"For the Love of Gaia" ã Copyright 1998 by Felioness (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Disclaimer #1: This is a futuristic Uber-Xena work of romantic fiction. The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Ephiny, Iolaus, Solari and, oh yes, Argo, belong to MCA/Universal, and are used without intent for commercial profits. Author's copyright does not extend to said characters. The author retains all rights automatically attached to the creation of this work and to the independently created characters. In other words, they're all MINE!
Disclaimer #2: This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. Nothing too graphic, just a PG-13 rating. Im in this one for the plot ; - ). If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, have a cup of herbal tea and a long hot bath. You really need to relax.
Disclaimer #3: Violence warning. This story contains references to abusive behavior necessary for plot development. Ive tried to keep graphic descriptions to a minimum, but if this sort of thing disturbs you, please stop now.
Disclaimer #4: Apologies and acknowledgment to Gene Roddenberry for the unauthorized loan of food replicators and holo suites. I found them to be rather useful home appliances. To get yours today, call Ronco at 1-888-555-1212.
This story is Book 2 in The Colonization Trilogy. Trying to read this before Book 1, The Amphipolis Expedition, will be like watching The Empire Strikes Back without watching Star Was first. You'll still understand the main story, but the nuances will be lost.
Special thanks to Barbara Maclay for her dramatic renderings of Commander Xandra Lawless and Dr. Brie O'Conner. To see them for yourself, just click the links or visit Barbara's Home Page at www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Bungalow/2591/graphics/. Be sure to check out her other delightful Xena artwork.
Also many thanks to my beta readers who tactfully smoothed out all the rough edges.
I welcome all constructive feedback, all bigots will be sent to the great recycle bin in the sky.
Dedicated to D.C. (Damn Cat), twenty year companion of my friend Diane.
May you hunt with the Gods.
April 3, 2251
"Make a wish Sandy, then blow out the candles."
The child shut her azure eyes tightly and concentrated before taking a breath and blowing furiously at the candles. Having extinguished all four candles in one breath, the little girl raised her smiling face to her mother and asked excitedly, "Can we eat the cake now Mama?"
Brie smiled indulgently at her daughter and said "Yep, and you get to cut the first piece!"
Sandy giggled with pleasure as Brie put the cake knife in her tiny hand and wrapped her own hand around the child's to guide the knife through the cake. Together they took the first piece and offered it to the tall, dark haired woman seated across the table from them.
Smiling at her family, Xandra took the cake and watched contentedly as the two cut and served the rest of the cake to their many guests. Even after four years, watching her soulmate and their daughter filled Xandra with a sense of wonder. Losing her birth family to the diseases and natural disasters of Earth, she had never expected to find the happiness that she now shared with Brie and Sandy. Briefly she wished that at least her brother Louis had survived to share this joy with her.
Shaking sad thoughts from her mind, she glanced around the terrace of her newly built home and saw the familiar faces of their extended family their family of choice'. Art Hill and his lifemate Karyn Rose sat together on a low bench, eating their cake and listening intently to something Karyn's daughter, Amber was telling them. Xandra was amused at the serious expression on the young girl's face. She had watched Amber grow from a sweet, if demanding, child, into a not-so-sweet, but still demanding pre-teen. She suspected that Amber was wheedling her parents into excusing her from babysitting her younger brother so that she could spend the evening with her friends.
She'll probably get her way too, Art just can't say no to that girl. She knew that Art loved his lifemate's daughter as if she were his own. He was such a soft touch that he spoiled the girl trying to make up for her difficult beginnings. Xandra had explained to him that this might not really be in Amber's best interests, but he just couldn't bring himself to be harsh with her. She would probably turn out alright anyway, since Amber's mother, Karyn, could be counted on to keep her out of trouble. Karyn often said that she could tell exactly what Amber was thinking because she'd had the same thoughts growing up and they had led her into bad situations. She was determined that Amber would not have to make the same mistakes.
Amber's face lit up with a grateful smile and she scampered away, obviously released from her obligations. Karyn was grinning and shaking her head at her partner's indulgence. Art looked up and caught Xandra's eyes. Shrugging, he mouthed "What's a father to do?"
Xandra laughed aloud at his comment and thought that he was probably right. The young on Gaia should be allowed their freedom, since that was why they had all left Earth and followed Xandra to the stars. The failing environment and the loss of personal freedoms had driven Xandra to liquidate her vast personal assets and personally lead their exodus across the galaxy.
The children and youth of the colony were all good kids. Most still remembered the hardships of Earth and how hard they had all worked to leave. Many of them had never really been allowed a childhood before coming to Gaia. The rest were too young to get into any real trouble.
In her haste to leave the party, Amber slammed into Stephanie on the terrace steps, almost knocking them both down. Penny, Stephanie's lifemate, managed to catch them both before they could tumble down onto the landing.
Xandra was touched at the tender way Penny checked her lover for injury, glaring at the girl who dashed off muttering "Sorry."
What an unlikely couple. She never thought she'd see anyone break down the defenses of the arctic accountant. Yet, the two seemed to be exceedingly happy together and Penny's personality had begun to soften over the last four years. You could have knocked Xandra over with a feather the day Penny came to her and asked if she would stand up for her when she and Stephanie joined.
The only one of the original core group still single was Sara Laurence. It didn't appear to bother Sara one bit she liked her freedom. Xandra didn't know all the details, but she was convinced that Sara had been abused severely as a child. Sara and Brie were on the same medical team and had spent many hours working together in the med lab. Brie never shared their confidential conversations, but her occasional comments and Sara's somewhat odd behavior had led Xandra to her own conclusions. She had seen many men and women try to charm the tiny brunette with no success. Sara was never rude in her rebuffs, she simply didn't respond.
Xandra's eyes settled once more on Brie and Sandy. Leaning back in her chair, she allowed herself to watch mother and daughter laughing, trading bites of their cake. Her mind drifted back to the day Sandy was born and she was warmed by the memories.
Each female member of the expedition had agreed to bear at least three children for the good of the colony. Brie had become pregnant easily and had had almost none of the unpleasant side effects typically experienced by expectant mothers. The only outward indication of her condition early on was the increase in her already voracious appetite. She sailed through the first tri-mester without any morning nausea or dizziness. Xandra had been very protective of Brie at the time, alternating between happiness at their good fortune and fear that fate would once again rob her of that happiness. Brie had been very understanding. Although she had been taking care of herself for many years before she met Xandra, she allowed the other woman to pamper her gracefully.
Later in her pregnancy, she began to chaff at the limits Xandra tried to impose on her. Brie's moodiness kept Xandra worried that her lover was losing interest in her and in response she became even more restrictive. The two of them had gone in vicious circles until one day they exploded into a shouting match. Thinking back on it , Xandra was still surprised at the way Brie stood up to her. They had thrown accusations at each other for several minutes before Xandra had barked that Brie might as well leave now as later.
Brie had paused and gazed sadly at Xandra. A tear escaped the corner of the young woman's eye as she asked in a quiet voice "Why are you so sure I'll leave?"
Xandra had lowered her eyes and muttered "Because I never get to keep anything good and I'd rather you left on your own than be taken from me like everyone else."
Brie had gathered Xandra in her arms and held her as closely as she could with their daughter growing large between them. "I'll never leave you my love, not even in death." They had both been startled by the reassurance, as if it had been said between them before. It didn't bother them for long though, as their desire bloomed, a natural result of their passionate argument.
In the years that followed, they had often experienced these moments of deja vu. They had only vague memories of their unusual experience when Brie had used her empathic talent to heal Xandra, but they began to associate these moments with the sense of unfamiliar familiarity they had shared during that incident.
The day Sandy had been born was the happiest and the most frightening of Xandra's life. No matter how Sara and even Brie herself had tried to convince her that everything was happening as it should, Xandra was consumed with worry for her partner and their child. Every time a labor pain hit Brie, Xandra wanted to take back their decision to have a child. She felt responsible for the pain Brie was experiencing and swore that obligations to the colony be damned, Brie was never going through this again. If she had to, Xandra would fulfill both of their obligations.
She had alternated between pacing about the room and grasping her lovers hand as she panted through each contraction. Finally, Brie had snapped at her to "keep still, I'm getting tired just watching you." Xandra had settled in a chair next to the pregnant woman and stared at her in bewilderment. Brie's eyes were beginning to glaze and she was not making sense any more. Xandra shot a worried look at Sara and the nurse rolled her eyes, explaining that Brie was fully dilated and in transition. She would be irritable and disoriented, but it wouldn't last long. Soon it would be time to push and she would be coherent again for the actual birth.
Moments later, Sara had Brie in an upright position at the edge of the delivery table as the baby's head began to crown. Xandra sat behind her to support her straining body. Sara had to raise her voice sharply to bring Brie back to the task at had. "PUSH Brie NOW PUSH!"
Brie immediately obeyed the authoritative tone in the nurse's voice and pushed as the baby's head popped through. "Again Brie Push again!"
The strain of pushing so hard was clearing the confusion and exhaustion from Brie's mind. She pushed again, bearing down with her whole body. Xandra was stunned by the sight of her child's shoulders emerging from her soulmate's body. She vaguely heard the nurse command Brie to push one more time and she watched as her daughter was born into a new world.
She held Brie tightly and whispered "It's a girl."
With the superior technology the expedition had purchased for genetic manipulation, it was possible for the genes of the two women to produce both male and female offspring. They had tried many times during Brie's pregnancy to determine the gender of the child with ultrasound scans, but their contrary daughter refused to turn over so they could get a look. There were other tests they could have administered, but they all caused the mother some pain or risk so they decided to be surprised instead.
They both watched as Sara lifted their daughter and lay her on Brie's belly. Brie lifted her hand and ran a finger over the baby's cheek and said "Welcome home Sandra Lawless-O'Conner."
Xandra snapped back to the present as she heard, rather than saw her daughter approach her.
"Mama-too, Mama-too, can I have my presents now?" Xandra smiled at the child's name for her. It was a game they loved to play. Xandra responded with the expected "Okay Sandra-too, I guess you've been patient long enough."
Xandra looked down into her soulmate's laughing eyes as they both followed Sandy to the pile of brightly wrapped gifts on one side of the terrace. The look they shared was one of profound love, happiness and more than a little desire. Their peaceful, if challenging, lives had taken some of the urgency from their lovemaking, but the depths of love they felt for each other had only increased with time.
Their friends began to gather around to watch the child open her gifts. The old-fashioned birthday party had been a community effort. Penny had been saving up the ingredients for the birthday cake for weeks and Karyn had made the candles. Xandra had surprised them all by baking the cake herself, none of them had ever gotten used to the idea that their tough commander was also a gourmet cook. Art often teased Brie that she had only bonded with Xandra for her cooking, everyone knew of Brie's legendary appetite.
Brie and Sara had spent many evenings making and decorating paper to wrap the gifts. Art had built a doll house for the little girl and a treehouse for the tomboy inside her. Many others in the colony had come with gifts of clothing, games and toys from their native lands. All the gifts had been hand made except one. After Sandy had worked her way through the entire pile of delightful treats, she looked sadly at her mothers and said "You didn't get me a present?"
Xandra and Brie smiled at each other as Xandra rose from her seat. "Well, let me see...now where did I put your present?"
Sandy brightened instantly at the teasing tone in her mother's voice. She watched as Xandra crossed the terrace and went into the house. After a few moments she returned with her hands concealed behind her back. As she approached her daughter, the gift' mewed loudly, ruining the surprise.
Sandy squealed with delight. "You got me a kitty! Let me see, let me see!"
Xandra knew the game was up and she brought her hands forward, cradling the tiny bundle as she knelt so that Sandy could see her prize. Sandy gazed in awe at the small black and white kitten. Reaching out, she gently stroked the soft baby fur and the kitten looked up at her. "He's got a white mustache Mama-too. It must be a boy kitty."
Xandra chuckled at the child's reasoning, glad that the cat was a male. "Yes, its a boy. Would you like to hold him?"
"Yes please." Sandy was speaking very quietly now. She was used to being gentle and quiet with animals. She had spent many hours with Xandra caring for the colony's animals and had been napping with Xandra's giant tabby almost since she was born. "Is he one of Argo's babies Mama-too? How come he isn't striped like Argo?"
"He looks like his mother Sandy. All of their kittens look a little different."
"I look like you, don't I?"
"Yeah, you do baby, but you ask a lot of questions, just like your other mother."
As Sandy cradled and talked to her kitten, Brie asked "What are you going to name him Sweetie?'
Sandy looked thoughtful for several moments and replied "Ares."
Xandra looked momentarily startled, then asked "Why? Where did you hear about Ares?"
"In Mama's stories, he's the dark handsome one who lives forever. I never want my kitty to go away."
Brie looked at Xandra and shrugged. "I've been transcribing Bullfinch's Mythology and I guess I've been using some of them as bedtime stories."
"Ares? For bedtime stories?"
"Well, she's your daughter. She likes stories with action in them."
Thinking about Sandy's last remark, Xandra realized that the child had been upset by the occasional death among the colony's animals. She'd never been sure that Sandy even understood; she hadn't really wanted her too. She sadly acknowledged that someday, Sandy would experience the feelings of loss that Xandra so wanted to protect her from. Sandy loved too well and truly not to feel loss, and unfortunately, cats didn't live forever. She just prayed that the cat would live to a ripe old age and that he was the worst thing Sandy ever lost.
Sandy snuggled the kitten to her shoulder and wandered off to show him to the other children. Xandra watched as she let them look and touch the kitten gently. They had not been sure that Sandy was old enough for a kitten, but apparently they had been worried over nothing. Sandy had inherited Brie's empathic talent and was unconsciously using that talent to bond with the tiny cat. Little Ares seemed very content in her arms.
Xandra sat in a big woven vine chair and pulled Brie into her lap. "I love you Brie O'Conner."
As Xandra buried her face in her soulmate's red-gold hair, she heard Brie's answer "I love you too Xandra Lawless."
Breathing in the scent of her lover's hair, she suddenly remembered her other surprise. Almost shivering, Xandra hugged the secret to herself for just a little longer. Later tonight she would share her happy news with Brie as they talked about their day before sleeping. For now, she just relaxed and cuddled her soulmate as they watched their daughter and her friends.
Most of the party guests had already left. Karyn and Art had stayed behind to help clean up and had just said their good-nights. As Xandra and Brie watched them walk down the hill to towards their own home, Brie turned to Xandra smiling.
"It was a nice party, wasn't it? Everyone was so generous...I think they love her almost as much as we do."
As they drifted away from the door, Brie stopped to pick up a few stray pieces of wrapping paper that the kitten had batted under a table. As she rose, she found herself wrapped in her lover's arms. Their lips met in a sensual kiss and Brie's heart trip-hammered. She never would get used to the feelings her lover evoked in her. Sometimes she would become aroused by just watching her move. She had to admit that the presence of a child in their lives had made it more difficult for them to find time to be alone together, but Sandy had been worth every minute of it. Still, Brie was always glad when they were able to put the child to bed and finally give way to the ever-present desire between them.
As Xandra dropped soft kisses along Brie's jawline, their bodies molded together. Gently nipping at her lover's ear, the older woman asked "Are you happy?"
Brie lifted her hands to tangle them in Xandra's silken hair and responded "Deliriously."
Their lips met in a heated kiss that seemed to go on forever. Brie felt her knees begin to buckle and wrapped her arms around her lover's waist to steady herself. "God, you feel good."
Xandra smiled wickedly and responded "Not half as good as you feel. Mmm..." She began to nip and kiss at Brie's throat. "And you taste wonderful too."
Lifting Brie into her arms, she crossed the room to the terrace and settled in a chair with her lover snuggled in her lap. They both tipped their heads back and gazed at the night sky. It was a clear night and the stars shimmered above them.
Brie bit her bottom lip and tipped her head to the side as she studied the stars. Pointing up to her right she asked "That one looks like a winged horse, don't you think?"
Xandra smiled and followed her lovers gaze. "Well, maybe. I think it looks more like a leopard..ya know, with all the extra stars for spots?"
Brie rested her head on her soulmate's shoulder and sighed contentedly. Although they never agreed, they both enjoyed this game. On Earth, neither of them had seen stars. The atmosphere had been so polluted that there was actually very little difference in day and night. The sky, when one was unfortunate enough to be outside, had appeared to be a constant shade of muddy gray. Day and night were an artificial effect of the bio-domes and life-compounds meant to mimic the rotation of the Earth on its axis.
Brie closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of fresh air mixed with jasmine and woman. She felt safe and loved in Xandra's arms and, as the excitement of the day caught up to her, she relaxed into a light sleep.
"Wake up, sleepy-head. I have a surprise for you."
The drowsy woman raised half-lidded eyes to her lover's face. "Surprise?"
Xandra nodded as she watched Brie struggle back to full awareness. In a quiet voice she answered "Yeah."
Curiosity peaked, Brie raised her head and gazed into her lover's breathtaking blue eyes. She caught the seriousness in the dark woman's expression and asked gently, "Tell me...?"
"Well, you know I've been trying the insemination thing since the genetics committee paired me with Stephanie and it just hasn't worked. I finally asked them if there was anything I could do to improve my chances of getting pregnant and they explained that my body fat ratio was too low. I just wasn't ovulating. They said that often happens to women athletes and soldiers. Soo..."
"So that's why you've cut back on your workouts. And you've been eating more lately. I wondered about that."
"Thought I was going soft on you, eh?" Xandra chuckled. "Will you still love me when I'm big and fat?"
Xandra watched as confusion, understanding and finally joy crossed her soulmate's face. When Brie raised questioning eyes to her own, Xandra answered "Yeah, it worked I'm pregnant."
Brie almost jumped off her lovers lap and danced around the terrace in her excitement. Xandra watched her in amusement and relief. She had hoped her lover would be as happy as she was, but this reaction surpassed all expectations.
Finally calming down, Brie leaned over and gently kissed her soulmate. Lifting Xandra's face so that she could see her eyes, she smiled. "This is the best surprise of all. We're going to have a baby. And yes I'll love you when you're big and fat...as if you could ever be fat. You're the type that will give birth on her lunch break and be back to work on time."
Settling back into Xandra's lap, Brie snuggled close and brushed her lips along Xandra's smooth throat. "Just how pregnant are you?"
"Two months. But I've only been sure a few days."
Brie looked up with hurt in her eyes and started to speak, but Xandra cut her off. "I know, I know, I should have told you sooner, but I had to have some time to get used to the idea. You're the first one to know except the committee. They wanted to tell Stephanie right away, but I asked them to give me a few days. I wanted you to know first."
Xandra felt relieved when Brie's face relaxed and filled with understanding. "Okay...I think I can understand that. Are you okay with it? I mean...is this what you want?"
"Yeah, it is. I didn't think so at first. It's going to interfere with my routine and my responsibilities to the colony. I'm not going to like the process, but I think I'll be happy with the results. Sandy is the second wonderful thing that's ever happened in my life. And this time I don't have to watch you go through all that pain...that was really hard."
"Humph, and you think it won't be hard for me to watch you?"
"Yeah, but you're a doctor, you won't feel so helpless."
"That's true. You know...I could help if you got into trouble. I've worked with troubled pregnancies empathically before and..."
Xandra cut her off immediately. "Absolutely not! You remember what happened the last time you tried to connect with me empathically! Don't even consider it."
"Actually, I don't remember exactly...do you?" Brie's emerald eyes met Xandra's questioningly.
"Well...not really. I remember a few images and phrases, but nothing I can piece together into anything rational."
"I can't recall much more than that either and that's very unusual. I've always been able to remember what happens when I connect. It's important to know what you fixed so you can monitor the patient's progress. Sometimes I think that we were both healed by that connection, not a physical healing, more of a spiritual one."
"Maybe, but I'd rather not go there again if we can avoid it. I felt...really out of control, no more like under someone else's control. It was me, but not me. I know that sounds strange, but..."
Brie interrupted her lover. "No, it sounds exactly like what happened to me. I just don't understand it and nothing in my training prepared me for that kind of experience."
"Well, this isn't a troubled pregnancy. You're probably right, I'll give birth on my lunch break. Although after seeing you go through it, I doubt I'll be back to work on time."
"Yeah, no sense in borrowing trouble. You'll be fine, you're one of the healthiest people I know." Brie tried to smother a yawn, her eyelids drooping in spite of her efforts.
"You need to get some sleep, love."
"Can't hide anything from you, can I?" Brie paused and brushed her fingertips over Xandra's still firm, flat abdomen. "And you need to get plenty of rest too Little Mama."
Brie slid from her soulmate's lap, took both of her hands and tugged gently. With a wicked smile she purred "Let's go to bed."
Xandra rose and, wrapping a strong arm around Brie's slender waist, led her into their sleeping chamber, extinguishing solar globes as they went.
"I'm just saying that although we currently have plenty of resources and few people, we have to set standards now. Otherwise, in another few hundred years, our descendants will be faced with the environmental destruction of this world too!" Brie paused to catch her breath, her heart beating rapidly with the passion in her speech.
"Look, I know its going to be difficult, but we have to do this. We are better educated than any of our people will be for several generations to come. No matter how we try, the children born on Gaia cannot attain the level of expertise assembled here at this table. And more importantly, anyone born on Gaia will not share our memories of a failing Earth. Only we really understand how awful it was and how important environmental protection is."
The entire council was mesmerized by the fiery entreaty of the young doctor. They were forced to admit, if only to themselves, that she was right. But what she was asking no, demanding would be a monumental task. This discussion had been going on for weeks. Placed on every meeting agenda by the relentless young woman, discussed and tabled each time. This time it would seem that she would not be put off again.
Not that the idea wasn't supported by the council and the colony. They just didn't know where to begin. Because they had all been used to working with next to nothing, they had no concept of how to limit seemingly limitless resources. Xandra and Brie had spent hours trying to come up with an outline to make the task manageable. It had been difficult, but they believed that they finally had a viable plan of action. It would depend greatly on the full support of each council member.
Brie caught Xandra's eyes as she spoke again. "I've always thought that if we're not part of the solution, we're part of the problem. I'm an idea person. Oh, I can follow instructions well enough and do my job, but I'm not a planner Councilperson Lawless is. I think she proved that beyond a shadow of a doubt by getting us all here in one piece so that we could sit and have the same debate for weeks. And while we were debating, she has been planning. I think you should hear what she has to say." Brie turned, theatrically waving her arm toward her soulmate before taking her seat.
Xandra rose and allowed her gaze to move around the room, pausing to make eye contact with each council member. "When each of you signed on for this expedition, you agreed to abide by certain principles. Now I imagine, you find yourselves confronted with what you believe to be endless resources. How much easier it would be to put off this task for a future generation. But the doctor is right. Future generations will not understand the true meaning of environmental impact.
"In this room we have the very best of several fields of endeavor. Additionally, the colony's general population boasts the finest minds Earth had to offer. I challenge you to use these resources to the fullest. You've all participated in environmental impact studies back on Earth. I'm merely suggesting that you approach our situation in the same manner."
"We'll have to handle this on a case by case basis until we have more experience under our belts. I'm not saying that we ignore the resources around us and let the colony fall back into the dark ages. Without our guidance, even a primitive society could do irreparable harm to an eco-system. Remember that some of the earliest agrarian societies cleared the land with a slash and burn technique not exactly environmentally sound."
"I've drafted an outline of procedures that I recommend for each case we examine and have downloaded a copy to each of you. Please review it with an open mind and make suggestions. Remember, I'm a planner and problem solver, not a scientist. I'm counting on you to tell me what will and won't work. I would appreciate it if you would forward your comments to me as soon as possible and be prepared to discuss a final version at our next meeting I suspect it will be a long one. Now I suggest that we finish today's agenda and adjourn to think about solutions."
Xandra cast another searching look around the room to gauge the response of her audience. Satisfied with their inspired expressions, she sat, effectively turning control of the meeting back to the facilitator Sara Laurence.
"Well, I suppose we'd better wrap it up and get busy with our assignment." There was wry humor in Sara's voice as she spoke to the group. "The last, and I might add, also over-discussed, item on the agenda is the disposition of the Sleepers. This problem has also been on our agenda much too long. In light of the more pressing issues in front of the council, I recommend that we table this issue until such time as basic environmental precautions have been enacted."
Sara's suggestion was met with relief by the entire council. One sticky problem at a time was enough. Besides, the Sleepers weren't going anywhere anytime soon. The discussion was quickly tabled and the meeting adjourned.
Smiling, Karyn Rose approached her friend Brie. "Well, you finally nagged them into listening. Giving them the outline to review was a stroke of brilliance. As scientists, they'll all rise to the challenge and be immersed in the process before they realize what happened."
"The nagging was me, but planning and getting them to buy in that was Xandra." Pride in her lover's accomplishment shone clearly in Brie's face. "Shes so charismatic. When she gets that tone in her voice, no one can resist her." Especially me.
"We're lucky to have you both to keep us focused. They all know what we have to do, they just can't figure out how to start. You've done that for them." Karyn paused and glanced over her shoulder. Art had completed his conversation with Xandra and Stephanie and was prepared to go. "Gotta run, Art promised Amber she could help him in the lab this afternoon. That means I get to spend a few hours alone with the baby."
Brie stood deep in thought as she waited for Xandra to speak with each of the council members. Already her mind was working on their next problem, what were they going to do about the Sleepers?
Xandra finally worked her way to Brie and laid a hand on her arm. The young woman raised shining emerald eyes to her partner and smiled. "You were wonderful, as usual."
"Thanks." Xandra returned the smile. "Ready to go?"
"Yeah. What are you doing after lunch?"
"Thought I'd go work with the birds for a few hours. Think Sandy'll want to come along?"
"Of course she will, she'd do anything to spend time with you and besides, she loves your birds."
"What do you have planned?"
"Well, Sara is coming over and we're going to work on Albert Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays."
Xandra rolled her eyes. "More of that high-brow stuff. Do you really understand it?"
Brie laughed. "Actually, you don't really understand Camus, you ponder it."
"Well, I hope you're not using that for bedtime stories. Although it's probably guaranteed to put anyone to sleep."
"No, I told you, your daughter prefers action stories. We're still working on Greek Mythology. After that I think I'll teach her about great leaders. Maybe start with tales about Alexander the Great, Cleopatra and Julius Caesar." Brie tipped her head up to look at Xandra in time to glimpse an odd expression cross her face. For a moment Brie shivered at the cold-emptiness in her partner's eyes.
"Alexander the Great and Cleopatra are fine, but don't bother with Caesar. His politics were something I hope to never see on this world." Xandra's voice was low and dangerous.
"Okay." Brie paused, not quite understanding Xandra's reaction. "But you know what they say, those who don't understand history are doomed to repeat it."
Xandra shook off the strange feeling. "You're right. Forget I said anything. I don't know where that came from anyway. I just got this cold feeling when you said his name."
"Another deja vu moment?"
"No...yes...maybe, I don't know. Lets just forget it, okay?"
Brie's stomach chose that moment to remind her that she was late for lunch. "Okay. Let's go eat." Xandra smiled at her lover as they linked hands and wandered over to the communal kitchens for their midday meal.
The chamber had opened on it's own, an apparent system malfunction. The chamber's occupant was very ill, the failing cryo system taking its devastating toll on his body. He was only vaguely aware of his surroundings, his mind occupied with various evil hallucinations. Alarms were sounding all around him, but there was no one to answer their call. He was the only person awake on this damnable ship, there was no one to help him. All odds said that he would die there, alone and unattended, but his own determination envisioned a different ending to this scenario. This wasn't a disaster, it was a gift. By the grace of a computer malfunction, he was free.
Now he had only to hold on and survive.
It was a glorious spring afternoon. The scent of sun warmed grass in the pasture and the stirring of a light breeze made perfect conditions for working with the birds. Xandra had learned her falconry skills back on earth under artificial conditions. One of her teachers had been involved in the preservation of North American predatory birds. Xandra had always been fascinated with natural history and when she learned that her teacher provided a home for several of these magnificent hunters of old, she begged until he allowed her to visit his home.
Instantly falling in love with the proud relics of the last century, Xandra spent many hours helping and learning from her mentor. Now she used those skills to try and adapt the several species of hawks, falcons, owls and eagles that they had included in their endangered cargo to their new home. Actually, it was more basic than that. These birds had all been bred and born in captivity and she was required to teach them to hunt for themselves.
More than seventy years before their expedition had left Earth, most of these species had been eradicated due to pollution and habitat destruction. The few remaining specimen of these grand birds had been consigned to sanctuaries like that of her teacher for their own survival. The birds they had brought with them to Gaia were born of many generations of captivity. They still had the instinct to hunt, but not the skills...and no other birds to learn from.
Having never actually released a captive predatory bird, Xandra had to rely on basic falconry skills, her mentor's notes and the research library she had brought with her. She was transcribing these manuals in her spare time. Sometimes in the evenings when it was quiet, she and Brie sat across the table from each other as each worked on their transcriptions. She was much slower than Brie, but then she didn't have as much material to worry about.
Today, she would not be working any of the birds. She usually worked with a partner when training and Sandy was her partner today. She was much too small to handle the huge birds, although she loved to watch when Xandra did. No, today she would bring them all out to weather in the afternoon sun while she cleaned the mews.
"Stay here Sandy, I'll be out with Hercules in just a minute."
Slipping the gauntlet over her left hand, she unlatched the door of the first enclosure and stepped inside, opening the door only enough to allow her own entrance.
Closing the door behind her and latching it from inside, she allowed her eyes to adjust to the darkness before moving into the small space. The wood and lattice enclosure measured a minimal eight feet by eight feet, but the ceiling was over ten feet high. Most of space inside was taken up by a series of perches, placed at different heights and offset from each other. A low screech of recognition greeted her as her vision returned to normal and she saw the young male Red Tail Hawk hopping from one foot to the other at the back of the enclosure.
Making low noises in her throat, she tried to calm the testy bird. "Calm down now Hercules, you're going to like this, I promise."
Relaxing all of the tension from her body, she moved slowly toward the bird, knowing that he would sense any anxiety on her part. Murmuring comfortingly, she placed one of the jesses between her teeth as she used her ungloved hand to slip the first jess through the grommet in the bird's leggings. Within seconds, she had the other jess in place.
She smiled at how easy this had become and remembered learning this skill from her teacher. Then it had seemed to take forever, often reducing her to a full sweat before she could successfully accomplish the task.
Placing her gloved fist behind and above the bird's taloned feet, she pressed forward, encouraging the hawk to step up and back onto her fist. With her free hand, she slipped the ends of the jesses under her thumb and smoothly brought him up and over the perch and toward the door.
Stepping into the sun, she paused again, this time to allow the hawk to adjust to the sunlight. Sandy sat quietly on a large rock a few feet from the mews. She was familiar with this routine, having accompanied her mother on many occasions. It was one of her favorite places. A thoughtful child, she appreciated learning all about these birds and had learned much from Xandra already.
Xandra hummed softly as she took the hawk to his perch in a partially shaded area she used in the afternoons. As she walked, she knotted Hercules' jesses around a metal ring so that she would be able to attach him by a short leash to his perch. This would allow him to move in and out of the sun at will, while keeping him from escaping prematurely.
As she lowered the hawk to the weathering perch, he spread his wings to maintain his balance. She marveled for the thousandth time at the beauty of this creature. Hercules was very healthy, his feathers shone with the natural oils that protected him from rain and wetness. His wingspread was approximately four feet and his magnificent tail had taken on the red color of a second-year Red Tail Hawk.
Hercules was quickly learning to hunt for himself. He'd already mastered the lure and had moved onto hunting from the fist in the enormous aviary Xandra had built for that purpose. Soon she would release him, but would provide a rehab box for him to initially use as a nest. Every few days she would leave food there for him. Not enough to really take the edge off his hunger and reduce his need to hunt, but enough to see that he survived while he made the final transition to freedom.
Moving back to the mews to remove the other resident birds, she thought back on her initial failures and her more recent successes with these endangered animals. She had taken each loss personally. Each had made her more determined than ever to learn from her mistakes and come up with successful rehab and release programs for each of these species. Fortunately for her, the wildlife sponsors of the expedition had provided her with several pairs of breeders for each species. Their proven reproductive abilities in a captive setting made them perfect for the colonial expedition.
Zoologists' evaluation of the surrounding forests and meadows indicated an environment perfect for the survival of her birds. The area was teeming with small, native rodents and the introduction of aerial hunters would assist in controlling their numbers.
Lost in thought, she moved each of the birds to its own perch in the weathering area. By the time she was finished, Sandy had already begun to sweep the first enclosure with a short-handled broom Xandra had made so that she could feel like she was really helping. Xandra had to admit that the child was actually making some progress on the floor of the mews.
Taking a bucket of clear water and citrus oil in one hand and a brush in the other, Xandra joined her daughter and began scrubbing the wooden walls of the enclosure. They worked in companionably silence for several minutes. Xandra's shoulders rippled as she attacked the splattered walls with long hard strokes of the brush. Smiling to herself, she wondered how long Sandy could keep quiet.
As they moved on to the next enclosure, Sandy was close to bursting with the need to speak. She raised pleading eyes to her mother and Xandra smiled indulgently. "You can talk now baby, the birds can't hear us much from here."
Sandy began telling Xandra about her day at school, chattering incessantly. Xandra devoured each word with pleasure. She loved hearing her small daughter talk. She delighted in watching her grow and learn to think for herself. Xandra was grateful every day that Sandy had no fears no nightmares. She slept the sleep of the innocent and lived the days of her childhood under the watchful eye of her parents and the rest of the colony.
Xandra worked up a light sweat, careful not to over do it. She was mindful of the new life growing inside her. Soon she would have to suspend her martial arts training, but she would continue with Tai Chi to retain her mobility and balance of mind.
The mildness of the day, the simplicity of her task and the musical quality of her daughter's voice lulled her into a peaceful state of mind. Now she knew what it was to be truly happy.
Fading in and out of consciousness, the man was racked with tremors as his body struggled to adjust to the abrupt change in temperature. All of his muscles were rigid with cold and his heart was straining to pump heated blood into his arteries. Only one thought ran through his mind. Over the last few hours, it had become a mantra, pulling him back from the clutches of death. His cracked lips moved, chanting the same words over and over. The words echoed back to him in the silence of his mind Revenge...Retribution, Revenge...Retribution.
Brie sat at her desk and reached for her journal. She and Sara had just spent the last few hours working on their transcriptions. She smiled, remembering how ambitious they had been when planning the list of literary works they would bring from Earth to their new home. They had wanted to be sure that nothing of value would be lost to the colony and its future generations.
It was a race against time. Their literary library was currently housed in a computer database. They needed to transcribe everything before their computer technology failed. After four years of diligent work they were up to the 'Cs'. At this rate, it would take another 45 years or so to finish the monumental task they had taken on. Of course, there weren't that many authors names beginning with Q, X or Z, but there was really quite a lot of work left to do. Brie chewed on the end of her pen as she considered whom they might enlist to help with the task. Surely there was someone who wouldn't mind helping out.
Brie decided that she would ask Xandra about it. No one knew the colonists like Xandra did. Before accepting any applicant for the colonial expedition, Xandra had interviewed each one. With her photographic memory, she could recall each name, face and many details of their lives. Xandra would know which of the colonists shared her love of literature enough to help her complete her task.
Sighing, she glanced out the window. It would be a few hours yet before dark and she knew that her lifemate and their daughter would stay with their beloved birds until the last light of day faded from the sky. This time to herself was rare and she decided to use it wisely. Opening her journal she began to write.
April 4, 2251
Sandy's birthday party was a smashing success. All the guests seemed to have a good time and Sandy received many lovely gifts. But I think I got the best gift of all when Xandra told me she was pregnant! I know she has been feeling inadequate. It has been six months since she was selected for pregnancy. The genetics committee was so excited about the potential of a child born with Xandra and Stephanie's genes that the pressure seemed even greater.
Xandra has always been good at everything she tries to do. To think herself a failure in this important area must have caused her a lot of pain. I tried to be supportive, but nothing I could say helped. I got pregnant so easily; it seemed a shame for it to be so hard for her. And of all the reasons you'd think someone on that committee could have told her what the problem was earlier. The thought had crossed my mind, but no one told me she wasn't ovulating. If I'd known that was the problem, I could have helped her change that months ago.
Well, the important thing now is to be there for her and help her. Sandy has been such a delight for us; another baby can only bring more joy. I wonder if it will be a boy or a girl? Will it look more like Xandra or Stephanie? Not that any of that matters, a new life in a new world, what could be more important. I know Xandra is pleased. For her to be willing to get 'big and fat' as she put it, she must really want this baby.
This morning's council meeting was a huge success. Karyn was right, it had been a stroke of brilliance to give them a plan to fine-tune. Of course, Xandra had known what she was doing. She is such a good judge of people and what motivates them. We'd have never gotten this far without her guidance.
I am concerned about some of the other issues before the council. We need to do something about the Sleepers as soon as possible. Those cryo chambers are good, but they have been known to fail. I can't help remembering what happened to Amber's chamber during the journey from Earth. What if one of the chambers failed again? Most likely the person would die, but what if they survived long enough to wake some of the others. It would be a disaster to have them awake and in possession of the Artemis. With all the firepower aboard that ship, we wouldn't stand a chance against them. We download and review the ship's logs every cycle, but a lot can happen in four days. We could be setting ourselves up for real trouble.
The genetics committee seems to be getting out of hand. Last cycle they proposed to the council that we selectively breed for psychic talents. At first, it seemed like a good idea. But I've had time to think it over and now the concept worries me. Admittedly, some of the talents that have appeared in the human population over the last hundred years or so have turned out to be very valuable. My own empathic talent has saved many lives when traditional medical techniques offered no solutions. But the percentage of naturally occurring psychic talent in Earth's general population was very small, perhaps for good reasons. Selectively breeding for empaths, telepaths and telekinetics makes some sense in limited numbers! I don't think even the committee can find a good reason to breed for pre-cog's. That talent is seen as more of a curse than a gift, and rightly so. Who really wants to know their own future, the time and reason for their own death? This kind of knowledge has caused many pre-cogs to commit suicide or die prematurely due to carelessness.
I guess both of these problems will have to wait until we can deal with the environmental control issues. I get so impatient with how slowly things seem to move. Xandra assures me that it is the nature of the beast, anything done by a committee takes much longer than if the same task were given to an individual. The up side is that we get the benefit of nine different perspectives before making any decisions that could effect the colony for generations to come.
Despite the challenges we face every day, I am very happy. I am doing the work that is most important to me. Where else could I use both my medical and archivist skills? Where else could I have a child with the woman I love or any other woman for that matter? Where else could I have my own home, with my own family? I thank whatever Gods there might be every day for these gifts. When my family died of the plague, I never thought I'd be happy again. Xandra, Gaia, Sandy and our many friends have made my dreams come true.
Brie smiled as she leaned back in her seat to wait for the ink to dry on the page before closing her journal. I am truly happy, she thought.
Fading in and out of consciousness, the man knew his time was growing short. He had to get help or else his dreams of vengeance would die with him. Struggling for control of his now unresponsive body, he managed to push himself into a sitting position. Teetering on the edge of the cryo chamber bed, he stumbled to his feet as the room spun uncontrollably. His vision was blurred, but he managed to make out another sleep chamber just a few feet away. Unable to walk, he slid to the floor and crawled toward the second chamber, activating the controls before collapsing in a heap on the floor, unconscious once more.
The young woman awoke slowly, not sure of where she was. The sound of alarms greeted her as she tried to sit up. Breathing deeply, she took her time and allowed her body to acclimate before trying to move again. Blinking moisture back into her eyes, she tried to determine where she was. Memory returned almost the same time as her vision cleared and she spied the man lying on the floor at her feet.
A feral smile crossed her face as she recognized him. "Well, Daddy, I guess you need me this time. But why should I help you, you son of a bitch?"
Studying her father, Arianna DuMonte immediately recognized the signs of cryo sleep disease. His skin was a blue-white tone and had lost all elasticity. His breathing was labored and erratic. Reluctantly touching her fingers to his paper thin skin, she felt his throat and found a faint heartbeat. He was weakening and she knew that without treatment her father would die. While the thought brought her unexpected joy, another part of her knew that she couldn't let that happen. Her medical training was so intertwined with her empathic need to help others that she was unable to judge their worthiness to live. She was bound by her oath and her principles to help even this man who had made her life a living hell.
Taking a few deep breaths, she slid off the cryo chamber bed and stumbled to the replicator. Selecting a revitalizing drink, she sank into a chair behind the computer console and assessed the situation. It seemed that her father's chamber had failed almost twelve hours ago. She was going to have to get some nourishment and fluids into him soon, or nothing else would do any good. He was so far gone that she immediately rejected the idea of making empathic contact with him, secretly glad that she didn't have to touch him in this way.
Arianna hated her father. She had only joined him in this mission because she hated Xandra Lawless almost as much. If Xandra had not broken her promise to the little girl that Arianna had been those many years ago, Aaron DuMonte would not have been able to abuse her over and over. It was Xandra's fault that her father had been dismissed from military service. It was Xandra's fault that Arianna's mother had killed herself from the shame and it was Xandra's fault that Arianna had become the victim of her father's cruelty for nearly ten years. Xandra had promised to come back for her and she never came.
Now, with the battle for the planet lost, Arianna would help him again. This time not out of hate, but out of fear for what would become of her if she didn't. The idea of spending the next hundred years or more as a popsicle was definitely not appealing. She knew that the colonists held them all responsible for the attack on the planet. They had not known what to do with the survivors of her father's crew and so had put off dealing with them by placing them all in cryo- sleep. Once they realized that the chambers had begun to fail, they would have to come up with an alternative and that too frightened Arianna. She was beginning to regret ever getting involved with her father again.
Sighing in her frustration, she rose more steadily this time and set about the task at hand. He might die anyway, but she would do everything medically possible to see that he lived. She'd worry about the future later, that is if she had one to look forward to.
Return to The Bard's Corner