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Aliens - Aliens III: The True Story artwork by Tarlan
Acheron The wind howled like a beast in agony, wailing around the corners of the mammoth structure of the atmospheric processor. It seemed as if the wind itself was attempting to mourn the tragedy which had taken place here. The colony called Hadley's Hope lay close by, abandoned and desolated. All the human inhabitants were gone and Hadley's Hope had become a ghost town. Another gust of wind slammed into the side of the processor, making it creak slightly in its joints. Inside, not much was heard of the raging weather. Nothing apart from a slow pulse, which ran through the processor, making it seem almost like a living, breathing thing. Bolts of pure energy from leaks in the electrical innards of the superstructure of the man-made monstrosity occasionally brightened warped corridors on the lower levels of the station. Odd formations decorated the floors, walls and ceilings, twisting and turning them into nightmare-like shapes of inhuman design. Moisture dripped from tubing that looked like a mutation of the original design and the heat on the lower levels was almost unbearably high. Despite a constant reiterating evacuation call, the processor was still populated. But not by the human inhabitants of the nearby colony. Some levels were alive with creatures as odd looking as the reshaped corridors. They moved around the lower levels, restlessly trying to find the threat to the hive they had created in these man-made surroundings. They were not able to comprehend that the coming storm was an enemy they could not fight.
Deep inside the hive, Private William Hudson, one of the last survivors of a Marine team summoned to Acheron by a supposed down transmitter, slowly came to. Perception went from darkness into a gray mist and then into a nightmarish landscape as he slowly raised his head. Hot damp air brushed over his face, bringing unknown odors with it which made the hairs on his neck stand on edge. The semi-darkness combined with the few flashing emergency lights, which had not been covered by the alien material, made the incomprehensible shapes around him appear to move. They seemed to reach out for him with gnarled fingers, always just at the corner of his eyes. He twisted his head to catch a glimpse of the horror that was sure to be there, but found only strangely twisted walls. A hiss made him jerk his head the other way, but there was nothing there either. At first he was certain he was having a nightmare. Something like this could not be real. Then, like lightning from a clear sky, he realized where he was. "Oh no. Jesus, no. This can't be happening, man," he whispered to himself, attempting to keep the panicky feeling in his guts from erupting and rendering him incapable of taking the necessary action. His arms, legs and most of his torso were encased in the gluey substance the aliens secreted and it was as hard as concrete. He tried to pull his arms free but could not move them. "Oh man. This ain't happening," he screeched, throwing caution to the wind and allowing his fear to blossom after all. All that matter now was trying to stay alive. Writhing and twisting inside the harness, he fought his restraints like a wild animal, his breath coming in short, labored gasps, his eyes constantly scanning his surroundings for possible danger. A danger he would not able to cope with if he could not get free. Putting more strength into the attempt to break the resin, he managed to dislocate his shoulder with an almost audible pop and he let out a piercing scream of pain. With tears stinging his eyes, he forced himself to calm down long enough to relocate it by moving his body backward. The joint snapped back into place, causing him to let out another howl of pain. "Shit, shit, shit," he hissed through clenched teeth, then again became painfully aware of his surroundings and what they might conceal. Renewed panic made his eyes dart to and fro once again, trying to take in everything at once, knowing that somewhere in the shadows the aliens were waiting. And so was a facehugger with his name on it. The thought of the detestable parasite made his imagination go spinning off to unknown heights. Managing to completely ignore his aching shoulder, he threw all his strength into getting free and finally managed to move his right arm a bit. He pulled harder at it and it slipped another inch through the concrete-like material, giving him hope that he might just make it in time. "Yes, man, yes." Leaning to the left side, his right arm smoothly slipped out of the harness. Unfortunately, it was also the same arm he had dislocated only moments before. When he tried to use his now freed hand to break his left arm free, the movement sent a scream of pain through his shoulder and he tried to crumble up within the confinements of the harness. "Fuck," he hissed, gasping for breath for a moment while his mind sought new avenues of action. Finally, he thought of another strategy. By repeating the procedure as before, he managed to get his left arm halfway out, when he suddenly saw movement from the corner of one eye. He froze and turned his head to look in that particular direction, actually thinking it would be another shadow play. But nothing could be more real than the facehugger racing across the floor, heading straight for him. All the blood left his face and he turned pale as a ghost, immobilized for mere seconds with the memory of what this would do to him if he allowed the parasite to get too close to him. Then he started screaming for help while he pulled and yanked at his left arm, forcing it inch by inch out of the resin. The facehugger did not even pause before it leapt into the air, throwing itself at its potentially defenseless victim. But he was not quite as helpless as he had been moments ago. He managed to pull his left arm free at the last possible moment and brought it up between the attacking parasite and his face. With disgust, he felt the slippery, slimy underbelly of the beast push urgently against his palm when it connected with his arm. The facehugger's tail wrapped itself painfully tight around his arm but let go almost instantly when the bug somehow realized that this would do it no good. Hudson threw his arm forward, tossing the bug onto the floor a couple of feet away. It recoiled and attacked again, never once giving him a chance to continue his attempts to get free. Again he managed to ward it off at the last possible moment and again it attacked. Slowly he realized that it would keep coming until he gave up or somebody came to save him. "HELP ME. SOMEBODY," he screamed as the facehugger leapt again, sailing through the air with its legs stretched out and the tail fluttering behind it like some obscene kind of spider on its tread. About a foot before it would have hit him full force, the facehugger suddenly veered off its course by ninety degrees and slammed against a nearby pillar. It tumbled to the ground, groping for a hold on the floor with its eight legs. Something resembling a stalagmite had pierced the parasite and it was slowly but surely bleeding to death. It was also immobilized. Its legs could no longer reach the ground. Hudson stared at it for a long while, unable to understand that the threat had been temporarily suspended. His whole body was shivering and the pain from his shoulder had returned full force. "Jesus Christ Almighty," he mumbled, feeling the tension of fear and distress slowly ebbing away. As the mist of panic cleared from his mind, it dawned on him what had happened. Somebody had shot the facehugger with a crudely constructed arrow. That realization made him look around for whoever had saved his life. Under an archway, hiding in the shadows, was a woman. From what Hudson could see, she was not much older than him, but it was hard to tell in the shadowy light of the chamber. "Jesus, man. Thanks. You couldn't have come at a better time," he exclaimed. "Come on. Give me a hand. Get me out of here." She didn't move and made no attempt to come nearer and that made Hudson nervous again. "Come on. Get me outta here," he tried again, his tone of voice rising in volume. She was staring at him, almost as if she were expecting him to explode. He could not imagine why she would save him from the facehugger and then not help him to get free. Frantically he started to tear at the resin surrounding his torso but its hardened condition would not allow him to break it. "Stop moving!" The woman's voice drifted across the chamber, eerily low and somewhat hoarse. Hudson raised his head again to look at her. "What?" he asked. "Stop moving! You'll attract the adults," she repeated in that low, intense tone of voice. "Just keep still. I've got to get a fix on where they are." Hudson leaned his head back and looked upward. There was no sign of any aliens but then again, there had been no sign of them to begin with when the team had entered this hell hole. "How are you gonna get a fix on them?" he wanted to know. A soft sound traveled through the air, almost like a light whisper, and at that Hudson knew that the adult aliens were on their way. Several of them. The woman withdrew from the archway, disappearing into the shadows. "Don't leave me here," he screamed, panic overwhelming him again. He had been so close to a rescue, so close that he could almost touch it and then she vanished. Three adult aliens dropped to the ground and started pacing around the chamber, obviously trying to find the intruder. Neither paid any attention to Hudson. Apparently they did not consider him a threat. He stared at them, watching the way they moved soundlessly across the floor, their heads moving from side to side, their tails dragging along the floor behind them. Seeing them this close up made him keep quiet. One of them suddenly turned up beside him and showed him the full splendor of its teeth. He winced, trying to pull back as the outer jaws parted and the inner jaws slowly slid out, slobber dripping from the glistening teeth. The alien's head suddenly snapped around and for a second it remained motionless. Then it simply leapt into the air, grabbing a hold of the pillar Hudson was stuck to and took two powerful leaps through the room, using the pillars as support. One of the others emitted a piercing screech and the third came racing out of the shadows toward the spot where the screamer had frozen in mid-motion. The screamer dropped like a log before the other two could reach it, another crude arrow piercing its head. Then the second and the third dropped, too. Hudson gaped at the whole scene with disbelief. Vasquez and Drake had barely been able to stop them with their smart guns and here was this one woman who managed to stop three of them with arrows. A brief moment of silence followed the death of the three aliens and then the woman reappeared, this time followed closely by two men and another woman. They stole into the chamber, edging along the walls, keeping an eye out for movement. They managed to bring down three more aliens before one of the men finally approached Hudson. Hudson opened his mouth, but the man shook his head, putting a finger to his lips. "Not a word," he advised quietly, then started to break Hudson free with a crowbar he had pulled from a utility-belt strapped around his waist. He then grabbed a hold of Hudson and pulled him out of the niche without uttering another sound. Still too dazed to think clearly and desperately trying to ignore his aching shoulder, Hudson put his weight on both legs, but his right leg folded up under him and he lost his balance with a cry of pain. The man grabbed his arm, stopping his fall, and briefly glanced around for the movement the scream would result in. Gasping for breath, Hudson glanced down at his torn-up trouser leg that was crusted with dried blood. Only then did he remember that he had shot himself during his frantic attempt to get out of the alien's grip when it had dragged him down through the floor in the colony-complex. He ground his teeth, hissing silently. The other man watched him from across the chamber for a second, then approached him, nodded to the first man and took his place on the other side of Hudson. Both of them put one of his arms around their shoulders and thus supported, he was able to limp with them out of the chamber. The women followed, keeping up the rear. After a while, the men stopped to catch their breath after having moved quickly down a few flights of stairs and along more corridors than Hudson wanted to think of. He had wondered why they were going down instead of up and now he was downright worried. Eventually, he aired his concern about the direction they were taking. "Thanks for the rescue, man, but where are we going?" he wanted to know, glancing over his shoulder in the direction they had come from. The man who had broken him free clapped a hand over his mouth before he could say more, staring at him with fanatically burning eyes. "Shut up, okay?" he whispered angrily. "The less noise we make, the bigger chances we have of getting away." Hudson was taken aback by the fierceness in the other man's voice and started wondering who these people actually were. They knew how to battle the aliens. That was for sure. A thought popped into his mind, worrying him slightly. Why had they rescued him? Why had they put their lives on the line for him? Disturbing thoughts intruded on him but he decided to ignore them for now. These people had, after all, rescued him. Shortly after, they started moving again and continued their trek down through the hive until they reached an area that was barely touched by the aliens. Another stairwell led down to the final sub-level where an all-terrain vehicle waited at the mouth of a dark tunnel. A young, brawny man was sitting on top of the closed vehicle, armed to the teeth with a bow and several arrows and what appeared to be a makeshift flamethrower. He silently greeted the others, jumped off the roof of the vehicle and opened the side-door. The two men supporting Hudson quickly pushed him into the back of the vehicle and the young woman he had first seen climbed in after him. The others climbed into the cab and the armed man started up the engine. Hudson watched all this with a lingering feeling of dread, having sense for nothing else for a moment longer. Then he realized that he was not alone in the back of the vehicle. He looked around in the gloomy light at the others. Two men and one woman. One of the men was huddled up in a blanket, hiding his face. Hudson quickly forgot his aching leg and shoulder, when he recognized the woman. "Dietrich," he exclaimed, thrilled at finally seeing a familiar face. She raised her head to look at him for a few seconds before realizing who he was. Without a word she came to her feet and slipped her arms around him, hugging him hard. A shiver ran through her and he opened his mouth to ask if she were okay but stopped when he saw the expression on her face. She looked haggard and pale and there was something slightly mad lurking just beneath the surface of her otherwise well composed self. The vehicle started moving and was rolling fast over bumpy ground, forcing Dietrich to sit down. She settled down close to Hudson, leaning against him. "What about the others?" she asked hoarsely after a moment. Hudson bit his lip with an unhappy expression. "Dead, I think. Maybe the others made it. They were on their way when that fucker grabbed me. They were heading toward the landing grid. The drop ship is on its way," he replied. Then he realized what he had just said. "Hey, the drop ship is on its way. We can still make it, man. We can get out of here." His tone of voice rose with excitement while he spoke. The driver of the vehicle mumbled something to one of his companions and she turned to Hudson. "Where is this drop ship going to set down?" she wanted to know. Hudson thought about it for a moment, trying to put some order into his tumbling thoughts. "Near the dish," he then replied, already feeling disheartened when the woman's expression turned somber. She glanced at the driver who in return shook his head. "We can't risk it. The processor is going to blow any minute and we have to get the hell out of here right now. We're lucky if we make it," she then said. With that she turned back to watch the tunnel slip by at breakneck speed. Despite the feeling of total defeat, Hudson was about to retort that they had to try. They couldn't just give up now. They had a chance for getting off the planet and he figured they ought to use it. Dietrich, however, held him back by squeezing his arm. "She's right, Will," she said. "We'd be vaporized if we tried." He met her eyes for a moment, the resistance still there, briefly wondering if it wouldn't be better if they were vaporized rather than staying here, then he crumpled up and started moaning about his leg for a while. After driving for less than ten minutes the walls of the tunnel changed from steel to stone. The tunnel behind them was sealed up by a pressure-door, which fell into place seconds after the vehicle had passed through. "Man, where the hell are we going anyway? Who are you people?" Hudson suddenly exclaimed, fed up with the silence. In his opinion you could not just rescue people without letting them know who you were. The woman in the front seat turned around again and looked at him for awhile. Then she glanced around at the others. "We're colonists," she then said. "Just like the others." She hesitated for a moment, apparently uncertain about what to tell them and what not. "The processor is going to blow up according to one of our scientists. Some kind of overload. We're living in the next processor and we've been keeping in touch with this one all the while. After the aliens appeared, we monitored what was going on but there was little we could do to help our fellow colonists." The driver grumbled something under his breath and the woman turned to him. He repeated whatever he was saying in the same low tone of voice and she nodded. "To make a long story short, we will stay below ground all the way to the next processor. The pressure-door back there should withstand the pressure of the explosion but just in case it doesn't, we will pass another door in about fifteen minutes." With that, her explanation was obviously over but that was hardly enough for Hudson. "Why did you save us?" he wanted to know. Dietrich gave him a sharp glance but he ignored her. "Huh? Why? What are you gonna to do with us?" The woman returned her attention to him with an overbearing expression on her face. "What do you think we'll do with you?" she asked back. "We've been going in regularly to save some of our friends since we discovered the means to defend ourselves against those hell hounds. You just happened to be there, so we took you along, too. Nobody should die that way." The young woman who had first spotted Hudson had watched the whole exchange with an impartial expression. Now that Hudson saw her up close, she appeared even younger than him. In his opinion, she could be nothing more than twenty. When he met her eyes, she managed a ghost-like smile and he returned it, knowing that his own would be just as pale as hers.
Gateway Station
Roughly one year later
The corridors of Gateway Station were relatively deserted at four a.m. This was a strange time to be on Gateway. It was one of the few times where the station seemed virtually dead. The few who worked at this hour were sitting in some office or at some terminal, watching and waiting. The recycled air of the station was clear as crystal and still as the surface of a pond on a quiet morning. Nothing other than a quite breeze moved when the air circulation system now and again belched out a fresh breath of air. The upper level of Gateway's north tower belonged to the governing part of the Company. Here the silence was almost complete until it was interrupted by the hiss of the lift-doors, followed by the soft pad of shoes on carpeted floors. Around the corner from the lifts came a woman in her mid-twenties. She was tall with short, hazel hair, sparkling brown eyes and wearing a dark-blue business suit and matching shoes. The way she walked and her entire posture suggested that this was a no-nonsense woman with a lot of faith in her own abilities. A wedding-band glittered around her right ring-finger and that was the only kind of jewelry she wore. Bonnie Taylor strode confidently along the corridor toward the large double-doors leading into the inner sanctuary of the Company. The executive office. Her chance of making it big had finally come. She had finished her very elaborate training to become a lawyer three years ago, but had not yet been to court. She was frequently requested as an assistant, by both the lawyers at the law firm she was employed with and other independent lawyers. Everybody knew she had talent, but her boss and guardian angle had not been willing to jeopardize neither her evolving talent or his firm's name and reputation by putting her into a court room too early. But, after a call from Mr. van Leuwen's secretary the previous day, where she had been told to show up as early as possible for an interview with the man himself, she had realized that her time had come. She was going to be an appointed lawyer for the Company. Taylor could not deny that she had been taken aback by the choice. The secretary had told her that van Leuwen had asked specifically for her and Taylor's sharp mind had instantly picked up on the underlying reason. She was certain that van Leuwen did not expect her to be experienced enough to state her case convincingly at a hearing. Being as straightforward as she was, she had suggested half past four a.m. to the secretary, because she was on Gateway already and was an early riser. At first the secretary had hesitated but after consulting with van Leuwen, she had agreed because van Leuwen had said that they would have peace and quiet for the conversation. She reached the office doors, hesitated a moment while the doors slid apart and then stepped inside. The front office was equipped with beautiful furniture and a thick, bright carpet. The rays of the early morning sun fell through the skylight, which covered the main part of the ceiling, lighting the scene in an inviting light. She took a moment to study the room, slowly turning in a circle to take it all in. "We pride ourselves on making people welcome here," a voice said from somewhere behind her. She turned to face van Leuwen, who stood in the doorway to his office with his hands in the pockets of his rather expensive looking business suit. His serious expression made Taylor hesitate before she approached him. "In here please," he said and stepped aside to let her in. She brushed past him into his office and looked around with a knowledgeable expression. The office was impersonal without seeming unfriendly. The colors were dark earth-tans and the Venetian blinds were partially closed, giving the office a slightly gloomy feel. Van Leuwen observed her as he stepped around his desk. He motioned for her to sit down on a high-backed armchair standing in front of the massive desk which occupied most of the free floor space. A thick soft carpet covered the office floor wall to wall. Taylor, not bothered by undue orthodox feelings of respect, watched him expectantly when van Leuwen sat down on his chair behind the desk. She always observed people before she made up her mind about them and van Leuwen would be no exception. She had never met him before, but some of her colleagues had told her some pretty horrid things about him. The Company as such had never been involved in any scandals which had to go to court. Many lawyers had been appointed to defend or prosecute some of their employees, though, and from what she knew, van Leuwen had never been easy to deal with under those circumstances. For a moment, he just looked at her with his folded hands resting on the table top. "I have called you here today because Wayland-Yutania has appointed you to be a lawyer for one of our former employees. Here is the case file. Look at it and tell me if you are interested," he said, handing her a thin folder with the certain knowledge that she would not turn down the chance of participating her first, real hearing. She accepted the folder while still watching him closely. His expression revealed nothing to her and she eventually turned her attention to the folder. Slowly leafing through it, she skimmed over the contents, getting the basics of what it contained. The man in question was a marine with high credentials and no family to speak off. The corps seemed to be his life and he had worked his way up to his present rank very quickly. His file stated very little about the charges against him other than the essentials and Taylor instantly wondered about that. Usually, when it concerned a case like this, there was a folder a mile thick to cover the who's, the why's and the what's. Keeping her musing to herself for the time being, Taylor finally looked up again. The file would have to be studied closer at a later time, but for now she knew all she had to. "Of course I'm interested. It will certainly be a break for a struggling young lawyer as myself," she said. Van Leuwen smirked a little at her words. Her insight was surprisingly sharp. "Good. This man is currently being held in a detention-cell here on Gateway. You can see him at your convenience." Van Leuwen stared at her for a moment, maybe expecting her to back out, then nodded almost solemnly. "Well, good luck with it," he then said, rising from his chair at the same time. Taylor frowned at him, wondering what he took her for. If he expected her to be content with what little he had given her, he was wrong. "Ahem... I don't mean to be disrespectful, but is that all?" she wanted to know. Van Leuwen pursed his lips, thinking that he should have been aware that he could not brush her off so easily. "Is there anything else you wish to discuss?" he asked a little brusquely, trying to discourage her. Taylor's frown stayed on. "Well, I do have a couple of questions," she said hesitantly. If he thought that he could just hand her a file and be done with it, he had another thing coming, she thought. "Well, ask away," he suggested, sitting down again with a sigh which indicated his displeasure. Taylor ignored that. "First of all, I would like to know why you have chosen me for this case?" Asking straight out had always been a policy that Taylor believed in. She had been taught not to do it as it could get her in trouble, but this she needed to know. "I have heard a lot of good things about you and, to be quite honest, this is not a case we wish to spend too much money on." Van Leuwen smiled a little, trying to make her feel more at ease, but she merely continued to frown. "I see! So, you choose a new lawyer who can't possibly be expected to establish a working case. Do I understand that correctly?" she asked on, staring at him intently. Van Leuwen was taken aback by the fact that she had seen through this thing so easily. None of the other fledgling lawyers he had used previously had ever indicated that they suspected something like this. "I wouldn't say that you've understood that correctly," he lied, his tone of voice once again brusque. "I would suggest that you watch your manners, though. I don't know who you think you are, accusing me of such things?" His tone of voice had become indignant and his expression stern. He was not about to let a kid like her come in and lecture him. Mentally Taylor rolled her eyes, but externally, there was no sign of her opposition. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to accuse you. I merely got the understanding that this is how it's done." She glance down at her hands, fighting the urge to tell him off. "I apologize. I was out of line." Van Leuwen nodded, once again at ease. "Apology accepted. - So, is there anything else you wish to ask me?" he added, getting up again. Taylor got up too, still trying to figure van Leuwen out. He seemed peculiar to her, but then again, she didn't know him. That was just her initial feeling about him. "One more thing," she replied. When he did nothing more than look at her, she continued, "am I representing him for or against the Company?" Van Leuwen managed to look a little surprised. Raising an eyebrow, he wondered briefly if the material he had given her was not enough. With a mental shrug, he discarded the thought. There was no sense in handing her the case on a silver plate. She would have to work hard to get this man acquitted and van Leuwen doubted that she could despite her sharp insight and her cheeky manner. "Against, Mrs. Taylor. Against," he replied with a half-smile on his lips. With a nod, she briefly squeezed his outstretched hand and left the office again, wondering what it was about him that she did not like.
Gateway Detention Area The detention-area on Gateway was luxury compared to so many Earth-prisons and definitely to most of the off-world prison-colonies. Taylor was not usually affected by the atmosphere of a place but she could not help noticing the air of gloom which swept her the minute she stepped inside. This was not a happy place. But, what else could one expect from a detention area? Shaking the feeling, she approached the desk across from the door. The detention officer rose from behind his desk, looking a little surprised. He was not used to people walking in at that hour. "Good morning, ma'am," he said and sat down again when she stopped in front of the desk. With a half smirk he ran his eyes over her in a way that Taylor disliked strongly and she instantly knew that she would not like this man. "Morning. I'm Bonnie Taylor, appointed lawyer to this man," she said in astern tone of voice and handed him the file. He glanced at the name on the file and she noticed the brief annoyance in his expression, which was replaced by a slightly puzzled one as he handed the file back to her. "Do you want to see him now, Mrs. Taylor?" he asked. Glaring at him, she wondered if he was stupid. It had to be apparent that she wanted to see her client now, considering that she was here. "Of course I do. Do you think I would be here if I didn't?" she snapped. "Is there a problem?" Resting his hands on the top of his desk, he looked a little stunned at her snappy tone of voice. "Well, ma'am. It's pretty early and... " he began, but Taylor interrupted him. "I don't care if it's early, officer. I don't have time to muck about because you want to treat criminals as royalty. If he wants to sleep, he can do it later," she countered under the assumption that the prisoner was indeed asleep, causing the guard to snap to attention. "I meant no disrespect, ma'am," he was quick to say as he pulled out a security-access-card, got off his chair and headed for a heavily armored steel door to the right of the desk. "He'll probably be awake anyway. He doesn't sleep much." He inserted the card into the slot of the card-reader and the door popped open. "It's the last cell at the end of the hall," he added, stepping aside. Taylor pursed her lips, frowning deeply at him. According to what she knew and had witnessed on several occasions, it was common practice that the lawyer talked to the prisoner alone and that did not mean his cell. "I will talk to him in private, officer. See to it," she replied coldly, then turned her back on him to wait. The officer stared at her back for a moment, then turned and headed down the corridor. All the while, he was mumbling to himself, never aware that the acoustics of the corridor carried his words back to her. "Whatever you say, ma'am. You're in charge, ma'am. God-damned women, bossing me around at this hour. All the shit I have to take in this job. Lawyers treating me like shit and prisoners trying to kill me. I hate this fucking job." With her back to the door, Taylor could not help smiling. She had learned to deal with obstinate people like this one due to her boss. He had been very insistent that she should never be afraid of anybody - not that she was. She actually never had been, but it was not really in her nature to talk down to people, either. With people like this officer, however, it could be necessary. There was no way a man like him would take orders from a woman if she simply asked him. Eventually she turned around to face the entrance of the cell-bay when she heard a door being opened somewhere down the corridor. "Come on, buddy. Your lawyer is here," she heard the officer saying. The prisoner replied something in too low a voice for her to hear. "I don't give a shit if you're not up to meeting her. She wants to see you now. Get on your feet, you lazy son of a bitch," the officer snarled. It was obvious that he let his bad mood out on the prisoner and Taylor would have felt sorry for the guy had it not been for the severe charges against him. Her first glimpse of her potential client made her almost change her mind about taking the case. What she could see of his expression was on the verge of being stony and the left side of his face and neck bore marks of being badly burned. The standard prison clothes and his crew-cut did nothing to improve his looks. With his hands tied behind his back, she did not think he would be dangerous to her but she felt apprehensive just the same. Taylor did not get easily scared but this guy had something about him that made her shudder inside. He was walking slowly with his head down, not looking up until he was almost at the door. Then he raised his head, meeting her eyes and, mentally, she shuddered again. His eyes held nothing of what his appearance said about him. There was something so unforgiving, so utterly desperate in his eyes that she did not know what to think.
The officer guided them both to a small interrogation chamber, holding onto the prisoner's arm all the while. Taylor sat down on one chair while the officer pushed the prisoner down on the other and cuffed his hands to the back of it. The chair was bolted to the floor, preventing him from getting up and, even though this would never show on her expression, Taylor had to admit to herself that she felt relieved. The officer nodded briefly to her and stepped outside, closing the door behind him. For a short moment Taylor did and said nothing. She placed the folder on the table between the two chairs and leaned back, staring thoughtfully at her would-be client. He in turn did not look at her. He kept his eyes sternly on the table top, not moving. Taylor wondered what was going through his head at that moment. Maybe he was going over what had happened to him. Maybe he was not thinking at all. And maybe he was contemplating what he would do to her if he could get his hands on her. Briefly closing her eyes, she pushed that thought out of her mind. It had no place there and would only make things more difficult for her if he noticed how she felt. "My name is Bonnie Taylor," she finally introduced herself and that caused him to glance at her with burning eyes. The contradiction his appearance made to the look in his eyes intrigued her. For now, that was the only reason that she even considered going on. "I have been appointed to be your lawyer," she added, hoping to receive some kind of response. He only glanced at her again, then returned to staring at the table top. Intriguing or not, Taylor was starting to feel that his silence was a little awkward. "In order for me to evaluate whether I should take this case or not, I need to ask you a few questions and I think you know how important it is that you tell me the truth." She hesitated briefly. "Nothing you say today will leave this room if that is your wish." She fell silent, giving him a moment to digest it. He just glanced at her again with a frown and said nothing. The first awkwardness of his silence turned into annoyance for Taylor. If he would at least tell her to get lost or something like it, she would have something to respond to. It was difficult to act when there was nothing going on. "All right," she finally said, opening the folder. "Your name is Dwayne Hicks. Is that correct?" she asked, glancing up at him. The right corner of his mouth twitched. "That's what my papers say," he grumbled, not looking at her. "Really?" she asked in a sarcastic tone of voice. Still not sure where to place him, she attempted to keep a low profile on her opinions for a while longer. "How old are you?" For a moment, it seemed as if he was not going to answer. Then he sighed, straightened his back and finally met her eyes. "Thirty-two," he replied. Taylor looked into his eyes for a moment, still confused by the conflicting signals he gave off. Partially he looked as mean as a bulldog and partially as lost as a little boy. Tearing her eyes away from his, she looked back down at the file. "You are a Marine?" she asked. His expression remained stony, but his tone of voice had obtained a sarcastic undertone. "Yeah, I was a Marine. Why do you ask? Doesn't my file say so?" Taylor met his eyes again, feeling more against than for him at the present time. It bothered her that he seemed to be so hostile. "Yes, it does. For how long have you been in the Corps?" she asked on, still keeping a lid on her feelings. He glanced away, looking sternly at the wall for a moment. "A little over ten years." She nodded, looked the page over for a moment and then looked up at him again. "So you joined when you were twenty-two?" "Twenty-one," he corrected her, looking back to meet her eyes. She corrected it on the page, then started tapping her pen on the table top, looking into his eyes for a long moment. "What was your rank when you were arrested?" she then asked. "Corporal." There was a change in his voice which made her look at him for a moment longer. His expression told her that he was experiencing some kind of discomfort. "Am I in any way bothering you with these questions?" she asked a little sharply, picking the only reason she could think of for his discomfort. He shook his head, twisting his hands back and forth behind his back, rattling the handcuffs. "The cuffs are too tight and I need a cigarette," he told her, knowing that it would not make any difference to her how he felt. "Is that so? And what do you expect me to do about that?" she wanted to know, maintaining her sharp tone of voice. "I think you should pay a little more attention to what I'm saying here. I may be an appointed lawyer, but I'm your only way out of this mess." He returned her look in the same manner, for the first time showing some real emotion. He was angry. "Really? Are you really? Why bother trying, Mrs. Taylor? You can't get me out of this," he told her and looked away. "Give it up!" Taylor considered what to do about his outburst for a moment. Maybe he was right, she thought. Then she mentally shook her head. No, it was too soon to make any snap judgments. Putting her own basic instincts away, she decided to ignore his words and continue with her questioning. "Why were you arrested?" He just stared at her for a second, slightly angry that she ignored what he had said, then a sinister expression spread over his face. He took a while to answer, the expression on his face again making her glad that he was still cuffed to the chair. "Because they screwed up and needed a scapegoat," he grumbled. With a frown furrowing her brow, Taylor stared at him for a moment. She had a hunch who he was talking about, but she had to make sure. "And who are they?" she asked with a glance at the sec-cam's position behind the grid of the ventilation shaft. She knew that these conversations were being recorded and it made her wonder if he would say it out loud. "The Company." He looked at her for a second, then looked up at the grid himself. "Wayland-Yutania," he specified. A fly crawling up the wall briefly distracted Taylor's attention while she considered how to handle that allegation. She again glanced up at the place where the hidden sec-cam was watching the whole thing. The thought crossed her mind that he might be right. Maybe that was why the Company had locked him away for the better part of a year without doing anything about his case. How far would they go to make sure he did not get out to tell about what he knew or thought he knew? Would they stoop low enough to eliminate him if she showed signs of winning the case? Her brief conversation with van Leuwen came to mind again and she pondered the idea for a while. She was slowly but surely becoming convinced that if there was any truth to what he said, they would have let him vanish quietly when he arrived at Gateway. It would never have gone this far. The only way that she could explain to herself that he was still alive, providing his allegation held true, was if somebody else knew about this. Somebody not part of the Company. At the moment, she could find neither head nor tail in this thing, but she hoped that it would all become clearer when she knew more. The fly was sucked into the ventilation system as it tried to crawl over the grating and she finally looked back at him. "Do you have any proof to back that up?" she asked, knowing full well that he did not. For a moment the room remained silent. He was watching something past her right shoulder, displaying no emotions until his eyes shifted to hers and she once again saw the anger there. "Proof? Are you kidding? I've been locked up in a cell ever since I came out of cryo-sleep. No, I don't have any proof," he snapped and looked away again. Taylor did not know if she could use his claim for anything. It would not be easy to prove - if at all. "Nothing at all?" she then asked. He focused on her, staring hard for a second. "The only proof I've got is my face," he grumbled. That answer confused Taylor. She glanced down at the second page in the folder but found no explanation there. "Your... face?" she then asked, studying his disfigured facade. "What does your face have to do with this?" she wanted to know. A sigh escaped him, indicating that he either thought she was slow-witted or just not paying attention enough. He turned his head a little to the right. "That's what it earned me." Staring at his face, she suddenly realized what he meant. "You mean the scars. The scars are your proof." He nodded once. Her pen scratched on the paper as she made a brief note, then she frowned and had to admit to herself that she still did not understand what he was getting at. "I realize you've had a hard time, but I still don't see the connection," she finally said, looking up again to meet his eyes. A grimace turned the left side of his face into a hideous mask, an expression which emphasized his state of mind. Having to explain the - to him - obvious was always a little exasperating. "It's what it earned me to get involved," he tried to explain, noted the blank look in her eyes and shook his head. "Oh, never mind," he then mumbled. For a long moment they both remained silent. Taylor was watching him, feeling slightly confused and slightly angry. His unwillingness to cooperate was driving her up the wall and his allegation, that the Company had set him up, was either a lie or would, in the best of cases, be damned hard to prove. What she needed was every little scrap of information that he could give her. And he was not willing to do that. Finally giving in to her anger, she closed the folder in front of her with a slap. "Right. I don't really think that I can help you," she said in a stern tone of voice and got up. "I wish you the best, Mr. Hicks. I don't really think that you should count on getting another lawyer, though. The Company is notorious for only appointing one lawyer per prisoner. But, then again, any lawyer would be a waste. This is a no-win situation anyway." With those harsh words, she turned around and stepped up to the door, raising her hand to knock for the guard to let her out. The expected response from her client did not come, though. She had expected him to excuse for his behavior or at least to ask her not to leave, but he said nothing. Taylor knocked on the door and then glanced over her shoulder at him. He was still sitting in the same position, his neck slightly bent, his eyes seemingly glued to the table top. The door slid open to reveal the officer with a rubber truncheon in one hand. He surveyed the situation, saw that there was nothing wrong and turned his attention to Taylor. "Leaving so soon?" he asked sarcastically. "Yes," Taylor retorted and brushed past him into the corridor beyond. She marched down it with long angry strides, barely able to contain her anger. Here was what might turn into the start of a great career for her and then her client did not want to play ball. "Men," she grumbled as she brushed through the doors of the detention area.
The officer uncuffed Hicks, pulled him to his feet and cuffed his hands together behind his back. "Now you've really done it. Now you're fucked," he said and gave his prisoner a push toward the door. "But, she might come back, you know. She took the file with her." Hicks glanced at the table as he passed it, realizing the file was gone. His instincts told him to accept her help, but he was also convinced that any attempts made by her or anybody else to help him would be futile. He knew about the procedures of the Company when it came to prosecuting somebody. They hired inexperienced lawyers when they were told by the court to appoint one and these lawyers usually lost the cases. So, in order to do her a favor as much as sparing himself the ordeal of having to go through a hearing that was lost up front, he had denied her help in a way which hopefully made her think twice about coming back. The officer took him back to his cell, removed the cuffs and left him alone. He dropped down on the bed and closed his eyes. What bothered him more than anything was that the Company had drawn it out so long before they even sent him a lawyer. With the charges against him it would take a miracle to get him acquitted and he had no faith in an inexperienced lawyer. On the other hand, inexperienced or not, Bonnie Taylor was all he was going to get.
Taylor arrived back at the apartment she and her husband had on Gateway, with her temper running high. Stanley always got up with her even though he never left for work before nine in the morning. At that moment, he was sitting on the sofa with a cup of coffee and a book. When Taylor came storming in, he glanced at his watch. "That didn't take long," he commented, then noted her sour expression. "Not a good show, huh?" Taylor gave him an angry glare and threw her bag full force into a corner. "Show? Hah! You should have been there. It was a tragic comedy," she snapped. Only in Stanley's presence did she let her emotions out like this. He was the calm one in their marriage and he always managed to calm her down, too. He put his book aside and got up to embrace her. "Take it easy, honey. Was it van Leuwen? Was he everything they said he was?" he wanted to know, holding her out at arm's length. Taylor pulled out of his grip, too angry to be consoled just yet. "Van Leuwen was nothing. He was okay. It was my so-called client who managed to piss me off. He's such an arrogant bastard." All her feelings welled up in her, making it difficult for her to think clearly. She would never allow herself to lose her temper in front of anybody else like this. Never. But Stanley understood her and he knew it was not aimed at him. Stanley took her hands in his and held on when she tried to pull free. "Let's sit down and talk this over, shall we?" he asked. For a moment, Taylor was about to give him hell. Then it dawned on her that she was, once again, taking her bad mood out on him and calmed down a little. "Sure. I'm sorry, Stan. I didn't mean to take it out on you. His behavior just made me furious," she then said. Stanley smiled a knowing smile. "Don't I know it," he agreed. "Okay, so what's so upsetting about this guy?" "He's a pain in the neck. I've never met anybody so desperately in need of help and he doesn't even want it." She handed him the file and he sat down on the sofa again to read through it. Considering that the file was confidential material, he was actually not allowed to read it. But Taylor wanted his opinion on it and she also knew that he would never abuse his knowledge. After a while, he looked up again. "Have you taken a look at this?" he asked. "Yes, but I didn't have time to read through it completely. I got the basics, though," she replied and dropped down beside him. "Well, I'm no lawyer and I don't know that much about law as such, but this doesn't seem to be much of a case. He's got great credentials and seems to be extremely steady in a bad situation... according to this," he said, tapping a finger on the file. "It isn't, of course, unlikely that even the calmest individual could flip his lid at one point or another, especially considering how much stress those marines are under. But this is still a very weak cup of tea. What was your impression of him?" Taylor sighed and closed her eyes for a moment, rubbed the bridge of her nose and tried hard to think rationally. Feelings aside, she basically had the same idea and it always did wonders when Stanley voiced his opinions about something. He had a rational look on everything. "Well, he didn't exactly seem that bad. As a matter of fact, my initial feeling when I met his eyes for the first time was... that I felt sorry for the guy. Sort of like he got himself into a mess he can't get out of without being blamed for it." She shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe he did do what they charge him for and maybe he didn't. As his lawyer, I have to believe that he didn't." Stanley nodded. "Right! So, there you are. Your initial feelings are the ones you should trust. Besides, take a good look at this material. They don't have much to base the accusations on. Hear-say is what this is. And that's never stood up in any hearing I've heard of. Besides, if you thought this case was hopeless, why did you take the file home with you?" With an embarrassed smile, Taylor nudged him in the ribs with her elbow. "Why are you always right? Why do I always feel so dumb around you?" she asked jokingly. Stanley smiled sweetly. "Because I am and you are." He handed the file back to her and Taylor sat back to read through it properly. Stanley was right, she realized after a moment. The accusations were weak at best, but no less serious for that matter. She thought that winning this was going to be easy, so she started planning her attack. This guy had to be handled in a special way if she wanted him to accept her as his lawyer. That was the first step. And she did want this case.
When Taylor reentered the detention area at four in the afternoon, the officer sitting behind his desk could not conceal a resigned look. "Afternoon, ma'am," he said. It was the same officer and Taylor gave him a sharp look, again wanting this guy to know that he had better do as she said or she would raise hell. "Same prisoner, same interrogation chamber. Get him there. Now," she told him and brushed past the desk and down the corridor toward the interrogation chambers. The officer looked after her for a moment, then got up to get the prisoner. He felt very offended by this woman lawyer and he wanted nothing more than to tell her off, but that would definitely cost him his job. In a bad mood, he opened the door to the cell. Hicks looked up with a frown when he stepped inside. "Come on, buddy. Your lawyer changed her mind. She wants to see you again," the officer said, a morose look on his face. Hicks stared at him for a moment, then made a face and shook his head. "Tell her to go away. I don't want her help," he replied. The officer rolled his eyes. "Don't queen it, pal. I might have to brain you," he said, slapping his right palm with his rubber truncheon, deep down wishing that Hicks would make a fuss. Just once he wanted the right to clobber somebody and he was almost hoping the guy would make a break for it, giving him an excuse. Hicks did not, though. He merely made a face at the threat and got up. Without being told to he turned his back to the officer and let him cuff him. There was no sense in resisting and he was too good a judge of character to overlook the officer's hostile mood and the harm it might do to him if he started something. The officer pulled at his shoulder, making him stagger backward out of the cell. "Personally, I think she's wasting her time. Nobody can help you and nobody should try, either. We'd all be better off if scum like you didn't walk free," he said as he guided Hicks toward the exit. His temper on the verge of going off, Hicks remained morosely silent, keeping his opinions to himself. Nobody wanted to hear them anyway and any wrong move would definitely effect an immediate attack. "Move it, pal. I don't want to repeat myself," the officer grumbled and pushed him forward.
Taylor was already seated with the file open in front of her, when the officer guided Hicks into the room and cuffed him to the chair. She met Hicks' eyes steadily and waited until the officer had left the room again ,before she said anything. "What do you want?" Hicks asked in a sour tone of voice, cutting her off before she could open her mouth. All he wanted her to do was leave him alone. Not that she could make things any worse, but he doubted strongly that she could change anything. After this hearing, his destiny would be settled and no matter what happened, he was certain that he would not live much longer. Taylor had to remind herself why she had come back and not let his remark spoil her good intentions. "I think we started off on the wrong foot here," she began. "No, we didn't. I don't need your help," Hicks grumbled. She folded her hands and gave him a look that told him what she thought about his mental state. "That's where you're wrong. You do need my help. I've had time to go over your file in more detail. It's weak to say the least. They base their accusations on hear-say. They don't know for sure that you did it, but they're taking a chance. I think I can get you off the hook," she told him. For a long moment, he studied her face, wondering why she bothered. Even she had to know that this was a bad case for her. "Why do you care?" he asked her. It puzzled him and he wanted to know. Taylor frowned a little at the change in his tone. He sounded a bit more subdued and not so sarcastic. "Because I do. Don't worry about why I care. That's not your problem. Your problem is what happened and why. Now, I want all the details you can possibly give me. Everything even if it seems silly or unimportant. Anything might help," she said, then paused for a moment. "Let's return to your claim that your scars are your proof. What exactly do you mean by that?" Staring at her, he was starting to believe that she might want to help him for real. She seemed very honest. He still doubted that she could, but found that his doubt was no longer so strong. The human mind sure was a wondrous thing when it came to suppressing the truth. "Like I said, it's what it earned me to get involved. The Company is using me as a scapegoat. One of their people screwed up and now they want me to pay for it," he replied and looked down at the table top for a moment. Taylor eyed him closely. "Okay. Let's for a moment assume that this is the case. Do you have any way of proving that you didn't do it?" she asked. Hicks shook his head. "Not presently. As I said, I have been in jail basically from the moment I woke up from cryo-sleep. That doesn't give me a very good edge, does it?" he replied with a regretful expression. Taylor shook her head thoughtfully, happy to note that he had warmed up to the idea of having a lawyer. "Not really," she agreed. She considered what to do, then decided that she would cut right to the case. "You don't stand very strongly, of course, but neither do they. I'm going to ask you to violate your pledge of silence. Are you willing to do that?" The corner of his mouth twitched into a half-smile, a sarcastic little grimace which made him look a little more human than before. "Sure," he replied. "What happened to you?" In her opinion, he could react two ways to this. He could spill the beans or he could clamp up and refuse to talk any more. She was actually hoping for the first and expecting the last, but when he finally started talking, she was not at all prepared for what he told her. He shifted his weight on the chair, trying to get comfortable, then sighed when he did not succeed. "I was attacked by an alien. When I shot it, it burned my face and chest to shreds." The silence after that statement lingered for a while. Taylor stared at him, the seriousness of his voice making her almost drop her jaw. He couldn't be serious. What he had just said sounded like... well, it sounded like he had been up against...! No, it couldn't be. "It burned your face and chest?" she finally asked hesitantly and he nodded. "What was that thing? Some kind of dragon? Did it spew fire or something?" She just had to bring that thought out in the open. If he told her 'yes' to this one, she would get up and walkout. That would prove to her that he was clearly demented. Hicks looked at her sarcastically amused, knowing that she could not believe what he had just said. Hell, he had been there and he hardly believed it. The expression gave way to a darker one when he allowed himself to briefly remember what had happened. "No, it wasn't a dragon, Mrs. Taylor. It was an alien life form and it had acid for blood. When I shot it, it sprayed acid over me," he eventually said after deciding that it did not matter how it sounded. He knew it was the truth. Taylor's expression of surprise did not change at his words and her thoughts made cartwheels inside her head. Acid? An alien with acid blood? It sounded almost too bizarre to be true. The thing that surprised her the most was the fact that he did not try to excuse for how that sounded. He just sat there, watching her, waiting for her response. "Acid for blood," she mumbled, leaning back on the chair. "What kind of creature has acid for blood... and what does it have to do with your arrest?" For a moment he remained silent and the quiet hum of the air ventilation system became audible. Somewhere through the air ducts that criss-crossed the whole station, they could hear faint sounds of people talking. Taylor returned his stare, knowing that whatever he was going to tell her was something he believed to be the truth. "I guess it's some kind of bug and... it's the whole reason for my arrest. The Company wants to cover up that these bugs destroyed a whole colony and now they're trying to blame it on me. The easy way out for them. Just blame it all on me and they don't have to answer." He stopped talking as a dark expression spread like a rain cloud over his face. It would take her some time to digest what he had just told her. Aliens with acid for blood? It sounded kind of gothic, somehow. As if it was a tale delivered from medieval times. She frowned deeply. Any shrink would probably have him locked away for that claim. But she wasn't a shrink and there was something honest and so basic about the way he said it, that she almost believed him. Her next question was plain and simple. "Why?" For a moment he just looked straight at her, then he shrugged. That was his only answer and, after a minute or two, Taylor started tapping her pen down on the file in front of her. She considered how to put her next question to him and then decided that it would be best to be straightforward. "Are you aware of how paranoid that sounds?" she asked, acutely alert to any change in his expression. There was none. "Yeah." His answer was no surprise her. He was aware that a claim like that would not stand up in a hearing, but she was certain that he would not hesitate to repeat it. For a moment Taylor considered pursuing that subject but decided that there were other things she needed to know right now, no matter how insane they sounded. "This... bug destroyed the colony on Acheron, you say, but the Company wants to blame this on you?" she asked just to make sure she had gotten it right and he nodded. She looked down at the file, mentally going over what she had read and what he was saying. The charge was clear. He was to be blamed for the whole thing. But how he should have been able to do it was not stated anywhere and it was beyond her to find an explanation. She looked at him again, studying his face. "There is no indication in this file of how you did it or how long it took? Have they said anything to you about that?" For a moment, he just looked at her, his eyes locked on hers. "Yeah. They claimed that I had a lot of time to do it in. From the moment we set down on the planet and until we took off again." He snorted, half angry, half amused at the bizarreness of it all. "Considering that I was surrounded by aliens basically from the moment we landed doesn't seem to make any difference." "There were more than the one you shot?" she asked, a little taken aback by what he said. Silently she scolded herself for not considering that there might be more than one before. But she still found it hard to believe. Very hard. "Of course. There were over a hundred of them. All vicious like hell." He briefly closed his eyes as the wave of the past washed over him. He wanted to get out of this place, away from confined spaces. Funny, he thought. He'd never suffered of claustrophobia before. Taylor considered his answer for a moment. Was he exaggerating? Was he trying to impress her? Eying him closely, she decided no. What purpose would it serve if he did exaggerate? It couldn't possibly become any less believable than it was already. Pushing that thought aside, she cleared her throat at the thought of these aliens. "How do they suggest that you did it?" she wanted to know. Hicks frowned. Apparently the file did not give her very much background information. It was obviously up to him to give her more information. And he knew she wouldn't believe him. She would probably do a good job of defending him at the hearing, but she would not believe him. "They claimed that I placed explosives at a vital point in the atmosphere processor and then blew them all to hell when I was off the planet." Taylor frowned. It sounded logical - for a crazed bomber. He didn't appear to be one, though. "Do you like explosives?" "No. It's okay if you know how to handle it, but I don't. I'm a Corporal, not a bomb expert," he replied. Things of unspeakable nature paraded around Taylor's thoughts, trying to give her an image of what those aliens might look like. Her subconscious kept producing an image of dragon-like creatures. "Mr. Hicks. You've been charged with mass murder. Why don't you tell me what really happened?" He hesitated before answering that. Whatever he had to tell her, she would end up not believing him. He knew that. But again he reached the same conclusion. It did not matter how it sounded. It was the truth. "The aliens had done the job before we got there. There was nobody left alive." Again he hesitated, wondering how he could relate something like what had happened to somebody who had never seen one of the aliens. It would be close to impossible. He couldn't even describe them very well. They had attacked at such high speed, that looking at them in detail had been out of the question. He hadn't been very interested in that, anyway. "We had no idea what we were up against. We went into the processor to find the colonists and got cornered there. By accident the cooling-system was ruptured and that started a melt-down of the processor core. I guess. That's at least what we found out four hours before the shit hit the fan." Things got more complicated all the time for Taylor. "You guess?" she asked and he nodded. "I can't tell for sure, of course. It might have been the drop ship when it crashed into the processor. All I know is that the whole damned thing was blown to hell," he replied. Taylor held up her hands. "Wait a minute. What's this about the drop ship? It doesn't say anything about a crashing drop ship here," she said, tapping a finger on the file. "If the drop ship crashed, how did you get out? How did you get off the planet?" Hicks was amazed at how little she actually knew. Looking at the file, though, he could tell that she probably only had a fragment of the story there - if even that. "We called down the second drop ship from the Sulaco. Messy job, but it happened." "Why did the other one crash?" Taylor asked on, wanting to know the whole story now. This was getting out of hand. She had realized that she knew nothing, really. What the file stated was a badly cut version of the truth. "I'm not sure. I can only guess. After we got out of the processor, we called for an immediate evac. The drop ship came toward us, suddenly got out of course and more or less came down on top of us. It slammed right into the processor and blew up. My guess is that one of those aliens...!" He stopped, a look of discomfort on his face. "I get the picture," Taylor was quick to say. "So, what you're saying is that this... short-circuit or whatever it was, caused the station to blowup?" He nodded his assent. "Yeah, that's what I'm saying." For a moment, she looked down at the file, then looked up again. "And the encounter with these aliens. You had no idea that they would be there? Or could be there?" she asked. Hicks made a face. "Well, we were briefed on the existence of a possible xenomorph." His expression hardened and for a moment Taylor feared that the fragile balance she had achieved between them had been tipped over. But his answer told her differently. "But it was treated like a bad joke," he grumbled and looked away, obviously haunted by dark memories. Taylor nodded and glanced at the file again. "So, naturally, you didn't take it to heart. Not you or anybody else. Right?" she asked. He again moved uncomfortably on the chair, flexing his fingers behind his back. The cuffs were tight enough to stop proper efflux of blood and that made his fingers tingle slightly. "Of course not. What do you expect? When somebody tells you about aliens that are up to nine and a half feet tall and have acid for blood you wouldn't believe it either," he replied after a moment. Taylor nodded. He was right about that. "Are there any other survivors from this... occurrence?" she asked. There were none mentioned in the file and she thought it was essential if there were any. Her question caused him to frown. "Sure there are. There should be two. One woman, but I don't know if she's alive. And an android." Taylor nodded and made a note about that. According to the file, he was the only survivor and that puzzled her. What reason could the Company possibly have to leave out an important detail like that? she wondered. She was beginning to think that maybe there was some truth to his claim. "The woman. What's her name?" she asked and looked up at him to observe any change in his expression. She had very quickly figured out that she could read a lot from his expressions. And, certain enough, his expression did change briefly from the stony look to a more soft one. "Ellen," he then said, almost savoring the name. "Her name is Ellen Ripley." The way he said the name made Taylor frown. This woman was special to him. She wrote the name down, reminding herself to try and find out what had happened to her. "What was your connection to her?" He gave her a partially confused look, then glanced away. "She was an advisor on that last trip out. She saved my life," he then said. Taylor nodded almost to herself. "Good. If I can find her, we have a witness and the case already looks a lot more promising than before." Mentally, she was rubbing her hands. With a qualified witness, she stood a chance of getting him off the hook. But Hicks was not about to let her live in that rosy dream. "I don't know. They think she's crazy. She was the first to encounter the aliens." The dream evaporated, sobering Taylor's hopes for fortune and glory. If the woman had a history as a nutcase, she was no good as a witness. She gave it a moment's thought. "Okay. If that's the fact, it's too bad. But, I'll try to find her anyway. Just as a precaution." She remembered something from the file which had so far eluded her. Something that had not been mentioned anywhere. In the case file it was obvious who was to blame for the deaths, the destructions and everything else. To Taylor it was not so obvious any more. "According to this file, you're to blame for everything. But you say your innocent. So, who caused the commotion on Acheron?" The look on his face expressed mixed feelings at that question and for a moment she thought he might not want to answer it. Then with a sigh he shifted his weight on the chair for the umpteenth time and looked straight at her. "Carter Burke. Company representative. I'm not even sure van Leuwen knew what was going on. It was something about exclusive rights for the discovery of those things. If you can find Ellen, she can definitely tell you more about that." Taylor's hopes rose again. Finding the woman meant more information. That was good. She acknowledged his answer with a nod. "I see. And this Mr. Burke will not take responsibility for what he has done. Is that it?" Hicks gave her a strange look, wondering if she really knew so little about the background of this case. "He can't really take responsibility for it, Mrs. Taylor. He's dead," he told her. Taylor met his eyes for a moment, then nodded again. "I see. Okay. That can't be helped, I guess. What is your opinion about this hearing?" "It stinks." His reply was curt and impassionate.
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