The day of the hearing came faster than expected. Standing outside the room where it would all go down, Taylor stared into space with a frown, waiting for the guards to turn up with Hicks.

When they finally arrived, she noted how nervous he looked. The guards pulled him inside, pushed him down on the chair at the end of the table and cuffed his hands to the back of it. Not even here would they give him a little space. Taylor glared at them as they strode out again, taking position on either side of the door.

Hicks sat there quietly, staring ahead of himself and occasionally moved his hands back and forth inside the cuffs. Taylor read that as nervousness and felt like calling one of the guards to have him released. But that was not allowed. Not with a charge as serious as the one he had hanging over his head like a black rain cloud.

She sat down next to him. "How are you feeling?" she asked, and then shook her head. "It's obvious how you're feeling. Stupid question. -- Okay, listen to me now. Try to keep your temper down and answer with as few explanations as possible. This hearing will be headed by a federal judge and she's impartial. If she asks you to elaborate, do so briefly. Don't let the persecutor, Mr. Prosser, get to you. He knows how to corner people and he will do it. He's going to seek out your weak spots and drive nails into them. He is pretty mean."

Hicks nodded and avoided looking at her. "Right," he grumbled. "So what? I'm dead anyway."

Taylor's expression hardened. "No, you're not. You'll get out of this one. I know you will. I'd stake my life on that," she said, trying not to sound cross.

Finally, his eyes locked on hers and once again that unforgiving, hurt look was in his eyes. Much stronger than before. "And you probably will, Taylor. You shouldn't have gotten involved," he said. "What's the use? What's it good for? I'm not going to leave this hearing a free man. You know that as well as I do. I know too much about this screw-up. The Company is not going to let me walk. No way in hell." His voice was acid-sour and an undertone of resignation made Taylor almost lose her temper.

"Now, you listen to me, okay? I've got proof that will get your released," she said angrily, for a moment wondering why she bothered. For a while there he had seemed as if he too could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but now he was back to his old morose self.

For a long moment, he just stared at her but then he sighed. "Okay, okay," he then said, suddenly aware of how his outburst must have seemed to her. He just had a hard time keeping despair at bay. "Is there anything else I should know?" he then asked back.

Taylor glanced at her watch for a moment. Still plenty of time. "That's better," she muttered under her breath, knowing that he heard it. "As I was trying to say, I have two witnesses, as I have already told you, and I'm not going to reveal their identity to you. I suppose you can guess who they are but it could be of importance for the development of the case if you pretend not to know. When we win this one, it will be more than just a won case. You can stand your ground against the Company in the future. They're not happy about this as it is. It would be very damaging for their reputation if this gets out."

Hicks nodded, his expression pretty tight. "What if we don't win it?" he then asked.

Taylor heaved a deep breath to keep a lid on her temper but then considered that his tone of voice had not sounded as resigned as before. It was maybe better to give him false hope, she thought, than to tell him the hard facts. "Don't give up already, okay? I want you to keep an open mind about this," she told him. She eyed him thoughtfully for a moment. "You've got to stop being so depressed and nervous. You don't have anything to hide, so you've got nothing to be afraid of."

Hicks glared at her, his jaw muscles tightening even more. He was angry again, but this time righteously. "Don't I? I sure as hell wouldn't be the only person to be convicted innocently, Taylor. Give me a break," he snapped.

Taylor considered his reply for a moment, and then decided to change tactics. Instead of giving him another spate of words, she smiled. "Well, it did the trick, didn't it? Now you're angry instead of nervous, a much more appropriate feeling for you. You've been charged with something you didn't do. Not with something you did."

For a moment Hicks just looked at her, then the tightness seemed to seep out of his muscles and he smiled weakly. "Yeah -- it did the trick," he then agreed.

Taylor leaned a little closer. "This is one hell of an emotional roller coaster. And it's going to get worse before it gets better. I hope you're up to it, because there's no turning back now."

Hicks eyed her for a second, and then closed his eyes hard. With a sigh, he let his head drop, trying to get the tenseness out of his shoulders. "I'm as ready as I'll ever be," he finally said. "It's not much, but it's all I've got to give."

Taylor nodded serenely. "Well, it'll have to do. I know you're a tough guy. You'll make it. Just as long as you believe in yourself and don't give a hoot about what they say."

Hicks had raised his head again and was staring at her while his thoughts raced through his mind like tumbleweed in a storm. He had placed his future in the hands of this woman and he was, naturally, having second thoughts. But it was too late to turn back now.


In a waiting room down the hall, Ripley was sitting on a chair, smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee, looking very much at ease. She felt everything but, though. She was, like Hicks, convinced that this hearing was a show. Her belief was maybe stronger than Hicks', because she had seen it happen before. She hadn't had anybody to stand by her, then, but it felt the same way to her.

Peter Jones, Taylor's boss, was standing near the omni-present wall screen, watching the silenced weather forecast for L.A. He was a lot more nervous about the hearing than Ripley was. "Bad day for a hearing," he said, indicating the rainy weather in L.A., knowing that he staked his reputation on this hearing and thereby his career.

Ripley glanced at him, wondering why he stayed. He was a pleasant enough man. He had picked her up at her apartment and brought her to Gateway in his own, personal shuttle, something which she obviously had not shown enough gratitude for. He had hardly said a word to her since they had arrived. "That was to be expected" she replied curtly and flicked ash off the cigarette.

Jones turned around, looking a little perplexed. "Oh? Why's that?" he asked.

Ripley eyed the cigarette for a moment, then crushed it out and took another sip of the lukewarm, thin coffee. "It's been building up for this all morning," she said, nodding toward the view screen and the warning of an impending storm. "It's also an appropriate weather for this hearing -- although the weather down there doesn't really apply for up here, does it? He doesn't stand a chance in hell of getting acquitted."

Her words were harsh and Jones wondered if she had said the same to Taylor. If she had and Bonnie still wanted to continue with the case, he was doubly impressed with her faith in herself. "Well, I happen to think that Mrs. Taylor is doing a hell of a job. She's really going to -- pardon my French -- kick ass in there. If anyone can pull it off, she can," he said, defending Taylor out of more than one reason.

Ripley liked that. There was a lot of ambition in him and it was all directed at Taylor right now. Ripley figured that Jones had a crush on Taylor. She would never know how right she was.


The hearing was closed to the media due to the sensitivity of the subject. The Company was represented by Mr. Josh Prosser, a very good and very aggressive lawyer, and Mr. Dirk van Leuwen. Taylor looked calm and balanced and Hicks tried to do the same. Nevertheless, he was still nervous and still a little bit down in the dumps. The charge against him was so severe, that if he was unlucky and Taylor flunked, he would face a death sentence.

Federal Judge Jessica Faffer entered the room, stopped briefly to take a look at those present, then headed down the length of the meeting table and sat down. Van Leuwen sat to her right, flanked by Prosser, who looked utterly bored by the whole thing. Obviously, they shared Hicks' feeling that the outcome of this case was decided up front.

On the other side of Faffer, a few representatives of various factions within the Company had joined to put in their two cents and to either support or oppose statements. Taylor stayed seated next to Hicks, her hands calmly folded, her eyes on Faffer.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," Faffer said, nodding to each in turn. "I hereby declare this hearing open. I do believe that you all know why I'm heading this hearing and not Mr. van Leuwen. The seriousness of the accusations presented against Mr. Dwayne Hicks. I will hear your statements and I will take everything into consideration." Glancing at van Leuwen, she nodded once and leaned back.

Prosser cleared his throat, leaned forward and looked blandly at Faffer. All he had to do now was yawn to complete the picture of complete boredom. "Mr. Dwayne Hicks, previously a member of the Colonial Marines, has been charged with mass murder. All evidence points at that he is responsible for the deaths of nearly 200 human beings. Both colonists and the other members of his team." He paused to let that sink in, and then he cleared his throat again. "This man," he continued, pointing at Hicks, "has the lives of 200 human beings on his conscience. It is our intent to first of all prove that he has committed this crime and secondly to extract a confession from him."

Faffer pursed her lips, not looking too happy about the way he phrased the charge. "I see. And what is your evidence?"

Prosser paused to look down at the file in front of him. "Well, first of all, the report he handed over, telling us what had happened out there, was so -- if you'll pardon my saying so -- full of crap, that it took no time at all to estimate that the man was either mentally ill or vicious as hell."

Faffer frowned. "How did you deduct that?" she wanted to know. She was an unwilling party at this hearing, representing the higher court and completely ignorant of what this case was about. She had not received any information about it in order to remain impartial. When she heard the explanations, it would be for the first time.

"Well, he blamed the deaths of the colonists and later his team on an alien race, which supposedly has acid for blood and uses human beings as incubators for their young. The idea alone is preposterous," Prosser explained.

That made Faffer's frown deepen. "Aliens with acid for blood? That sounds rather ..." she began, but interrupted herself, not wanting to jump to any conclusions before she had heard every statement.

" ... ridiculous?" Prosser asked, but received no reply from Faffer. "I agree. It sounds like something out of a Science Fiction novel. It appears that Mr. van Leuwen has met this excuse before. A woman, who for whatever reason was invited along on the trip to Acheron and who has a history of mental instability, also claims to have lost the crew of her space tug to only one of these aliens. At least Mr. Hicks had the sense to claim that over a hundred of them attacked. It does make it more plausible although the aliens as such sound like a figment of his sick imagination."

Faffer's expression tightened. "And do you have prove that these aliens do not exist?" she asked.

Prosser paused, staring at her in dismay. "Ahem ..." he started, and then paused again. "Well, the idea that beings like this should exist is preposterous," he tried.

"You've said so already. But why is it so preposterous, Mr. Prosser?" Faffer wanted to know.

"Think about it for a moment, Judge Faffer. Creatures that have acid for blood? It's obvious that this woman told him about her sick fantasy and pulled him into her world of obvious paranoia."

Taylor glanced at Hicks and put a restraining hand on his leg. "Don't," she whispered, knowing that he was about to interfere. "You'll get your chance."

Faffer glanced at Taylor before returning her attention to Prosser. "I don't know. I've heard a lot of crazy things, Mr. Prosser. Not too long ago, the human race believed to be the only living beings in the Universe."

"True, Judge Faffer, but consider the options here. How big is the chance of finding something as hostile as that?" Prosser tried.

"In other words, Mr. Prosser, you have no evidence apart from that it sounds odd?" Faffer wanted to know, staring at him as if he had just lost his marbles.

Prosser glanced at van Leuwen, who in turn leaned forward. "Judge Faffer. It has already been established that these aliens were the figment of Mrs. Ripley's overactive imagination. I hardly believe she has the power to conjure them up and I doubt severely that anything of the kind exists," he said, his tone of voice overbearing.

Faffer met his eyes, her grey ones drilling into his. "May I remind you, Mr. van Leuwen, that the reason for my presence here today is that I will make the final decision on what happens to this man?" she told him, waving toward Hicks. "I find it very difficult to give any credit to your rather petty evidence -- if indeed it can be called that." She glared at him for a moment longer, then sighed. "I will make up my mind when I've heard what Mrs. Taylor has to say," she finally said, thereby giving the word to Taylor.

She in turn nodded. "Judge Faffer, I agree with you that the Company has a rather thin case here and I aim to prove to you that Mr. Hicks is not responsible for what happened to the unfortunate, who died on Acheron. I will prove to you, however, that this alien race does indeed exist and that it poses as a threat to human kind." She paused for effect, having attracted the attention of everybody in the room. "It is true that Mrs. Ellen Ripley was labeled as mentally unstable when she brought forth her claim of these aliens. But this was done because nobody bothered to check out Acheron and the location -- and may I point out that Mrs. Ripley knew the exact location -- of the derelict space craft that held the alien eggs. I have had the opportunity to discuss this matter with Mrs. Ripley and if the aliens are a figment of her imagination, she has a very vivid imagination indeed." Spreading out her arms, she encompassed whatever she was going to say next. "I am a rational woman, Judge Faffer. I don't believe every old wife's tale that's thrown my way and I must admit that I had a difficult time believing Mr. Hicks when he first told me what had happened to him. But evidence has turned up since to convince me that he is telling the truth. And so is Mrs. Ripley. If you would care for her side of the truth, she would be only too pleased to tell you about it."

Hicks glanced at Taylor, knowing that she had to phrase it that way and also knew that Ripley would be anything but pleased to have to repeat her side of the story. But he wisely kept his mouth shut. Taylor was doing a great job so far.

Faffer frowned, and then shook her head. "That won't be necessary. What I wish to know is what evidence you can present here. And I do hope it's better than Mr. Prosser's attempt."

Taylor couldn't help the smile that slipped over her lips. "Oh, I do believe I can top that," she said. "As you know, every flight away from Earth has an android on board as a sort of walking recorder. Androids are incapable of telling lies."

"Yes, yes, Mrs. Taylor. We all know that. But this particular android was destroyed along with the rest of the team," van Leuwen inserted, sounding a little annoyed.

"On the contrary, Mr. van Leuwen. Bishop the android is in perfect working condition and has kindly been loaned to us by Bio's Weapons Division for this hearing."

Van Leuwen's face dropped. He stared at her in complete surprise. "What?" he then snapped. "Why wasn't I informed about that?"

Faffer slapped the table with a flat hand. "Mr. van Leuwen. What you know or don't know doesn't concern this hearing. What does concern it is that we have fail-proofed evidence in the statement of the android," she said, her tone of voice harsh and angry.

Van Leuwen clamped up, staring at her for a moment. Then he folded his arms over his chest, leaned back on his chair and gave in to disappointment. It made him feel inadequate when he found that his staff kept things from him. And apparently Burke had done just that.

Taylor got up and opened the door, letting Bishop in. "Bishop, would you please tell Judge Faffer what happened on Acheron?" she asked him.

"Certainly, Mrs. Taylor," he replied, and then turned to face Faffer. In his slow, calm manner, he retold what he had witnessed on Acheron, including all the details that would clear Hicks once and for all. When he finished, he was dismissed again.

Taylor smiled, unable not to relish the certain victory. "As you can hear, Bishop the android has supported everything that Mr. Hicks has said about Acheron. Everything that Mrs. Ripley has said, too. In my opinion, there should be no doubt in anybody´s mind about what really happened up there."

Faffer nodded. "I agree with you on that. What I need to do now is go over the case file and decide which course of action is the best to take. But, one thing is for certain." She looked directly at Hicks now. "You are without fault in these happenings and should therefore be released instantly."

Hicks sat still while the guards came in and uncuffed him. "Thank you," he finally said, nodding once to Faffer.

"You're welcome. I do believe you're entitled to some kind of compensation for the time you have spent in prison on a false charge, Mr. Hicks. I believe it would be most reasonable to state these claims now rather than having to wait for months without end for the paperwork to be finished. I do believe that Mr. van Leuwen will agree with me?" She sent van Leuwen a pointed look and he nodded in response. "Good. -- Mr. Hicks?"

Hicks was a little taken aback by the turn of things. Enough so that he didn't really know how to respond. So Taylor took over. "I have discussed the matter with Mr. Hicks and we have agreed that he should claim the restoration of his face first of all. And of course that there will be no mention of the charge against him in his official record since this would harm his chances of getting work in future. He has also requested to be released from the Marine Corps with full pension, considering that he has been in the service for ten years and definitely has earned his right to that. And, last but not least, he has also requested that Mrs. Ripley receives the same benefits as he does, considering that she has been labeled a liar and as mentally unstable based on the lack of evidence, which has turned out to be present after all. It should also be taken into consideration that she has suffered a substantial loss of both time and family, because she has spent 57 years in cryosleep due to the before mentioned alien."

Faffer nodded, reminding herself quietly that she needed to read up on Ripley as well. "Very good. I don't believe that will be a problem, Mrs. Taylor. Do you, Mr. van Leuwen?" Van Leuwen almost cringed, but shook his head. He would have to give Hicks and Ripley an official apology and he didn't like doing that. But it was necessary if he wanted to maintain any kind of control over what happened next.

Faffer noted the relieved expression on Hicks' face and had to force back a smile. "There is, however, one small matter which needs to be cleared up," she added. Everybody froze. "These -- aliens." She paused, an indefinable look on her face. "Due to the testimony of Bishop the android I believe in their existence. These -- creatures are -- as Mrs. Taylor stated -- a hazard to human kind and I will therefore request a thoroughgoing investigation of all files concerning the Acheron-case. The investigation is going to be led by the Supreme Court and some specialists they have. Mr. van Leuwen, you are to turn all files concerning Acheron over to these people when they request it. If there is detected any other flaw in this -- anything connecting you to the Acheron-case -- I am afraid that you will have to suffer the consequences. You should keep better track of what your employees are doing. Thank you, that will be all," she ended, rising. "This hearing is hereby closed. Corporal Hicks, you will be contacted regarding your demands for rehabilitation. Good day." With those words, she turned and left the room.


Due to the undeniable evidence presented by Bishop, judge Faffer had sentenced the Company to restore both Ripley and Hicks' pension, to clear them both of the charges against them and -- thanks to the request from Taylor -- to inform the colonies closest to Acheron not to land on the planet. The judge agreed that it would be unwise to state the reason since it could cause panic or be misused. Acheron was hereafter blacklisted, never to be used as a residence for humans or other again. There would be placed warning-satellites in orbit around the planet.

Van Leuwen was slightly upset about the loss of the remaining atmosphere processors that encircled the planet's alien landscape. He would have liked to be able to send out a team to at least shut them down, but was told that they would eventually stop working on their own.


After the hearing, Ripley, Hicks and Taylor were invited to see van Leuwen. The office was very quiet and the atmosphere a little repressed. Van Leuwen looked at his visitors for a long moment, and then he leaned back, folding his hands.

His attention was solely directed at Ripley. "It seems I owe you a personal apology, Mrs. Ripley. I had no knowledge of Burke's plans. If I had known about it, I would not have allowed it. He acted on his own and -- frankly -- I'm sorry he didn't make it back. I would have liked to sue his ass off, if you'll pardon my French."

Ripley was staring at him, her expression blank. She did not know whether to say thank you or kick his ass.

Van Leuwen got up, looking as if the whole affair was very uncomfortable for him. "I hope you will accept my apology," he added and she nodded once. What else could she do? His attention went to Hicks who looked very indifferent. "As to you, Corporal. We have arranged for a very good plastic surgeon to take a look at you. At our expense, of course."

Hicks nodded briefly, wanting to be anywhere else than in van Leuwen's office.

Finally, van Leuwen turned his attention to Taylor. She was the only one of the three with a reasonably friendly expression. He reached a hand out to her and she shook it. "You are one hell of a lawyer, Mrs. Taylor," he said and she only smiled.



The sun was setting behind dark storm clouds slowly dragging themselves across sky. The wind had picked up, nearing storm intensity.

Ripley stood on the balcony of Hicks' 37th floor apartment, watching the gathering of the storm with a frown. She stood at the rear of the balcony, her back almost touching the large landscape window, which took up the full nineteen feet of the balcony. It would soon be impossible for her to stay outside, making it too dangerous with the oncoming storm. Though the wall of the balcony was nearly 3 foot 8 high, it would still be possible to be swept off in stormy weather.

The door quietly slid aside, giving Hicks access to the balcony. He glanced at Ripley, and then looked out over the city. A gust of wind blew hair in his eyes and he brushed it aside with the back of one hand. "Maybe you should come inside. It's becoming pretty windy out here," he suggested, again glancing at her.

She nodded without objection and followed him inside. The door slid shut and they would not be admitted onto the balcony again before the storm was over. It was a safety precaution built into the automatic door. Ripley resumed her position inside, looking out at the darkening sky with her arms crossed over her chest. "Something bad is coming," she said after a moment, causing Hicks to look at her sharply. He had picked up a magazine, trying to find something constructive to do. At her words, the magazine dropped out of his hands, landing on the coffee table. The sound made Ripley turn, eying the magazine for a moment. Then she looked up to meet Hicks' eyes. "I can feel it in my bones. They're not gone," she added.

Hicks started to shake his head, denying what she was saying. He did not want to hear it, did not want to even think it. What had happened to him during and after the encounter with those aliens had changed the way he saw the world. Nothing would ever be the same again. And now she was claiming that they were still out there, just waiting for some poor soul to pick them up. "They’re gone, Ellen. The planet is blacklisted. Nobody will ever set foot on it again," he tried, knowing that arguing that subject with her was pointless. Her mind was set when it came to Acheron and the secret it held.

She just looked at him, a little envious of his ability to put it out of his head, not comprehending that he had never stopped thinking about it. Her expression was hard as always, displaying nothing. They had decided to live together because they understood each other and had tolerance for the sometimes peculiar in their behavior. They had each other to rely on. Ripley had considered the possibility for deeper feelings several times, the fact that they were attracted to each other. But she had no mind for the future when it came down to it. All she wanted to do was get on with her life, to take the days as they came, but the aliens did not want to let her go. They'd had a solid hold on her subconscious mind for years now. She found it hard to disengage herself from the constant fear. All shadows were threats, all dark corridors disturbing. She only felt reasonably secure when she was out on the streets on a sunny day among a lot of people, although not even that was enough at times.

They had argued the continued existence of the aliens many times and she always won. Eventually, he would nod, knowing that she was right. But, this time, he had no intention of letting himself slip back into the fear. Shaking his head once more, he picked up the magazine again. "They’re gone. Maybe there are still some eggs left on Acheron, but nobody will ever come around to find them. They are going to lie there for all eternity and wait." He looked at her briefly, knowing that she did not want to listen to him. "Face the facts, Ellen. They’ll wait 'till hell freezes over. The nightmare is over. Get on with your life," he closed, dropping down on the sofa. Their discussions were never heated, never angry. There was no need to shout.

Ripley, still standing by the window, kept looking at him. Somewhere inside, she knew that he could be right. But she had trusted in others’ judgments before and the price had almost been her life. Not that she in any way distrusted Hicks. They had been through it together and both knew what they had seen. But there was that feeling that would not let go of her; that feeling of some kind of bond between her and those aliens. A bond that told her that they were still out there, waiting for her to return.

Suddenly fed up with Hicks' lack of belief in the matter, she told him how she felt. She voiced her deepest fears and once they were out, she realized how paranoid they sounded. He looked at her for a long time after she had finished, the magazine lying unopened in his lap. She shook her head after a while, blushing a little. "I know how that sounds. Believe me I do. But that is how I feel. I can't explain it. It's like they got inside my head somehow." She shook her head again, turning her back on him. Somehow she could not face him if he agreed with her that it was crazy. That the feelings she was doing battle with on a daily basis were a sign of madness.

For a long time, he was silent, pondering what she had said. "I know what you mean," he eventually said. She turned around instantly, looking surprised, and he met her gaze openly. "I feel the same way. I try to shut it out but I can't. Like you said, it's like they have a pipeline into my brain, telling me constantly that they will be back." He sighed, smiling cynically. "I sound like someone who's ready for the padded cell."

Not being able to help herself, Ripley smiled at that. She sat down beside him, feeling a little less tense. The fact that the feeling was shared by him made it a lot easier to take. "So, how do we tackle this problem?" she asked after a moment.

Again, he sighed. This time deeply. "I don't know. Maybe it will go away if we talk about it. Some shrink is supposed to have said that it can make problems vanish if you talk about them." Again, he smiled cynically. He also believe that hell would freeze over before that happened.

She frowned a little at that. "Maybe you're right," she replied after a moment, glancing at him.

He nodded. "Yeah. Maybe."

Silence again descended over the room and Ripley glanced up at the ceiling, imagining that she heard faint sounds from up there. After a moment, she got up and returned to the window to stare at the darkening sky again.

Hicks watched her for a moment, not saying anything. What he felt for Ripley was a mystery to him. He couldn't quite get a grip on his emotions and although he understood her reactions only too well, he still didn't understand her as such. Then, not knowing what it might do to her, he asked, "What about Newt?"

For a long moment, she didn't move. She just stood there, staring out the window, her shoulders tense. Then she turned around again, facing him. "What about her?" she asked, keeping her voice painfully neutral.

Hicks considered her expression for a moment, reading things into it that were probably not there. Her feelings about the girl had been painfully obvious on Acheron, but now he wasn't so sure any more. She never mentioned her with a word. "Where is she now?" he asked.

Ripley took a deep breath and held it for a second. Then she walked over to the table, picked up a pack of cigarettes and lit one. Inhaling deeply, she looked up at the ceiling, briefly listening for the sounds again, and then stuffed her left hand into her pocket. "She has a new family, I suppose," she finally replied.

Hicks looked at her, searching for one little clue that would let him know that she cared as much about Newt as before. "Where?" he wanted to know.

Ripley glared sharply at him for a moment before returning her attention to the ceiling. How could he ask such a question, she briefly wondered. "I don't know. They took her away from me only minutes after we arrived. No goodbye, no nothing. They told me I wasn't suitable as a parent," she replied, her voice low and intense.

Hicks sighed, shaking his head. She still felt the same. She was just hiding her feelings pretty well. "If you're not, then nobody is," he said, but Ripley only returned to the window to look at the sky again, not bothering to answer that. Hicks held his breath for a moment, then cleared his throat. "I know you were very attached to the girl, Ellen, but -- I mean -- maybe she has family here on Earth. Grandparents or something. An aunt or an uncle, maybe. It might be for the best," he told her. He was actually trying to make it easier on her, to make her understand that Newt might not be in such a bad shape.

Ripley didn't move for a long moment. That thought had crossed her mind. Sure it had. A million times when she had tried to tell herself that New was okay. That the little girl, who had screamed her name at the top of her lungs, was okay. She closed her eyes hard, digging her fingers into her sides after crossing her arms over her chest again. "Yeah, and maybe she's locked up in a padded cell because they think she's nuts. -- I promised her I wouldn't leave her. God damn it, I promised her," she said angrily. "When will I ever be able to keep a promise to a child?"

The latter confused Hicks a little. "What do you mean? You couldn't help it. Newt is bright enough to know that," he insisted, but Ripley shook her head, again turning back to face him.

"She's only a kid, Dwayne. She doesn't see things as we do. And she's not the only kid I made a promise to that I didn't keep." She paused, staring at him with those burning eyes. "I had a daughter when I left Earth. I promised her I'd be back. -- For her eleventh birthday, no less. When I returned 57 years later, she had died two years earlier, an old woman. -- She must have hated me." The latter she said with a tone of bitterness in her voice.

Hicks watched her for a long time, not knowing what to say. He considered different, soothing responses, but none of them really felt right. "That doesn't mean that Newt hates you, Ellen. Don't give up on her, okay? Maybe we'll find a way to visit her," he said instead.

For a long moment, Ripley met his eyes, the bitterness painfully apparent. Then her expression mellowed with a sigh and she smiled a little. "I guess you're right. I see everything black-in-black, don't I?"

Hicks returned her smile and took a cigarette himself. "Yeah, you do. You just need to lighten up a bit."

The storm rumbled in the background, drawing nearer. Lighting flashed, brightening up the sky for seconds at a time. Thunder clapped, making the landscape window shudder lightly in its frame. Ripley kept her back to the window, staring at Hicks. "How can I in this weather?" she then asked, causing him to give her a strange look.



The light was sparse and gloomy outside. The wind was ripping around the station, causing the superstructure to moan now and then. Hudson was standing on the roof of the station, staring out across the open, alien landscape. Nothing moved out there except for what the wind stirred up. Dust was raised with ever gush of the sometimes powerful wind, spiraling up toward the cloud-covered sky until the wind lost its power, leaving the dust in the air. At one point during their exile on Acheron he had stopped counting the days and weeks and resigned himself to the possibility that he might never again leave this place. Most of his morbid humor had evaporated simultaneously with the explosion of the other processor and had left him mellowed and serene. Coco Dietrich was dead. She had been infected by the aliens and the others, the surviving colonists, had seen it too late. The loss of a good friend combined with the loss of his life so far had changed him a great deal. The fear of the aliens was still in all of them, although there had been no indication of their existence after Coco had died. The emerging alien had been killed instantly, never giving it a chance to get away. Apone had been rescued too and, by some miracle that none of them could explain, he had not been infected. But the experience had done something to him and there was no life in him anymore. He spent his time just sitting around, doing nothing, not moving. He did not respond to anybody any more.

The sky brightened now and then, the first frail indication that the processors were doing their work. Some colonists had speculated on that somebody would turn up to close down the processors, but after more than a year, nothing of the kind had happened. There were monthly expeditions to the other sixteen processors to maintain them to keep the air of the planet breathable. The site of Hadley's Hope, however, was avoided at any cost. Partially because the radiation level in that area was still too high, but mostly because they were afraid to stumble over some remaining aliens.

The door into the station opened and Marlee, his savior, stepped out, hugging herself against the harsh wind. "What are you doing up here?" she asked, stepping up beside him.

Hudson glanced at her, his expression blank. "Nothing much. Man, if this is gonna be home, we might as well get used to the way it looks." He sighed, stuffing his hands into the pockets of the makeshift coat he was wearing.

They had been forced to utilize what little they still had. Luckily some of the colonists had planted a garden inside the processor, thereby enabling them to grow food. Their supplies were almost boundless on that area and Acheron had more than its share of water. The water was cleaned in the processor's system and then filtered into a large tank. So neither food nor water would ever be a problem.

Marlee eyed the horizon for a while, her expression strained. "I wonder if they're still out there," she muttered after a moment.

Hudson shook his head, making a face. "No way, I don't think so. If they were, they would've found us by now," he replied.

Marlee slipped an arm under his, moving closer to him. "Let's go back inside, shall we?" she asked, pulling at him.

After another look toward the contaminated area, he followed her inside. Instead of the stairwells they used the inside carriageway to get back to the second level, where the primitive living quarters were. Hudson had developed a kind of claustrophobia and was more content on the open, wide carriageway that was meant for vehicles.

Lylesberg, the oldest among the colonists, came to meet them once they had entered the large, former storage-hall. "Come on, you two. We've got to get this meeting going," he said, waving them along.

They followed him into a small room next to the large hall. Most of the men and a few women were gathered there, waiting for Lylesberg to tell them something new. Hudson and Marlee settled down at the front of the room, his claustrophobia again playing a big part in where in a room he placed himself. The closer to the exit he was, the better he felt.

Lylesberg looked out over the gathered for a moment, and then cleared his throat. "Jonathan has had luck in identifying those shadows we've seen in the sky at night. They are warning-satellites. In other words, nobody will ever come here again as long as they circle this world. We have still not been able to establish any kind of contact with the com-satellite and we can only presume that it has been shut down. There is no longer any use for it." He stopped talking for a moment, and then cleared his throat again. "From that we can conclude that they have no idea that there are any survivors here" he added, an unhappy expression on his aged face.

One woman raised her hand, simultaneously trying to calm her one-year old baby, which was complaining loudly. "What happens now?" she wanted to know when the baby had stopped wailing.

Lylesberg looked around at the others, pursing his lips. "We keep on trying to establish contact to the satellite but I don't think we should get our hopes up. The possibility that the planet is monitored is equal to zero and the chance of being found even less."

Hudson watched Lylesberg for a moment then raised his hand too. "If we can't get in touch with the com-satellite, maybe we should try to bring down one of the warning-satellites. That must attract attention," he suggested.

For a long moment, the room buzzed with excited murmur until Lylesberg subdued it by asking one important question. "How do you suggest we do that?"

Hudson thought about it for a moment. "I don't know yet, but I might think of something," he replied.

Lylesberg nodded, glad to be able to raise a little hope. "Good. You go to work on that and we'll see what happens."

Hudson nodded in reply and the meeting continued for another ten minutes. Then everybody returned to whatever they had been doing before. Hudson headed for the storage-rooms, closely followed by Marlee.

"So, what are you looking for?" she asked, looking around the first room that he had entered.

"I don't know, man. Something with power enough to shoot that thing down. I have a pretty good idea how big the satellite is. That's what worries me the most, man."

Marlee started looking around too, hoping she could help him.

A search of half a day brought nothing and Hudson was starting to get frustrated. He was cornered, and that was a feeling that normally could affect him in two ways. Either he went into hysterics and could not think at all, or it drove him up the wall and he became a danger to everybody around him. He took a deep breath, attempting to calm himself. Getting angry or hysterical would not do anybody any good. He recalled Ripley's words, telling him to just relax, and that brought him back to a tolerable level. After a moment, he called off the search and headed back to his cubicle in the great hall. He dropped down on the camp bed, folding his hands behind his head. With the help of local materials that were easily molded with a blowtorch, the colonists had been able to put up small, cramped chambers. There were a little over twenty. One for each of them. Hudson had spent his first few weeks among them in constant wonder that they had chosen to live there instead of in the colony. Lylesberg had eventually told him why.

The colony had, shortly after its start, been parted in two teams The ones that had come out there only to work as long as it took and then go home again and those who had planned to stay for the rest of their lives. The latter were the ones who surrounded him now. But, they had bitterly regretted their decision and most of them wanted nothing more than to see the place of their birth again. They had spent almost twenty years establishing some kind of society in the second processor and had kept in touch with the colony regularly. The tunnel that connected the two processors had been dug during those twenty years. Three pressure doors had been installed in the tunnel in case of an emergency. It was a regulation that even the settlers in the second processor could see the need for.

When the aliens had first attacked the colony, all pressure doors had been closed and the aliens had either not been able or not willing to track the tunnel above ground. They had never come near the second processor. The settlers had quickly learned that some stalagmites and stalactites, which filled almost any cavern to be found on Acheron, could withstand the acid of the aliens to a certain extent. The stalagmites and stalactites came in so thin and strong varieties that they could easily be used as arrows. The young woman, Marlee, who had first discovered Hudson, had also been the first to figure out that those makeshift arrows were excellent as a defense against the aliens. The tips of most of the thin stalagmites and stalactites were so sharp that they penetrated the armor-like skin of the aliens with ease. Thus protected, the settlers started to raid the aliens now and then, saving a few of their friends.

All these things went through his head while he watched the ceiling of the cubicle, trying to find a way out of this mess. He did not intend to spend the rest of his life on Acheron. Especially not when there was a possibility for the continued existence of the aliens. He wanted off the planet, but how? That was a question that he had volunteered to find the answer for and he was already giving up. His thoughts turned to the little girl they had found in the colony. She had been able to survive on her own for some time. Thinking about her made him smile a little. She had been a fighter. He hoped that she had made it.

Thus newly recharged for a continued search, he got up and returned to the third storage room. Marlee was there and she was not alone. One of the people they had rescued had been avoiding Hudson from the very first moment. He had not given it a lot of thought. Frankly, he did not give a damn if the guy did not want to meet him. But, entering the storage room made him realize why the guy had been avoiding him. He stopped dead just inside the door, staring at the man who stood beside Marlee.

Marlee, ignorant to his surprise, smiled when she saw him. "Hi, Will. We have a volunteer to help us," she said, nodding toward the guy.

For a long moment, all Hudson could do was stare at him. His blood was already boiling at the mere sight of him. And then, so low that Marlee at first did not hear it, he snarled "Burke."

Before either of the two realized what was happening, Hudson had his hands around Burke's neck, trying to strangle him. Marlee was shouting for him to stop it, but he was deaf to her. All he wanted to do was kill Burke for what he had done.

The door to the storage room opened and three men came running in, attracted by the racket. It took them a few seconds to separate the two and during that time, Marlee found Lylesberg and brought him back to the room.

The older man looked from one to the other, and then turned to Hudson who was fighting to get free while he was staring hatefully at Burke. "What was that all about, William?" he demanded.

Before Hudson could say anything, Burke cut in. "He went mad. He attacked me for no apparent reason," he exclaimed, looking hurt while he gently massaged his neck.

Lylesberg gave him a strict look, and then looked back at Hudson. "What is going on, Will?" he asked again.

Hudson could not take his eyes of Burke. That man represented everything he detested. "He is responsible for this fucking mess, man," he snarled.

Lylesberg raised an eyebrow, glancing at Burke. "What's that supposed to mean?" he wanted to know.

"He sent the order to go and check out that derelict ship, although he knew what they would find. He is responsible for the death of all the colonists and most of my team. He's a fucking company rep," Hudson replied, slowly getting his raging emotions under control.

Lylesberg turned his head, looking at Burke with an expression of contempt. "I see," he replied after a moment. Turning to the three who had separated Hudson and Burke, he added "Take him to his room and don't let him out until I say so."

Burke was starting to object but the three men just took him along, not listening. His complaints were cut short when the door closed behind them.

Lylesberg turned back to Hudson, looking concerned. "Why have you not told me this before?"

Hudson made a face, rubbing the back of his hand over his forehead. "Because I haven't seen him before. He's been avoiding me ever since I first turned up, man," he said, his tone of voice low.

Lylesberg nodded, padding his shoulder. "Just take it easy now. We'll deal with him," he said, nodding again. Together, they left the storage room.

Marlee stayed behind, staring after them. So Carter, whom she had grown to like so much, was guilty of her parents' death. For a long moment, she just looked at the closed door, then her legs gave way under her and she sank to the floor, sobbing.