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 |
PAYBACKS ARE A BITCH
The two women returned to the elevator shaft, both serious and quiet,
as their deaths approached nearer with every step. They climbed down
another four floors before hitting bottom where they found themselves in
a narrow corridor barely lit by the dying emergency lights.
"They're close," Ripley breathed. She crouched down,
touching the thin trails of slime that coated the floor. "So
close." She straightened without saying any more and moved through
the narrow corridors, forcing Call to jog to keep up.
As they moved, the air seemed to thicken, becoming heavier, saturated
with a sickly sweet smell of death and putrefaction.
Call caught a muscled arm, tugging Ripley to a halt. "Fire it
anywhere�it doesn�t matter. This is the bottom level."
Dark eyes swung around, but stared somewhere past Call. "It
matters," Ripley disagreed and pulled free to continue on her way.
Cursing softly, the auton hurried after her. The cloned woman finally
found what she was looking for, a broad loading dock door in shreds
courtesy of steel tipped claws. Ripley paused, swinging the launcher off
her shoulder to snap the tube open and rock the handgrip down, ready to
fire. A second later, she slipped through the clawed gash.
Call followed close behind and found herself on a narrow mezzanine
walkway overlooking what had once been a machine shop. Remains of
equipment were still visible amid the creatures that writhed in the pit
below, fawning over the black and silver thing that was their queen.
Cocooned soldiers decorated the walls, but none showed any signs of
life. More than a few cocoons were empty, streaks of brown and white
staining the empty shells where the soldiers had been trapped. The
creatures had removed them in an effort to rid the area of the toxins
poisoning their queen, but it was already too late.
The queen tipped her head back, her crown throwing jagged shadows on
the walls, as she screamed anew.
Ripley stood frozen, mesmerized by the sight. Despite everything, a
part of her still responded to their calls, singing at the sense of
their nearness. A soft hand on her shoulder brought her back to the
present. She glanced back, eyes finding a pale, heart shaped face in the
near blackness. "It's time," she whispered and swung the
launcher around, watching silently as the auton loaded her deadly
missile. When she was done, Ripley hefted the weapon to her shoulder.
The queen knew she was there. They could feel each other. Ripley
whimpered as the hive mind called out. She could feel their hunger,
their need -- and something more -- their hope. If she would just return
to the hive, guide them, lead them � they would rule this world. All
she had to do was surrender and be the queen's loving consort. They were
inside her head, accepting her as mankind never would -- never could --
comforting, absorbing. With the aliens, she would never be alone, never
feel pain, never feel anything. Mankind's barbs and her own doubts would
cease to tear at her. She could surrender and simply be her
Call felt the tension ripple through Ripley's muscles and knew
instantly what was happening. "No," she exhaled very softly,
leaning her forehead against Ripley's narrow back. "You're human
� don't let�" she trailed off, then tried again. "�don't
The queen felt the instant she lost control and roared her fury at
the deprivation, screaming for Ripley's head. Warriors flew toward them,
but they were nowhere near fast enough.
Ripley swung the launcher back up to her shoulder, barely pausing to
sight it before she fired.
A high pitched whine screeched in the missile's wake as it surged
from the launch tube, flames flaring out the back, driving it forward.
Ripley's shot was true. The missile drove straight through the queen,
drawing another screen, a sound of sheer agony this time. For a moment,
her warriors seemed torn over whether to go to their monarch or after
the intruders. (1)
"Run!" Ripley gasped, grabbing at the tiny chance as she
shoved Call back out through the gashes in the loading dock doors. She
stepped through after her lover, yanking the pin to hurl a grenade back
onto the mezzanine walkway.
The grenade exploded no more than two or three seconds later, tearing
out the mezzanine walkway and collapsing part of the corridor.
Ripley ducked her head, fending off flying debris as she lengthened
her stride. The damage to the hall behind them would buy some time, but
not nearly enough.
Enraged howls filled the shadows, while long, spindly bodies surged
up from the slime toward the gaping wound in the cr�che.
Ripley hit the elevator shaft first, pausing just long
enough to clip onto the rope. She grabbed Call as the android caught up
with her, clipping her onto the line, then boosting her ahead with the
simple order, "Climb!"
Moving hand over hand, Call climbed as fast as she could, pulling
herself up the rope, while Ripley pushed from below. There was no way to
go much faster, but she doubted it would ever be swift enough.
They'd gone nearly four floors when Ripley felt the rope shift
beneath her as something caught hold. She reached for the knife she'd
taken from the first weapons stores, then remembered where she'd left
the melted remains. "Call�hand me your knife."
It cost precious seconds, but the android passed the weapon down.
Ripley caught it as she felt the rope pull completely taut below her.
She twisted in the harness, nearly upending herself to slash the rope
below her own position. She managed a gratified smile as it brought an
answering thud and roars of frustration. That bought them a few more
moments to get higher still and she scrambled as fast as she could.
Knowing how unstable the entire base was, she wanted to be as far away
as possible before dropping her second grenade. "Climb!" she
shouted at Call. The creatures regathered themselves and started to make
their way up the sides of the shaft, clinging to the open girders.
Knowing it was their only chance, Ripley unclipped herself and grabbed
for a girder, taking her weight on one hand before swinging up. She was
nearly as tall and strong as the beasts chasing them, and she clambered
up the steel shaft with more ease than she'd expected. In moments, she
was above Call. A hand slapped a smooth, steel door, and she hooked her
fingers in the split down the center, shoving with raw strength. The
door slid open with a grinding sound. "Come on," Ripley
snapped to Call and grabbed her by the scruff with one hand, slinging
her up and through the open doorway. (2)
Still attached to the rope, Call tumbled across the floor. She was
just regaining her bearings when Ripley came through the elevator doors,
her movements eerily smooth. She reached out, unclipping Call's harness
with one sharp yank, then pivoted on one foot, drawing and activating
the second grenade. It arced neatly from her hand, then tumbled into the
open elevator shaft. Ripley dug a hand into the elevator door, shoving
it closed while the grenade was still falling. She grabbed Call by the
arm, pushing her down the hallway. "MOVE!!"
They'd gone only a few feet when the grenade went off. The concussion
blew the doors apart, acid spattering the interior of the shaft. Soft
rumbles followed the explosion as the already stressed cement vibrated
and threatened to give way.
The explosion had bought more time to escape their pursuers, but it
was suddenly less certain whether they'd be flattened by tumbling
Her hand still locked around Call's arm, Ripley hurtled down the
hallway just ahead of a collapsing section of ceiling. Smoke and cement
dust filled the air with choking grit, but she ignored them, determined
to clear the area if it all came tumbling down.
Fate had other ideas.
Ripley suddenly pulled up short, yanking Call to a halt beside her.
An inky black shape detached itself from the shadows.
The creature had been dragging itself toward the elevator shaft,
determined to answer the queen's summons even though it was banished
from the nest and would be destroyed by its brethren. Despite its rage
at those that would destroy it, her call was too strong to ignore. Now,
it felt its hated and too perfect brothers' deaths. The answering scream
of rage was scratchy and weak, coming from a damaged throat and chest.
The alien was twisted and gnarled, its torso misshapen, ribs compressed
on one side and body out of proportion with its arms and legs, while one
leg was torqued sideways.
Ripley shoved Call behind her as the thing let out another creaky
screech and lunged forward a step. She glared at the perfect bullet
shaped head poised on a ruined body, concentrating as she had before. It
cried out again, but didn't advance on her. Hand clamped on Call's
forearm to keep the small woman behind her, Ripley carefully moved to
the side, edging around the alien.
It tracked her progress, letting out another scratchy cry without
making any move to attack. They were almost past it when another
creature, wounded and bleeding yellow acid, shoved its way through the
remains of the elevator doors, staggering over the debris littering the
Ripley pushed Call down the hallway with the hissed command,
"Run." The auton moved a step or two, but no more, while
Ripley waited, expecting a charge. There was one, but it wasn't at all
what she expected.
The misshapen alien screeched its hatred and lunged at its brother,
dragging its destroyed body along at surprising speed. It hit the other
one only a few feet away from the door. Raging, the two creatures tore
at each other, stiff, steel toothed tongues punching into one another
while long fingered hands ripped and shredded.
The two women stared in awed shock, unable to take their eyes from
the hideous scene until Ripley suddenly snapped out of the paralysis.
"Go!" she ordered Call, pushing her down the hallway as she
jogged backwards, keeping an eye on the fight. She didn�t turn around
until Call's hand snatched her arm, yanking her down another corridor.
Ripley let out an almost giddy laugh as she spun around and broke into a
The sounds of alien combat melted into silence in only a few minutes.
"This way," Call muttered as she struggled to find a new
route out of the base. She mapped out possible alternatives based on
what they already knew and extrapolating the other routes that were
probably blocked as well. "We can use the accesses into the air
vents to jump from floor to floor. It's not going to be fast, but it's
"Lead the way," Ripley whispered without acknowledging they
had no time for anything except very fast, or that she was the one who'd
made escape so much more difficult by needing to personally finish
things with the queen.
"Looks like they definitely went in this way," McCay
murmured as she stared down the ventilation shaft through layers of torn
"Get the ropes and climbing gear!" Leeds called down to
Tyrell, then turned back just as McCay nimbly dropped down to the next
level of the grating.
"Wait up," Leeds snapped as he scrambled after her, landing
much more heavily. "It'll take a moment for them to hand up the
McCay nodded and dropped to a crouch, bracing her hands on the edges
of the hole torn in the grate as she leaned forward to stare down into
the darkness. Her eyes were designed to see in near perfect darkness,
with the latest, most high tech solutions used in her kind. She frowned
slightly, struggling to pull the image into focus. "There's
something moving down there," she whispered.
Leeds peered down past her shoulder. "You can't possibly
"Yes, I can," she disagreed and gripped the edges of the
hole, rolling forward as she dropped through the gash. She hung for a
moment, then dropped the considerable distance to the next level,
landing lightly on the grating above the fan blades.
Leeds considered following her for a moment, then decided against it,
concluding he couldn't duplicate her perfect landing, and a slip could
send him tumbling into the endless darkness. He saw her crouch, peering
into the blackness that closed on the world below like the pits of hell.
"There's definitely something moving down there�I think it's
bipedal," she called up, her voice just loud enough to be heard
over the few feet that separated them.
"Human?" he questioned as he felt his stomach clench with
"I'm not sure. I can't see well enough."
Leeds found something curiously comforting about that admission.
There was something all too intimidating about her apparent physical
superiority. It was a relief to know that she was still � human � he
thought the word, then called it back. No, not human, a device designed
specifically for the task at hand, he reminded himself.
"Sarge," Tyrell interrupted Leeds' thoughts as the
equipment was passed to the men on top of the venting tower.
Leeds waved to the man above him, indicating her should continue
setting up the gear. "Could it be one of those things Ripley
described?" he asked McCay as he stared down into india ink
"Maybe," she admitted. "All I can really see is
movement." She moved gracefully along a narrow beam, trying to get
a better look without success. "You have heavy artillery up
there?" she finally called up to Leeds.
"M-48 field rifles," he responded as he grabbed for his
weapon, setting it within easy reach before reaching for the ropes and
harnesses handed down to him. A few economical motions, and he tied one
rope in place, then dumped the coils on the grate before tying off a
second rope. A moment later, he buckled into a harness, readying for the
drop. "What are you going to do?"
"Say hi�see if anyone says anything back." She leaned
forward again, hunting for signs of movement, but seeing nothing this
time. "HEELLLLLLOOOOO!!!" the auton called down, her voice
echoing off the cement walls.
A moment passed.
McCay thought she heard something, but the acoustics of the tower
were strange enough that she couldn't be certain until a call rang up.
"HELllloooo!!" It died away quickly as though the caller
was exhausted and at the end of his rope. "PLEASE!!" he
shouted, regaining his breath for a moment. "You've gotta get me
Leeds finished checking the ropes, then attached himself to one,
kicking both over the edge before sliding easily down to McCay's level.
He passed her a harness, watching silently as she hooked onto the second
line. A spare harness slid down the rope, and he slung it over one
shoulder as he called up, "Tyrell, Biggs, be ready to pull us back
up fast." A field light was clipped to each shoulder, and he
flipped them on, grateful for the powerful beams in the encroaching
darkness. They were using friction harnesses that allowed the user to
control their drop one handed, while a simple friction cleat controlled
the speed of decent. Leeds regripped his field weapon as he met McCay's
gaze. "Let's do this."
She nodded. "A weapon would be nice," she muttered.
"All things considered."
Leeds nodded and called up, "Tyrell, your sidearm." A
moment later the corporal's gunbelt dropped into McCay's hands.
She stared at the weapon, then buckled it on. "Great�a popgun�.if
something attacks, at least I have something to throw."
"Now, now," Leeds chided as he watched her step off, and
begin the slide into nothingness. "You're the hot to trot
intelligence android. You shouldn't need weapons."
"And anyone as thickskulled as you shouldn't need a brain, but
your heart still won't beat without one," she muttered under her
breath. "And I'm an auton, not android." She was tired, sore,
grumpy, and in no mood for his condescending bigotry, so it surprised
her when he muttered what might almost have been an apology.
"Sorry, I got it wrong�and with luck, we won't need any
The queen still lived. Her life was a torment as wave upon wave of
agony rippled through her. Her unborn eggs were dying along with the
rest of her body. Nothing her warriors could do seemed able to save them�or
her. Her cries a mix of rage and love, she gathered the last of her
beautiful children to her, concentrating on the strongest. Energy
rippled between them, rich, sensual, and thick, like the blood that gave
them life. She felt the quickening as her successor realized its
destiny. Alien genes shifted and changed, mutating to meet the
requirements of their situation. They would leave this place and find a
new home, find a new hive, make a new cr�che.
Because now they had a new queen.
Though perhaps not for long. Only six warriors remained whole and
healthy at her side. As they felt the quickening take hold, they landed
on the former queen, claws rending battered flesh, tearing her to pieces
as they fed on her to take her strength and memories for their own.
Black skin was slick with corrosive gore when they heard the screams
of their ruined brethren, those they'd hunted because of their
imperfections. In the past, it had always been understood that weakness
was not allowed among their kind. Those born defective or weak had
understood their lot, accepted it as the best thing for the hive, and
their flesh had fed the warriors.
But these new children were different. Hate burned in their veins,
not just for the prey, but for their own kind. They had a kind of
individuality that had never existed in their kind before, a desire to
survive not merely for the cause of the species, but for personal
reasons as well.
They didn't want to die.
And now, weakened though they were, they outnumbered their more
Twenty of them stood at the remains of the mezzanine, smooth snouts
waving in the air as they scented a new prey. None had tasted sweet
human flesh only the diseased and poisoned kind, but they'd fed on the
weakest of their discarded siblings and knew the flavor of their own.
They swarmed down on the remaining six and their queen, warring among
In the end, Ripley's human genes had left their mark on a species
once too perfect in its wicked beauty.
Ripley reached back and pulled Call out of the floor vent, hauling
her onto the latest level with some effort. Even she was beginning to
show the strain of the last few days. She bent double for a moment,
struggling to regain her breath before straightening, her expression
cool once again. "Where do we catch the next ventilation hatch to
the next level?" she muttered, her entire concentration on getting
up as fast as possible.
Call shook her head. "We don't�this is the level where we got
off the stairs."
"I think I love you," Ripley muttered gratefully.
"Careful," Call teased, feeling a certain sense of hope for
the first time since Ripley had fired the missile. "Somebody might
mistake you for human with comments like that."
"Can't have that," Ripley bantered back. "You're the
one they're supposed to think is human."
Call offered a smile as she took the lead. "Well, I am
definitely cuter and more charming."
"I can be charming," Ripley said to no one in particular.
"Only in a mildly homicidal sort of way."
"C'mon�hurry," the soldier called up as he watched the
lights descend closer and closer. "There's one of those things down
here, somewhere�I can hear it." His voice was shaky with panic,
his face pale in the sharp key light that shone down on him.
"What's your name, soldier?" Leeds questioned.
"Barzak, sir, Ian Barzak�PFC�serial number
There was a soft clatter that might have been nothing more than a
stray chunk of cement kicked up by Barzak's boots. He jumped
nonetheless, eyes going wide, his breath coming in strained pants as he
searched the darkened tunnels for signs of movement. "Hurry,"
he pleaded. "They're coming�they're always coming."
McCay released the friction on her clip, dropping nearly ten feet in
one smooth move. She landed lightly, peering into the darkness past the
man's shoulder as she freed herself from the rope.
Leeds took the drop more slowly, knowing he didn't have her balance
or vision. "See anything?" he questioned while he was still
several feet up.
"No�but it's dark�there's not even enough light for a good
Leeds hit the ground and disengaged from the rope. "What
happened down there, Private," he demanded as he slung the climbing
harness off his shoulder and passed it to the young man, helping him
buckle it on.
"All hell broke loose�these�things were everywhere�killing�men
were disappearing�" His eyes were wide, the expression nearly
insane with stress.
"Did you see two women, one tall, with long dark hair and dark
eyes, the other smaller, with short hair�names Ripley and Call�"
Barzak nodded jerkily. "Yeah, they were going down�the tall
one�she killed Kenny�and that thing in his chest," he exhaled
mournfully. "She said they were going to blow the base ... and kill
those things�told me to get out and tell everyone what I'd seen�so
it never happened again." The words came out like a poorly
Leeds stared at the man for a long moment, his expression oddly
sympathetic. He'd seen enough battlefield stress to know the signs.
"Understood," he assured the man. "Let's get you out of
here." He clipped Barzak to the line. "Can you climb, or do
you need to be pulled out?"
The soldier seemed to gather himself together, straightening his
shoulders as he marshaled his few remaining resources. "I can
"Go on," Leeds said with a nod, then gave the rope three
quick tugs indicating that the soldier was coming up under his own
steam. He boosted the young man up, watching him for a moment before
turning to peer down the low tunnel that led horizontally into the base.
McCay was already standing there staring, and she blinked against the
influx of light as Leeds' shoulder lamps reflected off the concrete
"Can you see anything?" he questioned.
"No�but there's so much dust in the air." She shook her
head. "I don't know how reliable my vision is."
He redoubled his hold on his weapon. "Let's scout it."
McCay slipped behind him. "You're the one with the big
gun," she drawled. "And the lights�you can take the
lead." She drew the small sidearm, chambering a round smoothly as
she muttered, "Damn popgun."
The two moved carefully forward, both alert and cautious.
They'd gone quite some distance without seeing any signs of life when
Leeds commented, "That kid we found�he was pretty wacked out �
maybe he was just imagining that they were up here." At some level,
he was still hoping it was all a mad nightmare � that none of the
stories Ripley had told were true � that the fear in her eyes had been
nothing more than incipient insanity.
"Maybe," McCay allowed hesitantly, but she didn't sound
certain. She remembered the technical reports she'd torn from Michael
Paladin's mind. Those had certainly indicated a creature more than
capable of fooling them somehow. She'd never believed much in instinct,
but she had a very bad feeling. They moved deeper still, climbing over
concrete wreckage as they explored farther into the complex.
"You think Ripley and Call got through?"
Leeds started to climb over a small mountain of debris.
"If they had, this place would be toast. They were going to set
off a nuke," she pointed out.
"Great � I guess that means I should get the rest of the squad
� and see if we can finish it."
McCay nodded slowly, uneasy. Suddenly she froze, head tipping back as
she realized they weren't alone. Infra-red vision picked up the twisted,
spidery form braced in the chasm formed by the fallen rubble. "Oh
my God," she exhaled almost inaudibly. Ripley and Call's
description hadn�t prepared her for the hideous beauty of the
Sensing her shock, Leeds froze, eyes instinctively following the same
path as hers until he saw the perfectly smooth head. It was like the
demons of hell described by the fire and brimstone preachers of his
youth. For the briefest moment, he couldn't think, couldn't breathe. His
heart barely beat.
Then it struck, falling on him, the heavy body knocking him backward
to the floor of the tunnel. Leeds grunted as a sawtoothed tongue slammed
into his shoulder, tearing the skin and breaking his collarbone in one
blow. Luckily, plastic and steel-meshed muscles did their job, and the
blow didn't punch a hole through his body as intended. His hands
scrambled, shoving and twisting as he hunted for some way to throw the
slick fleshed creature off. Its body was irregular, and one clawed hand
was little more than a blunt stump, but it was still phenomenally
McCay took aim on the scene and considered taking fire, but held off,
remembering the acid described by Ripley and Call. If she hit the
creature, it would bleed onto the man beneath it, laying his chest open
and likely killing him. She holstered her weapon and leapt forward,
hooking the thing with one arm as she kicked off. They tumbled end over
end until she lost her grip, and the creature skidded another few feet.
McCay scrambled for her feet as the creature did the same. She didn't
know if Leeds was still conscious or not and didn't have time to worry
about it. His shoulder lights cast sharp beams on the ceiling, the
reflections glittering off the creature's rounded head.
McCay responded instinctively, striking out at the twisted body
hurtling toward her, throwing it back a step.
This alien wasn't as damaged as some of the others. It could get
around more easily, though it was still forbidden from the cr�che, lest
it pervert the perfection of its own kind. It had dreamt of escape, of
going into the world, where it might find succor and peace � away from
the hunt � no longer a target � able to simply feed on soft prey at
will. Now it knew that dream would never be, and it wanted only to
punish those who blockaded its way. It lunged again.
McCay drew her weapon, firing the small caliber pistol with her right
hand as she punched with her left, intending to shove the beast away
again. In that instant, she forgot about acid blood.
Just shoving upright from the hard attack, Leeds saw it all. Bullets
pierced the creature's narrow chest, pulping it with almost perfect
accuracy, as McCay's other hand shot out to push her assailant away�.and
melted on contact.
A horrifying scream was torn from the auton as acid coated her left
hand. In moments, there was nothing more than a stump on her wrist, and
she fell back, howling as the damage continued to advance.
The creature, its chest torn open, started to go after her, but Leeds
grabbed her by collar with one hand, dragging her backwards as he fired
a three shot burst from his weapon. All three rounds struck, knocking
the thing backward. He pulled off another three round burst and was
gratified by the way the alien tumbled to the floor. A third three shot
burst tore through it, but it barely twitched. He suddenly became aware
of McCay's agonized screams, and his eyes fell to her arm. Already the
damage was halfway to her elbow and advancing.
"cutitoff!!" she begged in one breath as she fell against
He stared in open horror.
"CUT IT OFF!!" screamed again, somehow getting herself
under control enough to gasp. "It the acid gets in my bloodstream�I'll
melt from the inside out."
Leeds tossed his weapon aside, drawing the huge bayonet in his boot
as he pressed her into the wall, grabbing her arm above the fast
advancing damage. His shoulder felt like hell, but he forgot all about
it as he hacked her left arm well above the elbow, cutting raggedly, but
well away from the damage. He threw the melting plastic remains of her
arm aside as crimson fluid poured from the open wound.
McCay stared at the damage through dazed eyes. "Gotta stop it�melt
it�seal it with a flare," she groaned weakly, knowing she was far
too badly damaged to control the bleeding on her own.
Leeds grabbed a small spotter flare off his belt, flicking the end to
activate the hot phosphor. He shoved the burning end against her ruined
arm, welding plastic veins shut. McCay spasmed, letting out a dull
scream, then hung limp in his arms. Leeds stared at her for a long
moment, briefly wondering if she was dead, before remembering she
couldn't die, only deactivate. He didn't even know how to check if she
was functional or if the damage had been too severe for her systems to
continue to operate, so he simply staggered to his feet, then slung her
up over his shoulders. She was heavier than he expected. All the plastic
parts, he supposed. He let out a hollow laugh as he remembered her
relaxed teasing before he'd known what she was. She'd often joked about
not having plastic parts. Leeds shook his head as he grabbed his rifle,
pointing it at the creature in case it moved again. It didn't, and he
stumbled back to the ropes, clipping himself, and then the woman in his
arms, to the same line, before tugging twice, signaling his men to pull
them up. They were in no shape for another fight, and he wanted time to
think before he decided what to do next.
The emergency lights were completely dead when Ripley and Call
reentered the maintenance area for the ventilation system, while
Ripley's flashlight cast little more than a dull glow. Still, it was
enough to help them find their way. Ripley climbed into the heavy
equipment, then reached back, offering Call a hand as she climbed over a
large turbine shaft. The small woman slid over, and dropped to the floor
on the other side, her boots echoing on plate tin.
They didn�t have a plan for what do to if they reached the
ventilation tower. Ripley had left the cabling in place, so they had a
way of climbing perhaps a third of the way out. After that, both women
were simply hoping to come up with something. They had no way of knowing
how close the soldiers were, or that ropes were already strung in place.
With their way blocked by rubble on all other sides, they were simply
taking the only option available.
Ripley kicked her way through the last of the fan blades as she led
the way into the final horizontal tunnel. She could almost smell the
fresh air. They were going to make it. She was almost sure of it. The
fates had already been kind. More than two hours had already passed
since she'd fired the missile, and they were still alive. If Ripley had
been asked to bet on that one, she'd have refused the offer as too much
of a long shot for her tastes.
The ceiling of the round tunnel was far too low even for Call to run,
but they moved as fast as they could, knowing that the time was steadily
Ripley abruptly pulled up short, throwing out an arm to stop Call.
"Stay back." Nostrils twitching, she moved forward cautiously,
crouching down to feel ahead of her. The scent of acid blood hung heavy
in the air, so she wasn't surprised when her fingers encountered
perversely smooth flesh. A moment later, they found the multitude of
wounds that had torn the creature to shreds, allowing corrosive blood to
drain onto the concrete.
"What is it?" the auton whispered, her voice sounding thin
"Dead alien," Ripley responded and straightened. "It
feels like it's been shot to pieces." Call started to crouch, but
Ripley held up a hand to stop her. "Don't. It's bled quite bit.
You'll be burned." She outlined the edges of a wound with the tip
of a finger. "Unless I'm mistaken somebody blew it away." She
did not sound depressed by the news.
"Which means somebody else has been through here," Call
"Mmmhmm, let's just hope it was someone on our side,"
Ripley muttered and reached back, catching Call's hand as she made her
way around the thing, avoiding the sizzling pools of acid.
Only a few minutes later, Ripley felt the soft slap of a rope against
her cheek. It was a smooth climbing line, not stiff cable. She tipped
her head back, feeling her heart pound in her chest as she caught sight
of the tiny prick of sunlight at the top of the ventilation shaft. She
almost threw her arms around Call and hugged her, but they didn't have
time. "Somebody's strung a rope�looks like it goes all the way�"
She murmured, glancing over at Call. She could just barely make out her
profile. "Time to start climbing."
"Think we should call up?" Call questioned uncertainly.
Ripley shook her head, then answered as it occurred to her that the
auton couldn't see the gesture. "No�too much chance it's
Call shivered in the darkness. It was nothing more than a
confirmation of her own opinion, but it still wasn't comforting.
"You first," Ripley urged and pressed the line into a small
The auton was delicately built, but like most of her kind,
deceptively strong. She gripped the rope tightly, pulling herself up
hand over hand as she began the long climb.
Ripley was just waiting to mount the rope when she heard the distant
roar. Her head swung around, heart hammering in her chest. "Shit,
no," she rasped. "It can't�" Her words trailed off as
another bellow hung on the air. Cursing under her breath, she grabbed
the rope and began climbing in earnest, muscles knotting rhythmically
with the effort.
"Ripley?" Call whispered.
"I know. I heard it," the cloned woman grunted. "Just
Call hit the hole in the nearest grating and grabbed the slotted
metal with one hand, easily pulling herself up and through. By the time
she reached back to help, Ripley had levered herself halfway through.
Call grabbed her by the waistband and hauled her the rest of the way.
The cloned woman lay on the decking for a moment, goosebumps rising
on her skin despite the heat. Another roar rattled through her, and it
took a heartbeat to decide whether she actually heard it, or it was just
inside her head. Judging by the way Call's hand landed on her shoulder,
it was real enough. Rage fluttered through her skull, but she forced it
down through sheer force of will. "It's the queen," she gasped
and pushed to her hands and knees, not questioning what was chasing
them, even though she knew it shouldn't be possible. "She's really
not having a good day." Ripley pushed to her feet, aware of Call's
hovering frame. "Climb," Ripley snapped impatiently and shoved
the rope back into her hands.
Call didn't argue, just pulled herself up the narrow line, very much
aware of the moment it pulled taut below her as Ripley climbed on.
There was no real sense of movement. The top of the shaft was too far
away, the layers of grating too efficient at cutting off the majority of
light, to allow them any sense of drawing near. What did seem to be
coming closer, were the enraged howls that shook the walls.
The new queen wanted her freedom � and her revenge.
"Climb," Ripley hissed again and looked over her shoulder.
She couldn't see anything, but she could hear and feel the presence of
the creature far below. They'd pulled the rope up to coil it loosely on
the last layer of grating, so she didn't have an easy route, but Ripley
had little doubt that she'd find a way. They always found a way. Sharp
tipped fingers would be more than able to dig in and climb the crumbling
Moments later, she heard the first scratching sound of talons clawing
into reinforced concrete.
"Any luck with the main entrance?" Leeds demanded of the
returning team of soldiers.
Biggs shook his head. "No, sir. It's blocked. We dug around for
awhile and did a radar sampling. Cal and the others stayed to finish up,
but it doesn't look like it's ever going to be passable again."
The sergeant resisted the urge to curse, but not by much.
Biggs nodded toward the hummer. "How's McCay?"
Leeds shrugged a heavy shoulder. "Adams got the worst of the
fluid loss stopped, but she hasn't moved." He didn't admit how much
the idea bothered him. Auton or no, she had been a part of his company,
and he felt a sergeant's automatic sense of responsibility for her
health, particularly since she'd been saving his life when she was hurt.
"What should we do?"
Leeds shaded his eyes, noting the sun's position in the sky. Hours
had passed with no contact from anyone, leaving him with little hope
that anyone in the base was still alive. Ripley and Call had made it
this far -- they knew that much because of the discarded flyer --but he
no longer had much hope that they'd managed to get to the base's nuclear
stores. If they were being pursued by teams from SouCal, they'd be
arriving sometime soon. "Get Tyrell, break out the nukes and run a
check." He sighed softly. "We're going hunting."
"Sir, yes, sir," Biggs snapped with unusual formality,
fully aware of the weight of the decision. If they used nukes
underground, the chances of surviving were slim, none, and considerably
less than none.
"Go on," Leeds ordered sharply and nodded toward the lead
hummer. He watched him go for a brief moment, then hurried back to the
second hummer. There was a bitter, faintly acidic smell in the air as he
stepped inside the second vehicle, blinking to adjust his eyes to the
low light. His gaze touched on the figure sprawled on the field table,
noting the mess. "How is she?" he questioned Adams as the tech
worked determinedly over McCay's unmoving figure.
The young soldier looked up. "Her CPU's still online, but most
of her systems are shut down." He looked frustrated. "I'm just
not experienced enough with this level of technology to know what's
Leeds nodded in understanding. "Do your best. I just came to let
you know I'm going to take the rest of the squad and go down. It's time
to end this."
The tech looked uncertain. "Sir?" He started to rise.
"I'll go get ready."
"No � I want you to take the hummer up to the hills and stay
online. If we can get out, we'll need someone to pick us up. I also want
someone covering my back � in case this Bishop � or his people show
The soldier looked like he wanted to argue -- the first rule of any
infantryman is to always stay with his buddies -- but he saw the
determination in Leeds' expression. "Yes sir," he said at
Leeds stepped past the man to stare down at the unmoving auton lying
silently on the surgical table, her body drenched in red fluid and
looking uncomfortably human. Whatever she was, she'd saved his life. He
owed her something. "If I don't get out of the base alive � see
to it that she gets the help she needs."
Leeds was just stepping toward the hatch, when the low rumbles began.
"NO!!" Ripley roared in frustration as she felt the world
begin to tremble around them.
Perhaps a hundred feet down, the queen tipped her head back and
screamed until their voices blended in perverse harmony.
Knowing how little time they had, Call simply dug in, somehow
climbing even faster, hauling herself up the rope with desperate
The base had been designed to withstand a nuclear blast directly
overhead, but not one deep inside her walls. The reinforced concrete
tried to hold fast, but the lower floors began to crumble, spilling
inward on themselves and sheering out the support pillars and walls
until there was nothing left to happen, but a slow, inward collapse.
Call hit a grating and yanked herself through before reaching back to
haul Ripley up.
They were still more than a hundred feet from the surface when the
world started collapse around them. The center of base was caving in on
itself, but the ventilation shafts ran directly away from it and were
over solid ground. Had the cement not been so old and brittle, they
might have held.
Unfortunately, they were so old and brittle.
The horizontal tunnel lifted and crumpled in on itself while the
shaft warped, massively stressed by the movement of earth around it. For
a moment, it creaked, raining dust and debris down on their heads.
Suddenly one wall of the rounded walls heaved inward as cement
Below them, the queen's screams became panicked howls as she lost her
grip on the wall, falling down a level.
Ripley scrambled, trying to maintain her balance in the midst of the
wracking tremors. "CLIMB!!" she screamed, and grabbed Call's
arm, shoving her toward the swaying rope.
The auton shook her head, throwing an arm up to fend off the chunks
of cement, tumbling down from the upper levels. "There's no
time!" she shouted above the roar of the shattering concrete.
Cursing loudly, Ripley grabbed Call's upper arm in one hand and the
rope in the other, intending to drag her up if she had to. She never got
the chance. The grating beneath their feet buckled, bending upward at
the center. Ripley lost her grip on Call's arm and felt her fall away.
Working on pure instinct, she scrambled desperately, but couldn't
maintain her footing for more than a heartbeat. The world continued to
shudder violently, until even she didn't have a chance. She was thrown
off balance, then hurled headfirst into the wall of the shaft. Ellen
Ripley was already unconscious when Analee Call wrapped strong arms
around her. She never felt the earth-shattering destruction that poured
down on their heads.
Darrin Leeds was aware of being thrown around the interior of the
cabin as the hummer was tossed about by the hard quakes shaking the
earth. At some point, the vehicle rolled, and he grabbed for anything he
could find to stabilize himself. One hand gripped the bar that ran above
the seats while the other caught the unconscious body that came tumbling
toward him. He wrapped an arm around McCay's limp frame, yanking her
against his side as the interior of the vehicle did its impression of a
When the world came to a halt long minutes later, nothing moved on
the shattered plain�or below it.
If it weren't for the internal chronograph in her brain, Analee Call
wouldn't have had any idea how much time had passed since the world
stopped shaking. She was amazed to find herself still in existence.
During those long minutes, she'd fully expected to wind up as a greasy
white smear smashed between chunks of falling debris. She opened her
eyes in pitch blackness, uncertain whether she was rightside up, upside
down, or sideways. Huge chunks of cement pressed against her body on all
sides, but as she felt around, she realized that they'd somehow braced
against each other, leaving a small pocket of space. It took only a
moment to recognize the soft body pressed against her own in the narrow
gap between concrete boulders. "Ripley?" she whispered huskily
and shook a hard shoulder.
Perfect silence met her gesture.
"Oh, please, Ripley, no�" Call groaned, slithering into a
semi-upright position to bend over the unmoving woman. Her hands were
trembling as she traced them over familiar curves. Knowing how much
rubble had fallen, she expected to feel her fingers burn at the touch of
acid blood, but she was spared the pain. Somehow, Ripley had avoided
being cut, or perhaps her unique genetic structure had already healed
the damage. She traced Ripley's torso to find her throat in the
darkness, pressing her fingertips against the underside of her chin. The
cloned woman's pulse beat too fast and unsteady, but it beat. Call let
out a heavy sigh of relief and tugged her lover's limp body closer until
her head rested in Call's lap. "You're going to be all right,"
she promised and gently petted silky hair, smoothing it back from her
brow. It was a lie. They were undoubtedly going to die, but Call saw no
reason to be that honest.
"Liar," the woman in her arms mumbled almost inaudibly.
Call leaned closer, her lips almost touching her lover's. "I
didn't think you were awake," she exhaled, her breath playing over
Ripley shivered in her arms as she felt the darkness swallowing her
up again. "Talk to me," she begged, fingers tangling with
Call's as she slipped back into unconsciousness.
"I will," Call promised, holding Ripley tightly as she felt
her slip away again. She gently smoothed her hair back and pressed a
soft kiss to her forehead. The woman in her arms was so limp she might
have been dead, driving Call to check her pulse every few moments. The
concrete boulders overhead creaked and shifted, making her wonder when
they'd come spilling down. Miraculously, they settled but stayed in
place, braced against each other. The darkness was cloying, thick,
clinging to the body like an oil slick. "When I first read the
banned histories, I admired her," she whispered, speaking as much
to calm her own shattered nerves as to follow through on her promise.
"I was amazed by her courage � I found a picture in one of the
books�" She leaned down, lips brushing Ripley's cheek. "So
beautiful � so brave � and so badly betrayed..." She sighed
softly, remembering the flood of unfamiliar emotions she'd experienced.
She stroked the back of a limp hand and felt the faintest fluttering of
muscles. Even unconscious, there was something about Ellen Ripley that
felt the need to struggle against life. "When I first found out
about you, I hated you," she admitted. Her voice sick with the
remembered resentment, she whispered, "Hated you for being alive
when she was dead � for having her face � for betraying her by
bringing those things back into the world when she died to rid the
universe of them."
Ripley stirred ever so slightly, perhaps simply reacting to her
injuries, or maybe it was something more.
"I tried to pity you � remind myself that you had no choice�."
She stroked Ripley's temple lightly, feeling the swollen bruises that
marred her skull just beneath the hairline. "And then you looked at
me with that maddening grin � challenging me � daring me. How do you
do that? Why do you do that?" She shook her head, mentally trying
to unravel the strange woman to whom she'd become so emotionally bound.
"I wanted to hate you," she admitted, her voice thick with
tears. "But you were the only one who didn't treat me any
differently � when you knew � what I am � the only one who ever
showed any sympathy." She kissed Ripley, tasting warm lips,
drinking in her breath, reassuring herself she was alive. "Damn
you, don't you leave me," she choked and felt tears spill onto her
cheeks. Call reached up, catching one on a fingertip, amazed by the
realization that she was crying; not for herself, or humanity as a
whole, but for one person who'd come to mean more to her than anything
in the universe. The sudden insight was a jarring one. "I love
you," she exhaled, amazed to find herself whispering the words that
-- only days before -- she would have considered sacrilegious coming
from her lips. She laughed, the sound hoarse with irony. She'd finally
accepted that she could love, and they were both going to die.
She ducked her head, pressing her cheek against Ripley's, content to
simply hold her for whatever time remained.
Leeds slowly shifted, intensely aware of every ache and pain in his
body. He was battered, bruised, and if there was an inch of flesh
without some kind of contusion, he didn't know what it might be. The
tiny patch of flesh between his toes � maybe. Something heavy but
surprisingly soft lay draped across his chest, and it took a second to
remember catching McCay's limp body midway during the free fall spin.
After carefully setting her aside, he rolled to his feet, shaking off
the daze. The hummer was lying on one side, silent testament to the wild
ride. He moved to check on Adams, quickly finding the man's body where
it had been caught under the edge of a seat. It took only a glance to be
certain he was dead, his neck snapped in an unlucky instant when
something caught steel-coated bones just right to misalign them and send
the sharp edge of a vertebra careening through his spinal cord. He'd
died in moments. Sighing sadly, Leeds closed the man's eyes and
straightened, staggering to the twisted hatchway to peer out.
Dust was still settling on the desert plains. What few buildings had
remained when they arrived were now so much rubble. The desert valley
now funneled downward toward the center, where the base had collapsed in
on itself. Leeds ran a hand over short-cropped hair. "Oh
shit," he exhaled. When they'd arrived, the earth around the
ventilation shaft had been fairly flat and sandy. Now it was jagged,
marked by sinkholes and upthrust boulders. There was no sign of his
"Tyrell! Biggs! Banks! Connor!!" His voice rang across the
destroyed surface of the planet as he found himself praying that someone
else had survived.
Call continued to hold Ripley tenderly, feeling her shift and mumble
softly. She'd been sliding in and out of consciousness as though her
body had finally hit the limit, and she just couldn�t fight anymore.
The only comfort lay in the fact that her pulse seemed to be getting
stronger. Given time, she'd undoubtedly snap awake again -- Call
couldn't help but remember how quickly the knife wound in her palm had
healed -- but time was something they didn�t have. She could feel the
air thinning, making it harder to breathe. Autons didn't require as much
oxygen as humans, but they couldn't go completely without for very long.
And the woman in her arms? There were so many things about her that had
been affected by the infusion of alien genetic structure, but Call was
relatively certain she couldn't survive without some air. Meaning that,
sooner or later, the oxygen would be completely depleted, and she'd die.
They'd both be gone with no one with the wiser.
Call growled an obscenity under her breath. She didn't want to die
like that. Feeling over her head, she carefully squirmed upward�or
least what she hoped was up. She was so disoriented that it was hard to
be absolutely certain. It took her a moment to outline the heavy boulder
directly over their heads. It had undoubtedly saved their lives, angling
protectively over them and shoring up the tons of cement that had come
tumbling down. Call slithered her fingers up into a narrow crevice along
the edge of the huge slab, digging carefully. Dust and pebbles came
tumbling down, but the half-expected collapse didn�t happen. Her body
twisted at an odd angle, she continued the methodical scraping, tugging
at the rough edges of shattered concrete. With every passing second she
expected to be flattened, but the makeshift ceiling held, offering much
needed protection. Long minutes passed as she widened the tiny gap until
she could thrust her arm through. Another small space existed just above
their heads. She reached harder, feeling around and pulling down more
dust and rubble until there was a space nearly as wide as her shoulders.
"Call?" the soft croak surprised her. Ripley hadn't made a
coherent sound since begging her to talk.
"I'm here." The auton pulled her arm free, dropping her
hand to Ripley's hair. Grit coated her fingertips as she gently brushed
at her temple, but Ripley didn't seem to care. She reached up to curve
long fingers around Call's hand.
"Wha' happened?" she asked, her voice scratchy and
The answering chuckle was low and grim. "The bomb finally went
off," the auton whispered.
A brief moment of silence followed, then a short, choking laugh.
"That fits my luck all right." Ripley's head shifted on Call's
lap. "You were talking to me," she mumbled weakly. "You
kept your promise." She sounded surprised by the realization.
"Mmhmm," the auton confirmed the hazy memory without
discussing what she'd said. She wasn't yet comfortable with the
revelations she'd come to.
Ripley tightened her hold on the hand twined with hers. "Thank
you," she exhaled. She shifted slightly and felt the remains of the
steel grating bite into her back. "Any idea how far down we
Call automatically shook her head, despite the darkness, as she
answered. "None. There was too much chaos when it happened. Do you
Silence followed her query until finally Ripley admitted. "Not
much." She lifted a hand to massage the swelling at her temple,
wincing audibly as she outlined it with the tips of her fingers. "I
think I hit my head."
"Yeah�you've been out of it." Call continued the gentle
Ripley hunted her memories as she struggled back to consciousness.
Suddenly, she stiffened as one particular memory came back with a thump.
She tried to push up on an elbow, gasping as her skull contacted the low
ceiling before Call could stop her. "The queen," she muttered.
Strong hands caught her shoulders, pushing her back down.
"She was below us�nothing could have survived that."
"We survived," Ripley disagreed hoarsely.
Call sighed softly. "Maybe," she allowed. "But if she
is alive, there's really not much we can do at the moment."
"She's alive," Ripley whispered simply, cursing the sense
of the creature's existence that burned somewhere in her brain. Ignorant
bliss would have been far preferable.
"Okay � but there are God only knows how many tons of rubble
between us and her � and between us and the surface" The auton's
soft voice was comforting while her hands massaged with gently soothing
strokes. A little of tension left the cloned woman's shoulders.
"Right now, she's not the most dangerous thing we have to worry
Ripley sank back down. She was so used to thinking of the aliens as
the ultimate threat that it had never occurred to her that something
else might take her life. "Any chance we can climb out?" she
"I don't know � there's a crevice overhead, and what feels
like a pocket above us � but trying to get through might just bring it
all down on our heads."
"Since we're going to die anyway�" Ripley trailed off
suggestively before asking for confirmation. "Aren't we?"
A low sigh. "We have to try." She squeezed the small hand
nestled in her own, silently making a promise. They stayed like that for
several minutes while Ripley regained her bearings. When she went to
move, there was a brief scare as her left leg refused to respond. Caught
in the rubble, and numb from the pressure, it took considerable
maneuvering to lever the joint free. When Ripley reached down, she felt
blood smeared all over her leg, and realized the acid had powdered the
concrete just enough to allow her to slither loose. Without that small
bit of luck, she'd have been trapped there forever.
In the tight space, she was pressed up against Call, fully aware of
every inch of the contact between their bodies. The faint brush of silky
hair against her cheek brought a sudden flash of their lovemaking. Even
rife with dust and grit, the strands were soft against her skin. She
dropped a hand to Call's narrow waist, stroking lightly with the pad of
her thumb. "Call," she whispered very softly as she felt
tension ripple through the small, compact body. "Analee," she
tested her first name, listening to the sweet timbre of it on her lips.
"If we don't get out--" (4)
Small fingers landed on her lips, cutting her off. "Don't�we�we
"Shhh," Ripley hushed through the delicate barricade. She
ducked until their foreheads just touched. "Thank you for keeping
your promise," she breathed. "And thank you for everything
Call tensed as she realized what the other woman was saying � what
she'd heard. She was still formulating a response when warm lips tasted
her mouth, drinking deeply. She savored Ripley's breath, felt the brush
of her lips and tongue. There was nothing of the hunter in the kiss,
only the lover. When their lips parted, they didn't separate. There was
nowhere to go, not even enough space to back off a hand's width, so they
remained twined together as Call stammered, "Overhead � the
crevice is just overhead. It's almost wide enough to get through � I
think there's another pocket above this one."
Ripley reached up, long narrow fingers slipping into the breach. She
fumbled around, getting her bearings, then began slowly making it
larger. "Just keep climbing," she whispered long moments later
as she worked her narrow body into the tight space. Though taller and
broader shouldered, she was also leaner than her companion, with an
uncanny ability to contort herself into the tightest of spaces. They
didn't discuss who would take the lead. The answer was too obvious, so
she simply did.
A small fire was the only thing to turn back the encroaching darkness
as Darrin Leeds quietly set Tyrell's broken arm. He'd found Tyrell,
Biggs, and Connor, but there was no sign of the others and no word from
the team that had still been checking the main entrance. He finished
lacing on the steel and canvas splint, then silently rose, moving away
from the comfort of the fire. His broken shoulder hurt like hell, but so
did the rest of his body, so he ignored it as best he was able. There
was nothing he could do about it anyway. Sighing softly, he climbed an
upthrust chunk of rock to stare at the funnel shaped hole that marked
the center point of the damage. In the last dying light of the sun,
there was something almost beautiful about the way the earth swirled in
on itself. He supposed it was a fitting marker for the two women who had
apparently not survived their bid to save the world.
His missing squad members were also undoubtedly dead. He accepted
that. He pivoted slowly, taking in the shattered ground all around the
ventillation shaft. He still had some hope that they'd magically appear,
but not much. Meanwhile, Tyrell had a badly broken wrist, and Connor had
taken a serious hit to the head. He kept insisting he was okay, but
Leeds had noted the way his balance wavered unsteadily. Of the four of
them, he and Biggs were in the best shape. Considering how much he hurt,
that was a pathetic statement indeed.
Both hummers were upended and battered. They wouldn't be going
anywhere anytime soon.
And then there was McCay, who lay limp, exactly where he'd placed her
next to the fire, the remaining stump of her arm a silent accusation of
his failure to see the creature before it attacked. He hadn't felt this
low since the day he'd realized he'd been sent to earth to play
the conqueror not the hero. He sighed softly and moved back to the small
fire where Connor was just using a field helmet as a makeshift pot to
heat enough field rations for the four of them. It was going to be a
cold night and warm food in their bellies would help fend off the chill.
"Sarge," Biggs broke into his thoughts. His eyes still
didn't track well, but his voice sounded steadier. "What do we do
Leeds shrugged and dropped to sit cross-legged in the dirt. "In
the morning we head back to SouCal," he said simply.
"Think there'll be a drumhead?" Connor questioned.
Leeds shrugged. "We did kinda frag the chain of command,"
he sighed, remembering all of the reasons that had made so much sense
when he'd made his choices and now seemed highly questionable. Then he
remembered the thing he'd seen underground � the hellsborne head and
body, expressionless, yet full of hate, with its burning blood and fetid
breath. No, they'd done the right thing � whatever came of it.
"Whatever happens, the decision was mine. You tell the new C.O.
that." He'd mutinied against an immoral government and now against
an ignorant and corrupted one. For a man determined to follow orders, he
was having some piss poor luck on that score.
"Nah," Tyrell spoke up, his voice relaxing as the pain
killers kicked in. "We didn't have to follow you�" He
scratched an itch above the edge of the splint. "If you're in
trouble, we all are."
Leeds allowed himself a small smile, grateful for the support,
especially since he wasn't feeling like much of a sergeant � not with
most of his squad dead or missing. He noted the heating food and felt
his stomach protest its hunger. "After a bite, I'll take the first
It's very easy to start doubting your sanity in total darkness. The
eyes are so desperate for input that a person can start to see shadows
and ripples of movement where there are none. The human mind desperately
wants to process visual data, so much so, that many blind people claim
they still 'see' shapes and colors even though no signal can be getting
through. Ellen Ripley was beginning to appreciate the reality of that
condition as she blindly clawed her way up through dust, dirt, and
chunks of broken cement. She rubbed her eyes, hating the gritty,
swirling darkness that seemed to climb inside her. It was as though it
was determined to finish the task and finally drive her to madness.
She pulled and pushed herself upward, dislodging chunks of debris
that stood in her way, finding the cracks and crevices between the slabs
of concrete that would allow her enough room to slip through. With every
inch gained, she was intently aware of the danger that she'd finally
push on the wrong stone or shove at a weak pressure point and bring it
all down on their heads. Twice, she and Call had exchanged positions for
a time when she deadended, and the auton found another route. They'd
traded places again only moments later, when they had to backtrack
again. Suddenly, she felt a foot slip and started to fall. A strong hand
braced her from below, steadying her. "Thanks," she coughed
through the clinging dust.
"Anytime," Call responded.
"You say the sweetest things," the cloned woman groaned and
pulled herself up another few inches. She clawed her fingers into a wide
slab of cement, scraping away the pulverized mortar blockading her way.
Grit and fist-sized chunks of cement hailed down on their heads, but she
shook them off as she scrambled up and over the edge of another large
slab. The space widened, allowing a few inches of room on any side of
her body. "Come on up," she panted.
Moments later, Call scrambled up, her body pressed tightly against
Ripley's in the narrow gap. The physical closeness was comforting,
temporarily chasing away the visual and aural hallucinations that
assailed a body lost in endless, sensory deprivation. "You
okay?" she questioned and shuffled onto her side, stretching out
next to Ripley, while she rested one hand on her stomach.
"Could be worse," the cloned woman admitted tiredly. Her
head throbbed painfully, and she'd lost all sense of time and space. She
frowned, trying to make out the rough surface only inches from the tip
of her nose. She succeeded only in making her headache even worse.
Call rested her head on Ripley's shoulder -- not so much through
planning as a lack of space -- but once she was there, it felt
impossibly warm and safe. A hand lifted, petting short, dark hair
Ripley could feel the ugliness that chased her through life somewhere
in the back of her mind, but with Call pressed against her side, she
could almost concentrate past it. The queen was still out there, but as
colors swirled past her tightly closed eyes, she couldn't help but
wonder if that feeling was just an hallucination, like an amputee with
the urge to scratch a missing limb. Minutes passed and finally she
realized they had to get moving again before she surrendered all sense
of herself and just stayed there forever. "C'mon," she rasped.
"Time to go." She twisted and began scrabbling again, pushing
dirt and debris as she reached for a purchase.
Call started to do the same, rolling onto her stomach to kick
forward. She froze as something pressed into her narrow chest.
"Wait," she whispered and caught Ripley's shirt, halting her.
She shifted back onto her side, fumbling with the zipper of her
jumpsuit. "The crucifix � McCay never got it back � I
completely forgot about it." She pulled the delicate piece of
jewelry free as she felt Ripley skid back down. When she keyed it open,
the lights inside glittered in familiar patterns, the tiny red and green
flickers a welcome sight. They cast the faintest of glows, throwing soft
lights onto Ripley's high cheekbones.
The real illumination was an incredible comfort even though it was
the tiniest of lights. "I think that may be one of the most
beautiful sights I've ever seen," the cloned woman admitted as she
stared down at the device, fascinated by the patterns.
"Mmmhmm," Call mumbled, then ran the pad of her thumb over
the lights, stroking them slowly as she felt artificial nerve endings
tingle with awareness. She exhaled an almost sensual sigh as the
sensation died away, and the device fell dark once again. She touched
the cross and it slid closed.
"Ready to move again?" Ripley whispered.
"Ready," Call confirmed, waiting while Ripley scrambled
ahead, before following close behind.
Blue eyes snapped open, dazed awareness glittering in their depths.
Pain rattled through Angie McCay's badly damaged body, but she ignored
it in favor of the signal echoing through her brain and touching off
certain autonomic responses, bringing her back around by force.
"Alive," she gasped weakly. She managed to pull the dancing
fire into vague focus and pick out the broad silhouettes seated around
it. She struggled with her vision, widening her scan of the area,
instinctively searching the darkness as she spotted flickers of
movement. Scanning at multiple ranges finally brought the shadows into
some semblance of focus. She swallowed hard, trying to find the strength
to make her voice box work and warn the men seated so unsuspectingly
around the fire. At least a half dozen men and women were advancing on
them, their stiff movements proclaiming them members of Bishop's android
clan. "Bishop," she forced herself to whisper, but the word
was little more than a breath of air. She gasped air into artificial
lungs as more systems came online.
It was Leeds who noticed her movement, tossing aside the last of his
dinner as he hurried to her, catching narrow shoulders in hard hands.
"Bishop," she whispered again, this time managing to make
the name audible. "Coming in fast � at least six � maybe
more." She didn't have a chance to tell him what had wakened her.
There wasn't time.
"Biggs, douse that fire," he snapped, gratified by the fact
that the soldier tossed his helmet over the flames, killing them almost
instantly. "Lock and load," Leeds hissed as he grabbed for his
"I wouldn't do that," a dry voice rang across the night,
the tone curiously dispassionate.
Crouched to make as small a target as possible, Leeds called back.
"Because I don't want you," Bishop responded.
"I just want her. Hand the plastic over, and you're free to
Leeds glanced at his men, who all shook their heads.
"We stick with our own," Tyrell muttered, gripping his
rifle tightly, despite the broken wrist.
"Sorry, no can do," Leeds called out.
"Don't be stupid," McCay hissed as she struggled without
success to push upright.
Leeds shook his head. "Like it or not, lady, you're one of
us." He reached down, grabbing her by her undamaged right arm to
haul her to her feet. She would have gone down again if not for his hard
hold. "Besides, I need those eyes of yours if we're gonna have a
chance." He hugged her close, slipping his arm around her waist,
and encouraging her to put her arm around his shoulders. "How many
She leaned heavily against him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"I can see six � maybe seven � all armed, but I can't tell what
they're carrying � between fifty and one hundred yards out."
"Look, soldier," Bishop called out. "Do you really
want to die for her? A thing? A machine? Isn't your life worth more than
"No, sir, I guess it isn't," Leeds responded with ironic
courtesy. He glanced over at the others. They were all crouched under
the slight cover of an upended hummer. It wouldn't help much if Bishop
decided to open fire. "What are they doing?" he questioned
McCay a moment later when Bishop still hadn't responded to his taunt.
She shook her head. "I can't tell � they aren't
The night had fallen eerily silent. Even the settling of shattered
earth had quieted as if in response to the dark emotions rattling
through humans and androids alike.
Leeds redoubled his hold on his field weapon, ready to fire if
needed. He longed to turn on one of the spotted pin lights still
attached to his shoulder harness, but knew it would only make them a
more ideal target. "Biggs," he hissed. "See if you can
break away � and come around on their flank."
The big man nodded silently, staying low as he moved around the edge
of the hummer, intending to disappear into the night. He was just
stepping away from cover when a laser site pinned tightly on his leg.
Biggs barely let out a sound as a shot pinged through the night, the
single bullet tearing through his kneecap before his brain had time to
register the sound. The soldier spilled to one knee, and Connor grabbed
him by the collar, hauling him back under the scant cover of the ruined
"Biggs?" Leeds snapped.
"Hit the knee � put a hole through," he answered with
forced insouciance. "But it didn't shatter the bone." He
pushed upright, wincing as plastic coated bones ground against
artificial cartilage. The injury was painful, but not enough to stop him
from fighting. He reached down, brushing a fingertip over the damage,
then tasted the blood caught on his fingers. It was salty with an iron
bite, but lacked the bitterness of the artificial blood moving through
his implants. "Didn't even draw white," he jeered the attack.
"Didn't have to," Bishop called out in answer to the softly
spoken taunt. The soldiers all tensed as they realized their attackers
could hear their conversations. "We just want you to stay in place
� until you hand over the plastic. Do that and you're free to
"Lying sack of shit," Tyrell grumbled.
"Maybe not," McCay inserted, her voice a tinny shadow of
itself. "He doesn't care about you � it's me he
"Perhaps," Leeds allowed. "But that's just one more
reason not to let him have you." Instinct told him there were
things in her brain that Bishop couldn't be allowed to know.
"Pity you feel that way," Bishop called out.
McCay shook her head, still staring into the night, watching the
shadowy movements of their assailants. Suddenly, she recognized a heavy
silhouette. "Shit � bazooka," she hissed to Leeds in
He saw the weapon as it was hefted into firing position, the camo
painted tube glittering dully under the faint light of a new moon.
"BREAK!" the sergeant shouted and leapt away from the cover of
the hummer. He heard the sibilant hiss as the bazooka was fired, sending
the fist sized missile straight toward the upended vehicle. He hit the
ground, McCay still clutched tightly against his body. The shell
exploded as it contacted the metal body of the vehicle, sending flames
and a hard concussion outward. The surviving soldiers were tumbled over
rough ground while unstable earth shuddered beneath them.
to Next Part--Chapter 12--Epilogue
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