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.
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,
Always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
To view the
Illustrations, click the numbers in parentheses, throughout the
Click here to go to the Illustrations Page,
and see thumbnails.
| Ch. 2-3 | Ch. 4-5 | Ch.
6-7 | Ch. 8-9 | Ch.
10-11 | Ch. 12-Epilogue |
Call awoke with a jerk, lids snapping open to reveal dark eyes. She
blinked several times, shaking her head slowly. Ripley�s angular
features swam into hazy view, and she did a fast checkup of her ocular
systems, readjusting the lenses to bring the woman�s face into sharp
focus. "Ripley," she mumbled.
"That�s right," the woman murmured, her head canting to
Call could feel her systems coming back online, diagnostics hunting
down the errors still in evidence. She started to move only to come up
against resistance. "Wha�?" the auton mumbled, her chin
lifting until she could see her hands bound tightly over her head by
bent steel strapping.
"I�m sorry," Ripley whispered, her voice tight with
suppressed emotion. She drew close, strong fingers cupping Call�s jaw
as she guided her head back down. "But I need to know if I can
still trust you."
Call blinked in confusion, her neural processors still reacting at
well below normal speed. "Trust?" she questioned.
Ripley nodded, her expression grim. She leaned forward, to reach over
Call's head, wrapping long fingers around her forearms just below the
edge of the impromptu restraints. "That�s right."
Call blinked, struggling to bring her CPU up to speed.
"Because Gabriel intended to reprogram you, and I need to know
if he made the grade."
Cal stiffened, her eyes flashing angrily. "Reprogram?" She
had a vague memory of Gabriel's attack, but it was too hazy to bring up
anything specific. "No," Call denied. "None of us would
that to another�it�s�" she trailed off, unable to describe
the horror of the crime. Among androids reprogramming was murder and
rape all rolled into one.
"He wanted you to agree with him that mankind has to be
destroyed," Ripley insisted, her voice low and intent. "And he
knew it was the only way to make it happen."
Call shook her head, wanting to disbelieve, yet firmly convinced that
Ripley wouldn't lie to her.
Ripley dropped a hand to cup a smooth cheek, struck once again by the
perfection of the auton's skin. "He set you up," she said
almost gently. "When he found out about the aliens, he wanted
the crew of the Betty to throw a spanner into the works. He knew
if anything went wrong, the Auriga would return to earth."
"No�no�" Call argued desperately. "He helped me
try and stop them�he wanted them destroyed as much as I did."
Ripley shook her head implacably. "He wanted the aliens on
earth...to wipe out mankind�and he wanted you here too�"
Her voice was flat, perfectly restrained to keep any emotion from coming
through. She couldn�t forget Call�s welcome to the auton, and her
Call flinched as though struck, desperately wanting to argue, but
unable to summon the words. She stared soundlessly, then suddenly, it
all came back�those last awful moments before he attacked, and she
whimpered softly. Memory surged through her in a flood, the fight with
the colonel, gunshots, Ripley�s entrance. "My God," she
exhaled. "He knew the Auriga would return." The
expression in her eyes was fragile, like shattering crystal. "I
almost helped him bring those things to earth�"
Ripley winced, not wanting to say what came next. It was the final
test; something that would cause Analee incredible pain if she was still
herself. "They�re here," she whispered very softly. "A
queen�I can feel her."
"No," Call breathed, agony glittering in her eyes.
"Somehow they made it down," Ripley explained, amazed by
the band of pain that tightened around her chest in response to the
expression in the auton�s eyes.
Call shuddered, a soft whimpering sound emerging from her throat.
"He used me," she croaked.
Ripley tore the strapping free, loosing delicate wrists to pull the
smaller woman into her arms. "I�m sorry I had to tell you that
way," she apologized as she petted silky strands of hair. "But
I had to know." She could feel her heart hammering in her chest as
it sank in just how frightened she�d been. Slender arms wrapped around
her body, clinging tightly.
"Where are they?" The auton leaned back enough to peer up
at the cloned woman, knowing her tie to the creatures was the closest
thing in the universe to understanding them.
The taller woman shook her head. "I don�t know�I just know
they�re out there."
"We have to find them," Call whispered to herself.
Hard hands tightened on her shoulders. "What we have to
do is get to the Betty, get it operational, and get the hell off
"We can�t," Call disagreed. "We have to stop
Ripley laughed grimly. She was so tired of this tune. She�d played
it so many times and knew all the dance steps. "How? We don�t
know where they are, have no weapons, and the local army is
unquestionably after us. For once, I am smart enough to know when it's
time to give up and get the hell out."
"We have to try."
Ripley�s jaw worked silently. She wanted to argue, make Call
understand that they�d done their part. It was someone else�s turn
to do theirs. At the same time, for reasons she didn�t even begin to
understand, she couldn�t disappoint the idealism and determination in
the dark eyes staring up at her. Finally, her shoulders sagged. "We�ll
try," she allowed, though she had precious little hope of
succeeding. Dark brown eyes slid closed. Ellen Ripley didn't want to do
this. She wanted to run and hide where the nightmares could never find
her. She was still lost in her own pain when she felt a gentle finger on
Call caught the single tear on the tip of her finger. She half
expected it to burn, but it just sat there, gleaming in the faint light.
That this woman could cry stunned her. With each passing hour, it struck
her more deeply that Wren and Geddiman�s creation was wholly human.
Despite the acid in her blood, her soul was her own. "I�m
sorry," she apologized as it struck her just what she was asking of
Ellen Ripley. She�d come to think of her as so strong and in control.
She hadn�t allowed herself to consider how horrifying it must all be
for her. She�d already lost everything to these beasts, even her life.
"It�s all right," Ripley sighed sadly, forcing herself to
look at Call. She even managed a wan smile. She took a deep breath and
let it out on a measured count. "You�re right, of course."
She willed her natural instinct to run to the back of her mind.
"And from what we know," she reminded herself, "even if
we could get to the Betty, and get her in the air, we�d
probably be blown out of the sky by the USM."
Call rested a small hand on Ripley�s chest, feeling the steady,
thudding beat of her heart. "It�ll be all right �
somehow," she promised for the second time that day.
Narrow lips twisted in a wry smile. "So much faith," Ripley
noted and reached up to smooth Call�s hair away from her face.
"How do you do it?" she wondered aloud.
Delicate features drew into a slight frown. "I have to,"
she responded. "It�s the only way I can keep going."
Ripley slipped long fingers into Call�s hair, cupping her face
tenderly. Once before they�d found themselves in a similar position.
Then Ripley had offered to make it end. She petted Call�s cheek gently
with the pad of her thumb. "You amaze me," she admitted. Her
eyes slid closed, and she leaned forward until her forehead just touched
the smaller woman�s.
"You�re the hero," the auton disagreed. "You�ve
fought them on so many fronts�given your life to it."
"No�all I was ever doing was trying to survive�you care for
mankind, even knowing they want to destroy you." She straightened
to peer down at the auton.
"It�s my programming," Call insisted uncomfortably, eyes
sliding away from Ripley�s probing gaze.
"Look at me," the cloned woman commanded until dark eyes
lifted to meet her gaze. "It's much more than that. You�re who
you are � and who you�ve made yourself�as fine a person as
I�ve ever known." She just stared down at Call for a long moment
as though trying to understand her.
A muscle pulled in Call�s jaw. "But I�m not real."
Silver tipped fingers continued their gently smoothing motions, while
Ripley leaned closer until their lips were scant inches apart. "You�re
as real as any of us," she disagreed. She didn�t plan the kiss,
never meant for it to happen, but suddenly she was tasting warm, sweet
lips. Sensory memory echoed in her brain. She remembered past lovers,
now long gone. Call was different, tasting faintly of something akin to
cinnamon. So soft and sweet it was like drinking from a cool clean well,
after years in the desert. Small hands curved into the front of her
vest, pulling her closer while full lips parted, unconsciously inviting
deeper exploration. Ripley accepted the offer, tasting the depths of
Call�s mouth with startling hunger. She was breathing hard, her heart
hammering in her chest, when the kiss finally broke. The two women
stared at each other, neither one knowing what to say or do. (1)
Finally, Ripley sat back on her heels, and her gaze fell away. She
wasn�t even remotely prepared for this. Even in her first life she�d
been less than skilled at personal relationships. Her hands fell to rest
on her upper thighs. She was still sitting there like that when a
delicate finger tucked under her chin, drawing her head back up.
Call�s lips twisted in a watery smile. Ripley managed an answering
upturn of her lips. "We need to find out what�s going on,"
the android said firmly. She intentionally cleared her head and
straightened her shoulders. "If we can find a major network
conduit, I can link into their computer."
Ripley winced. She remembered how the other woman had resisted doing
just that aboard the Auriga. The pain she�d shown in the chapel
had been as real as anything anyone ever felt. "I know how much you
hate it," she murmured, but Call remained all business.
"The system is old and jerry-rigged, but I should be able to get
in." A hand landed on her shoulder, cutting her short.
"How are you feeling?" Ripley questioned.
Call started to answer, then changed her mind, pausing for a moment,
before shrugging. "A little woozy, but I think everything�s
"Is there some kind of self-diagnostic you can perform to be
"A surface scan�any more than that would require several
hours." Call straightened herself. "This will only take a few
moments." She closed her eyes, focusing inward and completely
missing Ripley�s worried look. "Primary system�stable,"
Call said, her voice taking on a mechanical cast. "Neural pathways�90%
stable�secondary systems, stable at 87%. Tertiary systems�fluctuating.
Balance and strength ratios�low, but within safe margins�" She
paused for a long moment, then dark brown eyes snapped open. "In
short," she said in her normal voice. "I�m a little weak and
a little dizzy, but thinking clearly. My neural systems are
self-repairing -- within reason -- so I should be more stable in a few
"Do you want to stay here while I hunt for a network
linkup?" Ripley questioned, not wanting to drag Call along on a
possible snipe hunt, if it might be better for her to stay put for as
long as possible.
"No, I�ll come with you," Call decided.
Ripley nodded, but kept a hand near her arm, ready to offer support
if needed. The auton�s balance was visibly out of sync, frequently
forcing her to lean against the wall or Ripley�s arm as they moved
through narrow corridors. Ripley was incredibly alert to their
surroundings, alien senses carefully attuned to the faintest
disturbance. They wandered, searching every possible outlet until
they finally found an access port where Call could jack into the system.
The android�s small, blunt fingers were uncharacteristically
uncoordinated as she pulled the lead loose and plugged it into her arm.
Her body stiffened, eyes glazing over as she became a part of the
"Can you get in?" Ripley questioned.
"One moment," Call responded in her eerily mechanical
voice. "Nearly all sensitive data is passcoded � however �the
encoding is done with a simple encryption algorithm." A few moments
passed before she spoke again. "Entry achieved�" She
filtered through millions of bytes of streaming data, searching out what
she needed to know amid the clutter. "You are correct, Gabriel has
blamed you for Colonel Hoagland�s death�he has also accused you of
kidnapping me with the intent to reprogram."
Ripley nodded grimly. She�d expected as much.
"Filtering through incoming data from the last seventy-two
hours." Her head canted to one side. "Recent data has been
intentionally corrupted and broadcast frequencies randomly
Ripley tensed. "Can you decipher it?"
A moment passed. "Only partially�there are several garbled
messages from Base 51, Nevada�first message regarding a team
sent to retrieve a downed object�second message: regarding base
condition�.third message: regarding security breech�fourth message:
regarding missing personnel�"
"Fuck," Ripley mouthed. Until that moment, she�d
continued to hope she was wrong. "Any details?"
"Very few�and very corrupted�unknown forces are believed to
have entered the base�using the ventilation shafts to move around�and
several soldiers are missing, status unknown�based on the information
received, I calculate the probability that the aliens are attempting to
establish a new hatchery in the base at 97 percent." Call blinked
suddenly and let out a soft sigh. "There is good news," she
sighed, her voice returning to normal. "They think you�ve already
escaped�and I think someone knows that Gabriel played with the
"Are you sure?"
"About the escape�yes�about the other, I�m not 100%
certain�but the access patterns on the logs would indicate that one of
the technicians has likely guessed the situation and is attempting a
"So the aliens are in this Base 51�do you know where it
"Nevada," Call answered quickly.
Ripley smiled. "It�s a large state. We need to know more than
Call went distant for a moment, as she checked on the answer. "I
have a location�southwest corner of Nevada�high desert conditions�no
immediate civilian population."
Ripley absorbed the words thoughtfully. "If they�re
establishing a cr�che, they�ll stay close�if we can destroy them
quickly, before they start to expand, we might have a chance." She
was honest with Call when she continued. "Slim, but it�s a
"We�ll need help."
Ripley raked a hand through her hair. "Any ideas about how to go
about getting it?"
"Try to make someone see reason."
The new cr�che was dark, warm, and deep in the ground where it was
safe and defensible. Already, the queen�s warriors were readying it
for her, making her comfortable as her body expanded with her future
children. What remained now was the task of subduing the remaining human
parasites; utilizing or destroying them as needed. Soon the cr�che
would grow and the hordes of her children would increase.
McCay glanced at the tray in her hand with dislike. Obviously
Nimzicki was cooking tonight. The mess hall was empty except for Barry,
and he left with a muttered curse. She watched him go, then took a seat
in one corner. Her squad was the only one still on base, and that was
only because they�d already been out to the Betty again to show
the techs the way and footed it back home. The colonel had agreed with
Leeds' statement that they needed downtime and took them off duty for a
rotation. Now, with the colonel dead and Gabriel in charge, the auton
hadn�t opted to put them back on duty. He�d made excuses about their
needing rest, but she had the distinct impression he didn�t trust
them. No big surprise. Leeds certainly didn�t trust him. She hadn't
seen anything in the way of incredibly suspicious behavior from the
auton, but she had to admit, there was something off kilter about him.
She sighed softly. Leeds and the others were sacked out in their
cots, but she'd been unable to rest, too busy thinking about the day's
events and their possible consequences. She pushed the unappetizing
contents of her tray around with a fork. "Or maybe I should just go
to bed," she muttered. She was still playing with her food when a
ceiling tile directly overhead eased out of place. She didn�t even
have time to scream when a hand snatched her by the scruff of the neck
and hauled her up into the ventilation shafts.
"Not one word," Ripley growled as she smashed a hand over
McCay�s mouth. "Don�t even breathe."
McCay blinked up at her captor, gathering herself to struggle.
"Don�t," Ripley hissed. "I don�t want to hurt
"Listen to her," Call implored as she scrambled into view.
McCay�s brows lifted in silent question, and she made no further
effort to struggle.
"I need you to listen to what we have to say," Ripley told
her, then moved deeper into the base. When she was satisfied they were
safe, she pulled up short, keeping McCay pinned as she warned her,
"Don�t doubt that I can break your neck before you can scream.
Now, I�m going to take my hand away from your mouth, and you�re
going to be very quiet�understood?" Ripley carefully lifted her
hand, ready to clamp back down if the soldier seemed about to cry out.
"I understand," McCay assured her.
"Good," Ripley said, her voice little more than a whisper.
"Take her weapons," she told Call.
Call leaned close, her fingers still slightly uncoordinated as she
unbuckled the woman�s belt and pulled it free.
"You said you wanted to talk," McCay prompted.
"That�s right," the cloned woman confirmed. "I know
what you�ve been told, but I didn�t kill your colonel."
"Why tell me?"
"Because I need your help, and because�bluntly put, you�re
the only one here that I can force to listen to me."
"All right," McCay said carefully. "Who did
kill the Colonel?"
"Gabriel," Ripley answered simply. "He was going to
reprogram Call, and Hoagland walked in on it." At least that�s
what Ripley thought had happened. In reality, she wasn�t entirely
certain what had led to the colonel�s appearance. Call had been pretty
fuzzy about that time.
"Why should I believe you," McCay demanded smoothly.
"Because if it weren�t true, you�d already be dead."
"You have a point. Why don�t you tell me what happened."
Between them, Call and Ripley told her an abbreviated version of the
tale, leaving out plenty of details, but outlining the threat the
creatures posed to all life on earth. By the time they finished, Ripley
had released McCay and the soldier was crouched on her knees, staring at
them as though she might divine the truth.
"You�re telling me that these things that murder at will,
bleed acid, and kill everything, may be trying to take over Base 51."
"That�s right," Ripley confirmed, her voice coldly
unemotional. "Then they lay eggs�and from those eggs bursts a
creature that latches onto your face, implants its young in your chest�.then
a few hours later, it burst out through your chest." She tapped
McCay right over her sternum. "Right here�it�s a very nasty way
to die�tell her Call."
The auton nodded, her expression distasteful as she remembered the
people on the Auriga, their chests exploded outward.
"Problem is, according to Gabriel�s story, you were going to
reprogram her. For all I know, you�ve just managed to make her believe
some fantasy of yours."
"Do you seriously believe she could reprogram a second gen with
nothing more than a pocket knife?" Call demanded mockingly.
Ripley offered a wicked smile. "Guess you need a little
proof," she drawled and drew the short bayonette from the colonel�s
"Ripley," Call hissed in warning.
"Bet you think I�m part plastic like your friends."
Ripley winked. "No such luck. I�m pure flesh and bone." She
drew the blade across the center of her palm, laying the flesh open.
"Not to mention blood." A crimson drop fell from her hand to
the metal floor of the shaft. "Watch," she instructed coolly.
McCay frowned, eyes dropping to where Ripley�s blood was already
starting to sizzle and melt into the metal. "What the�" the
soldier exhaled, her jaw suddenly hanging slack. This was like some kind
of nightmare brought to life.
"And the rest of the story is that I died two hundred years ago
when one of them burst through my chest�and some military scientists
used a little sample of our combined blood to bring us both back."
Her blood was still sizzling. "Unfortunately, they didn�t get it
quite right. They couldn�t quite tell one from the other." (2)
McCay�s leaned forward, staring at the widening hole with utter
"Gabriel has tampered with your communications to hide the fact
these things are already into Base 51 and establishing a
hatchery. Now," Ripley demanded grimly, "will you help us talk
to your sergeant?"
The young woman�s eyes flashed back and forth between the two
women. "I think that would be a good idea," McCay admitted.
"But I think you should show him the computer evidence as well as�"
she stared at the melting bloodstain uncertainly. "�that�"
Leeds snapped awake as his shoulder was shaken. "Wha�?"
"Sergeant," McCay whispered, keeping her voice low to avoid
waking any of the others. "I need to speak to you�
He blinked rapidly, but grabbed for his shirt, then tugged on his
boots. "This had better be important," he muttered under his
"Believe me, sir, it is," she assured him as she led the
way out of the communal quarters and through the base.
"So, what�s the problem?"
"Something I think you should see�.through here," she
said as she gestured him into a minor computer access lab. Leeds
stiffened as he saw the two women inside. McCay pressed her sidearm
against his back. It wasn�t loaded, but he had no way of knowing that.
"What the hell?"
"They have a story to tell, Sergeant. I think you should listen
Gabriel growled in raging frustration as he watched the incompetent
efforts of the trackers to find some hint of Ripley�s passing. Damn
them. First, they�d let the bitch walk out of the base and now they
couldn�t even find her trail. He distractedly rubbed the open
wounds still running a slow trickle of white blood down his side with
his acid damaged right hand, but didn't notice the pain. He was too busy
with other matters. He had to find Ripley and Call. It was a driving
need. His eyes lifted to the incompetent hunters, spearing them with a
hate filled look. He would have enjoyed killing one of them, but it
would hardly play well, and he needed them for the moment. "She�ll
head for that ship they landed," he told an officer. "Get me a
"Yes, sir." Oddly enough, it never occurred to his perfect
mechanical mind that Ripley had never even left the base.
Ripley tugged the brim of her borrowed cap low over her eyes as she
followed Leeds� people into the vehicle garage. The sergeant stood at
the lead of the small company. After seeing the computer evidence, not
to mention the side-effects of Ripley�s blood, he�d made a fast
decision. With the command structure in turmoil, and his own doubts
about Gabriel, it was time for a little independent action. Technically,
Ripley and Call were still prisoners -- there was a loaded weapon subtly
trained on them at all times, and their wrists were wired together with
a short length of airplane cable -- but they were also more than
prisoners, since the soldiers needed their information.
Stealing an armored hummer proved to be surprisingly easy. With the
base nearly empty there were only two technicians in the garage, and
they were in the small office area. Footsteps stealthy, Leeds' squad
loaded their gear in a remaining hummer, including as much heavy
artillery and ammo as they could carry. Lost in their own storytelling,
the technicians didn�t notice, or if they did, didn�t pay much
attention. They were used to the sight of soldiers coming and going. It
wasn�t until four of the troopers entered the office, their weapons at
the ready, that they realized something unusual was going on. Unarmed
and caught by surprise, neither man attempted to resist, and they were
quickly bound and gagged.
Ripley would have liked to argue as she and Call were hustled onto
the low slung, armored transport. She was getting very tired of being a
prisoner. The vehicle reminded her vaguely of the one the marines had
used on LV-426, but the six gimbaled wheels looked better suited to
rough terrain. In the back, McCay quickly locked the two women to a bar
that ran over a series of padded seats while another trooper kept his
weapon on them.
Long minutes later, the last of the soldiers stepped aboard, and the
hatch was closed and locked.
"We�re moving!" Leeds call out in warning as the driver
took his seat at the controls and revved the powerful engine to life.
The hummer was a fast moving vehicle, designed to cover rough ground
in a short time, and Leeds had his driver push it to the limit. He
wanted to get as far from SouCal as fast as possible. Using the
old highway system, Base 51 was only twelve to fourteen hours
away. With luck, they could be more than halfway there before pursuit
started in earnest.
Gabriel stared at the empty, beaten carcass of the Betty with
narrowed eyes. "Damn her," he exhaled under his breath as he
suddenly saw the truth. Technicians were still working on the small
ship, readying her to move her back to SouCal. As sorry as she
was, the EDF needed any flight capable ship they could find.
Contrary to his certain belief, Ripley hadn�t run. She�d stayed
"Goddamn you, you fucking bitch," he breathed, massaging
the leaking tears in his side distractedly. From everything he knew
about her, he�d calculated that she�d try and flee the planet.
Everything in Geddiman's reports had described a creature who cared
nothing for mankind and would run at the first opportunity. He�d been
so certain, he hadn�t even bothered to calculate alternate
possibilities. He reached up and rubbed drying and flaked lubricant away
from the wounds Ripley had left in his neck. "Call back to SouCal,"
he ordered distantly. "And tell them to lock everything down. She�s
"But, sir," the trooper pointed out. "We can�t call
back," he reminded the auton. "Communications are still
Gabriel blinked rapidly, twitching as he cursed under his breath.
"Yes," he said tightly. "I�d forgotten." He
clamped his hands together at the small of his back. "Turn the
hummer around. We�re headed back."
"Yes, sir." The young soldier stared after the auton as he
stormed off, his eyes narrowing faintly as he noted the trail of tiny
white drops of fluid that left a trail in the dirt behind Gabriel. He'd
already suggested the android do something about the injury and been
ignored. Now he found himself wondering if it was like a human with a
slow bleeding injury. He shook the thought off and hurried to do as
Ripley sighed softly as she leaned her head back against the padded
seat, while the hummer bounced along, jarring the passengers with every
pothole and bump. The roads they were traveling were little more than
tattered remains of long past throughways, which meant they were in for
a rough ride. Next to her, Call rode along silently, her head pillowed
on Ripley's updrawn arm. For a time it had seemed as though she slept,
though in reality Ripley had decided she was probably partially shut
down to allow her systems all the repair time possible. Glancing over at
the small woman, she found herself wondering about android dreams,
particularly what this android might dream of.
"Sorry it�s so rough," Leeds apologized as he clambered
back, holding onto an overhead bar to maintain his balance.
Ripley looked over at the big man and resisted the urge to laugh as
she shrugged one shoulder. "Seen worse."
"Guess you have," he allowed. He drew a little closer,
crouching down. Powerful thigh muscles worked to maintain his position
while he braced one hand on the arm of her chair. "Any idea what we�re
gonna face�or how we can fight it?"
Ripley peered at the man, assessing his sincerity with automatic
suspicion. Something had changed. "What�s happened?"
"We just picked up a partial transmission from Base 51,"
he admitted. "They were calling for help, but it was cut off before
we could get any details."
"It�s started." Ripley heard Call gasp sharply and
realized she hadn�t been as far out of it as she�d thought.
"What do I do?" Leeds asked.
Dark eyes fell away from his steady gaze for a long moment, then
lifted. "You have a couple of short range tactical nukes in your
arsenal, don�t you?"
"Fire one down an elevator shaft and run like hell," she
"I can�t do that," Leeds insisted. "We have people
"Had," Ripley corrected under her breath.
Leeds stiffened, swallowing hard. His eyes fell away from her flinty
gaze. "There was still someone capable of calling out�but�we�ll
do what we have to," he allowed at last.
"Listen to me," Ripley said seriously. "What you have
to do is kill�no�annihilate them�every last one. If you don�t
mankind is doomed on this planet, because we don�t have a chance
against them. They�re faster, stronger, with an insatiable will to
feed and reproduce. You can�t make deals or truces with these
creatures. You can only kill or be killed. Imagine a shark with acid for
blood, the ability to move freely on land�in burning heat, or icy cold�agile
enough to move in the tightest spaces ... with intelligence equal to a
"They can�t be that--" Leeds started to insist, but Call
cut him off.
Gabriel was staring at a map of the area when the radio crackled to
life. His whirled in his seat, eyes landing on the com-tech with
piercing intensity. If the radios were up and working at all, it meant
that someone had discovered his alterations to the system. He reached
for his sidearm as the soldier answered the call, slipped the safety off
as the man received the word that Leeds had stolen a hummer, and took
aim as the speaker started to warn him that Gabriel was suspected of
Obviously it had never occurred to the speaker that the
communications officer might not be on headphones. The soldier was just
reaching for his sidearm when Gabriel opened fire. Precisely aimed
bullets tore into the crew as Gabriel lunged forward. He dove over
falling bodies as the craft started to slew sideways. He shoved the
dying driver aside and grabbed for the controls, dropping into the dead
man�s seat. A hard yank brought the vehicle back onto the road as he
pressed the accelerator, pushing it to the limit. As soon as the vehicle
was stable again, he typed an activation code into the computer. Within
a moment, the radio was receiving nothing but static once again, as a
preprogrammed secondary virus tore through SouCal. He'd installed
a backup system to disable their communications just in case there was
trouble. After a moment, he reached over, grabbing the dead radio
officer�s headset. A quick flick of the wrist sent most of the fresh
blood flying, then he settled it on his head, dialing in a new
frequency. He�d programmed the EDF equipment not to monitor it months
before, just in case of such events. "This is archangel," he
spoke as the radio crackled to life. He waited a moment, then spoke
again. "This is Archangel, with a message for God. His fallen
angels are riding into the desert in the footsteps of our savior. Demons
ride at their side, intent on undoing the Lord�s work."
After a brief pause, a well known voice came back to him. "God
hears your prayers and will answer them."
Leeds sat back in his seat, silently watching Ripley and Call as he
mulled over the tale his prisoners had told. Aliens that bled acid and
hunted man ... on earth ... sent by the government he'd once served. He
didn't want to believe, but remembering the things he'd been ordered to
do before mutinying, he didn't doubt they were capable. He reached up,
massaging the back of his neck. He trusted his team, every one of them,
but he feared their lives would be in the hands of the two women
manacled to their seats. No, he corrected himself mentally, one
woman, one mechanical device. He had to remind himself of that
because it was so easy to forget what the tiny one was when she looked
at him through those rich, brown eyes.
He studied them carefully, still trying to understand what drove
them. They had offered neither resistance nor unsolicited comment in the
hours since leaving SouCal. With their arms bound just above
their heads, they had to be uncomfortable, but neither one had
complained. The auton�s eyes were closed, her head tipped sideways
against her own upraised arm and Ripley's shoulder, while Ripley rested
her cheek against the top of Call�s head, seemingly dozing. Leeds
suddenly pushed to his feel, automatically shifting his balance to
adjust for the moving floor.
Ripley�s eyes snapped open as hands landed on her wrists. She
tensed, lips drawing back in an instinctive snarl. It relaxed away an
instant later as she felt the handcuff latch snap free. Her expression
questioning, she looked up as Leeds reached over to free Call.
"We�re all in this together. If I can�t trust you without
these." He held up the cuffs. "We�re doomed anyway."
Ripley silently massaged her wrists as she absorbed his comment while
Call looked up, smiling gratefully. "Thank you."
Leeds only shrugged, and moved to retake his seat, hoping his
instincts were right once again.
Still rubbing her bruised wrists, Ripley turned her gaze on Call.
"How are you feeling?" she asked, studying the auton
Call shrugged and massaged the back of her neck, wincing as her
fingers encountered the tear in plastiskin.
Dark eyes narrowed as they tracked the gesture, then Ripley reached
over, pulling the auton�s head around with a light touch, so she could
look at the wound. "It�s torn more," she growled, eyes
burning with remembered anger over the attack. She turned a look on
Leeds. "Do you have anything I can use to repair the damage?"
It was McCay who spoke up. "There�s a skin-plast sealant in
the medkit." She reached into a nearby equipment locker and pulled
out a compact emergency trauma kit, tossing it to Ripley with the
advice. "It�s meant to adhere to human skin, so it�s not ideal,
but it should work�at least until you can find something better�"
she trailed off, leaving out the obvious addendum -- or until it
doesn�t matter anymore.
"Thanks," Ripley muttered, and opened the kit on the seat
next to her. They hit another pothole, drawing a soft grunt and
apologetic sigh from Ripley. "It may not be quite a neat a job as
the last one."
Call shrugged and offered a small smile. "Don�t worry about
Despite the less than ideal situation, Ripley managed a fairly steady
hand as she carefully cleaned and sealed the wound. She was just
finishing when the driver called back.
"Sarge, we�ve got movement on the road ahead of us."
"Damn," Leeds muttered under his breath, then pointed at a
couple of his people with the snapped command, "Man the gunnery
The soldiers scrambled up through a hatch in the ceiling, rifles at
the ready. A moment later, the hatch clanged shut again, though their
heavy footsteps could still be heard overhead.
Leeds hurried forward, leaning against the back of his driver�s
seat, as he peered at the readout. "Looks like a small group�about
a quarter of a mile ahead. Ready for action...slow our speed to fifteen
klicks" He looked up, startled, when Ripley stepped up beside him.
"Should there be anyone out here?" she questioned
He shrugged, uncomfortable and uncertain why. With communications
down, there was no way anyone from SouCal could have sent a warning
ahead. Still, the roads could be dangerous... "There are a few
settlements out here�they aren't allied with the EDF, so we don't keep
close track. There are also traders who use these roads pretty
regularly." He frowned thoughtfully. "But they usually travel
Ripley's brows drew together as she studied the visual readout.
"It looks like someone's standing in the middle of the road,"
she pointed out as she tapped the screen. "Can you zoom in?"
"Do it," Leeds murmured to the soldier running the
surveillance equipment. A moment later, the camera zoomed on the figure.
Ripley's scowl deepened. "More." She felt a hand land on
her shoulder and glanced back to find Call watching her worriedly.
"Do you have an idea who it is?" the auton whispered near
Ripley's answering shrug was so faint Call could hardly feel it under
The tall woman turned her attention back to the readout as the tech
explained, "That's as much as I can get out of it."
Ellen Ripley shivered as she stared at the figure standing in the
roadway, his hands locked together at the small of his back. "It's
enough," she whispered. "Stop the hummer," she told
Leeds. "And tell your people to be ready for anything."
Leeds didn't question her, just called out an order to pull up.
Ripley reached for the hatch as she felt the heavy vehicle roll to a
halt. After a quick spin, she pushed the door outward, watching as it
swung down to form the steps into the hummer. Call's hand caught her
forearm abruptly, tugging her back with considerable strength.
"What's going on? Who is that?"
Leeds was busy waving his people into position and readying for a
possible confrontation, leaving the two women with a private moment.
"That man out there," Ripley said with a short nod.
"It's Bishop, or at least has his face." She could almost hear
the android's soft voice echoing in her head. I prefer the term
"Bishop?" Call whispered as though she thought she might
have heard wrong. "But that's not possible�he was destroyed. It's
in all of the forbidden histories."
Ripley didn't comment on that, just asked, "Could there be
another model with the same face?"
Call shook her head. "I don't see how. By then they were making
each facial mold wholly unique. There might be one built on a similar
pattern, but not identical."
Ripley nodded. "That's what I thought." She grabbed a rifle
off a nearby soldier, who started to protest, until Leeds waved him
"Company's coming," the sergeant told her as he noted
movement on the viewscreen. The figure blockading the road started
forward with a slow measured stride.
Ripley nodded. "I imagine it is," she murmured, then
touched Call's shoulder lightly. "Stay inside." A moment
later, she stepped out into the open, dark eyes scanning the surrounding
terrain -- hunting for any signs of ambush -- before her gaze swung
around to the man moving steadily toward her. Her gait long and
seemingly loose, she headed toward him, still gripping the rifle
tightly. She couldn�t see or hear anyone moving on either side, but
that didn't mean they weren't there. She squinted slightly, noting a
small group well ahead. By the look of it, they were with the Bishop
lookalike. She was about one hundred feet in front of the hummer when
she came to a halt, resting the rifle stock on her hip as she continued
to watch the oncoming man's steady strides. "Hullo, Bishop,"
she murmured a long moment later as he drew to a halt in front of her.
She studied his weathered face, no longer the least bit uncertain about
his identity, then ran her eyes over his lanky figure, noting the
evidence of old damage. By the look of it, he hadn't led an easy life.
Bishop's weary expression split into a faint smile. "Hello,
Ripley," the android said in his perfectly modulated voice. He
lifted a hand to shade his eyes, peering at the hummer behind her with
obvious curiosity. She couldn't miss the stiff way he moved, or the
metal replacement joint that attached a perfectly normal looking --
albeit dark hued -- hand to his left arm.
"So it really is you." Ripley didn't loosen her hold on the
rifle. He appeared surprised by her presence, but it was hard to be
certain. His responses were so subtle, and she only had hazy memories
from another life to go by.
"I think that's my line," he murmured thoughtfully as he
studied her with equal curiosity. "Any way you look at it, it's a
hell of coincidence...our meeting out here... like this."
"Is it?" Ripley murmured, then changed the subject.
"Not to be rude, but the last time I saw you, you were in
Another faint smile. "That's all right, the last time I saw you,
you were nothing more than a few blood smears," he responded with
equal calm, assessing her the same way she was assessing him. "Care
to explain what you're doing here at the same time we get transmissions
about trouble among the humans�transmissions that mention something
inhuman invading one of their bases?"
"Transmissions?" Ripley demanded without bothering to be
polite. An android had just tried to kill her. She wanted to make sure
he hadn't had any help. Bishop had come back for her once, but that
didn't mean he got a free pass.
"Very broken� from the EDF's main bases in Nevada and
California. It sounded like someone�or something invaded the Nevada
base. The situation sounds bad�then we picked up a transmission about
an escapee from SouCal�and your name was mentioned." He
shook his head. "I thought it had to be someone else, but then they
sent out a picture, and it looked like you�I decided to check
personally." He drew a little closer, studying her carefully.
"What are you?"
Ripley's eyes narrowed ever so slightly, as though she was trying to
gauge the truth of his statements, while she tensed, tracking him out of
the corner of her eyes. She didn't trust anyone that close�no, she
amended that thought. There was one person she trusted to get close, but
it certainly wasn't Bishop. "A clone," She answered simply and
held out her arm, showing the tattooed number eight. "Made from one
of those blood smears."
"Why would they�" Bishop started to say, then trailed
off. "Oh God," he exhaled. "They've found a way to bring
them back." For the first time, the android's emotions were
surprisingly clear and evident, the look in his eyes one of sheer
Ripley nodded. "That's right," she agreed, a little
comforted by his response. She couldn't help but remember her relief, in
another life when he'd landed the flyer to pick up she and Newt. I
prefer the term artificial person. Her stance relaxed ever so
slightly. "And not just any alien either�a queen." She let
that sink in for a millisecond before adding. "We think they're
trying to turn the underground base in Nevada into a new cr�che�so
she can reproduce."
"Damn�I didn't want to think it was possible." He
massaged his mismatched hand distractedly, thinking out loud as he
murmured. "I've got to get word to the team we sent to Nevada�confirm
that the worst case scenario is active." He seemed completely blown
away by the revelations and at a loss to how to respond.
"You do that?" Ripley murmured. She jerked herself back to
the present, reminding herself of all the times she'd been betrayed.
Even if Bishop had helped her in the past, she shouldn't be too quick to
presume he would now. "We're on our way there. Maybe we'll see 'em."
She started to turn back, but Bishop caught her arm. She turned back
slowly, eyeing the hand gripping her arm with a purposely bland look.
"My people are hours ahead of you," he pointed out coolly.
"Are they really prepared to handle it?" Ripley asked
dryly, her tone making it clear she had her doubts. "Because this
isn't the kind of problem that can be dealt with by simply lobbing a
hand grenade at it."
Bishop ducked his head in acknowledgment. "Normally, we have no
use for the kind of weapons needed for the task, but we did have two
short range nuclear missiles intended for field launch�that should
deal with the problem quite�efficiently."
Heart hammering in her chest for reasons she couldn't quite fathom,
Ripley nodded, allowing that they probably would do the job. Her eyes
dropped to the dark-toned hand attached to his wrist by a gleaming,
stainless steel joint. "So, how did you survive the last two
hundred years�being ripped to pieces, shredded�and then there was
that little recall of all androids." Her eyes lifted, the
expression in them as alien as the creatures she'd hunted through two
lifetimes. She wanted him to be a man she could trust -- the man she had
trusted -- but, as he'd said, it was a hell of a coincidence.
"Autons," Bishop corrected her, apparently taking her
change in subject with equanimity. "They recalled the autons, not
androids. We were allowed to just fade away. They didn't destroy us,
just said, 'No new parts for you.'"
"How," Ripley repeated pointedly, "did you
Bishop stood staring at her for a long moment. "The ship's logs
were unreadable and the only available witnesses to any of the events
were a group of highly questionable violent criminals. The company
needed to know what happened, and my memory circuits were deemed the
most reliable resource available. They put a full team on the task of
putting me back together."
"Why not just download the data?"
Bishop's gaze sharpened. "Because that would be the same as
simply downloading what you've seen over a certain length of time. It
wouldn't have had my thoughts or interpretations. To get those, they
needed me functioning. An android isn't a simple computer�download the
hard drive, and you have all the data. Our informational processors are
much more complex than that."
"So they rebuilt you?" Ripley prompted, her voice still
diamond hard, refusing to be drawn into trusting him by the past.
"Debriefed me for several years, then put me to work as a
janitor in the R & D labs�where they played with all the dangerous
chemicals. The job was deemed too dangerous for humans and most of the
androids being built at that time were designed for higher
"So, how did you get here?" she questioned, gesturing to
"I never left. I was put back together on earth. When the
company evacuated a hundred years ago, I wasn't important enough to
bother with. Now, why all the questions?" he demanded.
Ripley didn't answer, just gestured to the group waiting some
distance back. "They androids too?"
He nodded. "Several different generations of them, but yes. We
have -- for want of a better word -- a colony, just a few miles from
here. We were all left behind during the evacuation. We stay out
of the humans' way�" He flexed the mismatched hand. "And do
our best to repair ourselves and continue some kind of existence. Now, I
repeat, why all the questions when you're the wanted
Ripley shrugged. "Simple, it was an android -- I guess you'd
call him an auton -- by the name of Gabriel Ark who helped bring them
here. He tried to kill me�and�" Ripley paused, hunting for the
right word, "...hurt a companion," she decided at last.
"An auton?" Bishop questioned. "I�ve heard there are
a few on earth, but we haven't been able to make contact. They can blend
in with humans�and they prefer their company to ours. From what I've
heard, they find we older models very�" he hunted for the right
word, appeared not to find it, and finally settled on, "...dull�.You
say a second gen tried to kill you?" His brows lifted in polite
disbelief. "How odd�of course, they were a little unstable. The
programmers gave them a much more intense emotional base." He
shrugged. "Some of them couldn't handle it. That's why they were
destroyed." He shook his head sadly. "The whole situation was
"Ark wanted to turn the creatures loose on the planet � use
them to wipe out mankind. He thought androids could live peacefully with
Bishop shook his head. "He must be mad then � as I recall
those creatures�" he rubbed his midsection with one hand, as
though remembering the feeling of the queen tearing him in two,
"they were equally hostile to artificials and biologicals."
Ripley noted the small gesture and nodded. "True," she
allowed. An image of Bishop being ripped apart flashed before her eyes.
"That's why I have to make certain they're stopped," she
murmured, her voice flat. She started to turn away, but Bishop's voice
"I can't allow your group to continue," he said softly.
Ripley turned back very slowly, eyes narrowing as a faint smile
touched her lips. "I had a funny feeling you might say something
like that," she drawled, almost relieved by the betrayal. Best to
just get it over with. "And why not?" she questioned silkily.
Bishop sighed softly. "Look at it from my point of view,"
he suggested reasonably. "Whatever you are, the USM made you � to
get their hands on a creature intended for use as a weapon of war. At
the moment, all I know about you, is who you say you are, and that
you're a wanted criminal in the eyes of the EDF."
"Meaning?" Ripley cut in, surprised by his argument. It
wasn't what she'd expected at all.
"I can't trust you," he said simply. "I'll contact my
people in the field. They'll see to it that the aliens are stopped, but
I can't afford to take a risk on someone I don't know," he stated,
his voice flat. "Not with these creatures involved."
Ripley's eyes flashed past him to the waiting androids.
"I do have the power to stop you," Bishop insisted in his
curiously unemotional voice. "That hummer is a well armored craft,
but it has a few weaknesses. It's very vulnerable to a small, directed,
modulation signal at the proper frequency. It just knocks out the whole
Ripley stared at him, her expression arch. "Meaning?" she
"Meaning you and your people can sit very safely in your tin
can. If you get out, we can either take you prisoner, or shoot you. The
choice will be yours�but you won't be going anywhere." His
voice never rose as he laid out his threat. It was dispassionately
presented and the more dispiriting for it. "Go back," he
suggested at last. "Ask whoever's in charge of that vehicle�he'll
tell you I'm not lying. We can disable your craft, and we will if
pressed. However, due to our�history�" he paused, "I would
prefer to avoid using force." He massaged his mismatched hand.
"You needn't worry. You�and your companions will be welcome with
us�and I assure you, I'll do everything in my power to destroy the
xenomorphs." For a moment, his eyes burned. "Believe me,
Ripley, I remember what they can do."
Black eyes speared through him, trying to assess his honesty on the
subject. Finally, she dipped her head as she admitted, "You appear
to have me over a barrel."
"Go ask," Bishop advised and nodded toward the hummer.
"Then we'll talk again. Meanwhile�I need to notify my people
about the situation." He calmly turned and walked away, leaving
Ripley staring after him.
She stood there for a long moment, then turned on her heel. When she
reached the hummer, she explained what she'd learned to Leeds, who
confirmed Bishop's threat.
The big man nodded. "Pretty much be child's play for most
androids," he muttered. "With a fairly simple broadcast
beacon, they can synthesize the frequencies very quickly ... until they
find the right one." He shook his head as he stared at Ripley.
"Chances are he can make good on his threat."
"He says his people will destroy them," the cloned woman
muttered. It was ironic; where shortly before she had wanted to stay out
of the fight, now she was less than comfortable with the idea.
Unfortunately, it looked like she had little choice in the matter.
"There've been rumors about android colonies in the wilderness�but
I�ve never heard of anyone making contact," McCay said softly.
Leeds turned a startled gaze on her. "I never heard anything
The young soldier shrugged. "EDF soldiers only go to Angeltown
to find women or to bust other soldiers for finding women. It doesn't
encourage a lot of confidences."
"Colonel Hoagland went to a great deal of effort to communicate
with the local leaders."
"No�the Colonel went to a great deal of effort to lay down the
rules for them," McCay corrected. "Always reminding them -- us
-- of who she felt was in charge." McCay shook her head.
"Why would anyone in Angeltown tell you anything? You came here to
destroy their world, rape what little is left for them."
Leeds flushed. "In case you haven't noticed, you're a soldier in
the EDF now, and we're protecting those people."
The young woman smirked knowingly. "In case you haven't
noticed, this is my world. I'm a citizen of earth. You're a
glorified trespasser who wants a thank you because you came to pillage
and changed your mind."
Leeds stiffened, gathering himself to respond.
Ripley abruptly stepped between them. "Work it out later."
She didn't know about the local political tensions, and didn't care
either. "Right now, we've got bigger problems on our hands."
She pointed at McCay. "Do you know anything else?"
The young woman shook her head. "A few people tried to make
contact, but haven't had any luck. The town council figured if they were
out here we wouldn't bother them, if they didn't bother us. They've had
enough problems in their lives."
Leeds stiffened, and muttered, "But they were created to serve
man. They're mechanical devices, not human beings. "
McCay smirked and nodded toward Call, who stood off to the side,
silently listening. "Like her?"
Leeds gaze swung over to touch on the slight figure, and his mouth
worked silently. Sometimes even he completely forgot she wasn't human,
leaving him uncertain how to respond.
McCay shook her head, silently tossing her weapon aside before
slipping out the hatch and bounding down the three stairs to the dirt.
"I dunno about the rest of you," she said as she looked back.
"But I plan on surrendering."
Leeds seemed about to argue, but Ripley waved him silent, watching
until the woman disappeared out of sight of the open hatch, then
shrugged. "I'm afraid Bishop has the winning hand." She
reached back and caught Call's hand in her own. "Let's just hope
he's telling the truth," she sighed.
Call nodded. "Let's hope," she agreed and followed Ripley
out into daylight. There was no discussion of separating. They both knew
they were would go together.
Leeds leaned out after them. "Tell your android friend that we
won't surrender, but we won't go any further either. We'll pull off the
road. If they don't give us any trouble, we won't give them any."
It was the best offer he felt he could make.
Ripley looked back, and nodded. "Okay."
"Besides," Leeds added, "Gabriel and the others are
probably in pursuit. We'll watch your back."
Ripley allowed herself a wry smile. "Thanks." Then turned,
and walked on, Call keeping close pace.
"Do you trust Bishop?" the auton asked when they were out
of Leeds' earshot, and McCay was still well ahead.
Ripley shrugged. "He came back for Newt and I on LV-246�I
trust him as much as I trust anyone, I guess." She considered the
situation for a moment. "Besides, he knows what they can do�he's
got no reason to want them alive."
Call's mouth quirked in a faint smile. "Funny, I keep telling
myself that about mankind." Her brow lifted. "They don't seem
to feel the same way."
Ripley just looked at Call. She had a point there. "I think
it'll be okay," she whispered at last.
McCay reached the small group of androids, and the two watched as she
was checked for weapons with professional calm.
"I think I should warn you though," Ripley murmured.
"He didn't sound especially trusting of, or thrilled by, second gen
autons like you."
Call nodded. "Old line androids created us, but they were also
destroyed because of us. There are some resentments."
"Maybe we shouldn't tell them about you."
Call shook her head. "He'll know. We always recognize each other�there
are small clues�ones a human can�t see, and we can�t miss."
"You can still go back and stay with Leeds and his people, if
Call shook her head. "No�I knew how they were likely to view
me when I decided to come with you. Besides, the answers lie ahead of
us, not behind."
Then there was no more time to speak without being overhead as they
drew within range of the waiting group of androids.
Bishop tossed the radio microphone back into the holster along the
side of the small unit, then rose and turned to face Ripley. His eyes
narrowed as they landed on Call, then swung back to the taller woman.
"An auton?" he questioned.
"She's a friend," Ripley murmured, muscles pulling taut
beneath the skin. She hadn't expected Bishop to recognize Call's nature
that quickly. She tensed, ready to fight if need be. "If there's a
problem with that, we need to discuss it."
Bishop shook his head, his expression still perfectly cool. "No
problem here," he denied. "You just caught me by
surprise." He turned a gaze on the soldier who'd surrendered.
"Is this it?"
"No," Ripley murmured. "The others will stay with the
hummer. Don't bother them, they won't bother you."
Bishop's gaze touched on the vehicle as though debating the options,
then he shrugged. "All right." He waved to a couple of his
people, both of whom showed the damage of their years, and they
disappeared into the dense growth. "We should get moving. I just
called in to the people aimed for Base 51, but I want to get back
to our main communications center. This radio probably can't maintain
contact once they get closer to the crash site�too much
It was several miles, most of it uphill, and the androids were
determined to move fast, until even Ripley was starting to show the
strain. At some point, they stopped for a moment, while a slender
android who appeared even younger than Call, disappeared into the trees.
"We monitor the area," Bishop explained to Ripley.
"He's checking on some of the equipment."
Ripley nodded silently, using the break to catch her breath.
Apparently satisfied that she wasn't going to do anything unwanted,
Bishop ducked his head and disappeared in another direction, leaving the
remaining four androids to watch the prisoners. They stood guard, but
none made any attempt to speak to the captives. Ripley was mildly
surprised that they were as aloof to Call as to the humans, though in
light of Bishop's comment, they had to know what she was.
McCay bent over at the waist, chest heaving as she dragged air into
her lungs. "Never thought I'd wish I was cybered," she
One or two seemed to stiffen ever so slightly at McCay's muttered
comment, but it wasn't enough of a response for the cloned woman to be
"So, why are you here?" Ripley asked McCay
curiously, knowingly echoing the other woman's earlier question to her.
"You didn't have to surrender. You could have stayed with the
The soldier shrugged. "I told you no one�s ever made contact.
Now someone has." Another shrug. "There�s a lot to learn out
here." Her eyes touched on their guards. "I am loyal to my
world, Ripley. I'd do anything to protect it�" she trailed off as
two androids drew close. One passed close enough that their shoulders
brushed, but no words were spoken. McCay stared after the stiff figure.
"Not too friendly, I guess."
"Can you blame them?" Call spoke up for the first time
since stopping. McCay's softly spoken vow had left her shaken, wondering
if the soldier's version of protecting her world included wiping out any
of its artificial inhabitants. God knew, that had been the plan enough
times before. Her expression was grimly suspicious. "After all,
mankind hasn't exactly treated them with great care."
McCay laughed very softly. "Not surprising, since mankind hasn't
even treated itself with great care�but to answer your question, no, I
don't blame them," she drawled. "It's just a little nerve
Ripley laughed softly as she shared a look with the soldier, feeling
an unusual sense of affinity for another human being. "Under
different circumstances, I'd wonder if we were going to be tossed into
the stew pot," she admitted with a wry smile, consciously trying to
lighten the situation. "Guess it's a good thing they don't
Call's expression twisted angrily as she was reminded that she didn't
fit in with either group. "Actually, they -- we -- do,"
she explained tersely. "We have energy needs just like anyone else
� and we can break down and use the same foodstuffs you do to feed
McCay noted the hostility. "Maybe I should be nervous
then," she drawled.
"Maybe you should," Call snapped and spun on one
heel, stalking off.
"Damn," Ripley exhaled, noting the inhumanly expressionless
eyes that watched Call's withdrawal before she went after the auton, the
soldier all but forgotten.
Call broke away from the group, moving into the trees. Their watchers
tensed, apparently readying for trouble, until she came to a halt some
distance from the others.
"I'm sorry," Ripley said as she drew's close to the smaller
woman's tense back. She curved her hands to slender shoulders, holding
on when Call would have twitched free.
"Why?" the auton demanded bitterly. "I'm not human�I
don't have real feelings to be hurt."
Ripley winced as though struck. "You know I don't think
that," she insisted, thumbs moving against delicate shoulders,
stroking as much to smooth her own emotions as Call's. "I'm sorry I
hurt your feelings," she whispered and leaned her cheek against
silky hair, taking some measure of comfort from their closeness.
"But you aren't the only who's scared�"
Narrow shoulders trembled under her hands, and the auton was silent
for a long moment. "When we were recalled, the older models�some
of them were glad," she admitted hesitantly. "Thought it would
mean they'd be back in production�they turned us in, even worked as
hunters for the companies�there were rumors of second gens being torn
apart by groups of first gens if they tried to resist the recall."
Ripley sighed heavily, her breath making dark hair flutter. She
wrapped her arms around Call's upper chest, holding her close. "I
won't let anything like that happen," she whispered near her ear.
Unseen by Ripley, full lips twisted in a wry smile. "We might be
able to fight two or even three of them, but not a group�" Call
trailed off, falling silent. "Besides, it's not just them�it's
everyone�I don't belong anywhere."
Ripley released her hold to gently urge the smaller woman around.
"That's not true," she disagreed, running the pad of her thumb
along a rounded cheekbone. She wanted to say more, but the words
wouldn't quite come. Finally, she whispered, "You belong anywhere
you want to be." Her gaze fell away uncertainly, and she caught
Call's hands in her own as she promised, "Whatever happens, we're
in it together." She wondered at the impulsive need, but the words
were truer than any she'd ever spoken. "Okay?" As she spoke
the last word, her chin lifted, and she seemed almost ready to bolt,
afraid that perhaps Call would refuse the whispered vow.
Call stared up at the cloned woman, feeling lost in the intensity in
her dark brown eyes. "Okay," she confirmed at last.
Ripley allowed herself a small smile.
They were still staring at each other like that when Bishop's call
rang across the small clearing. "We're moving again!"
"It'll be all right," Ripley felt the need to assure Call
as she felt another shudder slip through her. They joined the others,
falling into step as their captors pushed the pace again.
Jogging easily, McCay pulled alongside of Ripley. She was obviously
used to forging ahead at murderous speeds. "Thought you might want
to know," she murmured sotto voce. "Our hosts
were very interested in the scene between you two."
Ripley didn't look over as she responded. "Thanks."
Running next to her, Call remained silent, but her gaze touched on
their captors, and she hung as close as possible to Ripley for the
remainder of the journey. McCay, meanwhile, broke away and tried --
without success -- to engage various of the silent androids in
Finally, the small group reached a small cluster of buildings. The
tiny village was made up of a mishmash of construction styles: ancient
metal Quonset huts, wood and adobe cottages, and a somewhat battered
looking, low slung, glass and steel building.
A crowd of androids appeared, all showing wear and tear similar to
Bishop's. They traded a few low key words of welcome to their returning
comrades while staring at the newcomers with quiet curiosity. Bishop
quickly waved them aside, indicating he didn't want to discuss the
matter. Ripley noted how they didn't question the gesture, just moved
"This way," Bishop said, still cool and collected. Their
four guardians stayed with the group as they moved toward the glass and
steel building. It was single storied and L shaped, running perhaps a
hundred yards in one direction and fifty in the other, and more than a
few of the windows had been replaced by rough hewn boards. Obviously,
glass had been in short supply, requiring other means of repairing
The three outsiders were led in through a sliding metal door which
clanged shut in their wake. Ripley glanced back at the barrier with
dislike, but made no attempt to argue.
"We have quarters for you on a lower floor," Bishop
explained. "They aren't palatial, but they're reasonably
comfortable. I'd like to discuss the situation with all of you later,
but right now I have things to see to�.and I suspect you'd profit by
some rest." He waved a tall, dark-haired, male android forward. A
scar, similar to a burn, marred one cheek, and his eyes were mismatched,
one blue, one brown. "In the meantime, this is Michael Paladin.
He'll be in charge here in my absence. If you have any requests, speak
The man in question nodded in acknowledgment. "This way,"
he said politely as he gestured the small group into an open elevator.
"Nice digs," McCay observed wryly. "Part of the old
Paladin watched the elevator doors slide closed, then pushed the
button for one of the lower levels. "Actually, it was originally
part of an old research facility. The rest of the buildings were,
One of the androids, a woman, was staring pointedly at Call, studying
her with considerable intensity, until the auton shifted closer to
Ripley, who turned a hard gaze on the watcher.
The android's lips turned up in a mild smirk. "Pretty little
piece of plastic," she drawled. "She a ground zero girl?"
"No," Call gasped, while the other android reached out an
insolent hand and would have fondled short dark hair had Ripley not
caught her hand at the wrist, stopping her short of contact.
"Don't touch," Ripley hissed dangerously.
"I guess she's your personal toy, eh?" Every nuance of her
tone and expression was an insult. "I've heard humans can get
addicted to GZ's�guess it's true."
"Back off, Catherine," Michael Paladin broke in as the
elevator came to a halt. He pushed the doors open, and gestured the
Ripley hung to the back, taking a moment to speak to Paladin.
"My friend's afraid of your people. She's heard stories�and I
will protect her if I have to."
The tall android met her gaze evenly. "Don't worry, there won't
be any trouble. According to our laws, any artificial person is one of
us�and that includes second gen autons."
"It had better," Ripley mouthed before she turned and
followed the others.
They were led through a set of lockable double doors, and into a
"These are guest quarters," Paladin explained as he pushed
one of the doors open and flipped on the lights to reveal a small room
with basic amenities. "There will be guards stationed on the
entrance to this hallway, but you have the run of this area. I'll
arrange for food to be sent down, but it may take awhile. Our needs are
somewhat different from yours."
"Thank you," Ripley murmured distantly. "Whatever you
come up with will be fine." Despite the fact that she was
technically the prisoner, she managed to create the illusion of
dismissing the man as she moved away to enter the room at the end of the
Paladin watched her for a moment, then turned on his heel as he spoke
over his shoulder. "I'll be just outside the doors, if you need
Ripley stared around the tight confines of her new quarters and did a
mental shrug. She'd had worse in this life � and the last. Loosening
her clothes, she moved into what appeared to be a small bathroom,
flipping on the light to reveal greying tile and tarnished steel. A
small shower filled one end of the tiny room, and she turned the water
on, gratified when it began to warm against her hand. In a daze of
exhaustion and something more, she peeled her clothes off, dropping them
behind her before stepping under the hot spray. She leaned into the
water, letting it sluice over her bare skin, and wash away the smell of
death that seemed to cling to her like shroud, filling her nostrils and
reminding her of her nature with every breath. Blindly exploring fingers
encountered a bar of some kind of rough soap. It barely lathered, but it
cut through the layer of grime coating her body, washing it away as
though it had never been. If only she could wash away the stains on her
soul as easily. She was vaguely aware of movement in the other room, but
lost in the pleasure of the shower, paid it scant mind. She tipped her
face into the spray, letting it wash over her skin and hair.
Then they came again.
The creatures of her nightmares.
Her beautiful, awful children.
She whimpered low in her throat and fell heavily against the shower
wall, before sinking to her knees. Awareness surged through her, forcing
her to cry out more loudly as the taste of human blood filled her mouth.
Blood and something more�something inhuman.
"No more�" Ripley gasped, begging the universe for some
alleviation of the torment. She didn't even feel the hands that curved
to her bare shoulders, pulling her against a small, compact body. (4)
"Ripley," Call snapped sharply.
"They're here�make them go away," Ellen Ripley begged no
one in particular.
"Ripley!" Call repeated and shook her. When it didn't help,
she repeated her name and slapped the taller woman � hard.
That got through, though not quite the way expected. Call suddenly
found herself tackled, her wrists pinned to the floor above her head.
Ripley stared down at her, brown eyes dazed and animalishly intent. Her
nostrils flared, upper lip twitching as she leaned down, breathing in
the scent of her captive's body. She smelled human enough -- maybe it
was the fact that she was in such close contact with them -- but the
scent triggered the hunter's instincts, making Ripley lean closer, her
lips drawing back from sharp teeth in a feral sneer.
"Ripley," Call repeated, fear thickening her voice. She
tensed, but wasn't strong enough to throw the larger woman off.
Suddenly, Ripley blinked as she came back to herself and recognized
the figure beneath her. The smell of android blood touched her senses,
and her eyes lifted to Call's neck, noting the tiny leakage of white
blood around the edge of the patch she'd put there. The strain of trying
to throw her off had pulled an edge loose. "Sorry," she husked
and freed slender wrists, rolling away to sit with her back against the
wall, her forehead pillowed on her upthrust knees.
Call pushed into a sitting position, startled to realize that Ripley
was shaking, her shoulders trembling violently as harsh sobs welled up
from her chest. The auton reached out a tentative hand and brushed it
down a long, bare arm. "Ripley?" Call whispered very softly,
but the cloned woman was past hearing. Call cautiously scooted closer,
slowly taking the angular figure into her arms. "It's okay,"
she soothed, petting wet strands of hair with a gentle touch.
"It'll be all right." She rocked her very slowly, whispering
calming nonsense phrases until the woman in her arms quieted. Call
rested her chin on the top of Ripley's head, content to simply hold her.
"I didn�t mean to hurt you," the woman in her arms
choked. "I swear�but it's always there�a part of me�I can't
control it." They both knew what 'it' was, that alien part
of her that fought for control, constantly trying to take command of her
body and soul.
"I know," the auton whispered sadly, and felt Ripley wrap
an arm around her waist, clinging tightly.
Ripley released herself to Call's care, too exhausted and battered by
the battles within and around her to hold on any longer. For the first
in her short life -- at least this one -- she let go, trusting Call's
presence to hold the nightmares at bay.
Finally, when she could feel the cold seeping up through the floor to
chill both of them, Call straightened and shook Ripley very gently.
"C'mon�we need to get you into bed," she murmured, tugging
the taller woman to her feet. Call's eyes touched on bare flesh, noting
the elegant lines of Ripley's body. She swallowed hard, then grabbed one
of the thin towels hung over a simple rack. "Here," she
croaked and held it out.
Ripley silently took the towel and began drying her still damp skin,
well aware of Call's eyes on her as she felt her mind clear. Her head
tipped back, exposing the arch of her throat while she ran the towel
over her chest, scrubbing away the last of the water. Back in control,
she let the day's events replay in her brain, trying to make sense of it
all. Suddenly, her chin dropped, head canting to one side as she
remembered something. Call had disappeared, and Ripley hurried after
her, relieved, when she found her in the other room. Someone had brought
a basket of fresh fruit while they were in the bathroom, leaving it on
the small desk built into one wall, and Call was rooting through it.
Ripley leaned her shoulder against the doorjamb, an appreciative smile
curving her lips as she took in delicate curves. "Analee
Call," she said almost inaudibly, though she knew the auton had
heard her from the slight tension that rippled through her small frame.
"What's a ground zero girl?"
Call tensed, but didn't respond, just hunted through the basket with
"You didn't like it when that android called you that. What does
it mean?" It was important. She just didn�t know why.
Call turned slowly, her expression resentful. "Why do you want
to know?" This time, she was the one with her guard firmly in
"Because for some reason, it's important to you."
She ran a hand through her hair, scraping it back from her face.
"And because I want to understand." She continued
slowly massaging her skin. "I can't do that if you won't talk to
me." When no answer was forthcoming, Ripley shrugged, but didn't
look away, unwilling to back down. "I can wait as long as you
Slim shoulders sagged in silent surrender. Call hadn't counted on
Ripley asking, or being so damn stubborn. She should have known better.
She linked her fingers together, playing with them as she fumbled for
the words. "When they made us�some models had more�skills�than
others. They were designed to be sold to companies�to be the perfect
workers during the day�and at night."
Ripley frowned as her meaning sank in. "A little company to seal
the deal, eh?"
"Yes�not to mention relaxation for the executives�technically,
they were illegal, but a little money under the table�" she
trailed off suggestively.
"Pay for sex once and never again," Ripley murmured.
"So they were--"
"They were a lot more than that," Call jumped in
angrily. "They had minds, and feelings, and opinions�just the way
they were designed to. They tried to protest � to refuse to perform
illegal acts � but the law ignored them because, according to the
courts, they had no rights. Unless a human complained, they didn't care
about the legal infractions. In the end, a group of mostly female autons
resisted�so the companies installed a restraining subroutine in their
main program�made them participate in their own rape�hating
it�wanting out�and unable to even say no." Call's haunted gaze
lifted. "It drove them mad�over a five year period, there were at
least a dozen different incidents in which autons who'd been altered
with sexual subroutines found ways around them and revolted�several
times, humans were slaughtered en masse."
"And that spurred the recall," Ripley guessed.
Call nodded. "At some point the companies had to admit there was
a problem. They kept it quiet for awhile, but there was no way to hide
everything, especially, since so many of the people killed were
executives in multi-billion dollar companies�. They paid off the
government to turn a blind eye to their illegal acts and blamed us
instead. No one gave a damn what they did to us � that they were
allowing not just copulation, but the foulest kinds of sexual
Ripley was silent for a long moment. "And the women who turned
on their owners were called ground zero girls because--"
"They were there when it began � the center of the
conflagration," Call finished for her. "Rumor has it a few
escaped the purges."
"What about you, Analee Call?" Ripley whispered as she drew
near. "Were you one of them? Did someone finally push you past the
ability to be sane and caring."
Call's chin tipped up, and she stared at Ripley for a long
moment before answering. "No. But I was built to be used like
that," she admitted, looking away to hide her shame.
Ripley blanched, her heart suddenly hammering in her chest.
"What happened to you?" she questioned, dreading the possible
answers. She hadn't really thought about what might have happened to the
young woman during the intervening time between her escape and the
Dark eyes dropped, then lifted a brief moment later. "I was sold
to a small company � owned by a very decent man. When he heard about
the recall, he knew what would happen. They were still talking about
minor changes to our basic programming, but he knew computers, and he
knew it couldn't be done. He warned me to run." The words came out
haltingly, as though she'd never had the courage to give voice to them
Probably hadn't -- Ripley thought as she listened -- since the story
was one that could get her melted down like so much excess slag. She
sighed heavily, relieved to hear Call hadn't gone through what some of
the others had. She brushed her knuckles along a smooth cheek. "Is
that why you're afraid of being touched? Afraid you might go insane and
hurt someone, or afraid you might respond to the desires they programmed
Call looked away, her eyes silver with tears, and nodded jerkily.
Ripley continued stroking her cheek rhythmically. "So
soft," she exhaled. "They forgot to tell you something�sometimes
desire isn't wrong�it doesn't have to be about using someone."
Call shook her head. "In me, desire is an illusion. A commodity
to be sold."
Ripley shook her head, smiling gently. "Have you ever wanted
anyone before�someone you didn't care for, or didn't like?"
The cloned woman ducked her head until her lips were scant inches
from Call's. "And do you want me now?" she questioned, her
voice low and silky.
The auton wanted to refuse, to deny the hunger burning through
artificial veins. A part of her knew it was only an illusion, while
another part couldn't imagine that feelings so intense could be anything
but real. She wanted to deny Ripley, but couldn't. "Yes."
Ripley continued stroking her cheek, and Call turned her head to kiss
caressing fingers, breathing in the erotic scent of clean flesh. Long
fingers outlined the shape of the auton's full lips. Ripley's eyes slid
closed, her breathing harsh as sharp teeth rubbed against her skin. A
second later, she felt the sandpaper brush of Call's tongue and could
barely suppress a moan. She blinked, leaning down until her lips were
scant millimeters from Call's. "Kiss me," she commanded.
Warm lips met and meshed. Within moments both women were straining to
deepen the kiss, nearly overwhelmed by the need to touch and be touched.
Strong hands tugged the zipper of Call's jumpsuit down, then slid under
the heavy fabric to peel it off her shoulders. Ripley stroked the line
of Call's collar bone, then down slender arms. Their lovemaking gained
momentum, flowing naturally, one caress into the next, until they fell
to the bed together. Graceful bodies twined together, caresses stroking
over velvety flesh, while their mouths blended with erotic fervor.
Ripley pressed Call onto her back, kissing her way down the delicate
body, tasting every inch of her silky curves. She dusted soft kisses
over a warm breast, then wrapped her tongue around a coral nipple,
amazed to feel it pucker under her caresses. She pressed a soft kiss
over her lover's sternum. "You're beautiful," she whispered.
"Perfect." Her hands stroked slender hips as she kissed her
way lower, outlining Call's stomach muscles in small kisses before
working her way lower, sinking her mouth into intimate flesh. She felt
strong hands dig into her hair, as the auton's back arched sharply, and
a low groan was torn from her throat. Ripley's hands slid over her
lover's curves, exploring; relearning the textures and caresses that
she'd known in another life and discovering what pleased the delicate
body beneath her own. When she felt Call's orgasm burst through her, she
surged up, covering the smaller woman's body as she reclaimed soft lips,
drinking in her soft cries of pleasure. Ripley continued with the silky
kisses as she felt her lover's body relax again. Finally, the smaller
woman turned her head to press her nose into the curve of her lover's
"Oh, God," Call exhaled, clinging to Ripley with passionate
strength. She drew deep gasps of air into artificial lungs, before
finally pulling back enough to stare up into near black eyes.
"Ripley," she whispered, and reached up to brush several stray
strands of hair away from her forehead. Her mouth worked silently for a
moment. "I didn't know." She shook her head slowly.
A soft smile touched Ripley's lips, and she dropped another small
kiss on Call's mouth. "Now, did that feel artificial?" she
"No," the auton admitted with a shy smile. She rolled on
top of Ripley, straddling her hips as she leaned forward on her hands.
"It didn't feel artificial at all."
Call leaned down, dusting her lips over Ripley's face, tasting the
high arch of her cheekbones and the strong curve of her jaw before
outlining the shape of her mouth in tiny kisses. She smoothed her hands
over strong shoulders, then down Ripley's arms, feeling the complex
twining of bone and muscle beneath her hands.
Finally, Call pushed up to sit on her heels, staring down at smooth
curves. "You're so beautiful," she exhaled, and trailed a
light fingertip down the center of Ripley's torso, taking in the elegant
length of her body. She leaned forward on her hands, kissing her lover
deeply, investigating every millimeter of her mouth, before moving on.
Free to explore, Call ranged everywhere, lips tasting and caressing
with total abandon. She kissed the point of Ripley's shoulders, the high
curve of her breasts, then down across her stomach, outlining rippling
muscles with delicate caresses. Her lips feathered along the curve of a
lean hip while her hands stroked strong thighs. Nothing in her life had
ever prepared her for the rich sensations of making love. Sights,
smells, sounds, textures all impressed in her brain, leaving her to burn
with the heated need for more.
Before, sexual desire had been purely theoretical, something she was
convinced she couldn't feel as anything other than a preprogrammed
response. Suddenly, she understood it the same way she'd come to
understand her belief in God. The feelings pulsing through her were as
real as anything in the universe.
Hungry for more, she pressed kisses into silky flesh, thrilling to
the taste of heat and moisture running over her tongue. Excited by the
newfound power to pleasure, her pulse running in time with Ripley's
ragged cries, she lost herself in the intimate caresses until she felt
lean muscles pull taut, heard her soft cries, and felt the tiny quivers
that rippled through her most private flesh. She rode with the hard,
spasmodic thrusts of lean hips, stroking and caressing until Ripley
collapsed into the mattress heavily.
"Not artificial at all," Call's soft voice echoed in the
near darkness as she slid back up the length of Ripley's body, cuddling
against her side. They traded a slow kiss, both lingering, hesitant to
let go of the sweet contact.
Ripley nuzzled a smooth shoulder, drawing comfort from their
closeness while Call gently petted her lover's hair. "Get some
rest," the auton advised, knowing that the cloned woman had to be
A faint nod, then Ripley cuddled into their blankets, still holding
the smaller woman close as she gave herself over to the welcome arms of
Ripley's eyes twitched under her closed lids while her hands
clenched into the sheets, clawing at unseen flesh. The nightmare world
behind her eyes was in total control. She was merely the unwilling
viewer of the scene as it slowly spun out before her. She knew
everything of an alien past, present, and future, and she could feel the
threat hovering nearby, just outside of their new home. She knew every
bit of the queen�s hate for the silently watching presences that
haunted the cr�che, knew her thoughts and passions�knew everything
about her. Soon her warriors would deal with the threat, but she had
other worries too. She smelled the soft scent of sweet, human flesh, but
it was mixed with something acrid that stung her nostrils and made her
flinch in revulsion. The cr�che was nearly finished, the dark confines
cushioned by a layer of thickened blood, gore, and bile, while her older
children, their bodies tall and strong, brought more hosts for her
future brood�except it wasn't happening the way it should. The cries
of her infants still trapped within their hosts, rang in her head. She
could hear them tearing and struggling to make their way into the world
without success. The hosts should have been easy prey, their bodies
forming the infants' first meal, but they were bitter and strong, not
soft and sweet like human meat. Many of her children were dying, still
trapped in their hosts' chests, unable to tear through the unnatural
wall of plastic and steel that encased them, while those that did escape
were so twisted that they could not be allowed to live. She allowed no
imperfections in her children. The queen tipped back her head and howled
Ripley sat straight up, silent, hoarse screams echoing from her open
lips, unaware of the strong arms that wrapped tightly around her torso.
She was trapped in a sea of gore, clawing her way through human blood,
aware of the taste of their flesh mixed with something infinitely foul
tasting. Suddenly, her eyes snapped open, and she fell silent, wrapping
her hands tightly around the arms cradling her body.
"It's all right�whatever it is, it isn't real," Call
whispered, petting silky hair with soothing strokes.
Ripley broke away from her and pushed from the small bed, stumbling
into the bathroom to begin yanking on her clothes, not caring that they
were filthy. At some point, she paused, staring at her own image in a
small steel mirror as though she didn't recognize her reflection. She
reached out a tentative hand, tracing the jawline of the woman in the
mirror as the memories assailed her, filling in the blanks in a rush.
Shivering violently, she realized her memories came from two distinct
sources, one human, the other incredibly alien. She was still staring
like that, shaken by her discoveries, when Call appeared in the doorway,
a sheet wrapped around her body to make an impromptu robe.
"Ripley, what is it?" she questioned worriedly.
Dark brown eyes landed on Call with suspicious intensity. Did she
know? Was it all nothing but a monumental joke? Ripley's breathing
was unnaturally harsh, her face pale in the dim light. "Go back to
bed," she said tersely. She didn't know the answers, and she didn't
know what she felt. It was all too horrifying. Her hands fisted at her
sides. She was something other than human, and her first response to
fear was violence. It took physical effort not to go on the attack. In
this condition, everyone was suspect, everything an enemy.
Call stared at her in confusion. "What's wrong?" she
whispered, drawing close. She reached out, curving blunt fingers to a
hard forearm. "What happened?" Before she could blink a hand
latched onto her throat, strong finger's tightening painfully.
Ripley leaned close, her hot breath playing over Call's face.
"You're an android," she hissed through clenched teeth,
remembering all the ways she'd been betrayed by this woman's kind. Once
an enemy, always an enemy.
"You knew that," Call whispered, pain throbbing
through her voice.
The corner of Ripley's mouth lifted in a sneer. "That's
right," she muttered. No! The human part of her forced the
most violent edge of the rage down. She shoved Call aside to send her
stumbling. Emotions rolling out of control, she started toward the door,
but Call's voice drew her head back around.
The two stared at each other for a long moment, and Ripley frowned,
on the verge of going to the small woman. Suddenly, she shook her head,
muttering, "No� I have to know�" before she stalked
Not understanding any of it, Call straightened and hurried after her,
eyes going wide as she saw Ripley reach the end of the corridor. She
didn't hear the first part of her conversation with the guards, but the
rest of it was easy enough to catch.
"Then get him, goddammit!" she snarled and grabbed the
guard, shoving her toward the intercom. "I want to talk to him
Call started forward, but a slender figure stepped in front of her,
and a strong hand latched onto her arm.
"Don't," McCay hissed. She was still dressed in boots and
camo pants, though she had stripped down to an undershirt on top.
"She needs me," Call whispered.
"No, she's past hearing you right now�she needs something
else." The soldier's head canted to one side. "Something you
can't give her�the truth."
Call seemed ready to pull away, but suddenly, it was too late as the
doors were swung open, and Ripley was allowed through. She let her head
fall against the soldier's shoulder, their earlier disagreement
The soldier glanced over at Call and carefully urged her to
straighten. "Go get dressed," she instructed, while her eyes
swung back to the guards.
"But Ripley--" Call started to argue, but McCay cut her
"Has her own path to follow." McCay's gaze sharpened as she
noted the way the guards were watching Call, taking in the scant
protection offered by the sheet wrapped around her seemingly fragile
frame. "Go get dressed," she urged again, staying there when
Call disappeared into the room. Their two remaining guardians watched
her with flinty expressions, revealing nothing of their thoughts. It was
no surprise when they started forward.
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