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Please bear with me folks, these are long!

Copyright: Although the main characters in the following do bear a strong resemblance to a cute couple with whom we are all familiar, all the characters in this work of fiction are the product of my own imagination and are therefore copyright to me.

Music lyrics quoted: Please note - where I can determine the author, the individual is credited: "Get Together" sung by the Youngbloods; "White Rabbit" by Grace Slick, sung by The Jefferson Airplane; The Bubblegum Song (can't find this version on the Internet, so I'm going on memory); "One Tin Soldier," words and music by Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter, Copyright © 1969 by ABC / Dunhill Music, Inc. All lyrics are used without permission but with no intent to profit from their use. In the popular culture area, references are also made to The Honeymooners, Hogan's Heroes and Dead Again.

Love/Sex: This is a work of alternative or same/sex fiction. The love and sexual relationships involve consenting adult women. This story probably qualifies for an R rating. If reading this is illegal where you live, you are underage, or this isn't your preference, please read no further and find something more appropriate to your tastes and/or laws.

Author's note: Back when the world was young and WordPerfect was king of the wordprocessing programs - yes - that long ago - I sat down to write a murder mystery. It was more therapy than anything else to help me cope with the boss-from-HELL: I figured if couldn't kill him for real, I'd kill him on paper. Well, I discovered I couldn't do either, which didn't do a lot for my ego, not to mention my mental health. Years went by. I switched careers, became a non-fiction writer, and got lots and lots of practice writing, but not fiction. I even got a book published. But I still couldn't write fiction. I'd try every so often. As new WP versions came out I upgraded from WP4.1 to WP4.2 to WP5.1, but it didn't improve my fiction-writing ability. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Every fictional attempt I made stank, so I resigned myself to being a reasonably decent writer of non-fiction and forgot about it.

Then along came Xena, and shortly after, along came Xena fan fic. I resisted the impulse to read it for months, thinking - amateur writing? Oh Please! Then I tried it, and discovered that, as with many other things in life, I was wrong again. Up to that point, the public library had considered me a pretty good customer. After my exposure to fan fic I became a distant memory.

Well, recently I've discovered that reading fan fic has had an unusual result. Years of reading the good, the bad and the ugly has either adjusted my synapses, or fried my brain. Whatever the process, the end result seems to be that I can finally write fiction. I actually began to write the following with the express purpose of showing my sweetie, Anne, that I couldn't write fiction. And I surprised myself.

Content and setting: The setting is sometime in the future - roughly 50 years from now. I was more interested in presenting my take on trends (a proliferation of guns, a tendency to toughen legal punishments, the rise of religious fundamentalism) than I was in predicting specific developments. This is speculation, nothing more. I have purposely not named countries or cities, since I wanted it generic. Just think North America and you'll be in the right ballpark. Please don't take references to specific political positions and modes of execution as indicative of one country or another - they are not meant to be.

Please note that the many references to songs of the 1960s, and TV shows and films from the last half of the twentieth century have no significance - they are there simply for my entertainment.

Language: Some readers may find the occasional word offensive. They are there because I believe that, in the circumstances in which they are used, they are true to the characters speaking them.

Religion: The characters, may, at times express strong emotion by calling on the Goddess. I decided that in my version of the future, Goddess worship would be both powerful and widespread enough to offer an alternative to Christianity. Quinn and Ariel, the protagonists in this story, are not necessarily true believers, but being strong feminists they have picked up the expression through common usage.

Some people may become upset at how Christian religious fundamentalists are portrayed. If this offends you, I apologize, but I stand by the portrayal as my take on religious fundamentalism. I do not, for a moment, think that Jesus would approve of what often goes on in his name, and, in my opinion, the most heinous of those activities are carried on by the fundamentalist faction. If you think you would find this upsetting, please leave now.

Violence: For those opposed to judicial execution, a disturbing scene makes up part of the opening segment of the following story, and it's referred to briefly later. However, it's only a paragraph long, so if you'd rather skip it and further references to it, you can without losing anything of significance. If, on the other hand, you quit reading at that point, you'll miss all the juicy stuff with Quinn and Ariel

Names: I had this work half done when Jim began publishing his wonderful story "The Dancer" on the Merpups list. I thought about changing one of the protagonist's names but eventually decided against it - it took me quite a while pouring over baby books to find Ariel, damn it! And Jim has no problem with it.J

Acknowledgements: I want to acknowledge the legion of bards, particularly those who have written Uber Xena stories, who have provided me with tales to while away the hours. Neither they, nor I, were aware that they were also providing a clinic on how to write fan fic. I owe them all.

My most heartfelt thanks, however, goes to my beta readers - Holly, who pointed out things that just didn't seem to work, and made interesting observations about things of which I was unaware as I wrote, Jennifer, who made some telling observations that I am now keeping in mind as I write the sequel (yes, there is one) and Anne, who browbeat me into writing this in the first place, sent me interesting and very supportive commentary throughout, and generally acted as cheerleader, html expert and general muse. Thanks guys - this is for you. Any errors, egregious leaps of logic or just bad writing that remain are my fault and no one else's.

Helen Smith,( September, 2000

Hunting Season

Somewhere in the Eastern half of North America, 2050

Chapter 1

Quinn checked herself in the mirror beside the front door. "Lookin' good" she told her tall, dark-haired reflection. "Lessee now. Keys, Yup. Wallet. Uh huh. Gun."

She reached through the slit in the pocket of her leather coat, pulled the Glock from its quick release holster on her thigh, checked the load. Satisfied, she returned it to its home. One last look in the mirror and she was ready.

Neighbourhood kid, pretending to take a bead on her as she slipped through the outer door, almost got his head blown off, but she suppressed her reaction just in time. Damn gun laws. Everybody carried guns nowadays it seemed, even infants. Of course, if you believed the politicians, it was their GAWD-GIVEN right.

A Sulu Nebula Mark 5 sat at the curb. Quinn wasted no time jumping in and issuing instructions. "Ariel's, best possible speed." The car's computer-generated voice responded, with a faint Japanese accent, "1420 Rochester, by way of" There was a brief pause as the silicon brain consulted Traffic Master Control "The Michael Callaghan Parkway."

"Just drive, Asshole!"

The first generation of voice activated cars, confused by the words accompanying "drive," would have announced, in a sing-song fashion, "I'm sorry, I do not understand that command." The hundreds of times that vehicles had been severely damaged by high calibre rounds pumped into their dashboards, not to mention the 15 instances when car sellers themselves had borne the brunt of customers' ire, convinced the designer geeks they should vastly increase the car's vocabulary; the Mark 5 was quite conversant with several four letter words. And also "you mother."

The car pulled away from the curb and Quinn got comfortable, then flipped on the info feed. A digitized, manipulated image of a long-dead Canadian singer flashed by, extolling Elegance™, a vibrator for the modern woman. Remembering that she'd also seen the singer's image used to promote Soybeef™ Quinn reflected that the two products were likely more consistent with the woman's life than some of the other things she'd seen dead celebrities promote. The commercial ended and a grim-looking, trenchcoat-wearing news anchor appeared, backed by a temporary scaffold, outlined in red, white and blue bunting, with the city skyline in the distance.

"We're back with you live at the execution of Walter Jones for the brutal rape and murder of little, nine-year-old Amanda Sue Gibson. We're just waiting for the doctor to pronounce the prisoner dead. While we wait for that, let's run some tape from just a few moments ago."

The view abruptly cut to the scaffold, shot from a slightly elevated position, where a masked human sat strapped into a chair in the center of the platform. On the man's left, Quinn could see a group of guards and officials, one of them reading aloud from an open book. She saw no signal but suddenly the seated man arced against the chair's heavy leather straps. A few seconds later smoke rose from his leather-masked head. "Two jolts of 2640 volts, one minute each in duration, were administered" intoned the anchor "with a ten-second interval in between ..."

Quinn switched channels. "So that's why the Expressway is closed. Damn outdoor executions."

The Parkway route only added about 10 minutes to the ride and the Mark 5 was soon pulling onto Rochester. Quinn directed it to a parking spot across the street from Ariel's tall, narrow brownstone. After a quick check of her immediate surroundings she stepped from the vehicle, armed it and crossed the street, dodging an ancient Cadillac SUV on the way. Taking the steps to the door two at a time, she paused again to look around. Then, placing herself in front of the key pad to frustrate interested eyes, punched in Ariel's code.

Inside was cool, quiet, serene. The off white walls and oak paneling along with the colourful touches added by Ariel, combined to create a welcoming atmosphere. Quinn always found herself relaxing as she stepped through that door.

"Ariel." No answer. "Ariel?"

"Out here." Following the direction from which she'd heard the faint response, Quinn walked through the house to the back door. A previous owner had torn out the original opening and installed a sliding patio door leading onto a deck. Quinn could see Ariel sitting at her outside table, typing furiously on her laptop. The fingers ceased and one hand grasped Quinn's biceps as the dark-haired woman stepped through the door and bent to kiss her.

"Umm. That's nice. Do it again." The request was quickly complied with.

"Sorry I'm late."

"No problem. It gave me time to finish this chapter. Just have to send it to my editor then I'm all yours."

Quinn flashed her a sexy grin. "Never doubted it."

"Full of yourself, aren't you."

Quinn made a noncommittal sound, widened the grin and responded "Except when I'm full of you."

Ariel, who had been on her way inside the house, paused, stepped close, slid her arms tightly around Quinn's waist under the coat, and murmured provocatively "All in good time, Babe. All in good time." Before the taller woman could respond the honey blonde disengaged and left Quinn marveling, yet again, at how this woman could make her so wet so fast.

Ariel returned in five minutes to find Quinn lounging on the outdoor couch on which they'd often spent quality time.

"Ok, I'm ready."

"Ooh, so am I!" the dark-haired woman, enthused.

"That I don't doubt, but what I meant was, I'm ready for you to take me to dinner."


"Uh huh."

"C'mere a minute." Said with a growl.

Ariel smiled angelically, but stood her ground. "Quinn, honey," she purred, "feed me."

"We could order in."

"The last time I let you talk me into that, we never heard the door bell."

"Hey! It wasn't me doing the yelling"

"But you were most definitely the cause."

The grin returned. "Or you could cook. You're such a good cook."

"True, but I don't seem to get much cooking done when you're in this mood."

"Well, the apron distracts me."

Ariel snorted. "Uh huh. Considering that's all I was wearing last night, I remember your distraction well. Come on, let's go."

Quinn, realizing she wasn't going to get her way, bounced to her feet and made a quick grab for the shorter woman, just on general principles. She came up empty.

"Hah! Those self defense lessons you've been giving me really panned out," the honey blonde laughed, from a safe distance away. "Always be ready for the unexpected."

"My words have come back to haunt me," grumbled Quinn.

"Hey," responded Ariel, slipping an arm around the taller woman's waist, "if you behave, I'll let you catch me later."

"Promise?" asked Quinn as she enfolded the honey blonde.

"Yup. But only if you're good now."

"Oh, I'm not just good," the taller woman breathed, as her lips descended, "I'm the best."

A breathless Ariel eventually tore her mouth away. "Quinn"

"You're right, we better get going. Just look at the time," responded Quinn as she stepped back and sauntered up the hall, chuckling.

"Quinn" Ariel, paused to get herself under control.

"Paybacks, Ariel, Paybacks," laughed the dark-haired woman from the front door.

The restaurant was just a few blocks away, so they walked. Quinn slipped her left arm around Ariel's waist, which kept her right side clear in case she had to go for her gun. The restaurant was full when they got there so they went to the dimly lit bar to wait for a table. A couple of ceiling mounted info feeds kept them up to date on the latest news.

"Jones was pronounced dead at 6:10, Eastern Standard Time." The voice went on to describe last ditch legal maneuvers to save the condemned man as shots of the recently concluded execution were replayed. Abruptly, the screen switched to a man, holding a book, speaking at a microphone-laden podium. "Vengeance is MINE saith the LORD!" he intoned. "And vengeance HE has taken TODAY." The man paused, looked down, wiped the corner of his eye with a snowy white handkerchief, looked up and continued "And I know, I KNOW, that little Amanda Sue has looked down from her place at GAWD'S RIGHT HAND and has seen JUSTICE SERVED. PRAISE THE LORD. I SAY AGAIN, PRA-A-A-ISE THE LORD!"

The camera lingered on the man, who by now was holding the book high above his head, as the unseen anchor cut in: "That was fiery preacher Ephraim Mather speaking just moments ago from the Everlasting Temple of God On High about the execution of Walter Jones for the brutal rape and murder of Amanda Sue Gibson. In other news . . ."

"I thought that was Jesus' spot."

"What?" Ariel turned to look at Quinn.

"I said, I thought at god's right hand was Jesus' spot. Then again, maybe he got up to go to the can or something and she sat down to keep it warm for him." Quinn picked up her dark ale and took a sip.

Ariel raised an eyebrow but didn't comment on her lover's heresy, saying instead "I have to say, if I were Amanda's parents I..." She paused, then shook her head, "I'd feel as if that person had just..." She paused again while searching for words.

"Tell me about it," murmured Quinn, as she gave her lover's hand a quick sympathetic squeeze then reached for some chips. "That shit head will probably get a ton of donations out of that, and he didn't even have to pay for the air time. The rich get rich and the stupid help 'em do it."

"Amen, sister."

Quinn grinned. "Ok, Ok. I'll get off my soap box, now." She offered the chips to Ariel. "Hey, I thought you were hungry. Have some."

Ariel grinned, accepted the bowl and proceeded to finish it. They chatted about inconsequentials until their table was ready.

Quinn checked outside then held the door for her lover. The streetlights hadn't yet come on and the dark-haired woman was especially vigilant at this time of the evening. She once had to shoot a mugger on the way back to Ariel's and she wasn't anxious to have that happen again. Too damn much paperwork! It wouldn't get her out of the mood but it would sure put a damper on the evening from Ariel's point of view, and that was not to be contemplated.

Although a single gunshot ringing out in the distance caused them to pause for a moment as they turned up Ariel's street, they reached the house and entered without incident.

"C'mere." Quinn found herself, back pressed to the door, with an armful of sweet smelling, aggressive, honey blonde.

"Ummm-m--ah! What got your engines revved?" gasped Quinn, holding off the voracious woman while she caught her breath.

"You. And dinner, of course." Ariel smiled, while she slid her hands under Quinn's leather coat. "Take this off" she growled.

Not sure whether her lover meant her coat or her shirt Quinn shed the coat immediately and started in on the buttons of the shirt.

"Oh, damn," said the honey blonde. "I'll just go take care of locking up the back. Be right back." They had dropped the bar lock for the patio door into place before leaving for the restaurant but had neglected to slide across and lock the inner, metallic, blast proof doors. It would be a very agile burglar who could scale the 12-foot walls topped by razor wire that enclosed Ariel's back yard, but why take chances?

"Now where were we? Oh yeah. You were getting naked." The honey blonde stepped in again and slid her arms around Quinn's bare torso. She loved the feel of hard muscles under the silky skin of Quinn's back. Come to think of it, she loved the different textures, the combination of hard and soft all over her lover's body. "Hey," she said, indicating the jeans that still clung to Quinn's hips. "Why are these still on?"

"Well, I didn't know where we were going to continue this, and with this," gesturing at the holstered gun strapped to one long, luscious thigh, "I thought I'd wait."

"Ah, good point. Hmmm." Ariel glanced around as if in deep thought. "On the couch? On the kitchen table? On my desk?"

Strong arms encircled her and she found herself sandwiched between unyielding wall and warm bronze skin while a voice close to her ear chuckled "Against the wall? On the floor? In the shower? On the bed?"

"Ah! The bed!" beamed Ariel. "Good choice!"

A sardonic eyebrow lifted, then Quinn released her and stepped back, making a small bow and gesturing to the stairs. "Lead the way."

Ariel started up the stairs while Quinn paused at the foot, admiring the view.

"Quinn." Ariel didn't look back as she continued to climb the stairs.

"Uh huh?"

"Quit looking at my ass and get yours up here!"

"Found out," muttered the taller woman as she started up the stairs after her lover.

"Found out, nothing. More like know-you-too-well."

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