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Teresa M Shafer - For books that kindle thought and ignite the imagination!
Chapter 14
Into the Jaws of the Beast
The Platoon of Amazons was standing in Squads before the Colonel and the Sergeant. They were all now wearing the new style of uniform that Gabrielle had approved the night before. Even as these women were standing here, all of Mars’ Marines were gearing up in the new uniforms. Cara and Gabrielle were making a statement. They had given the order to disseminate the new uniforms before they had even entered the elevator that took them from her tower. The only command that they had not given was a complete Recall. But it was on their mind.
The new uniform was black with only a few small items in gold. The shirt was close fitting with a small up turned collar, long cuff less sleeves and gold embroidery on the shoulder indicating rank and the wearer’s last name similarly stitched onto the right chest. On the left chest was the logo of the Martian Marines. It was in a similar style of the ancient patch. It was an anchor over a planet but it was decidedly different in shape and it sat on top of a red planet. The words Martian Marines were scrolled in a circle above and below the anchor.
 The new pants were much like the old. They were cargo style pants that were tucked into the tops of tough leather boots. The armor that went over the top of the shirt was thin but intimidating. It had a high collar and shoulder pads that extended down over the biceps. It was form fitted down the chest and back and it stretched over the ribcage and it had an extension that fell over the butt. They had similar plates made for the legs. They could make it form fitting because it didn’t hinder the movement of the wearer in any way. It could stop a plasma blast at point blank range and was easy to move in and even flexible. In short it was the perfect armor.
 It looked a lot like a Roman suit of armor with the chest and abdominal muscles sculpted onto the front and the scapula sculpted onto the back. It was shiny and looked like polished obsidian and it was silent when they moved. Gabrielle had been told that it had been made from some material that had been developed here on Mars. It wasn’t even for sale yet to the other colonies.
 Gabrielle had her fingers laced together behind her back. She was wearing the uniform as well. The women before her all looked amazing in it. They all stood at Ease in front of her. They had one hand on the pistol grip of their Plasma Rifle and the other was resting on the barrel of the same weapon. The fingerless black gloves that they all wore only added to the overall look.
The rifle rested comfortably against their bodies having been suspended by a Tactical Sling that was around their necks. Around their waists was what they called their Bat belt. It had everything conceivable in pouches and holsters all over it. For the most part  Bat belt configuration was at the discretion of the owner. They were required to have certain items on their belt but where they kept them was their business. The required items were in distinctive pouches so they could easily be found. One of those required items was suspended from that belt and attached to the leg it was a holster that carried a Plasma Pistol.
In addition to the standard equipment most of the women fairly bristled with knives and she even saw a few Sais on the boots of some of the ladies and the others had a sword or a long knife sticking up above their shoulder. These were some very dangerous women. Not all of them had been in the Marines the night before but they all were now. Gabrielle hoped that she wouldn’t be losing any of them. But she knew in her heart that it was a vain hope at best.
She looked up at Xena. “Get done what you need to do Sergeant.” Her face was deadpan but her eyes told a story of turmoil in her soul.
Xena looked down at the face of Colonel Rayne; it was so much like her beloved’s face and beyond the physical she knew that Gabrielle’s soul abided within. It made her heart twinge. “I will be back before you know it Colonel. Don’t start the party without me.”
“I think you’re going to have your own party without me. There were a lot of substitutions on this flight. I think that someone already knows that you’re coming.”
 “Really, good!” Xena got that dangerous twinkle in her eye. “With your permission Colonel we’ll depart.”
Gabrielle stepped away from Xena.“Permission granted Sergeant. Happy hunting!”
It was almost two hours later before the shuttle achieved an orbit around the red planet. It took one trip around and headed off in the direction of where Earth would be in about twenty-two hours. They would meet up with Luna’s airspace first and then Luna and then Earth. In the meantime Xena actually caught up on some much needed sleep and then she talked with her long lost daughter for hours.
Aella told her about her child hood with the Valkyries, Odin and then with the Amazons. She had been well educated in warfare, strategy, weapons and of course she could read and write and if she had too she could spin a good yarn. She was nowhere near as good as her mother, so she said but in her later years as a grandmother all of the children would sit at her feet and beg her for a story. Xena had no problem imagining Aella  as a wise Amazon grandmother telling the little ones stories. It is what she had always imagined for Gabrielle.
 “But why did Gabrielle leave the Amazons? Why did she return to Greece? Couldn’t she just live out her life in the new world with the Amazons? She could have been happy there. It sounds like she was happy there.” Xena asked the questions in quick succession. But she knew after the first one that Aella was uncomfortable with them.
 At the sound of the first question Aella wanted to fly away or just disappear. She knew the answers but if Xena did not then her mother had not told her and it wasn’t Aella’s place to fill the gap. “Xena I can’t answer those questions. Gabrielle must answer them for you.” Her face was a mask of pity and pain.
 Xena simply nodded. There were apparently quite a few things that Gabrielle needed to tell to her. There was nothing to do about it here so she changed the subject. “So tell me about the fishing in this Great Lake.” The conversation became relaxed once again and they talked for many more hours without touching on another sensitive subject.
 About fourteen hours later Xena was awakened by Aella. “We’re going to be passing into Luna’s airspace in a few minutes.” As if summoned Dan’s voice resounded from her comm link.
“Hey Warrior lady, were coming upon our line in the sand. We’ll hang here unless something goes wrong. Keep us informed.” The fighter ships were cutting thrusters all around the shuttle and were quickly dropping back. Xena could see from her viewport that they were using ballast shields and thrusters to slow their momentum. They could sit in one spot forever. There isn’t really a lot of wind in space. But they had to come to a complete stop or they could drift. Xena knew that they knew what they were doing. Inside she kind of envied them. That was one skill that she would have loved to add to her repertoire. But they would not be staying long enough to learn and Margo couldn’t fly one either.
 The ships intercom activated and the voice of a sleepy sounding man came from the speakers. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have just crossed into Luna’s airspace and as you can see out the viewports that we have lost our Martian escort. I really hope that we don’t encounter whatever problem is was that they were expecting. But if we do we have an entire Platoon of Martian Marines on board as well.” The man speaking was willing to just talk. Luckily someone in the cockpit flipped a switch because the comm suddenly went dead.
 ‘Is it my destiny to always have an idiot around to muck up the works?’ Xena said to Margo.
 ‘Not long ago you thought that I was that idiot, Xena. You don’t know what the man was thinking… don’t be so quick to judge.’
 ‘You’re right Margo. I’m sorry.’Xena sat back and waited for the Pilot or whoever it had been to continue with his monolog but he never did. Instead a movie came up on the vid screen and Xena put in an ear bud so she could hear it. Aella leaned her head onto Xena’s so she could hear the movie as well and there they sat for the next couple of hours. They showed back to back Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, the first was The Terminator and the second was Total Recall. Both women found them to be highly amusing.
Just after the shuttle had gone from sight Dan toggled an all call to his Squadron. “We’ve got a new kind of fuel.”
“What Major?” Several pilots asked.
“We’ve got a new kind of fuel.” Dan repeated.
“When did we get new fuel? Why didn’t anyone tell us?” Again several Pilots asked these questions in variant ways.
“I’m telling you now. We have anew kind of fuel and we need to test its range and how it holds up on long trips.”
“What are you talking about Major?”
“Power ‘em up boys and girls. We’re following that shuttle in… but we don’t want to look like we’re following that shuttle in.” He said with a big grin while he powered up his ship.
“What… oh…” Some of the pilots had to actually see some of the ships power up before they caught on to what Dan was saying and what he was about to do.
 Dan started speaking again. “Seethe way I figure it is this… that shuttle had someone on board that wasn’t a friendly. But they saw us back off and stop on the line. Now we can follow them without following them.”
 “We’re with you Major but where exactly are we going if we’re not going to follow them?” Dan’s second asked.
“We know where they’re going. I don’t think that they are going to have any trouble on Luna. So we’re going to Earth. Hell we may even stop for a function check on their platform.” Dan sent them all a set of coordinates that his navigation computer spit out. “Let’s go.”
Back on Mars Gabrielle was trying very hard not to wear a hole in the carpet while she paced around the room. She was actually doing laps and it was clear by the path that she was on that this was one of Cara’s favorite pass times as well. Both of them were equally annoyed.
 Xena and Dan should have reached Earth by now. They had gotten a report from Dan before he had even left dock that he had no intention of sitting in space waiting. He would be hours away from Xena and the Amazons and as useless as tits on a boar if they needed help. He told Cara that he had an idea and that he was going to execute it when he felt the time was right. She didn’t know what the idea was. He hadn’t told her so that she could have plausible deniability. Damn deniability, she wanted to take responsibility for this crap! But all he had said was trust me. Damn him anyway. I do trust him, but I would sure like to know what the hell is going on!
About twenty hours after the shuttle had left Mars, Cara had received a call from her own Governor who had received a call from Luna’s Governor. Both had wanted to know what the hell was going on and she had only a vague answer to give to them. They had asked her if she was really testing new fighter fuel. But everyone knew that you didn’t test the flight range of fuel by moving towards the gravity of the Sun. The unpredictable gravity of the Sun often skewed the results. She made up some crap about testing the range of the fuel under stressful conditions and then begged the Governor to indulge her a bit. He was an idiot and he was easily manipulated. She stroked his ego for a while and even intimated stroking something else before he capitulated and went to bat for her against the Governor of Luna. If this turned out bad Mars’ Governor may very well take the fall for starting the war and that would unseat him and give Cara the reins of Mars in the process. That would be a fortuitous turn of events.
The call from the Governor had been only one of the calls that she had had to field. Margo’s husband, Mr. Andrew Riley Blake, Martian Council Member had called and demanded to know where his wife had gone and who was going to fix his dinner and breakfast and blah blah blah… They had never gotten servants because he liked Margo under his thumb. Cara had told him to order out because his wife was on a mission and wouldn’t be back for a few days. She had offered to take Ren for the night. It was an offer that he readily accepted and Cara had been delighted as well.  They had spent a lovely evening together.
 The presence of Ren in the house had made her call to Anise all that much easier despite the tension. Anise was a patient and understanding woman but even she was beginning to grow concerned about Cara’s apparent strange mood swings. Cara had tried to reassure Anise but it was clear that Anise wasn’t buying the cabbage. So Cara told her that she would call her tomorrow on line Bravo. That meant that she couldn’t talk on an unsecured line and she would contact her on a secured one tomorrow if she could. Well it was tomorrow but they had no answers and she didn’t want to call Anise with only half of a story.
So the two of them in one body were plagued by not having enough information and worry over their respective women. They actually considered pouring an actual drink, but that wouldn’t be professional and they didn’t want to any more impaired than they already were. How distracted can one be when there are two minds in one body and both are concerned about separate but equally compelling things?
Besides those calls they received several usual calls from all over the planet and beyond. The sudden change of uniform was causing a stir. She didn’t care. “Change them and get everyone into them, today.” That had been her command when she had arrived this morning. She had finally issued a Recall to change uniforms. It wasn’t exactly standard procedure or even sane procedure in the opinion of some of her subordinates. But again she didn’t care. “Do what you are told and trust me or resign and leave.” That had been her reply to those concerns.
 Cara’s gut was telling her that danger was close and she wasn’t going to ignore it. But she also wasn’t going to be doing a lot of sitting either.
About this same time on planet Earth a Martian shuttle was docking on the Japanese shuttle platform.
 “Make sure this crate gets refueled immediately even if you have to cram one of these guns down someone’s throat to see it done.” Xena told two of her Marines the second that they docked.
The doors hissed open and the flight attendants started the debarking procedures. They were nervous. Xena could hear it in their voices but the attendants were in the forward compartment so she couldn’t see them. She got up to see what had them spooked.
As she passed the door that separated the two compartments she couldn’t help but notice that the Marines that were in the compartment had their rifles trained on the doorway. Her eyes were understandably drawn in that direction. What she saw was not really a surprise.
 Standing just outside the door was a huge mass of Earth Force Marines. They had their weapons pointed at the doorway and were only allowing civilians to disembark. That didn’t slow Xena down any. She stepped up to the doorway and stuck her head out of the portal…and saw a familiar face waiting for her.
 “Hi Xena, long time no see! You’re looking good for a woman of your age.” The handsome man said with a huge charismatic smile.
 Xena let out a breath and stepped out of the ship. The Earth Marines took closer aim but didn’t fire. “Ares, you look better with a beard.” She said conversationally.
 He rubbed his clean shaven face and glanced at the people around them. None of them had reacted to the name. ‘Maybe they think that they simply misheard.’ He didn’t really care but it was interesting to him that none of them reacted at all. “All this time and that’s all you have to say to me? Xena I’m hurt.”
Xena raised an eyebrow at him but said nothing.
“Let me think… oh yes the last time that I saw you, well in your original body… it was what just before you died. I didn’t believe her you know… not at first anyway. But then she had that little urn and… well she was all pouty and sad… but somehow I didn’t feel the way that I had when you took that poison. ”He is talking like they are old friends, which of course they were…, in a friend and foe kind of way. “But this time it was for real wasn’t it? You really did die… and then that little brat Gabrielle locked me in a tomb for two thousand years… and to think that at one time I actually kind of liked her…gawk!” He spit.
 Xena was just watching him and slowly her Marines were debarking behind her and spreading out. “What’s a matter Ares was Gabrielle too much for ya? Was she just a little bit more than the God of War could handle?” She was pushing his buttons.
 He laughed lightly. “Yah she is a little pistol isn’t she? She’s got fire. Speaking of the blond did you leave her on Mars?”
 “Why you afraid I brought her with me? Are you scared of a little rematch?” She took a step towards him.
“With her, a rematch, I would hardly call the trick that she played on me in that tomb an actual fight, so there is no such thing as a rematch. She tricked me plain and simple.” He bit his lower lip in contemplation. “No, I was thinking more along the lines of you being here without her… and me being here well… without anyone.” He moved his hands back and forth between them in a you come to me and I come to you motion.
 Xena curled her lip in disgust. “Dream on Ares.”
 “Oh come on Xena, what’s she got that I haven’t got?” The look from Xena made him rethink his comment. “Alright she has some equipment that I don’t have, but mine’s better! You’ve had us both… you know!” He sounded like a love sick teenager.
 “Ares please, you’re embarrassing yourself and making me sick.” While they had bantered all of Xena’s forces had exited the ship. The two that she sent on the refueling mission have left the area. The rest have spread out and most have found cover or concealment. Xena was watching all of this carefully and she was sure that despite his nonchalant attitude Ares was watching just as closely.
 “Really, is that how it’s going to be Xena? You’re really choosing the little annoying blond over me?” He really doesn’t get it.
 “Yup, I really am Ares.”
 “I can’t offer you anything to give her up and come back to me?”
“Nope, you don’t have anything that I want… not anymore.”
 “Alright then…” He made a point of looking at the locations of all of her people, just to let her know that he saw them.
She returned the favor and looked at all of his people.
“It’s nice to see that you’re not carrying one of those nasty Plasma Rifles.” He nodded his head in approval. “Did your girlfriend send you here without one?”
 “Naw she sent it, I just left it on the shuttle. I brought this though.” She pulled her sword from its sheath on her back. It made a satisfying hiss as its blade slid across the metal guides inside the sheath.
 Ares smiled and held out his hand and his sword materialized in it. That little trick brought a few looks from everyone. “What did you think that she called me the God of War for show?” He asked loudly to the people on the dock. Then he looked at Xena and she shrugs her shoulders at him. “Hmm, mortals.” He said in disgust. “You and me Xena, we’re different.” He smiled in anticipation. “Let’s fight!” With that he charged her and their swords crashed together and sparks flew.
All around them plasma flew through the air and collided with packing crates, ships, deck plating, wall plating and sometimes even people. The air was filled with the sounds of the blasters and of people screaming. It all blended together into the familiar sound of a battlefield. Xena and Ares stood in the middle of the action making their own noise. They exchanged blows with their swords and taunted each other with their words.