GATEWAY

Marlee had spent much of the night and the greater part of the morning trying to get some answers. She had virtually asked everybody in Bio's about Miller's little project. Around ten a.m. she bumped into another man. "Hi. Say, could you maybe help me?" she asked.

The guy looked sullen, but Marlee had never been one to be stopped by other people's state of mind. "What with?" he grumbled. He had been pushing a dinner wagon filled with bags and gadgets and, just before Marlee had approach him, some of the bags had fallen off. He was picking them up and Marlee gave him a hand, hoping he would become more kindly disposed toward her.

"I'm trying to get some information about some aliens,” she replied. It had never once occurred to her that what she was doing could be very dangerous.

The guy stopped moving and looked at her directly for the first time. "Aliens?" he asked back, being the first who reacted with cautious interest rather than surprise or amusement. "What would a squirt like you know about aliens?" he then asked, putting the last of the bags onto the wagon.

Marlee instantly felt that this man knew more. "Well, I so happen to know that there should be aliens on Gateway. Big ones,” she replied, treading on thin ice.

For a moment, the man kept looking at her, then he smiled. "I might know something about that. Join me for breakfast,” he said and, feeling excited that she had finally succeeded in finding somebody who knew something, she agreed.

An hour later, she was tied to a chair, being asked questions herself. "How much do you know about Miller's project?" he asked her, pulling his chair closer to her.

Marlee had finally realized that she was on dangerous ground and she scolded herself silently for not listening to Hicks. After all, he seemed to know what he was talking about. Deciding that attack was the best defense, she worked up a temper. "I don't know anything about nothing, asshole,” she snapped, writhing on the chair in an attempt to get lose. It didn't work, though.

The guy grabbed her chin and forced her to look at him. "Listen, sweety. Mr. Miller doesn't like it when people snoop around. Now, tell me what you know or, so help me God, I'll beat it out of you,” he said in the sweetest tone of voice.

The effect his words had was different than the one he had attempted to achieve. She went stark-raving-mad. "IF YOU TOUCH ME, I'LL KILL YOU, YOU SON OF A BITCH,” she screamed.

Almost instantly, the door opened and a man in a white coat came in. "What's going on in here?" he asked, pulling his glasses off. He looked at Marlee, then at the guy who was leaning over her and misinterpreted the situation. "Get away from her. SECURITY,” he yelled and shortly after, two armed men turned up in the door. The scientist nodded at the guy. "I think we have a case of abuse here. Arrest this man,” he said.

"Hey, wait a minute. She's a thief. She tried to steal something,” the guy replied, when the security-guards took a hold of his arms.

"Yeah, right. You're one of Miller's devoted fans, aren't you? -- Well, Mr. van Leuwen has issued orders for your arrest, buddy. Come along,” one of them said, as they guided him out of the door.

The scientist freed Marlee. "Are you all right, honey?" he asked and she nodded, rubbing her wrists.

"Yeah, I think so. Thanks for the help,” she said and before he could say or do anything else, she was out the door.

Running aimlessly down a corridor, she tried to make up her mind about what she should do. Returning in defeat was not something she wanted to do. After a while, she made up her mind about how she would get the information she was after. Finding an elevator, she took it up to the upper level of Gateway. Finding the office she was after was no problem since most signs she came across directed her to the office in question. She stopped in front of a door with a golden sign on it and it made her hesitate. For a moment, she considered turning around and taking the shuttle back. Marlee was a very headstrong young woman, the only reason for that she had survived on Acheron. She would not tolerate defeat. Setting up a determined face, she pushed the door-opener and the door slid into the wall, admitting her into a beautifully decorated front-office.

The secretary sitting behind a large, mahogany desk, looked up and her expression turned from friendly expectancy to confusion. "Can I help you?" she asked, frowning a little.

Marlee wondered why for a moment and then got a glimpse of herself in a glossy surface. She wasn't exactly clean. "Oh, sorry about my appearance. I need to see Mr. van Leuwen right now. It's very urgent,” she replied, approaching the desk.

The secretary looked at her with an expression that was easy to read. She wasn't thrilled about having a dirty, young woman in her front-office. "I'm sorry. You'll have to make an appointment if you want to see Mr. van Leuwen. What do you want from him?" she asked after a moment.

Marlee put both hands on the edge of the desk and leaned toward the secretary, who in turn withdrew by leaning back on her chair. "Look, sister. I want to see him right now. It's about the aliens,” she said, smiling savagely.

The secretary's eyes widened at that. But, before she could find a suitable reply, the door to van Leuwen's office opened and the managing director came out. "Mrs. Porter, I would like you to ...,” he began, but stopped at the sight of Marlee. "Who are you?" he then wanted to know.

Marlee straightened, pulling her jacket straight. "I'm Marlee Martinson. Remember me?" she asked, spreading out her arms.

Van Leuwen frowned, looking her over. "Marlee Martinson?" he asked, disapproving of what he saw.

"Yeah, I'm one of the colonists from Acheron,” she replied and van Leuwen's expression lightened up.

"I see. Right. What can I do for you, Marlee?" he asked. His secretary looked slightly baffled, but remained silent.

"Well, it's about those aliens, sir. I heard that there were aliens on Gateway and I wanted to know if it was true,” she replied.

Van Leuwen frowned again. "Aliens on Gateway? Who told you that?" he wanted to know, realizing that Bishop might have involved too many people. At the present time, van Leuwen wasn't aware of that Marlee had any deeper connection to Ripley, Hicks and Hudson.

"Dwayne told us,” she replied instantly.

"Us? Who us? And who is Dwayne?" van Leuwen asked, stepping out of her way so that she could walk into his office. He nodded once at his secretary and closed the door behind him.

"Well, Ellen and Will and me, of course,” Marlee said, dropping down on a high-backed chair. Van Leuwen frowned and Marlee realized that he probably didn't know their first names. "I mean, Hicks told Ripley and Hudson and me,” she corrected herself and he nodded.

"So, Hicks told you about the aliens, did he? Do you know what any of the others think about this?" he wanted to know.

For a moment, Marlee looked thoughtful, then she shrugged. "Well, I don't really know, but I guess they would want to help. I want to if there's anything I can do,” she suggested and van Leuwen nodded, seeing her as nothing more than a kid.

"Of course you would. Do they know you're here?" he asked on, but she shook her head.

"No, I kinda took off without telling them,” she replied, looking a little guilt-stricken.

"Don't you think you should contact them and tell them were you are?" van Leuwen asked, smiling a little.

Marlee didn't like the way he smiled. It looked so forced. "Well, I would have, but I don't have any more money. Just my ticket,” she said, stuffing a hand into her pocket. Her expression changed to surprise and then to anger. "Oh, damn. He took my ticket,” she grumbled.

"Who took your ticket?" van Leuwen asked.

"This guy from Bio's. I was trying to find out if there was any truth in this alien-business and I bumped into this guy, who said he knew more and invited me to breakfast. He tied me to a chair and started asking questions. If it hadn't been for this guy in the white coat, I would probably be dead or something,” she replied, shaking her head.

Van Leuwen couldn't really follow her story, but it didn't seem to be essential anyway. Before he could say anything else, the door opened and Mrs. Porter stuck her head in. "Sir, Bishop is waiting outside,” she said in a subdued tone of voice.

Van Leuwen nodded. "Let him in, Mrs. Porter,” he replied and she withdrew again.

Shortly after, Bishop came in. Van Leuwen introduced them and at that, Bishop smiled a little. "So, this is where you are hiding,” he said to her.

Marlee looked slightly startled. "Who are you?" she wanted to know.

Bishop kept on smiling. "My name is Bishop. I'm a friend of Corporal Hicks and Ripley,” he told her. For a moment, Marlee continued to stare at him, then she glanced at van Leuwen, who nodded. Bishop glanced at van Leuwen, too, then looked back at Marlee. "You had us all worried,” he added.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to. Can we go back?" she asked. "It seems Hicks was right about those aliens,” she added, instantly looking guilt-stricken again. This time for not believing Hicks. Bishop nodded to van Leuwen and guided Marlee out of the room.

The secretary watched them go, her expression slightly disgusted. "Mrs. Porter,” van Leuwen said, suddenly standing beside her.

She looked up at him. "Yes, Mr. van Leuwen,” she replied.

"Get me Mr. Dwayne Hicks on the phone. Right now,” he said and returned to his office.

***

L.A.

Hicks frowned when the vid-phone began to beep. He dropped down in front of it and switched it on.

The face of a pretty woman appeared on it. "Dwayne Hicks?" she asked and he nodded. "Mr. van Leuwen would like to talk to you,” she added and switched over.

Hicks looked at the managing director of the Company for a moment. "What do you want, van Leuwen?" he asked.

"I would like to see all three of you for an informal conversation tomorrow afternoon, if that is all right with you. It's about -- you know what. If you could do me the kindness of showing up, I would be much obliged,” he said, smiling.

Hicks hoped that his feelings for the man didn't shine through. "Why?" he asked. "What do you want with us?"

"I would like to believe that you three are the only ones who can deal with this little problem in -- shall we say the right manner. If I can count on your co-operation, anything you ask for, you get, if you know what I mean,” van Leuwen replied. "Three p.m. would be fine. I hope to see you then,” he added and cut the connection.

Hicks frowned at the dark screen for a moment before switching off, too. "The right manner,” he muttered, getting up to return to the sofa. "What the hell is that supposed to mean, the right manner?" he asked, dropping down beside Ripley.

"Maybe he's finally seen the potential danger in those things and wants us to wipe them out,” she said.

Hicks made a face. "Maybe. Maybe he has other plans. Who cares,” he muttered.

***

An hour later, Bishop returned with Marlee. After Bishop had told them what had happened, Hudson first hugged her and then started yelling at her until Ripley interrupted him. "Will, shut up for a moment,” she told him. He looked at her, then at Marlee, too baffled to say anything. Turning to Marlee, Ripley put her hands on her hips. "Why the hell did you run off like that? If it hadn't been for that scientist, you could very well be on your way to that moon right now,” she said. Marlee's reaction to Ripley's rebuke was to lower her head and look conscience-stricken. Ripley raised her head by putting two fingers under her chin and looked into her eyes. "Damn it, Marlee. I don't want to see you get hurt. From now on, you don't try to do anything on your own, do you understand?" she said and Marlee nodded, tears rising in her eyes. Obviously, the rebuke had worked on Hudson too, because he wrapped his arms around Marlee and tried to console her instead of scold her. Hicks looked at Marlee for a moment, but didn't say anything. Whatever he thought of the whole thing, he kept it to himself.

***

A SMALL MOON
- THE BORODINO SECTOR

Miller stood on the bridge of the station in orbit around the small moon, looking down at what he could see of the desolated landscape below. He was very satisfied with the results of his trip. Even though the alien queen had managed to grab three of his men, all in all the mission so far had turned out perfectly. The queen and her warrior had been transferred to the moon below and had instantly started to build a new hive inside a cave. All the cameras on the moon-surface were in place and working and everything was running on schedule.

"Sir?" One of his men had turned up beside him, holding a clip-board in one hand. He didn't look too happy, but Miller was certain he would come around. Once the man realized how much potential these aliens had, he would look a lot happier.

"Yes? What is it?" Miller asked, turning toward him. The large command area stretching out behind them was stuffed with equipment and took up most of the upper level of the station. Miller had ordered it built that way, since he was going to spend most of his time up there. The machinery hummed and clicked, working mostly on its own. Miller wanted to be able to run the whole station on his own if he had to. That was the reason for that the station literally was able to run itself.

"Sir, we have just received the first info on a prison-transport that has left Earth a week ago. We will be ready to intercept them in forty-eight hours sharp. Any orders?" the man asked, handing over the clipboard.

Miller looked down at it, smiling. "No, Jones. Nothing so far. Just intercept them as we agreed on and bring them back here. The first bunch will be set down on the surface at once. We can always gather more staff from the second transport." With those words, Miller turned back toward the viewport.

"Yes, sir,” Jones replied and left the bridge again.

Miller waited until he heard the door close, then he chuckled. "Soon, my dear. Soon you will be able to increase your numbers,” he said.

***

GATEWAY

Hicks stood in front of the desk in van Leuwen's front-office, once again asking himself what he was doing back on Gateway. He had sworn to himself that he would never set foot on this blasted contraption again.

"Dwayne Hicks. I'm here to see van Leuwen,” he said to the secretary, who nodded.

"Go right in, sir. Mr. van Leuwen is expecting you,” she said, glancing past him. Hicks briefly looked over his shoulder and saw nothing. "Aren't there supposed to be others?" the secretary asked, when he sent her an inquiring look.

He shook his head and approached the door to van Leuwen's office.

The managing director rose from behind his desk when he opened the door, smiling. "Ah -- Mr. Hicks. So glad you could come,” he said, reaching a hand toward Hicks. Hicks glanced at it and dropped down on one of the chairs. Van Leuwen looked at the door for a moment, then sank back down on his chair. "I take it the others were busy?" he then asked, folding his hands and placing them on the desk in front of him.

Hicks glared at him for a moment. "I wouldn't let them come. Both of them have a tendency to get carried away. -- Now, what do you want?"

Van Leuwen looked slightly taken aback by Hicks' curt tone of voice and his smile stiffened a little. He wasn't used to people talking to him like that. After a second, he loosened up again. "Well, it seems we have quite a problem on our hands and ...,” he began, but Hicks interrupted him.

"A problem you have called upon yourself, I would say. What's that got to do with us?" he wanted to know.

Van Leuwen realized that he would have to adjust to Hicks if he wanted the man's help. At the present time, it seemed most unlikely, that he would agree to anything. "True enough. I should have listened to Mrs. Ripley and Bishop, but, I reckon you can understand that I still find the whole concept of these aliens a little too -- how shall I say? -- strange." He paused, meeting Hicks' eyes, but the other man made no move to either agree or disagree. After a moment, van Leuwen cleared his throat. "Well, the thing is, that Mr. Miller has gone and done something rather rash. He -- wants to raise more of these things and God only knows what he will do, once he has raised enough of them. He must be stopped and -- to be quite frank -- you're our only hope." Hicks still made no move to respond. Obviously, he was waiting for van Leuwen to say what he really wanted. "I would like to hire your services, your knowledge about these aliens to wipe them out once and for all. It has taken me too long to realize how right Mrs. Ripley was about them and I can't begin to say how sorry I am for what she has been through. I had hoped to be able to say that to her, but, since you decided that she shouldn't be here, I can only ask you to deliver my apologies."

For a moment longer Hicks kept his peace, then he slowly got up. "If you think that we are stupid enough to jump back onto this ride, you've got another thing coming. You got yourself into this mess. Now, get yourself out again. You can count us out." With those words, Hicks left the office again, angry at what a waste of his time this had been. He knew that what van Leuwen had said was true, but he would rather drop dead on the spot than have to go out there again.

Van Leuwen leaned back on his chair, frowning. Somehow, Hicks' refusal was not nearly enough to discourage him. He knew he would have to try and get to Ripley. She was obviously a lot easier to talk to. Knowing that it would take Hicks a little more than an hour to get home, he told his secretary to call up Ripley.

***

L.A.

Hicks was partially angry and partially afraid, when he arrived back at the apartment. He had a bad feeling in his guts, a feeling that made him want to pack his bags and get the hell out while there was still time. It was something Bishop had said that had started that feeling in him. Something about them all being in trouble because of Miller's little project. He dropped his coat on one of the chairs in the hall and opened the door to the living-room. Ripley was standing with her back to the door, staring out of the window.

"Hi, I'm back,” Hicks said, closing the door behind him. He glanced around the living-room for a moment, wondering where the others were. Ripley turned around to face him and something in her expression made him want to run away. He instantly knew that she had been talking to van Leuwen.

"Van Leuwen called,” she said, supporting his fears.

He started to shake his head. "Don't listen to a word that guy says. He's dangerous. As dangerous as Miller, Ellen. We can't trust him,” he instantly said.

Ripley, her arms folded over her chest, just looked at him. "A lot of people are going to die if we don't do something. We've been handed this on a silver platter. It would be selfish not to do it, Dwayne." Her tone of voice was harsh and he knew he would lose her if he continued to deny. But, the thought of facing those things again overruled everything else.

"I don't care, Ellen. I've done my share. So have you. There is nothing we can do and if we should get away from this alive, I think van Leuwen has that covered, too. Don't you think he'll make sure that nobody, who has had anything to do with this little cleaning-operation, get's away to tell about it? Are you really willing to go out there again? To see the same thing happen all over again?" He walked up to her, grabbing her shoulders. "Use your head, woman. Think about it. I know you've lost a hell of a lot more than I have over this, but sacrificing yourself is not going to make up for it. Getting van Leuwen nailed would be a small consolation. Granted, it could never cover up the living hell you've been through. But, haven't you had enough yet?" He let go of her, almost pushing her a step backwards, and turned his back to her. For a moment, there was complete silence between them, then Ripley put a hand on his shoulder.

"I have had enough, Dwayne. More than enough. This is my one chance to get away with this with my honor intact. This time we can nail them and nail them good and may God have mercy on van Leuwen's soul if he tries anything." The hatred in her voice was almost too much for him. He swirled around, staring at her.

"You can't be serious. I thought you of all people would keep a cool head in this one. Don't you see? This is a convenient way for van Leuwen to get rid of us. All of us. For good. Open your eyes, damn it. Look around and see what he's doing. This is a god-damned deathtrap. If we agree to this, we're as good as dead,” he almost yelled, unable to keep calm.

Ripley met his eyes, her expression stern. "I've already agreed,” she then said. "On my behalf. I told him that you'd probably pull out, but I will go out there again. I will have my revenge over those -- bastards."

Taking a step back, Hicks could do nothing more than stare at her. Without another word, Ripley pushed past him and left the living room. Hicks stood rooted to the floor, staring ahead of himself for a long moment. It took him some time to get over Ripley's decision. But, as soon as he had started to comprehend the meaning of it, he turned around and went into the bedroom, where he knew she would be. She was sitting on the bed, her back to the door, arms folded over her chest.

"You are nuts, Ellen. Completely nuts,” he said. He would do anything he could to prevent her from leaving, even if it meant going to extremes.

She sat motionless for a while, then turned around to look at him. "Well, we've all got our flaws, haven't we,” she replied calmly. "I've made up my mind about this, Dwayne. Don't try to change it."

He met her eyes, feeling exasperated. He wanted so much to explain to her, how dangerous it would be and how unlikely it would be, that she would get away with it. He knew the system. He knew, what men like van Leuwen and Miller alike were able to do.

Still feeling that he had to try and stop her, he shook his head sadly. "I'd rather you'd never forgive me and be alive than have my blessing and be dead. I'm very sorry that I can't support you in this, Ellen. I -- happen to love you. I don't wanna see you die,” he replied, dropping down beside her.

She looked at him for a moment, then sighed. "Don't say that, Dwayne. Everybody I've ever loved is gone because of them,” she said after a moment.

Once again angry, he turned to face her. "Why not? Why shouldn't I say what I feel? I do love you. Damn it, I guess I've loved you from the first moment I saw you. There's something about you that makes you different from other women. Something ...,” he started to rattle off, but stopped when Ripley put a hand over his mouth.

"Don't. Don't start something you can't finish. I'm going. Period. I'm leaving tomorrow."

Looking into her eyes, he could see how serious she was and he had never actually doubted that she was. But, he had hoped, that he would be able to change her mind. Looking at her at that moment, he knew he never could. Nothing meant more to her than seeing this through. Not even him.

***

GATEWAY

Ripley stood quietly just inside the door to the training-area, watching a group of marines undergoing combat-training. She had agreed to meet van Leuwen there, since he wanted her to pick out the team she needed to get the job done. Even though she didn't trust him further than she could throw him, she was certain that he was serious about getting rid of the aliens. The feeling had actually surprised her since she had believed that she would never again put trust in any kind of governing body. Watching the men and women, she stood leaning against the wall just inside the door. It took the marines no time to spot her and one of the women approached her.

"Hi, are you new here?" she asked, reaching a hand toward Ripley.

Ripley shook it, nodding. "Sort of,” she replied. "I'm Ellen Ripley,” she introduced herself.

The woman grinned. "The alien-hunter. I've heard of you. Which team will you be picking out?" she replied, glancing back at the rest of her team. Most of them were men, none of them below 1.80 m.

Ripley stared at them for a moment, feeling surprised that they obviously knew who she was, then looked back at the woman standing in front of her. "I don't know yet. Can you recommend any?" she asked, smiling at the joke.

The marine smiled, too. "How about us? We're pretty tough. I'm Valenz, by the way. Rita Valenz. If you call me Rita, I'll kill you"

Ripley nodded, still watching the rest of the group. Two of the men seemed to be having a discussion. One of them was lean and mean-looking and reminded her a little of Hicks. "I'll have to give that some thought, Valenz,” she eventually replied, looking back at the dark-haired bundle of muscles.

Valenz grinned, nodding. "Sure thing, chief,” she replied and jogged back to her team. She interfered in the discussion and broke it up instantly.

Ripley decided that if she didn't find any better teams, she would choose this one.

Shortly after, van Leuwen turned up. "Ah, Mrs. Ripley. There you are. I got the wrong area-code. Let's talk,” he said. He didn't offer her his hand and she wouldn't have touched it anyway. "You need a team that's efficient and will obey orders, I reckon. I think this one would be good,” he added, waving a hand toward the team.

Ripley looked at them briefly. "I want to see some of the others, too,” she replied, looking back at van Leuwen.

He returned her look, his expression calm. "Certainly, but this team is the best,” he tried to assure her.

Ripley looked back at the team for a moment, desperately wishing Hicks was around. He would have been able to estimate whether or not they were worth anything. She didn't really know what to look for in a team. He had the experience she was lacking. "I still want to see some of the others,” she said and van Leuwen nodded, leading the way out of the training-area.

***