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Teresa M Shafer - For books that kindle thought and ignite the imagination!
Down to Business
They met in the room that had been Cara’s office. It had changed and yet it had not. It was larger now as the tower had been rebuilt along with the entire complex some thirty Martian years ago. The basic layout was the same including the bar and the row of ancient armor. Xena pointed out to Gabrielle that Cara’s armor was proudly displayed along with the others. It still had the stars pinned over the top of the birds on the collar. Gabrielle ran her fingers over the old armor in much the same way that Dan had ran his fingers over the armor when she had met him for the first time. She and Xena had asked about his family. Many of his descendants had entered the Marines but none had risen to the rank that he had held and of course Dan himself had passed away many years ago. But today there was no Cara or Dan or Margo, instead they had Colonel Willy Blazer, Colonel Debora Blazer, Lieutenant Colonel Clair Blazer, Major Alex Blazer, Captain Gellman and General Chase Rayne. The General sat behind Cara’s desk sipping on a Pepsi, nota Diet. She reached into a drawer and without asking handed Gabrielle a Pepsi of the Diet variety. Gabrielle accepted it gladly and popped the top. “So, I would kind of like to see what I’m facing. I’m told that we have photographs or vids or something visual to look at.” Xena had gotten a bottle of water and was looking expectantly at everyone.
“Yes we have something to look at Xena please make yourself comfortable.” General Rayne motioned to the living room style area were everyone else was finding a spot. Xena, Gabrielle and the General joined the others on the cushioned furniture and shortly a hologram sprang up from the coffee table.
The scene was from above as if taken from space and then magnified. It had been a good camera for the picture was excellent. It showed a city of sorts built in a rough circle around a large dark structure that was partially buried in the ground. The city around the grotesque structure was haphazard and dilapidated. And the ground around the city was dry and barren and tinged an odd color of blue.
The picture was coming closer which meant that it hadn’t been taken by a satellite but a ship. The ship had apparently flown as close to the central structure as was prudent and took a wonderful video of the dark misshapen castle from all sides.
There was only one way into the Castle that they could see. There was a wide trench cut into the ground that gradually sloped downward to match the level of the Castle’s front door. The trench was about a mile long and nearly a mile deep where it met with the Castle. The structure rose into the air for half a mile above the ground in grossly misshapen and irregular towers. Not a single wall looked like it would plum square and certainly none of the windows were in any known geometric shape. It reflected the mad woman that had built it and lived within.
There was no telling how deeply the Castle went below ground. It was massive. It was armored and it was very ugly.
“Well it fits right into someplace that they call Uranus.” Xena quipped. “It makes a fine joke when said in English.” She laughed a bit and was joined by others in the room. Gabrielle only smiled. She was anxious to get into the fight.   
“How long will it take us to reach her?” Gabrielle asked when they were done making jokes.
“Uranus is presently on the other side of the sun. It will take us someplace between twelve and fifteen days to come within sighting range of the planet and another day to actually reach it. We will have to calculate the run.” Debora answered. Gabrielle liked her voice. It had a soft lilting quality to it.
Xena was nodding. “According to what’s stored in my head we have twenty-two Battle Cruisers, a hundred Squadrons of Marine Fighters and another fifty Squadrons of Amazon Marine Fighters, we also have five Defender class ships that are a bit slower but massively armored and deadly in any kind of fight.” She waited for someone to acknowledge her run down of their armament. “We also have somewhere in the neighborhood of half a million ground troops of various expertise but only about a third of those are available here on Mars. The rest are deployed to our various outposts and holdings… correct?”
“That’s correct Xena, you have the gist of what we have available.” Willy answered her. “Now what would you like to do with them?”
Xena looked at General Rayne. “Don’t look at me Xena. You and Gabrielle are running this fight. Tell me what you want and I’ll make certain that it gets done.” Somehow the words sounded… rehearsed and insincere.
“No, that’s not how it’s going to be.” Gabrielle cut in abruptly. “I’ve noticed that you all have some pretty odd notions about what happened last time we were here.” Gabrielle needed to clear up some misunderstandings. “I took the crown of the Amazons when I was here last because the woman that was in charge was going to fight use very step of the way. We didn’t have time for that, so I took her crown. But that doesn’t mean that I took over Cara’s body and life as well.” She looked over at Clair and Sonya. “I noticed the reactions that some of you had to how Cara and Margo acted with us on the videos that they left for us.” The other sisters nodded. They had seen the vids now too, now that they had been unlocked… all except the last one. Gabrielle had that one resealed. “Cara ran the Marines. That was her job and no-one knew it better than she did… no-one. The only time that I actually took control was with Alti and honestly we did a lot of that together. She taunted Alti to get her to the planet’s surface and then we fought her together.” She could see the confusion and disbelief running across the many faces. Only General Rayne looked like she had known it all along and perhaps she had.
“She’s right; Margo and I did the same thing. We worked together. Margo was a veritable cornucopia of information and I would have been lost in time without her counsel. I only took over when it came time to fight. But she was the voice of reason and the extra knowledge in my head even then.” Xena’s words only seemed to add to their confusion.
“They weren’t just vessels. They were our partners and they were our friends. We couldn’t have done anything without them and we can’t do anything without you.” Gabrielle was almost pleading with them to understand.
“We’re not here to takeover or to tell you how to live your lives. We’re here to kill Alti. That’s all. If we can help with other things then that’s great… but our mission is to kill Alti, period.” Xena and Gabrielle had discussed this last night while pruning in the hot tub. It seemed to them that these women expected Xena and Gabrielle to show up and sort out their entire universe for them. They weren’t giving Cara and Margo the credit that they deserved for the restructuring of Mars and they weren’t giving themselves enough credit either. It was time to set the record straight.
General Rayne started to laugh. It was a sardonic laugh but it had mirth in it as well. It said, I told you so in big bold red letters.“ Now that we have that cleared up.  Tell me what you want and I will see it done.” This time the words had conviction and she had pointedly left out the part about them being in charge.
Xena and Gabrielle smiled. “We want to kill Alti or die in the attempt. So get us to her and we will be happy.” Gabrielle said with a grin.
“Oh, and if you can… you need to retake Titan. If Gabrielle and I fail… then I don’t want Alti to have Titan to run too. She will have other options of course but I want that option off the table. I don’t want her to have a playhouse in our own yard.” Xena injected quickly.
General Rayne looked at the both of them. She was measuring their words. “Done and done, but you must tell me what it is that you are holding back. I have a feeling that what you are not telling me can help me determine what forces I will be committing to this venture.”
The ancient heroes looked at each other. They had been right in their assessment of Chase Rayne, she was like her ancestor. Cara would be proud of her. “Alti is strong. She has a great deal of power here. We think that if we get through her defenses to actually face her it will because that is what she wants. She wants to deliver the killing blow to both of us. She’s been calling Gabrielle out for a hundred years. That’s why her family is dying. That’s why she has whittled the family down to so few in number. Alti doesn’t want to miss Gabrielle when she shows up. She’s taking out her hatred for Gabrielle on her entire line… and she knows that I will follow Gabrielle. I always have and I always will.” Xena was trying to say something but it was harder than she had thought to say.
“But the bottom line is that we may not be strong enough to kill her. We may not even be given the chance. She’s holding all the cards.” Gabrielle finished for her partner.
“If we can’t kill her then you need to slow her down. She’s pretty much ran unchecked since Cara and Margo died.” Xena added.
“Why can’t we kill her? You don’t have to go down to that monstrosity to face her personally do you?” Clair asked almost innocently. She really didn’t know… none of them did, not even the General.
“Alti’s working for another God. He gives her strength and abilities that mortals cannot battle.” Gabrielle started.
“Besides that she is no longer human. Each time that she is resurrected she is changed just a little bit. That means that each time she is just a little madder and a little more powerful than the time before.” Xena continued.
“And if I’m not mistaken the longer that she survives the deeper she falls into the madness and the darker her heart becomes. I really doubt that she has a human heart any longer. I’m not Eve so I can’t see it but I know the symptoms all too well.”Gabrielle finished.
“So what are you saying? She’s not human so we can’t kill her?” General Rayne asked.
“That’s right, no mortal can kill her.” Gabrielle answered.
“But you are not immortal… are you?” Sonya asked. She sounded a bit frightened.
“Obviously these bodies are not immortal, because these are not our bodies. But the souls that live inside are immortal… at least for now. We work for a God too. That’s part of what makes us able to battle her.” Xena explained.
“It sounds like you are saying that your souls must battle her soul, immortal against immortal. Is that so?” Clair sounded like she was in awe of what she was saying.
“Yes.” Both Gabrielle and Xena said at the same time.
“So technically you don’t actually have to go inside the Castle to find her physically right?” Willy was starting to put it together. “You could go into the spirit realm and seek her there.”
“We could but it would be harder to find her and as you know you have a limited time in the spirit world before your body dies and you lose cohesion in the spirit world. The longer that you are in there the weaker you become.” Xena confirmed Willy’s hypothesis and then dashed her hopes. “I can find Gabrielle anywhere and in any realm and the same goes for her… she can find me anywhere. One of us has to go inside while the other goes into the spirit realm.”
“Then we must get you both to the Castle and give you time to fight the battle that you must fight. Meanwhile we must destroy everything that she has so that if you lose she will have no place to hide and she must start over.” General Rayne looked at the other women in the room for a moment. “Alex, take the Baldridge and five fully complimented Cruisers and retake Titan. Get with Lori and find out how she wants to handle manning… but make it clear to her that if they are rebels, I want them executed. We don’t have the time to play with them.” Alex saluted smartly and left the room. General Rayne was looking from face to face again. “Deb, take command of the other four Defenders and prep them for departure. Willy, take command of fourteen Cruisers and prep them for departure. Clair, take command of the Fighters for those ships. Put your own Squadron on the Amazon Queen we’ll use her for our Flag Ship she’s the biggest. Have Hope and Amy’s Fighters taken to the Queen. Captain you will be responsible for making sure that their Fighters are transported, prepped and ready. I will send five Corps of ground Marines with you; they will have their own Commander. I want battle strategies, deployment suggestions and flight calculations in two hours. I want your ships and personnel ready for departure in eight. Are there any questions?” The room remained silent. “Good, you are dismissed.” They all saluted and departed.
Xena and Gabrielle were left with the General. “I was kind of hoping to spend some time with Solace and Faith if that’s possible.” Gabrielle said to Chase.
“They were hoping to have some time with you as well. I have taken the liberty of having them kept from school today and brought here. Amy’s children have  also expressed a desire to spend some time with you Xena. I hope that you don’t mind but I have had them brought as well.” Chase told the heroes and they were very happy with the news.
Over the next several hours Xena and Gabrielle both donated eggs and made yet another decree for their families. Every member of the family would now be required to donate eggs or sperm just in case. Then they took their children to lunch and ate all manner of things that they never thought that they would eat. While they ate they talked.
“So do you get to see your father now or how does that work?” Gabrielle asked the girls.
“Our father? Gabrielle our father died a long time ago. Sean is not our father.” Faith was perplexed.
“Mom never had a monogamous relationship. She was always searching for the right one.” Solace continued in a snide young teenager voice.
Gabrielle smiled and Xena actually laughed. “Yah that sounds like what Hope would have done.” Gabrielle turned a shocked look at Xena. “What Gabs, she was your daughter and she was a bit shy in the soul area.”
“True, still I have to wonder how she would have been had I raised her and not her father.” She for once didn’t sound accusing when she spoke of this particular road that had not been taken.
“What are you saying Gabrielle? Who was our mother?” Solace asked for them both.
“This may be hard for you to understand or to accept but I believe that your mother Hope was actually my daughter Hope reincarnated without the evil half of her that her father Dahak had given to her.” Gabrielle watched the girls closely. They looked surprised at first but they thought about it for only a few moments and then Faith nodded, she was quickly followed by Solace.
“Yes, that makes sense Gabrielle. If you had known her you would not have any doubt. She was warm and kind and loving. But she always seemed a bit lost, like she was missing something and had no idea what it was or how to find it.” Faith told her.
“That’s not to say that she didn’t have a temper. People felt her wrath when they endangered her family or her friends or her planet. She was aggressively loyal to all of them. I’m sure that her lovers would tell you that she was a passionate person as well.” Solace was smiling wickedly.
“Hope was nice to everyone. She was always fun to be around and she made us laugh.” Little Dura gave her young opinion of Hope. “Mommy loved her very much… more than she loved Daddy.”
“Did that bother you Dura… kids?” Xena had been wanting to ask and now that the door was open she was going to get an answer.
“Naw, Daddy’s nice but he’s never around. That’s why Mommy started spending so much time with Hope.” Dura said and then looked at her older sister for confirmation.
“She’s right. I think that if Dad hadn’t just assumed that he was assured a place in the family he might have fared better.” Isabelle agreed.
“Dad let Mom go and then thought that he could just reel her back in like some kind of fish. He was wrong. Mom was stronger than he thought and he wasn’t as interesting as Hope.” Mark smiled. He was a teenager that had just passed through puberty and Hope had been a very beautiful young woman. It was clear that he would have liked to have been in his Mother’s shoes when it came to that particular relationship. Isabelle, who had been named after her grandmother slapped her brother’s leg. He was unrepentant. 
They all laughed at the play between the siblings.
“You both would have liked our Mother. She was like you Gabrielle, a woman of Steel and Silk.” Solace said, and then she spontaneously hugged Gabrielle. Faith seemed to have the same idea at the same time.
Dura was inspired by their spontaneity or she was just jealous… she hugged Xena and then her siblings joined in the group hug. Eventually all of them were hugging one another and laughing. It was a good thing on one hand that they had chosen an outdoor café that had not been busy but on the other hand they had their photos taken quite a bit and they were featured on every news channel from one end of the solar system to the other.
Alti found the shots to be of particular interest. She couldn’t help but notice the golden lettered name tags just over the right chest pocket of both women. She smiled wickedly when she clearly saw the name Xena on one breast and the first few letters of what could only be Gabrielle on the breast of the other woman. “Welcome back my old friend and my old foe… welcome back.” The news casters didn’t remark on the names of the women. They in fact reported them to be two other women; women that Alti was certain that her operatives had killed a few days prior. It was of no consequence… she knew Xena and Gabrielle when she saw them. Alti called her second to her side and had him begin preparations for the surprise party that she was throwing for Xena and Gabrielle. “The guests of honor have finally arrived; let’s make everything ready for them.” Her voice hissed.