GATEWAY

Van Leuwen stood on the observation platform in Operations, staring at the monitors showing different views of Earth. He was generally too perplexed to react properly to what was going on and all ideas he'd ever had of using those bugs for other purposes were gone now. Especially after he had seen what they did to a populated world.

"Nice view, huh?" a voice said from behind him and he turned to face the speaker.

"Lieutenant Hicks. You made it back," he replied. Glancing at the monitors he sighed audibly. "Apparently you didn't manage to do the job right, did you."

Inwardly Hicks flinched, not completely free of the guilt. But outwardly he was as steady as a rock. "Well, Miller was a bit more cunning that I expected. A bit more insane than anybody thought."

To Hicks' immediate surprise, van Leuwen nodded sadly. "Yeah. You might say that," he muttered toward the monitors then returned his attention to Hicks. "Threatening to blow up Gateway was not a good move, lieutenant. I could have you arrested for threatening civilian lives."

At that Hicks smiled. "Yeah, you could. But you won't. In my humble opinion things have changed quite a lot here. I would say that the military is in charge and according to what I know, you've already lost six marine teams in an attempt to eradicate the aliens. I have a plan, though. If you care to hear it." What he had in mind was something that he was sure van Leuwen wouldn't like, but as things were, Hicks still had the Vindicator and that gave him a good hand.

Van Leuwen stared at him for a moment, then nodded. "Of course. Any plan is better than none, which is exactly what I have right now. But I expect that your plan also involves certain conditions, doesn't it?" he said.

Hicks raised an eyebrow, again surprised that van Leuwen seemed to have a great deal more insight than he had originally thought. "Yeah. You're right about that. I want Gateway put under military jurisdiction and I want to be in charge until somebody with a higher rank than mine relieves me. If you say no, you're on your own. I will take the Vindicator off to the Moon and there we will stay until we receive further orders. I've already been in touch with Lunar Station. They agree with that procedure," he replied.

Van Leuwen smiled to himself, nodding. "I figured it would be something like that. I have toyed with the idea of leaving Gateway behind and finding a nice, cozy office job in one of the colonies. However, I feel responsible for this station. But this is not my beat. I don't like being here." He took the few steps down to the main floor of Operations and looked around. "There's been too much trouble and there's so little we can do about it," he added, then turned around and looked up at Hicks who was still standing on the platform. "By all means, take her. Gateway is yours. Do whatever you want with her. Just leave me out of it. I'm resigning my commission and I'll be out of here as soon as I can get a ride to the Moon." Tipping his fingers to his brow, he bowed slightly. "Good luck with it, lieutenant. If you can save Earth, you're a miracle worker indeed." With those words, he left and Hicks had to admit that he had some kind of renewed respect for the man. It took something to withdraw like that. And he even did it with grace.

Turning back to the monitors, Hicks tried to figure out what he felt about this. As per now, he was in charge of Gateway and anything that happened on Gateway was his responsibility. There were a lot of things to be done and the faster he got his plan started, the better.

***

GATEWAY
- A WEEK LATER

A week later, all remaining civilians had been removed from Gateway. Everybody had been shipped off to Lunar Station and from there, they would go on to new homes in the colonies. Hicks had sent out messages to all the major colonies for assistance, requesting the elite of their teams. It would take time before they managed to arrive on Gateway, but Hicks was set on working with what he had.

Standing at the end of the long table in the main meeting room on the top floor of Gateway, Hicks had gathered his team and a few extras that had been stationed on Gateway already. Behind him a view screen showed Earth. "Okay, what we have to do is find out how to fight those critters off without getting hurt ourselves. I've set a few scientists to work on developing an acid-resistant suit, but that will take time. We also have to find landing spots in all the major cities to begin with. The landing spots will be surrounded by motion trackers so we'll be warned if we get company. One of the scientists is working on a tracker that will be able to tell the difference between people and aliens. It will not react to anything other than an alien."

Valenz raised a hand. "Sir, what exactly are we going to do now?" she wanted to know, speaking for the team.

Hicks nodded. "Right. What we are going to do now is get as many people off Earth as we can. When the other teams arrive, it will all go a little faster, but until then, it's just you. You will be equipped with a screening-device or whatever you choose to call it. A sort of portable bio-scanner. It will be able to tell you if a person is infected or not. We're going to hit the smaller cities and islands first in the hope to get as many out as possible before the aliens take over. Lunar Station as already promised us support in every aspect. They'll send as many shuttles as we can fill the first month and then cut it down to two or three a day until we have basically cleared the planet. There's no guarantee that we can, though." He hesitated for a moment. "This is going to a hit and run operation until we get some proper equipment. I've asked for that from the garrison's surrounding Earth. Whether we get it or not is something that remains to be seen, but I don't really consider that a problem."

Starling cleared her throat, attracting attention. "How do we protect ourselves against the aliens and what happens when Lunar Station is full?" she wanted to know.

"Lunar Station is no problem. They are going to ship these people out to the colonies. When it comes to protection against the aliens, you come first until the other teams arrive. Don't take any chances. We can't afford to lose any of you. So, be careful. This plan of action is going to be effective from next Monday, which means three days from now. I want you all to prepare yourselves for this and take into consideration what it means if those things take you alive. If you get caught, pull the plug. For your own sake."

The team nodded as one, then Valenz again raised her hand. "What about the people who are infected? What do we do about them?" she wanted to know.

Hicks had known that this question would come up at one point or another and he had considered many different ways of dealing with it, but in the end there was only one way. "As we are not equipped to deal with a possibly large amount of infected people ..." he began but trailed off. He didn't like what he had to say. " ... you will have to put them out of their misery. There is no other way at this point. I wish there was, but you also know that it's better to be shot than to die due to one of those aliens. But I think you should make it an option for them. They will die anyway. But if they don't want to be shot, don't do it. It will only cause a panic."

Valenz let her hand drop down, staring at him. So was the rest of the team. "Kill them?" she then asked.

Hicks nodded. "Yeah. If they agree. There is no possible way that we can save all of them and I don't think that you can remove the embryo without killing them. At a later point we'll have to figure out how to change this. But so far I just don't know if we can."

The room was silent for a moment, but Hicks could tell from their expressions that they agreed with his idea. It wouldn’t be nice, but it would be more humane. “Any questions?” he asked, looking around. When nobody responded, he nodded. “Alright, let’s move like we got a purpose. Operation Clean-up has begun.”

***

FOUR YEARS LATER

The sun was high in the sky and there was not a cloud in sight. It was the middle of June and a hot breeze was blowing through the streets of L.A. Despite the wonderful weather nothing moved anywhere. L.A. was basically a ghost town. Debris of various kinds littered the streets and here and there the skeletons of burnt-out cars gave evidence that something violent had happened. Some of the buildings had holes in them, obviously caused by grenades, and most windows on most floors were gone. Gaping holes with dirty, torn curtains fluttering in the wind told their own story.

The utter silence was suddenly interrupted by the sound of engines and out of the sky came a shuttle, descending toward Rosemead Boulevard. It settled down, blowing up a lot of dust until the engines died down. Seconds later, the hatch opened and Hicks strode down it and jumped the remaining inches to the ground.

Bringing his pulse riffle into position, he also raised his motion tracker and scanned the area. Nothing moved within the range of the tracker. "Not a god-damned thing," he muttered to himself, briefly remembering his initial surprise on Acheron when they had found an empty colony. He brought out a remote and closed and sealed the hatch of the shuttle, then looked around again.

Slowly he started walking down the boulevard, glancing around him while keeping the motion tracker on line. To see his home town like this made him feel sick inside. Especially because he knew what had caused it. One important thing, which had been found out about the aliens, was that they didn't seem to like the sun very much. On Acheron they had attacked during the day, too, but that had merely been because the day was not much brighter than the night. Here it was different. The aliens mainly attacked at night and sometimes when the sky was overcast and the light was poor. But they had so far never been spotted on a sunny day. So, on a sunny day like this, walking around the streets of L.A. was not as dangerous as at any other time.

Hicks slowed down as he spotted something lying among a pile of stones and garbage. He squatted down and picked up the half-molten doll's head, turning it around to get a better look at it. Again he was reminded of what had happened four years ago. He and Ripley were safely tugged away on Gateway Station and so was the rest of the team. But there were still people on Earth. What had once been a thriving society had been cast into barbarism because of the aliens. It had taken them half a year to infest the entire planet. They had even been spotted on the South Pole. Nothing but the sun seemed to keep them at bay and millions upon millions of people had died in order for them to increase their numbers. Some of the people still left on Earth had formed gangs and these gangs were considered almost as dangerous as the aliens. They, however, did also attack during the day. The goal of these gangs was to get to a shuttle and get off Earth. But ever since the screening-crews had ceased their work on the planet, nobody was allowed to leave anymore. The last remaining screening-crew went down to the surface at regular intervals to pick up survivors and to put those who were infected out of their misery. Human lives had lost their value and those living out of harm's way were anxious to keep the remaining survivors off Gateway and the nearer colonies because of the potential infection-hazard. Nobody wanted to help anybody anymore.

With a sigh, Hicks dropped the doll's head and walked on, carefully studying his surroundings. Nobody would be able to get close to him as long as he had the motion tracker and that made him feel reasonably safe. Besides, the gangs didn't attack armed marines even when they were alone. There was no sense in getting yourself wasted and they would if they tried to attack him.

He stopped short when the motion tracker suddenly gave off a ping. He raised it up to take a look at it and saw one dot blinking steadily on the tiny monitor. Estimating the direction, he turned to look down the boulevard. A bit further down a boy of about eight years had reared his head from a pile of scrap. Realizing that he had been spotted, the boy jumped up and ran off toward a building.

"Hey," Hicks yelled and started running after the boy. "Wait a minute. I don't want to hurt you." However much he tried to stop the boy, he couldn't. The kid vanished into one of the buildings and not giving it much thought, Hicks pounded in after him. It was only after he had entered the relative darkness of the building that he realized how dangerous it was. He stopped short to wait for his eyes to adjust to the darkness and as they did, he saw the shapes huddled in all corners. People hiding from the sun. And all of them looked scared. Raising his hands in a deprecating gesture, he wanted them to be assured of that he didn't mean them any harm. But he had no idea what to say to them. "Hi," he tried.

"Hi yourself," a voice answered from the rear of the entrance hall. "Have you lost your way?"

Hicks squinted, trying to make out who the talker was, but he couldn't. "Not exactly. I followed a boy in here," he replied.

Somewhere at the rear of the hall, a man rose from a bunch of blankets. Despite the outside heat, it was fairly cool inside. "There are many boys here. What do you want from him?" the man asked, coming closer. He was just as tall as Hicks, clad in cloths too big for him that looked fairly new. Hicks briefly wondered which poor geezer had given up his cloths to him. He didn't really believe that there were cloths left in any of the stores.

"Nothing really. I just wanted to talk to him," Hicks replied, glancing around at the others. Women with babies were huddled in corners. Old men and young boys. Turning back to the talker, he tried a smile. "I'll alert the screening-crew to set down here next time. They'll take you all off Earth," he added.

"Will they now?" the man asked in a sarcastic tone of voice. "Don't you mean they'll eradicate us? Nobody has been taken out of L.A. for at least a year. Sure, they come here. But they just come to kill us. To put us out of our misery."

Hicks was slightly stunned by that, but he still thought that this guy was exaggerating. "Come on. The screening-crews are here to help people. If you're clear, they'll take you with them," he defended the project. After all, it had been his idea to start the screening-crews and the realization that this man might be telling the truth made him feel cold all over.

The man folded his arms over his chest, eyeing Hicks with cold contempt. "You're really naive if you believe that. Only last month those fuckers killed my sister. She wasn't infected. She'd eaten some bad meat and was having stomach cramps. Instead of checking her out they blew her head off. Right in front of me. So don't tell me that they're the good guys." With that he turned to leave but Hicks stopped him by putting a hand on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry. I'll do something about that," he promised.

The man turned back to face him, staring at him in surprise. "What are you going to do about that, huh? Why should you care?" he wanted to know.

"Because I do. I started the screening-crews. I should be responsible for the way they behave. I'll deal with it. I'll come back here with them and get you off the planet," Hicks promised. And he was right. It was his responsibility how the crew behaved. If they killed people because they had stomach cramps, they were not doing their jobs right.

The man screwed up his eyes, staring at Hicks with dawning realization. "You're Lieutenant Hicks, aren't you?" he asked and Hicks nodded. "We've heard of you. -- What are you doing down here? Aren't you supposed to be the high and mighty up there?" he wanted to know, nodding toward the ceiling.

"I don't really know what I'm supposed to be. I came down here to take a look at things for myself. You can't always trust reports," Hicks countered. He was fully aware of the man's accusations and he would do something about it.

The man stared at him for a moment longer and then nodded. "Okay. Let me show you around. We've got plenty of space and plenty of people here. None are infected," he then replied, turned around and started to walk away.

Hicks followed him, wondering why he wanted to show him around. "What's your name?" he asked as he caught up with the man.

"Derek. That's all you need to know for now," the man said and started descending a stair well. "We all live underground most of the time. Somehow those things don't seem to be able to trace us as easily when we've got dirt between them and us," he explained. "They haven't found this place yet. If they had, we wouldn't be here anymore. We move around all the time. Eventually, I guess we'll have to find a permanent place. But so far it's been impossible."

They reached the bottom of the stairs and Derek guided Hicks through a maze of corridors, most of them crudely added to the corridors of the building's basement. How they had done it was a puzzle to Hicks. "How'd you make these corridors?" he asked, stepping over a pile of old cans lying on the ground.

"They were here when we arrived. Some of the others must have dug them out or something. It isn't important," Derek replied as they walked into what appeared to have been the electric meter room. It was fairly big and the meters were covering three of the four walls. One for each apartment. There was only one way out of the room and that was the corridor they had just come in from.

After entering the building Hicks had switched the motion tracker off and was therefore not aware that they had been followed until he realized that two other men had entered the chamber after him. He glanced at them and suddenly realized his mistake. Derek wasn't interested in showing him around. He wanted something else and Hicks had gone right into the trap.

Before he could make a move to protect himself, the two men grabbed him and disarmed him. Derek shook his head sadly as he stepped up to Hicks. "You must be dumb. Only an idiot would come down here. You've got something that we want and now we're going to take it. Tell me where the shuttle is and maybe we'll let you live," he said.

Hicks shook his head back at him, straining to keep his already boiling temper at bay. "I can't do that. You know that. When you approach Gateway and don't have the right code, they'll blow you sky high." He was starting to get nervous, knowing that he had been stupid to follow Derek down here. Whatever happened next, he had basically brought it on himself.

Derek made a face at his answer, then smiled a crooked smile. "That's true, but you'll give me the code, too. Won't you? Just to save your life? We are a lot of people who want to get out of this hellhole and we're not about to go through any of your corrupt screening-crews to get there. We will do it on our own and then liberate our brothers and sisters still stuck here," he told him. He turned and walked across the room to the fourth wall and opened a locker there. "Why don't you be a good little marine and tell us what we want to hear? If you don't I've got something that might help you along," he added, fiddling around with something inside the locker.

Hicks watched him, feeling extremely compromised at the moment. "I can't give you any directions or codes or anything else. No matter what you do. If just one of you is infected, this thing could spread. Listen to me," he said with audible tenseness in his voice.

Derek turned around again, smiling. In one hand he held a syringe with a clear liquid inside. "I can see that you're going to be difficult. You marines are trained to withstand drugs to a certain point, aren't you?" he asked, walking back to Hicks. He held the syringe up in front of Hicks face and flicked it. The liquid inside moved lazily. "Well, I don't think you can withstand good old RJ," he added. "Hold him," he told his men. Just as he raised the needle to jab it into Hicks' shoulder, Hicks made his move. Using the two men who held him, for support, he lunged a kick with both feet, which sent Derek reeling through the room. Then using the two men's immobilizing surprise, he grabbed his hand gun back and shot both of them before they could raise their weapons against him.

Breathing hard from sheer pent-up anger, Hicks went down on one knee beside Derek, grabbed his collar and pulled him up. "What the hell is RJ?" he wanted to know.

Derek sputtered, spraying blood on Hicks' face. Then he grinned, exposing blood stained teeth. "Go fuck yourself," he then said and went limp.

Hicks let go of him and wiped his face with his sleeve. It took him a second to realize that the syringe had not broken when it had hit the floor. He picked it up with a frown, then rose and went up to the locker. Inside he found a bottle of the liquid and several syringes. With a glance over his shoulder, he wondered if these men had been junkies. Then he shook his head. Not them. They had been too alert and too collected to be on anything. So, naturally, they had to be dealers. With that thought, he smashed the syringe into the floor, grabbed the bottle and stuffed it into the bag he had hanging over one shoulder. The scientists would love him for bringing it back.

Just then, a click made him freeze to the spot. "You didn't really think I'd let you leave with all that, did you?" Derek said in a voice thick with blood.

Hicks turned around to face the muzzle of the gun Derek was holding, thinking quickly about what he should do. "We've been dying to know what this stuff is and whether you like it or not, I'm taking it back to Gateway with me."

Derek coughed but somehow managed to keep his aim on Hicks. "Yeah, right. You're taking it up there to sell it. Admit it," he snapped and coughed again. "You're just as bad as us."

Hicks eyed Derek, suddenly wondering if the bleeding really originated from his kick. In his opinion, he had not kicked that hard. "If you don't believe me, you can come with me. You need a doctor," he then said, trying to sooth the other as much as win some time.

Derek's aim finally faltered and he lowered the gun, running a back of his hand over his mouth, smearing blood over one side of his jaw. "It's too late for me. I didn't get on it, so they got to me," he said. The gun dropped out of his hand and clattered to the floor. "I thought I was smart, but I wasn't. Don't you see? When you're on the drug, you're safe. They won't touch you. They think you're one of them."

Hicks frowned, wondering what Derek meant. "Who they?" he asked.

Derek's legs gave way and he dropped down to his knees with a thick, wet sound escaping from his mouth. His lungs were badly damaged and Hicks became more and more convinced that it wasn't from the kick. Derek was infected and in some way, the embryo was either damaged or unable to dig its way out of him. Derek raised his head, staring at Hicks with blood-shot eyes. "I thought I wasn't infected. Honest to God," he rasped, bubbles forming on his lips as he spoke. Then reaching both hands up to clutch his chest, he added "Please, kill me."

Hicks didn't hesitate. He raised his gun and put a bullet into Derek's head, preventing him from suffering the agonizing death of the alien. No matter what he had planned for Hicks, no man deserved to die like that. Closing his eyes for a moment, Hicks contemplated what to do with the corps. The alien inside it wasn't going to stop growing because its host died. It would hatch. Shoving a boot under Derek, Hicks turned him over and emptied the clip of his gun into his chest, hoping that he had hit the alien enough to kill it.

At that moment he realized that he was being watched. The empty clip dropped out of the gun as he turned and re-loaded the gun in one motion. When he had completed the turn, the gun was in position, pointing at the forehead of a girl standing in the door. A girl with long, blond hair and staring blue eyes. There was no indication of surprise on her face, just a slightly absentminded expression and those huge staring eyes.

Hicks held the gun steady with both hands, having realized that trusting anybody down here could be fatal. "Who are you?" he demanded. He couldn't help staring at her over the fore sight of the gun, feeling an eerie familiarity with this girl.

The blue eyes shifted from him to the dead men on the floor. She was most likely in shock or somehow influenced by something. Hicks realized that it was probably the latter, since her movements were present but extremely slow and deliberate. She blinked and then looked back up at him. "They're dead," she said needlessly, slowly raising her hand and pointing at Derek. "He was supposed to ..." she began but trailed off again, not finishing the sentence.

"He was supposed to what? Supply you?" Hicks asked. He had intended to use a harsh tone of voice, but somehow it didn't come out right. There was something very disturbing about her, about the way she moved and talked. It was as if her world had been turned to slow motion.

She nodded mutely and looked back at the corpses. Hicks slowly lowered the gun and eventually flipped the safety back on. He did not feel immediately threatened by her after understanding that she was nothing but a junkie. "You're hooked on this?" he asked, pulling the bottle out of his bag. At the sight of the liquid, her eyes widened a bit more and she took a hesitant step forward. "Ah-ah. Not one step closer, sweetheart. This is no longer for you or any of your other junkie pals," Hicks told her, dropping the bottle back into the bag. The distraught expression which slowly moved into her eyes made him feel sorry for her. He had been in close contact with a junkie once, a friend in the corps, who had suddenly snapped under the pressure of dealing with their work load and had turned to drugs. The same kind of look had crossed his face moments before he had died in a hospital bed when Hicks had denied him a last shot for the road. But this girl was not nearly as far out as his friend had been and Hicks was certain she could be saved. "I can help you," he said as he holstered the gun and reached a hand out to her.

She eyed his hand like she was seeing a snake, then slowly realized that he didn't mean her any harm. "Can you, Hicks?" she asked, raising her eyes to meet his.

The fact that she knew who he was startled him. "How do you know my name?" he wanted to know, dropping his hand again. The girl eyed him, a sudden burst of life in her eyes which had not been there before. And that caused a transformation. One that made him recognize her. "Newt?" he asked in a tone of pure disbelief.

She nodded weakly, her face still expressionless and absent-minded. Her eyes drifted to the bag at his side for a moment. Then she leaned her back against the wall beside the door and slid down on the floor. "I need it, Hicks," she whispered. "I need it bad."

Hicks squatted down in front of her and took one of her hands. "What is it doing to you? Why do you need it so badly?" he wanted to know. A sudden idea helped him make up his mind about what to do. He pulled a gadget out of his bag which was supposed to disclose a contaminated person. He had used it several times with various results. If the machine, which fit neatly into his palm, indicated that she was clean, he would take her back to Gateway. Ripley would be thrilled to say the least, he would be able to save the kid and at the same time maybe get some answers about RJ.

Unfolding the antenna-like appendix of the gadget, he switched it on and ran a quick scan of the girl's upper torso and stomach region. Nothing beeped and when he flipped a switch on it, the scanner screen turned green. According to this preliminary scan, she was clean.

Without any further fuss, he grabbed her arm and pulled her up over his shoulder. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING? SET ME DOWN," she cried out, trying to get free. But he was stronger than her and he was not about to let her run away. She was also in dire need of medical help. Getting her back to Gateway was his only option. "Set me down," she repeated in an angry tone of voice and started hammering a weak fist against his back-plate. She squirmed, weakly attempting to get free, but she did not have either the strength nor the actually will to keep it up for more than a minute.

When he mounted the stairs to the ground floor again, she had gone completely limp, making things easier for him. He strode through entrance hall and out into the oddly pale street. The sky was overcast, covering the sun and blocking the light. He glanced in either direction, fumbled with the motion tracker for a moment and gave up on it. He could not switch it on with only one hand.

He carried Newt to his shuttle and halfway there she started to resist again. There wasn't much strength in her but she was obviously determined to get free. "Set me down," she repeated, bucking against his grip.

"Calm down, Newt. I'm just getting you out of here," he told her, as he brought out the remote control and opened the hatch of the shuttle.

"LET ME GO. I DON'T WANT TO BE OUTSIDE. THEY'LL COME," she screeched, her attempts to free herself getting more and more frantic. "THEY'LL COME."

Just then, somebody further down the street screamed. Hicks swirled around and only one look down the street was enough to convince him that he was in danger. Six or seven aliens were on their way up the street. Two of them veered off onto side streets to chase those few who dared to venture outside. The rest came straight toward Hicks and Newt. What took seconds seemed like years, but Hicks finally managed to tear his eyes away from the approaching demons, turned and ran as fast as his legs would carry him with the extra weight.

Seconds later he stomped up the ramp of the shuttle and slammed a flat hand against the door-mechanism. The hatch slid shut behind him, pulling the ramp up, too. The dank smell of the interior of the shuttle seemed to spur him on, as he dropped Newt to the floor and ran to the cockpit. Immediate lift-off was essential.

He dropped down on the pilot's chair, flipped a few switches and activated the engine. It roared to life, making the whole shuttle shudder as he turned the power up to full a little too fast. All the while, he kept his eyes on the approaching aliens. They were far too close to the shuttle for his liking. He twisted the control column and the shuttle rose into the air like a helicopter seconds before the aliens would have reached it.

***