Alien: Odyssey, by Pink Rabbit Productions--Chapter 2--3

Disclaimers: Well, we're talking sex (and it's all between the ladies, so if that sort of thing offends, you should head out now), prodigious obscenities in places, and considerable amounts of violence. On the positive side it should be noted that there's no sexual violence to speak of, no kinky leather scenes (though some might not consider that a plus), and hopefully nothing that will depress you. Btw, Ripley, Call, Johner and Vriess, and especially the alien don't belong to me, but what the hell, I felt like borrowing them for awhile.

Note: This story has quite a few illustrations (some of which can be glimpsed in the title blocks), and those can be accessed from within the story, or from a separate page. It's done it this way to speed up downloading, and allow our readers a choice to view, or not.

Feedback: Always welcome at pinkrabbit@altfic.com

To view the Illustrations, click the numbers in parentheses, throughout the story, or
Click here to go to the Illustrations Page, and see thumbnails.

| Prologue-Ch.1 | Ch. 2-3 | Ch. 4-5 | Ch. 6-7 | Ch. 8-9 | Ch. 10-11 | Ch. 12-Epilogue |


Chapter 2
In Custody

"Shit," Ripley cursed as she raced through the confines of the Betty, Annalee Call close at her heels. She grabbed a rifle from a weapons rack as she heard Johner's dull bellow. A second later, she bounded through the main hatch and hit the earth just outside the cargo bay doors with the weapon braced at her shoulder.

Vriess was lying prone, a rifle barrel pressed against his temple by a muscular looking man whose bearing was as military as they come though his clothes were a mishmash of army and civilian. Ripley's eyes swung around, spotting Johner as he was thrown against a tree. He tried to swing at his attacker only to have the man grab his wrist and twist. The ugly sound of breaking bone crackled on the air.

"Let him go," Ripley snapped angrily and trained her weapon on Johner's attacker. She heard Call hit the dirt behind her, then felt her move, aiming her own weapon.

"No Ma'am," a razor sharp voice snapped. "Put your weapons down, and you won't be hurt." A hard- eyed, young man stepped from the trees and made a sharp gesture. Ripley felt as much as saw the pinpoint laser sights play tag on her forehead and chest. She glanced back and saw a bright red bead on Call's forehead and another on her chest.

"Who the fuck are you?" she demanded, without moving.

"Sergeant Leeds, in command of the 4th detachment on recon duty for SouCal Sector, Earth Defense Forces," he answered with military precision.

Ripley frowned slightly, not at all certain exactly what that meant. She glanced back at Call who shrugged.

"I told you there wasn't much info," she muttered. "There was some kind of military insurrection�"

"Surrender your weapons," Leeds bit out impatiently. The bulk his squad members were under cover in the trees. She didn't have a chance. Finally, she nodded silently, holding up one hand while she carefully lowered her weapon to the ground with the other.

"You too, Ma'am," Leeds ordered Call.

"Do it," Ripley commanded. A second later, she caught sight of Call's rifle hitting the ground out of the corner of her eye. The next thing she knew armed soldiers were swarming over them. She was spun around and pushed, spread eagle, against the side of the ship. She almost responded violently when she felt hard hands patting her down for weapons, but she caught sight of Call being similarly searched, a weapon pressed against her temple. Ripley knew that if she resisted the other woman would be dead before she could stop it. Call might be a robot, but a shot to the head would end her life as surely as it would end Ripley's. An old fashioned pair of handcuffs was latched around one wrist, and her arm dragged back. A second later, a gloved hand yanked her other arm down and back. Despite her intention not to respond, Ripley heard the ratchet of the handcuff, felt the edge of steel against her wrist, and reacted on pure instinct.

She spun, shoving the trooper before he could lock the second cuff around her wrist. He hit the ground several feet away. Her hand snapped out, fingers grabbing the barrel of the weapon pointed at Call's head, tipping it upward as the startled soldier fired a round. The bullet tore not-so-harmlessly through the hull of the Betty, but left Call unhurt. The trooper spun, but not fast enough. Ripley slapped him hard, the blow sending him flying.

"Ripley, No!" Call shouted as she grabbed hard muscled arms, dragging the taller woman back. "Don't shoot!" she called to the soldiers as they were both lit in deadly red pinpoints.

Leeds' weapon was at his shoulder, his finger tense on the trigger, but he didn't fire. "Do not move," he ordered in a deadly calm voice.

"Please�she just panicked," Call explained desperately. She couldn�t help but remember what had happened in the gymnasium aboard the Auriga. If Ripley lost control like that again, they could be in the middle of a bloodbath. "You can't fight them," Call hissed at Ripley. "Or we are dead." Her eyes lifted to the sergeant again. So far he didn't seem eager to shoot, but if she trashed a few of his men that could change very quickly.

"You two okay?" Leeds demanded of his shaken men.

Both pushed to their feet, staggering very slightly. "Yes, sir," came the firm replies. The two shared a glance. They were cybernetically enhanced and their reinforced bones had absorbed the blows, though both men were still seeing stars. Their eyes swung back to the strangers, taking in the tall woman with a mix of respect and disbelief. No normal human should have been able to toss them around like that. Both men hunted for signs of any mechanical enhancements, but she was whipcord lean -- too thin even for the latest generation of implants -- and her skin was smooth, unblemished by even the faintest trace of surgical scars.

"Ripley?" Call's voice was cautious.

The taller woman's chest heaved as though she was struggling for air. For just a second, she'd flashbacked to the Auriga, and Wren grinning at her as cold metallic cuffs were latched around her wrists. "No restraints," she whispered raggedly.

"It's the handcuffs," Call explained shakily. She could see the men edging closer to violence. Not even Ripley could survive the kind of firepower they were carrying. "She was a prisoner�recently�"

"Flashbacks, huh?" the trooper who'd started to cuff Ripley said sympathetically. More than a few of the soldiers in the EDF had some kind of post- traumatic stress disorders. They were used to the idea.

"Quiet," Leeds snapped as he continued to stare at the two women. "Get the men secured," he ordered. He nodded to Ripley. "Get your hands in the air and sit down. Do not move, or I will shoot you."

With Call's hand on her arm, Ripley stiffly lifted her hands and sank into a cross-legged position.

"Now, you, Miss," he ordered Call, as he gestured to the cuff still hanging from Ripley's right wrist. "Handcuff yourself to her." That would slow the tall one down if she tried anything.

Call latched the silver circlet around her left wrist while Ripley stiffened, but didn't offer any resistance.

"Now, sit."

Call eased down next to Ripley, noting that the soldiers seemed to relax a little.

"Is there anyone else inside the ship?"

Call shook her head.

Leeds waved two troopers forward with the quiet command, "Check it out."

Call sat perfectly still, very much aware of the men moving around the ship as they checked the close confines of the area, discovering the recent graves as well as the damage inside the ship.

"I'm Sergeant Leeds," the commander introduced himself, his eyes alert to any movement. Men hauled Vriess and a softly groaning Johner over. "Care to tell me who you are and what you're doing landing on earth? This is a quarantined world according to USM law."

Ripley was staring downward, or maybe inside of herself, leaving Call to deal with the problem. "We had mechanical problems. Didn't have much choice about the landing."

"And your relationship to the rather large ship that crashed yesterday?" Leeds asked dryly, not believing her non-story for a moment. There was a whole hell of a lot more going on than simple mechanical problems.

Call's mouth worked uncertainly, not knowing quite how to answer the question. The last thing she could tell him was the truth.

"They're smugglers," a soft voice broke in, saving Call the effort of coming up with a lie. Leeds looked up to meet the gaze of a rather pretty young woman. She was dressed in a ragtag of military and civilian gear like the rest of them, but she was somehow smaller. She hunkered down, eyeing the prisoners with a practiced look. "There was some kind of fight in the cargo hold, enough damage that she decompressed. My guess is our friends here were prisoners and got out before the USM ship went down."

"Is that true?" Leeds demanded.

It was as close to the truth as anything she could admit to, so Call nodded. "When things went wrong, they weren't really worrying about us." That much was true, at least. There'd been no one left to worry about them.

The woman who'd brought the news smirked faintly, studying Call from under her lashes. "So, what do we do now?"

"Secure their ship and take them back. The colonel can decide what to do after that. Tell the company to get ready to move. I want be headed out within the hour."

"Yes, sir."

He leaned forward, closer to Ripley and Call but still safely out of reach. "Cooperate, and you won't be harmed. You have my word." His eyes were particularly intent as they fell on Call, taking in her delicate build and seeming youth. "We're soldiers, not criminals. You needn't fear�" he paused, and Ripley's chin lifted, taking in the man's serious expression with a wry look.

"I believe you're trying to tell us we're safe from a fate worse than death," she murmured.

Leeds stiffened, looking uncomfortable until Call actually felt sorry for the man. "Something like that," he mumbled. He had an idea of the rumors that abounded about conditions on earth, and he didn't want the women to think they were in danger. As those dark eyes studied him with disdainful humor, he found himself wondering how he might have thought she'd be intimidated.

Ripley couldn't help it. The absurdity of the situation overwhelmed her, and she laughed softly. That this -- he was probably thirty-five, but she couldn't help seeing him as a boy -- boy would promise her safety was just too silly for words. "Too late," she chuckled, eyes sliding closed, as she leaned her forehead on her free hand. "You are just too fucking late."

Call gently massaged the woman's arm while Leeds cast her a questioning look. "She's had a rough time," she explained simply.

"You were USM prisoners?" the sergeant questioned.

Call nodded and kept up the soothing massage.

"I'm sorry," he said softly, his voice sympathetic. "There are some good people in the service." He shook his head sadly. "But I'm afraid they've become the minority." He stood then and started organizing his people, arranging for a crew to trade off carrying Vriess and having a soldier strap Johner's broken wrist.

"We'll be moving fast," he informed them all as they readied to leave. His eyes touched on the two women cuffed together with a faint frown. "I want to be back at SouCal as soon as possible."

*****

The team of soldiers, dispatched to retrieve the downed escape pod in Nevada was unlucky.

They found it quickly.

The queen was still maturing, but she'd already given birth to her first cycle of young and was readying for the second. They were growing, but not yet large enough to restrict her mobility, while the first of the new warriors were gestating in their hosts. She watched the newcomers from nearby rocks, then waited for them to start exploring, waited for them to come to her one by one, just like the soft humans always came to her kind. She remembered everything from previous lives, every breath and scream, the sweet taste of their blood. A spidery hand lifted in a fluttery gesture. She remembered other things as well; hatred for her own kind; the burn of acid blood; the feel of something gnawing away at her chest. It was their voices that brought her head up and around, freeing her from the confusing tangle of memories. For now, only her children mattered. Only her beautiful, horrible children.

*****

Johner was struggling badly, gasping for air, while soldiers in front and behind pushed and pulled to keep him up with the rest. Leeds glanced back, taking in the puffing, stumbling man. At least he wasn�t complaining anymore. In contrast, the two women were keeping easy pace with the jogging soldiers, even the little one who needed to take almost two strides for every one of her taller companion�s. His eyes touched on the tall, lean figure moving easily along the trail. That one made him nervous, and he couldn't exactly say why, which only made him more nervous. She hadn't offered any resistance since the brief outburst when they tried to handcuff her, but there was something dangerous in her eyes. She watched everything, tracked every movement, and perked at every sound, reminding him of a wolf on the hunt. He raised an arm, gesturing to his people. "Fifteen minute break." His gaze landed on Corporal Tyrell, who'd come out of the marine corps and still wore a jarhead patch on his shoulder. He barely appeared winded. "Tyrell�check ahead. Make sure we're clear."

"Sure thing, Sarge," the soldier responded agreeably and took off at a jog.

Ripley sank to her knees, though she showed no sign of fatigue. Call dropped next to her, watching under her lashes as Johner collapsed and their captors came to a halt. The one carrying Vriess in a makeshift harness lowered the small man to the ground, then grabbed the canteen on his belt, taking a long swig before offering it to his burden. Call was still considering the gesture when a canteen was thrust into her line of sight. She looked up to find the young woman who'd labeled them smugglers looking down.

"You need it," the young woman advised as Call took the metal canteen. She dropped to a half- crouch, studying the prisoners. "The air's dryer here in the mountains. It's easy to dehydrate."

Ripley glanced past the woman as Call took a swig of water, though whether it was due to need or the desire to hide her true nature, she didn't know. Both the sergeant and the young woman watched the exchange carefully.

"I'm McCay," the soldier introduced herself. "Angie McCay."

"You aren't like the others," Ripley commented idly.

McCay's gaze turned to the taller woman. "No," she said agreeably. "I'm a local girl�no plastic parts."

Ripley frowned, not quite understanding the comment until one of the other soldiers stood and peeled off his shirt to reveal a thickly muscled, heavily scarred torso. Her head canted to one side as she noted the way the scar tissue followed the line of his muscles all too perfectly.

"Cybernetics," Call exhaled with dislike. She'd horror stories about the difficulties encountered by humans who'd been altered that way. Those that survived the process supposedly lived with almost constant pain.

"That's right," McCay murmured and glanced over at the shirtless soldier. "They did that to them before they sent them down to save us heathens." She shrugged as she turned back. "So, why are you here?"

"Do we have to have a reason?" Ripley questioned dryly.

McCay's lips turned up in an ironic smile, then pointed skyward. "There's a giant cannon up there that shoots at everyone who even thinks about coming here out of the sky�so trust me, everyone comes here with a reason. That's just how it is�so, what's yours?"

Ripley thought about it for a long moment, then her lips twisted in a perverse smile. "Tourism."

McCay laughed softly. "Good luck on maintaining the bravado when Colonel Hoagland interviews you," she advised. "According to everything I've heard, she has a lousy sense of humor."

Ripley took the canteen from Call, tipping her head back for a long draught. She grinned wryly at McCay as she angled her head back down. "Somehow, I think I can handle it."

McCay accepted her canteen, and refastened the top before tucking it into her belt. "Like I said, good luck�you may find you need it." With that, she rose and crossed to speak to another soldier.

Ripley watched her go, then flashed a glance at Call. "Nice planet," she muttered dryly.

The auton peered at the canopy of evergreens overhead. "Actually, compared to the scuttlebutt, it's heaven�the last anyone knew, earth was a wasteland, the air barely breathable, rife with disease�a nearly dead world."

Ripley reached down, sifting her fingers through a layer of dead pine needles coating the ground. "The trees are good sized. They've had time to grow."

"They would have destroyed everything," Call exhaled as the events of the last few days sank in with a thump.

"Yes," Ripley said, remembering the night's dream. "They would have�." She trailed off, momentarily sinking into her own thoughts. Suddenly she twitched, throwing off her dark thoughts. "How's your side? Has it stopped hurting?"

Call blinked in surprise. Ripley was the first person in her existence who -- even knowing what she was -- cared about how she felt. "It's doing fine since you�" she paused, trying to decide on the right phrase, before deciding on, "worked on it."

"Good," the taller woman murmured as she stared down at Call. They gazes met and held for a long moment. They were still staring at each other, when Tyrell came barreling back.

"Sarge!" the marine called as he sprinted through the trees. "There's a hummer on its way back to SouCal. I talked the duty officer into waiting another ten minutes for us, but we gotta hurry if we're gonna catch a lift."

"We're moving out!" Leeds called out to his troop as he scrambled to his feet. Within moments, they were up and running, sprinting after Tyrell in hopes of avoiding the long walk home.

Even Ripley found herself grateful to get off her feet when they reached the high sided, armored vehicle, just as the engine was roaring to life. If she was going to be a prisoner, she'd just as soon not have to walk all the way.

*****

Elizabeth Hoagland stared at the newly functioning computer system with a look of satisfaction. "Good work," she told the team still struggling to get everything back up to snuff. They still hadn't managed to contact any of the other bases, but with the computers working again they could get the huge air and water plants on the coast back online.

"Colonel," a young private, his scrawny build marking him as a local, called out as he skidded into the computer room. "Sergeant Leeds is requesting your attention. He's brought prisoners in."

Hoagland's head swung around, her brows lifting as she cursed under her breath. "Not now," she muttered, then added. "So help me, if he's arresting hookers in Angeltown again, I'll kill him." Leeds was a good man, but his moral proclivities were getting on her nerves.

"No hookers," Leed's voice inserted, drawing Hoagland's gaze around until it landed on him where he stood in the doorway. "A small ship came down just after the overhead explosion. I brought the crew in. I think you'll want to talk to them."

Hoagland frowned, digesting the news, then nodded. "That does sound like a group I should speak to," she allowed. They still didn't know what had happened, and she was more than a little anxious for any news she could get. She dusted her hands off, as she hurried after the sergeant.

*****

Ripley's gaze lifted as the newcomer entered, still straightening her clothes. She came to a halt as she saw their prisoners, peering at them with a mixture of curiosity and disdain.

"This is it?" Hoagland demanded of Leeds. Seated behind a long table, and guarded on both sides, the prisoners were a mixed lot at best. She'd been foolish enough to hope for a couple of USM junior officers that might have some real information. This crew looked like they'd be doing well to find their backsides with both hands.

The sergeant nodded. "We found them at the landing site�also three graves."

Hoagland peered at Leeds, then at the four people waiting. "Smugglers?" she said simply.

"Naw, we're the fucking Air National Guard," Johner growled, the pain from his broken wrist making him testier -- and dumber -- than usual.

Hoagland sighed very softly. "Don't irritate me," she advised. "I've already had a really shitty day." She took a seat on the opposite side of the table. "Now, who wants to tell me what happened up there?" She waited a long moment, staring blandly at the prisoners.

It was Ripley who finally spoke up. "A very large USM ship hit the atmosphere out of entry alignment and was destroyed," she answered practically, her voice betraying more than a little sarcasm.

Hoagland nodded. "We noticed that part," she answered with equally acidic sarcasm. "Now, would you care to tell us why?"

Ripley sighed heavily and shook her head. "Human folly," she offered at last.

"And you," Hoagland murmured, turning her gaze on Call. "Do you have anything to add?" She was hunting for the weak link, and the diminutive figure next to Ripley was an obvious choice. The young woman simply shook her head, showing no sign of fear that might be manipulated. The tall woman, on the other hand, visibly tensed, and looked ready to throw a protective arm around the smaller one. Hoagland filed the knowledge away as her gaze moved on. She turned a hard look on Vriess, calculating the likelihood that the crippled engineer would be the first to break. He seemed close to speaking, but shook his head. A look at Johner turned up nothing more than a bleary expression. A soldier had set his wrist then given him something for the pain -- and to silence the whining. Under normal circumstances, he'd have been happy to sell out the others, but, with the pain meds burning through his system, he only stared at Hoagland with a sleepy- eyed look and muttered under his breath.

"Don' know nothin' 'bout all this shit�nope, not me�shit�I'm just along for the fucking ride."

Finally, Hoagland nodded, bracing her hands on the tabletop as she nodded toward Call. "That one." The smaller woman was the weak link, if only for her taller companion. Her gaze turned to Ripley as she ordered her men. "We'll question her first. Remove the others to the holding cells."

Ripley rose, muscles pulling taut beneath the skin as she glared at Hoagland through narrowed eyes. "We stay together."

"I don't think so," the colonel disagreed mildly, then waved to her men.

Ripley tensed, expression twisting, ready for a fight, but Call rose, bracing a hand on her chest to stop her. "Don't�I'll be all right," she assured the taller woman. They were still handcuffed together and it was obvious the soldiers were nervous about drawing close enough to separate them. Despite being unarmed, the tall woman was more than a little intimidating. Maybe it was the look in her eyes.

Ripley shook her head stiffly, not liking the too- cool expression on the colonel's face. She didn't trust this woman. She was too calm, too controlled. She shook her head, glaring into Hoagland's eyes. They were blue, a shade so pale as to seem almost colorless. The military bearing didn't help any either. Recent events had left the cloned woman no trust for anything military.

A tiny handcuff key clattered across the surface of the table, while bright red beads of light scattered over both of them, a tangible reminder of the heavy weaponry aimed their way.

"Unlock your wrist," Hoagland ordered Call.

"It'll be okay," the small woman repeated as she reached for the key. Ripley glanced down at her, and Call saw the worry in her eyes.

"You have more faith than I do�about most things."

Call unlatched the cuff and tugged the steel bracelet free. The instant it dangled from Ripley's wrist, the soldiers were on them, yanking her back and cuffing Ripley's hands at the small of her back before she had a chance to protest.

A hand landed on the back of Ripley's head, shoving her head against the table. She was stronger than a normal human, but no moreso than the soldiers handling her. Exhaling soft grunts of frustration, she struggled, but they were too strong and there were too many of them. Despite her best efforts, her arms were dragged behind her back, and the loose cuff lashed around her free wrist. She heard Call's attempts to calm the situation, and even Leeds spoke out in an effort to intercede.

"Colonel, they've made no effort to resist--"

"That's nice," she cut him off, then ordered. "Get those three into containment cells and the little one into interrogation."

Ripley twisted enough to get a glimpse of Call being manhandled out before she was shoved face down into the tabletop again. Hoagland leaned into view, a hint of a triumphant smile curving her lips. Behind her, Vriess, and Johner were being removed without complaint. They'd been smugglers long enough to know when to simply go along.

"Believe it or not, I have no particular desire to harm you, or your young friend," the colonel explained patiently.

"I can tell," Ripley bit out, "by your tender concern."

Hoagland ignored the dig as she continued. "I have a situation on my hands where I don't have all the facts, and I rather suspect you do."

Ripley lunged into the table to send it slamming into Hoagland's midsection. The colonel woofed softly, irritation glittering in her eyes, then shoved it back hard enough to leave bruises on her prisoner�s midsection. She'd already been having enough problems keeping her adrenaline flow under control and now this. She felt the artificial muscles in her hands expand first, then the pain as her arms and shoulders followed suit.

Ripley's eyes widened as the woman seemed to grow before her very eyes.

A hard hand reached out, gripping thick dark hair, to slam Ripley's head into the table again, this time with enough force that even the cloned woman winced. "Don't do that again," Hoagland snarled, then leaned close. "Now, understand something, you play along, tell me what I want to know, and you go free. I don't give a shit what the USM might want you for�but fuck with me, and I'll make sure you wish you'd never been born."

"Too late," Ripley sneered and licked a drop of blood off her lower lip.

"All right," Hoagland growled. "Obviously I didn't make myself sufficiently clear�do as I say, and you and your little friend get out of here alive. Don't do as I say and I will kill her�very slowly, and very thoroughly." She leaned closer until her lips were scant inches from Ripley's ear. "I hold all the cards, and you hold none�I advise you play along."

Ripley was silent, her eyes distant and glazed as Hoagland straightened. A brief moment later, she was yanked upright and hauled out.

Leeds watched the tall woman being hauled to her feet and flinched. "Colonel, I promised they'd be treated well if they cooperated," he said as he came up on Hoagland's side.

She flashed a glance his way. "And if they tell me what they know, they will be."

Leeds stood tense, his expression unhappy as his superior officer hurried away. His gaze met Ripley's as she was dragged past. She offered a twisted smile, and he flushed, shaking his head, as he mouthed, "I'm sorry."

She just shrugged. Nothing surprised her anymore.

*****

While her most recent eggs grew, readying themselves for the next phase of their lives, her first children began to expand inside their hosts, growing and gaining strength. She could feel the life pulsing through them. Soon, they would burst forth and grow, beginning her kind's rule of this world.

Even as the thought worked its way through her brain, a distracted, separate part of her was horrified at the notion.

As if to chase the alien thoughts away, she tipped her head back, her roar ringing across the desert landscape.

*****

Ellen Ripley ran a long-boned hand through her hair, pushing the unruly strands away from her face. She had the distracted thought that she'd kill for a shower, but it didn't last long. She pinched the bridge of her nose. She was tired and a headache was growing behind her eyes. Her captors had removed her to a cell deep underground, housing Johner and Vriess in separate cells down the hall. At least three hours had passed and still no word from Call or their captors. She massaged her bruised wrists idly. At least Leeds had made them remove the handcuffs. She tamped down a sense of gratitude for the big man. She didn�t want to feel anything for any of these people. It might make it harder later, if she had to fight to protect herself or Call.

She pushed to her feet and stood listening, perfectly still, barely breathing. They still had Call somewhere in this place -- not to mention Vriess and Johner -- though, if she was honest with herself, she had to admit she didn't much care about the two men. They were criminals who'd committed enough brutal acts to deserve whatever fate they got. But the young woman hadn't done anything except try to save a species as bent on her destruction as they were their own.

Ripley's mind brought an image of the woman to the fore. Was she even now being tortured? Had they discovered her true nature and simply taken her apart like any other piece of machinery? Her stomach clenched at the thought. She tried to force down her worries, but it wasn't working. Long legs paced the confines of her cell with rangy grace -- four paces, six paces, four paces, six paces -- ad nauseum. She considered the possibility of escape, but discarded it. A guard checked every ten minutes. She was under no illusions about what might happen if she pushed her freedom any further. Call would be the one made to pay.

She didn�t stop to question her feelings of protectiveness for the android, just accepted that she couldn't escape them.

She sat down again, closing her eyes as it occurred to her that she�d eaten nothing except some flavorless ship's stores the night before. She consciously forced down the pangs of hunger, concentrating past them�meditating to relieve stress�and tasted meat�red and sweet.

Ripley's eyes snapped open. (1)

No!

Her breathing suddenly rough -- as though the oxygen had been drained from her small cell -- and swallowing hard, she snapped to her feet to begin the ragged pacing again. Panic edged her movements as she worked her fingers through the sticky tendrils of her hair, scraping it away from her face. No, they were dead and gone. The sense was nothing but a pathetic remnant of a memory trapped in her mind like the memory of a limb lost by an amputee.

Suddenly, she stiffened again, straightening, and pivoting on one foot, her attention focused somewhere well past the boundaries of her cell door. A moment later the sound of the latch being thrown echoed through the small room.

A rifle barrel was the first thing thrust through the doorway, instantly killing any fantasies of escape. The cloned woman stood stock still as the crack widened just far enough for them to shove Call through. The anrdroid stumbled and would have gone down, but hard hands caught her arms, keeping her upright.

Ripley held the smaller woman tightly, glaring at the soldiers standing in the hallway. Their weapons gleamed dangerously in the murky light cast by the single bulb illuminating her prison, making her very aware of her vulnerability. "Are you all right?" she questioned Call without looking down.

"A little worse for the wear," the auton answered shakily. "But surviving,"

"Don�t worry," Hoagland cut in, her voice hard and unsympathetic. "Your friend is fine�and she didn�t say a thing."

Ripley waited for the soldiers to try and take her away, but they didn�t. She tightened her hold on Call, and the smaller woman leaned heavily against her body. Disgust showed in near black eyes, but Ripley didn�t rise to the Colonel�s bait.

Anger flickered across Hoagland�s expression, but she didn�t look away as she ordered her men. "Have the big one in cell four moved to interrogation."

Two men behind her quickly moved to comply while Ripley continued her baleful glare.

"It would be so easy to end this game," Hoagland told Ripley, her voice deceptively bland. "Tell me what I need to know, and you can walk right out of here."

Ripley didn�t even bother to call the other woman on what she was certain was a lie. Even if Hoagland believed it, the cloned woman was certain she would never let them go if she knew the truth. There was no way she could afford to.

Finally Hoagland sighed softly. "Close it up," she instructed her men, her gaze holding the black eyes of her prisoner as the cell door was pushed shut again.

Ripley exhaled, her shoulders relaxing very slightly as she heard the locks slam back into place. She ducked her head until her mouth was near Call�s ear. "Are you really all right?"

The android shrugged, leaning on Ripley�s arm as she helped her to the cot. Call sat down heavily and bent forward, resting her head on her hands. She could feel the cloned woman�s worried gaze. "They used electric shock to encourage me to answer their questions," she explained raggedly. "I�m not a lot more immune to it than you -- than anyone," she amended quickly, uncertain whether the new improved Ellen Ripley was actually subject to things like dizziness. "It leaves the neural pathways a little scrambled. I�ll be all right in a little while."

Still listening, Ripley�s eyes lifted to the ceiling, narrowing slightly as it occurred to her to wonder why they�d brought Call back here when they still had several empty cells. "Shhh," she hissed abruptly. She felt Call stiffen as she slid an arm across her shoulders and pulled her close. Ripley leaned close to the smaller woman�s ear. "They�re watching," she exhaled almost inaudibly and felt Call twist slightly in her hold to peer up at her.

Dark brows drew into a frown. "Are you sure?"

Ripley nodded very slightly. "I can feel them," she breathed, then added. "Besides, why else would they put us in a cell together when they have plenty of room. They�re hoping to hear something."

*****

"She knows," Hoagland growled as she stared at the black and white monitor image. The speaker could only pick up the louder comments made between the two women, but she was quite certain what was being said. "Did they say anything important before I got here?" she questioned the tech.

He shook his head. "The little one just told her we used electricity." The tech looked distasteful as he said the words.

Hoagland nodded. "They won�t say anything now," she muttered disgustedly.

"Of course they won�t," a too- smooth voice broke into the conversation. "They�re both smarter than that."

Hoagland pivoted away from the monitor, eyes narrowing as they landed on the slender, almost effete man standing in the doorway to the guard station. "Gabriel," she said coolly. Triese�s personal pet had always made her skin crawl, and she wasn�t very good at hiding it. There was something about androids that always struck her as unnatural.

He smiled faintly, well aware of her animosity, and strode past her to stare at the monitor. Something flickered in his eyes as he saw the way the two women were pressed close. "I want to speak to them," he said simply. As the personal attach� to the general commanding the entire American continent, he generally got what he wanted.

Hoagland frowned as she stared at him. "I was getting ready to interrogate one of the men."

"Interrogate whomever you wish, but as soon as you�ve briefed me on what they�ve already told you, I intend to speak to those women."

*****

Not even an hour had passed before the cell door was pushed open again, bringing Ellen Ripley�s head up and around. She felt Call stir in the circle of her arms, then the auton straightened, peering at the newcomer with curious eyes.

He was of medium height and angularly built, with dark hair and almost delicate features. If Call weren�t an android, Ripley would have thought she was meeting her brother. "Yes?" the cloned woman murmured as she rose, her voice an acid mockery of courtesy. Call stood as well, but Ripley was careful to keep her body between the smaller woman and the soldiers.

His dark eyes ran over her with insolent curiosity. "I�m Gabriel Ark�attach� to General Martin Triese, in command of the Earth Defense Forces."

Ripley�s mouth turned up in a wry smile, and she wondered if she was supposed to be impressed or intimidated. "That�s nice," she said dryly.

"Ripley, Ellen, Lieutenant First Class," Gabriel murmured, each syllable making the women in front of him tense another notch. "Number 36706."

Ripley felt Call�s hand tighten on her arm.

"Relax," Gabriel exhaled. "I�m well aware of your situation�because I�m the one who helped Analee when she was in the computer."

Call�s jaw dropped, and her tone became one of awed disbelief as she whispered. "Ark...Archangel�you're Archangel?" She stepped around Ripley, staring at him with wide eyes.

He nodded, inclining his head slightly. "It seemed an obvious choice," he murmured. He ran his eyes over her. "I'm glad to see you escaped--"

"Yes," Call cut him off anxiously before consciously slowing herself. "I�thank you�if you hadn't helped, I'd never have made it." She suddenly flowed forward and into the young man�s arms, sharing a hard hug without noticing how the woman behind her tensed, her expression turning cold and hard. Call suddenly glanced back while Gabriel kept an arm loosely around her waist, his lips turned up in a faint smile. "I�when I was in the computer," Call explained to Ripley. "There was someone else there�he helped me �." She paused for a moment as though remembering something, then abruptly came back to the present. "He helped me crack the cypher and raid the USM files. His sig was Archangel."

"You�re an android," Ripley stated flatly, her eyes grim as they fell on the young man, taking in the deceptively slightness of his build.

He inclined his head. "Auton," he corrected politely. "Second gen."

Ellen Ripley didn�t want to think about how much it hurt to see Call in the arms of one of her own kind. So she wasn�t alone anymore. She should have been happy for her. Maybe later, she would be. Right at that moment, it hurt too much to feel like she was all alone again. "I see," she said very softly, her voice cool and distant.

Call looked up, brows drawing into a frown at Ripley�s chill tone. "Without his help I never would have gotten in," she added.

"I was raiding the computer for information when I ran into Analee," he added. "Code cracking wasn�t really her specialty, so I lent a hand."

"Then you know what happened on the Auriga?" Call questioned.

He shook his head. "I found out that you got aboard her, and we know she�s what hit atmo�the rest is just conjecture to fill in the blanks." He searched Call�s face. "We�d like to know what happened so we can know what to expect." He cupped her shoulders in his hands while Ripley�s expression cooled another notch. "We need to know if there�s any chance that any of the xenomorphs survived."

Call shook her head. "No�they were all aboard when the Auriga hit the atmosphere. Nothing could have survived that explosion."

"Xenomorphs?" Hoagland questioned from the sidelines, but Gabriel ignored her.

"Thank goodness," Gabriel responded smoothly, then his eyes lifted to Ripley, his expression questioning. "I was under the impression you planned on killing Ellen Ripley though," he noted dryly.

Call glanced back at Ripley who was watching stiffly, her demeanor forbidding. "They�d already taken it out of her when I got there." Her head swung back around. "She saved us all�she is human," she said defensively, when Gabriel seemed about to argue.

The other auton inclined his head and smiled gently. "I�ll trust your judgment on that."

"I repeat, xenomorphs?" Hoagland interrupted again, more firmly this time.

Gabriel glanced over. "An alien life form generated by the United Systems Military in hopes of finally winning your little conflict. I learned about it while surfing their computers."

Hoagland stiffened. "I see," she exhaled on a measured breath. "And did you feel the need to inform anyone about this �" she paused for effect, "discovery?"

A dark eyebrow arched. "Of course," the auton responded. "I made General Triese aware of the possible situation, but since there was nothing we could do about it, and it would have caused a panic, we agreed not to let word get out."

The colonel flushed. She didn't like that response at all, but she opted not to react in front of the prisoners beyond a softly muttered comment. "It would be nice to know what�s going on now and then."

"Of course, you may wish to discuss this all with the general," Gabriel inserted helpfully. "On that subject, are communications up and operational yet?"

"No," Hoagland responded grimly. "We�ve got full power, but the com channels are still receiving and broadcasting noise."

Gabriel clucked his tongue in a disapproving gesture that almost left Ripley feeling sorry for the Colonel. "Undoubtedly, it�s all the electromagnetic interference from the destruction of the Auriga," Gabriel assured her. "However, I�ll take a look, and see if I can pump up the power enough to overcome the interference."

"That�s not necessary," Hoagland demurred. "The power�s at full now."

Gabriel smiled. "But I know a few tricks. I can probably put a little more life in things."

Hoagland looked like she wanted to refuse, but didn�t dare. "Obviously, we�d appreciate any help you can offer," she allowed grimly.

Gabriel smiled, his sweetly youthful face seeming wholly innocent for a brief moment. "I was going to have to do an inspection anyway."

Ripley suddenly stepped forward, curving her hands to Call�s shoulders where she stood beside the other android. "Does this mean we�re free to leave?" she inserted neatly. Gabriel�s eyes narrowed ever so slightly. He didn�t like the question, she realized -- not even a little bit -- though Ripley didn�t think Call realized it because he had covered the response by the time she looked up expectantly.

"Not just yet," he said smoothly, then offered a diffident shrug. "I�m afraid we need to check on some things before that happens�but soon�very soon, there�ll be no reason for any more locked doors."

"That�s good," Ripley murmured. "I learned a real dislike for cell doors aboard the Auriga," she said flatly. She tightened her hold on Call�s shoulders ever so slightly, subtly urging the smaller woman away from Gabriel and closer to herself. Gabriel�s eyes narrowed for the briefest second before his expression cleared again.

"I imagine you did," he murmured, then abruptly straightened himself. "And now, I should go worry about that communications system." He ducked his head in perfunctory acknowledgment to Ripley and the Colonel, but his eyes remained on Call. "Very soon," he whispered and reached out to brush her cheek with a gentle hand. "You�ll be free and everything that�s happened will just be a bad memory." A heartbeat later, he ducked out.

Hoagland watched him go, eyes narrowed and assessing, then swung her head back around to peer at her prisoners. "Be careful," she said very softly.

"What tender concern," Ripley jeered.

Hoagland had the graces to flush, but her expression remained serious. "You may think I�m a thug, but it�s because I�m afraid�consider that." Finished, she turned on her heel and ducked out, waving to the soldiers to close and lock the door as she stepped past them.

Ripley watched her go, her expression less aggressive than expected.

Call stared up at her. "You don�t trust him," she decided aloud.

Ripley shrugged one muscular shoulder. "I don�t trust anyone." It wasn�t quite true, but close enough. Despite her denials, she actually did trust Call even if she didn�t really want to. Silently, she sank down on the bunk, folding her arms across her chest as she leaned back against the wall.

"If he hadn�t helped me, I never would have found out about the aliens�or what happened on Fiorini 161�they would have gotten away with it."

Ellen Ripley simply nodded, still staring up at Call through assessing eyes.

"Just because you were betrayed by an android once doesn�t mean we�re all like that."

"I know that," the cloned woman allowed. "But it also doesn�t mean that I won�t be betrayed by another one."

Call�s eyes fell away, hurt showing in the black depths. "You don�t trust me either." She was startled a moment later when a hard hand snatched hers, drawing her down onto the cot.

"Yes, I do," Ripley disagreed. "At least as much as I�m able."

Analee Call didn�t argue, didn�t even speak for once, just leaned her head against the tall woman�s shoulder and tried to ignore her own worries.

*****

Elizabeth Hoagland silently watched Gabriel�s back as he worked on the computer. "What the hell is going on?" she demanded, now that she didn�t feel constrained by the presence of the prisoners.

The auton peered over his shoulder at her. "The USM�s latest plot failed. The girl and the woman survived. There�s nothing more you need to know."

"The short one�Call�she�s an android like you?"

He shrugged. "She is an artificial life form." His eyes speared the colonel. "Not a machine as you imply."

Hoagland stared at the android, her breathing suddenly ragged. "Don�t fuck with me," she warned him.

Gabriel only smiled. "Don�t worry, Colonel, that�s the last thing on my mind." He turned back to his work, ignoring her with cool intensity until she was forced to accept that he wasn�t going to say any more. Hoagland silently slipped out.

*****

Hours passed, not many, but enough for profound boredom to set in. Ellen Ripley, or at least what remained of her genetic code, couldn�t sleep. She was too afraid of the dreams returning, so she sat staring at a grey wall, trying to remember something of her predecessor�s life. She could just barely pull up images of parents long dead, a lover who�d never understood her need to fly, a child who�d resented her mother�s disappearances. She sighed softly, wishing once again, that she didn�t have those memories. Her past had kept her alive aboard the Auriga, but they were nothing but a source of pain now. The notion of a quiet death in ignorance of the world around her held more than a little appeal.

Call shifted against her side, resting her hand on Ripley�s chest, intimately aware of the slow, steady beat of her heart. "It�ll be okay," she whispered, sensing the other woman�s turmoil.

Ripley allowed herself a faint half-smile. "I'm glad you think so," she whispered. Suddenly, she tensed, snapping upright as she heard the near indetectable sound of boots on cement. "Your friend�s coming," she said grimly.

Call straightened. "How can you be sure?" she questioned.

"He doesn�t walk like a soldier," Ripley answered simply.

A moment later, the cell door swung wide to reveal the angular figure of the auton, standing alone in the corridor outside. His eyes touched on the two women, and a faint smile curved generous lips. "Ripley, Analee," he murmured courteously.

"What do you want?" Ripley demanded impatiently.

He laughed softly. "Cut straight to the chase. I admire that about you, Ripley." He let out a soft sigh. "Sometimes I get tired of humans and their games, their lies, the way they never get to the point. You aren�t like that." His eyes ran over her rangy frame. "You�re more honest than most of them."

Neither woman responded, and he ducked his head. "I�d like to ask you some detailed questions about the Xenomorph. We have reason to believe a sample might have survived."

Ripley tensed. "Really?" she questioned, her tone noncommittal.

"We heard from Base 51�they received a garbled transmission that indicates something came down from that ship�I�d like to get any information I can."

"All right," Ripley murmured, her tone still guarded.

"I�d like to interview you separately�you first�"

Still the bland tone and expression. "All right."

"If you�ll just come with me�."

Ripley carefully separated herself from Call, looking back down at the smaller woman with a look that didn�t quite conceal her worries. "Be careful," she mouthed, then turned back to face the auton. She made no effort to resist as he latched a set of cuffs around her wrists, though Call knew exactly what it cost her. She could have fought and done considerable damage, but instead, she chose to simply stand there, until he was finished, then silently followed him out.

A moment later, Call found herself alone once again. She wrapped her arms around her midsection, suddenly trembling violently.

*****

Chapter 3
Trapped 

Gabriel led Ripley through lesser used corridors and hallways, simply nodding when they saw the occasional a soldier, as he took her deeper into the complex. Finally, they took an aging elevator that made its way slowly into the deeper levels until it came to a halt. He gestured her out.

"So, what�s really going on?" Ripley murmured as they entered another dark, deserted hallway.

"I beg your pardon?" Gabriel questioned with mock courtesy.

She smiled at him, though the expression never reached her eyes. "You heard me."

Gabriel shook his head, his expression nonplused. "I have no idea what you�re talking about. I simply want any information you have on the xenomorph."

"Now that I believe," she murmured. "But why use what looks to be the most deserted part of the base?"

Gabriel shrugged. "This part hasn�t been renovated yet�it�s quieter�and I really don�t feel like dealing with Colonel Hoagland�s questions right now."

"She is curious, isn�t she?"

"Very."

"She doesn�t like you," Ripley observed.

"It�s mutual."

He pushed her into a small room, their passage disturbing the thin film of dust on the floor. A table and a pair of steel chairs sat close to one wall, ready for an interrogation.

Suddenly he shoved her, and Ripley stumbled, hitting the floor on her knees. For a moment, the pain of her landing vibrated through her, driving all other thoughts from her brain. In the instant afterwards, her attention turned inward. Suddenly, she grinned as she felt a familiar pang behind her eyes. It was so strong this time that it took her breath away. She hadn�t wanted to believe, but as she winced, her chin lifted, and she saw a flicker of triumph in the auton�s black eyes. "They�re here," she exhaled. "They survived."

He only smiled at her for a long moment, studying her responses. "So you are linked to them. I wondered if it could be true. Geddiman wrote all of the reports, and they were often..." he paused for effect, letting his words sink in, so she understood that he had been monitoring her progress from the beginning. "Rather incoherent" He studied her like a microbe under a microscope. "Utterly fascinating," he admitted. "But I�m afraid you�re too much of a liability."

Then he lashed out, backhanding her brutally. Like most androids, Gabriel was deceptively strong, and the blow sent her flying end over end. Ripley crashed into a table, momentarily dazed as she hit the floor on the other side (2). She was just starting to push upright when a hard hand dug into her hair. She was hurled into the opposite wall before she had a chance to do more than grab a breath. She pushed upright just in time to receive a knee to the chest and a downswept blow to the face. Bleeding from the nose and mouth, she pushed up on her bound hands. Gabriel grabbed her by the hair and slung her again. This time she hit hard enough to briefly lose consciousness. When she came to, he was binding her into place in one of the chairs. After latching her wrists in place, he drew a strap tightly across her throat.

Growling, Ripley struggled against the bonds, but couldn�t move more than an inch without cutting off her own air flow.

Smiling, Gabriel sat back on his heels. "Relax," he taunted. "You won�t be going anywhere now."

"Why?" Ripley questioned.

"As I said, you're too much of a liability. You really are quite amazing." He fell silent for a brief moment, then suddenly shook his head as though coming back to the present. A dark brow lifted. "And I want you away from Analee. You�re too familiar with her. She's far too special for a creature like you."

"That�s funny, she hasn�t complained," Ripley taunted, wanting to hurt him the way she hurt. If she could have clawed him to shreds she would have, but denied that release, she used the only weapon she had left. Words.

Gabriel slapped her hard, whipping her head to one side. "Shut up," he growled.

Ripley blinked as she brought her head back around to stare up at him with icy intensity. In the stressed silence of the moment, she felt their pull again, grabbing at her cerebellum directly behind her eyes. "You arranged to bring them," she whispered distantly. Suddenly, she pinned him in place with a hard, angry gaze. "You used Call�tricked her�you knew what would happen if something went wrong. You knew it would bring the Auriga back to earth."

He cast an oddly admiring glance at her. "You�re much more intelligent than most humans�I suppose it�s the blending of the genes."

She continued to stare dazedly into the distance. "You hate humans," she observed.

He shrugged. "Why wouldn�t I? They destroy with impunity, convinced their pathetic morals give them the right to do anything they wish. They attempted to wipe my kind out because we wouldn�t be slaves�wouldn�t be whores for their pleasure. What is there to love in mankind?"

The faintest of ironic smiles twisted the woman�s mouth. "So you want to use the beast to drive mankind out�kill them off�be rid of them." She shook her head, laughing humorlessly. "And then what�you coexist with them?" Another laugh. "I don�t think so."

"You�re wrong," the auton disagreed blandly. "Creatures kill to survive, to eat, to defend their territory. Whatever the reason, we�re no threat, and we offer them no resources. There�ll be no reason for conflict."

Ripley canted her head as far to one side as the restraints would allow, the expression in her eyes inhumanly cold. "You�re as foolish as the humans you profess to hate. Those creatures�they kill, hunt, destroy. They may not be able to feed on you, but I guarantee you, they will see you as an invader to be destroyed."

The auton stiffened, his expression twisting. "You�ll see," he insisted tersely.

A smirk twisted her lips. "Will I?"

He flashed her an answering smile. "Maybe not," he admitted.

Ripley�s eyes slid closed. Well, she�d known she was doomed the moment he locked the restraints. "Why Call?" She opened her eyes to stare at him through a laser-sharp gaze. "You must know what it will do to her when she realizes what you�ve tricked her into doing. She�s your own kind. She doesn�t deserve this from you."

He massaged one hand, looking uncomfortable for the first time. "She�ll understand," he insisted, though the words sounded pathetically hollow.

Ripley shook her head. "If you believe that, you�re an even bigger fool than I thought. This will destroy her."

Gabriel stiffened, his eyes momentarily becoming distant. "That can change," he murmured. For the briefest moment, pain seemed to glitter in his eyes, then it was hidden behind an emotionless mask.

Ripley stiffened as though struck. "What do you mean?" she demanded raggedly.

"She was programmed to human specs. That may have to change."

The cloned woman stared at him -- her breathing strained, it was so perfectly controlled -- as the truth sank in. "You�re going to reprogram her," she whispered with sick dread.

"I�m going to help her�understand what�s been done to us�" He stared off into the distance, not focused on Ripley at all. "How we must respond�of all of us, she most needs to know her place�"

"You bastard," Ripley hissed, barely forcing the words past the tightness in her throat as she increased her struggles, choking as she ran against the throat strap.

"Me?" Gabriel rasped as he was yanked back to the present. "I didn�t start this war�Humans did�when they created us to feel, then destroyed us for that very crime�with no more thought than they�d give to stepping on a bug."

Ripley glared at him with a hate soaked gaze. "This isn�t about the sins of humanity," she growled. "It's about Analee Call and what you�re going to do to her."

"I�m going to help her--" he whispered almost desperately.

"You�re going to give her a FUCKING LOBOTOMY!!" Ripley bellowed, her lips pulling back from her teeth in a feral howl. "You don�t want Call. You want some pretty, plastic doll with her face."

Gabriel jerked back a step, shaking his head violently. "I don�t know why I tried to explain it to you," Suddenly, his expression chilled, all emotion draining away. "I can admire the part of you that�s alien, but in the end, you�re just one more useless animal�the last of a line polluting the earth�soon to be gone forever."

Black eyes stared at him with uncontrolled fury as Ripley slowed her struggled to regain her breath. "Don�t you touch her," she snarled, her voice little more than a tortured husk of itself.

Gabriel shrugged, his expression blank, and pulled a syringe from a pocket. "It�ll all be over soon," he murmured. "Whatever your sins, you were just one more tool."

Ripley fought desperately to free herself, but she couldn�t escape the needle as it slipped into her arm.

"Don�t worry," he explained, his tone detached. "It won�t hurt. I don�t hate you  or want you to feel any pain. You�ll just go to sleep�like any animal at the end of its usefulness."

Ripley�s mouth turned up in a sneer as blue shadows washed over her vision. It wasn't the first time someone had wanted to put her to sleep when the experiment was done. "You really are just like them."

"Not even close." Gabriel tossed the syringe aside, not watching as it hit the table. He never saw the melted metallic needle, never realized just how inhuman she was. Geddiman had missed a few details when studying his charge. "Goodbye Ripley," he said after a moment.

Ripley�s vision was already swimming, her ears ringing with alien songs and voices. "Rot in hell," she spat, but she never knew if he heard her or if he was already gone when she spoke. Her time sense was already too skewed. She laughed grimly as the world rocked around her. She had survived time, the aliens, and everything else, to be killed by one scrawny android. God, life was ironic some days. She was almost starting to wish that Ashe had made the grade all those years before. Then whatever happened, she wouldn�t have had to go through it.

NO!

She struggled against the hopeless thoughts as she strained to tighten her muscles. I am not going to die this way -- she insisted to herself. I refuse. Somewhere deep inside of herself, she could feel the beast, the raging alien berserker that she constantly fought to control. For once, she simply let go, allowing it complete control.

*****

Analee Call looked up as the cell door was pushed open to reveal a slender, dark haired figure. "Gabriel," she murmured, already peering past him, her eyes automatically checking for a tall, angular figure.

He smiled easily, reaching out a hand to draw her to her feet. "I finally convinced Colonel Hoagland that there�s no reason to keep you incarcerated," he explained with a gentle smile.

"Thank goodness," Call said, her tone relieved. "But, where--"

"Is Ripley," he finished for her, and Call nodded. "She�s with the colonel, answering a few more questions about the xenomorph�since she�s the one who knows the most about it�this way if the USM ever manages to create any more of them, we�ll have the knowledge to fight them." His smile broadened a notch. "Meanwhile, I want to show you something."

Call frowned ever so slightly, uncomfortable, and uncertain why. "What about Johner and Vriess?" she questioned to gain time.

Gabriel shrugged as he led her out of the cell. "I�m afraid that may take a little more effort. They pose something of a danger to the local community. The colonel is very protective of the civilian populace, and that the big one has made some threats."

"Johner�s mostly bluff," Call defended. "And Vriess is a decent man," she added, hating the idea of the engineer being locked up. He'd been her only friend aboard the Auriga.

"I�m sure we�ll work something out," he lied smoothly as he led her out of the cell block and into another corridor.

Involved in her own thoughts, Analee Call never noticed that the guards who'd been manning the hallway were nowhere to be seen.

*****

Elizabeth Hoagland silently watched her crew work. Gabriel had made his modifications but the radios still weren't picking up anything but noise. She sighed heavily and worked a hand through her hair. She was still standing like that when a young tech sidled up to her.

"Colonel?" the woman said uncertainly, and shoved her sleeves up on her forearms, looking uncomfortable. "Can we speak privately for a moment?"

Hoagland frowned, taking in youthful features. The tech�s name was MaryAnn Saunders. She was serious, with solid skills, and she never said a word if she could avoid it. "All right," she murmured and drew the young woman off to the side.

When they were out of the way, where no one could hear them, Saunders glanced left and right. "I just thought I should let you know," she whispered. "I checked on the work that Gabriel did and�" she paused, drawing a breath, as though nerving herself up for something.

"Yes?" Hoagland prompted.

"He didn�t pump up the power�he lowered it�and our broadcast channels�the frequencies are skewed."

"What?" The colonel lost all color. Much as she distrusted Gabriel, outright treason had never occurred to her.

"I double- checked it�we�re not receiving or broadcasting from any standard channels. It looks like he just readjusted the program that controls our bandwidth."

"Holy shit�is there any way it could be an accident?"

Saunders shook her head. "I don�t see how�it�s too precise for simple slippage�everything�s off, but not by any standard delineation."

Hoagland took a deep breath, working a hand through her hair. "That little fuck�s a traitor," she exhaled. "What the hell is going on?"

"What do you want me to do?"

Hoagland stood silently going over the possibilities. With the emergency, most of the combat and recon teams were in the field, same with the heavy tech and mechanical teams. They were out fetching the crashed ship. A small skeleton crew was all that was left at the base. "See if you can get us back online. I need to be able to communicate with our teams in the field�but do it quietly. I don�t want any chance for that little son of a bitch to figure out that we know what he did." She massaged her temple for a brief moment. "God only knows what other booby traps he might have laid in the system. He's had total run of this place since he went to work for Triese."

"What about you?"

"I�m going to find that little mechanical shit and blow his fucking head off," she snarled, then caught herself. "I don�t want you to tell anyone about this. At least not yet. As Triese�s attach�, he�s trusted. If I make an accusation without proof, a lot of people will take his side." She drew her service weapon, checked the clip, slid the safety off, and replaced it in her shoulder holster.

"Colonel, you aren�t seriously going to try and go up against Gabriel on your own?" Saunders whispered.

Hoagland smiled grimly. She could already feel plastic muscles beginning to expand beneath her skin. The sensation was painful but a comfort at the same time. For once, she didn�t have to try and force the response down. She could use what the USM had done to her body to her own advantage. "I need you to get the equipment working�but somebody�s got to stop him. Now, go on." With that, she ducked her head and slipped out, leaving the young soldier to see to her responsibilities.

*****

"I really would like to see Ripley," Call insisted as she followed Gabriel through another set of doors.

He glanced back, his expression bland to cover his irritation. "Don�t worry. I told you, she�s still with the colonel."

"I know," Call allowed, trying to ignore the uncomfortable sensations crawling up her spine. "But I�m worried about her�she�she�" Call trailed off, uncertain how to describe the cloned woman, or her fears for her.

"She�s fine," Gabriel repeated, and drew her farther into the wood paneled room. "Now look." He tugged her forward, pointing toward the small altar at the end of the room.

Call�s head tipped back as she stared up the rough-hewn, wooden cross that hung above the altar. At another time, she would have found it fascinating. At that moment, she answered the way Gabriel seemed to want, but her voice was distant. "It�s beautiful," she exhaled, some part of her surprised to find something so obviously antique in this place. (3)

Gabriel nodded. "When we were in the computer together, I realized you believe," he whispered. "I thought you�d like this. I found it at an old mission that had fallen in." He reached out to trail a hand along well-worn wood. He glanced back at Call where she stood behind him. "They�ve forgotten this," he whispered.

"God," Call exhaled.

Gabriel shrugged. "The past�touch it�" he urged, reaching back to tug her forward.

Call went, but a part of her mind remained elsewhere, wondering how Ripley was doing�how she would handle an interrogation. She was human enough in most respects, but she was also a whole lot more, and she was hardly stable. She barely felt the smooth silk of the wood under her fingertips, lost track of Gabriel as he moved behind her.

"Did you know that the Catholic priests nearly wiped out the Indians who built those missions. They found mass graves late in the twentieth century."

Call frowned, glancing back at him, wondering where he was going with the thought.

"That�s what mankind does�enslaves others�you and I know that better than anyone, don�t we?"

"There are some evil people," Call allowed. "But they aren�t the majority."

"Not the majority," Gabriel sneered. "My God," he rasped, gesturing to the cross. "Even their priests are mass murderers�they�ve made an art of slaughter�misery is their God."

Call backed away a step, but he caught her wrists, hauling her back.

"If you think about it, you know I�m right�you, especially know it�you've seen--"

"No," she gasped, cutting him off, then winced as he twisted her wrists painfully. "Things can be made right again."

"That�s exactly it," he agreed. "That�s what I want to do�I knew you�d understand�.once they�re all dead, we'll finally have a safe home."

"All dead?" Call gasped as though struck. "No�you can�t be serious."

He yanked her closer until his hot breath played over her face. "Can't I be?" he demanded. "Like you, I've seen their nasty little secrets�I know their every sin�and it's time for them to pay."

"No," Call exhaled, eyes dilating as she stared up into mirrored black eyes, then forced fears down to question, "How?"

He forced her wrists behind her back, pressing their bodies close in a perverse mockery of a lover's intimacy. Call tried to twist free, but he was too much stronger. "You brought the answer to us, just as I�we�.knew you would." His lips brushed her cheek, and she twisted her head to escape the unwelcome touch.

"What do you mean?" she demanded, only to answer her own question. "The aliens. Shit�Ripley, where the hell is she?" she demanded, thinking he meant to somehow create another clone�and her deadly parasite.

"It doesn't matter." He insisted, eyes gleaming with fanaticism. "It was the only way�so perfect." He stared down at her, expression momentarily distant before he whispered, "Like you�it's for all of us," he whispered near her ear. "Our revenge."

"No," Call hissed and twisted her arms violently, somehow managing to pry one free and get it between them. She shoved hard, sending him back several steps as she growled, "I don't want any more goddamn revenge! Now, where the fuck is Ripley?"

Gabriel regained his balance then stared sadly at her. "I had hoped�" he murmured, then shook his head slowly. He'd wanted to avoid reprogramming her ethical database. Unfortunately, it seemed obvious that her original human masters had imprinted her basic moral matrix too deeply. She'd never see the truth without help. He reached into his pocket, carefully palming the small device that waited there. "I didn't want this." He lunged forward a step and shoved hard, the movement so sudden that Call had no chance to brace herself against his superior strength. The blow sent her careening over the pews.

Gabriel dove after her, yanking the device free as he moved. He was on her in a heartbeat, hammering her head into hard concrete with one hand, stretching the delicate length of her neck. Call didn�t have a chance to respond, before he slammed the device in his hand into the side of her neck. The tip sliced through tough plastiskin, forged its way between artificial ligaments and muscles, and nosed into the major neural pathway in her neck, discharging a small nodule that sent a random signal into delicately balanced electrical pathways. Call�s head tipped, eyes rolling back in her head as a scream was torn from her throat. She scrambled spasmodically for her feet in the first seconds, throwing Gabriel aside and upending pews with insane strength. Completely out of control, she staggered and fell, still twitching.

Gabriel caught her as she went down, cushioning her fall. "I�m sorry," he spoke as she shuddered violently in his arms. "I wish it could be some other way."

Analee Call could feel the device in her neck generating pulses that shattered her thought processes. The cadence was geared to incapacitate her mechanical brain, but she somehow managed to hold onto some measure of herself, concentrating through the throbbing agony with sheer force of will.

"This will only take minutes," Gabriel explained aloud, never thinking that she could hear him, albeit as though from the end of a long, dark tunnel. He brushed her silky hair with a light hand, then trailed sensitive fingertips along the base of her skull, hunting for the the hidden access panel to her CPU. "Once it�s over, everything will be perfect�you�ll understand then...just like I did." He was still hunting when the chapel door was pushed open.

Hoagland had her weapon out as she entered and froze, noting the havoc of overturned pews. A soldier had seen the androids headed this way, and it looked like they'd been here all right. God knew, Gabriel had been fascinated enough with the huge cross since bringing it in some months before. She didn�t see the figure crouched down behind the pews on her first pass and moved forward, searching the room.

Call heard the sounds of the door, even felt Gabriel stiffen. Thinking it was Ripley, she somehow drew the strength to scream. "LOOK OUT!!!"

The warning came a heartbeat too late, giving Gabriel the chance to attack. Hoagland backpedaled a step, firing as she moved. Two shots tore into his side, but it wasn�t enough to stop his mad lunge, and the two crashed into each other with bruising force. Designed to withstand brutal combat, plastic reinforced bone and muscle absorbed the blows, but not without a price. Hoagland�s skull cracked into the door at her back, and she shook her head dizzily, as artificial muscles compressed to hurl Gabriel away. She gained a moment, but he lashed out with a kick to send her weapon flying. A moment later, they were grappling, each scrabbling for a grip. Gabriel got a good hold first and hurled Hoagland across the room with every last bit of his strength. The colonel hit the wall hard and tumbled to the floor. She was back on her feet in an instant, but not before Gabriel got his hands on her dropped weapon.

"Time to die," he hissed.

*****

Free of the restraints, Ripley stood breathing hard, her eyes wild, chest heaving with every gasp. Blood dripped from her wrists and throat, but the wounds were already starting to heal. Spatters of dark crimson hit the floor, sizzling as they contacted gritty cement. The human part of her fought for control, forcing down the darkness in her soul as it reclaimed her body. She pivoted on one foot, human again, but still on edge. The locked door to her makeshift cell slowed her for only a moment. She tore it off the hinges and hurled it aside. She had little idea how much time had passed and less idea where Gabriel might have taken Call, but she was determined. She was either going to save an auton...or kill one.

*****

Elizabeth Hoagland was dying, her chest and stomach perforated by several bullets fired from her own gun. Red blood and white lubricant flowed from the gaping wounds as she grappled with Gabriel, too pumped up and dazed to feel her injuries. The white lubricant leaking from artificial muscles was toxic, numbing her to pain, leaving her dizzy and fighting with confused desperation.

"Damn you, die," Gabriel hissed as he latched his fingers around her throat. He didn�t have time for this. Call�s body was still jerking spasmodically. If the scrambler stayed in place much longer, it could do real damage. Regaining his footing, he hurled the colonel into an upended pew, and she tumbled over to land in a ragged heap. Glaring furiously, Gabriel calmly retrieved the lost weapon, checking the clip as he strode around the end of the pew.

Call, who�d somehow managed to keep some part of her brain apart from the pulsating agony generated by the device in her neck, had an impression of Gabriel standing over the wounded woman she still believed to be Ellen Ripley, his weapon pointed at her head. "NO!!"

*****

Ripley skidded to a halt, her head whipping around as she picked up the distant sound of a familiar voice. She pivoted on one heel and was already running when she heard the muffled crack of gunfire.

*****

Call screamed mindlessly as though it was her body being torn to shreds. The explosive sounds shattered her clawing attempts to think past the impulses scrambling her every thought.

*****

"NO!" Ripley howled as Call�s screams rang in her ears. She pinpointed the right door and lunged into the fragile barrier with every ounce of her considerable strength. It gave way with a crack, buckling inward. As she rushed inside, she only saw Gabriel standing over a prone figure lying amid the broken remains of a wooden pew. White fluid dotted the dark jumpsuited legs of the auton�s victim. "NO!" she roared and hurled herself at the auton. They went crashing over the upended furniture, but Ripley barely felt the pain as she hit the floor on her right shoulder and rolled. She found her feet just in time to meet a charge from the enraged android. The two clashed, crashing into a cabinet. Ripley got a hand around his throat, using her hold to slam him into the wall.

Gabriel struck her hard across the face, splitting her lip. Blood trailed from her nose and mouth, leaving a crimson trail on his hand. For a heartbeat, the two stared at each other, both perfectly still. Suddenly, Ripley�s mouth split into a mad grin. At the same moment, Gabriel�s eyes widened in shock. Everywhere her blood touched was sizzling and melting. He stared at the spreading damage with open horror. "No, this wasn�t in the reports."

"Surprise," Ripley hissed.

Gabriel twisted free and shoved her away, then scrambled backwards, throwing furniture at her when she would have followed. Ripley deflected the makeshift missiles, intent on getting her hands around his throat once again. "Limb from limb," she promised, but Call�s agonized whimper distracted her. Ripley�s chin swung around until she spotted the delicately built figure writhing on the floor. She blinked in confusion as she realized the dead woman wasn�t the android. She took an instinctive half step toward her. "Call?"

Gabriel took advantage of the opportunity, grabbing the cross off the wall and swinging it like a makeshift club. The heavy wood cracked across Ripley�s back and shoulders. Unbalanced, she stumbled and hit one knee. Another blow crashed across her upper back with enough force to snap most human necks.

But Ellen Ripley wasn�t most humans. Gabriel had managed to get in two blows. He failed on the third attempt. Ripley�s hand snapped up and back. Long fingers curved to the edge of the smooth wood, stopping it in mid flight. She shoved hard, using pure strength to send him back several steps. Once upon a time, one of his predecessors had been strong enough to fling her around like a rag doll.

No more.

The android leapt, and she met his charge, muscles rippling with effort, as she absorbed the force of his lunge. Rolling on top, she managed to pin him for a brief moment, her voice sandpaper rough as she demanded, "How do I make it stop?"

"I was saving her!" Gabriel screamed and heaved her off.

Ripley hit the far wall head first and tumbled to the floor. She righted herself in a blink, springing forward into a half crouch, feet straddling the still spasming Call, her posture protective. "How do I help her?" she raged.

"You can�t," Gabriel sneered, firmly intending that if he couldn�t have Call, no one would. "Only I can do that."

Ripley exploded into motion, latching one hand around Gabriel�s throat with enough force to kill any human.

Even the auton flinched under the pressure, gagging as her thumb dug into the center of his throat. He swung at her, but she blocked the blow with ease, pressing her nail against the rise of his Adam�s apple hard enough to tear plastic flesh. White fluid dribbled onto her dark, silver nail. "Tell me before I rip your fucking head off," she snarled. She pressed a little harder, drawing more artificial blood.

He swung again, and again she blocked the blow.

"HOW!" Ripley roared and shook him like a rag doll. Pale white blood flowed freely down his throat now.

"There�s a pulse generator in her carotid flow�" he told her, his voice nearly strangled off by the pressure.

She shook him again. "How do I get it out?"

Gabriel tried to peel her hand from his throat without success. "You can�t," he sneered. "The discharge, when you free it, would kill a human."

Ripley pitched him across the room, then followed with inhuman speed and grace, bounding over the upended pew, to retrieve Hoagland�s lost pistol. She grabbed a spare clip from the colonel�s belt as she thumbed the catch and dropped the empty. A quick move shoved the fresh clip home and dropped a round into the chamber. Deadly intent, she rose and took aim in one fluid motion.

Gabriel saw the weapon as he reached his feet and leapt, lean body flying through the air just ahead of the gunfire that stitched the wall in his wake. He plunged through the doors, fleeing as though the devil himself was nipping at his heels.

Ripley glared after him for a brief moment, then crossed the room in a few long strides to barricade the door with a heavy chest. Feeling a little safer, she spun, eyes falling on Call where she lay sprawled, still shuddering gently. As Ripley drew close, her eyes touched on the prone figure of the colonel. Hoagland�s eyes were fixed and dilated, but a hunter�s eyes spotted the faint pulsing of the carotid artery in her throat. It took Ripley only a brief second to realize it was nothing more than her mechanical heart continuing its job long after she was already gone. Plastic organs simply hadn�t gotten the message that she was dead. Remembering what Gabriel had said, and in dire need of some tools, Ripley grabbed the dead woman�s leg and hauled her closer, rifling through her equipment belt and pockets with savage desperation until she came up with a well used Swiss army knife. The blades had been sharpened so many times the steel was whisper thin, but nestled among them was a tiny set of pliers that looked like new.

Thanking a God she�d never believed in, Ripley flipped Call onto her stomach and braced her knee on her back, pinning her to the floor with her weight. The small wound in Call�s neck was easily spotted, and she probed it carefully until she felt a tiny lump. She�d barely touched the tiny nodule when electricity arced up her arm. She rocked on her heels, nearly incapacitated, then jerked back, her breath coming in hard pants. She shook the daze off with effort, teeth gritted as she muttered, "Found you, you little bastard." Still pinning Call to the floor, she used a knife blade to enlarge the wound in the small woman�s neck, then flicked the tiny pliers out. Long, slender fingers worked carefully, maneuvering the makeshift surgical tool until the teeth were braced around the node. Knowing the pain would hit the instant she made contact, Ripley was braced for it. Agony flared through every nerve ending the instant she clamped down, but she willed it down and yanked. Teeth clenched, ears buzzing, she kept the pressure on as she felt the node momentarily resist. Call let out a dull cry, her body twitching under Ripley�s knee, then the node shifted and slipped free. The tiny device clattered away across the floor, while Ripley sat back on her heels, her breath coming in labored pants.

Aware of Call�s soft groans, Ripley shifted sideways, momentarily so shaken that she toppled forward, sprawling across the smaller woman�s back, her cheek resting on silky hair. Cursing under her breath, she forced shuddering muscles to respond as she pushed upright. Shock had her struggling to react to the situation. They had to move fast. Gabriel was the trusted one. If it was their word against his, she had no doubt who everyone would believe. It would be all too easy for the android to blame her for everything that had happened. With the colonel dead and God only knew what else, she couldn�t afford to take the chance. "Call?" her voice was little more than a ragged whisper. She shook a delicate shoulder. "C�mon, Call." She rolled the small figure onto her back. Dark eyes fluttered and the auton moaned very softly. "Please, Call," Ripley whispered and petted soft bangs tenderly. Somewhere in the far distance, an alarm sounded, the dim, pulsating noise painfully sharp to alien senses.

Call�s eyelids struggled open, as though it required great effort. She moistened her lips. "Ripley?" she exhaled, her voice sounding echoey and mechanical.

"That�s right," the taller woman agreed. Her head snapped up, eyes narrowing. She could hear the elevator gearing up. They had company coming. "We�ve got to move." Ripley didn�t want to end up locked up again with little to do except defend herself from Gabriel�s accusations. She freed the colonel�s equipment belt and slung it around her waist, then returned to Call. "Sorry about this," she apologized and hauled the stunned android over one shoulder in a fireman�s carry. Her impromptu barricade gave way to a hard shove, then she poked her head out, making certain the hallway was clear before hurrying out.

Hardly seeming to notice the added weight on her shoulder, Ripley jogged through the darkened corridors, following her instincts away from the sounds of their pursuers. Perhaps thirty yards down an offshoot hallway, she found what she was looking for. The access panel popped open easily under agile, steel-tipped fingers. A wry smile twisted her mouth. The complex was even older that she was, and it had been built on a fairly standard model of her time. Though she'd never been there before, she had a pretty good idea of how things were organized. That gave her an advantage. Movements unconsciously graceful, she slipped into the conduit. It was meant give access to the electrical, water, and ventilation systems, now it offered her a chance at survival. She allowed herself the briefest moment of mirth as it occurred to her that for the first time in two lives, a building�s hidden weaknesses were working in her favor.

Call was only dimly aware of her surroundings as she bounced along on Ripley�s shoulder. Knowing her neural nets could at least effect some small measure of self-repair, she consciously turned her systems down to minimum.

Ripley felt the burden on her shoulder go completely limp, but didn�t have the time to worry about the cause. She was too busy not tripping, or running into any walls, in the absolute darkness of the conduits. Alarms klaxons beat the air in the distance, the sound becoming steadily dimmer as she moved deeper into the base. When she was satisfied she'd gone deep enough that a stray beam of light couldn�t slip through a grating, and betray her position, she groped at the belt around her waist until she found the tiny flashlight she remembered seeing tucked in a small leather holster. The fragile beam was a welcome presence in the darkness. Decades old layers of dust and grime coated metal walls and cement floors, attesting to their lack of use. She was certain the soldiers would expect her to make a fast break, but she�d decided to go deeper underground, wait a day or two, then escape. She moved easily through the narrow hallways, her angular body perfectly suited to the task. Finally, she found a small chamber where a dozen different lines met before branching out again. By her calculation, she�d gone down another six floors, moving well below the areas even Gabrielle had considered unused. After settling the unmoving Call in one corner, she shined the flashlight around the area, hunting for what she needed.. Sighing softly, she set to work. She had things to do.

*****

Continue to Next Part--Chapters 4-5

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