me to evaluate whether I should take this case or not, I need to ask you a few questions and I think you know how important it is that you tell me the truth." She hesitated briefly. "Nothing you say today will leave this room if that is your wish." She fell silent, giving him a moment to digest it. He just glanced at her again with a frown and said nothing.

The first awkwardness of his silence turned into annoyance for Taylor. If he would at least tell her to get lost or something like it, she would have something to respond to. It was difficult to act when there was nothing going on. "All right," she finally said, opening the folder. "Your name is Dwayne Hicks. Is that correct?" she asked, glancing up at him.

The right corner of his mouth twitched. "That's what my papers say," he grumbled, not looking at her.

"Really?" she asked in a sarcastic tone of voice. Still not sure where to place him, she attempted to keep a low profile on her opinions for a while longer. "How old are you?"

For a moment, it seemed as if he was not going to answer. Then he sighed, straightened his back and finally met her eyes. "Thirty-two," he replied.

Taylor looked into his eyes for a moment, still confused by the conflicting signals he gave off. Partially he looked as mean as a bulldog and partially as lost as a little boy. Tearing her eyes away from his, she looked back down at the file. "You are a marine?" she asked.

His expression remained stony, but his tone of voice had obtained a sarcastic undertone. "Yeah, I was a marine. Why do you ask? Doesn't my file say so?"

Taylor met his eyes again, feeling more against than for him at the present time. It bothered her that he seemed to be so hostile. "Yes, it does. For how long have you been in the corps?" she asked on, still keeping a lid on her feelings.

He glanced away, looking sternly at the wall for a moment. "A little over ten years."

She nodded, looked the page over for a moment and then looked up at him again. "So you joined when you were twenty-two?"

"Twenty-one," he corrected her, looking back to meet her eyes.

She corrected it on the page, and then started tapping her pen on the table top, looking into his eyes for a long moment. "What was your rank when you were arrested?" she then asked.

"Corporal." There was a change in his voice which made her look at him for a moment longer. His expression told her that he was experiencing some kind of discomfort.

"Am I in any way bothering you with these questions?" she asked a little sharply, picking the only reason she could think of for his discomfort.

He shook his head, twisting his hands back and forth behind his back, rattling the handcuffs. "The cuffs are too tight and I need a cigarette," he told her, knowing that it would not make any difference to her how he felt.

"Is that so? And what do you expect me to do about that?" she wanted to know, maintaining her sharp tone of voice. "I think you should pay a little more attention to what I'm saying here. I may be an appointed lawyer, but I'm your only way out of this mess."

He returned her look in the same manner, for the first time showing some real emotion. He was angry. "Really? Are you really? Why bother trying, Mrs. Taylor? You can't get me out of this," he told her and looked away. "Give it up!"

Taylor considered what to do about his outburst for a moment. Maybe he was right, she thought. Then she mentally shook her head. No, it was too soon to make any snap judgments. Putting her own basic instincts away, she decided to ignore his words and continue with her questioning. "Why were you arrested?"

He just stared at her for a second, slightly angry that she ignored what he had said, then a sinister expression spread over his face. He took a while to answer, the expression on his face again making her glad that he was still cuffed to the chair. "Because they screwed up and needed a scapegoat," he grumbled.

With a frown furrowing her brow, Taylor stared at him for a moment. She had a hunch who he was talking about, but she had to make sure. "And who are they?" she asked with a glance at the sec-cam's position behind the grid of the ventilation shaft. She knew that these conversations were being recorded and it made her wonder if he would say it out loud.

"The Company." He looked at her for a second, and then looked up at the grid himself. "Wayland-Yutani," he specified.

A fly crawling up the wall briefly distracted Taylor's attention while she considered how to handle that allegation. She again glanced up at the place where the hidden sec-cam was watching the whole thing. The thought crossed her mind that he might be right. Maybe that was why the Company had locked him away for the better part of a year without doing anything about his case. How far would they go to make sure he did not get out to talk about what he knew or thought he knew? Would they stoop low enough to eliminate him if she showed signs of winning the case? Her brief conversation with van Leuwen came to mind again and she pondered the idea for a while. She was slowly but surely becoming convinced that if there was any truth to what he said, they would have let him vanish quietly when he arrived at Gateway. It would never have gone this far. The only way that she could explain to herself that he was still alive, providing his allegation held true, was if somebody else knew about this; somebody not part of the Company. At the moment, she could find neither head nor tail in this thing, but she hoped that it would all become clearer when she knew more.

The fly was sucked into the ventilation system as it tried to crawl over the grating and she finally looked back at him. "Do you have any proof to back that up?" she asked, knowing full well that he did not.

For a moment the room remained silent. He was watching something past her right shoulder, displaying no emotions until his eyes shifted to hers and she once again saw the anger there. "Proof? Are you kidding? I've been locked up in a cell ever since I came out of cryo-sleep. No, I don't have any proof," he snapped and looked away again.

Taylor did not know if she could use his claim for anything. It would not be easy to prove -- if at all. "Nothing at all?" she then asked.

He focused on her, staring hard for a second. "The only proof I've got is my face," he grumbled.

That answer confused Taylor. She glanced down at the second page in the folder but found no explanation there. "Your ... face?" she then asked, studying his disfigured facade. "What does your face have to do with this?" she wanted to know.

A sigh escaped him, indicating that he either thought she was slow-witted or just not paying attention enough. He turned his head a little to the right. "That's what it earned me."

Staring at his face, she suddenly realized what he meant. "You mean the scars. The scars are your proof." He nodded once. Her pen scratched on the paper as she made a brief note, then she frowned and had to admit to herself that she still did not understand what he was getting at. "I realize you've had a hard time, but I still don't see the connection," she finally said, looking up again to meet his eyes.

A grimace turned the left side of his face into a hideous mask, an expression which emphasized his state of mind. Having to explain the -- to him -- obvious was always a little exasperating. "It's what it earned me to get involved," he tried to explain, noted the blank look in her eyes and shook his head. "Oh, never mind," he then muttered.

For a long moment they both remained silent. Taylor was watching him, feeling slightly confused and slightly angry. His unwillingness to cooperate was driving her up the wall and his allegation that the Company had set him up, was either a lie or would, in the best of cases, be damned hard to prove. What she needed was every little scrap of information that he could give her. And he was not willing to do that. Finally giving in to her anger, she closed the folder in front of her with a slap. "Right. I don't really think that I can help you," she said in a stern tone of voice and got up. "I wish you the best, Mr. Hicks. I don't really think that you should count on getting another lawyer, though. The Company is notorious for only appointing one lawyer per prisoner. But, then again, any lawyer would be a waste. This is a no-win situation anyway." With those harsh words, she turned around and stepped up to the door, raising her hand to knock for the guard to let her out. The expected response from her client did not come, though. She had expected him to excuse for his behavior or at least to ask her not to leave, but he said nothing. Taylor knocked on the door and then glanced over her shoulder at him. He was still sitting in the same position, his neck slightly bent, his eyes seemingly glued to the table top.

The door slid open to reveal the officer with a rubber truncheon in one hand. He surveyed the situation, saw that there was nothing wrong and turned his attention to Taylor. "Leaving so soon?" he asked sarcastically.

"Yes," Taylor retorted and brushed past him into the corridor beyond. She marched down it with long angry strides, barely able to contain her anger. Here was what might turn into the start of a great career for her and then her client did not want to play ball. "Men," she grumbled as she brushed through the doors of the detention area.


The officer uncuffed Hicks, pulled him to his feet and cuffed his hands together behind his back. "Now you've really done it. Now you're fucked," he said and gave his prisoner a push toward the door. "But, she might come back, you know. She took the file with her."

Hicks glanced at the table as he passed it, realizing the file was gone. His instincts told him to accept her help, but he was also convinced that any attempts made by her or anybody else to help him would be futile. He knew about the procedures of the Company when it came to persecuting somebody. They hired inexperienced lawyers when they were told by the court to appoint one and these lawyers usually lost the cases. So, in order to do her a favor as much as sparing himself the ordeal of having to go through a hearing that was lost up front, he had denied her help in a way which hopefully made her think twice about coming back.

The officer took him back to his cell, removed the cuffs and left him alone. He dropped down on the bed and closed his eyes. What bothered him more than anything was that the Company had drawn it out so long before they even sent him a lawyer. With the charges against him it would take a miracle to get him acquitted and he had no faith in an inexperienced lawyer. On the other hand, inexperienced or not, Bonnie Taylor was all he was going to get.


Taylor arrived back at the apartment, she and her husband had on Gateway, with her temper running high. Stanley always got up with her even though he never left for work before nine in the morning. At that moment, he was sitting on the sofa with a cup of coffee and a book. When Taylor came storming in, he glanced at his watch. "That didn't take long," he commented, then noted her sour expression. "Not a good show, huh?"

Taylor gave him an angry glare and threw her bag full force into a corner. "Show? Hah! You should have been there. It was a tragic comedy," she snapped. Only in Stanley's presence did she let her emotions out like this. He was the calm one in their marriage and he always managed to calm her down, too.

He put his book aside and got up to embrace her. "Take it easy, honey. Was it van Leuwen? Was he everything they said he was?" he wanted to know, holding her out at arm's length.

Taylor pulled out of his grip, too angry to be consoled just yet. "Van Leuwen was nothing. He was okay. It was my so-called client who managed to piss me off. He's such an arrogant bastard." All her feelings welled up in her, making it difficult for her to think clearly. She would never allow herself to lose her temper in front of anybody else like this. Never. But Stanley understood her and he knew it was not aimed at him.

Stanley took her hands in his and held on when she tried to pull free. "Let's sit down and talk this over, shall we?" he asked.

For a moment, Taylor was about to give him hell. Then it dawned on her that she was, once again, taking her bad mood out on him and calmed down a little. "Sure. -- I'm sorry, Stan. I didn't mean to take it out on you. His behavior just made me furious," she then said.

Stanley smiled a knowing smile. "Don't I know it," he agreed. "Okay, so what's so upsetting about this guy?"

"He's a pain in the neck. I've never met anybody so desperately in need of help and he doesn't even want it." She handed him the file and he sat down on the sofa again to read through it.

Considering that the file was confidential material, he was actually not allowed to read it. But Taylor wanted his opinion on it and she also knew that he would never abuse his knowledge. After a while, he looked up again. "Have you taken a look at this?" he asked.

"Yes, but I didn't have time to read through it completely. I got the basics, though," she replied and dropped down beside him.

"Well, I'm no lawyer and I don't know that much about law as such, but this doesn't seem to be much of a case. He's got great credentials and seems to be extremely steady in a bad situation ... according to this," he said, tapping a finger on the file. "It isn't, of course, unlikely that even the calmest individual could flip his lid at one point or another, especially considering how much stress those marines are under. But this is still a very weak cup of tea. What was your impression of him?"

Taylor sighed and closed her eyes for a moment, rubbed the bridge of her nose and tried hard to think rationally. Feelings aside, she basically had the same idea and it always did wonders when Stanley voiced his opinions about something. He had a rational look on everything. "Well, he didn't exactly seem that bad. As a matter of fact, my initial feeling when I met his eyes for the first time was ... that I felt sorry for the guy. Sort of like he got himself into a mess he can't get out of without being blamed for it." She shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe he did do what they charge him for and maybe he didn't. As his lawyer, I have to believe that he didn't."

Stanley nodded. "Right! So, there you are. Your initial feelings are the ones you should trust. Besides, take a good look at this material. They don't have much to base the accusations on. Hear-say is what this is. And that's never stood up in any hearing I've heard of. Besides, if you thought this case was hopeless, why did you take the file home with you?"

Embarrassed, Taylor smiled and nudged him in the ribs with her elbow. "Why are you always right? Why do I always feel so dumb around you?" she asked jokingly.

Stanley smiled sweetly. "Because I am and you are." He handed the file back to her and Taylor sat back to read through it properly. Stanley was right, she realized after a moment. The accusations were weak at best, but no less serious for that matter. She thought that winning this was going to be easy, so she started planning her attack. This guy had to be handled in a special way if she wanted him to accept her as his lawyer. That was the first step. And she did want this case.


When Taylor reentered the detention area at four in the afternoon, the officer sitting behind his desk could not conceal a resigned look. "Afternoon, ma'am," he said.

It was the same officer and Taylor gave him a sharp look, again wanting this guy to know that he had better do as she said or she would raise hell. "Same prisoner, same interrogation chamber. Get him there. Now," she told him and brushed past the desk and down the corridor toward the interrogation chambers.

The officer looked after her for a moment, and then got up to get the prisoner. He felt very offended by this woman lawyer and he wanted nothing more than to tell her off, but that would definitely cost him his job. In a bad mood, he opened the door to the cell.

Hicks looked up with a frown when he stepped inside. "Come on, buddy. Your lawyer changed her mind. She wants to see you again," the officer said, a morose look on his face.

Hicks stared at him for a moment, then made a face and shook his head. "Tell her to go away. I don't want her help," he replied.

The officer rolled his eyes. "Don't queen it, pal. I might have to brain you," he said, slapping his right palm with his rubber truncheon, deep down wishing that Hicks would make a fuss. Just once he wanted the right to clobber somebody and he was almost hoping the guy would make a break for it, giving him an excuse.

Hicks did not, though. He merely made a face at the threat and got up. Without being told to he turned his back to the officer and let him cuff him. There was no sense in resisting and he was too good a judge of character to overlook the officer's hostile mood and the harm it might do to him if he started something.

The officer pulled at his shoulder, making him stagger backward out of the cell. "Personally, I think she's wasting her time. Nobody can help you and nobody should try, either. We'd all be better off if scum like you didn't walk free," he said as he guided Hicks toward the exit.

His temper on the verge of going off, Hicks remained morosely silent, keeping his opinions to himself. Nobody wanted to hear them anyway and any wrong move would definitely affect an immediate attack.

"Move it, pal. I don't want to repeat myself," the officer grumbled and pushed him forward.


Taylor was already seated with the file open in front of her, when the officer guided Hicks into the room and cuffed him to the chair. She met Hicks' eyes steadily and waited until the officer had left the room again, before she said anything.

"What do you want?" Hicks asked in a sour tone of voice, cutting her off before she could open her mouth. All he wanted her to do was leave him alone. Not that she could make things any worse, but he doubted strongly that she could change anything. After this hearing, his destiny would be settled and no matter what happened, he was certain that he would not live much longer.

Taylor had to remind herself why she had come back and not let his remark spoil her good intentions. "I think we started off on the wrong foot here," she began.

"No, we didn't. I don't need your help," Hicks grumbled.

She folded her hands and gave him a look that told him what she thought about his mental state. "That's where you're wrong. You do need my help. I've had time to go over your file in more detail. It's weak to say the least. They base their accusations on hear-say. They don't know for sure that you did it, but they're taking a chance. I think I can get you off the hook," she told him.

For a long moment, he studied her face, wondering why she bothered. Even she had to know that this was a bad case for her. "Why do you care?" he asked her. It puzzled him and he wanted to know.

Taylor frowned a little at the change in his tone. He sounded a bit more subdued and not so sarcastic. "Because I do. -- Don't worry about why I care. That's not your problem. Your problem is what happened and why. Now, I want all the details you can possibly give me. Everything even if it seems silly or unimportant. Anything might help," she said, then paused for a moment. "Let's return to your claim that your scares are your proof. What exactly do you mean by that?"

Staring at her, he was starting to believe that she might want to help him for real. She seemed very honest. He still doubted that she could, but found that his doubt was no longer so strong. The human mind sure was a wondrous thing when it came to suppressing the truth. "Like I said, it's what it earned me to get involved. The Company is using me as a scapegoat. One of their people screwed up and now they want me to pay for it," he replied and looked down at the table top for a moment.

Taylor eyed him closely. "Okay. Let's for a moment assume that this is the case. Do you have any way of proving that you didn't do it?" she asked.

Hicks shook his head. "Not presently. As I said, I have been in jail basically from the moment I woke up from cryo-sleep. That doesn't give me a very good edge, does it?" he replied with a regretful expression.

Taylor shook her head thoughtfully, happy to note that he had warmed up to the idea of having a lawyer. "Not really," she agreed. She considered what to do, then decided that she would cut right to the chase. "You don't stand very strongly, of course, but neither do they. -- I'm going to ask you to violate your pledge of silence. Are you willing to do that?"

The corner of his mouth twitched into a half-smile, a sarcastic little grimace which made him look a little more human than before. "Sure," he replied.

"What happened to you?" In her opinion, he could react two ways to this. He could spill the beans or he could clamp up and refuse to talk any more. She was actually hoping for the first and expecting the last, but when he finally started talking, she was not at all prepared for what he told her.

He shifted his weight on the chair, trying to get comfortable, and then sighed when he did not succeed. "I was attacked by an alien. When I shot it, it burned my face and chest to shreds."

The silence after that statement lingered for a while. Taylor stared at him, the seriousness of his voice making her almost drop her jaw. He couldn't be serious. What he had just said sounded like ... well, it sounded like he had been up against ...! No, it couldn't be. "It burned your face and chest?" she finally asked hesitantly and he nodded. "What was that thing? Some kind of dragon? Did it spew fire or something?" She just had to bring that thought out in the open. If he told her yes to this one, she would get up and walk out. That would prove to her that he was clearly demented.

Hicks looked at her sarcastically amused, knowing that she could not believe what he had just said. Hell, he had been there and he hardly believed it. The expression gave way to a darker one when he allowed himself to briefly remember what had happened. "No, it wasn't a dragon, Mrs. Taylor. It was an alien life form and it had acid for blood. When I shot it, it sprayed acid over me," he eventually said after deciding that it did not matter how it sounded. He knew it was the truth.

Taylor's expression of surprise did not change at his words and her thoughts made cartwheels inside her head. Acid? An alien with acid blood? It sounded almost too bizarre to be true. The thing that surprised her most was the fact that he did not even try to come up with an excuse for how that sounded. He just sat there, watching her, waiting for her response. "Acid for blood," she muttered, leaning back on the chair. "What kind of creature has acid for blood ... and what does it have to do with your arrest?"

For a moment he remained silent and the quiet hum of the air ventilation system became audible. Somewhere through the air ducts that criss-crossed the whole station, they could hear faint sounds of people talking. Taylor returned his stare, knowing that whatever he was going to tell her was something he believed to be the truth. "I guess it's some kind of bug and ... it's the whole reason for my arrest. The Company wants to cover up that these bugs destroyed a whole colony and now they try to blame it on me. The easy way out for them. Just blame it all on me and they don't have to answer." He stopped talking as a dark expression spread like a rain cloud over his face.

It would take her some time to digest what he had just told her. Aliens with acid for blood? It sounded kind of gothic, somehow. As if it was a tale delivered from medieval times. She frowned deeply. Any shrink would probably have him locked away for that claim. But she wasn't a shrink and there was something honest and so basic about the way he said it, that she almost believed him. Her next question was plain and simple. "Why?" For a moment he just looked straight at her but then shrugged. That was his only answer and, after a minute or two, Taylor started tapping her pen down on the file in front of her. She considered how to put her next question to him and then decided that it would be best to be straightforward. "Are you aware of how paranoid that sounds?" she asked, acutely alert to any change in his expression. There was none.

"Yeah." His answer was no surprise her. He was aware that a claim like that would not stand up in a hearing, but she was certain that he would not hesitate to repeat it.

For a moment Taylor considered pursuing that subject but decided that there were other things she needed to know right now, no matter how insane they sounded. "This ... bug destroyed the colony on Acheron, you say, but the Company wants to blame this on you?" she asked just to make sure she had gotten it right and he nodded. She looked down at the file, mentally going over what she had read and what he was saying. The charge was clear. He was to be blamed for the whole thing. But how he should have been able to do it was not stated anywhere and it was beyond her to find an explanation. She looked at him again, studying his face. "There is no indication in this file of how you did it or how long it took. Have they said anything to you about that?"

For a moment, he just looked at her, his eyes locked on hers. "Yeah. They claimed that I had a lot of time to do it. From the moment we set down on the planet and until we took off again." He snorted, half angry, half amused at the bizarreness of it all. "Considering that I was surrounded by aliens basically from the moment we landed doesn't seem to make any difference."

"There were more than the one you shot?" she asked, a little taken aback by what he said. Silently she scolded herself for not considering that there might be more than one before. But she still found it hard to believe. Very hard.

"Of course. There were over a hundred of them. All vicious like hell." He briefly closed his eyes as the wave of the past washed over him. He wanted to get out of this place, away from confined spaces. Funny, he thought. He'd never suffered of claustrophobia before.

Taylor considered his answer for a moment. Was he exaggerating? Was he trying to impress her? Eying him closely, she decided no. What purpose would it serve if he did exaggerate? It couldn't possibly become any less believable than it was already. Pushing that thought aside, she cleared her throat at the thought of these aliens. "How do they suggest that you did it?" she wanted to know.

Hicks frowned. Apparently the file did not give her very much background information. It was obviously up to him to give her more information. And he knew she wouldn't believe him. She would probably do a good job of defending him at the hearing, but she would not believe him. "They claimed that I placed explosives at a vital point in the atmosphere processor and then blew them all to hell when I was off the planet."

Taylor frowned. It sounded logical -- for a crazed bomber. He didn't appear to be one, though. "Do you like explosives?"

"No. It's okay if you know how to handle it, but I don't. I'm a Corporal, not a bomb-expert," he replied.

Things of unspeakable nature paraded around Taylor's thoughts, trying to give her an image of what those aliens might look like. Her subconscious kept producing an image of dragon-like creatures. "Mr. Hicks. You've been charged with mass murder. Why don't you tell me what really happened?"

He hesitated before answering that. Whatever he had to tell her, she would end up not believing him. He knew that. But again he reached the same conclusion. It did not matter how it sounded. It was the truth. "The aliens had done the job before we got there. There was nobody left alive." Again he hesitated, wondering how he could relate something like what had happened to somebody who had never seen one of the aliens. It would be close to impossible. He couldn't even describe them very well. They had attacked so suddenly that studying them in detail had been out of the question. He hadn't been very interested in that, anyway. "We had no idea what we were up against. We went into the processor to find the colonists and got cornered there. By accident the cooling-system was ruptured and that started a melt-down of the processor core. I guess. That's at least what we found out four hours before the shit hit the fan."

Things got more complicated all the time for Taylor. "You guess?" she asked and he nodded.

"I can't tell for sure, of course. It might have been the dropship when it crashed into the processor. All I know is that the whole damned thing was blown to hell," he replied.

Taylor held up her hands. "Wait a minute. What's this about the dropship? It doesn't say anything about a crashing dropship here," she said, tapping a finger on the file. "If the dropship crashed, how did you get out? How did you get off the planet?"

Hicks was amazed at how little she actually knew. Looking at the file, though, he could tell that she probably only had a fragment of the story there -- if even that. "We called down the second dropship from the Sulaco. Messy job, but it happened."

"Why did the other one crash?" Taylor asked on, wanting to know the whole story now. This was getting out of hand. She had realized that she knew nothing, really. What the file stated was a badly cut version of the truth.

"I'm not sure. I can only guess. After we got out of the processor, we called for an immediate evac. The dropship came toward us, suddenly got out of course and more or less came down on top of us. It slammed right into the processor and blew up. My guess is that one of those aliens ...!" He stopped, a look of discomfort on his face.

"I get the picture," Taylor was quick to say. "So, what you're saying is that this ... short-circuit or whatever it was, caused the station to blow up?"

He nodded his assent. "Yeah, that's what I'm saying."

For a moment, she looked down at the file, and then looked up again. "And the encounter with these aliens. You had no idea that they would be there? Or could be there?" she asked.

Hicks made a face. "Well, we were briefed on the existence of a possible xenomorph." His expression hardened and for a moment Taylor feared that the fragile balance she had achieved between them had been tipped over. But his answer told her differently. "But it was treated like a bad joke," he grumbled and looked away, obviously haunted by dark memories.

Taylor nodded and glanced at the file again. "So, naturally, you didn't take it to heart. Not you or anybody else. Right?" she asked.

He again moved uncomfortably on the chair, flexing his fingers behind his back. The cuffs were tight enough to stop proper efflux of blood and that made his fingers tingle slightly. "Of course not. What do you expect? When somebody tells you about aliens that are up to nine and a half feet tall and have acid for blood you wouldn't believe it either," he replied after a moment.

Taylor nodded. He was right about that. "Are there any other survivors from this ... occurrence?" she asked. There were none mentioned in the file and she thought it was essential if there were any. Her question caused him to frown.

"Sure there are. There should be two. One woman, but I don't know if she's alive. And an android."

Taylor nodded and made a note about that. According to the file, he was the only survivor and that puzzled her. What reason could the Company possibly have to leave out an important detail like that? she wondered. She was beginning to think that maybe there was some truth to his claim. "The woman. What's her name?" she asked and looked up at him to observe any change in his expression. She had very quickly figured out that she could read a lot from his expressions.

And, sure enough, his expression did change briefly from the stony look to a softer one. "Ellen," he then said, almost savoring the name. "Her name is Ellen Ripley."

The way he said the name made Taylor frown. This woman was special to him. She wrote the name down, reminding herself to try and find out what had happened to her. "What was your connection to her?"

He gave her a partially confused look, and then glanced away. "She was an advisor on that last trip out. She saved my life," he then said.

Taylor nodded almost to herself. "Good. If I can find her, we have a witness and the case already looks a lot more promising than before." Mentally, she was rubbing her hands. With a qualified witness, she stood a chance of getting him off the hook.

But Hicks was not about to let her live in that rosy dream. "I don't know. They think she's crazy. She was the first to encounter the aliens."

The dream evaporated, sobering Taylor's hopes for fortune and glory. If the woman had a history as a nutcase, she was no good as a witness. She gave it a moment's thought. "Okay. If that's the fact, it's too bad. But, I'll try to find her anyway. Just as a precaution." She remembered something from the file which had so far eluded her. Something that had not been mentioned anywhere. In the case file it was obvious who was to blame for the deaths, the destructions and everything else. To Taylor it was not so obvious any more. "According to this file, you're to blame for everything. But you say you're innocent. So, who caused the commotion on Acheron?"

The look on his face expressed mixed feelings at that question and for a moment she thought he might not want to answer it. Then with a sigh he shifted his weight on the chair for the umpteenth time and looked straight at her. "Carter Burke. Company representative. I'm not even sure van Leuwen knew what was going on. It was something about exclusive rights for the discovery of those things. If you can find Ellen, she can definitely tell you more about that."

Taylor's hopes rose again. Finding the woman meant more information. That was good. She acknowledged his answer with a nod. "I see. And this Mr. Burke will not take responsibility for what he has done. Is that it?"

Hicks gave her a strange look, wondering if she really knew so little about the background of this case. "He can't really take responsibility for it, Mrs. Taylor. He's dead," he told her.

Taylor met his eyes for a moment, and then nodded again. "I see. Okay. That can't be helped, I guess. -- What is your opinion about this hearing?"

"It stinks." His reply was curt and impassionate.

Taylor silently agreed with him. If everything he had said was true, the hearing did stink. "Another question and then I'll get to work on this. Should we win this one, what would you hope to gain from it?"

For a moment, he just looked at her, a little startled. Then, reluctantly, the shadow of a smile crept over his lips. "The restoration of my face, for one. And, my pension since I believe I've earned it. But, most of all, I guess, that the people living out there in the colonies get a warning about those things. A warning that will keep them far away from Acheron."

Taylor nodded and closed the folder. "So, do you still believe that you don't need any help?" she asked, for the first time smiling.

Hicks felt slightly embarrassed by her question because of his previous behavior, but he did not show it. "I believe I do need help, but I also believe that nobody can help me. Winning this is merely wishful thinking, Mrs. Taylor."

"That is of course the way it seems right now, Mr. Hicks. But I personally believe that we've got a shot at winning this one. And I do tend to submerge myself in a lot of wishful thinking that eventually comes true. If you know what I mean." She rose and put the file into her briefcase. "I hope you will not meet me with the same hostility in future as you did today. I think that was uncalled for."

He took a deep breath. "Don't worry about that. I'm through being hostile toward you. I know you're only trying to help," he then replied.

What Taylor had actually expected was an excuse, but this would do fine, too. "Well, that's it for today. I'll be back soon," she said, turning for the door.

A question that would either boost his moral or destroy him completely had been on his mind ever since he had realized that she was for real. A question he had to ask before she left. "Do you really think we can win?" he asked, briefly remembering her angry outburst that this was a no-win situation.

She looked over her shoulder with a quiet smile. "Well, I believe we can until somebody shows me we can't." With those words she knocked on the door and left when the officer opened it.

Hicks sat still for a while longer until the officer uncuffed him and nothing the officer had to say got to him while he was marched back to his cell. For the first time in almost a year he thought he could see the light at the end of the tunnel.