L.A.

The night had settled over the city some hours ago and both Ripley and Hicks had turned in early. For some reason that he couldn't explain, Hicks' defenses were up again. He had felt exhausted over the past few weeks and feared, that he was going crazy. Lately, the fear of dark corridors and movements caught from the corner of the eye had invaded his subconscious again and for the first time in months, he woke up bathed in sweat, his heart racing, the chill of the dream still in him.

Glancing at Ripley, who was still deeply asleep, he got out of bed and quietly left the bedroom. He turned on all the lights in the living room and sat down on the sofa, hoping that he hadn't woken Ripley. It was bad enough that the Acheron-incident had come back to haunt him once more. It was unnecessary to involve her in it again. She had been through it once too often. His eyes wandered over the living room arrangements, scanning each corner and each shadow closely and simultaneously scolding himself for being so paranoid. His thoughts wandered back to his talk with Judy Wilks a week or so earlier. Wilks had helped them obtain the bar at a reasonable price and they were working on a daily basis to get the place fixed up. But, one thing was always for sure when he talked to her. She always gave him the latest gossip from Gateway. Earlier he had been interested because it might let him know when he was going on another mission. This time he had just listened to it for old time's sake. And there had been something she had said that had stirred up his memory, but he just couldn't put a finger on it. Something about a rumor.

Hugging himself, he again glanced around the living room. He was starting to get cold from the drying sweat on his body, but to get up and return to the dark bedroom was not on his agenda at the moment. He thought hard about what it was that Wilks had said. Something about a rumor. A rumor ... about what? He couldn't fix his thoughts on it and it was starting to put a strain on him. For a moment, he considered calling her and asking about it, but he re-considered. Somehow, even though he felt he needed to find out what it was, he didn't want to know what she had said. He was afraid of what it could mean.

For a very long time, he let the thought prevail, trying to imagine what was going on on Gateway at that very moment. Then, with something that resembled a moan, he shut the thought out, shaking his head hard. Even to think about it made the hairs on his neck stand on end. The very thought that aliens could at that very moment be invading Gateway and subsequently Earth made him feel cold. He pushed the thought into the furthest corner of his mind, trying to dissociate himself from it, but the fear lingered. Something was wrong on Gateway. Something that had to do with the aliens.

The remainder of that night brought him no rest. He paced the living room, occasionally sat down again, and then got up to pace again, unable to sit still, unable to stop thinking about the aliens, about the possibility that they might be on Gateway. Maybe one of the colonists had been infected. Maybe they had unwittingly brought one with them on the ship. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

He stopped in the middle of the room and ran both hands through his hair, staring blindly ahead of himself. The things that had happened on Archeron, which had changed his view on life forever, would they happen here? On Earth? Closing his eyes, he covered his face with his hands and moaned softly. "Please God, no," he whispered. "Not here. Not Earth."

***

The following morning had started quietly. Somehow, it had eluded Ripley that Hicks had not been beside her for most of the night and Hicks hadn't told her, either. They had left the apartment together and had driven to the bar to go on with the restoration of the premises. Ripley and Marlee were taking care of the old wallpaper, while Hicks and Hudson were busy with the ceiling. They were using machines that could clear away the old paint and at the same time clean the plaster as thoroughly as possible without damaging it. After working for two hours without a break, Hicks eventually got fed up with the constant steam that surrounded him, and shut the cleaner off. He stood still on the ladder and waited for the steam to clear, while his restless night slowly caught up with him. Again, he started thinking about what it was that Wilks had said. And again it made a cold shiver run up his spine. Suddenly, he realized that Ripley was standing below, looking up at him.

"Hey, anybody home?" she asked, smiling a little. He smiled back to her and climbed down. "Take a look at this,” she said, showing him a piece of wallpaper. Something was written on it. He took the piece of heavy paper and studied it closer. There was a large S and something of an A and the lower part of a character, that could only be an M. Hicks looked at Ripley again, frowning.

"Sam,” he said. "It says Sam," he repeated, then realized what she was thinking of. "You think this is Sam's bar?" he asked, grinning, grateful for the distraction.

She smiled, nodding. "Yeah, I think it could be. I mean, this building is old enough. It has at least a couple of hundred years on its back."

Hicks smiled, reaching out to touch a pillar. "Yeah, it does. Let's call it Sam's bar, then. Sort of a tradition, huh?" Ripley nodded, rubbing at her right cheek with the back of her hand. Hicks put a hand on her shoulder. "Listen, I gotta take a break. I'm wasted,” he added, gave her a brief kiss and left the room. Hudson and Marlee had both stopped working and were looking after Hicks.

"What's up with him?" Hudson asked nobody in particular.

Ripley shrugged. "I don't know. Something's been bothering him lately,” she replied, looking up at Hudson. "Has he said anything to you?" she wanted to know.

A haunted look briefly passed over Hudson's face, but he disguised it with a grin. "Nah, he hasn't. Let's get on with it. At this rate, we'll never get finished,” he replied and started the cleaner up again, thereby cutting any further conversation short.

***

Hicks walked into the old office, which was located in the back of the building, and dropped down on a dusty, old sofa. Without much luck, he tried to suppress a yawn and he figured he may as well make good of his words and take a nap. He settled down comfortably on the old sofa and draped one arm over his face, but try as he may, sleep would not come. He just lay there, staring into the darkness of his own imagination and after a few moments, he virtually ripped his arm away from his eyes and blinked up at the old, water-stained ceiling. "Damn it all to hell," he muttered. He had never been afraid of the dark. Not even as a kid. And now he felt haunted every time he closed his eyes. He sat up again and yawned once more, wishing he could sleep, but not wanting to. It would alarm the others if he woke up screaming and he didn't want them to know. Not yet. He would have to do some checking into this before he told them anything.

***

Hours later, Hicks and Ripley came back to the apartment and Ripley realized how exhausted Hicks was. He just sat down on the sofa, put his feet up on the coffee-table and closed his eyes.

"Hey, what's up?" she asked and sat down next to him.

For a moment, he didn't react and she thought that maybe he'd fallen asleep. Then, he opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. "I’m going up to Gateway tomorrow," he said after a moment.

Ripley frowned, her expression set. "What for?" she wanted to know.

Hicks kept staring up at the ceiling, not able to discern from her voice if she had a hunch or not. "I ..." he began, but didn't really know what to say. "I like to keep up with the latest gossip," he finally said. It wasn't hard to sound convincing because he saw that as part of the reason why he wanted to go up there.

Ripley eyed him, wondering what was brewing behind that brow of his. "Can't you do that from here?" she asked.

He rolled his head a little to look at her and smiled weakly. "I guess so, but I like to get it at the source," he said, again not too far from the truth.

Ripley stared at him for a moment, then she smiled a little. "You're bored, aren't you?" When he made a move to object, she raised a hand. "I'm not blaming you or anything. I understand. I mean, I got the feeling that you're not the one who's the most into this bar-thing."

He closed his eyes again and yawned deeply. "Yeah, that's right. I'm bored. Running a bar just isn't me. I don't know. Maybe I got in over my head, but Will was so enthusiastic and I know he needs something to do. Sitting still isn't his game. He has to have action. And I can vividly imagine him behind the counter, driving all his customers nuts with his stupid quotes."

That made Ripley smiled. "Yeah, you're right about that," she said after a moment, then padded his arm. "Let's get something to eat and then off to bed. You look like you could sleep standing up," she added and got up again. "But first, I'm gonna take a shower. I feel as if I've dragged the whole bar home with me,” she told him and headed for the door.

Hicks got up, too. "Mind if I join you?" he asked, making her stop dead in her tracks.

She halfway turned toward him, looking surprised. Then, she smiled. "No, of course not."

***

GATEWAY

Miller stood in the surveillance-room, staring in at the alien queen. The egg sack was as big as her now and strapped to the ceiling in several places. She had laid about sixteen eggs and more kept coming. At first, Miller had been surprised. He could not see that she should have been able to secure the egg sack herself. But then he was filled in by Garrison. Holden was dead. The first egg had produced a facehugger and it had infected Holden, as Garrison put it. Not very long after the facehugger had disengaged itself from Holden, a new alien had emerged. This alien had then, after shedding its skin once and turning out to be almost as big as its mother, helped the queen by strapping the egg sack to the walls and ceiling. Since then, it had remained dormant and all that had happened over the course of two days. Miller had been watching the room for over an hour without catching any glimpse of the new alien at all. Eventually, he gave up and searched the wall for Holden. But the body was no longer there. Garrison stepped up beside him, holding a clipboard in one hand.

"Where is the body?" Miller asked, still staring in at the spot where he should have been.

"The new alien ate some of it and fed the rest to the queen,” Garrison replied, handing Miller the clipboard. There was a form to be signed for continued deliveries of meat.

Miller signed it, not really looking at it. "That's odd. Bishop said nothing about eaten bodies,” he muttered, shaking his head.

Garrison glanced in at the aliens and decided that Miller was more interesting to look at. "Why is that odd, sir? I thought the idea was that the alien queen was supposed to eat Holden,” he replied.

Miller gave him a displeased look. "Yes, well, that was before I really had a chance of talking to Bishop about it. Now, I know more,” he told Garrison.

Garrison decided that it was time to leave. There was no sense in upsetting Miller. He didn't want to end up being a meal for those nightmares in the room behind the glass-wall.

***

Bishop turned up in Miller's office half an hour later. Miller looked up at the synthetic, not really liking him. Somehow, he had the idea that the android was a little bit too liberal.

"Sit down, Bishop,” he told the android, who obeyed instantly. "There has been a strange development in the alien chamber,” he added, eying the android's face closely. There was no twitch there, but then again, he wasn't programmed to be twitchy. "We have a new member in the family, but it seems that this one ate its host and fed the rest to the queen. Does that ring any bells with you?"

Bishop considered that for a moment, then shook his head slowly. "No, sir. That sounds strange to me. According to what little I know about what happened inside the hive on Acheron, none of the victims were eaten. Infected, yes, but not eaten,” he replied.

Miller nodded thoughtfully. "Do you think it’s possible, that this new behavior might be created by the radiation that the original facehugger was exposed to?" Miller asked after a moment.

Bishop thought that over, too, then tilted his head to the right. "No, sir, I don't. I believe that the radiation is what kept the original facehugger alive. I mean, there was no other source of energy around. According to what I have been able to find out about these aliens, they can stay alive dormant for quite a long time in their facehugger state, as long as there is any kind of energy around. I would say that the original facehugger absorbed the radiation it was subjected to."

Miller was staring at him, quite fascinated by that idea. "That's right. There was something about the derelict, wasn't there? How old do you suppose it was?" he wanted to know.

Bishop shrugged. "I have no means of knowing that. But according to Mrs. Ripley, the ship was fossilized. So, over a thousand years is not out of the question. Longer is more possible."

Miller nodded thoughtfully, thoughts of greatness and honor flowing through his mind. Bishop stared at him for a moment, but quickly averted his eyes when Miller looked back at him. "Thank you, Bishop. I'll call for you, when I need more information,” he said and Bishop got up and left the office. Miller leaned back in his chair, smiling to himself. Yes, he thought. The aliens were going to make him rich.

***

L.A.

Hicks, ready to leave for Gateway, looked at Ripley, who stood beside the dining table, a jug in one hand, watching him with an unreadable expression.

He had come to be very familiar with that look. "Ellen, there is no need to look at me like that. It's not like I'm going away for a year, you know,” he said, smiling a little.

Through his smile, Ripley could see his nervousness. The fact that she didn't know what he was nervous about made her cautious. "I know that, Dwayne. There is just one thing that I don't understand,” she replied, putting the jug down and folding her arms over her chest. Hicks looked at her, wondering if it was so obvious that he was preoccupied. "Why are you so nervous? I know that you haven't slept well these past few weeks. Are the nightmares back?"

For a moment he held his breath, looking at her. She was very perceptive. Then, he nodded. "Yeah. They're back. I didn't say anything because I didn't want to bother you with it,” he finally said, pursing his lips.

Ripley kept looking at him, her face still set in the same, unreadable expression. "I thought you knew me better than that,” she eventually said, sounding a little hurt and also a little bit angry. "Why are you going up there? Do you know something? Have you heard something?" Her tone of voice held no accusation, merely nervous curiosity.

"I thought it might be a good idea to try and keep up to date with what's happening on Gateway," he said with a weak smile. "Nothing serious. I promise. I'm just a little restless and I have to get out of here. I don't know if I'll make it back tonight, but I'll be back first thing tomorrow morning."

For a moment longer, Ripley just looked at him, then she nodded, smiling a little. "Okay, sure. It's nice to know that you get a day off and we bust our backs down here. Go on, scram. Don't miss your flight,” she told him. He kissed her briefly and left the apartment. Ripley left shortly after, wanting to spend the day with enough work to keep her mind off what Hicks might tell her when he got back.

***

GATEWAY

Once again, Miller stood in the surveillance-chamber, watching the aliens. The room behind the glass was starting to look cramped. Obviously, the new alien was busy every time nobody was looking. None of the tapes they had recorded showed any trace of the second alien, but, of course, six of the ten sec-cameras were busted. As long as the queen had been alone, all ten had been in proper working condition, but as soon as the second alien had turned up and shed its skin, the cameras had been taken out one by one. Miller was upset because he hadn't seen the second alien in its present state yet. He had spent a lot of time, just staring at the walls in there, but had not been able to spot the other alien. He looked at the upper rim of the walls, trying to spot the cameras. The four in the back of the room had been destroyed and nothing more than the clip they had been sitting in was left. Two of the front-cameras had been take out too and it annoyed the hell out of Miller that this prevented them from seeing the other alien.

He jumped when somebody suddenly turned up beside him. "Damn it, Bishop. Don't sneak up on me like that,” he snapped, having trouble hiding the first signs of doubt. He was starting to believe that Bishop's first-hand suggestion had been the right one. These things were dangerous. Since the queen had started to lay eggs, nobody had been willing to even go close to the doors. The fear of those creatures was growing on a daily basis.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Miller. I had no idea I was sneaking,” the android replied.

Miller thought he could hear slight sarcasm in his voice and glanced at him with a frown. Androids were not supposed to be able to use sarcasm. For a moment, he looked closely at Bishop, then dismissed it as being a figment of his imagination. "I'm starting to get worried. So far, none of us have seen the second alien since it took out the cameras. The four in the back and two at the front have been busted. What do you make of that?" he asked Bishop.

Bishop frowned. Since the B-I had been removed, his thoughts were his own. At first, he had not really known what to do with these thoughts that were no longer suppressed by the B-I. But, slowly, he was starting to form his own opinion about things. Especially when it came to those aliens. Somehow, he had thought that van Leuwen would make a move against Bio's, remove the aliens, kill them, but the Company manager seemed reluctant to do anything. Obviously, despite the fact that it had dawned on him how dangerous those creatures were, he was fascinated by them and would like to be able to use their near-perfect organisms for something. Bishop had slowly come to the conclusion that if anything should be done about the aliens, it would have to be done soon. "As I pointed out to you before, sir, these creatures are not safe to deal with. They have a mind of their own and, in a quite inhuman way, they are very intelligent. I would suggest annihilation. They will destroy us all if you leave them alive,” he said after a moment, keeping his voice calm and balanced the way an android should sound.

Miller frowned. "I don't see that it should be necessary. They have shown very clearly, that they cannot escape from this room. Surely, if they are as intelligent as you say they are, the queen will stop laying eggs when she realizes that there are no more ... hosts for her young,” he replied, turning to face Bishop.

"That is just my point, sir. They are intelligent. They took out the cameras. I do not believe that this was by accident. They know what they are doing. All internal cameras in the Atmosphere Processor on Acheron had been taken out cleanly. Nothing else had been touched. Only the cameras. They don't like being watched,” Bishop told him, staring in at the alien queen. He had met one of her kind and she had damaged him badly. If it hadn't been for Ripley, his consciousness would have vanished together with the fluids that kept his organism going. Ripley was the one he wanted to help. Not the Company and not Bio's. Bishop knew where his loyalty was place, all right.

Miller gave him a thoughtful look for a moment. Then he glanced at the glass-wall and frowned. Turning his attention fully toward the armored glass, he looked in at the queen. The second alien had finally come into view. It stood halfway between the queen and the glass, its outer jaws open, the inner jaws halfway sticking out of its banana-shaped head. The second one was a whole lot different from the queen, Miller realized. It was smaller and had only one pair of front-limbs as opposed to the queen with her two pairs. Its head had a different shape, which made it more streamlined, although the protruding tubes on the back were present.

So suddenly, that Miller took a startled step back, it attacked the glass, almost in the same fashion as the queen had some weeks ago. Miller was content that the glass would hold. Bishop, however, noticed the way the pane seemed to vibrate in its frame. The alien attacked again and the vibration seemed to increase. Bishop took a step closer to the glass and tried to see around it. Even without straining too much, he could see that the edges around the glass were misshapen. It seemed that the alien warrior had found out how it could remove the glass it couldn't break.

He turned to Miller. "Sir, I think we have to leave here and seal the door. It seems that the warrior has started to dissolve the frame from the inside. It can only be a matter of time before the glass-wall gives in,” he said.

Miller's expression turned from a frown to a nervous scowl as the warrior attacked the glass-wall again. Bishop estimated that it would take the warrior some time to do the job properly, but he wouldn't bet on it. "Nonsense, Bishop. This alloy is acid-resistant. There is no way those two can get out,” Miller finally said, waving Bishop toward the exit. "Let's leave them alone. They're obviously upset about our presence,” he added. They left the room and despite Miller's attempt to hide his actions, Bishop noticed that he sealed the door off. "I don't need you anymore today, Bishop. Thank you for your advice." With those words, Miller headed down the corridor.

Bishop turned and walked the other way, hoping to talk some sense into van Leuwen. Things were about to happen and the solutions would have to be drastic.

***

GATEWAY

Hicks had looked around, trying to trace any sense of fear or nervousness on Gateway Station, but there seemed to be nothing wrong. Nothing that he could detect. He ran into a couple of old friends here and there, but his careful questioning brought him nothing. After having trailed around Gateway for the better part of the morning, he considered briefly to drop by Wilks' office, but changed his mind again. He knew Wilks. She would either blabber away for several hours, giving him nothing, or she would become too curious and ask too many questions. Not a good idea. Thinking his options through, he figured that there was one thing he could do. Due to his former status as Corporal in the Colonial Marines, he had been granted a certain amount of access on Gateway. He still had the security card and although he didn't think it would be active any more, he just had to try it. One time he had been inside Bio's Weapons Division and had been given a tour by a hopeful young woman. She had shown him what she called the creature-tank, an area used to detain hostile organisms. If there was one place the aliens could be, providing they were in captivity, then it would be there.

Fiddling with the card for a moment, he looked toward the security-access elevator, which would let him out in the middle of Bio's if the card still worked. He glanced down at the silver card for a second, then decided to wait until the early hours of morning. The chances that he was detected at that time were a lot slimmer than they would be right now.

***

L.A.

After a full day's work, Ripley was exhausted. Hudson and Marlee had agreed on that they would accompany her home and eventually, Ripley had asked them to stay, since she had very little need to be alone. As a matter of fact, she dreaded the emptiness of the apartment. They had spent most of the evening talking over a very long dinner, but around ten, Ripley started to become absent-minded. She kept glancing toward the vid-phone, wishing Hicks would call.

Around eleven, she started to worry and Hudson finally asked her what was wrong. "Hey, Ellen. What's up, man? You look like you expect a ghost to turn up any minute,” he said, eying her thoughtfully.

Ripley returned his stare for a moment, then shook her head. "Ah, it's Dwayne. I can't get over how nervous he was this morning. I don't know. Maybe he's in trouble,” she replied.

Hudson started shaking his head, looking indulgent. "Ellen, relax. Dwayne has never been one to get into trouble. By the way, did he say he would call?" he asked.

Ripley shook her head, feeling a little silly. "No, he didn't," she muttered, looking down at her plate for a moment.

Hudson nodded self-content. "See? With him you never know. He might call and he might not. He's fine. Just take it easy,” he said.

Ripley wasn't so sure about that, but for the time being decided to let it rest. Her eyes were caught by a fly on the wall and for a moment, the feeling that everything she had once known hadn't vanished, gushed up in her, making her feel even more silly. Flies and rats. They would survive anything. Even the aliens. The fly made its way up the wall and, when it encountered the ceiling, decided to fly back down again and start its climb all over.

Marlee noted that Ripley was watching something and glanced at the fly that had climbed half the wall when she spotted it. Looking back at Ripley, she frowned a little. Ripley was so much older than herself and so much more serene. She rarely smiled, but Marlee could understand that perfectly well. She had lost a lot to those aliens, but Ripley had lost everything. Even her time. "Are you okay?" Marlee asked.

Ripley stirred and looked at her for a moment, then nodded. "Yes. Just thinking. That's all,” she replied, her tone of voice low and somewhat sad. "I lost Jones,” she added disjointedly.

Marlee frowned again, for a moment wondering who Jones was before asking. "Who was that? One of your crew?" she asked. Hudson looked interested too. One thing Ripley hardly ever mentioned was her past. Anything she said about that time was interesting. She was, after all, from a time where their parents had been young.

Ripley smiled weakly at Marlee's words. "Yeah, you could say that. Jones was the ship's cat. A big, red tom with a mind of his own. He survived with me. He was with me until we left for Acheron. When I came back, he was dead. Gone to the eternal hunting grounds or where ever cats go,” she said and sighed. "He was a nice cat. He understood everything,” she added with a sarcastic smile.

"Would you like another?" Marlee asked, hoping that this would turn out to be an opportunity where she could make Ripley a little happy.

For a moment Ripley looked at her, then she shook her head with a smile. "No, not really. It wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't be Jonesy. He was one in a million and my last link to my past. Now, I'm the only survivor of the first clash on Acheron." Suddenly, it just became too much for her. She rose from the table, almost knocking the chair over and fled from the living room to be alone for a while.

Hudson looked at Marlee with an expression that told her, that he hadn't really caught what was wrong. "What's biting her?" he asked, looking back toward the door for a moment. Marlee hit out at him, just cutting his right ear. "Hey, what'd you do that for?" he snapped, looking unhappy.

"Don't you have eyes in your head? She's upset because she's lost everything in her life. The only thing she has left to lose is her life. You must be really dumb if you can't see that,” Marlee snapped back at him, looking offended.

Hudson just looked at her for a moment, then shook his head. "Women,” he grumbled, got up and walked over to the sofa. He turned the wall-screen on to watch the news, while Marlee cleared the table.

After a while, Marlee came over and sat beside him and watched the news. Nudging him, she got his attention. "Look, I'm sorry I was snappy. But, try to be a little more sensitive when it comes to Ellen. She's seen hell in a way you can't even begin to imagine,” she told him.

For a while, he said nothing, keeping his eyes on the wall-screen, then he finally glanced at her. "Yeah, I know. I just ... well ... I didn't think she thought about that any more. When she's with Dwayne, she's so ... well ... in a good mood, you know. I didn't mean to hurt her or nothing."

Marlee nudged him again, smiling. "You didn't hurt her, dumb scull. She talked about it herself,” she replied. After a moment, he slipped his arm around her shoulders and kissed her cheek, before returning his attention to the news.

***