Author's Note: This story's rating will go up in later chapters, and will involve at some point focus on a relationship between Yautja and human. If such a concept makes you squeamish, it may be in your best interest not to read further.

Disclaimer (applies to the story in its entirety): I don't own anything from the Predator / Aliens universes.

.I.

-Evolve Monster-

.x.

I'll hide from subtleties while

I try to face my kind

[Umbra – Karnivool]

.x.

"Doctor Bairne."

The sound of his name jerked his attention from his task; so intent had he been on writing out the last of his weekly reports that he hadn't heard a knock upon the door. He turned and peered over the top of his glasses to find a vague humanoid shape standing in the vicinity of the door; pushing up the lenses—eternally inclined, it seemed, to succumb to gravity—he blinked the shape into focus.

"Amory," he said by way of greeting; rising to his feet he inwardly cursed her seemingly inherent ability to arrive anywhere, anytime, with a silence and stealth ghosts would envy. "I'm sorry," he continued. "I didn't hear you knock."

The woman, standing with her hands clasped behind her back, was one of the few people that made Bairne uncomfortable. There was nothing outwardly intimidating about her stature; she was of average height and slight of build, with long dark hair pulled back into a severe braid. Clad in a high-collared, ankle-length coat the color of ash, she looked no different from the many others whom worked as part of the security division for the Company. Indeed, the only difference between this woman and the other security personnel was the mask that hid the entirety of her face from view. When first he'd met her he'd been unnerved by the visage she bore—an occurrence, he knew now, shared by most everyone that encountered her. The mask was not ornate; constructed of some kind of thin metal, its surface was a dull and unreflective black. It fit perfectly, molded to fit the contours of her face. The mask was utterly expressionless; its features, while being unremarkable, had been sculpted in such a manner that they were undeniably female. Adding to the overall unsettling air of the guise were the dark, opaque lenses which effectively shrouded her eyes.

As though aware of his scrutiny at that moment and the subsequent unease he was besieged with, she half-turned and indicated the entrance behind her with a tilt of her head. "The door was open."

Her voice wasn't muffled as many who first spoke with her expected it to be; aided by a modulator built into the mask, it was clear and precise. A heartbeat later she spoke again, as if belatedly realizing her transgression of decorum. "I apologize."

"No need," he replied, flashing a quick and insincere smile. He turned back to his desk and removed a haphazard stack of papers from where they sat atop a thick blue file folder. Lifting the folder and swiveling to face her again he said, "This is what I was told to give you. Everything you need to know should be in there, and whatever isn't will be explained to you."

She stepped forward, reaching out with one gloved hand to take the folder from him. "Thank you."

The doctor nodded briefly before making his way back to his desk. Thinking about what information was compiled in the thick stack of paperwork he'd just gave her prompted a dull, throbbing ache in his temples; suddenly impatient, eager to leave work and this strange woman behind, he glanced at his watch. "I thought Fulton was coming?"

Walking over to perch on the corner of the desk belonging to his lab assistant, she opened the folder and shrugged. "I haven't seen him."

Bairne sighed, sinking down into his chair; it creaked ominously as it settled beneath his weight, worn by many years of use. He debated simply waiting, but another glance at his watch prompted him to grab the handset of his phone and punch in a number; almost immediately he was greeted by the flat voice of an automated messaging machine. With a muttered curse he dialed another number. After letting it ring five times without an answer, he decided to stay on the line until the son of a bitch either answered or appeared at the door to the lab. Leaning back, he removed his glasses and tiredly rubbed eyes made gritty by long hours of paperwork; as he listened to the ringing in his ear, he studied the only other occupant of the lab. She was bent intently over the thick file folder that lay open on her knees, reading from one of the many, many papers contained within. Of course, he could only assume she was reading—it was impossible to determine just what was occurring beneath the mask.

He'd never seen her naked features, but had heard the truth from those who had. The expanse of her face was apparently completely disfigured by scars. Though she never spoke of it, it was common knowledge how she'd attained some of them—a childhood spent among the savage and wild homeless population of the city's slums had led to the partial accumulation, while torture at the hands of one of the lower city's most affluent and iniquitous crime lords accounted for the rest. He pondered on that for a moment, trying to equate the child she must have been to the self-assured, respected and dangerous woman before him now. Her official Company title, he knew, was "Policy and Appropriations Enactor"; in simplified terms she was the one upon which the Company heads relied to ensure that all manners of dirty work were dealt with quickly and expediently.

Abruptly, a harsh male voice exploded in his ear, jerking him from his contemplation."What?"

"Fulton," the doctor said, his own ire rising at the obvious annoyance in the others tone, "Aren't you supposed to be here?"

There was a moment of silence. "Goddamnit. Bairne, I forgot. I won't be able to make it. Is Amory there?"

"Yes."

"Give her the file, show her what we have. That's all she needs, anyways."

"I don't think—"

"Give her the file, and if she still has questions you can direct her to Weyland." In the background the doctor could hear a cacophany of sounds: a myriad of voices, loud music, a woman's breathy proposition so audible that her mouth must have been directly beside Fulton's own. It seemed Fulton had started happy hour early.

Bairne's mouth compressed into a thin line. Fulton, whose title was Technological Advances Supervisor, liked to think he was overseer of the lab and all that happened in it, but the actual truth was that Bairne was technically his equal when it came to employee rank. Adept at foisting his own assignments and projects onto others less assertive, Fulton still somehow managed to maintain the image of a competent employee. The doctor's irritation soared suddenly; at Fulton's request he'd spent most of his workday compiling the file which Amory was now perusing. Shoving his glasses high onto his brow and rubbing again at his eyes, he asked sharply, "And when Weyland wants to know why he had to do the job he assigned to you?"

There was another silence, in which Bairne could hear another murmured proposition from the mystery woman on the other end. Finally Fulton spoke. "Fine. Tell Amory I'll meet with her first thing in the morning."

The line went dead. "Asshole," Bairne muttered quietly before settling his glasses once again upon the bridge of his nose. With another sigh, he pushed himself out of the chair.

Amory was still seemingly engrossed in the contents of the file; she closed it and set it aside as the doctor approached. "Fulton won't be joining us," the doctor said.

She nodded, "I expected as much. Work after hours isn't really his thing."

Bairne smiled slightly at her words; though he couldn't read her actual facial expressions, it was evident in her tone that she didn't care much for Harris Fulton. He suspected it was a shared condition among all those who came into contact with the man.

"So," Amory said then, leaning back and indicating the file folder with one hand. "The Company's in deep this time, I see."

He snorted, "That's one way of putting it. Any questions?"

She nodded. "Many. But I suppose most of them I'll have to save for tomorrow morning."

"I can try to answer some for you."

"It's not your job," she said. "I've kept you long enough, doctor. I'll read it all tonight and get what ever else I need to know from Fulton."

He hesitated; as much as he wanted to be on his way home, an idea had suddenly occurred to him. Amory had stood and retrieved the file folder, and it was now tucked securely beneath her arm. As she faced him expectantly, he asked, "Would you like to see it?"

"There are pictures of what I'll be looking for in here."

"It's not the equipment I'm referring to."

For a moment she was silent, attempting, he knew, to understand what it was he hinted at. Her head fell back a moment later as realization struck. "Ah," she said softly. "Wouldn't that be prohibited?"

Bairne was already moving, heading towards the large steel door set in the northern wall of the lab. He replied as he beckoned her to follow, tossing the words over his shoulder, "I wasn't ordered not to show you."

Her tone was amused, "But you weren't ordered to show me, either."

He punched in his six digit employee clearance code on the sophisticated keypad set to the left of the door. There was a short beep as the indicator light switched from red to green. Gripping the handle, Bairne swung it open and gestured for her to precede him. "Semantics," he told her as she passed him, stepping into the long, brightly lit hall beyond.

"Where are we going?" she asked him as he fell in step beside her; the hall was wide enough to walk two abreast.

"This corridor connects the lab with central TA."

"TA? Fulton's office?"

Bairne shook his head, "No, his office is a floor above. This connects to the Acquisitions Department."

"If this will land you in trouble, doctor ..."

They had neared the end of the long passage. Large double doors were directly before them, emblazoned with the large orange and white corporate logo. Weyland-Yutani, it read in large block letters, with the words Building Better Worlds beneath. There was another security keypad connected to this door, and as Bairne swiped his idenitification card and punched in his number once again, he said, "There will be no trouble. Weyland gave you this assignment, didn't he?"

"The assignment is to locate and retrieve material stolen from the Company."

"Well," the doctor said, holding the door open for her once more, "It's my professional opinion that in order to better understand what it is you're looking for, you'll need to see where it all originated."

She was silent for a moment, regarding him. He found himself straining to find some sign of life in the implacable mask, some indication that her eyes indeed blinked, that her mouth moved to form the words he was able to hear so well. He realized then that this was the longest he'd ever been in her company; odd, but in carrying a conversation with her that extended beyond perfunctory business trivialities he found some of his unease had abated. He knew of course the things she did in carrying out her tasks, fulfilling the very whims of Weyland and the rest of the Company heads; if half of what he'd heard was true, her hands were as bloody as those she'd acquired her disfigurement from. He'd always regarded her through eyes tainted with the stories he'd been told of her actions; having spent more than five minutes in her company, he found himself wondering if perhaps all he'd been told had not been subject to a certain degree of embellishment.

She had gone through the door ahead of him; he followed and together they entered a small, rectangular room. To the right of the entrance they'd just used was a large, semi-circular security terminal upon which rows of monitors, all showing live feed from various locations, were affixed. Below the station, accessible by a short staircase on the left, the room broadened into a cavernous, warehouse-like space filled with all manners of scientific equipment. In the far back, set against the wall, were a number of large metal holding cells situated side by side. The lights had been dimmed so that it was difficult to see what lay beyond the security station itself. Bairne, gazing for a moment into the darkened TA lab, felt a small kernel of anticipation unfurl within him at the thought of what he was about to reveal to Amory.

They were not alone in the room; two members of the security staff—separate from the Company's general security, unique within the TA department—were seated behind the security terminal. As Bairne and Amory had entered the lab. One of the security guards rose from his chair and approached with a brisk and efficient walk.

"Indentification cards, please," he barked, holding out his hand. Bairne handed his over; after a cursory glance the guard handed it back. He moved his eyes to Amory, and as they slid upwards over her face Bairne saw the recognition flicker in his eyes. He hid his discomfiture well, inquiring with only slightly less authority "Ma'am?"

She removed her own ID card from an inner pocket and handed it to the guard. He barely looked at it before handing it quickly back; apparently, her reputation accounted for more legitimacy than her identification did. The guard turned to Bairne. "What's the reason for your visit, doctor?"

"Amory has been assigned to retrieve the stolen equipment. Mr. Weyland requested I show her the remainder so that she may familiarize herself with the material."

"And will you be needing to see the subject?"

Bairne nodded. The guard turned on his heel and strode back to the terminal, gesturing for them to follow. The other guard, his eyes darting from monitor to monitor, merely glanced their way with a nod before returning his attention to the task at hand. The guard that had spoken to them returned to his seat and rapidly inputted a code into the control panel before him; the farthest confines of the lab were then suddenly awash with light.

"Don't do anything to agitate it," the guard warned as Amory and Bairne walked down the stairs and out onto the laboratory floor.

Where Bairne's lab dealt with the biological aspects of the Company's research accumulations, the Technological Department dealt with every other aspect of science. The large concrete floor they now walked was littered with table upon table of paraphernalia that would thrill the global scientific communities. The Company, with its vast galactic reach, had managed to procure a great deal of what had, when mankind had still been bound by the fetters of gravity, been merely the stuff of wild tales and imagination. No coincidence that when man discovered methods of traveling efficiently and safely beyond Earth, Weyland-Yutani had pioneered the creation of colonies beyond the solar-system via the ECA—Extrasolar Colonization Administration—and thus had been able to insinuate itself into almost any method of procuring a profit throughout the galaxy. This of course led to the inevitable course of corporate profiteering; by the time it was realized just how corrupt The Company had become, it was far too late. The Company had its hand in everything—even various departments of enforcement scattered on different colonies throughout the galaxy.

And thus, the Company had manage to accumulate some of the greatest technological discoveries ever known. The TA lab and archive was a vast treasure-trove of information; it was easy to enter and spend attempting to absorb everything housed within. Bairne, who frequently did just that, curbed his instinctive desire to study and analyze and instead steered Amory to the far back left corner of the lab. Past shelves lined with devices so foreign and alien they baffled the mind, past innumerable cabinets full of documentation on galactic resources, races, religions, and technology, past desks cluttered with artifacts recovered from the deepest reaches of the galaxy; past all these they walked, until finally they stood before a large steel door in the furthest corner of the huge lab. Bairne pushed it open and stepped inside, hitting the switch for the lights as he did so; the room became almost unbearably bright.

The room was quite small; there was a metal case settled against the wall farthest from the door, and three shelves were bolted into the wall above it. A black, rubber mat had been laid down upon the bottom surface of the case, and arranged in order upon the mat, visible through the clear lid, were three devices to which Bairne now gestured.

"These are what you'll be looking for."

Amory, having recognized what lay before her from the pictures she'd been studying earlier, drew nearer to the case, leaning over as to further examine its contents. Bairne quickly and deftly manipulated the electronic combination lock, and the lid sprang open as he stepped back. The three devices within were quite obviously weapons. Amory reached out and ran a gloved finger down the length of a slender, compact, cylindrical device with a barbed spearhead on one end. Next to that lay a small circular piece of metal from which a fan of wickedly curved blades protruded. A large, jagged knife she touched next, lifting it to eye level; Bairne observed as she studied the intricate designs carved into both blade and handle, knowing she was marveling at the feather-light metal from which it was made—a material that was found nowhere on earth. She set the knife down carefully, turned to the doctor, and gestured wordlessly at the empty space in the case that had obviously been previously occupied.

Bairne nodded in answer to her silent question. "It was taken directly from there sometime last night."

"And there was nothing on the video feed?" she asked; it was a redundant question, for she'd already read the answer, documented within the files he'd given her.

"The feed was tampered with." Stepping forward, he lowered the lid to the case and pressed the button beside the combination control. The lock re-activated itself with an audible click.

"The guards?"

Bairne shook his head. "They're synthetic. It's against their primary protocols to steal company property."

She turned her head, glancing, he knew, back the way they'd came, at the two guards stationed at the security terminal. He had the distinct impression that had he been able to see her actual features, she'd be wearing an expression of surprise.

"I didn't know TA employed synthetics," she said, stepping out of the room with the doctor on her heels. Closing the door firmly behind him, he began to walk, guiding her with a hand on her elbow.

"It shouldn't be so surprising," he told her, "being as my boss—and yours—is synthetic."

"True," she said, and he had the impression she would have said something more had her attention not been diverted by the large holding cells they were steadily approaching.

They were essentially large metal cages, improved upon by the addition of thick, clear polycarbonate thermoplastic sheeted between laminated glass. Virtually impenetrable, they were the most efficient method of containment currently available. All of the cells within the lab were empty save one; as they grew closer Amory slowed before coming to a complete halt.

Bairne knew what she was thinking; his own eyes were fastened upon the occupant of the cell before them, unconsciously holding his breath in anticipation.

It was a long moment before either of them spoke. She broke the silence first, her voice so soft it was almost inaudible. "Bigger than the picture you gave me ..."

Bairne merely nodded, unable to tear his eyes away from the creature in the holding cell. Bathed in the harsh light of the overhead lights, the humanoid was absolutely still under their mutual gazes, undaunted by their intense scrutiny. It was huge, standing well over eight feet and entirely naked; massive shoulders led to a broad, muscled chest, a thick waist, and solid legs that tapered into clawed feet. It—he, Bairne inwardly corrected as his eyes skimmed over the sizeable genitalia located much where his own would be—possessed an anatomy quite similar to that of a human. All thoughts of similarities fled, however, when his eyes alighted upon the creature's face.

It was ugly, horrifically so. The entirety of the humanoid's skin was mottled yellowish-tan; dark spots riddled the length of its body in a random, splayed pattern. From beneath a large and prominent brow, close set pale eyes regarded them with a burning, almost palpable ferocity. The mouth, filled with long, widely spaced teeth, was framed by curved tusks adjoined to thin panels of spotted skin; they flared slightly as the creature breathed. From along the edges of the crown of its head fell long, thick, tubular strands of something Bairne equated to hair—black in color, ringed at intervals by some kind of thick, shiny metal, they fell to hang well below the broad shoulders.

It was a fearsome thing to behold, this alien, but Bairne couldn't help but feel awed by the sheer, unfettered savagery it exuded. Every line of its body—the very way it held itself now, an unwilling subject to their regard—radiated a predominance that was daunting even though it was contained securely within the cell. This was a creature of violence, of supremacy earned and honed through tribulations of strength and daring. As if to echo his thoughts, the creature suddenly leapt forward in a swift, blurred movement and hammered both fists down upon the wall of his cell.

Startled, Bairne took a quick step back. Amory had flinched, but remained standing where she was. The noise from the humanoid's blows had resounded throughout the cavernous confines of the lab; as the sound died slowly away the silence was broken only by the heavy, audible breathing of the captive.

Calming his own breathing, the doctor moved to Amory's side and spoke in a voice scarce above a whisper "What do you think? An ugly bastard, isn't he?"

Immediately he wished he'd bitten his tongue; he abruptly recalled being told that Ugly had been her moniker as a child. Amory, however, seemed not to have noticed his slip of the tongue; rather than respond, she slowly stepped forward until there was only an arm's length separating her from the clear barrier of the cell. Perhaps emboldened by the mask that shielded her from the direct, penetrating gaze of the creature, she remained absolutely motionless as the huge arms rose and fell, lightning fast, to hammer against the walls of the cell. When Amory failed to react, the creature sucked in a breath and roared, tusks flaring outwards as it howled its outrage and frustration. The noise was deafening as it bounced about the walls of the holding cells and through the expanse of the lab.

"What are you doing?" shouted the guard from the terminal; Bairne turned to see him jogging down the stairs towards them.

Amory took a slow step back before turning. "I'm sorry, doctor," she said as the guard neared. "I didn't mean to get that close."

They both knew it was a lie; she'd been as entranced by the captive alien as he was.

"What the hell did you do?" the guard demanded; it was the same one who had verified their identifications and security clearances. His face was flushed from the run, his eyes narrowed in irritation—almost impossible to tell, Bairne found himself thinking, that beneath his realistic looking exterior lay an incredibly complex mass of wires and machinery.

"I'm sorry," Amory was saying again, "I got too close."

"It's fine, it's okay," the guard said, eyeing the humanoid which had turned its back on its observers and moved to the farthest corner of its cell. "But I think you've been here long enough."

He began to usher them towards the exit, and they went without resistance. As they climbed the stairs to the security station, Amory stopped to cast one last glance over her shoulder, trying to catch a glimpse of the alien that had confronted her with such a fierce presence. But at that moment, the other guard shut down the lights; in a heartbeat the holding cells were blanketed in shadow. Without speaking, she and Bairne made their way to the exit and the guard returned to his post.

As they traversed the long corridor back to Bairne's lab, she spoke. "Thank you for showing me."

"You made quite an impression on our guest," he remarked, punching in the code for the final door.

"Hah," she said. "That's quite a monster. That's why the guards are synthetic, isn't it?"

He nodded, opening the door for her and following once she'd passed. "The synthetics can match him in strength. Originally, when they'd first recovered him from the crash-site … well, he broke one man's neck one-handed. He crushed the spine of another. It was a synthetic that managed to subdue him, and just barely at that."

"Dangerous to keep him alive, isn't it?" She asked as she crossed the floor to the desk where she'd left the folder.

"Extremely. But Weyland decided we'd gain more knowledge if it was still breathing."

"And have you?"

Bairne sighed. "Restraining him is a bitch. One synthetic is away for repairs because of the fight he put up, and we have yet to find a method of anesthesia that actually works."

"I almost—" she started, but abruptly stopped with a shake of her head. Instead she nodded at Bairne and patted the folder tucked beneath her arm. "Thank you for this. And thank you for showing me. I think it's safe to say I've never seen anything like that."

He waved a hand in the air in a noncommittal gesture. "It was nothing. Remember, meeting with Fulton tomorrow."

"I can hardly wait," she replied; he could almost hear the sardonic smile in her voice. With another nod in his direction—one of farewell—she made her way to the door, opened it, and was gone.

.x.

Author's Note: I have been absent from this fandom (and from fanfiction in general) for a very long time. Owing to that fact are simply the pitfalls of life. I realize I left several AvP fics unfinished when I left, and that the wise decision would be to finish some of those before I begin starting new ones, but inspiration is fickle and doesn't always strike the way I'd like it to.

I've also been in my absence very remiss in responding to FFN reviews and messages as well as emails sent my way. If you're one of those that I never responded to, please know I'm sorry. I do in fact read every email and review I receive; the lapse in response I can only blame on my lack of motivation, inspiration and laziness.

I would like to extend a thank you to Sherryatom, whose exuberance with all things Predator re-kindled my own and helped me find the inspiration to finish this chapter.