Tarp's eyes scanned the control panels in front of her, all the displays were dark their power links diverted to the Lieutenant's tasar. Tarp really didn't mind flying back to Command with her tasar locked firmly in the grasp of Lieutenant Splekand's control. She leaned back in the pilot seat, pleased that she could spend the time concentrating on her impending reunion with her brother and not on flying the tasar. She smiled at the sound of soft snoring coming from the gunner's seat, glad that Terri was using the time to make up for their lack of sleep.
The women had spent the preceding night snuggling and talking. By dawn they had both decided that they wanted to return to Command and find out why Tarp's brother was so interested in the relics they had uncovered. As soon as they finished their morning meal, Tarp, accompanied by Terri, sought out Lieutenant Splekand and surrendered to her. Fortunately for them, the lieutenant was forced to allow the captain to fly back to Command in her own tasar as the small crafts were not designed to carry passengers and waiting for a prisoner transport to be sent from Command would take longer than the lieutenant was willing to wait.
Tarp turned her head to look out the side of the cockpit where she could see the lieutenant's tasar closely paralleling her left wing. Without looking, she knew the other tasar would be flying an equal distance off her right wing. "Not taking any chances, are you Lieutenant?" she chuckled, quietly. Rolling her head back so she could look forward again, Tarp let her mind drift as she watched the clouds passing overhead. It wasn't long before the exhausted woman had been lulled into a deep sleep.
Tarp was startled awake by something but her groggy mind was slower in reacting than her body. "Uh, what?" she bolted upright in her seat. "What's wrong?"
"Its okay, Midge, the Lieutenant just radioed that we would be landing at Command soon. You must have been sleeping," she smiled, her confused lover still struggling to fully wake up.
"Sleeping," Tarp grumbled, rubbing her eyes with balled fists. "I feel like I just came back from the dead."
"I guess that will teach us to stay up all night," Terri laughed.
"Oh, I don't know," Tarp said, shaking her head to clear the last vestiges of sleep. "I can think of a few good reasons to stay up all night but talking isn't one of them."
"I'm sure you can. Are you awake now?"
"Yes, I think so. What did you say happened?"
"You must have really been asleep," Terri laughed again before answering. "We are almost at Command. The Lieutenant was just letting us know."
Terri leaned forward to clasp her lover's shoulder. "Are you alright with this?" she asked, knowing the captain was not looking forward to seeing her brother again.
"As alright as I can be," Tarp reached up to place her hand atop Terri's, entwining their fingers. "The sooner I get this over with, the sooner we can get on with our lives. I just wish we weren't in the middle of this war. Who knows how much longer it could last. And as long as it's going on, I won't be able to join you on the Islands."
"So you still want to do that?" Terri asked nervously. After their talk the evening before, she had begun to wonder if the Mainlander was having doubts about a future together.
"Very much so," Tarp squeezed Terri's hand. "I thought about what you said yesterday and I know it's going to take some adjusting on my part. But if it means we'll be together, that's enough for me. I'm sure I can find some way to make a contribution to the village."
"I'll help however I can," Terri silently let out a sigh of relief. The thought of growing old without Tarp by her side wasn't very pleasant and she was glad she could wipe it out of her mind.
"We're about to set down," Tarp let go of the sergeant's hand so she could lean forward and watch the activity on the ground. "Looks like Mica has sent us a welcoming committee," she sneered at the number of armed guards waiting beside the landing pods.
"Please don't do anything rash," Terri urged, remembering the captain's actions during their last visit to Command. "At least, not until we know why he wants to know about the relics and what he intends to do about you."
"I have no idea about the first but I bet I can guess when it comes to the second."
"Midge," Terri's voice held a hint of warning.
"I'll behave," Tarp assured the sergeant. "But only as long as he does."
Terri was prevented from responding by the cockpit opening and four guards aiming their laser rifles at the captain.
"Don't give us any trouble," one of the guards ordered.
"We have no intention of doing that," Tarp snarled at the guards. "But if you do anything to harm Advisor Arhina, I'll give you more trouble than you know how to deal with."
"We were warned you could be feisty," the guard smirked. "Look, I'm just following orders to make sure you both get to the Commander's office, post haste. You climb out of that bird and walk over to there," he nodded towards a three-story building, "and we'll get along just fine. I won't even put binding locks on you if you promise to behave."
"I promise," Tarp said immediately, not wanting Terri to have to wear the ghastly restraints.
"Good," the guard smiled. "Get down, boys," he ordered the other guards standing beside the cockpit, "give these ladies some room. Shall we?" he asked, when the wings were empty of guards except for himself.
Tarp stood, taking a heartbeat to stretch her cramped legs and back before stepping out of the cockpit. By the time she turned to help Terri out onto the wing, the sergeant was already standing next to her.
"Tasars aren't built for someone as long as me," Terri said to the surprised captain. "I needed to unwind my body."
"Come on, Stretch," Tarp smirked as she stepped to the edge of the wing. Taking no chances this time, she did a half turn as she dropped to the ground, landing in the perfect position to help Terri off the wing.
"Thank you, Captain," Terri smiled when Tarp set her gently on the ground.
"My pleasure, Sergeant," Tarp smiled back.
"Okay," the guard grunted, his boots thudding on the landing pad. "We've kept the Commander waiting long enough. Let's go. Oh, and Captain," he turned to face Tarp, "try anything and I'll use this," he held his laser rifle up in one hand. "As will they," he waved his other hand around in a haphazard arc at the other guards.
"You're coming in loud and clear, soldier," Tarp replied, her lips pulled tight into a humorless smile.
"Good," the guard nodded, "let's go."
The walk from the tasar to the Command building was completed in record time as both Terri and Tarp walked as rapidly as they could, their guards struggling to keep pace. They were greeted at the front door by the general's second-in-command, the colonel that had escorted them through the building on their earlier visit, and led up the stairs. When the colonel began to lead them down the second floor hallway, the women were confused by the man's action.
"I thought we were being taken to the Commander," Tarp asked, aware that her brother's office occupied most of the third floor of the building.
"You are," the colonel said as he walked. "General Midd is waiting for you in the map room."
Shrugging, Tarp looked at Terri, who held up her hands, palms up, in ‘who knows' gesture.
"I don't suppose you'd like to fill us in on just why it is the General is so interested in the relics we found," Tarp asked the colonel.
"Wish I could," the colonel looked apologetically back over his shoulder at the women. He had always found the commander's attitude towards the captain to be more than a little disturbing and he didn't think answering her question could do any harm. "But I'm just as in the dark about all this as you are. All I can say is that he's been really agitated every since he found out you found something out there. Spends almost all his time in the map room, don't know what he's looking at or for," the man told the women as he stopped in front of a worn, wooden door. "Guess you're just going to have to ask him," he pushed the door open, waiting for the women to enter before following them inside the room.
General Midd was standing beside a large table, so large that twenty soldiers could stand around it without crowding. The top of the table was hidden by several maps spread out over its surface. Tarp was surprised at how tired and drawn her brother looked, his uniform was disheveled and it looked like his hair hadn't had a comb pulled through it in days. He looked up when the door opened.
"Leave us," the general ordered when the colonel followed the women into the room.
Hesitating only long enough to give Tarp a silent look of encouragement, the colonel turned and abruptly left the room.
"Let me see them," the general demanded as soon as the door was securely shut.
"See what?" Tarp asked, clearly bewildered by the request.
"The relics," the general barked. "I told you to bring them."
"Mica," Tarp gave her brother a quizzical look. "You know those belong to the Islanders, you didn't really expect us to bring them here."
"What I expected was for you to follow orders," the general snapped. "Even you are expected to do that as long as you wear that uniform. Tell me where they are and I'll send a tasar to retrieve them," he said fully anticipating his demand would be followed.
Tarp felt the hackles on the back of her neck start to stand on end and she took a few heartbeats to swallow her growing anger. When she finally spoke, her voice was controlled and level, "No."
"Give me their location. You don't know what you're playing with this time, Midgit."
"You're right, Mica," Tarp said calmly even though inside she was boiling with anger over her brother's use of the hated nickname. "I don't know what we're playing with this time. Perhaps you should tell us."
"Now is not the time," the general sneered.
Tarp was about to respond but she caught a movement out of the corner of her eye that stopped her.
Terri was leisurely striding towards a chair that sat in front of the only window in the room. She settled herself into the chair and looked about the room, her eyes darting from the walls covered in maps and lists of stockpiled supplies and troop locations. She studied the table that occupied the center of the room and the chairs lined against the walls. A smile spread across her face when she looked up at the ceiling and saw two parallel lines of evenly spaced holes, evidence of her lover's frustration with her brother during their previous meeting.
"I believe, General," Terri said as her eyes lowered, settling on the officer. "That this is the perfect time for you to provide some answers. You see, Midge is not the only one confused by your interest in the activities of my ancestors. I also would like to know why they hold such fascination with you. Unless, it is because you wish to destroy the evidence that they once occupied the Mainland."
Not quite sure where Terri was heading with her questions, Tarp was none–the-less calmed by her lover's composed demeanor and decided to let her take the lead. She walked over and sat in a chair next to Tarp, leaning back she crossed her legs at the ankles and waited to see how her brother would respond to the Islander's questions.
"You don't understand," Mica muttered.
"You are correct," Terri agreed, then calmly continued. "I don't understand how our peaceful home has been turned into a war zone. I don't understand how our beautiful home, a home given to us by Mo-Tah, has been stripped of her blessings. Her lush forests cut down. Her clear waters drained. Her mountains replaced by gaping holes so that the minerals hidden inside can be removed. No, I don't understand. I don't understand these things and I don't understand why you allowed them to happen. Mo-Tah brought us here to live in peace and you have brought destruction and death. Please tell me why. Help me understand."
Mica shoulders slumped at the accusations. "No," he protested. "I did not bring this destruction to Organi. I tried to save it."
"How?" Terri asked. "You know of the Explorers, my ancestors. If you know of them, then you know they occupied the Mainland before you came. Their villages are the proof of that. Organi was not a planet to be settled, she was already settled by the Islanders. My ancestors lived on both the Islands and the Mainland."
"You've seen their villages?" Mica looked startled by the revelation. He was quite aware of Galaxy law proclaiming no planet was open for new settlement if they were already occupied. This was to prevent larger or stronger populations from annihilating smaller or weaker ones. The only exceptions were areas that had never been populated by the planet's occupants, like the Mainland on Retha.
Tarp nodded. "Mica, if you knew about them, then you must also know that our settlements are in violation of Galaxy law. Why would come here? Why choose Organi?"
"Because the Alliance was already here?" Terri quietly offered.
Tarp had begun to understand the Islander's reasoning and she waited for her brother's answer, desperately hoping Terri was wrong.
"What?! NO!!" Mica shouted. "You can't think that I was working with the Alliance?" His head swiveled rapidly back and forth as he looked from one woman to the other, searching for any hint of understanding in their faces. "Midgit, you know me. You know the facts prove otherwise."
Tarp ignored the unconscious insult. "The facts are, Mica," Tarp began, trying to ignore the look of grief on her brother's face. "We found evidence that the Explorers sent from the Islands not only reached the Mainland but built villages here and they lived in those villages for many generations. Jakuba wrote of invaders that were threatening them."
"Jakuba?" Mica asked.
"The last of the Explorers to die. He spent his final years traveling to each village and gathering the history of the others so they would not be forgotten," Tarp explained.
"You said he wrote of intruders. Who were they?"
"The messages we found, the relics you demand to be shown, were scratched onto metal pieces. Islanders do not produce such a metal."
"But the Alliance does," Tarp added. "You knew, didn't you, Mica," she asked, quietly. "Are you working with them?"
"No," Mica shook his head.
"Then why is it so important for you to see the relics we found?" Tarp asked.
Before answering, Mica walked to stand beside the window and looked out. "When I decided to leave Retha for good and start a new settlement, I wanted to find an area of the galaxy free of the Alliance and their ways. I received a list of planets from the Galaxy Council, all supposedly free of any Alliance activity, past or present. I chose Organi, it was most like Retha and I wanted someplace that would remind me of home. Silly wasn't it?" he laughed dolefully, turning away from the window.
When neither woman responded, Mica continued.
"It wasn't until after we came here that I started to hear rumors. Freight pilots repeating stories they had been told of small isolated villages in the most remote areas of the Mainland. Or of seeing Alliance transports traveling to and from Organi. I decided to try and find any evidence I could that the Alliance had been on Organi. I knew if I could, I could then take it to the Galaxy Council and prove that the Alliance had been exploiting Organi, an inhabited planet. It would mean the end of the Alliance. But I needed the proof.
"Every chance I could, I set out from the settlement looking for whatever I could find. One day I chanced upon a foot path," he smiled at the memory. "I knew I was on to something, the Alliance…"
"Doesn't travel my foot," Tarp interjected.
"Correct. I followed it up into the mountains and found a small village. But it wasn't enough."
"Why not?" Terri asked.
"I couldn't decipher the writings I found in one of the huts and the others were devoid of any writings."
"The map hut," both women said together.
"Each village has a hut with a map showing the locations of all the villages. It is also where the Explorers are buried."
"You've been to all the villages?"
"Yes. It wasn't until we found the last one on the beach and found Jakuba that we were able to put all the pieces together," Tarp explained. "The significance of the map huts. Why the villages were located in the most desolate areas of the Mainland."
"Why were they?" Mica asked, although in his gut he was sure he already knew the answer.
"The Alliance was harvesting Organi," Tarp told her brother. "Most of their work up to that time had been done in the most eastern reaches of the Mainland, where the forests were the thickest. They must have found the Explorers and guessed that they had come from the Islands. Not wanting them to return and tell the others of their presence, they gave the Explorers a choice. Remain on the Mainland where they would be allowed to live on stark hillsides, in barren canyons and along windblown stretches of sand beach."
"Or?" Mica asked.
"Or return home and suffer the consequences of the Alliance harvesting their Islands. Either way, it meant death to the Explorers."
"I'm sorry," Mica told Terri. "I truly did not know the extent of the Alliance actions. If I had had any idea of your ancestors' suffering, I would have gone straight to the Council even without solid proof."
"Thank you," Terri smiled sadly, believing the general's statement but not ready to release him for his responsibility quite yet. "But the question is, General, what do you plan to do now that you know?"
"My preferred response would be to say I would leave for the Council immediately."
"But I cannot leave Organi in the middle of a war."
"Mica, don't be a fool," Tarp literally exploded out the chair. "If you take this information to the Council, it would mean the end to this war. And all the others like it being fought on other planets around the galaxy."
"You're right, Midgit."
"I would ask," Terri spoke before Tarp could. Standing as she addressed the general, she said in a hard voice, "that you stop referring to my…" Glancing at the captain, she asked, "my fiancée?"
"Yes," Tarp smiled, "fiancée."
"Good." Terri smiled back then turned her attention back to the general and hardened her tone, "that you stop referring to my fiancée with that shameful word. It shows great disrespect for the mate of an Advisor. And since your Mainlander settlements exist in direct violation of Galaxy law, I would suggest that you might want to keep me happy should you have any plans of remaining on Organi after the end of this war."
Mica looked like someone had slammed a fist into his stomach, so unaccustomed was he to being spoken to in such a forceful manner. And to make matters worse, he knew Terri spoke the truth. If he and the other Mainlanders were to have any chance at all of remaining on Organi, it would only be with the express permission of the Islanders and their Advisor.
Her anger eased by her lover's words, Tarp stepped beside the Islander, wrapping her arms around her waist. "Don't you just love her?" she grinned at her brother.
"It's apparent you do," Mica grunted, reluctant to be forced into acknowledging the women's relationship.
"Oh, I do," Tarp grinned grew wider as she happily tightened her hold on the woman she loved. "I truly do."
"Alright, you love her but do you have to rub my nose in it?" Mica snapped at his grinning sister.
"Might we get back to what is to be done with the information we have provided you?" Terri interrupted the siblings.
"I told you, I can't leave. Not now."
"Surely you have someone who can take over for you," Tarp angrily suggested.
"No," Mica shook his head. "But there is someone, or I should say two someones who could take this information to the Council."
"Who?" Tarp asked.
"We accept," Terri said, at the same time.
"What do you mean, we accept?" Tarp looked at the Islander quizzically.
Terri said nothing as she waited, amused at the change of expressions on Tarp's face when she finally understood what her brother had said.
"You want us to go to the Council."
"Can you think of anyone better to do it, Mid…," Mica's mouth snapped shut immediately when he saw the look the Advisor was giving him. "Tarphan," he quickly inserted his sister's given name for the hated nickname.
"No, I guess not," Tarp answered.
"It would help if you could take the relics with you," Mica murmured. "But I understand why you can't."
"Actually, we can," Tarp smirked. "We brought this," she held up the one piece of Alliance metal they had found that bore no markings. "And we have the other pieces too. Not the actual ones, those have been returned to the Explorers' families. But we have scans of each one in here," she pulled an object out of her pocket. It was paper thin and approximately the length of her finger. "We've got scans of each of the map huts and even some drawings of the villages and their locations."
"Where did you get a memory stick?" Mica asked. "I've been trying for many moon cycles to get some sent to me. It would be so much easier looking at these maps on a virtual display than having to spread them out like this," he swept at the numerous sheets covering the tabletop.
"Uh, well," Tarp stammered, not quite sure she wanted to tell her brother the truth.
"Where?" Mica demanded.
"Well, you know that tasar depot we broke into?"
"Yes," Mica growled, remembering his need to order the building destroyed after its security had been breached by, at the time, unknown forces.
"There were a couple of boxes of memory sticks inside. I wondered why they were there but figured either the transports left them there by mistake or you must have had a reason for storing them instead of using them."
"You mean to tell me," Mica glared at his sister, "that I not only destroyed a stockpile of tasars but also a supply of memory sticks?"
"Tasars, memory sticks, crystal batteries, laser rifles, transport shields…"
"Ah, um," Terri cleared her voice loudly.
"Tarphan," Mica corrected, "I'll see you spend the rest of your natural life on whatever prison planet has the nastiest atmosphere I can find."
"Would that be before our bonding or after?" Terri smirked.
Mica looked from one woman to the other. He was whipped and he knew it. No threat would be taken seriously by the pair since they knew he could not carry them out. "I give," he dropped into a chair. "You win. Happy?"
"Very," Tarp smiled, pulling Terri to her for a kiss. "Thanks for asking."
"How soon can you leave for Council?"
"As soon as you give me a transport to fly us there," Tarp laughed. "Tasars are a lot of fun to fly around a planet but they aren't much good for flying through the galaxy."
"I believe that you'll find a transport on the pad and I'll have the colonel assign you a pilot. I expect you'll want the best pilot we have, Advisor."
"I've already got my pilot right here and I wouldn't trust my safety to anyone else," Terri replied.
"Alright," Mica agreed. One thing he had to admit about his sister, she was one of the best pilots in the Confederacy forces he commanded. "But I'm assigning a lieutenant and security squad to go with you just in case you run into any trouble. And I won't accept any arguments."
"Won't give you any," Tarp smiled. "Fact is, I was about to ask for one. I don't suppose Lieutenant Hovart is still at Command."
"Ask the colonel."
"I will," Tarp saluted the general before taking Terri's hand, leading her to the door. "Come on, sweetheart. The sooner we get this information to the Council, the sooner we can put the Alliance out of business. And the sooner we can become bonded."
"Wait," Terri resisted Tarp's lead. "I want to say something to your brother," she explained when the captain looked at her questioningly. Walking up to Mica, Terri dropped her head to bow in front of him. "Mo-Tah thanks you," she softly murmured. "She honors you for wanting to protect our ancestors. For this you will never be forgotten."
Mica stood speechless. He did not know what to say to the woman who represented a culture he knew little about and cared nothing of learning any more.
Terri turned away from the general, walking to join Tarp waiting in the doorway.
"I won't attend you wedding," Mica finally found his voice and called out as the door was being pulled closed.
"You aren't invited," Tarp called back through the closed door.
"Bad girl," Terri admonished, half-heartedly.
"It's okay," Tarp giggled. "He's an awful dancer."
Laughing, the women headed straight for the colonel standing at the end of the hall.
Tarp guided the tasar towards the Islands stretching like jewels over the sea's calm surface. Terri was in the gunner's seat behind her but had said little since leaving the Mainland behind on their way home. The newly discharged captain thought little of the Islander's silence, figuring her lover and soon to be bond mate was reflecting on the events of the past several moon cycles.
Convincing the Galaxy Council that the Alliance had violated the laws regulating the harvesting of planets had taken more time and effort than the women had anticipated. Support for the Alliance was widespread and deeply rooted and they found themselves waging a battle of wills that exhausted their bodies and minds. But eventually, the proof they had brought with them of the Explorers existence on Organi's Mainland won over even their most determined opponents. The Council voted to disband the Alliance and imprison it's commissioners for their crimes.
Tarp knew it was a short-term solution at best. Before long a new Alliance would be formed using a different name and its commissioners would apply to the Council to harvest the uninhabited planets in the galaxy. Permission would be granted and the whole process of destruction will begin anew. She frowned, wondering why there was no shortage of those willing to put material profit above the well-being of entire cultures. Did they not realize that sooner or later, there would no longer be any planets to harvest? What then? Would the Council change the laws so that occupied planets could be harvested? Would the madness not stop until every planet in the galaxy had been made uninhabitable? Tarp didn't want to think of a future with that reality but she knew it was a good possibility.
"Maybe we can change things before that happens," she muttered to herself.
"Did you say something, honey?" Terri asked.
"Um, no. I was just thinking out loud. Sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt your meditation."
"Is all well with Mo-Tah?" Tarp asked. Her tone was light but her question was serious, she knew how upset Terri had been with the lack of respect for her culture shown by some of the Council members.
"Would you set down on the largest Island," Terri directed. "I'd like to show you something."
"Sure," Tarp was surprised by the request. Terri had told her that the Island was sacred to the Islanders and only Advisors were allowed to visit it. She wondered if that honor extended to the bond mates of Advisors. "Any particular spot?"
"No, anywhere is fine. I'd like to show you something."
"Alright," Tarp nodded, punching in commands to change the tasar's flight path. Not knowing what was located on the Island that made it the icon it was to Terri's culture, she decided to land as close to the shoreline as possible to avoid causing any damage.
As soon as the tasar's settled on the sandy beach, Tarp slid the cockpit open and stood up. "I won't be sorry to leave tasar flying behind," she grumbled, stretching out her cramped muscles. "I don't see how you can stand to sit so long in the gunner's seat," she added as she turned to help Terri exit the craft. "You have even less room than me and you're taller than I am. You must really feel restricted.
"Yes," Terri agreed, "but I just ask Mo-Tah to give me something else to think about."
"Oh, yes," Terri stepped out on the wing then pulled Tarp to her. Wrapping her arms around her lover, she smiled. "She gave me you," she whispered as she pressed her lips against Tarp's.
The women took their time expressing their feelings for the other in the simple yet loving gesture.
"Whoo," Tarp sighed when they parted several heartbeats later. She rested her head against Terri's shoulder, "I do love you so."
Terri tightened her grasp on her lover, "as do I love you."
"Why are we here?" Tarp asked, content to remain where she was forever.
"There is something I think you should see before we are bonded. It is known only to myself now that my mother has gone to be with Mo-Tah."
"Should I be here?" Tarp raised her head just enough to look at Terri.
"Technically, no," Terri smiled sadly. "But it is a secret that has been kept by the Advisors and perhaps," she sighed, "it is a secret that needs to be kept no longer. Come," she gently pushed Tarp away so she could step to the edge of the wing. Before Tarp could respond, Terri dropped down to the sand and began walking inland.
"Wait for me," Tarp dropped off the wing running and soon caught up with Terri. She reached for the Islander's hand and entwined their fingers as she followed her lead.
Terri silently led Tarp for almost three clicks away from the sandy beach before stopping in front of what appeared to be a mound of palm leaves. The mound towered over the women's heads and stretched for many steps in either direction. The artificial structure was further camouflaged by being partially buried in dirt and sand and located in the middle of a palm grove.
Tarp quickly realized that great care had been taken to hide whatever lay under the palm leaves. And since no one but Advisors were allowed on the Island, she considered that it must have been done to keep it from being spotted by someone flying over the Island. Terri began to speak as Tarp tried to guess at what she could not see.
"Mo-Tah brought my ancestors to the Islands many generations ago. So long ago that even the history talkers have forgotten how exactly we were brought here. Or why? But I remember, as my mother did before me. And her mother. And her mother. Advisors do not have the luxury of forgetting, we carry the memories of those who came before us and pass them on to those who come after."
Tarp stood spellbound both by what Terri was telling her and the heartbreaking undertones to her normally affable spirit.
"Islanders have come to believe that Mo-Tah is a powerful being, a goddess if you wish, that guides their lives and hearts down the right path. But that is not the truth. Mo-Tah can do no more than you or I can to guide them. They follow the path because they know it to be right but they do not believe in themselves enough to understand this. They must have someone, some power, to believe in and that is how Mo-Tah came to serve them as thus.
"In the past, Islanders believed that we were alone in our existence. That Mo-Tah had placed us here to live a simple live with the blessings she would give to us. The sea that provides fresh water to drink and fish to eat; the plants and trees that provide us fruit for our tables and flowers to brighten our huts; the birds that provide songs for us to enjoy. But that has changed now. Islanders now know we are not alone. That Organi is but one of many and that we must now learn to deal with both good and bad.
Terri chewed on her lower lip as she contemplated her own words. "Maybe it is time that Islanders also relearn the truth about their past."
"Sweetheart," Tarp stepped in front of her lover. Looking directly into the Advisor's eyes, she whispered, "please tell me what you're talking about."
Terri smiled sadly and nodded. Reaching around Tarp, she inserted her hand between the palm leaves placing the tips of her fingers into an unseen slot.
Tarp stood, mouth agape, at what was revealed as the palm leaves, dirt and sand began to disappear before her eyes.
As the camouflage shield's power dissipated, the mid-day sun sparkled off the shiny metal skin of a star craft. Even half buried in the ground, the size of the spaceship was enormous. Tarp's eyes scanned the body of the craft, coming to rest on some lettering. Terri had been teaching her the Islander language and she was able to translate the words.
ALLIANCE PLANETARY EXPEDITIONS
Transportation and Habitation
"Your ancestors were Alliance forces?" Confused, Tarp stared at the writing. "That," she pointed, her hand shaking with the shock of the revelation, "is Mo-Tah?"
Terri simply nodded, saying nothing.
"But how? Why? I don't understand," Tarp stammered. "If the Islanders are part of the Alliance… But you fought against them," her shaking knees would no longer hold her upright and she sunk to the ground. "I don't understand."
Terri sat beside the bewildered woman. She pulled Tarp's hands into her own, relieved when her lover didn't withdraw them. "Islanders were part of the Alliance, many, many generations ago. This craft was one of many carrying harvest expeditions to a group of planets some distance away. It developed propulsion problems and crashed landed here. The other crafts were ordered to continue on their journey and the Islanders were stranded."
Tarp shook her head, still having trouble accepting what Terri was telling her. "But if you were Alliance… I don't understand. Your ways are so simple, you have no machinery, no weapons, no … Well, nothing but what…," she stopped before saying the phase that was so common with the Islanders.
"Mo-Tah provides," Terri finished, looking sheepish.
"Yes. Why Terri? Why is your life so different than what we know of the Alliance? If you had this when you came here, what made you change? How could you fight against them? Against your own people?" The questions sprang from her mouth at such a rapid speed she finally had to stop just to breathe.
"Slow down, honey," Terri grinned, as Tarp took a deep, gulping breath of air. "First off, the Islanders were Alliance many generations ago but are no longer," she assured her puzzled lover. "When my ancestors realized they had been abandoned by the Alliance, they set out to make the best of the situation. Splitting up in small groups of family and friends, they spread out onto the surrounding islands so that no one island would be overwhelmed. At first, they used the supplies and other resources they could salvage off the transport but it didn't take long for those to be depleted."
"Is that where ‘what Mo-Tah provides' came from?"
"Yes. Over the years, the meaning has changed only in what or who Mo-Tah is. The ancestors found that they could live quite easily on the Islands. Fish and fruit were plentiful and the land accepted the crops they planted. They did not need machines because they are no crystals on the islands to create power sources. Weapons were not needed because they were no enemies to fight. Life was good and they eventually forgot how they had come to be here. Only the Advisors remembered."
"Wasn't the transport a reminder of that?"
"Yes and that is why one of my mother's mother's mothers decided that it was in the best interest of the Islanders to remove it from their memory. She forbade all to come to Mo-Tah's island. And she used all the transport's power crystals she could find to power the camouflage shield."
"Hiding it from any Alliance craft that might fly over?"
Terri nodded. "By then, so many years had passed that few remembered the transport that brought their fathers and mothers here. So few that lights moving across the night skies were thought only to be streaking stars. The Advisor felt it best not to encourage the Alliance to rediscover this place."
"And the Explorers? What were they sent to find? Resources to harvest?" Tarp asked, her mouth twisting at the distaste the words brought her.
"No. By the time the Explorers left the Islands for the Mainland, none but the Advisor remembered their origins. On days the two moons do not rise into the night sky and the sea is very still, it is possible to see the tips of mountains on the horizon. It was curiosity that sent the first group of Explorers."
"And rescue missions after that?"
"Sadly, yes. When they did not return, others were sent to bring them back…"
"To Mo-Tah." Tarp slumped back against the side of the transport, her head thumping as it struck the metal skin.
"And the war? Why did you encourage the Islanders to fight their own people."
Terri sighed, would Tarp never understand the Islanders were not Alliance. At least, not anymore. "I did not encourage. The Islanders decided on their own to fight. Your brother was quite passionate when he came to the Islands to ask them to join the Mainlanders against the Alliance," she smiled. "I chose to join the Confederacy because I sought the answers to the Explorers disappearance. The pain of their loss has stayed in the hearts of every Advisor since they were sent from the Islands. I wanted to heal that pain."
"You were always looking for them? Is that why you followed me out of Beta II?"
"No, my love," Terri reached up, placing her hand against Tarp's cheek in a tender caress. "I followed because my heart told me never to let you out of my sight."
"Thank Mo-Tah," Tarp said before realizing it and both women laughed, grateful the tension that hung over them seemed to be cracking.
"Here, scoot closer," Tarp patted the ground beside her. As soon as Terri had repositioned herself, she wrapped an arm around the Advisor's shoulders and leaned into her. "There's still one thing I don't understand," she said as she leaned into Terri until their heads rested together.
"Yes. I've never heard any mention of Advisors in the Alliance."
"That's because there aren't any," Terri squirmed about to find a more comfortable position on the uneven ground. Finally satisfied, she said, "that's another secret. One that not even the ancestors who traveled on the transport knew."
Tarp remained silent. Her gut was telling her that she might not like what was about to be revealed to her. She tensed as Terri continued.
"The first of my mother's mother's mothers was not of the Alliance. She was from the star system Xanteria and served as its emissary to the Galaxy planets. She was on one of her regular diplomatic missions and landed on the planet Quaxter for a visit. By the time she realized Quaxter was being harvested by the Alliance it was too late and they captured her. Knowing that her disappearance would not go without question, she was forced onto this transport. Once it reached its destination, she would have no hope of escaping or rescue."
"So you are Xanterian?"
"Yes. Although, my bloodline has been diluted over the generations because of our bonding with Islanders. And that is why most of our powers have been lost to us."
"Aletora Arhina, the first Arhina which in Xanterian means Advisor," Terri explained, "had many powers that the Islanders did not. But she kept most of them hidden, not wanting to frighten them. She did use her powers of healing and counsel to help the Islanders."
"So she became the natural leader?"
"Oh, no. There were many who wanted to be named leader and many died in the battles between them. It took a few generations before Frantake Arhina was able to convince them of the wisdom of working together without a leader but the Islanders eventually accepted this. As time went by, the Islanders continued to seek counsel with Arhina when they were unable to agree amongst themselves. It was only then that they began to accept her as one of their own."
"And now, you, Arhina, Advisor, are their most honored member."
"What other powers do you still possess?" Tarp asked, not wanting any surprises at a later time.
"Only the power to plant my seed into my lover or allow her to plant her seed into me. My mother's mother's mothers believed that was an important power to keep so they allowed others to fade each time they bonded."
"Smart women," Tarp smirked.
"Very," Terri agreed.
"So that's why you only bear female younglings?"
"Yes. We have no male younglings on Xanteria."
"Sounds like my kind of place," Tarp giggled. "Do you have any wish to return there?" she asked, growing more serious.
Terri thought a long time before answering. "I should return to tell them of Aletora Arhina's fate. But I have no desire to remain there. I wish to remain here with my heart," she turned to Tarp, "with you."
"Why did you want me to know these things?" Tarp asked. "The secret has been kept so long, why tell me now?"
"Organi is no longer an isolated world. Soon the Mainland settlements will invite more to come and live here. The power crystals are becoming unstable and will not support the shield for much longer. Some day, the transport will be discovered and the secret will no longer be safe. The Islanders will not be happy to learn of their beginnings and they will not accept the Advisors' deceptions. You must know so that you can decide before it is too late."
"Too late for what?" Tarp asked quietly.
"I have asked you to become my bond mate and you have promised to do so. By knowing, I can permit you to break your promise. I cannot expect you to bond with me now that you know that our future may not be a happy one."
"Teragleli Arhina, I have no intention of breaking my promise. I LOVE YOU," Tarp shouting so loud that she was sure that those on the other islands could hear her. "I'm sure the Islanders may get a tad touchy if they find out their ancestors were Alliance. But that's a might big if. More likely they'll be glad there's so much time between then and now that they can rightly deny any Alliance blood. Either way, I'm not about to walk away from you. Not now, not ever."
"You're not?" Terri blinked in amazement, so scared had she been that the Mainlander would use the opening to run as far from her as she could go.
"No, I'm not. Now," Tarp struggled to her feet on numb legs, "if you're as tired as I am of sitting on the cold ground, might I suggest we go back to the tasar and finish our trip home. After all, we have a wedding to prepare for." She reached down to help Terri up.
"Sounds like a plan to me," Terri giggled as she was yanked onto her feet and into Tarp's arms. "But what about the transport?"
"I have an idea," Tarp grinned. "Let's go."
As the women walked back to the tasar, another unanswered question popped into Terri's head. "Honey, why do you think the Alliance treated the Explorers the way it did. Why didn't they just bring them back to the Islands?"
"Hmm," Tarp had been contemplating that very same question earlier. "My guess, and it's only a guess, is that they had no use for the Islands as they are too small to harvest profitable. And the sudden appearance of the Explorers probably caught them off guard since they had forgotten all about your crashed transport. They probably thought you had all died in the crash or failed to survive the ensuing years.
"So the Alliance faced a dilemma. If they returned the Explorers to the Islands, they would have to admit they had abandoned them in the first place. Or they could allow them to return to the Islands on their own and then use that as an excuse to harvest them, in effect destroying the survivors.
"Unfortunately for the Explorers but fortunately for the rest of you, the Explorers lack of memory of their origins played right into the Alliance hands. The Alliance decided to threaten them with destroying the Islands to keep the Explorers on the Mainland where they were banished to the most obscure areas to keep them out of their way."
"The Alliance should have been punished for what they did. Both for abandoning the ancestors and for what they did to the Explorers," Terri said, sadly.
"Well, in a way, they have been," Tarp told the upset Islander.
"What do you mean?"
"Because the Explorers built their villages and because Jakuba got them to record their histories, the Alliance has been disbanded. I guess you could say that the Explorers are responsible for that."
"We will have to tell the others," Terri smiled. "They will wish to ask Mo-Tah to give the Explorers special honor."
"Hard to break the habit isn't it?" Tarp asked.
Tarp shrugged, her cheeks flushed a pale red with embarrassment at the use of the meaningless name.
"I think I have a solution for you," Tarp said as they reached the tasar. "Shall we?" she asked, placing her hands palms down on the wing and pressing her body upward. When she gained firm footing, she reached down to help Terri up.
"Care to let me in on this idea of yours?"
"Sure," Tarp agreed, holding Terri's arm as she stepped into the gunner's seat. "The records of the Alliance have been destroyed, not that I think they would have been anything in them about the Islanders or Explorers anyway. So the only way for any one to find out that the Alliance had anything to do with the Islanders is for you to start giving away your secrets," she bent down, capturing the Advisor's lips in a quick kiss. "Which I very much doubt will ever happen," she said as she stepped into the pilot's seat.
"Obviously," Terri grunted.
"Or for someone to find the transport." Tarp paused long enough to punch some commands into the control panels and set the tasar into motion. As the craft lifted off the ground, she went on, "so since I think it would be wrong to take away the Islanders' faith in Mo-Tah and in the Advisors, there really is only one solution."
"Which is?" Terri asked as the tasar glided over the island in the general direction of where the transport rested.
"Destroy the transport."
"Can we do that?"
"Don't see why not. Unless there's anything of value still inside of it."
"No, it was emptied of everything generations ago."
"So, in reality, it is just a large piece of metal left over from a time very long ago that serves no real purpose and could be a real danger should anyone happen across it."
"I guess that's one way of looking at it," Terri considered Tarp's description of the craft.
"And since no one knows it exists, no one will miss it if it suddenly disappears."
"It's just a piece of junk to me. You have any attachment to it."
"It is a beautiful island," Terri murmured, straining to look out the tasar's cockpit at the wreck below them.
"Sure is. Too bad the Islanders aren't allowed to enjoy it."
"You know why they can't," Terri dropped back into her seat.
"Could if the transport wasn't there," Tarp smiled to herself. She could sense Terri's resolve softening.
"Are you sure this is the right thing to do?"
"Sweetheart," Tarp punched in a few buttons, moving the tasar into the perfect firing position. "That hunk of junk is doing nobody any good. I say we make it disappear for good and let the Islanders enjoy the history and culture they have come to accept as their own. What harm could come from giving them one more blessing from Mo-Tah?"
"Alright," Terri agreed, what harm indeed?
"Lock in a vaporizing missile, Sergeant," Tarp commanded.
Terri completed the necessary steps to arm the tasar. "Locked," she said and although both women no longer held their military ranks, she added, "Captain."
One pull on the trigger switch sent the missile racing to the ground. It hit the target exactly where Tarp had aimed and she watched as the transport exploded into a shower of tiny, sparkling lights that arced and danced in the air before vaporizing into nothingness. Heartbeats later, all that remained of the transport was an empty hole in the ground.
"Ready to go home, sweetheart," Tarp asked as the nose of the tasar swung around, pointing towards an island in the distance.
"More than ready, honey," Terri leaned back in the gunner's seat and closed her eyes. "May Mo-Tah forgive me," she thought.
"She does," a quiet whisper reached Terri's ears.
Terri's eyes popped open and she jerked upright, "what did you say?"
"I didn't say anything, sweetheart."
As always, I enjoy hearing from you and please check out my website. Mickey
Author of the Sweetwater Sagas
Sweetwater to be published by Regal Crest in 2006
Bozeman and Rolling Thunder to be published by Regal Crest in 2007
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