Brave New World
Disclaimers in Part 1
"Diana, what do you remember of *that* time?" knowing Diana would understand exactly when she was referring to. She felt the princess turn over and look at her in the darkness and pressed on. "Please Diana... it's important. I wouldn't ask otherwise."
Drea felt the shiver pass through Diana's body and she waited patiently, knowing it had to come voluntarily, and recognizing just how difficult it was for Diana to share any of that, even the bits that were common knowledge among the Nation. The humiliation had been overwhelming for Diana's proud spirit, even without the agony that had followed. Finally, though....
"I remember Mother forbidding me to compete in the games because she felt I coveted Steve Trevor for my own. I didn't, Drea. He spoke to me, or his soul did... like hers did only hers was much stronger than his ever was," she added contemplatively, referring to Chase. "But it was comfortable and familiar and something I had been looking for since I first heard those stories, though I knew it wasn't the completion of myself I'd hoped for. But it was enough that I wanted to be with him to try to understand it, perhaps to find it out there related to him in some way."
Drea held her breath. Never in her wildest dreams had she expected such revelations. Even before, Diana had been hesitant to share such personal information, but it seemed with everything coming to a head, it had to bubble over and spew forth. Drea was devoutly thankful that she was the one privileged enough to hear it.
"Then she humiliated me at the games when I competed anonymously and won... deliberately humiliated me and stripped me of my rank and privilege. Then she banished me to the summer palace under guard, but not before making me walk the gauntlet and insuring that every single Amazon took a shot at me. I have never felt agony like I lived through then."
Drea's mouth dropped. This was bad... far worse than she'd expected. "Every one?" she muttered through stiff lips.
"All but you and Mala. You cared for me."
"When did you return here?"
"I did a year of intense labor there, rebuilding the wall alone before I was permitted to return. But I've remained a prisoner here." Her whispered voice took on a fierceness. "I won't do it anymore, Drea. I hate it here. I'm not going to stay... not now... now that I've found a reason to leave."
"Diana, what if I told you that most of your memories are wrong... that they have been tampered with?"
"Nice try, Drea. That sort of betrayal you don't forget." Diana turned back to the wall.
"Diana, I can prove it if you'll let me." Diana didn't move or acknowledge Drea's words, and the healer sighed in defeat. "Sweetheart, I know you're angry... you've been angry a very long time, and I really don't blame you. Your mother does bear a large burden of guilt in what happened and she knows it, even though she thought she was acting with your best interests in mind." Diana snorted, and Drea patted her back. "I really do believe she was, regardless of the poor judgment she used in trying to achieve that. But, Diana - what you believe happened... what you think you remember is not the whole truth. I know the truth and so does Mala, and when you're ready to face what really happened to you, we'll be right here to show you."
Silence was her only answer and Drea sighed, then leaned forward and kissed Diana's forehead. "I love you, baby girl. I always have. Thank you for letting me back in again." Diana didn't respond, but for the first time in a long time the silence didn't disturb Drea. She finally had an understanding of Diana that gave her unlooked for answers, and she knew what they would need to do to begin repairing the damage that Hippolyta had started and Orana had completed.
Drea leaned up against the door as she pulled it closed behind her and reaction set in. Hippolyta and Mala both looked at her but remained silent as Drea collected her obviously scattered composure. Hippolyta noted the shakiness of her hand and the paleness of her complexion and moved to guide Drea to a seat, while Mala went to get her a cup of something tall and cool.
"Wait," Drea called out to the priestess as she realized their intentions. "Let's go to our quarters. We will be uninterrupted there and Diana deserves whatever privacy we can afford her. Oh, gods." Drea covered her hands with her eyes and breathed deeply. Hippolyta wrapped a supporting hand around her waist and Mala came up to reinforce the other side. They looked at each other over Drea's head, wondering what could have caused such an intense reaction.
They went down the hall to their rooms and Drea dropped heavily onto the couch. Hippolyta sat down beside her and gently rubbed her back while Mala moved behind the bar and poured Drea a glass of wine.
"Better bring one for each of us and the bottle as well," Drea warned. "It's not pretty."
"Worse than we expected."
"Worse than you can imagine."
"Should we call Nubia and Paula to hear this at least? I don't think we need involve the entire council at this point but they...."
"No," Drea answered. "Perhaps later, but this... for now this information is for family only."
Slowly Drea gave a recounting of what had transpired when she entered Diana's room, because she wanted to include her thoughts and impressions of things as they happened. When she got to the point of sharing Diana's recollections of that time, though, she told it straight through with no deviations from the actual events. Hippolyta's breath caught and she clasped a hand over her mouth to keep from emitting any sound. Mala grabbed her free hand and held on tightly, as though to help bear some of the burden.
They remained steadfastly silent while Drea finished her retelling, including her rather harsh judgment of Hippolyta's involvement. Fortunately, that information was known to the queen as she and her consort had discussed it several times in recent days and it was nothing she herself did not believe as truth. But Diana's remembrances of what had happened to her were simply horrific, and they brought tears streaming down Hippolyta's face.
"My gods, no wonder she hates me. I'd hate me too... worse than I already do. I hadn't realized until... gods, I was so wrong... so very unfair to her." Drea covered Hippolyta's hand and rubbed her thumb across the soft skin in a gesture of comfort.
"You are working to fix that. The big question though is whether or not she will let us help her uncover the real truth. And whether or not she can survive without the knowledge if she chooses to leave us believing the lie," Mala said. "Because you know when she goes back into the world of men, she's going to remember eventually. And she will go looking for Orana when she does."
"She will survive regardless of what she chooses," Hippolyta replied through her tears. "Because she is a survivor she's shown us that."
Drea nodded. "There is still something I do not understand, and that is why she gave up. Why did she stay here, hating it like she does? It doesn't make sense, not if we put that knowledge up against the intense woman and the fierce warrior she was before she left here." She paused and finished her wine, filling her glass before she continued speaking. "You both remember how defeat used to spur her to greater accomplishments. So why not this time? What happened to fundamentally change the woman we knew and respected and loved? We are missing an important piece of the puzzle."
"Perhaps the information Paula has on Chase will help. Or perhaps they will dig up something new," Mala commented as she rubbed her eyes. She swallowed her wine and leaned back in her chair. "You know, we knew that Chase was going to be important to Diana, but it would have been nice to have been clued in a little better as to just how tied together they already are." She turned to Drea. "Did Chase give you any indication she was going to just up and leave like that?"
The healer shook her head. "No. I knew she didn't trust me yet, though she really wanted to. I have to wonder... I told you her reaction to thinking I was an Amazon. I would be willing to wager that she somehow survived an encounter with Orana and that she found out that we are Amazons. It's the only thing I can think of that makes any sense at all." She turned to the queen. "Are you all right, Pol? I'm sorry about what I said, but...."
"No, Drea. It was the truth on all levels, and I'm not all right, but I will be. At least now I know what I have to work against and if it takes a hundred years times a hundred more, I will make my daughter... *our* daughter understand the truth. All of it my mistakes as well as hers."
She wiped her eyes and rose, then excused herself to wash her face. When she returned, Hippolyta looked much more relaxed and composed. "Let's call Nubia and Paula in here. I am anxious to hear about what Chase experienced. I am more than a little curious to know whether Drea guessed right about her possible reasons for leaving us. It is possible, if she had a run-in with Orana and obviously lived to tell about it, she may be the key to not only defeating her, but to laying to rest Diana's ghosts as well."
"Your majesty, it's late. Perhaps we should pick this up early in the morning. The last few days have been exhausting and the next few promise to be just as harrowing, especially if there are more revelations like we received this afternoon. We need to rest if we are to get through it and help Diana through it as well. Sheer grit is not going to make it an easier proposition for any of us."
Hippolyta shook her head. "I know you are right, my friend, but I feel a sense of urgency driving me, as though we only have a very little time left before everything changes. Let us hear the rest now. Once we have done all we can, then we can stop to sleep."
Mala couldn't argue with the logic she herself felt the stress of the situation... a pounding insistence to resolve things that were unraveling quickly. "As you wish, my queen. Let me send a guard to the lab to fetch them, and another to the kitchen for something to eat. This could take a while and we have to eat regardless of how we feel."
It didn't take long Nubia and Paula arrived from down one corridor as the guard and another woman made their way from the kitchen with laden trays. Hippolyta assumed the role of hostess, pouring drinks and insuring everyone was served before they took comfortable seats in the living area, forgoing the stiff chairs and formal table of the meeting room. The time for formalities was over... this was a time for both thought and action.
Hippolyta took a look at both Paula and Nubia whose appearance was as ragged as she felt. She ran a hand through her hair, mussing a usually neat coiffure. "My apologies, ladies. I know you have been working overtime since Chase's arrival. But I feel we need to hurry. Diana is going to leave as early as tomorrow, and I'd like to know what she is going into. I'd like her to have an idea of what she is going into if we can manage it."
"Tomorrow, my queen?"
"Yes, Paula. I don't know that she will go so quickly, but it is a possibility and we need to be prepared for that."
"Well, we have a couple of searches going on about the rebellion in general and one on Chase and her sect particularly. We should have something useful by morning, but not before then."
"Thank you, Paula. I know you have been working almost non-stop."
"Yes, but the historians are going to have a field day with all the information we have pulled down. Just glancing through it for things we could use has been fascinating. But we can discuss that later," Paula added. "You wanted to hear about what happened to Chase, correct? Did you want her whole history or just her encounter with Orana?"
"Do her early experiences have any bearing on what happened with Orana, directly, I mean? If not, I think we can wait on it. We'll need to know to give us a better understanding of her, but the most important piece right now is her meeting with Orana."
Paula nodded her acceptance of the healer's words and turned to her pad. "This happened several years ago, when Chase was still a teenager, and it is one of the key events that allowed her to become the leader of the rebellion."
"Wait, I have a question," Mala cut in. "Is she *A* leader of the rebellion or *THE* leader of the rebellion?"
"From what we have been able to ascertain from the records, she is now *THE* leader of the rebellion. She didn't start it and she'd not particularly thrilled with being given the role, but this experience - her survival of her encounter with Orana - put her in a position to unite the many different individual factions into a single cohesive unit. She possesses the charm and a gift for words that make people want to follow her." Nubia paused to take a swallow of her water before continuing. "She will be the one we have to convince to let the Amazons help dispose of Orana. But that is something we can worry about later. We have enough on our plates to worry about right now."
"Agreed," Hippolyta said. "One thing at a time. Please, Paula... continue."
"Yes, my queen." The scientist turned her attention back to her pad, consulting her notes. "It appears that when she lost her mother, Chase became quite reckless, accepting riskier assignments and taking dangerous gambles that garnered her spectacular results but came close to getting her killed more than once. It was almost as though she wanted to die, but when brought face to face with that very real possibility...."
The assignment had been simple enough. Word was that the Nazis were developing a new serum to use against the rebels. It would allow them to extract information while eating away at the insides of the human it was being used on. So far, it worked far too well, as it was eating the rebels alive before any useful information could be obtained. So their effort was now concentrated on slowing its effects down, and as an added bonus, it appeared that the slower it worked, the more excruciating the pain the rebel would have to endure.
The thought had been terrifying and it had turned Chase's stomach when she'd heard what they were doing. She'd known what they'd done to her mother had been horrific, but she had believed... had hoped that the Nazis had reached the depth of their villainy. But this news....
The hierarchy had been almost relieved when Chase volunteered. She was the best that they had. She had survived several trips behind enemy lines and had always retrieved what they needed and usually more valuable information besides. They felt confident that she could succeed if anyone could.
All she had to do was sneak into the Reichstag and steal the formula. Then the rebel scientists could begin working on a cure.
Getting in had been absurdly easy... child's play for Chase who had accomplished it successfully several times before. Unfortunately for Chase, one of the test subjects for the serum had been their inside informant, and the Nazis had a welcoming reception waiting for her when she crossed the threshold.
The men of the party wanted to inject her immediately, thinking to destroy a formidable foe. But Orana recognized Chase as an opportunity, and ordered her removed to the torture chamber. The men grumbled, but obeyed, knowing at some point they would be allowed their fun as well.
She was stripped and bound to the wall, much in the manner Diana had been nearly a century before. The room smelled of fear and old blood, and Chase concentrated her considerable intellect on finding a way out before the she-devil could inject her with the serum.
For how long she hung there, Chase had no real way of knowing, but her arms were screaming in protest at their mistreatment long before Orana stepped into the room. It was almost a relief to see her. At least now she could try to create her own opportunity to escape.
Orana surveyed Chase for a long moment, lust lingering in her eyes before it was masked by hatred and disgust. "Did you really think you could outsmart me, you worthless little rebel? You... a mere child against the greatest mind the world has ever seen? Against the ultimate Amazon?" She stepped closed, running her whip handle against the smooth skin, frowning when there was no reaction.
Chase had already put her mind on another conscious plain, and though she was marginally aware of Orana's actions, she was focused on looking for a way out.
Unexpectedly the whip lashed out and Chase flinched more in surprise than in pain. She hadn't expected the physical punishment to begin so soon. All their intel had suggested that this particular Nazi, known in rebel circles as the Black Widow, got off on psychological torture as well as physical, and usually took quite some time to intimidate her victims before beginning the physical abuse.
Orana watched Chase with eager eyes. It had been far too long since she'd had a challenge like this one, and she relished the sport that was to come. She decided from the young woman's lack of reaction though, that she needed to approach her differently, and went right into a flurry of physical punishment.
She felt the ribs crack under her blows and smiled in satisfaction when Chase emitted a cry of pain. Slaps to her face, a punch to her nose and lips, and then she took the cat and began marking her thighs and chest, savoring the blood that flowed freely and the whimpers Chase couldn't manage to stifle as the pain burned white hot.
Orana wanted to continue, but she saw Chase was fading into unconsciousness so she pulled back. "Now that I have your undivided attention," she purred in evident satisfaction. "I'm going to leave you here for a while to think about my question. It would be to your advantage to have an answer ready for me when I return. I still have all that lovely skin on your back to play with, and I haven't broken any bones yet." She grinned. "Well, maybe a couple. But there are plenty more to choose from before I am close to the two hundred mark. And just think, when I've done all that, and you think it can't be any worse, I'm going to inject you with my latest creation. Then I'm going to sit hear and listen to you spill your guts while the poison eats you alive from the inside out." She grinned again, and Chase couldn't help noticing that her eyes were completely mad. "Sounds like a fun afternoon and evening, don't you think?"
She left with a final punch to Chase's mid-section. Then she laughed and the sound sent chills skittering over Chase's spine adding to the ache throughout her body.
"How did we miss this?" Hippolyta asked. "How did we all miss the fact that Orana was so evil?"
"It was easy, my queen. She never had the opportunity for power here that she achieved in the world of men. She is apparently the ultimate power there, and it corrupted her absolutely. Besides, I sense Ares' fine hand back of this somewhere. What could be better for him than a never ending war?"
"Perhaps," Drea agreed, "but the basis for that evil had to have been in place before she left. Which means we still had to have missed some pretty big clues."
"Not necessarily," Mala objected. "It is highly likely that she would never have uncovered and utilized those traits had she not left here. I believe she was jealous of Diana for a very long time, but not once did she act with dishonor until she got into a place where that was acceptable behavior. You all remember the issues the Nation faced amongst ourselves when we lived in the world of men. We were as susceptible to corruption as they, though we were never as cruel."
"Well, Orana has certainly managed to dispel the cruelty theory. The things she has done go beyond anything any man ever did to any of us, and gods know it wasn't an easy life for any of us before Paradise Island."
"If it makes any of you feel better, Chase does get some of her own back. I think we should finish her story."
"Paula's right," Nubia said. "It doesn't make Orana go away or look any better, but it makes for really good reading. My respect for Chase jumped greatly, and I already thought highly of her after she managed to get the princess talking again," not mentioning the questions and concerns she'd originally held in regards to the young woman's presence on their island. The rest accepted Nubia at her word and turned their attention back to Paula's research.
How long Chase hung there, she couldn't possibly have said, but she let her mind float, separating itself from the pain. She'd deal with it later, but her priority now was to escape, and the damage Orana had already done was going to make that a difficult proposition at best. The only thing she had going for her at the moment was the one guard she knew was a double agent. If there was a God, Jorge would come to check on her before the Widow came back, and could give her the advantage she needed. She had the inklings of a plan, but she needed a little luck and the last few hours had managed to successfully dispel Chase's belief in her luck.
After a bit, the door opened and Chase forced her head up expecting to see Orana's evil reflected back at her. She went limp with relief when she came face to face with Jorge. The man looked back at his partner, instructing him to watch the door while he checked the prisoner. The younger man looked as though he wanted to argue, but they had been instructed to insure she was still alive and secure, and Jorge was senior to him. So he took his post while Jorge entered the room, leaving the door open to avert suspicion from the gutsy move he was undertaking.
He checked Chase's ankle restraints first, sliding his hands up her body as was expected while looking at her with eyes full of apology. She offered him forgiveness with a slow nod that continued her ruse of unconsciousness. Jorge tested one wrist, then the other, pressing something cool and metallic into the second that nearly caused Chase to start. Only her practice in self-control kept her front squirming with joy. Finally she had a way out.
"Jorge, let's go. You know the Fuehrer is anxious to get back in here, and I don't want to be here when she does.
The younger man nodded furiously. "Yes. There is just something about the Fuehrer...." Jorge held up a hand to stop his words.
"Careful, Max. You don't want to show disrespect," closing the door on their conversation.
Again time passed as an unknown quantity, and this time Chase got what, or rather *who* she expected to get. Orana strutted in and grinned evilly at the still-unconscious looking rebel. She clucked to herself. "I expected more stamina from you, Annabelle," not getting the looked-for reaction to the use of Chase's first name. "Hmm... I may have to alter my plans for you. I need whatever information you've got, and if you're not even conscious, where's the fun in torturing you?"
"I've been working on improving my drug, and I'm going to test a new theory on you. You see," Orana continued conversationally, as she loosened the restraints around Chase's ankles, "I think if I use this in very tiny, very measured amounts, I can make you live a very long time. It will be excruciating for you, of course, but sacrifices have to be made in the name of scientific research."
Chase hung limply, keeping her breathing even and her body completely relaxed. She was only going to get one shot at this because she figured Orana was smart enough not to be this overconfident twice. The ex-Amazon set the syringe on the table behind her, and released one arm and then the other, laughing cruelly when Chase hit the floor with a dull thud.
"I wasn't considered brilliant enough to be a research scientist when I was an Amazon. Shame, that. I am beyond brilliant in this world, but somehow I don't think Hippolyta would appreciate me anyway."
For her part, Chase laid there and allowed the blood to flow back into her arms with painful prickles. She didn't flinch when Orana jerked her up and onto her shoulders, though the motion did make her grunt in pain. Orana smiled.
"Well, maybe I will get a little more enjoyment out of you after all," she commented darkly as she dropped Chase onto the table.
Faster than seemed possible, Chase forced her body to respond and grasped the syringe. Then she jammed it into Orana's thigh and released its vile contents in one bold push. Orana screamed in outrage and agony as the poison began to make its way through her system swiftly. She reached for Chase, only to have her leg collapse out from under her, hitting her head on the corner of the table on her way down.
Chase waited a long moment, gathering both wits and strength before sitting up carefully, mindful of her painfully broken ribs. She looked at the unconscious woman at her feet distastefully, then grit her teeth and set herself to lift the larger woman up onto the table. The scream she emitted could be heard down in the barracks and caused smiles to ripple across the faces of several SS members, though for different reasons than they suspected.
Chase stripped Orana of trousers and shirt, wishing she had something to wrap around her ribs. She shackled the Nazi woman to the table, not willing to take the chance that Orana had and allow the woman to get the jump on her, even though Chase believed she was dying.
She opened the door slowly, expecting to see at least one guard, then shaking her head in disbelieving thankfulness at Orana's overwhelming cockiness. The woman had been so sure of her superiority that not only had she not wanted anyone to help her in the chamber, but she hadn't even bothered with a guard outside the room just in case there was a problem.
Chase had long learned not to look a gift horse in the mouth and eased out the door with one last look at the woman the Nazi's had called fuehrer. With any kind of luck this was the end of her and the regime would crumble.
She walked quickly and silently down the hallway, hoping to find a way out before anyone came looking for her. She was trying to remember the schematics she had memorized adapting for the area she had come from, hunting for the laboratory that had been her original destination.
It wasn't hard once she figured out exactly where she was and Chase dispensed with the lone guard by jamming the key Jorge had slipped her into his eye, taking his machine gun and side arm before she unlocked the door with the set of keys she had taken with Orana's clothes.
Her search was easy there was no real security, and Hans had been very specific in what she had to look for. Her German was exceptional thanks to Hans' tutoring and she found not only the poison, but several other questionable experiments as well.
Chase stuffed the files into her shirt, then looked around for a way to destroy what was left. She moved away from the files and smiled when she walked into the working lab. It was almost too easy, and with a little more luck she'd be able to take some of them out as well.
The fire was burning well when she casually walked out and slipped down the hall unnoticed.
"It goes on from there," Paula said, "and gives an account of how she got out and back to the rebellion. But it boils down to the fact that Chase's actions turned the rebellion around. She brought everyone together in a common effort after that, and they started making great strides against the Nazis."
A respectful silence fell after that as each woman present contemplated the information they had just been presented with. Eventually, Drea cleared her throat and spoke softly.
"Well, at least now I understand her comment about the evil brutality of Amazons and having seen it face to face and lived to tell the tale."
Another silence fell at her words.
"I think we all need some rest," Hippolyta said as she stood up, and the other women followed suit. "There is nothing more we can do tonight, and now at least we have something to tell Diana if she asks. With a little luck, she'll give me a chance to.... Well, we'll pick this up in the morning."
Mala, Nubia and Paula all nodded and bowed their heads before escaping out the door. Drea and Hippolyta watched in silence until the door closed behind them. Then the healer wrapped her arms around the queen and led her into their bedchambers.
"Come, Pol. It's time for bed."
Hippolyta nodded, but made no move to ready herself as her mind continued to go over and over the many different things she was trying to process. Drea took her hand and gently led her to the bed, easing her out of her clothing and tucking her in. The lights were off and Drea was tucked around her before Hippolyta stopped thinking and let her mind return to the present.
"We've really got our work cut out for us."
"You think we can do it?"
Drea was quiet for a few minutes as she gave the question some serious thought. "Yes," she answered finally. "Because it's going to come down to Chase's and Diana's need to be together, and I think they are going to need us to make that a complete reality. It's not going to be easy, though."
"As long as it works," Hippolyta vowed firmly, "we will do whatever it takes."
And on that thought, they gave themselves over to Morpheus' care.
Diana tossed and turned all night as Drea's words flowed in and out of her mind, giving her strange and unsettling dreams. Over and over she dreamed of the games and the gauntlet she had walked and each time Drea's words haunted her visions.
She knew what she remembered the memories were much too vivid for her to have made them up out of whole cloth, and yet.... Something in Drea's words rang true in her heart as well as her mind. Whatever else, Drea firmly believed she spoke the truth. Perhaps she should allow Drea to tell her own brand of truth. Then maybe she could exorcise the ghosts that had returned again to haunt her.
Getting back to the plane proved almost more of an adventure than any of them needed and all by accident.
Chase walked between Adam and Shep, grateful for the support they offered even as she struggled to make her own way. They had to walk through several public areas, and none of them wanted to draw attention to themselves. But it was hard to hide the marks on Chase's face or the fact that she walked with a decided limp, even as slowly as they were moving.
They attracted the notice of a small band of Nazi soldiers, clustered at a table in an outdoor café. They didn't move to stop them at first only spread out to follow the trio. Adam noticed them first.
"We appear to have attracted a tail."
"Question is what can we do? I really don't think Chase is up to a knock-down, drag out, no holds barred fight. And our first priority remains to get Chase off this island and back to the base camp."
"Agreed," Adam said, ignoring Chase's attempt to cut into the conversation.
The soldiers spread out, determined to surround them and cut them off for questioning. They still had no idea who the three were... only that they were odd enough to be made sport of. Had they known, they might have been a little more cautious in their actions.
Chase blew out a frustrated breath, then let her pain and the aggravation she'd felt building for days work to her advantage. She swung her undamaged arm, clouting the nearest on the jaw and dropping him like a lead balloon. Shep growled under his breath.
"Damnation Chase!" Then he was too busy warding off the Nazi's who were left. Two went down to a punch and kick combination, while Adam took out another two with a split kick. Chase got the last with a punch to the throat, and then they were being cheered by the native bystanders. Chase struggled to maintain her equilibrium now that the rush of adrenaline had left her body. Shep took one side and Adam took the other, literally carrying her as they moved swiftly out of the market place.
The natives scrambled to get out of the way and get back to their business. They couldn't afford to out themselves as rebels yet, so they didn't want to be seen as helping the trio escape. But they did nothing to hinder their leaving or to assist the soldiers who were still sprawled all over the ground.
Chase came back to her senses only to realize that she was being carried by Shep, and they were moving very fast through some serious undergrowth. She twitched and he held on tighter, holding her eyes with a glare.
"Chase, be quiet and be still. We've got to get out of here and I don't need any more stress at this point, all right?"
"Shep, I can walk...."
"Chase, I mean it. I don't know what you were thinking back there, but that was just stupid."
Adam kept his face forward, clearing a path in front of them and assuring that their passage would be unmarked. But he listened; it was too interesting not to.
"Stupid?? Um, Shep? Did you happen to notice what was going on?"
"Nothing, until you lit into those soldiers. You know they are going to comb this island looking for us now. We're going to have to take Adam to the mainland for a while to keep him alive. We can't leave him here because they've seen and know his face. He's risked everything and you put us all in jeopardy."
"Put. Me. Down." Chase was so rigid and precise in her manner of speaking that Shep reacted as the trained soldier he was. He eased her to her feet and withdrew to stand at attention. Adam stopped and turned as well.
"The one I hit initially had a blade tucked into his sleeve and was going to gut me. They all did, Shep. They were going to make sport of us by sticking blades in us until we begged for mercy. It is standard operating procedure for these guys."
"How come we didn't see them?" Adam asked.
"Because you didn't look," was the flat reply.
"Do you think they made us, Chase?"
Chase bit her lip in thought, then shook her head. "I don't think so. I think they saw weakness and decided to prey on it. They will be looking for us now though, so we need to get the hell outta dodge and home." She turned to Adam. "We'll get you back here as soon as we can, but for now it would be safest for you to come with us."
Adam nodded. "I knew and accepted the risks. I am prepared."
"Good. Can you two help me now?" she asked, reaching out in the darkness, not realizing when Shep moved to catch her before she hit the ground.
The darkness was comforting and Chase struggled to bring herself back towards the harshness of the light. She had faded in and out of consciousness the rest of the way to the waiting plane, than passed out completely when a wrong turn sent pain wrenching through her body. She blinked, glad Shep had brought the larger plane.
Chase sat up slowly and shivered, bringing Adam back to her side. She wondered what had happened that she seemed to have completely lost her ability to put the pain aside, especially given what she had been through with Orana and some of her other less-than-pleasant experiences. This just wasn't that bad, comparatively speaking, though the cold was making her cramp and she wondered if the Amazons on Paradise Island had done something to her. Then she put the thought aside as Adam extended a bottle of water for her to sip from.
"Where are we?" she asked hoarsely. Adam shrugged.
"I don't know. We have been airborne about an hour." He watched as she nodded and continued to sip at the water he'd given her. "Can you eat something with that? It had been a while since you ate and Pop instructed me that you were still quite weak."
Chase blinked. "We have food?"
Adam smiled. "Oh yes. Mama made sure we had plenty to tide us over... for several days judging by the weight of my knapsack."
Chase smiled in sympathy with his chuckles. She really didn't feel like eating, but realized that could be a serious part of her problem. Her eating had sporadic at best and it was doing nothing to help her body repair the damage that had been done to it. Adam waited patiently, watching the thoughts tumble over one another in her eyes.
"Some crackers maybe? I think I need something on my stomach before I put anything substantial into it."
"Very smart," Adam agreed. "Pop intimated as much. Here," had added, digging around and handing her a small package wrapped in waxed paper. "These should work."
Chase nibbled slowly feeling her stomach settle and her equilibrium return. Adam watched as a bit of color returned to her cheeks and nodded in approval. Then he handed her a bit of bread and fruit and settled back with his own, glad to pass the time by filling his belly which was strangely empty after the exertion of the morning.
Chase chewed deliberately and methodically enjoying the sense of filling in her belly and feeling the pain recede as her strength began to restore itself. She could tell it was going to be a slow recovery period, but it was nice to feel better after what seemed like a lifetime of feeling weak and in pain.
She finished up and patted Adam's leg in thanks. Then she slowly shifted her body over until she sat back of Shep. Then she tapped on the back of his seat to get his attention, gratified when he only glimpsed in her direction before retuning his attention back out the window.
"Where are we?" Chase asked, clutching her collar more tightly around her throat. Shep shrugged.
"We've still got a few hours if you want to curl up and get some rest. You look better, but you still look pretty rough. How do you feel?"
"Pretty rough," Chase answered with a wry grin. "I dunno... this has just drained me for some reason. I feel like my soul is running on empty." The last muttered in a whisper so low Shep nearly missed it.
Shep turned his head again and regarded his friend and leader for a very long moment before turning his focus back to the empty sky outside the windshield. He heard Chase slide back into her little cubby and he sent up a quiet prayer for a speedy recovery. They were going to need her whole for the big offensive that was coming.
Chase awoke again much more refreshed and in better spirits than she had been in since she'd left the rebel base little more than a week ago. She blinked and stretched, absorbing the recognizable scents of her hut and the familiar feel of her rough cot and blanket. It took a minute, but her brain did catch up with her senses and she shot up out of bed.
Her head no longer hurt and there was only residual pain in both her shoulder and her thigh. Better, her eyes seemed to have cleared and didn't hurt nearly as badly as they had even the.... Chase's thoughts stopped there as she realized she had no recollection of arriving home. She wondered how much time had passed and stuck her head out her doorway. As though he had been watching specifically for her to make an appearance, Hans was the first to see her and he ran across the compound to catch her in a full body hug.
"Annabelle!!" knowing she would grab his ears in retaliation and relishing the familiarity of it. Chase did, yanking hard enough to make him release her before she threw up from the spinning he was doing. He set her down gently and gave her a much more tender, though no less heartfelt hug. He released her and stepped back, wiping tears from his eyes unashamedly.
"God, Chase!! It is so good to have you home! What happened? How are you? Do you know how worried...?" Hans stopped speaking when Chase held up a hand.
"What day is it?"
Hans looked confused but answered the question. "Wednesday. Why?"
"So we got in...?"
"Yesterday afternoon. You slept for almost twenty-four hours. How do you feel?"
Chase smiled and the action transformed her face completely. "I feel good. It's good to be home." Her stomach chose that moment to growl and she couldn't stop the blush that followed. "Guess I better go grab something to eat."
"Let me," Hans inserted. "It'll give you a chance to take a shower and me a chance to find Shep and the rest of the gang. I know everyone is anxious to talk to you. We were really worried."
Chase nodded, knowing she was going to have to give at least a partial explanation of what had happened to her during her time away. The Nazis - that would be easy. So would the island that she had stumbled to during the storm. But the Amazons... that was something else all together. What had happened there was still very much a confused tangle in her own mind. She wasn't ready to share it, and she didn't know if she ever would be. No one would understand her feelings because she had never, EVER shared what had happened to her... except with her diary. And no one here was capable of hacking into her security, not even Hans.
Suddenly she moved snapping green eyes back to Hans' concerned expression. "Hey, wait a minute." She narrowed said eyes at him. "You saying I stink there, buddy?"
Hans' eyes widened comically. "NO! No, of course not. I just... I, um...."
Chase laughed. "It's all right, Hans," she said with a laugh, clapping his shoulder in camaraderie. "I imagine I do stink; it's been a while since my last shower." Her brow furrowed. "I think, anyway. Things are still pretty hazy." Not complete truth, but she felt comfortable with the little white lie. It would go a very long way towards making her life easier. She shook her head. "Besides, you know I am fond of a shower when I get up, especially on the rare occasion I get hot water."
A laugh was heard behind her and Chase whirled to see Ty with her hand over her mouth. "Yeeeesss?" Chase drawled slowly, knowing Ty loved a good tease and Chase could see the sparkles shining out of Ty's brown eyes.
Ty made an exaggerated motion to look at her watch and raised an eyebrow in mock astonishment. "Well, maybe if you could crawl out of bed at a decent hour there, Chief, you might get a little hot water now and then. Not all of us have the luxury of sleeping round the clock." But Chase could see the honest worry in the back of Ty's eyes.
Chase smirked. "Yeah, well, I have to do something to give you guys a chance to keep up. Can't be stuck doing all the work around here myself, ya know."
Ty narrowed her eyes and snorted derisively. "Remind me again why we wanted you home? You are such an egotistical pain in the ass."
Without warning, Chase jumped into Ty's arms, wrapping her legs around Ty's waist and kissing her cheek. "Yes, but I'm ya'll's pain in the ass and the best damn pain in the ass in the world!"
Ty threw her head back and laughed, a full rich sound that drew attention and caused others to join in without knowing what had caused it. She hugged Chase tightly, then released her to slide to the ground. "Ya know, cuz, I love you, but your modesty in completely underwhelming." Ty reached up a hand and pushed the blonde hair back from Chase's eyes, tilting her chin up until their eyes met.
"You all right? Aside from needing a haircut, I mean. God Chase, you scared everyone out of a year's life."
"She's not kidding," Hans cut in. "We were all pretty worried when we heard you'd been shot down. But not worried enough to stop working. No one wanted an ass kicking when you got back." Chase laughed and Hans smiled, glad of the reaction. He and the rest had been truly worried when Chase didn't respond to any of them upon landing. Though she was well-known for enjoying the occasional sleep-in when she could manage it, she was always instantly awake when called for. And her lack of reaction had been scary.
"Speaking of ass kicking," he said, backing away towards the mess area. "Let me go get you something to eat before your stomach decides to make an appearance and beats me to death for not moving fast enough. You want everyone back here in...?"
"We'll meet in the conference room in thirty minutes. Thanks, Hans."
The two women watched him go, then Ty looked back at Chase with a wicked grin. "He likes you, ya know."
Chase returned the look with a knowing smile of her own. "No, actually he doesn't... not the way you're thinking."
"C'mon, Chase. You can't tell me you haven't seen those lovesick looks he casts in your direction every time he looks at you."
They walked back in to Chase's quarters so she could grab her toiletries and a change of clothes. Ty opened her mouth to tease a little more, but stopped when Chase's serious eyes met her own.
"Ty, I am not gonna betray any confidences here, but trust me when I tell you that Hans is not interested in me that way. He is my friend... a good friend... but only a friend."
"You're serious," grabbing a towel and passing it over.
"Yep. I sure am," picking up her things and making her way out of her hut and across the compound toward the showers. Ty followed more slowly, pinching her lips between her fingers in thought. She followed Chase into the shower tent, then took a seat on the changing bench while Chase continued on to stand under the nozzle.
Chase turned the knobs and let the warm water run over her in relief before she grabbed the soap and began to lather her body. She waited patiently, knowing something was bugging Ty beyond the fact that she had guessed wrong about Hans.
It had been a running joke between them all their growing up years, teasing about who fell for whom and trying to see who could guess right more often about the dalliances that went on between members of the rebellion. But Ty also know her cousin well enough to know that when Chase turned serious, the teasing was over. And she knew better than to ask who because Chase took her confidences to heart and kept them there.
But Chase's words had caused questions of another kind to run rampant through Ty's mind things that had been niggling at her for quite some time now and with Chase's confirmation that Hans was not the object of her affections, she decided to give the questions voice.
"Does that bother you?"
Chase blinked water out of her eyes and blew it away from her lips. Then she turned her head and looked at Ty with confused eyes as she scrubbed her hair with savage satisfaction. "What?" she asked as she backed into the spray to rinse the soap.
Ty bit the bullet. "The fact that there is no one special in your life. I mean," she continued hastily when she saw the storm clods gathering in eyes that were rapidly going from green to gray. "I know you have responsibilities we all do. I know yours are a lot greater than the rest of us cause you got stuck leading this ragtag group of misfits, and I can't tell you what a difference that has made to the rebellion. I mean... it seems like we will actually finally defeat those damn Nazi bastards once and for all. But Chase, it has changed you so much."
"How could it not, Ty? So much depends on me and the decisions I make. Every time I make a bad judgment call, people die." She turned back to the water and jerked the knobs into the off position, reaching for the towel she had draped over the stall wall. "Hell, even when I make the right decision, people die. I know what those bastards are capable of and if we don't win...." She broke off, not wanting to hear herself speak her doubts aloud not even to the woman who had been her best friend growing up.
Ty smiled, her expression full of confidence. "We will win, Chase, but then what? Things will change when the war is finally over, and we're gonna have to discover a new form of normality. But since you were captured, since you assumed command of the rebellion, you haven't let anyone get close to you. Don't you remember all the fun we used to have sneaking out after curfew to steal a few kisses or more from the other guys and girls in the camp? That's one reason I was kinda hoping about Hans, though I will admit to wondering about your taste on that one. I mean... don't get me wrong, he can be a nice guy and he is certainly cute enough, but God almighty I think he deliberately tries to step on every single nerve I've got some days."
Chase squeezed the water out of her hair then roughly ran the towel through it then proceeded to do the same haphazardly over her body before wrapping it around her and moving over to stand beside Ty. Ty looked up at Chase at the exact minute that Chase smiled down at her.
"Don't you ever get lonely, cousin?"
Chase's smile become melancholy and she shrugged as she dropped the towel and started dressing. Ty spared a moment's appreciation for the beautiful form of Chase's body, then returned her attention to their conversation.
"Don't you miss the companionship and camaraderie... hell, don't you miss the sex having someone in your life will give you? I mean really, Chase... seriously knowing yourself is all well and good but it can't replace the warmth of another human being in your arms and in your bed."
Chase chuckled... she had to. She knew the words were sparked mostly by concern and only a little by curiosity, but it just wasn't the sort of conversation she'd expected to be having with anyone, even Ty.
Especially not after the events of the past few days. There was something there something teasing her at the back of her mind that was familiar. And she still wasn't completely convinced now that the whole Amazon experience hadn't been a dream. Worse, she wasn't sure she wanted it to be. Something about the whole thing had been comforting and at the same time, unnerving. She shook herself from her daze to find Ty's curious eyes on her.
"Sorry, I was just thinking about what you said." Chases tucked her t-shirt into her pants and fastened them before dropping onto the seat and pulling on her socks. "In some ways you're absolutely right, Ty. Things will change when we win and normal will mean more than fighting and planning and strategizing. But I'm gonna have to adjust to that when it happens. I can't afford the distraction that being in a relationship would cost... me and the rest of the team. Too much depends on me, and until that changes...." She let her words trail off and picked up her boots.
"Do I miss it?" she continued as she laced up her boots carefully. "Sometimes, but I think I actually miss the thought of what could be more than the reality of what is."
"You lost me."
Chase stood and stomped her boots into place before gathering her dirty clothes and wrapping them up in her wet towel. She looked at the door abstractedly for several long minutes before turning her head back towards Ty.
"I want more than an occasional roll in the hay or someone to eat dinner with once in a while. I want it to mean something."
"You think it wouldn't?"
"I know it wouldn't, Ty. Not with anyone here. Don't get me wrong... folks here are great and I do love them, especially the gang, but no one touches my soul, Ty. And I'm not willing to be distracted for less than that."
Ty wrapped and arm around Chase's shoulders and was gratified to feel the touch returned around her waist. They headed out the door and both blinked rapidly when the bright sunlight momentarily stunned them.
"Well, I gotta tell ya, cuz, I for one hope I am there to see it when it finally does happen. 'Cause I got a feeling when you fall, you're gonna be down for the count."
Chase laughed with Ty though there was a sadness in her eyes that her cousin completely missed. "Never happen, Ty. It'll never happen."
Ty smirked. "I've got good currency says differently. You confidant enough to bet on it?"
"It'll be like taking candy from a baby."
Whatever response Ty might have made was lost in the rumble that sounded loudly from the vicinity of Chase's stomach. The two women looked at one another and burst into laughter. "C'mon," Ty urged, letting her arm fall from Chase's shoulders to catch her hand instead. "Let's get you fed before the Nazis find us just on the basis of your setting off the Richter scale."
For answer, Chase jumped on Ty's back and proceeded to treat her like a horse. Their rambunctious play brought out the rest of the team to simply laugh at their antics, pleased beyond reason to see a momentary return to the Chase they had known before adulthood forced responsibilities on them they didn't necessarily want.
Ty reached Chase's hut and they entered, then she returned a moment later dusting her hands off and grinning like a Cheshire cat.
Shep laughed again as he and the rest of the crew moved to intercept Ty on the short walk to the conference room, only to hear the roar as Chase rushed out the door and landed on Ty's back once more. They actually winced as they heard the air rush out of Ty's lungs, but Ty was long used to Chase's games and had missed them terribly. She had a passing thought to wonder what had happened in the week she'd gone missing to suddenly inspire the bout of playfulness. But she relished it and leaned over obligingly, flipping Chase over her head and onto the ground.
Chase winced as the landing rattled through her body, sending a residual ache into the spots that were still not fully healed. She popped Ty in the arm, then accepted the plate of chow Hans had collected for her and they made their way into the conference room to catch up on what had happened between them during the week they had been apart.
But in the back of Chase's mind, Ty's words hovered, and she wondered if she would ever find what she was searching for, or if she was destined to be alone for the rest of her life.
Diana finally gave up sleeping and rose from her bed to stand at the window and watch the moon set. She clutched the pillow she still held to her, letting the scent soothe the ache in her soul as nothing short of Chase's physical presence could have done.
She let her mind drift back over her brief conversation with Drea. She wondered at the conviction in the healer's voice. No matter her relationship to Hippolyta, Drea had never lied to Diana. BUT....
But, Diana's memories were painfully clear. She *knew* what she remembered, and what she remembered was shame and humiliation and walking the gauntlet of those she had once called family. Her insides hurt with a gut wrenching intensity as she allowed the memories to flow over her once again, and she held the pillow to her more tightly.
Diana slowed her breathing, imagining the feel of Chase in her arms and allowing that sensation to calm her raging spirit. A part of her mind had the sense to wonder how an imaginary person could cause such a literal reaction, especially one whom she had only had the briefest real contact with, but a larger part of her simply accepted the response. Chase was real, even if that reality wasn't in Diana's arms at the moment. That would change soon enough, she hoped, but first she had to find some answers here. Then she would go seek that which her soul assured her was hers for the claiming.
She wondered about trusting her own judgment on this soulmate aspect particularly Diana was honest enough to admit to herself that her track record was somewhat lacking in this department... whether it fall into the romance, love or bonding category. But at the same time, she couldn't deny the familiarity she'd felt the first time she'd seen Chase in the hospice, beyond anything she'd ever dreamed of with Steve Trevor. There was a resonance there that just....
Diana scrubbed at her eyes furiously. All the crazy thinking was making her antsy and giving her a headache to boot. She padded back over to the bed and placed the pillow reverently on hers before resuming her place back at the window. Then she knelt with her hands on her thighs and simply rested.
She watched the moon slide beneath the horizon just as the sun peeked over the other side. Then she closed her eyes and forced her breathing to slow once more, intent on centering herself before beginning her day. There were too many important decisions to make to allow the chaos her mind had suddenly become to make those choices without an effort at centering herself.
She called on the warrior discipline that had always come so easily to her, and was able to put the ache in her soul back into focus, making it more of a background noise than the screaming demand it had been. She let things flow past her reality, acknowledging that she might need some help this time if she was to find Chase and succeed at becoming part of her world. This was too important to risk screwing up for her pride.
Decision made, she rose and went to shower, determined to get the information she needed as quickly as possible ready to begin her life again.
She was hit with a centuries old familiar scent when she crossed the threshold into the temple, and for a moment, Diana simply closed her eyes and breathed it in. Something had changed for her in deciding to move forward with her life once more, and for the first time in a century and more, Diana was able to relive the happy times in her life and appreciate all the memories she had that were wrapped up in the place she now stood.
Mala stood in a back corner merely observing, watching the nuances in Diana's face change as she absorbed the temple atmosphere into her soul. She could sense a peace long absent from Diana present within her again, and she stood in silence allowing Diana that peace.
Eventually Diana's eyes fluttered open and she padded silently into the temple, looking around it with familiar eyes. There was no warmth associated with this place any longer, but at least the contempt that had been there for so long was missing.
For her part, Diana sat down on a bench about halfway into the sanctuary and let her eyes roam across the various statues and artifacts that adorned the room. She hesitated, startled when they reached the shelving that held the neatly stacked scrolls. It wasn't readily apparent, but her long acquaintanceship with the material allowed her sharp eyes to catch the difference as soon as they passed over the parchments.
Slowly she stood and walked to the front, stopping only when she reached the shelf in question. The dark head cocked to one side and reached up and removed the new scroll from its place. Diana opened it up and scanned it, then crumpled it in her hands before she moved to sit on the front bench across from the altar.
For a long time she sat still allowing the memories from the day that still haunted her days and nights to wash over her with startling clarity. When they had run their course, she returned her eyes to the parchment and began to read the words written their, allowing their meaning to soak in. Then she sat lost in thought, before reading it through a second time.
The differences in her memories and what was written were astounding, and though what was written was bad, it wasn't nearly as vindictive and hateful as her own recollections were.
Hippolyta was embarrassed by Diana's obvious lack of respect from her by her willful disobedience, and in her fury lashed out at the princess. Diana's eyes grew cold and distant even as she tried to defend her actions, but the queen would have none of it. In her anger, she treated Diana like a child, confining her to the palace under guard for the duration. And like that scorned child, Diana retaliated in a way she knew would further fuel her mother's rage.
She was extremely careful not to kill any of the guards who were assigned to keep her a prisoner, but she made sure both they and her mother understood that she was a force to be reckoned with not a child to be trifled with or placated. It was a point well-taken when Hippolyta saw the condition of her guards and read the note left behind by her headstrong, frustrating daughter, and it was then that Hippolyta began to question her actions.
The queen went to Drea, seeking reassurance that she had been right, only to find that the healer, *her consort* completely disagreed with her handling of their daughter. Though she couldn't fault Drea for believing the way she did, it hurt to know she had lost her unqualified support. Rarely had they disagreed about Diana, and never to this degree.
Hippolyta went to the temple, hoping to find solace there, only to discover that the goddesses had forsaken her and Mala wasn't particularly pleased with her performance either. So she hardened her heart against Diana, blaming her for the troubles that had arisen from the whole situation - refusing to admit her wrong and unwilling to discuss the situation with anyone.
Her actions and attitude caused a split among the Amazon Nation in the months that followed and she was nearly removed from office. Then the unthinkable happened Diana was brought home by Orana... body broken and spirit crushed with nothing but hatred and contempt left in her heart.
Hippolyta tried to put her issues aside, but Diana's obvious disdain of her only entrenched her own hurt and anger more firmly, and soon both Drea and Mala insisted that the queen stay away from the princess to allow Diana to physically heal and recover from her ordeal.
It was touch and go for a while. Fever racked Diana's body and yet she remained silent in her misery. Drea and Mala both spoke to her, hoping to encourage some sort of reaction but all they got for their trouble was silence, though it was not the contempt-filled one that Diana presented on the rare occasion Hippolyta would venture into the room.
Eventually Hippolyta stopped trying and finally Drea released Diana from the hospice with supervised care. That lasted one entire day before the Amazon who had been given the assignment left and refused to return. Several more tried, and each of them failed within less than a day, the last only managing to last a single hour before she ran out of the room.
From that day, Diana was left to her own devices. No one outside the council attempted to talk to her or include her in anything again, and Hippolyta's handling of the entire situation was put aside as the Nation turned its attention to new challenges.
Diana closed her eyes when she reached the end of the scroll. The written words were so different from her memories, and yet there was a familiarity to them that rang true to her mind. Something was wrong there shouldn't be such discrepancies between the two accountings.
She felt Drea's presence a bare instant before she smelled the light floral scent Diana had long associated with the healer. Drea took a seat but didn't say anything and the two of them sat in silence for sometime before Diana slowly opened her eyes.
She felt Drea's eyes on her, but kept her focus towards the altar. The healer covered Diana's hand, and though the princess did not respond, she did not pull away either and Drea took encouragement from that. They sat that way for a little while before Drea drew a deep breath to speak.
"I know what you read and what you remember are completely different accounts of events. But I swear to you, what you read is the truth. Diana, I have never lied to you, and I wouldn't pick now to start. I know...." Here Drea blew out a breath and dropped her chin to her chest in shame. "I know you've been treated unfairly by everyone here, including me, but gods, I didn't seem to know how to reach you anymore. No one did. When you came back from man's world, you were changed... so different and cut off from everyone and everything. And every gesture was rebuffed until it was just easier to stop trying. I'm sorry for that. I should never have given up on you, or let you give up like that on yourself. I'll never, ever forgive myself for that. You deserved better."
It was quiet for a few minutes while Drea gathered her thoughts and Diana was content to maintain the silence. She was impressed by Drea's sincerity, and yet there were those pesky memories reminding her once again that what Drea was saying did not coincide with what really happened. So she waited patiently, knowing that Drea had more to say and finding strange comfort in the fact that the healer had maintained tactile contact with her.
"If you will give me the chance, I can show you what really happened. I can show you how Orana manipulated your memories to protect herself."
For the first time, Diana showed a bit of emotion, turning her head and cocking an eyebrow in Drea's direction.
Drea sighed and answered the unspoken question. "Everything. She has everything to do with this."
Diana waited for Drea to continue, and when she didn't, Diana grasped her chin firmly but gently and urged the brown eyes up to meet her blue. What she saw in those dark depths pain, shame and regret - made her bite the inside of her lip. But her face remained stoic and she gazed at Drea seriously.
The words were whispered, but carried the forcefulness of Diana's formidable personality behind it. Drea swallowed and nodded, then she rose and extended her hand down to Diana. "Come. It will be easier to show you."
Diana hesitated a moment, then accepted the extended hand and stood. Then the two made their way out of the temple, and Mala fell into step behind them.
There was a distinct silence across the courtyard as they left the temple grounds and moved into the palace, but for a change it seemed less foreboding. Instead it seemed filled with expectancy at least that was the feeling Diana got subconsciously. Consciously, she was only aware of her hand in Drea's being take to the laboratory... the inside of which she had not set foot into in a hundred years.
Paula straightened upon their entrance, then drew a deep breath and moved to stand in front of her princess. "Hello, Diana," she said quietly. "It's good to see you back here again."
Diana nodded her head, but didn't say anything. She held Paula's eyes, liking what she found and nodding again. Then she looked around the room, anxiously taking in the new experiments and inventions Paula had scattered about. Many were things they had been working on together that had yet to see completion. Diana turned questioning eyes towards the scientist, and Paula blushed faintly before her eyes dropped to the floor and she shrugged.
"I was waiting for you to come back," Paula said softly.
Dian's expression never wavered, but Drea felt her breathing hitch. She wondered again how they could have let themselves grow so far apart. She squeezed Diana's hand lightly in a show of support. Unexpectedly, Diana pulled away from her and put both hands on Paula's shoulders. The scientist looked up, startled. Even before all the unpleasantness, Diana had never been a very tactile person, and this was just unheard of.
"I'm sorry," Diana whispered, but Paula heard her and a huge smile crossed her face. She reached up and covered one of Diana's hands with her own, patting it lightly before letting it drop.
"No worries, my friend. It is good to have you back again."
Diana smiled tremulously and turned back towards Drea. The healer gave her own watery smile and reached out a hand. "Come. First I want you to read the accounts that Paula found. They are the actual records that were made by Orana and Steve Trevor during the time that you were away from Paradise Island. Once you have seen those, if you are still interested, we can... well, there are several options. It will depend on what you want to do then."
Diana nodded and followed Drea to her old work station. Everything remained neat and tidy, just like she had left it, and it was apparent that Paula had made an effort to keep it clean the way she knew Diana liked it. Diana especially appreciated that, as Paula's own work area looked like something a tornado had swept through.
Diana sat down at her computer and scanned her handprint into the database. The computer actually hesitated as if in thought before it responded to her identity. "Welcome back, Diana. It has been eight hundred eighty-five thousand, seven hundred and sixty-eight hours and twenty-three minutes since your last log-in. How may I be of service today?"
Diana blinked, unsure what to say. She looked up at Drea in confusion. The healer's forehead creased in thought.
"I didn't think this out very well," she said, running a hand across her furrowed brow. "Maybe we should let Paula move the reports to one of the other...."
"No," Paula cut in. "Diana can type in her access code and open a link between us. I can transfer the files to her directly."
Drea nodded. She knew no one else, not even Paula, had been able to breach the encryption locks Diana had encoded into her machine. And so far, the princess had not spoken above a whisper, as though it pained her greatly to make the effort, so voice command was out.
Diana pulled the keyboard from the desk and slid it towards her, a little hesitant on the keys at first. Then she gradually picked up speed until her fingers were fairly flying across the board. Then she pushed back slightly and waited.
"Command complete. Access granted. Pathway is open and ready for file transfer."
Paula acknowledged by pushing a button on her computer. Seconds later the transfer was complete and Drea set a pitcher of chilled water next to Diana.
"We are going to leave you to read in privacy, Diana. We will be in Paula's office when you are done."
Diana held Drea's eyes for a long moment, searching for answers. Finally she nodded and whispered, "Thank you." Then Drea and Paula went to wait with Mala, and Diana turned back to the screen to face whatever new secrets awaited her there.
They didn't pretend to work, though Paula did sit at her desk. Drea crossed to the window and stared out unseeingly, hoping, believing they had done the right thing for Diana. Mala drifted over to the small couch and sat, turning her gaze inward as she prepared herself for the next step.
Hours passed in silence. Hippolyta looked in on them once but the awkwardness of the atmosphere made her leave shortly after her arrival. It was apparent to her and to them that things would go better with Diana if she wasn't present. At least until Diana knew the truth, there was very little hope of her forgiving her mother.
Finally, the silence wore on Drea enough that she ventured a peek inside the lab, and what she found was... unexpected.
Diana sat completely still, her eyes unfocused and her monitor dark. Drea walked further in the room, wondering if Diana was even aware of her presence she sat so unmoving. Even her breathing was unnoticeable. When Drea was less than an arms' length from Diana's position, the chair whirled around and piercing blue eyes bored into her brown ones.
"Where did you find this?" Diana asked in a sharp, precise whisper.
"Paula went looking."
Drea ran a hand through her tidy hair, mussing it up considerably in her agitation. "When Chase crashed here, it brought up all kinds of questions, especially when we noted the similarities between her and...."
"And Steve Trevor," Diana continued flatly.
"Yes," Drea agreed shakily. "And it made us curious. So Paula went looking, and the things she found.... Diana, I can't say it enough, but I am so sorry. This never...." She stopped speaking when Diana held up her hand.
"It is done and over, Drea, and no amount of sorry will change it or make it go away. What else?" motioning towards her monitor.
"I'm not sure I understand the question."
"You claim you found out what happened to me. You mean to tell me you didn't find out about her?"
Drea blew out a breath. She had hoped to avoid this particular subject. "Yes, we did," she admitted reluctantly, "but...."
Drea hesitated, but the fierce determination in Diana's eyes made her nod her head. "Paula?" she called out softly. The scientist poked her head out the office door almost immediately as though she had been waiting for the summons. Without a word she walked back to her console and uploaded the files she had gathered on Chase. Then she did something unexpected. Once the process was underway, she walked up behind the princess and placed her hands on Diana's shoulders. Then she brushed her lips over the dark hair and turned and walked out of the room.
Both Drea and Diana remained silent as the screen came alive again, then the healer repeated Paula's actions. "Call if you need me," she offered before disappearing behind the office doorway. Diana watched her out of sight, then turned back to the screen, eager to satisfy the niggling in her belly.
It was very easy to figure out when Diana finished reading Chase's file. The punching bag she kept in the lab to relieve the stress of experiments gone awry the same equipment that hadn't seen action in more than a century was suddenly pummeled with a flurry of punches. The sound echoed through the lab and into Paula's office and was greeted with almost a sense of relief.
Drea stepped out of the room followed closely by Mala. They watched in silence as Diana attacked the bag again and again, trying to exorcise the rage she felt coursing through her at her mother, at Orana, at herself, even at Chase, and certainly at the world at large. Fast and harder the blows fell until her legs and arms were a mere blur, and Drea and Mala settled themselves in to watch and wait for Diana to exhaust herself.
It took the better part of the afternoon, and when she fell, she was soaking wet from her exertion. Drea and Mala rose from the seats they had taken on the floor and carefully cradled Diana between them. Then they called for a travois and moved the princess to the hospice where she and Mala could be closely monitored while the priestess purged her mind of the lies Orana had planted.
It was very slow going. Mala had no desire to hurt Diana further, and the process could be extremely painful if it was mishandled. But by the time morning rolled around again, they were finished and both Mala and Drea dropped into a deep sleep. It remained to be seen what Diana's reaction to things would be, but in the meantime, she too lingered in the healing arms of a deep, restful sleep.
Hippolyta came in to sit with Diana for a while, dismissing Rina so she could talk to Diana privately. She felt fairly confident what Diana's reaction was going to be when she awakened, given what had happened when she'd learned the truth, and she craved the opportunity to be Diana's mother again without all the anger and hurt between them for just a little while. Hippolyta knew a time would come maybe sooner, maybe later that they would have to have truth between them. And that was going to cause both of them anguish and grief.
But for right now, for this moment, she could sit and talk to Diana and pretend everything was all right.
She didn't speak of anything important which flowers were blooming, the latest gossip on the love circuit, what was planned for dinner that evening. Trite, inane conversation, but she figured they had to start somewhere. Might as well try the easy stuff first. Finally Hippolyta ran out of words, and simply sat, gazing at the daughter she knew she had been unfair to and sorely missed. She reached up and brushed a lock of hair from Diana's face, and let her mind wander back to happier times.
She was taken completely by surprise when Diana awoke and moved instinctively away from her touch before settling back into sleep. Hippolyta rose and left without a word, holding in her grief until she reached the privacy of her chambers. Then she cried like her heart was broken.
Drea heard her distress and stumbled from the bed to gather the queen in her arms, and she held her until they both fell back into a deeper sleep, knowing that everything would change again when they awakened.
"So what have we got?" Chase asked as she placed the lukewarm, bitter coffee down on the table in front of her. She managed to hide her grimace, picking up her fork and shoveling some sort of bland, tasteless food in her mouth. She sighed silently and chewed by rote, knowing the only way to get rid of it was to eat it. But she couldn't help but compare it to the fresh, flavorful food she had supped on just days prior. She forced the thoughts from her mind, knowing where they would lead and completely unwilling to go there. She glanced around the table in annoyance when no one made a move to answer her question.
"Am I missing something critical here or did everyone suddenly go mute?" Chase snapped out harshly. Her injuries and experiences were suddenly weighing in her and she simply wanted the briefing to end so she could go lay down for a while.
Shep cleared his throat self-consciously, then met Chase's eyes. "We, uh... we were hoping you would tell us what happened to you. You were gone for what seemed like forever and we were, well, we were worried about you, Chase. Surely you could spare a few minutes to fill us in."
Chase set her fork down deliberately and leaned back in her chair. "Do you feel this is something I owe you?"
Shep blinked. He hadn't expected the hostility... none of them had. Until now, Chase had always been completely honest and open with them and so easy going that they had never hesitated to talk to her about anything. They wondered what had happened to make her so defensive.
"No, Chase, no! Not at all. We were just worried. I'm sorry. I...."
Chase scrubbed her hands through her hair and blew a breath out from between her lips. "No, Shep. I'm sorry. I am tired and achy and honestly, I don't remember that much to tell you. I was caught by surprise by a squadron of Nazis, but I nailed the bastards... every single one of them. After that... after that, it is pretty much a blur for me. Vague impressions at best... flashes of light and sound."
Shep held up his hands in surrender. "I'm sorry Chase. I forgot you've been going pretty much non-stop since we found you. How about we table the discussion until tomorrow and let you get some rest?"
"Can it wait?"
Shep looked around the table and then nodded at Chase. "Yeah. Another day or two isn't gonna make a lot of difference in our planning or our execution. We've got everything in place, and we will be ready to go within our scheduled window."
Chase mulled over his words and finally nodded. "Very well. If this can wait until tomorrow, I would like to adjourn and get some rest. Everything may be a little clearer then."
The group rose in one body at her words. Only Ty lagged behind, watching Chase carefully and accompanying her out the door.
"You all right there, cuz? You didn't seem so tired just a little while ago."
Case nodded her head even as she rubbed the back of her neck. "Yeah. I just... it kind of hit me all of a sudden... like the adrenaline ran out or something."
Ty chuckled. "Well, that's possible, I suppose, given that was about all that was keeping you upright for days from the little bit we could gather. I was just hoping it wasn't something I said," Ty continued as they reached the doorway of Chase's hut.
"Huh?" Chase replied dumbly. "Oh no... I am just exhausted. Might help if I knew what happened to me while I was missing," she lied, "but I don't think I am ever gonna get the truth behind that."
Ty shrugged. "Well, whatever happened, you survived, and that is the most important part. The rest we can worry about later." She pushed Chase back onto the bed and covered her with a single blanket. "For now, get some rest, will ya? We need you at a hundred percent." She brushed the bangs out of Chase's eyes.
Chase clasped her hand and squeezed. "*I* need me at a hundred percent. There is too much riding on this... on me... for me to screw it up now."
Ty brought up her free hand and cupped Chase's face gently. "No worries, cuz. You have never, ever let us down. You get some rest and let us worry about the details for today. Tomorrow is soon enough for you to start sweating again."
Chase grinned. "Thanks, Ty. I just feel so out of sync all of a sudden."
Ty nodded. "Missing almost a week of your life could do that to ya, but you can't keep worrying about it Chase. All that will do is give you an ulcer."
Chase smirked. "I don't think I have had one of those yet. It would be something new to try."
"I don't think so," Ty answered with a swat to Chase's forehead. "It is the only thing I can claim for my own in this place. I refuse to share with you."
Chase burst out laughing. "You are so funny, Ty. I don't know what I'd do without you."
"That's okay... I'm not sure I'd know what to do without you either. So let's make a deal not to find out and just move things along, all right? I'll see about getting Mitch in her to do a reading on you... see if we can find that missing week and put your mind at ease."
"I'm good with that," Chase said as they shook on it. Then she closed her eyes. "What's for dinner?" she murmured.
"Dunno yet. Depends on who made up the menus. But if it's good I won't let you miss out."
Thanks," came the mumbled response before Ty heard Chase's breathing deepen and even out into sleep. She leaned forward and brushed a light kiss across Chase's forehead, then tucked the cover up under her chin. Then she exited the hut with a single, backwards glance.
"Count backwards from a hundred for me Chase."
"One hundred... ninety-nine... ninety-eight... nine-y-sev...."
Mitch waited patiently until he heard Chase sigh in deep contentment before he spoke again. "Chase, do you know who this is?"
"Oh sure," she drawled. "You're muh good buddy, Mitch."
"That's right, Chase. And I'm gonna take you back in time to see if we can find out what happened to you while you were missing, all right?"
"Sure Mitch. You're muh good buddy. You won't let them damn Nazi bastards hurt me this time, will ya?"
He looked at the others and cleared his throat. "I'll do my best to watch your back, Chase, but I need to know what happened while you were all alone out there." He paused then continued. "You went down in Devil's Triangle. Do you remember?"
"Oh yeah. Damn Nazi bastards. Five of 'em. Came outta nowhere. Shot me outta the damn sky, but not 'fore I got them first," she said with a lazy grin.
"Good for you, Ace. We'll add them to your new plane, all right?"
"Nifty, Mitch! Hans is gonna bitch at me about having to repaint all those flags, though."
Hans flushed but joined in the laughter that went around the room. Mitch patted Chase's hand. "Don't worry about it, Chase. We'll all pitch in and he'll get over it."
"Good," she said with a smile, turning over and snuggling more into her pillow.
"Chase, tell me what happened after you shot down the Nazis. You crashed your plane...."
"I crashed into the last man and I ejected. Then I... I think I hit the canopy. It got real dark."
"Did you fall into the water?"
"Dunno." She managed a shrug. "Next thing I remember was waking up when Shep came to get me."
"That's it? You don't know how you got to the island?"
"Nope. Didn't I float there?"
There was silence. No one had ever failed to tell the truth under hypnosis, though this was the first time Chase had agreed to allow a session to be performed on her. Heretofore, she had kept her own secrets and her own council and the practice had served them all well. So now they were faced with the fact that either Chase could lie under hypnosis, nothing had happened to her worth remembering or she really had no memories to share. Given their understanding, they decided to accept that she had no real memories of her experience in Devil's Triangle.
"I guess you did, Chase. It certainly makes sense and would account for your missing week. Sun and dehydration could make it very hard to stay conscious to remember much of anything. Now why don't you get some rest? You want to be fresh in the morning."
"Yeah, cause Ty said I couldn't have an ulcer."
Mitch chuckled. "Did she? And why is that?"
"Cause that is all she has left around here to claim for her own. Doesn't want me horning in on her territory, I guess." She cuddled deeper into the pillow. "I think she is just being selfish." The entire room tittered.
"Probably," Mitch agreed, getting a slap on his arms from Ty for his troubles. "But don't worry about it. If you're meant to remember, you will, and if not, it doesn't matter. Put it behind you, Chase, and focus on the future."
"'Kay. C'n I go asleep now?"
"Thanks, Mitch. I hope that will help. I think it was bothering her, not knowing."
"Probably. Given her personality, she needed closure to be able to move on. I think knowing there's nothing there to remember will do that for her."
"Agreed. Thanks, Mitch."
For her part, Chase fell into dreams of sunshine and a whispered voice and paradise itself. It would be a while before she wondered if her memories were really dreams.
"All right, people. What have we got?"
Hans put a hand on her shoulder and looked Chase in the eye. "Are you all right now? Do you feel better?"
Chase patted his hand and smiled, first at him and then around the entire room. "I'm good. Knowing that there really isn't anything there to remember helps a lot." In truth, she felt a bit of confusion, but for now, it was something she would have to live with. Maybe it had all been a figment of her imagination. However, for now there were far more important things for her to consider. Perhaps in time she would be able to figure out which of her memories were real and which were only figments of her imagination.
Each member of her team smiled back at Chase with relief in their eyes and she realized they had been as concerned about her inability to share as she had with her inability to remember. She was glad Mitch had been able to resolve that for all of them.
"Thanks, Mitch," she said, getting a hug in response.
"Anytime, boss. Now let's get back to business. We're about ready to launch our offensive and I think you're gonna like what we came up with the information you brought back. We think we have a really good chance of striking a killing blow with it."
"Yes," Shep agreed. "And even if we don't manage to topple the regime with it, we think it will signal the beginning of the end."
Chase felt the excitement running through them and couldn't help but catch their enthusiasm. "Well all right. Show me what we've got. The sooner we get this over with, the sooner I can take Ty's money from her."
"Uh oh," Jen commented. "What's the bet about this time?"
"Chase falling in love," Ty answered with a grin. "Who's in?"
"Oh, I am."
"I got it covered."
"<Ahem> Is anyone betting *with* me on this?"
"NO!!" came the resounding answer. Then the room burst out in laughter, including Chase. Then she slapped her hands on the table confidently and stood up.
"Very well, then. I'll take ALL your money, and we'll win the war besides!"
A cheer went up at the last pronouncement, and they settled down to serious work.
"So we're all set then right? We've covered all the contingencies, correct?" Chase was looking over all the paperwork her team leaders had given her, pleased with the amount of thought and effort they put into her original plans. They had expanded them until they had covered every foreseeable and unforeseeable event they could think of.
"We think so," Shep said honestly, "though I suppose there could always be something we've failed to consider."
"Well, I think ya'll did a damn fine job," Chase commented. "You thought of some possibilities even I didn't imagine."
Shep blinked. "I think that is probably the single scariest thing I have ever heard you say."
Chase stared at him as though he had grown two heads. "Excuse me?"
"Seriously, Chase. Given your penchant for wild, hair-brained ideas, I didn't think we could come up with anything you hadn't thought of first."
"Are you saying I'm nuts?"
Shep blanched and his eyes widened. Then he shook his head vehemently. "No, no. Uh uh. Not me. You didn't hear anything like that come out of my mouth."
"Funny... that is sure what it sounded like to me. What about you guys... hmm? Did it sound that way to you?"
"Yep, it sure did," Ty and Jan agreed simultaneously. Mitch and Hans just sat with their hands covering the mouths and hiding their laughter. Shep stood up and started inching his way towards the door. Chase just put her hands on the table and stood, leaning over and meeting Shep's eyes.
"I think you are in serious trouble, Shep. You want a head start or you wanna suffer your punishment now?"
He was out the door before Chase finished speaking. Chase looked around the room, her eyes twinkling as she met each of theirs, now all laughing out loud. Then she jumped the desk and darted out the door after him. They heard him squeal in the distance and it caused them to laugh even harder.
"Remind me again why we wanted her back?" Jen asked with a chuckle.
"Cause she provides the best entertainment around here, bar none," Ty answered seriously before cackling again as Shep squealed again and accused Chase of cheating to win. She would have said more except for the fact that Shep crashed into the room and tripped over his own chair, leaving him in perfect position for Chase when she pounced on his back.
"You're mine now, Shep. I'm going to tickle you til you beg for mercy."
"Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!" he screamed, hoping for a miracle. Chase laughed manically.
"You wish," she said as she curled her fingers and moved them in towards his ribs. Then without warning, she moved off of him and pushed out the door to intercept the radioman that was running to the conference room calling her name.
"Now what?" Hans asked. He had the distinct impression this was not going to be good news.
Continued in Part 5