Brave New World
by D
Disclaimers in Part 1

 

Chapter XI

"You do realize you're the most interesting thing that's happened around here in forever, don't you?" Drea asked with a smile in her voice. She was gently guiding Chase down the short steps that led from the palace to the beachfront. She watched with a smile the look of wonder and joy that Chase couldn't contain behind the mask she had been struggling to maintain with very limited success. A look that changed drastically as her words sank into Chase's consciousness.

She turned to Drea with a smirk. "Things that boring around here for ya'll?"

Drea laughed. It was an outlet for any number of emotions that had been building since the pilot's unexpected arrival in their midst. "Well, not boring, but certainly routine."

A frown crossed Chase's now expressive face. "What's that like?" she asked honestly. "I mean it's so different here... so peaceful. I can't imagine that kind of routine."

"What's it like for you, Chase?" Drea replied, throwing the query right back at her. "I cannot remember having had excitement like we've had in the last few days."

"Well, this is normal... I mean, unexpected events, attacking and attacks, people being hurt or dying...." She spoke dispassionately, but her eyes clouded over and her words trailed off. "There are always plans to make and crises that arise and things that have to be taken care of," Chase added after a bit of silence. "It's just very different from what I've experienced here."

She turned her head and looked at Drea directly, even though she still could not see the healer. Drea felt the weight of Chase's stare and returned the gaze. Finally Chase turned away and returned her eyes to the horizon she couldn't see.

"What is it, Chase?" wondering what was causing the conflict she could feel running through the pilot's wiry frame.

Chase struggled with her words, trying to let go of a hatred she'd long held, but unable to completely forgive the atrocities that had been perpetrated on her and the rest of the world because of these people. She bowed her head.

"I hope you never lose what you have here, Drea," she finally commented. "I hope the war never comes to this place."

Drea realized what an admission that had to be given the source and she patted Chase's hand lightly before speaking. "Thank you, Chase. I hope so too."

The sound of running footsteps caught their attention and they both looked in the direction they heard them coming from. Chase blinked as her vision seemed to clear just slightly and the dark blob became the shape of a woman. She blinked again, hoping it would help and growling silently in frustration when nothing changed. The footsteps came to a halt in front of them and the young woman stood bent over trying to catch her breath. Drea laid a hand on her arm.

"Rina? What is it? What's wrong?"

"Drea, you've got to come quickly. It's the princess. She fell out of her tree and...." She winced when the grip on her arm tightened uncomfortably around her bicep.

"What did you say? Diana FELL out of her tree?" Rina nodded her head. "Rina, that's not possible. She has the most flawless balance of anyone I have ever known, bar none."

"Well that may be, Drea, but several guards were witness to it. Said she simply lost her grip and slipped right off the limb she was sitting on." She loosened the healer's hold on her arm, wincing at the visible mark Drea's hand had made. "C'mon," she added, tugging on the hand she now held in her own. "We've got to get back there and check on her. Mala is sitting with Diana and the queen."

"Oh my," Drea said, pushing her immaculate hair back away from her face where the wind had teased it loose. She turned to Chase. "Will you be all right here alone for a bit, Chase? I can leave Rina if...." She stopped when Chase shook her head negatively.

"I'll be fine Drea. What can happen to me here? Ya'll go and take care of your princess."

Drea smiled gratefully. Not knowing what was wrong with Diana was troubling and she really wanted Rina's help in figuring out what was wrong. Between the two of them and Paula, they would find the problem and hopefully, a way to fix it.

"Thank you, Chase. I will send someone out to help you back to the hospice shortly if I cannot come myself."

"Don't rush on my account, Drea. I'm enjoying your favorite prescription. Now, go on," making a shooing motion with her hands. "Go see to your princess. I am perfectly content to stay out here for a good while longer."

Drea squeezed her arm in thanks and she and Rina left on a run. Chase closed her eyes and focused on the sounds around her. This was a golden opportunity and she had learned early in life to take advantage of each and every opportunity afforded her.

She listened carefully and heard the birds and the sounds of the leaves crinkling in the wind. Beyond that.... There were no sounds of any human presence nearby. She frowned in concentration then her face creased into a smile. But there was the distinct sound of water slapping against wood, and that meant there was a good chance there was a boat nearby.

Chase sighed, wishing heartily that she felt better or at least that she could see clearly. Instead, she leaned down and felt around for the basket, grasping the handle firmly when she finally found it. Then she lifted it with a wince and headed down the beach in the directions her sense told her to go. She only hoped it would be a short walk.

Drea rushed into the hospice with Rina on her heels. She was amazed at the number of people keeping vigil outside the room the princess was occupying, then realized that the entire contingent of Royal Guards made up a majority of the large group. When she was spotted, they let her through immediately and Drea passed into Diana's room and stopped. Mala and Hippolyta rose from either side of the bed and moved back to give the healers the access they needed to work.

The princess lay on the bed, still and white as a sheet. The only bit of color visible was her dark hair and a cut on her forehead that was bleeding sluggishly. Drea crossed over and pulled back the sheet that had been tucked around her body.

"Rina, check her for cuts and abrasions. I'm going to start here," motioning to Diana's head. They worked in tandem without words, each knowing what to do and what the other needed. It wasn't long before they were done and Diana's head wound was dressed. Drea moved away from the bed and signaled the others to join her near the window.

"She has a bump on the head you saw that. It seems to be her only injury. I believe she was already in some sort of meditative state when this happened. I cannot find another reason for her to be unconscious the damage is not that bad."

Mala nodded. "Given what the guard told me, I think that is a safe assumption. You think she will be all right when she comes out of her meditative state?"

"Except for the headache she's going to have, yes."

"Drea, what caused her to fall?" Hippolyta asked with concern. "Even meditating, that shouldn't have happened. Especially then, as she becomes even more aware."

"I do not know," the healer answered honestly. "And we may not know if she chooses not to share with us. We will simply have to work with what we know, which at this point really isn't very much."

Hippolyta nodded. "Is there anything we can do to speed this along? Anything *I* can do?"

"We can sit with her, maybe talk to her. She can hear and understand."

"She might wake up faster just to get us to shut up and leave her in peace," Mala joked. The others laughed at the truth of her words. At that moment, Nubia and Paula slipped into the room.

"We came as soon as we heard," Nubia commented. "How is she?"

Hippolyta sighed. "I suppose I need to go make an announcement to the Nation. I'm sure this has made the circuit already."

"If the presence of the Guard is any indication, the entire island knew before we got in here to treat her," Drea commented. "Why don't you stay here with her? I can make the announcement."

"Actually," Paula cut in unexpectedly, "Perhaps Rina could? I have some things we need to go over," with a pointed look at both the healer and the priestess.

"I can do that, certainly," Rina replied.

"And I would like to stay here," Hippolyta added. "Can I be brought up to speed later, perhaps?"

"Oh, absolutely," the scientist confirmed quickly. "Nothing that won't wait. The princess is more important."

The queen nodded, but Drea's brow rose into her hairline. She wondered what was in the report that Paula didn't want to share with Hippolyta. Then they separated Hippolyta back to Diana's beside where she started talking to her in low tones; Rina to the waiting area to give the Amazons a status report and collect as much information about the incident as she could; and the council retired to Drea's office to discuss Paula's latest findings.

Finding the dock had been easier than she expected considering her blindness, and now Chase stood considering the best way to escape unseen. She was simply going to have to take the boat farthest out that she could reach and hope she got lucky enough to find something she could handle alone. There was no way she would survive going in and out of each vessel looking for the ideal transportation. Given her handicaps, there wasn't one, but she knew without a doubt she had to get off the island. She suspected her being here was causing her blindness, but regardless, the Amazons were the enemy, despite their care and treatment of her. There were some things that couldn't be canceled out, no matter what good was done. And producing the mastermind of the Nazi regime was at the top of that list.

Slowly she made her way down the dock, carefully feeling her way to keep from falling into the water. When she reached the end, she poked around, eventually finding a large sailboat and the ropes which held it tied to the pier. She placed the basket onto the deck and stepped in vigilantly, not wanting a slip to cause her to be discovered. Chase loosened the ropes and let the boat drift away from the dock, glad the current and the tide were working in her favor.

When the pier was not even a dark splotch in her vision, Chase reached forward and raised the sail, catching a good wind and hoping she was moving in the right direction.

Hippolyta looked at her daughter and a wave of remorse flowed through her. She took Diana's hand in her own, bringing it to her lips before gently stroking the knuckles. "Drea said for me to talk to you, and I don't even know where to start. I have so many things I need to say to you... so many misunderstandings to straighten out. I'm not even sure where to start, especially since anything I say to you now will have to be repeated when you're actually able to comprehend and acknowledge what I say to you."

She paused and looked at her daughter with a sincere sigh. "I guess the first thing I need to say to you is I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what I did to you... for what it cost you... for letting the situation drag on like it has. The truth is I knew as soon as the words were out of my mouth they were wrong, but you were so angry - *I* was so angry. And when you left anyway despite everything...." Hippolyta mind traveled back to that first fateful day in the year of man nineteen hundred forty-two.

Steve Trevor had landed unceremoniously on their island six days prior and his arrival had caused a stir among all the Amazons. Some, a small minority, were furious at the thought that a man was not only polluting their island, but receiving treatment as well for injuries obtained by violence. Most though, were curious about the presence of a species they hadn't seen in twenty-six hundred years.

The conversations had gone back and forth about how he had come to be there, the violence he had both perpetrated and had done to him, and the problem of retuning him to his own world without disrupting their own. Hippolyta decided to be fair that her Amazons would compete for the responsibility of returning Steve Trevor to the world outside their domain.

The athletic contest had been... spectacular. Each of the Amazons who had vied for the privilege had surpassed any expectations the council had had for them. Even so, two had stood out above the rest, and though they weren't tied, they were close enough that Hippolyta had decided to have a final challenge between the two of them. Everything had come down to bullets and bracelets.

Orana had taken aim first all six shots neatly deflected by the mysterious number thirty-three. The watchers screamed enthusiastically. Number thirty-three was the crowd favorite not only was she ahead of Orana, whose attitude had become increasingly and unbearably smug. But number thirty-three was also a mystery, and the amazons hadn't had a good mystery amongst them in years.

Rumors had flown, of course, about the spectacular argument between the princess and the queen when Hippolyta forbade Diana to participate in the games. More than a few suspected the truth of number thirty-three, but no one spoke their thoughts aloud.

Instead, they cheered wildly when number thirty-three kept every bullet from getting by her. Then she lifted her revolver and waited for Orana to position herself in from of the statue of Athena.

Orana glared and took her place, nodding her readiness to her opponent. She had thought... had expected... with the queen's disqualification of Diana, that she would be a shoo in for an easy victory. Instead, she had been outdone by this interloper who wouldn't even show her face.

It wasn't that she disliked Diana on the contrary, Orana considered Diana her best friend. But it had become progressively more irritating to always be coming in second to someone she had trained and mentored. Just once she'd wanted to be on top again, and with the princess out of the running, Orana had been sure she would easily win. Though it would have been a hollow victory, it would have been a victory nonetheless.

Now Orana waited for the mystery competitor to take her best shot, confident in her ability to do as well as the other woman had.

Five for five she went and her self-assurance grew. Then the sixth shot got by her and Orana flinched, anger growing in her eyes. But she played the good sport, congratulating the mystery woman on her win. Then unexpectedly, they were both called to stand in front of the queen and her council.

Here Hippolyta's voice faltered. "I knew Orana had grown jealous of you, but I didn't realize how bad it was. I still wouldn't know if it hadn't been for the young woman Chase coming into our lives. I cannot believe how blind I was to her... and to you. I was just so... angry. And if I could go back to one moment... gods, Diana... I would give anything to change that one moment."

Orana and the mystery woman stood before the council and the Nation, and Hippolyta stood on the dais, her face wreathed in smiles. It had been a long time since the Amazons had had this much fun and she made a note to schedule more athletic contests. They had become a little lazy and complacent, and Hippolyta decided it was time to put a stop to that.

She raised her hands for silence and quiet fell. "Amazons, today we have witnessed a magnificent display of strength and endurance and sportsmanship. And all of our contestants have outdone themselves showing a degree of prowess seldom seen even among athletes as skilled as Amazons." A cheer rose across the yard and Hippolyta let it ring for a while before lifting her hands. The Nation quieted again.

"But there can be only one Amazon crowned the winner of the games. And it gives me great pleasure to announce the games' champion and our Wonder Woman... our mystery contestant, number thirty-three."

Another cheer rang out as Hippolyta raised the winner's arm up in victory. Drea handed the belt of strength and the lasso of truth to the queen and Hippolyta accepted them with a smile. "Please," the queen said to the victor. "Remove your mask so the Amazons can be introduced to their victor."

Slowly, a hand raised and removed both mask and blonde wig. The gasp that escaped Hippolyta's lips was masked by the shouts and applause that erupted when Diana's face was revealed.

Unceremoniously, Hippolyta jerked the belt and lasso out of Diana's hands. "DIANA!! How dare you?!? How could you?!?"

A hush fell over the crowd, so quiet not even breathing could be heard.

Diana stepped up towards the platform with her hand held out beseechingly. Hippolyta shifted back away from Diana and turned towards Orana, extending her hand to the other Amazon.

"Mother, you can't!!"

Without warning, she ripped the trappings of Wonder Woman away from Orana as well and threw them behind her before she stomped over to stand in front of Diana, face flushed in fury and eyes flaming.

"I most certainly can!"

"Mother, please! I did it for you... I did it for us!"

"No, Diana," she growled between clenched teeth. "You did it for yourself! You did it because you feel something for that man! You lied and you cheated and you disobeyed me!!"

Diana flushed with embarrassment but she stood her ground and straightened to her full height. "I *never* lied and I *never* cheated! I won fair and square!"

"But it doesn't change the fact that you disobeyed me, does it?"

Drea stepped up behind Hippolyta and placed a calming hand on the queen's back. "Perhaps we should take this to a more private venue?" she suggested quietly.

"NO! Diana wanted to humiliate me by making a mockery of this competition." She turned her furious eyes back to Diana. "We'll finish this here!" She took a visible breath to calm herself, though her anger never seemed to lessen.

"Now," she said a little more evenly. "You did disobey me didn't you? After I forbade your participation in the games, you hid your identity and competed anyway."

"Yes, I did," Diana admitted. "Because I am the best qualified." Her voice became plaintive, pleading for something she didn't fully understand. "Mother, I proved myself. On your terms. Why can't you let me have the victory I earned??"

"Because it isn't yours, any more than that man is." She yanked the belt and lasso from Drea's hands and slapped it into Orana's hands who accepted them with a smug look. "Orana will take Steve Trevor back to the world of men, and will remain there as the Amazon representative Wonder Woman."

Hippolyta turned her attention back to Diana. "As for you, daughter, you are confined to your rooms in the palace until further notice. No running around the island, no visits to the hospice, no walks in the temple gardens... nothing. You will learn the price of disobedience!"

And that had only been the beginning.

Chapter XII

"Now, you have to realize this is incomplete," Paula said motioning to the reports that rested in front of them. "This is what we have been able to cull from the rebel databanks and Chase's personal diary. The databanks are so old and outdated that the information is spotty at best."

"How does Chase's diary help? She is too young to have any knowledge of what happened to the Princess."

"Personal knowledge, yes. But don't forget who her great-grandfather was."

Drea rubbed her eyes. Already this day seemed years long, and now it seemed like she was betraying a young woman she wanted to believe in and have believe in her. "This seems so wrong."

Nubia sighed. "We need to know, Drea. The princess is unwilling and unable to share, and Chase doesn't trust us enough to do so. And according to Mala, we are running out of time."

Mala's hand covered Drea's and she nodded her agreement. "That is correct. If things play out the way I believe they will, then Diana will leave us when she awakens. It is in our best interests to be aware of what happened to whatever extent that we can manage. And thanks to Chase, we finally have a window into that world and those events."

Drea agreed. "I know. It's just...."

"Why this sudden crisis of faith?" Nubia demanded. Mala answered before Drea could draw breath to speak.

"You've come to care for the young woman." Drea nodded again. "That is a good thing." Mala faced the healer and met her eyes with stark sincerity. "Drea, I know Chase has and will make a difference for Diana and for us. But I believe we can also make a difference to her and the rebellion as well. But we need all the facts we can get before we send our sisters off to war."

"I know, and I'm not trying to be difficult really. Rough day."

Mala chuckled. "You are a master of understatement, my dear." Even Nubia had to laugh at that. "Now, Paula, my dear... what have you found for us?"

Paula was still smiling when she motioned to the reports once more. "It took us a little while to get all this together. Get comfortable. It's going to take a little while to go through it as well."

Chase was cursing herself on any number of levels. She had forgotten the glasses Paula had crafted for her and surprisingly, so had Drea. She was entirely frustrated by the lack because even though her eyesight had not nearly fully returned, the sunlight was still overwhelming in its intensity out here on the water.

Aside from that, the effort she had made putting out to sea had torn open both her leg and shoulder again and they hurt like hellfire and damnation itself. Her stomach, thankfully, just ached, but she was fairly certain from the lack of telltale burning that the stitching still held.

She was happy for the food Drea had packed for their lunch. With carefully rationing, Chase was confident that she could make it last for several days hopefully long enough to either reach land or recover her eyesight and at least be able to steer herself in the right direction.

Chase laid back and closed her eyes, hopeful that rest would bring better results when she woke up.

"The first information comes from the Nazis because it is the briefest. They went to a lot of trouble to insure that Diana's name was erased, but they didn't count on our ability to ghost the records. Still, what we got is spotty at best and really makes no sense... until you add Chase's diary and the information the rebels have obtained."

"We know the lengths Diana went to leave here, but what happened after that...."

Hippolyta had been livid. Six of her Royal Guards were laying in the hospice with varying degrees of bodily harm done to their persons. Diana had be exceedingly careful not to kill, but she had made her unspoken point to both her mother and the rest of the Nation. The note she had left for her mother had done little to dispel the fury, worry and frustration Hippolyta felt.

***Hippolyta, (it read)

"I know you do not or will not understand my fascination with the man Steve Trevor, but the fact is that something in him calls to my soul. I do not understand it myself, but I cannot ignore the truth. And the truth is I belong by his side... or he by mine.

I could forgive your lack of understanding had it not been for your deliberate effort to humiliate me in front of the entire Nation. Regardless of how you felt, and regardless of the fact that I disobeyed you for the chance to compete, the truth is I won on my own merit. That should have counted for something. But it didn't all you could do was disgrace me publicly.

Therefore, to remove any sense of embarrassment you may still have, I am leaving Paradise Island. I will make my own way in the world of men. You may consider yourself free from any obligation you may have felt towards me as I no longer regard myself as part of the Amazon Nation or your daughter.

Diana***

Her lack of titular respect and obvious disdain for everything Amazonian caused Hippolyta to feel her first twinges of guilt and remorse over the way she had handled Diana. Not that she believed she hadn't been justified in her anger, and not that she didn't feel vindicated by forbidding Diana's victory. But the truth was she handled the entire situation poorly, and it had cost her not only her daughter on many levels, but also a measure of respect amongst the women of the Nation. Regardless of how they felt about her need to discipline Diana for her actions, none of them agreed with her doing so publicly.

And now it appeared that even if she recovered Diana from the world of men, things would never, ever be the same between them again.

Hippolyta went to the temple for council with Mala and to pray. What she found was that Mala was furious and the goddesses were silent. When she arrived home, disheartened, she found Drea waiting for her and was honestly surprised.

"Why are you here?" she blurted out. Drea's brows jumped into her hairline.

"Um... I live here? Unless you'd rather I live elsewhere," said with only the slightest degree of uncertainty. Drea gave an inaudible sigh when Hippolyta shook her head.

"Not at all, love, but I am pretty unpopular at the moment."

"Well, you should have expected that, Pol. What you did to Diana was uncalled for on several levels and way over the top," Drea offered bluntly.

"So you don't stand behind me in this either?" Hippolyta turned away and gazed unseeingly out the window. Drea came up and deliberately stood beside the queen at the window and turned slightly, enabling her to see Hippolyta's silhouette. "I think what you did was grossly wrong and unfair I do understand your reasoning... I just happen to disagree with them. Doesn't mean I have or ever would forsake you, Pol. I love you."

Hippolyta turned from the window and shoved the note in her hands. "It would appear that you were right and I was wrong," she said before retreating to the bathing room for a respite. Drea read the letter and left.

"That was such a horrible time," Drea remembered with her head now cradled in her hands. "The only one worse was Diana's abrupt return home."

Nubia nodded her agreement to Drea's statement. "That is the truth. I never expected so much... hatred from the princess. Certainly not directed at her mother and her own people."

"At least now we have an understanding of *why* that hatred exists above and beyond what happened to her at the games," Paula acknowledged. "If you keep reading, this is where Chase's diary and the writings of Steve Trevor begin to come into play." She swallowed hard. "I will tell you that it gets very ugly and violent as we get further into history. And some of it is quite graphic."

07 September 1942

I still have holes in my memory apparently. The general and Etta both assure me I was MIA for just over a week after we lost radio contact over Bermuda. I remember flying out to stop the Nazi plane and I remember the dog fight, and then... nothing. And there is no good explanation for how I got back to Washington. We've investigated every possible avenue and clue we could find, but no one has seen the mystery woman who it appears rescued me and dropped me off at the hospital for treatment. It's a shame, that I would have liked to have thanked her, talked to her a little bit. Maybe she'd have an idea about some of the odd dreams I have had since then.

On the other hand, I like my new yeoman, Diana Prince. She's jumped right in to the war effort with enthusiasm, and has made my life in the War Department much easier. My wife Mary treats her like a kid sister.

I will continue to search for the mystery woman. Maybe she can explain where the dreams of Amazons and Paradise came from.

12 October 1942

Something serious is changing in the Nazi party. Hitler still appears to be in power, but there is a new power behind the throne. And rumors make it out to be a woman. We have people investigating. With luck we should have some news within the week.

27 October 1942

Not only has luck deserted us, but we've lost several of our top agents acquiring the top secret information about the new Nazi threat. All we know is that her name is Orana and that she showed up on the scene about four months ago. No other data is available, so we don't know who she is or where she came from or how she has managed to obtain such a position of authority in such a short period of time, especially as a woman. I may end up doing some undercover work behind enemy lines myself very soon.

One odd note when my yeoman Diana heard the woman's name, I thought she was going to be sick. I have never seen the blood drain from a tanned face so quickly, and she broke into a sweat. From her reaction, I would have guessed that she *knew* this Orana person, but that's not possible... is it?

This will bear some more checking out.

12 November 1942

Mary told me today she's pregnant!!! We're expecting a child!! This is probably about the worst time in history to bring a child into the world, but I won't lie and pretend I'm not excited!!

We're going to have a baby!!

28 November 1942

I am being sent into Nazi Germany on 01 December. It is hoped that I can learn more about this new leader behind Hitler. We have lost a number of good operatives trying to find out more about this woman, and I'll admit to being scared of the same especially now with a baby coming. But it is my duty, and I will do it to the very best of my abilities.

"This was the last entry written by Steve Trevor. The next record we have is the telegram from the War Department to his wife Mary telling of his death at the hands of the Nazis."

"Do we know what happened?" Mala asked. Paula nodded.

"We've been able to piece it together by culling various sources some of them the Nazi guards who were there. We don't have all the details, of course, so we've had to make some educated guesses, but it gives us a good idea, and it explains a whole lot more... including how and why Diana returned to us. Please keep in mind that most of this was ghosted from their purged records, so there are some pretty big holes in the actual recorded history."

It took several weeks of undercover travel before Steve and Diana entered Nazi Germany. Diana hadn't been part of the original plan, but she had convinced Steve and his superiors of the need to blend, and being part of a couple made him much less conspicuous. The fact that she was fluent in fourteen distinct languages was also a distinct advantage.

After twenty-two days of traveling, Steve had a full beard and they were both a bit bedraggled and worse for wear. In other words, they looked like every other European citizen, and they used that fact to their advantage.

Getting into the country had been insanely easy, and they slowly, carefully made their way towards Berlin. The closer they got, the stranger the stories and rumors became, though they were only spoken in whispers in the dead of night.

Diana had long wrestled with the sick feeling in her gut, sure of what they would find at the end of their journey and knowing it was her responsibility to get Orana home. Better to have no Wonder Woman at all in the world of men than to have one who had ultimately sold out and chosen the wrong side. And from everything Diana had seen and heard and learned from her relatively brief time in the outside world, the Nazis were definitely the wrong side.

For his part, Steve felt a growing trepidation. There was something about the whole situation that was just a little too familiar for comfort. And Diana was getting more withdrawn the farther into enemy territory they got. Overall, it didn't bode well for their coming activities. Sooner or later, they were going to have to venture into the bowels of the Reichstag and find the truth.

As it happened, it was sooner rather than later, and they didn't have to find their way into it. The way discovered them and they found themselves captured by their enemies. All that was left was for them to face Orana.

"Are you sure the queen can't be here for this?" Nubia asked Drea quietly. She noticed the healer shaking as they read the reports and the clenching and unclenching of her fists wasn't an indication of a calm and stable individual, though privately, Nubia admired Drea's fortitude.

Though the advisor had been involved with Orana at one time, she had long since moved past feeling responsible for Orana's abandonment of her or the Nation. Any guilt for her actions lay at Orana's feet alone, and Nubia had finally been able to put that part of her life into perspective. Her talk with the queen mere days ago had gone greatly towards healing that, and Paula's quiet acceptance of her attentions had set her heart and mind at peace.

But what Drea and ultimately Hippolyta now had to deal with was so far beyond that. Their grief involved a flesh and blood daughter who had obviously suffered untold horrors and it was something they work going to have to work through. To add to that, there was also the matter of Orana to deal with, and since she had apparently maintained her immortality away from Paradise Island, it had become a massive Amazon problem.

But first things first - Drea and Hippolyta needed to know and understand what Diana had seen and suffered, then they would have to try to help her heal from whatever tragedies had befallen her. Nubia was of the firm opinion that Drea and Hippolyta supporting each other through whatever ugliness was coming was the only way any of them would survive it. The look on Drea's face before she spoke confirmed she heartily agreed with Nubia.

"I don't want Diana left alone, Nubia."

The dark woman nodded. "I'll go sit with her. I know I'm not her mother, and certainly not the first choice for a companion, but I think Hippolyta needs to be here for both of you. At least with Mala and Paula here, there will be some support for you both."

Drea turned and looked at Nubia directly, surprised by the offer from someone who had been her greatest antagonist for most of their twenty-six hundred plus years of living side by side. She wondered what had wrought the change, finding only stark sincerity in the black eyes facing her.

"Thank you, Nubia. I appreciate the offer, but...."

"Drea," Mala cut in. "Let Rina sit with the princess for now, and let's go over this together. It will be easier if we don't have to do it more than once, and you deserve the support of your sisters... you both do."

Strangely, it was Paula who objected. "Respectfully, I disagree. These are hard, ugly facts and the reality of them may be overwhelming for the queen. It might be better to let Drea hear them alone. Then she can decide whether or not and what to share with the queen."

It was Drea who addressed this statement as it threw the entire council into a state of shock. Never before had Paula taken such an aggressive stance, and never, ever had anyone ever suggested the queen needed dissimilation to handle any information relevant to the Nation even if it directly involved her daughter. However, Drea was the first to recover her senses and she thought she knew, or she hoped she did anyway, what Paula was getting at. It wouldn't be pretty if she guessed wrong.

Drea rose from her seat slowly, making her way to Paula's seat and kneeling at her side. She covered the scientist's hands, then gently Drea cleared her throat and met Paula's eyes.

"You love the queen, don't you Paula? She has always been kind to you... treated you as a member of her family." Paula nodded slowly, her expression a mix of dread, confusion and pain. "And Diana, she was always a good friend, someone who loved and appreciated science like you did." Another nod. "And you feel like you let them down by not knowing what happened to Diana, or what Orana had become. And you want to protect them both now that you can, don't you?"

Paula's eyes dropped and she found her chin caught in Drea's firm, gentle grip. The eyes that met here were full of compassion and understanding. She nodded and bit her lip nervously. Drea gave her a small smile.

"Oh, Paula... my friend, you cannot protect the ones you love by keeping secrets. This whole situation is proof of that. The queen has to know the truth, all of it, no matter how much it hurts her. It is not going to go away or get easier just because we don't want to see her or Diana hurt anymore. And it may be that knowing will help heal the wounds that have been festering for a hundred years."

"Drea, it's brutal. What happened to Diana was horrible. But if you think the queen should hear then blunt truth...."

"I think she needs to, Paula. If it will make you more comfortable for me to tell her privately, I will do that, but she's still going to need to hear it all."

"No. If we are going to give the queen the entire story, then Mala and Nubia are right. Let us be here to support you both."

Drea squeezed Paula's hands. "Thank you for caring so much, Paula. And I want you to know something... to believe it with all your heart. What happened was not your fault in any way. You couldn't know what would happen none of us could have guessed."

Paula smiled wryly. "My head knows that. I just...."

"You just have a good heart," Hippolyta cut in from the doorway. "I consider myself lucky to be surrounded by such wonderful, caring women." She crossed the room and squeezed Paula's shoulders before extending her hand to Drea. "Thank you, Paula." Hippolyta gave her a shaky smile. "Thank you for caring so much." She turned to Drea. "And thank you, love," cupping the healer's cheek. "Thank you for doing the right thing, even if you'd rather protect me."

Hippolyta looked around the room at her friends before taking a seat at the table. "Come," she commanded. "Let's get this done."

Chapter XIII

"Shep, it's only been four days. We can't stop looking yet!"

"Hans! Will you sit down and stop whining?? You are giving me a headache and if you don't get a grip on yourself I'm gonna smack you into next week just to get a little peace!" Hans glared at him, and Shep returned it measure for measure until Hans flopped into the chair across from him.

"Now, I am well aware of how long we have had planes searching. I am also aware of Chase's approximate location when she went down, and I am further aware of just how big the Atlantic Ocean is. We will give it another three days, and then I'm gonna have to pull the plug on this rescue."

"You can't...."

"Goddamn it, Hans! You think I *want* to do this? Huh? You think I like having this laid in my lap, knowing that I'm condemning Chase to die if she hasn't already?? You think I want to be responsible for all the shit that Chase takes care of around this joint???"

Shep was screaming by this point and Hans understood just how this was tearing Shep... and all of them... to pieces. It was amazing to realize just how true his words to Chase had become. She really was the glue that held them all together and without her....

Hans stood and leaned over the desk. Shep raked his hands through his hair and looked up into eyes he expected to be antagonistic and found instead sympathy and understanding. "She's my best friend, Hans."

"I know, Shep. She's mine too. I'm not sure what we'll do without her."

"We're gonna hope we don't have to find out. We still have three days." Shep rubbed his eyes. "We have to believe we'll find her."

Chase blinked. It was dark, or at least she hoped it was. The heat and the steady motion of the boat had coupled with her over-abused and still healing body in lulling her into sleep. She awoke feeling more refreshed, more sunburned and very thirsty. She was also more than a little disoriented and what felt like totally blind.

She felt around on the bottom of the boat, searching for the food and water she'd brought with her. Chase uncapped the water and took two long swallows, knowing she had to drink sparingly. Then she felt her way through the food, snagging a slice of bread and some cheese. Not enough to satisfy her hunger, but at least enough to slack it for now.

She leaned back, enjoying the taste of the food and the rhythmic motion of the waves as she drifted in the direction the wind blew it. She just hoped it was blowing her towards land. She was more than a little anxious to return to the base camp and get back to the rebellion.

Chase studied that thought for a long moment. Paradise Island had been something new and unexpected, and given other circumstances, she could have been happy living there. But there were too many factors against that possibility... not the least of which were the Amazons.

They were something of a conundrum to Chase. The few women she had encountered on the island had been kind and helpful women she would have been proud to have called friend. Especially Drea the healer, despite her youth, reminded Chase so much of her mother, and Chase couldn't find it in her heart to think poorly of someone who had shown her so much kindness.

But on the flip side, she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the woman she'd encountered in Germany was an Amazon the same Amazon who'd tortured and killed her great-grandfather Steve Trevor. Something didn't add up.

Her mind shied away from that experience and she turned her attention back to Paradise Island. Chase let her mind review what she knew about the area she had gone down in and she knew there was nothing listed on any chart she'd seen. And she knew them all by heart.

So where had Paradise Island come from and how had the Amazons managed to stay hidden? Chase chewed her food slowly as the rote motion helped her to focus her thoughts. She wished she could have stayed and learned more about their culture, but knowing what she did, staying had become an unthinkable option.

Her head started to hurt as her thoughts began to trail one another in rapid succession, and she closed her eyes and gave herself up to the healing oblivion of sleep.

It was daylight when Chase opened her eyes again, and she was devoutly thankful for the ability to see light again. Not only could she see light, but she could sort of almost see blue sky, she thought. She squinted, but that didn't seem to help it only made things fuzzy. So she closed them again, and then blinked them open slowly.

This time she smiled she did see blue sky. She inched up slowly, not wanting to lose the sight she had with any sudden movements. She wasn't sure where her logic came from, but she felt comfortable with it regardless.

Chase eased into a sitting position, and blinked again as she took in her surroundings. There wasn't much for her to see, save water and sky, a few clouds and the sun. But they were all a welcome sight after her blindness and she smiled. With a little luck, she'd have a direction soon, and would be steering her way home.

She reached for the water jug, downing a goodly portion to slake her overnight thirst while she took a look around the boat. Everything was still less than clear, but at least she could distinguish shapes and forms now. It certainly beat trying to sail completely blind.

The ship was good-sized, though not large, and as she walked slowly around the masts and riggings, Chase realized that is was made to accommodate a single sailor. The wood was tight and well-sanded and below decks was a tiny cabin, complete with miniature head. Chase stroked her chin while she contemplated the possibilities, then decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

With her morning ablutions completed, Chase made her way back above deck, blinking rapidly in the bright sunlight. Then she snagged an apple from the basket and started to determine how to get home.

By mid-afternoon, Chase was equal parts content and frustrated. Her content stemmed from the fact that she had determined that she was indeed headed the right direction. Her frustration was born on the truth that her progress was slower than she would have liked and worse, there was, if her squinting eyes could be trusted, quite the storm brewing to her east.

The wind it was likely to bring would be well appreciated if it blew her closer to land, especially if that land was anywhere close to home. But knowing her recent luck, the wind would blow her in circles and the rain would sink her. However, Chase was nothing if not determined, and she hadn't been the leader of the rebellion as long as she had without learning how to survive.

On the far horizon, she saw what she thought... what she *hoped* was a bit of land. It wasn't in the direction she actually needed to go, but any port in a storm, right? With any luck at all, she could at least restock her meager supplies, and with real luck, it was inhabited and the natives would have a short-wave radio that she could use to contact Shep or Hans and let them know where she was.

She looked back at the ever-increasing black line and realized it was going to be a race to get to the hoped-for land in the distance.

The first rumble of thunder was nit unexpected, but it was unwelcome as it was immediately followed by a deluge of water. Chase was already exhausted by her efforts to stay ahead of the storm, and when she knew her efforts were futile, she'd dropped the sails and done her best to steer along the edges. Unfortunately, she'd banged her thigh twice, and ripped the stitches in her shoulder trying to haul in the mainsail.

So now she was bleeding somewhat profusely from both spots and now with the pouring rain, her eyesight was back to nil again. Still, she held on to the rudder, doing her damnedest to tack through the worst of the storm, hoping to be alive on the far side.

She was doing quite well, considering her circumstances when she was blindsided by a swamping wave that washed over the starboard side of the boat. That alone wouldn't have been so bad had the following wave picked the little craft up and dropped it like a ton of bricks. The resulting jar left Chase scrambling for a hold.

She managed to find one on the rudder again, though it was short-lived. Her damaged shoulder left her with little strength to maintain her grip as the storm grew exponentially worse.

A bump underneath her brought her travels to a grinding halt, and she almost breathed a sigh of relief to be relatively still while the storm continued to surge around her. Chase brushed the rain and hair out of her face and took a deep breath. She figured she had hit a sand bar, and there wasn't much she could do about it until the storm either blew itself out or pushed her off and back into the churning sea. Frankly, she was glad to be still for a moment.

It was seconds too late that she understood her stillness made her a primary target for whatever deity appeared to have it in for her. She felt the crackle of electricity travel from the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair before she realized she hadn't been struck directly. Only the crack of the wood alerted her to the danger as the mast split in two and fell.

There were swirling colors and bright lights and melodic sounds in her awareness, but nothing she could capture or understand. Chase shifted trying to follow where they beckoned her, but the movement caused pain and confusion to rip through her being without mercy and she lost the trail. She gave herself back up to merciful blackness once more.

The voices were vague and fuzzy and strangely, they reminded Chase of so many angry bees pursuing one another in a fight over a prized pot of honey. She blinked, glad she still had her fuzzy vision and not the darkness she'd half-expected. Then a wash of pain swept through her head and she clutched it, moaning as she curled into a small ball. The buzzing ceased and a warm hand landed on her back, rubbing soothing circles. Chase felt herself relax with the touch, and gradually, the pain began to recede.

"Better?" a soft voice asked.

"Mmm," was the best Chase could manage, but the voice seemed to understand. Chase heard the smile she couldn't see with her eyes still closed.

"My name is Aaron," the man continued quietly. "My son and I found you stranded on the sandbar when the storm was over and brought you to our home. We've been caring for you since then. You gave us quite a scare."

"Than' you," she mumbled. She accepted the liquid he offered knowing she wasn't in a position to do anything else. Once more she was dependent on others for her care, and she sighed in sheer frustration before easing her head back down on its pillow. "Sorry... where? Ho' lon'?"

"You reached Bermuda, and you're lucky we found you that's a fifty/fifty proposition on this island. You've been here since the day before yesterday, and spent most of the day yesterday with a high fever. We were a little concerned," downplaying the hours his family had spent by her bedside doing everything they could to break her fever. "We, um... we contacted your friends as soon as we knew who you were. They've been looking for you for nearly a week."

Chase slowly sat up as the pounding in her head eased off and Aaron's words penetrated her thoughts. "Than...." She cleared her throat and tried again. "Thank you, Aaron. What happened to the boat I was on?"

"We scuttled it... made it look like the storm had destroyed it, which was pretty close to being true."

Chase nodded. It was a shame, but it was also necessary. She certainly didn't want people getting hurt or worse for helping her. And here on Bermuda, as Aaron had indicated, helping a member of the rebellion, especially her, was a considerable risk. There were plenty of Nazi spies who'd give their eyeteeth to get their hands on her again. She shuddered in memory and forced her attention back to her current situation. First things first.

She slipped from beneath the sheets, glad that Aaron or whomever had taken the time to preserve her modesty with a bit of cloth which, come to think of it, covered more than most hospital gowns she'd seen.

"Aaron, I need my clothes, then I need to contact my friends and get off the island as quickly as possible. I appreciate all you've done for me, but I can't continue to put you in danger with my presence in your home." She stood and swayed on her feet. Aaron remained close by, but he didn't reach out to help knowing she had to do this on her own.

It took a few moments, much longer than Chase was happy with, but eventually her equilibrium returned. "This just has not been a good week," she muttered to herself, deliberately setting aside the good memories she had of Paradise Island. Instead she focused on the here and now.

"I'd have to agree," Aaron said, "having seen the damage the storm did to you and your boat. "My wife will bring your clothes and I will go fetch your friend." Then he left before Chase could question his words.

Aaron's wife was a round, little woman who had numerous laugh lines despite the wariness the war had put there. As Chase listened to her, she realized that the Anna found happiness and pleasure in the simplest things and she didn't allow the Nazis or anyone else to rob her of that joy. Anna was very careful as she helped Chase dress, nor wanting to rip the stitches she had put in the younger woman's body. She and Aaron knew from the boat and the care her body had already apparently received that someone else had cared for her also, but it wasn't their business, so they didn't ask questions. In war, one learned to pick and choose, knowing any information they held could be turned against them. What they didn't know or ask questions about couldn't come back to bite them or the rebellion in the ass, so they were content to remain ignorant.

Chase was breathing heavily by the time she finished dressing and she cursed her weak, injured body. She didn't have time for this, and neither did the rebellion. As it was, she was unsure if they would be able to use the information that had cost her so dearly. And all she wanted to do was crawl back in that semi-comfortable bed and go back to sleep until she felt better. That didn't appear to be an option currently so she settled for sitting when Anna hand on her well shoulder urged her to do so.

"It will take Aaron a little while to contact your friend. Drink this," handing Chase a cup, "then get a little rest. The rebellion will wait another hour or so, and I will wake you when Aaron returns."

Finally, Chase understood. "Wait, you mean someone actually came here to get me? Are they insane? I'm not worth more than the rest."

"Yes, you are, Chase." When Anna called her by name, Chase met the other woman's eyes. Anna nodded. "Even here we know of Annabelle Chaser and the hero she is to the rebellion. Don't discount your influence, Chase."

Chase shrugged. "I'll try, but I'm sorta used to being one of many."

Anna smiled and patted her knee. "You may be one of many, but you are a leader among those many. You may not have asked for it, but that's the way things are. Now rest," Anna chided before Chase could say anything more. "Responsibility will return to you quickly enough."

Chase closed her eyes, glad to give herself up to the oblivion of sleep if only for a little while.

"You're sure she's all right?" Shep asked as he gazed at Chase's relaxed features. She was entirely too pale and much thinner than he remembered. Something in the picture she presented didn't make sense to her being on the open water for the better part of a week, but he was so glad to have her found and alive that he put his questions aside. For now they were far less important than the fact that Chase had not only returned, but she still had the cache of papers she'd risked so much to retrieve.

"She's exhausted," Aaron answered honestly. "And she lost quite a bit of blood. The storm tore open several old wounds. She could use a week's worth of sleep to help her recover. Otherwise?" He shrugged his shoulders eloquently.

"Well, I'll see what I can do once I get her home, though getting her to slow down there is nigh unto impossible. Chase is like a whirlwind." He smiled as he said it and looked up to meet their matching smiles. "I can't begin to thank you...."

Both Aaron and Anna held up hands to keep Shep from saying anything more. "We were glad to be able to have been the ones to have found her. Sometimes we feel completely out of the loop out here. It's nice to be able to contribute to the effort, though this wouldn't have been our first choice."

Shep nodded. "Mine either, but I'm glad you were all in the right place at the right time," nodding to their son Adam who was going to help them get back to the hidden airfield. "Things would have gone down hard for Chase if she'd fallen into Nazi hands again."

Three sets of eyes widened at his words and Aaron said questioningly, "She was a prisoner of war and lived to tell?"

Shep nodded, his eyes hard with memories. "Yes," he answered briskly, but did not elaborate. "Can ya'll help me get her awake? We need to get going and she's going to have to walk on her own til we get to the plane. Then I can tuck her in to sleep on the flight home."

"Not the way you fly," Chase mumbled, though the smile in her voice was obvious. "You get me to the plane and *I'll* fly us home."

"Uh uh," Shep teased. "I know what happened that last time." Chase glared at him.

"Hey! I won, ya know!" Shep smiled and brushed her sleep-tangled hair back from her face.

"I know, and I can't wait to hear about it, but it's gonna have to wait til we get home. This is a bad place for us to be right now. I think this is like the primo Nazi vacation spot and if they get a look at you...."

"We're all dead meat. Gotcha. Help me up."

Shep extended an arm and helped Chase to stand and get her balance before her released her. She turned to Anna and Aaron. "Thank you both. I know it doesn't sound like much, but I really appreciate the help and the risk you took. Thank you."

They both accepted her gratitude, knowing she needed to say it. Aaron took her hand in a string clasp and Anna kissed her cheek. Then Chase and Shep snuck out the back with Adam in the lead. Then Anna and Aaron started erasing any evidence of Chase's presence in their home... just in case.

Chapter XIV

It was a fairly quick process to bring the queen up to speed on what they had already learned about Diana's foray into the world of men a century before. There was no need for discussion between them on the second round of readings. It sickened the queen to realize what her daughter had suffered through already, knowing far worse was yet to come.

She'd felt Paula's upset when the scientist had asked for a meeting of the council, and she'd felt the dread grow as they continued to meet after several hours with no break. She'd talked to Diana and saw no response, and reliving the first of their bad history coupled with the fact that she had a good idea just exactly what was going on in that council meeting made Hippolyta drained and antsy.

When it appeared that Diana was going to remain unconscious for at least a little while longer, Hippolyta called Rina in and asked her to sit with the princess, then she went to find the council. She was touched by their concern and only a little annoyed that they felt she needed to be protected. Given her actions where her daughter was concerned, though, she couldn't blame them for looking out for Diana, even if that meant protecting her as well.

Now Hippolyta blew out a breath and took a drink of water before looking up at the faces that were watching hers. "All right, Paula... let's proceed. We need to know... *I* need to know the worst. Then maybe I can figure out what the Hades to do to fix this."

Hippolyta raked her hands through her in frustration. Drea reached over and took Hippolyta's hands in her own, chafing them lightly until the queen's breathing settled and evened out. Hippolyta held Drea's eyes with her own until she felt a sense of balance return.

"I beg pardon, ladies. Paula, please continue."

The scientist swallowed and nodded. "We had left off right before Diana and Steve Trevor were captured by the Nazis. This is the most piecemeal section, as we had to cull the information from the Nazi's purged files and the few entries we could find in the rebels' database. And those reports are all second and third hand from the people who tried rescued Steve Trevor and Diana."

The ease with which they were captured coming into Berlin made them acutely aware of a traitor in their midst, though they never knew exactly who it was. In the end, it didn't matter, as the knowledge couldn't change the outcome of what happened.

Diana woke with a splitting headache, trussed to the wall spread-eagle and naked. Steve was lashed to what appeared to be an ancient altar, anchored by chains driven deep in the stone, equally spread-eagle and naked.

Time was non-existent and the darkness only enhanced the feeling of displacement. They were able to converse, barely, as Steve was wheezing from broken ribs and Diana had to talk with a clenched, broken jaw and busted lips.

Finally, the door opened and not surprisingly, Orana walked into the room. Diana knew who she was before the light switch was even flipped there was an Amazon awareness that Diana recognized, skewed as it was.

Orana walked around Steve, sparing him a cursory glance before slamming him into unconsciousness. Then she made her way to stand in front of Diana. She made a thorough perusal of the woman she had once called best friend as she removed the cape that covered her from neck to knees, revealing sharp black trousers, pressed white shirt with shiny silver lightning bolts and crisp swastika armband.

On her waist were the belt of strength and the lasso of truth.

Diana clenched her jaw tighter, focusing on the pain to keep the betrayal she felt out of her expression. But her eyes told a story that would never cross her lips.

"Well, well, Princess," Orana began without so much as a sneer in her voice. She actually managed to convey concern, and had Diana not been able to see her eyes, she might have almost believed her. "Fancy meeting you here. I never expected to be visited by an Amazon... especially not you. Tell me, does your mother know you're here, or did you disobey her yet again?"

Diana kept her focus straight ahead, refusing to give Orana the satisfaction of knowing how those words burned.

Now Orana smirked. "I figure you had to have disobeyed her, given that you're here with *that man*. Tell me, Di... is he really so great in the sack that you'd give up everything to be with him? I mean, come on... it's not like you'd have lacked for sexual partners on Paradise Island if you'd given any Amazon an indication their attentions might be welcomed." Now her voice was bitter.

"What do you want, Orana?" Diana finally broke her silence, not justifying the other Amazon's petty accusations with an answer.

Orana laughed cruelly. "I have what I want, Diana. They don't know it yet, but I am going to be the leader of the Nazi party. Adolf has some... interesting... ideas, and I know how to make them work. I can correct the mistakes they have already made, and I will bring order to the world with them. And then, I will rule the world."

"You don't think they might object?"

"They won't be in a position to."

Diana blinked. "You've betrayed everything we stand for, betrayed your oath as an Amazon...."

Orana snorted. "And you haven't? Give me a break, Diana. Your presence here means you did what you wanted despite the rules... again... just like your competing in the games was what you wanted to do. The only reason you care about me breaking the rules is because I have something you don't."

She caressed the belt and ran her fingers through the lasso. "These have made me invincible, Di, and nothing and no one is going to make me second best ever again." Orana looked at Diana again, and this time her hatred and jealously shown clearly from her mad, brown eyes. "The only thing left for me to decide is what to do with you both. Trevor will be executed for the spy that he is, but you... I have something special in mind for you. Imagine what Hippolyta will do when you return home and finds out you've been screwing a man." She clucked her tongue in mock sympathy. "Maybe I should cut his dick off first seems like a fitting punishment for deflowering the Amazon Princess."

"I haven't," Diana bit off. "Steve is happily married with a baby on the way. He is merely my boss and my friend."

Orana laughed again. "Ooo... You take orders from him... from a man? Oh, Diana, how far you have fallen," shaking her head. "Why are you following him around like some sort of love-sick puppy then?"

The conversation had suddenly taken an intensely personal turn and Diana clamped her jaw painfully shut on the words she wanted to allow to spill out. Orana no longer had the right to know her thoughts and feelings... especially this.

Without warning, a whip lashed out and bit into the skin of her belly, nearly causing Diana to cry out. She bit her lip to keep from making a sound. A second lash criss-crossed the first and Diana felt blood ooze from the welts and trickle down her skin. The third lash brought taunting.

"Come, Diana... I can't believe you are into the whole pain thing. You're really not the type. Answer my question."

Silence was its own statement, and Orana continued to punish her until Diana's belly was raw and bleeding, yet the princess never uttered a sound. She slammed a fist into Diana's ribs in frustration, listening in satisfaction for the cracking sound she knew would follow. Air whoosed out from between the princess' lips, but she gave Orana no quarter and took several more hits to her body before Orana's eye widened in sudden understanding.

"You think he is your soulmate, don't you? You genuinely believe in that load of bull Mala sold you as a child, don't you?" Orana shook her head in sympathy. "Oh, Di... you know, I almost feel sorry for you. You'd think after twenty-six hundred years you'd have caught a clue to just how bogus that whole idea was. Honestly, don't you think if it was really possible, someone would have found it by now? Half of a whole? Give me a break. There is no such thing."

Diana never said a word, but Orana could easily read the truth in her eyes, and suddenly she felt an odd mix of disgust, sadness and pity. She looked at the princess and shook her head, knowing there was only one way to win only one way to break Diana's spirit.

Orana slapped Steve's face hard once, twice... until the third time he came to with a moan. His eyelids blinked rapidly as he tried to adjust to the harsh light, but Orana never gave him the chance as she grasped his chin and pulled his face towards hers.

"Hello, Steve," she greeted smoothly. "Long time, no see."

He squinted at her, trying to reconcile her familiarity with a vague impression of a memory, but nothing made sense.

She grinned at him and the sight made a chill skitter up Steve's spin unpleasantly. "Don't try to figure it out, Major. You wouldn't remember me, but I most certainly remember you. You were my ticket to freedom, and know you're going to be my ticket to power... the great American hero captured, interrogated and executed by a woman. And don't worry I'm going to record everything for posterity so you'll be remembered for the traitor you are."

Her questions started off easily, as did her punishments for non-cooperation a slap on the face, a punch to his body. Then it got harder.

Orana started by breaking his toes, then graduated to his feet and legs, taking special care with his kneecaps. Diana pleaded with Orana, but the sound did nothing but egg her on to do worse. By the time she started cutting off his third finger, Steve Trevor was screaming every secret he'd ever been entrusted with from the fact that little Peggy kissed all the boys in kindergarten to the latest bomber weapon the War Department was developing.

Diana had long since stopped speaking, recognizing that Orana reveled in the sound, and Orana didn't know whether to be pleased with the fact that she'd driven the princess deep into herself or angry because she was no longer playing the game.

"Watch, Diana. Watch as I bring to an end your belief in soulmates!" Steve Trevor had lost consciousness moments before, though it was impossible to tell if it was due to pain or blood loss. Still, when Orana brought the knife up and plunged it into his stomach, he screamed. Diana kept her mind tucked away inside itself, unwilling to hear the tortured sound any longer, and unable to watch as his entrails spilled to the floor.

Orana nodded in satisfaction when his chest stopped moving and she moved to one side of the chamber, stripping of her now blood-encrusted clothes. She stepped into the shower that resided in a recessed corner of the room, then retrieved her cloak and covered herself. She snatched up the lasso and belt and left without saying another word to Diana.

Eventually, a young corporal came in, ignoring both the dead man on the altar and the barely-alive woman who still hung from the walls. He picked up the blood-soaked clothing and walked out of the room again.

Throughout the night Diana hung there, aware of the dead friend who shared the room with her. She had lived with an odd aching in her soul from the early days of her childhood, and when she'd first seen Steve Trevor, she'd gotten her first glimpse of possibilities of completion. Now, there was an emptiness in her soul, but it remained the same as it had been when she'd discovered Steve Trevor to be a happily married man... different from the soul loneliness she'd always been aware of, but less than a breaking of soulmates. Now, she expected to feel the same emptiness until time stopped. She been given her opportunity in this lifetime, and as an immortal, she didn't expect to get another chance.

Diana was only aware of the passage of time because of movement she could hear in the corridor as the guards made their rounds. Finally, the door opened and Orana stood in it again, dressed once more like the Nazi she had so obviously become.

She signaled two rather dapper young men forward, and they moved quickly to remove Diana from the wall. They weren't particularly careful and she dropped to the floor, scraping her knees and hitting her head. She lay there dazed, and could just make out Orana's words.

"Take the body and burn it. I have taped his confession and it will be played at tonight's rally."

"What of her?"

"I have special plans for her, don't you worry. She will never bother us again."

The men nodded and saluted, then retreated from the room to find something to get what remained of Steve Trevor down to the incinerator. Orana lifted Diana up and tossed her over her shoulder, hearing the bones grind together. She smiled grimly and moved out into a secret hallway, headed for her invisible plane.

It was a relatively short trip given the speed she was able to achieve and within a few hours, she was settling down on the beach. Orana had taken care to remove all traces of her Nazi attire and had resumed her Wonder Woman costume, and she was greeted warmly by the Nation... until Hippolyta got a look at her daughter.

"Diana?! Orana, what happened?" Hippolyta sighed and signaled for the healers to come forward, and Drea did so with tears in her eyes. She had only held off because she hoped the queen would show more compassion, but she knew Hippolyta was still dreadfully upset with the princess for leaving. Apparently forgiveness was still a little ways off.

Orana shook her head. "I found her this way, my queen. I suspect the enemy was involved. I believe Diana was in league with them and that trust was betrayed." Truth, mostly, even though it was Orana's own twisted version of the events which had occurred.

"Orana," the queen asked with a second look at her daughter's condition, flinching at the obvious damage that had been done. "Can you stay a while? Tell us of the world of men?"

The Amazon shook her head regretfully. "I'm afraid not, my queen. I risked a lot to come here and bring Diana home. I've got to get back before I am missed and my cover gets blown. There's a lot at stake."

Hippolyta pursed her lips and nodded. "I understand. Go back with my blessing then, and do the Nation proud. We are most pleased to have you representing us in the world of men."

Orana accepted the compliment with a graceful nod of her head. "Thank you, my queen," she said as she stepped back into the plane. "I will do my best, and I will return home when I can." Then she shut the door and taxied down the beach, disappearing into the horizon before Hippolyta turned her steps to the palace and her increasingly wayward daughter.

"Oh, Diana, my child... what have you done? What have I done to you?"

Before Paula could finish reading, Hippolyta had risen from her chair and rushed into the bathing room. The sounds of her retching could be plainly heard and as her own memories of that time flooded back, the clenching in her guts increased exponentially. How cold... how heartless... the gods should damn me to Tartarus....

The cold floor was chilly against her clammy skin and it took her a moment to feel the warmth of Drea's hand stroking her back. Hippolyta curled into her lover's body, greedily accepting the comfort she offered.

"Oh gods, Drea... how could I...? How could I have been so cold and heartless? How could I have treated my only child that way? No wonder she hates me."

"You can't worry about your mistakes, Pol, except for looking for ways to make amends. We can't change what happened then, but we can change how we act now."

"Oh Drea... I don't think Diana will let me make amends, not knowing what we know now. Given my anger and callous behavior...."

"My queen, do you remember what you said to me just the other day?" Nubia cut in from the doorway. "About letting go of the past and moving into the future with confidence and optimism?"

Hippolyta almost smiled. "Different circumstances, Nubia, though I appreciate the sentiment."

Nubia shook her head and pushed off the wall, kneeling beside the queen and the healer. "The circumstances don't change the truth if the words. You and Diana are going to have to both face the past and overcome it at some point. But for you to recover any sort of relationship with one another, you're going to have to let go of it and forgive yourselves and one another. There's plenty of responsibility to go around, and we bear some as well. But for healing to take place, we are going to have to move beyond the guilt."

Silence reigned for a few moments before Hippolyta looked up from her place on Drea's lap. "When did you get so smart, Nubia?"

The dark advisor laughed. "I've always been quite brilliant," Nubia replied snootily, but with a distinct twinkle in her eyes. "It's nice to finally have it noticed," allowing a bright smile to cross her lips.

Hippolyta chuckled, feeling an irrational lightening of spirit accompany the action. "You are incorrigible, my friend," the queen commended. Drea gave her a grateful smile Hippolyta could not see. Nubia just looked inordinately pleased with herself.

"Thank you, my queen," Nubia replied with a sardonic grin. "With your recognition of that little facet of my personality, I have finally achieved my lifelong goal. Now what am I going to do with myself?"

Hippolyta extended a hand. "Help me get up off this cold floor," she answered regally.

Nubia stood and accepted the hand, then Drea gently eased Hippolyta into a sitting position so she and
Nubia could help the queen back to her feet. Once she was safely standing, Nubia went back into the council room and left the two partners alone. Drea turned and gently bathed Hippolyta's face, then offered her some water to rinse her mouth out and some mint to settle her stomach.

"Come. Let's go back into chambers and see what else Paula has for us." Drea simply nodded her agreement and took Hippolyta's arm in her own so they could walk together.

"My apologies for the delay, ladies," Hippolyta said as they crossed back into the room. She was still pale and shaky, but now she felt an urgency to finish their meeting and get back to her daughter. "Paula, please... continue."

The scientist nodded solemnly. "The next bit is about Chase and it is much more thorough as we were able to access both her diary and rather complete Nazi records. They didn't feel the need to erase her as I suspect they never thought she would ever be brought to our attention like she has. I will warn you that this is very similar to what you have already heard. Time has not made Orana a kinder, gentler dictator."

She picked up her pad and opened her mouth to resume reading, when a member of the Royal Guard rushed into the room.

"My queen," the young woman said, bowing. Hippolyta gestured for her to continue. "Forgive the intrusion, but the young woman Chase has disappeared."

Drea shook her head. "No she hasn't, Erilani. She is down on the beach outside the hospice. I took her out for a bit of sun and was called back to attend the princess. She should still be there."

Erilani's blonde head shook rapidly. "That's just it, Drea. She's not. And one of the boats has gone missing."

Before anyone could move, Rina rushed into the room. "My queen... It's Diana. We have a problem."

Chapter XV

It was quite the procession that made its way towards the hospice the queen, Drea, Mala, Nubia, Paula, Rina and the guard Erilani. When they reached Diana's room, Erilani stopped and took up a post beside the door, while the rest seemed intent on getting into the princess' room. Drea halted the procession before they could cross the threshold.

"I want everyone except for Rina to wait here until I have an idea of what's going on." She turned to Hippolyta and spoke for her ears only. "I'm sorry, Pol... I need to know what is going on first."

Hippolyta smiled and cupped Drea's cheek gently. "I know I haven't acted like it in a very long time, beloved, but she is your daughter too, and you have only ever had her best interests at heart. You go do what you need to do, and I will see what I can do about finding our friend Chase. There is still much to this puzzle we need to understand if we are to act."

Drea took Hippolyta's hand in her on and kissed it, then turned and motioned Rina into the room with her. The rest looked to Hippolyta for direction. She cleared her throat.

"Erilani?" The Guard moved from her post and knelt in front of the queen. Hippolyta smiled and motioned the woman to her feet. "Rise, Erilani and tell me what you know of our young guest's departure."

The room was dark when Drea and Rina crossed the threshold. Only Diana's pale eyes reflected glints of the moonlight that streamed in through the open window.

"Diana?" Drea spoke quietly. She was at a loss to understand what the problem was immediately. It appeared as though she had recovered her consciousness, and at first glance there didn't seem to be any sort of medical issue. The healer turned towards Rina with a look of confusion.

"She's not responding, Drea. She didn't even react to my turning the lights on or off. I wasn't sure what to make of it... especially when she started mumbling."

"What did she say?" the healer asked as she turned the lights up to half-power. Diana blinked and turned her eyes towards Drea, carefully watching her each and every move, but otherwise initiating no contact, verbal or tactile.

"'Not even in death'... just kept repeating it over and over. What was even stranger...."

"Yes?" when the silence continued too long.

"Well, I'm not sure, but I think she expected to find Hippolyta beside her when she woke. She grabbed at me, then pushed me away when she saw who I was, and there was anger and disappointment in her face. Then she kind of just went internal and started muttering."

Drea nodded. "I want you to stay in the room for now, but remain out of sight. I'm going to try to get through to her."

Rina gave her a concerned look then agreed, and moved over to the small enclosure where they kept supplies and medicines for the room. Drea waited until she was hidden from view before approaching the bed. Diana's eyes tracked her progress, and held the healer's eyes when Drea got close. She motioned to the bed.

"May I sit down?"

Diana waited a beat before nodding briskly. Drea took a seat and treated Diana to a long perusal. Then she reached up and brushed the hair away from Diana's forehead, gratified beyond measure when the princess did not flinch away from her touch. She took a chance and let her hand cover one of Diana's and looked her squarely in the eye.

"You had us terribly worried, especially your mother and me. Are you all right?"

The shields went up in the blue eyes at the mention of Hippolyta, and Drea could have cried at the loss she felt at the action. The healer moved her hand to cup Diana's cheek.

"Talk to me, baby girl."

She caught the flash before it disappeared behind the shuttered expression, and it gave Drea hope. Then Diana spoke in a bare whisper.

"Where is she?"

"Where is who, Diana? Your mother? I asked her to wa...." stopping when the dark head shook.

"Where is she?" came the repeated whisper and Drea gazed back at the princess confused.

"Where is who, sweet girl? I don't know who you mean."

Surprisingly, blue eyes filled with tears and rolled silently down Diana's cheeks. She turned her head away to keep Drea from seeing them, but it didn't work. Drea knew better than to make a big deal of it, however and continued to speak.

"Let me check you over very carefully, and if everything is in order, maybe we can get you back to your rooms tonight. I think you'll be more comfortable there, and then maybe we can figure things out. All right?"

Diana nodded and tried to surreptitiously wipe her eyes, but Drea managed to give the illusion of completely ignoring them. That was something of a feat as she hadn't seen Diana cry in far longer than she cared to think about. Knowing at least part of what had happened to Diana when she was in the world of men made her heart ache... especially if when there was a good possibility that what they didn't know about was much worse. And Drea remembered all too well the terrible shape the princess had been in when she had been returned to them by Orana all those years ago.

Satisfied that whatever physical damage had been done to Diana had passed, Drea brought her a cup of cool water. Diana accepted the cup with alacrity and drained it, nodding her thanks as she handed it back. Then she sat up and swung her long legs over the side of the bed and stood.

Drea stood beside her, in case Diana needed help, but the princess adopted her most stoic mask and stood upright with seemingly little effort. From looking at her, it was impossible to tell just how off-balance she felt... physically and emotionally. Then they crossed the threshold and were immediately surrounded by bodies, not the least of which was Hippolyta's. Drea felt Diana stiffen and wondered how long it would be before the explosion came.

Hippolyta reached up a hand and Diana instinctively moved back away from the touch. When she turned blue eyes towards her mother, they were full of disdain, but Hippolyta also saw the pain lurking in the back of those eyes for the first time and she sucked in a breath at the anguish that was hidden there. Knowing what she now did about what had happened to her daughter and suspecting even worse, Hippolyta wondered what she could do to regain Diana's trust.

She let her hand fall limply to her side, but she still addressed Diana directly when she spoke. "How are you, Diana?" asked softly, without the stridence that has so long been part of their conversation. "You've had us all terribly worried. I'm glad I can let the Nation know you are well on your way to recovery."

The words and the tone confused Diana, and it showed in the briefest flicker across her face. Then she turned and immediately headed across the hall to the room that Chase had been in since her arrival on the island. She noted its emptiness instantly and looked back at Drea again.

"Where is she?" in a hoarse whisper.

Drea looked around, lost, and shrugged her shoulders. "I don't kn...."

"We think she left, Diana," Hippolyta responded. Diana sank to the bed at the words as her knees refused to hold her up any longer. She picked up Chase's pillow and hugged it to her, closing her mind to all outside distractions. It wasn't supposed to be like this, her soul cried. This wasn't supposed to happen. I know I was right this time... I felt it.

Hippolyta looked at Drea in alarm. This was totally unlike her daughter... even the daughter Diana had been before her disastrous foray into the world of men. Not once in twenty-six centuries had the princess even shown the slightest attachment to anyone except Steve Trevor, and even he hadn't solicited the gut-wrenching reaction Diana was showing about Chase.

Drea put her hand lightly on Diana's back and the princess stiffened before finally turning her head and looking back towards the healer. "Come, princess. Let's get you settled in your rooms and then perhaps we can pool our knowledge together and get the whole story."

Diana gazed at her a moment longer before nodding silently and allowing Drea to help her to her feet. She kept the pillow clutched in her hand, and no one made an effort to remove it. Then she shuffled unaided out the door and headed to her own rooms, anxious to collapse in private.

Nubia turned to the queen before she could follow and they watched her out of sight. "Paula and I will go back to the lab and see what else we can find in regards to Chase. We will gather as much information as we can for the princess."

Hippolyta nodded absently. "Thank you both. I think... well, I appreciate it, that's all."

Nubia accepted the queen's words with a slight bow, then took Paula's arm and together they went out of the hospice area. Hippolyta turned back to the remaining women.

"Rina, you and Erilani are dismissed. Thank you both for your help. Please do not discuss what has happened here tonight with anyone. The princess is in a very bad place right now, and I would count it as a personal favor if each you would respect that."

Erilani knelt and saluted with an arm across her chest. "By your will, my queen."

Rina nodded and gave a bow. "Yes, your majesty."

Hippolyta smiled. "Thank you both," watching as the two headed out of the hospice, then she glanced back at the priestess who waited patiently with Drea. "Come, let us go and see what we can do for my daughter," moving out confidently and expecting them to follow her. Somewhere, the queen had finally found her resolve and it was wonderful to see her moving towards Diana with such determination and focus. Drea and Mala exchanged glances, then rapidly followed in Hippolyta's footsteps.

Diana entered the room and was immediately assaulted by the scent of the things Mala had left earlier in the day. They in turn brought a flash of unpleasant memories and coupled with the dreams she remembered, left Diana drained and shaken. She pulled the mask off the wall, dropping it carelessly to the floor. Then she did the same with the other artifacts, leaving them where they fell. The scrolls, however... the scrolls she pulled carefully from the shelves and stacked neatly in the box Mala had brought them in. Only one did she keep one that had been copied specifically for her when years of her rereading it had caused the original to show tattered wear.

The knock at the door startled her, as she couldn't remember the last time she'd been afforded the courtesy of privacy. Well, she could, but it was always followed by feelings of anger. She wasn't surprised when the knock was immediately followed by Drea's head.

"May we come in?"

Diana shrugged, not caring. She had no plans to stay out here and entertain them, and it was possible they might be able to answer some of her questions.

Drea entered, followed by Hippolyta with Mala bringing up the rear. Hippolyta eyes flared with anger when she saw the disrespect accorded the artifacts Mala had brought with such care to Diana's room earlier in the day. Then she released it, knowing there was more behind Diana's feelings of anger than mere spite towards her mother. Mala ignored them and walked to stand directly in front of the princess.

"How are you, Diana?" though a look in the anguished blue eyes gave a more accurate answer than would ever pass Diana's lips. So Mala and everyone else in the room was shocked when she spoke.

"I hurt."

"I'm sorry, Diana." The words came from an unexpected quarter and three heads swiveled towards the queen. She moved to her daughter and eased Mala aside. "I am so, so very sorry. This is all my fault, and I'm going to do everything I can to make things right for you again."

The pain changed to anger, though not completely and the blue eyes burned fire. "You did this? You hate me so much?" in a whisper that slashed Hippolyta's heart to ribbons. "First you disgrace me before the Nation and then you destroy any chance for happiness I have?"

The three older women realized at that moment that Diana still had no conscious memory of the events they had so recently learned of.

"No, Diana, no! I had nothing to do with Chase leaving. I hadn't even gotten a chance to talk with her yet when we discovered she was gone." Hippolyta reached up a hand to cup Diana's face, but her daughter stepped back out of her reach. Her hand dropped.

"I know you don't believe this, Diana... I don't expect you to after all this time, but I am going to do whatever it takes to fix this... ALL of this. You deserve better."

Diana sneered and turned to Drea. "Drea, where is she?"

It was Mala who answered. "We don't know, Diana. When the guard went out to recover her from the beach and bring her back into the hospice, they couldn't find her. A further search revealed that your sailboat was missing. It is believed she felt the need to go home and did so without our help."

"Why?" came the bewildered cry.

"Why does she mean so much to you, Princess?" Mala cut in.

Blue eyes shuttered and she held the pillow she still held closer to her body, absently inhaling its scent. "I am going to go find her, and you're not going to stop me," pointing her finger and her words specifically at her mother and ignoring Mala's question.

"No, Diana, I won't... not this time. But I would like to help you if you would let me." Hippolyta held up a hand when Diana turned disdainful, disbelieving eyes in her direction. "I know you don't believe me I don't expect you to trust me anytime soon if ever again. But I am going to apologize every day if that's what it takes to show you my sincerity, and in the meantime, I will do all that I can to help you."

"Paula and Nubia are working to find out all they can about Annabelle Chaser... personal data, location... things that should help your search immensely. Give them a little time, Diana, please, especially if it means you will wait until daylight before you leave."

Diana didn't answer, but crossed into her bedroom still clutching Chase's pillow and the single scroll she had removed from the multitude. They caught a glimpse of the bewilderment on her face when she turned and shut the door, and then there was silence.

Hippolyta walked into Drea's arms and broke into tears. "She spoke to me, Drea. For the first time in a hundred years, even though she still hates me, she spoke directly to me. That is the most wonderful, awful feeling I have ever experienced."

Mala had moved quietly over to the artifacts to begin packing them away with great care. "We have a slight problem, Hippolyta," addressing the queen as the old friend she was. "Diana still has no conscious recollection of what happened to her once she left here. Do we want to let her regain those memories on her own or do we want to help her? She is going to need to know, especially when she goes back out into the world of men."

Drea put Hippolyta away from her slightly and nudged her in Mala's direction. "Why don't you help Mala pack those things away? I want to go check on Diana, and I think she will probably respond better to me alone."

Hippolyta nodded. It was her belief as well, badly as it hurt her to admit it. "Take whatever time you need with her, beloved. I may have been a royal screw-up as far as she is concerned, but all I have ever wanted is to protect her. Maybe you will have better luck conveying that to her. We will wait here for as long as it takes."

Drea nodded and knocked on the door, hesitating before she entered. Then she closed it with a chilling finality and Hippolyta shivered.

"Come, my queen. Help me put this away and then we will sit and talk. Perhaps with a bit of luck, Paula and Nubia will have information for us soon. Besides, I am curious to know what Chase's diary said about her experience with Orana. Given what we now know about Diana's experience, I cannot blame her for wanting to get as far away from the Amazons as possible." And they fell to work with a will.

It was pitch dark in Diana's room when Drea went in and she offered up a prayer that nothing had been changed so she didn't trip and make a fool of herself. Slowly she eased in the direction she remembered the bed to be in and was gratified to bump into it. Drea sat down carefully.

"Diana?"

Drea reached out a hand and came into contact with a smooth, strong back that flinched at her touch. She kept it there anyway and gently stroked the skin, hoping Diana would relax. Eventually, Drea spoke again into the darkness.

"Diana, we've always been friends - from the time you were given to your mother and many times you shared with me when you couldn't share with her. Can't I help you now? I know you hurt, but I don't understand why. I don't understand what Chase means to you."

For so long there was silence that Drea had given up hope of a response, though she continued the keep her hand on Diana's back. Then she felt the princess take a deep breath and she strained her ears to hear the whispered words.

"I hurt, Drea. My soul hurts. She called to... she...."

Oh my daughter... what she has done for you. I never again thought to hear such openness from you, especially about anything so personal, Drea thought to herself. Aloud she said softly, "Diana do you remember when you were a child and we used to read the old scrolls together?" thinking of the scroll she had seen Diana gripping. "And always... always... you wanted the story of the soulmates? Do you think perhaps... is it possible Chase might... be that... for you?"

"No," rasped out harshly. "I thought I had discovered that once. I won't... I can't. Not again."

"Then why are you so adamant about finding her? Not that I disagree I am quite concerned for her myself, knowing she is out there alone and blind. But, Diana, you remember the legend. It wasn't a choice. And those legends aren't myth, Di. The queen who wrote those stories was one half of the soulmates she wrote about. They were real flesh-and-blood people."

"No, Drea. No... I...." She broke off unable to finish, knowing in her heart... in her soul that what the healer said was true and regardless of the consequences and despite what had happened to her before, she was going to have to confront the fear and the possibilities head on. And hope that this time she was not misled. Given the intensity of her nightmares, she wasn't sure she could survive a second trial by fire if she guessed wrong.

 

Continued in Part 4

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