By: Alan Dean Foster


'You drifted right through the core systems,' Burke was telling her. 'Your beacon failed. It was blind luck that that deep salvage team caught you when they . . .' he hesitated. She'd suddenly turned pale, her eyes widening. 'Are you all right?'

She coughed once, a second time harder. There was a pressure—her expression changed from one of concern to dawning horror. Burke tried to hand her a glass of water from the nightstand, only to have her slap it away. It struck the floor and shattered. Jones's fur was standing on end as the cat leapt to the floor, yowling and spitting. His claws made rapid scratching sounds on the smooth plastic as he scrambled away from the bed. Ripley grabbed at her chest, her back arching as the convulsions began. She looked as if she were strangling.

The medtech was shouting at the omnidirectional pickup 'Code Blue to Four Fifteen! Code Blue, Four One Five!'

She and Burke clutched Ripley's shoulders as the patient began bouncing against the mattress. They held on as a doctor and two more techs came pounding into the room.

It couldn't be happening. It couldn't!


The techs were trying to slap restraints on her arms and legs as she thrashed wildly. Covers went flying. One foot sent a medtech sprawling while the other smashed a hole in the soulless glass eye on a monitoring unit. From beneath a cabinet Jones glared out at his mistress and hissed.

'Hold her,' the doctor was yelling. 'Get me an airway, stat! And fifteen cc's of—!'

An explosion of blood suddenly stained the top sheet crimson, and the linens began to pyramid as something unseen rose beneath them. Stunned, the doctor and the techs backed off. The sheet continued to rise.

Ripley saw clearly as the sheet slid away. The medtech fainted. The doctor made gagging sounds as the eyeless toothed worm emerged from the patient's shattered rib cage. It turned slowly until its fanged mouth was only a foot from its host's face, and screeched. The sound drowned out everything human in the room, filling Ripley's ears, overloading her numbed cortex, echoing, reverberating through her entire being as she . . .

. . . sat up screaming, her body snapping into an upright position in the bed. She was alone in the darkened hospital room. Coloured light shone from the insect-like dots of glowing LEDs. Clutching pathetically at her chest she fought to regain the breath the nightmare had stolen.

Her body was intact: sternum, muscles, tendons, and ligaments all in place and functional. There was no demented horror ripping itself out of her torso, no obscene birth in progress. Her eyes moved jerkily in their sockets as she scanned the room. Nothing lying in ambush on the floor nothing hiding behind the cabinets waiting for her to let down her guard. Only silent machines monitoring her life and the comfortable bed maintaining it. The sweat was pouring off her even though the room was pleasantly cool. She held one fist protectively against her sternum, as if to reassure hersel constantly of its continued inviolability.

She jumped slightly as the video monitor suspended over the bed came to life. An older woman gazed anxiously down at her Night-duty medtech. Her face was full of honest, not merely professional, concern.

'Bad dreams again? Do you want something to help you sleep?' A robot arm whirred to life left of Ripley's arm. She regarded it with distaste.

'No. I've slept enough.'

'Okay. You know best. If you change your mind, just use your bed buzzer.' She switched off. The screen darkened.

Ripley slowly leaned back against the raised upper section of mattress and touched one of the numerous buttons set in the side of her nightstand. Once more the window screen that covered the far wall slid into the ceiling. She could see out again. There was the portion of Gateway, now brilliantly lit by nighttime lights and, beyond it, the night-shrouded globe of the Earth. Wisps of cloud masked distant pinpoints of light Cities—alive with happy people blissfully ignorant of the stark reality that was an indifferent cosmos.

Something landed on the bed next to her, but this time she didn't jump. It was a familiar, demanding shape, and she hugged it tightly to her, ignoring the casual meowrr of protest.

'It's okay, Jones. We made it, we're safe. I'm sorry I scared you. It'll be all right now. It's going to be all right.'

Also By Alan Dean Foster

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