SOMEWHERE ON GATEWAY

Hicks spent most of the evening looking up old friends and pumping them for information without luck. Around eight, he decided to return to the room he had rented for 24 hours to get cleaned up a bit and maybe get some rest before he threw himself into a potentially dangerous situation.

After taking a shower, he pulled his jeans back on and sat down on the bed, running both hands through his damp hair. Sitting there, he considered his options at getting away with a stunt like this, then sighed. The chances were that he would get caught and end up in jail again. Was it worth it? He stared ahead of himself, wondering why he did this. This was crazy. Insane. He should be committed. He had no doubts that this would backfire. Everything else had, so why not this? But deep down, he knew why he was pushing forward with this. He had to know if there were aliens on Gateway. He had to know because it might save his life if he knew. His and Ellen's. And the others.

The thought of the aliens made him shiver inside. He had feared nothing earlier. He'd had a healthy dose of respect for all living creatures, knowing the potential a wild animal, indigenous to Earth or other, had. All that had not spent generations as pets for the human race was to be considered dangerous. He had lost friends because they didn't share that opinion. Because they thought that cuddly little things could not be dangerous. The term cuddly brought a cynical smile to his lips. These aliens were definitely not cuddly. They were nothing but death and destruction. And yet he had to admire them in some strange way. He admired their ability to survive. Once, he had thought that humans and rats and cockroaches were the true survivors of the universe. Now he knew better. If these things were to break loose on Gateway, on Earth even, the human race would rapidly become an endangered species. But the rats and the cockroaches would still be there. So it wasn't humans and rats and cockroaches. It was the aliens and rats and cockroaches that were the true survivors. Shaking his head, he pushed those thoughts aside. They did him no good.

He got up and stepped up in front of the man-sized mirror, looking at himself for a while. "You look like shit,” he told himself, then grinned a little. He dropped down on the bed again, stretched out and draped an arm over his face. Seconds later, a thought suddenly popped into his mind, making his sit up straight. Maybe he should call Ripley to let her know that he so far had found nothing. Just to put her mind at ease. He grabbed his jacket and hauled the phone card out of it, then stuck it into the slot of the vid-phone. For a moment, it just beeped and he was about to cut the connection, when the screen finally flared to life.

Ripley looked a little tired and slightly down-hearted, but she smiled when she saw him. "Hi, Dwayne. How's Gateway?" she asked. "Still there?"

He smiled back, briefly glancing at his watch. He hadn't realized that it was that late. "Yeah, still here,” he told her with a smile. "So far, nothing. I haven't heard anything, seen anything. There's nothing going on up here that shouldn't be going on."

Ripley sighed audibly, closing her eyes briefly. "Great. I'm glad to hear that. Are you coming back tonight?"

He looked at his watch again, briefly considering if there were any flights off Gateway at this hour, then shook his head. "Tomorrow. I'll be on the first flight out of here. Why don't we both take the day off tomorrow and see what happens?" he asked, smiling a little slyly.

Ripley blushed a little, shaking her head. "Yeah, why don't we. I wish you would come back tonight, though"

For a moment he just smiled, then he nodded. "Yeah, me too. But, the last flight left half an hour ago," he told her, then frowned a little. "It's actually strange, that they don't have shuttles going back and forth throughout the night. -- Oh well. Ellen, I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"

She nodded. "Okay. See you then."

Hicks switched the vid-phone off again, feeling good about having made Ripley's evening a little less tense. Time for that nap, he thought with a yawn, dropped back down on the bed and fell asleep almost instantly.

***

It was past one in the morning when Hicks once again approached the security-elevator which would take him into Bio's Weapons Division. He glanced around the deserted corridor, briefly watched the sec-cameras, then walked straight over to the elevator and stuck the card in the slot. The red light flashed, turned green and then the doors slid open.

"Here goes nothing," he told himself, actually a little disappointed that the card had actually worked, and stepped into the elevator car. He glanced around the cabin, then pushed the top button. The doors closed and the elevator car took him up a few levels. When it finally came to a halt again, the doors slid apart and let him out into another deserted corridor. He glanced around, but saw nothing of consequence. "Right. I hope you know what you're doing," he said quietly to himself and started down the corridor toward the area known as the creature-tank.

He found it a little disturbing that Bio's was this deserted at this time of night. Although they were down to a skeleton staff at night, he would have thought that security would be better here. Glancing regularly up at the cameras, he expected an alarm to set off any time, but nothing happened. He wove his way through corridors, quietly praising his excellent memory and at the same time cursing it. If he hadn't remembered the way, he would probably not have done this. But he did remember the way.

Soon enough, he found the creature tank without running into a single living soul. The door to the observation room was locked, but with a bit of fiddling, he managed to crack the code quite easily. "Not high on safety, are you?" he muttered, looked either way down the corridor again, then stepped inside. It was dark inside and there was a strange odor in the air. The door slid shut behind him, leaving him in complete darkness. He felt along the wall next to the door, trying to find a light switch, but there was none. "Damn," he muttered. "Okay, fine. There's no light. Probably no life in here, anyway. I'd better get the hell out before somebody realizes I'm not supposed to be here," he continued quietly. This was another habit he had picked up after running into those nightmares. He talked to himself on occasion.

"Too late," a voice said somewhere behind him.

He swirled around, staring into the darkness without seeing anything. "Who's there?" he asked. "I ... seem to have lost my way," he added, that being the only excuse he could come up with. He was aware that it wouldn't impress anybody. It was pretty lame.

"But of course you have," the voice replied almost kindly. "Have you come to see my little beauties?"

Hicks backed up against the door, fumbled for the door control, found it and pushed it. Nothing happened. He pushed it again with the same result. "Damn it," he hissed.

"Now, now!" the voice admonished. "Let me introduce you to two friends of mine," the voice continued. Somewhere a light came on. It was dim, but gave enough illumination in the chamber behind the pane of glass to show Hicks exactly what he was up against.

Feeling the blood drain from his face, he had to fight to not lose it right there and then. Behind the glass, two aliens stared back at him. One was standing right on the other side, looking in on him. The other was suspended to the walls and ceiling and was also watching him. "Oh shit," was all he could manage in a ghostlike voice. The only thing that went through his mind was: bad idea! He shouldn't have come. He should have broken that damned card in two and left.

The smaller alien suddenly attacked the glass, which vibrated rather violently in its frame. Hicks stared at it, still paralyzed with fear for a few moments longer, but when the alien hit the glass the second time, he was kicked into action. Frantically, he tried to open the door, but it wouldn't budge. It was a pressure door and would not be easy to break open. Besides, he didn't have anything to break it open with. Okay, so the door was out. His eyes darted over the interior of the room he was in and he felt beads of perspiration spring out on his brow when the alien attacked the glass a third time. He could hear the nightmarish screams of the alien behind the glass, the hiss of it, but he didn't look at it. He had to get out of this room. He knew now that he had been monitored from the second he had stuck that damned card in the slot of the elevator and that whoever had monitored him, had allowed him to get this far because they knew that he wouldn't get out again.

His gaze caught on a grating in the wall. Air-duct. Of course. If it hadn't been for Newt he would never even have thought about that. But here he would fit. It made him almost physically sick to think that the smaller of the aliens might fit too. But he would have to deal with that when the situation arose. He inspected the cover of the air-duct, searching for a way to pry the grating off it so he could get into it. The duct behind it was far too cramped for the big alien, but he wasn't so sure about the little one. Glancing over his shoulder, he noted it standing on the other side of the glass, observing him. Small it wasn't. It was about a head taller than him. "Shit," he whispered and returned his attention to the grating. If he could only figure out a way to get the grating off, he would be able to get away from this place. Providing that the man behind the voice had not anticipated a move like that.

There were four screws holding the grating in place and it looked pretty solid. To test its strength, he stuck his fingers through some of the holes and pulled at it with all his strength. It didn't give. Glancing over his shoulder, he made sure the alien was occupied with staring at him rather than attacking the glass. That would give him some time to find a solution. He looked around the room again, but there was nothing in it he could use. Then it suddenly hit him. The screws holding the grating had big slots and the button on his jeans was made of metal. It would be narrow enough to fit into the slot in the screws. He twisted it back and forth until it came off and then tried if his assumption was correct. It slid smoothly into the slot of the first screw and when he twisted it, the screw moved too. Closing his eyes for a moment, he forced himself to calm down. He had a way out of the room now and now was the time to hurry, but not to panic. He had to be calm enough to twist the screw around without dropping the button.

The alien had started attacking the glass again much more forcefully than before. He kept turning the button with the screw until the screw came lose. It clanged to the floor as he went to work on the second one. Nervously licking his lips, his fingers slick with sweat, he worked as fast as he could, twisting and turning the screw until that, too, came free and fell to the floor. Behind him the glass wall screeched as it started to break. He glanced back at it and saw the crack down the middle. "So much for safety, you shit," he snapped at the owner of that voice. He worked harder and got the third screw out, his fingers bleeding from scraping them over the grating every time he turned the screw. The cracking sound of the glass became louder while the alien kept attacking it, ferociously trying to break the barrier down between itself and the potential host.

Hicks fought the last screw and finally managed to get it out at the same instant that the glass finally shattered, spilling large chunks all over the floor. A piece of it hit his back, drawing blood, but he had no sense for the injury. Instead, he grabbed the grating and pulled at it. The alien screeched and attacked, but Hicks had the element of surprise. He kicked back, using his hold on the grating to support himself, and hit it in the chest, actually managing to knock it off its feet. It went flying and hit the opposite wall with an angry screech.

Hicks, having lost his footing, slipped and managed to pull the grating out of the hole with him as he crashed to the floor. He rolled around and brought the grating up between him and the attacking alien, warding off its teeth-studded inner jaws as it lashed out at him. Apparently the alien was surprised by this and it backed off a step, watching him. Hicks glanced at the tantalizing opening and edged toward it after getting back to his feet. The alien watched him, hissing softly at every move he made, but didn't attack for the time being. It was obviously trying to figure out what he was up to.

When he reached the opening, it got the point. With an angry screech, it lunged at him, grabbing for him. Four steel claws grabbed the front of his t-shirt, dug through the material and into his chest. It glanced off him when he pulled back, but not enough to avoid injury. He let out a yelp of pain as he hit the wall next to the hole, feeling blood oozing out of the four slashes the alien had given him. An instant reflex to protect himself was to bash the alien's head with the grating as hard as he could. That took it off guard and gave him time enough to slip into the opening and pull the grating into place after him. The alien screeched again and attacked the grating, only hammering it firmly into place the very second Hicks let go of it.

Panting hard, he started pulling himself backward through the tight fight of a duct. The sound of the alien attacking the grating, trying to get at him, followed him for a long while. They sure didn't give up easily. It was very upset about losing its prey. Hicks knew somebody else who would be as upset as the aliens back in that room and he knew he had to find a way off Gateway as fast as possible.

Turning around when the duct got wider, he moved on, panic giving him wings as he scrambled ever faster forward. The reaction of so close a call made him shiver uncontrollably and he had difficulty finding footage. He moved so fast that he didn't see the intersection of the duct before he was on it. The other duct ran through the one he was in, entering at the top and going out at the bottom, and it was a lot wider. Unable to stop in time, he tipped over the edge and fell for at least ten feet before hitting another duct. The crash knocked the air out of him and made the wounds on his chest thorp with renewed pain. Moaning, he turned over on his back and stayed down, lying still for a while until he had caught his breath again. Then, hoping he hadn't stirred any security-systems to life, he got up on his hands and knees and moved on through the new duct, wondering where it would take him.

***

BIO'S WEAPONS DIVISION

Miller stood motionless, staring at the monitor that showed the observation room next to one with the alien queen and her warrior. The camera was fixed on the grating in the wall of the observation room and Miller's expression was stony. Slowly, he turned to one of his men. "Get out there and find him. He must not be allowed to leave Gateway. God only knows how many people he will tell this to. Move it,” he said.

Bishop stepped forward, a first notion telling him to stall time. "Mr. Miller, catching Mr. Hicks again will not be a very wise idea. There are too many people who would be aware of this project if your men tracked him down and caught him out in the open. A lot of explaining to do. Remember the surveillance-system, the cameras all over Gateway. They are hooked into Mr. van Leuwen's private surveillance-room."

Miller stared at the android for a moment. "Forget about going after him,” he told his aid. The man nodded and stepped back. "What do you suggest we do about Mr. Hicks, then?" he asked Bishop.

Bishop frowned for a moment. "I would suggest that you do nothing. I know him. I have worked with him for many years and he is smarter than that. He'll go nowhere near any news-office or tell it to anybody. Nobody would believe him anyway."

For a long moment, Miller kept staring at Bishop, then he slowly nodded, winding down a little. "You're right ... I hope. We'll let him run for now. Good work, Bishop,” he said, nodding.

***

SOMEWHERE IN GATEWAY'S AIR-DUCT SYSTEM

Now and then, Hicks heard faint sounds of voices and knew that he was either passing over, under or along a corridor. But, tumbling out into a corridor in the middle of Gateway would be a stupid idea. He would fall out among people because of his injuries, which would be damned difficult to explain in any event. He had four deep gashes in his chest. He decided to try and find a relatively deserted place and then see how he could move on from there.

His chest ached badly by the time he eventually found an exit, which was not sealed by a grating. He slipped out into the loading-dock and looked around. Since he had no idea what time it was, he estimated that it had to be early morning by now. There was nobody around. The loading-dock was completely empty. Slowly edging along the wall, he kept his eyes open and his senses alert. Any sign of activity could mean trouble. He reached a door and pushed the opener beside it.

The door hissed open and he glanced out into an empty corridor. After making sure that nobody was around, he stepped into the corridor and waited for the door to close again. Then, as slowly and as quietly as he could, he moved on, avoiding the angle the cameras were set in.

So far, he was pretty sure none of the surveillance-equipment had picked up his location. He reached a corner and glanced around it. That part of the corridor was empty, too. Pausing, he tried to figure out where he was, but couldn't get a grasp on it. There was nothing anywhere indicating the level he was on. A wrong move made him jerk and hiss silently at the pain the movement caused him. He glanced down himself, noting that most of the front of his t-shirt was crimson with his blood and figured he would have to do something about it. He slid around the corner, listening for any sounds, but there were none. Moving along the wall, he silently cursed his curiosity, which had been fueled by his fears. And he hated finding out that his nightmares were true.

He stopped again and at that his eyes fell on a sign above a door a little further down the corridor. It said SUPPLY ROOM. He edged along the wall until he was directly in front of the door and glanced at the camera up under the ceiling. It moved, turning away from the door and he pushed away from the wall, pushed the door-opener and vanished into the room before the camera turned back toward the door. He switched the light on and looked around. There was work-clothing stacked on some of the shelves and heavy work-boots, too. He found an overall that would fit him and slipped it on. The dark-grey of the fabric would conceal any further bleeding from his wounds for now. "Just until I'm off Gateway," he muttered and closed the zipper. With a wry smile, he moved back toward the door. Somebody had left a peaked cap hanging on a hook beside it and he took it and slipped it on, silently apologizing to whoever owned it.

He opened the door and, pulling the cab down over his eyes, he moved down the corridor at a brisk walk and shortly after turned into a more or less crowded main-corridor. He walked fast, heading for the departure area. It was too bad that he couldn't go back for his things, but he actually had most of it on him, and he wanted off Gateway; and it had to be now. He reached the departure hall and after waiting for a while, watching an information-booth, he took a chance and approached it, addressing the young, confused-looking woman.

"Hi. I've got a flight booked for this morning, but I can't seem to find my ticket. Could you please check it out?" he asked.

She looked at him for a moment, then smiled a little uncertainly. "Sure. What's your name?,” she said, checking with the computer when he told her. "Here it is. Dwayne Hicks. You have a reservation for 9.30. Do you want to change that?" she asked and he nodded.

"Yeah, I would like to get on the next shuttle if possible,” he replied, fighting to keep calm. The longer she took, the greater the risk was that whoever had put him in that compromising position in Bio's would catch up with him. He doubted that they would risk exposing their valuable alien by having him dragged away in public, but with people like that you could never tell. The young woman nodded and had the computer print out a new ticket.

She handed it to him, smiling. "It's gate 12. It leaves in five minutes, so you have to hurry,” she told him.

He nodded his thanks and started to run toward gate 12. He reached it just a second before they were about to close the gate. Once inside the shuttle, he settled back in the seat and closed his eyes, trying to regain his breath. He was aware that he was losing blood, but that couldn't be helped at the moment. The front of his overall was damp, but he couldn't tell if it was the blood or just sweat and he wasn't about to check it out. He stayed where he was for the whole trip, his eyes closed, until the shuttle touched ground and then waited until everybody else had left before getting up.

Feeling a little dizzy, he grabbed a hold of the backs of the chairs he was passing on his way to the exit, trying hard to steady himself.

***

L.A.

Ripley got up early, hoping that Hicks kept his promise and took the first shuttle home. She made coffee and settled down to wait for him. Hudson and Marlee had been more than happy about a day off and they were both still asleep in the guest-room. Ripley downed her third cup of coffee when the door-buzzer hummed. Slightly surprised, she rose and went out to open the door. It was Hicks, as she had expected, but he looked strange. He was dressed like a worker and pale as a ghost.

"My God. What happened to you?" she asked, stepping aside to let him in.

He sank down on a chair in the hall. "Nothing, Ellen,” he said, looking up at her with an expression that supported that statement.

She nodded and squatted down in front of him. "What kind of nothing and why are you so pale?" she asked, taking his hands. Startled, she looked down at them. She noted the scrapes and the temperature. "You're cold as ice,” she added, looking up at him again.

"I've lost some blood, Ellen. I got hurt and I need your help to stop the bleeding,” he said after a moment.

She frowned at that. There was something telling her that he wasn't entirely truthful. Hicks in turn eyed her closely to see if she suspected anything. He had decided to not tell her. Not yet at least. "How did you get hurt?" she asked, getting up again.

With a sigh, he did the same, starting to open the zipper of the overall. The fabric under his fingers was moist with blood.

Ripley stared at him, deeply concerned. By now, she was aware that he was keeping something from her, but he obviously didn't want to tell her. For a moment she considered to let it rest for the time being. Taking a step back, her frown turned to a scowl. "Why didn't you go see a doctor, Dwayne? Are they on strike on Gateway? How dumb do you think I am?" Her tone of voice was angry and he didn't blame her.

He had never been a good liar. With a sigh, he sank back down on the chair again, crumbling up a little. "They've got aliens on Gateway. They tried to feed me to two of them. I got away, though,” he said, knowing how she would react to that piece of information. He hadn't looked at her while he said it, but he had expected some kind of reaction. The hall was deadly quiet, though. For a moment he waited, keeping his eyes on his folded hands on his lap. Then he raised his head and looked at Ripley, who stood rigid and pale in front of him. "This is not a joke, Ellen. There were two. One was very big with an odd head and the other I expect was like the ones we met on Acheron,” he added.

She started to shake her head, taking another step back. "I don't want to hear this,” she whispered, looking at him with an expression that left no doubt about her frame of mind. She was beside herself with fear and horror. "How could they do that? Are they insane? Has humanity gone done the tube while I was away?" Her tone of voice rose while she spoke and she reached up to press her palms against the sides of her head, making a face that expressed what she felt. "Doesn't anybody think any more?"

Hicks got up again, reaching out for her, but she pulled back another step and he let his hands drop away, looking slightly hurt by her rejection. "Ellen, I know how you feel. But, those guys, they see big bugs when they look at the aliens. Weapon's research, maybe new kinds of medication. Stuff like that. They don't think of the danger. They don't care. They think they've got everything under control," he said. "I need a cigarette,” he added and walked slowly into the living room.

Ripley followed him, closing the door behind her. "I don't give a damn about what they see when they look at those monsters, Dwayne. I want to do something about this. I'm not gonna stand by and let them waste Earth like they did Archeron,” she said, throwing her hands in the air.

Hicks had poured himself a glass of scotch and had a cigarette clenched between his teeth when he turned around to face her. "Ellen, you can do nothing. There is absolutely nothing any of us can do. Do you really believe that anybody would think this was real? If we went to the media with it, they would laugh at us at best and have us committed to an institution at worst. We won't get anywhere with this, because these people are like magicians when it comes to covering things up. We would have had a better chance with van Leuwen, but not with these guys," he replied, dropping down on the sofa.

Ripley stood in the middle of the living room, hugging herself. Somewhere in the distance, thunder rumbled and the first dark clouds were starting to show on the horizon. She glanced at the window, then sighed. "I thought it was over,” she muttered, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. Angrily, she wiped them away.

"Me too. I hoped it was, I prayed it was, but it's not. Maybe it won't make any difference, though," he said after a moment. He downed the glass of scotch and looked out at the darkening sky. "If they get out ... and I don't have much doubt about that they will ... we're all screwed anyway. They'll spread like the plague."

Ripley took a deep breath, trying to force her feelings back. It wasn't easy. She felt anger and fear mingle in her and she disliked the very feeling of both. "Am I gonna spend the rest of my life being chased around by those things? What the hell did I ever do to deserve this?" she asked quietly, shaking her head while more tears rolled down her face.

Hicks crushed out the cigarette and got up again. He walked up to her and put his hands on her shoulders. "It's not you, Ellen. It couldn't be. It's man's vanity, man's love for power and money. Those in charge are always the greedy ones. I hope they learn a lesson,” he said.

She sniffed, trembling slightly. "I don't care who's fault it is, Dwayne. I can't take much more of this. Every god-damned time I think it's over, they come back. I feel haunted by them,” she said and eased into his arms.

Hicks nodded, not knowing what to say. It could seem that way. Somehow, the thought made him smile. "Maybe we should find an exorcist,” he suggested.

Ripley pulled back. "Oh, shut up,” she said, turning away. "You know what I mean. Don't make fun of me,” she added.

He smiled, trying to steady himself. "Yeah, I know what you mean, Ellen. But, we need some comic relief here. This is getting too serious. We can't fight this thing, we can't fight them. So, let's pretend it never happened, but keep our eyes open anyway. I know a few people with influence. If anything should happen, they'll be the first to know. I'll ask them to call if they hear or see anything. That way, we're covered,” he suggested and she nodded.

"Okay,” she whispered and hugged him. That brought a sound of suffering from him and she leaned back, slightly surprised. "What is it?"

"My chest," he confessed, gingerly touching it.

Ripley stared at what she could see of his t-shirt. "Oh my God," she said. "Let's deal with this right now. And maybe you should see a doctor," she added, grabbed his arm and pulled him with her toward the bathroom.

"No, Ellen. No doctor. There would be too many questions that I can't answer. It's not too bad. It just looks ghastly with all this blood."

***