GATEWAY

Hudson frowned deeply at Lieutenant Farrel, who had just arrived from the outer regions. The only thing which put her above Hicks was her seniority but in his opinion, that did not give her the right to try and take over. Especially not when Hicks wasn't there.

"Look, Lieutenant. I don't give a flying fuck what you are and where the hell you came from. I'm not turning over any authority to you before I've talked to Lieutenant Hicks. Got that?" he asked her, staring at her in a way that would have made anybody else flinch. Or so he liked to think.

Lieutenant Farrel stared back with the coldest eyes he had ever seen. "In my opinion, his title does not mean a damned thing, soldier," she said, stressing each word. She was tall, dark and handsome, but her tight features and unpleasant character made that a minor detail. "I have come here to take over. I don't need any contradictions from a grunt."

Hudson rolled his eyes. "Yeah, well, fuck you, lady. This ain't your field of responsibility, man. So take a hike."

Farrel's expression turned even colder than before and it was only due to the two oversized, armed-to-the-teeth marines standing behind Hudson that she didn't let him have it. She was his senior by several years as well as by experience and had the circumstances been different, he would have been court-martialed for his insubordination. "You are going down for this one, solider. Not even your lieutenant is going to accept that you talk to me like this. I am your superior. You damned well better face that, boy," she snarled.

"I don't think getting upset about this is getting you anywhere, Lieutenant," a voice said behind her. Farrel turned to face a man who to her looked like he'd just crawled out of dung-heap. "I'm Lieutenant Hicks," he introduced himself. "Excuse me if I don't shake hands. I think I need a shower first."

Farrel kept a lid on her temper and nodded in a measured manner. "Very well. As soon as you are presentable again, I would like a word with you about your so-called team," she said and pushed past him.

Hudson grinned. "Man, that was just on time. Like always. So, what did you find out down there?" he wanted to know.

"Later. I really do need a shower. Is Ripley anywhere near?" Hicks replied and handed his bag over to Hudson. "See that this makes it to the scientists. I think they'll be real interested in this."

Hudson took the bag, staring curiously at it, completely forgetting Hicks' first question. "Why? What's in it?" he wanted to know.

Hicks started taking his armor off, dropping it on the floor of the corridor. "A whole bottle full of RJ. Now they've got something to work with. Maybe they can figure out what it is and what it does," he replied and then headed off toward the living quarters.

Hudson kept staring at the bag as if it contained gold, while he headed off in the direction of the labs.

***

Arriving back at the make-shift apartment he shared with Ripley, Hicks quickly stripped off the rest of his cloths and stepped into the shower. Before turning the water on, he just stood there for a moment, letting all the things that had happened wash over him once more. There was nothing he could have done to help Derek and whether Newt would be all right or not remained to be seen. With a sigh, he finally turned the shower on and stood motionless under the falling water, his eyes closed, trying to stop his mind from reeling. What he needed more than anything right now was something he couldn't get. He wanted more than anything to return to the life before the aliens. A life which was fairly dangerous but rather uncomplicated. Having to be in charge was no fun. Not that Hicks had ever thought being a marine was fun. Exciting yes, but not fun. Hudson had always had fun, but he was a different type than Hicks. He could have fun basically anywhere and at any time. Hicks had always been the quiet guy, the one the other's turned to when they were in a fix. He was reliable, calm and always in control. With a sudden burst of anger and regret, he hammered a fist into the wall, breaking some tiles and scraping his knuckles.

"Shit," he grumbled and brought his bleeding knuckles up to his mouth. The blood tasted salty and sour on his tongue. With sudden determination, he tried to push all those disturbing thoughts and silly wishes away. If he could, he would give up being in charge. He would leave Gateway behind and forget about the destiny of Earth. But on the other hand, he knew he couldn't do that. Not ever. His memory served him far too well.

***

Half an hour later, he turned up in Operations and headed straight for Farrel. Reaching a hand out to her, he gave her a grim smile. "I think we should talk."

Farrel nodded, shook his hand briefly and then followed him to one of the smaller meeting rooms a few corridors away. Farrel sat down stiffly while Hicks slumped in his chair, staring at the woman with an unreadable expression. "I take it you are in charge here?" she finally asked.

Hicks nodded. "Yeah, I am. Van Leuwen gave up his position and told me to do whatever I saw fit with Gateway. I decided to turn it into a base for my team and ship all civilians off to Lunar Station. So, why are you here? I don't remember requesting any help lately."

Farrel tried to understand this man. He seemed to be in charge yet he did not strike her as being material for a lieutenant. He appeared to be a man who would rather remain in the background of things, watching and waiting. "True. We're not here on your request. I've been sent here to take over. Simple as that."

Hicks frowned. This was both what he wanted to hear and what he had feared. Turning over responsibility to somebody else was what he had wished for, but he wasn't so sure Farrel had the best in mind for the survivors down on Earth. "Why?" he eventually asked.

Farrel misinterpreted his reaction and raised her hands in a deprecating gesture. She could only take over if he agreed to it since they technically were on the same level of responsibility and there were no incriminating matters about him which would enable her to strip him of his command. "It's not because anybody is unhappy about the way you've handled things. The screening-crews were a good move. You've saved a lot of lives that way. But now it's time to do something about the aliens. We have to clean them out," she explained.

Hicks kept staring at her and at the same time wondered what she had in mind. He didn't really like her, but his opinion of her had no place in their conversation. "And how do you suggest we do that? I'm not sending any of my teams down there. That would be murder to say the least." Putting into words what he thought did not make him feel any better about the potential idea.

Farrel however shook her head with a vague smile. "No, no. We're not going to sent any people down there. I have three teams with me, which have been specially trained to deal with this situation. We've been training them ever since we heard about the invasion."

Silence followed her words, interrupted only by the hum of the air ventilation system. For a long moment, Hicks kept staring at her. Then he looked down at the table top, focusing on a coffee stain there. "I gather that these teams are not human, then." It was more a statement than a question.

Farrel however nodded, feeling that she should explain herself. "That's correct. They're specially designed androids. We have heard that the aliens don't bother about androids."

The idea somehow struck Hicks as being slightly funny. When he looked up again to meet her eyes, a for Farrel slightly confusing smile curled his lips. He held her stare for a moment before answering. "That's right. They merely tear them to pieces. So, what makes you think that your teams are any better equipped?" he wanted to know.

Leaning forward, Farrel returned his smile, not wanting him to see that it confused her. "Because they are acid resistant and have a multi-alloy skeleton. They are basically indestructible. The perfect match for those bugs," she said.

Hicks grimaced. He didn't have much faith in anything man-made when it came to the aliens. "Farrel, let me tell you something. Nothing is a perfect match for those bugs. I knew that the first time a saw them. They are not indestructible, but they are tough as hell and they learn very quickly. Don't be fooled into believing that they are dumb animals. They may not behave like us, but they have a level of intelligence which can be compared to ours."

Farrel took a moment to think about that. "Well, it's worth a shot, isn't it? If the teams check out okay, I think we could clear the planet within a year," she then said, not willing to give up on her pet project so quickly.

Hicks leaned forward at that, putting his arms on the table. "And, supposing that they don't check out. Supposing that the aliens pick them apart the moment they get close. Then what?" he wanted to know. Somehow he didn't think that Farrel's plan was in the best interest of the people still left on Earth. "And what about the people down there? Are they going down along with the aliens?" he added on second thought.

"The plan is to send the androids down to gather the people and destroy the aliens. Anyone infected will be terminated instantly in a humane and painless manner and the rest will be returned to Gateway. If it doesn't work out, I have another plan. But let's not look on the dark side before we have seen if it works," Farrel suggested, leaning back and folding her hands in her lap.

Hicks eyed her thoughtfully, trying hard to figure out what that other plan could be. he had a bad feeling about it and was almost afraid to hear the answer to his impending question. "What is this other plan?" he asked intently.

Farrel sighed, obviously hoping that he would drop the subject. As it became clear to her that he wouldn't do that, she nodded. "All right. This is highly confidential, but since you are in charge here, I suppose you have a right to know. The emergency plan is to nuke the entire planetary surface. It will be a terrible waste of lives, but these people are doomed anyway. We cannot possibly hope to save all of them. Gateway will be moved to a temporary orbit around the moon and then we sit back and wait."

This sounded very much like the plan Ripley had cooked up on Acheron. The difference was, however, that there had not been anybody left down there. At least they hadn't known about the other colonists hiding in the second processor at that time. They would have nuked the site of the former colony and that would have been the end of that. What Farrel was suggesting was that they basically eradicated any possible life form from Earth blindly by dropping nuclear devices on the surface. "Wait for what?" he then wanted to know.

"For the radioactive fallout to become harmless. It can take years, but we have plenty of colonies to go to. And, once the planet is declared clean again, we can return to re-colonize Earth. A fresh start," she said, sounding pretty satisfied with the way it sounded.

In Hicks' ears it sounded like genocide. "A fresh start? Knowing that probably millions of people, who could have been saved, have gone up in smoke? And what if the nuclear fallout does not affect that aliens? Then what?"

Farrel seemed the slightest bit annoyed that he kept picking her plans apart. "Then we abandon Earth as a lost cause. If it comes to it and we do have to nuke the surface and it then turns out that the aliens are not affected by it, we leave. Gateway will then become stationary in orbit around the Moon for the rest of her existence and Earth will be off limits."

Hicks leaned back with his arms folded over his chest. "I don't like the sound of that," he grumbled, more to himself than to Farrel. "All right. Let's say that the androids work out. How are they going to know whether people are infected or not?" he then asked.

With another sigh, this time a heartfelt one, Farrel started drumming her fingers on the table top while she watched Hicks with a displeased expression. "They are equipped with x-ray vision. They can see the embryo in the host and dispose of both quickly and cleanly."

Nodding, Hicks shifted his weight on the chair. "So, they are likely to kill a pregnant woman, aren't they? According to what I know, the queen embryos are placed in the stomach region. Not in the chest. How will they know the difference?"

"They are not dumb machines, Lieutenant. They can be talked to. If a woman is pregnant, she merely has to tell them and they will take her along. It's no big deal, really."

Now it was Hicks' turn to sigh. "So, if a woman thinks she's pregnant, but has an embryo queen in her stomach, she can come to Gateway anyway to have the 'baby' here?" He was trying to pick holes in Farrel's plans to see if she was prepared for everything. Up until now, she seemed to have answer for everything.

"A human embryo will definitely look different than an alien embryo. All we have to do is enter the picture of a human embryo in their data banks and they will know the difference. Why does it have to be so difficult with you?" Farrel asked, staring at him as she had the whole time.

At that instant, the door opened and Ripley stepped in. She glanced briefly at Farrel, slightly surprised to see a new face, then turned to Hicks. "Will said you were looking for me."

Hicks nodded. "Yeah, I was. I need to talk to you. In a minute." Turning his attention back to Farrel, he nodded to her. "All right. It sounds like you're ready for everything, Farrel. Gateway is all yours. Just as long as I can trust you not to drop any of my people into the havoc your androids are going to create."

Farrel rose. "You've got my word. Besides, all I want is unrestricted access to Operations and any weaponry I need. What happens besides that is of no interest to me. Unless you want me to take over completely, that is."

Hicks got up, pushing his chair back to the wall. "We can talk about that later," he said, turned to Ripley and left the meeting room with her.

Farrel looked after them, then nodded to herself. It was time to prepare and then activate one of the teams She was going to send one team down first and see what happened. If things turned out the way she hoped they would, she would prep and activate the remaining two teams and send the sixty soldiers down to Earth to start the clean up-operation.

***

EARTH

A shuttle soared toward one of the less damaged streets in L.A. and settled down there, raising a lot of dust. The ramp opened and had barely touched ground before twenty soldiers in matching uniforms filed out and took position in two rows. Lieutenant Farrel stepped down onto the rubble-covered street and looked toward center of town. Six hives had been located so far and her boys would take on the biggest of them first. It was located half a mile down that street. Farrel strained to see something which would indicate the hive's location, but there was nothing but cracked asphalt and pavements. The empty eyes of the buildings stared down at her in a silent protest, awaiting the success or failure of this team. After assuring herself that the area was secured, Farrel finally turned to her team.

"You know what to do. Snap to it," she told them, snapping her fingers. The team started to trot down the street as Farrel reentered the relative safety of the shuttle. From there she would be able to follow every step the team took. And they would take every step in unison.

She settled down in the rear of the shuttle, put on her headset and switched the whole board in front of her on. Twenty completely steady pictures appeared on the twenty tiny monitors. They showed the street drifting by, each of them with a different angle. Some swept off to the sides now and then when some of the soldiers took a look at the buildings they were passing. Some caught people in their sight, people coming out of the buildings to watch the group march by. Surprise seemed to be the primary expression painted on those faces. It wasn't every day that they saw twenty completely identical soldiers march by. Farrel picked up on a voice approaching one of the soldiers.

"Where are you going? Are you here to help us?" a female voice asked.

The addressed solider turned his head and Farrel got a clear picture of the woman. He didn't answer and he wasn't supposed to, either. The woman had briefly been scanned for an embryo and had turned out to be clean. But that was not the primary function of this team. Not yet. First they had to prove themselves in combat. And the only way they could do that was by entering the hive.

It took the team about fifteen minutes to reach the location of the hive and Farrel was surprised that there was no evidence of its existence from the outside. The only thing the monitors showed was a run-down building which had apparently once been a library. "Enter," she said into the microphone in her headset.

The team proceeded inside, equipped with schematics of the building. They were following their common sense, which Farrel had insisted on having programmed into their artificial brains. They needed to be able to make decisions themselves. It would not be possible for them to be under guidance all the time. If the connection to the supervisor was interrupted, they had to be able to deal with the situation. Therefore Farrel had decided to leave it mainly up to them to deal with whatever was coming next. She would only interfere if they seemed to be caught at a dead-end. Which, if all went well, would not happen?.

The team proceeded, fanning out in a v-deployment, scanning the area with both night and normal vision. All of them were in ready-mode, which meant that any unrecognized motion would cause them to open fire. Considering that they had a target-computer installed in their heads as well, they would probably be able to bring down an alien with minimum waste of bullets.

Farrel's immediate concern for their capacity brought back some somber thoughts. When she had first put them to the test on the planet of their origin against some electronic devices which supposedly moved like the aliens, they had done two things wrong. Two things, which had been almost fatal for the project. Part of the group had used their common sense combined with their near human emotions and had backed out. They had simply dropped their guns and run away. The other part of the group had suddenly developed suicidal tendencies and had blown their heads off. Whatever it was that had triggered that response, it had been removed. They were barely in possession of feelings now and what she had told Hicks had not been entirely true. One could not reason with them. They would kill without asking questions, if they established that a person was infected by the aliens. It was crucial that they knew the difference between a human embryo and an alien one. So, before Farrel would activate their extermination-program, she had to make sure that they understood the difference.

Pushing those thoughts away, she returned her attention to the monitors. The light had become too dim for normal vision and all of them had switched over to night vision. The walls they were passing stood out in an eerie green glow. Then the first of them opened fire. Two short bursts from his riffle brought an alien down. Some liquid splashed across the soldier's eyes, blurring his vision for a second, and then he passed on. Farrel noted with a smile that the acid had no effect on their exterior.

In less than an hour the soldiers had fought their way through the hive and arrived at the center chamber. The queen's lair. The mother of those monster was hanging suspended from the ceiling, watching the newcomers silently. The egg sack hanging from her abdomen was huge and filled with eggs.

One of the soldiers scanned the area, registering how many eggs the chamber contained and sending that information back to Farrel. The team was standing in the midst of 256 eggs and according to a quick calculation, the egg sack alone contained 500 eggs, which had yet to be laid.

Farrel stared at the monitor showing the closest view of the queen. She was one big mother and probably as mean as they came. "Start termination," she said into the microphone.

The team started methodically to blast the queen apart. A few of the soldiers were attacked from the rear and again they proved to be all that Farrel had hoped they would be. They managed to get away from the attacking aliens with minor damage and wasted the attackers. The rest of the team had meanwhile cut the queen to ribbons.

One of the monitors started to flash with a red rim, indicating that there was a system malfunction there. Farrel turned her attention to that one and frowned at it. The monitor was black. There was nothing moving. She switched the system over to the soldier and tried to determine what had gone wrong. Then it hit her like a ton of bricks. The soldier had been attacked by a facehugger and didn't know what to do. Since giving the soldiers names would have been too much of a hassle, Farrel had numbered them instead. Number 19 was the troubled individual. "No. 19. Remove the parasite and get back to work," she said.

The soldier reached up, dug his fingers into the back of the facehugger and tore it off. Besides being acid resistant, the soldiers were also extremely strong. Another reason to be certain that they at all times obeyed orders.

After that minor incident, Farrel reminded herself that she would have to enter that into their programming, too. The facehuggers could not harm them, but the afflicted solider had to be sure what to do if a parasite managed to attach itself.

***

GATEWAY'S MEDICAL WING

Ripley looked slightly concerned when Hicks guided her down the corridor toward the medical wing. She didn't like his silence and she had several times asked him where they were going. "Who's ill?" she wanted to know.

Hicks glanced at her, his expression serious. "You'll see in a minute," he replied for the umpteenth time. The doors parted to let them into the reception hall. They had barely stepped inside before a doctor came over to meet them.

"Lieutenant. I've just finished the examination," he said, holding an electronic pad out to Hicks. "With as much care as possible as well as a bit of luck, she should be out of danger within the next 24 hours."

Hicks took the pad, studied it for a moment, and then handed it back to the doctor with a nod. "Okay. Great. How is she doing now?" he wanted to know.

"She's sleeping. She was pretty upset for a while, so we gave her a tranquillizer to calm her down. And, she's clean," the doctor replied.

At that, Ripley grabbed Hicks' arm in a painful grip. "What is going on?" she demanded.

"I've found Newt." Hicks' reply was simple and calm and almost made Ripley regret she had asked. Staring at him, she let go of his arm and took a step back. "She's not feeling too well. She's an addict. But according to Doc Pascal here, she'll be out of it soon."

Shaking her head, Ripley at first refused to hear what he was saying. It could not be true. She could not in her wildest imagination understand that the little girl she had found on Acheron had gone through that hell once more. "Oh no," she whispered, the expression in her eyes becoming distant.

Hicks put his hands on her shoulders and shook her back to reality. "Get a grip, Ellen. She needs you now," he said.

Ripley focused on Hicks again. "Where is she? I want to see her."

Doc Pascal waved at them to follow him and guided them down a corridor to the quarantine area. He opened the door to one of the rooms and stepped aside to let Hicks and Ripley pass.

Ripley headed straight for the bed and stopped to stare at the teenage-girl lying there. With a lump too big in her throat to speak, she reached a trembling hand out to touch the girl's hair. The blond, newly washed tresses spread over the pillow like a halo. Eventually, she managed to whisper her name. "Newt." She had counted as little on seeing Newt again as she had counted on seeing Amy again. In her mind, she had accepted that Newt was gone for good. Basically, in order to stay sane and not get obsessed with the idea of finding the girl, Ripley had made herself believe that Newt was dead. Seeing her alive made her world threaten to crash down around her. The carefully erected barriers she had used against her feelings started to crack at the sight of the undernourished, pale girl. Even though she had grown a lot since Ripley had last seen her, her features were unmistakable.

"How is her mental condition?" Hicks asked quietly.

"Well, that remains to be seen, to be exact," Doc Pascal replied. "We have not been able to determine that on such short notice. Besides, she is still under the influence of the drug. I understand that you found a sample down there?"

Hicks nodded. "Yeah. It's in the hands of the scientists now. I hope they can use it for something," he said.

Ripley turned her head to look at Doc Pascal. "Can I stay with her?" she asked him in a seemingly well controlled voice.

Hicks could tell by the look in her eyes, that the calmness in her voice was fake. She was torn up inside. Doc Pascal nodded. "Certainly. We may need somebody who's familiar to her, when she wakes up. I also think you should prepare yourself for that. She's not going to behave like a child for the next couple of days. If we're lucky, we can get her to a tolerable level within the next 24 hours. But until then, she's going to suffer. I hope you are strong enough to deal with that."

Ripley felt cold inside at the prospect of seeing Newt suffer. She was aware that this drug named RJ was exceptionally strong and would damage whoever was addicted to it over a longer period of time. Whatever it was and where it came from was still a puzzle. All she knew was that it apparently only existed on Earth. The survivors had invented it for the purpose of getting through life more easily. At least that was what Ripley thought. What other reason could there be?.

With a whimper, the girl moved her head, a frown creasing her otherwise smooth skin. She whimpered again, moving her arms and legs almost in slow motion.

Ripley pulled up a chair and sat down next to her, taking her right hand in both of hers. "Newt? Can you hear me?" she whispered, leaning in close. The clammy cold hand she was holding reminded her briefly of her first encounter with the girl. An encounter which she would not forget. The nearly catatonic child had not been accessible for anybody until Ripley had shown her that she meant her no harm. Then she had responded to Ripley's chattering, but now there was nothing. Her eyes were closed and her thin face seemed almost to become one with the white pillow beneath her head. Fiercely squeezing Newt's hand, Ripley glanced up at Hicks. "She's not responding," she told him needlessly.

"You should not expect her to respond now. She's after all under the influence of the sedative and the drug," the doctor interrupted.

Hicks put a hand on her shoulder and gave it a brief squeeze. "You stay here with her. I'll check in on you later," he said and left again.

Ripley looked at the door for a moment, then returned her attention to the sleeping girl. "How long will she stay like this?" she asked.

The doctor came around the bed on the other side, took Newt's wrist and felt her pulse. For a moment, he remained silent, staring at his watch, then he put the girl's arm down again. "It's actually a bit difficult to say, Mrs. Ripley. She's affected by a drug we have no knowledge about. I do hope that the sample Lieutenant Hicks brought back will give us a bit more insight. Both how to treat those afflicted by the drug and, naturally, what other qualities this stuff might have. In my opinion it isn't synthetic," he then said.

Ripley raised her eyes to stare at him. "Not synthetic? What then? Nothing in nature has spawned this," she claimed. The thoughts his words provoked in her made her shiver inside. If the drug was not synthetic and never-before heard of, it could only come from one place.

"Well, I had my hands on a very tiny sample once. Unfortunately, the addict managed to swallow it before I had a chance of examining it closer. But what I did see made me strongly suspect that this is a freak of nature. It is not a synthetic drug. Where it comes from is of course a puzzle. But, with this new sample we'll be able to determine its origin. At least, I hope so." With a weak smile, he reached out to brush a hand over Newt's head. "She may also be able to give us some information about this drug. Maybe she even knows how it has been obtained." With those words, he left too, leaving Ripley to ponder the origin of the drug. She was becoming more and more convinced that she knew exactly where it came from. And if she was right, what would that do to the scientists on Gateway? Especially if they discovered some good qualities in the drug.

Leaning closer to Newt again, she frowned a bit at the girl's frustrated expression. If she was supposed to be out cold, she shouldn't be able to experience these feelings. Leaning back again, she started to caress Newt's hand. "I'll be here. I'll stay by your side every step of the way, honey," she whispered reassuringly.

***

GATEWAY'S SCIENCE-LAB

Peter Ray was a free-lance scientist, who had a great deal of interest in the aliens. He had examined a few pieces of a grown specimen which had been retrieved from Earth and he had an embryo in a jar in his desk drawer. The embryo of course was dead, but he had spent some time examining it. Now he was working on the sample of RJ and he was amazed and a little shocked by its composition. Most of it was unrecognizable. The computers did not know how to classify it. But there were some highly potent pieces in it. Silicon seemed to reside in all the aliens as well as in their secretions. But this stuff, which he had classified as an alien royal jelly, might very well hold the key to all the unanswered questions, which had plagued mankind from the dawn of time. There was a growth hormone, which was impossible to identify as something familiar, but it was a growth hormone. It would probably be able to make a human being three meters tall without the sad side effects, which tall people usually experienced. There was also a hormone, which he had already tested on a rat which was terminal with cancer. The cancer had receded and disappeared within half an hour and the rat had fully recovered.

Hicks entered the lab and looked around for a moment. The area was huge and it seemed dead except for Peter Ray, who was sitting on a chair, going over the composition of the drug under a microscope. "Ray," he then said.

The thin man jerked, then looked around with an expression of anger on his face. "Damn it. Don't sneak up on me like that," he grumbled.

Hicks only smiled. No matter how much noise one made, Ray would never hear it anyway. He was too absorbed by his work. "Chill out, Ray. How's it going?" he wanted to know.

Ray glared at him for a moment. "If I could have some peace and quiet for my work, I would have been able to tell you more by now. But people keep running in and out of here all the time. But, I've been able to narrow it down to the most obvious origin of this stuff."

Hicks took a look at the samples lying around on the desk and saw nothing interesting there. "Well?" he then asked when Ray did not continue. He was again looking into the microscope.

"It's the aliens' version of royal jelly. They feed it to whatever larva is available and make a queen out of it. Or rather, that's how our bees do it. These guys obviously just feed it to the queen larva to make sure she grows up to be a big mama. Due to that, it has a whole lot of interesting characteristics. It can accelerate growth, cure cancer. You name it, it's probably able to do it." Ray looked up with a happy expression, expecting to get rewarded for these discoveries. To his great surprise, Hicks looked as if somebody had just slugged him.

"Are you telling me that this stuff can heal people? Heal all that shit that we've never found a cure for before?" he wanted to know.

"Apparently. What's wrong with that?" Ray asked back, staring at Hicks as if he had never seen his like before.

"Wrong? There's a whole lot of things wrong with that when it comes from the aliens. This must stay between you and me for now. Do you understand me, Ray? Don't tell anybody." Ray's expression changed from being utterly surprised and a little worried to being conscience-stricken. Hicks took a deep breath to stop himself from blowing up and folded his hands behind his back. "Who did you tell?" he then asked.

For a long moment, the scientist stayed silent, then he finally looked up to meet Hicks' stern stare. "Lieutenant Farrel. She came in here about half an hour ago and asked how far I'd gotten. I told her the same I've told you and she looked happy about it." The slightly defensive tone in Ray's voice was understandably but Hicks was not in the mood to try to please this guy.

"Farrel? Of all people you had to tell Farrel? God damn it, man. Don't you ever use your head beyond your projects?" he snapped angrily, no longer trying to control his temper.

Ray looked about ready to crawl under his desk, but at the same time knew that Hicks would never attack him. "I -- I j ...just thought -- you'd approved of her being here," he stammered.

Hicks did feel the need to clobber this man. Ray was a scientist in every sense of the word. He lived in his own world and he never considered the consequence of his actions. "Of her being here, yes. Not of her being let in on every little damned secret. For heaven's sake. Don't you know what this means?"

"It means that the extermination-project has been canceled," a voice said from behind Hicks.

He held his breath for a second, then turned to face Farrel. "That's insane," he retorted.

"No, it's logical. It is the only way. We'll capture as many aliens as we can and move them to a more appropriate facility. I have already contacted my superiors and they will deal with the situation, lieutenant. I also asked for guidelines when it came to you," she said and handed him a piece of paper. "I'm relieving you of your duty. You have twenty-four hours to leave Gateway. You and Mrs. Ripley."

For a long moment, Hicks did not react. He merely stared at Farrel, considering his options at getting rid of her. He couldn't without resorting to violence and that was not on his agenda. Farrel still held the piece of paper out to him, but he decided to ignore it. "So, you did come to take over completely. So much for honesty, Lieutenant Farrel," he grumbled, pushed past her and left the lab.

Farrel let her arm sink again, thoughtfully staring into space for a moment. Then she focused on Ray. "Get back to work," she told him.

The scientist shook his head. "Forget it, lady. I work for Lieutenant Hicks. Not for you," he replied, closed his ring binder with his notes and rose from his chair.

Farrel had not expected any fuss from anybody else except maybe that grunt who seemed to be so devoted to Hicks. She glared at Ray to no avail. "I'm drafting you," she told him.

"Draft all you want, lady. I'm free-lance and I can leave whenever I want to. See you," he said, waved at her and strode out of the lab, too. Under one arm, he was carrying the bottle of RJ.

Farrel's expression became even tighter than before. If this thing spread, she would have no other choice than to leave Hicks in charge until she could call for back-up and that was not what she wanted to do.

She looked around the now deserted lab for a moment, then reached into her right hip-pocket and pulled out a small disk. The information on it had very little to do with what her superiors wanted but right now, Farrel had other concerns. She retrieved a mini-terminal which she always carried around with her, stuffed the disk into the appropriate slot and held her breath for the time it took the machine to read the contents. The terminal beeped, cleared the tiny monitor and sent the cursor up into the left hand corner. Farrel let out a nervous sigh and typed a word on the highly reduced keyboard. Her finger stopped over the Enter-button as she considered her options of getting away with this.

***