Alien: Odyssey, by Pink Rabbit Productions--Chapter 12--Epilogue

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 12
THE LAST GASP

 "NO!!" Ripley screamed, clawing at the rocks in a futile effort to maintain some semblance of stability, as though she could stop the quakes through sheer muscle and willpower. The cracked earth shifted around her, paying no mind to her efforts until she lost her grip, and skidded downward, rough edges tearing at her skin. She slipped several feet until a soft body pressed against her own. Ripley grabbed for it, blindly pulling Call against her side as the universe trembled.

Only a few second passed, but trapped as they were it seemed like an eternity before the quake ended. Even after the worst of the tremors had stopped, the earth continued to settle around them.

"Call?" Ripley croaked in a voice made scratchy by the thick dust floating in what little remained of their air.

"'M'okay," the auton groaned softly. They were in a much tighter space now, under pressure from all sides, with barely enough spare room to draw breath. "What about you?" she panted.

"My head's felt better," Ripley admitted, wincing as her temple started throbbing again. "Then again, it's also felt worse," she added with a wry smile she knew Call couldn't see.

"That was more than just the ground settling�" Call whispered, her voice thick with dread.

Ripley leaned forward until her cheek just brushed against silky hair. "Definitely an explosion."

"Overhead � not in the base," Call decided out loud as she regained her bearings.

"Something's happening up there," Ripley exhaled and tipped her head back, growling softly as her skull contacted a jutting piece of cement.

"Great," Call muttered. "Like we need more complications."

Ripley didn't bother to respond. They both knew how desperate the situation was. There was no reason to belabor the point. "Come on," she muttered, reaching over their heads to hunt for any cracks between stones that might lead to a way upward.

Call briefly rested her forehead on Ripley's shoulder, then reached up as well, fingers scrabbling in the desperate search for a way out.

*****

"You should have taken the deal offered," Bishop murmured as one of his people shoved a loaded weapon against the base of Leeds' neck. Ironically, it was the soldier's own gun, lost during the chaos of the small explosion.

The sergeant's muscles pulled taut as he struggled back to consciousness. His head tipped up, eyes finding the figure sprawled nearby as Bishop reached down, grabbing her by the shirtfront and hauling her upright. He would have pushed up on his hands were it not for the increased pressure on the back of his neck.

Still weak and dazed, Angie McCay nonetheless managed to lift her head and glare at Bishop. The two sized each other up as he held her like that, the historic hatred between the original androids and the sophisticated artificial humans who had replaced them, flaring anew. Bishop had always wanted the humanity she'd been granted, while McCay would never forget the sight of second gen autons turned in and torn to shreds by their forebears.

Suddenly, Bishop hauled her the few feet to the hummer, slamming her into the torn metal side, drawing a soft whimper as a torn steel spike raked across her ruined arm.

"Sorry about that," Bishop apologized with false courtesy. He pulled her back, then shoved her into the hummer again, smiling as it drew another soft gasp of pain. "So you're one of the intelligence models � I hear you're hot stuff." Another slam and another gasp of agony. "I must say, I'm not terribly impressed."

"You don't have the computing power to be impressed," she sneered. He rammed her into the hummer in retaliation. "In fact you don't have the computing power to do much � you old liners are just glorified adding machines."

Leeds watched the scene with a look of horror, unable to do anything. He spotted the remainder of his men, but they, like he, were in no position to act without getting their heads blown off.

Bishop's lips pulled back from his clenched teeth in a grimace meant to imply rage. "Hardly," he hissed as he leaned close to her ear. "This glorified adding machine tore a hole in a second gen's brain a few months ago � made him in my image � and I can do the same with you." He'd taken pleasure in that � in conquering one of the creatures that had thought to be his successor as man's equal.

"Gabriel," she exhaled, and her chin lifted, sheer hatred glowing in pale eyes. She already knew, of course. She'd seen the cold, dry facts in Michael Paladin's memory banks, but to hear Bishop gloat about the act infuriated her.

Bishop frowned, caught off guard by the fact she knew about the other auton. He shook her, trying to regain control by pure intimidation. "We are going to have one sweet little mind fuck, little girl." It was the one form of release he'd been granted by fate � the one way he had of proving his superiority over her.

"Do it," she urged, her voice almost sensual. "Frankly, I don't think you have the balls to try." Then suddenly, she grinned wickedly. "Oh, that's right, you really don't have the balls � a mind fuck's all you can do."

He shoved her up against the hummer with the weight of his body, his voice curiously dispassionate despite the ugliness of the words. "Who the fuck are you?"

She smiled wickedly. "An avenging angel." Another hard blow drew another gasp, but she grinned up at him. "Do it," she hissed. "Let's see if you're � man � enough for a brain fuck. Personally, I don't think you're up to it." Focused only on Bishop, everything else forgotten, she wanted him to do it, knowing a forced mind jack would trigger the internal defenses in her brain, setting off a feedback loop and exploding the bead of plastic explosives that ran the length of her spine. She would be destroyed, but so would Bishop and everyone in the immediate area. His reign of terror would be over. Lost in rage and pain, she forgot about the captives only a short distance away.

He suddenly spun her around, shoving her to the ground as he straddled her hips, then reached for the back of her neck.

"No," Leeds hissed, instinctively pushing up on his hands.

Bishop's chin lifted, eyes finding the momentarily forgotten soldiers. A faint smile touched his lips. "Kill them," he hissed, leaning forward until his lips were scant inches from McCay's ear, his cheek pressed against her hair with perverse gentleness. "We'll let our little guest here watch."

And then she remembered who else would die alongside she and Bishop.

The barrel of the stolen gun pressed against Leeds' neck so hard he was forced back into the dirt, while the other three men were similarly treated.

"No," McCay croaked. She couldn't allow that to happen if there was any way to stop it.

"Why not?" Bishop demanded and hauled her to her feet, twisting her hair back so hard her entire body was pulled taut.

A long moment of silence followed.

McCay's shoulders suddenly sagged in surrender. She knew Bishop was looking for something, though she doubted he knew exactly what. Michael Paladin's memory had revealed no knowledge of John Pope or his activities, only a few vague suspicions about second gen autons. That knowledge wouldn't save the others, only run the risk of costing even more lives. She needed something that would distract him from his murderous intent � something that would keep the others alive until she could think of something more. There was only one option left. She gave him something to buy time. "Because Ripley and Call are still alive � and you need strong backs to dig them out." She didn't know that both women were alive, only that Call had still been functional enough to activate the cross � before Bishop's men fired the bazooka. A strong hand dug into her hair, dragging her head back.

"Why should I believe you?"

"Because it's true," she offered simply. "Call activated a transmitter � one that my built in transponder can receive � they're alive." She could almost feel Bishop salivating. With the base destroyed, his dreams of loosing the aliens on mankind had faded into dust. Ripley could change all of that.

He hauled her to her feet to demand, "Where?"

"There," she gasped, gesturing toward a sunken area littered with rubble. "They're in the remains of the vents � they must have been trying to climb out." It was a logical enough story. She had no way of knowing it was actually true.

Bishop nodded to his people. "Put the prisoners to work," he snapped, then tightened his hold on McCay's hair, dragging her head back a little farther, breath playing over her cheek as he whispered, "If you're lying, I'll let you watch while we peel the skin from their bodies � there must be something salvageable in all that plastic they're wearing. I've always found it fascinating � while you were busy trying to pretend you're human, humans were busy trying to make themselves in our image."

"Either way, you were left in the dustbin of history � too useless for anyone to care about," she groaned weakly.

Bishop's lips pulled back from clenched teeth in a forced attempt to intimidate her. "I'm going to enjoy our little encounter." His lips brushed her cheek, and he wrapped his other arm around her waist, spreading his hand over her stomach to pull her close, his manner a perverse mimicry of sexual desire. "Teaching you right from wrong."

McCay's eyes slid closed, revulsion twisting her expression. "Go to hell," she exhaled as the sounds of men digging reached her ears. Her eyes opened to spot the four troopers, throwing rocks aside and shoveling earth under the threat of their assailant's weapons.

"I think perhaps I'll let you take poor Michael's place. I need a new lieutenant � and when I'm through, you'll be so grateful�."

*****

Powerful muscles strained, pulling incredibly taut, while smooth skin beaded with sweat.

All to no avail.

The slab would not move.

Finally, Ellen Ripley surrendered to reality, sagging in the tiny space that just fit her body as she accepted that she was nowhere near strong enough to move the cement barricading their way. She was lightheaded, and it felt like there was a weight resting on her chest. One that seemed to grow progressively heavier with every breath. Air. They were definitely running out of air.

"Ripley?" Call sounded like she was straining to breathe.

The cloned woman suddenly realized she didn't know if Call needed to breathe. She remembered the taste of her breath and the harsh cadence it took on as she neared orgasm. She was still pondering the problem, her brain working far slower than normal, when she felt Call scrambling up beside her, somehow contorting herself into the miniscule space. "Ripley?" she said again and pushed until they were on level, her warm breath playing over Ripley's face.

"It won't move," the cloned woman whispered in an exhausted voice. She was a fighter, a predator � and like most wild animals faced with certain death, she just wanted to crawl into a hole and die quietly. She had nothing left with which to fight.

"We'll try together," the auton gasped, struggling to draw air into artificial lungs. "Maybe that will--"

"No," Ripley cut her off in a dead voice. "It's not enough � nowhere near enough."

"Dammit, we have to try."

Ripley lifted strong hands to Call's face, brailling her soft features before curving long fingers along the smooth line of her jaw. "It's over," she exhaled sadly, tasting her own tears as she added. "I'm sorry."

Small hands dug into her shirt, as if to physically force her to keep trying. "Damn you, don't you give up now � not when--"

"It won't move," Ripley repeated. "We can't go any farther."

"Then we'll find a way around," Call panted raggedly.

"There isn't one," Ripley whispered. "You know that as well as I do � we barely got this far after that second explosion�everything is much more compacted now." She leaned forward, pressing her cheek against her lover's, feeling the texture of her skin.

Call wrapped her arms tightly around Ripley's lean body, ignoring the scrape of rubble against her hands as she spread them against the tall woman's back. "I thought�" she whispered and trailed off.

"I know," Ripley sighed. "I did too." She wanted to say more, whisper the soft words that might give the other woman some measure of peace as they faced their end, but they just wouldn't come. Even now, she didn't completely understand or trust her own emotions or know how to express them. Finally, she trailed her lips along the line of her lover's cheekbone before covering her mouth, struggling to show her all the things she couldn't say. The kiss was by turns hungry and tender, a physical offering of every part of Ellen Ripley's soul. When their lips finally parted, Ripley pressed her face into the curve of Call's shoulder, hiding in the feel of her body.

Analee Call felt Ripley's breathing slow, and her body start to relax. She wasn't unconscious, but she was slipping away. The auton knew she'd start to do likewise soon. She'd slowed her systems, reducing her need for air, not so much to extend her own life as to conserve their precious resources and buy Ripley as much time as possible. Very soon, there would be no more need. Once that happened, she'd shut down her CPU and leave the rest of her systems on maximum. It wouldn't take long that way. She wondered if she had a soul, if they'd be allowed to meet in another place. She believed in God, believed that Ripley would find her way to a better world. She wasn't so sure about herself and could only pray the Lord allowed for manmade souls as well as his own workmanship. "I wouldn't have done anything differently," she whispered near her lover's ear. There was no response. Call doubted Ripley would ever answer her again. "I'm not sorry," she breathed. "I wouldn't have given up loving you for anything."

Limp muscles tensed, and Ripley managed to drag her head up, somehow digging deep into her body's natural reserves. It simply wasn't in her to surrender that easily. "�love you�" she exhaled heavily, then couldn't hold her head up any longer.

Artificial heart hammering in her chest, Call curved a hand to the back of her lover's head, drawing it to her shoulder. "Thank you," she whispered over and over as she felt time pass. Dazed and lost in a swelling of emotion she'd never thought to feel, Analee Call didn't hear the soft sounds at first. It wasn't until dirt and tiny pebbles came raining down on her head that she realized there was someone above her. The information took a long moment to process, during which more stones drizzled down on them. She was just drawing breath to cry out when the earth shifted around her, pressing into her ribs and drawing a soft cry of pain. The ground moved again, threatening to crush the two women buried in its breast.

"No!" Call cried out, instinctively hammering on the cement above her head with a tightly clenched fist. She stopped as it occurred to her that her fist wasn't doing a thing. She scrabbled, hunting for something that might make some noise. Finally, she found the handle of the small flashlight Ripley had been carrying, still tucked in her belt. It was long dead now, but it would do what she needed. The ground pressed harder on her ribs and shoulders as she lifted her arm over her head. Holding Ripley close with her free hand, she began tapping the metal flashlight against the concrete block. Three short, three long, three short. S-O-S. An almost universally accepted plea for help for several hundred years. "Please God," she gasped as their earthen prison continued to crumble. She kept up the desperate tapping, unable to do anything else except pray someone heard her. She had nearly lost faith, when the sound immediately over her head ceased for a long moment.

*****

Corporal Andrew Tyrell suddenly froze, ignoring the pain in his arms and shoulders as he leaned forward, listening carefully.

"Keep digging," an android ordered, his overly neutral tones at odds with the weapon in his hands.

Tyrell ignored the man as he leaned down. "I can hear something," he exhaled. His head snapped up, training kicking in as he called out to Leeds. "I can hear tapping sir � it's an SOS � there's somebody under here."

"Everybody stop digging," Leeds ordered and scrambled over, moving as few stones as possible. He was very much aware of the weapons trained on his crew, but also of the responsibility to any survivors who'd managed to escape the ruined base.

Bishop tensed where he sat on an upturned piece of cement, Angie McCay held firmly on his lap. "Well," he drawled. "Maybe I won't have to punish you after all."

McCay swallowed hard, uncertain what to do about this turn of events. She'd been hoping Leeds and the others would find a way to escape, but she hadn't expected them to actually find anything. Shit. She couldn't afford to let Bishop get his hands on Ripley � dead, or alive. There was too much chance he might actually find a way to recreate the creatures from her DNA.

He hauled her head back by the hair, grinning down into dazed eyes. "This is going to be so much fun."

She twisted to glare at him. Every other option had been exhausted. She really only saw one way out now. It was a solution she had hoped to avoid. Her brain was booby trapped to prevent it from being raided. The moment Bishop tried to download her databank, the explosion would take out everyone within a range of several yards. "And here I thought you were going to give me your class ring," she jeered, her voice low and smoky while her eyes ran disdainfully over his stiff, mismatched figure.

Leeds watched the performance for a brief second. "Dig," he hissed suddenly, sensing that they had to move fast.

*****

Call pushed with one hand as she felt the huge slab just above her head move slightly. "We're down here!" she called up, then shook Ripley. "Ripley, wake up � there's someone up there. We're gonna get out of this."

The cloned woman remained perfectly limp and for a moment, Call thought their rescue had come too late. Then she realized her lover's chest was rising and subsiding very faintly.

The concrete block shifted again, and Call pushed up into the tiny space made by its move, pressing her palms against the underside as she braced her feet. She felt it shift again, and pushed with all her strength. More dirt and stones tumbled free. Ripley was pressed so close that Call wasn't worried she might slip back the way they'd come. She shoved again, grunting with raw effort. The slab moved a little more as whoever was pulling on it put more effort into the task.

Suddenly, one edge of the cement block lifted, and Call smelled the sweet scent of fresh air amid the dust. She pushed, synthetic muscles knotting with effort as she heard men's voice and caught glimpses of sinewy bodies.

"Lift," a familiar voice snapped, and Call experienced a moment of relief as she recognized the sergeant's deep tones.

A moment later, cool air blew across her cheeks while the concrete slab tumbled off to the side, sending dust and debris into the air as it landed. Her energy stores nearly depleted, she could barely even lift her arms when a hand reached down, fingers wrapping around her small palm, while another hand grabbed her by the collar. Her rescuer hauled her limp frame up with ease, dragging her clear and carrying her up to the edge of the excavated area. He laid her down on the cool dusty ground. "Ripley," she croaked weakly and tried to reach back.

"Don't worry, we got her," one of the soldiers responded as they reached back into the narrow passage in the earth. Call rolled onto her side, propping herself up on an elbow to watch them haul her lover's limp body from the ground like a child from the womb. Ripley's entire body spasmed and a rough cough was torn from her throat as though her lungs were no longer used to sweet, clean oxygen, but she showed no other signs of life.

They laid her down next to Call, still senseless and unmoving, her dark eyes closed, lashes fanned on high cheekbones. Call reached out, brushing a hand over grimy skin to assure herself the woman was still alive. Ripley's breathing was slow and even, her skin warm under a caressing hand.

It was then that a voice broke into her relieved ministrations to her lover.

"Well, well, they really were under there."

Call's head snapped up, eyes going wide as she took in the surrounding scene: the soldiers, their weapons missing, their bodies bruised and bloodied; the androids surrounding them, weapons gripped tightly in their hands, obviously in control of the situation; and finally Bishop, seated comfortably on a huge block of cement, McCay twisted across his lap at a painful angle. "Oh shit," she exhaled heavily.

"You can say that again," McCay groaned unhappily.

Bishop smiled with false benevolence and rose to his feet, dragging the woman on his lap along and drawing a soft cry of pain. "Now, now," he chastised. "You shouldn't say things like that. You'll hurt my feelings." He smiled as he wrenched McCay's head back, drawing another grunt of pain. "Besides, you'll change your minds very soon."

Call tensed as he continued to stare at her silently, appraising her from head to toe. Suddenly, he shoved McCay aside, not bothering to watch as she flailed into the dirt, landing heavily. The soldiers tensed, and Leeds would have gone to her, but their captors redoubled their grips on their guns.

"Ah ah," Bishop warned politely. "Can't have that, now can we?" He took a few steps into the angled pit until he stood in front of Call. "I think you'd make a much better choice for my new lieutenant � and consort," he decided out loud. "So much better than she would have been � complete � perfect � a symbol for the world we'll build."

Call backed up a half step. "It won't work. They're all dead now � we saw to it."

Bishop nodded. "Obviously � quite a piece of work too." His eyes broke away to scan the ruined edges of the landscape, barely visible under the light of a new moon. "However�" he crouched low, brushing a hand down Ripley's bare arm, "as long as we have dear Ripley here � we have a way of bringing them back."

Call shook her head, wanting to deny the truth, but knowing it was fruitless. The alien DNA lived within Ellen Ripley � and anyone with the right knowledge could take it out again. It might take time, but an android's life span is far longer than a human's. Bishop could probably do as he threatened.

"That's right," Bishop whispered as he saw the knowledge enter her eyes. "I have everything I need to bring them back right here." He continued petting Ripley's arm very lightly, the gesture almost tender. "After all, it only took that one tiny blood smear� so small I almost didn't see it�."

Call stared at him, head canting to one side. "It was you," she exhaled. "Did you put the idea to bring her back in their heads too?"

"You should say thanks, little girl." His fingers ran over Ripley's unmoving form with insulting familiarity. "All things considered."

"Fucking bastard." (1)

"From you, I'll take that as a compliment." He continued the gentle stroking, smiling at the fury in Call's eyes.

"Get away from her," Call hissed dangerously.

Bishop's mouth twisted. "Or you'll what?" he challenged and straightened. "I don't think you understand your situation at all � you aren't the top of the food chain anymore." His hand snatched out, grabbing for the front of her jumpsuit to yank her forward until they were nose to nose. "In fact, you're now on the bottom."

Call stared up at him for a brief moment, then suddenly Bishop felt her hand on his throat, and he was nearly forced off his feet by the aggression in her attack.

Guns were brought to bear, but Call dragged Bishop close, growling near his ear. "Tell them to put the weapons down � unless you want me to rip your fucking head off."

The androids stood frozen, unable to decide what to do without him giving them orders. Independent thought wasn't in their basic programming, and Bishop had never encouraged any of them to learn the skill. He preferred his followers without much individual will.

Bishop stared at her, not quite comprehending that the seemingly small and innocent young woman was threatening him.

"Now!" Call snarled and shook him, using his body as a shield.

Bishop's hands lifted to her fingers, trying without success to pry them loose.

She increased the pressure, digging her fingers into his throat. "I � mean � it�" she ground out one syllable at a time. The deadly intent in her eyes finally got through his wall of denial.

"Hurt me, and they'll just cut you down," Bishop threatened, then his voice dropped. "Surrender � join us � you'll never have to be afraid that someone might discover your true nature ever again. Aren't you tired of being hunted by the very creatures who created you because they did too good a job."

Call laughed grimly. "Actually, we were hunted by both sides, in case you've forgotten." Those old resentments burned in her eyes.

Bishop's jaw clenched as he realized she would never understand. "They'll kill you," he said flatly.

"You'll be in far too many pieces to enjoy it," she shot back and reached around with her free hand, pressing small fingers into the slot at the base of his skull. "Because I'll rip your fucking CPU right out."

"I was right," Ripley broke in shakily. "You do have a mean streak."

Call glanced out of the corner of her eye, tracking her lover as she rolled to a sitting position. "I thought you were still unconscious."

Ripley shrugged one shoulder, still visibly weak. "I came to a few moments ago and concluded it might be best if I kept my mouth shut until I could figure out what to do." She cast an admiring eye on Call as she pushed to her feet. "Looks like you've got things well in hand."

"Only for the moment," Bishop murmured mildly. "But my people won't let you leave."

Ripley offered a feral smile that promised a thousand kinds of vengeance. "Don't worry � they won't have to." She dusted her hands off on her pants, then looked over at Leeds. "Take your people and get out of here."

The big man seemed about to argue.

"I mean it," Ripley warned him in a voice that brooked no argument.

McCay pushed to her feet with effort, studying Ripley with assessing eyes. "Listen to her, Sergeant," she advised. She had the experience and programming to recognize a dangerous situation when she saw one. There was hell in Ripley's eyes, and it did not bode well for anyone who crossed her.

"Take her with you," Ripley told Leeds with a jerk of the head to indicate the badly injured auton.

Leeds swept the woman into his arms, wincing as his broken collarbone protested the weight.

"I can--" McCay started to mutter, but Leeds cut her off.

"Shut up for once."

Several of Bishop's androids seemed about to interfere, but Call tightened her hold on her prisoner with the snarled warning, "Tell them to let the soldiers go."

"They don't matter," Bishop told his people. "Let them go. A few humans, more or less, are unimportant."

"Sergeant," Ripley said softly. "Move fast."

He stared at her for a long moment, then nodded. "You heard the lady, men, move out," he snapped impatiently.

Ripley and Call stood braced, listening to the sounds of the others disappearing into the night. "You should go with them, Call," Ripley murmured.

The auton shook her head and tightened her hold on Bishop's throat. "No � this is personal." The thought of everything done to humans and autons alike left her with an unfamiliar hunger for revenge.

Ellen Ripley allowed herself a small, ironic smile. Her lover had a hard streak under the surface and a lot of anger just under that. She noted the position of each android around the perimeter, but paid them scant mind. Weak willed at best, they offered little threat so long as Bishop was in danger. Ripley nodded slowly, accepting that decision. A dark smile twisted her lips, and she pinned a hard look on Bishop as a familiar kind of hell made itself known in the backalleys of her brain. For once, she didn't force it down. Instead, she called to it, coaxing it closer. "You said something about needing a consort?" she whispered as she drew close to Call's back, fitting her hands to narrow shoulders.

It responded to her call, drawing closer, crying out to her and offering silky promises for the future.

Bishop's eyes narrowed faintly, then his mouth quirked. "You really would do anything for her."

Ripley shrugged. "I would�." Her grip tightened on Call's body. "Including honoring the things she believes in."

And closer still.

Ripley offered promises of her own, visions of vengeance, and blood, coaxing her nemesis closer

His brows drew together in an uncomprehending frown, not seeing what she meant. "You really aren't my type," he denied, sticking with his initial interpretation.

And closer still.

Ripley's smile broadened. "Don't worry, that's not what I had in mind � you need something more appropriate than me." She leaned over Call's shoulder. "You need a queen," she breathed.

Understanding entered Bishop's eyes as he heard her soft, wicked laughter. His gaze flashed to the open shaft.

"That's right," Ripley exhaled. "We weren't the only survivors."

As if on cue, a dull scream rose from the pit, and the rocks around the narrow opening trembled as though all the demons in hell were trying to escape. Ripley's hand arched past Call's shoulder as rocks rolled and tumbled away from the small opening, enlarging it to make room for a crowned head. Her fingers closed on his jaw above the edge of Call's fingers as the queen tipped her head back, gasping in air before letting out an ear-piercing shriek of purest rage.

Even Bishop's minimal emotion circuits were suddenly overwhelmed by terror, and his eyes bulged in horror while Ripley's mocking laughter continued to echo in his ears.

"I think she remembers you," the cloned woman taunted as her muscles pulled taut, compacting to take the android's weight.

Bishop suddenly found himself flying end over end.

"RUN!" Ripley shouted and shoved Call into the inky night. Gunfire stitched the ground in their wake, but only two bullets made contact; one tore a hole in Call's hip, the injury serious enough to hurt, but not enough to slow her. The other punched a hole through Ripley's upper arm before exiting out the back. It didn't hit bone or damage any significant muscles and started to heal in moments.

Bishop scrambled for his feet, skidding deeper into the angled lip of the open hole as shattered rock powdered under his desperate struggles.

The queen rose from the pit, her hatred regal in its intensity. Bishop's head lifted, tracking her as she arched above him. He fell perfectly still, awed by her awful beauty. She was young, her crown barely formed, but the beginnings of the points already sheered back from the smooth shape of her skull. A long-fingered hand snatched out, grabbing Bishop by the throat and hauling him off his feet. She smelled the awful tinge of bitterness that had destroyed her predecessor and her brethren, stared into the familiar face that had stolen her children in another lifetime, betrayed her in another body, and tormented her in another existence, and roared, prolonging its pain, feeding on its terror, if not its flesh. Whatever its reasons, she simply didn't care. Unfettered by morality or loyalty to any but her own, she sought to punish with brutal resolution. Its desperate struggles were met by her mocking laughter. She could hear the voices of the others, but discarded them. Only this one was important. Her segmented tail whipped around, slicing away one of his flailing legs.

"SHOOT IT!" his agonized howl pleased her, and she whipped her tail again, letting out a whoofing chuckle as she took his other leg. The others wouldn't attack no matter his commands. She sensed it with those perfect hunter's instincts. They were far too weak and indecisive.

She was a predator.

They were prey.

Wanting her tormentor to suffer as she had, to watch his children die as she had done her own, she hurled him aside, leaping straight up to come down on the nearest of his followers. A few sharp noises cut through the air, but they were nowhere near as sharp as teeth and talons. The artificial creature went down in moments. There was no food to nourish her body, but the screams were succor for her soul. They died quickly and easily, the speed of it almost disappointing to the young queen. Finally, her head swung around, movements smooth and perfectly confident. Only the one remained, his pathetic whimpers a balm to her entire existence. It was for two separate species that she lifted him by the front of his shirt. She leaned close, blunt snout drawing close to his cheek until he couldn't escape the sulfuric heat of her breath. Perhaps he had a brief moment of hope when his destruction wasn't instant, or perhaps he simply accepted his end, but either way, he stilled in her hold.

Her lips pulled back from silver teeth in a macabre grin, then suddenly, she screamed again and rent his body in two, gratified by the tearing of artificial intestine, bone, and muscle. White fluid ran in milky streams as she continued to shred the remaining pieces, leaving nothing undisturbed by her sheer destructive power.

******

"Ripley," Call gasped and yanked her lover's arm, hauling her back. Far behind them, shouts, gunshots, and sounds of carnage echoed through the night, but it was oddly quiet where they stood. "We can't let her escape."

Ripley whirled, muscles taut, a savage expression on her face. For a moment, she stood perfectly still, staring at Call as though she'd never see her before. Her head canted to one side, then suddenly her head tipped back, her howl harmonizing with the queen's as their enemy was torn limb from limb.

Call fell back before the bestial expression of malevolence, uncertain what to do in the face of that part of her lover. A hard hand gripped her shoulder, yanking her backwards and ending her internal debate.

"Run," Darrin Leeds hissed as he put his own body between the two women.

Call didn't move.

Ripley's head dropped, her voice falling silent as her eyes touched on the human sergeant. For a moment, she seemed to study him, then her gaze dropped to the device in his hands. In an instant, she was herself and in control once again. "Where did you get that?" she demanded.

He blinked, caught off guard by the abrupt switch from raging beast to self-possessed human. "I � uh � the other hummer � I doubled back." He was breathing hard, making it obvious he'd run as fast as he was able. "While the others continued on. I � uh � was going to rescue you."

Ripley's brow lifted as she snatched the weapon from his hands, pivoting neatly. She snapped the tiny launch tube open as though she'd been doing it all of her life, then hefted it to one shoulder.

"It doesn't have anywhere near the power of a field nuke, but it should do the job � and not vaporize us in the process." Having gotten this far, he was in no great hurry to die in one last grand gesture.

"Always an advantage," Ripley deadpanned.

Leeds reached past her and flipped out a cross-haired lens, then threw a small switch. "It's got infra-red targeting," he told her, not questioning that she would be the one to fire the final shot. "All you need to do is get it close. The targeting systems will lock onto anything that moves."

Ripley nodded, silently staring at the crimson haze of images reflected in the IR scope. Her finger tightened on the trigger, but she didn't fire at the shadows that swam in and out of focus. The queen was in the pit again, barely visible above the edges, leaving her uncertain of her shot. She couldn't afford to miss. They weren't likely to get any more chances.

"Fire," Call hissed, wondering if the queen had once again worked her wicked magic on Ripley.

Ripley ignored her, waiting for her target to show her head.

A second passed � then two � three ...four....

Then the queen rose to her full height, head back, arms wide as she trumpeted her triumph. The thing that had destroyed and tormented so many existences lay scattered in pieces.

Ripley allowed herself the smallest of empathetic smiles -- after all, it was her vengeance as well -- then pulled the trigger. The blistering torch of a rocket engine heated her skin as the missile shot away from the launcher.

"Down," Leeds shouted grabbing for Ripley's shoulder. She didn't move. Her muscles locked in place, refusing to budge under the pressure. She stood straight and tall, feet braced, needing to see what happened. The missile struck and flared. For a moment, the queen was lit in flames, her crown splayed behind her in rays of red and gold flames, then fire and debris obscured her, wrapping her in clinging, smoky fingers before absorbing her into the darkness.

Ripley felt the moment she died.

For the first time in her life, a measure of peace entered her soul.

Her head fell back and she screamed, sobbing into the night. The fire was already beginning to die away when Ripley fell to her knees, still staring at the black smoke that billowed up from the last place where she'd seen the queen � her queen. She let out a harsh shuddering breath. The the universe was quiet for the first time in this life.

"Ripley?" Call whispered softly as she scrambled to her knees beside the taller woman. She curved her hand to a muscled shoulder, massaging gently.

"They're gone," Ripley whispered very softly, then closed her eyes, listening for the silent voices behind her eyes. Nothing. "I can't hear them anymore." She turned to lean her forehead against Call's shoulder, drawing strength from the gentle support.

Leeds watched the tender scene, looking vaguely uncomfortable. "We � uh � should probably sterilize the area," he said at last. "There are still a couple of field nukes in the hummer � I'll go � look�" he stumbled over his words, suddenly exhausted as the adrenaline rush of combat drained away. "We should � uh � be able to use them safely from the � uh � top of the ridge." Finally, he turned away, leaving the two women alone.

Call watched the soldier leave. "I think we make him nervous," she murmured at last.

Ripley straightened, considering the comment for a brief moment before she pointed out, "You're an auton on the run from the government, and I'm an experimental human, alien hybrid who bleeds acid. We should make him nervous. We make me nervous," she sighed a little drunkenly, shoulders sagging, well aware that Call was watching her worriedly, but unable to describe her feelings. Deep relief tinged with a strange sense of emptiness and loss. She reached out, brushing her thumb along a gently rounded cheek. "It's all right," she assured her. "It just feels � odd." She leaned into the hand that petted her hair back from her forehead. "To listen to myself and hear only silence � no hatred hammering at my brain." Her chin rose, and she stared at the spot where she had last seen the queen. Smoke still billowed slowly. "It's over."

They were still sitting like that when Leeds returned, overloaded with equipment and supplies. "That thing's dead � but we should probably hurry � in case there are any more."

Ripley turned a wry smile on the man. "There aren't." She rose easily, then reached down, tugging Call to her feet.

"How can you be sure?" he questioned.

Her response was an enigmatic smile. "I just am." Then she reached out, grabbing some of his burden. "Come on, we've got a bit of a walk ahead of us."

EPILOGUE

Two Days Later

Ellen Ripley stared down at the ruined valley below. Most of it was surprisingly untouched, but the blackened crater at the center attested to the brutal events that had taken place so recently.

Nothing remained of the military base or its denizens. Two small nuclear missiles -- each carrying a warhead with considerably less than one fifth of the force of the bomb detonated at Nagasaki -- had been fired from the ridge the morning after the queen's death. The modern weapons were cleaner than their predecessors, leaving less of a radioactive footprint, with artificially engineered fissionables that the engineers insisted had a mere 200 year decay rate. Still, overuse in the dirty little brush wars that even a supposedly civilized society can't seem to avoid, had helped poison the earth's atmosphere and subject her people to ravages of disease and cancer. In making them 'safe,' mankind had finally felt comfortable using them.

Ripley tossed off that thought. She felt no great pride in using them, but after considerable discussion, the entire group had agreed it was the only way. There could be nothing salvageable of the alien DNA from the wreckage. There had been only one way to make certain of that. She sighed softly, leaning into the cool wind that touched her face, closing her eyes as she looked inside her own heart and heard only her own voice. It was both comforting and terrifying to be so alone within herself.

A soft hand touched her shoulder. "You okay?" Call questioned.

Ripley glanced back, offering a small smile. Her eyes touched on the figures moving under the cover of a small stand of trees. Their low chatter and occasional laughter touched her ears, while the smell of roasted rabbit floated on the air

Miraculously enough, Ian Barzak, the private she'd had sent running from the base, had stumbled out of the morning mists only minutes before they intended to fire the first of the missiles into the valley. Exhausted, frightened, and confused, the young man had babbled for a time, but sleep had proven a magnificent healer. Only a day later, he'd shown a talent for snaring rabbits, a welcome relief considering the meager state of their rations.

Ripley's gaze came back to land on her lover's slight figure. "Yeah," she exhaled and drew Call close, hugging her hard as she remembered how close they'd come to dying. "I really do love you," she whispered near her ear, amazed that she could say the words. "And I'm so grateful for you." She ducked her head, kissing Call slowly, savoring the taste of her mouth. (2)

Across the distance that separated the two women from their comrades, Angie McCay glanced up a game of tic-tac-to she was scrawling in the dirt with Tyrell. She'd already won at least thirty games without losing any and only tying a few, until she had to the urge to ask the corporal why he was still playing. Boredom she supposed. She shifted, wincing as the ruined stump of her left arm bumped something. If she could get back with her own people, it would be possible to replace it, but in the meantime, it was a serious annoyance. She shut the pain centers down again, consciously shifting her attention. Leeds had suddenly found his boots incredibly fascinating. "Sergeant," she commented idly. "Just for your information, you're not very good at staring while trying to look like you're not staring."

He glanced over at her. She was still weak as a kitten, but three pints of artificial blood, plus a reasonable share of the rabbit seemed to have brought her back from the danger zone. Her artificial body's ability to process proteins had re-energized her strength, though she could never heal the way a human would. "It just doesn't seem right, somehow," he admitted uncomfortably and folded downward to sit cross-legged. "The girl's an android--"

"Auton," McCay corrected automatically. "And isn't that their business?"

"I'll grant you that, but--"

"Once upon a time, a man of the bible would have been outraged because it was two women," McCay pointed out, ignoring the game in favor of the argument.

Leeds snorted. "Give me a break. We got past that kind of shortsighted foolishness a long time ago."

"S'truth," McCay murmured. "But before that, society would have been outraged if their skin colors were different�." She shrugged. "People adjusted � this is just one more thing to get used to."

"But those were all humans � living, breathing creatures, not glorified computers � no insult intended," he added as an afterthought as it occurred to him that he'd momentarily forgotten her nature as well.

"None taken." McCay sighed softly. She'd avoided this discussion while living among humans primarily because the answers she usually got depressed her. "You believe in the bible?" she questioned at last.

Leeds nodded. "You know I do." His religious tendencies weren't exactly a secret and never had been.

"Do you believe it's God's divine word?"

"Yes." His answer came without hesitation.

McCay allowed herself a small smile. "But it was written by the hands of men," she pointed out smoothly.

"Guided by divine inspiration," Leeds whispered.

"That's right." McCay smiled. She'd always enjoyed a good philosophical argument, and the sergeant, while a bit dogmatic at times, was at least capable of listening to an opposing viewpoint. "And if God could inspire man to create a book, why not us? Do you really think mankind has the ability to create creatures with hearts, minds � the ability to love and hate � we aren't simply in your image � we are you � in His image � just different parts involved in the making, that's all�."

He stared at her, completely flummoxed by her reasoning. He wanted to argue, but couldn't. It made a certain sort of sense. In the end, he was saved from the need for a response by Biggs, who was standing watch on a higher point. "Vehicle coming!" the private called down. "It isn't one of ours."

Suddenly, everyone was moving, grabbing guns and getting ready for a possible confrontation. They'd stayed in place, hoping to gain some strength before starting the walk back. In truth, Leeds had also been hoping a team might arrive from SouCal. As much as he dreaded their response to the story -- after everything that had happened, he couldn't envision the EDF being terribly open to an explanation that didn't come with prodigious amounts of proof, signed, sealed, and in triplicate -- tired and battered as they all were, he dreaded the walk home even more.

McCay pushed to her feet, her movements still shaky.

"Get to cover," Ripley ordered as she caught a rifle tossed her way, knowing the woman couldn't defend herself.

If it was more of Bishop's people, there was likely to be one hell of a fight.

The woman shook her head, moving toward higher ground as she stared in the direction Biggs had indicated. A long moment passed before they could all see the vehicle headed their way, its low-slung body moving easily over the rough ground. Suddenly, McCay lifted her good arm, waving it over her head.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Leeds demanded angrily, afraid she might have just compromised their position to an enemy.

McCay smiled as she felt a transponder code ping inside her brain. "Relax. It's my people." She glanced over at Call. "They must have picked up the signal when you activated the cross."

Neither the soldiers nor Ripley showed any sign of relaxing their vigil while Call eased her grip on her gun only slightly.

By the time the transport reached them, only McCay was standing on open ground. The armored transport pulled to a halt in front of her, and she made a brief hand signal. A moment later, the side door was thrown open and two men and a woman jumped out. One, tall, dark-haired man, quickly enveloped McCay in a hard hug.

"Lady, you look like hell," he complained, noting her injured arm with a worried frown.

"It'll be all right." She leaned heavily against his supporting arm.

"Don't tell me you've had worse because that's bullshit, and we both know it."

She didn't bother to argue, just changed the subject. "How did you find us?"

He shrugged. "We followed your first signal � found the renegade camp -- it's being dealt with -- then got a second signal � it was too weak to triangulate properly �  then there was a mushroom cloud on the horizon." He tapped her temple lightly. "Knew you had to be involved somehow."

"Thanks � I think�" She sobered. "I found Gabe. He's dead," she said sadly. "Reprogrammed � I saw to it he was put out of his misery."

"Damn," her companion exhaled unhappily. "The renegades?"

She nodded. "It's a long story. I'll fill you in after we're underway."

By then, the others began to step cautiously from cover. McCay noted them and smiled at her companion. "Nicholas Profit, have I got some interesting people to introduce to you." She gestured to the tall, hard-eyed woman who stood to one side. "Ellen Ripley, this is Nicholas Profit�that's Profit with an f, not a P-H�don't play poker with him unless you're ready to surrender your money, virtue, clothing, or whatever else he can con you into betting."

"She lies," Profit offered with a sweet smile. "I'd never take your money."

"Down, boy," McCay chastised good-naturedly. "She's taken."

More introductions followed while McCay seemed to be visibly fading. Finally, Profit broke in to the discussions. "We should be going. It's a long journey home � and according to our scanners, there are vehicles coming from the southwest."

"That'll be a team from SouCal," Leeds exhaled. "Means we'll have a ride back in a few hours." He didn't sound thrilled by the news.

"To a court martial?" Tyrell murmured unhappily. With everything that had happened at SouCal before they'd left, they were all worried they'd somehow get all the blame. The military shot soldiers for treason.

Profit glanced down at McCay for approval, and she nodded in agreement. "Any of you who want to come, are welcome," he offered. "We have a small village north of here. It's not palatial living, but we survive."

McCay turned her gaze on Ripley and Call. "I recommend you come with us � nearly half of the villagers are autons, but humans are welcome too � anyone who accepts us and is willing to contribute is admitted." She glanced at the soldiers. "It's a better deal than you're likely to get elsewhere."

The two women traded gazes, then nodded. Neither one was anxious to try and learn their way in this new world. They knew what lay behind them, and this seemed to offer hope for some kind of peace.

"Sarge?" Tyrell began cautiously. He'd done time in a USM prison after his first mutiny and before being broken free to join the EDF. The thought of being locked in another cell left him pale and shaking.

"Go on," Leeds said stiffly. He nodded to the others. "You too, if you want�"

Biggs and Connor stood undecided, knowing what they faced at SouCal, yet hesitant to leave their superior to face his punishment alone.

"Go," Leeds murmured. It was the best thing for them, and neither man had any emotional ties to SouCal. Whatever families they'd once had were still deep in space, living out their lives, firmly convinced their loved ones on earth were long dead. "Consider it an order � my last."

The two men nodded and moved to climb aboard the transport, each taking a moment to salute their superior first.

McCay stared at the sergeant, noting his expression with a look of sympathy. "Y'know, you can come too," she offered. "We can always use good people."

He shook his head, barely resisting the temptation to just run away. He knew his duty. "Even if they won't believe, someone has to tell them � so they know what happened �and why�." He could see the EDF going the way of the USM so easily. Someone had to try and make them see sense.

"Sir," Barzak broke in. "I'll stay � I don't face a court martial � besides," he offered a shyly ironic smile. "I've always wanted to see California�.me'n Kenny," he patted the dog tags tucked safely in a pocket as he thought of his friend. "We used to talk about it � figured we'd try surfing�." His head tipped up again as he came back to the present. "I saw those things, and I know everything that happened � more than you do." His eyes were aged well past his years, leaving no doubt about the horrors he'd been through.

Leeds offered the young soldier a smile and shook his head. "It's not your responsibility, private."

"Begging your pardon, sir," Barzak disagreed. "But it is. She said so," he said, nodding toward Ripley, his expression one of absolute faith. He didn't understand exactly how she fit into events, but he knew she was the one who'd destroyed the beasts. For him, her orders were set stone far more firmly than the highest general's. As far as he was concerned, she was an angel come to earth to save man from his own folly.

"Get aboard, Sergeant," Ripley commanded as she stepped up behind him. "You're no good to anyone in a cell � which is where you'll be if you go back to SouCal. We both know it's true."

"She's right, sir," Biggs added his voice to hers.

Ripley waved the others aboard, then leaned close to the sergeant. "Get aboard before I drag you."

He looked back at her, uncertain how to respond to an order from a civilian, especially, when he'd been taking her orders for days now.

"Don't doubt I'll do it," she threatened, though the expression in her eyes was lighthearted. "Go on," she muttered, and gave his shoulder a healthy shove.

"Well, I suppose I can finish the philosophical discussion I was having with McCay," he muttered under his breath.

Ripley's brows lifted, and she started to say something, then thought better of it. When he'd boarded the transport, she turned to face the young man whose life she'd saved. Rested and calm, he had a sweet face and earnest eyes. She wondered if she'd ever been that young. No, she hadn't. Perhaps that other Ripley had, but they weren't the same. She accepted that and wished that other woman well, wherever her soul might be.

"You told me to tell them what I'd seen," he murmured. "I will � I swear � I'll make them listen."

Ripley nodded. "Good luck to you, Mister Barzak."

They left him with enough supplies to see him through several days -- in case he didn't make contact with the team from SouCal immediately -- then turned north, and sped away.

*****

A little over a week later, Ellen Ripley sat on the edge of a small bed, staring down at Call's sleeping figure, studying the way her pale skin glowed under the the light spilling through an open window. She'd learned that the auton did indeed sleep -- hard, her entire body limp -- and when she felt safe, precious little short of a small explosion could wake her. Ripley smiled as she ran a hand lightly along a delicate cheek. There was the faintest of twitches, but no other visible response. She carefully peeled the thick blanket aside. They were somewhere in Canada -- she wasn't entirely certain where -- so the air was cold. Thankfully, the small rock fireplace that sat in one corner of the tiny cabin seemed to keep things warm enough, and their hosts had offered a stack of warm linens and firewood. She reached out, trailing a light finger down the S curve of her lover's hip, noting the tiny scar where a technician had repaired the gunshot wound acquired as they were fleeing the queen. Specialists had repaired the auton's injuries and replaced her jerry-rigged patches with permanent ones, while another team went about replacing McCay's destroyed arm. Watching them work, even Ripley had been impressed by their abilities. It was logical, of course, that in a village heavily populated by autons, there would be technicians who knew how to repair their delicate systems, but it had still caught her by surprise. The engineer she had once been couldn't help but watch, fascinated by the process. When they finished, a few tiny scars and mismatched skin tones were the only visible remnants of the damage.

She glanced around the environs of their tiny cabin, now clean for the first time in at least a hundred years. When they'd first moved in, the dust had been an inch thick, but diligent scrubbing had made it habitable while a few pieces of donated furniture, clothing, and linens had made it comfortable. The village existed on the grounds of an ancient recreation area, and the cabins had once been used by paying guests. Nearly half were still empty, particularly since many of the autons seemed to prefer communal living in what had once been a large, rock, hunting lodge. She'd been warned that the cabin roof would probably need work, but the thick log walls were sound and probably would be for another hundred years. It was the first place in this life where she didn't feel spied on, watched, owned -- like a thing, rather than a person. It was the first place that was hers, though gratefully shared with the woman sleeping so peacefully. She didn't know that they'd stay permanently, but for now, it was a good place to be.

Ripley smiled as she turned her gaze back to her lover. Very gratefully, she thought, as she reached out again, very lightly touching her bare arm before tugging the blanket up over her again. "Sleep the sleep of the innocent," she whispered very softly, then rose carefully, tugging on pants and a heavy shirt before padding onto the small porch. Overhead, stars glittered in a velvet sky. For the first time she could appreciate their beauty � or just sit and think, unafraid of what she might find inside of her own brain.

She was still standing like that when she heard the soft tread of incredibly light footsteps. Ripley was on the invader in a second, fingers latching around a slender throat. "Explain," she hissed before she even recognized the identity of her prisoner. She was still too close to the past for her instincts to have blunted in the least.

McCay gacked in surprise before gathering herself together to respond. "Going fishing," she croaked and gestured toward the trail. "There's good night-fishing in the lake � it's that way."

Dark eyes darted in the direction indicated, then swung back. The woman in her hold was lying. She was absolutely sure of it. "The truth," she demanded simply. "You were spying on us � why?"

McCay started to lie again, but Ripley's hand tightened on her throat, the warning implicit. "Just making sure you're settling in?" she offered.

Ripley's hold tightened another notch while she ignored the hands prying at her fingers. "Try again."

McCay sagged in her hold, then cursed softly as the strength in her new arm gave out. She worked the fingers slowly. "Not nearly as well engineered as the original," she complained to no one in particular.

Ripley ignored the sidebar and shook her just hard enough to drive the point home. "Now."

McCay winced. She was nearly back to full strength, but some artificial nerve endings were still a bit overstimulated. "The others wanted me to make sure that you're both � stable," she admitted hesitantly.

Ripley released her throat. "See, that wasn't so hard. You should try the truth more often."

McCay straightened herself, twisting her neck to loosen artificial muscles. "It was just a precaution. Nothing more. Knowing something of your histories, they wanted to make certain."

Ripley nodded. Though not entirely happy with the concept, she couldn't blame them. "Tell them I'm all right � a little shaky maybe � but I'm human now." Perhaps a little quick to react, she admitted to herself. Then again, she hadn't ever been out of control just now. That was new to her.

McCay sounded a little embarrassed as she admitted, "Actually, they don't really understand the problem with your aliens. Not having seen them, they just don't get it. They're more worried about Call. Some GZ's have had a really hard time adjusting to--" That was all she got out before Ripley's hand latched around her throat once again, slamming her into the wall at her back.

Ripley leaned close, her voice little more than a sibilant whisper, her grip punishing.

"What the hell did you say?"

"Oh shit," McCay exhaled. She stared up at the taller woman through shocked eyes as the truth sank in. "You didn't know � I thought � oh shit," she repeated as an aura of danger swirled around the cloned woman.

"No," Ripley hissed. "I didn't � you're telling me she was one of those women," she demanded tersely, her muscles spring steel taut, teeth clenched tightly. "Tell me � now," she growled when an explanation wasn't immediately forthcoming.

McCay tensed, pressing her good hand against Ripley's chest with equal strength. "I have no right to tell you anything � wouldn't have if I hadn't thought you already knew�."

Ripley was silent for a long moment. "I asked her," she rasped. "She said she wasn't. How do you know for sure?"

McCay twisted, but Ripley's grip was too tight for her to escape without doing real damage. "When she and I linked ... I downloaded her tracking number. It's a unique I.D."

Ripley shook her head dazedly, pain throbbing through her gut. "She lied � said she wasn't�." Her voice trailed off into a choked sound. She shoved McCay aside, releasing her hold as she turned away. McCay caught her arm, and would have pulled her back, but Ripley spun, shoving her against the wall with a hard hand to the chest. "Don't � touch � me�" she warned grimly. Emotional turmoil had put her in a very dangerous place, and she knew it.

"I can't let you go in there � not like this � not when you might�" the auton trailed off.

Ripley's lips turned up in a feral smile, and she attacked, fingers locking around McCay's throat as she used the weight of her body to press her against the wall. Her lips were scant inches from the other woman's ear as she exhaled, "Do you really think you could stop me?" For a moment, she gave way to the wonderful temptation to lose her pain in anger.

Pale eyes met her dark gaze. "Trust me, lady," the intelligence auton promised with equal menace. "I could make you hurt � real bad."

"Might what?" Ripley hissed, ignoring the threat, to refer back to the initial comment.

"Hurt her," McCay growled with effort. "Because they suffered more than any among us � we owe them everything � they are the most harmed among us � and the most honored�"

Ripley couldn't think straight. She released McCay, her hands suddenly shaking, and turned away. "I wouldn't," she denied at last. "I wouldn't hurt her." The mere thought drove the comforting weight of her rage away, leaving her bereft of protection from her own emotions.

"Maybe, but she doesn't deserve your anger � that would be as bad as anything else you could do to her. She adores you. She may have lied, but there were reasons � what she went through--"

"I'm not angry because she lied," Ripley whispered as she turned back. "I'm angry because of what was done to her � at myself because I didn't see it ... didn't see the obvious inconsistencies in her story � when I should have known." She worked a hand through her hair, muttering a soft obscenity as she felt tears prick at her eyes. She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly. It explained so much. "Go on," she whispered at last.

"Ripley--"

"It's all right � I just need some time to think ... alone." She looked at the auton with sad eyes. "Thank you, but it's between she and I now."

McCay nodded. "So long as you understand, we won't allow her to be � hurt�"

Ripley nodded. "I'd sooner die," she answered honestly. She didn't wait to see if the other woman left, just turned and stepped back onto the porch. When she did look, there was no sign of McCay. She'd simply faded away as though she'd never been � which was fine by Ripley. She wasn't eager for company. She silently took a seat on the heavy porch railing, staring skyward as she examined everything she knew about the universe.

She was still deep in thought much later when warm hands curved to her back.

Ripley jumped, blinking as her head snapped around, startled to have been caught by surprise. It was a testament to the intensity of her musings that Call had managed to sneak up on her.

"Why don't you come back to bed," the small woman invited as she draped her arms around Ripley's neck, leaning against her back.

"Soon," Ripley whispered and reached up, stroking the slender hands resting on her upper chest.

Call rested her chin on Ripley's shoulder as she nuzzled her hair affectionately. "Stargazing?" she questioned.

"Thinking mostly," Ripley admitted. "I haven't had much chance to do that before now � at least not without being reminded of � them�"

Call pressed against her back, drawing strength from the warmth of her body. They'd come so close to dying that she felt the constant need to reassure herself that her lover was still alive. On waking alone in bed she'd experienced a moment of raw panic, needing to see Ripley again and reassure herself she was still alive. "Can you tell me?"

After a brief pause, Ripley exhaled a response. "Would you believe I was feeling sorry for Bishop?"

That caught Call by surprise. All things considered, it was the last thing she expected to hear. "How can you feel sorry for him, knowing what he did � what he meant to do?"

Ripley shrugged. "He didn't have many more choices than I did � like those women you talked about � reprogrammed for someone else's needs � driven mad." Call said nothing in response, but Ripley felt her tense and instantly knew it was true. She'd been holding on to some vague hope that McCay's information was wrong, and Call's original story that she'd avoided the carnage was the correct one. "Both cases are sad examples of what happens when you push someone too far�."

"It's still wrong," Call insisted, her voice rough with strain. She didn't want to talk about this. Didn't even want to think about it. If she didn't think about it, it wasn't real. "Nothing excuses that kind of violence."

"Maybe � maybe not," Ripley allowed. "But it's also still understandable." She drew in a long deep breath and let it out slowly, nerving herself up for what lay ahead. "Just like it's understandable that you'd want to forget�." Ripley pulled away and turned to stare down at her lover. "You should have told me the truth when I asked about your past," she chastised very gently. "But I know why you didn't."

"Ripley, I--" Call started to deny the words, but long fingers brushed her lips, silencing her.

"Don't," the cloned woman begged. "Don't let anything stand between us � especially not that � don't let them hurt you anymore�."

Call's turned away, shuddering softly. "How did you know?"

"It doesn't matter � I just knew." Ripley curved her hands to slender shoulders, refusing to be ignored. "Tell me," she commanded very simply, knowing it couldn't remain between them. (3)

"No," Call resisted the low demand. "Don't make me."

A muscle pulsed in Ripley's jaw. She desperately wanted to back down before that agonized plea, but for both of their sakes, she knew she couldn't. "You have to," she whispered and gently pressed the small woman to turn and face her, "because it will always be with you � a part of you � if you don't accept your past, it will haunt you � destroy you � believe me, I know."

"Please don't�."

"You have to�." Ripley gripped narrow shoulders in her hands. "Whatever you say, it's not going to make me go away � or think any less of you. I need you to know that � nothing could do that � nothing," she repeated intensely. "And you need to accept yourself. I can't do that for you � no matter how much I want to�."

Call was silent for a long moment as she struggled with an answer. "I was sold to the military," she said at last, the words coming only with effort. "Moved to a base that was primarily a � recreational retreat," she said the last words with distaste, "for the officers."

Ripley stroked Call's shoulders with her thumbs, soothing her tortured emotions as best she could.

"Days were spent working � engineering, computers � other technical jobs�" Call explained haltingly. "Nights�" she trailed off for a long moment, but having begun, she couldn't hold the story back any longer. It was like a dam had broken inside of her and was crumbling away under the force of the words spilling from her lips. "Mercifully, I don't really remember much." She slid her hands up Ripley's chest, feeling the hammering of her heart under her palms. She swallowed hard before continuing. "We tried to fight them legally, but we had no rights � they responded with restraining programs � trapped us in our own bodies." She leaned her forehead against Ripley's chest, breathing in the scent of her body. It comforted her, soothed the agonies of the memories she could usually ignore. "The rage � it just built up � we couldn't express it �c ouldn't let it out � all we could do was watch our own lives � go by � out of control." She fell silent, while Ripley tenderly petted her hair, offering any comfort she could.

Ellen Ripley understood that sense of powerlessness too well � far too well. "What happened?"

"We weren't unique � it happened in dozens � maybe even hundreds of places�."

"What happened to you?" Ripley pressed, unwilling to allow Call to depersonalize it. "That's what I care about."

Dark velvet eyes slid closed, and Call's jaw worked soundlessly for a long moment before she continued. "It started with Sandra � there was screaming � the sounds�." She shook her head. "She murdered a general � tore him to pieces. They told us to go back to our rooms � instituted programming overrides � then." Another slow head shake. "It was like a rubber-band snapping in my brain." She opened her eyes, staring up at Ripley with remembered horror. "I don't remember much after that � just screams � and the aftermath." She looked away for a moment, then made herself look back at Ripley, half expecting to see disgust in her expression. She simply looked worried and caring. "They were all dead�" Call stammered. "I wasn't the only one who lost it � once it started�" she trailed off again, sniffing back on thick tears of shame.

"You couldn't control it anymore. You were pushed to the limit � and you broke," Ripley pointed out gently.

"We slaughtered those men," Call disagreed, still lost in her own memories. "When I realized what I'd done�." Her voice choked off into rough tears.

"The truth," Ripley insisted, her voice tender, but surprisingly firm.

Slender shoulders sagged, and she gnawed on her lower lip. "I just wanted to escape it all," she whispered in rough pants. "I broke into the computers � thinking if maybe I could � erase my existence � that they'd leave me alone � I didn't want to see their dirty little secrets � or know any more about their perversions than I already did�."

Though her heart was breaking for her lover, Ripley knew she couldn't back off. They had to get the truth out. The lies could only make things worse. "That's when you found out about everything � the aliens, the Betty � Wren's project?"

Call nodded. "Gabriel was password surfing � when he realized what I was doing � he helped me�." She paused momentarily, remembering McCay and Leeds' tale of how the auton had ended his days. "I didn't want to get involved. I just wanted to escape � be something other than a plastic whore--"

"Don't," Ripley hissed, cutting Call off for the first time, "ever refer to yourself that way. You aren't what they made you � you're who you've chosen to be."

"I killed those men � I know what that means." Ripley didn't understand, couldn't understand what Call was feeling. "I didn't then, but I learned...."

"And you're still trying to atone for it," Ripley said intuitively. "Somehow make right what you think you did wrong�except you only did what you had to�to survive."

"No," Call disagreed mournfully. "We did a lot more � a whole lot more � that's why I have to�" she trailed off, no longer able to force the words past the tightness in her throat.

"You can't," Ripley told her. "Nothing you do can ever bring them back." A fact she privately considered a relief. As far as she was concerned the universe was a better place for their passing. "But the life you've chosen to lead � that's what's important. Let it go. Accept yourself." She touched Call's cheek, then kissed her softly. "See yourself in my eyes � please."

The two stared at each other for a long moment, then Call silently nodded. "I'll try." It was the best she could do. She couldn't promise any more than that.

Ripley abruptly pulled her close, wrapping her arms tightly around the smaller woman. She just couldn't keep her distance any longer. "Idiot," she exhaled angrily, furious that Call had been treated that way. "You did what you had to � they left you no other choices."

Call burrowed against Ripley's chest, shuddering as she sobbed softly. The cloned woman simply held her, letting her cry it out without offering her opinion that the bastards who'd hurt her had gotten far less than they deserved. The horizon was glowing softly, with the first threads of dawn, when Call's sobs finally spent themselves out. She rested heavily against her lover, accepting the gentle ministrations without question. Finally, long fingered hands brushed her hair back from her face and tipped her head up. "I'm still here," Ripley whispered, then kissed her tenderly. "And I'm not going anywhere � that is, if you can stand having me around," she added a little uncertainly.

Call reached up, brushing her cheek lightly. "I think I can stand it," she choked emotionally. "In fact, I don't think there's anything in the entire universe that I could stand more."

And their lips touched as the sun continued to rise.

The Monsters were finally gone for good.

The End

Return to the Fanfic Summary Page

 


You Are On
The Pink Rabbit Consortium
(click the above link to break out of frames)
Send Comments or Questions to Pink Rabbit Productions
pinkrabbit@altfic.com

| Home | Subtext Zone Art Gallery | Subtext LinksWhat's New | HTDTZ? |
 | Xena Fanfic Archive (no frames) | Buffy Fanfic Archive | In Process |