"For the Love of Gaia" Copyright 1998 by Felioness (felioness@printwizard.net)

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. I’m 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. I’ve 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.

For the Love of Gaia
Part II
by Felioness

Chapter 6

Aaron DuMonte was an evil man. He knew it and relished it with every breath, every beat of his malevolent heart. He enjoyed being cruel and never once worried about the repercussions of his behavior. Believing that he had been born to a purpose, he felt vindicated in his actions, no matter who they hurt. His family had abandoned him as a child and he had been raised by the government. It had been only natural to join the military at an early age.

He was extremely intelligent and dangerously charismatic. Unparalleled in strategic planning, he had been elevated in rank time and time again over the years, furthering his career at every opportunity. That was how he ended up marrying Arianna's mother. She was the daughter of a very influential general, a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Carla Willard DuMonte had been a lovely, delicate young woman. Just the kind he delighted in dominating. She had thought to leave him early in their marriage after discovering what he was really like, but her history of mental instability helped Aaron convince her father that she had once again become unbalanced. Her tales of his cruelty fell on deaf ears. She got no help from her family and Aaron threatened to keep their daughter, Arianna, if Carla insisted on divorce.

She loved her daughter more than anything in life and so Carla had stayed. Aaron punished her repeatedly over the following years for her perceived disloyalty. Each time she thought she could stand no more, she persevered for her tiny daughter. When Carla had reached the point where she no longer cared if she lived to see another day, Aaron began to threaten her with cruelty to Arianna if she left and so she stayed.

When Xandra had exposed Aaron's illegal activities, Carla had thought she would finally be free, but her family again abandoned her. They were afraid that they would be guilty by association if they helped her in any way. Finally Carla could take no more. One evening three weeks after Aaron's court marshal, Carla kissed Arianna good night. She begged her daughter to never forget how much she loved her, then she calmly ascended the stairs to the roof of their penthouse apartment and walked off the edge, falling twenty stories to her death.

As Carla ended her incarceration, Arianna's began. Aaron was as deviant as a father as he was in everything else. The evening after Carla's funeral, Aaron had gone to his eight-year old daughter and informed her that since her mother had left them, she would have to take her place in all things. That night, as terror consumed Arianna, she was cruelly victimized by her father. And it was only the beginning.

Arianna spent several months waiting for her friend Xandra to come and rescue her. Xandra had become her favorite playmate during the years that she had worked with Arianna's father. Once, when she had suspected that Aaron was beating his wife, Xandra had promised Arianna that if she was ever in trouble and needed help, Xandra would come for her. But now she waited and waited, enduring her father's every cruel whim – and Xandra never came.

After a few years of the constant abuse, Arianna's hopes of rescue were abandoned, replaced with hatred for the woman who had broken her promise. She kept silent about her father's behavior since she knew it could get worse. After all, look what had happened to Mama. Arianna hated Aaron, but she wanted to live. She was never so happy as the day she tested positive as an empath and was accepted into medical school. Her intelligence and empathic skills had rescued her when nothing else could.

Now she was once again confined with the man who had driven her mother to suicide and ruined Arianna's chances of a normal partnership with another human being. After all the years of Aaron's abuse, Arianna could hardly stand to be touched. She avoided contact whenever possible, only touching others when treating their illnesses and injuries.

She wanted desperately to escape before he regained consciousness, but there was nowhere to go. It was the ship and her father or the planet and Xandra. After the attack on the colony, she had no illusions of sympathy or assistance from the colonists.

Overwhelmed by the hopelessness of her situation, Arianna leaned against the wall for support. Tears slipped from the corners of her violet eyes and slid down pale cheeks. Her knees weakened at the thought of being alone with Aaron again. At least on the Avenger, with a full crew, they had never really been alone. No longer able to stand, she slid down the wall and, cradling her head in her hands, she began to sob in earnest.

Ascending the long path into consciousness, he slowly became aware of the sounds and smells around him. Aaron had never spent much time in medical facilities, but was able to recognize the sounds of the monitoring equipment attached to his emaciated body. Opening his dark eyes, he experienced a sharp pain in his head in response to the bright lights of the med lab. He narrowed his eyes and breathed deeply, smiling in satisfaction. He had survived. Judging by the professional way he had been treated, he had a good idea who had awakened to help him. The question he was considering now was why.

Why? Arianna was the only doctor among his crewmembers and she would have loved to see him dead. Well, he'd soon have an answer to that. Trying to move was impossible. He must be weaker that he thought. Then he noticed that he was secured to the table with restraining straps. Smiling grimly, he realized that his daughter did not trust him. "Wise little girl, you managed to learn a few things in spite of yourself."

"DuMonte." The flat tone in Arianna's voice revealed nothing.

Aaron's voice cracked as he attempted to answer her. "What kind of greeting is that for your dear old dad?"

"Dear?…absolutely not. Old?…perhaps, that remains to be seen. Dad?…only to my great misfortune. Actually, you're lucky that I took an oath to preserve life. As it is, I was strongly reconsidering the wisdom of that oath…in your case."

"Arianna my dear, surely you don't mean that…?"

"Every word and more. Now let's drop pretenses and get down to business. You're awake and alive. I'm awake and alive. We've been asleep four years. The colony is prospering and expanding. They appear to monitor activity on this ship every four days. Your chamber failed 72 hours ago. That information will automatically be downloaded to the planet in another 24-hours along with data confirming that my chamber thaw was activated as well. They know who's in each chamber; there's a roster in the records, so they'll know that it's you and me. I've tried to alter the records, but I'm locked out of their computer system…we have read-only access. When they find out that we're awake, they'll come after us. Since your cryo chamber failed, they may reconsider keeping us in cryo-sleep…they may decide that we aren't worth the risk and just get rid of us permanently. That's the only reason I helped you. Something about the devil you know being better than the devil you don't know. What are we going to do?"

"Arianna my dear, if you'll just release these straps…"

"No way. You tell me what to do and I'll do it. You aren't going anywhere." Arianna set her jaw firmly and stared into his cold dark eyes. This time she wasn't the first to look away. That in itself was a small victory.

Aaron considered their situation for a moment before responding. It appeared that his daughter had finally come into her own. Maybe he could sway her to his way of thinking. It was worth thinking about, but some other time. They had to have a plan…and soon.

"Have it your way Arianna, but surely you can trust me enough to loosen the restraints. I am very weak and they are rather uncomfortable."

"Too bad, you've made me much more than uncomfortable in the past. I have no sympathy. The only reason you're alive is I need your expertise. If you refuse to cooperate, I'll just space you." She smiled evilly. "Actually, that could be a lot of fun. Just give me a reason you fucking bastard and I'll do it in a heartbeat." The tone of her voice turned flat. "You see, you're tied down because I'm an intelligent, cautious woman, not because I'm afraid of you. There's nothing left that you can do to hurt me. It's already been done.

Now…you can help me figure out what to do or you die. I can just see your face as you try to breathe in the vacuum of space. Your eyes will pop first, and then your veins will burst from the pressure, splattering your vile blood across space. Finally, and you'll still be alive to feel it, your internal organs will implode one by one. It should be an excruciatingly painful way to die."

Aaron considered the young woman carefully before responding. "You couldn't do it."

"Oh, I think you underestimate me Daddy dearest. Remember, I may be Carla's daughter, but I'm your daughter too. Never forget that. Now, what'll it be?" Arianna's face was expressionless as she waited for his answer.

"Alright, we need to get as much information as we can about the colony and especially Xandra."

"Already done. There's not too much on the colony. Apparently they've only uploaded basic records to this computer. Mostly marriage, birth and death records."

"That won't be much help. Anything specific about Xandra?"

"She has married and they have a daughter, that's all I know."

A slow smile spread across his face, turning to guttural laughter. "That's all we need. Now I know how to get to her. I have to be able to move…get my strength back. If you want to win, get these straps off me and help me get up."

When Arianna hesitated Aaron barked "Don't be stupid girl...I'm not going to hurt you, soon I'll have Xandra and she'll be more fun that you ever were." Aaron paused a moment to regain his composure. In a placating tone he continued. " Now help me up, we've got work to do."

Chapter 7

The docking bay doors opened slowly, revealing the activated fighter hovering in the bay. As soon as the clearance would allow, the fighter shot out of the belly of the giant starship and towards the nearest of three moons. Moving erratically, the fighter played hop-scotch in the shadows of the moons, camouflaging its position, waiting for the inhabited hemisphere of the planet to rotate away from their location. When it was sure that the early warning systems on the planet were out of range, the fighter deployed atmosphere wings and descended toward the planet's surface.

Sandy and the other children gathered beside the communal kitchens, chattering excitedly. Today they were going on a field trip, rather a literal name for their outings in the wilds of Gaia. Many of the children remembered school field trips on Earth. They went to museums, libraries and historical buildings, but they never went outside to explore the wonders of nature. Sadly, the only wonder of nature remaining on Earth when they left was the survival of mankind. By now, 50 years later, even mankind could be extinct.

Twenty-five children from the same family cooperative made up the group. Eight adults would accompany them today as teachers and chaperones. Two or three of the adults were discretely armed with projectile weaponry. Although they were reasonably sure of the safety of the group, there were some unpredictable predators on the planet that might instinctively choose one of the children as a target. Best to be prepared for all eventualities.

Neither of Sandy's parents were able to get away to participate in today's picnic. Sandy was a little disappointed, but she was used to her mothers' important work. Anyway, her friend Amber and her mother were going along and she was looking forward to playing in the lake with them. Karyn had been teaching her to swim and she wanted a chance to get better at it before showing off her new skill to her mothers.

It was a beautiful spring morning, warmer than usual for this time of year. As they set out on the path to the lake, Sandy looked up over the tall trees to her left. The sky was a clear blue with a few puffy white clouds lazily floating past, driven by the gentle breeze. The grass and trees were full of new growth that had burst forth over the last few cycles in a brilliant, shining green. Wildflowers bloomed in brilliant colors, scattered wildly across the meadows. The grass sparkled with early morning dew and the air was moist and clean.

When the group reached the lake, the children stripped and ran into the cold, clear water, squealing their shock and delight. Splashing and chasing each other, the children reminded Karyn of a pod of young dolphins playing tag.

She smiled as she stripped off her own clothing and entered the lake more slowly, trying to adjust to the frigid water at her own pace. The only adults to stay on the shore were the three guards. Even though they were supposed to watch over the children, they became lax in the warmth of the day and began to watch the antics of the children in the water rather than the clearing's perimeter.

No one noticed the watchers from the shadows. Four years of living in a secure environment had made the colonists complacent. Until today, nothing on the planet had presented a danger that they couldn't handle. That was about to change.

After a few hours of play in the cold waters of the lake, the parents called the children to shore to eat their lunch. Wrapping each child in a large, fluffy towel made from their own cotton plants, the adults guided them to the blankets spread on the grass and began to serve them bread, cheese and fruit. The icy, clear water of the lake was served as their beverage.

When they had eaten, the younger children settled in for a nap, while some of the adults took the older children on a nature walk. As one of the colony's best horticulturists, Karyn was the leader of the nature walk along with Gina DiLuca, a zoologist. Together with nine of the children, they headed off into the forest, away from the settlement.

As they moved further into the forest on a well trodden path, the watchers monitored their progress, waiting for them to be well away before striking their target in the group left behind. As they waited for the perfect time, the younger children settled in for a nap, curled tightly in a group like a litter of puppies. The adults arranged themselves on the perimeter of the circle and seated themselves cross-legged to wait. Before long, most of the adults had been lulled into sleep by the quiet warmth of the afternoon.

The two dark figures were about to act when they noticed movement in the circle. One of the children was detaching themself from the group and heading toward the forest. As the child came closer, one of the figures laughed long and low.

"That's the one...it has to be, it looks so much like her. And so considerate too, coming to us."

As the little girl entered the forest, she felt a hand on her shoulder. "Rats," she thought, "Caught again. I want to go with Amber." Turning to face her captor, she was surprised to see a tall, dark, bearded man with eyes the color of the shiny black marbles she'd gotten for her birthday. Realizing that she didn't know this man, she opened her mouth to ask his name. Thinking the child would scream and give away their presence, the man stuffed a rag in her open mouth and lifted her under his arm. As he began to move away, the child realized something was wrong and began to struggle. The second shadow followed the first, head lowered in thought.

Today was a regular work day. Each cycle, the colonists worked two full days, performed community service one day and enjoyed the forth day for recreation or family cooperative obligations. Brie spent her work days in the med lab. Most of her patients were the pregnant women of the colony who were monitored daily for progress and to detect any problems as soon as they appeared. Her community service days were split between council meetings and transcribing Earth's literature.

Xandra's community service also included half days in council meetings, but the remainder of her community service days were spent rehabilitating the birds of prey. She really spent far more time with the birds than that. Half a day in four was simply not enough to accomplish her goals. Her work days were spent in the administrative offices of the colony.

Having been the colony's main benefactor and the expedition's commander made her the best suited among them to see to the day-to-day running of the colonial structure. Her staff consisted of Penny Baker, once Quartermaster turned controller, and a representative from each of the sciences and art guilds. These groups had taken to calling themselves guilds, after the tradesmen of old on Earth. They felt that was a fitting description of their function in the new society.

Xandra was engrossed, studying the information on her computer screen. She had been receiving responses from the other council members through the network since early this morning. Not surprisingly, they had all embraced the task and had produced an amazing quantity of information and opinion. At the moment, she was trying to put the feedback in some semblance of order as a basis for a second draft of the document to be discussed at the next council meeting.

Stephanie burst into her office without knocking, breathing heavily from exertion.

Xandra looked up, her mind still occupied with her task. Noting the serious look on Stephanie's face and her labored breathing, Xandra snapped back from her concentration.

"What's wrong?"

"We just reviewed this cycle's downloads from the Artemis. One of the cryo-chambers failed just after the last download."

Xandra frowned uneasily. "Poor bastard probably died of cryo-sleep disease. What a way to go."

"That's what I thought too at first. Twelve hours after the failure, another chamber's thaw mechanism was triggered."

"Damn. That's what I was afraid of."

"There's more..." Xandra's head snapped up, her eyes locking with those of her second. "Sometime last night a fighter was launched from the Artemis and entered Gaia's atmosphere. I downloaded all logs to the current hour and it hasn't returned to the starcruiser yet. Whoever they are, they're still landside."

Just then Xandra heard a commotion in the hallway outside her office. As the noise came closer, she recognized Brie's voice raised in fear and anger.

"Dammit, I don't care who she's with, I have to see her NOW!

Xandra nodded to Stephanie, who turned and opened the door. Brie shot into the room and into Xandra's arms like a heat seeking missile. Tears streamed down her face as she sought Xandra's eyes. Panic filled the older woman as she waited to hear what her lover had to tell her.

"She's gone...lost. No one saw her leave the clearing. They looked and looked and they can't find her. Oh God, Xandra, Sandy's missing."

In the next few hours, Xandra was forced to deal with both problems. She secretly feared that they were actually one in the same, but as of yet she had no proof. Search parties were organized to search for their daughter. Brie was incensed that Xandra did not personally lead the search and Xandra didn't tell her why. She didn't want to terrify her lifemate unless she had to.

Stephanie continued to monitor the Artemis' logs and Xandra mentally prepared herself for the worst scenario. Just a few hours after sunset, Stephanie confirmed that the fighter had returned to the starcruiser. Minutes later the message that Xandra had most feared arrived.

Aaron DuMonte was awake. He and his accomplice had kidnapped Xandra's daughter and were willing to trade for Xandra herself. Of course, she'd better hurry, DuMonte might get bored and have to amuse himself with Sandy.

Xandra called off the search and sent for Brie. She had to explain this herself and say good-bye to her love, maybe for the last time. For once in her life, she feared she wouldn't live through this one. Perhaps she had never before feared death because, until now, she hadn't anything to live for.

Brie found Xandra in their home, preparing for her ordeal. Not even bothering to arm herself, she merely changed into comfortable clothing and concealed several microscopic hypo-sprays in the hems of her garments.

"Xandra, what is going on? They said you called off the search, did you find Sandy?"

"Well, not exactly, but I know where she is. I'm going to get her."

Crossing her arms over her chest she demanded "Dammit Xandra, stop being so mysterious, where is she?"

Xandra paused in her preparations and sighed wearily. "Aaron DuMonte is awake. I just got a message that he has Sandy and will trade her for me. Stephanie will pilot me to the Artemis and bring Sandy back here to you."

Brie's emerald eyes widened in fear. "Oh, God...oh, God. Xandra, he'll kill you."

Refusing to meet her lovers gaze she responded noncommittally. "Maybe. Maybe not. It doesn't matter, I have to go. You know that."

"Yeah, I guess I do." Brie stepped toward her lover and clung to her, fear for both Xandra and her daughter overwhelming her. "Send her back to me. Come back to me. We need you" she whispered brokenly.

Xandra kissed Brie and held her tightly. "I promise I'll send her back safe. I'll do everything in my power to come back too, but if I don't..."

Brie put her fingers to Xandra's lips to halt her words."Shh...don't say it...because you're going to come back. You have to — you are the other half of my soul. I love you."

Xandra traced Brie's lips lightly with her finger. "I love you too."

Arm in arm the two women left the house and crossed the settlement to the airfield. Stephanie was waiting to pilot the shuttle. She was back in uniform and heavily armed. "Ready to go Commander?"

With a wry smile Xandra responded "Some things never change, do they Steph?"

Xandra pulled Brie into her arms once more and kissed her deeply. She would take the memory of this moment with her into her private hell, holding it close to her heart in the darkness ahead. She had no illusions, she knew exactly what DuMonte wanted from her. Her greatest regret was for the child growing under her heart. He might never have a chance for life if DuMonte succeeded in destroying her.

She knew that Brie shared her concerns when she felt the delicate fingers of her lover's hand brush gently over her belly as they kissed. They had no more words, it was time to go.

Brie held back her tears as she watched Stephanie and Xandra disappear into the shuttle. Only when the engines had been activated and the shuttle was beginning it's take off did she notice the dampness on her cheeks. She watched the shuttle until it ascended beyond her sight and then stood staring into the empty expanse of Gaia's night sky. She never knew how long she stood there or how she got to the infirmary. Later, she vaguely remembered Sara leading her back to the settlement sometime before daylight.

Chapter 8

Aaron paced impatiently, wanting instant gratification. Having to wait even the few hours required for a shuttle to travel from the planet's surface to the starcruiser was honing a sharp edge on his anger. Pausing, he gazed thoughtfully at the child huddled in the corner of the room. She was so much like her mother, she could have been Xandra at the same age. This thought made him want to see the fear in this child's eyes.

Approaching her with the intention of amusing himself while he waited, he was surprised to find his path blocked by his daughter.

"Don't go there" she growled.

He raised an eyebrow as he attempted to stare her down. She didn't budge, refusing to lower her gaze. Expecting to see fear in her eyes, he was surprised to find hatred and disgust instead. He wondered when that had happened.

"I'm not letting you do this. I was too small to stop you the last time, but that's changed. You're not in top condition right now Daddy. This time I'll win...maybe I'll even have to kill you. I'd do it too. I wanted to every time you hurt me. Come on...give me a reason." Arianna's body was tensed and battle ready, her gaze steady. She held a saw edged assault knife in her right hand, its sharp point pressing into Aaron's belly.

Aaron backed away from Arianna and the child, continuing to watch his unpredictable daughter as he retreated. Arianna's eyes never left his face as she neatly balanced the knife in one hand and reached for Sandy with her free hand.

"Come on, you can wait for your mother with me." She lead the child toward the door, backing out of the room slowly. Once in the corridor, she time locked the room, allowing them ten minutes to reach a safe haven. As she sped down the corridor toward the lift with the child in tow, she heard her father banging on the door with his fists, screaming at her. "You bitch, you locked me in! If I lose Xandra, I'll make you pay. You'll take her place!"

His last words echoed in Arianna's mind. It was the same thing he said to her after her mother's funeral. Usually, thinking about that time reduced her to shivering tears. This time she saw red. Overwhelmed by her burning anger, she almost went back for him. This time she would surely kill him. Forcing down the compulsive thoughts, she pushed Sandy into the lift in front of her and pressed the controls. She wanted to be well away when her father got out of his room.

Brie came out of her trance-like state several hours after sunrise. She was lying on a bed in her own infirmary while Sara worked quietly at the terminal across the room. Brie blinked back tears as she wondered where her lifemate and daughter were, wondering if they were alright. She pushed herself into a sitting position and swung her legs over the side of the bed. Pausing to get control of her emotions, she slipped her feet into her shoes and prepared to rise.

"Where do you think you're going?" Sara asked her patient.

"Sara, I don't have much time. We need to have a special meeting of the council."

"Brie, you're not thinking clearly. You've been out of it for hours and..."

"I am thinking clearly...and I haven't been out of it, I've been figuring out how we can protect ourselves if they get control of the Artemis and come after us. We have to be ready."

Sara stared at the doctor in amazement. "Xandra and Sandy are in that bastard's control and you're in a trance planning the colony's defense?"

Brie's shoulders sagged with the weight of their situation. "Well, I can't do anything about Xandra and Sandy, except worry myself crazy. I had to do something to keep from going out of my mind." Sitting straighter, she spoke again. "Now stop arguing and call the council together. I'll speak to them in twenty minutes."

Brie stood and headed toward the shower, shedding her clothing as she went.

Sara stared after the young woman, not sure what to do. Shaking her head, she opened a com channel and informed each council member of the special meeting. She told them that attendance was mandatory.

Xandra and Stephanie sat in silence as the shuttle ascended through Gaia's atmosphere. Stephanie darted occasional glances at Xandra when she thought her commander wasn't looking.

Aware of the looks she was getting, she turned toward Stephanie and asked, "So what's on your mind Hunter?"

Stephanie shook her head and smiled. "Never could fool you. I was just wondering if this is the only way. Maybe I could..."

"I have to do this myself. No one can help me. If we don't do just as he says, he'll hurt Sandy. Maybe he already has." Xandra's eyes were clouded with worry. "I have to stop him once and for all. The colony will never be safe as long as he's alive."

"You're going to kill him?" Stephanie asked, matter-of-factly. Killing and dying had been an every day occurrence for Earth military personnel. This all felt very familiar to both of them. Old habits came back full force, but this time there was something new. This time they were fighting for their own and it felt very right.

"If I can...or die trying." Xandra paused and gazed out the forward view port. They were approaching the starcruiser and would be in the docking bay in minutes. Xandra looked thoughtfully at her friend and comrade-in-arms. "Steph? ...if I don't come back, take care of Brie and Sandy for me, okay?"

Stephanie was surprised at the mixture of fear and sadness she saw on her commander's face. Meeting Xandra's eyes, she answered solemnly. "I will. They'll never want for anything, I promise."

Holding her gaze for a few moments longer, Xandra nodded and turned away.

Stephanie guided the shuttle into the docking bay and brought the massive ship to rest on a lighted landing pad. Both women rose from their seats at the same time. Stephanie absently ran her hands over her weapons, subconsciously checking that she had everything. It had been a long time since she had packed this much hardware.

Turning to face Stephanie, Xandra clasped hands with the other woman."It's been a pleasure serving with you Hunter."

Reaching out to squeeze Xandra's shoulder with her other hand, Stephanie answered. "The pleasure was all mine Commander."

Xandra spent the next few moments breathing deeply, schooling her features into a hard mask of indifference. Stephanie's face was devoid of emotion as well as she activated the hatch and stepped back allowing Xandra to exit the shuttle in front of her.

Aaron stood in the docking bay with Arianna and Xandra's brat. Together they watched as the shuttle settled on to the landing pad, waiting for the engines to die and the hatch to open. In those brief moments Aaron was almost mindless with anticipation. This was the moment he'd waited for all these years. Now he would have his revenge on the bitch responsible for ruining his career and his life. He had lots of little games planned for the two of them and couldn't wait to get started.

Arianna was still not convinced that Xandra would come for the child. After all, hadn't she abandoned Arianna to Aaron's cruelty all those years ago. Why should this be any different?

Sandy was simply confused and frightened. She didn't understand what was happening, but her empathic senses told her that this woman both hated and feared the man. She couldn't feel much from the man. Staring into his heart with her inner eye, she saw nothing...it was a complete void.

Showered and dressed in her old blue uniform, Brie entered the council chamber. Her expression was grim as she strode into the center of the room and began to speak.

"After four years of peaceful prosperity under a civilian government, we are once again faced with a situation that threatens the entire colony. We must begin preparations and planning for possible attack and invasion immediately. I, for one, would feel more secure using the best people for the job. I'm a civilian leader...but now is the time for military leaders to be in control. It takes us weeks to make a simple decision. Right now we don't have that kind of time. I propose that we suspend the council's control of the colony and hand the reins back to the military, just until the current crisis has passed. Our survival could depend on it."

Brie's determined eyes slowly scanned the room, gauging the reaction of each council member. Since this was an emergency meeting, it was considered an extension of their last meeting and Sara was still presiding. "Any discussion?" she asked.

The entire council simply stared at the young Doctor in total agreement with her assessment of the situation.

Sara called for a vote and it was unanimous, a military government would prevail until the crisis had passed. Until Stephanie returned, Art Hill would be in command. He immediately fell back into old patterns as he assembled his staff and snapped off instructions. Within hours, the colony's children and pregnant mothers had been evacuated to a safe zone, deep in the hills beyond the forest.

Operations personnel were assigned to monitor all activity on the Artemis through their remote access interface. All colonists with military training were issued assault weapons and body armor, equipment that only Penny Baker seemed to know that they had.

Civilian personnel moved critical supplies into storage caches strategically located in the forest and hills surrounding the settlement. If they were forced to go to ground, at least they would have access to food, ammunition and medical supplies. Brie supervised the transport of medical equipment to the safe zone, depending on Sara to set up their main infirmary at the other end. Brie intended to stay with their ‘army' to provide medical support.

Everything in place, they watched and waited.

Sandy immediately saw her mother as she stepped onto the shuttle's ramp. "Mama, Mama" she cried, struggling to escape Arianna's arms.

Xandra almost panicked when she saw DuMonte raise his weapon in her daughter's direction. "Stay there baby, Mama will get you out of here soon. First, I have to talk to these people."

Sandy heard the fear in Xandra's voice and paused in confusion. Her Mama was afraid of something! She'd never seen that before and it only increased her own fear. Never one to follow instructions, Xandra hoped that Sandy wouldn't ignore her this time. Thankfully, the child did as she was told.

"Well, Xandra, what a pleasure to see you again my dear." Aaron smirked and continued. "I believe I have something you want. I see you've come prepared to bargain,"

"No bargains DuMonte. Stick to the original terms, me for her." Xandra's voice was low and dangerous as she descended the shuttle ramp. "If that's not good enough, let me know and I'll just pull the pin on this percussion grenade and blow us all to hell. Because if Sandy doesn't get out of here alive — no one will. Do I make myself clear?" She raised her left fist and displayed the large oval grenade. Her middle finger was neatly tucked inside the pin ring. A flick of her finger and they'd all be space debris.

Aaron considered his next words carefully. He'd hoped to have them both...and maybe the pretty blonde soldier as well. Damn...he'd have to stick with the bargain. "Okay, start walking toward me and she'll send the kid to your friend."

Stephanie stepped onto the ramp, weapon trained on DuMonte. Xandra began to walk slowly toward DuMonte, watching to make sure that Sandy was being released simultaneously. When Arianna first let go of the child, she started to run toward her mother. Arianna caught her before she got away. She knew that Aaron might shoot the child if she got in the way. Leaning down, she whispered "You go to the woman on the ship...if you run to your mama, he will hurt you both."

Sandy understood, but didn't like it. She wanted her mama NOW! The bad feelings she was having were making her more frightened than she already was. She caught images of the bad man doing things to hurt her mama. Not realizing it, she was picking thoughts right out of Aaron's mind. Sandy straightened her spine and looked into her mother's bright blue eyes. Xandra nodded to her to move toward Stephanie. Sandy swallowed her fear and walked toward her mother's friend.

As they crossed in the middle of the room, Xandra looked down at her beloved daughter. "I love you baby."

Sandy sniffed and gazed at her mother with longing. "I love you too mama."

"How very touching...now let's get on with it." Aaron barked, becoming more impatient by the minute.

Each took their final steps and the exchange was completed. Stephanie took Sandy's hand intending to lead the child into the shuttle. She stopped in her tracks at the sound of an assault rifle powering up.

"Not so fast Blondie." Aaron had the rifle pointed directly at Sandy. Next he spoke to Xandra. "Now slowly remove your finger from the pin and hand that grenade to her." He indicated Arianna with a nod of his head.

Xandra slowly detached the grenade from her hand and casually tossed to Arianna, giving the young woman a scare as she almost dropped it. Xandra growled "That's all I have DuMonte, let them go now."

Aaron nodded to Stephanie. "Get out of here before I change my mind."

As Stephanie led Sandy into the shuttle and closed the door behind them, she wondered if this would be the last time she saw her commander. She wanted to believe that Xandra would come home, but the odds weren't in her favor.

As the shuttle fired it's engines and lifted off the pad, Aaron turned to face Xandra, smiling in anticipation. "I have big plans for us this evening my dear and you're going to cooperate fully if you want your little family to live another day. I have the ships disrupters trained on the colony. One wrong move from you and my dear daughter will blow them all into oblivion."

Turning to Arianna, almost as an afterthought, he told her "I don't want to be disturbed for any reason. If something happens, earn your keep and deal with it."

With that he dragged Xandra from the docking bay onto the lift and made their way to a room he'd set up for his purposes. He opened the door and Xandra's skin crawled as she surveyed the room's contents. This was going to be worse than she thought, but she'd done it for Sandy and Brie. Now she had to survive for them...and she had to find a way to put a stop to this mad-man once and for all.

Arianna closed the docking bay doors. Relieved that the child was safely away from her father, exhaustion set in. She wearily set off toward the room she had shared with Sandy while waiting for Xandra to arrive. She had slept very little since Aaron had awakened. Now she could rest easy, for a while anyway. Her demented father would be occupied for some time tormenting his new prize. Arianna shuddered inwardly, torn between anger at the older woman and sympathy for her situation.

Struggling against her naturally compassionate nature, she told herself that Xandra deserved her fate. It was only right that she feel what Arianna had felt. The fear, helplessness and despair that had characterized her childhood was brought about by Xandra's exposure of her father and her failure to rescue Arianna as she had promised. Reaching her destination, she collapsed onto the sleeping pallet and drifted into an uneasy sleep.

Xandra stepped into Aaron's modern chamber of horrors, eyes searching for anything that could help her escape and turn on him. Xandra sensed movement as DuMonte stepped quietly up behind her and administered a hypo-spray to her arm. Xandra didn't react immediately. She'd expected him to drug her, he knew she was stronger than he was and wouldn't take any chances.

"What's the matter Aaron? Afraid to face me on your own?" It was a gamble...Xandra was trying to make him angry, hoping he would get careless while she could still use it to her advantage. "Gotta drug me up so you can have your fun?" She snapped her fingers and continued, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "Oh, that's right, you usually torture little girls who can't fight back. I don't think you can handle the likes of me...but then you never could, could you?"

"Shut up bitch." DuMonte snapped and back-handed Xandra. Her head didn't even move and her face remained expressionless. Frustrated by her lack of response, he shoved her toward the wall and growled. "We'll see who's laughing at the end of this day."

Grabbing her wrists one at a time, Aaron secured them in plasteel shackles attached to the wall over her head. Adjusting the length of the chains so that she had to stretch on her toes, he fastened the end to a hook in the wall a few feet to her left.

Aaron stepped back to admire his prize, one arm across his chest supporting the elbow of his other arm as he slowly stroked his beard and smiled. "I think I rather like you this way Xandra." Suddenly frowning he paused. "Something's missing. Hmmm...no, actually something has to go."

As he stepped forward, Xandra struggled to keep her eyes open. Aaron grabbed the neck of her old chamois shirt and jerked down, shredding the shirt beyond repair and exposing Xandra's full breasts. Staring into her eyes, he grabbed both breasts and squeezed cruelly.

Xandra didn't respond, knowing that to do so would excite him further. She began a series of mind control exercises designed to help her leave her body behind. Her mind was schooled from so many years of training that in spite of the drug, she could retreat far away from what was about to happen. Somehow she sensed that he wouldn't enjoy hurting her as much if she remained impassive.

As her level of concentration deepened, she was only faintly aware of DuMonte's actions, but she could still hear his insane laughter interspersed with graphic descriptions of what he planned for her. After a time, she was not even aware of that...only a vague sense of peace as she allowed her mind to soar over the bright hills and valleys of Gaia on the wings of her beloved hawks.

Part 3

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