“I’m gonna have to kill her, ya know. I can’t believe she put that in the holodeck program.”
Tiny scratched the back of his head, unwilling to meet Reed’s eyes. He couldn’t blame her for being furious; the man had been a total jackass. But he couldn’t let Reed blame Randi for something that wasn’t her fault.
Reed’s head snapped around hard and fast. Her eyes glowed silver and she glared at Tiny. “Are you telling me *you* did this? You programmed that asshole??”
“Well, sorta, but not exactly. I just left the parameters broad and random. I’ll be more specific next time.”
It was kind of funny in retrospect, but it had been frustrating while it had been happening. They had been in one of the theme park places Randi had meticulously researched for the holo-program she had put together for her relaxation, utilizing it for their vacation. Tiny had taken Randi at her word, and asked the computer to put people into the simulation with them. He just hadn’t been specific enough in his request.
They had strolled through a half empty park, enjoying the ambiance and the different attractions that were available in the venue they had chosen. Then they had run into the most obnoxious man either of them had ever encountered... and as Sabres - that was saying a lot.
In preparing for this outing, Tiny had skimmed through Randi’s research so he and Reed could dress appropriately to blend in. One of the things he found popular was something called pin collecting, and it was here he made his second critical error. He hadn’t realized how zealous some people were about such a hobby or what lengths they would go to to obtain a rare pin they desired.
He and Reed had been waiting patiently in line when Reed noticed the man behind her staring. Then he proceeded to beg, plead, cajole, badger and finally threaten her for the pin he wanted. It was close; she wanted to go Sabre on his ass so badly, but before Reed or Tiny could respond, one of the workers calmly stepped into the line and removed the man. The rest of the day had gone much more smoothly.
“Next time I’ll be more careful,” Tiny said again, looking properly contrite.
Reed snorted. “Next time, I’ll do the programming.”
It was quiet in the capital city cottage - more so than Jill had expected it to be, especially since it wasn’t home. Geoff had never been an overly loud person, but the house without him echoed the silence. She walked through each room slowly, realizing there was very little in this place she would have to pack. The Sabres had provided the furnishings, for the most part, and they would also be responsible for cleaning out the workshop she’d had built. Only the few personal items Gwen had brought down for their comfort would need to go back north with her and those only took a very brief time to pack. Then she re-boarded the waiting transport and sped off towards home.
Randi rubbed her eyes. Their day spent in the sun had been a wonderful reprieve, but it had worn her out and she was making up the time now. She was making progress on her work, but it wasn’t doing a thing for her eyes. Gwen came up behind her, glasses perched on her nose. She put her hands on Randi’s shoulders and leaned forward until their faces were almost even.
“How’s it going?”
Randi scrubbed her hands over her face. “Not bad. It would probably be going better if my eyes didn’t burn so bad.” She turned to look at Gwen and met her gaze at very close range. Randi grinned; she really did like the look of Gwen in glasses. They just seemed to fit her somehow... especially when she was in bard mode, as she was now.
They had decided to postpone fondue and try to salvage a little of the work day. It had been pleasant, working together but separately in the same room. Gwen was actually pleased with her progress; everything she and Randi had been through seemed to have spurred her muse in the ass and she had been writing steadily since they’d come indoors. But after the third time she’d watched Randi rub her eyes, Gwen had put her journal away and come to stand behind her.
“Maybe you need glasses... or corrective surgery.”
Randi reacted so swiftly Gwen was cradled in her lap before she realized she’d moved. “No,” she said succinctly, easing the glasses from Gwen’s face and planting a fingertip on her nose. “I need to stay out of the sun for hours on end; and I need to stop trying to focus on everything but how cute and sexy you look in glasses.”
Gwen’s nose crinkled adorably when she smiled. “You think I look sexy in glasses?”
“In glasses, in jeans, in silk, in nothing at all... I have yet to find anything you’re *not* sexy in.”
“I think you are sexiest when you smile,” Gwen said, tracing the full lips that creased at her touch. She let her fingers wander across the planed cheekbones and over the arched eyebrows. “Especially when it twinkles out of the depths of your eyes.”
Randi couldn’t stop the faint blush or the light twinkle that sparkled when she smiled. She cleared her throat. “If I didn’t know any better, my queen,” her fingers tickling a path up Gwen’s ribs, “I’d have to say it seems like you are trying to distract the Empress from her official duties.”
Gwen grinned. “Depends... is it working?”
“I shouldn’t let it, but ya know, fondue sounds really good right now.”
“Yeah, it does,” Gwen agreed. “Besides, the work will be here tomorrow. Maybe I can help. I’ll bet together we can figure something out.”
“The sooner, the better I’m thinking. I’m ready for the smell of sea air and the sound of waves and the view from our living room windows.”
Gwen smiled wistfully. “That sounds wonderful. There is still so much I want to do in this lifetime, especially since it’s our last. But for now,” she said with her own twinkle, “how about some fondue? I’m starving.”
Randi would have answered, but a rumble from both their bellies spoke louder than any comment she could make. Gwen chuckled and sat up in her lap, then stood and held out her hand.
“C’mon. It’s all ready except for the heating part. The rest of the day is ours, love.”
Gwen started the pot heating while Randi brought the raw food to the small table, thankful she’d had Yuri include a tiny kitchenette in their suite. Then they sat down next to one another and waited for the oil to get hot. “Ya know, I knew how precious each day we had together was – I really did, even before we were an us. It was sort of hard not to; even without knowing our actual history as soulmates, my life as a Sabre made me very conscious of how fragile life is... especially after....”
Gwen nodded when Randi stopped speaking and covered Randi’s hand, stroking her knuckles with a thumb. She didn’t speak; she couldn’t. The thought of Randi’s death still brought a lump to her throat but thankfully, she didn’t tear up this time.
“But it’s like I have a heightened awareness about it now. It’s not like it is at the forefront of every moment, but the feeling is always there at the back of my mind.”
“Maybe it’s reminding you this is our final trip through the circle and that makes every minute more precious.”
Randi looked down at the heating oil before she looked up to meet Gwen’s eyes. “Does that bother you, Gwen? This being our last trip through they karmic cycle, I mean. That’s twice you’ve mentioned it in the last few minutes.”
“No,” Gwen agreed without hesitation. “I just... I think it is affecting the way we are thinking... reacting... to things now. It puts everything in a different perspective and it makes us more aware of life going on around us.” She paused, then tilted her head, nose crinkled in an adorable smile. “To be completely honest, I am looking forward to an eternity of peace with you. I think we’ve earned it.” Another beat. “I just don’t want to miss anything while were here either.”
Randi smiled and speared a stuffed mushroom, dipping it and dropping it into the now hot oil. “Then we’ll have to make sure we do everything we possibly can.”
Gwen chuckled evilly and rubbed her hands together. “I see some holodeck time in our future. I still have to experience all those initials, ya know,” reminding Randi of the extreme sports chip she had introduced Gwen to several months prior. Randi grinned.
“Whenever you’re ready, sweetheart. And if you get bored in the holosuite, we can always do some traveling as well.” She waggled her eyebrows.
“Anywhere, sweetheart – as long as I’m with you.”
Randi caught her breath and glowered. “That’s not fair.”
Green eyes widened and Gwen gave Randi an anxious look. “What’s not fair?” glancing around to find what was amiss.
“You can’t make statements like that when I am not in a position to respond,” motioning to the table and hot oil between them; then jumping when Gwen’s foot rubbed up her bare calf. Randi glowered when she discovered pure mischief lurking in Gwen’s sultry expression. “I’m gonna get you for that.”
Randi smiled indulgently, loving the playfulness. She took Gwen’s hand in hers and rubbed her thumb over smooth knuckles. “Guaranteed, Little One.” Gwen covered the hand holding hers and they waited in peaceful silence for their food to cook.
“Did you join the pool?” Ella asked as Tommy opened the door for her when they got home. Randall spotted Ditto and they rolled together on the floor in playful abandonment. The look Tommy wore was supposed to be one of beguiling innocence, but a cocked eyebrow from Ella made him grin sheepishly and Tommy nodded in obvious guilt.
“How much and when?
“Twenty and sixteen days.”
Ella laughed. “Twenty and three weeks. I figure they will probably spend a week with the Amazons. Otherwise, I would have gone with two weeks.”
Now Tommy laughed, a sound so surprising, Randall and Ditto stopped playing and looked at him before Randall squealed and joined in. Ditto made her contribution with a loud series of barks. Ella just covered her eyes and shook her head.
After a few moments, Tommy’s laughter wound down to chuckles and he looked at Ella just shaking his own head. “Ya know, it’s really not funny that we’re betting on how long it takes them to give it all up and come home.”
“No, but it is really funny that no one is giving them more than a month – even if you give them time to go to the Amazons like I did.”
Tommy smiled. “I’ll just be glad to have them home. I’m looking forward to a little normality.”
Ignoring the obvious smartass remark she could make, Ella smiled and took Tommy’s hand, tugging him to the glass doors that looked out over the water. “I think they are too,” she finally said. “And God knows they deserve it.”
Gwen lifted her head and peered into the darkness, trying to figure out what had brought her out of a deep sleep. Then Randi shifted and Gwen knew what had awakened her. She frowned then, wondering why she had awakened instead of joining Randi in the dreamscape. Then Gwen put her hands on either side of Randi’s face and started kissing her lightly over every bit of skin she could reach. She felt Randi struggling and then Randi called out in her sleep.
“No... NO!” A pause and a deep breath. “Gwen, NO!!” Randi sat up so quickly Gwen nearly bit her lip trying to get her head out of the way, but she managed to maintain her hold on Randi’s face. So when Randi’s eyes popped open, her first sight was Gwen. Randi clutched at Gwen’s arms, holding them tightly while catching her breath and letting her eyes roam Gwen’s body to assure herself that everything was all right.
Gwen gently stroked Randi’s face, brushing her hair back from her eyes and combing through it in a relaxing motion. Randi’s breathing gradually slowed and she closed her eyes and swallowed hard. She released on of Gwen’s arms and moved a shaking hand up to Gwen’s face, tracing her features with a trembling touch.
“You all right, love?” letting her fingers linger on full lips as they creased into a tender smile. Gwen captured her hand.
“Isn’t that supposed to be my line? You scared me. Everything okay?”
Randi swallowed and nodded. “It was... strange.”
Gwen waited but when Randi didn’t continue speaking, she shifted them until Randi’s head was cradled against her chest. Gwen didn’t say anything, but was content to hold her and felt the strong body gradually relax against her. Only when Randi was completely limp against her did Gwen whisper into Randi’s ear.
“You wanna talk about it, love?”
Randi sighed. She had spent the minutes relaxing going over in her mind the residual odd images and feelings left from her dreams. Gwen kept up a soothing touch on Randi’s back and arm and waited. Randi nuzzled into her neck and took a deep breath.
“It was strange,” she repeated again. “Like memories... but not. This hasn’t happened; I’m sure of it.”
“What, sweetheart? What did you dream?”
“You... and the Amazons... and fighting. Someone challenged you and you accepted the challenge, I think. But it was... wrong somehow. Something was off.” Her brow scrunched up thoughtfully.
Gwen leaned her cheek on Randi’s head. “Off how?”
“I dunno.” She thought a moment. “Maybe because I wasn’t in the picture? I’d just like to know where the dream came from... and why. It was just... too real – like it was actually happening. Only I had no control of what was going on around me at all. It’s kinda hard to explain. It’s mostly just feelings... images.”
“Do you think you can sleep now, sweetie?” brushing a kiss over the top of dark hair.
“Can we stay like this?” content to remain in Gwen’s arms indefinitely.
“If we shift to a more prone position, absolutely. I’m gonna wake up with an awful crick in the neck otherwise,” Gwen admitted with a small chuckle. Randi tilted her head back slightly to see the awkward position Gwen was sitting in and realized she wasn’t kidding. She’d probably end up with a crick in her entire spine.
Randi nodded and pulled away just enough for Gwen to shimmy into a laying position before reclaiming her spot in Gwen’s arms. She closed her eyes in contentment and her lips creased into a smile. Gwen hugged her more firmly and whispered into her hair.
“What are you smiling about?”
“The sound of the beat of your heart... it’s like music to me. I can feel it in my body. It’s amazing.”
The soundless chuckles earned Gwen a poke in the ribs and a raised head complete with glare from Randi. The poke made her jump and the glare made her laugh out loud.
“Hmph!” Randi pouted, but she didn’t relinquish her place and in fact snuggled that much closer to Gwen. Gwen stroked her hands through Randi’s hair and felt Randi relax into her. She turned her lips into Randi head and whispered.
“I know – why do you think it’s my favorite place in the whole world?”
Randi didn’t answer; she just hugged Gwen tighter and soon the only noise in the room was the solitary sound of their breathing.
The goddess looked up from the screen she had been intently studying and removed her glasses. Though she knew it completely changed her look and added a dimension of seriousness to her character, the fact was she actually needed them more than she was willing to admit. She rubbed her eyes and smiled warmly at her visitor.
“Morph, dude!! Long time, no see, babe. Whassup?”
Morpheus blinked. He only very rarely ventured out of his domain and he tended to forget about the peculiar quirks of each member of his family in the interim. Coming face to face with them again was always disconcerting at first. Then he smiled at her welcome and took her outstretched hands in his, squeezing them in greeting before releasing them.
“Hello, Aphrodite.” His expression became serious. “Do you have a moment? I think we might have a problem.”
Dite rubbed her forehead with one hand and let the other wrap around his arm. “C’mon, Morph. That so sounds like I’m gonna need a drink.” She poured two glasses of nectar and motioned to a chair. “Have seat and tell me what’s up.”
“Someone is interfering in Miranda Valiant’s dreamscape.”
Aphrodite gulped her nectar and got up to refill her glass, bringing the carafe back to sit on the table between them. “Of course.” She ran her hand through her curly hair. “Is it Ares?”
“I think so; I am still doing some checking, but everything points to him.”
Dite and Morpheus exchanged a long gaze before she spoke. “He’s totally over the edge with her, isn’t he? He has lost every last bit of his mind.”
Morpheus nodded. “I’m afraid so.” He sighed and swallowed half his nectar before he spoke again. “I will erect barriers to keep him out from now on, but I thought you would like to be aware. Perhaps you can warn Randi.”
“Oh you bet your sweet ass I will... though she is so majorly pissed with him right now, this may – well, I’m radically glad I’m not gonna be in his shoes when she gets him.”
“You really think she will? He is a god after all.”
“It won’t matter. She’s gonna come collecting and he’s gonna have to pay up.”
“She has a plan?”
“She has a plan.”
“Good,” Morpheus said, finishing his nectar and standing. “He’s gone too far this time.” He leaned over and brushed a kiss across her cheek, blushing when she returned the affection. Then he strode out the door and headed back to his own realm.
Aphrodite waited til he was gone, then she screamed, stomped her feet and banged her fists on the table. After her brief tantrum, she dropped her head on her arms and closed her eyes. And then there were those days when being a goddess just sucked.
Athena and Artemis came running at the first sound of screaming. A light touch on her shoulder caused Dite to jump and she glared at Athena before grinning sheepishly. “Sorry,” she mumbled.
“We heard you scream, Dite. Are you all right? Is something wrong?” Artemis asked, looking around for anything amiss.
“I’m cool, babe, but something is so.... Ares is a... he’s... ARGH!!!!” she screamed again. “If Randi doesn’t totally whip his ass, I just might have to.”
Artemis and Athena exchanged startled glances, then turned back to Aphrodite with extreme concern. “Would you like to start at the beginning, Dite, or would you like us to start guessing?” Athena asked. She motioned to the half empty carafe of nectar on the table. “Is it that bad?”
“Pull up a glass, then you can tell me.”
Randi lay quietly wrapped in Gwen’s arms, gently running her touch from breast to knee. She had no desire to bring Gwen out of her peaceful sleep state just yet, so she kept her contact light and soothing. But Randi needed the connection, so she allowed herself the comfort being in Gwen’s arms stroking her flesh brought her. She thought about the odd dream she’d had the night before. It bothered in a number of ways.
The reality of something she *knew* was only a dream was disturbing. It made Randi wonder if it was a premonition or.... It was the ‘or’ that bothered her the most, because in all likelihood that meant Ares was making another effort against her again and this time he was using the Amazons to do it. The question was could she do anything to stop him before Ares destroyed the Amazon Nation.
“What are you thinking about so hard, love?” Gwen’s sleepy voice burred its way through Randi’s hearing. She felt the subtle rumble and it made her smile despite her misgivings about everything else. Randi had never felt as secure in their love as she did at this moment and realized that the feeling was growing stronger with the passage of time.
A hand riffling through her hair brought her back to the present and she shifted just enough to look into green eyes filled with so much love it made her heart ache to see it reflected back at her. Randi pressed a kiss between the breasts she had been pillowed on. Then she shifted to capture those lips that were smiling at her just the least little bit and that went on until Gwen wrapped her arms fully around Randi’s body and pulled her down to Gwen’s.
“Good morning,” Randi said softly. Gwen grinned fully.
“Yes, it certainly is. Now, what were you thinking about so hard?”
Randi grinned rakishly. “What makes you think I was thinking hard? I’m in bed with my beautiful, sexy, naked wife and lover. I’m not sure I see where thinking would be required.” Gwen gripped her face and gazed seriously into blue eyes. Randi sighed and dropped her eyes momentarily before moving her eyes back up to meet Gwen’s. “I was thinking about my dream.”
Gwen nodded; she’d suspected as much. Truth be told, it had been occupying her thoughts as well. “And did you come to any conclusions?”
Randi slid to one side of Gwen’s body, allowing her leg to keep Gwen pinned in place and resuming her light stroking touch along Gwen’s torso. She smiled as she watched goosebumps follow in the wake of her fingertips, but her eyes were serious when they met Gwen’s.
“Not really. I still don’t know if it’s a dream or a premonition or just a piece of undercooked chicken from last night. I think you should contact the Amazons... ensure we do not need to be there immediately. If we don’t, I will push through today’s agenda and try to finish up the plans for the new schedule of service we want to implement so we can go out there tomorrow. If we do need to go today, well, we’ll go and play the rest by ear.”
Gwen smoothed the worry lines that creased Randi’s forehead. “You’re really worried about this, aren’t you?”
Randi nodded. “I think it is Ares. I think he’s gonna use the Amazons against me if he can.”
Now it was Gwen’s turn to frown. “Why? Why the Amazons? They are protected by Artemis.”
“No,” Randi shook her head. “Artemis is their patron, but the goddesses do not protect – at least not like that. Besides, that would just be added incentive as far as Ares is concerned at this point. The fact is, with the dissimilation of the rebellion factions, the Amazons are about the only separate warrior society left for Ares to stir to war.”
“But, Randi... the Amazons have been at peace for as long as the world has been. They were signers of the treaty; they have been players in keeping the peace. Not like the Sabres, of course, but they have served in the military, participated in....” Gwen glared when Randi’s fingers covered her mouth.
“Sweetheart, I know all that. But the fact remains that – one... the Amazons are a naturally warrior society, and the only one that exercises those skills outside the regular military; two... Artemis is their patron and they have sects devoted to Aphrodite and Athena as well; three... you are their queen. He has lost every other way with me; he has nothing to lose by destroying them trying to insure his success against me.”
“He has lost his mind!”
Randi nodded seriously. “I really believe he has. He honestly never expected me to reject him so completely. I think it pushed him over the edge.”
“Why? Randi, since our first trip through the karmic circle together, no matter the lifetime, no matter the circumstances, you have never been his. Why would he think it would be different this time, especially since we were already together and the relationship consummated?? You came back from the dead for me in this lifetime, even before we admitted our love to one another!!!”
“Yes, but he cheated; he stacked the cards completely against me to guarantee his victory.”
Gwen snorted. “Asshole,” she muttered under her breath, then blushed slightly at Randi’s silent chuckle and shrugged. “Well, he is. So what went wrong if everything was in his favor?”
Randi smirked, the sexy kind that gave Gwen tingles up and down her spine. “You did.”
Blonde brows flew up into Gwen’s hairline so fast, Randi waited for them to fly right off. “I did?!? What do you mean, *I did*???”
Randi leaned down and kissed Gwen with fiery passion, possessing her in a way no one else could. “Before the love, before the sex, before the vows we made to one another, there was always you – in my heart, in my soul, in my mind. He could never, ever defeat that. And he could never understand that... never grasp that there was nothing he could offer me that could measure up to what we had together – even when we were just friends.”
“And before we met?” They didn’t talk about this much and Gwen wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass them by. She knew there had been other lovers in Randi’s life before she had entered it; she suspected Tiny was one of them and Poppy was another, though she had never asked. In some ways, she was glad Randi had not been completely alone during the years she had been an active duty Sabre. On the other hand, she didn’t have green eyes for no reason, and jealousy was an ugly emotion – not only to experience, but to be caught having.
“Before we met?” Randi frowned. “Before we met, I wasn’t vulnerable.”
Green eyes widened with hurt. “Are you saying I made you vulnerable?? I made it possible for Ares to lay claim to you??” Gwen would have pulled away had it not been for the leg holding her in place and the arm that tightened significantly around her waist.
“Shh... just listen, love,” before Gwen could protest. “Yes, you made me vulnerable because you made me feel; and it was so... wonderful. Ares couldn’t tap into my passion because it wasn’t there. I had a few lovers before you came into my life,” acknowledging Gwen’s unspoken question. “But they were friends... people I trusted enough to find release with. My heart was not involved; my soul certainly wasn’t. It wasn’t until I met you that I started to feel.” A beat. “I wouldn’t trade that vulnerability for anything, love. It made me feel. And that made us invincible.”
That got Randi the grin she had been searching for. “Really?” Gwen asked shyly.
“Oh yeah,” Randi guaranteed. “Now c’mon,” she added, rolling away from Gwen and off the bed. “The sooner we get started, the sooner we can be done.” She extended a hand which Gwen took with alacrity, sliding from the bed and tugging them both towards the bathroom.
“I’m looking forward to that.”
Randi chuckled. “I’m looking forward to kicking Ares’ ass. The look on his face will be satisfying.”
Gwen laughed. “Your boot print permanently embedded will be even better.”
Ares remained blissfully unaware of their plans; he was too busy celebrating his latest conquest to be monitoring their activity at the moment. And with any luck, not only would Randi be his very shortly, but he would also spawn an army of immortal warriors created in his image. He looked down at the woman who shared his bed and laughed, the evil sound echoing throughout the mountain complex the Amazon Nation now called home.
“Aphrodite?” Artemis said as she rushed into the room where Aphrodite sat behind her desk working. Dite pulled the glasses off her face and pinched the bridge of her nose before looking at Artemis with tired eyes. She motioned to a chair and folded her hands on the desk in a listening pose.
“What’s wrong, Arty, and how can I help?”
Artemis spared a brief moment to be thankful for Dite’s perceptiveness. This was going to be awkward enough without getting into the squicky details.
“It’s Ares. He’s completely over the edge. You said Randi was ready and capable of taking him down?” She waited for Aphrodite to nod. “I think she needs to do so now.”
“No, Dite – listen. Ares is manipulating the Amazons; I think he plans to use them to create a race of warriors in Randi’s image.”
Aphrodite’s eye opened wide and she just look at Artemis for a long moment. “You mean he is... ew – grody to the max, babe. I so did not need that visual this morning.”
“Yeah? Well, imagine how I felt when I figured it out.”
“Wait,” combing her fingers through her disheveled curls. “Can we start this gnarly conversation over? ‘Cause I am getting a major headache from this. Whaddya mean – when you figured it out?”
“Can we get Athena in on this? I would prefer not to have to say it twice. I think she is....”
Artemis chuckled wryly at Dite’s bellow. “Of course, that works too.” Athena popped her head around the corner almost instantly.
“Gods, Dite! You scared a year’s worth of eternity out of me! What is so important??”
“Come in and siddown. We gotta talk.” Athena looked from Dite to Artemis and back again and sighed. Without a word, she popped in a bottle of wine and three glasses, then fell into a chair and waited for someone to give her the bad news.
Randi looked up when Gwen’s head came around the door to her office. She turned away from her computer screen and spun her chair around to face Gwen. She was gratified when Gwen came around the desk and sat down in her lap.
“So... what’d you find out?” smoothing out the frown lines that were crinkling Gwen’s forehead. The expression made her guts churn, just a little.
“I’m not sure. It was very strange.”
Now a frown crossed Randi’s features. “How so? Did you speak to Lorac?”
Gwen nodded slowly. “Yeah, but she was... I dunno – off. Almost like a pod person or something.” She blew out a frustrated breath. “She didn’t act like there was a problem; she was even enthusiastic about our coming out there soon. Said they were planning a surprise fit for a queen. It was just weird, but I can’t put my finger on what’s wrong.”
“Do you think it is critical? Do we need to go out there today?”
Gwen bit her lip pensively and considered the questions seriously. “No. I think we need to take care of the rest of the world first. We’re too close to a resolution and if we truly want to go home and have peace, we need to finish. But I wouldn’t object to stepping things up and getting out there sooner than we had originally planned either.”
“All right,” Randi said in agreement. “I think I have a rudimentary workable plan. We just need to get the details settled and put into place. You wanna take a look? With a little luck we’ll have this ready to implement by the time Tiny and Reed get back next week.”
Gwen shifted in Randi’s lap to take a look at the desk screen. Randi angled the desk a little more to accommodate Gwen’s added height, then sat back and let Gwen read in peace. Her hands delicately stroked the body within her reach which coincidentally contained a majority of Gwen’s erogenous zones. Randi wasn’t even conscious of her actions until Gwen grasped her hands lightly and turned pleading eyes to meet Randi’s.
“Whoops! Sorry,” Randi said sheepishly.
Gwen smiled and stole a quick kiss. “I wouldn’t mind except it’s very distracting. You make it very difficult to concentrate.”
Randi stood, lifting Gwen to her feet at the same time. “Tell ya what... I’ll go find some of the guys who are around and go do some sparring. Then you can read in peace; don’t look at me like that. If I stay, I’m just gonna keep distracting you and we both know it’s the truth.”
Gwen smiled sheepishly and nodded. “Yeah, but it doesn’t mean I won’t miss you while you’re gone.”
Randi’s turn to steal a kiss, only hers was by no means quick. “I love you,” she finally said when they separated on an uneven breath. “I’ll be back to pick you up for lunch. Then we can start working on the details.”
Gwen nodded. “Be careful, Empress. Don’t beat up on the troops too much, all right? I have plans for you tonight and they don’t involve you being black and blue or too tired and sore to move properly.” Randi arched an eyebrow, but her eyes twinkled mischievously. Then she jumped unexpectedly when Gwen smacked her firmly on the butt. “Go on and get outta here, love. I know you wanna go play with the boys and I’ll get done faster if you do. Just don’t run them too ragged.”
“No promises,” Randi quipped and with another swift kiss, she was out the door and Gwen sat down at the desk to continue her reading. She liked what she had been able to take in so far; the idea certainly had merit and she could easily see it working for everyone if they could just work out a way to implement it properly. She started making notes as ideas occurred to her and soon Gwen was completely immersed in her work.
Meanwhile, Randi had no lack of volunteers once word got around of her presence in the rec room. No one could resist the challenge, especially once Randi made it clear she was taking all comers. Soon the room was filled with the sounds of hand to hand combat and the thud of bodies as they hit the mats... one by one.
It was the growling of her stomach that pulled Gwen’s attention off the computer screen and focused it on the clock. Her eyebrows shot into her hairline. Surely Randi wasn’t still sparring; it had been hours. Gwen rolled her eyes, knowing the truth. She locked the computer and lowered the desk back down to a flat position. Then she got up and strode out of the room, intent on finding her wayward soulmate. First, she had to make a stop by their suite.
Sabres were scattered across the room in various states of disrepair discussing form and technique as Randi sparred with yet another of their number. But when Gwen opened the door and crossed the room towards Randi, silence followed in her wake. A number of Sabres grinned. They had heard from their Amazon mates about Gwen’s prowess with the staff, and several of them had seen the bard in action here in the compound. At the very least, it would be entertaining.
The Sabre facing off against Randi was distracted by the silence and hesitated, giving Randi the chance to drop him to the mat. Then she looked up and understood the reason for the quiet that now draped the room and gave Gwen a chagrined smile. Randi had been having such a good time sparring, she hadn’t realized how late it had gotten.
“Oh shit!” she muttered, but not low enough not to be heard by the troops, causing a ripple of grins to race around the room. “Guess playtime is over, boys and girls. I promised to take Gwen to lunch, so if you’ll excuse us....”
“Not so fast there, Stud. Get your staff.”
“C’mon, Empress. You made me wait for lunch; I think you owe me a round of sparring.”
Randi cocked an eyebrow and her blue eyes twinkled in pure fun. “Oh you do, huh? You think I owe you?” She held out a hand and momentarily her staff was placed in it. Gwen nodded and backed up a pace, trying to clear space for their match. “Then by all means, my queen,” twirling her staff into a ready position and giving Gwen an evil smile, “let’s spar.”
The sound of wood clashing solidly together was loud and echoed in the otherwise silent room. The Sabres watched in awe as the staves met and separated in motions so smooth and rhythmic they could almost be classified as a dance.
Gwen and Randi smiled ferally at one another. Though they were both quite serious about their skills, this was something they took great joy in sharing with one another and both of them had missed this time together. The hits increased in speed until they were merely a blur; the Sabres just blinked at the furious action they were privileged to witness.
For long moments the battle went back and forth between them, neither woman gaining or losing ground to the other. Finally, as if someone gave an invisible signal, they wound up with a flourish, staves crossed inched from their faces.
Their breathing was increased but not harsh and for a few stunned seconds, it was the only sound in the room. Then the Sabres started to cheer. When Randi leaned forward and captured Gwen’s lips, they whooped. Gwen blushed. Randi just grinned like a Cheshire cat.
“Right, then...” Randi said as the sound died down. “*Now* if you’ll excuse us....” A chuckle went around the room and they made a path so Randi and Gwen could leave the rec room together. A trail of Sabres followed them out, then went their own ways to get back to their duty stations.
“Did you have fun?” Gwen asked as they made their way to their rooms. Gwen wanted to put her staff away and Randi was dying for a quick shower. Gwen squealed, closed her eyes and held on tightly when without warning, Randi picked her up and spun them both around in a circle. When they stopped spinning, Gwen opened her eyes and stared down into sparkling, bright blue orbs. She couldn’t help the smile that crossed her lips or crinkled her nose.
“*I* had a blast!! I’ve missed that... especially with you. How ‘bout you... did you have fun?”
Gwen squeezed her arms tightly around Randi’s neck and licked the drop of sweat that was dangling on the tip of Randi’s nose before depositing a kiss in its place. “I,” she said, resting her forehead on Randi’s and forcing their eyes to cross. “I had a wonderful time today, *and* I think I may have figured out some of the kinks in the plan.”
“Oh?” Randi said as she pulled back enough to actually see Gwen’s face. She was suddenly serious and very interested in the conversation. “Do tell.”
“Uh uh... not until we get something to eat. Otherwise I will starve to death before I get food.”
“No, but it’s gonna take more than two minutes to explain, and I’m hungry. C’mon, love. Put me down so we can get done and get back to work.” Randi squinted at Gwen, then turned and resumed her stroll to their quarters. Gwen instinctively held on tighter. She drew a deep breath to protest, but a single, pleading glance in her direction made Gwen simply tuck her head into Randi neck for the remainder of the short trip to their room. Randi smiled and pressed a kiss to Gwen’s head.
A short time later, they were once more clean, fed and back in Randi’s office. This time they were sitting side by side at the desk as Randi read through the proposal with Gwen’s comments and modifications. They were good and Randi turned and smiled at Gwen who slipped her glasses off her face and refocused her eyes on Randi’s.
“What?” self-consciously setting her glasses on the closest flat surface.
“These are good ideas, Gwen. I think they will streamline things for everyone... especially me. Now I just need to write a program to make it all work together. Making the mix random is good and I think three to six month tours per station are a great idea. It won’t get everyone exposure to everyone and everything, but it should be enough that people start recognizing similarities.”
“Are you gonna extend service times... go to five years instead of two?”
“Yeah, I think we need to. Maybe eventually mankind will be smart enough to survive without a military, but for now I think it is still necessary. I’ll make sure there are back-ups and fail-safes in place, but the fact is mankind is either gonna have to grow up and be responsible for each other and this planet, or they are going to end up destroying everything.”
“Does it bother you, love... walking away, I mean? We’ve been doing this for a long time, Randi – lifetimes. And it took us a few tries to get it right. Can we just walk away without regrets?” She paused and took a deep breath. “I know I keep asking; I just want you to be sure that giving up the chance to rule the world isn’t something you’ll be sorry for later.”
Randi took Gwen’s hand. “No, sweetheart; it really doesn’t bother me. I’ve thought about this a lot.” She blew out a deep breath and looked down at their clasped hands. “We’ve done all we can do, Gwen. We’ve arrived at a crux in human history – a pivotal point where the choices made will affect the way humanity will live... or die... together. We’ve given them every opportunity to choose wisely.” Now she looked back up and met Gwen’s eyes. “But unless we want this responsibility for eternity, we have to let mankind make the choice and live with the consequences. It should be easier for humanity once Ares is out of the way, even if we have been his main focus for a while. And speaking very selfishly – I’m tired. I don’t wanna do this anymore. I think we’ve earned our rest.” She smiled. “Besides, I have all I want in the palm of my hand,” lifting their joined hands to her lips and kissing them.
Gwen couldn’t stop the blush, but she returned the kiss with a possessive squeeze of the fingers entangled with hers. “I just don’t want you to regret....”
“No regrets, Gwen – not about this anyway... especially if we can make this program work like I think we can. Let me get started on this program; the sooner I get it done the sooner we can get a team together to work the bugs out while we go visit the Amazons.”
Gwen nodded. “I’ve got some writing to do.”
“You wanna work in here with me?”
A brilliant smile was her answer. “Let me go get my journal.”
“Are they coming?”
“Not yet. I told her we were planning a surprise for her, but I indicated it wasn’t ready yet so there wasn’t a need for them to rush out here yet.”
“Good, that will give me a chance to try to make a few more immortal Amazon babies.”
Lorac smiled slyly. “Well, I know of a few Amazons that are hoping the first try doesn’t take. They’d like another go with the god of war.”
Ares smirked. “Only a few?”
“Yeah – not all of us are into men, but not all of us are strictly into women either.” She frowned. “Of course, I haven’t heard anyone complaining.” That struck her as very strange; there were a number of Amazons who had no desire to be with a man and yet they had been as anxious as the rest to sleep with Ares. Then there were those that didn’t want children, and yet they too had been eager for Ares to give them a child. Something was wrong with this picture; then Ares trailed a hand up the inside of her thigh and the thoughts went to the wayside.
“What about you, Lorac?”
“As many times as you want, Ares,” then her mind was lost in the passion and bloodlust she felt coursing through her veins. Nothing else mattered besides the touch of his hands and lips on her body. Ares smiled cruelly. The domination he felt over these women was almost enough to make him forget his need to own Miranda Valiant... almost.
Rosie had gone home, glad for the chance to check on her barbeque stand and found that her daughter was very happy running the small roadside restaurant. It was a little surprising; Rosie had never expected her to be so enthusiastic about it, but she was glad to see it. It meant she could take a little time off. After everything that had happened recently, Rosie felt the need for a bit of a break to rejuvenate body and spirit. The last few weeks had been completely draining – to the point that even her daughter mentioned it and shooed her out of the kitchen. Rosie had laughed and went into the private area of the restaurant, glad beyond words for a child like she had and a chance to rest.
She woke up with a bit of a start; her dreams had been... disturbing... and Rosie looked around trying to orient herself. Something had woken her up, but what? There was no one in the room with her and the rest of the house sounded just as quiet. She closed her eyes and searched her feelings, not able to find the cause for her sudden waking, only knowing that something was off. The question was – what? And how did it affect her?
“Oh my GOD! Who in the hell came up with that harebrained idea?” Tiny asked as he collapsed on the ground at the bottom of the hill after he literally fell out of the plastic bubble. “Damn, I think I’m gonna puke.”
Reed snickered though truthfully, she wasn’t feeling much better. “You’re the one that wanted to try zorbing, honey.”
“Never again,” Tiny mumbled as he focused on breathing to keep the contents of his stomach where they belonged. “I hope they found an appropriate death for whoever decided that was a good idea. I can’t believe Randi put something that sickening on a holochip that is supposed to be for fun.”
“I dunno, baby – remember those... what were those things we rode? The roller coasters? Some of those were more than a little disorienting.”
He cracked an eye open to look at her. “You think this is a plot by Randi to get us for something?”
Reed chuckled gingerly, not wanting to disturb her equilibrium too much. “No... I think she just has a twisted idea of what fun is. I think we need to research everything else on that chip, though. I don’t think either one of us can handle anymore surprises like that one.”
“I think we need to give the holodeck a rest and take a time out in the real world.” Tiny waited for a response from Reed, and when he didn’t get one, he turned his head slowly to face her. Her eyes were closed and her breathing slow and deep and he realized she was meditating. She reached for his hand almost unconsciously and he extended his own without thought.
They lay there in silence for a few minutes and Tiny felt his stomach settle. Without warning, Reed clenched his hand almost painfully and he wondered what had caused that reaction. He rolled over carefully, unwilling to risk upsetting his stomach again.
“Reed? Honey, you all right?”
It took a few more minutes of deep breathing before Reed answered and then it was so soft Tiny had to strain to hear it. “I dunno – I feel a little off kilter.”
“From the zorbing or...?” Tiny zoomed in on the problem immediately; Reed would have already mentioned if her imbalance was related to their holodeck activities. He suspected this feeling was from something else entirely.
“I don’t think so. It was a weird ripple.” She shrugged. “It’s getting better.”
“Is it Randi and Gwen? Do we need to cut our vacation short?”
“I don’t know; I don’t think so,” she said again with only the slightest hesitation. “Besides, you know and I know Randi will kick both our asses if we go back early for no explainable reason. Maybe we should call them later though – check in.”
“Sweetheart, neither Randi nor Gwen would ever discount your feelings. You know that – they better than anyone else on Earth understand and respect your feelings... well, except maybe me,” he added with a crooked smile. She returned the look gratefully. “I think we should head back for the capital,” he continued, sitting up slowly. “We could always tell them we need a break from our vacation; personally, I think it’s killing me.”
Reed chuckled again and eased up into a sitting position. “Me too,” she agreed. “And after today, I think I have the bruises to prove it. C’mon,” she said, standing up and offering him a hand. Tiny took it and kissed it, then pushed himself upright.
“Computer, holodeck off,” feeling better with the disappearance of the zorbing ball. “C’mon, honey. Let’s go and see what kind of trouble we can find. Knowing Randi and Gwen, it shouldn’t be hard and it should be interesting.”
Reed smirked and followed Tiny out of the holosuite. “It always is.”
Jill walked around the house slowly. She had expected to feel lonely and bereft here, but instead she felt Geoff’s presence like a tangible thing – a warm blanket that wrapped her in his love. It made her smile.
There were so many memories here... so many pieces of their lives together were contained in the walls of this home. A knock on the door interrupted her musing and Carbon barked; Jill frowned. She wasn’t expecting anyone and she had thought to have a bit of time to adjust to being alone here before friends and neighbors came to call.
When she got to the door, she leaned her forehead on it and took a deep breath, hushing the barking dog with a motion. Then she opened the door to the young Sabre who had made regular visits to Geoff’s workshop, especially as Geoff’s health had deteriorated and they had spent more and more time in the capital city.
“Hello, Mrs. Goldman. I apologize for my poor timing, but we need to sweep Geoff’s workshop as soon as possible and I wanted to make arrangements that would suit you best.”
Jill was a little put off, but she nodded. The sooner he was done, the sooner she would be left in peace. And he was a polite young man; she didn’t blame him for wanting to do his duty as quickly as he could manage.
“What would be best for you, Matt?”
“No ma’am,” he replied quietly. “I meant what I said. Geoff was an extraordinary man and a good friend. I volunteered for the assignment because I am the most qualified and could do it without infringing on your privacy too much. I didn’t realize I was going to be sent here so quickly.”
“It’s all right, Matt. Come in, please.”
He shook his head. “No, thank you, ma’am. If you could just tell me when the best time was for you, and if you would prefer for me to take care of things alone or if you want a full team in here.” He paused at the confusion in her eyes. “If I bring in a full team, there will be about a half dozen of us and it will take less than a day... probably two to three hours at the most. If I do it alone, it will take me at least two or three days.”
Jill thought about it a moment. “I think I’d rather you do it by yourself, Matt. Geoff was proprietary about his work and you were the one he chose to share that with. I respect that; you understand his work and know the value of what he was doing. You still have the code to the workshop, yes?” Matt nodded. “All right. You can get started whenever you want to in the morning. I’d appreciate it if you let me know when you are done.”
“Yes ma’am. Again, I’m sorry to have had to bother you about this....”
Jill held up a hand. “It’s all right, Matt. I may not get all the ins and outs of the Sabres, but I have learned enough to know there is a reason for their expediency. You do what you need to do, Matt.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Goldman. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight,” she replied, closing the door behind him. Then she looked around the house and she and Carbon headed for the study where their pictures and holo-memories were waiting for her to go through them. It was going to be a good night for remembering.
Randi stretched and grimaced as the bones in her spine realigned themselves in a cacophony of popping sounds. It made Gwen look up from her journal with concern.
“You all right there, love? That sounded ugly.”
Randi shifted her shoulders to loosen them a little more and smiled in Gwen’s direction. “Yeah... just a little sore from sitting in the same position without moving for so long. I know better – I just got caught up in what I was doing.” She stood up slowly and crossed to the small sofa set against the nearest wall, climbing over the back and sliding in behind Gwen until she was wrapped around her bard. Randi was gratified when Gwen closed the journal and set it aside, then leaned back into her body with a sigh of relief. “How’s the writing coming?”
Gwen angled her head and brushed a kiss on Randi’s jaw line. “Well enough. I’m writing down what I remember from our time in the dreamscape together – from our spirit walk.”
Randi’s eyes widened though she knew Gwen couldn’t see the reaction. “Wow! That’s um... that’s some pretty intense stuff.”
Gwen nodded. “Pretty personal too. But since I’m the only one who will see it.... And I don’t want to forget.”
“You think you would... forget, I mean?”
“Not the big stuff, no, but I wanted to get the details down while they were still fresh. I want to remember how things felt and smiled and sounded; the look in your eyes when you saw your reflection in my mirror. Seeing you as both warrior and woman and our reunion of both body and soul. I don’t want to forget any of it – even the parts that hurt.”
Randi held on a little tighter and smiled when Gwen tangled their fingers together. “I’m glad you’re writing it down, love. Even if it’s just for us, I’m glad we’ll have it to remember.” They sat in silence for a little while before Randi spoke again. “You know, when we get back from the Amazons and before we go home, we need to go back to the village and talk to Sky.”
“So they can make us part of the tribe – if you want to, of course. They did invite us and we finished our spirit walk....”
“... even if it wasn’t exactly the way that Sky expected it to be,” Gwen said with a chuckle.
Randi echoed the sentiment silently, though Gwen felt the vibrations against her back. “Yeah, I’m sure we’ll hear about our unorthodox method for taking a spirit walk for some time to come. But we still need to decide what, if anything, we want to share about that, because you know eventually someone is gonna ask.”
Gwen sighed. “Personally, I don’t see the need to share any of the details with anyone. It is very intense and very personal, and I would like to keep it that way. Am I being selfish?”
“Nope, not as far as I’m concerned. I feel the same way. There really isn’t a reason for anyone to know the details of what we went through together. They know we survived; that will have to be sufficient. The rest is for us alone.”
Another short silence which Gwen broke. “So how’s your work coming?”
Randi nodded. “Pretty good. I’m satisfied we’re on the right track.”
“How do you think people are gonna react?”
Randi shrugged. “I dunno; right now I just wanna make it work. We can worry about the reactions when they happen. But we’re not gonna stay here – I’m not gonna be Empress forever.”
“I’m glad,” Gwen said simply. “I like having Randi all to myself.” She leaned back as Randi bent down and their lips met for a timeless moment before separating. “C’mon,” Gwen said as she pulled back slightly. “We’ve been at this for a while. Let’s take a break and go get something to eat.”
“That sounds like a good idea. Steak and eggs?”
“Yeah... then maybe we could take a little trip in the holodeck?”
“Sure, where ya wanna go?” pushing Gwen off the couch and standing up behind her.
“I dunno. Let’s go see what we have to choose from; I know there are still a lot of things on those chips we haven’t tried yet.”
“All right... anything but zorbing. Just reading about that makes me sick.”
“That bad?” as they made their way out of the office and to the kitchen.
“Yeah... that bad. I’d rather shoot myself.”
Gwen’s eyes widened. “Oooookay – note to self... no zorbing.” Then they walked into the kitchen and they started preparing their dinner.
“Tiny? What are you doing back here already? Couldn’t stay away?” Yuri joked as Tiny and Reed waited for him to open the gate. All codes had to be verified from inside before activation was allowed. Tiny just shook his head when he realized that Yuri was on duty that evening. It was just the way his karma had gone since he’d started this vacation.
“Vacation was killing me, Yuri. You gonna open the gate and let us in?”
“Yes, come on up. I’m in the office.”
“Where are Randi and Gwen?”
The Empress and the queen have retired to their quarters for the evening.”
Tiny laughed. “Randi hears you referring to her like that, she may just unretire to kick your ass, ya know.”
Yuri giggled. “It would be worth it.”
Tiny scowled. “Why? Is something wrong? We’ve only been gone for three days.”
“Oh no! She and Gwen sparred together today - *after* the Empress took on better than half the unit in hand to hand combat. It was something of a spectacle... all the way around. The queen is quite impressive – can hold her own with the Empress with a staff.”
“I missed this?!? Tell me someone got vid of this.”
“Yeah,” Reed chimed in. “I wanna see this.”
Yuri chuckled again. “Well, come on up. I’ll have it waiting for you by the time you get in here.”
Reed and Tiny turned to look at one another when Yuri disappeared from the screen. “I can’t believe we missed that,” Tiny said with a whine in his voice. “I can’t believe that did something like that while we were gone!! We shoulda been here for that!”
Reed couldn’t help it; she laughed. Tiny glared at her, then gave her a sheepish grin.
“All right, all right,” he conceded as he brought their transport to a halt. “I know I am being ridiculous. It just woulda been nice to have been here and experienced it after all the bad we have seen them suffer through.”
“Don’t worry, honey. I imagine if you ask nicely, Randi will be happy to kick your ass sparring. And if you ask *really* nice, she might let Gwen do it too.”
Outraged brown eyes met amused gray. “You’re yanking my chain,” he growled.
“Yep, I sure am,” Reed agreed with a giggle. “It’s so much fun and you make it so easy.” They grabbed their bags from the small trunk and headed inside. “Are we gonna go say hello before we turn in tonight or do you just want to wait until tomorrow?”
“I think we’ll wait unless Yuri has already let them know we’re back. If they have um... retired for the evening, I’m not sure I wanna interrupt. You know as well as I do the multitude of possibilities those words cover.”
“Very true,” Reed agreed. “I’m so glad their shielding is in place. Life is much more pleasant for me.”
Tiny wrapped an arm around Reed’s shoulders and kissed her temple. “Me too. I hated watching you in such misery. It’s nice to be able to be friends with them and to be able to enjoy it. C’mon,” pushing the door to the office open and lifting a hand to Yuri in greeting. “Let’s go see what all the buzz is about with them sparring. I have a feeling this will be a lot of fun.”
“Oh it was,” Yuri agreed, “and if we’re really lucky, they’ll do it again.” He extended a hand to each of them and then frowned. “Wow, your vacation really did beat you up, didn’t it?” examining the odd bruises that covered each of them. “You want to share?”
“Let’s see the vid feed first, then we’ll tell you about the holodeck vacation from hell that nearly killed us.” Yuri’s eyebrows almost popped off his forehead and then he motioned them to a chair. Given their battered appearance, he couldn’t wait to hear the details.
“That was... incredible,” Gwen said as she slipped the helmet off her head. “I never thought I could fly like a bird. Being connected to you while I was doing it was a great bonus.”
Randi dropped her helmet, and loosened the straps that held them together. She was a little surprised when Gwen immediately stepped away from her. Randi shimmied out of the straps and buckles only to find Gwen suddenly wrapped around her like an octopus.
“Well, hello there,” Randi said with a rakish grin, tightening her hold and feel Gwen’s spine pop back into place. “Fancy meeting you here.”
“Ugh,” Gwen groaned and let her head flop forward into Randi shoulder. “God, that feels good. HEY!” she squealed and straightened. “Whaddya do that for?” glaring at Randi who smirked, then snared her lips in a long, passionate kiss. Randi caressed the spot on Gwen’s ass she had just pinched and felt Gwen melt into her touch and embrace. “Hmm... what was I saying?”
Randi grinned. “You were saying we needed to get out of here and go to bed.”
Gwen giggled. “Did I say that? I don’t remember saying that.”
“Computer... door,” Randi called out as she carried Gwen out of the holosuite and back into their rooms. “Do you really want to argue about it?” kissing the full lips on a level with her own again.
“What I want to do,” Gwen growled when they separated for air, “is to tie you up and have my way with you for the rest of the night.”
Randi’s eyes widened and she swallowed hard at the pure desire in Gwen’s voice and the lust that burned hotly in her green eyes. “All right,” she agreed numbly, then found herself drowning in new sensations when Gwen began to make good on her desires. They never even heard the comm unit buzz for their attention, and Yuri wasn’t about to find out why. He knew they were alone together – and that was reason enough to let them be.
“Are you okay, sweetheart?” Gwen asked, gently stroking all the bare skin she could reach on Randi’s body. “I wasn’t too rough?”
Randi stretched slowly, making sure she rubbed up against Gwen before she turned them and spooned up behind her. “I am wonderful, thank you. And you were incredible.”
“You’re sure?” Randi felt the heat of Gwen’s blush and eased up on her elbow enough to look down into Gwen’s face. She ran the backs of her fingers along Gwen’s cheek until those green eyes turned in her direction. Then Randi smiled as Gwen captured her hand.
“I’m sure,” she answered seriously. “I trust you, Gwen... completely. And to know that you share your trust with me – to feel comfortable enough to take charge and express your needs and desires.... I never thought I’d feel like this – never thought I’d be so willing to surrender.”
Gwen didn’t answer verbally. Instead she pulled the hand she held to her lips and kissed it, then placed their joined hands between her breasts with a smile. Randi brushed her lips over Gwen’s cheeks and pulled the smaller body into her own more firmly. Then both closed their eyes and settled into a blissful sleep.
The dream returned with a vengeance and Randi was sitting up breathing hard before Gwen even blinked her eyes opened. But she held on to Randi tightly even in her sleep and slowly Randi’s heartbeat slowed as she felt the surety of Gwen’s love surrounding her.
When she caught her breath, she looked down into sleepy green eyes filled with concern. She cupped the blonde head and kissed the top of it. Gwen tightened her hold. “You all right, love?”
Randi nodded. “Yeah... just that dream again. I think... I dunno - it’s never been the gods’ style to hide behind dreams where I’m concerned, but it’s almost like they are trying to send me a message.”
“Unless it’s not them.”
“Well,” Gwen said, blinking the sleep out of her eyes. “What if it isn’t the goddesses? You know and I know that if they had something to say, they’d do so face to face at this point.” Randi slowly nodded her agreement. “So what if it is someone else trying to get your attention? Or what if it is accidental?”
“Accidental how?” Randi asked with a frown. Gwen bit her lip, not wanting to put her thoughts into words just yet. “You think it’s Ares? He’s up to something that is giving me these weird dreams?”
“I think it’s possible.”
“But why give me dreams? Why give me any warning as to what he’s doing?’
“I doubt he’s doing it on purpose.” Gwen sighed. “I do think we need to go to the Amazons – today. Whatever is causing this – they are obviously involved. We’re not going to make any more progress here if we’re sitting here trying to figure out what is happening there.”
“What about your surprise?”
Gwen’s answer was interrupted by a shower of sparkles and rose petals as three goddesses coalesced into solid form around them. Randi frowned and pulled the sheets up to cover her and Gwen’s nakedness. Then she noticed the seriousness of the goddesses’ expressions and pulled the covers up over their heads as they fell back into the mattress.
“We need to talk,” Aphrodite said in all seriousness. Randi and Gwen groaned, knowing they weren’t going to want to hear what was coming.
“Can ya’ll give us a few minutes to get a shower and get some clothes on?”
Athena was herding them out of the bedroom before Aphrodite could formulate a response. Gwen chuckled soundlessly and Randi waited until she heard the door snick closed, then threw the covers off of them and rolled off the bed.
“C’mon, love. I have a feeling it’s fixing to be a long, LONG day.”
Breakfast was on the table when Randi and Gwen stepped into the main room. They exchanged glances and took their seats, not surprised when the three goddesses took seats beside them. Randi looked at each of them and picked up her fork, digging into the food they had provided.
“All right,” she said once she had swallowed. “Spill it.”
Now that the time had come, the goddesses looked at one another, each hoping the other would speak up first. Randi glowered and growled. Gwen laid a calming hand on the tense forearm and pinned them with a stare.
“Let me tell you what we have figured out and then ya’ll can fill in the blanks, all right?” The three nodded simultaneously and Gwen took a swallow of juice before she spoke again. “Ares is making what is probably at this point a last ditch effort at reclaiming lost glory or some such similar bullshit, thinking he will be able to persuade, cajole or otherwise bribe Randi into joining him in his quest for world domination. And in some twisted sense of warped justice, he is somehow planning to use the Amazon Nation to do carry out his plan. Are we close?”
They nodded, relieved Randi and Gwen had already figure out the crux of the problem, even if they didn’t have all the disgusting details yet. Artemis closed her eyes and licked her lips nervously before opening them and beginning to speak.
“Ares has given the Amazons the serum he gave to you, Randi, only he was more successful with them than he was with you. He has turned them into his warriors.” She clenched her hands together tightly and covered her lips, frowning intensely. Athena, knowing how hard this was for Artemis particularly, picked up the thread.
“It gets worse, of course. Not only has he managed to secure the loyalty of the Amazon Nation by the use of drugs, Ares is also intent on creating a race of immortal warriors in his own image. And he is using the women of the Nation to do it... willingly, I might add, because of the drugs.”
“Are you telling me Ares is impregnating the Amazon Nation??”
“He is trying to. Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to know and they either don’t remember or don’t really want him to know despite everything that they cannot get pregnant on a whim like that anymore.”
Randi nodded. When laws had been put into place limiting children to one per family unit, scientists had worked night and day to insure a way to stop the cycles of female ovulation and male sperm production, and they were wildly successful – to the point it had been almost impossible to reverse at first and mankind had nearly succeeded in becoming extinct. Eventually, though, they worked all the kinks out and it became easier to restart the reproductive process of those who wanted to have children.
In the case of the Amazons, however, things were a little different. Many, though not all, of the women of the Nation were not inclined to seek a male partner for mating or reproductive purposes. Instead, the decision was made to give that jurisdiction to Artemis. That way she could bless a union and insure that mothers were given strong, healthy daughters to insure the continuance of the Nation.
What Ares didn’t know, and what no one had shared with him, was the fact that because of that decision by the Amazon Council many years before and the rituals they had performed, only Artemis could unlock the womb to allow the one who had been chosen to bear the child to receive the gift of life and blessing from the child’s other mother... or in some cases, the child’s father.
“So you can even block...?”
“Yes. Usually when a couple decides to have a child together, they come to the temple to seek my blessing. In the course of the ritual ceremony, I open the womb and they make love in the hopes of creating a child. It doesn’t always work the first time, and sometimes they forget that the ritual has to be observed each and every time they want to try for a child.”
“Sounds like an awful lot of work and effort for a child – especially when the science is in place to allow two women or two men to create a child between them without such a struggle.”
“Yes, I know, and it is, but when the covenant was made between me and the Nation, it was the best of all possible options. Now it may be the only thing keeping Ares from impregnating my warriors and creating an immortal race of his own.”
“How did you discover it... about Ares, I mean?”
“We set up a system to notify me when a couple was preparing to have a child, and it was also programmed to alert me if they had tried and failed and were copulating again. Sometimes in the midst of lovemaking a partner would remember and call out for a blessing. It helped if I was prepared for that eventuality, as it happened more often than not. So when I started getting hits on the board from absolutely everyone, including those who had adamantly insisted they had no interest in childbirth or anything that went along with pregnancy, I was immediately alarmed, and rightly so. I went searching for answers, and they led me here.”
“And what is it you would like for us to do?” Randi asked, pushing her empty plate back and taking a large sip of coffee.
“We’d like you to force Ares’ hand, once and for all,” Athena answered firmly. “Dite told us you have a plan to defeat him.”
“We do,” Randi affirmed. “But there are a couple things we’ll need to make this work.”
“Anything we can do, warrior babe. I think we are all ready for a radical break from all his crap. He has gone way off the deep end this time. He wasn’t this bad when you went through the karmic cycle the first time; I totally think each subsequent lifetime has pushed him just a little closer to the edge until he finally fell over into madness.”
Athena nodded. “I am inclined to agree. I’ve never seen him so obsessed with you... with owning your soul, and that is saying so much, all things considered. He’s always been quite – passionate – where you are concerned.”
“Randi, what are your conditions? What do you need from us?”
“I need for the gods to be willing to strip Ares of his powers and immortality when I challenge him and to stand behind his punishment when I defeat him.”
“And you’re sure you will be able to... defeat Ares, I mean?” Athena asked. “Even without his powers, Ares will still have the knowledge and strength of his godhood behind him. He knows your weaknesses and he will try to take advantage of that.”
Randi smiled, a feral expression that didn’t actually reach her eyes. “I’m counting on it.”
Aphrodite nodded. “There are a radical number of gods from around the globe that are totally in your corner already.” She snickered. “Some of them would absolutely surprise you, given the gnarly history your soul has with most of the gods throughout your lifetimes.” Then she sobered. “Ares has finally crossed a line none of us are willing to accept. This could have totally destroyed... everything.”
“All right, but I want to be sure. We’re not gonna get a second chance at this. I won’t need one as long as the gods can agree to stand together on this.”
“Gwen,” Artemis cut in abruptly. “Did you study all the historical texts Lenore gave you?”
“Yes,” Gwen answered with a nod and a frown. “I’m pretty sure I did.”
“Did you read one on shamanism and what later became known as Wiccans within the Nation?”
The nod was emphatic this time. “Yes, I remember that one clearly because we spent more than one night discussing it... fascinating stuff. That is where the priestesses come from, isn’t it?”
“Yes; I would like you to talk to Rosie before you go. I think there are things from that sect of the Nation that you especially, Gwen, will be able to use.”
“No moon howling, right?” Gwen asked skeptically. “I read about that in the archives, ya know.”
Artemis couldn’t stop the chuckle that bubbled up at Gwen’s obvious scorn. “Um,” she said, clearing her throat and straightening her expression. “No... no moon howling. But there are some things you can do that will help the Amazons accept the antidote they will need to free them from Ares influence. And there should be a way to mask your approach from a god.”
“All right... I’ll call her before we leave.”
“Yeah... I’ve got to get in touch with Tiny and bring him up to speed on things. I hate to drag him off vacation, but.... What??” she asked when Dite started shaking her head.
“They’re so not on vacation anymore, babe. They came back here to chill last night... something about zorbing?” watching Randi’s face take on a distinct tinge of green. “Yeah, that was about the way Tiny looked when he started telling that other gnarly dude about the wicked bruises he had.”
“I wonder why Yuri didn’t let me know.”
Dite cleared her throat and had the grace to blush. “He tried; you were, um... tied up at the time.”
Randi and Gwen exchanged knowing glances. Sheer determination kept the blush from suffusing Randi’s face, but Gwen wasn’t quick enough to get hers completely under control and Randi smiled at the delicate color that spread over Gwen’s neck and face. Personally, she thought it look quite charming on Gwen, but she didn’t mention it. She had no desire to further embarrass Gwen than she already was by drawing attention to it. Instead, she turned her focus to Dite.
“So what will ya’ll be doing in the meantime?”
“Whatever we can, which unfortunately isn’t very much,” Athena replied. “We will have the antidote ready for you to give them and we will be lining up the gods who will stand behind you when you challenge him – do you know when that might be, by the way?”
Randi shook her head. “Sooner rather than later I expect. I will set something up with Tiny that will allow a worldwide broadcast from the Amazon Nation. If I were to guess, though, I’d say within the next seventy-two hours, depending on the situation we find at the mountain.”
“All right,” Athena nodded. “We will get things taken care of on our end. I know Zeus will strip Ares’ powers without hesitation when Ares agrees to your challenge; he has more to lose than the rest of us do.” At their questioning looks, Athena sighed and continued. “If Ares had been able to gain control of the world, the rest of us would have faded greatly, but we would not have died. We would just sort of... be. But Zeus – he would have died. Ares would have destroyed him to ensure he and not Zeus remained the reigning king of the gods.”
“Yeah,” Dite chimed in. “That about covered it for us too. So we’ll get jamming and you babes let us know what’s shaking as soon as you’re set. We’ll be keeping an eye and ear out for your signal. Toodles.” The three shimmered out before Randi or Gwen could answer. The two of them blinked at one another for a moment before moving towards the kitchenette.
“I’m gonna go call Rosie.”
“Right,” Randi nodded. “I’ll be with Tiny if you wanna come join us when you get done.”
“All right. I’ll be right behind you; hopefully this won’t take very long.”
Randi grinned. “Talking to Rosie or visiting the Amazons?”
Gwen returned the smile wryly. “Both, honestly. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy talking to Rosie, but I hate to interrupt her vacation. God knows she and Reed definitely earned some time away from us.”
“And the Amazons?”
Gwen blew out a breath. “I don’t like it, but it has to be done. Randi, they’re good people and I hate that Ares is using them for his own purposes.” She was glaring. “They deserve better and so do we.”
“They’ll get it, sweetheart, and so will we. We have way too many things left to enjoy together in this lifetime to let anyone or anything ruin it. Now, c’mon. The sooner we get started....”
“... the sooner we get started.” Randi’s brow wrinkled in a frown.
“I thought it was supposed to be finished.”
“For everyone else in the world maybe,” Gwen replied impishly. “For us, the sooner we get started on the work, the sooner we’ll get started on the living.”
“Good point,” Randi agreed with a quick peck on Gwen’s lips. “So let’s go... hustle!” Gwen popped Randi on the ass then scampered back to the bedroom laughing. Randi let her go and shook her head. “Paybacks, Gwen... there are always paybacks.”
Gwen stuck her head out the door. “I know – I’m counting on it.”
Randi left and headed to her office, knowing when a strategic retreat was in order. There would be plenty of time for teasing later. First, she needed to talk to Tiny. There were things that needed to be taken care of while they were gone.
“So why didn’t you use the regen unit, Tiny?” Lacey asked as she looked him over carefully. “It wouldn’t have taken but a few minutes to fix these bruises.”
Reed chuckled while Tiny put his shirt back on. “We wanted Randi to see we really were getting beaten up on vacation first. That way she knows we weren’t making up a reason to come home. Why are you still here anyway? Weren’t you supposed to get some vacation time as well?”
Before Lacey could respond to Reed’s question, a knock sounded on the door and Tiny crossed the room to find Randi leaning against the doorjamb. An eyebrow arched gracefully when she took in his battered appearance. “Is this the reason you came back early?” motioning to his bruised body.
Tiny smiled wryly and motioned her in. “Pretty much. Vacation was killing us; Sabre duty was easier on my body that some of those <ahem> fun things you had on that chip.”
Randi scratched the side of her face and gave him a sheepish look. “Yeah, I probably should have told you to research some of it before you tried it. Even I don’t do zorbing.”
Tiny glared. “Uh huh. Now you tell me,” punching her shoulder, then shaking out his hand. “Damn, Randi... what the hell have you been doing lately. That hurt!” He dropped into a chair.
She smirked at him. “You try keeping up with Gwen.”
“Yeah, don’t think that isn’t the very first thing we heard about when we got back last night. I can’t believe I missed that!”
“He’s been moaning about it all morning,” Reed chimed in, rolling her eyes and shaking her head. Randi snorted and took the arm of the couch as her perch.
“Don’t worry, Tiny. I imagine it’ll happen on a regular basis from now on. Being Empress means everyone wants to spar with me... especially the queen.”
“Nah... she was sparring with you long before you were the Empress. Your being Empress just means the rest of us get a chance to watch you spar with someone who might actually be able to kick your butt. At the very least, she holds her own... God, that was incredible!”
This time Randi laughed. She wasn’t about to share with him *how* incredible. Instead she said, “Yeah, she has a natural flair for it. She always has had. She was my very best student.”
“She’s my equal, Tiny. With the staff, she can hold her own against me or anyone else.”
“Even Ares’ warriors?” this from Lacey.
“Especially Ares’ warriors,” Randi corrected. “The motivation is different, and she has something they cannot defeat now. How goes the research?”
“We’re done; it hasn’t been tested in battle yet, but we think we have developed a serum that will protect a person against vulnerability to Ares’ loyalty drug. We cultivated it from the antidote and have tested it every other way we know how.”
“When does widespread manufacturing begin and how long before it will be ready for distribution? And do we know how long it takes to become effective and how long it lasts?”
“As soon as you give the order; twenty-four hours after that; that we’re not sure of, but our best reasonable guess is within four hours – it is made to speed through the bloodstream; and that is entirely unknown to us, though preliminary reports have put it as permanent.”
“Really? That is exceptional. Excellent work, my friend.”
“Thank you, Empre... Randi,” Lacey corrected herself seeing the glowering look she was getting. “My team has been working on this round the clock since we started looking for an antidote for you. We figure it is only a matter of time until Ares tried to use it on a more widespread scale once he realizes you are completely beyond his reach. The only question is why he hasn’t before.”
“Well, I can’t answer your question – yet – BUT... he has tried to introduce this on a more widespread scale.” Randi blew out a breath and the rest assumed listening positions, understanding this was a mission brief. “Gwen and I are heading out shortly to the Amazon Nation. We suspected, and the goddesses have confirmed, that Ares has moved in and is currently controlling the population with some sort of drug. We are assuming at this point it is the same loyalty drug he has been using on warriors for a while. We don’t know how far gone they are at this point; I know it was a much subtler, more gradual process for me than it appears to be for them.”
“How serious is it?”
“Serious. Though we haven’t seen symptoms like mine, they have allowed Ares to become a part of the tribe. He’s trying to create a race of immortal warriors in his own image by impregnating as many Amazons as he can. Fortunately, he seems to be unaware of the safeguards that were put in place for population control, and as of yet, no one has seen fit to enlighten him. The consensus, however, is that he has slipped over the edge into madness.”
“Randi, you and Gwen can’t go out there alone. Amazon Nation or not, world domination not withstanding, the fact is Ares is fascinated with *you*. You’re the one he wants. You can’t just waltz in there and give that to him.”
“Tiny, I’m the one thing he can’t have. What Gwen and I have between us assures us of that. He couldn’t have me before – he certainly can’t have me now. Besides, I’ll be taking a team to sit in reserve and wait for my orders once we have a better grasp on the situation. But....” hesitating, knowing he wasn’t going to like what was coming. “I need you to stay here.”
“WHAT???” jumping up from his seat. “You can’t be SERIOUS!!! Why the HELL would you leave me out of something this important, Randi?? Haven’t I earned the right to be at your side??” The explosion was hot and fast and Randi let it run until it burned out. Reed and Lacey remained silent, knowing this was between Randi and Tiny and hoping it could be resolved quickly. He fell back into his chair with a conspicuous lack of grace.
Randi looked him squarely in the eyes, willing him to see the honest sincerity in hers. “Tiny, other than Gwen, there is no one – NO ONE, not even Tommy – who I trust to watch my back like I trust you. But I have to have Gwen with me on this and I need someone I trust with my life to assume the responsibilities I am leaving here. Tiny, given what it has cost to get us to this point, I can’t chance leaving to take care of Ares if you’re not here taking care of the rest of the world.”
He glared at her for a long moment, then sighed. “You don’t fight fair,” he grumbled.
“No,” Randi admitted. “But I do fight with honor and I fight to win. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, Tiny.”
Tiny sighed again. “I know. And it bites – I just want you to know that. Only for you,” he added.
“I know, my friend, and I appreciate it more that you can know. Trust me, Tiny. I understand your frustration better than anyone else in the world. But on the plus side, we have managed to get the framework for the new government figured out. Even most of the details have been taken care of; it’s pretty much a matter of putting the programs into place. Let me tap the members of the Sabre team so they can start their mission prep, then I will show you what we’ve gotten done and what is left to do. With a little luck, we will all be able to go home. I want to live like a normal person for a change.”
Tiny snorted and stood, unable to resist the perfect set-up and wanting a quick getaway. “Don’t you need to *be* a normal person first?” he joked, snatching the door open....
... only to run right into Gwen’s raised fist poised to knock. He fell back flat on his ass. When he looked up, Randi stood over him, hands on hips and a sardonic expression on her face, complete with raised eyebrow. He cut his eyes over at Gwen whose posture mirrored Randi’s, except her expression was questioning. Tiny covered his face.
“Someone shoot me now, please.” This got laughter from all quarters and a hand up from Randi.
“You’ll get yours,” she promised with a purr.
“Yeah,” he snarked, “but at least I’ll still be normal.”
Now all four women howled, even Gwen who had missed the beginning of the exchange. “Never in a million years, baby,” Reed assured him. “Never in a million years.” His pout only made things worse.
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