BAY 9

Bay 9 was the largest docking bay on Gateway. It was also the only bay that was equipped to deal with hazardous goods. Now, except for one big container, the bay was empty. All the machinery stood in its appropriate place and most of it was covered with a fine layer of dust. Bay 9 had not been active since van Leuwen had left and the civilians had been shipped off to Lunar Station.

But now, something was about to happen. Something moved inside the container and suddenly one end of it popped open. A man stepped out onto the icy floor of the bay, hesitating only briefly. He was stark naked and as muscular as they came. His whole body tone was that of a trained warrior. He took a step sideways, clearing the opening. Another man, identical to the verge of being a one-egged twin of the first, followed and stepped aside, too. In less than five minutes twenty completely identical men stood in two rows on either side of the container. Then the other end of the container opened and the same scene repeated itself with another type of man. All looked equally trained and it would not have taken an unsuspecting onlooker any time to realize that these were not human beings. The blank, indifferent stare in their eyes combined with the fact that they stood at attention without a stitch on could not fool anybody.

Moments later, the door to the bay opened and Farrel stepped in. Her pet project, the one she had dreamed of putting to the test, would finally be executable. With no little amount of pride she looked at her forty soldiers, her guys. They were all devoted to her and she would see to it that their devotion would be a profitable one for her. With their superior strength and inability to question orders, she would take over Gateway in no time and set up her own little operation. She would let her superiors know that the aliens had spread to Gateway, eradicating mostly everybody until her boys had dealt with the infestation. Alpha, Beta and Delta Teams had checked out okay and she would remain in charge of Gateway, declaring Earth temporarily off limits. The reason? Her boys had to deal with the aliens before anybody could be allowed to land on Earth or set foot on Gateway. That would give her a time limit of approximately one year and that would be plenty of time to start a supply route of the new wonder-medicine RJ. She would request the best scientists in the galaxy to help her extract the good qualities and everybody would eventually see that human kind and the aliens had to co-exist. There would be no doubt in anybody’s minds. And if somebody made a fuss, she had that end covered, too. The remote-guidance for her boys worked over incredible distances.

Rubbing her hands mentally, she smiled. "All right, boys. Let's get you dressed. We have a job to do."

***

Half an hour later, Farrel left bay 9 at the point of her forty heavily armed soldiers. They fell into step behind her in two rows as she marched down the corridor toward Operations. One thing was for sure. Hicks would not believe his eyes when she marched them into Operations and took over. He would not believe what he saw. As soon as she had convinced him that she meant business and that shooting at her boys would do them no good, she would put his sorry excuse of a team under arrest and start by executing him.

***

GATEWAY
- OPERATIONS

Hicks did not feel up to dealing with Farrel, but he would be damned if he would let her take over. Now he was certain that her intentions were not in the best interest for the people down on Earth and he would fight her every step of the way if he had to. It would take her superiors several weeks to reach Earth and during that time he might even be able to convince her to forget about taking over. The only thing she would not be allowed to do was get near a terminal from where she could send a message. If necessary, he would have to lock her up.

"Hey, man. What's going on? You look like you've had some bad news," Hudson said after having watched his friend for a while. It was obvious to him that something was bothering Hicks and he wanted to know what it was.

Hicks however waved him away. "It's nothing, Will," he claimed, knowing that Hudson would not give up so easily.

"Don't give me that. I know when something's not right. I ain't stupid, you know," Hudson persisted in his most predictable manner.

"I know you're not stupid, Will. I didn't say that, did I?" Hicks answered, not really paying attention to Hudson. The door had just opened to Operations and three of the androids had stepped inside. They belonged to team Alpha.

Hudson spotted them, too. "What's happening, man? I didn't think they'd move without orders from Farrel," he muttered to Hicks, completely forgetting his former resentment.

Hicks didn't like the look of that. Two more soldiers stepped into Operations and they were armed. "Maybe they are acting on her orders," he muttered back. Snapping his fingers, he gained the attention of the others of his team, who were present in Operations. With one nod, he made them attentive to the problem in progress and all of them retrieved their weapons in a mostly unobserved way.

Then Farrel entered. She stopped just inside the door, noting that Hicks' people were armed and silently recommending him for his attention. She had actually not expected him to realize that anything was amiss until she had him at gun point.

"What's going on, Farrel?" he asked, eying the soldiers he could see in the corridor behind her.

"Oh, nothing much. I thought that maybe I'd have trouble with you after I'd have given you your notice. And, it seems I was right," she said to him. Then turning to his people, she added "Lieutenant Hicks is no longer in charge here. He's been told to leave the station with Mrs. Ripley within the next 24 hours and you will do better in listening to me now." Farrel basically knew that her attempt to wrestle his loyal grunts away from him would be futile.

Some of Hicks' team started to raise their guns, but Hicks waved them back and stepped up to face Farrel. "You are not in charge here, Farrel. I can't let you take over. There are people down on Earth who need saving and I have the distinct feeling that you're not going to do that. As a matter of fact, I think you present a danger to my team, as well. So, I won't let you take over," he told her, still highly concerned about the presence of her soldiers. Especially the fact that the soldiers in the corridor didn't look like the five in Operations. That could mean only one thing. She had activated the remaining forty soldiers. With sixty unbeatable men on her side, he was afraid that his team could do nothing to stop them. And it turned out that he was right.

Farrel gave him an acid-sour smile. "I thought so. You are making a fuss about this. In that case, I will have to arrest you and your team. Hand over your weapons. As per now, I am in complete control of Gateway and there's nothing you can do about it."

Hudson among others started moving in on Farrel's boys, but Hicks stopped them. "Forget it, people. We don't stand a chance in hell of overpowering these guys."

With a lot of bellyaching, the team handed over their weapons and were led off to the detention area. Two of Farrel's boys pushed Hicks into exactly the same cell he had spent the better part of a year in. The memory of that time made him wince mentally.

Farrel turned up in the door, staring at him with a sad expression. "I had hoped that we could have avoided this, Hicks. I rather like you. You're smart. But, smartness cannot get in the way of this. It's better this way. You'll see," she said, stepped back and let the door close.

Turning to her team, Farrel made a intolerant gesture with one hand. "Go round up the rest. Get a move on. Now," she snapped. The soldiers turned and strode back down the corridor and vanished through the armored door at the end. Turning back to face the door to Hicks' cell, Farrel sneered. "I'll round up your precious little soldiers, Hicks, and then you'll be the first to bite the dust. So long, sucker," she grumbled and left, too.

On the other side of the door, Hicks slowly lost courage. The door was thin enough to let sound pass through. He had heard every word Farrel had said and knew that his last hour would soon come. Disheartened, he leaned his forehead and both hands against the door, feeling the numbing coolness of the metal, wishing that he had acted on his suspicion toward Farrel sooner. All this could have been avoided if he had.

***

THE ROUND-UP

Farrel's soldiers swarmed through Gateway like ants through an ant hill, flushing out the remaining people. All of them were gathered in bay 9, guarded by twenty armed soldiers. Farrel had studied the personnel files closely and had a reasonable idea about, how many people there were supposed to be. Hicks' teams were immediately placed under arrest and moved to the detention area. The remaining people were relatives and they were scared enough to be immobilized by this sudden raid.

Farrel stood in front of the group of no more than thirty-three people, looking from one to the other. Ripley was among them and her expression told Farrel all she needed to know. "Move her to the detention area," she said to one of her boys and he carried out the order immediately. Then she again studied the group and frowned. "There's somebody missing," she said.

***

Marlee slipped into the dropship bay in Gateway's north tower and glanced around. Mary was holding onto her mother's hand with an expression of mixed feelings on her pretty face. "Where's daddy?" she whispered.

Marlee brought a finger up to her lips. "Shhh, honey. Not now," she whispered back and quickly ran across the open bay floor toward the nearest shuttle. "We've got to get of Gateway. Daddy will join us later," she added quietly and pushed Mary up the ramp. Mary was not happy about leaving her father behind. She was as attached to Hudson as she was to Marlee.

Marlee had figured that if she could get off Gateway and reach Lunar Station, she would be able to pass on what she knew and get some help from them. That was her plan, anyway.

When she dropped down in the pilot's chair after securing the hatch, a door opened and the first soldier stepped into the bay. For a moment she considered to stay put and wait for him to leave, but when a second and third one followed him, she gave up on being careful, started up the engine and flew the shuttle through the bay doors without waiting for them to open. The three soldiers were sucked out with her as she guided the shuttle out of Gateway. Well on her way it only took her a short moment to realize that the shuttle had been damaged by her reckless escape. She would have to land it soon and she would absolutely not be able to reach Lunar Station. Instead, she turned the shuttle as best she could and headed for Earth. She knew that once she had landed she would not be able to take off again. So, landing it in a secure spot would be essential.

Since Gateway was constantly in step with Earth's rotation and therefore remained in orbit over L.A. that would be the best place to find a hideout. Marlee glanced at her daughter, whom she had strapped down on the co-pilot seat. Mary was anxiously gnawing at her fingernails, staring up at the sky outside the cockpit window with wide eyes. "Don't worry, honey. We'll be safe," Marlee said soothingly.

Mary's eyes shifted to her. "But you said that Earth is a bad place," the little girl insisted. Marlee had on more occasions than one told her daughter about how bad Earth was for them now and that they would never go down there. She had done so, because Mary had insisted on seeing Earth soon and Marlee had thought it would be best to explain things as they were to her daughter.

"Yes, honey, I know I've said that. But Gateway is even worse right now. We've got to get away from those bad people," she finally said, not certain whether Mary's perception of other people would become a good one in future because of this. But she did what she thought was right and whatever mistakes she made now she could always rectify later.

Mary's eyes grew even wider. "What about the bugs?" she whispered in a scared tone of voice. "Daddy said the bugs would eat us if we went to Earth."

For a moment Marlee closed her eyes. So Hudson had told their daughter even worse stories than she had. "Not if we're careful. Daddy is right, though. If they find us, they will eat us. But they won't find us. We'll be really careful and we won't make much noise when we land. Right?"

Mary nodded mutely, staring at her mother for a moment before returning to stare out of the cockpit window.

***

The shuttle set down on a street in L.A. after Marlee had made certain that they would not set down next to any of the known hives. The shuttle she had stolen was a fully equipped marine shuttle which gave her the splendid opportunity of defending herself. She unstrapped, helped Mary out of her straps, too, and went into the back of the shuttle to rig up some kind of defense. Row after row of pulse riffles hanging in their support-harnesses made her smile a little. Then her eyes searched over the equipment bench and stopped short at the big empty space under the bench. The space where the box with the ammo should have been. "Oh no," she said, dropping down on her knees. She looked into the opening under the bench for a moment, feeling distressed. Mary turned up beside her and looked into the opening, too. She didn't see anything interesting in there and wandered off again.

Marlee looked after her for a moment, then rose to check the pulse riffles. None of them were loaded, of course. There were a few hand weapons, too, but only one of them had a clip in it. Marlee stuffed it into her belt after checking that all ten bullets were in place, picked up two flare guns and then turned to find Mary. "Mary, where are you?" she called.

She went back to the cockpit to find Mary standing on her seat, staring out through the cockpit windows. "Mummy. They're coming," she whispered, pointing down the street. The overcast sky combined with rumbling thunder somewhere in the distance had allowed the aliens to roam the streets during the day.

Marlee felt her heart jump into her throat as she watched the darting black shadows coming toward the shuttle. If they stayed in the shuttle, they would not stand a chance. It would take the aliens no time at all to break through. With an anxious sound escaping her, she grabbed Mary under one arm and ran for the exit. The ramp had not even touched ground yet before Marlee was out and running for the nearest building. She could hear the screeches of the aliens, as they targeted her and Mary and that gave her wings. She raced in through the shattered front doors of the building and headed for the stairwell. Not thinking further than her need to get away from those monsters, she ran upward, taking two steps at a time until her legs started to shiver with exhaustion. She pushed through the door to that floor and slammed it shut, briefly looking around for something to barricade it with. Then her eyes fell on the shattered window at the end of the corridor she had entered. The aliens would not find it extremely difficult to enter the building from there. At that thought she snickered hysterically and started looking around for a door that was not in pieces, and finally she saw one. She ran over to it, pushed it open and looked around. A maintenance closet. And the door was solid steel. She put Mary down and shooed her into a corner, closed the door and started pulling all kinds of things up in front of it. Then she stumbled backward and dropped down next the Mary, pulled the now sobbing girl into her arms and held her close. "It's okay, baby. It's okay. They can't find us here," she whispered. "We just gotta be real quiet, okay?"

***

It took a long time before the aliens figured out where Marlee and Mary had gone to. When they finally made it to that floor, they started methodically searching through the rooms. Marlee could hear them shuffling around outside and she frantically tried to keep her rapid breathing at a minimum. Mary was scared stiff, but in Marlee's experience that meant that any moment she would start to sob again. And if she did that, they were truly history.

Mary's little hands had dug painfully deep into Marlee's arm, but she barely noticed. A desperate idea had crept into her thoughts, a way out of this. The only way, she had realized. Just then, a sob escaped Mary and the shuffling outside stopped. But only for a second. Then there were scratching noises on the door and then the whole door started to shudder as one of the aliens started to hammer its head against it. Mary started to scream, trying to melt into the wall behind Marlee and Marlee herself found it difficult to keep her fear at bay. She looked around the small room, trying to find some way to escape and realized too late that she had condemned them the moment she had decided to hide here. With a scornful snort, she realized that her chances against those people on Gateway would have been a whole lot better than her chances against the aliens down here.

The desperate idea blossomed as she grabbed Mary and held her close in her arms. "Mommy loves you, baby," she whispered and pulled her gun. The door crashed open and she fired eight shots at the alien trying to get in. When the eighth bullet had left the gun, Marlee stopped shooting. She eyed the creature with a bitter smile for a moment, aware that it would take its time to reach her. Knowing what she had to do, tears welled up in her eyes. "Mommy loves you," she repeated to the shivering child in her arms. She raised the gun, pressed it against Mary's head and pulled the trigger. A thick wet sound was followed by Mary going limp in her arms. "I'm sorry, baby. I'm so sorry," Marlee whispered, madness glowing in her eyes as she raised the gun to her own temple and again pulled the trigger.

The alien stopped halfway through the maintenance room. For a moment it seemed almost uncertain about what to do, then it slowly withdrew again. It had no need for a dead host.

***

GATEWAY

Hicks glared at the door of his cell, feeling completely useless. He kept blaming himself for letting Farrel take charge and in anger and frustration, he gave the door a powerful kick. As if that had been a sign, the door hydraulics whined to life and the door slid halfway open. "What the hell?" he muttered, staring at the door. There was a malfunction here. Realizing that it was obviously due to a longer period of neglect, he grabbed the edge of the door and pushed it fully open. Taking a peek out into the corridor, he assured himself that none of Farrel's guys were around and slipped outside.

While he edged carefully along the corridor wall, a plan started forming in his head. If he could only find Bishop, he might even have a chance for making it work. An ironic smile slipped over his lips. If was the essential word here. He had long ago figured out that Farrel was nobody's fool. It was not likely that she would let Bishop run around on the loose, let alone let him live. But then again, she might not know about his missing BI. If she didn't, she would expect him to be just another android employed by the marines and would leave him alone.

Stopping at the next door, Hicks pressed a palm against the door opener and the door slid aside. Ripley rose from her cot and smiled gratefully when she saw who it was. "Ellen. Are you okay?" Hicks asked, glancing back down the corridor toward the entrance.

"Yes, I'm fine. What's going on out there?" she wanted to know in return.

Hicks stepped aside, letting her out of the cell. "Farrel has taken over. We've got to find a way to wrestle her out of power. It'll take some tinkering, but I think we can do it. Where's Bishop?"

Ripley briefly looked both ways up and down the corridor, then pointed to the next door. "In there, I think."

Hicks hurried toward the door and came to a stop a few feet from it. With a smile, he looked back at Ripley. "It looks like Bishop has already set that plan in motion," he said.

When Ripley came up beside him, she realized what he meant. The door was halfway open and the cell behind it was empty. The android was certainly working on his own now. Nobody told him what to do anymore, yet he was still able to function normally. "Don't you think he might actually be dangerous?" she suddenly asked, glancing at Hicks.

He frowned in return. "What do you mean, dangerous? Of course he isn't dangerous. He's been programmed well, Ellen. There are no flaws that might make him go overboard." He grabbed her arm and started pulling her toward the exit. "Besides, we've got more important things to do than worry about Bishop's stability."

***

Operations was very quiet. The androids made very little noise and Farrel was standing on the observation platform, staring at the monitors showing different cities on Earth. She was standing with her back straight, her hands clasped behind her and her eyes occasionally shifting between the monitors. The views showed people here and there, running for their lives, getting caught by the aliens on every occasion. Farrel frowned briefly as one of the survivors got away.

Then she shook her head and turned around to face her men. "Right. We are going to initiate the annihilation of those bastards down there. The people left on Earth don't stand a chance anyway and ..." she began, but trailed off when one of the soldiers rose from his seat.

"Sir, there's an alert from the detention area. Three of the prisoners have left their cells," he reported, meeting Farrel's eyes without flinching.

She frowned again with the feeling of a headache coming on. "Who escaped? Hicks?" she wanted to know.

The solider checked the readings again and nodded. "Yes, sir. And Mrs. Ripley and Bishop, too. They're on the loose somewhere on the station," he replied.

Farrel clapped her hands together with an annoyed expression. "Right. First of all, I want you to get on the horn to your buddies and tell them to seal off all bays. No access allowed except for me. Station two guards in every bay and send the rest of the team out to find them. I want them alive." She paused, a thoughtful look crossing her face when she glanced over her shoulder at the monitors. "We'll initiate the annihilation of our little friends down there when those two morons and their toy have been caught. I don't want anything to go wrong when we set out to clean Earth for good."

The soldier passed on the message and then left Operations with Farrel. She was certain she knew where they were heading and just on account of her suspicion, she had blocked all outgoing calls.

***

After making sure that all vessels were accounted for, Farrel and the soldier headed for the detention area. Farrel inspected the door to Hicks' cell and then gave it a light kick. "Damn. This place has been neglected too long. We need a maintenance crew. Make a note of that." Then she moved on the Ripley's cell and noted that the door was in proper working order and that Hicks had apparently let her out.

The solider nodded, in no need to make any written notes on Farrel's observations. Farrel went on and opened the cell at the rear of the corridor. Smiling, she stepped inside, giving the inmate a look which wasn't exactly kind. "Private Hudson. I have a little question for you and I think you had better answer it," she said.

Hudson glared at her, out of his mind with concern for Marlee and Mary. "I don't have to tell you shit. You're in violation of every rule I know. I've got nothing to say." With those heated words, he folded his arms over his chest and turned his back to her. All he wanted to do was get out of the cell so he could find his wife and his daughter.

"Oh, but I do think that you will answer this question. You see, your friend, Lieutenant Hicks," she began, stressing Hicks' title with a cynical tone of voice "has managed to escape and if I don't find him soon, I'll get very upset. And if I get upset, I'll BLOW HIS FUCKING HEAD OFF." Farrel roared the latter part but calmed down instantly. Clasping her hands behind her back, she smiled sweetly at Hudson, who in turn looked slightly startled by her apparent lack of control. "So, you see, I think you will answer my question. And my question is as follows. Where could he be? And don't lie to me."

Hudson briefly considered his options at getting away with a lie, then decided that this woman was loony. She was likely to do anything if she caught him in a lie. "Right," he grumbled. "I don't know where he would hide out. Maybe in the reactor room. He's nuts enough to go down there." He knew from experience that Hicks would go down there. He had done it on a number of occasions. Mainly because nobody would bother him down there. Only few people were bold enough to walk into an area that might be radioactive. It wasn't certain, but then again ...!.

Farrel seemed taken aback by that. "The reactor room?" she asked, receiving a nod in reply from Hudson. "Well, that would be nuts. But, we'll check it anyway. Just to make sure. Thank you, Private. I knew you would co-operate." She turned on her heel and stepped back toward the door, then looked over her shoulder. "By the way, your woman and her child, they were heading toward Earth in a shuttle. It's questionable if they are still alive," she said.

This caused Hudson to run amuck. "YOU BITCH," he yelled, throwing himself at Farrel. At the last possible moment, the soldier blocked him, throwing him back onto his bunk and holding him there. "I'LL FUCKING KILL YOU IF ANYTHING'S HAPPENED TO THEM. DO YOU HEAR ME? I'LL KILL YOU," he roared, as Farrel left the cell and calmly walked away.

The soldier held Hudson down for a moment longer, then he let go of him and backed out of the cell, keeping a keen eye on the prisoner. He stopped in the open door, suddenly staring at nothing. The whole process took no more than a second, but Hudson noticed it anyway. He glared at the solider, wondering what had just happened. It had looked like the android had briefly had a short-out.

When the door slid shut after him, Hudson pulled into a corner and wrapped his arms around his knees. "Damn it, Mar. Why the hell did you go to Earth?" he whispered. As if on second thought, he tilted his head back a little to look up at the ceiling. "Please let them be okay."

***

Hicks shifted his position on the uncomfortably hard floor, as a tingling sensation started to spread up his back. "We can't stay here forever. We need to figure out what to do," he muttered, not looking at Ripley, who was sitting next to him.

Ripley looked around the rear of the reactor room, a bad feeling in her bones. "This is not the best place to be, Dwayne. Are you sure it's okay?" she asked for the umpteenth time. "There must be a better place to hide out."

Hicks finally got up and walked up to the edge of the giant encased reactor core. The whole room -- or rather hall -- was vibrating softly, giving them the feeling as if they were on board of an old-fashioned freight train. "It's okay. I've been down here a million times," he answered her question for the umpteenth time. "This is the only place they won't look. We might not be able to hear them come in, but they won't look here. I'm sure of it." He wandered back toward her and stopped in front of her. "Ellen, I've been thinking," he then said.

She looked up at him, wondering what came next. "About what?" she asked after a moment's worth of silence.

"If we make it out of this alive ..." he began and she knew where he was heading, so she cut him off.

"Let's not talk about this now, Dwayne. We can discuss what we will do with our futures when we've gotten out of this alive." She paused long enough for him to cut in.

"If we don't talk about this now, it might be too late, Ellen," he said, squatting down in front of her. "We need to talk about it."

Ripley met his eyes, staring at him for a moment. Then she sighed. "What's the point, Dwayne? They'll get to me sooner or later. It's only a matter of time before this is all over."

Hicks eyed her thoughtfully, wondering if what had happened to her still had precedence over the rest. She was so absorbed in the loss of her life that she completely overlooked the fact that millions of people had suffered the same or worse fates than her. Grabbing her right hand hard in his, he decided that now was as good a time as any to confront her with those feelings. "This attitude of yours is starting to become a real bore, Ellen. You're not the only one who has been through this. By now millions of people have died because of these aliens. Millions more have lost people close to them. How many mother's don't you think have seen their children die agonized deaths? How many children have seen their parents go the same way? Your story is old news by now."

Ripley was stunned for a moment. She had not expected Hicks to say this. Not him. Slowly, she got up and he followed her example. "My attitude?" she asked cautiously. "I'm sorry if this bores you, Dwayne, but I find it very difficult to focus on others when all I can think of is what I've lost. I never meant for all this to happen, but it did happen. I'm sorry it did. I'm sorry I ever met those stupid creatures." With every word her voice rose in tone and intensity. "Every god-damned time I try to start over, those fuckers turn up out of nowhere to mess up my life. Sometimes I just think it would be easier if I blew my head off," she almost screamed as tears started rolling down her face. All the bottled-up feelings welled up in her like a tide of stagnant water. "I can't take this anymore. I just can't," she added, dropping back down on the floor, covering her face with her hands and sobbing into them.

Hicks sat down in front of her and reached out to grab her wrists. "Yes, you can. You're strong. You've got plenty to give yet, Ellen. And once we're done here, you'll get the peace you deserve. Trust me."

Slowly she lowered her hands, staring at him through tear-filled eyes. "No, Dwayne. I haven't got anything left to give. Everything I ever had is gone. Newt hates me, Dwayne. My daughter probably hated me 'till the day she died. All my friends are dead and gone. You are the only one left and the way things are going, I don't have high hopes for you. Once Farrel gets to us, we're both history. And you know what? I'm looking forward to it. I want this. I'm tired. I'm fed up. I can't go on anymore."

Unwilling to go along on her doomsday ideas, Hicks shook his head. "No way. They won't find us down here. We'll be safe until we figure out what to do. I was thinking about Bishop. If we could somehow get to him, he might be able to help us." He hesitated when she lowered her head, letting it hang in discouragement. "You just got to hold on for a while longer, Ellen. We'll make it. We made it off Acheron all right. And we never would have if you hadn't taken things into your own hands. We would have died in the colony complex. You're a survivor. You're like those guys down there on the surface, trying to get by, knowing that help will come. I just need to ..."

"You need to nothing," a voice said from somewhere behind him. Hicks turned his head to look up at Farrel, who stood at the edge of the reactor core. "You need to get up and put your hands behind your head, Lieutenant. Escaping from prison will not look good on your record." She stepped aside to let her boys get by.

Hicks slowly came to his feet and raised his hands up behind his head in one smooth motion. Ripley did likewise, the expression on her face telling him that all he had aimed for was for nothing. She had been proven right again. And he was starting to share her feelings. The android soldiers encircled them, all of them pointing their weapons at the two of them. It would be so easy for Farrel to end it right there and then and for a second Hicks almost wished she would. But he thought he knew her better than that. She would wait and savor it at a later time.

"Take them back to their cells. When we're done with our cleaning operation, we'll get back to you. And there is nothing to look forward to. I can promise you that," Farrel said, not letting Hicks down on that account.

Hicks' reaction was instantaneous. He swirled around so suddenly that it seemed to stun the android soldiers. With one quick move, he wrestled a riffle out of the hands of one of them and fired one shot, then ducked, pulling Ripley down with him. There was no doubt about the outcome of that action. The six android soldiers were build to be trigger happy and respond instantly to an assault. They all started shooting at once, drowning out Farrel's calls for order. Seconds later, all six soldiers had gone down, not one of them functional anymore. They were acid proof, but not bullet proof. The proximity at which they had shot at each other would have cut a human being in half, but they had merely managed to put each other out of commission.

As the smoke from the fire fight finally drifted away, Farrel stepped out from the relative shelter of the core and took a look at the devastation. Hicks and Ripley were long gone and now they were armed, too. A nervous tick caused the left side of her mouth to pull up into a half grin as she watched her demolished soldiers with a frown. "Well, Hicks. Now you've done it," she muttered, turned around and strode away. If she found him before her soldiers did, she would blow his head off.

***

Hicks leaned back against the wall of the air duct he and Ripley were hiding in, closing his eyes for a moment. This was the same air duct he had been in when he had fled from Miller and the alien queen. Somewhere up ahead the duct rose into the air and would eventually end up in the chamber which had witnessed the unholy birth of the alien creature. In the other direction was the bay, but it was guarded by two of Farrel's guys. There was nothing to be gained from trying to get off Gateway, anyway. There was nowhere to go but to Earth, since Farrel wasn't likely to let them head in any other direction, and Hicks wasn't keen on that idea for one good reason.

Ripley was sitting with her knees pulled up against her chest, staring gloomily at the wall across from her. Hicks' maneuver had temporarily gotten them off the hook, but she did not believe that it would take long before Farrel's guys caught up with them. And then what? Would they get shot on sight? Or would they wait until Farrel came and then shoot them? Other more disturbing ideas paraded through her head and she had to force herself to stop thinking such thoughts. She turned her head to look at Hicks and tried to make out his expression in the semi-darkness of the duct. "Now what?" she asked quietly.

"I -- have no idea," he confessed. "I've never been forced to run from authorities before." He hesitated and turned his head to meet her eyes. "Do you have any ideas?"

Ripley shrugged. "Getting to Bishop seems to be the most essential thing right now, but since we don't have a clue where he could be, I don't know how to go about it." Somewhere to their right, something rattled and Hicks instantly brought up the riffle, aiming it into the shadowy reaches of the duct. The rattle repeated itself, causing both of them to hold their breaths. Up ahead between two gratings, which admitted a moderate light into the duct, two small points glowed in the darkness. Then a big, black cat emerged into the light of the second grating and passed through it, slowly approaching them. Something about the appearance of the cat made Ripley more optimistic. "Here, kitty," she whispered, rubbing the fingers of her right hand together in order to attract the animal. The cat started purring quietly as it came closer, obviously not afraid of them. It brushed past Hicks' knee and started rubbing its head against Ripley's hand.

Hicks eyed the animal thoughtfully, wondering where it came from. "How the hell did you get in here?" he asked it, reaching out to ruffle its fur. The cat turned its attention to him, rubbing against his knee while its purring grew louder. Then he noticed the collar around its neck. "Of course. The labs. They have to be down that way," he added, jabbing a thumb in the direction from where the cat had come. "Show us the way, cat."

Almost as if the animal instinctively understood him, it started back toward its point of origin and both of them followed it. It was a slow, laborious crawl, but eventually they made it to an open grating, where the cat jumped out. Hicks hesitated before approaching the opening and he was ready for anything when he did. The room the gap opened out into was dark, but not so dark that Hicks could not guess at what it was. It had to be the main lab. The room was huge and there were rows after rows of tables with various equipment on them.

Hicks slid out of the duct and helped Ripley out. "Main lab. That's my guess, anyway," he told her and she nodded silently. "I don't think Farrel has any need for this area, so she'll probably not look for us here."

Ripley looked around cautiously and then her eyes fell on a security camera mounted on the wall above a door. The little red lamp was on. "Don't count on it, Dwayne. We're being monitored," she hissed, pointing at the camera.

Hicks' instincts told him to duck, but he also knew that it was too late. The camera had spotted them by now. "Shit," he grumbled, grabbed Ripley's arm and headed for the door. The faster they got out of this area, the better. But, on the other hand, if the camera in the lab was functional, then the rest of them probably were, too. "I don't see any choice but to return to the ducts," he then said, stopping short. "At least there are no cameras in there."

He doubled back the way they had come but stopped again when the ceiling lights came on, flooding the room with blindingly bright light. "Stop or we'll shoot," the dispassionate voice of one of the androids called.

Hicks froze, knowing that even if they did make it back to the duct, they would not be able to haul themselves into it and get away without being shot. "All right. Stay cool. We surrender," he said, dropped the riffle and raised his hands up behind his head.

Ripley sighed, then did the same. They both turned slowly to face the six androids. All six of them had their riffles trained on them and Hicks was glad for his initial decision not to oppose them. After their little escape he had actually expected Farrel to order her boys to shoot on sight, but maybe these guys did not know that yet.

"Don't move," one of the artificial soldiers advised them. Two of them kept their riffles trained on them while two of the others tied their hands behind their backs. Another went to the intercom to tell Farrel that they had been caught. To Hicks' immediate surprise, Farrel did not order them shot instantly. She wanted them returned to their cells. At once.

One of those keeping them at gun point nodded, slowly lowering his riffle. "All right. Let's move out," he then said.

***

Farrel stood waiting for them, when the six soldiers horded Hicks and Ripley into the detention area again. She just stood there with her hands clasped behind her back, watching them.

"I'm very dissatisfied with your little stunt, Lieutenant. You've cost me six of my soldiers and when I take into consideration that they cost just about one million dollars each, I get very upset," she said. "But your punishment will have to wait until a later time. I've got to clean Earth out now. These bugs have had their day and now the time for judgment has come."

Hicks frowned at her, wondering if she really was crazy. She sounded like it at the moment. "Farrel, I don't think you know what you're doing anymore. You've obviously lost it," he said, already regretting that he had said it before he was done.

Farrel stared at him for a moment, then sighed. "Well, maybe your punishment will not have to wait after all. You are starting to bother me quite a bit and I bet you'd try to escape again," she then said. "Kill him," she added to the closest soldier.

"NO," Ripley yelled, stepping in front of Hicks. "You crazy bitch. You're not killing anybody."

Farrel's eyes narrowed for a moment, then she pursed her lips indifferently. "Kill her, too. She's a pain in the neck," she then said, turning her back to the scene.

Hicks took a deep breath, trying to prepare himself for what was about to come. But then he realized that none of the soldiers had so far reacted to her orders. He glanced around at them, wondering what kept them from doing what she had said. Maybe they did have a BI installed after all. But on the other hand, they had threatened both him and Ripley with guns and any kind of BI would prevent such an action.

Farrel became aware of their lack of response, too, and turned back to see what the trouble was. "I said kill them," she repeated. "Now!" Still nothing happened. The soldiers just stood there, staring at her, not moving. "What's the matter with you? Obey me," she snapped, starting to get nervous.

"I'm afraid they can't," a voice said from the door leading out into the entrance hall. Hicks and Ripley both turned to see Bishop standing there, his arms folded over his chest, his expression as unreadable as ever.

Farrel frowned. "And why not? Nobody but me can change any orders they receive," she growled. "By the way, you are under my command as well. So you will do what I tell you," she added on second thought.

"I'm afraid I can't. You see, I've been programmed to uphold life at any cost, Lieutenant Farrel, and you have threatened the lives of these people. I can't allow that," he said, then made a move with one hand. The soldiers stepped aside, backs to the walls, waiting for further orders. "They are all under my command now and they will do what I tell them to."

Farrel's jaw dropped at that. "What?" she then snapped. "What are you talking about? You're just another synthetic. You can't make that kind of decision on your own. You have to obey." She was getting really nervous, wondering silently what was causing his disobedience. Maybe he had short-circuited. But if he had, he should have stopped responding at all. He should not be able to move. That was what the BI was there for.

Bishop temporarily ignored Farrel and turned his attention to Hicks. "Are you all right?" he asked.

Hicks nodded with a smile. "Yeah, now I am. Great timing, Bish," he said while Bishop released him from his ties.

Bishop managed an honest looking smile. "I aim to please," he said, actually making a joke as he released Ripley as well.

Ripley was not too sure about this development. She knew very well that Bishop was an independent being now. He might not be human but he had a basic mind of his own now. He was no longer inhibited by the BI and had not been so for a long time. But that did not mean that he could not go over the edge suddenly.

Farrel cut in with an angry snort. "What the hell is this? No synthetic is as independent as you," she snarled.

"That is correct, Lieutenant. I am not equipped with a behavioral inhibitor and am therefore able to make decisions on my own. And one of these decisions is to arrest you." Bishop waved one hand and two of the soldiers, who had previously been completely loyal to her, grabbed Farrel and threw her into a cell after releasing its current occupant. Before the lieutenant could utter a word, the door slid closed, cutting her off at any angry retorts.

Hicks nodded with a smile. "Let's release the others and get some order back into things, shall we?" he then inquired, slapping Bishop's shoulder in a friendly manner.

Bishop nodded and set Hicks' request in motion at once. Ripley and Hicks headed for Operations to see how much damage Farrel had managed to do. On their way there, Ripley could no longer keep silent with her concern. "Isn't he a bit too independent?" she asked.

Hicks frowned at her. "Bishop? No, I don't think so. If he wasn't this independent, he wouldn't have been able to help us out of this fix and we were damned close to buying it back there. In case you didn't notice," he replied.

***

After two days, everything was back on track like it had been before Farrel had decided to take over. Hicks had re-started the screening-teams, this time using the androids, and they truly worked wonders. His teams worked on Gateway, receiving the survivors and shipping them off to Lunar Station. The request which Farrel had sent to her superiors, had not been answered yet and Hicks had decided to forget about it until it became relevant.

Spending most of his time in Operations, Hicks barely had time to think of anything other than getting this show on the road. The androids did not need any sleep or nourishment and simply kept up the pace both night and days. Due to that, the teams on Gateway worked in shifts. Everybody was occupied with their work-assignments and nobody really had time to notice that Hudson was keeping out of things.

Ripley bumped into him on her way to Operations. "Hey, Will. What's happening?" she asked him with a smile. Her cheery disposition faded when she saw the look on his face. "What's wrong?" she asked.

For two days he had toured through Gateway, desperately searching for Marlee and Mary. Farrel's words still rang in his ears and he was starting to believe that she had been right. The two of them were not anywhere on the Station. "Ellen, have you seen Mar? Please say you have," he said. There was something so utterly desperate in his tone of voice that it made Ripley cringe.

"No, I haven't. I thought you had found her," she then said. "Have you looked everywhere?"

Hudson nodded anxiously. "Yeah, every God-damned place I could think of. She's not here. And neither is Mary. I'm scared, Ellen. Farrel said she'd gone to Earth in a shuttle. I thought she was just trying to be mean, but now I don't think so anymore."

Ripley pressed a hand against her mouth. "Oh, my God," she muttered into her palm. Then she grabbed his arm. "Come on. There must be some way of tracking her. Maybe the tracking system was on line when she left. We'll be able to find her that way."

***

In Operations, Hicks was delegating orders and feeling very much in need of sleep. It had been a hard trip so far and being unable to resign his command out of sheer guilt, he had been working night and day since Farrel's arrest. Two nights and two days should not have been a problem for him, but he was out of training and the past days had depleted his resources.

When Ripley and Hudson entered, he first thought they might have come by to relieve him. But he dismissed that thought almost as quickly as it had turned up. The look on Hudson's face combined with Ripley's concerned expression made him instantly aware of the reason. Ignoring Ripley for a moment, he turned to Hudson. "Haven't you found Marlee yet?" he asked.

Hudson shook his head sadly, looking like he was ready to give up. "No, man. She's gone. And so is Mary," he said.

Before either of them could say anything, Hicks turned to one of the soldiers. "Check the back-up system. Maybe we've got something on there." The soldier nodded and went to work. Hicks looked after him with a slight frown. He had felt that the numbers Farrel had given her soldiers were too impersonal, but their reaction to him asking them if they wanted names had been highly peculiar. Well, not so much for an android, of course. They had merely looked blankly at him and then ignored him. It still caused him trouble telling them apart and he was certain he never would be able to. They had no personality, no distinguishing marks. They were all identical. Dismissing it, he turned back to Hudson. "I bet we can find out where she went."

Hudson's nervous expression was comparable to the way he had behaved on Acheron, but this was still different. He wasn't afraid for himself anymore. He was afraid for his family. "I hope so, man. I sure hope so."

Hicks glanced at Ripley, noting the way she followed every move the soldier he had just put to work made. She was nervous as well, attached to the girl as she was. Hicks himself would find it very difficult to accept if something had happened to Marlee. After all, she had become part of the "family,” so to speak. She was close to Hudson and an extremely bright girl. There was none better in a tight spot than somebody like Marlee. She had full control over her feelings and she would never do anything which would jeopardize herself or her friends. "Don't worry, pal. She's bound to be okay."

The soldier worked his way methodically through the back-up system, working much faster than any human could. He scanned the readouts quickly and eventually found what the lieutenant had asked for. "Sir," he called out. Hicks came up beside him and he pointed down at the monitor. "There, sir. She was on a direct course toward Earth. At this trajectory, she must have landed somewhere in L.A."

Hicks eyed the information thoughtfully for a moment, then nodded. "Right. Find out where and get me the exact time and place co-ordinates. Then put together a rescue team."

The soldier nodded, returning his full attention to the monitor. It took him less than two minutes to find the required information and he then left the workstation to Hicks while he carried out the rest of Hicks' order. Fifteen minutes later, the soldier reported back from the bay, where he had assembled a rescue team as ordered.

Hicks took one look at Hudson and decided that leaving his friend behind was probably best. He had a bad feeling about the whole thing and did not want Hudson to be there if they found Marlee dead. "You're staying," he said, pointing at Hudson.

"No fucking way. I'm coming along," Hudson snapped, instantly angry at the mere thought.

Hicks decided to be tough with him even though he could see why Hudson wanted to come along. "You're staying. Period. I can't have you running amuck down there. We don't have the time or the personnel for that and besides, the whole area might be swarming with aliens. So forget about it. Okay?"

Hudson glared at him for a long moment, then shook his head. "No, it's not okay, man. I'm coming along. It's my wife. My kid. I want to know what happened to them. Got it?" he then snarled, swirled around and strode out of Operations.

Ripley grabbed Hicks by the shoulder when he wanted to rush after him. "Leave him, Dwayne. He's coming with us. He has a right," she said quietly.

Hicks gave her a look, then sighed. "And you're coming as well, I guess?" he asked and she nodded solemnly. "Great. Let's make it a picnic. I can't look out for the both of you, Ellen. I want Will to stay and I want you to stay. I want to be the only human on the team. And that's final." He turned to face her and put his hands on her shoulders. "Don't get me wrong. It's not because I don't have faith in your abilities."

Ripley looked into his eyes, knowing that he was dead serious. And this time she would not be able to convince him otherwise. Come to think of it, she never really had been able to convince him of anything if he was dead against it. With a sigh, she let her head drop. "Okay. I'll stay behind. I don't really think I want to know -- not up close, anyway," she then said.

Hicks sighed inwardly. He had feared that she would make a fuss, that she would insist on coming along. "Good. Now all I have to do is either convince Will or force him to stay behind." With those words, Hicks left Operations and headed for the bay where the soldiers were waiting for him. So was Hudson. Hicks took one look at him and knew that convincing him would be easy. The nervous expression combined with his almost erratic way of smoking his cigarette told Hicks all he needed to know. "You stay," he repeated, hoping that it would do the trick.

Hudson gave him a dark look and made no move to argue. Eventually he nodded. "Okay, man. But you tell me what happened. Everything," he then said.

Hicks padded his shoulder. "Sure thing, Will." Then he turned around to face the group of android soldiers. "Alright. Let's move out," he called and they started filing into the dropship they had chosen for the action. Hicks stopped at the foot of the ramp after the last soldier had climbed aboard and looked back at Hudson. He wished there was something he could say to his friend to cheer him up. But when all came to all, he didn't believe that Marlee was alive anymore. It was almost certain that she was gone. Why he thought that was beyond him. She had after all dealt with the aliens on Acheron. But, on the other hand, she'd not been alone then. And she had not had a little child to look after either. He managed a brief smile and then climbed into the dropship as well.

Hudson watched him go, nervously dragging at the cigarette. Whatever news Hicks brought back, he was certain that it would be bad. Marlee and Mary were dead. He knew that somewhere deep down. But he kept clinging to the hope that they were okay. That Hicks would return and put his daughter in his arms. "Bring'em back, man. Bring'em back," he muttered, then turned and left the bay again.

***