The Illusion of Being Human
By L. Alexandra Chevallier

DISCLAIMER: The Alien saga belongs to Fox. Which means that Johner, Viress, Bishop, Ripley and Call also belong to them. I mean no infringement of copyright in using them in this story.

However, the story and the characters Veronica and Cardinal belong to me.


Call ran. The trees flashed past her, and the undergrowth caught at her legs as she ran away, laughing. Nimbly, she jumped over a tree branch that had fallen down during the last storm. She could faintly pick up the sounds of her pursuer as she too crashed through the forest. Call changed direction, angling away from where she thought the sounds were. Maybe she shouldn't have teased her, but then again - it had been fun. Suddenly, Call went sprawling, her legs tangling in some of the undergrowth. ‘Damn, she thought, take your mind off your feet for one moment, and look where it gets you’. She leapt to her feet again, then realised the sounds of pursuit had stopped.

"Ripley?" She called. "Ripley?" A chill started its way up her spine. She spun around to face the way she had come. As she did so, she felt a warm hand grasp her wrist. She could feel the sharp nails against her flesh. She turned around to see…

It was Ripley, her strong mobile face smiling down at her, a soft light in her brown eyes. Ripley pulled her closer, leaning down…

But the hiss made her try to pull back as the Alien opened its mouth to reveal the small monster that lived inside there…

And she sat up abruptly. She looked across the room at the bed Ripley slept on, and found it empty. For a moment, she was disoriented, then a smile crossed her face. She swung her legs around, and got up off the cot. She wasn't going to get back to sleep easily now. She padded across the room, and crouched down by the bed. The glitter of eyes met hers from the shadows underneath.

"You couldn't sleep either?" they both spoke at the same time.

"No," Call answered first.

"Nightmare?" Ripley asked.

"Yeah," Call replied.

"C'mere," Ripley said, inviting the Auton underneath her bed. Call hesitated a moment, then slid under, and lay on her side facing the hybrid. "You want to tell me about it?" Call blinked, and Ripley could see the indecision in her dark Android eyes.

"It's the same one I told you about yesterday," Call eventually said. "The one where you're chasing me."

"And I turn into an Alien?" Ripley asked with a wry amusement to her voice.

"Yes," Call said, her voice more of an exhalation than a spoken word. "Ripley, it frightens me to think that I'm always going to associate you with them."

"It doesn't bother me, Call." Ripley smiled again. "After all, I’m hardly human."

"Well, it bothers me." Call shook her head. "Besides, you’re more human than some humans I know."

"Like Johner?" Ripley inquired.

"Yeah," Call smiled, then yawned.

"A yawn from an Android," Ripley said then yawned too. "Just as contagious," She opened her arms up to the Auton. "Maybe you'll sleep better here?" Call's eyes widened for a moment, then she willingly slid into the taller woman's arms.

"Maybe I will," She whispered. The last thing she could remember thinking was 'I'm safe here'. She had no further nightmares that night.

*****

The four survivors decided to stay on Earth just long enough to repair the Betty and Call. Johner and Vriess decided to go to the nearest city to catch a shuttle up to the station to get some parts for the ship --Vriess said he had some favours owing to him, and he intended to cash in on them. Call was able to mend most of the damage to herself, but there was some work yet to be done, things that she needed help with. The only way to get that help was to track down someone who knew a little about Androids. It was proving to be a very hard task, as most people connected with the robotics industry had gone underground after the Auton disaster. Some robots were still in production, but none were as lifelike as any of the Androids, therefore anyone with the expertise to repair Autons was no longer required. Fortunately, Earth was ideal for people who wanted to keep a low profile. Thus some of the Androids responsible for the Autons had holed up there. Ripley decided that they had to track them down, but getting leads was next to impossible. So when one of the Androids contacted her, she had to go and meet them.

"I won't be too long," She told Call as she made sure she had everything. "If this checks out, we'll be leaving soon."

"I know that," Call said as she came across the room with Ripley's gun. "But I think I should go with you."

"It's too dangerous," Ripley answered, holding her hand out for the pistol. "If people find out what this is all about, you're as good as dead. If I'm the only one there, they can't get to you."

Call bit her lip, and put the gun in her hand. "Yeah, and if someone shoots you for asking too many questions…" Call trailed off.

Ripley nodded, putting the gun away in its holster on her hip. "I know - not too many people whose blood can burn through floors." Ripley smiled. "But it won't come to that."

Call just shook her head, and looked at the floor. Impulsively she closed the remaining distance between them and hugged Ripley. "Just keep safe," she said. "After all we've been through, I'd hate to think that something so stupid would kill you, or worse yet--bring you back into the hands of the military and their pet scientists."

Ripley's mouth twitched into a smile, and she returned the hug. Call could feel her chuckle. "Yes Mom," Ripley said. "I'll even remember to look both ways when I cross the street."

Call gave her a strange look, and laughed too. Then Ripley was gone, and the door closed behind her. Call thought about following her for a moment, then forced herself to relax, 'Ripley knows how to take care of herself,' Call thought, 'But damn it, I can't help but worry about her, she means too much to me.' That pulled her up short. Sure she cared about humans, and their tenuous grasp on humanity - but this was a different kind of caring. At least, it seemed that way - she ran a short self-diagnostic, and apart from the damage to her circulation systems, there was nothing wrong with her logic or emotion circuits. Was it at all possible for an Android to fall in love? Call couldn't be sure, but perhaps… perhaps…

*****

Ripley did look both ways when she crossed the street. Not that there was much traffic, occasionally someone would fix up an old internal combustion engine car and drive it - but the streets had pretty much been abandoned in favour of the air-ways. She was looking to see if anyone was following her, or watching her. Maybe it was her paranoia, but she had the feeling that someone had been watching them for some time - ever since they had arrived in this nameless town. She could feel the eyes on her as she walked towards the corner. Suddenly, she was an explosion of movement. The watcher barely had time to gasp when she had grabbed him and slammed him up against the wall of the alley she had just been passing.

"What do you want?" She demanded of him. He was a boy, with a slight frame and long sandy coloured hair. His eyes were sea blue, and very wide as he watched her face.

"Who are you?" He asked in return.

"Not very polite to answer a question with a question," Ripley observed. "Anyway, I asked first."

"They just wanted to know when you were coming," he replied. "I swear that's all."

"Who is 'they'?" Ripley released the pressure slightly, the boy was frightened out of his wits.

"Cardinal," he said. "Cardinal and his friend," Ripley let him down, but kept a hold of his collar, and sighed.

"Who’s Cardinal?" Ripley was beginning to loose her patience, but she knew that she couldn't afford to loose her temper as well.

"He's just…umm…he's like the town mayor," the boy stammered. "He said he was expecting you, that he'd invited you for a drink. He just wanted to be ready, told me to look for anyone strange in town. You were the only one who stood out."

"Okay," Ripley smiled grimly. "Show me the back way in to the bar… what's your name?"

"Josh," The boy told her. "I'll show you when you let me go."

Ripley shook her head. "Nope," she answered. "You'd probably run off and tell him I'm on my way." She shook him slightly. "Lets go,"

Josh nodded, and indicated the way down the alley.

The doorway lead into the kitchen. It was quite a crowded place, and dingy too. The white tiles hadn't been white for quite some time, and most of the utensils, including the hot plates, dated back to the end of the 20th century. Two people worked side by side, tossing hamburger patties and onions on a hot plate. They paid no heed to the rather strange pair who walked through. Ripley flared her nose at the smell. It almost made her ill. The hamburger was definitely not derived from cow's meat. Josh on the other hand, couldn't keep his eyes off them as he lead them across the kitchen. Ripley could hear his stomach rumble, then his sigh. He pushed through the swinging doors as they reached them.

"That's him," Josh informed Ripley, pointing at a man on the other side of the bar. "Can I go now?" The man had his back to them, and was talking quite animatedly with a red haired woman on the other side of the table.

"Uh uh," Ripley's lips quirked in a smile, and she took off, all but dragging the frightened boy behind her. The patrons in the bar all looked at her as she stalked fluidly across the room, and around the bar, the boy stumbling after her.

The man called Cardinal didn't notice her approach, and neither did his red-haired companion, Veronica.

A man in the corner noticed though, and looked twice. There was no way she could be who she looked like. Ellen Ripley had died 200 years before. He sat down, but decided he had to go as quickly, and as quietly, as possible--hopefully unnoticed by the ghost who even now approached Cardinal.

Cardinal felt a hand on his shoulder at the same time as Veronica looked up at someone behind him. He turned in his chair and looked up at the woman towering over him.

Ripley, who had hoped to surprise the man, gasped when she looked down on the features of a long dead Android. "Bishop!" She whispered.

"No," he said, frowning. "Close though. I'm Cardinal." He studied her face briefly, as he looked up at her. "Do I know you from somewhere?" Then he saw Josh. "Joshua! I thought I told you to…" he looked back at Ripley. "I guess you're who I was waiting for." His eyes flicked back to Josh. "Go home, boy."

Ripley let him go, then folded her arms and watched him hesitate for a few moments. He seemed to want to say something. Ripley had a fair idea what the boy wanted.

"You ought to pay your little snitch," Ripley said, her voice casual. "I'm sure he's quite hungry."

Cardinal smiled. "I paid him already," he said. "Didn't I?" He looked at Josh, who nodded, but still looked unhappy. Cardinal noticed the concerned look on Ripley's face, and sighed. "All right, have it your way." He pulled out a few coins and put them in Josh's hand. "Get yourself something to eat, and find yourself a nice warm place to eat it in." Josh grinned gratefully up at Ripley.

"Thanks Mr. Cardinal," he said, but Ripley could tell that his thanks were really directed at her, and her intervention. Once Josh was gone, Ripley pulled up a seat, and sat down uninvited.

"You don't know me," she began. "You said you could help me, can you?"

"If you need help treating a certain… creature," Cardinal said. "I'm your vet."

"Of course." Ripley smiled. "You're a related kind of thing." Cardinal looked taken aback. Veronica wondered what Ripley meant--she couldn't mean… that Cardinal was an Android?

"How did you…" he trailed off, and exchanged a look with Veronica, who nodded. "We need to take this some place else. Perhaps where you have your animal." Ripley stiffened slightly at his reference to Call. She wasn't an animal, and she deserved more respect than she was getting. On the other hand, it wouldn't do to talk about this openly. She forced herself to relax, and wondered why she had over-reacted so much.

"Well, I don't think that's an option really, Dr. Cardinal," her tone was of thinly veiled sarcasm. "I think a safe, neutral place would be better."

"You're quite paranoid, aren't you Ms…" He trailed off waiting for Ripley to supply the rest.

"Ellen," she said helpfully. "I've often found that paranoia is a finely honed instinct, and it has saved my life on more than one occasion."

"Well then Ms. Ellen, would you care to suggest a place?" Cardinal asked. Ripley just smiled, and held out her hand. Frowning, Cardinal took the offered hand. Her hand was warm, and she held his quite firmly. Cardinal could feel the strength in the hand, and knew she could easily crush his with barely an effort.

"It's been nice talking to you Cardinal," She said, shaking his hand, then turned and left. It was only after she had gone that Cardinal realised that she had slipped something into his hand.

*****

Call was asleep when the door to the room opened, and Ripley stalked across the room. She was tossing and turning from some dream or other. Ripley approached and sat down on the edge of the cot, reaching across to brush the hair back off Call's face. As she did so, Call became aware of a scratching sound coming from above her, starting to tug her from her sleep. Ripley looked up, but continued to stroke her face. If Ripley wasn't worried, then it was probably nothing. Suddenly the ceiling exploded in a shower of concrete, waking Call up fully to see two other Aliens drop down to stand behind Ripley, who turned around and hissed at them. She turned back to Call, and her face had changed. Call found herself looking into the eyes of the Newborn…

Call sat up to hear a knocking at the door. 'Damn, another dream,' she thought. She struggled out of the bed clothes, and padded across to open the door. Ripley stood on the other side. She smiled to reveal sharp silvery teeth, Call screamed in horror, and tried to close the door, but Ripley just flung it open, grabbing Call by the throat…

Call became aware of a voice calling her name, and a strong hand shaking her shoulder.

"Wake up, Call," Ripley said. "You're dreaming again," Only half aware, Call scooted back away from Ripley.

"No!" she whispered. "Leave me alone."

"Call, it's just me," Ripley said. Becoming more awake, Call relaxed a little, and looked at Ripley for a long moment.

"Show me your teeth," Call demanded. Bemused, Ripley did as asked, revealing white human teeth. Upon seeing them, Call relaxed completely.

"Oh God," She sighed. "I wish these dreams would go away."

"Well, maybe I can get Cardinal to do something about those too," Ripley told her, then quickly informed her of her meeting with Cardinal. "He's definitely an Android," she finished. "He looks a lot like Bishop."

"It wouldn't come as any great surprise to me," Call said. "The Bishop model was pretty popular, though very few have survived for so long. It's quite probable that no one else knows that he's an Android. That he reacted when you made your assumption means he was surprised that anyone would know."

"I guess he didn't count on meeting someone who is effectively more than 200 years old," Ripley shrugged. "We should go now, Cardinal will be waiting for us by now."

*****

He waited nervously in the shadows, watching the door the ghost had entered. He didn't like it much, but the orders had come from the very top brass. The lack of surprise that had greeted his news had disconcerted him, and they had made it abundantly clear that it was imperative that he keep a close watch on this woman until they could send backup -- to capture her. If it was true that this was the legendary Alien survivor… Well, maybe they would even forgive him for reading histories that had long been withheld from society. He didn't want to think about what would happen if it wasn't true.

About five minutes later, the door opened and the woman—Ripley--came out, followed by another smaller woman with short black hair and dark eyes. Ripley walked away from the door with a graceful confidence. She didn't appear nervous, but her companion's eyes darted everywhere. Letting them get a little ahead of him, he followed.

*****

Cardinal paced restlessly. The woman was late, and it always annoyed him when a person couldn't keep their appointments. Sitting on the steps nearby, Veronica watched him pace back and forth as she methodically cleaned her gun. She knew it so well, she didn't even need to look at it.

"Cardinal, just relax," She said. "I don't understand why you're so jittery."

Cardinal stopped pacing and turned to look at her.

"Tell me, do you know what she meant when she said you were a 'related kind of thing'?"

"I -," He began to answer, but stopped when he spotted the Ellen woman walking towards him from the main street. She was followed by what was, in Cardinal's eyes at least, an exquisite piece of art. He recognised her for what she was as soon as he saw her. All at once he understood Ellen's need for caution and her paranoia.

Veronica flicked her eyes across the pair of women, assessing them. The taller was a predator, that much was apparent in her dark brown eyes and the relaxed but alert air that surrounded her. The smaller was not to be trifled with either, but something said that she was the gentler of the two. There was something familiar about her too, nothing that Veronica could put her finger on, but it made her uneasy nevertheless. Together they made a strange pair, but it was clear that they were a team. They'd been through a lot together, Veronica concluded.

Cardinal cleared his throat. "Your creature has quite a bloodline," Cardinal said, his voice sounding remarkably steady in his ears. Veronica noticed the small one bristle at that.

"I'm not anyone's 'creature'," the small one said. "My name is Call."

"Sorry," His tone was conciliatory. "My apology." He took a breath - 'might as well get down to business' he thought, then continued. "What seems to be the problem?"

"How long has it been since you last worked on an Android?" Call countered.

"A few years," Cardinal answered. "Give or take."

"You worked on any of my…. Bloodline?" Her tone was tense.

"Yes," He replied, a certain sadness in his eyes. "In fact, they were the last Androids I worked on."

"Aside from maintenance on yourself," Ellen interjected. Cardinal looked sharply at her, so did Veronica. 'Well, that answers that,' Veronica thought, 'certainly explains a lot…'

"How did you know?" He asked.

"You're a Bishop model, aren't you?" Ellen answered. "I worked with one… some time ago," Cardinal sighed.

"Well, I guess that was a problem with early Androids -- we all looked the same." Cardinal shook his head. "There haven't been many of us around for quite some time. We're almost as rare as Call's kind now. In fact, she and I might just be the last of our respective bloodlines."

"As I said, it was quite some time ago," Ellen said, then looked at Call. "Do you think we should trust him?" Call shrugged.

"It's not as if we have much choice." She said, then turned her attention back to Cardinal. "Simply put, I was shot, and then submerged in water. Some of my circulation systems are damaged."

"That wasn't very nice of them," Cardinal observed. "Let's take a look at the damage," He gestured her towards him. Call looked at Ellen first, and when she nodded slightly, stepped forward and lifted her t-shirt to reveal a bandage over a good portion of her lower right torso. Cardinal reached out and pulled the bandage away from the wound. There were faint blue streaks on the bandage, indicating a fluid leak that hadn't been patched. It looked like there had been some damage to her vocal systems, but that had already been repaired. There was probably other damage too, but it wasn’t readily visible.

"I can't do the work here," Cardinal said finally. "It doesn't seem to be too bad though. The shot looks like it was pretty close range." He noticed Ellen glaring at him. "But I'm not going to ask how it happened. I can probably even patch up your skin too." He looked back up at Ellen. "I'm going to suggest that we take this back to my place. I have all my tools there." Ellen looked like she was about to protest, but Call shrugged her shoulders.

"I still don't see that we have any other choice," Call said.

Cardinal didn't say anything as he put the bandage back on.

Ellen was still frowning, so Call turned away from Cardinal and came over to her side. "It's okay," she told her, touching her arm reassuringly, Ellen nodded.

"Let’s go then." Ellen said. "Lead the way."

*****

He watched as Ripley and her small companion came back out of the alley following a man and a red haired woman. As they came near to where he was seated, the red haired woman eyed him suspiciously, but Ripley stopped and looked directly at him. Less than a second later she had her gun pressed against his forehead.

"You've been following me," Ripley said flatly. "Why?"

"Um, Ellen," the man Ripley had been following said. "It's not a good idea to pull a gun out and threaten someone in public."

She didn't even look at him. "He's been following me," she explained. "I want to know why."

"You're Ripley," the man said. "Aren't you."

A puzzled frown crossed Cardinal's face. "Ripley?" he asked. "Ellen Ripley?"

Veronica, standing by his side, was now looking confused. 'What the fuck are they talking about,' she thought.

"Get up," Ripley ordered. "Slowly, keep your hands where I can see them. You're what? A marine?"

"Off duty, ma'am," He said, doing as she asked. "Corporal Dwight Pournelle, K7789524"

"Don't give me that shit," Ripley told him. "I'm not in the mood. Why are you following me."

"I recognised you," He answered. "I was just curious."

"Like everyone just recognises me," Ripley's voice was flat. "I thought you said those histories were banned," she added as an aside to Call.

"Yeah, they were," Call answered. "It took a lot to be able to get my hands on them."

"They'd have you by the balls if they knew you'd read them," Ripley said. "So, you see me, recognise me from the histories, and tell the higher brass. They wouldn't give a shit about what you've read, just that you handed me over."

"I don't even know how it's possible that you're alive," Dwight was very cool under the circumstances. "You'd be at least 300 years old, and no one has survived cold sleep that long. Molten lead is not my idea of cold sleep…so what are you going to do now?"

"You're going to die," Ripley said her voice cold, her eyes even colder.

"No," Call said. "Ripley, don't do it." Then her hand was on Ripley's arm.

A memory tugged at Ripley's mind, of a certain scientist going down like a sack of potatoes. "What, you going to punch him out?" Ripley asked, the coldness in her eyes had thawed and a smile flitted across her face.

Call smiled too. "Nah," she said. "He's not worth it. However, we do have a problem."

"It's a fairly easy one to solve," Cardinal said. "He thinks you're Ripley-- which I have yet to establish--the people he told only has his word to go by. If they never find you…"

"I see where you're going," Ripley grinned, then reversed the gun in her hand, and hit Dwight in the side of the head with the butt. He went down just like Dr. Wren when Call punched him back on the Auriga. Ripley picked Dwight up roughly, carrying him to a dumpster she had seen as she came out of the alley. She threw him in, but made sure that his legs were dangling over the side. Someone would spot him there before the compactor machine came around.

Soon after they had collected their things from where they were staying, Call and Ripley found themselves in Cardinal's workshop.

"As far as I know, no one other than Veronica and myself knows about this place," Cardinal said as they entered. Cardinal flicked on all the lights, and indicated that the women should put their duffle bags down near the door. It was a room with a combined autodoc/Android workshop sitting in the middle. It looked vaguely like a white table covered by a clear lid. Cardinal walked over to it and turned it on, nodding with satisfaction when all the diagnostic lights came on green.

"Nice place you've got here," Ripley observed dryly as she looked around at the sparse room.

"Any food around?" Veronica asked. Cardinal gestured vaguely to a fridge that was on the floor near the opposite wall. Veronica went over and started rummaging inside.

"All right Call," Cardinal said. "Could you sit up here please?" With a glance at Ripley who stood near the door with her arms folded, Call walked up to Cardinal, and looked him in the eye.

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" she asked.

"I’m sure." Cardinal smiled at her. "I've never met an Android who was so concerned about continued existence - apart from me, of course."

Call shrugged and jumped up on the table.

Cardinal gently took her arm, found the spot he was looking for, and opened her external port. He took a lead from the table and plugged it in. He ran a full diagnostic on her, and grunted softly when several parts near the wound glowed orange and one red.

"This isn't too serious, now we've caught it," Cardinal said. "But I'll have to shut you down to fix it."

"What do you mean, 'shut her down'?" Ripley asked from where she stood.

Cardinal could feel her sharp gaze on his back, and turned to meet her unblinking regard. "Androids are machines," Cardinal explained patiently. "Humans are anaesthetised during operations, Androids are shut down, just like an aircar is turned off during a service. I need to shut her down, or I can't fix her."

Ripley looked at Call. "Well?" She asked.

"I guess I'll have to," Call answered, then turned to Cardinal. "Can I have a moment with Ripley? Alone?"

Cardinal nodded graciously, then walked over to Veronica. "Let’s go," he said to her softly, then added to Call. "We'll just be in the next room."

Once the door had closed, Ripley walked over to Call, and touched her arm. "You don't have to do this," she said. "You can probably live with the damage."

"No, I can't." Call told her. "My self-diagnostics would probably shut me down in a few days. This is sort of like a slow leak -- and it's my blood that's leaking." Ripley looked down, then took a breath and looked back up at Call, her eyes dark with something unreadable.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Ripley asked.

"I couldn't," Call answered, and shrugged. "Listen, Ripley, promise me that you'll watch over me while I'm shut down? I…" she trailed off, at a loss for words.

"Okay," Ripley said. "I promise, Annalee."

Call looked up at Ripley, the warmth in Ripley's voice sent a shock through her. Call smiled. "Thank you," She said. Ripley just smiled and brushed her cheek with a soft touch. Then she turned away and went to fetch Cardinal.

*****

Cardinal looked down into the wound that Dr. Wren's gun had made in Call's chest cavity. He had opened it up a little more, parting the semi-organic skin further to see exactly what had been done. Fortunately it wasn't too bad, just messy -- and deadly if left for too long. 'I'm just glad I contacted them when I did,' Cardinal thought, 'I wonder what happened…' He glanced up at Ripley.

"So, you're Ellen Ripley," He said. "You'd be what? 300 years old now?"

"Nope," Ripley answered, then held her arm out, showing him the tattooed number eight. "Barely three months," Cardinal's eyebrows raised.

"So?" he asked. "You're a clone?"

"Eighth," She said, with a sharp nod. "To make it into a form recognisable, the first to actually survive."

"Interesting," Cardinal said, then frowned a little as he had to concentrate.

"Those nails," Veronica's voice drifted across the room - she was seated on top of the small fridge. "Carbon fibre reinforced?"

"No, they're silicon based -- much sharper and stronger," Ripley said.

"Where'dcha get 'em?" Veronica asked.

Ripley looked up at her with a cold smile. "Born with them," She answered. That answer caused Cardinal to look up sharply.

"Ah," He said. "They wanted what you were reported to have inside you before you died. So they cloned you from some material they had somehow obtained from the real Ripley, before she… went missing? You're a hybrid."

Ripley inclined her head. "Yes," she affirmed. "They kept me alive because I was an interesting study," Ripley could feel Veronica's gaze become more interested than the carefully schooled expression of boredom that seemed to be customary for her. Without looking, she could feel the red haired woman get up and come across the room to stand at the foot of the bed.

"So that military guy would have been rewarded by your return," Veronica said, her lips twitching into a smile. Ripley didn't look at her--her gaze fixed exclusively on what Cardinal was doing in Call's chest--but she could feel the shift of muscles in Veronica's arm, smell her determination, and hear the sharp, but soft sound of a gun being drawn. She felt the coldness of metal as Veronica pressed the gun to her temple. "So you'd be worth a lot of cash?"

Ripley flicked a sideways glance at Veronica, there was a warning in those cold brown eyes that Veronica seemed to miss.

Cardinal caught it, though. "Don't be stupid," he said to Veronica. "Do you have any idea of what would happen if we gave her back to the military? Do you really think they'd let you go alive?"

Veronica snorted, totally convinced that the gun to Ripley's head gave her power over the hybrid. "I'm willing to bet they'd be very happy to pay me off and let me go," Veronica said. "I reckon they'd be just so glad to get their pet monkey back that they'd even see to farming us off to a distant but lucrative colony,"

Then Ripley was moving fast -- Veronica didn't even see it coming. Suddenly, Ripley had Veronica's gun in her hand pressed to the woman's forehead -- and Veronica’s head snapped back from the blow to her jaw. Strangely enough, she didn't fall down, though the blow should have knocked her out.

Veronica's pale green eyes widened in shock.

"Pet monkey?" Ripley asked, then looked at Cardinal. "I'd keep your pet monkey on a leash, if I was you. I won't be so generous next time she does something stupid."

"I hope you've learnt enough not to try that again, Veronica?" Cardinal asked.

"Fuck you," Veronica swore, her angry gaze burning into Ripley's eyes. "You're a fucking animal." But she was shaking with shock. She turned away, and walked out of the room.

Ripley shook her head, then flicked the gun's safety on before putting it down on the tool table next to her. She looked back at Cardinal. "How much longer is this going to take?" she asked.

"Not much longer at all," Cardinal said. "I just got to seal this, then I can close up." He indicated one of the tubes that carried fluids around Call's body.

"There's one more thing I'd like you to look at," Ripley said, then explained about the nightmares. "I know you can do something about it - see what's causing them, and perhaps stop them."

"Hmmm," Cardinal said as he finished up closing the hole in Call's chest. "Nightmares are very uncommon in Autons. They tend to disrupt sleep patterns, which doesn't lead to efficient functioning. They do occur, though -- especially when the Android has been subjected to stressful situations -- though her systems should have assimilated the experiences by now." He turned to a keyboard and tapped in a few commands to run a diagnostic on the "dream" systems. He frowned slightly at the results. "That's odd." 'She's fighting something,' he added to himself, 'but what?'

"What's odd?" Ripley asked, as Veronica walked back into the room, her determination was back. She wanted Ripley and her pet Auton out as soon as possible.

"There's possibly a glitch in her data," Cardinal concluded from what he had seen. "I'll have to download her memories to view them in the system."

"Well, do it," Veronica said. "I want them gone."

"Relax, Veronica," Cardinal said soothingly. "I can do it, but I'll need you to both leave -- Call's memories are private, I don't even like having to view them."

Veronica shrugged. "I'll come back later, when do you think you'll be finished?"

"It'll take me a few hours," he answered, then looked over at Ripley.

"No," Ripley said. "I'm staying right here. I promised her."

"All right," Cardinal sighed. "I'll just move the monitor away so you can't see it." Ripley nodded, understanding the need.

Veronica walked over to the door, and left.

While the computer was downloading the data, Cardinal stood and stretched. It was a very human gesture, but Android systems also needed to move once in a while. He walked across to stand by the table where Call lay -- very still. It was almost as if she were dead, but Cardinal knew that with a few commands, she'd be awake and breathing again. Annalee Call was very pretty, as most Autons were. Built to be aesthetically pleasing, as well as strong and efficient, they were the great experiment. The Human masters had wanted their Androids to produce superior Androids, ones that were incredibly human, but tough enough to survive in conditions that a Human couldn't, and completely malleable. They didn't realise that what they wanted was impossible. If making them as smart as humans was a mistake, then making them have feelings was a disastrous miscalculation. In the end what the Human masters wanted was a slave race, one that was smart, but happy with their lot. What they got were truly Artificial People, so human it was nearly impossible to tell an Auton and the genuine article. His own model of Android had feelings, but they were not really that deep. A Bishop model could feel anger, but not rage, they could like people and things, but not love them. The original school of thought held strong feelings to be inefficient, but obviously someone thought otherwise. Or else had been too caught up with the idea of playing god that they had the Androids make the Autons in the image of man. Most Androids were mildly distressed when the Autons proved too human, and were recalled. At least a thousand of the Autons were slaughtered the first day. The ones that survived burned their modems, and blended in with society -- so human that no one would guess who they were. Unfortunately the Humans blamed the Androids, and so they too fell from grace. Those that weren't shut down immediately, fled and tried to blend in too. A lot of them succeeded, because Humans were apathetic about it. They simply didn't notice these strong, quiet, and calm people. However, no new Android models were created. The Humans had been too burned. The new robots they built were obviously that - unfeeling machines that were more efficient than Humans, but still required Human supervision to complete their tasks, whether directly or remotely. Cardinal shifted his attention to Ripley, who had her head cradled in her hands as she gazed at Call's slack face. There was something unreadable in her eyes that seemed to take the edge off her gaze as she watched the Auton's face. She reached out to touch the hand that lay near by, but stopped when she realised that Cardinal was watching her.

"You don't think that minder of yours is going to do anything stupid?" Ripley asked him.

" I hope not," he said. "But you never know," he added as the computer beeped for his attention. It had taken ten minutes to do a full data dump. "This shouldn't take much longer than fifteen minutes," He smiled as Ripley took his meaning, and nodded appreciatively. Cardinal went to look at the computer. He typed in a command to make the computer display the data in a format he could understand. Then he caught it. There was some data from her emotion systems here that shouldn't be, she wasn’t fighting anything. He smiled and chuckled under his breath, very quickly glancing over at where Ripley sat, then back at the screen. Autons were more than just Artificial People, Cardinal decided. He'd heard of this happening, but because of the slaughter, he had been prevented from studying it. 'Not that you could really study something like this,' he amended to himself. "Well, it's fixed," He said as he typed in the single command that would fix the problem. It was a simple statement that would allow Call to separate the data streams that had managed to mix themselves up. Then he told the computer to upload the command to Call's brain. He sat back and waited until the computer beeped at him again.

"Okay," He said as he walked over to the table. Ripley sat up straight as Cardinal typed the command at the table to restart Call's systems. Ripley anxiously watched as the diagnostic screen came to life, slowly outlining Call's major components in green. Call's chest expanded suddenly as she drew in a breath, then her eyes opened and she looked around disoriented for a moment. When she saw Ripley leaning over her, she smiled.

"Hi," She said.

"Welcome back," Ripley said with a tight grin.

Call looked over to Cardinal where he stood on the other side of the table, then she sat up and ran a hand down her chest, feeling where her artificial flesh was now whole. She lifted the t-shirt and inspected the area closely. Satisfied, she looked back at the Android. "You do good work," She told him.

"Thanks," Cardinal said. "As much as I'd like the pleasure of your company, I think you had best go," he added including Ripley in his gaze. "I don't think you want to be here when Veronica returns."

"Good idea," Ripley said.

They quickly collected their things, and Ripley opened the door to find herself face to face with Veronica, she smelled Corporal Pournelle before she spotted him standing behind the red-head.

"Hi," Veronica said, her sternly beautiful features twisted in a triumphant grin. "I was hoping I'd meet up with you."

Ripley didn't flinch when Veronica's fist connected with her face. She grabbed the woman by her throat, and lifted her up off the ground. "I would have thought you'd be smarter than that," Ripley snarled.

"Ripley," Call warned, but Ripley already knew about the gun Pournelle had on her.

Pournelle, however, wasn't expecting Ripley to throw Veronica at him. As they tumbled to the floor, Ripley could hear the gun go off, and saw Veronica's eyes widen in shock, and look down at her chest. The gun had blown a hole there, and blue and white liquid was flowing freely.

"A fucking Android!" Ripley exclaimed.

"Another Auton!" Cardinal's involuntary statement curled down to Veronica's ears, and she was glad that he knew now. Before she could say anything, her vision started to blur, and her hearing faded. It was like being under water, sinking down and down, until the light from the sun couldn't penetrate any further. Finally everything went black.

Pournelle tried to shove Veronica's inert form off him, and had partially succeeded when a steely hand grabbed him by the hair and yanked him up. He found himself face to face with Ripley.

"That was dumb," She said. "Give me one reason why I shouldn't kill you here and now?"

Cardinal had come forward and was now kneeling by Veronica. "I never even knew," He whispered as he closed her eyes, in the background, Corporal Pournelle was whimpering as Ripley yanked his hair again.

"Ripley," Call said, her tone a warning.

"He knows too much," Ripley said.

"There's got to be a better way," Call was shaking her head.

"That's your programming speaking," Ripley growled back. "First law of robotics."

"She's right, Ripley," Cardinal said. "You can't kill him." He gazed down at Veronica's body with a wistful look, wondering if he could fix her. She'd been with him for so long, and he had never had any idea that she was one of them.

"An Auton," Pournelle was moaning. "Oh man, she was an Auton!" He opened his eyes to peer up at Ripley, who still had his hair in her hand.

Ripley looked at Call. "He's a loose end," she said. "What do you want me to do with him?"

"We have to detain him somehow," Call answered. "At least until we’re off world." She looked down at the marine. "What are you going to tell them?" He looked as if he wasn't going to answer until Ripley tightened her grip slightly.

"The truth," He told her. "That I saw someone who looked like Ellen Ripley, that she whipped my butt and fled…" he paused "Off world."

Ripley grunted.

"I can… detain him," Cardinal offered. "At least two days. They'll probably come looking for him. I'm pretty sure I can disappear into the woodwork -- God knows I've been doing it for years."

"That will have to do," Ripley said. "Someone tie him," Cardinal nodded and walked off.

Soon Corporal Pournelle was bound, Cardinal had said his good byes, and Call and Ripley were on their way. Ripley piloted the aircar as if she had always flown one. Aircars hadn't changed all that significantly. They changed transports, and eventually reached the place where they had hidden the badly battered Betty. They had agreed to meet Johner and Vriess there two weeks from when they’d parted. It had been fortunate that they had landed the ship fairly close to someone's holiday cabin. Call had been able to over-ride the building's security systems with ease. When they arrived, they still had a few days to kill before Johner and Vriess were due there. They spent the first day quietly, wandering the countryside near the cabin, exploring what had again become untouched wilderness. It was cold and harsh weather, and it started to snow on the second day, forcing them to stay inside. Ripley started up the cabin's heating systems, and soon they were both reading in the living room. Eventually, Ripley put down the book she was reading, and looked over at Call who was curled on the couch.

"Call," She said.

"Yeah?" Call asked, without looking up. She wasn't really reading, she had too much to think about.

"You had any more nightmares?" Ripley wanted to know. "I told Cardinal about them, and he said he'd fixed it."

"No, I haven't," Call sounded surprised. "Well, thank you Cardinal." She smiled as she made a decision, and uncurled herself. "Actually, my dreams have been rather pleasant lately," She got up and stretched lazily as she walked across to flop down again on the floor next to Ripley, leaning against her. She looked up into Ripley's face, and saw the shadows in her eyes. "It's a shame he couldn't do anything for yours."

"I guess that's what happens when you're totally organic," Ripley smiled, and the shadows in her eyes lightened.

"Ripley," Call said.

"Yeah?" Ripley answered.

"Perhaps I can help make them stop?" she asked in a low voice, reaching up tentatively to caress Ripley's cheek. Ripley froze at the implications of Call's words and action. Then she gently placed her hand over Call's, and turned her face into the Auton's palm, gently kissing it -- it felt like the most natural thing in the world.

"Maybe you can," She murmured.

Call took that as an invitation, and brought her other hand up to tangle in Ripley's brown curls. She knelt up and very slowly, letting Ripley know that she would stop if she wanted her to, kissed her. Ripley hesitated for a moment, then slipped her arms around the smaller woman's waist and drew her closer. When they parted, she rested her forehead against Call's, breathing the same air. Finally, Ripley asked: "What took you so long?"

Call leaned back to look Ripley in the face properly, and noticed that she was smiling. "What do you mean, what took me so long?" she inquired, laughing. "What about you?!"

Ripley suddenly became serious. "I was confused," she admitted. "And frightened. How about you?"

"Glitch in my programming, maybe," Call answered. "It's hard for me sometimes. I always know I'm an artificial construct - these feelings are not used all that often. When I started feeling them, they got caught up with all the memories and information I got when we were on the Auriga." Ripley nodded, understanding at least a little bit. After all, she wasn't exactly human herself, and wasn't sure how these feelings fit in. The ancient Ripley had loved, so she knew how that felt, both the nurturing love of a mother, and the passionate love of a lover. The new Ripley was just a baby by comparison, memories notwithstanding. This was all new to her, but that didn't mean her heart pounded any less from the contact. She reached out and traced the contours of the Android's face, and neck. Then she pulled her down to kiss her again. Soon they were lost in the exploration of their feelings and each other.

Later, Call dreamed. In her dream she ran. The trees flashed past her, and the undergrowth caught at her legs as she ran away, laughing. Nimbly, she jumped over a tree branch that had fallen down during the last storm. She could faintly pick up the sounds of her pursuer as she too crashed through the forest. Call changed direction, angling away from where she thought the sounds were. Maybe she shouldn't have teased her, but then again - it had been fun. Suddenly, Call went sprawling, her legs tangling in some of the undergrowth. 'Damn,' she thought, 'take your mind off your feet for one moment, and look where it gets you'. She leapt to her feet again. It was then she realised that the sounds of pursuit had stopped.

"Ripley?" She called. "Ripley?" A chill started its way up her spine. She spun around to face the way she had come. As she did so, she felt a warm hand grasp her wrist. She could feel the sharp nails against her flesh. Call turned around to see Ripley standing right behind her illuminated by a shaft of sunlight coming through the canopy of the temperate rainforest. She was smiling, and there was a soft light in her warm brown eyes…

Ripley lay watching Call sleep. She looked so child-like curled against her side, yet Ripley knew that it was just an illusion. Just like the illusion they shared of being human. However, there was nothing illusionary about what they had just shared. Ripley thought it was too soon to think about what it might be, but she had felt a connection from the very start with the Android. She was glad they had found each other.

THE END

 

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