THE AMPHIPOLIS EXPEDITION
Sometime in 2243
"The Amphipolis Expedition" © Copyright 1998 by Felioness
Disclaimer #1: This is a futuristic Uber-Xena work of romantic fiction. The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Iolaus, Solari, Eponin and, oh yes, Argo, belong to MCA/Universal, and are used without intent for commercial profits. Aries, however, belongs to no one. Author's copyright does not extend to said characters. The author retains all rights automatically attached to the creation of this work and to the independently created characters. In other words, they're all MINE!
Disclaimer #2: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. Okay, now it gets graphic. Actually, it's downright explicit. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, have a cup of herbal tea and a long hot bath. You really need to relax.
Disclaimer #3: Apologies and acknowledgment to Gene Roddenberry for the unauthorized loan of food replicators and holo suites. I found them to be rather useful home appliances. To get yours today, call Ronco at 1-888-555-1212.
Also many thanks to my beta reader, Benet, who tactfully smoothed out all the rough edges.
I welcome all constructive feedback, firstname.lastname@example.org (please note: Felionesss with 3 s', someone at hotmail stole my net name), all bigots will be sent to the great recycle bin in the sky.
Chapter 9 - The Interlude
Brie slept fitfully for several hours, rising every so often to check on her patient. Each time, when she returned to sleep, she would snuggle closer to Xandra's warm body.
Confident that the doctor would care for their small charge, Xandra slept soundly and awakened refreshed. Unused to sleeping with someone else, it took her a few moments to recall the circumstances that led to this enchanting creature lying in her arms. For a time, she just watched Brie sleep, her head resting on Xandra's shoulder, golden lashes fanning across ivory cheeks.
When Xandra's muscles began to tighten, she knew she needed to move. Reluctant to wake Brie, Xandra carefully slipped her arm free. She rose from their bed and made her way to the replicator, selecting a hot fragrant herbal brew. Sipping her drink, she sat at the computer station to check on Amber's progress. Satisfied that the child was steadily improving, she turned her attention to the woman still sleeping on the table across the room.
This woman continued to amaze her. So young and yet so sure of herself. In spite of her fatigue, the doctor had done everything she could to insure her patient's recovery. Although Xandra had no talent of her own, she had known a number of empathic talents. During her years with military intelligence, her primary contacts had often been empathic healers. This had been convenient since usually by the time Xandra reported in she was in need of some kind of medical attention.
Xandra knew the dedication that it took to do this kind of work, and rarely had she seen someone so selflessly put their own safety at risk to save another. Most of the empaths she had known would have refused to work with someone as far gone as the child had been, for fear of losing themselves in the process. Brie had known the risks, made even greater by her level of fatigue, but she hadn't even hesitated.
Still no closer to understanding the young doctor, Xandra decided that a light workout would do her good after years in cryogenic suspension. Checking the doctor and patient once more, Xandra made her way to a large room just down the corridor from the med lab. Though the room had been used as a lounge during the weeks of preparation, it had been cleared of all furnishings just prior to departure, leaving it a large open space.
*Perfect.* The room was just about the size she would need to execute the intricate drills that were part of her routine. She stripped off her uniform jacket and shoes. Clad only in her white tank shirt and closely fitting blue pants, she stretched her tight muscles before moving into the main part of her workout.
In the med lab, Brie woke again - this time, alone with her patient. For what seemed like the twentieth time in as many hours, Brie checked the little girl's progress and was relieved to discover that she was recovering rapidly enough to re-enter cryosleep in another 24 hours.
As she continued to read the computer evaluation of Amber's condition, her stomach began to protest her inattention to her own needs. Sighing, she moved to the replicator and making one selection after another, devoured enough food for three normal people. Brie's appetite had always been good, but it was particularly demanding after she had used her talent to help another.
Having quieted the ravenous beast in her belly, Brie decided to look for the Commander. She wandered down the corridor in search of her companion and stopped at a doorway on the left, drawn by the sounds of Xandra's sharp grunts. Curious, Brie leaned against the doorframe to watch, quickly enthralled by the sight of Xandra's powerful body moving through her routine.
The Commander moved with the speed and grace of a natural predator, the muscles in her back rippling with every movement. Brie found that she couldn't tear her eyes from the powerful woman, immediately recognizing the moves as some form of martial arts. She watched Xandra move through a series of kicks and punches that accentuated her perfect body. The routine left Xandra covered in a light sweat, her dampened her shirt drawing Brie's attention to the high rounded breasts and prominent nipples.
Aware she was being watched, Xandra finished her last drill. She turned to face the young doctor and was stunned at the desire she saw in Brie's eyes. The Commander's breathing increased, not from physical exertion, but from her own rising excitement. Quickly forcing herself to think clearly, Xandra decided that the question was no longer if, but when.
Concern evident in her voice, Xandra asked "How is Amber?" Her sense of responsibility for the child did not prevent her from noticing Brie's obvious interest.
The young woman shifted guiltily at having been caught staring when she should have been absorbed with her patient. Looking away, she missed the desire reflected in the Commander's eyes.
Quickly composing herself, she answered "She's getting better all the time. She should be able to return to cryosleep in about 24 hours."
Xandra's smile deepened as she contemplated how they might entertain themselves while they waited for the child to recover. Inwardly she chided herself for her sensual fantasies. This woman deserved a better courtship that she could offer during their short interlude from cryosleep. Nevertheless, she made a decision to pursue their relationship further once they had arrived at their destination. *Right now* she decided *I need a cold shower.*
"I'm going to clean up. This workout has me a little sticky." Xandra grinned at her unintentional double meaning. "Why don't you meet me on the bridge in say...an hour, and we'll run some systems checks while we wait."
Brie, grateful for the chance to escape before she revealed her own feelings, responded, "Sure, I could use a shower myself. I'll meet you there."
The two frustrated women left the room in different directions, Brie heading for the shower in the med lab and Xandra, to the shower in her ready room off the bridge. Over the next few hours, they worked, ate and slept, while barely managing to contain their feelings for each other.
Working together on the bridge, Brie found she was having difficulty keeping her eyes off the incredibly sensual woman. Xandra's very presence filled the young doctor's mind with erotic thoughts. Brie found herself wondering what it would be like to touch her...taste her. Her body responding to her thoughts, she felt a warm wetness gathering between her thighs.
The Commander was having an equally difficult time controlling her vivid imagination. She longed to know if Brie's breasts were as full and firm as they looked. She imagined the sweet taste of her and wondered how the young woman would look at the height of passion.
The hours passed slowly as they each struggled to control their desire. Brie returned to the bridge after checking Amber's condition once again and pronounced her ready for cryosleep. Together they placed the child into a backup chamber also located in the med lab and Xandra watched as Brie brushed a kiss on the child's soft baby cheek. The doctor initiated the cryosleep process and sat back to watch its completion. She wanted to monitor Amber's condition at least until the process was complete.
A few hours later, satisfied that the little girl was adapting to cryosleep comfortably, Brie indicated that the Commander should re-enter her own chamber. This time, Xandra paused before lying down. She reached out, pulling the young woman into her arms. Their lips met in a melting kiss that held sensual promise for the future.
"Remember, dinner at my place tomorrow." Xandra smiled and continued to hold Brie's eyes as she lay back and waited for the chamber door to close.
Turning toward her own chamber, Brie climbed in and activated the controls, smiling in anticipation as she joined the Commander in sleep.
Chapter 10 - The Awakening
This time when Xandra woke, there were no alarms or flashing lights to cause her to hurry. She knew exactly where she was and lay patiently waiting for the chamber to open, taking several deep breaths before even trying to sit up. Getting her bearings, she looked over at the doctor's chamber in time to see it open and a slim hand reach out to grasp the edge.
"Good morning," Xandra greeted the young woman.
"Morning," Brie muttered as she used her elbows to push herself into a sitting position. "You'd think that for once I'd have had enough sleep, but I guess even fifty years isn't enough."
Xandra chuckled at Brie who was obviously not a morning person. Finally she had found a tiny flaw in the beautiful woman. She was not perfect after all and somehow that fact made her even more appealing. Xandra stood slowly and going to the replicator, retrieved two restorative drinks. Approaching Brie, she handed one cup to her as she dropped a kiss on top of her head. "Good morning again."
Brie looked up at the sleepy woman next to her, took both of their drinks and set them down on the edge of the control panel. Reaching up to thread her fingers into the dark silk of the Commander's hair, Brie raised her lips to Xandra's. Intended to be a gentle greeting, the kiss quickly evolved into a heated expression of need. Both women, dazed by the intensity of the exchange, drew back and sank down onto the chamber bed.
Brie smiled mischievously at the Commander and said, "Good morning to you too." Continuing with her good humor she asked "What time is it anyway."
Her casual comment caused Xandra to laugh, "I don't know, actually. I haven't checked."
Rising, Xandra crossed the room to check their status on the main computer. "Well, according to this we should be entering our new system in 12 hours. That should give us enough time to wake the senior officers. The flight officers will handle our drop from light speed while the others assist you in waking the colonists." Finishing their drinks, they selected high energy bars next and left the med lab, munching contentedly. Over the next few hours, they manually deactivated the chamber seals on the senior staff cryo chambers throughout the ship. Without the costly 'quick thaw' feature found only on Brie and Xandra's sleep chambers, it would take approximately six hours for the officers to regain consciousness. During that time Brie and Xandra had a leisurely breakfast, showered and were ready to work.
Lt. Commander Hunter was the first to fully awaken and, as soon as she got her bearings, reported to the Commander on the bridge. She was still weak and moving unsteadily. As she headed for her station, she was stopped by the amused voice of the Commander. "Just what do you think you're going to do in your condition? Why don't you relax in my ready room until you feel stronger? I am capable of flying this thing without you. And Stephanie, have something to eat too, you look like a poster child for the inner cities."
Stephanie did as the Commander suggested, more confused by her superior's uncharacteristic show of humor than by her recent awakening. As she was starting on the blueberry muffin and French Roast coffee she had selected, she was joined by Art Hill. He looked a little out of it too and was shaking his head in confusion.
"What's with her?" he rattled on. "I've never seen her act this way. She laughed! I've been with her for three years and I've never heard her laugh. Have you ever heard her laugh?" He paused to look back over his shoulder, utterly amazed.
Stephanie couldn't help laughing herself as she watched the Major's expressive hands emphasize his speech. Through a mouthful of muffin, Stephanie suggested that Art get some food and sit down. Taking a long swallow of the rich dark brew she loved, she watched the Major select an enormous southern breakfast of eggs, sausage, grits, biscuits and gravy. Finishing her muffin, she sat back in her chair to watch and listen as the animated young man alternately chattered and stuffed himself.
Stephanie and Art had known each other as long as they had known their Commander, each being accepted as part of the colonial team within days of the other. Once Art had gotten the message that he wasn't Stephanie's type, the two had become close friends. Over the long months of preparation and training, neither had been sucessful in getting any closer to the Commander. It seemed that the young doctor had been the only one to breech her defenses.
One of the things Stephanie found so endearing about Art was that he gossiped like an old lady. At first she had found the habit annoying, but as she grew to know him better, she came to realize that Art meant no unkindness to anyone. He was simply insatiably curious. His mind was always occupied with unraveling some mystery whether it was solving a malfunction in one of the ship's systems or butting into the personal lives of his fellow officers. No one seemed to mind his interference and sometimes he actually managed to do some good.
He was the one Stephanie had confided in when Brie failed to return her affections. Even though he was an outrageous gossip, Art would never betray a confidence. He had assured her that she had been right in her response to Brie's confession. "After all," he had said, "you rejected me and look what good friends we've become. I wouldn't have missed that for the world."
She finished her coffee about the time Art had swallowed his last bite. "Ready to roll?" she asked, setting her cup down.
"Let's do it," Art grinned in response.
They returned to the bridge, a bit steadier now, and joined the captain to prepare for the drop from light speed. Slowly, over the next few hours, they we're joined by the other flight officers as they awakened and eaten to regain their strength. All systems were ready well before the appointed time. Although they had been thorough, they had laughed and joked together as never before. The excitement of their arrival was infectious and the Commander seemed to have succumbed to the exhilaration as well.
Brie sat with the remaining senior officers in the mess hall, encouraging them to eat as much as they wanted. When Sara wandered in, sleepy and disoriented, Brie helped her to a seat and got her something to eat right away. She would need Sara's help in the next few hours as they woke the colonists, got them fed, and arranged for temporary housing with the quartermaster for the last leg of their journey. Since REM sleep did not occur in cryo, the colonists all felt weak and unsettled, despite the fact that they had 'slept' for fifty years. At this point, they desperately needed food and rest.
With the senior staff awake and moving, Brie began the process of waking the colonists. As more people woke up, the demand on the public food replicators increased and Brie quickly ran out of places to put people while waiting for their room assignments. If she could just get some of the colonists preassigned, they could go straight to their quarters and use their own replicators. Getting anxious, she decided to discuss her idea with the unapproachable Quartermaster.
Although quite beautiful, Quartermaster Penny Baker had a temperament that could freeze ice on a hot summer day. The ultimate bean counter, Quartermaster Baker was more concerned with rations and allotments than the human beings receiving them. When Brie first explained her idea, the Quartermaster came close to dismissing it, but the increasing number of colonists in line for the replicators and sitting on the floor throughout the ship's corridors changed her mind. Turning to her support staff, who looked like they needed a bit of support themselves, Penny realized that they were all so exhausted that nothing would run efficiently until everyone had eaten and slept a more natural sleep.
Instructing her staff to act on Brie's suggestion, she turned to find the doctor handing her a cup of strong black coffee. Surprised that the young woman would even think of her needs, she accepted the cup without a word. She took a sip of the dark, fragrant liquid and was pleased to find that it was just the way she liked it. As she watched the doctor walk away, she wondered how she had known. *Hmm...there might be more to that one than I thought.* As an afterthought Penny called to Brie, "Thanks, Doc."
"My pleasure, Baker." Brie smiled at Penny over her shoulder, pleased that her powers of observation had once again served her well. During her training, she had noticed that the Quartermaster, like most accountants, was a creature of habit. Each morning Baker had entered the dinning hall at precisely 0537 hours, ate a breakfast of black coffee, fruit and hot cereal, and left the room promptly at 0555, leaving five minutes to get to her office.
The hours seemed to fly by for both Brie and Xandra, each absorbed in their assigned tasks. Brie was in the med lab with Karyn and Amber Rose, having just awakened the child, when the Commander's voice announced that they were entering orbit around their new home. The doctor was so excited she spontaneously hugged Amber to her and kissed both cheeks, telling the child "We're home!"
Brie was pleased that Amber had no problems waking up this time. As they waited for the child's chamber to open, the doctor explained the situation to Karyn. She could see the conflicting emotions flashing in the young mother's eyes as she learned of her daughter's near death and safe recovery. Karyn couldn't thank the doctor enough, and continued to express her gratitude as she watched Amber's return to consciousness. Amber sat up and looked around to see her mother and the doctor and announced, "Hi Mommy. Hi Auntie Brie. What's for breakfast? Where's Lamby?" Karyn and Brie looked at each other and laughed together at the demands of the healthy little girl. Taking her daughter's hand, Karyn led Amber from the med lab to get the child something to eat. Leaning down as Amber passed, Brie whispered conspiratorially, "Lamby has to stay asleep until we land, just like all the other animals." Amber looked back with wide eyes and said "Oh, I knew that."
Shortly after the Commander's announcement, Sara entered the med lab to find Brie asleep with her head resting on the console. Sara gently shook her and ordered her to bed. Brie blinked up at Sara and sleepily informed her that she couldn't give Brie orders since the doctor outranked her. Nonetheless, Brie allowed the nurse to guide her to the corridor and point her in the direction of her newly assigned quarters. "And besides" she confided as she walked away, "I can't sleep, I have a dinner date."
Chapter 11 - Dinner
Xandra left the bridge about an hour after the Artemis settled into orbit, tired but elated that they had reached their destination safely. With Stephanie in command, Xandra knew she could rest easy. Responsibility for their mission had weighed heavily on the Commander over the last few months of preparation and into the journey itself. She felt personally accountable for each and every life in her care.
It seemed to Xandra that she had always been this serious. Louis had enjoyed reminding her of a time in their lives when she had been as happy and care free as any other child, but that was before they had lost their parents. From that moment until the day he died, Xandra had felt completely responsible for her younger brother. Somehow, when Louis became ill, she felt as if she had failed him. When he died, she almost abandoned their colonization project. She was reluctant to have others dependant on her for fear that she would fail them too.
Now, feeling somewhat redeemed, Xandra allowed herself the luxury of anticipating a few hours in the company of the delightful doctor. Although they had actually spent many hours together, it had always involved the well being of the expedition and its colonists.
"Hunter, you have the bridge." Xandra smiled as she headed toward the lift. Her satisfied expression and the lack of urgency in her step continued to amaze her officers.
Hunter and Hill paused to watch as their commander entered the lift. As the doors closed behind her, they looked at each other and shrugged. "Wonder where she's going?" Hill commented with a knowing grin, his eyes meet Stephanie's briefly. Seeing the hurt there, he quickly realized his error and murmured "Sorry Steph."
Stephanie sniffed and looked away to cover her discomfort. "S'okay. I really don't begrudge either of them, I'm just wishing I had someone too." She looked back at her console. "What about you Art? Come across anyone interesting during the testing? After all, you got to see them all at their best and their worst."
Art smiled as he turned back to his own console. "Well, actually I did. There was this woman and her daughter..."
Brie found her tiny room with little difficulty. It took about 10 seconds for her to take in the entire space and she was immediately grateful that she wouldn't be spending much time here. As small as the room was, it did have a hygiene cube and a replicator. *They're so close I could take a shower and eat dinner at the same time, very efficient.*
Selecting a cup of hot black tea, she lay back in her bunk intending to relax and sip her drink. As she lay back, she noticed the monitor set above the foot of the bed. *Hmm...that's really the only place you could put it in this closet.* Then she noticed that she had a message from the Commander.
Smiling, she read:
I believe that we have a dinner date this evening. Please join me in my quarters when you have rested. I look forward to seeing you.
*Well now, we're getting somewhere. I'm still 'Doctor', but now she's 'Xandra'.* Brie got up and stripped off her very old uniform. Showering quickly, she wondered if there was any extra clothing in this room. Opening several of the wall compartments revealed not only fresh uniforms but a recycler for soiled ones. She had to give the expedition planners credit, after fifty years, who wouldn't want a shower and change of clothes.
Without her personal belongings, there wasn't much to getting ready. She dressed, brushed her hair and cleaned her teeth. In a final attempt to change her look, she unfastened the high collar of her uniform, revealing her slender throat and the necklace. She knew Xandra's quarters were on deck 17, but beyond that she wasn't sure. Entering the lift she made her selection and waited. She had no idea of which way to go when she got off the lift.
When the doors opened, Brie was met by a young man. In his early teens, he was probably a member of one of the families that signed on with the colony. She smiled and the boy shifted his feet, looking down, obviously very uncomfortable.
"Are you Dr. O'Conner?" he asked, still not looking up.
"Yes I am." Brie answered, a bit surprised that he knew who she was. "And who are you?"
"I'm Jason. I'm supposed to take you to the Commander's quarters. It's not so easy to find."
"Well in that case, I'm glad you're here 'cause I'm terrible with directions." Brie gently laughed and Jason relaxed enough to look up at her. He was at that awkward stage, still very unsure of himself. She could tell that this journey had been hard on him. Still, he was staying busy running errands for the Commander. Brie suspected that Xandra knew exactly what she was doing with this one.
Jason regained enough composure to remember his manners. "Please come with me, Doctor."
When Jason said that the Commander's quarters were hard to find, he wasn't kidding. Brie felt like a rat being led through a maze to find the cheese. Brie smiled wickedly at her next thought. *Well, I imagine that this will be much tastier than cheese.* The image in her mind was so vivid that she suddenly felt flushed. *Oh, no, better not go there just yet.* She was so distracted that she plowed into Jason when he stopped to show her the Commander's door.
"Ooof...Sorry, I wasn't looking where I was going." Brie giggled nervously.
At first Jason was confused by her reaction. Then it dawned on him that she was as nervous now as he was most of the time. He realized then that he really liked the doctor. "S'okay. I do that a lot too. That's her quarters, go ahead in. She set the panel to open for you."
Jason fled as Brie placed her palm on the reader. The door slid back to reveal quarters much larger than her own. *Thank god for that. I can barely keep my hands off her as it is, but when she's close...*
As she stepped into the room, a variety of sounds and smells assaulted her. The sound system filled the air with music, an instrumental piece that Brie didn't recognize. From a room to her left, she heard someone singing softly with the music. It took her a moment to realize that she was hearing the Commander. The voice was beautiful, its lilting tones blending perfectly with the instrumentals.
From the same direction, she detected the delicious smell of freshly prepared food. Stunned, she tried to remember the last time someone cooked for her. It had been that last Thanksgiving with her family. Brie smiled sadly as she pushed the memory aside, determined not to let anything ruin her evening. Closing her eyes, she tried to identify the smells. *Hmm...let's see, onions, garlic, oregano...I've got it! Italian.*
Brie called out "Hello."
"I'm in the galley, come on in."
Brie crossed the comfortable living space and stood in the doorway of the tiny kitchen. Only large enough for one person at a time, it was extremely well equipped. Lifting the lid on a pot at the rear of the cooking unit, she sniffed and said "Yep, it's Italian. How did you know it's my favorite?"
Handing her a glass of red wine, Xandra raised one eyebrow and gave Brie an amused look.
Taking the glass, Brie chuckled, "Oh yeah, you have all the records. I bet you even know that my favorite color is..." Brie paused, remembering the color of the gown Xandra had given her.
"Green" Xandra finished for her.
Lost in thought Brie didn't hear Xandra. "What?"
"I said your favorite color is green."
Brie, dazzled by Xandra's smile, took a sip of the wine to steady herself. "Can I help?"
"No, it's almost ready anyway. Just sit at the table and keep me company." Xandra checked the pasta as she talked. In minutes the meal was on the table. Xandra served the young woman a generous portion, then picked at her own dinner. She had little appetite for food. She watched Brie clean her plate, all the while telling Xandra about her day. *This is nice* she thought. *It feels like I'm finally part of something.*
Sighing contentedly, Brie leaned back in her seat and sipped her wine. "That was wonderful." She glanced over her shoulder toward the kitchen. "You certainly surprised me. I never had you figured for the domestic type."
"Cooking is my only weakness" Xandra laughed. "My mother was a chef before she died. We used to spend a lot of time in the kitchen together and I guess cooking makes me feel closer to her."
"Well," Brie leaned forward and winked, "your secret is safe with me. Since eating is my greatest weakness, I want to keep you all for myself." Her obvious double meaning caused Xandra to suddenly feel warmer.
Taking their wine into the living space, Xandra sat and rolled her shoulders to relieve the stress of the day. Brie, noticing her action, set her drink on a nearby table. Sweeping Xandra's hair aside, the doctor began to massage her neck and shoulders, her magic fingers finding all the kinks and knots.
Xandra felt the tension of the last weeks melt from her body. Brie's hands felt wonderful. The young woman started with deep muscle massage. Within moments, Brie felt Xandra relax beneath her touch, her breathing becoming slow and deep. Changing to feather light touches designed to excite, rather than soothe, Brie was rewarded by Xandra's sharp intake of breath.
Unable to stop herself, Brie leaned to drop tender kisses along Xandra's neck. Xandra sighed and leaned her head forward to expose more of her neck to the doctor's attentions. Interpreting Xandra's response as an invitation to go further, Brie sank to her knees behind the Commander and gently bit her neck, her hands sliding around to cup Xandra's heavy breasts and lightly trace her nipples through the thin shirt. Brie continued to tease her nipples until Xandra arched into her hands. Pausing to slide Xandra's shirt over her head, Brie move around to face her. Cupping her breasts again, Brie slid her tongue over each hard point before taking first one, then the other into her mouth to lightly suck. Xandra's moans deepened as Brie alternately used her tongue and her teeth to excite her.
Xandra pulled Brie to her lips for a scorching kiss, her hands opening Brie's jacket and reaching for her breasts. They were surprisingly large for such a small woman. Xandra felt the nipples hardening in her palms as Brie's tongue slipped suggestively into her mouth. Sliding the doctor's jacket off her shoulders, she pulled Brie to her, loving the feel of their breasts touching.
Shifting so that she could lift the young woman, Xandra carried Brie through an archway into her sleeping area. Slowly she lowered Brie to her feet, letting their bodies slide against each other. Sitting on the bed, Xandra pulled the young woman forward to rest between her thighs. She licked and blew on Brie's nipples as she stripped the lower half of the young woman's body. Taking a hardened nipple into her mouth, she bit lightly while sliding her fingers into the moist curls at the apex of Brie's thighs.
Brie's breathing came faster as she clasped Xandra's head, gently holding her in place. Her thighs parted in invitation as long fingers slid across the tight bud at her center. Not losing her hold on Brie, Xandra lowered her onto the bed, moving up to capture her mouth as she continued to stroke her lover's sensitive nether lips.
Brie, breathless with desire, whispered "Please...I want to feel all of you against me."
Xandra moved slightly away from the passionate young woman and began to remove the rest of her clothing. Brie watched with heavily lidded eyes, her tongue unconsciously tracing her parted lips. As Xandra settled back onto the bed, Brie used the force of her momentum to roll Xandra beneath her. Gazing into the depths of the dark woman's eyes, Brie began to explore her body with hands, lips and tongue, finding every sensitive spot along the way. She kissed and licked Xandra's hardened nipples while softly stroking the undersides of her beasts with her thumbs.
Moving lower with her attentions, she kissed her way across Xandra's firm belly and lower to slide her tongue into Xandra's moist dark curls. Xandra moaned as Brie found her center, slowly licking her sensitive nub. Brie wanted this woman like she had never wanted anyone before. She wanted her helpless and moaning beneath her. As she increased the speed of her tongue, she slid first one finger then another into Xandra's warm, wet sheath. Xandra's hips arched uncontrollably beneath her in reaction to the invasion.
"More...please, more." Xandra pleaded between her sensual moans.
In response, Brie added a third finger while lightly pinching Xandra's nipples with her free hand.
Xandra's body stiffened, her hands grasping at the sheets beneath her. Brie took her time teasing the magnificent woman, holding her on the edge for what seemed to Xandra like an eternity. When Xandra thought she could take no more, Brie sucked the tiny nub between her lips and began to thrust hard into her lover. Finally pushed over the edge, Xandra called Brie's name over and over as she came apart in her arms.
Relaxing, Brie lay her head against Xandra's smooth belly and waited for the dark woman to catch her breath. Brie had been so excited by Xandra's response that she had almost come herself. She was very wet and still very excited by the taste of Xandra's desire on her lips.
Xandra reached out to pull the young doctor to her for a deep sensual kiss, excited by the taste of her own juices in Brie's mouth. Lifting Brie higher, she licked and nibbled her nipples. Xandra lowered the beautiful woman to her back and slid her thigh between Brie's, rubbing rhythmically against the wetness she found there. Xandra continued rocking her hips against Brie as she cupped the young woman's breasts, raising them to her mouth.
Brie was overwhelmed with sensation as she clasped Xandra closer, wanting to feel her everywhere. Xandra bit lightly on Brie's nipples as she steadily increased the pressure of her thigh against Brie's slick mound. Brie's nails sank convulsively into the firm globes of Xandra's ass as she screamed her release.
Xandra continued to hold Brie as her breathing slowed and her body ceased its trembling. After a few quiet minutes, Xandra looked down to find that Brie had fallen asleep in her arms once again. Smiling to herself, Xandra closed her own eyes and was asleep almost instantly.
Chapter 12 - Landfall
Brie woke late the next day. She was alone as Xandra had long since left to begin her day. The doctor hauled herself out of bed, knowing she had another busy day ahead of her. Stepping into Xandra's ion shower, she allowed herself to remember the night before.
Brie had slept in brief intervals, exhausted by the incredible lovemaking they had shared. The Commander had been insatiable, as had Brie herself. They had loved each other over and over. Each time Brie thought herself too sleepy to become aroused again. Each time Xandra managed to prove her wrong.
Finished with her shower, she dressed and completed her grooming. Looking in the mirror, she paused, her bee-stung lips and contented expression reminding her of the cat who ate the cream. Giggling, she turned away from the mirror.
Pulling herself together, Brie left the Commander's quarters hoping she could remember how to get to the lift. Surprisingly, she went straight to it and selected her destination as the med lab. She was hungry as usual, but decided that since she was starting so late, she'd eat breakfast while she worked.
Sara was already busy in the lab when Brie arrived. Looking up, Sara noted the relaxed look on Brie's face and sighed with relief. She had actually been very worried about the doctor, who had been working much too hard since joining the expedition. It was almost as if she was trying to make up for lost time. Sara had tried several times to get her friend to slow down, but Brie only knew one way to work - incessantly.
"Sorry I'm late. I overslept." Brie blushed and looked away as she remembered the reason for her tardiness. "Are we all set for today?"
Brie got her breakfast and sat listening as Sara spent the next few minutes updating her on the status of the mission in general and more specifically their part in it.
"Today more than half of the colonists will make landfall. The first ones down will begin building the temporary shelters we will use until more permanent structures can be constructed. You will accompany the Commander in the first shuttle while I run medical from this end. Commander Lawless intends to make the first landfall, then return to the Artemis to organize the transition. Quartermaster Baker will also be on the first shuttle, along with Major Hill. The three of you will be in charge of setting up the shelters, an infirmary and a storage area for our supplies."
Sara continued to sort and pack medical supplies as she spoke. Brie was impressed with her organization and efficiency.
"Over the next few days, the endangered animals will be brought down. Most will be transported in enclosures that will house them until the zoologists confirm that they can survive the environment. The hoof stock and other domesticated animals will be sent as soon as pens and enclosures are ready. Once all the animals, supplies and equipment are down, the rest of the colonists make landfall."
Sara allowed Brie to finish her meal before adding, "You'd better hurry, the shuttle leaves in 20 minutes."
"Now you tell me" Brie complained as she stood brushing crumbs from her uniform. "I'll have to move fast to make it. Later Sara"
"See you in a few days Doctor." Sara spoke to her retreating back.
Xandra and about half of the senior officers were already aboard the Argo when Brie entered the shuttle. Lt. Commander Hunter was in the pilot's seat with one of the other flight officers as her second. The seat next to Xandra was already occupied by the Quartermaster so Brie squeezed past Art to take the window seat next to him.
" Good morning Art." Brie greeted him with a smile.
"Hiya Doc. You looked like hell yesterday, glad you got some rest."
Brie chuckled at his comment. She genuinely liked this young man and his rough brand of humor. Relaxing in her seat, Brie spent the next hour or so listening to perhaps the only person she'd ever met who could out talk her. She was listening to his detailed explanation of how they would organize their construction efforts when the shuttle broke through the planet's cloud layer. Brie held her breath in excitement as she saw her new home for the first time.
Even from their present altitude, the richness of the planet was evident. As they came closer, Brie could make out forests, mountains and rivers. The shuttle suddenly became quite as the others stared out the nearest window. Even Art had stopped talking and was leaning across her to get a better look.
The shuttle banked left toward a large meadow that would serve as a landing strip. Barely long enough for landing, turn around and take off, the meadow was located in one of the most desirable areas of the planet. They had chosen one of the northern continents for initial colonization primarily because of the temperate climate and because it was connected to two of the other continents by land bridges, making expansion in the future easier for their descendants.
Due to the small size of their landing strip, the shuttles would have to time their deliveries so that only one shuttle would be on the ground at any time.
The Argo lowered her flaps for landing as Brie watched the tops of trees rushing by. Landing smoothly, the shuttle came to a stop just yards before the end of the meadow. Brie smiled, remembering that Stephanie had been a Navy pilot. She was used to taking off and landing on the length of an air craft carrier. Of course here she didn't have any help stopping in time, not that she needed any.
Stephanie opened the shuttle hatch and extended the ramp as everyone waited for the Commander to be the first to set foot on their new world. Xandra released her harness and moved down the aisle to the hatch. Pausing to take in the view, she stepped slowly down the ramp and into the foot high grass of the meadow.
Grinning, she turned to the rest of the senior officers waiting at the top of the ramp. "Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?"
Slowly they each exited the ship, looking all around and breathing deeply of the clean, sweet air. The atmosphere of this planet was slightly more oxygen rich than they were used to, making them all feel a bit light headed. Their bodies would adapt soon enough and in the mean time they attributed the feeling to the sights, sounds and smells of their new home.
Brie set this moment in her mind, planning to record it later when she could get to her journal. She noticed the order in which the officers left the shuttle, how each one reacted to the experience, where they all stood, what they said. These were the things their children and their grandchildren would ask about. In this moment they were Lief Erickson, Christopher Columbus, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Susan Marcus and Elizabeth York. They were explorers and pioneers. They were the heros of this world's future.
Although she hated ceremonies, Xandra also understood their importance. Turning to face the others, she spoke.
"I want each of you to know that you have been an integral part of the success of this mission. In the weeks to come, you will continue to play an important role. In spite of the great responsibility heaped upon you, I encourage you to remember why we all came here. It is my intent to secure the colony as soon as possible so that we can hand the reins to the council. When that time comes, we will be able to begin our new lives here as well. Until then, please try to take some time for yourselves to enjoy what we have worked so hard to accomplish."
Brie absorbed each of Xandra's words. She would add the content of this speech to her recollections of this occasion. The archivist's new job had begun even before finishing her old one.
In the next few hours, the first three temporary shelters were put up and the shuttle crew was preparing to return to the Artemis for the next group. Xandra would be returning with most of the flight officers who would be kept busy piloting the shuttles over the next few days. The Commander's eyes scanned the clearing until they settled on the young doctor. Brie was occupied setting up her temporary infirmary. Xandra, taking advantage of the privacy offered by the infirmary shelter, slipped inside and wrapped her arms around her lover.
Kissing the hollow just below her ear, Xandra whispered, "I'm going to miss you."
Brie leaned back in her embrace and sighed. "Me too. How long before you return?"
Xandra trailed kisses along her jawline, whispering, "Too long. Probably ten days or more."
Turning to face Xandra, Brie slid her arms around her lover and kissed her full on the mouth. The kiss seemed to go on and on, finally ending when Xandra heard Stephanie calling for their departure.
"Soon," Xandra whispered. "Soon."
Chapter 13 - Settlement
Brie sat at her desk chewing on the end of a pen. In the twelve days since first landfall, she hadn't had time to make a single entry. From the minute they'd landed, Brie had been completely immersed in organizing the beginnings of their first settlement. She'd worked tirelessly, without taking any time for herself.
The work schedules had been set based on the daylight hours of the planet. Taking twenty-six hours to rotate on it's axis, their new home provided longer days and nights. The Commander had decided that until the council took over governing responsibilities, everyone would work on a rotating four-day work schedule, three days on and the fourth off.
Brie had missed her first two days off. This morning she had entered the infirmary to find Sara sorting medical supplies. She had made landfall late the night before on one of the last shuttles to leave the starcruiser. Happy to see her friend, Brie had greeted her with a hug. Sara had returned her hug with enthusiasm, then promptly ordered her to leave the infirmary. It seemed that someone had tattled to her nurse that she wasn't taking her personal days and Sara was determined that she would in the future - starting today. Although she had grumbled and complained at the prospect of idleness, Brie knew that she needed the day to rest.
Walking back to her shelter in the early morning air almost reminded her of her meditation world, only the grass and trees here were real. It was spring and the smell of wild flowers permeated the air, much sweeter than in her dreams. The melodic birdsong made the music from her fantasies sounding flat in comparison. So many emotions washed over her - sadness that her family was not here to share this with her, gratitude for the new friends she had made and pure joy for just being alive on such a glorious morning.
She knew exactly what she would do with her time off. Entering her shelter, she opened all the windows and grabbing a fruit from the bowl by the bed, sat at her desk. Brie loved this desk. Art had made it for her using two metal packing crates and a sleeping pallet he'd scavenged from the Artemis. It didn't have drawers, but the top was enormous, giving her lots of room to spread out when she worked.
Opening her journal, she read the last entry.
June 10, 2198.
I'm excited, afraid, happy, sad and nervous. Tomorrow we leave Earth and everything we've ever known. I miss my family, but I know that even if they were alive they'd never come with me. Dad was too devoted to this tired old world. He'd never give up trying to save it. And Mom, well, she'd stay where ever Dad was. But Lily...Lily might have come with me.
They say our new world is a paradise, but I think that paradise is not a place but a state of mind. As long as we adhere to the principles that brought us together, it will be paradise. If there is a God, I pray that we will all find the inner strength to remain true to those principles when things get difficult.
Turning the page she tried to decide how to begin. Smiling, she took the pen from her mouth and started to write.
Twelve days after Landfall 2246
I am fascinated with the way the colony is evolving. Many specialties were represented among the first group of colonists to make landfall. Botanists came to study the plant life in the immediate vicinity. Their first task was to determine what indigenous fruits and vegetables we could add to our diet and evaluate the nutritional value of each specimen.
As she wrote, memories of recent events rolled through her head.
The fruit she was eating as she wrote had been one of their first finds. It looked like an apple and tasted a bit like strawberries and kiwis combined. Best of all, it was high in vitamins and carbohydrates and low in calories.
Meanwhile, the biologists were occupied determining whether the plants and animals brought from earth could survive here. Most of the time any problems could be resolved with minor genetic adaptation. But two of the species they had included could not be made to adapt to the planet - the Kangaroo and the Koala. The indigenous plant life lacked an essential amino acid necessary for the Kangaroo's survival. Although the missing nutrient could be synthesized, there was no way to introduce it into the environment. As for the Koalas, no one could quite pinpoint the problem. It wasn't nutritional. They weren't sick. They simply weakened quickly and died only a few days after landing. The veterinarians speculated that cryosleep and not the planet, had finished them. Either way, everyone was saddened by their first casualties.
One morning a few days after they'd landed, Brie overheard several scientists discussing their new home. She had noted that they had begun to refer to the planet as Gaia. Apparently the other colonists liked the name since she heard more and more people using it. Brie liked it too. Maybe the name would eventually be made official.
As adult colonists made landfall, so did their children. The practice of not separating families that had been followed during their training and journey continued as settlement began. At first it was difficult to care for their children while fulfilling other responsibilities. Then, an innovative group of parents formed a 'family cooperative' in which parents took turns supervising and educating their children. Their curriculum was creative - they taught their children about their new world as they made the discoveries themselves. Brie was not surprised when the idea caught on and other similar groups formed.
Brie got to know many of the colonists better, including Karyn Rose, one of the first botanists to arrive. She had been instrumental in forming the first cooperative, probably to save her own sanity. Brie had spent several hours in the company of Karyn's daughter over the last few days and found her to be a delightful - if exhausting - companion. She thought how difficult it must be for Karyn to raise such a precocious child alone.
Amber had been one of her first patients. Not looking where she was going, the child had tripped over a tree root and had broken her wrist when she fell. She had been crying when Karyn brought her to the infirmary. When she saw Brie, her wailing increased, until Brie looked at her and firmly said "Enough. That's quite enough Amber. We know you're hurt." The child had immediately quieted and stared at Brie in surprise. No one had ever talked to her in that tone. She understood yelling - her Daddy had done that. She understood crying - her Mom did that a lot when they lived with her Daddy. But she'd never heard the sound of quiet authority.
"Now what seems to be the matter." Brie helped the little girl onto the exam table.
Karyn started to answer but Brie shook her head. "I want Amber to tell me."
The child showed Brie where she hurt. Throughout the examination and treatment, Brie spoke directly to Amber. She'd always hated doctors who talked about their patients as if they weren't there. Because of her involvement in her own treatment, Amber forgot to cry. The break had been clean and it took only a few minutes in the bone regenerator to correct it. Soon the child was out of pain and ready to run again. Before leaving the infirmary, Amber politely thanked the doctor and asked to be excused. Karyn watched as her daughter left, pleased that Amber could remember her manners when it was important.
In addition to working in the infirmary, Brie spent many hours working with Quartermaster Baker. She had emerged as the natural liaison between the colonists and the accountant when problems arose. Brie always managed to find the right words to make Baker see the long term benefits of whatever cause she was lobbying for at the time. She had persuaded Baker that the families needed separate housing. The presence of naturally noisy children disrupted the dormitory setting that had been provided. In addition, the authority of the parents was being undermined by other well-meaning colonists. Since Baker had her own quarters, Brie argued, she couldn't understand the importance of what the doctor was asking. She challenged Baker to spend 24 hours in the same environment everyone else was asked to endure. To her credit, Baker accepted. The very next day, the Quartermaster had begun construction on several private shelters. When they were completed, the families were immediately re-assigned and, to her surprise, Brie also got private quarters.
Not all of Brie's encounters with other colonists were as satisfying. While she'd had several colonists ask her for allergy aerosols and headache medications, but nothing turned out to be serious - until the third morning on the planet when a young man staggered into the infirmary complaining of severe stomach cramps, nausea and fever. Almost doubled over, he was clearly in pain. Brie immediately recognized the symptoms of food poisoning.
"Can you tell me your name?" she asked, helping him to the table..
"Harris," he managed to croak. "Mitchell Harris."
"Okay Mr. Harris, what have you eaten?" the doctor asked as she checked his vital signs.
Harris turned out to be a most uncooperative patient. Because of his reluctance to provide her with information, she was unable to help him clinically. As his condition worsened, she decided to work empathically. He was unconscious when she made tactile contact and sent her senses tentatively into his system. As she worked, eliminating all traces of the poison from his body, he began to regain his strength. As he began to regain consciousness, she caught fleeting images of the untested fruit he'd eaten that had caused his illness.
*Well, this one can't follow orders even for his own good.* Then the images changed to more unpleasant ones, some perverted, some cruel and some just plain evil. Repulsed by the obvious pleasure he took from these images, she pulled back from Harris abruptly, as if she'd been burned. Not wanting the man to suspect what she'd seen, she attempted to control her expression as she spoke calmly to her patient. "Get some rest. You should be fine in a few hours." Brie walked away, effectively dismissing the man. "Oh, and watch what you eat. Some things that grow here will kill you." As the man left the shelter Brie thought *Well, there's one that slipped the net.*
Brie had been remembering and writing for hours, oblivious to the time. Leaning casually against the doorframe, Xandra watched her for a long time, noting her many moods as she wrote. Happiness, concern, irritation, frustration, amazement and fear all clearly evident in her kaleidoscope of expressions. Xandra wondered who or what had caused her fear. She didn't like the uncomfortable feeling she got at the thought of the young doctor in danger.
Brie looked up to gaze out a window and caught sight of Xandra in the doorway. Dropping her pen, she rose to greet her lover. Brie had experienced some doubts in the time they'd been apart. She had bounced between elation at being in love and worry that she was expecting too much from their relationship. She hesitated, feeling a bit shy, until Xandra crossed the room and embraced her. Brie raised her face for Xandra's kiss and felt all her doubts melt away.
"When did you land?" Brie asked, pausing to take a breath.
Xandra buried her face in Brie's silky hair, kissing the sensitive hollow below her ear. "About thirty minutes ago."
She continued kissing the young woman's eyes, nose and cheeks, finally returning to capture her lips in a searing kiss. Brie was quickly losing her control. Forgetting where they were, she began to tug at Xandra's clothing, frustrated by anything that stood between her and her goal.
"Close the windows." Xandra had to repeat her request several times before Brie finally responded. Taking but a few seconds, they had the windows and door closed and the privacy they needed to greet each other properly.
At the same moment, from somewhere in the settlement, an unauthorized deep space transmission was sent. The main computer aboard the Artemis detected the signal and made note of the time, length of message and the transmission location. The computer recorded the message as well, but the content was encrypted.
Chapter 14 - Betrayal
Brie awakened early and dressed quickly, slipping out of the shelter without disturbing Xandra. Taking a few steps, she paused to breath deeply and gaze at the colors of the morning sky. Now violet, over the next ten minutes or so it would change to lavender, pink and finally the bright blue that would last all day. Never an early riser at home, Brie was surprised to find herself awakening earlier since landing on Gaia. She had tried to convince herself that it was excitement that inspired her to wake with the sun, but admitted that the extra hour of sleep she got as a result of the longer days had a lot to do with it.
She headed toward the settlement's central shelter. Originally a dormitory, this building had been converted to a communal kitchen, dining area and lounge when the family shelters had been completed. Inside, she noticed several colonists seated around one of the tables, drinking tea and conversing quietly. Nodding as she passed, Brie went to get a tray for herself and Xandra. As she loaded the tray with fruit, bread and tea, Stephanie caught her eye and came to meet her.
"Morning Doctor. Have you seen the Commander?" Stephanie felt as if she were prying, but needed to find Xandra as soon as possible. "I need to speak with her right away."
At first Brie was annoyed that Xandra wasn't allowed a minute for herself. Then she saw the expression on Stephanie's face and knew that it must be serious. "Yeah, she's in my quarters. She was still sleeping when I left. Is something wrong?"
"Probably not." Stephanie's answer didn't sound very convincing to Brie.
"Come on, walk back with me. I'll wake her, then the two of you can talk. I have to get to work soon anyway."
Brie and Stephanie were half way across the settlement when they heard unusual noises coming from one of the animal enclosures. Looking first at each other, they turned and headed in the direction of the noise. The noises got louder as they approached one of the dog pens. Several of the dogs were whining and yipping, while a man spoke roughly to them. Stephanie put her arm out and stopped Brie who was going to confront the man. Looking at Stephanie, Brie caught her signal to be quiet and stay out of sight. The man kept getting louder and louder.
"Miserable, filthy animals. They should just take you out and shoot you all. While they're all out there getting the easy jobs, I'm stuck in here playing nursemaid to a bunch of stupid animals." When the man aimed a vicious kick at a small black and white dog, Stephanie had to hold Brie back with one arm and cover her mouth with her free hand. Brie struggled against her briefly, then understanding dawned in her eyes and she relaxed against Stephanie.
The way the animals were reacting to this man, they both knew that he'd been doing this for some time. They could almost smell the dogs' fear.
Whispering to Brie to stay put, Stephanie stood and walked toward the pens, making lots of noise as she went. The man looked up as she approached and Brie gasped. The man torturing these poor animals was Harris. This man was far more dangerous that she had realized. Not knowing how much Stephanie had seen, he decided to play it safe. Standing straight he said "Good Morning Ma'am. What can I do for you?"
Stephanie changed before Brie's eyes. In a heartbeat her friend had been replaced with a most intimidating woman. She walked into the pens, right up in Harris' face. "You can take good care of my friends here" she growled. "I love all the animals, but these are my favorites."
Proving her words, she turned and moved slightly away from the man. Kneeling, she held her hand out to the small dog who'd been kicked. Still afraid of the man, the animal was slow to approach Stephanie. Once he caught her scent, he nosed her palm, whining. She spoke softly to the little dog and ran her hands over his body. When she hit a sore spot, the dog yelped. *Rib's broken, the son of a bitch.*
Looking up at Harris, her message was unmistakable. Her words were flat, devoid of emotion. Stephanie knew that if she released her feelings, she'd be kicking this bastard from here to the next continent. "I think I'll take Sam here with me for the day. He's not acting his normal self. Don't worry, I'll bring him back tomorrow."
Carefully picking up the injured dog, she started to walk toward Brie's hiding place. As an afterthought she turned and looked at Harris once more. "See you later Mr. Harris. Take good care of my other friends. I'll be looking in on them."
Brie joined her friend as soon as she was out of Harris' sight. "That bastard" Stephanie muttered under her breath. Turning damp eyes to Brie, she asked "Can you help him? I know you're not a vet, but I don't want anyone else knowing about this right now."
Brie stopped to pick up the tray she had set on a rock when they had decided to investigate the odd noises and held it out to Stephanie. "You go wake the Commander and I'll take Sam to the infirmary." When Stephanie hesitated, Brie took the poor animal with one hand and shoved the tray into Stephanie's outstretched hands. "Go on, I promise I'll take good care of him."
Stephanie took the tray and stood staring as the doctor gently cradled the dog against her body and walked away.
Brie slipped into the infirmary without being seen. She didn't understand why Stephanie was being so secretive about this. As far as she was concerned, animal cruelty was a crime and should be dealt with immediately. There had to be more to this than she was seeing. Laying her patient on the diagnostic table, she stroked the soft black fur on his head. She ran a few tests to pinpoint the exact location of the break and to made sure that there were no internal injuries. Adjusting the bone regenerator to the proper setting, she positioned the unit over the dog and activated the controls.
While she waited for the bone to heal, she sat at the computer and browsed the personnel files. Sure enough, there was nothing obvious in Harris' file, but Brie decided to investigate further. Thirty minutes later, Sam was healed and Brie was even more frightened than before.
Stephanie knocked before entering Brie's shelter.
Holding the tray in one hand, she opened the door to find the Commander dressed, sitting at the doctor's desk. "Sorry to disturb you Commander," she apologized, setting the tray on the desk and pushing it slightly toward Xandra.
Taking a red fruit from the tray, Xandra sniffed before biting into it. "Mmm...not bad. Alright Hunter, what's going on. This isn't a social call."
"Commander, I was reviewing the Artemis' activity report from yesterday and I came across something that has me worried. Last night someone in the settlement sent a deep space transmission. It took me all night to break the encryption code." Stephanie stared into the Commander's ice blue eyes. "It was just three words - We have landed."
Chapter 15 - Faces of the Enemy
Xandra leaned back in her seat, eyes narrowed in thought as Stephanie waited silently for her reaction to the information. After a moment, Xandra began to smile. "Better they come sooner than later. If they'd waited a few months, we'd have gotten used to it here. We'd have lost our predatory edge, maybe even have turned authority over to a civilian government." Lifting her eyes to Stephanie she cautioned "We don't know who the infiltrator is, so we have to keep this on a need-to-know basis. I want five other fighter pilots on alert, you pick 'em."
"Commander?" Stephanie looked into the cold, hard wasteland of Xandra's eyes and asked "Why fighter pilots?"
Xandra responded with a feral smile. "Hunter, you don't need to know just yet."
For the next few days Brie keep Sam with her all the time. She had tried to give the sweet little dog to Stephanie, but her friend insisted that Brie could give him more attention. Besides, Brie had her own quarters, while Stephanie was bunking with three other flight officers. Brie agreed to give Sam a home if Stephanie promised to visit him once in a while.
Apparently, Stephanie was right about Sam needing attention. He followed her everywhere she went. She really didn't mind, he was a good companion and she had plenty of help caring for him. When she had to work in the infirmary, he came along and lay quietly in a corner of her office. Several times a day, a group of children would come and ask if Sam could play. A gentle animal, he quickly became a favorite among the colonists, many of whom had never seen a live animal before.
She continued to worry about Harris. The man was a psychopath - all the indications were there in his profile. Oh, nothing was apparent in any single test or interview. But examined in sequence, there was a definite pattern. Like all of the colonists, Harris had completed no less than ten psychological evaluations during the course of the selection process. Each time, test results indicated a well-rounded person - ten different well-rounded people. Two things were certain - Harris was clinically schizophrenic and he knew how to play the game well.
She had wanted to discuss this situation with Xandra, but the Commander had been constantly busy. When she did see her lover, she was half asleep as Xandra came home late or left early. This would have worried Brie if Xandra had not held her so lovingly as they slept. Even though she hardly saw the Commander, they were in essence, living together.
Stephanie had not been available either. Evidently whatever was keeping Xandra occupied required Stephanie's attention as well. Brie spent some time wondering about it, but her thoughts kept returning to the dangerous man in their midst. She had to tell someone else what she knew, in case something happened.
Her first choice, Art Hill, was as unavailable as her friend and her lover, so she paid a visit to the Quartermaster. A seemingly unlikely choice, Baker listened intently to Brie's story. The accountant's eyes, usually completely devoid of emotion, flashed with anger when Brie recounted Harris' cruelty to Sam. When Brie explained her evaluation of his psychological profile, Baker was impressed with her findings. *Probably should have had her evaluating all those psych tests. Could have avoided a lot of problems.*
Although greatly disturbed by Brie's discovery, Baker had no idea what to do about it except to keep an eye on the man. Based on the secretive activities of the Commander and certain senior officers, the Quartermaster knew something else was amiss in the settlement. The two women agreed that until the other situation was resolved, this would have to keep. Both hoped that Harris would do no serious damage in the interim.
"Captain, I've picked up a transmission from the planet. Its encrypted"
The Captain glanced at the communications officer. "Transfer the message to my console Lieutenant."
His fingers flew over the console as he enacted the subroutines that would de-code the encryption. Frowning, he stroked his immaculately trimmed beard as he waited for the results. When the message appeared on his monitor, the frown turned into a feral smile.
"Helm, set course 90.485, maximum speed." He stood, turning to his first officer before leaving. "Commander, you have the bridge."
In the adjacent ready room, Captain Aaron DuMonte propped his feet on the corner of his desk. DuMonte was an attractive man in his forty's, with the lean, muscular build of a career officer. His ebony hair fell in waves to his shoulders giving him the look of a dangerous man - the kind that men emulated and women tried to reform. His black, empty eyes confirmed that all their efforts would fail...but he always enjoyed their trying.
Leaning back in his chair he began to laugh, softly at first. His laugh grew louder, acquiring an almost hysterical tone, then stopped suddenly. His dark eyes hardened as he spoke. "I've got you now Xandra Lawless."
Harris disliked his new work assignment almost as much as the last one. Moving crates of supplies to their assigned locations in the storage shelter was hard work, but did have a few advantages. It didn't smell like dirty animals and it allowed him to pilfer coveted items for his personal use. He did miss the enjoyment he got from abusing the animals. It always gave him a thrill to hear the agonized cries they made when he hurt them.
It made him feel powerful.
He still wasn't sure just how much that bitch Hunter had seen, but she had to have seen something or he wouldn't have been transferred. Though she couldn't have seen much or he'd have been disciplined. These bleeding-heart colonists valued their stinking animals as much as they did their unsupervised brats. Well, since he no longer had their animals to kick around, he'd have some fun with their precious children. It would be so easy, just like a predator seperating a tender morsel from the herd. Now he just had to make his selection and plan his attack.
*Mmm...young, virginal, helpless...* He was getting hard just thinking about it.
Chapter 16 - Revenge and Retribution
Life in the settlement continued, unaffected by the events unfolding in the shadows. The Genetics Committee had completed their first round of DNA pairings for planned pregnancies and scheduled the DNA extractions for the following week. Brie was pleased to find herself among the first group of women selected for motherhood. The thought of being a mother touched a place deep in her soul. She was deliriously happy to know that she would soon have a child, but was equally frightened, doubting her ability to be a good mother.
Each of the colonists chosen for the pregnancies were to meet with the committee individually. Brie wondered who her DNA donor would be and how well they would work together to raise their child. Since the parents of these genetically desirable children might not even know each other, it would be a challenge to work out child rearing details. These were some of the questions Brie asked when she met with the committee.
The committee explained that although they hoped both parents would cooperate in raising the child, the birth mother would have ultimate responsibility and authority. As for the genetic match chosen for the brilliant doctor, Brie could not have chosen better herself. She was to be matched with Commander Xandra Lawless. The implantation would be scheduled as soon as the donor's DNA had been collected and prepared.
Brie received that news with a broad smile as joy bloomed in her heart. No matter what happened with their relationship in the future, she would always have a part of Xandra if her life.
As the heavily armed Destroyer class starcruiser moved through the expanse of space toward its destination, Aaron DuMonte sat alone, deep in thought. He'd waited for years to repay the debt he owed Xandra and now the opportunity for revenge was at hand. For years he'd raided defenseless ships and colonies to acquire the resources to carry out his plan. Purchasing this powerful ship and cryo chambers for even his small crew had been very expensive. He knew that this colonial mission was the only thing that had kept Xandra alive after her brother died. If he could destroy this dream, he would destroy her.
DuMonte thought back to the first time he met the conniving bitch. He had been an instructor at West Point and she'd shown up one day in his Campaign Strategy and Tactics seminar. Brilliant from the first, he saw great potential in this beautiful, desirable woman. He found her combination of sensuality and ruthlessness irresistible. Unfortunately for him, she didn't share his interest, preferring other women as sexual partners. Part of him found this incredibly erotic and another part was repulsed by what he considered an unnatural act. Still, this wasn't the sole source of his hatred.
In the years that followed Xandra's education, she had been assigned to DuMonte's covert command unit. For months they were able to work together, putting the past behind them. DuMonte developed a trust for the dark woman and began to get careless. He was working for both sides then and was sure that he was too clever to get caught.
Apparently Xandra had suspected him and was slowly collecting intelligence to put him out of business. When everything came out, there was enough evidence to warrant a court-marshall, but not enough to put him away. Nonetheless, his military career was ruined.
His very ruthlessness saved him. Many private parties were willing to pay big money to obtain his services for their projects. He'd proven his abilities many times over with the government and his familiarity with the workings of military intelligence gave his employers an advantage. He had no problem doing whatever necessary to ensure success and his reputation gave him a certain degree of freedom to move in circles that would otherwise not be open to him. It was at one of these society soirees that he again encountered the woman who betrayed him.
A curiosity among her social peers, Xandra was often a topic of gossip at these gatherings. These high society women could shred anyone without ever raising a claw, and it seemed that she was first on their list. They simply couldn't fathom a woman wanting to found a colony. All this nonsense about Earth dying was just so much garbage. They truly believed that the environmental gloom and doom reports were propaganda for the masses and that their world would remain untouched.
It was at one of these social gatherings that DuMonte last confronted Xandra, and it hadn't been pleasant. DuMonte, recognizing the importance of this colonial expedition, decided that destroying her dream would be the appropriate revenge. For months he'd studied the progress of her project and even managed to plant a mole in their midst. Now the time for retribution was at hand - and this time he would destroy her.
Xandra waited for the senior officers to enter the war room and be seated. This morning she'd ordered all senior staff, with the exception of the doctor, to return to the Artemis. She told herself that Brie's participation in this action was unnecessary, but in reality, Xandra didn't want Brie anywhere close to the battle. If all went well, the fighting would never reach the planet's surface.
The Commander had planned well for this eventuality. No one really knew just how much fire power the Artemis was capable of. An hour ago, a Destroyer class starcruiser had been detected entering the system. She had not anticipated confrontation with such a powerful ship. Usually these pirates piloted rundown, out-of-date star ships that could be purchased cheaply or stolen with ease. Her senior officers were showing signs of concern faced with such a formidable opponent, but Xandra was about to reveal her secret weapon.
"I had hoped that when we left Earth and made landfall on our new world, that our duties as soldiers would come to an end. I had planned to retire, raise horses and children, and let someone else run the show. It seems, however, that we have a situation on our hands that we must deal with before we can enjoy that retirement.
Several days ago, the Artemis detected a deep space transmission indicating to someone that we had landed. We don't know who sent the message, and so have kept knowledge of this situation to a limited number of people. We have a few surprises of our own and didn't want to give our mole a chance to brief the enemy on the state of our readiness. Just one hour ago, we detected a Destroyer class starcruiser entering our system.
Until now it was unnecessary for you to know just how prepared we are. The Artemis appears to be a Colonial class vessel. But she is, in fact, a fully equipped warship and houses a full wing of fighters in the lower docking bay." She paused, raising an eyebrow as she studied the reaction of her senior staff. "A wolf in sheep's clothing, if you will." Her brief smile allayed some of the tension in the room, but Xandra knew she had to do more to reassure them. "I am surrounded by some of the finest military personnel I've had the pleasure of serving with. We will be sucessful in insuring the safety of our colony...our home." She paused, absorbing the looks of unshakable faith from her crew.
"Hunter will be in charge of the fighter wing. All pilots will report to the lower docking bay at the conclusion of this briefing for further instructions. The rest of you will report to Hill who will command the weaponry aboard the Artemis. I will direct the efforts of both teams from the bridge."
"Our unknown enemy should be within range in about ten minutes. Report to your assigned stations immediately." With that, Xandra left the room to collect her thoughts before the confrontation began.
Chapter 17 - The Prelude
Before leaving the planet for the Artemis earlier that morning, the Commander had called the adult colonists together to brief them on the situation. She assured them that the military personnel would do everything in their power to see that the raiders did not reach the surface, but there was still a remote possibility that they would have to do battle to protect themselves.
Brie was upset that she had not been included with the rest of the senior officers stationed on the Artemis, but she understood Xandra's logic. Anyone hit in space had little to no chance of surviving to benefit from her healing skills. If the fight for their new world made it to the planet itself, her skills would be indispensable.
Her growing involvement with the Commander had made Brie blind to other developing relationships around her. This morning she had witnessed several tearful departures, indicating she and Xandra had not been the only couple to develope strong feelings in the short time they had settled on Gaia. What surprised her most was passionate kiss she seen Art Hill give Karyn Rose. She smiled *should have seen that one coming.*
Their own good-byes had left Brie feeling lost. Xandra had awakened her gently, loving her almost desperately. When the glow of their love making had faded, she told Brie that she was leaving and why. Once again Brie faced the possibility of a loved one dying far away, without her there to ease the way.
Determined to put that out of her mind, she began to organize the medical personnel in their preparations to receive casualties. With all the rioting and border skirmishes on Earth in the last fifty years, most of her staff had the experience to deal with whatever came their way today. They set up a triage area under a canopy in front of the infirmary and prepared the medical bays to receive wounded. Brie was glad that she had insisted that the stasis equipment be transferred to the surface. She would be grateful if the stasis field was not needed today, but it would be there if needed.
Several of the colonists had been assigned to organize and oversee the evacuation of the children. They would be taken to a series of caves that had been discovered in the nearby hills.There were many tearful good-byes as children were separated from their parents. The colonists in charge of the children had tried to convince their charges that they were going on a camping trip, but seeing the frantic activities of the adults had the kids wondering.
In all the confusion, Brie and Penny had forgotten to keep an eye on Harris. Not well-liked in the community, Harris had not been selected to work with any of the various groups preparing for invasion. For the first time since Hunter had caught him kicking that mutt, he wasn't being watched. Deciding that this was his chance, he surveyed the disorganized group of children and the few who had been spared to see to their welfare.
Harris studied the group for a long time before his empty eyes settled on a blonde, blue-eyed girl about five years old, clutching some sort of stuffed toy in her tiny arms. Tears were flowing down her face, but she stood quietly, waiting for what would happen next.
*So beautiful, so small...and she cries so prettily.*
DuMonte stood on the bridge of his starcruiser, so aptly named Avenger, and stared at the view screen. Approaching the planet, he'd seen nothing to indicate that they'd been detected. Still, he knew just how clever Xandra could be and had the strange feeling that he was about to confront a wild animal protecting her brood. Wanting to get a better feel for the situation he ordered the helmsman to reduce speed. Long range scans revealed no life signs on the Artemis and no unusual activity on the planet.
"Open a channel to the planet, let's see if our mole is at his post."
Xandra's young protégé, Jason, went looking for his step-father intending to convince the old man to allow him to stay in the settlement with the adults. After all, he was fifteen now and even if he was small for his age, he could still be a help to the colonists in setting up defenses. Having looked everywhere, he decided to check in the family quarters.
Breathless from running, Jason burst into the shelter and found his step-father huddled over a communications unit, frantically trying to key in a message. Richard Maxwell jumped when Jason entered the room, certain his signal had been traced and he'd been discovered. Realizing it was just one of his wife's brats, his surprise quickly turned to anger.
"Get out of here you useless bastard. Haven't you learned not to interrupt me?" Maxwell rose from his seat and approached Jason threateningly.
"Sorry," Jason muttered, having been victim to his step-father's anger before, hastily retreating from the man's raised fist.
Maxwell took a few deep breaths and returned to the console. *Well, can't do much harm now even if the stupid brat did figure it out. Soon, DuMonte will be in charge and I can do what ever I want.*
Jason ran from the shelter, hot tears escaped the corners of his eyes and slid back towards his ears. He'd never liked the old man. Sometimes, after a particularly brutal beating, he'd even hated him. But finding out that he'd betrayed the entire colony was just too much. In a way, Jason felt responsible, since the old man was part of his family. As his anger turned to shame, Jason slowed his pace. When his anger had been at it's height, he'd sounded like a herd of elephants. Now moving considerably slower, he was able to pass almost unheard through the forest.
As he moved through the dense undergrowth that was characteristic to the forests surrounding their settlement, he heard whimpering followed by a man's gruff voice.
"Shut up you stupid little bitch or else I'll give you something to cry about."
Crouching to avoid detection, he watched as a man and a child passed not six feet in front of him. He recognized the child - Amber Rose. He'd watched her once or twice when her mother had taken extra time on her duty shift. Although he didn't know the man by name, he knew he worked in the warehouse. The man had Amber by the arm and was dragging her further into the forest. The child was putting up a valiant fight, but was succeeding only in slowing their progress.
Jason knew he had to do something. He first thought to confront the man himself, but knew he was outclassed. If he got hurt or killed, who'd tell the others about Amber? Waiting for a few moments after they'd vanished from his sight, he ran back towards the settlement. Despite the undergrowth of the forest, nothing slowed him. He hurdled obstacles with ease, as if they weren't even there, slowing his pace only as he reached the outskirts of the settlement.
He scanned the faces of the colonists in the clearing, finally settling on the one he wanted. Making a dash for Brie he tried to speak, his breath coming hard. "He took her."
Brie immediately stopped and turned toward the boy. "Slow down and breath...now who took who, and where?"
Gulping a few deep breaths to get control of himself, Jason answered. "Amber...the man took Amber. The man from the warehouse. She didn't want to go with him and he was threatening her. They were headed north from the settlement through the trees."
Brie closed her eyes for a moment, fear and anger making her blood run cold. "Jason, go find Baker and tell her I need to see her immediately." Turning to Sara she said "Find Karyn Rose. Tell her what's happened, but don't let her out of your sight. If she tries any heroics, it could ruin our chances of getting Amber back unharmed."
Chapter 18 - Hunters and Hunted
Xandra and the officers aboard the Artemis were prepared. Hunter's fighter wing was hiding just on the other side of one of Gaia's three moons. With the special shielding the Commander had installed in the starcruiser, anyone scanning the ship would be led to believe her deserted. Xandra had equipped her command vessel and the fighters with enough fire power to destroy ten of these ships. Her trap laid and baited, they only had to wait for the hunter to realize that he'd become the hunted.
"Commander, I'm picking up a transmission to the planet's surface. It's audio Ma'am."
"Put it on speaker Lieutenant"
As the crew of the Artemis listened intently to the message meant for the settlement, Xandra paled, immediately recognizing the voice. "Colonists, there's been a slight change of plans. In a few hours, we will have destroyed your starcruiser and landed on your inviting little planet. Of course, we'll be needing your services to continue developing the settlement, but now you'll follow my guidelines. Just cooperate and no one will get hurt. Oh...and one more thing, I want Commander Lawless turned over to me immediately."
*Damn...that bastard would follow me to the gates of hell.* Frowning she asked "Tactical, are they within firing range?"
"Almost ma'am, right about...now."
"Open a channel to the destroyer Lieutenant."
"You're clear ma'am."
Xandra carefully composed her first words. "Why Aaron...what a surprise." Sarcasm dripped from Xandra's voice. "And here I thought we'd never see each other again. You know, after that last tumultuous farewell."
There was a pause before Xandra received her response, and it was all she had hoped for. At this close range the advanced shielding lost it's effectiveness and she was sure the destroyer could now detect life signs on the Artemis.
"Xandra, where are you, you bitch? There's not supposed to be anyone aboard that space limousine you call a starcruiser." Rage was evident in Aaron's reply, rage that told Xandra he was losing control. Without that control, she was sure that they would defeat him.
"Oh, don't you like hide and seek Aaron? And here I went to so much trouble to get the game set up before you arrived." With that Xandra signaled Hunter that the fighter wing should make themselves known. Allowing a moment for the destroyer to detect the fighters, Xandra goaded. "Don't tell me you came all this way only to give up at the first signs of resistance. That's not like you Aaron."
The tone in his voice when he answered Xandra confirmed her theory that the man was completely mad. "I'm after you bitch, and nothing you can say or do will stop me when I'm this close."
Severing the communications with the other ship Xandra commanded "Tactical, report."
"Ma'am all weapons targeted and ready."
"Fighters, prepare to engage." Xandra paused only seconds, "Fire on my mark." Knowing that DuMonte had lost control, she expected the first shot immediately and was not disappointed. *DuMonte never could resist a challenge, even when the odds were stacked against him.*
"Fire at will."
As the battle raged above them, most colonists were occupied with preparations. A select few were made aware of the situation with Amber Rose and Harris and were making plans to rescue the child. The child's mother had surprised Brie. Instead of becoming hysterical, her eyes took on a hardened look and she asked what she could do to help.
Brie made a command decision that she would be the one to go after the child. Although she was unlikely to be viewed as a threat by Harris, she was stronger than she looked and always did well in hand-to-hand confrontations. To further convince her prey of her harmlessness, she selected one of the older children to accompany her. Since Jason felt responsible, she chose him as her partner in this mission.
They would pretend to be looking for Amber, not knowing what had become of her. Armed only with a stun gun and her newly acquired walking staff, the two set out north, eventually able to follow the tracks made by the child dragging her feet.
The battle for possession of the planet below raged on. The destroyer was clearly out classed by the weaponry aboard the Artemis and the maneuverability of the fighter wing. Xandra concentrated her fire power on the Avenger's engines and weapons systems.
They had taken a few hits themselves and one of their fighters was out of commission, but nothing serious. Xandra was wondering just how far the destroyer's crew would follow their demented captain. Her answer came in the form of a transmission from the Avenger.
"Ma'am, I'm picking up a signal from the enemy ship."
"Put it on speaker Lieutenant."
"Commander Lawless, this is Commander Bennett of the starcruiser Avenger. Our engines are destroyed, our weapons systems are down and that last hit damaged life support. The captain is in sick bay being treated for a head injury so I'm in command. What are your terms for surrender, ma'am?"
Xandra paused for a moment before answering "Unconditional Commander."
"We have injured, Commander, will they be treated?"
"Yes, we'll take them into custody immediately. If your life support cannot be repaired we'll evacuate all personnel. Prepare to be boarded. Artemis out."
Brie and Jason paused at the cave entrance, unsure how to proceed. Finally, after a particularly heart wrenching cry from Amber, Brie threw caution to the wind. Turning to Jason she said "You stay out here. If this goes badly, run to the settlement for help. Go straight to the Quartermaster, she'll know what to do."
With that, Brie checked her weapon and tucked it into the back of her trousers. Grasping her staff firmly, she entered the cave. "Hello...anyone in here?"
The sight that greeted her eyes was unsettling, but reassuring at the same time. Although Amber was restrained, she did not appear to be harmed. *Maybe for once, I got here in time.*
Harris was no where in sight as Brie moved deeper into the cave. She was sure that he was waiting in the shadows, thinking to ambush her. The healer in her couldn't resist checking the child, who was now crying louder as she recognized her "Auntie Brie."
As she laid a hand on Amber and surface scanned the little girl, Harris stepped out of the shadows, weapon trained on the doctor. "Well, so nice you could join us O'Conner. Now I'll have something to look forward to when the kid can't take anymore. Besides, with you here, I'll have an audience...and I always love an audience."
In a desperate attempt to save the child any more trauma, Brie suggested "Why don't you let the girl go Harris. She's only a kid and won't be much fun. Now me...I promise to show you a good time. I'm stronger and can take a lot more than the kid."
"Nice try Doc, but it won't work. Why should I let her go when I can have both of you." Harris walked toward Amber, waving the doctor away from the child. Leaning down, he placed a finger under the child's chin to roughly tilting her face to his. "Isn't that right little girl?"
Amber began crying immediately, fear evident in her tiny face. Harris, so aroused by that look of fear, didn't hear Brie approaching him until it was almost too late. Alerted by the sounds of her movement, he turned to face Brie and fired, hitting her right thigh. Brie, surprised by the searing pain in her leg, collapsed to the floor of the cave.
"Try anything like that again Doctor and I'll kill the kid."
Gasping in pain Brie responded breathlessly, "Okay Harris, what ever you want."
Approaching the helpless doctor, Harris roughly grabbed one of her tender breasts and squeezed hard, intending to cause her pain. When she didn't react, he increased the pressure until she closed her eyes in an attempt to shut out the pain. "That's what I want to see Doctor. Show me how much it hurts." He savagely pinched her nipple and pulled hard.
Tears of pain were beginning to form in her emerald eyes, but at least she'd momentarily distracted him from hurting Amber.
Chapter 19 - The Rescue
Xandra and some of the senior staff returned to the surface leaving the rest to see to the evacuation of the Avenger. Wanting to alert the medical team to expect casualties, she immediately headed for the infirmary. Baker intercepted her intending to brief her on their other situation. Xandra tried to put the Quartermaster off, but Baker was insistent.
Putting her hand on Xandra's arm to restrain her, she said "We need to talk - now." Now Xandra was worried. In all the years she'd known Baker, both in the service and later, she'd never seen the accountant touch another human being. This must be very important.
"Okay, what's going on Baker?"
The Quartermaster proceeded to summarize the events of the last few days, from Harris' abuse of Sam to Brie's rescue attempt. As she spoke, the color slowly drained from Xandra's face. During the battle high above the planet's surface, she'd experienced only exhilaration. Only now, faced with the thought of Brie in danger, did she experience real fear. "How long ago did they leave?"
Baker studied her feet as she answered "About three hours Commander."
Xandra's heart nearly stopped as she imagined what the deranged man could do to the woman and children in three hours. Not stopping to speak with anyone, she went straight to their shelter and began to arm herself for the coming confrontation. Rifling through her belongings, she retrieved two small, razor-sharp daggers, placing one in the top of her boot and the other in the valley between her breasts. Next came the long rawhide whip that she secured to her waist on the left and her side arm on the right. Finally she reached for her matter disrupter and positioned it in a holster across her back. A picture of the evolution of weaponry, she was ready to face Harris.
Jason was waiting for her outside the shelter. Having reported to the Quartermaster, he'd been sent directly to Xandra with his information. In a hurry, Xandra told the boy "Tell me what you know on the way, we're running out of time."
The boy lead the warrior woman deep into the forest. By the time they reached the cave, Xandra knew all Jason could tell her. Crouching in the brush some distance from the mouth of the cave, Xandra turned to the boy. "Good work Jason. Now get back to the settlement, I'll take it from here."
Xandra approached the opening in the hillside so quietly no one could have heard her. Years of training and experience had made this woman a deadly weapon in her own right. Even without the small arsenal in her possession, she'd have been a formidable opponent. Harris might be insane, but he was no match for the woman stalking him. In this state of mind she was much like a wild animal, and Harris had her mate and her cub.
Pausing at the entrance to the cave, Xandra listened to the voices coming from inside. Brie was desperately trying to convince the madman to release the child, promising her own cooperation in return. Xandra was relieved. She wasn't too late - at least he hadn't really hurt them yet.
Silently, Xandra entered the cave. Moving slowly, she managed to catch Brie's eye and motion her to keep quiet. The Commander hoped that the child would not turn and see her, giving her away before she had a chance to act.
As she approached Harris, she pulled the dagger from her boot and jumped him from behind. At first startled, he quickly became enraged at the distraction from his pleasure. He recognized the bitch of a commander almost immediately. He'd have to take care of her before continuing his perverted games with the kid and the doctor.
As they fought, Harris lost his grip on his disrupter and the weapon skittered across the floor in Brie's direction. The doctor grabbed the weapon and trained it on the pair entangled on the floor of the cave. In this light, Brie could only see the dark outlines of the struggling bodies. was lucky to see shapes. She was unwilling to fire and risk hurting Xandra.
In a lucky move, Harris turned the Commander's blade back on her and stabbed savagely over and over until she lay still beneath him. Laughing hysterically, he rose and face Brie. "Now it's your turn Doctor, but this time I want to make it last."
As the deranged man approached Brie, she turned his own weapon on him.
"Put down the weapon little girl," Harris arrogance outweighing any caution.
She fired, hitting him square in the chest. For a moment Harris gazed at her with a stunned look and then collapsed to the floor of the cave.
Brie didn't know what to do first. Somehow she reasoned that she needed to make sure Harris was no longer a threat. Scrambling forward, she checked for heartbeat and breathing. Finding none, she quickly moved on to Xandra. Her lover's eyes were closed and her skin was pale, but her breathing was steady, if shallow. Removing her jacket, she ripped her shirt into smaller strips and pressed them against Xandra's wounds to slow the bleeding.
Turning to Amber she said "The bad man is dead. He can't hurt us anymore, but my friend is hurt bad. Amber, I need for you to be brave and grown up. Can you do that?"
Raising her tiny chin and sniffing back her tears, the little girl nodded. Brie smiled gently and said "Come here Amber. You'll need to press on these rags to keep her alive." Taking her hand she showed the child just what she wanted. "Can you do that for me? You'll have to do it for a long time." Again the child nodded. "You can't stop even if you get tired. You have to keep pressing until I come back, okay? If you let go, she'll die."
The child raised solemn eyes to the doctor and answered "I won't let go...no matter what. I promise."
Pausing to gaze once more at her lovers strangely serene face, Brie raced from the cave toward the settlement.
Within the hour Xandra was placed on a table in one of the medical bays. Amber, true to her word had not let go. The rescue team had found the child lying across Xandra's chest, holding the rags in place. Amber had shrugged and said "My arms got tired, so I used my body instead."
Treatment of the wounds was simple. Brie and her medical team had stabilized their patient and repaired both internal and external damage in under two hours. Now twelve hours later, Brie couldn't understand why Xandra hadn't regained consciousness. In the interim, concerned that they had missed some critical injury, the doctor had checked for head injuries and anything else she could think of that would keep Xandra from waking.
Finally, she decided to use her empathic abilities to accomplish what science could not. She had been reluctant to use this method with Xandra because of their close relationship. Empathic healing required detachment from one's patient...and she was anything but detached with Xandra.
Preparing for her ordeal, she managed to eat a respectable amount of food to fuel her energies. She should probably have rested too, but couldn't close her eyes as long as Xandra remained unconscious. Making herself comfortable, she lay next to her lover on the med table. Placing one hand on Xandra's head and the other on her heart, she allowed her mind to touch the woman she loved. Unprepared for the intensity of feeling, she fought to resist the urge to break the connection.
Her mind spun out of control. This was the woman she loved and now Brie knew for sure that Xandra loved her too. Instead of following the biological paths of her lover's body as she had been taught, she found herself in a strange kind of limbo. Surrounded by clouds and fog, she imagined that she had physical form here. A woman stepped out of the clouds and smiled at her. She was identical to the woman in her holo field test. Now she understood, this woman was Xandra and more.
The woman spoke softly "Well, Gabrielle, here we are again. Me dying and you trying to save me. You'd think we'd have settled down after all these years, but it seems our descendants are every bit as adventurous as we ever were." Cocking her head and raising that single eyebrow she asked "Do you know who you are yet?"
Brie was about to answer in the negative when she realized that she did know who she was. She was Gabrielle and Janice and Brie and a countless host of other incarnations. In that instant she understood that she was bound to this woman across all space and time. A flood of memories engulfed her. Quiet talks by an open campfire, dusty tents in archeological digs around the world, all shared with the same woman. The woman she knew in this life as Xandra Lawless.
"Yes, I think I understand, as much as I'm going to anyway. We've been in this place before haven't we?."
"A long time ago I almost died and you came after me then too. Only then you came through your dreams. You fought insurmountable odds to bring me back. I don't think I ever really thanked you properly." She opened her arms and enclosed Brie in their warmth and safety. "Thanks for this time too. Now I have a reason to wake up. You love me."
Brie closed her eyes. When she opened them again, several hours had passed and Xandra was watching her wake. Emerald eyes met blue as she smiled sleepily and said "I love you Xandra Lawless." She was asleep again before she could hear Xandra's response.
"I love you too Brie O'Connor."
Chapter 20 - The Joining
The council of nine met had for the first time on a cool, crisp autumn morning. Their selection had been a simple process. There had been no campaigning and no speeches. No one "ran" for office. The citizens of Gaia had rejected the old ways of electing their leaders, deciding instead to simply vote for who they thought could best lead them. The nine seated around the table this morning had received the most votes in their first election. It would be up to them to set policy for elections and councils to come.
Before they could begin that process, they had to decide what would become of the raiders from the Avenger and the traitor Maxwell. There had been many suggestions from the colonists, who were now calling themselves citizens, and the council had discussed them all. They had rejected execution as a means of punishment as they all were too respectful of the gift of life. Incarceration was out of the question as they did not have the means to support such a cumbersome system. Finally, someone had suggested putting the criminals into cryosleep. After all, there were almost three hundred cryo chambers aboard the Artemis capable of functioning for many years to come. The council recognized that this would only be a temporary solution. The sleepers would eventually have to be dealt with. But for the time being it seemed a good answer to a difficult question.
The Captain of the Avenger, her thirty-four surviving crew members and the traitor Maxwell were sentenced to cryo sleep for an indefinite period. At some later time, another council would be charged with determining their final fate, but this solution would buy them some time to get established and develop their philosophy. Brie only hoped that when that time came, she would have retired from the council to live in quiet obscurity.
Not surprisingly, both Brie and Xandra had been elected to serve on the first council. They were joined this morning by other council members including Stephanie Hunter, Sara Laurence, Art Hill and Penny Baker. The remaining three council persons were leaders in their own right, the chair of the Genetics committee Robert Wells, agriculturist Myra Goodman and botanist Karyn Rose. Karyn had surprised her peers with her level-headedness during the crisis with Amber. Most citizens had to admit, at least to themselves, that if their child had been in Amber's place, they'd have been completely irrational.
The fate of their criminal element decided, the council was now discussing other issues that were arising in their community. Relationships had formed over the last weeks and people were ready to make commitment. Having no marital laws was beginning to put a strain on the citizenry. Their original concept of allowing any two or more people to bond was a grand idea, but the details had to be worked out. Would they require lifetime contracts or would there be shorter term bondings allowed? And what about property and children? How would these issues be handled if bondings were severed?
The council was anxious to come up with a simple solution that would not encourage the pursuit of law as a career. All of them had some experience with the attorneys and legal systems of Earth and had no desire to repeat those mistakes on Gaia. In an effort to avoid this, the council decided that all children would be the responsibility of the settlement. Until the age of maturity, which still had not been decided, the community would feed, clothe and if necessary, house their young citizens. Of course, young children would reside with one or both parents whenever possible - the council acknowledged the importance of nurturing and love in their upbringing. But at the onset of adolescence, young citizens would be moved into a dormitory setting, visiting their parents regularly.
On this particular day, Brie found the council session to be overly long and boring. She had to admit to being somewhat distracted, absorbed with the details of her upcoming bonding celebration. No one was surprised that the Commander and the Doctor were making a commitment. Everyone just assumed that they belonged together, although there was some speculation regarding the terms of their contract.
"Councilperson O'Conner, would you care to join us?" Xandra's amused voice sliced through Brie's daydreaming.
Guiltily Brie raised her eyes to Xandra, today's council moderator, and asked "Just what are we voting on?"
"Adjournment" came the flat reply, shortly followed by the good-natured laughter and teasing of her fellow council members. They knew that the two were to be joined the next morning at sunrise and could afford to be charitable. In fact the council had arranged to complete their business and declare a break in council meetings for the next week to allow the pair a honeymoon of sorts. They all respected Xandra, but they loved Brie and wanted to do all they could to add to her happiness.
Grinning, Brie answered "Well, I'm in favor of that."
Brie awoke very early the next day, having slept fitfully. Not wanting to be late to her own wedding, she'd asked Sara to stay with her and make sure she was on time. It had been odd to sleep alone last night, but Xandra had insisted that they spend this one night apart. Brie had decided that it wasn't such a bad idea after all since she had spent the evening with Sara, Karyn and surprisingly, Penny Baker. The three had eaten, laughed and shared cherished memories of their families back on Earth. It had been food for the soul.
Sara was arranging her hair when Karyn and Penny arrived, bearing gifts. "Something old" turned out to be a pair of exquisite gold earrings which Karyn fastened to Brie's ears. "Something new" had been the silken, ivory sheath Sara had made Brie's for a wedding dress. Fastened with a knot over the left shoulder, the gown left the right shoulder bare. Settling the gown over Brie's head, careful not to disturb her hair, Sara produced "something borrowed" - a pair of ivory sandals which she slid over Brie's feet. The picture almost complete, Penny Baker stepped forward and shyly offered a bunch of exotic looking blue flowers, tied together with a scrap of blue ribbon.
"Something blue...picked 'em myself."
Brie looked at her friends, overwhelmed with gratitude and love. She knew that at this moment her friends Art and Stephanie were helping Xandra to prepare for this occasion. Xandra had become closer with these two since landing on Gaia. This pleased Brie to no end, since she guessed that Xandra had never had a real friend in her life.
Brie smiled and thanked each of them, then left to meet her love in the forest grove they had chosen for their exchange of vows. They had asked only Stephanie and Sara to witness their joining, but suspected that others would attend anyway.
When Brie entered the clearing, she was stunned by the sight of her lover. For the first time, she was seeing Xandra dressed in something other than a uniform. Her gown was identical to Brie's, its ivory color enhanced by the warm olive tone of her lover's skin. The smooth lines of the gown accentuated the soft curves of Xandra's body, her midnight hair moving slightly in the gentle morning breeze.
As she approached her lover, emerald eyes met lapis, and for them there was no one else in the world. Handing her bouquet to Sara, Brie took Xandra's hands and spoke gently.
"I have loved you throughout time and space. We are two halves of the same whole. You are my tree in the forest. You are my champion. I will love you all our lives and beyond. We are not making new vows, but renewing old ones. As love is eternal, so are we."
Tears slipped from Xandra's eyes and slid down her cheeks as she responded. "You have saved me time and again. Rescued me and taught me to love. When all is lost, then you are there. You catch me when I fall and love me in spite of my failings. We are not making new vows, but renewing old ones. As love is eternal, so are we."
Brie leaned back on her elbows as she watched the games below. Xandra's head lay in her lap and she suspected that her partner was sleeping. Gazing down at her lover, she realized that the years had been kind to both of them. Apart from a few attractive silver streaks, Xandra's hair was still as dark and silky as a raven's wing, her skin still smooth. A few laugh lines were beginning to appear at the corners of her eyes, but that only attested to the happiness they'd shared over the last twenty years.
Not to say it had all been fun, but Brie could trace most problems they'd had on the four young people competing in the games below. Three of the children were a mix of Brie and Xandra's genetic codes. The fourth combined Xandra's genes with Stephanie Hunter's. Of all their children, Brie felt closest to Stephanie's son. He seemed to need her more than the other three. Bret was a middle child and constantly saying the wrong thing. She'd spent many hours trying to teach the boy some sense of propriety, but wasn't having much success. She wasn't worried about it as much since he was growing into an incredibly handsome young man. The girls were too busy looking to notice if he said something awkward.
Their oldest, Sandra, was indeed her Xandra's namesake. Watching Sandra at age 19, competing in the games below, she could well imagine her partner at the same age. Sandy had already fulfilled her genetic obligations, giving birth last year to a fine son. Looking at her body today, you'd never know that she'd been pregnant this time last year.
The twins, Janice and Melinda, were a hand full when they were born and had only gotten more challenging over the last fifteen years. They had long ago discovered the advantages to being identical and fully exploited them at every opportunity.
The first settlement had consisted of 275 colonists. Now they had three 'villages' with a total population approaching 1,000. Brie and Xandra had retired from the council last year. Neither of them could believe that they'd stayed so long. Now they spent their days with their family and the dozen or so horses Xandra was raising.
Soon all the children would be grown and gone. Brie and Xandra had discussed doing a little exploring of the vast continent that had barely been touched. They hadn't forgotten the excitement of the many adventures they'd shared over the years. They were still thrilled by going places and seeing things untouched by mankind.
Lately Brie had found herself dreaming about nights alone with Xandra by a campfire. She just wasn't sure if it was the past or the future calling to her.
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