L.A.

Ripley stood outside a shop, looking up at the sky. It was deep blue and not a cloud in sight. She had agreed to meet Marlee in half an hour down the street and had decided to go outside to enjoy the day. She had done something that she hadn't done in a lifetime. She had spent some money on unnecessary things. After a while, she started walking toward the small square, where they would meet. After their talk the day before, they had decided to try and establish a friendship. Marlee needed somebody to stick to and Ripley actually found Marlee a refreshing change from those ignorant women surrounding her in this city. Marlee knew what Ripley knew and that knowledge bound them together. When Ripley finally reached the square, Marlee was already there.

She waved at Ripley, smiling. "Hi, I'm glad you could come,” she said, when they finally stood face to face.

"Sure. I have nothing better to do anyway. Maybe we will all get busy if Hudson carries out that idea of his, though,” Ripley replied. They sat down on a bench near a small fountain in the middle of the square. Marlee was still smiling. She looked content at the present time. "So, have you given it some more thought?" Ripley asked on.

Marlee frowned a little. "What?" she asked back.

Ripley looked across the square at two little girls with blond hair, who were playing on the ground. A sting of loss made her sigh and wonder where Newt was at the present time. "What we talked about yesterday,” she replied, half absentminded.

Marlee looked over at the girls, too, remembering that little blond screamer from the Colony. "Yeah. I put it into action at once. It worked. -- You're thinking about Newt, aren't you?"

The question took Ripley by surprise and she briefly lost interest in the girls, when she turned to look a Marlee. "How did you know?" she asked.

Marlee shrugged. "Will told me that you saved Newt. I could guess that those two over there reminded you of her. -- Where is she now?"

Ripley looked at her for a long moment and Marlee almost regretted asking. The older woman looked hurt and angry at the same time. But, before she could make any move to excuse her slip of the tongue, Ripley looked back at the girls. "I don't know. I haven't got the faintest idea where she is. I just hope she's okay." Marlee nodded, not really knowing if she should keep her mouth shut or what. For a long moment, Ripley said nothing, then she turned back toward Marlee. "Let's talk about something different. Have you seen that shop down the street? They have the most amazing selection of sweaters I have ever seen."

They started talking about clothes and things that had not occupied Ripley's mind for what she considered to be a decade and it felt both refreshing and relaxing to think about commonplace items instead of constant threat.

***

GATEWAY

Miller was sitting behind his desk, feet resting on an open drawer. He had all but forgotten about Holden and his demand, when the door opened and Holden barged in.

Mrs. Jenkins followed him in, looking very upset. "I tried to stop him, Mr. Miller,” she said, but Miller only waved at her, looking a little too calm in her opinion.

"It's all right, Mrs. Jenkins,” he said and she withdrew to the front-office, muttering under her breath.

Holden looked at Miller, his expression that of a very angry man. "Mr. Miller. I'm very disappointed. I'm ready to go to the Company, if you do not deliver my money right now." His tone of voice was tight, angry and demanding, but Miller smiled a little, not taking offence.

He waved toward a chair, but Holden ignored the invitation to sit down. "Your money, Mr. Holden?" Miller asked, putting his feet back on the floor and getting up. "It's hardly your money yet, is it?" he asked on.

Holden blushed with anger, unable to restrain himself. "I want the money now, Miller. Or I will go to van Leuwen instantly. And don't try anything. My wife knows where I am,” he snapped, starting to lose control.

Miller raised his hands in a deprecating gesture. "Easy, Holden. Easy. You'll get your money. Don't worry. I have it all ready for you if you'll follow me,” he said, walking around the desk and toward the door. He opened the door and stepped into the front-office, followed closely by a very suspicious Holden. Passing the desk, Miller nodded briefly to Mrs. Jenkins. She watched them go and as soon as the door to the front-office had closed, she pushed a button on her vid-phone. The face of a man appeared on the monitor.

"They are on their way. Do as Mr. Miller said,” she said and cut the connection before the man could reply. Miller had great trust in his secretary and with good reason. She was very loyal to him and was aiding him in any way she could.

***

Miller guided Holden down a long corridor and opened a door into the 'inner sanctuary' of Bio's, where no one besides special employees were allowed.

Holden stopped just outside the door, looking very suspicious. "Where are we going?" he demanded.

Miller stopped, turning back to face him. "We are going to get your money. You didn't really think that I had that kind of cash in my office, did you? Now, come on. Do you want the money or not?"

Holden made a face, but stepped through the doorway anyway. Miller turned around again and headed down a corridor. At the end of it, there was a large, air-lock-like door. Miller opened the door and stepped into the space between the outer and inner doors. Holden stopped again, looking the inside and the outside of the doors over. There was no indication anywhere that this was an airlock. Probably just a division between two parts of Gateway. Reluctantly, he stepped past the door. At that instant, Miller's beeper began beeping rapidly. He pulled the small gadget out of his pocket and looked at the number displayed there.

He frowned angrily. "Darn. I have to make a call,” he said, looking at Holden. "Just go on in and wait in there for me,” he added, nodding toward the second door that was still closed.

Holden grabbed his arm, as he started to leave. "Aren't there any phones in there?" he asked, not trusting Miller.

Miller shook his head. "No, that's just a storage-compartment. We have to go through it, but you can wait in there anyway. That way, nobody is going to question you about your presence here. So, stay in there -- unless you want trouble,” he replied, looking a little annoyed.

Holden nodded once, releasing Miller's arm. Miller turned around and walked back the way they'd come, grumbling angrily. Holden turned around and pressed the opener for the second door. The first door slammed shut behind him and the second one opened very slowly. The room behind the second door was dark and there was a strange smell to it. Holden supposed that this was how storage-rooms smelled and stepped inside. He had barely cleared the door before it slammed shut behind him.

He swirled around, trying to see something without being able to. "Damn it,” he grumbled, starting to search the wall on the right side of the door. The surface was smooth and he soon realized that it was glass. Using the door as a guideline, he moved over to the left side of the door, starting to feel for a light switch there. But, as soon as his fingers touched the wall, he let his hands drop away and took a step back. The wall was bumpy and rubber-like. It felt like nothing he had ever touched before. Trying to see and still failing, he had his eyes fixed on the spot he knew he had touched. "What the hell is this?" he asked aloud. He reached out for the door again and found it. Using both fists, he started banging on it, trying to attract attention. Anybody would do at the present time. At that instant, the lights turned on. Briefly blinded by the sudden brightness, Holden turned around, his back to the door. What he saw when his eyes had gotten used the brightness, was something that looked strange and on the verge of being bizarre. Not knowing how else to react, Holden snorted. "Oh, this is funny,” he muttered. "If you're trying to scare me, Miller, you can just cut it out. I'm not the least bit afraid,” he yelled.

"I would be if I were you,” Millers voice sounded from a speaker somewhere to his left. Holden turned his head, looking at the glass-wall. Miller stood behind it, looking in at him. After one brief look around the room, Holden approached the glass.

"And why should I be afraid? My wife knows where I am and has been instructed to go to van Leuwen if I don't call her in half an hour,” he said, smiling. So far, he didn't feel nervous.

Miller smiled, however. "Mr. Holden. I know that you're not married. As a matter of fact, I know that you don't even have a girlfriend at the present time. I checked in our very elaborate computer-system. You should have thought about that before lying,” he told him, looking content.

Holden could not restrain a burst of laughter. "And, what are you going to do now, Miller? Keep me here in this -- this -- nightmare-room? Somebody is likely to come by and see me,” he replied after a moment, making a sweeping gesture toward the glass-wall.

Miller sighed, shaking his head sadly. "Oh no, Mr. Holden. You are completely wrong about that. Nobody is coming by here. This is a dead end. And, besides, the area is restricted to a chosen few, who know all about this -- nightmare-room." Miller's attention was diverted by something and Holden, who was starting to get nervous, glanced over his shoulder. There was nothing there, so he looked back at Miller, grinning joyless.

"You can't scare me with this, Miller,” he told Miller, who shrugged, still looking past Holden into the room.

"I'm not trying to scare you, Holden. I'm just trying to shut you up for good,” he replied after a moment. "Come on, my lovely. I have a gift for you,” he called.

Holden felt fear creeping up his spine when he heard something that sounded like escaping gas. "You can't kill me, Miller. My body will be found and they'll know,” he said, his voice high-pitched and breaking with fear, while turning around. At first, he saw nothing. Then, his eyes fixed on a part of the wall that seemed to be moving.

"Who will know, Holden? And, besides, your body will never be found because there won't be anything left of it to find,” Miller said from behind him, as Holden pressed his back up against the glass, staring at the giant creature that was slowly disengaging itself from the wall.

The alien queen stepped out of her box bed and turned around, eying her prey for a moment. Then, very slowly, she approached him, moving almost in slow motion.

"You can't do this to me. Let me out,” Holden screeched, his self-control completely vaporized. The alien queen screeched in response to his high-pitched voice, her outer jaws parting. Slaver poured out between her silver-like teeth as she approached Holden. At that instant, he panicked and ran for the door, hammering on it. "Let me out, Miller. I'll do anything you say. Just don't let it get me,” he screamed, his voice breaking constantly. The queen was obviously aware that he could not get out. She stopped for a moment, her head turned toward Miller.

He nodded to her, smiling. "Go on,” he told her and, almost as if responding to his words, she started moving again. Holden pressed into the corner beside the door, staring at the giant as she approached him. He had stopped screaming and was paralyzed with fear. All he could do was watch as the queen approached, put her hands around his head and let her inner jaws jab toward his forehead. At that, he fainted. The inner jaws of the queen withdrew back into her head as she lifted the inanimate body of her prey up and carried him to a section of the wall. Miller watched while she attached Holden to the wall, unable to hide his amazement at the speed of her movements. After Holden had been secured to the wall, the queen turned toward the glass-wall. Miller smiled knowingly. "I know. You need something to eat,” he said, slightly surprised that she didn't eat Holden. He keyed the intercom system next to the glass and told one of her keepers to send in some fresh meat.

Minutes later, a hatch at floor-level opened and a plastic-container filled with meat was pushed in. The hatch was too narrow for the queen to squeeze through and it was impossible for her to open it. She approached the container and emptied it within minutes, eating the container too. Miller shook his head in constant wonder over this being, turned around and left. The queen noted his departure but gave it little attention. Her attention was drawn toward Holden, who was starting to come around again. It took him only a minute to realize where he was. He started screaming again, this time without words. The queen just stood a few paces away, watching him. It did not seem to bother her that he screamed until his voice failed.

***

Hours later, Miller was very urgently called back to the chamber of the queen. One of his associates had monitored the happenings and had something strange to report. He met Miller in the corridor outside the surveillance-room.

"Sir, this is odd. She seems to have strapped herself to the walls and ceiling. And, she's growing,” he told Miller, who frowned at that.

"Growing? Let's have a look,” he replied, heading toward the surveillance-room. Garrison followed him in. Miller was met by a peculiar sight. The queen had indeed strapped herself up between the walls and ceiling. She was positioned close to Holden, who seemed to have gone completely over the edge. He was muttering to himself in a voice that sounded over strained and about to vanish completely. Miller paid little attention to him, though. His attention was occupied by the strange outgrowth just below the queen's tail. He stared at it for a long moment while it slowly dawned on him what it was.

"What do you think, sir?" Garrison asked, looking at Miller. He found the alien queen revolting and spent as little time as possible looking at her. The creature in itself was so scary to him, that he had nightmares about it.

"I think it's an egg sack,” Miller finally replied. "She's growing an egg sack. It's very obvious, actually. If their social structure really resembles that of ..." He trailed off, frowning a little. Then, he snapped his fingers. "Termites. That's what this resembles. Termites,” he said, more to himself than to Garrison.

Garrison looked in at the alien, frowning.

Miller turned his attention toward Garrison. "Get me the synthetic, Bishop. He'll know what's going on." With those words, Miller turned back toward the glass-wall, looking in at the queen with a proud smile on his lips. Garrison raised an eyebrow and hurried to carry out his orders.

***

L.A.

Hudson and Hicks had taken a look at the premises for their possible bar and Hicks had been satisfied with both the interior and the building. It was located in a part of the city, where bars were scarce and that gave them an advantage. Hudson was overexcited with their future prospects and had talked all the way back to Hicks' apartment.

Eventually, Hicks had to shut him up. "Will, calm down for a minute. The thing we gotta figure out is how to lower the price. That building isn't worth as much as this guy wants for the localities alone. I think I'll give Judy a call and talk it over with her,” he told Hudson, referring to a common friend of theirs, who was a lawyer and a specialist in buying buildings, apartments etc. Hudson instantly calmed down, looking a little crestfallen. Hicks smiled, wondering how Hudson could go from one mood to another so fast. Sometimes, he believed his friend to be manic-depressive. "Don't give up on it, buddy. We'll find a way,” he added and Hudson lightened up again.

"Yeah, man. Give Judy a ring and ask her. She's always been good at haggling,” he replied, grinning again. Hicks shook his head, pushing the button for the 37th floor. Just as the doors started to slid shut, he thought he saw someone familiar and pushed the door-opener again. Hudson looked slightly confused. "Make up your mind, man. Are we going up or what?" he wanted to know. Hicks looked after the woman, who left the lobby with her little girl. The girl had looked a lot like Newt, but she was too small to be her.

"Yeah, okay. Keep your cool. We're going up,” Hicks replied with a sigh, letting the lift-doors close. The lift-car started moving and Hicks was very much aware of the way Hudson was staring at him. "I just thought I saw someone I knew,” he explained.

Hudson nodded and looked at the doors instead. "You've been taken by that kid too, haven't you?" he asked almost as if on second thought.

Hicks glanced at him. "What kid?" he asked, well knowing who Hudson was talking about.

"That kid. What's her name? Newt?" Hudson replied. "The one we found up there,” he added, nodding toward the ceiling.

Hicks nodded once. "She was a smart kid. A survivor. I just know that Ellen misses her a lot. Can't stop looking for her, really,” he replied silently.

Hudson looked at Hicks for a moment, then shook his head. "Yeah, sure,” he muttered and fell silent.

They reached the 37th floor and stepped out of the lift-car and headed toward the apartment. They rounded a corner and Hicks stopped dead, barely preventing himself from drawing back instantly. A serviceman was standing on a ladder in the middle of the corridor and, in front of him, there was a black piece of tubing dangling from the ceiling. Hicks closed his eyes and took a deep breath before he managed to go on. Hudson had not reacted toward the tubing and Hicks wondered why.

Hudson was only staring at him. "What is it, man?" he asked, glancing toward the serviceman, who briefly glanced back before continuing with his work. The black piece of tubing was about 50 centimeters in diameter and rippled and at first sight, it could look a lot like the head of an alien. Hicks only shook his head, walking past the ladder with long strides, not looking back. Hudson looked up at the tubing, frowned for a moment and then raised his eyebrows. He realized what it was that had caused his friend to stop. He hurried to catch up with Hicks, not saying anything. Ripley and Marlee were waiting for them when they stepped into the living-room. Hicks told them about the localities, describing it as best he could.

Ripley, as usual, looked a little critical. "Are you sure it's all right? I mean, there weren't any problems with the structure or anything?" she asked.

Hicks couldn't help smiling. "Relax. It all checked out fine. The only thing we have to do is press the price. I know someone who can do that."

Ripley eyed him suspiciously, but said nothing more. Hudson once again was annoyed by her constant pessimism. It always made him feel down when she picked a good idea apart with reality. He noticed that Hicks glanced at him briefly, obviously noting his friends dilemma.

"As I said, it all checks out fine,” Hicks repeated, looking back at Ripley. Marlee had stayed out of the conversation, an expression of thoughtfulness on her face. Hudson looked at her for a moment, then reached out to take her hand. Despite the fact that she had barely rounded twenty, she behaved very adult-like in many ways.

Hudson had very early realized, that the aliens did that to a person. "What's up, Mar?" he asked quietly.

She blinked once and focused on him, the expression vanishing. Once again, she was all smiles. "Nothing. Just thinking,” she replied, looking over at Hicks.

Hudson frowned a little, wondering what was going through her mind. She was a hothead and stubborn as a mule when she had something in mind. With a shrug, he dismissed it, trying to focus his thoughts on the buy they were about to make. It would make a whole lot of difference to him if he had something to do.

***

GATEWAY

Van Leuwen was standing in his office, staring out at the gentle hemisphere of Earth, wondering if the information he had received from his informant inside Bio's could have the kind of effect he feared it might have. He was expecting his contact now, waiting to receive more information about the alien. Burke had been to see him several times, stressing how important he thought it was that the alien was removed from Bio's care. 'All they want to do is exploit it anyway', his words had been.

Van Leuwen made a face at his reflection in the window. "And, isn't that what you had in mind, too, Burke?" he asked, snorting at the thought. Burke had gone over his head with the mission to Acheron, convincing him that it was a down transmitter and, that maybe an alien race of no importance was involved. Again, van Leuwen snorted, turning away from the window and sat down behind his desk again. "An alien race of no importance,” he said aloud, shaking his head. "You really had me dancing to your pipe, didn't you." The undertone of anger and resentment was hard to hide, even though he merely whispered the last.

That train of thoughts was interrupted, when the door opened and his contact came in. The man sat down stiffly on one of the chairs in front of the desk, waiting for van Leuwen to acknowledge his presence.

Van Leuwen looked at his contact for a moment, thinking that he could not have made a better choice. "So, what news do you have for me today?" he asked.

His contact returned his stare for a moment, then glanced away. "Nothing good, Mr. van Leuwen. We're dealing with a queen and she is capable of re-producing. Rapidly,” he replied, his tone of voice a little too monotonous.

Van Leuwen sighed deeply, leaning back in his chair. "Has she begun already?" he wanted to know and his contact nodded stiffly. Van Leuwen frowned for a moment. "I hope you're loyalty is placed correctly,” he said, knowing that the question in itself was unnecessary. It merely served to support the man's new identity.

He nodded serenely, his expression carefully set. "Of course, Mr. van Leuwen. My loyalty is to the Company,” he replied.

Van Leuwen nodded, smiling a little. "You have to learn to lighten up a bit, but that will come once this mission is over. When we have safely removed the alien, you will be free to do whatever you want,” he replied. There was a twitch of a smile on the man's face, before his carefully set expression returned. "Now, go back to Bio's and report in with Miller. He's looking for you, I believe. And, keep your eyes open,” he added. The contact rose again, nodded briefly and turned for the door. "Keep up the good work ... Bishop,” van Leuwen said and the android hesitated for a moment. Then, with a murmured a thank you, he left the office.

Van Leuwen had taken a risk when he had told his people to leave out the behavior-inhibitor in the new body, to which the mind of Bishop had been transferred. Remove that and the android would become almost human. Van Leuwen's people had told him about his new life, how he would be able to take things into his own hands and that he would be able to lead an almost human life. Even though he still had the body of an android, he was more man than machine now. The scientist, who had suggested that removing the B-I would free the mind of any synthetic, had been right. To a certain point. Van Leuwen was still not sure what Bishop would do once the mission was over. It was still a matter of opinion among his people where Bishop's loyalties really lay. Once he figured that out for himself, he would take matters into his own hands. And, depending where he placed that loyalty, something might have to be done about it.

Van Leuwen sighed, returning to his musings over the alien in Bio's. That was another matter that had to be dealt with. If it didn't happen fast, Miller could end up releasing a disaster on Gateway. And, maybe even on Earth. Despite van Leuwen's first interest in the alien, he had realized that these things were nobody's fools. They would do exactly what they wanted to do. And once they were out, there would be no stopping them.

***