For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1 (in short: The Alien-universe belongs to Fox. I'm just borrowing it for my entertainment).
Huge thanks go again to Anise for her great help with this story!
"Dwayne? I didn't forget you, in case you were suspecting it. There's something for you in the food-dispenser. Just help yourself."
A female voice crackles into Hicks' cell over the speakers, and he recognizes it as the android's. Half-android's, he corrects himself a fraction of a second later, and then, another fraction of a second later, again: Part-android, part-human, part-us. Hard to believe she's really one of them. Why does she reject their mother? Why does she help their captors? A long, pensive gaze at the piece of fabric he ripped off her back 45 minutes ago. He can smell it from here, three meters away from the door where it's lying, partly caught under the steel. Food. She said there was food for him. Time to check it out.
Five minutes later, he's sitting at the table wolfing down the steak after throwing down the mug with the stinking brown liquid, when suddenly the force field activates, confining him to the table and the far corner of the room. Still chewing, he turns his head just in time to see three heavily armed guards enter, their bright blue bio-electric auras disturbing the peaceful darkness of his hive. Wait, there's another one! Missing the aura, which is why he didn't see him at first. A casual scan identifies the man as android. Narrowing his eyes in deep thought, he chews on. Not good. Why do they show so poorly in his vision? A run through his different ranges of vision no change. Definitely not good. Potentially dangerous. He'll have to ask Her what to do about it.
"Hey filth!" One of the guards steps up to him, his smell giving away his fear even through the force field. "You stay put, got that? You make just one move, we grease you. Clear?"
Calmly, Hicks takes another bite, not bothering with table manners as he takes the meat into his hands and buries his teeth in it. Not bothering to answer.
"I said: Are we clear, scum?" Obviously, the big man's not used to being ignored. He moves closer, comes to a halt in front of the energy barrier. "You got ears, don't you? They working? " Nothing. He shakes his head and wrinkles his forehead. "What's this shit anyway? Let's get some fuckin' light in here!" An all-encompassing gesture.
Doesn't like his home, huh? A moment later, the bright lights come back on as the illuso is switched off., forcing Hicks to close his eyes against the blaring whiteness.
"It stays this way, understood? What are you, a friggin' zombie, man? Geez, just look at you!" The man stares down on him, obviously meaning his ripped and hanging clothes and flakes of old skin he hadn't cleaned off himself so far, waiting for a response, but when Hicks continues to ignore him, he turns around to watch what his comrades are doing. The synthetic's in the adjoining room, apparently fixing the camera there, while the other two guards have taken their position left and right of the door, watching him. Curiously. With hidden disgust. With a blank expression, Hicks raises the steak for another bite, secretly amused over the fascinated faces.
"Sam, how long's this going to-"
'BAM'!Dark again. Beautiful organic design on the walls, slight illumination from a transparent mist on the floor. Home, sweet home. He swallows. In front of him, the big guard raises the remote, his back still on Hicks. Muttering. Cursing under his breath.
"Now what the fuck…?'"
Light. The naked room again. The gaze of one of the men over at the door on him, probing. Hicks gulps down a swig of water, indifferent, not looking back. Not giving away his silent amusement. Their leader once again slightly shaking his head to himself and proceeding into the bedroom.
"Fuckin' hell!" From his place at the table, Hicks sees the big man twitch and stare in confusion at his remote, shaking it. "Stupid thing's not working! Why's it always switching back?" His aura brightens as he becomes increasingly agitated.
Very rewarding. Best entertainment he's had in weeks Hicks concludes as he watches the spectacle unfold, calmly downing the rest of the steak and even some of the bread, but it's too dry and not too his taste, and so he unceremoniously spits it out.
"Sir?" One of the guards at the door chimes in, pointing a finger at him. "I think he's doing it!" In the bedroom, Sanchez turns around to stare at him. "Look at him! He obviously knows what's going on. Maybe he's doing it himself! He's got a remote, doesn't he?" The man takes a step towards him, but one gesture of his leader freezes him in his tracks.
"You think that's funny, asshole, don't you?" Sanchez comes to a stop right in front of the table. Right in front of the barrier. "Lay the remote on the table and move back."
Hell, this is getting better and better! Without granting the big man a single look, Hicks pushes the empty dish in front of him back and slowly starts to lick the last remains of the meat taste off his fingers, one by one. The human's aura flares up to a blue so bright, it's almost white. The others play mute, but their bio-electric readings show Hicks they're not exactly relaxed, either.
Suddenly there's a thick tension in the room. An atmosphere so electrified, it feels as if it could ignite as soon as one of the present occupants of the cell made a wrong move. Hicks feels it and revels in it. They're afraid of him! How amusing. He checks his hands again. They look clean now.
Open anger sparkles in the big Latino's eyes now as he picks up the provocation, the notion of being ridiculed. Hicks can't help but smile ever so thinly, knowingly. A 'what you're gonna do about it?' smile. Because it's clear to him he's free to do or say basically everything he wants – they dare not switch of the force-field between them. He folds his hands on the table and waits, pretending to follow the synthetic's efforts in the next room. Calm. Muscles relaxed, but ready to go from zero to 100 in a flash. Sanchez frowns, not being used to have his orders ignored.
"Did you hear me, asshole?" Nothing. "I said, put down the remote and-"
"- move back. Yeah, I heard you." Finally choosing to acknowledge his presence, Hicks holds up his hands and wriggles his fingers. "Nothing there." He hears the other two men uncomfortably shuffle their feet behind his opponent.
"Stand up," the big man barks at him. "Move your ass, or I'll make you, freak!"
'Your men are watching, huh?'Hicks thinks. 'Can't afford to lose authority here, right?' It's his human mind speaking to him, sharing its experience, communicating with the alien side, and it's listening intensely. Soaking up what's there to learn. Let's see how far he can take this game. He slowly rises to his feet and follows Sanchez' gaze to his empty seat – and back to the man's face.
"Nothing there, either."
The guard fumes, his aura a lively, bright blue-white vapor. Appetizing. He raises a finger and points it at Hicks.
"Listen, I don't know what's going on here, but I know you're triggering this somehow. You do that one more time, we're gonna teach you some fuckin' respect, got that? I don't care what Darwin says, it's about time someone educated you. Just to wipe that insolent grin off your face! We won't kill you, don't be afraid. Just teach you a lesson." He rises his tazer-gun and fires a bolt of energy into the wall, cocking an eyebrow. "Wanna get to know this interesting piece of technology up close and personal? Or do we understand each other now?"
Hicks' grin broadens at that, obviously less impressed than his opponent wants him to be, his eyes holding the other man captive. Finally, with an angry snort, Sanchez turns his back on him again. "Hurry up, Samuel! We ain't got all day! Wasting my time for this freak pisses me off. I-"
"Fucking hell!" He spins around, his face the color of a blood-blister about to burst. "You're gonna regret that, freak, I promise!" A nod to his men. "Switch off the field and hold yourselves ready. If this bastard so much as winks, fry him!" Too much light again. Hicks closes his eyes, but senses his opponent just as clearly as if he were seeing him.
"Shut up, Samuel, and see that you get your shit done. This ain't your responsibility!"
'Come on, come on, come on…'
"Sir, I must insist-" Steps from the bedroom. The shadow of the synthetic. "Sir, I'm sorry I have to remind you-"
The field's collapses and Hicks' muscles catapult him forward before he can even think about attacking. Crashes full force into Sanchez and knocks the wind out of him while crackling energy-bolts hit the wall behind the space he occupied just a fraction of a second before. Not bothering to go for the armored torso, his fist rams into the guard's face – through the guard's face! Bone shatters like china as he drives his hand into soft matter, giving it a violent squeeze as he simultaneously spins around to shove his already dead opponent into the other guards, using him as a shield.
The hive's back, the light gone, only interrupted by blue-white bursts of energy. Current runs up his arms as the tazers hit Sanchez' corpse. The stench of burning skin and hair. Screams. The smell of fear, of prey, overpowering what human sense he still had. Two bright auras directly in front of him, starting to move apart. He's faster. Throws the corpse at the first one, taking it down with its weight, the gun clattering to the floor.
The charging of the gun in front of him, energy uploading to be released into his body. He's faster, rips the weapon out of the man's hands and hammers it against his head in one fluent motion, hears it crack. The sound of blood spattering onto the floor.
Movement behind him, below. The other guard, frantic to reach his gun. A graceful spin, nothing but a continuation of the movement, resulting in another cracked skull. Both enemies sink to the floor, dead before they hit the ground, their auras darkening.
The sweet smell of blood floods his system, makes his stomach contract in unbearable hunger – and wakes his family, rewards him with their undivided attention. Hers, above all others. She knows what's at stake now – she knows if he overcomes their capturors, he'll come for Her – and free them. She lets him know she's with him, but doesn't seize his mind and holds back from taking control. He's fighting well on his own, knowing better than her what to anticipate from their human enemies, and there will be things to deal with on his way to her she won't be able to help him with.
One more to go, one he can hardly see in this mode of vision. But sense! Picking up electrical emissions to his left, he lunges – straight into a white-hot bolt of lightning! The charge stuns him – for a micro-second. Then Her fury sends him forward, crashing into their tormentor. Seizing the gun and bending its barrel upwards with one brutal jerk – and then he meets resistance.
"Isis! Isis! Emer-"
Something clatters against the wall and shatters, something small. Hicks doesn't care. Doesn't care for the tug in the back of his mind either. He blocks it, instead focuses all available energy to overcome the synthetic he's wrestling with, their hands locked, neither one giving way.
"Give it up, soldier," the machine says, countering his next attack. "You haven't got a chance. Even if you get out of this room-" The door behind them opens. Two more guards. "I'm here! Help me! Help-!"
The thing's attention is diverted for the fraction of a second, a lapse Hicks has anticipated. First a fast spin and then a violent push sends the synth reeling into the sputtering console behind the bed. He charges after it, hammers it into the instrument board and the bare lying circuits and feels the body twitch in the high-powered current before he releases it.
Two more enemies in the next room. Moving towards him stealthily, but not stealthily enough. Are they on night-sight? He doesn't think so. As remaining part of the squad which guarded his cell, they were ordinarily equipped. No infra-red, no night-vision goggles. He, on the other hand, can see the blue hue surrounding them clear as daylight. And even if he couldn't, the smell of human flesh, of fear and adrenaline gives them away. This should be easy.
Soundlessly, Hicks makes for the door and listens. They're wondering about the illuso. Look for a way to turn it off, but can't find the generator. He cracks a thin, malevolent smile to himself remembering where he hid it. It's part of a protrusion of the wall. Undetectable. Just as he should be. Why not have a little fun?
'No fuckin' time, man!'he calls himself back to duty. 'Get moving!' The tug at his mind is so powerful by now, he can hardly resist dashing out of the room and go hunting for Her right now. She knows their escape is near and urges him along – but first, there are the two enemies right in front of him to deal with. Better to make it fast.
Leaving cover, he makes for the guards. Silently. Concentrated. At the last possible moment, one of them hears him, but all he's able to do before Hicks' already blood-drenched arm punches through his chest is utter one painful, airless gasp. The other man dies a tenth of a second later.
The door, will it open for him? They didn't lock it behind them, did they? No, they didn't. He dashes into the corridor, the blazing overhead lights a pain to his sensitive night-sighted eyes. Which way? Changing his range of vision, he spins around on his heels, all senses. Listening-smelling-looking-tasting. No immediate danger. No humans in the near vicinity. An empty corridor.
Allowing himself to shut his eyes, he reaches out for Her… and receives her signal; powerful and clear. Pulling him along. Down, she's somewhere further down! He takes off – and suddenly feels another signal, much closer. Garbled and messed-up, but clearly betraying its source. Raven.
Rounding the corner, another stretch of the brightly-lit corridor lies in front of him, a crossroads. Ripe with the distinctive smell of humans! Steps from several people, voices. Rustling clothes and paper. Hicks comes to a halt, uncertain, the intersection ten meters away. A group of people in green frocks rounds the corner, see him – and freeze.
They take off, and for a moment, the instinct of charging after them and bringing them down is almost too powerful to resist.
'Concentrate! First things first. Get him out!'
He reaches out again and has found the door a moment later, frantically searching for a way in. And jerks at the sound of wailing claxons. Are they for him? Do they already know he's out? Or-
'Mother?'Her reassuring presence calms him immediately.
'Raven? You there?'He places his hand on the little apparatus next to the door, but it won't open. Nothing from his half-brother. By the sounds of it, he's asleep, unable to wake from the embrace of the massive sedatives they domesticated him with. 'Raven! WAKE UP!!!' Imperative, an order. Without result. He can't get through. 'Dammit!'
Time to resort to other, more drastic means. Diverting his attention to the device on the door, Hicks scans for a weakness. He changed the illuso, he should be able to manipulate this thing then, too. But how to do it? It's electrical signature is a mystery to him, nothing to make sense of. What part to tweak to get the necessary result? No transmission link, it's hardwired all the way, untouchable to him.
Despite the massive noise from the claxons, another part of him, the instinctive, sub-conscious part, is picking up signs of activity from further down the corridor, front and behind. They're coming for him!
'Fuck it, Raven, get your ass in gear!'He pounds at the door, feeling his already once broken hand break again and hardly cares. Leaving just a small dent on the metal. He ain't gonna get through it, at least not in the short time-span he's got left. He's got to leave his brother behind.
"There he is!"
"Careful! Don't kill him!"
A quick glance down reveals more guards than he can count in a hurry. Only one option. He spins and takes off in the direction he came from. They're coming from there, too, but they can't see him yet. Let's surprise 'em!
He speeds up, aware of the slapping sound of his bare feet giving him away, pure energy pulsing through his veins, all senses directed ahead of him. The corner! Without slowing, Hicks seizes it with both hands – a flash of pain from the not yet fully healed one - and simultaneously draws himself up and forwards, momentum sending him over the heads of the men that have come to intercept him. For a moment, he sees huge eyes and stunned expressions, then he lands on his feet and dashes forward without losing one beat. Tazer-shots hit the space he occupied just the wink of an eye before as he makes for the elevators. Shouts behind him; angry yells. The sound of the two squads charging down the corridor behind him, hopelessly slow.
The pull of Her. She urges him to come to Her, to free his kin. He's so close now! He's out of the cage and stronger and faster then their enemies, he's got to make it! The image in his head is clear: 'Kill everything in our way!'
Up ahead, the corridors! No enemies. He flies down towards them when he suddenly picks up a signal, something not directed at him – and a wall of solid steel descends right in his path! Instinctively, he thrusts himself forward, an exactly timed horizontal dive that sends him rolling through the gap a fraction before it slams shut, a quick head-roll and hand-flick sees him landing on his feet. Cutting off his pursuers. Just one beat slower and it would have crushed him. The thought doesn't even enter his mind.
'Go, go, go!'
The elevators, straight ahead! Just waiting for him! A huge surge of energy floods his body, a combination of adrenaline and a power surge from his nanobots. He's gonna make it!
"Isis! Isis! Emer-"
Sams voice suddenly breaks up as I return from the bathroom after a lengthy shower. I didn't hear him properly, but his tone sounded urgent enough. I active the VidCom.
"Sam? This is Isis. Come again?" Nothing. "Sam?" Is he still in Hicks' cell? He should be. Unless something came up, or he's already done. But no, can't be. It's only 20 minutes since I asked him to go. Suddenly, I got an extremely bad feeling. A premonitionary thought causes me to reach out with the transceiver – just in time to get the notion of a bad electrical shock! The darkness is interrupted by flashes, blue and white, and I hear someone screaming. "Samuel?"
Suddenly, all falls apart to noisy interference, and for a moment, I get the impression of a huge, malevolent presence jumping at me – and I pull back. Opening my eyes, I see my own worried face mirrored in the VidCom. Something is very wrong.
Opening two separate lines I punch in Sanchez' and Darwin's numbers and wait endless seconds before my human sister appears on the monitor.
"Isis? What is it?"
My gaze on the other half of the screen, on the words "Connection enabled", I can't help feeling a cold chill racing down my spine.
"Something's wrong in Hicks' cell. Samuel just called me from there, and then he broke up and screamed. And none of the guards outside are answering, either!"
"How about the surveillance cameras?"
"I'm checking that now." My fingers fly over the keyboard, and a moment later the screen splits into ten different images. Hicks' cell. No transmission. Both cameras are still out. The one directly in front of the door, pointing down the corridor. Nothing. The next camera, observing the connecting corridor. And there he is, coming to a stop in front of Raven's door. I gasp. "He's out of his cell." My palm almost breaks the key as I raise the alarm, waking Phooka's claxons for the first time in the station's brief history. No silent alarm this time. People need to know that Death his haunting their corridors. Darwin's eyes widen.
"Send the guards down! All of them! But tell them they mustn't kill him, no matter what he does! Stun-shots only. If anyone kills him, I'm going to skin him alive. Isis, I want you down there with the stasis-caster."
"They don't work," I interrupt her, feeling numb with fear. "I had an incident with mine, too. We can't catch him that way."
"I don't care," she suddenly bursts out. "Get him back into his cell, no matter how! Stun him! Shoot him with tranquilizers, I don't care, just think of a way, and make it fast!" She disappears and is replaced by the chief of security's image.
"Isis? You raised the alarm?"
"Yes," I cut him off. "Send all your men down to Lab 1, Raven's cell. Hicks is out of his cell and trying to open his door. Get him back in, but DON'T KILL HIM! Stun-shots only, no matter what! Make this clear to your men! And tell them to use the main corridor. I'll be sealing off all other ways out of the complex. Understood?"
"Then do it!" I sever the connection and refocus on the images from the cameras. Hicks is still busy with the door, seemingly unperturbed by the ruckus around him. Should I try to contact him again? Convince him to surrender? Maybe spare him and the guards a very unpleasant experience? But she is waiting for me there. She probably knows I'll be back. I'm not yet ready for her predatory mind again. Not after what happened not even an hour ago!
I watch Hicks' two-dimensional image and see him take off at the sight of the first squad, back the way he came, silently urging him to be sensible, to go back into his cell. But I don't dare raise the connection. It's all too clear to see he's his predatory self right now and possibly completely under the queen's control. No point in getting through to him as he's heading right for the other squad.
'Please, please, don't kill him!'I pray silently, and then gasp as he takes a giant leap over the men, surprising them. Surprising me! 'Jesus…!'
My turn now to stop him, but another incredible reflex catapults him through the gap just before the panel slams shut behind him. Harder to catch than wet soap! Opening the blockade to let Hicks' pursuers through, I simultaneously follow his path on the monitor. He's making for the elevators! Really? Can he be that dumb? He should know they won't move for him – except if his alien self is so much in control right now, it doesn't make use of it's human part's memories. This could be my chance to trap him!
'Come on, Dwayne,'I urge him silently along. 'Come to me!' I punch in the key-code and let my finger hover over the 'enter'-key. I don't have to wait for long. Without so much as even a quick glance back, Hicks dashes into the first car, and I slam the doors shut behind him. Permanently. Letting out a deep breath, I lean back and run a hand through my hair. "Got you. Thank goodness."
He doesn't even register his sudden entrapment. If the door hadn't closed by itself, he would have done so. Opening his left palm with his teeth, Hicks presses the bleeding wound against the mechanism, satisfied to see smoke rising as the acid eats its way through sensitive circuits. This way, they won't be able to shoot at him. Provided they don't think up something he can't imagine himself, he should have plenty of time to do what he came here for.
Turning on his heels, his glance glides over the floor and walls, but what he's looking for is not there. So he checks out the ceiling, shielding his sensitive eyes with one hand. Too bright. He crouches, then jumps up high, one hand raking through the ceiling panels and shattering the fluorescent lights, plunging him into darkness. Better. With a mental switch, his surroundings become visible to him in full detail. There it is, the weakness he's been looking for.
Another jump, almost three feet high out of his standing position, his fingers find a hold at the grating. Will it hold him? Freeing one hand, Hicks stretches to lay his palm on the cool metal surface underneath, the car's hull, then knocks against it. Thin. It should be possible. Holding on with the right hand, he lashes out with his left this time, inwardly bracing for the pain – and punches right through, the ragged metal edges scraping off the skin of his forearm all the way down to his elbow. Blood spatters down his arm and shoulder, eating off what clothes still remained on his muscular frame. He hardly notices and just doesn't care as he peels the metal back from the ceiling like the skin of a ripe orange, creating a hole that's big enough for him to pull up and squeeze through.
The main shaft. A wide; bottomless abyss, easily 200 meters in diameter. Accommodating dozens of elevator cars and the main ventilation system. This is the source of Phooka's air supply. Here is where it's distributed into hundreds and hundreds of ventilation ducts throughout the station, a violent draft of air, howling and roaring under the mighty sound of the main generators. The safest and fastest path to the source of that siren's song in his head. All levels within his reach.
"Skin? Skin, come on, dammit! This is important! Pick up!" I'm on my way up to the Ivory Tower in one of our slow elevators, well aware that I'll arrive right next to the one Hicks is in. "Skin!"
"Hold your horses, Isis, I'm coming," his breathless voice answers me after the eternity of 5.3 seconds. "Where are you?"
"On my way up. Listen, you still got those net-guns you use to catch the larger animals in your zoo?"
"Sure thing. You want me to equip the guards with them? Think that makes sense?"
"I don't know, but we have to try. Hicks may be ultra-fast and super-strong, but having five or more steel-nets wrapped around his body should slow him down for at least a few seconds. Maybe the seconds that will make the difference. Can you get them fast?"
"On my way. Where do you want me to bring them?"
"North elevators. The squads are already there and I will be there shortly."
"Okay. Give me 5 minutes."
"Hurry, Skin!" I end our conversation and ask the squad leader at the scene of crime for their status. Unchanged. Hicks must still be inside the car. And apparently, he's not trying to get out. At least they don't hear anything. I thank him and feel worried. What's our hybrid soldier up to? He should have learned by now that we trapped him. Shouldn't he try to get away? Is he already doing something I didn't think about?
Another enervated glance at the display. Another four levels to go. Should I risk it? Go into his head once more and look what he's doing? I'm afraid! But it seems to me there's no other way. Just a short glimpse, one millisecond. I can replay it and freeze-frame it afterwards for as long as I need to, but I have to go in there and get the footage, first. I program myself for the task, as I wouldn't be able to do this consciously. It takes me a second to do this. Everything's set, I just need to confirm the command. I hesitate for another endless second… and confirm.
I'm back outside before I even have the chance to register I was gone, replaying the scene I saw with Hicks' eyes in my mind. My concern was founded – he's outside the car, already in the main shaft, making his way down to… her, probably. I frown. We can't follow him there. The draft of air would be too strong for a human being; they'd be sucked right into the abyss.
'I could do it.'
Yeah, right. What else, Isis? I just wished I could erase that stupid obedience-option implanted into my programming. ' Here's Ms. Deathwish! You got a problem humans can't solve? Let me try it – even if I don't want to!' With that thought, the door opens and I'm immediately faced with 10 grim-looking, heavily armed security guards. What now? I certainly can't tell them what I know. I'd give myself away.
"Lt. Yamato," I address their leader instead. He acknowledges my presence with a tight nod. Behind him and his men, I see Skin coming our way with three or four net-guns in his arms. "What's the status?"
"Unchanged, Ma'am. He's still in there: Didn't even try to get out."
'Yeah?'I think, keeping a bland face. 'Wait until we open the door. You're in for a big surprise.'
"Good. Here's what we do." I nod at Skin who pushes through the men, out of breath, and take one of the guns, knowing that my little speech will be utterly futile. As we're also losing valuable time with it, I keep it short. "On my command, one of your men will open the door with this remote." I raise my hand and give the instrument to the man Yamato assigned for this task with a simple glance. "My assistant and I will be using these net-guns to secure the subject, and two of your men – determine who – will stun him. We can't have everybody shooting, since this could very well kill him. As soon as he is secured, we'll haul ass and drag him back into his cell before he frees himself. Are we clear, Lt. Yamato?"
He nods and motions one of his men to his side. Everybody's looking extremely tense, and I wonder whether they know in detail what they're up against. I also can't help wondering what happened to the guards who were assigned to watch Hicks' cell… and to my artificial brother.
"Sergeant Takashi and myself will fire. All others," he looks at his men, "secure weapons. Keep ready, but don't shoot until I say so!" Murmured 'affirmatives' follow his order and with a short exchange of glances, I motion him to take position.
"Yeah." Tense, nervous, unhappy. No doubt he was hoping one of the troopers would perform this duty for him. 'Hey Skin, no need to be afraid. He's already gone!' I activate the gun.
"I'll count to three." A short exchange with Yamato's man. He confirms his readiness. "One… two… THREE!" Nothing happens. "Corporal?" The guard waves his hand with the remote, but can't get a result.
"What the – I don't understand-"
Well, I do. After all, Hicks is not dumb. Looks like we've got to do this the good old-fashioned way. It would be a dicey situation if Hicks were still inside, because one of us will have to step into the line of fire to pry the door open, but I'm sure that what I saw in my mind is true… unless he sent me a wrong image to lure me in. Can he do that? Is he so much in control of his new abilities already? I decide he's not.
"He destroyed the circuits. Very well." I turn around and take the slim steel bar one of Yamato's well-prepared men is handing me, work it into the into the fissure between the two parts of the door. It only takes me a moment to pry it open. Android strength. Human can't begin to compare. Hybrids, on the other hand…
They're all ready to shoot, but the car is empty. The ragged hole in its ceiling doesn't leave any questions open about the whereabouts of our target … nor do the little craters of corrosion on the floor right under it. He cut himself by punching through the hull. His acid blood may not be as aggressive as the xenomorphs', but I wouldn't want it on my skin, either. From the scope of the damage on the floor I judge that the wounds closed before he lost too much blood. Chances being that he's already fully healed again.
"Holy shit," Yamato utters when he sees the peeled-back hull. Apparently he didn't notice the damaged floor. Very well. One thing less to explain. "Did he do this with his bare hands?"
"Trust me, Lieutenant," I explain matter-of-factly as I step into the elevator, "he's capable of much more. This is nothing." He could be waiting for us up there, but I don't think so. He's eager to go to her. I heard enough of the siren's song in that millisecond I dived into the stream. Lord knows where he is now. We've got to find out fast, or we might be headed towards a catastrophe of much greater proportions.
Bending my neck back, I seize up the hole Hicks made in the ceiling. If he fit through it, it should be easy for me. A quick glance at Skin.
"Call Darwin and tell her to send all the security personnel down to the alien hive: I've got a hunch that that's the way Hicks is headed. I'll try and see whether I can catch a glimpse of him." Not waiting for his comment, I pull myself up and through the hole, careful to not cut myself on the sharp edges.
I don't listen to either Skin or Lieutenant Yamato as I straighten on the roof of the elevator car in a draft of air so strong, it would have sucked a normal human being into the abyss. All it takes for me to counter it is a brief reprogramming of my balance. How did Hicks do? Did he master this storm, or-
"Isis?" Skin is hardly audible under the mighty generators' hum. "Be careful!"
Dismissing his well-meant advise as superfluous, I make my way to the edge of the car and peer down. If I'm right, he's not trying to reach the flight deck. We have to secure him before he reaches the hive. If we fail and he sets them free…
I force myself to concentrate, adjusting my range of vision and methodically scanning the huge shaft below me. Just when I'm about to look up and make sure he didn't make his way up there after all, I catch a glimpse of Hicks under one of the other elevators.
"Lieutenant?" I yell into my headset while he disappears from my sight. "I see him. He's on his way down, level 5, C-section. He's using the elevator cables."
"What if we activate the elevator? He-"
"We don't want him dead, Lieutenant: Let him proceed. Get your men down to Xenomorph City at level 13 and prepare to catch him there by using the net-guns and stun beams. Get some tranquilizer gas down there, too, just in case. Also, tell Darwin to meet you there with the stasis-caster. Tell her to recharge them – shouldn't take more than a minute – and then meet you in the corridor."
"Affirmative. What will you do?"
'Me, I'm going to commit an act of an absolute lunacy, amigo.'
"I'm going to follow Hicks' example and use the cable of this elevator. I can't risk letting him out of my sights. Just see to it that you open the door on Level 13 for me. I'll be rejoining you there. Hurry! Isis, over and out."
I step up to the edge of the car and feel the air pulling at me. If I were human, I suppose I'd laughed into the face of whoever suggested such a ridiculous course of action. But I know I'm capable of doing it, even with my one ruined hand. I'm at least as strong as Hicks, and my machine-mind will blend out all disturbing sensations, such as fear and vertigo. Concentrating on the task at hand, I make my way down the little maintenance ladder at the backside of the elevator car that's pointing towards the huge nothing of the shaft. Below me, another brief impression of movement. He's fast. I better hurry up!
He's getting closer. Her voice is so strong now in his mind now, it's overwhelming, pulling him along, soothing him. There's absolutely no fear over what he's doing. He doesn't lose a single thought over dangling over a black hole at least half a mile deep, the thought of failure and instant death not even entering his mind once as he descends the elevator cable, hand over hand, one of which he can only partially use because he's carrying a part of the elevator's ceiling he ripped apart. He's going to need it to get past the ventilators into the vents. The wounds on his forearm have long closed and he doesn't feel the slightest handicap. They have, in fact, completely disappeared. No problem there:
There's another one though. Not so much as a problem, but annoying just the same. He's starting to get hot. Really hot. Sweat's running down his forehead, into his eyes, mats his hair to his head and drenches the few patches of clothing still left on him. More importantly, his hands are starting to slip on the cable. Every few meters down, he has to stop and wipe his palms on his equally wet thighs without being able to change anything. It's slowing him down, and his human mind is active enough to know that there won't be much time left for him to do what he has to do.
The inner heat is also getting to him. It's like a sudden outbreak of malaria, a violent outburst of fever consuming what human resources are still left in his body, draining him of his strength. Instinctively, he knows where it's coming from. It can't be a virus. He wasn't subjected to anything during the passed weeks. It's got to be the super-human activities he's been engaged in over the course of the last fifteen minutes. All the abuse his body took and repaired lightning-fast, the fights, sprints, dives and jumps…it's been a bit much, even with his new abilities. And while he's undisturbed in this shaft on his way down, he already knows in the back of his mind that there's bound to be more, right around the corner. What he needs is a break, even a short one will do, to give his body the chance to recharge. Trouble is, he can't afford to stop. The longer it takes him to get to Her, the more they'll be ready to intercept him. He can't take that chance.
Her signal is strong and positive… and close! Despite his need for a break, he speeds up. Failing to see the slim figure that is sliding down another cable behind his back.
"Darwin? Do you read me? Over?" Interference is hell in this wind-channel. I can hardly hear myself, much less the static crackling into my ears through the headset. I get an answer, and it sounds like my bosses' voice, but even I can't understand enough to make sense of it. Hoping that they – at least – should be able to hear me more clearly, I provide them with my report. "I'm at the elevator door on level 7. The subject just passed level 9. He is really moving now. If he keeps up the pace, he should reach 13 in about 5 minutes. He's still on the C-section side. Are you ready for him out there? Over!"
Some unintelligible reply. I can only pray they'll be.
And what about me? I won't be able to help them if I stay behind as the silent observer. I need to enter the level the second he does. The situation is dicey and could easily end with a massacre. Someone with a cool head is definitely in demand now.
Taking another glimpse at Hicks on his descend to his family, I move to match his speed… trying to block the thought that I might have to fight him in the next minutes to come…