Amphipolis Expedition by Felioness

AmphThe Amphipolis Expedition
 
By
Felioness

Chapter 1- The InterviewMay 2198

Brie sat patiently waiting for her appointment. As always when she had to wait, she made an extensive study of her surroundings. She struggled to find the right word to describe the atmosphere of the waiting room. It was neither elegant nor shabby. It was um… efficient.

On one wall she noticed a food replicator, set to provide snacks and drinks. Next to the replicator was a large monitor set in the wall, tuned to SNN, the Satellite News Network.

“All the news, all the time!” Two of the other walls provided space for comfortable

seating. A few seats were equipped with computer monitors and old-fashioned keyboards rather than the voice activated equipment she was used to. She supposed that was for privacy in a public waiting room. The last wall was taken up entirely by two entrances to the room. One was an open access passage through which she had entered the room, but the other required a DNA scan for entry.

Although Brie had unsuccessfully applied to many colonial expeditions over the last three years, she had a feeling that this time it would be different. In preparing for today’s interview, Brie had chosen her attire carefully. She wanted to look perfect, just the right combination of competent professional and bold adventurer. Her forest green jumpsuit hugged her body in all the right places, accentuating her muscular physique, suggesting something just short of the sensual. On her collar, she proudly displayed the badges that marked her as an empathic healer and a historical archivist. This was the most important interview of her young life to date. The outcome of this meeting would determine the quality of her future. She wanted to be included in this expedition so bad she could taste it.

Lost in thought, Brie was startled when a blonde woman in crisp blue uniform stepped into the room from the coded entry way.

“Please come with me Dr. O’Conner.” The woman turned her back and walked into the passage without looking to see if the applicant was following.

Brie rose from her seat and followed the woman into the secured hallway. They walked through the compound, and after several turns, the woman stopped and motioned to a door on the left.

“Go right in Dr. O’Conner.”

Brie stepped into the room, her eyes quickly taking in the collection of antiques and historical artefacts. She was so surprised by the precious items displayed in various cases throughout the room that she barely noticed the woman seated in the high back leather chair behind the enormous wood desk. In fact, the presence of wood and leather in the room were more of a curiosity at the moment. These natural materials had long been depleted from the planet. Only the very wealthy could afford to acquire furnishings of this quality.

“Come in Dr. O’Conner, please sit down.”

Brie found her attention drawn to the woman seated behind the desk as she lowered herself into a chair, her hands unconsciously stroking the smooth texture of the wood arms. Finally she was meeting the infamous Commander Lawless. Colonization professionals around the world both envied and resented her genius. Xandra Lawless seemed to operate outside the boundaries that limited others. Hmm…seems her name and reputation fit her appearance.

The woman seated across from Brie was tall and statuesque with midnight hair that she would have bet felt like fine silk. Dark brows arched dangerously over thick dark lashes, which only served to enhance the blue of her eyes. Their color reminded Brie of a summer sky that she had once seen in a photograph of Texas from before Earth’s environmental collapse. The aquiline nose drew attention to full lush lips that at the moment were drawn up into a half smile.

“Glad you could come, Dr. O’Conner. We are in the last stages of planning our

colonization mission, but we still have a few spots open.” The commander leaned forward, her sleek feline body long and lean, but deceptively powerful. “Why don’t we begin with your reasons for wanting to join the Amphipolis Expedition.”

Brie struggled to pull her attention from this woman and her surroundings in order to give a somewhat intelligent answer. After a few moments of thought, she settled on the absolute truth.

“I have no one left here Commander, and I can’t imagine spending the rest of my life on this overcrowded, over regulated ball of pollution. I want to see trees, grasses, animals, food growing…and I want to hear the laughter of children, not their cries of hunger and despair.”

Xandra was surprised by this impassioned response. “That’s quite an emotional answer for a scientist.”

Brie blushed and lowered her eyes. “I don’t know what made me say that. I mean it’s true, I’ve just never told anyone before. I was always sure that I’d be laughed at. I guess it’s the empathy in me speaking.”

Xandra smiled, becoming more intrigued by the young woman every minute. “Well, no matter. Honesty and integrity are important qualities in selecting expedition members.”

Xandra glanced at down at the slim monitor on the desk in front of her. She raised her eyes to meet Brie’s. Blue bore into green as the Commander asked her next question.

“Your application states that you wish to be appointed the expedition archivist, with your healing skills as a secondary talent. What makes you think need an archivist?”

“I can only believe that the leaders of the colony would want their history preserved for future generations. I realize that the technology we take with us will eventually fail, and without the proper replacement parts we will become entirely dependent upon our own devices and the natural resources available to us. I’m not just a computer librarian. I can write with pen and paper. I am skilled in the art of paper making and deriving ink from natural dye sources, and I am also a story teller. Many ancient societies kept their history alive only by oral tradition. I hardly think this expedition will have to resort to that, but it could be done.”

One dark brow raised over a bright blue eye as Xandra tried to conceal her amusement at the woman’s intensity. She was beginning to think that this was the one she had been waiting for. Her intuition had told her that the expedition would not be complete without one special individual, a foil for Xandra herself, someone not afraid to speak her mind. This Dr. O’Conner showed all the signs of being able to do just that.

“Don’t you think that your healing skills would be of greater value to the expedition?”

“Perhaps you will find them equally valuable.”

Xandra paused as she prepared to ask the personal questions that, although necessary to the selection of a well-balanced colonial population, seemed an invasion of privacy. “I agree that your skills recommend you to the expedition, but I’m afraid I must confirm some of the responses on your application.”

“Dr. O’Conner, you have applied to the expedition as a single citizen. I presume that you are not currently bonded.”

“No, I am not.”

Xandra continued, “I see that you do not have any children Doctor, are you capable of bearing children?”

Sensing that she was almost there, Brie answered, knowing the most dangerous question was coming soon. “Yes.”

“Will you commit to bearing three children for the colony, as long as you remain able?”

“Yes”

“Dr. O’Conner, what are your sexual preferences?”

Brie sighed and sank back into her chair. “I prefer romantic relationships with women.”

With that response, she knew she had just lost her place on the coveted expedition.

Desperately she interjected, “But, I am willing to forgo that and accept a heterosexual pairing in order to be included in the colony.”

Xandra could see the despair hovering behind the beautiful green eyes. Smiling warmly she answered, “That won’t be necessary, Dr. O’Conner.”

Brie straightened her shoulders and rose from the chair, preparing to leave the room.

“Thank you for your time Commander, I just had to try.”

It took a moment for Xandra to register what the young woman thought, so Brie was halfway to the door before the Commander could speak. “Wait Doctor, please, I think you misunderstood my intent.”

Brie cautiously turned back, afraid to be hopeful, and waited for the powerful woman to continue.

“I just meant that you would not be required to ignore your sexual preferences in our new colony. We are founding this new civilization on principles of tolerance and acceptance.

As far as we are concerned, everyone is equal and will have equal rights under the laws. We will not accept chaos of course, but there will be no such thing as deviant sexual behaviour as long as both parties are consenting. I expect that there will be quite a few other women in the colony who will share your preferences” adding silently myself included.

Brie released a breath she didn’t even know she was holding and sank back into the chair she had just vacated. “I’m sorry for my reaction Commander, but you must realize that I have been rejected from other expeditions for this reason before. I thought about lying this time, I just can’t stay here anymore. But after your remark about honesty, I simply couldn’t do it. I probably wouldn’t have been very convincing anyway. I don’t get much practice at lying.” She smiled sadly, shaking her head.

Xandra rose from her seat and rounded the desk. She extended her hand and flashed a brilliant smile. “Welcome aboard Dr. O’Conner — that is if you can pass all the physicals.”

Stunned, Brie was slow to take Xandra’s hand. When she did, she was startled by the spark she imagined passing through her body at the connection. “Th…Thank you Commander Lawless, ah…what do I do now?”

“Stephanie will show you to temporary quarters within the compound. Tomorrow you will begin testing. If all goes well, you will start your training after that.”

As if she knew she was needed, Stephanie stepped into the room and guided Brie toward the door. Brie cast a confused look over her shoulder at the mysterious Commander Lawless.

Meeting Brie’s bewildered eyes, Xandra remarked with a mischievous grin, “Oh, and Dr. O’Conner, honesty is always the best policy.”

For several minutes Xandra sat motionless as she replayed her recent encounter with the lovely doctor. A satisfied smile slowly spread across her face as she sensed that this must be the one she had been waiting for to complete her mission. Then a chill ran up her spine as she realized that this woman could potentially mean much more to her than just another colonist.

Chapter 2 – The Physical Testing

Brie awakened slowly to the persistent voice of her in-room monitor stating the hour.

Agh…5 A.M., what an ungodly hour to have to get out of bed. Not that the bed was all

that inviting, just a pallet and air mattress typical of institutional living. She had been so

exhausted from her interview the day before that she had simply used the ion shower and fallen into bed. She hadn’t even eaten, a fact which her protesting belly sharply reminded her.

“Well, I guess I’d better get to it!”

She quickly dressed in the same green jumpsuit she had worn the day before. Not having anticipated acceptance into the colonial expedition, she had not packed any personal effects. She would send for the rest of her minimal belongings later in the day. Stepping into the hygiene cubicle of her room, she cleansed her face and teeth, and ran her fingers through her red gold hair. Giving her appearance one final inspection in the mirror, she decided that it would have to do. No one would be interested in the way she looked today anyway.

Stepping into the main portion of her small room, Brie reviewed the messages on her monitor. It seemed that she was expected to get breakfast and then report to the med lab for physical testing by 0600 hours. That gave her little time to find the dining facilities, eat and then find the med lab. The hand-held monitor she had been issued the day before supposedly held the schematics for all levels of the compound, but Brie had never been any good with directions. She could only hope that the maps would help. Calling up the location of the dinning hall, she left her room in what she believed to be the right direction.

Luckily, Brie found the dining hall without incident. As she entered, she noticed the wide array of people in various stages of their meals. Glancing around the room, she quickly located the food replicator and stepped forward deciding what she should eat. Nothing too heavy, I don’t know what they’ll require of me in these tests. Finally deciding on dry toast, fruit and herbal tea, she sat and ate as her thoughts ran wild. She couldn’t believe that she hadn’t been rejected again. She really had a chance at this one, a chance to escape this dying planet. All she had to do was pass their physical testing. That shouldn’t be too hard for her. She had kept in prime shape over the years in anticipation of just such an opportunity.

Lost in thought, she was surprised to find her meal gone. Abruptly she stood and found the recycle station. Disposing of her tray, she promised herself a more satisfying meal at the end of the day. Once again she consulted her schematics, entering her chosen location as the med lab and left the dinning hall.

After a few wrong turns and a bit of back tracking, she arrived in the med lab at exactly 0600 hours. As she stepped into the sterile medical suite, she was met by a short dark woman dressed in a pristine white jumpsuit so form fitted that it left nothing to the imagination.

The woman approached her with a wide smile saying, “Good morning, I’m Sara. You must be Dr. O’Conner. I’ve been expecting you. Your medical records have already been downloaded, so testing can begin immediately. Please follow me.”

Sara led Brie into a private cubicle where she was asked to disrobe and lie on the exam table. Sara did not leave the room while Brie undressed as body taboos had long since disappeared from their society. Once in place on the table, the device began to enclose her body to begin extensive scans.

As Brie was slowly isolated from the outside world, Sara smiled and said, “This will only take about two hours Doctor.”

Two hours . . . might as well be an eternity. Brie decided the best way to get through this was meditation and so began her deep trance routine. She slowly built her fantasy world around her, her peaceful inner place. It was filled with forests and meadows, rife with wildlife that Brie had only seen in photographs and holo images. At the edge of her meadow flowed a clear, clean stream, filled with all manner of fish. In her mind she could smell the wild flowers and hear the cheerful song of birds all around her. She inhaled deeply of the clean crisp morning air and felt the dew on the grass beneath her bare feet as she walked toward the stream. Leaning down, she cupped her hands and took a drink from the cool fresh water. Refreshed, she continued to wander the meadow to the edge of the forest and sat enjoying the freedom this fantasy afforded her. After a time, Brie heard her name being called from far away. As the sound came closer, her peaceful place began to dissolve into darkness, her return to the real world imminent. She blinked several times as her eyes adjusted to the harsh lighting of the med lab.

Sara looked a bit concerned. “You’re all done Dr. O’Conner, how are you feeling?”

Brie opened her mouth to speak and found that she had to try several times to get the words out, “I’m fine, just meditating to pass the time. How did I do?”

“Just fine Dr. O’Conner, one of the best evaluations I’ve seen.”

Brie grinned as she rose from the table and began to dress. “So what’s next?” she asked Sara.

“Well, first you get to have lunch and then you’ll report to the holo suites for the field test.”

Hmm…field test, wonder what that entails? Brie pondered as she finished dressing and made her way back to the dining hall. Once again the room was filled with a wide variety of people she could only assume would be part of the colonial expedition. As she made her meal selections, she wondered who they all were and why they were here. Again she chose carefully as she didn’t know what demands the field test would make upon her. Finding a seat in a corner with her back to a wall she slowly ate her sashimi and plain rice. She remembered the old wives’ tale about fish being brain food. She had a feeling she’d need all the brain power she could get in the next few hours.

As she ate, she listened to conversations around her. Mostly, the colonists were chatting excitedly about the expedition. This would be their chance to build a ‘brave new world’ free from prejudice, corruption and crime. Instead it would be filled with tolerance, acceptance and a sense of community. Brie smiled inwardly, recognizing that the society they envisioned would only evolve with deep commitment and sacrifice from all of the colonists. Brie, a student of human nature, realized that there would be at least one self- serving person slipping through the very tight screening process. She wondered if the Commander recognized this inevitable situation as well, deciding that she probably did.

Finished with her lunch, she consulted her schematics to find the holo suites and

proceeded to face her next challenge.

When she arrived at the holo suite station, an attractive blonde man greeted her. Handing Brie a data card which evidently contained the field test specifically designed for her, he guided her to the holo suite reserved for her use and wished her luck. “Just be yourself and everything will work out for the best.”

Brie, skeptical of the young man’s reassurances, faced the entry of the holo suite. With a deep breath, she inserted her card in the reader. The door of the suite opened and as Brie stepped through, the field test began.

Chapter 3 – The Field Test

The world Brie stepped into was amazingly similar to her meditation world. She fleetingly wondered if their computers were able to tap into her meditation routine, then dismissed the similarities as mere coincidence. This scenario was filled with forest and meadow, teeming with the wildlife that Brie so loved. As she moved further into the forest, she came upon a camp site equipped with only the most primitive gear. It was early evening and a campfire was burning brightly at the center of the site. Two bed rolls were carefully placed side by side near the fire. A plump trout was slowly roasting on a spit over the fire and a pleasant smelling herbal drink was brewing in a clay pot at the edge of the hot coals.

Off to the side of the camp stood a magnificent golden mare, leisurely feeding on wild grasses. Occasionally, the mare would flick her tail to rid herself of an annoying insect.

Wow…this is very realistic, I don’t have insects in my meditations. Perhaps I should add them for effect.

Just as Brie was wondering what to do next, a tall dark woman stepped into the clearing. She was dressed in the leathers and intricately formed armor of a warrior. Her midnight hair and lapis eyes immediately reminded Brie of the Commander.

The striking woman smiled and spoke at the same time, “Gabrielle, are you going to check the fish or just stand there and let it burn?”

Startled into action, Brie simply nodded and bent to check the succulent fish. “Looks about done to me! Ready to eat?”

Before the woman could reply, the clearing was overrun by a small army of dangerous looking men. They appeared intent on ruining what started as a pleasant interlude.

Rushing forward, the men attacked the warrior with shouts of “That’s her! Its Xena, kill her!”

Brie could only assume that her partner in this scenario was called Xena and grabbing the staff set nearby, moved to cover the warrior’s back. Remembering her considerable self defence training, Brie spun the staff in intricate patterns, catching their arrogant attackers completely off guard. Behind her, she could sense the warrior Xena doing critical damage with her blade. As she became more accustomed to the feel of the staff in her hands, she began to enjoy the exhilaration of defeating her enemy. Time seemed to stand still as the pair disposed of the attackers.

Finally, there were no more raiders facing Brie. Her heart still pounded as she tried to calm her rapid breathing. Slowly relaxing, she turned to face the woman who so reminded her of Commander Lawless and was met with a brilliant smile.

“We did it again Gabrielle. You’re getting pretty good with that thing.”

With that, the holo images dissolved and Brie found herself looking at bare holo grid.

Almost disappointed that the test was at an end, she turned toward the door and left the suite.

The young man who had escorted her to the suite was intently reading the monitors, his wide grin attesting to his approval of her performance. “I’ve seen ’em all, and a lot of them were good, but you are the first to get a perfect

score!” He looked at her with a new respect. “Welcome to the Amphipolis Expedition Dr. O’Conner. You will most certainly be an asset to the colony.”

Brie felt somewhat uncomfortable with the lavish praise and, looking for a way to change the subject, asked “Great, now what?”

“Well, first you attend the reception this evening. Then tomorrow your training begins. I have a feeling that you’re going to fit in just fine. Bye the way, I’m Arthur. I don’t bother telling applicants my name until after the field test. Most of the time it’s just a waste.”

Inwardly Brie wondered just how many applicants failed this portion of the testing.

“Thanks Arthur. I guess I can see your point.”

Brie broke into a satisfied smile as she left to return to her room and prepare for the reception. Her day had been more successful than she could have ever hoped for and now, she might finally get to eat enough to satisfy her continually ravenous appetite.

Chapter 4 – The Reception

Apparently the news of her success was entered on the system instantaneously. By the time she got back to her room, her monitor was flashing congratulations along with instructions for attending the reception. Glancing at the time, Brie noted that she must have been in the holo suite for at least two hours. That didn’t leave her much time to get ready. She had exactly one hour to shower, dress and make it to the main hall. Not that there was much she could do to improve her appearance since she still had not sent for her meagre belongings.

Turning to head toward the hygiene cubicle, she stopped short, noticing two packages on her sleeping pallet. Opening the larger one, she was surprised to find all her personal effects. With a sigh of relief, she realized that the expedition staff must have taken care of this task for her. Not taking time to examine each item, she retrieved only what she would need to make herself presentable for this evening. Daunted by the task of selecting from her scant wardrobe, she turned to examine the second, smaller package. This one had a card on it, made of paper. Reverently, she removed the card from the package and opened it to read the hand written message.

Dr. O’Conner, Please accept this congratulatory gift from me personally. Never have I seen a more qualified candidate for this expedition. Also, I thought you might enjoy having new attire for this evening’s festivities. I look forward to seeing you there. Xandra Lawless Brie read and reread the card. The handwriting was graceful and the message warmed her from the inside out. The last line left her wondering if the enigmatic Commander was conveying a deeper meaning.

Carefully she tucked the card into her personal effects and turned her attention to the contents of the package. She was overwhelmed to find a simple emerald green silk sheath, cut very low in the back, but modest in the front. The cut of the sheath would not allow her to wear any undergarments, but she rarely bothered with that anyway. Beneath the sheath were a pair of gold colored flat sandals and a simple gold neck chain. She smiled, thinking this the most elegant clothing she had ever owned.

She shook herself from her reverie and seeing the lack of time, rushed into the ion shower. Although she hurried with her preparations, she unconsciously took extra pains with her appearance, making sure that her hair was brushed until it gleamed and swung freely over her shoulders. She even used some of the precious Tea Rose scent that her mother had given her just before she died. Slipping on the sheath and sliding her narrow feet into the sandals, she was surprised to find that both were a perfect fit. Smiling to herself, she realized she should have known that anything the Commander did would be done precisely, with no margin for error.

The final touch was the simple gold chain Xandra had given her. She paused before opening the clasp and made a quick decision. Rifling through her personal effects once more, she found what she was searching for. The Chakram. Her mother’s charm. Actually, it was very old, having been passed from oldest daughter to oldest daughter as far back as anyone could remember. It was the only thing of real value that Brie owned.

She slipped the delicate Chakram charm onto the gold chain and fastened them both around her slender neck. The charm fell perfectly at the hollow of her throat, just above the demure neckline of her dress. Turning to leave her room, she stopped to view the effect in her mirror and was pleased with the results. She found herself hoping that the Commander would like what she saw as well.

Brie made her way to the main hall by following others headed that way, not wanting to carry her monitor around all evening. She found herself amazed by the colourful variety of the clothing chosen by her fellow colonists for this occasion. Some had selected costumes native to the part of the world they came from. Many were dressed in the high fashion of the day while others had gone for simple elegance. Smiling to herself she thought Well…I couldn’t possibly be under or over dressed in this crowd.

Following the flow of traffic eventually brought her to the main reception hall. As Brie entered the room, a uniformed man took her DNA scan and instructed her to take a seat in the gallery. Finding a seat up front, but to the side, she settled in to watch and wait.

The room filled quickly. Brie had been told that the expedition would take two hundred adults and seventy-five children. The children had an orientation of their own earlier in the day, so this group would consist of the two hundred adults. There appeared to be a mix of all races, but the women seemed to slightly outnumber the men. Brie supposed that the need to populate the new planet required having more women.

Suddenly, the room got quiet and everyone quickly found a seat. The Commander stepped up to the podium in full dress uniform. Her crisp white uniform was adorned with lots of gleaming brass and colourful ribbons, no doubt attesting to her many skills. She had elected not to wear the uniform cap, allowing her hair to flow about her shoulders like the dark wings of a raven.

At this moment, Xandra was the ultimate military leader, capable of inspiring both fear and respect. Brie could only stare as she attempted to regain her breath. She listened intently as Xandra began to speak.

“Congratulations colonists! Of thousands of applicants, the Amphipolis Expedition has been privileged to choose you to join our quest for the future. We are pleased that you have chosen us. As you know, our colony will be founded on the basis of absolute equality and a desire to preserve the natural environment we have been gifted with. Our destination is a class M planet located in the Orion sector. This planet is orbiting a yellow star, similar to our own sun. Since our destination is many light years away, all of us will enter cryo-sleep for the duration of the journey.”

“Over the next few weeks you will receive training in survival techniques as well as classes in the geography, biology and meteorology of the planet. Additionally, you will receive an overview of the political and governmental processes we will follow in our new home.”

“In essence, you will learn everything we can think of that will help each of you to become a valued member of our team. All this begins tomorrow and will be an exhausting process. I suggest you spend this evening enjoying each other’s company and these culinary delights that we may never see again!”

With that the Commander stepped away from the podium and headed for the bar, where she quickly downed a glass of what appeared to be water.

The newly accepted colonists were so moved by Xandra’s speech that they broke into deafening applause. As the sounds of their appreciation began to fade, they started to rise. Unsure of how to proceed, they milled around for a few moments before drifting toward the bar or the buffet.

Brie had already decided that food was her first priority and made a dash for the buffet.

Several minutes later, having loaded her plate to overflowing with long missed favourites, she found a seat at an empty table.

Almost immediately, the Commander appeared at her side asking, “Good evening Doctor. Mind if I join you?”

Brie was glad her mouth was not full yet and invited the dark woman to join her. Xandra sat with another tall glass of clear liquid in her hand, but no food.

“You look lovely this evening Dr. O’Conner.” Xandra smiled her appreciation as she gazed at the beauty seated across from her, eyes briefly resting on the charm Brie had added to the gold chain. Hm…that symbol is very familiar, but I can’t quite place it.

“Thank you Commander. Both for the compliment and for your lovely gifts. I really didn’t own anything that would have been appropriate for this evening.”

Uncomfortable with the reference to her uncharacteristic generosity, Xandra changed the subject. “How is the food?”

“Everything is delicious. Aren’t you going to eat anything?”

The Commander smiled and answered, “Sure, but I think I’ll wait until the line is shorter. I

can’t imagine how you got so far in front of the line. You must have made a run for it.”

Brie blushed with embarrassment since that just about described what she had done. She looked up from her plate and her eyes met her companion’s crystal blue ones. Xandra’s amusement was plain on her face, her expression not guarded as it had been the day before.

“I guess I did hurry a bit” Brie admitted with a grin. “I didn’t eat much earlier because of the testing. I wanted to be sure to do my best.”

Xandra leaned back in her seat, smiling warmly, “Well, you certainly did that.” Looking around the room the Commander asked, “Do you realize that your combined score was higher than any of the other applicants? In fact, the only person who matched your score is me.”

Brie almost choked on the food she was trying to swallow as she raised unbelieving eyes to the woman across from her. “Are you sure there wasn’t some mistake? I’d never imagine that I could match your score.”

Xandra leaned forward and answered with complete honesty. “Neither would I. I checked all the scoring myself and there was no mistake. I have to admit I’m more intrigued than ever. Who are you Brie? Where did you come from?”

The storyteller in Brie took over as she began to tell the Commander about her life. To her great surprise, she was not leaving anything out. Usually when asked about her background, she gave the sterile, socially acceptable version. Brie found herself telling the charismatic Commander about her happy childhood, her parents and sister, the closeness they all shared. Growing up in Northern California was as near to living with nature as anywhere on earth at the time. Air and water pollutants were slowly killing the redwoods around them, but the majestic trees were not giving up easily. Brie’s father was a naturalist involved in research that was attempting to save these giants. That is before the plague came.

Brie was in her last year at the University in Berkeley when it happened. She wanted to go home, but the area had been quarantined and there was no way in or out. She wasn’t even allowed to speak to her family before the end. She had simply received three perfunctory electronic notices as each member of her family had succumbed to the plague.

That was when she decided to find a new home among the stars. A place with trees and animals, a place where children could live and grow into healthy adults. Instead of grieving for her family, she threw herself into her studies and was able to graduate at the top of her class in both her specialties. Shortly before graduation, she began applying for every colonial expedition she heard about.

Over the last three years, she had been interviewed by no less than 30 colonial screening committees. Although they never admitted it, she knew her honesty about her sexual preferences had lost her admittance every time. It was illegal to discriminate on the basis of many things in their world, but people in power always found another way to exclude those they felt uncomfortable with.

By the time Brie applied for the Amphipolis Expedition, she was getting desperate. She had already decided that this time she would lie. Her desire to escape the dying planet around her was so great that she was willing to ignore the part of herself that so offended these colonial groups. After all, she had had sex with men and although she found it lacking, it had not really been distasteful. She knew that she would have to do it again, at least for purposes of procreation.

Pausing to take a breath, Brie realized that not only had she talked non-stop for the last half hour, she had managed to clear the plate in front of her as well.

Xandra watched the young doctor intently as she told her story between mouthfuls, and was moved more than she cared to admit. She found herself wondering if this woman had a deceptive bone in her body.

When Brie paused, Xandra could see that she was again embarrassed. Smiling warmly, Xandra reached across the table and brushed the back of Brie’s hand with her fingers. Her voice filled with emotion as she spoke. “Thank you for sharing your story.”

I’d happily share more than that with you Brie thought as she took several breaths to calm herself before responding, her thoughts about to take her into dangerous territory. “I, uh, I don’t tell all that to many people. You are very easy to talk to.”

They chatted more, moving onto less sensitive subjects. Their conversation remained animated into the night until Xandra noticed that the doctor was slowing down, her eyes now half lidded in an almost sensual expression. But the Commander knew that she was seeing exhaustion and not desire.

Xandra reached across the table to take the doctor’s delicate hand. “You must be very tired, let me walk with you to your room.”

As Brie rose from her seat, Xandra couldn’t help but stare as the silken sheath slid down her body to settle in place. Not tight or revealing, the sheath seemed to drape itself artfully over Brie’s sumptuous curves. Thoughts of what lay beneath the green silk were more alluring than anything Xandra had experienced before.

The dark woman struggled to put that image from her mind as she forced her eyes to look elsewhere, instantly colliding with sparkling green that nearly took her breath. The smile accompanying the exquisite eyes was sleepy and sensual.

Brie looked up at Xandra, feeling strangely content. “Lead the way Commander, I have no idea how to get back to my room.”

They walked in companionable silence, Xandra leading Brie with a light touch at her waist. It took no time to arrive at their destination as Xandra knew every inch of the compound by heart. At the door, the two women turned, facing each other. Both were unsure of what to do now. Xandra solved their dilemma by brushing soft lips against Brie’s forehead and whispering goodnight. Waving her palm over the scan panel by the door, she gently prodded Brie to enter her room. “Sleep well, the first day of training is very demanding.”

Brie watched the Commander walk away as the door closed, slowly blocking her view.

Turning away, she carefully removed the beautiful garment she had worn and stored it along with the sandals and necklace.

“Lights out” she requested, then fell into bed, asleep instantly.

Chapter 5 – Training and Departure

July 2198

Brie awoke before the designated hour, filled with excitement that today was the day.

Today they would be taking the shuttle to Alpha Station which orbited the moon. The Amphipolis Expedition Colonial class star cruiser Artemis was docked at Alpha Station, waiting for her passengers. As Brie lay in bed, waiting for 0500 hours, she reflected on all that she had learned in the last four weeks.

As Commander Lawless had warned, the morning after the reception had been busy indeed. She had met with an expedition counsellor who outlined her training and reviewed with her the philosophy and goals of the Expedition founder’s. It was then that she had discovered that the Expedition had been financed primarily by Commander Lawless herself, along with contributions from organizations such as Green Peace, The National Wildlife Federation and The Audubon Society. Not only would the Artemis be taking human colonists, but she would also carry pairs of endangered species to the new world – an ark for the 22nd century.

Brie had met some of the botanists in her survival classes. They chattered excitedly about all manner of vegetation that they had been allowed to include in their cargo manifest. They would take everything necessary to construct a complete hydroponics garden to get the colony on its feet in the beginning, as well as what they would need to genetically adapt imported species to their new environment.

In her biology and zoology classes, Brie learned that their new home was ecologically similar to Earth in the later part of the last millennium, before the industrial revolution began to ravage the planet. The colonists believed that many of the native flora and fauna would thrive side by side with the plants and animals preserved from Earth.

Meteorology taught her about the seasons and weather patterns of their new class M planet. She discovered that the gravity was slightly less than on Earth, and that temperatures were warmer toward the planet’s poles than Earthers were accustomed to. It all sounded wonderful to Brie who never minded weighing less or being warmer.

Most fascinating to her, however, were the classes explaining the political system, laws and social structure that would be the starting point for the colony. All of the colonists had agreed to abide by this justice system until they elected a council to take over the task of developing a new society. In essence, a military government would prevail during the initial colonization phase until basic human and animal needs such as food and shelter were assured. Tracking this process would be her most important task as the Expedition’s historical archivist.

Of course, her first job would be to serve as Chief Medical Officer during their journey through the stars. As senior physician and empathic healer, she had been the logical choice for the position. During the last three years, Brie had often served as Chief Physician for the ground crews of the many colonial expeditions she had applied to. Many of these privately-funded groups would rely on the free labor of their applicants while they were waiting for the decision of the selection committees. Additionally, her remarkable qualifying scores had marked her as a senior officer for both the journey and the initial colonization period. After that, she anticipating withdrawing from public position and serving as the observer and recorder.

The most remarkable thing she discovered was that the Expedition had invested in some very expensive DNA extraction technology that, combined with artificial insemination equipment, would allow same-sex partners to have children together. This was an integral part of the future as it allowed for a vastness of their genetic pool that would otherwise not be possible. Each woman with child-bearing capabilities had agreed to bear three children. For the first, the genetic committee would select the most promising DNA combinations. The second would be by the mother’s own selection, while the third would be a genetic mixture of a male pairbond, with the mother acting as surrogate only probably to be a favored “Aunt” to the child. Any children born after these obligations were of the mother’s own choice.

Brie was delighted to learn that pair bonding in her new home could include any

combination of people. Although she couldn’t imagine wanting to be in a group marriage, she could understand that others might. What excited Brie was the possibility of finding another woman to share her life. To be honest, she had to admit to herself that she already had someone in mind. But in the flurry of activity over the last four weeks, she had seen the Commander only in passing and was beginning to wonder if she had imagined the whole thing.

Her room monitor began to play the soothing music that Brie had selected for this

morning’s wake up. She usually had to have something shocking, like an audio 2 x 4, to wake her, but today was different. Today she would leave Earth, and for better or worse she would never return.

Brie wondered what was going through the minds of the other colonists this morning.

Amazingly, she had made some friends over the last few weeks. Though the whirlwind training left little time for socializing, a sense of camaraderie had emerged with a life of its own. They had been entrusted with the future of a civilization and took that responsibility seriously.

These were the people she would be living and working with for the rest of her life… thank god they also had a sense of humour.

As part of the senior staff, Brie became close with the woman who first led her to meet Commander Lawless the lovely Lt. Commander Stephanie Hunter. Steph was more than just a beautiful woman. She was intelligent, with a sharp wit that made her popular among all the colonists. She was an exemplary military tactician and was almost unbeatable in hand-to-hand and close-range weapons. Her survival and hunting skills were reminiscent of a much earlier time in Earth’s history. These qualities made her the logical choice for the Expedition’s second in command.

Brie continued to think of her new friend as she rose and headed for the ion shower. Stephanie had been showing subtle signs of interest in Brie during these last weeks.

Although Brie thought Steph a lovely woman, she couldn’t get her mind off Xandra Lawless. When Stephanie sweetly kissed her one evening at her door, Brie had sadly confessed her infatuation with the Commander. Instead of Stephanie laughing at her as Brie expected, her new friend held her while she cried in her confusion, gently brushing her tears away and promising to be her friend no matter what. Brie realized then that she had never had this kind of friend before in her life.

Before she knew it, Brie was dressed in her blue travel uniform, her skill badges now joined by her badge of rank as Chief Medical Officer. She was proud to be part of the senior staff, even though they all would be in cryo-sleep for most of the journey. Her position had required that she oversee the medical evaluations of all of the colonists during the training period. Everyone was slowly being prepared physically for the long years in cryosleep. Body weights had to be reduced, immune systems enhanced. They had all been quarantined in the compound since they had been accepted and had been scanned periodically for any viral or bacterial organisms that could cause problems on the journey. The colonists would even be transported to today’s destination in a sterile shuttle.

All the same, something may have slipped through, and if it did, Brie would be awakened to deal with the situation. Actually, the first person to be awakened in any emergency was the Commander. She would be the one to decide if waking Brie was necessary.

At exactly 0545 hours Brie left her quarters for the last time and made her way to the cargo bays of the vast compound. She would leave on the last transport, along with the Commander and the other senior officers. They would be the last to board the starcruiser that would take them light years from the planet of their birth. They would oversee the cryosleep process, then, finally, join the other colonists in the long night.

Their animal passengers had been transported and cryosleep-induced over the past few days. All cargo, equipment and botanical specimens had been loaded and secured for the journey. Their navigational computer had been programmed for their destination. All emergency systems had been tested and re-tested, leaving no margin for error.

Each colonist had been allowed 10 kilos of personal effects, increasing the starcruiser’s payload by less than 3,000 kg. For the last week, everyone had been obsessed with choosing what they would take and what they would leave behind. Brie had no problems since her personal effects consisted only of some photographs and holo image discs, the gown and sandals she had worn for the reception, her mother’s perfume and the journal she had begun when she joined the expedition. Her last entry had been last night, just before she sealed her allotment for transport. The next time she wrote in the journal would be in fifty years. She wore her mother’s charm suspended from the chain Xandra had given her, the Chakram concealed beneath the high collar of her uniform. Those two items would join her in her cryosleep chamber.

Brie had used the remainder of her 10-kilo allotment for a small stuffed sheep belonging to a five-year-old girl who looked remarkably like her younger sister Lily when she had been that age. The child had been crying inconsolably the afternoon before as her mother tried to explain to her why her “lamby” couldn’t go with them to their new home. The child’s forlorn tears pulled hard on Brie’s heartstrings, and knowing that she had some space left, she offered to pack the little sheep in her own belongings. Both mother and child were immensely grateful. The child ended their conversation by hugging her and telling her “lamby” to go with “Auntie Brie.”

If all went as planned, they would be asleep just over fifty years, but would awake as if it were the next day. There had been some early failures in cryosleep systems, but with all the colonization in the wake of a dying Earth, the more recent systems were virtually infallible. It seemed that the Amphipolis Expedition had very deep pockets since their cryosleep systems were state-of-the-art, just like all their other equipment. The risks of cryosleep reduced to almost nil, the colonists would be able to concentrate on their future.

All that could be done from this end to ensure the colonists’ success had been done. The dangers they faced were almost exclusively those that they would encounter upon reaching their destination. Since their survey information was limited to what they had been able to learn from a deep space probe, they were much like the pioneers who settled the North American continent in the 17th and 18th centuries. The dangers they would all face would be remarkable similar, including the possibility of encountering pirates.

The space pirate phenomenon was a recent development, brought about by the

desperation of a race trying to escape the dead planet that Earth was destined to become. These were people without the skills or resources to either launch their own colonies or land a coveted position in a privately-funded one. They took smaller, well-armed ships and headed for destinations they knew to be earmarked for colonization where they waited for the initial hard work to be done. Then they descended upon the established colonies and used their armaments to take over the fledgling governments, plunging these colonies into chaos. For the Amphipolis Expedition, the presence of so many military personnel in their party gave them an advantage over the pirates one not shared by many other colonial groups.

Arriving at her destination, Brie stepped into the cargo bay and was immediately taken with the size of the transport boarding the senior officers. This ship was large, but she knew the starcruiser awaiting them at Alpha Station would make this vehicle look like a Volkswagen Bug. She paused for a moment, then moved toward the ramp leading to the shuttle. Choosing a window seat toward the back of the cabin, Brie settled in and fastened her safety harness. Leaning back in her seat, she watched as other senior officers boarded the shuttle.

Already seated a few rows in front of Brie was Major Arthur Hill. The same young man she had met during her field test was the Expedition’s Chief Engineer. If anything was broken, Arthur could fix it. He even rigged the replicator in her room to dispense cappuccino after they had a friendly debate over where to get the best cappuccino in San Francisco. Brie smiled as she remembered how secretive he was about the whole thing. She knew he wasn’t supposed to be wasting their resources that way, but was appreciative just the same.

Next on board was Lt. Sara Laurence, Chief Nursing Officer. Sara had administered her initial physical testing and had become a friend over the last few weeks. Brie had discovered that she and Sara shared not only their medical calling, but also a love of reading. They had spent many hours deciding which of the classics to include in their allotted net spaces, so they would not duplicate their efforts. Together they had chosen the finest literature and philosophy Earth had to offer. Brie planned to begin transcribing these works of literature as soon as they reached their destination. They both realized what a monumental undertaking this would be and with Sara’s help, they just might get them all transcribed before their computer equipment failed in say…sixty years.

Brie closed her eyes and silently said good-bye to her family. She knew that her parents, especially her father would be proud of her. She had finally accomplished her goal. By the time the colonists arrived at their new home in fifty years, Earth’s ecosystem would have completely collapsed. Without serious genetic adaptation, the human race would soon cease to exist. In her mind she promised her family that she would do everything in her power to ensure that these colonists would take better care of their new world than they had the old one.

Brie felt a subtle change in air currents and sensed the heat of another body beside her. Opening her eyes, she was surprised to find that Commander Lawless had chosen the seat next to her. Xandra cheerfully smiled at Brie as she settled in, stretching her long legs into the aisle as she fastened the safety harness across her broad shoulders and narrow waist.

“Good morning Doctor,” Xandra greeted the young woman beside her. “Ready to go?” Brie answered quietly, looking out the window to her left, “I’ve been ready to go for the last three years Commander.”

Chapter 6 – The Adventure Begins

Xandra had observed many reactions to the final departure this morning, ranging from manic excitement to depressive sorrow. Each of the colonists was an individual, leaving unique situations. Some, like Brie and Xandra, were alone in the world, with nothing to hold them back. Others left behind friends and family that they would never see again. In a way, they were already mourning the deaths of their loved ones. When the colonists awakened to their new home, all they loved here on Earth would be dead. Xandra herself had no one to mourn. Her family had long since succumbed to the many plagues and natural disasters that ravaged her home just outside Los Angeles. Her parents had been killed in the big quake in ’78, twenty years ago. Xandra had been thirteen at the time and had escaped with her younger brother Louis. Sometimes Xandra could still hear the deafening sound of the earth beneath her feet protesting the energy that forced it to give way. After their parents’ death, Xandra’s older brother Thomas had come home to see to the family fortune. As sole heirs to a multi-billion dollar hotel chain, they were very wealthy children. Descended from tavern keepers, who would have thought it?

Thomas, his wife and their three children died in the plague in ’85. Again Xandra and Louis escaped with their lives. Xandra, now twenty and an adult, was able to obtain an appointment to West Point. Upon graduation, she served her country as a covert intelligence operative for nearly five years. During that time, she was slowly liquidating all her assets and funding her dream. This colonial expedition was to be Xandra and Louis’ final escape.

Unknown to Xandra, while various steamy jungles and barren deserts throughout the world kept her occupied, Louis contracted one of the deadliest AIDS virus mutations yet encountered. Louis never told her about his illness until he became unable to continue planning the expedition. When Xandra was called home to help Louis in his last days, she asked for and received a hardship discharge and never returned to service.

Now that Louis was gone, there was no one with whom to share the joy of success.

Xandra sat deep in thought as she felt the shuttle begin its final pass at the runway. She looked around her at the members of her senior staff. She had chosen these people carefully over the last four years and trusted each one implicitly. Oddly, she found that she felt no other connection to any of them, with the exception of the petite doctor seated next to her.

She had been giving this a lot of thought in the four weeks since the extraordinary young woman had walked into her office. Brie intrigued her at the time and had only become an increasingly inviting mystery since then. Seemingly guileless, Brie had wormed her way into the hearts of Xandra’s most trusted officers. They had come to depend on her to do her part and even to give wise counsel. She worked tirelessly at her studies while taking full responsibility for all medical preparations still undone. Most everything had been in place when Brie joined their team, but her fresh perspective gave them an added advantage in their last days of preparation. Xandra had been exceedingly amused to learn that Art ‘By-the-book’ Hill had broken the rules so that this delightful young woman could have a morning cappuccino. She had also noted that the doctor, mindful of expedition resources, only used the privilege on two occasions, both when Art had been present. Xandra’s days and nights had been consumed with last minutes details, but that hadn’t stopped her from observing this woman’s total acceptance into the inner circle of the expedition. She suspected that Brie would eventually become a valued leader in the colonial structure. Her genuine concern for others and her absolute honesty made everyone want to be her friend. Most remarkably, the doctor had no idea of her effect on others, especially Xandra.

For the first time in the years since Louis’ death, she was considering allowing someone to come close to her. Her innate fear of losing those she loved was releasing its hold on her heart. All of the qualities that made Brie a wonderful friend would make her an unmatched partner. Xandra came to a decision just as the shuttle was preparing to dock with the Artemis.

Turning to Brie, Xandra smiled and asked, “Doctor, would you care to have dinner in my quarters tomorrow evening?”

Brie responded playfully, knowing that tomorrow evening was fifty years away, “Why Commander, I’d be delighted.”

Chapter 7 – The Long Night

Giant doors opened into the vast shuttle bay of the Artemis. This bay was designed to accomodate five shuttles just like the one that held the senior officers. Xandra’s command shuttle was called the Argo, most assumed after Jason’s ship in Greek mythology. Only Xandra knew that the Argo this ship had been named for was an enormous affectionate tabby cat that been her companion in the years after her parents’ death. She really missed Argo. He had been a comfort to her during a painful time in her life. She was pleased that she had been able to find several pairs of unaltered cats for the colony. They would be helpful with pest-control…not to mention keeping Xandra company as spoiled, well-fed house cats.

The other four ships were truly named for Greek mythological beings; the Persephone, the Psyche, the Athena, and the Aphrodite. All five of the shuttles would be responsible for the transport of passengers, animals, equipment and supplies to the surface of the planet. The Artemis, however, would remain in orbit around their new home, acting as a satellite and weather station for the colony. Access to the armed starcruiser in the early years on the planet would ensure their protection from pirates so long as at least one shuttle remained in good repair. With luck that would be many years down the road and the colonial government firmly established by then.

Most ships designed for light speed colonization missions were so prohibitively expensive that they were rarely equipped with any kind of weapons systems, leaving the new colonists helpless to repel any attack from someone who just might want their planet. Reachable class M planets didn’t grow on trees and it took a lot of money to get a colonial charter. Only the creme de la creme of the human race was going to survive, but that unfortunately included the most clever and resourceful criminals.

Xandra had spared no expense to ensure the success of this colony. Her endless resources would be of no further value to her at the end of this day. This ship was the best to be had, more heavily armed than most of the colonists knew. The cryosleep chambers were the finest ever made, and several extra chambers were available in case of a malfunction. The navigational computers were virtually infallible, designed with artificial intelligence. They were able to constantly correct the ship’s trajectory by observing and anticipating necessary changes in their flight path. Every piece of equipment and all of their supplies were of the best quality. And their colonial roster was envied by anyone involved in colonization efforts.

The results of Louis’ brilliant management of the project continued to astound Xandra.

The only asset she could take credit for was her selection of the colonists. There was no selection committee, the Commander was the committee. She had hand picked each and every one of these people. She had even interviewed their children both alone and with their parents, observed the interaction of families and pair bonded couples applying for the expedition. How they treated each other was a significant factor in Xandra’s selection process.

The Argo came to rest on the only vacant shuttle pad in the bay. The Commander unfastened her harness and stepped to the front of the ship, intending to lead the way. Stephanie was at her back in an instant and the rest of the entourage followed their leader down the ramp and fell into their natural command positions as they stepped into the pad. An initial evaluation satisfied Xandra that all was going well.

Brie barely had time to adjust to the low level lighting in the bay before she was

approached by the cryosleep team leader with a progress report. All colonists were on board and about half of the children were already safe in their cryosleep chambers. Brie had advised the team leaders that they should make sure that all parents were present when their children were placed in the chambers. She hoped that this would relieve the anxieties and fears of both children and parents. Parents had been advised that they should treat this as if they were tucking their children into bed for a normal night’s rest.

Apparently it was working, since so far there had been no emotional scenes.

The cryosleep team estimated that all but the senior officers would be asleep before the end of the day. The command staff would remain awake for their departure from Alpha Station and the initial jump to light speed. Stephanie would be piloting the Artemis as she left space dock until the starcruiser had successfully navigated their home system. Colonist class starcruisers were so large that it could be dangerous to go to light speed within the solar system. Sometime around midnight they expected to engage the autopilot and have the command staff safely secured in their cryosleep chambers. Brie would be the last to sleep as she would act as the cryosleep technician for the senior officers and the Commander.

Actually, Brie was free to observe the activity aboard the starcruiser from the bridge over the next few hours. She wouldn’t have anything to do until it was time to induce cold sleep for the command staff. What really excited her was that she would be able to remain awake for the short flight through their system and the jump to light speed. She had been told by others that it was a spectacular experience.

The hours flew by as Brie sat and watched Xandra take command. Her officers seemed to anticipate her needs and offered information and answers before she could even ask the questions. Before Brie knew it, the cryosleep team leader was reporting that all colonists had been secured and the team ready to return to Alpha Station.

Xandra took her place on the command deck and motioned for Stephanie to disengage the Artemis from space dock. View screens afforded the officers a spectacular view of the silver hued moon behind Alpha Station as the Artemis swung away from the space station and moved forward into space. As the starcruiser accelerated to impulse speed, and moved through the outer planets of the system, Brie was almost breathless at the vastness of space ahead of them. For a few moments she felt very small indeed.

Over the next few hours the flight officers ran diagnostics on all essential systems. This would be the last time they could make necessary adjustments for a long time. Those not involved in the process watched their passage through the system in wonder, sometimes speaking to each other in hushed, almost reverent tones. Most of them had not been in space before, those who had previous experience on any military or commercial vessel were all involved in pre-jump systems checks.

At last the Artemis cleared Pluto’s orbit and entered what was considered to be free space, not owned or regulated by any entity. Now they were ready to accelerate to light speed. The Colonial class starcruiser was able to make the jump while still maintaining artificial gravity inside the ship, so there was no need for anyone awake to do much more than sit down in preparation. Xandra, who had been pacing the command deck the last few minutes, speaking with her flight officers along the way, took her seat.

“Prepare for light speed,” Xandra spoke directly to Stephanie.

Stephanie cast a look at everyone on the command deck to see if all were seated. “Ready whenever you are Commander,” she responded.

“Jump.”

As Stephanie’s fingers flew over the control panel at her station, Brie felt a subtle change in the vibration of the ship’s engines. Although the artificial gravity buffered any g-force effects from the rapid acceleration of the Artemis, Brie imagined she was being pulled backward in her seat. She stared at the view screens in amazement as the stars seemed to burst into flaming streaks all around them. In those few seconds before all went black, Brie thought she had never seen anything so bright and beautiful.

Abruptly it was all gone. The view screens showed a black expanse in front of them with only fleeting sparks of stars at the fringes. The jump had been made. Now it was time for Brie to go to work. She approached the Commander who directed her to leave the bridge with non-flight personnel and begin their cryosleep procedures. The flight officers and the Commander would join them as soon as the auto pilot had been engaged.

Brie began to shepherd the senior officers to their various locations throughout the ship and secured each one in their designated cryo chambers. Scattering key people throughout the ship would likely prevent all of them from being lost in the case of an in-flight collision and resulting hull damage. With the ‘smart’ navigational computers on board, this was unlikely to happen. Nevertheless, they followed the procedure.

A few minutes after Brie had sealed the last chamber, the Commander and the remaining flight officers joined her. Only Major Art Hill, Lt. Commander Stephanie Hunter, Commander Lawless and Brie herself stayed awake as the remaining flight crew entered cryosleep. Hill and Hunter were secured in separate locations, but the Commander and Brie were to sleep side by side in the ship’s med lab. If there were any emergency during the journey, the Commander would be the first to awaken. Depending on the nature and severity of the emergency, Xandra would decide if waking the ship’s doctor would be necessary.

Brie looked into Xandra’s blue eyes and saw something she couldn’t identify. It almost appeared as if the Commander’s eyes were wet. Brie decided that she could think about that one as she fell slowly into the depths of sleep.

Brie smiled at Xandra and asked, “Ready Commander?”

Xandra gazed at her oddly as she climbed into her cryo chamber and answered, “Doctor, I’ve been ready for the last three years.”

Wondering at the Commander’s uncharacteristic flash of vulnerability, Brie began the process to seal the chamber, and looking down said, “Good night Commander.” As she walked to the next chamber and climbed into it herself, setting the controls from the inside she whispered, “See you in the morning Xandra.”

Chapter 8 – The Crisis

Xandra awoke to the insistent sound of an alarm and lights flashing in front of her closed eyes. It took a few seconds for her to register where she was. As the chamber opened automatically, she tried to sit up quickly and was immediately overcome with a wave of dizziness. Taking a few deep breaths, she tried again more slowly and was able to swing her legs out of the cryo chamber. Disoriented, Xandra looked around her for the source of the alarm, her eyes coming to rest on the med lab’s main computer screen. Blinking her eyes to restore some moisture, she struggled to focus on the monitor.

Stumbling closer to the screen, Xandra was finally able to read the message. The seals on one of the cryo chambers in the children’s section had failed. The child was in critical condition from the rapid change in temperature that had not allowed her body to return to its normal state over the hours normally required to awaken sleepers. Already Xandra could see that this one was beyond her first aid skills. Supporting herself on the tables and consoles in the med lab she moved to activate the quick thaw function on the doctor’s chamber. Only two of the chambers had been equipped with this very expensive feature designed to safely wake its occupant in one hour. Xandra had slept in one of these chambers and Brie in the other. This way the Commander and the Doctor could be awakened quickly and safely in the event of a strategic or medical emergency.

While she was waiting for Brie’s chamber to complete the process and open, she

requested a restorative drink from the med lab’s replicator and sat at the nearest console to review all information on the endangered child. The data was precise but limited. The child, Amber Rose, was located in chamber number 187 in the ‘nursery’, just down the hall from med lab. She was listed as five years old, the only child of a single mother, Karyn Rose. Her condition was listed as critical, but the computer scans suggested that she could be saved — if they got to her in time.

Xandra looked up from the screen, impatient for the doctor’s chamber to open. She didn’t like feeling helpless when someone was depending on her. She closed her eyes and recalled the faces of mother and child. With her photographic memory, she could recall the faces and names of each member of the expedition. The child was blonde and blue-eyed and her mother’s green eyes had glowed with pride each time her daughter politely answered one of the Commanders questions.

Shaking the image from her mind, she consulted the ship’s navigational computer for mission status. While she was waiting for Brie to awaken, Xandra discovered that they had been in their sleep chambers almost 45 years. They were on the correct flight path and, due to a few course corrections made by their ‘smart’ navigational system, they had actually shortened their anticipated flight time. All data suggested that they would reach the new system in just under three years, cutting their original trip time by about thirty-two months.

Xandra jumped in her seat at the sound of the seal on Brie’s cryo chamber releasing.

Rising from the console, she moved to the doctor’s side and was gazing down at her when Brie opened her eyes. Smiling weakly up at Xandra she whispered, “Are we there yet?”

Xandra laughed and reached out to help the doctor sit up. Brie rested her palms on the edge of the chamber and leaned forward to stop the spinning in her head. Breathing deeply she opened her eyes to see Xandra walking toward her with something in her hand. Brie’s sight was still a bit blurry as Xandra took her hands and wrapped them around a cup of warm liquid.

“Here, drink this.” Xandra waited until the doctor had taken a few sips before adding, “We have a problem Doctor.”

Brie had to clear her throat several times before speaking, her voice cracking on the first few tries, “What…um…what is wrong?”

“One of the children’s sleep chambers failed. Looks like it happened about twelve hours ago. It took an hour to wake me and another hour to wake you, I don’t know why it took the computer ten hours to decide that we were needed.”

As Brie finished her drink and got her bearings, Xandra explained all she had learned from the cryo systems computer. Brie listened carefully and when the Commander was finished, she slowly rose and asked, “Do you think you can carry her here? I need to get her into stasis until I can get her metabolism under control. At this point I can barely carry myself.”

Xandra nodded and together they left the med lab to get Amber Rose.

As they approached the failed chamber, Brie could see that the little girl was in shock. Her body was rigid with muscle spasms and was shivering violently. Xandra gently lifted the child from the chamber. Amber’s skin was cold and damp. Her clothing was soaked through. Her small hands were tightened into fists, her elbows and knees locked into place. It was like carrying a board.

Xandra quickly returned to med lab, with Brie on her heels. The sight of the child’s distress brought the young doctor to full consciousness faster than anything else could have. Brie recognized the little girl immediately as the same child whose stuffed lamb she had packed with her own things so long ago.

“Set her over there.” Brie indicated the treatment table in the main medical bay. This station was usually reserved for severe injuries and surgical procedures, but she wanted full use of all diagnostic equipment and the stasis field that was only available at this location.

Xandra lay the child on the table and tried to make her comfortable, but her body was so rigid that it wasn’t going to be possible. Brie stepped to the stasis console, her eyes moving quickly over the monitor as she absorbed the scan data flashing across the screen. She hesitated only a few seconds before programming the stasis field to enclose the little girl, giving her precious moments to figure out what to do next.

As soon as the field was in place, Amber seemed to relax, her shivering stopped. Her hands were still curled into fists, but her knees and elbows began to let go. Brie continued to read the data that was coming fast and furious. Every now and then, she paused the console display and made an adjustment to the treatment being administered by the stasis unit. Finally, she seemed satisfied with the settings and lowered herself into a seat to wait, her eyes only leaving the monitor occasionally to glance at her tiny patient.

Xandra, overcome by the effects of cryo sleep, leaned back in her chair and closed her eyes. She trusted the doctor to do whatever could be done for the child and drifted into a light sleep.

Brie continued to monitor Amber over the next few hours. Her condition had stabilized, but was not improving. Brie sighed, knowing what she was going to have to do next. In peak condition, fully rested, empathic healing took its toll on the practitioner. In her present condition, Brie didn’t know if she could even be effective, let alone finish what needed to be done before she collapsed. First she would need food and lots of it.

She stood staring at the replicator as she tried to remember what would give her the most energy in the shortest amount of time. Sugar, lots of sugar. Starting with a glass of citrus juice, she drank and decided on her next choice. Over the next half hour, Brie consumed three eggs, toast, pancakes with strawberries and whipped cream and two glasses of milk. Feeling more energized, she crossed the room and gently shook the Commander.

Xandra came awake immediately asking, “How is she?”

“Not good. I’m going to have to do this another way. I wanted you to be awake to monitor me.” Brie answered as she placed several probes on her temples and her chest. “Just watch these readings, if any of them rise into the red, pull me away from her.”

Brie wasted no time in releasing the child from the stasis field, placing one hand at her head and the other over her heart. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Her mind went spinning away, down a dark path of cold, pain and fear. She was seeing what Amber saw and feeling what she felt. She had to concentrate not to lose herself in the fear it was so strong. Softly she called to the little girl’s mind, “Amber, don’t be afraid, its Auntie Brie. I’ve come to get you.”

Amber seemed to relax as she recognized the voice of a friend in her mind. This was the nice lady who saved her “lamby.”

Brie allowed her mind to find and stabilize each of the systems in the child’s body. First she regulated her body temperature, then moved onto her heart, lungs and other vital organs, giving each the equivalent of a jump start. She worked continuously, visiting every effected area, scanning for internal damage and correcting anything she found. She progressed methodically, knowing intuitively where her help was needed next. Brie was a very strong healer and had often experienced the resentment of her instructors and peers at the results she was able to get. Under ordinary circumstances, this would be easy for her. In her weakened state, Brie began feeling fatigue much sooner than she expected. Almost finished, she rushed through the rest of the child’s systems so that she could pull out before she ‘red lined’. If that happened, she knew that Xandra would physically pull her away. The resulting painful shock could kill her patient and possibly even do damage to Brie’s own mind.

Xandra watched as the monitor showed all readings moving closer to the red line. She gazed at the empath at work before her, in awe that this woman could heal with her mind. She had seen this done before, and was always amazed. Of course, her total lack of any psychic ability made it even harder to fathom what these people were able to do. She had often referred to herself as ‘psychically numb,’ a comment that had always made Louis laugh and tell her that she just wasn’t trying hard enough. Louis was convinced that she had some ability in her and that it was simply buried. Xandra hadn’t had the heart to tell him that when she was tested by the military, she was ranked as having no talent at all. The readings were almost in the red zone, when Brie pulled back into herself and released her hold on the patient. She looked up at Xandra blankly as she felt her body slide to the floor and darkness close around her.

Xandra flew to her side in a panic and lifted her onto one of the vacant tables. Not knowing what to do next, she quickly looked at the monitors and noticed that the readings were returning to the normal range. As she continued to watch the young woman, Brie’s eyes fluttered open. Her voice cracked as she whispered, “Food…I need food.”

Several high carb drinks later, Brie was once again able to sit up. She leaned against Xandra, who sat behind Brie on the table, supporting her. Even in her exhausted condition her first thoughts were of her small patient. “Computer, patient status.”

The disembodied voice of the med lab computer answered. “Damages to all systems have been repaired. Vital signs are strong. The patient is improving.”

Brie, unable to keep her eyes open a minute longer, snuggled into the warm body wrapped around her and was asleep instantly. Xandra, feeling the body in her arms go limp, looked down at the young doctor. She felt a wave of relief as she realized that the doctor was merely asleep, not unconscious, as she had initially feared. Xandra lay back on the table with the young woman still wrapped securely in her arms and joined her in sleep.

Chapter 9 – The Interlude

Sometime in 2243

Brie slept fitfully for several hours, rising every so often to check on her patient. Each time, when she returned to sleep, she would snuggle closer to Xandra’s warm body.

Confident that the doctor would care for their small charge, Xandra slept soundly and awakened refreshed. Unused to sleeping with someone else, it took her a few moments to recall the circumstances that led to this enchanting creature lying in her arms. For a time, she just watched Brie sleep, her head resting on Xandra’s shoulder, golden lashes fanning across ivory cheeks.

When Xandra’s muscles began to tighten, she knew she needed to move. Reluctant to wake Brie, Xandra carefully slipped her arm free. She rose from their bed and made her way to the replicator, selecting a hot fragrant herbal brew. Sipping her drink, she sat at the computer station to check on Amber’s progress. Satisfied that the child was steadily improving, she turned her attention to the woman still sleeping on the table across the room.

This woman continued to amaze her. So young and yet so sure of herself. In spite of her fatigue, the doctor had done everything she could to insure her patient’s recovery. Although Xandra had no talent of her own, she had known a number of empathic talents. During her years with military intelligence, her primary contacts had often been empathic healers. This had been convenient since usually by the time Xandra reported in she was in need of some kind of medical attention.

Xandra knew the dedication that it took to do this kind of work, and rarely had she seen someone so selflessly put their own safety at risk to save another. Most of the empaths she had known would have refused to work with someone as far gone as the child had been, for fear of losing themselves in the process. Brie had known the risks, made even greater by her level of fatigue, but she hadn’t even hesitated.

Still no closer to understanding the young doctor, Xandra decided that a light workout would do her good after years in cryogenic suspension. Checking the doctor and patient once more, Xandra made her way to a large room just down the corridor from the med lab. Though the room had been used as a lounge during the weeks of preparation, it had been cleared of all furnishings just prior to departure, leaving it a large open space.

*Perfect.* The room was just about the size she would need to execute the intricate drills that were part of her routine. She stripped off her uniform jacket and shoes. Clad only in her white tank shirt and closely fitting blue pants, she stretched her tight muscles before moving into the main part of her workout.

In the med lab, Brie woke again — this time, alone with her patient. For what seemed like the twentieth time in as many hours, Brie checked the little girl’s progress and was relieved to discover that she was recovering rapidly enough to re-enter cryosleep in another 24 hours.

As she continued to read the computer evaluation of Amber’s condition, her stomach began to protest her inattention to her own needs. Sighing, she moved to the replicator and making one selection after another, devoured enough food for three normal people. Brie’s appetite had always been good, but it was particularly demanding after she had used her talent to help another.

Having quieted the ravenous beast in her belly, Brie decided to look for the Commander. She wandered down the corridor in search of her companion and stopped at a doorway on the left, drawn by the sounds of Xandra’s sharp grunts. Curious, Brie leaned against the doorframe to watch, quickly enthralled by the sight of Xandra’s powerful body moving through her routine.

The Commander moved with the speed and grace of a natural predator, the muscles in her back rippling with every movement. Brie found that she couldn’t tear her eyes from the powerful woman, immediately recognizing the moves as some form of martial arts. She watched Xandra move through a series of kicks and punches that accentuated her perfect body. The routine left Xandra covered in a light sweat, her dampened her shirt drawing Brie’s attention to the high rounded breasts and prominent nipples.
Aware she was being watched, Xandra finished her last drill. She turned to face the young doctor and was stunned at the desire she saw in Brie’s eyes. The Commander’s breathing increased, not from physical exertion, but from her own rising excitement. Quickly forcing herself to think clearly, Xandra decided that the question was no longer if, but when.

Concern evident in her voice, Xandra asked “How is Amber?” Her sense of responsibility for the child did not prevent her from noticing Brie’s obvious interest.

The young woman shifted guiltily at having been caught staring when she should have been absorbed with her patient. Looking away, she missed the desire reflected in the Commander’s eyes.

Quickly composing herself, she answered “She’s getting better all the time. She should be able to return to cryosleep in about 24 hours.”

Xandra’s smile deepened as she contemplated how they might entertain themselves while they waited for the child to recover. Inwardly she chided herself for her sensual fantasies. This woman deserved a better courtship that she could offer during their short interlude from cryosleep. Nevertheless, she made a decision to pursue their relationship further once they had arrived at their destination. *Right now* she decided *I need a cold shower.*

“I’m going to clean up. This workout has me a little sticky.” Xandra grinned at her unintentional double meaning. “Why don’t you meet me on the bridge in say…an hour, and we’ll run some systems checks while we wait.”

Brie, grateful for the chance to escape before she revealed her own feelings, responded, “Sure, I could use a shower myself. I’ll meet you there.”

The two frustrated women left the room in different directions, Brie heading for the shower in the med lab and Xandra, to the shower in her ready room off the bridge. Over the next few hours, they worked, ate and slept, while barely managing to contain their feelings for each other.

Working together on the bridge, Brie found she was having difficulty keeping her eyes off the incredibly sensual woman. Xandra’s very presence filled the young doctor’s mind with erotic thoughts. Brie found herself wondering what it would be like to touch her…taste her. Her body responding to her thoughts, she felt a warm wetness gathering between her thighs.

The Commander was having an equally difficult time controlling her vivid imagination. She longed to know if Brie’s breasts were as full and firm as they looked. She imagined the sweet taste of her and wondered how the young woman would look at the height of passion.

The hours passed slowly as they each struggled to control their desire. Brie returned to the bridge after checking Amber’s condition once again and pronounced her ready for cryosleep. Together they placed the child into a backup chamber also located in the med lab and Xandra watched as Brie brushed a kiss on the child’s soft baby cheek. The doctor initiated the cryosleep process and sat back to watch its completion. She wanted to monitor Amber’s condition at least until the process was complete.

A few hours later, satisfied that the little girl was adapting to cryosleep comfortably, Brie indicated that the Commander should re-enter her own chamber. This time, Xandra paused before lying down. She reached out, pulling the young woman into her arms. Their lips met in a melting kiss that held sensual promise for the future.

“Remember, dinner at my place tomorrow.” Xandra smiled and continued to hold Brie’s eyes as she lay back and waited for the chamber door to close.

Turning toward her own chamber, Brie climbed in and activated the controls, smiling in anticipation as she joined the Commander in sleep.

Chapter 10 – The Awakening

Sometime in 2246

This time when Xandra woke, there were no alarms or flashing lights to cause her to hurry. She knew exactly where she was and lay patiently waiting for the chamber to open, taking several deep breaths before even trying to sit up. Getting her bearings, she looked over at the doctor’s chamber in time to see it open and a slim hand reach out to grasp the edge.

“Good morning,” Xandra greeted the young woman.

“Morning,” Brie muttered as she used her elbows to push herself into a sitting position. “You’d think that for once I’d have had enough sleep, but I guess even fifty years isn’t enough.”

Xandra chuckled at Brie who was obviously not a morning person. Finally she had found a tiny flaw in the beautiful woman. She was not perfect after all and somehow that fact made her even more appealing. Xandra stood slowly and going to the replicator, retrieved two restorative drinks. Approaching Brie, she handed one cup to her as she dropped a kiss on top of her head. “Good morning again.”

Brie looked up at the sleepy woman next to her, took both of their drinks and set them down on the edge of the control panel. Reaching up to thread her fingers into the dark silk of the Commander’s hair, Brie raised her lips to Xandra’s. Intended to be a gentle greeting, the kiss quickly evolved into a heated expression of need. Both women, dazed by the intensity of the exchange, drew back and sank down onto the chamber bed.

Brie smiled mischievously at the Commander and said, “Good morning to you too.” Continuing with her good humour she asked “What time is it anyway.”

Her casual comment caused Xandra to laugh, “I don’t know, actually. I haven’t checked.”

Rising, Xandra crossed the room to check their status on the main computer. “Well, according to this we should be entering our new system in 12 hours. That should give us enough time to wake the senior officers. The flight officers will handle our drop from light speed while the others assist you in waking the colonists.” Finishing their drinks, they selected high energy bars next and left the med lab, munching contentedly. Over the next few hours, they manually deactivated the chamber seals on the senior staff cryo chambers throughout the ship. Without the costly ‘quick thaw’ feature found only on Brie and Xandra’s sleep chambers, it would take approximately six hours for the officers to regain consciousness. During that time Brie and Xandra had a leisurely breakfast, showered and were ready to work.

Lt. Commander Hunter was the first to fully awaken and, as soon as she got her bearings, reported to the Commander on the bridge. She was still weak and moving unsteadily. As she headed for her station, she was stopped by the amused voice of the Commander. “Just what do you think you’re going to do in your condition? Why don’t you relax in my ready room until you feel stronger? I am capable of flying this thing without you. And Stephanie, have something to eat too, you look like a poster child for the inner cities.”

Stephanie did as the Commander suggested, more confused by her superior’s uncharacteristic show of humor than by her recent awakening. As she was starting on the blueberry muffin and French Roast coffee she had selected, she was joined by Art Hill. He looked a little out of it too and was shaking his head in confusion.

“What’s with her?” he rattled on. “I’ve never seen her act this way. She laughed! I’ve been with her for three years and I’ve never heard her laugh. Have you ever heard her laugh?” He paused to look back over his shoulder, utterly amazed.

Stephanie couldn’t help laughing herself as she watched the Major’s expressive hands emphasize his speech. Through a mouthful of muffin, Stephanie suggested that Art get some food and sit down. Taking a long swallow of the rich dark brew she loved, she watched the Major select an enormous southern breakfast of eggs, sausage, grits, biscuits and gravy. Finishing her muffin, she sat back in her chair to watch and listen as the animated young man alternately chattered and stuffed himself.

Stephanie and Art had known each other as long as they had known their Commander, each being accepted as part of the colonial team within days of the other. Once Art had gotten the message that he wasn’t Stephanie’s type, the two had become close friends. Over the long months of preparation and training, neither had been successful in getting any closer to the Commander. It seemed that the young doctor had been the only one to breech her defences.

One of the things Stephanie found so endearing about Art was that he gossiped like an old lady. At first she had found the habit annoying, but as she grew to know him better, she came to realize that Art meant no unkindness to anyone. He was simply insatiably curious. His mind was always occupied with unravelling some mystery whether it was solving a malfunction in one of the ship’s systems or butting into the personal lives of his fellow officers. No one seemed to mind his interference and sometimes he actually managed to do some good.

He was the one Stephanie had confided in when Brie failed to return her affections. Even though he was an outrageous gossip, Art would never betray a confidence. He had assured her that she had been right in her response to Brie’s confession. “After all,” he had said, “you rejected me and look what good friends we’ve become. I wouldn’t have missed that for the world.”

She finished her coffee about the time Art had swallowed his last bite. “Ready to roll?” she asked, setting her cup down.

“Let’s do it,” Art grinned in response.

They returned to the bridge, a bit steadier now, and joined the captain to prepare for the drop from light speed. Slowly, over the next few hours, they we’re joined by the other flight officers as they awakened and eaten to regain their strength. All systems were ready well before the appointed time. Although they had been thorough, they had laughed and joked together as never before. The excitement of their arrival was infectious and the Commander seemed to have succumbed to the exhilaration as well.

Brie sat with the remaining senior officers in the mess hall, encouraging them to eat as much as they wanted. When Sara wandered in, sleepy and disoriented, Brie helped her to a seat and got her something to eat right away. She would need Sara’s help in the next few hours as they woke the colonists, got them fed, and arranged for temporary housing with the quartermaster for the last leg of their journey. Since REM sleep did not occur in cryo, the colonists all felt weak and unsettled, despite the fact that they had ‘slept’ for fifty years. At this point, they desperately needed food and rest.

With the senior staff awake and moving, Brie began the process of waking the colonists. As more people woke up, the demand on the public food replicators increased and Brie quickly ran out of places to put people while waiting for their room assignments. If she could just get some of the colonists preassigned, they could go straight to their quarters and use their own replicators. Getting anxious, she decided to discuss her idea with the unapproachable Quartermaster.

Although quite beautiful, Quartermaster Penny Baker had a temperament that could freeze ice on a hot summer day. The ultimate bean counter, Quartermaster Baker was more concerned with rations and allotments than the human beings receiving them. When Brie first explained her idea, the Quartermaster came close to dismissing it, but the increasing number of colonists in line for the replicators and sitting on the floor throughout the ship’s corridors changed her mind. Turning to her support staff, who looked like they needed a bit of support themselves, Penny realized that they were all so exhausted that nothing would run efficiently until everyone had eaten and slept a more natural sleep.

Instructing her staff to act on Brie’s suggestion, she turned to find the doctor handing her a cup of strong black coffee. Surprised that the young woman would even think of her needs, she accepted the cup without a word. She took a sip of the dark, fragrant liquid and was pleased to find that it was just the way she liked it. As she watched the doctor walk away, she wondered how she had known. *Hmm…there might be more to that one than I thought.* As an afterthought Penny called to Brie, “Thanks, Doc.”

“My pleasure, Baker.” Brie smiled at Penny over her shoulder, pleased that her powers of observation had once again served her well. During her training, she had noticed that the Quartermaster, like most accountants, was a creature of habit. Each morning Baker had entered the dinning hall at precisely 0537 hours, ate a breakfast of black coffee, fruit and hot cereal, and left the room promptly at 0555, leaving five minutes to get to her office.

The hours seemed to fly by for both Brie and Xandra, each absorbed in their assigned tasks. Brie was in the med lab with Karyn and Amber Rose, having just awakened the child, when the Commander’s voice announced that they were entering orbit around their new home. The doctor was so excited she spontaneously hugged Amber to her and kissed both cheeks, telling the child “We’re home!”

Brie was pleased that Amber had no problems waking up this time. As they waited for the child’s chamber to open, the doctor explained the situation to Karyn. She could see the conflicting emotions flashing in the young mother’s eyes as she learned of her daughter’s near death and safe recovery. Karyn couldn’t thank the doctor enough, and continued to express her gratitude as she watched Amber’s return to consciousness. Amber sat up and looked around to see her mother and the doctor and announced, “Hi Mommy. Hi Auntie Brie. What’s for breakfast? Where’s Lamby?” Karyn and Brie looked at each other and laughed together at the demands of the healthy little girl. Taking her daughter’s hand, Karyn led Amber from the med lab to get the child something to eat. Leaning down as Amber passed, Brie whispered conspiratorially, “Lamby has to stay asleep until we land, just like all the other animals.” Amber looked back with wide eyes and said “Oh, I knew that.”

Shortly after the Commander’s announcement, Sara entered the med lab to find Brie asleep with her head resting on the console. Sara gently shook her and ordered her to bed. Brie blinked up at Sara and sleepily informed her that she couldn’t give Brie orders since the doctor outranked her. Nonetheless, Brie allowed the nurse to guide her to the corridor and point her in the direction of her newly assigned quarters. “And besides” she confided as she walked away, “I can’t sleep, I have a dinner date.”

Chapter 11 – Dinner

Xandra left the bridge about an hour after the Artemis settled into orbit, tired but elated that they had reached their destination safely. With Stephanie in command, Xandra knew she could rest easy. Responsibility for their mission had weighed heavily on the Commander over the last few months of preparation and into the journey itself. She felt personally accountable for each and every life in her care.

It seemed to Xandra that she had always been this serious. Louis had enjoyed reminding her of a time in their lives when she had been as happy and care free as any other child, but that was before they had lost their parents. From that moment until the day he died, Xandra had felt completely responsible for her younger brother. Somehow, when Louis became ill, she felt as if she had failed him. When he died, she almost abandoned their colonization project. She was reluctant to have others dependant on her for fear that she would fail them too.

Now, feeling somewhat redeemed, Xandra allowed herself the luxury of anticipating a few hours in the company of the delightful doctor. Although they had actually spent many hours together, it had always involved the well being of the expedition and its colonists.

“Hunter, you have the bridge.” Xandra smiled as she headed toward the lift. Her satisfied expression and the lack of urgency in her step continued to amaze her officers.

Hunter and Hill paused to watch as their commander entered the lift. As the doors closed behind her, they looked at each other and shrugged. “Wonder where she’s going?” Hill commented with a knowing grin, his eyes meet Stephanie’s briefly. Seeing the hurt there, he quickly realized his error and murmured “Sorry Steph.”

Stephanie sniffed and looked away to cover her discomfort. “S’okay. I really don’t begrudge either of them, I’m just wishing I had someone too.” She looked back at her console. “What about you Art? Come across anyone interesting during the testing? After all, you got to see them all at their best and their worst.”

Art smiled as he turned back to his own console. “Well, actually I did. There was this woman and her daughter…”

Brie found her tiny room with little difficulty. It took about 10 seconds for her to take in the entire space and she was immediately grateful that she wouldn’t be spending much time here. As small as the room was, it did have a hygiene cube and a replicator. *They’re so close I could take a shower and eat dinner at the same time, very efficient.*

Selecting a cup of hot black tea, she lay back in her bunk intending to relax and sip her drink. As she lay back, she noticed the monitor set above the foot of the bed. *Hmm…that’s really the only place you could put it in this closet.* Then she noticed that she had a message from the Commander.

Smiling, she read:

Doctor,

I believe that we have a dinner date this evening. Please join me in my quarters when you have rested. I look forward to seeing you.

Xandra

*Well now, we’re getting somewhere. I’m still ‘Doctor’, but now she’s ‘Xandra’.* Brie got up and stripped off her very old uniform. Showering quickly, she wondered if there was any extra clothing in this room. Opening several of the wall compartments revealed not only fresh uniforms but a recycler for soiled ones. She had to give the expedition planners credit, after fifty years, who wouldn’t want a shower and change of clothes.

Without her personal belongings, there wasn’t much to getting ready. She dressed, brushed her hair and cleaned her teeth. In a final attempt to change her look, she unfastened the high collar of her uniform, revealing her slender throat and the necklace. She knew Xandra’s quarters were on deck 17, but beyond that she wasn’t sure. Entering the lift she made her selection and waited. She had no idea of which way to go when she got off the lift.

When the doors opened, Brie was met by a young man. In his early teens, he was probably a member of one of the families that signed on with the colony. She smiled and the boy shifted his feet, looking down, obviously very uncomfortable.

“Are you Dr. O’Conner?” he asked, still not looking up.

“Yes I am.” Brie answered, a bit surprised that he knew who she was. “And who are you?”

“I’m Jason. I’m supposed to take you to the Commander’s quarters. It’s not so easy to find.”

“Well in that case, I’m glad you’re here ‘cause I’m terrible with directions.” Brie gently laughed and Jason relaxed enough to look up at her. He was at that awkward stage, still very unsure of himself. She could tell that this journey had been hard on him. Still, he was staying busy running errands for the Commander. Brie suspected that Xandra knew exactly what she was doing with this one.

Jason regained enough composure to remember his manners. “Please come with me, Doctor.”

When Jason said that the Commander’s quarters were hard to find, he wasn’t kidding. Brie felt like a rat being led through a maze to find the cheese. Brie smiled wickedly at her next thought. *Well, I imagine that this will be much tastier than cheese.* The image in her mind was so vivid that she suddenly felt flushed. *Oh, no, better not go there just yet.* She was so distracted that she plowed into Jason when he stopped to show her the Commander’s door.

“Ooof…Sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going.” Brie giggled nervously.

At first Jason was confused by her reaction. Then it dawned on him that she was as nervous now as he was most of the time. He realized then that he really liked the doctor. “S’okay. I do that a lot too. That’s her quarters, go ahead in. She set the panel to open for you.”

Jason fled as Brie placed her palm on the reader. The door slid back to reveal quarters much larger than her own. *Thank god for that. I can barely keep my hands off her as it is, but when she’s close…*

As she stepped into the room, a variety of sounds and smells assaulted her. The sound system filled the air with music, an instrumental piece that Brie didn’t recognize. From a room to her left, she heard someone singing softly with the music. It took her a moment to realize that she was hearing the Commander. The voice was beautiful, its lilting tones blending perfectly with the instrumentals.

From the same direction, she detected the delicious smell of freshly prepared food. Stunned, she tried to remember the last time someone cooked for her. It had been that last Thanksgiving with her family. Brie smiled sadly as she pushed the memory aside, determined not to let anything ruin her evening. Closing her eyes, she tried to identify the smells. *Hmm…let’s see, onions, garlic, oregano…I’ve got it! Italian.*

Brie called out “Hello.”

“I’m in the galley, come on in.”

Brie crossed the comfortable living space and stood in the doorway of the tiny kitchen. Only large enough for one person at a time, it was extremely well equipped. Lifting the lid on a pot at the rear of the cooking unit, she sniffed and said “Yep, it’s Italian. How did you know it’s my favorite?”

Handing her a glass of red wine, Xandra raised one eyebrow and gave Brie an amused look.

Taking the glass, Brie chuckled, “Oh yeah, you have all the records. I bet you even know that my favorite color is…” Brie paused, remembering the color of the gown Xandra had given her.

“Green” Xandra finished for her.

Lost in thought Brie didn’t hear Xandra. “What?”

“I said your favorite color is green.”

Brie, dazzled by Xandra’s smile, took a sip of the wine to steady herself. “Can I help?”

“No, it’s almost ready anyway. Just sit at the table and keep me company.” Xandra checked the pasta as she talked. In minutes the meal was on the table. Xandra served the young woman a generous portion, then picked at her own dinner. She had little appetite for food. She watched Brie clean her plate, all the while telling Xandra about her day. *This is nice* she thought. *It feels like I’m finally part of something.*

Sighing contentedly, Brie leaned back in her seat and sipped her wine. “That was wonderful.” She glanced over her shoulder toward the kitchen. “You certainly surprised me. I never had you figured for the domestic type.”

“Cooking is my only weakness” Xandra laughed. “My mother was a chef before she died. We used to spend a lot of time in the kitchen together and I guess cooking makes me feel closer to her.”

“Well,” Brie leaned forward and winked, “your secret is safe with me. Since eating is my greatest weakness, I want to keep you all for myself.” Her obvious double meaning caused Xandra to suddenly feel warmer.

Taking their wine into the living space, Xandra sat and rolled her shoulders to relieve the stress of the day. Brie, noticing her action, set her drink on a nearby table. Sweeping Xandra’s hair aside, the doctor began to massage her neck and shoulders, her magic fingers finding all the kinks and knots.

Xandra felt the tension of the last weeks melt from her body. Brie’s hands felt wonderful. The young woman started with deep muscle massage. Within moments, Brie felt Xandra relax beneath her touch, her breathing becoming slow and deep. Changing to feather light touches designed to excite, rather than soothe, Brie was rewarded by Xandra’s sharp intake of breath.

Unable to stop herself, Brie leaned to drop tender kisses along Xandra’s neck. Xandra sighed and leaned her head forward to expose more of her neck to the doctor’s attentions. Interpreting Xandra’s response as an invitation to go further, Brie sank to her knees behind the Commander and gently bit her neck, her hands sliding around to cup Xandra’s heavy breasts and lightly trace her nipples through the thin shirt. Brie continued to tease her nipples until Xandra arched into her hands. Pausing to slide Xandra’s shirt over her head, Brie move around to face her. Cupping her breasts again, Brie slid her tongue over each hard point before taking first one, then the other into her mouth to lightly suck. Xandra’s moans deepened as Brie alternately used her tongue and her teeth to excite her.

Xandra pulled Brie to her lips for a scorching kiss, her hands opening Brie’s jacket and reaching for her breasts. They were surprisingly large for such a small woman. Xandra felt the nipples hardening in her palms as Brie’s tongue slipped suggestively into her mouth. Sliding the doctor’s jacket off her shoulders, she pulled Brie to her, loving the feel of their breasts touching.

Shifting so that she could lift the young woman, Xandra carried Brie through an archway into her sleeping area. Slowly she lowered Brie to her feet, letting their bodies slide against each other. Sitting on the bed, Xandra pulled the young woman forward to rest between her thighs. She licked and blew on Brie’s nipples as she stripped the lower half of the young woman’s body. Taking a hardened nipple into her mouth, she bit lightly while sliding her fingers into the moist curls at the apex of Brie’s thighs.

Brie’s breathing came faster as she clasped Xandra’s head, gently holding her in place. Her thighs parted in invitation as long fingers slid across the tight bud at her center. Not losing her hold on Brie, Xandra lowered her onto the bed, moving up to capture her mouth as she continued to stroke her lover’s sensitive nether lips.

Brie, breathless with desire, whispered “Please…I want to feel all of you against me.”

Xandra moved slightly away from the passionate young woman and began to remove the rest of her clothing. Brie watched with heavily lidded eyes, her tongue unconsciously tracing her parted lips. As Xandra settled back onto the bed, Brie used the force of her momentum to roll Xandra beneath her. Gazing into the depths of the dark woman’s eyes, Brie began to explore her body with hands, lips and tongue, finding every sensitive spot along the way. She kissed and licked Xandra’s hardened nipples while softly stroking the undersides of her beasts with her thumbs.

Moving lower with her attentions, she kissed her way across Xandra’s firm belly and lower to slide her tongue into Xandra’s moist dark curls. Xandra moaned as Brie found her center, slowly licking her sensitive nub. Brie wanted this woman like she had never wanted anyone before. She wanted her helpless and moaning beneath her. As she increased the speed of her tongue, she slid first one finger then another into Xandra’s warm, wet sheath. Xandra’s hips arched uncontrollably beneath her in reaction to the invasion.

“More…please, more.” Xandra pleaded between her sensual moans.

In response, Brie added a third finger while lightly pinching Xandra’s nipples with her free hand.

Xandra’s body stiffened, her hands grasping at the sheets beneath her. Brie took her time teasing the magnificent woman, holding her on the edge for what seemed to Xandra like an eternity. When Xandra thought she could take no more, Brie sucked the tiny nub between her lips and began to thrust hard into her lover. Finally pushed over the edge, Xandra called Brie’s name over and over as she came apart in her arms.

Relaxing, Brie lay her head against Xandra’s smooth belly and waited for the dark woman to catch her breath. Brie had been so excited by Xandra’s response that she had almost come herself. She was very wet and still very excited by the taste of Xandra’s desire on her lips.

Xandra reached out to pull the young doctor to her for a deep sensual kiss, excited by the taste of her own juices in Brie’s mouth. Lifting Brie higher, she licked and nibbled her nipples. Xandra lowered the beautiful woman to her back and slid her thigh between Brie’s, rubbing rhythmically against the wetness she found there. Xandra continued rocking her hips against Brie as she cupped the young woman’s breasts, raising them to her mouth.

Brie was overwhelmed with sensation as she clasped Xandra closer, wanting to feel her everywhere. Xandra bit lightly on Brie’s nipples as she steadily increased the pressure of her thigh against Brie’s slick mound. Brie’s nails sank convulsively into the firm globes of Xandra’s ass as she screamed her release.

Xandra continued to hold Brie as her breathing slowed and her body ceased its trembling. After a few quiet minutes, Xandra looked down to find that Brie had fallen asleep in her arms once again. Smiling to herself, Xandra closed her own eyes and was asleep almost instantly.

Chapter 12 – Landfall

Brie woke late the next day. She was alone as Xandra had long since left to begin her day. The doctor hauled herself out of bed, knowing she had another busy day ahead of her. Stepping into Xandra’s ion shower, she allowed herself to remember the night before.

Brie had slept in brief intervals, exhausted by the incredible lovemaking they had shared. The Commander had been insatiable, as had Brie herself. They had loved each other over and over. Each time Brie thought herself too sleepy to become aroused again. Each time Xandra managed to prove her wrong.

Finished with her shower, she dressed and completed her grooming. Looking in the mirror, she paused, her bee-stung lips and contented expression reminding her of the cat who ate the cream. Giggling, she turned away from the mirror.

Pulling herself together, Brie left the Commander’s quarters hoping she could remember how to get to the lift. Surprisingly, she went straight to it and selected her destination as the med lab. She was hungry as usual, but decided that since she was starting so late, she’d eat breakfast while she worked.

Sara was already busy in the lab when Brie arrived. Looking up, Sara noted the relaxed look on Brie’s face and sighed with relief. She had actually been very worried about the doctor, who had been working much too hard since joining the expedition. It was almost as if she was trying to make up for lost time. Sara had tried several times to get her friend to slow down, but Brie only knew one way to work — incessantly.

“Sorry I’m late. I overslept.” Brie blushed and looked away as she remembered the reason for her tardiness. “Are we all set for today?”

Brie got her breakfast and sat listening as Sara spent the next few minutes updating her on the status of the mission in general and more specifically their part in it.

“Today more than half of the colonists will make landfall. The first ones down will begin building the temporary shelters we will use until more permanent structures can be constructed. You will accompany the Commander in the first shuttle while I run medical from this end. Commander Lawless intends to make the first landfall, then return to the Artemis to organize the transition. Quartermaster Baker will also be on the first shuttle, along with Major Hill. The three of you will be in charge of setting up the shelters, an infirmary and a storage area for our supplies.”

Sara continued to sort and pack medical supplies as she spoke. Brie was impressed with her organization and efficiency.

“Over the next few days, the endangered animals will be brought down. Most will be transported in enclosures that will house them until the zoologists confirm that they can survive the environment. The hoof stock and other domesticated animals will be sent as soon as pens and enclosures are ready. Once all the animals, supplies and equipment are down, the rest of the colonists make landfall.”

Sara allowed Brie to finish her meal before adding, “You’d better hurry, the shuttle leaves in 20 minutes.”

“Now you tell me” Brie complained as she stood brushing crumbs from her uniform. “I’ll have to move fast to make it. Later Sara”

“See you in a few days Doctor.” Sara spoke to her retreating back.

Xandra and about half of the senior officers were already aboard the Argo when Brie entered the shuttle. Lt. Commander Hunter was in the pilot’s seat with one of the other flight officers as her second. The seat next to Xandra was already occupied by the Quartermaster so Brie squeezed past Art to take the window seat next to him.

” Good morning Art.” Brie greeted him with a smile.

“Hiya Doc. You looked like hell yesterday, glad you got some rest.”

Brie chuckled at his comment. She genuinely liked this young man and his rough brand of humor. Relaxing in her seat, Brie spent the next hour or so listening to perhaps the only person she’d ever met who could out talk her. She was listening to his detailed explanation of how they would organize their construction efforts when the shuttle broke through the planet’s cloud layer. Brie held her breath in excitement as she saw her new home for the first time.

Even from their present altitude, the richness of the planet was evident. As they came closer, Brie could make out forests, mountains and rivers. The shuttle suddenly became quite as the others stared out the nearest window. Even Art had stopped talking and was leaning across her to get a better look.

The shuttle banked left toward a large meadow that would serve as a landing strip. Barely long enough for landing, turn around and take off, the meadow was located in one of the most desirable areas of the planet. They had chosen one of the northern continents for initial colonization primarily because of the temperate climate and because it was connected to two of the other continents by land bridges, making expansion in the future easier for their descendants.

Due to the small size of their landing strip, the shuttles would have to time their deliveries so that only one shuttle would be on the ground at any time.

The Argo lowered her flaps for landing as Brie watched the tops of trees rushing by. Landing smoothly, the shuttle came to a stop just yards before the end of the meadow. Brie smiled, remembering that Stephanie had been a Navy pilot. She was used to taking off and landing on the length of an air craft carrier. Of course here she didn’t have any help stopping in time, not that she needed any.

Stephanie opened the shuttle hatch and extended the ramp as everyone waited for the Commander to be the first to set foot on their new world. Xandra released her harness and moved down the aisle to the hatch. Pausing to take in the view, she stepped slowly down the ramp and into the foot high grass of the meadow.

Grinning, she turned to the rest of the senior officers waiting at the top of the ramp. “Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”

Slowly they each exited the ship, looking all around and breathing deeply of the clean, sweet air. The atmosphere of this planet was slightly more oxygen rich than they were used to, making them all feel a bit light headed. Their bodies would adapt soon enough and in the mean time they attributed the feeling to the sights, sounds and smells of their new home.

Brie set this moment in her mind, planning to record it later when she could get to her journal. She noticed the order in which the officers left the shuttle, how each one reacted to the experience, where they all stood, what they said. These were the things their children and their grandchildren would ask about. In this moment they were Lief Erickson, Christopher Columbus, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, Susan Marcus and Elizabeth York. They were explorers and pioneers. They were the heros of this world’s future.

Although she hated ceremonies, Xandra also understood their importance. Turning to face the others, she spoke.

“I want each of you to know that you have been an integral part of the success of this mission. In the weeks to come, you will continue to play an important role. In spite of the great responsibility heaped upon you, I encourage you to remember why we all came here. It is my intent to secure the colony as soon as possible so that we can hand the reins to the council. When that time comes, we will be able to begin our new lives here as well. Until then, please try to take some time for yourselves to enjoy what we have worked so hard to accomplish.”

Brie absorbed each of Xandra’s words. She would add the content of this speech to her recollections of this occasion. The archivist’s new job had begun even before finishing her old one.

In the next few hours, the first three temporary shelters were put up and the shuttle crew was preparing to return to the Artemis for the next group. Xandra would be returning with most of the flight officers who would be kept busy piloting the shuttles over the next few days. The Commander’s eyes scanned the clearing until they settled on the young doctor. Brie was occupied setting up her temporary infirmary. Xandra, taking advantage of the privacy offered by the infirmary shelter, slipped inside and wrapped her arms around her lover.
Kissing the hollow just below her ear, Xandra whispered, “I’m going to miss you.”

Brie leaned back in her embrace and sighed. “Me too. How long before you return?”

Xandra trailed kisses along her jawline, whispering, “Too long. Probably ten days or more.”

Turning to face Xandra, Brie slid her arms around her lover and kissed her full on the mouth. The kiss seemed to go on and on, finally ending when Xandra heard Stephanie calling for their departure.

“Soon,” Xandra whispered. “Soon.”

Chapter 13 – Settlement

Spring 2246

Brie sat at her desk chewing on the end of a pen. In the twelve days since first landfall, she hadn’t had time to make a single entry. From the minute they’d landed, Brie had been completely immersed in organizing the beginnings of their first settlement. She’d worked tirelessly, without taking any time for herself.

The work schedules had been set based on the daylight hours of the planet. Taking twenty-six hours to rotate on it’s axis, their new home provided longer days and nights. The Commander had decided that until the council took over governing responsibilities, everyone would work on a rotating four-day work schedule, three days on and the fourth off.

Brie had missed her first two days off. This morning she had entered the infirmary to find Sara sorting medical supplies. She had made landfall late the night before on one of the last shuttles to leave the starcruiser. Happy to see her friend, Brie had greeted her with a hug. Sara had returned her hug with enthusiasm, then promptly ordered her to leave the infirmary. It seemed that someone had tattled to her nurse that she wasn’t taking her personal days and Sara was determined that she would in the future — starting today. Although she had grumbled and complained at the prospect of idleness, Brie knew that she needed the day to rest.

Walking back to her shelter in the early morning air almost reminded her of her meditation world, only the grass and trees here were real. It was spring and the smell of wild flowers permeated the air, much sweeter than in her dreams. The melodic birdsong made the music from her fantasies sounding flat in comparison. So many emotions washed over her — sadness that her family was not here to share this with her, gratitude for the new friends she had made and pure joy for just being alive on such a glorious morning.

She knew exactly what she would do with her time off. Entering her shelter, she opened all the windows and grabbing a fruit from the bowl by the bed, sat at her desk. Brie loved this desk. Art had made it for her using two metal packing crates and a sleeping pallet he’d scavenged from the Artemis. It didn’t have drawers, but the top was enormous, giving her lots of room to spread out when she worked.

Opening her journal, she read the last entry.

June 10, 2198.

I’m excited, afraid, happy, sad and nervous. Tomorrow we leave Earth and everything we’ve ever known. I miss my family, but I know that even if they were alive they’d never come with me. Dad was too devoted to this tired old world. He’d never give up trying to save it. And Mom, well, she’d stay where ever Dad was. But Lily…Lily might have come with me.

They say our new world is a paradise, but I think that paradise is not a place but a state of mind. As long as we adhere to the principles that brought us together, it will be paradise. If there is a God, I pray that we will all find the inner strength to remain true to those principles when things get difficult.

Turning the page she tried to decide how to begin. Smiling, she took the pen from her mouth and started to write.

Twelve days after Landfall 2246

I am fascinated with the way the colony is evolving. Many specialties were represented among the first group of colonists to make landfall. Botanists came to study the plant life in the immediate vicinity. Their first task was to determine what indigenous fruits and vegetables we could add to our diet and evaluate the nutritional value of each specimen.

As she wrote, memories of recent events rolled through her head.

The fruit she was eating as she wrote had been one of their first finds. It looked like an apple and tasted a bit like strawberries and kiwis combined. Best of all, it was high in vitamins and carbohydrates and low in calories.

The biologists were occupied determining whether the plants and animals brought from earth could survive here. Most of the time any problems could be resolved with minor genetic adaptation. But two of the species they had included could not be made to adapt to the planet — the Kangaroo and the Koala. The indigenous plant life lacked an essential amino acid necessary for the Kangaroo’s survival. Although the missing nutrient could be synthesized, there was no way to introduce it into the environment. As for the Koalas, no one could quite pinpoint the problem. It wasn’t nutritional. They weren’t sick. They simply weakened quickly and died only a few days after landing. The veterinarians speculated that cryosleep and not the planet, had finished them. Either way, everyone was saddened by their first casualties.

One morning a few days after they’d landed, Brie overheard several scientists discussing their new home. She had noted that they had begun to refer to the planet as Gaia. Apparently the other colonists liked the name since she heard more and more people using it. Brie liked it too. Maybe the name would eventually be made official.

As adult colonists made landfall, so did their children. The practice of not separating families that had been followed during their training and journey continued as settlement began. At first it was difficult to care for their children while fulfilling other responsibilities. Then, an innovative group of parents formed a ‘family cooperative’ in which parents took turns supervising and educating their children. Their curriculum was creative — they taught their children about their new world as they made the discoveries themselves. Brie was not surprised when the idea caught on and other similar groups formed.

Brie got to know many of the colonists better, including Karyn Rose, one of the first botanists to arrive. She had been instrumental in forming the first cooperative, probably to save her own sanity. Brie had spent several hours in the company of Karyn’s daughter over the last few days and found her to be a delightful – if exhausting – companion. She thought how difficult it must be for Karyn to raise such a precocious child alone.

Amber had been one of her first patients. Not looking where she was going, the child had tripped over a tree root and had broken her wrist when she fell. She had been crying when Karyn brought her to the infirmary. When she saw Brie, her wailing increased, until Brie looked at her and firmly said “Enough. That’s quite enough Amber. We know you’re hurt.” The child had immediately quieted and stared at Brie in surprise. No one had ever talked to her in that tone. She understood yelling — her Daddy had done that. She understood crying — her Mom did that a lot when they lived with her Daddy. But she’d never heard the sound of quiet authority.

“Now what seems to be the matter.” Brie helped the little girl onto the exam table.

Karyn started to answer but Brie shook her head. “I want Amber to tell me.”

The child showed Brie where she hurt. Throughout the examination and treatment, Brie spoke directly to Amber. She’d always hated doctors who talked about their patients as if they weren’t there. Because of her involvement in her own treatment, Amber forgot to cry. The break had been clean and it took only a few minutes in the bone regenerator to correct it. Soon the child was out of pain and ready to run again. Before leaving the infirmary, Amber politely thanked the doctor and asked to be excused. Karyn watched as her daughter left, pleased that Amber could remember her manners when it was important.

In addition to working in the infirmary, Brie spent many hours working with Quartermaster Baker. She had emerged as the natural liaison between the colonists and the accountant when problems arose. Brie always managed to find the right words to make Baker see the long term benefits of whatever cause she was lobbying for at the time. She had persuaded Baker that the families needed separate housing. The presence of naturally noisy children disrupted the dormitory setting that had been provided. In addition, the authority of the parents was being undermined by other well-meaning colonists. Since Baker had her own quarters, Brie argued, she couldn’t understand the importance of what the doctor was asking. She challenged Baker to spend 24 hours in the same environment everyone else was asked to endure. To her credit, Baker accepted. The very next day, the Quartermaster had begun construction on several private shelters. When they were completed, the families were immediately re-assigned and, to her surprise, Brie also got private quarters.

Not all of Brie’s encounters with other colonists were as satisfying. While she’d had several colonists ask her for allergy aerosols and headache medications, but nothing turned out to be serious — until the third morning on the planet when a young man staggered into the infirmary complaining of severe stomach cramps, nausea and fever. Almost doubled over, he was clearly in pain. Brie immediately recognized the symptoms of food poisoning.

“Can you tell me your name?” she asked, helping him to the table..

“Harris,” he managed to croak. “Mitchell Harris.”

“Okay Mr. Harris, what have you eaten?” the doctor asked as she checked his vital signs.

Harris turned out to be a most uncooperative patient. Because of his reluctance to provide her with information, she was unable to help him clinically. As his condition worsened, she decided to work empathically. He was unconscious when she made tactile contact and sent her senses tentatively into his system. As she worked, eliminating all traces of the poison from his body, he began to regain his strength. As he began to regain consciousness, she caught fleeting images of the untested fruit he’d eaten that had caused his illness.

*Well, this one can’t follow orders even for his own good.* Then the images changed to more unpleasant ones, some perverted, some cruel and some just plain evil. Repulsed by the obvious pleasure he took from these images, she pulled back from Harris abruptly, as if she’d been burned. Not wanting the man to suspect what she’d seen, she attempted to control her expression as she spoke calmly to her patient. “Get some rest. You should be fine in a few hours.” Brie walked away, effectively dismissing the man. “Oh, and watch what you eat. Some things that grow here will kill you.” As the man left the shelter Brie thought *Well, there’s one that slipped the net.*

Brie had been remembering and writing for hours, oblivious to the time. Leaning casually against the doorframe, Xandra watched her for a long time, noting her many moods as she wrote. Happiness, concern, irritation, frustration, amazement and fear all clearly evident in her kaleidoscope of expressions. Xandra wondered who or what had caused her fear. She didn’t like the uncomfortable feeling she got at the thought of the young doctor in danger.

Brie looked up to gaze out a window and caught sight of Xandra in the doorway. Dropping her pen, she rose to greet her lover. Brie had experienced some doubts in the time they’d been apart. She had bounced between elation at being in love and worry that she was expecting too much from their relationship. She hesitated, feeling a bit shy, until Xandra crossed the room and embraced her. Brie raised her face for Xandra’s kiss and felt all her doubts melt away.

“When did you land?” Brie asked, pausing to take a breath.

Xandra buried her face in Brie’s silky hair, kissing the sensitive hollow below her ear. “About thirty minutes ago.”

She continued kissing the young woman’s eyes, nose and cheeks, finally returning to capture her lips in a searing kiss. Brie was quickly losing her control. Forgetting where they were, she began to tug at Xandra’s clothing, frustrated by anything that stood between her and her goal.

“Close the windows.” Xandra had to repeat her request several times before Brie finally responded. Taking but a few seconds, they had the windows and door closed and the privacy they needed to greet each other properly.

At the same moment, from somewhere in the settlement, an unauthorized deep space transmission was sent. The main computer aboard the Artemis detected the signal and made note of the time, length of message and the transmission location. The computer recorded the message as well, but the content was encrypted.

Chapter 14 – Betrayal

Brie awakened early and dressed quickly, slipping out of the shelter without disturbing Xandra. Taking a few steps, she paused to breath deeply and gaze at the colors of the morning sky. Now violet, over the next ten minutes or so it would change to lavender, pink and finally the bright blue that would last all day. Never an early riser at home, Brie was surprised to find herself awakening earlier since landing on Gaia. She had tried to convince herself that it was excitement that inspired her to wake with the sun, but admitted that the extra hour of sleep she got as a result of the longer days had a lot to do with it.

She headed toward the settlement’s central shelter. Originally a dormitory, this building had been converted to a communal kitchen, dining area and lounge when the family shelters had been completed. Inside, she noticed several colonists seated around one of the tables, drinking tea and conversing quietly. Nodding as she passed, Brie went to get a tray for herself and Xandra. As she loaded the tray with fruit, bread and tea, Stephanie caught her eye and came to meet her.

“Morning Doctor. Have you seen the Commander?” Stephanie felt as if she were prying, but needed to find Xandra as soon as possible. “I need to speak with her right away.”

At first Brie was annoyed that Xandra wasn’t allowed a minute for herself. Then she saw the expression on Stephanie’s face and knew that it must be serious. “Yeah, she’s in my quarters. She was still sleeping when I left. Is something wrong?”

“Probably not.” Stephanie’s answer didn’t sound very convincing to Brie.

“Come on, walk back with me. I’ll wake her, then the two of you can talk. I have to get to work soon anyway.”

Brie and Stephanie were half way across the settlement when they heard unusual noises coming from one of the animal enclosures. Looking first at each other, they turned and headed in the direction of the noise. The noises got louder as they approached one of the dog pens. Several of the dogs were whining and yipping, while a man spoke roughly to them. Stephanie put her arm out and stopped Brie who was going to confront the man. Looking at Stephanie, Brie caught her signal to be quiet and stay out of sight. The man kept getting louder and louder.

“Miserable, filthy animals. They should just take you out and shoot you all. While they’re all out there getting the easy jobs, I’m stuck in here playing nursemaid to a bunch of stupid animals.” When the man aimed a vicious kick at a small black and white dog, Stephanie had to hold Brie back with one arm and cover her mouth with her free hand. Brie struggled against her briefly, then understanding dawned in her eyes and she relaxed against Stephanie.

The way the animals were reacting to this man, they both knew that he’d been doing this for some time. They could almost smell the dogs’ fear.

Whispering to Brie to stay put, Stephanie stood and walked toward the pens, making lots of noise as she went. The man looked up as she approached and Brie gasped. The man torturing these poor animals was Harris. This man was far more dangerous that she had realized. Not knowing how much Stephanie had seen, he decided to play it safe. Standing straight he said “Good Morning Ma’am. What can I do for you?”

Stephanie changed before Brie’s eyes. In a heartbeat her friend had been replaced with a most intimidating woman. She walked into the pens, right up in Harris’ face. “You can take good care of my friends here” she growled. “I love all the animals, but these are my favorites.”

Proving her words, she turned and moved slightly away from the man. Kneeling, she held her hand out to the small dog who’d been kicked. Still afraid of the man, the animal was slow to approach Stephanie. Once he caught her scent, he nosed her palm, whining. She spoke softly to the little dog and ran her hands over his body. When she hit a sore spot, the dog yelped. *Rib’s broken, the son of a bitch.*

Looking up at Harris, her message was unmistakable. Her words were flat, devoid of emotion. Stephanie knew that if she released her feelings, she’d be kicking this bastard from here to the next continent. “I think I’ll take Sam here with me for the day. He’s not acting his normal self. Don’t worry, I’ll bring him back tomorrow.”

Carefully picking up the injured dog, she started to walk toward Brie’s hiding place. As an afterthought she turned and looked at Harris once more. “See you later Mr. Harris. Take good care of my other friends. I’ll be looking in on them.”

Brie joined her friend as soon as she was out of Harris’ sight. “That bastard” Stephanie muttered under her breath. Turning damp eyes to Brie, she asked “Can you help him? I know you’re not a vet, but I don’t want anyone else knowing about this right now.”

Brie stopped to pick up the tray she had set on a rock when they had decided to investigate the odd noises and held it out to Stephanie. “You go wake the Commander and I’ll take Sam to the infirmary.” When Stephanie hesitated, Brie took the poor animal with one hand and shoved the tray into Stephanie’s outstretched hands. “Go on, I promise I’ll take good care of him.”

Stephanie took the tray and stood staring as the doctor gently cradled the dog against her body and walked away.

Brie slipped into the infirmary without being seen. She didn’t understand why Stephanie was being so secretive about this. As far as she was concerned, animal cruelty was a crime and should be dealt with immediately. There had to be more to this than she was seeing. Laying her patient on the diagnostic table, she stroked the soft black fur on his head. She ran a few tests to pinpoint the exact location of the break and to made sure that there were no internal injuries. Adjusting the bone regenerator to the proper setting, she positioned the unit over the dog and activated the controls.

While she waited for the bone to heal, she sat at the computer and browsed the personnel files. Sure enough, there was nothing obvious in Harris’ file, but Brie decided to investigate further. Thirty minutes later, Sam was healed and Brie was even more frightened than before.

Stephanie knocked before entering Brie’s shelter.

“Enter.”

Holding the tray in one hand, she opened the door to find the Commander dressed, sitting at the doctor’s desk. “Sorry to disturb you Commander,” she apologized, setting the tray on the desk and pushing it slightly toward Xandra.

Taking a red fruit from the tray, Xandra sniffed before biting into it. “Mmm…not bad. Alright Hunter, what’s going on. This isn’t a social call.”

“Commander, I was reviewing the Artemis’ activity report from yesterday and I came across something that has me worried. Last night someone in the settlement sent a deep space transmission. It took me all night to break the encryption code.” Stephanie stared into the Commander’s ice blue eyes. “It was just three words — We have landed.”

Chapter 15 – Faces of the Enemy

Xandra leaned back in her seat, eyes narrowed in thought as Stephanie waited silently for her reaction to the information. After a moment, Xandra began to smile. “Better they come sooner than later. If they’d waited a few months, we’d have gotten used to it here. We’d have lost our predatory edge, maybe even have turned authority over to a civilian government.” Lifting her eyes to Stephanie she cautioned “We don’t know who the infiltrator is, so we have to keep this on a need-to-know basis. I want five other fighter pilots on alert, you pick ‘em.”

“Commander?” Stephanie looked into the cold, hard wasteland of Xandra’s eyes and asked “Why fighter pilots?”

Xandra responded with a feral smile. “Hunter, you don’t need to know just yet.”

For the next few days Brie keep Sam with her all the time. She had tried to give the sweet little dog to Stephanie, but her friend insisted that Brie could give him more attention. Besides, Brie had her own quarters, while Stephanie was bunking with three other flight officers. Brie agreed to give Sam a home if Stephanie promised to visit him once in a while.

Apparently, Stephanie was right about Sam needing attention. He followed her everywhere she went. She really didn’t mind, he was a good companion and she had plenty of help caring for him. When she had to work in the infirmary, he came along and lay quietly in a corner of her office. Several times a day, a group of children would come and ask if Sam could play. A gentle animal, he quickly became a favourite among the colonists, many of whom had never seen a live animal before.

She continued to worry about Harris. The man was a psychopath — all the indications were there in his profile. Oh, nothing was apparent in any single test or interview. But examined in sequence, there was a definite pattern. Like all of the colonists, Harris had completed no less than ten psychological evaluations during the course of the selection process. Each time, test results indicated a well-rounded person — ten different well- rounded people. Two things were certain — Harris was clinically schizophrenic and he knew how to play the game well.

She had wanted to discuss this situation with Xandra, but the Commander had been constantly busy. When she did see her lover, she was half asleep as Xandra came home late or left early. This would have worried Brie if Xandra had not held her so lovingly as they slept. Even though she hardly saw the Commander, they were in essence, living together.

Stephanie had not been available either. Evidently whatever was keeping Xandra occupied required Stephanie’s attention as well. Brie spent some time wondering about it, but her thoughts kept returning to the dangerous man in their midst. She had to tell someone else what she knew, in case something happened.

Her first choice, Art Hill, was as unavailable as her friend and her lover, so she paid a visit to the Quartermaster. A seemingly unlikely choice, Baker listened intently to Brie’s story. The accountant’s eyes, usually completely devoid of emotion, flashed with anger when Brie recounted Harris’ cruelty to Sam. When Brie explained her evaluation of his psychological profile, Baker was impressed with her findings. *Probably should have had her evaluating all those psych tests. Could have avoided a lot of problems.*

Although greatly disturbed by Brie’s discovery, Baker had no idea what to do about it except to keep an eye on the man. Based on the secretive activities of the Commander and certain senior officers, the Quartermaster knew something else was amiss in the settlement. The two women agreed that until the other situation was resolved, this would have to keep. Both hoped that Harris would do no serious damage in the interim.

“Captain, I’ve picked up a transmission from the planet. Its encrypted”

The Captain glanced at the communications officer. “Transfer the message to my console Lieutenant.”

His fingers flew over the console as he enacted the subroutines that would de-code the encryption. Frowning, he stroked his immaculately trimmed beard as he waited for the results. When the message appeared on his monitor, the frown turned into a feral smile.

“Helm, set course 90.485, maximum speed.” He stood, turning to his first officer before leaving. “Commander, you have the bridge.”

In the adjacent ready room, Captain Aaron DuMonte propped his feet on the corner of his desk. DuMonte was an attractive man in his forty’s, with the lean, muscular build of a career officer. His ebony hair fell in waves to his shoulders giving him the look of a dangerous man — the kind that men emulated and women tried to reform. His black, empty eyes confirmed that all their efforts would fail…but he always enjoyed their trying.

Leaning back in his chair he began to laugh, softly at first. His laugh grew louder, acquiring an almost hysterical tone, then stopped suddenly. His dark eyes hardened as he spoke. “I’ve got you now Xandra Lawless.”

Harris disliked his new work assignment almost as much as the last one. Moving crates of supplies to their assigned locations in the storage shelter was hard work, but did have a few advantages. It didn’t smell like dirty animals and it allowed him to pilfer coveted items for his personal use. He did miss the enjoyment he got from abusing the animals. It always gave him a thrill to hear the agonized cries they made when he hurt them.

It made him feel powerful.

He still wasn’t sure just how much that bitch Hunter had seen, but she had to have seen something or he wouldn’t have been transferred. Though she couldn’t have seen much or he’d have been disciplined. These bleeding-heart colonists valued their stinking animals as much as they did their unsupervised brats. Well, since he no longer had their animals to kick around, he’d have some fun with their precious children. It would be so easy, just like a predator seperating a tender morsel from the herd. Now he just had to make his selection and plan his attack.

*Mmm…young, virginal, helpless…* He was getting hard just thinking about it.

Chapter 16 – Revenge and Retribution

Life in the settlement continued, unaffected by the events unfolding in the shadows. The Genetics Committee had completed their first round of DNA pairings for planned pregnancies and scheduled the DNA extractions for the following week. Brie was pleased to find herself among the first group of women selected for motherhood. The thought of being a mother touched a place deep in her soul. She was deliriously happy to know that she would soon have a child, but was equally frightened, doubting her ability to be a good mother.

Each of the colonists chosen for the pregnancies were to meet with the committee individually. Brie wondered who her DNA donor would be and how well they would work together to raise their child. Since the parents of these genetically desirable children might not even know each other, it would be a challenge to work out child rearing details. These were some of the questions Brie asked when she met with the committee.

The committee explained that although they hoped both parents would cooperate in raising the child, the birth mother would have ultimate responsibility and authority. As for the genetic match chosen for the brilliant doctor, Brie could not have chosen better herself. She was to be matched with Commander Xandra Lawless. The implantation would be scheduled as soon as the donor’s DNA had been collected and prepared.

Brie received that news with a broad smile as joy bloomed in her heart. No matter what happened with their relationship in the future, she would always have a part of Xandra if her life.

As the heavily armed Destroyer class starcruiser moved through the expanse of space toward its destination, Aaron DuMonte sat alone, deep in thought. He’d waited for years to repay the debt he owed Xandra and now the opportunity for revenge was at hand. For years he’d raided defenceless ships and colonies to acquire the resources to carry out his plan. Purchasing this powerful ship and cryo chambers for even his small crew had been very expensive. He knew that this colonial mission was the only thing that had kept Xandra alive after her brother died. If he could destroy this dream, he would destroy her.

DuMonte thought back to the first time he met the conniving bitch. He had been an instructor at West Point and she’d shown up one day in his Campaign Strategy and Tactics seminar. Brilliant from the first, he saw great potential in this beautiful, desirable woman. He found her combination of sensuality and ruthlessness irresistible. Unfortunately for him, she didn’t share his interest, preferring other women as sexual partners. Part of him found this incredibly erotic and another part was repulsed by what he considered an unnatural act. Still, this wasn’t the sole source of his hatred.

In the years that followed Xandra’s education, she had been assigned to DuMonte’s covert command unit. For months they were able to work together, putting the past behind them. DuMonte developed a trust for the dark woman and began to get careless. He was working for both sides then and was sure that he was too clever to get caught.

Apparently Xandra had suspected him and was slowly collecting intelligence to put him out of business. When everything came out, there was enough evidence to warrant a court-marshall, but not enough to put him away. Nonetheless, his military career was ruined.

His very ruthlessness saved him. Many private parties were willing to pay big money to obtain his services for their projects. He’d proven his abilities many times over with the government and his familiarity with the workings of military intelligence gave his employers an advantage. He had no problem doing whatever necessary to ensure success and his reputation gave him a certain degree of freedom to move in circles that would otherwise not be open to him. It was at one of these society soirees that he again encountered the woman who betrayed him.

A curiosity among her social peers, Xandra was often a topic of gossip at these gatherings. These high society women could shred anyone without ever raising a claw, and it seemed that she was first on their list. They simply couldn’t fathom a woman wanting to found a colony. All this nonsense about Earth dying was just so much garbage. They truly believed that the environmental gloom and doom reports were propaganda for the masses and that their world would remain untouched.

It was at one of these social gatherings that DuMonte last confronted Xandra, and it hadn’t been pleasant. DuMonte, recognizing the importance of this colonial expedition, decided that destroying her dream would be the appropriate revenge. For months he’d studied the progress of her project and even managed to plant a mole in their midst. Now the time for retribution was at hand — and this time he would destroy her.

Xandra waited for the senior officers to enter the war room and be seated. This morning she’d ordered all senior staff, with the exception of the doctor, to return to the Artemis. She told herself that Brie’s participation in this action was unnecessary, but in reality, Xandra didn’t want Brie anywhere close to the battle. If all went well, the fighting would never reach the planet’s surface.

The Commander had planned well for this eventuality. No one really knew just how much fire power the Artemis was capable of. An hour ago, a Destroyer class starcruiser had been detected entering the system. She had not anticipated confrontation with such a powerful ship. Usually these pirates piloted rundown, out-of-date star ships that could be purchased cheaply or stolen with ease. Her senior officers were showing signs of concern faced with such a formidable opponent, but Xandra was about to reveal her secret weapon.

“I had hoped that when we left Earth and made landfall on our new world, that our duties as soldiers would come to an end. I had planned to retire, raise horses and children, and let someone else run the show. It seems, however, that we have a situation on our hands that we must deal with before we can enjoy that retirement.

Several days ago, the Artemis detected a deep space transmission indicating to someone that we had landed. We don’t know who sent the message, and so have kept knowledge of this situation to a limited number of people. We have a few surprises of our own and didn’t want to give our mole a chance to brief the enemy on the state of our readiness. Just one hour ago, we detected a Destroyer class starcruiser entering our system.

Until now it was unnecessary for you to know just how prepared we are. The Artemis appears to be a Colonial class vessel. But she is, in fact, a fully equipped warship and houses a full wing of fighters in the lower docking bay.” She paused, raising an eyebrow as she studied the reaction of her senior staff. “A wolf in sheep’s clothing, if you will.” Her brief smile allayed some of the tension in the room, but Xandra knew she had to do more to reassure them. “I am surrounded by some of the finest military personnel I’ve had the pleasure of serving with. We will be sucessful in insuring the safety of our colony…our home.” She paused, absorbing the looks of unshakable faith from her crew.

“Hunter will be in charge of the fighter wing. All pilots will report to the lower docking bay at the conclusion of this briefing for further instructions. The rest of you will report to Hill who will command the weaponry aboard the Artemis. I will direct the efforts of both teams from the bridge.”

“Our unknown enemy should be within range in about ten minutes. Report to your assigned stations immediately.” With that, Xandra left the room to collect her thoughts before the confrontation began.

Chapter 17 – The Prelude

Before leaving the planet for the Artemis earlier that morning, the Commander had called the adult colonists together to brief them on the situation. She assured them that the military personnel would do everything in their power to see that the raiders did not reach the surface, but there was still a remote possibility that they would have to do battle to protect themselves.

Brie was upset that she had not been included with the rest of the senior officers stationed on the Artemis, but she understood Xandra’s logic. Anyone hit in space had little to no chance of surviving to benefit from her healing skills. If the fight for their new world made it to the planet itself, her skills would be indispensable.

Her growing involvement with the Commander had made Brie blind to other developing relationships around her. This morning she had witnessed several tearful departures, indicating she and Xandra had not been the only couple to develope strong feelings in the short time they had settled on Gaia. What surprised her most was passionate kiss she seen Art Hill give Karyn Rose. She smiled *should have seen that one coming.*

Their own good-byes had left Brie feeling lost. Xandra had awakened her gently, loving her almost desperately. When the glow of their love making had faded, she told Brie that she was leaving and why. Once again Brie faced the possibility of a loved one dying far away, without her there to ease the way.

Determined to put that out of her mind, she began to organize the medical personnel in their preparations to receive casualties. With all the rioting and border skirmishes on Earth in the last fifty years, most of her staff had the experience to deal with whatever came their way today. They set up a triage area under a canopy in front of the infirmary and prepared the medical bays to receive wounded. Brie was glad that she had insisted that the stasis equipment be transferred to the surface. She would be grateful if the stasis field was not needed today, but it would be there if needed.

Several of the colonists had been assigned to organize and oversee the evacuation of the children. They would be taken to a series of caves that had been discovered in the nearby hills. There were many tearful good-byes as children were separated from their parents. The colonists in charge of the children had tried to convince their charges that they were going on a camping trip, but seeing the frantic activities of the adults had the kids wondering.

In all the confusion, Brie and Penny had forgotten to keep an eye on Harris. Not well-liked in the community, Harris had not been selected to work with any of the various groups preparing for invasion. For the first time since Hunter had caught him kicking that mutt, he wasn’t being watched. Deciding that this was his chance, he surveyed the disorganized group of children and the few who had been spared to see to their welfare.

Harris studied the group for a long time before his empty eyes settled on a blonde, blue- eyed girl about five years old, clutching some sort of stuffed toy in her tiny arms. Tears were flowing down her face, but she stood quietly, waiting for what would happen next.

*So beautiful, so small…and she cries so prettily.*

DuMonte stood on the bridge of his starcruiser, so aptly named Avenger, and stared at the view screen. Approaching the planet, he’d seen nothing to indicate that they’d been detected. Still, he knew just how clever Xandra could be and had the strange feeling that he was about to confront a wild animal protecting her brood. Wanting to get a better feel for the situation he ordered the helmsman to reduce speed. Long range scans revealed no life signs on the Artemis and no unusual activity on the planet.

“Open a channel to the planet, let’s see if our mole is at his post.”

Xandra’s young protégé, Jason, went looking for his step-father intending to convince the old man to allow him to stay in the settlement with the adults. After all, he was fifteen now and even if he was small for his age, he could still be a help to the colonists in setting up defences. Having looked everywhere, he decided to check in the family quarters.

Breathless from running, Jason burst into the shelter and found his step-father huddled over a communications unit, frantically trying to key in a message. Richard Maxwell jumped when Jason entered the room, certain his signal had been traced and he’d been discovered. Realizing it was just one of his wife’s brats, his surprise quickly turned to anger.

“Get out of here you useless bastard. Haven’t you learned not to interrupt me?” Maxwell rose from his seat and approached Jason threateningly.

“Sorry,” Jason muttered, having been victim to his step-father’s anger before, hastily retreating from the man’s raised fist.

Maxwell took a few deep breaths and returned to the console. *Well, can’t do much harm now even if the stupid brat did figure it out. Soon, DuMonte will be in charge and I can do what ever I want.*

Jason ran from the shelter, hot tears escaped the corners of his eyes and slid back towards his ears. He’d never liked the old man. Sometimes, after a particularly brutal beating, he’d even hated him. But finding out that he’d betrayed the entire colony was just too much. In a way, Jason felt responsible, since the old man was part of his family. As his anger turned to shame, Jason slowed his pace. When his anger had been at it’s height, he’d sounded like a herd of elephants. Now moving considerably slower, he was able to pass almost unheard through the forest.

As he moved through the dense undergrowth that was characteristic to the forests surrounding their settlement, he heard whimpering followed by a man’s gruff voice.

“Shut up you stupid little bitch or else I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Crouching to avoid detection, he watched as a man and a child passed not six feet in front of him. He recognized the child — Amber Rose. He’d watched her once or twice when her mother had taken extra time on her duty shift. Although he didn’t know the man by name, he knew he worked in the warehouse. The man had Amber by the arm and was dragging her further into the forest. The child was putting up a valiant fight, but was succeeding only in slowing their progress.

Jason knew he had to do something. He first thought to confront the man himself, but knew he was outclassed. If he got hurt or killed, who’d tell the others about Amber? Waiting for a few moments after they’d vanished from his sight, he ran back towards the settlement. Despite the undergrowth of the forest, nothing slowed him. He hurdled obstacles with ease, as if they weren’t even there, slowing his pace only as he reached the outskirts of the settlement.

He scanned the faces of the colonists in the clearing, finally settling on the one he wanted. Making a dash for Brie he tried to speak, his breath coming hard. “He took her.”

Brie immediately stopped and turned toward the boy. “Slow down and breath…now who took who, and where?”

Gulping a few deep breaths to get control of himself, Jason answered. “Amber…the man took Amber. The man from the warehouse. She didn’t want to go with him and he was threatening her. They were headed north from the settlement through the trees.”

Brie closed her eyes for a moment, fear and anger making her blood run cold. “Jason, go find Baker and tell her I need to see her immediately.” Turning to Sara she said “Find Karyn Rose. Tell her what’s happened, but don’t let her out of your sight. If she tries any heroics, it could ruin our chances of getting Amber back unharmed.”

Chapter 18 – Hunters and Hunted

Xandra and the officers aboard the Artemis were prepared. Hunter’s fighter wing was hiding just on the other side of one of Gaia’s three moons. With the special shielding the Commander had installed in the starcruiser, anyone scanning the ship would be led to believe her deserted. Xandra had equipped her command vessel and the fighters with enough fire power to destroy ten of these ships. Her trap laid and baited, they only had to wait for the hunter to realize that he’d become the hunted.

“Commander, I’m picking up a transmission to the planet’s surface. It’s audio Ma’am.”

“Put it on speaker Lieutenant”

As the crew of the Artemis listened intently to the message meant for the settlement, Xandra paled, immediately recognizing the voice. “Colonists, there’s been a slight change of plans. In a few hours, we will have destroyed your starcruiser and landed on your inviting little planet. Of course, we’ll be needing your services to continue developing the settlement, but now you’ll follow my guidelines. Just cooperate and no one will get hurt. Oh…and one more thing, I want Commander Lawless turned over to me immediately.”

*Damn…that bastard would follow me to the gates of hell.* Frowning she asked “Tactical, are they within firing range?”

“Almost ma’am, right about…now.”

“Open a channel to the destroyer Lieutenant.”

“You’re clear ma’am.”

Xandra carefully composed her first words. “Why Aaron…what a surprise.” Sarcasm dripped from Xandra’s voice. “And here I thought we’d never see each other again. You know, after that last tumultuous farewell.”

There was a pause before Xandra received her response, and it was all she had hoped for. At this close range the advanced shielding lost it’s effectiveness and she was sure the destroyer could now detect life signs on the Artemis.

“Xandra, where are you, you bitch? There’s not supposed to be anyone aboard that space limousine you call a starcruiser.” Rage was evident in Aaron’s reply, rage that told Xandra he was losing control. Without that control, she was sure that they would defeat him.

“Oh, don’t you like hide and seek Aaron? And here I went to so much trouble to get the game set up before you arrived.” With that Xandra signaled Hunter that the fighter wing should make themselves known. Allowing a moment for the destroyer to detect the fighters, Xandra goaded. “Don’t tell me you came all this way only to give up at the first signs of resistance. That’s not like you Aaron.”

The tone in his voice when he answered Xandra confirmed her theory that the man was completely mad. “I’m after you bitch, and nothing you can say or do will stop me when I’m this close.”

Severing the communications with the other ship Xandra commanded “Tactical, report.”

“Ma’am all weapons targeted and ready.”

“Fighters, prepare to engage.” Xandra paused only seconds, “Fire on my mark.” Knowing that DuMonte had lost control, she expected the first shot immediately and was not disappointed. *DuMonte never could resist a challenge, even when the odds were stacked against him.*

“Fire at will.”

As the battle raged above them, most colonists were occupied with preparations. A select few were made aware of the situation with Amber Rose and Harris and were making plans to rescue the child. The child’s mother had surprised Brie. Instead of becoming hysterical, her eyes took on a hardened look and she asked what she could do to help.

Brie made a command decision that she would be the one to go after the child. Although she was unlikely to be viewed as a threat by Harris, she was stronger than she looked and always did well in hand-to-hand confrontations. To further convince her prey of her harmlessness, she selected one of the older children to accompany her. Since Jason felt responsible, she chose him as her partner in this mission.

They would pretend to be looking for Amber, not knowing what had become of her. Armed only with a stun gun and her newly acquired walking staff, the two set out north, eventually able to follow the tracks made by the child dragging her feet.

The battle for possession of the planet below raged on. The destroyer was clearly out classed by the weaponry aboard the Artemis and the manoeuvrability of the fighter wing. Xandra concentrated her fire power on the Avenger’s engines and weapons systems.

They had taken a few hits themselves and one of their fighters was out of commission, but nothing serious. Xandra was wondering just how far the destroyer’s crew would follow their demented captain. Her answer came in the form of a transmission from the Avenger.

“Ma’am, I’m picking up a signal from the enemy ship.”

“Put it on speaker Lieutenant.”

“Commander Lawless, this is Commander Bennett of the starcruiser Avenger. Our engines are destroyed, our weapons systems are down and that last hit damaged life support. The captain is in sick bay being treated for a head injury so I’m in command. What are your terms for surrender, ma’am?”

Xandra paused for a moment before answering “Unconditional Commander.”

“We have injured, Commander, will they be treated?”

“Yes, we’ll take them into custody immediately. If your life support cannot be repaired we’ll evacuate all personnel. Prepare to be boarded. Artemis out.”

Brie and Jason paused at the cave entrance, unsure how to proceed. Finally, after a particularly heart wrenching cry from Amber, Brie threw caution to the wind. Turning to Jason she said “You stay out here. If this goes badly, run to the settlement for help. Go straight to the Quartermaster, she’ll know what to do.”

With that, Brie checked her weapon and tucked it into the back of her trousers. Grasping her staff firmly, she entered the cave. “Hello…anyone in here?”

The sight that greeted her eyes was unsettling, but reassuring at the same time. Although Amber was restrained, she did not appear to be harmed. *Maybe for once, I got here in time.*

Harris was no where in sight as Brie moved deeper into the cave. She was sure that he was waiting in the shadows, thinking to ambush her. The healer in her couldn’t resist checking the child, who was now crying louder as she recognized her “Auntie Brie.”

As she laid a hand on Amber and surface scanned the little girl, Harris stepped out of the shadows, weapon trained on the doctor. “Well, so nice you could join us O’Conner. Now I’ll have something to look forward to when the kid can’t take anymore. Besides, with you here, I’ll have an audience…and I always love an audience.”

In a desperate attempt to save the child any more trauma, Brie suggested “Why don’t you let the girl go Harris. She’s only a kid and won’t be much fun. Now me…I promise to show you a good time. I’m stronger and can take a lot more than the kid.”

“Nice try Doc, but it won’t work. Why should I let her go when I can have both of you.” Harris walked toward Amber, waving the doctor away from the child. Leaning down, he placed a finger under the child’s chin to roughly tilting her face to his. “Isn’t that right little girl?”

Amber began crying immediately, fear evident in her tiny face. Harris, so aroused by that look of fear, didn’t hear Brie approaching him until it was almost too late. Alerted by the sounds of her movement, he turned to face Brie and fired, hitting her right thigh. Brie, surprised by the searing pain in her leg, collapsed to the floor of the cave.

“Try anything like that again Doctor and I’ll kill the kid.”

Gasping in pain Brie responded breathlessly, “Okay Harris, what ever you want.”

Approaching the helpless doctor, Harris roughly grabbed one of her tender breasts and squeezed hard, intending to cause her pain. When she didn’t react, he increased the pressure until she closed her eyes in an attempt to shut out the pain. “That’s what I want to see Doctor. Show me how much it hurts.” He savagely pinched her nipple and pulled hard.

Tears of pain were beginning to form in her emerald eyes, but at least she’d momentarily distracted him from hurting Amber.

Chapter 19 – The Rescue

Xandra and some of the senior staff returned to the surface leaving the rest to see to the evacuation of the Avenger. Wanting to alert the medical team to expect casualties, she immediately headed for the infirmary. Baker intercepted her intending to brief her on their other situation. Xandra tried to put the Quartermaster off, but Baker was insistent.

Putting her hand on Xandra’s arm to restrain her, she said “We need to talk — now.” Now Xandra was worried. In all the years she’d known Baker, both in the service and later, she’d never seen the accountant touch another human being. This must be very important.

“Okay, what’s going on Baker?”

The Quartermaster proceeded to summarize the events of the last few days, from Harris’ abuse of Sam to Brie’s rescue attempt. As she spoke, the color slowly drained from Xandra’s face. During the battle high above the planet’s surface, she’d experienced only exhilaration. Only now, faced with the thought of Brie in danger, did she experience real fear. “How long ago did they leave?”
Baker studied her feet as she answered “About three hours Commander.”

Xandra’s heart nearly stopped as she imagined what the deranged man could do to the woman and children in three hours. Not stopping to speak with anyone, she went straight to their shelter and began to arm herself for the coming confrontation. Rifling through her belongings, she retrieved two small, razor-sharp daggers, placing one in the top of her boot and the other in the valley between her breasts. Next came the long rawhide whip that she secured to her waist on the left and her side arm on the right. Finally she reached for her matter disrupter and positioned it in a holster across her back. A picture of the evolution of weaponry, she was ready to face Harris.

Jason was waiting for her outside the shelter. Having reported to the Quartermaster, he’d been sent directly to Xandra with his information. In a hurry, Xandra told the boy “Tell me what you know on the way, we’re running out of time.”

The boy lead the warrior woman deep into the forest. By the time they reached the cave, Xandra knew all Jason could tell her. Crouching in the brush some distance from the mouth of the cave, Xandra turned to the boy. “Good work Jason. Now get back to the settlement, I’ll take it from here.”

Xandra approached the opening in the hillside so quietly no one could have heard her. Years of training and experience had made this woman a deadly weapon in her own right. Even without the small arsenal in her possession, she’d have been a formidable opponent. Harris might be insane, but he was no match for the woman stalking him. In this state of mind she was much like a wild animal, and Harris had her mate and her cub.

Pausing at the entrance to the cave, Xandra listened to the voices coming from inside. Brie was desperately trying to convince the madman to release the child, promising her own cooperation in return. Xandra was relieved. She wasn’t too late — at least he hadn’t really hurt them yet.

Silently, Xandra entered the cave. Moving slowly, she managed to catch Brie’s eye and motion her to keep quiet. The Commander hoped that the child would not turn and see her, giving her away before she had a chance to act.

As she approached Harris, she pulled the dagger from her boot and jumped him from behind. At first startled, he quickly became enraged at the distraction from his pleasure. He recognized the bitch of a commander almost immediately. He’d have to take care of her before continuing his perverted games with the kid and the doctor.

As they fought, Harris lost his grip on his disrupter and the weapon skittered across the floor in Brie’s direction. The doctor grabbed the weapon and trained it on the pair entangled on the floor of the cave. In this light, Brie could only see the dark outlines of the struggling bodies. was lucky to see shapes. She was unwilling to fire and risk hurting Xandra.

In a lucky move, Harris turned the Commander’s blade back on her and stabbed savagely over and over until she lay still beneath him. Laughing hysterically, he rose and face Brie. “Now it’s your turn Doctor, but this time I want to make it last.”

As the deranged man approached Brie, she turned his own weapon on him.

“Put down the weapon little girl,” Harris arrogance outweighing any caution.

She fired, hitting him square in the chest. For a moment Harris gazed at her with a stunned look and then collapsed to the floor of the cave.

Brie didn’t know what to do first. Somehow she reasoned that she needed to make sure Harris was no longer a threat. Scrambling forward, she checked for heartbeat and breathing. Finding none, she quickly moved on to Xandra. Her lover’s eyes were closed and her skin was pale, but her breathing was steady, if shallow. Removing her jacket, she ripped her shirt into smaller strips and pressed them against Xandra’s wounds to slow the bleeding.

Turning to Amber she said “The bad man is dead. He can’t hurt us anymore, but my friend is hurt bad. Amber, I need for you to be brave and grown up. Can you do that?”

Raising her tiny chin and sniffing back her tears, the little girl nodded. Brie smiled gently and said “Come here Amber. You’ll need to press on these rags to keep her alive.” Taking her hand she showed the child just what she wanted. “Can you do that for me? You’ll have to do it for a long time.” Again the child nodded. “You can’t stop even if you get tired. You have to keep pressing until I come back, okay? If you let go, she’ll die.”

The child raised solemn eyes to the doctor and answered “I won’t let go…no matter what. I promise.”

Pausing to gaze once more at her lovers strangely serene face, Brie raced from the cave toward the settlement.

Within the hour Xandra was placed on a table in one of the medical bays. Amber, true to her word had not let go. The rescue team had found the child lying across Xandra’s chest, holding the rags in place. Amber had shrugged and said “My arms got tired, so I used my body instead.”

Treatment of the wounds was simple. Brie and her medical team had stabilized their patient and repaired both internal and external damage in under two hours. Now twelve hours later, Brie couldn’t understand why Xandra hadn’t regained consciousness. In the interim, concerned that they had missed some critical injury, the doctor had checked for head injuries and anything else she could think of that would keep Xandra from waking.

Finally, she decided to use her empathic abilities to accomplish what science could not. She had been reluctant to use this method with Xandra because of their close relationship. Empathic healing required detachment from one’s patient…and she was anything but detached with Xandra.

Preparing for her ordeal, she managed to eat a respectable amount of food to fuel her energies. She should probably have rested too, but couldn’t close her eyes as long as Xandra remained unconscious. Making herself comfortable, she lay next to her lover on the med table. Placing one hand on Xandra’s head and the other on her heart, she allowed her mind to touch the woman she loved. Unprepared for the intensity of feeling, she fought to resist the urge to break the connection.

Her mind spun out of control. This was the woman she loved and now Brie knew for sure that Xandra loved her too. Instead of following the biological paths of her lover’s body as she had been taught, she found herself in a strange kind of limbo. Surrounded by clouds and fog, she imagined that she had physical form here. A woman stepped out of the clouds and smiled at her. She was identical to the woman in her holo field test. Now she understood, this woman was Xandra and more.

The woman spoke softly “Well, Gabrielle, here we are again. Me dying and you trying to save me. You’d think we’d have settled down after all these years, but it seems our descendants are every bit as adventurous as we ever were.” Cocking her head and raising that single eyebrow she asked “Do you know who you are yet?”

Brie was about to answer in the negative when she realized that she did know who she was. She was Gabrielle and Janice and Brie and a countless host of other incarnations. In that instant she understood that she was bound to this woman across all space and time. A flood of memories engulfed her. Quiet talks by an open campfire, dusty tents in archeological digs around the world, all shared with the same woman. The woman she knew in this life as Xandra Lawless.

“Yes, I think I understand, as much as I’m going to anyway. We’ve been in this place before haven’t we?.”

“A long time ago I almost died and you came after me then too. Only then you came through your dreams. You fought insurmountable odds to bring me back. I don’t think I ever really thanked you properly.” She opened her arms and enclosed Brie in their warmth and safety. “Thanks for this time too. Now I have a reason to wake up. You love me.”

Brie closed her eyes. When she opened them again, several hours had passed and Xandra was watching her wake. Emerald eyes met blue as she smiled sleepily and said “I love you Xandra Lawless.” She was asleep again before she could hear Xandra’s response.

“I love you too Brie O’Connor.”

Chapter 20 – The Joining

Fall 2246

The council of nine met had for the first time on a cool, crisp autumn morning. Their selection had been a simple process. There had been no campaigning and no speeches. No one “ran” for office. The citizens of Gaia had rejected the old ways of electing their leaders, deciding instead to simply vote for who they thought could best lead them. The nine seated around the table this morning had received the most votes in their first election. It would be up to them to set policy for elections and councils to come.

Before they could begin that process, they had to decide what would become of the raiders from the Avenger and the traitor Maxwell. There had been many suggestions from the colonists, who were now calling themselves citizens, and the council had discussed them all. They had rejected execution as a means of punishment as they all were too respectful of the gift of life. Incarceration was out of the question as they did not have the means to support such a cumbersome system. Finally, someone had suggested putting the criminals into cryosleep. After all, there were almost three hundred cryo chambers aboard the Artemis capable of functioning for many years to come. The council recognized that this would only be a temporary solution. The sleepers would eventually have to be dealt with. But for the time being it seemed a good answer to a difficult question.

The Captain of the Avenger, her thirty-four surviving crew members and the traitor Maxwell were sentenced to cryo sleep for an indefinite period. At some later time, another council would be charged with determining their final fate, but this solution would buy them some time to get established and develop their philosophy. Brie only hoped that when that time came, she would have retired from the council to live in quiet obscurity.

Not surprisingly, both Brie and Xandra had been elected to serve on the first council. They were joined this morning by other council members including Stephanie Hunter, Sara Laurence, Art Hill and Penny Baker. The remaining three council persons were leaders in their own right, the chair of the Genetics committee Robert Wells, agriculturist Myra Goodman and botanist Karyn Rose. Karyn had surprised her peers with her level- headedness during the crisis with Amber. Most citizens had to admit, at least to themselves, that if their child had been in Amber’s place, they’d have been completely irrational.

The fate of their criminal element decided, the council was now discussing other issues that were arising in their community. Relationships had formed over the last weeks and people were ready to make commitment. Having no marital laws was beginning to put a strain on the citizenry. Their original concept of allowing any two or more people to bond was a grand idea, but the details had to be worked out. Would they require lifetime contracts or would there be shorter term bondings allowed? And what about property and children? How would these issues be handled if bondings were severed?

The council was anxious to come up with a simple solution that would not encourage the pursuit of law as a career. All of them had some experience with the attorneys and legal systems of Earth and had no desire to repeat those mistakes on Gaia. In an effort to avoid this, the council decided that all children would be the responsibility of the settlement. Until the age of maturity, which still had not been decided, the community would feed, clothe and if necessary, house their young citizens. Of course, young children would reside with one or both parents whenever possible — the council acknowledged the importance of nurturing and love in their upbringing. But at the onset of adolescence, young citizens would be moved into a dormitory setting, visiting their parents regularly.

On this particular day, Brie found the council session to be overly long and boring. She had to admit to being somewhat distracted, absorbed with the details of her upcoming bonding celebration. No one was surprised that the Commander and the Doctor were making a commitment. Everyone just assumed that they belonged together, although there was some speculation regarding the terms of their contract.

“Councilperson O’Conner, would you care to join us?” Xandra’s amused voice sliced through Brie’s daydreaming.

Guiltily Brie raised her eyes to Xandra, today’s council moderator, and asked “Just what are we voting on?”

“Adjournment” came the flat reply, shortly followed by the good-natured laughter and teasing of her fellow council members. They knew that the two were to be joined the next morning at sunrise and could afford to be charitable. In fact the council had arranged to complete their business and declare a break in council meetings for the next week to allow the pair a honeymoon of sorts. They all respected Xandra, but they loved Brie and wanted to do all they could to add to her happiness.

Grinning, Brie answered “Well, I’m in favour of that.”

Brie awoke very early the next day, having slept fitfully. Not wanting to be late to her own wedding, she’d asked Sara to stay with her and make sure she was on time. It had been odd to sleep alone last night, but Xandra had insisted that they spend this one night apart. Brie had decided that it wasn’t such a bad idea after all since she had spent the evening with Sara, Karyn and surprisingly, Penny Baker. The three had eaten, laughed and shared cherished memories of their families back on Earth. It had been food for the soul.

Sara was arranging her hair when Karyn and Penny arrived, bearing gifts. “Something old” turned out to be a pair of exquisite gold earrings which Karyn fastened to Brie’s ears. “Something new” had been the silken, ivory sheath Sara had made Brie’s for a wedding dress. Fastened with a knot over the left shoulder, the gown left the right shoulder bare. Settling the gown over Brie’s head, careful not to disturb her hair, Sara produced “something borrowed” — a pair of ivory sandals which she slid over Brie’s feet. The picture almost complete, Penny Baker stepped forward and shyly offered a bunch of exotic looking blue flowers, tied together with a scrap of blue ribbon.

“Something blue…picked ‘em myself.”

Brie looked at her friends, overwhelmed with gratitude and love. She knew that at this moment her friends Art and Stephanie were helping Xandra to prepare for this occasion. Xandra had become closer with these two since landing on Gaia. This pleased Brie to no end, since she guessed that Xandra had never had a real friend in her life.

Brie smiled and thanked each of them, then left to meet her love in the forest grove they had chosen for their exchange of vows. They had asked only Stephanie and Sara to witness their joining, but suspected that others would attend anyway.

When Brie entered the clearing, she was stunned by the sight of her lover. For the first time, she was seeing Xandra dressed in something other than a uniform. Her gown was identical to Brie’s, its ivory color enhanced by the warm olive tone of her lover’s skin. The smooth lines of the gown accentuated the soft curves of Xandra’s body, her midnight hair moving slightly in the gentle morning breeze.

As she approached her lover, emerald eyes met lapis, and for them there was no one else in the world. Handing her bouquet to Sara, Brie took Xandra’s hands and spoke gently.

“I have loved you throughout time and space. We are two halves of the same whole. You are my tree in the forest. You are my champion. I will love you all our lives and beyond. We are not making new vows, but renewing old ones. As love is eternal, so are we.”

Tears slipped from Xandra’s eyes and slid down her cheeks as she responded. “You have saved me time and again. Rescued me and taught me to love. When all is lost, then you are there. You catch me when I fall and love me in spite of my failings. We are not making new vows, but renewing old ones. As love is eternal, so are we.”

Epilogue

Summer 2266

Brie leaned back on her elbows as she watched the games below. Xandra’s head lay in her lap and she suspected that her partner was sleeping. Gazing down at her lover, she realized that the years had been kind to both of them. Apart from a few attractive silver streaks, Xandra’s hair was still as dark and silky as a raven’s wing, her skin still smooth. A few laugh lines were beginning to appear at the corners of her eyes, but that only attested to the happiness they’d shared over the last twenty years.

Not to say it had all been fun, but Brie could trace most problems they’d had on the four young people competing in the games below. Three of the children were a mix of Brie and Xandra’s genetic codes. The fourth combined Xandra’s genes with Stephanie Hunter’s. Of all their children, Brie felt closest to Stephanie’s son. He seemed to need her more than the other three. Bret was a middle child and constantly saying the wrong thing. She’d spent many hours trying to teach the boy some sense of propriety, but wasn’t having much success. She wasn’t worried about it as much since he was growing into an incredibly handsome young man. The girls were too busy looking to notice if he said something awkward.

Their oldest, Sandra, was indeed her Xandra’s namesake. Watching Sandra at age 19, competing in the games below, she could well imagine her partner at the same age. Sandy had already fulfilled her genetic obligations, giving birth last year to a fine son. Looking at her body today, you’d never know that she’d been pregnant this time last year.

The twins, Janice and Melinda, were a hand full when they were born and had only gotten more challenging over the last fifteen years. They had long ago discovered the advantages to being identical and fully exploited them at every opportunity.

The first settlement had consisted of 275 colonists. Now they had three ‘villages’ with a total population approaching 1,000. Brie and Xandra had retired from the council last year. Neither of them could believe that they’d stayed so long. Now they spent their days with their family and the dozen or so horses Xandra was raising.

Soon all the children would be grown and gone. Brie and Xandra had discussed doing a little exploring of the vast continent that had barely been touched. They hadn’t forgotten the excitement of the many adventures they’d shared over the years. They were still thrilled by going places and seeing things untouched by mankind.

Lately Brie had found herself dreaming about nights alone with Xandra by a campfire. She just wasn’t sure if it was the past or the future calling to her.

 

 

THE END

Continued in For The Love of Gaia

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