The tasar was racing parallel to the sea. Tarp, eyes glued to the tasar's displays, was hoping to evade being detected by their pursuers by barely skimming above the surface of the water.
"Better lock in the rockets," the captain called back to Terri, "doesn't look like we're losing them." As if to emphasize her observation, the radio crackled alive.
"Captain Midd," a female voice filled the cockpit. "Please discontinue your movement and heave to, we will escort you back to Command. I have orders to shoot you down if necessary."
As she hit the button to activate her mic, Tarp sadly shook her head knowing that order had to have come from her brother. "Perhaps you are unaware of my mission," she responded to the voice. "I am transporting Advisor Arhina back to her Islands," she used the sergeant's more official title. "She has important business to attend to and I'm sure that even my brother would not be very happy to have her journey home interrupted." Tarp turned off her mic to wait for a reply.
"You put us in an awkward situation, Captain," the female voice again filled the cockpit. "We have no knowledge of any such mission. In fact, we were not told that the Advisor would be with you."
"I see dear brother left out a few facts," Tarp muttered.
"May I talk to them?" Terri asked.
"Sure. But if they try to shoot us down, I'll take them out first."
"Let's hope we can avoid either option," Terri reached forward to grasp Tarp's shoulder. "Maybe if they hear it from me, they'll let us proceed to the Islands. At the very least, I should be able to delay them from taking any action."
"Okay, I'm turning your mic on." As soon as she completed the necessary movements on her command panel, she reached up to place her hand over Terri's.
"This is Advisor Arhina. May I ask who I'm addressing?" Terri asked, entwining her fingers with the captain's.
"Lieutenant Splekand," the female voice answered.
"Thank you, lieutenant," Terri continued. "I am sorry that you were not informed I was accompanying the Captain. I have recently uncovered very important relics of my ancestors and it is imperative that I return to my Islands with them. I asked Captain Midd to escort me and she agreed. I would very much appreciate you allowing me to continue. As I have said, it is of extreme importance that I return home as quickly as possible."
"Yes, ma'am," the lieutenant responded, indecision clearly heard in her voice. "I understand but I'll have to radio Command for new orders. I don't have the authority to let the Captain continue."
"If you must," Terri agreed. "Well that should give us some time," she said after Tarp turned off her mic. "Is it enough?"
"It should be."
"I'm sorry, sir," the colonel was standing in front of the general's desk. He had brought the news of the recent communication from the tasars sent to intercept the captain and sergeant. "But even if I order them to bring Captain Midd back, it's too late. They'll be on the Islands before your orders reach them."
"Relics," the general leaned back in his chair. "She said she had uncovered important relics. What was she talking about?"
"I don't know."
"What have they been up to?" the general asked, more to himself than to the puzzled colonel.
"Important relics of her ancestors," the general continued his private contemplations.
"What have you uncovered, Midget?"
"I want them stopped before they reach the Islands. Have them brought here, I want to know what they've uncovered and where," the general barked at the colonel.
"But, sir," the colonel began to protest, there was no way the captain and sergeant could be prevented from reaching the Islands. And, more important, he thought, why was the general so interested in the relics that his sister and the Advisor had found?
"Just do it," the general ordered. "Now get out, I have some thinking to do. I'll be down in the map room, let me know when they arrive."
"Yes, sir." As the colonel turned to leave, he couldn't help but wonder what was going on.
"Is there anyone we should warn of our arrival?" Tarp asked when the Islands appeared on the display screen.
"Let them know we're coming and," she looked at another display where two blips marked the location of the trailing tasars, "bringing unwanted company."
"Oh," Terri thought for a moment. "I don't think that will be necessary. After all, they will have no authority once we land."
"Hope they know that," Tarp muttered as she studied the growing number of Islands appearing on the display. "So which one of these do I head for?" she asked the Islander.
"Do you see one bigger than the others?"
"Yes," Tarp had noticed that one of the Islands was much larger than any of the others and that, while most of the Islanders were clustered in groups of five or six, the large Island sat alone on its sector of sea.
"There should be a grouping of four Islands due north of it."
"The ones that seem to form a circle?"
"Yes. My home is on the one at the bottom of the circle."
"Got it," Tarp punched in commands to guide the tasar to the island. "It won't take us long to reach it."
"Good," Terri sighed.
"Are you okay?" Tarp asked when she heard the strain in the Islander's voice.
"Yes. It's just I've been away for so long. Many things will have changed."
"But you'll be okay going back won't you?" Tarp asked. She knew the Islanders culture was vastly different from her own but was it so different that a leader who had been gone for so long would be welcomed back into their position of power. She knew that such a homecoming would never have been possible on Retha. Nor was she sure it would be possible in the new settlements on the Mainland, no matter how much her fellow settlers claimed to have changed their ways.
"I'll be fine, sweetheart," Terri answered. She seemed to understand Tarp's concerns as she continued, "as I've told you before, an Advisor is not a leader. We hold no power so it is not necessary to try to protect it."
"We're approaching the island," Tarp chose to ignore Terri's assurances while silently hoping there were true. "Do you have any landing pads?"
"No. At least," she quickly added after considering she had been gone for some time, "we did not when I was last on my Island."
Few Islanders took little more than a passing glance at the landing tasar, they had become accustomed to periodic visits of Confederacy vessels. It wasn't until Tarp opened the cockpit and Terri stood that the Islanders turned away from their activities to hurry towards the recent arrivals.
Tarp helped Terri step free of the cockpit and moved to the edge of the wing to assist her to the ground. "Thought we'd have more time," the captain commented as the two tasars that had been following them settled onto the ground not far from their own landing spot.
"It will be alright," Terri smiled, placing a comforting hand on the captain's arm.
"You're safe," Tarp absently placed her hand atop the sergeant's as she kept watch on the approaching soldiers. "That's all I care about."
"So are you," Terri whispered as the soldiers forced their way through the gathering Islanders. She stepped off the wing and waited for the captain to join her.
"Captain Midd," Lieutenant Splekand called out as the women dropped to the ground, "you are ordered to submit to my command."
Tarp turned towards the lieutenant but before she could speak, Terri stepped between her and the soldiers.
"I'm sorry, Lieutenant," Terri started, "but under Confederacy agreement, Mainlander forces have no authority on the Islands. I must ask that you refrain from making any commands while you are a guest here," she spoke calmly but there was no mistaking the authority behind her words.
"This matter doesn't concern you, Sergeant," the lieutenant responded. Unsure of her legal standing, she hesitated before adding, "my orders are to take the Captain and yourself into custody.
Many objections to the lieutenant's words were heard from the gathering Islanders.
"I, uh," Lieutenant Splekand hesitated again, furtively glancing at the Islanders surrounding them.
"Lieutenant," Terri smiled, "I'm sure you do not want to make a regrettable situation even worse."
"Um, no. But my orders…"
"Carry no weight on the Islands. Please do not force a confrontation you cannot profit from. Captain Midd is my guest and, as such, she is protected by Island authority and shall be treated as our customs demand." This last statement was said for the benefit of the Islanders listening to the exchanges as well as the soldiers.
"I can't allow that," the lieutenant protested. "The General…"
"I'm sure that General Midd is aware of the agreements made between the Islanders and the Mainlanders at the beginning of this war. I'm also sure he would not approve of your attempt to disobey those accords."
"I wouldn't be so sure," Tarp muttered under her breath. She was pretty sure her brother cared little about any agreements and even less about any possible consequences for breaking them.
"You are welcome to stay on the Islands and rest after your long journey. But while you are here, you will not interfere with Captain Midd. Now as you can see," Terri waved her hand to indicate the Islanders standing around them, "I have many who wish to welcome me home. I will not keep them waiting any longer." She twisted to face Tarp, reaching out her hand for the captain to take hold of, "shall we, my love?"
Tarp took the offered hand and allowed herself to be led into the crowd of Islanders, the bewildered soldiers standing aside unsure of what action, if any, they could take.
With Tarp patiently keeping pace, Terri slowly made her way through the Islanders pausing to speak to each one individually.
The sun was dropping and would soon disappear beyond the horizon as Organi's twin moons began to rise into the darkening sky. While the Advisor was kept busy with Islander business, Tarp spent the time wandering about the Island that Terri called home. It had been two days since she and the sergeant had arrived and she had already become very familiar with the small atoll's features.
Roughly the shape of a rectangle, the Island was approximately two clicks long and one click wide and Tarp could easily walk its surrounding sandy shoreline in half a day. Lush vegetation covered the Island and Tarp was surprised at the variety of flowering and fruit-bearing plants on the small piece of ground. She guessed that having an unlimited supply of nourishing liquid from the fresh-water sea probably had a lot to do with the Islanders ability to grow so many plants.
Terri's village occupied a plateau situated on one end of the Island where the ground sloped gently upward from the sea. Approaching the opposite end of the Island, the flat terrain gave way to slopes that rose dramatically forming a bluff which Tarp was sure would provide a panoramic view of the other Islands. She had found a trail leading up to the bluff the day before but had decided not to follow it at that time. Not interested in making another loop of the Island, Tarp now headed for the trail in hopes of reaching the top of the bluff before the sun set.
The soft dirt path effortlessly zigzagged its way up the bluff's slope and Tarp found the climb to be less strenuous than she had imagined it would be. It did not take her long to reach the crest and she smiled as she stepped up onto the almost flat surface of the summit and took in the unobstructed view. Several dozen Islands of varying shapes and sizes seemed to float on the surface of the sea, their deep browns and vivid greens contrasting with the sea's much lighter bluish tint.
"Beautiful," Tarp murmured as she turned slowly around, appreciating the vista spread out before her. She was surprised to see someone sitting on a bench near the summit's edge that overlooked the Island's village. Cautiously she stepped towards the bench, prepared to retreat if she felt she was intruding on the Islander's solitude.
"So you have discovered my place for contemplation," the Islander spoke as Tarp neared the bench.
"Yes, love." Terri turned, a smile spreading across her face as her eyes fell on her lover. "Come. Sit with me."
"I'm sorry," Tarp hesitated. "I didn't know anyone would be up here. I don't want to interrupt."
"You're not," Terri assured her. "Please come, sit with me."
Tarp slipped onto the bench, her thighs pressed against Terri's on the small bench. "It's beautiful up here," she smiled, wrapping an arm around the sergeant's waist. "And so are you," she leaned forward to capture the Islander's lips in a loving kiss. "I've missed you," she whispered.
"As have I missed you," Terri leaned against the captain. "I'm sorry…"
"Don't," Tarp interrupted. "I understand." Word had spread quickly throughout the Islands of the relics the women had discovered on the Mainland and Terri had insisted on returning the ancient writings to each family personally. Tarp could tell by the dark circles under her lover's eyes and the lines of strain across her forehead that it had been a draining experience for the woman. "You look tired, sweetheart."
"I am," Terri sighed. "I returned the last writing not long ago."
"It must have been hard for the families to learn how their ancestors died," Tarp said, tightening her hold on the woman she loved.
"No," Terri shook her head slightly. "For most it was a relief to know that they had reached the Mainland and not died in the sea where Mo-Tah would be unable to guide them to her. And it eased their hearts to learn that they can visit their resting places and honor them as they deserve."
"Ah," Terri sighed deeply, "there are always a few that must question no matter the circumstance."
"The wisdom of sending the explorers to travel to an unknown land."
"It's a little late to be questioning that isn't it?" Tarp frowned, wondering why any of the Islanders would expect Terri to provide explanations for actions that had taken place long before she was even born.
"For some," Terri reached up, smoothing out Tarp's frown lines with her thumb, "it is never too late to question the actions of others."
"What did you tell them?" Tarp grabbed Terri's hand, bringing it to her lips.
"That they should be thankful Mo-Tah brought the writings back to us and to honor the explorers. More than that is not for us to question or explain."
"You are a wise woman," Tarp placed a final kiss on the palm of Terri's hand before placing it in her lap securely held within her own.
"Mo-Tah guides me," Terri replied.
The women sat quietly watching the evening activity in the village. With the sun gone from the sky, torches and cooking fires lit the huts of the villagers and the women could see their lights flickering below them.
"What are you thinking, honey?" Terri broke the silence.
"Hmm," Tarp considered the question. Could she tell Terri the truth, she wondered.
"What does that mean?" Terri laughed.
"Um," Tarp mumbled. "Well…"
"What is it, love?" Terri sat up, twisting to look into Tarp's eyes. "Please tell me."
The light of the twin moons reflected off the Advisor's face and Tarp could see the concern they held. She smiled shyly, her head dropping so Terri couldn't see her eyes. "I'm scared," she whispered.
"Scared?" Terri couldn't imagine anything that would frighten the woman sitting beside her. She had seen her face too many dangerous situations and never showed any sign of being afraid. She could think of only one thing that might cause Tarp doubt. "Are you afraid of what you brother is going to do?"
"Afraid of Mica," Tarp laughed, but there was no humor in the action. "He can't do any more to hurt me than he already has," she said sadly, leaning back against the bench back and staring out over the sea.
"Then what?" Terri withdrew her hand from Tarp's and reached up. Cupping her hand against the captain's cheek, she turned her head so Tarp would have to look at her. "What?"
"I'm afraid of you."
"Me?" Terri whispered, her voice reflecting the pain in her heart.
"No, not you. Me. Well, not me." The words tumbled out of Tarp's mouth as she tried to explain. "Of us. No, of me when we become us."
"Slow down, honey," Terri giggled at her struggling lover. "What are you talking about?"
Taking a deep breath, Tarp tried again. "You are an important person here. An Advisor. I've seen how the Islanders look at you. How they respect you. I'm nobody. A run-of-the-mill, everyday, nothing special, nobody. How can I expect to fit into your life?"
"You will fit because I love you. And I want us to share our lives together."
"But what will I do here? I'm trained to fly and there is nothing to fly on the Islands. In fact, you don't have anything mechanical that I've seen. Am I expected to sit idle every day?" Now that she had started, Tarp was unable to stop the feelings that had been building over the past few days from spilling out her lips.
Terri seemed to sense Tarp's trepidation and spoke reassuringly when she responded. "When we are bonded, love, you will become my equal. We will share our lives as one."
"I don't understand," Tarp roughly brushed away the tears on her cheeks. "How can I be your equal? You are an Advisor. You carry the knowledge and wisdom of many generations. I cannot possible share that."
"Hush, love," Terri smiled in an attempt to calm the agitated woman. "I am but a woman, same as you. On the Islands, we are not bound by strict laws or ruled by governors. We live our lives simply. We grow our food, take care of our younglings and our elders, and we honor Mo-Tah by respecting each other. I serve my people as my mother and her mother and her mother served them. I speak for Mo-Tah when others are unable to hear her messages. I can do no more. I have no special powers. I cannot perform mystically deeds."
"But how will I fit into you life?"
"You will be my mate. You will love me as I love you. We will do as all Islanders do. We will grow our food and take care of our younglings."
"Yes, our children. You do want us to have children, don't you?"
"Nothing would make me happier than to have a dozen little yous running around."
Terri giggled at the vision, "or a dozen little yous."
"Um," Tarp scratched her chin, embarrassed to ask the question that had just popped into her head.
"Um?" Terri asked, encouraging the captain to continue.
"Well, I was wondering," Tarp mumbled. "How exactly is that done on the Islands?"
"I'm sure you must know how younglings come about," Terri laughed.
"I know how they come about on Retha and the Mainland but what about here. A man and woman have no problem producing children. But for two women to have children, one must carry the seed of a man donor. Is it the same?"
"Well," Terri thought for a heartbeat. "It is the same here on the Islands."
"Oh," Tarp sighed, somehow disappointed with the answer.
"However," Terri smiled. "That is one of the advantages of being Advisor."
"It is?" Tarp looked at Terri, her face scrunched up in confusion.
"It is a gift from Mo-Tah. In order for her wisdom to be passed from mother to daughter, Advisors and their mates may produce their own children."
"They can," Tarp smiled at the prospect of bearing Terri's seed.
"That, love, is a secret that you will have to wait until we are bonded to discover. Now it is getting late and we should return to the village," Terri stood.
Tarp was lost in her thoughts and didn't hear Terri's last comment.
"Honey," Terri lightly tapped the top of Tarp's head. "You in there," she asked playfully.
"Uh, yes," Tarp reluctantly drew herself back to the present. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing. I just think it's time we returned to the village."
"Oh, okay," Tarp stood to join Terri. "Right. Back to the village."
"What were you thinking about?" Terri grinned at Tarp's confused state.
"Um, nothing much," Tarp lied. She was too embarrassed to say she had been considering the possible ways that she could plant her seed inside Terri or vice versa.
"I bet," Terri laughed, grabbing Tarp's hand and guiding her back to the path.
As the women walked back through the village to the hut that belonged to Terri, they spied Lieutenant Splekand standing in the doorway of a hut used by visitors to the Island.
"I can't wait much longer to return to Command," Tarp said as she watched the lieutenant start walking towards them.
"Yes, I know," Terri said, tightening her grip on the captain's hand.
"Captain Midd," the lieutenant called out. "I have a message for you from the general."
Tarp took the piece of paper offered by the lieutenant. "I'll read it in the morning," she said as she started to tuck the paper into the pocket of her jacket.
"Excuse me, Captain," the lieutenant objected. "I believe you'll want to read it now. It's important. And it refers to the Sergeant, also."
Tarp could feel her blood start to boil, "if my brother thinks…"
"Let's see what he has to say before we make any decisions," Terri calmly offered. She turned to the lieutenant before asking, "does the General require a respond immediately?"
"Not that I was told but I wouldn't keep him waiting too long if you know what I mean," the lieutenant responded honestly.
"Thank you. It's been a very long day for me and I'd like to go to bed. I promise we shall read the General's message and you will have our response first thing in the morning."
"Alright," the lieutenant nodded. "I guess you know where to find me."
"Sorry," Tarp muttered as Terri led her away from the lieutenant.
"I know you are just trying to protect me," Terri wrapped an arm around Tarp, pulling their bodies together. "But, as you said, we need to return to Command."
"I said ‘I' need to return," Tarp stiffened.
"We are to be bonded," Terri rubbed the captain's back. "Where one goes, the other will also."
"You're not going to let me win this one, are you?"
"Alright, let's see what Mica has to say," Tarp pulled the paper from her pocket as the women entered their hut. She walked to the nearest torch, holding the paper in the flickering light she read the message. "What do you think?"
"I think we need to talk to your brother," Terri answered. She was standing beside Tarp and had read the message over the captain's shoulder.
"We could leave in the morning."
"Seems like a good idea."
"Or, we could spend the night snuggling and leave the following morning."
"Better idea," Tarp scooped Terri into her arms. "Much better idea."
Continued in Part 10...
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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