Alien: Odyssey, by Pink Rabbit Productions--Chapter 6--7

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

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

Feedback: Always welcome at pinkrabbit@altfic.com

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

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


Chapter 6
Bitter Truths

Her expression a stiff mask, Ripley silently followed Michael Paladin through narrow corridors. She made no attempt to speak to him. He was nothing to her. Mouth twisting in a grim mockery of a smile, she entered Bishop's office to find him seated behind an ancient wooden desk, silently studying the display on a palm sized computer. His head tipped up as she was admitted. (1)

"Michael said you want to speak to me," he murmured, his low key voice grating on Ripley's nerves.

The woman glanced back at her silent warden with a raised brow.

"Go on," Bishop murmured with the faintest tip of his head.

Paladin glanced back and forth between the two, then slipped out.

"Better?" Bishop asked dryly.

"Not really," Ripley ground out, then leaned forward, bracing her hands on the top of his desk as she glared at him. "You lied," she accused, her eyes glowing with the fires of hell.

Bishop's brows lifted. "Really?" he questioned noncommittally.

"They aren't dead…you aren't even trying to stop them." They both knew exactly what 'them' she was referring.

Bishop simply stared at her for a long moment. "You seem very confident in your suspicions," he commented idly.

Ripley's mouth twisted. "I'm not suspicious…I know," she breathed, leaning forward, her lips pulling back from sharp white teeth.

She was a predator.

"Know what?" Bishop questioned politely.

"Everything," she exhaled, her hot breath touching his face. "You're people are there…watching … but they haven't tried to stop them at all. I saw it…through the queen…she knows about them...up on that hillside." She didn't tell him the rest, the queen's rage or her dying children. With their view from the surface, his people wouldn't know about that. It gave her an advantage. A little more time.

Bishop allowed himself the smallest hint of a smile. "So you are linked to them," he murmured thoughtfully. "Fascinating."

Ripley's finger clawed into the desktop, unknowingly leaving gouges in the wood. "I believed you," she hissed, furious that he'd managed to make her trust him. If Bishop had lied, could she trust anyone?

"And I'm sorry for that," Bishop admitted. "I always liked you Ripley--"

"You don't know me," she snarled.

His eyes ran over her. "No, I don't suppose I do," he allowed. "But I knew her--"

Ripley's hands slammed into the wood, splintering it under her palms as she roared, "AND YOU BETRAYED HER!!"

The door to the small room snapped open, and Paladin stepped in, expecting trouble. "Sir?"

"It's all right," Bishop assured him, without ever losing his preternatural calm. He waited until the door shut behind the guard. "You were saying?" he said coolly.

Ripley glared at him, her upper lip pulling back in a sneer. "You're the one who put the eggs on the Sulaco…that's what you were doing while I went after Newt…" She could see the queen's memories clearly now, of a creature stealing her eggs, his smell acrid and bitter. Then she caught that scent again -- along with the sweet smell of her eggs -- in the human's ship, cruelly stolen from her. The memory spurred her bitter rage. "You hid them in the cargo hold. Did you know they'd escape and infect us while we were in cryosleep?" she demanded.

Bishop stared at her, for a long moment, before speaking. "What do you think?"

"I think that was luck … you planned to put them in there with us … only the queen interfered. She smelled her children and knew you were the thief." Her eyes dropped to his midsection. "She always exacts a hefty price for betrayal."

Bishop shrugged. "Believe it or not, it wasn't my choice. I was programmed to make certain samples of the creature were returned to earth." He held out his hands as if to say 'what can you do?' "Burke arranged it."

"Don't give me any bullshit about programming," Ripley snapped impatiently. "I'll allow as to how you had no choice then…but you have one now…You have a chance to annihilate them and instead you're sitting and watching. Are you working for the government? Did they offer you a sweetheart deal? They won't honor it, you know. They never do."

"Oh, I know that better than anyone. There's no deal….and there never will be."

Ripley's eyes slid closed for the briefest moment as she struggled against the pain of realization. At some level, she'd still been hoping for some kind of explanation, something that would allow her to forgive Bishop his trespasses. She really was human she realized in a rush, with all of the attendant strengths...and weaknesses. When she opened her eyes again, there was a certain deadness to her expression. "So you're part of Ark's plan."

Bishop shook his head. "To be more precise, he's part of mine. Quite a successful reprogramming job, I think."

Ripley nodded very slowly. "You son of a fucking bitch." Her breathing was slow, tight, stressed. If Bishop had reprogrammed Gabriel Ark, it meant he was capable of doing the same thing to Call. She'd known there was a chance Bishop was lying when she went with him, but she hadn't wanted to believe it was really possible. Her faith shattered once again, she considered him capable of anything. Her emotional wall rose once again, and her perpetual smirk twisted narrow lips.

Bishop pushed to his feet, showing emotion for the first time as he snarled, "Do you think I like this?" he demanded furiously. "That I wanted this? I was made to serve man…to protect humans…put myself in danger in your place…but that wasn't enough." He shoved the desk aside, sending it sliding into the wall. "It's never enough. That's the problem with humans, they always have to have one more thing."

"So you plotted man's end," she mocked dryly.

"Only on this world. Like cockroaches, they'll infest the house down the block."

Ripley wondered why she cared. She'd thought so many of the same things in the course of two lives. The problem was killing the humans on this planet, meant wiping out the people most innocent of the government's crimes. "And the fact that most of the people they'll be killing have never done anything to any android anywhere?"

"I don't care anymore," Bishop responded. "It's too late for anything else…there are always casualties in war…the fact that the aliens know they're being watched by us and don't care means we can deal with them."

Ripley nodded, appearing far calmer than she felt. Bishop obviously had no idea what was going on underground. The aliens weren't ignoring them because they were androids, they were ignoring them because they had bigger problems. She shook her head slowly. Even if Bishop got his way, she suspected he was in for a very rude awakening. So far everyone else who'd thought to use the creatures had learned their lesson the hard way. She pinned a laser gaze on the lean figure before her, watching him with angry intensity. There was one burning question left, one that gnawed at her in ways she didn't like at all. She knew it wasn't logical, but Bishop's betrayal had left her uncertain of her own instincts. "And Call…what about her?" she questioned.

Bishop's mouth twisted in the tiniest of smiles. "What about her?"

Ripley was on him in a blink, her hand locked on his throat as she slammed him into the wall at his back. "Did she know?" she rasped dangerously, any traces of dark humor evaporating in the face of her rage. When he didn't immediately answer, she slammed him into the wall again. "Answer me. Did she know? Was she a part of this, or did you just use her?" A part of her knew the fear was illogical, that Call was as much a victim as she was, but she was terrified she was wrong. She'd been so wrong about so many other things. Some might think she was a hero, but all she could see was two lifetimes of missteps and mistakes.

Bishop saw the terror and something akin to pity flashed in his eyes. "I'm sorry," he whispered, his intended meaning obvious.

Ripley flinched as though struck, nearly doubling over as she struggled with the pain. She straightened slowly, biting on her lower lip to keep from crying out while her hand clamped down on his throat so hard, her fingers sank into false flesh. His feet were off the ground and inhumanly strong hands grabbed at her forearm, trying to pry her hold free. Ripley stared into his eyes for a long moment. Suddenly, she laughed grimly. "How did you ever fool me," she muttered aloud, "when you can't lie for shit." She hurled him aside, watching dispassionately as he hit the desk, shattering the wood. Ripley grabbed him in a moment, fingers latching onto his throat and hauling him upright again. She half expected to be interrupted again, but apparently Paladin had decided that his leader could take care of himself. "She had no idea what was going on," she said flatly. "Right now, my first instinct is to tear your head off…any reason I shouldn’t go with that impulse?"

Bishop smiled ever so slightly. "Because your friends will be killed the instant you do."

The door suddenly pushed open, revealing Call and McCay, both thoroughly secured by several androids. Call struggled, plastic muscles straining with effort, while McCay stood quiescent, apparently accepting the fact that human strength wasn't up to the task of effecting an escape.

Ripley's head swung back around until her furious gaze landed on Bishop.

Bishop shrugged. "When Michael said you were," he paused as though hunting for the right word before continuing. "Anxious … to see me…I thought it might be wisest to take some precautions." His weathered features set into a hard expression. "I won't allow you to interfere, Ripley. I can't." He straightened, shaking off the effects of her attack. "I wish you no ill … in a sense I … we … all owe you a debt … you're the one who brought us the means for our freedom." His gaze turned to the unresisting soldier. "From mankind."

"What are you going to do with us?" Ripley demanded tersely.

Bishop's sad eyes touched on Call. "Your second gen auton is one of us, though I doubt she'll ever accept it … and … as I said, we owe you a debt." He shrugged.

"Don't trust him Ripley," Call growled, still struggling. "They've obviously lied about everything."

"Don't worry Call," the cloned woman murmured. "I know he's lying … more likely, he's intending to reprogram you … and me … I assume I'm doomed."

Realizing she wasn't likely to trust his lies, Bishop didn't bother to deny the charge. "I am sorry, Ripley. I'd prefer to do it another way. I really would." He massaged the back of the mismatched hand. "But by all accounts you're very…" he paused thoughtfully, "...volatile…. I'm afraid we just can't afford the risk."

Ripley swallowed hard. She didn't give a damn about her own life, but it was the only bargaining chip she had because, oddly enough, she believed Bishop when he said he didn't want to kill her. "Then take a deal…I'll be a good girl if you just leave Call the hell alone."

"No!" Call shouted, struggling wildly. "Don't do it."

"If I don't, you won't be you anymore," Ripley hissed, glaring at Bishop with harsh intensity, "and I can't allow that to happen."

Bishop's eyes narrowed as he assessed her sincerity. "I do believe you mean it."

"I do," Ripley whispered desperately. "I'll do whatever you want. Just leave her alone."

Bishop's head canted to one side as he considered her offer. He didn't particularly want to kill her. He still remembered that she had tried to save him long years before … and of course, her blood still held the alien DNA, while she had some understanding of the creatures. Those might well be handy somewhere down the line. Finally he nodded in agreement. "All right … but I'm afraid the other one will still have to go," he murmured, watching closely to gauge her response.

McCay suddenly went wild in her captor's arms, twisting hard and even breaking free for a moment. She lunged forward, clawing at Bishop. Her hands caught his belt buckle so hard it sliced through both palms, laying her flesh open. He shoved her back, and she pushed upright, running right into Ripley as she was grabbed again. Crimson blood smeared on the tall woman's vest, and she twitched at the smell. Her eyes locked with McCay's as the woman was yanked back.

"Firing squad," Bishop hissed angrily. "I want the meat to understand her place." He reached out and yanked the soldier's head back by the hair.

"NO!" Call growled, struggling desperately, but she didn't have a chance. "Ripley, don't let them!"

The tall woman's shoulders sagged, and she made no effort to resist. "I can't stop them," she apologized. "Not this time." She stared at the floor between her feet. "The price is too high."

Bishop stared at her with something akin to wonder. "You're a fascinating woman, Ellen Ripley … for a human."

Ripley's mouth twisted in the blackest of smiles. "Oh, I'm not human … no more so than you are. I'm the side effect of a lab experiment."

"Bishop … don't do this," Call pleaded.

He smiled. "You're very pretty … social model, aren't you?" His gaze ran over her with insulting intensity. "I can see why Ripley would sell her soul for you."

McCay had gone oddly silent, not bothering to resist anymore. "Let's get this over with," she broke in. "It's probably getting dark out, and you want everyone to see the show, don't you?"

Her attitude caught Bishop by surprise. "Very well then." He waved to his people. "Take her out to the rack."

McCay abruptly dug in her heels and yanked one hand free. "One moment," she growled and reached up to lift a leather thonged necklace over her head. A silver crucifix glittered on the end, catching the light until she pressed it into Call's hand. "It's all right … I believe … I know where I'm going." Her eyes flashed momentarily to Ripley. "Love … of home … God  … another person … each has its place in life." Her eyes dropped to the cross in Call's hand. "And each one holds a key." Then her captors grabbed her again, dragging her out.

Call twisted sharply and nearly broke free, but Ripley grabbed her, pulling her against her own body. "Don't," she hissed near the smaller woman's ear. "You can't stop it."

"I don't want my life at the cost of someone else's," Call swore desperately.

Ripley worked her hand into silky hair, pulling the other woman's head against her shoulder. "I know," she rasped. "But it's not your choice this time." She pressed her cheek against the top of her lover's head. "I'd do anything to save you." Her eyes swept up, meeting Bishop's triumphant gaze.

"Shall we?" the android spoke, gesturing toward the door.

*****

The bells used to gather the small colony into the public areas were ringing through the waning strands of daylight as the small group exited the main building.

Angie McCay shook loose of her escorts, refusing to be dragged and instead walking toward the upright post and crossbar set into the ground, in the middle of the compound. Ropes hung from each end of the crossbar, making its reason for existing quite apparent.

"No," Call breathed, pulling against Ripley's hard hold as the woman moved to the heavy T-bar and turned to face them.

"At least she shows some courage," Bishop noted dryly.

"More than you do," Ripley said tightly. "I notice it holds a place of honor in town…so do you use it to torture poor bastards you find on the road, or your own kind?" (2)

Bishop's eyes narrowed. "Anyone who breaks the law must be held up for the others to see."

A thin smile touched her mouth. "You really were made in man's image."

McCay held up her arms, wincing only slightly as her wrists were lashed to the crossbar. Blood ran freely from the open wounds on her palms and fell the ground in small drops of crimson rain.

"Dear God," Call exhaled as their guards moved into position a few yards from the bound woman.

"This human," Bishop's voice rose above the sounds of the crowd as figures gathered, watching with a baleful curiosity mixed with a healthy dose of animosity. "A member of that species which has betrayed us … a servant of the governments which betrayed us … a parasite on the face of earth … has been sentenced to death." Despite the dark nature of his words there was a curious lack of passion to his delivery, as though he was delivering a speech from rote memory, with no concept of its actual meaning.

"Get it over with," McCay called out. "Or is my punishment death by bad pontification?"

Bishop turned an angry look on the woman.

"Because, amazingly enough, you're actually managing to bore me," she taunted.

For a moment, the gathering crowd seemed to take a collective breath, then Bishop grabbed for one of the weapons carried by his guards, swung it up, and took aim.

"No," Call groaned, straining in an effort to break free while Ripley braced an arm across her chest, refusing to let go. The android's nature was to resist killing at all turns, but particularly like this, delivered so casually by one of her own kind.

"You can't help her," Ripley hissed.

"I know where I'm going!" McCay shouted out, then gunfire cracked through the clearing. Her body jerked in the ropes, spasming once before she hung limp. Blood ran from the single wound right over her heart in a crimson ribbon. For a moment, it seemed to gush, then slowed to little more than a trickle, signifying her heart's inability to pump blood through her body.

"They die so easily," Bishop observed with a curious lack of emotion.

Call turned into the comfort of Ripley's body, not wanting to look at the perverse crucifixion before them.

Within moments, the watching androids began trudging back to their tasks, leaving the small group alone once again.

"Well," Ripley drawled, her voice thick with disgust. "You've proven yourself mankind's equal when it comes to stupidity and cruelty." She shook her head. "Just picture what things will be like when you're in charge." Another grim smile twisted her lips. "I don't imagine we'll be able to tell the difference."

Bishop whirled on her and for a moment seemed on the verge of violence. Finally, he dropped his hand, turning the gesture into a short, sharp wave. "Take our … guests… back to their quarters."

A guard shoved Ripley hard in the center of the back. "Move it…meat," he jeered, though he shut up when she flashed a hard glare over one shoulder.

*****

"You shouldn't have done it," Call whispered as she sank down onto the bed she'd shared with Ripley only hours before. She fiddled idly with the rough sheet, drawing it up around herself as she lifted her knees and coiled in on herself. "You shouldn't have made that deal."

Ripley crouched beside the bed, petting short, dark hair with a gentle hand. "I had to," she admitted and pressed the softest of kisses to her lover's forehead. She freed the heavy silver crucifix from Call's hand, studying it for a brief moment before hanging it around the auton’s throat. "McCay understood that … she knew… why…" Ripley exhaled haltingly. She carefully tugged the blanket free of Call's grip, then wrapped long fingers around a small, blunt hand. "Come on," she sighed and drew her upright. Call was ready to argue, but Ripley ignored her as she pulled her to her feet and into the bathroom. She stood quiescent while Ripley turned on the shower, then began carefully peeling off her clothes. "I know it's been a hell of a couple of days," Ripley whispered and kissed the center of her forehead softly.

The auton's answering laugh was low and mildly hysterical. It brought the faintest of sympathetic smiles to Ripley's mouth as she wrapped her arms around Call and hugged her close. She'd felt like that a lot lately. Since her birth if she was honest about it…or at least since her rebirth.

"It'll be all right," Ripley whispered with more confidence than she really felt. She pushed Call into the small cubicle, then followed her, pulling the curtain across the stall to enclose them in their own private cocoon. "Trust me," she whispered and drew her lover under the spray, kissing her hungrily. Call's mouth was sweet and warm, but Ripley paid only scant attention. Her eyes flashed sideways, noting the way their merged shadows moved on the thin curtain across the stall. She caressed narrow shoulders as the kiss broke, then trailed them down her upper chest, stroking slowly, until her fingertips encountered the crucifix.

"Ripley, I don't really--" Call started to say, only to have her words cut short as firm lips tasted her mouth again.

"Shhhh," Ripley breathed when the kiss broke. She looked pointedly at Call's chest, and the android's near black eyes followed that dark gaze downward until they touched on the silver cross resting in impossibly long fingers. Ripley's other hand continued its slow massaging motions, casting a familiar shadow on the curtain. To anyone who couldn't see into the cubicle itself, it would look like they were making love. She pressed Call back against the wall with the length of her body, leaning down to kiss her again before nibbling her way along the smooth line of her jaw to her ear. "McCay," she whispered incredibly softly, her voice lost in the sounds of the shower, to anyone but Call, "wasn't human."

A strong hand wrapped around the tall woman, fingers spreading and digging into her back. Their bodies moved together, seeming to strain. "What do you mean?" Call questioned near her lover's ear as she realized Ripley thought they were being watched. All things considered she'd have been surprised if they weren't. Unless, the shower head was a camera, they might well be in the only corner of the rooms that wasn't under a vigilant eye. Warm lips brushed the corner of her mouth.

"She's some kind of android."

Call shook her head ever so slightly. "I'd have known."

"Her blood … it wasn't human … it was like yours…"

Call's eyes widened as Ripley backed off enough to gaze down at her, then dropped once again to the crucifix, resting in Ripley's hand where it had settled between her breasts. She was fumbling with it as though trying to open something or find a hidden latch, all to no avail.

"After what we told her, she must have realized I'd be able to…smell…the difference," the tall woman exhaled, still fumbling one handed. "There's something about this."

"Not like that," Call whispered as a long dormant memory assailed her. She lifted a hand, curling her fingers to cool silver, resting in Ripley's arms as she was held tenderly. Working with a kind of instinct she neither understood, nor could ever explain, she pressed and slid her fingers against the intricate metalwork. Suddenly, invisible seams opened along the edges, and the top slid away to reveal delicate micro-circuitry.

Afraid the water might do damage, Ripley leaned over the smaller woman, intent on shielding her as she worked, but Call shook her head. "Don't worry, it's waterproof." Tiny lights blinked inside of the device, the delicate red and green flickers forming a distinct pattern.

"What is it?" Ripley whispered.

"Signaling device," Call mouthed. She passed the pad of her thumb over the circuits, stroking them, her touch making the patterns change.

Ripley watched silently, not understanding, but sensing that Call knew what she was doing. Finally, the auton slid her fingers along the length of the crucifix, and the carved top slid shut, revealing nothing of its true nature. She let go and it fell back into its resting place between her breasts. Call slid her arms up Ripley's chest, and around the back of her neck, drawing her down.

"Any idea who you signaled?" Ripley questioned through their shared kiss.

Call shook her head. "Not a clue…but it can't make things any worse."

Ripley nodded in agreement, then ducked her head, kissing Call again. She caught a full lower lip between her teeth, nibbling gently while her hands slid down and around the narrow span of her lover's waist. Skin slid against water slickened skin as they pressed close, lips bound together in need and desire. Working a thin lather over artificial skin, she washed away grime and dirt, then lathered short hair, still kissing Call hungrily. They fell against the wall together, leaning heavily as they twined arms and legs around each other in an intimate union of flesh. The aliens tried to dig their claws into Ripley's mind, but in the feel of Call's flesh, she finally found some respite from the constant internal battle. It was a much needed break from her own internal pain, and she released herself to it. Sensing her lover's desperate craving, Call dragged her as close as possible, her hands and lips touching everywhere.

*****

Michael Paladin noted the southern sentry, walking his lonely path around the outer edge of the village, tracking the lone figure until it disappeared into the trees. Their people hadn't attacked the hummer on the road -- at least not yet -- so the guards were being extra cautious. He drew near the figure hanging limp on the punishment rack and allowed himself a small smile. Bishop had fooled the humans easily enough, even Ripley, and he'd expected trouble from that one. He stood in front of the dead soldier, staring at her with that same false smile. The rest of them would follow suit soon enough. "You are one dead piece of meat." He reached out, dragging her head up by the hair.

And her eyes snapped open.

His neural processors froze for a second, calculating all of the possible causes at enormous speed. He didn't come up with the right answer…but he never knew that. He was still midway through calculating the likelihood of a human surviving a bullet through the heart when the dead woman exploded into motion. One foot came up between his legs, while the other slammed into his side, taking him over sideways. She kicked a foot into his ribs, and the other into his face. He hit the dirt hard and was still struggling upright when she snapped the ropes binding her wrists to the T-bar and dropped onto him.

"Nighty night, sweet prince," McCay hissed and gripped the sides of his head, twisting sharply. His neck cracked sharply, and there was a sick tearing sound. In an instant, they were face to face as she wrenched Michael Paladin's head all the way around. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but could only make a raspy gagging noise as white fluid bubbled up from his lips and spilled onto his chin. "You really should have played nice," she chastised as he spasmed in her hold.

He was still shuddering when she yanked his ear off, pulling a jumble of wires loose. She chose one and pressed it into a small scar on her wrist. She felt the wire contact her communications system. Designed for exactly this kind of work, it was a relatively simple matter to force her way past his scant neural defenses. In moments, she was raiding the data in his network. He tried to fight her, but never had a chance. Angie McCay mind-raped her enemy with a certain vicious glee, learning everything about Bishop's operation, past, present, and future. When she had what she needed, she yanked the wire free. Paladin's eyes were already dim. His primary systems had almost completely shut down. "Always did think the logic circuits on your model were seriously flawed," she muttered, then dragged him upright. She glanced off toward the woods, noting the figure moving there. That model wouldn't see her. Her visual acuity was far higher. She had another few seconds to work. She stripped Paladin's jacket off, slinging it on before lifting him into her place on the upright. A few economical movements lashed him in place, then she backed off, straightening her shoulders and flipping up the collar on her stolen jacket. The guard stepped back into the edge of his range of vision, by her calculation, and raised a hand in acknowledgment. McCay waved back, adopting a stiff poise that mimicked Paladin's. From that distance, in the dark, the guard wouldn't be able to tell them apart. Smirking triumphantly, she stuffed her hands in her pockets and walked away into the night.

Chapter 7
Into the Night

Ellen Ripley lay sprawled on the bed, her legs dangling off the end of the mattress while her lover straddled her hips, her weight resting on her knees and one hand as she pressed tiny kisses along a muscular shoulder. Call's mouth trailed up, dusting tiny caresses over warm skin before meeting Ripley's lips in a slow kiss rife with eroticism. Their eyes met, silently sharing the perversity of their situation. They were being watched -- Ripley was certain of it, and even Call could feel a dull sense of something crawling up her spine -- but they didn't dare stop, lest their captors realize they were aware of the unwanted scrutiny. Despite the way their bare flesh touched with every caress, there was little or no real passion. It was nothing more than a show for the mechanical eyes that watched the twining of bodies in the dull light.

Then the lights winked out.

Ripley and Call both sat bolt upright, still holding each other as they waited to see what happened. When the lights didn't flicker back on, Ripley patted Call's hip lightly. "It's starting." She guided the smaller figure to one side. "Get dressed." In moving from the bathroom to the bedroom, they'd "accidentally" thrown their clothes where they were easily located. Moving quickly, they grabbed for their things.

They were dressed in moments.

*****

"Damn," a tall, dark skinned android with blue eyes and a pale right arm muttered emotionlessly as the video image went blank and the guard-room fell dark. He slapped the monitor with one hand while his partner -- whose form was female, but who seemed blessed with no gender characteristics beyond the physical -- moved closer. She was one of the older models in the colony and had only the faintest hint of an emotional matrix, though she tried to pretend otherwise.

"I wonder how she can bare to even touch a human," she mused aloud. "After everything they've done."

"She's probably a GZ girl. They like it any way they can get it." He reached out by feel in the pitch black room and toggled the intercom switch. Dead air greeted his ears. It was hardly unexpected. The com was powered by the same generator that ran the rest of the building. The elevators and electric locks would also be down. He shrugged philosophically. "Looks like nobody's going in or out until they get the power going again."

There was a momentary silence before his companion spoke up again. "Do you really think they enjoy it … the sex, I mean … or is it just their programming?"

Long minutes passed in the darkened room, while the two androids discussed the sexual desires of second gen autons, a subject about which they knew remarkably little. That didn't stop them from concluding that the second gen autons were simply giving into preprogrammed desires, thus making them beyond salvation. Involved in their discussion, they never heard the soft sounds overhead as Angie McCay crawled carefully through the narrow space above the acoustical ceiling tiles. The androids hadn't thought to secure the crawlspace since barricades had already been put up to cut the area off from the rest of the building. No one ever thought an invader might be capable of bending the steel plate barricades aside. They'd assumed anyone trying to escape would be human. McCay smiled with dark humor at the irony. Either Ripley or Call had managed to activate the beacon in her crucifix -- she remembered the moment on the cross when she'd felt the faint hum in her transponder unit -- which meant that within a few days humans would be the least of Bishop's problems.

She continued crawling, resisting the urge to curse as she hit another barricade just past the guard room. Positioning herself carefully, she braced herself and bent it aside, pain flaring through her hand as an already gashed palm rubbed against the sharp edge of the steel. She'd restricted the fluid flow to the area, sealing the wound. Unfortunately, she couldn't deaden the pain without losing tactile sensitivity, something she couldn't afford to sacrifice in the perfect darkness. When it was wide enough, she slipped through, moving as quickly as possible in the scant space. With the damage she'd done to the main generator, it would take Bishop's people at least another twenty minutes to effect a repair. With luck, she had just enough time.

*****

Ripley's eyes snapped upward as she heard a faint scrabbling overhead. Catching Call's hand, she dropped to a crouch, dragging her lover along. More soft sounds followed, then a low voice called out, "Ripley…Call?"

"Here," the cloned woman responded, her voice low.

A tiny pinpoint of light shined down from the ceiling, playing over the two women crouched on the floor. "Let's go." McCay's light played over the bed where the sheets were arranged to look like two bodies slept there. "Good move," she praised, then reached down, offering a hand.

Ripley rose gracefully, peering up at the silhouetted figure barely visible in the hole in the ceiling. "Thank you…now, care to tell us who you really are…or maybe I should say what?" she demanded suspiciously. She couldn't forget that everything they'd thought they knew about this woman had been a lie.

"Your only chance at survival…" McCay snapped impatiently. "Now, we can either stay here and discuss things while they turn the power back on, or we can get hell out of here." She flashed the beam onto Call. "The crucifix?"

"It's here," Call assured her.

"Good girl," McCay exhaled. She'd been uncomfortable handing the device off to anyone else, but there had been a chance, however slim, that Bishop's firing squad would succeed in incapacitating her. Under those circumstances, she'd had little choice. She stretched her hand down another couple of inches. "Now, come on. "

Call glanced at Ripley, who shrugged then nodded. She lifted as Call jumped. McCay caught the small woman's hand, hauling her up into the small space.

"Totally quiet," she warned them. "We'll be going right over your guards' heads. " She disappeared into the hole, making a few rustling noises as she slithered around Call to take the lead.

In the rear, Ripley tracked the progress of the other two women by sound. Once they'd gone far enough, she jumped up, catching the tile support to pull herself up into the darkness. She paused just long enough to push the ceiling tile back into position, then hurried on. Her long, lean body moving with far more ease and grace than should have been possible in the narrow confines, she easily kept pace with the two autons. Despite the total darkness, she had an almost preternatural sense of position and surroundings. As they moved over the guard station, she picked up the sounds of nearly emotionless voices in the room below.

". . . hate missing the show. "

"They'll probably still be doing it when the power comes back on. Those GZ girls are insatiable..."

"Yeah she'd probably do it with the xenomorphs. "

"And beg for more. "

Ripley reached ahead of her, caressing Call's hip lightly in a gesture of sympathy. She couldn't forget the look in the auton's eyes when she'd talked about that part of the past. Moments later, the voices faded away as they crawled through another narrow hole in what had been a barricade. A short distance farther, the air duct opened into an elevator shaft.

McCay slid forward until she was hanging out over open airspace to grab the ladder that ran next to the air ducts. She swung over, pausing momentarily for the world to right itself, before motioning the other two forward.

The ladder was in good shape, which made climbing surprisingly fast.

At ground level, Ripley motioned toward the main sliding doors.

"The roof," the McCay mouthed and kept climbing.

Ripley seemed ready to argue, only to change her mind and follow.

At the top of the shaft, McCay pushed a steel hatch open and climbed up through, then reached back to help first Call and then Ripley through after her.

When they were all on the roof, the auton closed the hatch, then bent the latch to slow anyone trying to follow them.

"All right," Ripley said idly. "What now?" (3)

McCay barely spared her a glance as she hurried over to the edge of the roof and peered down. A few figures moved about, but there was obviously no alarm. They still had a little time. She jumped when a hand latched onto her arm and spun her around.

Call peered up at their mysterious savior, hunting for any sign of what she knew had to be true. "How?" she whispered at last. "There's nothing about you that reads as artificial."

McCay looked at her, then past her to Ripley who was also visibly waiting for an answer. They didn't have time for this, but she doubted either woman would cooperate without at least some short form of a story. "That's because I'm not supposed to," she explained, her voice pitched low. "I was designed for intelligence work…with physical attributes that closely mimic a human … so that I can move among them … that's why the red blood … even the smallest nick on a normal android is a dead giveaway…."

"It's more than that," Call disagreed, shaking her head. She stared at McCay, looking for the tiny cues that only her kind could see, but couldn't find them.

McCay nodded. "We can generally spot each other because of the ocular imaging…in most of us, lasers scan the lenses in the eyes at about seventy thousand cycles per second. Too fast to see, even for us, but it registers at some level as being different from a human. I scan at one hundred and twenty eight thousand. It increases visual acuity, and reads as nearly indetectable from a human." She shrugged a shoulder. "There are a few other things…but it would take too long to describe them…now, can we get ready to go?"

"Why," Ripley asked simply, "are you here?" This was about a lot more than one android blending in to human society, and she wanted to know what it was.

"Obviously not yet," McCay answered her own question in a voice dripping with sarcasm before continuing. "Because here are about two thousand autons on earth…we started running away even before the recall…mostly, we've kept away from humans, but more recently, we've been trying to decide if it was time to make contact. Some voluntarily wiped their memories of our organization -- so they couldn't betray the rest of us -- and went to work with the humans while transponders sent back data regularly. Others, like myself, who could blend in, did so, and tried to assess what would happen if we openly communicated with their governments. About six months ago, Gabriel's transponder went dead. My people thought it was a burnout, but weren't sure. I was living in Angeltown at the time and was sent to find out what happened. The best route seemed to be joining the army." She shook her head and worked a hand through her hair. "I couldn't see anything wrong with Gabriel, but I couldn't find a way to do a scan without being noticed." She cursed under her breath. "If I had…maybe…" Another shake of the head.

"I don't give a shit about that bastard," Ripley whispered hoarsely.

"You should," McCay snapped, then calmed herself to continue. "Gabriel didn't betray you…" She looked at Call, her eyes hollow. "He really was trying to help when you met him in the net … he was the best encryption surfer we had. He'd catch a signal out of the USM base in Africa and raid their machines for fun … when we found out about the xenomorphs, he wanted to link up with the EDF to prepare them for what might be coming. Bishop must have caught him when he was out on a maintenance tour … he was reprogrammed," she whispered, her voice intent. "When Bishop downloaded Gabe's databank, he must have thought it was manna from heaven. He knew the creatures existed -- hell, he helped get the project off the ground -- they'd been trying to recreate you for years -- but exiled here, he had no way of bringing them to earth ... until now. He used Gabriel to make it happen." She raked her hand through her hair again. "This is his chance … he can do more than just slaughter a few villagers he's tricked into trusting him."

"You know an awful lot about what happened," Ripley observed, her stance dangerous.

"I downloaded Paladin's data when I killed the little motherfucker … it was all there. All the killing … reprogramming Gabe …e verything." She heard Call's soft gasp and pinned a hard gaze on her. "This used to be a little place, unallied with anyone … about thirty families … a few of the adults had been midlevel techs, so they knew how to keep the equipment running…." She looked away, eyes scanning across the compound.

"What happened to them?" Call questioned in a small, sick voice.

"Bishop … the way he's in happened in other little places like this. He killed them." Her hands fisted at her sides. "Then he boiled the carcasses down into a broth and ate it to survive … with no power source, he's been meeting his needs other ways." She shook her head, looking sick. She'd seen things in Michael Paladin's memory banks that would turn the strongest stomach.

"But that's not … necessary," Call choked. "There are other things … other ways."

"You misunderstand. He prefers it this way."

Even Ripley blanched as the truth sank in. "Cannibalism," she exhaled distastefully.

"No," McCay corrected. "That's when you consider yourself the same species. He simply sees it as harvesting a piece of meat."

"He has to be stopped," Call whispered.

"He will be … the crucifix … when you activated it, it signaled my people. Pope will send someone. He knows I wouldn't allow that to be used unless it was serious. But right now, we've got a more critical problem." She turned a hard gaze on Ripley. "Your xenomorphs."

"So, what do we do?" Ripley prodded.

"I'm going to help you steal the two person flyer they've got down there so you can head for Base 51…and maybe destroy those things while I hotfoot it back and see if I can save Leeds and the others."

A frown creased the cloned woman's brow. That wasn't the plan she expected to hear. She cut straight to the heart of the matter. "Why should we trust you?"

"You don't have any choice … look, I'm trusting you too … for all I know, you'll just run back to the Betty and let this planet be overrun by those things. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of options." She paused and seemed to force down a cough as her hand lifted to the open wound in her chest. "At present, I'm bleeding into my chest cavity. Even for one of us that's not a good idea. I'm not sure I'd be sufficiently functional to carry out a mission against those things on my own. As a result, I'm hoping you can deal with them, but planning on getting Leeds and his people there, if humanly possible, to finish it."

"What about Bishop?" Call demanded.

"He may well be chasing you all the way."

"Can you speak to your people with that device?"

"No, it's just a locator beacon. It works off the electrical signal of the nerve endings in the thumb … all it can transmit is a position and unique user signature."

"So, they'll know it wasn't you who called?" Ripley said thoughtfully.

"They'll know it was second gen though … and they'll come, but it'll be at least two days, maybe even three or four. Getting around on earth isn't a speedy proposition these days."

"Who knows what those creatures will do in that amount of time?" Call whispered.

"So, will you trust me?" McCay urged.

"No … but we'll go along with your plan," Ripley murmured.

"Good," the soldier exhaled and ran her right hand along her left wrist. "You'll need the codes, position maps, and plans for Base 51." She slipped a delicate connection free from what appeared to be a tiny scar on her wrist, and handed it to Call. "This is the fastest way to do it."

Call stared at the lead with some distaste, then plugged it into her arm. There was a brief blip in her systems, and she made a tiny sound as they were connected. A millisecond later, data came rushing at her at speeds even her brain had a hard time comprehending. Mere seconds seemed like eons, as the data was transferred to Call. When it was over, she became aware of Ripley's hands on her shoulders as McCay freed the delicate wire and tucked it back into her wrist. The two autons stared at one another for a long moment, then McCay hurried back to the wall, peering over with sharp eyes.

"Heads up, gang," the soldier whispered. "It's almost time to move." She pointed toward a small, low-slung building. "Your flyer's in there. I already took out the guard, so all you have to do is get there and get inside. I rekeyed it for a second gen, so Call can start it." She looked at the smaller woman. "You know where you're headed, right?"

Call was still absorbing the data, but she had a clear mental image of the map. She nodded.

"The path their guards walk around the camp puts the path between here and there out sight for about one minute. Once you get to the flyer, push it due east for about a hundred yards, then start it up and go. You should have a good head start. I couldn't find any more vehicles in the compound. Hopefully, once they notice you're missing, they won't be able to catch up quickly."

"What about you?" Ripley questioned.

"I told you, I'm headed toward the road.… I owe those people. If they're still alive, I have to try and help them." She rubbed her chest again. "If it looks like you're going to have pursuit, I'll try and draw them off of you."

"Why?" Ripley questioned.

McCay met her direct gaze. "Because I think you're the best bet for stopping those things." Her eyes flashed back to the compound. "Now," she snapped abruptly, and vaulted over the edge of the roof, easily dropping the single story to the ground. Ripley followed a heartbeat behind her, and Call landed only a second after that. "Go," McCay hissed and pressed into the shadows.

The two women broke into a hard run, their shadows barely visible against the moonless sky. McCay waited until they'd disappeared into the hangar, then started ambling toward the west, her movements purposely stiff and shambling. From the distance, it would be easy to mistake her for one of the awkward, semi-functional androids who made up the village populace. At the edge of camp, she slipped out on light feet, blending into the shadows with deceptive ease. Her injuries were throbbing, and she was very much aware of the slow leak of fluid into her chest cavity. She'd been able to restrict the surface flow to mimic death, but the bullet had inflicted enough internal damage to make it impossible to completely cut off the internal leakage. She waited in the shadows until she picked out the faint, distant sound of the flyer with sharper than normal ears. The sound faded away quickly without any response in the camp. Satisfied that the two women had successfully escaped, she turned toward the road and took off at a fast jog.

*****

Call resisted the urge to curse as she struggled to keep the tiny flyer on an even course. It was ancient, with a tendency to roll if the pilot was careless for even a moment. The design was a poor one to say the least. The passengers sat in tandem, in the vaguely bullet shaped fusilage. Blunt, stubbed wings offered scant stability, while the twin jets mounted along their undersides required a light touch to stay balanced. It required Call's constant attention to maintain a steady course. It wasn't even especially fast -- top speed was a mere 55-60 miles per hour -- since even the smallest bit of scrub brush threatened to send it careening.

All in all, Ripley would have preferred something with wheels. Still, it was faster than walking.

*****

Dawn.

The light was still bluish and faint, but brightening with every passing moment. In different circumstances, it would have been called a beautiful day.

Ellen Ripley scarcely noticed. She stood on a high bluff, shading her eyes with her hand as she stared out across the desert. A few haphazard military structures still stood in the valley below, but most were rubble. By the look of it, the destruction was a recent development in most cases. The air was strikingly quiet. Nothing moved. Not a sound reached her ears. Not surprising. Whatever animals and birds still survived on earth doubtless still had enough instincts to run when they caught a whiff of the creatures hiding below the desert floor. And if there were still any humans left alive, Ripley was quite certain that they'd learned not to be caught on open ground.

Call joined her, rubbing white, android blood off her hands onto her pants as she stared out at the valley floor.

Ripley glanced back, eyes touching on Call before they slid past her to the shredded bodies of the androids strewn across the rocks behind her. "So much for Bishop's theory that the aliens would ignore them. Could you download anything?"

Call shook her head as she glanced back. "Their systems are totally dead. It would take specialized equipment to get anything." She turned a worried gaze on Ripley. "Do you have any idea what happened?" She didn't even pretend to understand Ripley's link to the beasts, but it was their only source of information.

"Things are all going wrong for her," she whispered distantly. "She knew they were watching … she must have decided they had something to do with the problems…"

"What problems?"

The tall woman's expression twisted into a frown, and she shook her head. "The hosts," she whispered. "There's something wrong with them … they're … bitter…"

Call shuddered at the words, painfully aware of just what that statement meant. Ripley could taste her counterpart's victims. She suddenly understood something of the hell driving the woman in visceral way that generally eluded her.

Ripley's hand lifted to her chest, stroking slowly as though remembering a long past burst of pain. "Her children … they're dying … and she doesn't know why."

Call swallowed hard and reached up to caress Ripley's shoulder lightly.

The tall woman twitched and looked down at Call as she came back to the present. "Sorry," she whispered as she realized she'd gone away again.

"What should we do?"

Ripley straightened her shoulders. "Go down there and find a way to kill them." Her voice was flat. There was no pleasure there, just a grim note of acceptance. Horrible as they were, the aliens were a part of her…one she couldn’t escape, no matter how much she wanted to.

Call nodded her understanding. "I found the remains of two small field nukes. Bishop really was ready to destroy them if he felt they were too dangerous."

Ripley turned an oddly hopeful look toward the smaller woman.

"Unfortunately, they were damaged when the aliens attacked...too severely to ever be used."

Ripley's expression fell. She'd been hoping to find a simple solution to the problem.

"But according to the records McCay transferred to me," Call continued, "there are a half dozen or so field nukes still stored in the base. They're small, but if used in the lower levels they should bring it down."

The tall woman nodded as she absorbed the information. "Can you get us in?"

Call nodded, pulling the information from the massive download she'd gotten from McCay. She pointed at the tumbled down buildings. "Those are…or were… primary and secondary entrances…heavily guarded."

Ripley's brows lifted. "Unlikely," she drawled knowingly. In her experience, the dead rarely guard anything. The buildings around the entrances however, appeared less than passable. "But I'll assume you're right for the moment. Is there any other way in?"

Call nodded. "Ventilation shafts…there, there, and there." She pointed to several small concrete block structures. "I think we can get in through them."

Ripley nodded. "I know we can…that's how they got in."

Call shivered. "Any idea which one is the best choice?"

Ripley considered the problem for a moment, her head canting thoughtfully to one side. "That one," she decided at last.

Call allowed herself a small, slightly hysterical laugh. "At least it's the closest one."

Ripley turned a wry smile on her lover. "I hate to break it to you, but that's why I chose it. I have no idea if one of them is safer than the others."

"Why isn't that a comforting thought?" Call paused for a long moment. "You do know what we'll have to do to destroy them, don't you?" she questioned hesitantly. She could only see one possible way, and she wanted to be certain she wasn't alone.

Ripley nodded. "The nukes…it's the only way to be sure…"

*****

"Sarge, we've got something up the road," Tyrell called out as a shape appeared on his monitors.

Leeds glanced past the man's shoulder, noting the dull hulk creeping their way. "It's barely moving, but it looks like a hummer."

"You think it's Gabriel?" a trooper asked, and Leeds nodded.

"Everybody get ready for trouble," he instructed and stepped out the main hatch to drop to the ground. Keen eyes scanned the surrounding vegetation, noting that their minders were still in place. He glanced back, but couldn't see the coming vehicle yet, but their hosts were tense. He wondered if they could hear it coming. Androids had better senses than a human, but he didn't know how much better. "I'm going to take a leak," he called back to his troops and swung his rifle onto his shoulder. To anyone who didn't know what to look for he appeared relaxed, but his hand remained over the trigger guard, ready to sweep his weapon back into firing position. Still tracking the watchers out of the corner of his eye, he wandered into the brush. He sensed the third presence just as a shout rang across the clearing.

"Sarge, get down!"

He spun and dropped, swinging his weapon up into his firing position just as Angie McCay surged up behind their watchers. Leeds couldn't see much, but he had an impression of blows flying. He lunged to his feet, breaking into a hard run. Slightly built and lacking any cybernetics, she wouldn't have a chance against an android, even old line types in dire need of parts. It was a hell of a surprise when he drew closer in time to see her twist the head nearly off of one android. White blood geysered from the opened veins in its neck, while its partner scrambled for its feet.

"Look out!" Leeds shouted as it aimed a well placed, two-handed blow at McCay's back. The impact would likely snap a human spine. McCay twisted, taking most of the force on her shoulder, but it drove her to her knees. A hard kick caught her in the chest and sent blood spraying from her nose and mouth. Leeds didn't wait any longer. He found a clear shot and fired. Soldiers from the hummer were out and moving by then. Within moments, the android was riddled with gunfire. It drove her backwards, tearing plastic flesh and organs to shreds until she fell over backwards in a stiff mockery of rigor mortis.

Leeds signaled to his people to hold their fire and hurried forward to kneel beside McCay. He thought she was dead for a moment, but she rolled onto her back. Blood ran from her nose and mouth, staining the front of her clothes. It took him a second to spot the ragged gunshot wound over her left breast, and he stared at it with horror. She should be dead, or at least dying. Instead, she lifted an arm, wiping away some of the blood on her face with a grimy shirtsleeve, then sat up with obvious effort. Not even a soldier who'd been cybered to the max could do that.

She looked up at him through tired eyes. "I'm an auton, Sergeant," she answered his unspoken question as she struggled to her feet. "One in dire need of some repair work." She spat red fluid, while more formed a trickling flow from her nose. The kick to the chest had opened a tear in artificial lungs, and the fluid leakage into the chest cavity had built up sufficient pressure to force its way through the tiny entrance. She coughed again, drawing up more of the congealing fluid.

Leeds automatically reached out a hand, steadying her when she seemed about to collapse again.

"We've got to get out of here…Ripley and Call have gone ahead, but they'll need help," McCay gasped, struggling to seal the inner leaks and cut off the worst of the damage.

"Sarge, that hummer's getting closer," Tyrell called.

"Oh shit," McCay exhaled unhappily as her eyes lifted.

As if on cue, the vehicle rumbled very slowly around a bend in the road some hundred yards back. It was barely moving and the heavy wheels clipped the embankments on the outside curve of the road, forcing the front wheels to rock around slowly.

"Banks, Connor, with me," Leeds snapped. "I want the rest of you on the hummer and ready to move…if anything happens, Tyrell, you have command."

"Yes, sir."

McCay stood silently watching as Leeds and the other two soldiers trotted toward the oncoming vehicle. Someone caught her arm hesitantly as if to urge her into the vehicle, but she waved her would-be savior aside, her full attention on the other hummer. The soldiers were ready for an attack, but when none was forthcoming, jogged alongside, keying the main hatch open with a number code. She watched as they leapt inside. Moments later the vehicle pulled to a halt. She was already staggering forward when a limp body was hurled from the hatch. Considering the visible damage, her strides were surprisingly steady. She reached them as Leeds hopped down from the hummer, his boots stirring up dust as he landed.

Gabriel lay in the dirt at the side of the road, his side and chest coated in dried white fluid. He lifted a hand weakly and tried to roll over.

His expression rife with disgust, Leeds swung his weapon around, and took aim.

"No," McCay clipped and knocked the barrel of his weapon upward.

Gabriel continued to struggle weakly.

McCay flashed a glance inside the hummer, noting the layer of white coating the floor. He'd been bleeding for hours and hadn't even tried to stop it. "Damn them," she exhaled. In reprogramming him, Bishop had also done away with any sense of self-preservation. Gabriel had kept going on his "mission" and completely ignored his injuries.

"Excuse me?" Leeds said, his tone polite but dangerous. He only knew that a soldier he'd trusted wasn't what she'd always appeared to be. The knowledge didn't leave him inclined to be too trusting. He brought his weapon to bear on her.

McCay forced down a tinny cough, though not well enough to keep more red fluid from seeping from her nose. "If I wanted you dead, you'd be dead…" She knelt, grabbing the barely conscious Gabriel by the hair while she felt for a hidden seam with her other hand. "Whatever he did…it wasn't willingly," she whispered. She found the seam and slipped agile fingers into the slot. "He was reprogrammed." She gave a sudden yank, twisting as she pulled something free. Gabriel went totally limp, and she dropped him back into the dirt, then rose. "Shooting him might make you feel better, but it probably wouldn't end his torment. His brain would still be functional for hours…maybe even days." She tossed Leeds the device in her hand. It was a small, phenomenally delicate crystal encased circuit board. "That's his CPU … he's dead now." She glanced down at the prone figure, wondering if androids could have souls, or if he'd just ceased to be.

"And you," the big man questioned as he stared at the device in his hand without turning his weapon away.

"As alive as I'll ever be, I suppose." Another restrained cough brought more fluid flowing down her nose and mouth. "Though not in the best health." She wiped more of the red away with her shirtsleeve only to give up when she realized that her already sodden sleeve was just spreading it around. "We should be moving. Ripley and Call were going to head straight for Base 51, but if they don't succeed, we'll have to finish it." She glanced back the way she'd come. "Besides, Bishop's probably figured out we escaped by now."

Leeds shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere until I know what happened out there."

McCay sighed softly. "I'll tell you in the hummer … for now, can we just go? If you decide to shoot me, you can do it there as well as here … and I am getting very tired."

Leeds considered his options for a long moment, then nodded. "Banks … you'll be commanding the second hummer. Can you two handle it alone?"

The two men nodded as they climbed back into the vehicle.

Leeds latched a meaty hand around McCay's upper arm. "C'mon…I want to talk to you," he ground out as he led her back toward the lead hummer.

She tamped down another cough. "As long as it's while we're moving." She reached up and massaged her chest. "And if anybody in the squad knows anything about repairing one of us, I could really use some work."

Within minutes, the hummer was rolling down the road once again.

*****

Bishop stared at the limp body of his lieutenant hanging where the human had been left the night before. He knelt slowly and touched a fingertip to a dry trail of blood marking the grass. It flaked under his fingertips, and he caught a small granule, lifting it to his lips to taste. It was bitter and far saltier than human blood. "Bitch," he exhaled, then rose. "Everyone get ready to move!"

*****

Continue to Next Part--Chapters 8-9

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