COMMAND CENTRAL
GATEWAY STATION

Valenz looked up from the console she had been staring idly at when the door opened. To her immediate surprise, Hicks stalked into the room with the girl in tow, a dark look in his eyes. Getting up, she felt hope for the future again, wishing that he had come to his senses and would help them keep the brass of their collective behinds for now.

Hicks came to a stop and glanced around at the few assembled in the command central, and then fixed his gaze on Valenz. "Get everybody together and tell two of the guys to prep however many transports we need to get off the floating coffin," he said.

"What?" Valenz wasn't entirely clear on what was going on and why Hicks would go from being basically lethargic to being hyper-paranoid. "Why?"

Hicks fixed her with a hard stare. "Because we're abandoning Gateway," he stated, no doubt in his voice, before he turned around and left again, dragging the girl along with him.

"Aban ..." Valenz began, but trailed off when the door closed behind him again. She quickly became aware that the others in the room were staring at her and she gave them all a quick glance. "Well ..." she said, then shook her head with a frown, "you heard the man. Let's pack it up."

***

Within a very short span of time, every last living soul on Gateway had turned up in the main bay, some happy to be going, but most of them confused about the sudden urge to pick up and leave.

Ripley and Hudson stood side by side, watching the commotion, neither of them certain about what exactly was going on. The last to arrive were Hicks and Newt and the contrasts between the man and the girl were many and very sharp. Newt was as calm and indifferent as Hicks was agitated and worked up.

Nobody made a move in any direction when he entered and Boulder was the one to voice what virtually everybody else was thinking. "What the hell is going on?"

Hicks gave him a look that made the Sergeant shut up immediately. "We're leaving Gateway behind," he said, his calm tone of voice belying his visible agitation.

"Why?" Hudson asked. He wasn't too keen on being back on Gateway, but he felt he needed to ask this question anyway. "I thought it was clean."

Hicks glanced around at all of them. "It doesn't matter if Gateway is clean, Will," he said. "Newt pointed this out to me and I agree. It's too fucking dangerous to stick around here."

Boulder felt compelled to point out the ludicrousness of what Hicks was saying. "A kid, who hasn't been on Gateway more than an hour or two pointed this out to you and you're ... listening to her?" he asked, totally taken aback by this.

"Yeah," Hicks agreed without hesitation. "Newt knows a thing or two about the aliens that the rest of us don't. She survived them when nobody else could. I'm more inclined to listen to her than to any one damned machine on this bucket," he added. "No offence, Bishop."

"None taken," Bishop assured him.

Ripley frowned a little at this exchange. Although she had no idea what Newt had said to Hicks to turn him around like this, she felt the need to back them both up. "Well, if Newt thinks it's dangerous here, I say we leave," she inserted.

"Me too," Hudson agreed.

Boulder considered that one for a moment. It went against everything he knew, everything he had ever learned, but he had also learned to trust Hicks' judgment. The man was unconventional, but he had the results to back him up. "Well ... I guess we're leaving then," he said and shrugged. "I can't say I'll be sad to leave this scrapheap behind. But ... what are you going to tell the brass? I mean, it's not like they'll just ... leave Gateway to her own devices. It won't take them more than a split second to send another team to take over."

Hicks nodded. "I know that. That's why I've set the self-destruct sequence for half an hour. Which we've already wasted ten minutes of. So I say we get off this flying graveyard and discuss whatever needs to be discussed when we're far enough away from here to not be blown to bits when she goes."

Everybody was stunned. They had come to expect some crazy things from their lieutenant, but nobody had expected him to go that far. "Blow Gateway?" Valenz asked, as always the one to speak for the team. "How the fuck are you going to explain that one to the brass?"

Hicks grinned. It was a shadow of his former grin, but he grinned none the less. "They can bill me," he said and winked at Ripley, who couldn't help smiling.

"Let's go, people. Let's move like we got a purpose," Boulder said loudly. "Everybody here?" he then asked, glancing around at the small group of people. The whole team was present along with the synthetic troops and the six scientists who had stayed behind. "Looks like everybody to me," he added and turned back to face Hicks. "We're ready to go, Sir," he added.

With a grim nod, Hicks acknowledge his obvious reinstatement. "Lead the way," he said, stepping aside to let Boulder take point.

***

The shuttles were almost all the way to Lunar Station before Gateway blew up. The vista was fascinating in all its destructiveness and Ripley stood at one of the view ports and watched it happen with an oddly cramped up feeling in the pit of her stomach. Watching Gateway blow up was like watching the Nostromo go.

There were no sounds of excitement or other aboard and nobody else watched the destruction of Gateway with her. After the last shimmer had faded away, Ripley turned around and watched those on the shuttle with her. They were mostly subdued, but none of them looked depressed. Except for Hicks. He just sat there, his hands folded in his lap, his eyes on nothing. There was an air of despair about him, about the way he just sat there, and she wondered what it would take to get him back on track.

Settling down next to him, she thought hard about what to say before actually opening her mouth. There were so many wrong things she could say, which might increase his depression, but in general, she just didn't know what to say at all. At the same time she felt like she had to say something, anything.

"That's one hell of a decision to make," she finally said and glanced at him. "You must really have faith in Newt."

That at least made him smile vaguely. "I do. I trust her when she says it's time to go," he said and glanced back at her. "The girl knows these aliens better than anyone. Well ... almost."

For a moment, they just looked at each other, and then both turned away at the same time. "Yeah, the girl knows her aliens," she agreed and shook her head.

"What will you guys do now?" Hicks asked after a moment.

"Stay on Lunar Station. We've been there ever since ... I left," she replied thoughtfully. "What about you?"

"Don't know," he said with a light shrug. "I don't have anywhere to go and ... well ... I'm through being a marine. I guess I'll ..." he tried, but then sighed heavily. "Who am I kidding? I have no fucking clue what I'll do."

"You're welcome to stay with us if you want to. There's always room for one more. Will has already said that he'll stick around," she said, not sure what exactly she was offering here. Trying to justify it to herself as well as to him, she gave him a nervous smile. "I'm sure Newt would like it too," she added and glanced at the motionless girl sitting near the hatch.

Hicks glanced at Newt too and sighed. He didn't exactly know how to feel about that one, but he figured he might as well just take her up on the offer. As he had said, he didn't have anywhere else to go. And he did feel a sort of kinship with both Ripley and Newt. "Sure. Why not," he replied.

***

LUNAR STATION

Hicks had spent the better part of six hours, trying to get the reality of his actions across to the representative sent out to meet them by the high lords on Jupiter. The man was completely unable to comprehend why Hicks would set the extremely costly station for self destruct for no apparent reason. As Hicks had repeatedly attempted to make him understand, it had not been for no apparent reason.

"What I fail to understand, Lieutenant Hicks, is how you can even think of making a decision like that without conferring with your superiors," Clarkson said, a total lack of understanding in his eyes.

Hicks eyed the man across the table with a rather set expression. He had been determined to be truthful, to tell the rep what had really happened, but now he wasn't so sure that the truth would be the right path to go. These desk-jockeys just didn't understand any type of hands-on approach. "What I fail to understand, Mr. Clarkson, is what is so difficult to understand about this concept," he replied, having said the same thing in various ways for the past six hours.

Clarkson glanced down at the papers lying spread out on the table top in front of him before raising his gaze to once again meet Hicks'. "For the past many weeks, my superiors ... and yours ... have attempted to contact you. We have been given various excuses for your absence by the Sergeant of your team and various other team members. Would you care to explain to me why it has been so difficult to get a hold of you?"

For a few heartbeats all Hicks could do was stare at the man. Then he straightened up a little more. "What the fuck does that have to do with anything?" he asked, slightly confused by this sudden change of topic.

Clarkson made a face in distaste. "There is really no need for such language. Can you or can you not explain it?"

All of a sudden, there was no doubt in his mind about what he had to do. Folding his arms over his chest, Hicks gave Clarkson a dangerous look. "Alright. Here's how it goes," he said. "I was unavailable because I was busy doing what you dorks on Jupiter couldn't do. I cleared Earth of the alien infestation. Well ... and my team, of course. With ideas devised by my team, we managed to save thousands of lives before we could safely take out the alien population," he continued, his tone of voice slightly overbearing. "Unfortunately Gateway became infected in the process," he added and pulled his t-shirt up, revealing the red scar. "As you can tell from my chest."

Clarkson stared at his chest until Hicks pulled his t-shirt back down. "I was infected. I do believe that a massive operation like that entitles me to be absent for a few weeks, don't you?"

Clarkson's mouth worked, but nothing came out for a minute. Then he swallowed hard and cleared his throat. "Ah ... well ... your team should have informed us about that instead of making up ... excuses," he said, fairly little conviction left in his tone.

"I'll have a word with them on that account," Hicks promised, intending to do no such thing. "As it were, we tried to track down any further aliens maybe hiding on Gateway, but eventually had to give it up as a lost cause. That, of course, after calling in an expert on the aliens, who verified that Gateway was -- as a matter of fact -- a lost cause." He figured that he was generally telling the truth, but that it was a matter of interpretation when it came down to it. And his conscience was clear as a sunny day on that account. "Anything else you need to know?"

Clarkson was suddenly a tad nervous, which made Hicks feel good about himself. "Well ... there is still the matter of why you saw fit to ... well ... as it were ... terminate Gateway without first informing your superiors," he said haltingly.

"Because there wasn't any fucking time to put in a long distance call to a bunch of assholes sitting on their asses all day while we're out here getting off'ed by a bunch of bugs," Hicks replied calmly, but with a steely edge to his voice. He so utterly enjoyed watching Clarkson flinch with every curse he threw his way.

"Uh ... well ... under the circumstances," Clarkson tried and paused briefly to find whatever paper he was looking for, "I assume that your reasoning was ... uh ... sound."

"Damn straight it was. There was no other option. We might have been able to clear Gateway, too, but we would never have been able to feel completely certain and it would have been with great losses. That was just an option I was not willing to even consider," Hicks said, pulled out a knife he had in a sheath in his boot at all times and started cleaning his nails with it. It was not something he usually did, but he somehow knew it would intimidate Clarkson, which it very obviously did.

Clarkson stared at the knife for a second, then nodded somewhat halfheartedly. "Uh ... wise decision, I'm sure," he said and blinked rapidly a few times. "Well, Lieutenant, it would seem that all is ... uh ... in order then. I speak for our superiors, as you know, and ... well ... it would appear that you ... and your team ... have acted in the general interest of humanity and should therefore not ... uh ... be subject to any further ... doubts."

"Good," Hicks said, re-sheathed the knife and got up. "That's it then?" he asked, not giving Clarkson much room to disagree.

"Uh ... yes, I would assume it is," the rep agreed and rose too. "I apologize if I sounded somewhat ... uh ... doubtful at first. But, you must understand, we had no idea what was going on and ... well ... good job, Lieutenant." With that, he hurriedly bundled his papers and rushed out of the meeting room without so much as a glance back.

"Bureaucratic asshole," Hicks muttered under his breath as the sudden perkiness oozed out of him again. He felt like a deflated balloon.

***

Ripley, Hudson and the rest of the team were waiting for Hicks to finally come back from his meeting with the rep and they were all disheartened when he finally did turn up. It had taken a long time and he looked totally spent when he stepped into the common room of the military barracks.

"Well?" Valenz asked and rose.

Hicks glanced around at them and knew he was going to miss them. Not today, not tomorrow, maybe not even next week, but he would miss them. There was something special about being part of a team and there were no teams like in the Colonial Marines. "Well nothing," he said. "You're all free to do whatever you feel like. We're off the hook. All of us."

The expected elation at such a message didn't come. They all just sat there, either unable to comprehend what he had just said or just not caring. Once again, Valenz acted as speaker for the team. "Just like that?" she asked.

"Yup," Hicks agreed and dropped down on a chair. "Just like that. We came, we saw and we kicked some alien ass. I wouldn't be at all surprised if we all got medals for it too. And it's about fucking time that those morons on Jupiter acknowledged the hard work we've all done."

"You sound angry," Ripley said, voicing what some of the others only dared to think.

"Yeah, well, I'm pissed off," he agreed. "I told Clarkson that we had no other choice than to blow up Gateway because it was infected. A big, fat lie."

"No," Hudson said with a shake of the head. "Not a lie if we believe what Newt said. And I for one know better than to disregard what that kid says. She's one smart cookie and she knows when the shit is about to hit the fan."

Hicks eyed his old friend and team mate for a moment, then turned his attention back to Ripley. "Yeah," he said. "And Newt bases her feelings for what's right and wrong on you, Ellen. She told me that you didn't want to go to Gateway, that it scared you." He paused, mainly for effect, but also because a lot of things were clicking into place for him. "You knew on Acheron. That's why you were reluctant to go into the colony complex, wasn't it?" With a frown furrowing his brow, he rose again. "Were there aliens on Gateway, Ellen?"

She stared at him, feeling a little bit cornered. But eventually, she nodded. "I think so. I had this creeping feeling when I got on board. There probably weren't any adult aliens, but I'm sure there must have been some facehuggers around somewhere," she finally said.

Nodding solemnly, Hicks never took his eyes off her. "So, that justifies what we did," he said matter-of-fact-like. "No need for anybody to feel bad about blowing up a multi-million dollar installation like Gateway," he added and glanced around at the others. "Hear that, ladies? We're in the pipe. Five by five. It went smooth and by the numbers."

Finally, the mood started to lighten and before long, the team was ready to hit the bars, to get one last drink together before they all went their separate ways. Ripley declined the invitation to join them and took her leave of them all before she left, making especially Valenz promise to drop by if she was ever in the neighborhood again.

Hicks and Hudson joined the team for what Peterson affectionately called a pub-crawl, an old British tradition, and both former marines knew they would not be able to remember much the following day. But that didn't matter. They had just won over the system big time and that had to be celebrated.

***

RIPELY'S QUARTERS

Ripley opened the door to the apartment she shared with Newt and now Hicks and stepped inside. She felt both relieved and filled with anxious forebodings. Obviously, there was no escaping the sense of the aliens, no matter how she tried.

Newt was in the den, watching television, when she came in. "Hi," Ripley said and dropped down on the couch next to her. "What are you watching?"

"Sports fishing on Kelvar 5," Newt replied, watching intently as some nondescript man hauled a big, grey something from the purple waves of the endless oceans on that planet. "How did Hicks do?"

"Hicks did fine. We're all in the clear," Ripley said while trying to understand what Newt might find so fascinating about sports fishing.

"They're not gone, you know," Newt said and leaned forward when the fisher pulled another something out of the waves. This looked like a big yellow octopus. "Some of those people that left Earth after the infection began have probably carried some of them with them."

"I know," Ripley said and felt a little compelled to smile when the octopus-creature hooked onto the fisher and dragged him down into the waves, much to the terror of the film crew. "There's nothing we can do about that now. We just have to keep an ear to the ground, keep up with current events and news from around the galaxies. We just have to be cautious."

"Sounds like a good idea to me."

They both turned toward the door to find Hicks standing there. "Aren't you out drinking with the others?" Ripley asked.

"Nah. I'm too old for that shit," he replied and dropped his jacket on a chair before settling down on the other side of Newt. "All I wanna do right now is watch some television and not think for a bit."

Newt glanced at him, then settled against him when he draped an arm around her shoulders. "Affirmative," she said with a vague smile.

Ripley merely smiled. This was really all they could do until they ran into those bugs the next time; have a little fun and enjoy each other's company while it lasted.

THE END