To: Inga, Lisa, and Susan, thanks for your help.

The Anne Azel's World web site is now found at


Note To The Reader: All the information used in this story about trends and concerns on our planet is current and accurate data. In the next fifty years, our world will change completely.

Iron Rose Bleeding: Chapter Sixteen

These are the events as we know them.

We recorded them factually and objectively.

And now we report them to you.

Chapter Sixteen

Torgga Appala Punra stood perfectly still. Around him he could feel the pure life force of his people. It helped to calm him. Calmness was essential for clear thinking. He should have killed his sister, Tay, long ago. The people loved her but she could have had an unfortunate accident. Instead, he had sent his rebellious sister as far away as possible on a mission that had no real significance until now.

Now everything had changed. He should have known that Tay would use what few resources were at her disposal to achieve her goals. But what was she up to? His spy knew little: only that Tay had taken a human lover. A woman. There was no harm in this. Even if Tay was capable of having children, she couldn't do so by a woman. The thought of his sister with one of those animals turned his stomach. He had read that their cousins the chimpanzees were all hairy, had huge incisors, and swung from trees.

The seeding program started millions of years ago was to help other promising life forms advance to a level where they could be useful neighbours. The idea was built on the erroneous assumption that other life forms were capable of developing culture and values. This had not proven to be so. His people had had to prove their superiority in a number of wars over thousands of years. Now another seeded area was threatening to be a nuisance, but this time Tay Appala Punra was there.

We feel your stress.

Can we help?

We are here to guide.

"Tell me what my sister is up to," Torgga demanded.

This is not our role.

We do not report.

We only offer wisdom.

Torgga's anger shattered the peace he had been labouring to bring to his soul. "I am a Tap! I am wise. What I need is information! Go!"

As you wish.

We are not far,

if we are needed.

"Kaysolna." Torgga felt the brush of another current of life close to him.


"I want to know everything my sister knows about these ape-people of planet Earth. Have your security personnel devise a way to access her station's data banks. Go."

"Yes, my Tap."

For a long while, Torgga stood staring out into space. The Earth solar system was so small, so far away, it could not be seen. It was located on the far edge of the outer spiral of the galaxy. A remote, cold wilderness. What was Tay Appala Punra up to?


Tap turned as Jean Lamount entered the room. "Well?"

"Her blood pressure is low. Shock, I suspect, but it is not dangerously so," Lamount stated cautiously. "The trip back has not done her harm." He would have liked to remind Tap that the first three months are unusually risky in human pregnancies. To have told Courtney at this time that she was expecting a child by a member of another dimension was rash but one did not correct someone of Tap's position.

"Nothing must happen to Courtney Hunter or our child."

"I understand."

Tap looked at her feet, a worried frown on her face. Then she looked up at her medical officer with eyes as piercing as diamond. "I will see her now."

Lamount licked his lips nervously. "She does not wish to see you. To force the issue might lead to unnecessary stress." Lamount jumped as the palmpilot Tap held in her hand was whipped across the room and smashed into pieces that bounced and rolled along the floor. Doors flew open and Ian and several other security personnel charged into the room. "Get out!" Tap hissed and they beat a hasty retreat.

Tap walked over to Lamount. Her movement was like a panther's, fascinatingly beautiful and so terribly deadly. She stopped so close to him that he could feel her warm breath brush his skin "You will talk to her. You will make her understand. Go," she stated barely above a whisper. The power of the words, however, sent a chill down his back. Tap was always polite. When she wasn't it was wise to be afraid.

"Understood," he stated and left as quickly as he could without seeming to run.

Tap paced about the room, barely controlling the frustration and anger that came from the hurt at Courtney's rejection of her and their child. She didn't understand. Courtney had said that she loved her. Had she lied?

"Tap, may I enter?" Tap looked up to see Haichen standing in the doorway. That had never happened before. A Tap is always aware. She could see the uncertainty and concern in Haichen's face. Emotions, Tap was to realize, can cloud reason and dull perception and awareness.

"I have much to think about and do not wish to be disturbed. That should have been obvious," Tap responded coldly, trying to give the impression that she had been aware of Haichen's presence. "You have done so, I am assuming, because the situation warrants it."

Relief then fear showed on Haichen's face. It was not wise to displease a Tap. "I apologize for disturbing your contemplation, Tap. Torgga Appala Punra has attempted to access our data banks."

A smile, cold and challenging, slowly raised the corner of Tap's mouth. One eyebrow arched up and she looked at Haichen with eyes sparkling with excitement. "Have you ever been in a war, Haichen?"

"Not direct combat, Tap."

"It is a horrible, draining, demanding lover who always leaves deep scars on your soul. Yet a lover war is because it can draw and hold your heart."

Haichen frowned. She had not ever seen Tap like this. Her commander was known for her clear, logical thought and calm assessments. She was speaking like a Guardian not a Tap. "Your orders, Tap?"

Tap's smile widened into a grin. "Let my brother retrieve all the data he wants...on planet Earth. He has neither the skill or the flexibility to use that information to his real advantage."

Haichen's eyes widened in shock. Tap had just openly criticized her brother. Most had thought her sitting in Torgga Appala Punra's presence had been a signal that Tap meant to claim Earth as her sole right but it had been far more than that. Tap meant to rebel against her brother.

"Are you afraid, Haichen?" Tap asked, with quiet confidence.


Tap nodded. "That is wise."

Lamount entered Courtney Hunter's room quietly and sat down on a chair beside the bed. Courtney did not acknowledge his presence but continued to stare at the ceiling. She had woken to find herself back at Tap's home in the room where she had been originally held prisoner. The only difference was the iron grate welded over the hole she had escaped through before and the fact that the room now had conventional "human" furniture in it. How she had got here from Geneva, how long she had been kept unconscious, or what they had done to her, she had no idea.

"Tap has requested that I talk with you," he started. Haichen had told him that the human greatly admired honesty.

"About what?" The question did not indicate interest in its tone. Courtney had not moved, not even shifted her eyes.

"Tap is not happy that you do not wish to see her." Lamount could feel the sweat running down his back. He must be careful not to undermine Tap's dignity.

"That's too bad."

Lamount tried not to show his fear. "She is most concerned and has ordered me to make sure that you and the child are well."

Courtney's head turned and she looked at Lamount with eyes rimmed in red from crying. "I am just the incubator for Tap's little alien. She cares for no one."

Lamount frowned at his hands trying to think of how to deal with this. "Tap is second only to her brother. They are like a royal house. They have absolute power. With power comes terrible responsibilities and danger. Taps must always think of the well being of their people first. That does not mean that their personal loyalties are not as strong as anyone else."

"I am lying here wondering, why me? Why not one of her own kind?" Courtney asked, a hardness in her voice reflecting her suspicions.

"We can not breed anymore."

"What! None of you?"

Lamount shook his head and sighed. "Few. Our population is dwindling. For a long time, the Taps were still able to... but not now."

Courtney's hand went to her stomach. "Then what is in me?"

"You were fertilized by a synthetically produced sperm carrying Tap's genetic code. I have been working on the process for years." Lamount heard the pride creeping into his voice despite his fear.

Courtney's head shifted again and she went back to looking at the ceiling. "So that is it, then?" Her voice was flat and emotionless. "Tap needed a human incubator and I walked in."

"No! You do not understand. That is not the case. Our research was continuing and we planned to create a similar egg with the genetic coded imbedded in it of one of the women of noble blood. Instead, Tap ordered that it was to be you. She has feelings towards you."

Courtney snorted. "I am aware of her feelings. They tend to run towards my termination. What...I mean, the child...what will it look like. I mean, is it a puddle like that life force ocean?

Lamount almost gasped in surprise. Then the rumours were true. Some of the humans, including Courtney Hunter, were developing an awareness of dimensions beyond the plane on which they existed. "Humans have evolved, due to millions of years of selective seeding, to life forms very similar to ours. We anticipate that the child will look much like Tap but we are hoping that she will inherit some of the qualities that we have lost from you."

"Like the ability to be impregnated by someone without my knowledge or consent?" came the angry response. "I have been treated as if I am no more than a convenient test tube. I do not want this child. It disgusts me." Courtney turned away and buried her face in her pillow. If the truth were known she was very confused about what she believed. On one level, she didn't want to be pregnant. On another, much against her will, she knew she was already feeling protective of the seed inside her. What really revolted her was the violation of her being, not the child. It was almost like rape.

There were other issues here too. Ones far greater than just her. Why were these aliens here studying planet earth? Was there to be an invasion? What part were she and the child to play in that? Again, Courtney found herself divided in her feelings. This was partly her child that she carried and yet this child could be the key to the fall of the human race. Her name and that of her child could be forever associated with betrayal and the enslaving of the Earth's people.

Chapter Seventeen


Courtney turned to see Tap standing there. "You lied to me. Then you forced your child onto me. It is a form of rape. I have no respect for or trust of you. Please leave."

Tap continued to stand there looking miserable and unsure of herself. "There is going to be war," she finally said, although it was not what she wished to talk to Courtney about. Emotions often make a person approach issues through a back door.

The statement did get Courtney's attention though. She across the room in a second, ready to face Tap down. "You are going to invade Earth aren't you? That's what this is all about. Then you'd better terminate me right now because I will do everything I can to stop you!"

"An invasion of Earth would be foolhardy and unnecessary. The war will be with my brother. Tap against Tap. He greatly out numbers me and he is immensely powerful. I might not survive.

I wished see...I needed..." Tap stopped and turned away.

Before she could get to the door Courtney was there in front of her. "Sit. You are going to answer all my questions and you are going to do it now!"

Anger flashed across Tap's features. "Do not dare to speak to me like that."

"You said you loved me. I am carrying our child. I will not be treated like a concubine. You are way out of line. You came here so sit and explain. I will hear you out but I am warning you right now, at the moment I am your worst enemy."

"I have the power to do whatever I want to you." Tap's eyes were dark with emotion. They had focused on the cleavage showing in the v of Courtney's shirt. Courtney could literally feel the heat and strength radiating from Tap.

"You already have. But you won't go any farther because of the child." Courtney stood her ground, her eyes green fire.

Tap looked up into the intelligent and spirited face of the human that she had come to love. The anger of her frustration with Courtney's attitude disappeared. "The child means the world to me and to my people but that is not why I am here. I wished to see case I die."

"Don't go all melodramatic on me, Tap. You are here to try to pacify me with more of your lies. I have trusted you at least a half dozen times more than I should have. And now look at me, impregnated against my will with your child. Go on, I want to hear you explain this one away."

Tap paled and went strangely still. A muscle in her jaw worked. "I can take you back so that it had never happened like I did with your accident. It would be hard after this time span but I could do this so that my child never existed, if that is what you want, Courtney." Tap's voice was heavy and toneless.

"No!" Courtney snapped and pushed Tap away. "No, no! Don't you dare take this child! I make the decisions about my body not you!" Courtney sobbed finally overcome by the enormity of the events of the last few days.

Tap wrapped Courtney's shaking body close. "I do not want to lose our child. Not now, not ever. I would die for our child, but for you, Courtney, if you asked me, I would give up this right."

"No." The answer came whispered from deep in the folds of Tap's arms. Tap kissed the top of Courtney's head.

"I will not lie to you. The events with my brother forced my hand and I needed to see that my seed would carry on my line if I was to die. But that is not why I chose you. Many would have been honoured to carry my child. I chose you because I love you and I feel that we and our races are meant to live together. I meant to honour you not to violate your sense of self."

"How many of you are on planet Earth? Tell me the truth," Courtney asked. Tap spoke beautifully and sincerely but Courtney was skeptical of believing ever again in this strange, alien woman. She felt as if her whole world had been turned upside down and given a shake.

"A few thousand. My personal household, that is all," Tap stated, feeling the peace of holding Courtney seep through to her soul.

"Your household has a few thousand people. Who the hell are you?" Courtney asked, pulling back far enough to look deep into Tap's eyes.

"I am a Tap. One of those who carries the blood of our ancestors. I am of the ruling family and only my brother has more power. My brother and I have never seen things the same way. Some years ago, I was sent to this out-planet to do research. It was essentially exile. I have used that isolation to my advantage and have found that this planet has strengths that we never gave them credit for. It is not just me that has been attracted sexually to humans. Nearly three quarters of my staff has confessed to such attractions. Several like me have become involved. I have now encouraged others to do so."

Courtney pulled away and paced the floor. After a while she stopped and looked at Tap with grave, serious eyes. "So it is not an invasion it is to be an assimilation. Either way you do mean to take over this planet."

"My people have become so insular and refined that we have lost significant traits that will allow us to grow and flourish as a people. We are a culture that has risen, dominated, and now dies of inner rot. I do not wish that to happen. I see humans as a way to regain the passion we have lost," Tap admitted.

"And what if we do not want your blood? What if we see that as a violation of who and what we are? How do I live with the fact that I and my child have betrayed the world?" Courtney asked, tears rolling down her face as she stood, her arms at her sides and her hands in tight fists.

Tap frowned. "It is the same racism that I must battle with my own people. Courtney, your planet is dying not of old age but by murder. It is a rose alluringly beautiful to off - planet people in its abundance of life and stable climate. But it is a bleeding rose. Without us you are as doomed as we are. I am not asking you to commit treason against this world in accepting my child, I am asking you to help save this world."

Courtney snorted and shook her head. "No Tap, that is not what this is all about. It is about the assimilation of earth. You have been kicked off your planet and you want mine. You forget this is an iron rose bleeding. Humans might be rather stupid, short sighted animals but we are survivors. We will find a way to solve our problems. We don't need a pack of aliens to show us how."

Tap sighed loudly in frustration and worked to keep her temper under control. She was not used to being questioned. She knew in her heart that this was a better way. It allowed for the exchange of ideas and the creative growth of thought but it was very difficult to learn to listen and to deal with those who do not see things as a Tap would.

"Courtney, you have read the reports, your will be facing in the next twenty years many major crises. Rising sea levels will displace billions just as the world populations double, climate and growing seasons will change just when food is needed the most. The air is nearly toxic, the ozone layer is deteriorating, exposing your people to cancers, deserts are growing and fresh water supplies dwindling. The world economy is failing as the gap between the have and have not countries grows, poverty and disease are on an alarming rise, and natural resources, fish, copper, oil to name only a few are running out. You are well past the point of no return. You need us. You are not bleeding you are haemorrhaging to death."

"It would be better to die free than to live on as slaves of some alien race," Courtney stated quietly.

Temper won out. " You are a racist who would die rather than see our bloods mix even though the genetic structure of both of us is now nearly the same. You never loved me. I will always be seen by you as some alien lizard instead of a representative of the noble race from which I come. Perhaps invasion and the eradication of your kind would be a blessing to this universe rather than an atrocity." Tap stood tall and rigid, pale with strain. "I ask again, do you wish never to have carried my child? I will not have my seed hated and looked down on." Tap waited, knowing if she had to reverse time she would do so at great risk, worse the loss would rip at her heart and tear at the fabric of her conscience.

The silence dragged on. "I need to be alone, Tap. Please go," Courtney whispered. Tap turned and left, relieved that at least for the time being their child lived on, yet hurt and angered that Courtney did not return the same feelings for her.

Torgga turned slowly and looked at the nervous official who had brought the message. "What did you say?" he asked slowly in disbelief.

The official swallowed and tried not to show his fear. "The Council has received word from Tay Appala Punra that she will return and address them. They are now forming in the grand hall of the Taporian Council. The Grand Council has requested that you honour them with your presence, Torgga Appala Punra."

"I will be there. Go," Torgga responded and watched with satisfaction as the official scurried from his presence like a scared beetle.

The time is near.

We see a cusp in time.

All is on a knife edge.

"I do not need such warning. I am not so stupid as to underestimate my sister. What is she up to? That is what I need to know! Tell me!"

We do not know.

Nor could we tell.

This is not our role.

"Then leave me. I have no time for riddles." Torgga sneered. "Send me Kaysolna. There are plans to be made."

The Council must approve.

They grow weary and cautious.

Opposing views lead to division.

Torgga smiled coldly. "The Council will support me. I am the supreme Tap. My sister is smart and daring but she has lived with animals for too long. The Council will not support someone who lacks pride and judgement. Go."

Torgga walked over and knelt by the water that flowed through the room. It calmed him and he felt again the great flow of energy that was the soul of his people. They were his people and he would decide what was best for them. They were his to command. The people were the sea and he the tidal force.

"All is ready, Torgga Appala Punra,"said Kaysolna. The officer stood by the door waiting to be acknowledge before entering. The kneeling figure did not respond or move. Kaysolna waited, growing more uneasy by the minute.

Finally, Torgga stood and turned. "My sister must die. She is giving us the opportunity to achieve this goal very easily. She has sent word that she will address the Council. On her way back to her little world so very far away, a shift in the inter-dimensional strings will result in her untimely death. It is regrettable."

Kaysolna smiled. He had waited a long time to prove himself to Torgga Appala Punra. Now was his chance. "I would be honoured to oversee such an unfortunate...accident."

"See that it is done," Torgga responded and saw the smug smile of satisfaction cross Kaysolna's face as he left. Kaysolna had the soul of a maggot. He would be used and then discarded. That was Torgga Appala Punra's way when dealing with those who lacked cultural awareness. Still, however primitive, Kaysolna was, he was so much better than the pathetic animals with whom his sister associated.

Tap lay alone on her mattress. She had thought when she had first come to Earth that to live and work within the limits of a three dimensional existence would be easy. She now knew that this dimension was amazingly complex. Emotions were so much more intense and communication far more difficult a process.

You are determined.

You will not reconsider?

We fear the enemy within.

Tap nodded. "Yes, I do too. Yet I think that this way is better than another. I do not think if my brother destroys me that he will give another thought to this planet. War is seductive. It is life on the edge rather than the humbling existence of daily life. How much more exciting to say you are a warrior than a scribe."

War can not always be avoided.

Some causes are great.

Some honourable and noble.

"I have lived through war. I know the hollowness of victory and I have seen the despair of defeat."

Are you so confident?

Are you so bold?

Are many not better than one?

"I am neither confident nor bold. I feel that this is the right way and now I have nothing to lose."

Chapter Eighteen

Haichen looked at Tap with worried eyes. "Tap, the Malasha has not been used in years. It is something belonging to our ancient history. The Council..."

"The Council will have no choice. Whether it has been used or not, it is there in our laws and can be evoked," Tap mumbled as she sorted through documentation.

Haichen stood her ground. "Certainly Torgga Appala Punra will object and he has supreme control over the Council."

"My brother's weakness is his arrogance. Remember that, Haichen, if I should not be around. He will agree to the Malasha because not to would be to show weakness. He thinks he is all powerful and can easily defeat me."

Haichen did not choose her words carefully as she normally would. There was no time for subtlety. "Torgga Appala Punra is all powerful. Would we not have a better chance force against force?"

Tap stopped sorting through material and straightened to look Haichen straight in the eye. "War, Haichen, is a fickle, diseased lover. Whatever the risk, and I do acknowledge that they are high, all out war must be a last resort. We can not win such a war. All we could hope for is to die honourably."

Haichen dropped her eyes and stared at the floor moodily. The truth was slowly being accepted by her conscience; they were all most likely to die. "Yes, Tap."

Tap nodded her approval then turned as Ian walked in. " Ian, if I do not return, you and Haichen will use a small force to hold on while the others run. Tell them to spread out as far and wide as they can. Survival will depend on each individual's own cunning and strength. If I die, we cease to exist as a people and each of you must look out for yourselves."

"Yes, Tap," Ian responded, watching her put things neatly away before she left the room.

Ian looked at Haichen with curious, intense eyes. "What is she up to?"

"She means to ask the Council for the right for a Malasha."

"What?! That is nonsense. Surely, Toggra Appala Punra would not agree."

Haichen sighed and looked at Ian. "She feels he will. All balances now on a knife edge. We must be prepared. Toggra will declare war on us all and our only chance of survival will be to run," Haichen responded, using the familiar form of Tap's brother's name. She saw the shock on Ian's face and ignored it. There was no point in showing respect to the enemy. They had to change their mind set.

"What is this nonsense?!" roared Torgga, turning to glare at his official as if the man was personally responsible for the turn of events.

The man cringed in fear and responded to the question carefully. "Our spy tells us she means to ask for the right for a Malasha when she meets with the Council."

"I'll destroy her and send her parts scattering through the universe. My sister has got arrogant and ignorant living among those animals," Torgga fumed.

The official licked his lips nervously and thought carefully before he answered. "Torgga Tap, your sister is well liked by the people. She is also well seasoned in combat and a hero of the Plaideanian Wars. She is, of course, not of your ability, but a dangerous foe never-the-less."

Torgga looked at the official with disdain. "I am not without combat experience. I trained under the great Taz Appala Punra, not my sister. Her training was only what her rank deserved. She learned her skill from our field marshals and honed them in combat against lesser species. She might fight well for a soldier but I am well aware that it is the art and skill of a weapons master that will triumph."

"Yes, of course Torgga Tap. But as you noted yourself, she lost her sense of culture in living in a lesser dimension and mixing with these animals. Can you trust her to fight strictly by the rules of the Malasha? I fear not. Perhaps if you would allow me to put in place some... safeguards." The official smiled at this, knowing he had handled Torgga Tap's arrogant attitude well.

Torgga returned the smile, his lips thin and cruel. "Yes, this would be wise. Tay Appala Punra is not to be trusted. I can easily defeat her if the Council supports her in this nonsense but it would be smart to have a secret force on hand should I need it if my sister uses treachery. Go."

The official bowed and left the room.

Torgga felt a presence disturb the fiber of the dimension and Kaysolna appeared. Torgga turned to face him. "You have analyzed the data?"

"Yes, Torgga Appala Punra."

"Any weakness in these primates that my sister studies?"

Kaysolna snorted. "So many as to make them unworthy of our attention. This is not a planet of any importance to us and not worth fighting for. Why Tay Appala Punra would rebel for such a useless rock makes no sense."

Torgga frowned and looked out the window. "My sister never does anything without good reason. That planet is important. Somehow it holds the key to our problems. We must learn what Tay Appala Punra has discovered among these primates."

Torgga's eyes shifted and focused on his commanding officer. "Our spy has sent word that my sister will request the right of a Malasha."

Shock followed closely by worry showed on Kaysolna's face. "This is not good news. Will the Council support such a mad request? Should we... talk to a few members to make sure that they see things our way?"

"Not to agree would be to show weakness. I will not only agree to this madness but encourage the Council to support the request. I will do so with the confidence of knowing that my sister has sealed her fate."

Kaysolna frowned. "Tay Appala Punra is an outstanding warrior."

Torgga stepped forward and grabbed the sleeve of Kaysolna's jacket, pulling him close and hissing in his ear. "You under estimate my abilities. I am not so stupid as to let my sister put herself in a position where she can win. Forewarned is to be prepared. I do not mean to let my sister pick the time or place for battle. I will. And you, Kaysona, will be waiting to ensure a victory."

Kaysona smiled cruelly and considered the implication of what Torgga Tap had said. "The people might suspect a trap if the Malasha time and location suddenly switches."

Torgga chuckled and letting go of Kaysona's jacket he went to pour himself a drink from the ornate nectar jar that sat on the table. "Of course there will be a trap. One of my officials is working right now to set one up. He will be exposed, of course, as Tay Appala Punra's spy and accomplice and eliminated." Torgga turned to look at Kaysona and took a sip of the bitter nectar before going on. "I will triumph despite Tay's treachery. You will see to that."

It was Kaysona's turn to laugh. What Torgga Appala Punra lacked in military leadership he made up for in cunning.

In Southern Norway, 80 percent of all the rivers and lakes are dying or are already dead. The smog layer over Beijing can be so dense that the city itself can not be seen from satellites. The longest recorded drought was in Arica, Chile. They had no rain for fourteen years. In one year, Cherrapunji India received 2646 cm of rain. 7098 different varieties of apples existed in the Americas in the early 1800s. Today, the genic pool has shrunk to 977 varieties. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2075 there will be more than 153 million cases of skin cancer worldwide. Courtney woke with a start, heart pounding, and fought to push the stream of depressing facts from her mind. The future was not just hers now but the inheritance of her child.

She lay very still on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Her activity was inside as she tried to make sense of all that had happened to her in such a very short time. It seemed like madness and perhaps it was. But she could only deal with her perceptions and her perceptions told her that she was in love and carrying the child of an alien being in a world that was rushing headlong into crisis. What new world would she bring her child into? Could her daughter be happy caught between two alien realities? Was she betraying the human race by her actions?

Humans had not been responsible caretakers of planet Earth. Now the planet was balanced on the brink of an environmental crisis that would plunge the planet into years of economic and social chaos. It would be a slow, depressing decent into the new dark ages. Could an alliance with Tap's people prevent the inevitable? Or would they be selling out their humanity for a quick fix to their problems?

Was Tap right that Courtney's initial reaction had been rooted in racial intolerance? She didn't think so. Even after all the unforgivable deceptions and controlling by Tap, Courtney had to admit that a part of her still loved Tap. No, her anger stemmed from the same resentment that so many non-European peoples had felt in the years of exploration. Now she could understand both emotionally and intellectually why it was better to be poor than to be under foreign rule. She hated the thought of the yoke of colonialism that might fall on the human race if they tried to make an alliance with these alien beings. Look what Tap had already done to her.

Tears dripped slowly from the corners of her eyes and stained trails down her cheeks. She had lain here for hours going over and over things. The bottom line was the daughter she now carried bound her future to that of Tap and her race. She would not support any alliance with Earth nor would she actively undermine it unless it became clear that Tap was planning a take over. She would try to make a life somehow in Tap's world and remain a neutral observer in order to protect her child's humanity. She smiled bitterly at this decision. A neutral observer, the very thing that she had lectured Tap that it was wrong to be.

A bell chimed far off in the distance. Haichen walked in. "Courtney Hunter, please, I must ask you to come with me. Tap has instructed that you be kept safe at all costs."

Courtney smiled with sad cynicism. She had no doubt that Tap's concern was for their unborn child not her. "What is that bell?"Courtney asked as she got up to follow Haichen.

Haichen strove to look calm and unconcerned and failed miserably. "It is the tolling of war."

May the Ancient Ones give you wisdom.

May your heart strike fear in your enemies.

May your soul lead you to honour and mercy.

"I thank you, Guardians," Tap murmured, and felt herself suddenly alone as the life force of her people swayed to accept back the souls of the three who watch.

Once again Tap strove to find an inner peace. In only a short time, she must go before the Council. She needed to gather her focus. The future of her people who had willingly followed her into exile depended on her skills. Yet, she could not find the calmness that she sought. Her mind came always back to Courtney Hunter and the child she carried.

She had objectively observed the institution of marriage as it was practised in different cultures on planet Earth. She had been both moved and appalled by the forms it could take. Good marriages, loving marriages, had a magical depth of happiness that was the golden ring that all reached for on the merry-go-round of life. It was a rare reward though and to fall short of the goal could lead at the very least to boredom and, at the worst, to violence and fear.

Tap had hoped...but no, she too had reached and failed. Courtney Hunter was revolted to be carrying her child and contemptuous of Tap's love. To her surprise, Tap felt tears prick her eyes and a hard lump of emotion wedge in her throat. She fought to pull herself together. She would need all her focus to face her brother in combat and to fail condemned her people to death.

"Tay?" Tap turned in surprise at the sound of her name spoken. Only her brother would dare to use the familiar form of her name without House name or title. Courtney stood across the room, looking pale but determined. "That is your real name isn't it, not Tap?" she asked softly.

Tap swallowed hard and blinked back the tears. She did not wish to appear weak before Courtney. "Tay is my given name. It is used only by my family. Tay Appala Punra is my titled name. It is the formal way to address me. Tap is an abbreviation of my family's House. It is acceptable to call my brother or myself by this title as some of your royalty are addressed as Your Highness. Taylor Alexandria Punga is an earth name I took that matched my title and name."

Courtney's hands were balled at her sides as she listened to the response. She stood rigidly. "So I should address you as Tay Appala Punra?"

There was a time for pride and a time to recognize that being humble also reflects a personal strength. This was a valuable lesson that Tap had finally learned from her time on Earth. She walked over to Courtney and looked down into those remarkable forest, green eyes. "You have my permission to call me Tay. Although, I hope in private that some day you might wish again to call me darling."

Hesitantly, Courtney reached out to Tap. A second later, she was wrapped in the taller woman's arm's. "Courtney Hunter, I love you. I wish that we could be I wish that you would help me raise Tamma Appala Punra as our daughter. I will honour your wishes on this matter though, no matter how painful it would be for me to lose our child. I was wrong to assume that you would wish to carry my child. I was wrong not to talk to you about my wishes and needs. I....I am sorry."

Courtney pulled back and looked at Tap with a raised eyebrow. "Tamma Appala Punra?" she questioned, trying to capture the same lyrical quality to the name as Tap had used.

Tap blushed deeply. "If the name is suitable to you. It is a family name,"she added as way of explanation.

Courtney got a combative twinkle in her eye. "And in English, Terry Alice Punga after my parents."

Tap smiled in relief. Courtney was going to give Tap and their child a chance. "Agreed."

Courtney snuggled closer to Tap. "Tell me about this war."

Chapter Nineteen

"There are so many things that I don't understand," Courtney stated, running her hand through her hair in frustration. "Like: is that really you?. I mean, are you that body or are you just in it?"

Tap raised an eyebrow. "Do you think I got it from rent-a-body? Yes, this is me. I told you, we are very similar genetically. My people's origin is in the third dimension. We have simply developed the ability to live in other dimensions as well."

Courtney nodded, a worried frown forming between her brows. "Then Torgga could kill you."

Tap met Courtney's eyes with a steady gaze. "Yes."

"Would he kill his own sister?"

"Yes. If he can get away with it. I am a threat to his authority. So will you be if he finds out that you carry my child. If anything happens to me, trust Haichen. She will look after you," Tap explained. It was her duty to make sure these matters were settled. She owed it to her people. Yet it hurt to think of not being with Courtney or never seeing their child.

"Why do you have to fight this Mal..."

"Malasha," Tap stated. "Because the alternative is war. I know war, Courtney. I know it well. It is something I will avoid for my people if I can. Nor do I want to bring such devastation so close to this planet. I was born to lead and good leadership means being prepared to defend your people. This is something our child needs to know. If I fail, Tamma will carry on the struggle for us when she is of age."

"What if I do not want that for her? What if I raise her to think she is human, call her Terry, and raise her on Earth?" Courtney questioned.

"She will be no safer on Earth. You know that. Your world is on the brink of chaos. She is born to rule. You can't stop that, Courtney. Nor do I think you would want to."

Courtney's eyes sparked. "Oh I would want to, alright! But if she is anything like you...well, she has a right to be what she needs to be. I will not deny Tamma her birth right."

Tap sighed and relaxed. "I haven't long."

Courtney moved closer and reached up to kiss Tap's cheek softly. "Come with me then. I want to make sure you have a reason to return to us."

Their love making was like a rose, a complex layering of feeling opening slowly into incredible beauty. Yet, the sharp thorns of worry made their bonding a bitter-sweet union. Courtney's soft form slid gently over Tap's muscular body as she nuzzled and kissed hot flesh. Their kisses were deep and earnest, tongues intertwining seeking both passion and comfort.

For Tap, it was the moment of acceptance, when all the walls of authority and position were down and she allowed Courtney to lead and command her body. The vulnerability of the act was both scary and exciting. It felt strange yet good to have someone else lead, if only in the intimacy of their bed. For Courtney, it was the gift of Tap's trust that sealed forever her commitment to their partnership. Whatever lay ahead in this strange union, they would be secure in their trust and love of each other.

Courtney cupped Tap's breast in her hand and used her lips to tease the hard nipple. Tap arched with need and moaned softly. "Slow, hold on, my darling," Courtney whispered, as she slipped down to kiss the inside of her lover's thigh.

When Courtney eventually entered it was with gentle strength, not demanding but taking what Tap was willingly offering. The sex had not germinated out of physical need but was the flowering of their love and desire. It was good, secure, and deep.

After, Courtney lay between Tap's legs her head pillowed on Tap's belly, feeling Tap's heat and wetness against her chest and the waves of after shocks that still radiated from Tap's coming. "You okay?" Courtney whispered after awhile.

"Okay, but needing more," Tap growled, reaching down to pull Courtney up along her body. Their kiss reflected both their passion for each other and the depth of their love. Tap's strong hands roved over Courtney's back and down to cup two tight cheeks. Gently, Tap rolled Courtney over and covered her naked form with her own. The scent of Courtney's excitement was a heady fragrance with an attraction which was overpowering. Tap used her tongue to tease and taste the cream of Courtney's being and was rewarded by the sound of her partner's moans of delight. Carefully, Tap took the woman she loved over the top and held her close as she came down from their love making to rest in a strong, warm embrace.

Courtney held on tightly, knowing that when she had to let go it might be forever. Everything in her being cried out for her to stop Tap from going but she remained quiet. Her future was at the side of a hereditary leader. She had to share her love of Tap with that of her nation, an alien race. She would not send Tap off to battle with her fears.

"Win this battle for your people, my lover, and come home to us. Tamma and I love you," she whispered instead and was rewarded with the soft, pearly tear that slipped from Tap's eye to Courtney's cheek.

Tap kissed her gently. "I have everything to live for now. I mean to win."

Courtney watched as Haichen assisted Tap into her armor. The black material was lightweight, flexible, yet strong. A material that would spread and reflect energy blasts, Haichen had explained. Tap pulled on the thick gloves that rose almost to her elbows and flexed her legs to bounce on the heavy soled boots. She nodded her satisfaction.

Taped turned and walked over to stand before Courtney. Her face was lined with concern. A smile slowly softened her features and she leaned forward with a ripple of muscle to kiss Courtney in front of Haichen.

"Haichen, Courtney Hunter is now Courtney Tap Appalla Punra. She will rule at my side. If I should not return you are tasked with her and our child's protection and will counsel her in raising our child and in ruling until Tamma Tap is old enough to accept that burden. Do you understand?"

Haichen tried her best not to show her shock at Tap's intimacy. She was both intrigued and excited by the sexual tension in the air around her leader and her partner. She thought of the mild attraction and comfort she and Lamount had experienced in their hesitant courting and realized they had a long way to go to achieve the love that existed between Courtney and Tay Tap. Maybe if they could find this passion, they could have offspring. "Yes, Tap."

Tap put her arm around Courtney but spoke to Haichen. "There is a spy in our midst. Make sure that no word of Courtney's condition spreads. I suspect that my brother will use treachery to win this battle if he feels the fight is not going well. Monitor the situation carefully. You have my permission to interfere only if you feel that treachery has put me in a dangerous situation. Do you understand, Haichen Tay Tap?"

Haichen looked up, her eyes wide with shock. Tap had just called her by the title of a second in command under the ruling House. She swallowed, squared her shoulders, and managed to respond with dignity using an ancient title. "I understand, my sovereign Ladies."

Tap smiled. "It is time for me to talk to the Council. Go, Haichen Tay Tap. I wish time alone with Courtney Tap." Haichen stepped back and faded away before a startled Courtney.

"Can you all do that? Where did she go?"

"Yes, we can all do that. She has released the energy that bounds her molecules together to drift back into space/time. You have become aware of that flow of life but as yet your body remains behind."

Courtney snuggled her head against Tap's chest. "There is so much for me to learn. So much responsibility that I will have to take on. Don't die, please, Tay. Come back to us. I need you," she choked out.

There was no answer. Tap held her close for a long time, then kissed Courtney's head softly. Courtney felt her partner slowly vanish from her arms.

Dark eyes scanned the screens in the lab desperately. All other sources had revealed nothing of why Tap was willing to revolt against her brother in order to keep control of this small and insignificant planet. A number of times the human, Courtney Hunter, had been brought to the labs. At first, it had seemed as if this was because she had been ill, her mind over tasked by the work load she had been assigned by Tay. Now, the spy was not sure that was the case.

Tap's sudden decision to rebel after all this time in exile had to be connected to the arrival of Courtney Hunter and whatever Lamount had been up to in this lab all this time. There was more going on here than the study of Earth diseases, that was for sure.

The screen flashed to another file and the dark eyes blinked, at first unable to accept what they were reading. Surely not! The spy slowly sat in the swivel chair and started to read. It was all there on the stand alone. That was why Torgga Tap had been unable to access the data. Tay had mated artificially with the human animal and the insemination had been successful. There was to be an heir to the Tap line after all, but the cost was to be their purity.

The spy moved to another computer, stepping over the unconscious body of Lamount. It was not possible to worry about security now. Torgga Tap must know this information before Tay went before the Council. Then the next step was to kill Courtney Hunter before being captured or killed.

Courtney was worried and chaffing at the inactivity. She paced restlessly around the dark computer room, watching as stern faces scanned screens of rolling data anxiously. Haichen stood to one side, eyes closed, focused on the faint trace of energy that was her leader, now light years away. Courtney bit her lip and frowned. Haichen had said that even with Tay Tap's remarkable abilities it would take time to cross through dimensions to their world. Tappor it was called, Haichen had told her, the Peaceful One. The little Courtney knew about Tapporian history suggested the planet had been anything but peaceful.

"She has arrived and is before the Council," Haichen stated, and moved to stand in front of a monitor. Courtney moved with her although the strange markings meant nothing to her. Haichen had explained that these were not like the computers of Earth but ones that used the low micro wave energy of the dark matter of space to send untraceable impulses through the universe along the strings of space/time. To Courtney it was purely science fiction. The terms she was aware of, the concepts behind them eluded her.

Courtney took to pacing again. The wait seemed endless. Fear gnawed at her gut. She found herself second-guessing all her decisions in the last few days and finding no better answers. She was now the alien, one human woman relying on the loyalty of a group of Tapporians who were virtually strangers. Their world view, their thought patterns, their concepts of right and wrong were so different to hers. She needed Tay here. Without her, Courtney had to admit, she was scared.

Haichen straightened from the screen and looked across the room at Courtney. "The Council has agreed to the Malasha. Torgga has supported this decision. It will start when..."

"Haichen Tay Tap!" interrupted an excited voice. Officers manning modules took off earphones and moved to stand behind the excited officer.

"What is it?" Courtney asked.

"Shit!" exploded Haichen, using an English word that she had learned to be particularly expressive. "Sapata, scan for her. Lucentern, I need details!"

"What is going on?!" Courtney repeated louder, as she watched Haichen's people manning their centres and working feverishly. Fear spread like fire through her gut.

"We don't know where Tay Tap is. Something has happened. Give me a minute to sort through all this mess and I will be able to tell you more," Haichen finally answered Courtney, not taking her eyes off the screen of data that rolled past. Courtney felt her heart contract. This was her worst nightmare coming true.

Haichen scanned the screen madly, trying to make sense of the reports of the observing recorders in the Hall of the Council. It made no sense. A plot against Torgga Tap had been exposed at the last minute and Torgga had managed to escape, pulling Tay Tap with him into another place/time. The Council was in an uproar.

The spy walked calmly into the main rotunda and looked around. They were in the computer room monitoring Tap's progress. It was likely that Courtney Hunter would be with them. The human had guts and daring. It was unlikely that she wouldn't insist on an active role in all this. This meant getting to Courtney Hunter would be easy. It also meant that death was inevitable in the shoot out that would follow.

"Give me strength guardians, to face what I must," Ian thought as he flipped the safety off the gun and opened the door.

Courtney looked up with worried eyes that widened into shock as the gun in Ian's hand raised.

"Ian no!" cried Haichen.

Courtney went down in the crossfire that followed.


Chapter Twenty

Tay remembered relaxing in Courtney's arms and letting the energy of her being draw in. Gradually, the bonds that held her molecules together weakened and she could feel herself drifting off into a dimension without form. The sense of oneness stole over her, of tranquil belonging within a sea of like souls. The current in which she flowed traveled at near light speed and yet relative to her own awareness, time stood still.

She had ached for this tranquil belonging when she had first arrived on Earth. She had found it very difficult to confine her being to a limited form. Her movements had seemed heavy and clumsy and she was revolted by the feeling of touch and the germs and dirt associated with it.

Now, to her surprise, she found her old dimension sadly lacking in stimulation. Here there could never be the heady scent of Courtney's need, nor the shiver of excitement when warm flesh touched warm flesh. The texture of soft hair and warm lips could never be felt nor could one taste the salt of a tear shed at separation. There was only tranquil sameness. Here a sliver could not sting, a bump could never give soreness, and a word said in anger could not hurt. Yet it was that very emotion that gave colour to life, gave it passion and drive. What they had lost in throwing off the shackles of the third dimension was their sense of being.

Slowly, she felt herself crystalize into solid form. She stood on a hilltop surrounded by gentle meadows. The purple Nareenians were in bloom and their sweet-peppery scent filled the air. Forty-three individuals stood as she materialized. They were the hereditary members of the Council. Forty from the great tribes of the plains and three Guardians, keepers of the Way. They had been sitting in a circle on rough cut blocks of stone waiting. Each wore the costume and colours of their tribe with pride. When she had fully arrived, they bowed in respect not in servitude. Tay wondered how they felt when they bowed before her much more powerful brother.

"Welcome home, Tay Appala Punra. You have been gone too long from our lives."

Tay acknowledge the Speaker of the Council with a slight nod of her head. "Necessity has brought me back once again. I request the right to a Malasha."

There were gasps of surprise and murmurs of disbelief but what Tay was totally focused on was the tremble in the atmosphere around her. Taggora was arriving. She turned to face him as he appeared on the other side of the circle. The members of the Council again rose but this time their bow was deeper and fear made them hesitate to straighten again. Tay did not bow. She looked her brother straight in the eye defiantly. Her message was clear. She would no longer honour or follow him.

"So, my younger sister. You are here to request the Malasha. You have never known your place. You were wild as a child and disobedient as a youth. Now I am shocked to be told that you even mate with animals."

The Council looked both fearful and at a loss as to what to do. Some gasped at this revelation, others protested, some still stood, others had sat. Tay walked nonchalantly over to her brother. "I sleep with a human. That might offend you but at least, dear brother, I am capable of sex with someone."

Torgga's face went red with anger. He turned his back on his sister and walked closer to the Council seats. When he spoke his voice was etched with ice. "Honourable Council and most noble of Guardians, you see the rudeness with which my sister addresses me. By right I could have her terminated. But unlike my sister I was raised to rule. I will not insult my lineage by having Tay Appalla Punra executed like a commoner. I too request the right of Malasha. I will defeat and kill my sister in fair battle as befits the rank she now mocks."

Tay laughed as she walked to stand beside her brother. "Pretty words, my brother and as meaningless as the wind echoing through an empty canyon. The Ancient Ones introduced the Malasha into our laws so that if a Tap was found not capable of leadership they could be removed by combat." She looked at her brother with disdain.

The Speaker looked at the anger in Torgga's eyes. He was well aware that Torgga's leadership had been harsh and tight. He was feared not loved by the people of the endless plains. Yet it was his right to lead. One would be mad to cross this man. Slowly, the Speaker walked from councillor to councillor, stopping each time to see how each folded their hands. Then he went to stand again in his own position. "The Council recognizes the sovereign right of Torgga Appala Punra. At his request we grant the Malasha. Torgga Appala Punra, Tay Appala Punra, you will go now to the fields of Ternsal where the battle of Tarmalasha ended the civil wars and brought peace and balance to the forty tribes so very long ago. There you will battle for the right to lead. Go now."

Tay allowed her energy to draw within. She was ready to dematerialize when she felt Torgga grab her by the wrist. "It's a trap, look over there! She and that official are trying to pull me to a new arena!"she heard her brother cry, and then she was gone, her energy redirected at the speed of light.

The angry Councillor turned to where Torgga was pointing and released a bolt of energy that broke the connection that the official had placed on the brother and sister. The Councillor's second bolt hit the unlucky man in the chest and he dropped to the grass. The Council was in an uproar. Never had anything like this happened.

Tay did not fall to the ground, she floated, hitting and bouncing high again in a mist of dust particles. She twisted like a dancer in the thin atmosphere so that she would land this time on her feet. It was incredibly hot. Torgga had chosen well. After her time on Earth, fighting in low gravity in a dry, hot environment would be very difficult for Tay. She was in trouble, big trouble and she very much feared that her people would have lost contact with her.

Courtney got up slowly with Haichen's support. She could feel Haichen trembling with emotion but her face appeared serious and calm. "You are okay, Courtney Tay Punra?"

Courtney nodded. "Believe me, I got out of the way as soon as I saw that gun. I'm fine, Haichen." She saw Haichen's worried eyes move to the door and back again and knew immediately the source of Haichen's tension. "I think you'd better go check on Jean Lamount, while I get some of the others here to find out what is going on and where Tay is."

Haichen eyes widened in surprise and then softened into gratitude. Courtney gave the arm that supported her a squeeze of understanding.

Haichen shook her head. "Sapana, go see if Jean Lamount, is alright. If he is alive, we need to know if any files were accessed by the spy. Have him report here."

Sapana, a young man couched beside Ian's body, rose and made his way to the door. Haichen stooped to make sure Ian was dead on her way to the computer terminals. Courtney steadfastly refused to look. Ian might have been a traitor who had tried to kill her, but she could not imagine him as anything else but a friend. She kept moving, letting Haichen catch up to her. "I can't believe that Ian...well I just can't," Courtney muttered through tight lips as she watched as chairs were righted and screens brought back on line.

"I am surprised. I am not sure if Tay Appalla Punra will be also." For a minute, she watched the screen as data flowed rapidly across it. "The Malasha was granted and Tap and Torrga were on their way to the fields of Ternsal to battle. A spy appeared and tried to force the two of them into another realm. Torgga cried out and pulled Tap at the last minute somewhere else. The Council has the man, who is a low official of Torgga's court. He is refusing to talk. But just before Torgga and Tap disappeared, Torgga yelled out a warning that it was a trap, pointed to the official and then grabbed Tap and pulled her with him."

"Convenient, that it was him who saw this official. It's a sting operation and they have MY Tay!

Where is she?" Courtney snapped, barely controlling her anger at the events.

"Courtney, I am sorry, we don't know. It could take us hours to shift through data to try and find a trail of ionized particles that might lead us to them. I only sensed their destination for a split second. It was very, very hot there."

"Then start looking. I am going to try another method," Courtney commanded, turning on her heel and heading for the door.

"Courtney Tay commanded that I stay with you," Haichen argued, quickly following.

"Haichen, I am in command now. Our first priority is to save Tay Appala Punra. Emergencies call for drastic and creative action. Besides," her voice filled with sadness. "The spy is dead. Stay at your station. This is a job I must do alone."

Haichen took a step back in respect. "Yes, Courtney Appala Punra."

Courtney walked purposely down the hall, only stopping for a second to question Jean as he came walking down the hall supported by a worried looking Sapana. "Did Ian find what he was looking for?" she asked cautiously.

Jean nodded sadly. "Yes, that file was open."

"Then he would have transmitted the information before he came looking for me. Meet Haichen in the communications room. Wait there for further instructions," Courtney ordered, and saw the shocked look on Lamount's face as she opened the door that led to Tay's private quarters.

She stood in the room with the white sand and tried to calm and focus her mind. Guardians. I need to speak with you. Guardians, Tay is in trouble. I need your help. Guardians, please.

Help is not ours to give.

We offer only wisdom.

And our opinion.

"Fuck neutrality!" Courtney roared in anger to the empty room, turning around as she spoke. "What did objectivity give you? You are a dying people! And I am not about to let Tay die. You know where she is and you are going to tell me. Today - Today, your people start on a new path. It is not an easy path, being involved and having emotion. The third dimension is dirty, raw, and in your face, but let me tell you Guardians, here you are really alive. Don't you want a future for your people under Tay? Come on! Fuck tradition just this once and tell me where she is!"

This is not who we are.

Dare we do so?

Can we not?

"Tell me! For God's sakes, he'll kill Tay!"

You are only human.

So weak and frail.

You would have no chance.

"Believe me, I have a weapon that will bring him to his knees," Courtney sneered, with more confidence than she felt.

You can not travel.

You are confined to this dimension.

It is not possible.

"I have felt your world, sensed the ocean of currents, the tranquil life force. I know its beauty. I also know that with your help I can do this. Guardians, there is no time to waste." A shocked silence hung in the room for a few minutes. Courtney was just about to argue again when their response came.

Change we must.

It is the only way.

Yes, we will take you there.

"Good. Give me a minute to get organized and then you can zap me wherever I need to be," Courtney stated, as she headed for the bedroom that she and Tay shared.

Haichen felt relief flow through her body as she saw Jean Lamount come through the door. He was pale and shaky but otherwise seemed okay. In past days, she would have smiled softly, then waited for an opportunity to talk to him. But she had now seen the human and Tay Tap together and she wanted that passion so instead she walked over to Lamount and wrapped her arms around him, reaching up to kiss his lips softly.

The room went totally still. Lamount looked down at Haichen in wonder and then wrapped her closely in his arms. Slowly, Haichen heard the others recover from their shock and return to work. The soft click of keyboards did not drown out the beating of her heart.

Haichen Tay Punra.

We will speak with you.

There is news.

Haichen jumped back as if she had been given a jolt of electricity. Experimenting with physical contact was one thing, doing so in front of the Guardians was quite another. "Yes, Honourable Ones."

We have sent Courtney.

Times must change.

She has gone to protect Tay Tap.

"What?!" Haichen gasped in fear imagining what Tay Tap was going to do to her for not protecting her partner. Then she remember to who she talked. "I mean, Honourable Guardians, she is only human and Torgga is so powerful.

Her humanity is strange to us.

It is her weakness and her strength.

She is our only hope.

"But you don't understand Guardians. Courtney she...ahhh they...." Haichen struggled to explain why Courtney had to be protected without revealing what she knew.

Do you think we do not know!

We are the Guardians.

We say again, there was no other way.

Chapter Twenty-One

Landing on her feet although she was still off balance as a result of her momentum, Tay was able to block the blast of energy that instantly came her way. Even so it was much more powerful than anything she had experienced before. Allowing her body to use the energy rather than resist it she spun back, twisting sideways as she reached out and sent a charge directly into her brother's chest. She might not be as powerful as Torgga but years of combat had made her reflexes sharp and her aim deadly.

Torgga in his over confidence was not prepared and staggered under the blow. This gave Tay the time to bounce closer and send an attack from the side. Again she caught Torgga in the chest but not before he had sent a glancing blow of ionized particles off her shoulder. Her exposed neck and face burned with the impact. Yet, she now believed she could win this battle. Her confidence was shattered a split second later by an incredible energy blow to the back. Tay crumpled, unable to straighten for the pain, absorbing the realization: this was a trap.

Gritting her teeth against the pain, she rolled over and aimed at the shadowy figure that was making its way towards her through the dust clouds. She knew she was now totally vulnerable to Torgga's attack but she could not fight on two fronts. Gathering her strength, she focused everything she had into a single deadly shot. The shadowy figure glowed bright at the impact turning the grey dust particles around him to bright yellow. Then the light faded and the assassin folded to the ground with a thud. A second later, Tay was hit full on with a blow that sent her spinning across the ground and another that left her protective armour smoldering and hot. The pain was almost blinding now and Tay struggled to breathe through her own blood. She lay still. Her only hope would be if she could raise enough energy for one more shot before her brother killed her.

Her thoughts drifted to the warm arms of her lover. The gentle fragrance of her perfume, the soft sound of her laugh and the sparkle of merriment in Courtney's eyes that was a warning of the devilment that would follow. She could hear her brother's heavy boots as he walked over to her. She reached inside herself but there was no energy left. There would be no last chance.

A heavy boot caught her in her raw and bleeding side and sent her rolling over and over. Her own scream echoed painfully in her ears. Tay bit down on her lip. She would die with honour. Through blood caked lashes and eyes that stung with sweat, Tay could see the black form of her brother looming over her.

"This is the end, Tay. You first and later your pregnant human. But have no fear for your child, Tay, I will raise her as my own," he laughed.

Anger and fear helped Tay find the energy from somewhere within. Her hand shot out and delivered a blow to Torgga's chest. He blocked it easily, laughing still, and kicked once again, sending her body sledding painfully across the rocky surface. When the dust settled, Tay's body lay lifeless in the sand. Her wounds were barely visible through the thick layer of dust that had matted into her blood.

Courtney wondered if something had gone wrong or whether the Guardians had tricked her. They had told her that she would be traveling great distances, light years away through strings of microwave energy present in the dark matter of space. Yet she felt like she was floating quietly in a warm ocean, gentle currents nudging her around. There was no sensation of form or of speed, only of a timeless band of energy flowing through an endless sea. Nevertheless, she had to force herself not to panic. The lack of physical sensation was terrifying. Then her world rushed in on her and she suddenly felt heavy and confined. Sensations hit her like arrows: incredible heat, a bruised shoulder from her dive behind the computer console when she saw Ian raise his gun, and the dust that filled her mouth and gagged at the back of her throat.

She materialized beside Tay's body and looked down in stunned shock, not realizing at first that the lifeless, dust covered, bloody mass was her lover. Slowly she sank to her knees as realization struck. She rolled the dead weight into her arms and held her close. "Tay, I'm here darling, please don't give up on us. Please Tay, I need your love and our daughter needs to know you. You need to teach her all the things that she must know to lead. I want her to know your smile and see the two of you play together. Tay, fight darling, hold on."

Eyes opened with difficultly, blinking dust and blood clear. "Court!? No...leave! you. Get out. D...Don't want hurt."

A shadow fell across them. Courtney looked up into a face very similar to Tay's, only lacking the warmth and kindness. "He knows. He w..wants," Tay warned, trying without success to protect Courtney with her own body.

Courtney lowered Tay's body to the ground, trying not to show her own pain at hearing Tay moan in agony. She got up slowly, a smile on her face, ignoring the woman who now lay at her feet helpless. "So, we are to be allies then."

Torgga's shrewd face showed surprise for a split second. "I need no allies, especially not a human animal."

Courtney resisted the urge to kick him in the balls. With that protective suit on, it probably would do no good. "Sure you do. It is going to take nine Earth months for me to have this child and then there is the whole raising process. You have know idea how fragile and breakable the little sucker is going to be. You just can't zap this kid into your celestial genetic pool you know. She's half human. Her better half I might add. I mean, look at Tay. Not much to write home about." Torgga blinked in surprise as Courtney stepped over Tay, wobbling because she was having trouble keeping her balance in the low gravity. It seemed to him that Tay was no more important to her than an annoying bump in a path. The human looked around at the flat, dusty plain "Please tell me this isn't home. Hell, even an alien couldn't love this dust bowl. I've seen kitty litter pans with more relief."

Torgga looked down at the small creature beside him. He did not understand all she was referring to. What was a kitty litter pan? Still, he had to admit, he found her interesting. Humans were not as revolting as he had imagined. "How did you get here?" he demanded.

"The Guardians sent me," Courtney responded honestly as she measured distance and calculated her chances.

Torgga's face distorted into anger. He grabbed Courtney by the shirt and lifted her off the ground. "I don't believe you. They will help no one. Not even me."

It was now or never. Courtney steeled her courage, knowing that whether this worked or not she could get hurt badly. "Wrong again,"she stated quietly, lifting her hand and pulling the trigger.

Torgga cried in pain and dropped her as he covered his eyes. Courtney tried to maintain her balance as she bounced. She kept firing at Torrga's exposed flesh, avoiding Torgga's blind swipes at her. She was getting tired. The intense heat and lack of gravity were taking their toll. Her plan now seemed stupid and it clearly had not worked. A big mitt of a hand, covered in a steel-like material, caught her chin and sent her at last reeling away. She hit the ground on her back and skidded painfully. Looking back she could see Torgga loom, hand raised in her direction. Then his knees buckled and he dropped to the ground.

Courtney leapt to her feet and bounded awkwardly over to wrap Tay in her arms. "Get us out of here, Guardians. Please!" Courtney ordered.

Haichen arrived at the Council feeling the weight of responsibility heavy on her shoulders. Tay Appla Punra had carried such a weight since she was a young child with great wisdom and dignity. It was only now, as Haichen stood in the circle of forty- three, that she realized just how great a burden that must have been.

"Honourable Councillors, I am Haichen Tay Tap and I have been instructed by the Guardians to present myself to you." A murmur of disbelief rippled around the ring of distinguished Councillors.

The Speaker stood with indignation. "Quiet please." His eyes fastened on Haichen. "You are Tay Appala Punra's second in command?"

"Third, I also serve Courtney Tay Tap." Now the ripple became a rising tide of voices.

"Silence please," the Speaker commanded yet again. "Tay Tap has given such a noble rank to a human?"


The Speaker seemed lost for words. He held up a hand to her to signal wait and hurried to join the buzz of conversation that had again broken out around the circle. Councillors got up and formed groups, talking and arguing. Haichen waited, not knowing herself what to do.

The Speaker returned to stand by his chair and with a wave of his hand signaled the other Councillors to do likewise.

"Haichen Tay Tap, we need to know more. You will explain the events that have led to this day when sister turns against her brother who rules us all." He sat solemnly, folded his hands and waited. So did the other Councillors. This was to be a sort of trial and the fate of Haichen's leader depended on Haichen convincing the Council that Tay Tap had done no wrong. She took a few minutes to settle her thoughts. Only a few weeks ago, the idea of her standing here supporting Courtney Hunter and Tay's decisions would have seemed impossible - ludicrous. Now everything had changed with Tay Tap's bold actions and only time would tell if those decisions had been wise.

Eventually, she began, "Torgga Tap and Tay Tap have never seen eye to eye. That is well known. Tay Tap objected to the conquests that his leadership has lead the People of the Plain into. She objected to the oppression of ideas and the control of lives. As a result, she and her Houshold were sent virtually into exile to a remote and unimportant planet in the far reaches of our universe."

Haichen stopped and slowly turned around, making eye contact with each of the individuals who sat there before going on. "Tay commanded that we observe everything about this planet and understand it completely. She also ordered that research be done to produce a synthetically produced sperm that would carry her genetic code. She did this because there was no one suitable for her to mate with who was capable of producing off-spring."

A murmur passed around the circle. The Speaker glared. "Tay Tap's actions are startling. Go on."

Haichen steeled herself, unconsciously straightening her shoulders and standing tall. Here was where it was going to get interesting. She hoped Tay was alive because if not she and all Tay's Household would probably be dead or in hiding from Torgga's anger by tomorrow. "We discovered that the humans who are the dominant animal on planet Earth were genetically almost identical to us. At first, we thought that it was a remarkably successful result from the earlier seeding attempts. Then Tap started to study the human Courtney Hunter and she started to question this hypothesis. She also started to realize that she had...feelings for Courtney."

The Councillors broke out into loud protests and arguments at this. It was Haichen, however, who ordered them quiet. "Listen to me please! You need to be objective and hear all of it! I too was shocked but I have since realized that I was wrong. Tap called a meeting and honestly told us she was in love with a human. She asked us to speak honestly about our own feelings. What Tap found was that over half of us had been attracted to the humans that we had been observing over the years. Some even admitted to having relationships with them. I was sickened by that revelation at first because I had not experienced such feelings even though I had felt friendship towards some of them."

Haichen stopped, checking eyes to see what reaction her words were having. Mostly disbelief and shock she felt. She went on. "It was then that Tay Tap and Jean Lamount presented their research on genetics. We and the humans are very closely related, far more so than seeding could account for. It was then that Tay observed that our planet, our plains, have no evidence of dwellings on them. We know nothing of our distant past. Don't you see, we didn't evolve here."

For a minute there was stunned silence, then chaos. "You don't dare? You are mad! You insult us. We are not animals."

Haichen waited, maintaining her ground against the onslaught of abuse. The Speaker rose. "Silence! We will hear her out. It is our way."

Haichen felt her guts relax in relief. There was a small chance that she just might pull this off. "Our research indicates that we might have originated from Earth, perhaps not in the same dimension or even in the same universe, but from Earth. Tay Tap believes that we are at the very least a parallel people."

There was no stopping now, she plunged on with her revelations. "We are both species in crisis for different reasons. We need to help each other. We have perfected the process of coding genes into a synthetically produced sperm. Tay realized that this was not enough, that we had to deal with the problem that has caused us to lose our ability to reproduce. She believes it is our neutrality, our lack of contact with the emotions and feelings that exist only in the third dimension. Tay Appala Punra and Courtney Tay Tap are expecting a female child."

This time there was no outburst. The Councillors sat in stunned silence. The wind rustled through the endless plains of grass and flowers, moaning down valleys and around the figures that sat in a circle. A sleeve flapped, a dry leaf bounced across the circle. All else was still.

Again Courtney found herself drifting in a dimension of energy without form or boundaries. She was aware of Tay's presence but there was no response, only a feeling of closeness. Then again she felt her awareness funnel and her being condensed within as she lost consciousness.

She woke to darkness her body sore and exhausted, weighed down even by the sheets that covered her. "Tay?" she called. There was no response.


Chapter Twenty-Two

The Speaker materialized before Tay's Household who stood in respect waiting. Haichen stepped forward. "Welcome, Loedan."

The Speaker looked around with curious eyes. "How is Tay Appala Tap?" he asked.

Haichen tried not to show her concern. "She is recovering."

"Good. Let us proceed then."

Haichen led the way to their library where chairs had been set up for the questioning. "You will excuse me, Honourable Speaker. I will go and inform Courtney Tay Tap that we are ready to start. She is with Tay Appala Punra." The Speaker inclined his head in consent and with relief Haichen made her exit.

It had been nearly an Earth month since Haichen had spoken before the Council of forty-three. Since then nothing had been resolved. No one had seen the Guardians, no one had seen Torgga, and no one had seen Tay Tap. All they knew was that Courtney Tay Tap had arrived back at Earth holding the bloody and near death body of their leader in her arms. Lamount had worked night and day to save her. Even now, nearly a month later, Tay Tap's complete recovery was unsure.

Haichen knocked gently on the door. This was out of respect to Courtney Tay Tap who could not sense her presence. "Enter," came Tay Tap's voice.

Haichen found the two sitting on the couch, Tap relaxed in the crook of Courtney Tap's arm. "It is time. The Speaker has arrived."

"Very well. Tell the Speaker that we are coming and ask him to be patient as it takes me some time to walk.," Tap commanded.

Haichen looked at Courtney in surprise. Courtney shrugged, which is the human way of not dealing with an issue that was not to be resolved to their satisfaction. "Tay Tap has decided." Actually, they had argued, but Tay had been determined; however, that was not a matter to be discussed even in front of someone as trustworthy as Haichen. Haichen, diplomatic as ever, left to do as she was told.

Slowly and with Courtney's help, Tay got off the couch and stood. Pain shot across her face as she straightened. "You won't reconsider?"

"No," Tap stated firmly, then smiled when Courtney laughed and gently squeezed her arm.

They all stood when Tay and Courtney walked in. Courtney did not touch Tay but walked close at her side in case she needed assistance. Tay moved to the two chairs that had been quickly arranged at the end of the table and pulled one out for Courtney to show the respect she had for her partner. Then Tay sat herself and the others followed.

"Loedan, welcome to Earth and to our home and research base. We appreciate the Council allowing my partner to be questioned here."

"The Council does recognize the unusual nature of the situation and are anxious, as are all others, that this child be born healthy and safely."

"Proceed," Tay stated.

The Speaker hesitated to collect his thoughts. "Tay Appala Punra, your partner,"and here he inclined his head in respect so as not to sound too accusing; Tay Tap could now very well be their supreme ruler, so discretion was essential, "has been involved in events that are both politically and spiritually catastrophic. Never in our known history has a Tay been defeated by a member of an alien race. The implications of this are staggering enough, but we are also filled with foreboding. Torgga Appala Punra has simply disappeared and our spiritual leaders the Guardians have not been heard from. We need answers so that judgements may be made. Out of respect to the seriousness of your injuries, Tay Tap, we have delayed our investigation of the alien that you have taken as your own."

"Excuse me!"interrupted Courtney, and everyone turned to look at her in shock. "Let's just get a few things straight here. First, I am very proud to say my partner is Tay Appala Punra but don't ever think for a minute that she "owns" me." Tay tried not smile. Courtney was as feisty as ever.

"Second, I am NOT going to be judged by anyone. If your Guardians aren't speaking to you and Torgga has disappeared that is too damn bad but it is not my problem and I will not take the responsibility for it. I am here to explain what happened. That is all."

The Speaker turned red spluttered a bit and then pulled himself together. "Tay Appala Punra, you must realize..."

"I realize," came Tay's cold voice, "that I rebelled against my brother's oppressive and violent rule. If you chose to judge Courtney Tay Tap, you also judge me. Remember that,"she finished softly.

The Speaker paled and around the table the others squirmed uncomfortably caught between their loyalty to Tay and their fear of an uncertain future. The Speaker wisely decided to go ahead with the questions that had been outlined by the Council and not proceed with any further discussion of any ramifications that the Council might consider once having weighed the information that the Speaker would feed to them as the meeting went on.

"Courtney Tap, we wish to know how many of you humans have developed the ability to travel through time and space."

"None of us," Courtney replied, not realizing the significance of her response. The look of shock on faces turned towards her made her realize for the first time that this had been a loaded question.

"Courtney Tap, how else would it be possible for you to go to where Torgga and Tay Tap battled?"the Speaker grumbled in frustration.

"I called the Guardians and demanded that they find Tay Tap and send me there." The gasps of surprise and hurried remarks confirmed to Courtney that she might have stepped over some significant line in the sand. "Hey! My partner was in trouble!"she explained in justification.

Tay Tap, who was herself in shock as a result of this revelation, reached over to take Courtney's hand. "My partner's loyalty and courage knows no bounds,"she stated proudly.

"The Speaker was not so easily convinced. "Courtney Tap, the Guardians do not become involved in the events of the people. They are the keepers of wisdom and provide us with guidance only."

"Yes, I know that. We argued about it. I suggested to them that it was your people's very neutrality that was the problem. Respectfully, I suggested that they get off their backsides and get involved because if they didn't the wrong Tap was going to rule and you could probably kiss your future good bye. They thought about it for a bit and then sent me to Tay."

There was not a sound. Everyone sat in stunned silence. Courtney decided to fill in the silence with the rest of the story. "When I got there Tay was unconscious. She had been attacked not only by her brother but also by a second assailant from behind. This assassin she had killed, but Torgga was still very much alive and ready to finish Tay Tap off. Tay was able to tell me that he planned to kill us both and raise our child as his own. Like hell that was going to happen!"

Tay smiled despite her shock at the events that were being revealed. She had known Courtney had defeated Torgga and come to her aid but like the others, she had assumed that somehow Courtney had got there under her own means. That it had been the Guardians who had aided her had far spread implications. She focused again on what Courtney had to say.

"So I pretended that I was prepared to double cross Tay Tap and work with Torgga so that I could get close to him. When I did, I let him have it right in the face and anywhere else where his skin was exposed. I didn't think my plan was going to work at first but then just before he zapped me, he dropped." Tay felt her insides turn to jelly. Courtney had no idea what a horrible death she had faced so bravely.

Courtney was winding her explanation down. "So before Torgga could get up again, I ran to Tay Tap and yelled at the Guardians to get us out of there. I sort of have memories of floating about in that ocean of yours but my next real clear memory is waking up here."

It took a few seconds for the Speaker to respond to these startling revelations. "You are saying then some primitive Earth weapon defeated the mighty Torgga Appala Punra and that you left him there alive and returned with Tay Tap to this time and place with the help of the Guardians again?"

"Yes." Silence, while people looked around the table in wonder, trying to gauge each other's reaction.

"What is this deadly weapon? The Speaker demanded.

"I have no intention of answering that question. To do so might put my partner's life in danger."

Loepan blinked then gathered his thoughts together again, having heard the thoughts of the other Council members in his mind and weighing their opinions fairly. "Courtney Tay, have you talked to the Guardians recently?"

"Not since yesterday afternoon. They usually pop in each day to ask me how Tay Tap is doing. They have been quite concerned, naturally."

Once the Speaker was capable of getting to his feet he rose. "Tay Appala Punra, the Council feels that under the circumstance it would not be suitable that this human be addressed by the supreme title of Courtney Tay Tap." Courtney felt the anger ripple through her partner. "From this time she will be addressed as Courtney Appala Tap, as befits one recognized by the Council as a royal member of the House of Tap." He bowed and Courtney sat in surprise as in turn each in the room stood and bowed including Tay Tap herself.

It is we who hold the deposed Torgga.

Our path now lies in a new direction.

Courtney and Tay Tap will show us the way.

So spoke the voices of the Guardians and all there knew that a new era had begun.

Tay and Courtney remained seated as first the Speaker and then the House officials bowed again and took their leave. "Can you make it back to our rooms?" Courtney asked softly.

Tay nodded, lost in deep thought. "Courtney, what is this Earth weapon that I most watch out for?"


"The drug?"exclaimed Tay in surprise.

"No, the perfume. I knew from my experience with you that cold bothered you terribly. Haichen told me that the only thing she knew about where you were was that it was terribly hot and dry. I dosed him down good and the heat evaporated the perfume almost instantly, dropping his skin temperature drastically. He went into shock and passed out." Courtney smiled.

Tay laughed explosively and pulled Courtney into her arms. "Humans!"

"No, here, like this," Courtney explained, months later, showing Tay how to support the head of their newly born baby.

Tay looked at their child with objective interest mixed with an overpowering feeling of love. "Look Courtney, it's got fingernails. Do all new-borns?"

"Yes, and she is not an it. She is our daughter," Courtney stated firmly but with a soft smile.

Tay nodded, still preoccupied with observing everything there was about their new child. "I can take her to the staff meeting?"

Courtney laughed and teased. "Yes, but no dissecting." She was rewarded with a smile that flashed across her lover's face. Courtney watched with tender eyes as Tay carefully carried their new born from the room. Tamma was the first to be born into a new era. Ahead of them were turbulent and hard times for both her peoples but they had learned that the future, however uncertain, lies in the hands of those who can leave the hatreds and biases of the past and move on courageously with open hearts and minds.

Thoughts On Our Place In The Universe


"Who are you?" Raven-creator asked, of the human. Raven-creator was surprised to see this human who looked so much like him." Inuit creation myth. Ancient.


A time would come when Men should be able to stretch out their eyes...they should see the Planets like our Earth. Christopher Wren 1690


A community of matter appears to exist throughout the visible universe. The stars contain many elements which exist in the Sun and Earth. William Huggins 1865


All my life I have wondered about the possibility of life elsewhere...Is extraterrestrial life, if it exists, based on the same organic molecules as life on Earth? Carl Sagan 1980


String theories...seem to be consistent only if space-time has either ten or twenty-six dimensions, instead of four. Stephen Hawking 1990


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