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Teresa M Shafer - For books that kindle thought and ignite the imagination!
Chapter 21
Xena's Choice
Xena and Gabrielle had both grabbed rifles and between their rifles and their swords they had quickly cut their way through the aliens and were once again in pursuit of Alti. She had run back into the shuttle and the engines were coming on line. Cara had the same idea that Dan had had with the mother ship above. She aimed the rifle at the visible exhaust port. This was only a shuttle it had limited plating.  Xena wanted to get at Alti directly so she began firing at the point where the ship had split open. As fighting died down around them they were joined by Marines with more rifles. The little ship could not withstand the bombardment and it cracked like an egg. When the first piece of the odd door came open all firing stopped and dozens of bodies rushed in to force it the rest of the way.  Alti began firing at the hands, heads and arms that she could see through the ever widening crack. Some people lost limbs, others lost their lives. But they popped the ship open and Alti stood there in the center of the ship with a rifle in her hand. She was sneering.   “It took you both and your army to catch me Xena.” There was little emotion in her words.
Xena shook her head. “We went through your army to get to you.” The sarcasm was thick. 
Alti took a couple of steps towards them and rifles were leveled at her chest from everywhere. “You can stand down now.” Xena said to the troops around her… and was actually surprised when no-one moved. She looked back in surprise and then turned to look at Gabrielle.  
“No they can’t.” Cara said with the crystal clarity of the person that was in charge and knows that she was in charge.
“Apparently Gabrielle’s descendant is not as trusting as you Xena. I don’t blame her really. My allies and I made quite the mess out of her home.” She laid the rifle at her feet and took a step back. “Either Gabrielle isn’t arguing in your favor or she simply isn’t winning… either way you don’t seem to have the influence that you once did. 
Xena was trying not to listen to Alti. The evil witch had a way of twisting the facts until a lie seemed like the truth and what you thought that you saw seemed like it wasn’t real. “Shut up Alti.” Xena was speechless. Alti was right. Gabrielle and Cara had been the ones in charge since she had awakened. She had been doing what they said from the beginning. But that shouldn’t matter… right?
In the recesses of her own mind Margo was screaming for Xena’s attention. This was classic Alti tactics. Xena kept thinking that she was the Warlord, but she was in the body of a minor Sergeant. She needed to remember that! The Marines in the shuttle had obeyed her because they were Amazons. They knew what was going on. But the rest of the Marines were pretty much in the dark. Somehow Alti knew this information and was using it to drive a wedge between Xena and Gabrielle. Margo could see it, she really hoped that either Cara or Gabrielle could see it as well because Xena was flat not listening.
Cara stayed silent. This was a battle of wills between Xena and Alti. She and Gabrielle had nothing to do with it. Xena would have to decide what to do. But Cara could make things a little more palatable for Xena. She called over her shoulder. “Major Warden, are you still with me?”
There was some shuffling of feet and a moment of murmuring and a couple of yells. “Yes, ma’am I’m still with you.”
“Are you uninjured?” He sounded like he was out of breath or in pain.
“I took a minor injury ma’am but I am capable.” This time his voice sounded sure and confident.
“Good, leave me fifteen able Marines and take the rest. You are temporarily in charge of the ground troops. See to any aliens that might have gotten loose, see to the injured… secure our city. Report back to me when you have a handle on what is happening elsewhere. ”She had turned her head to look at the man only with the last couple of words. She needed to look into his eyes to verify that he understood what she was saying. 
“Yes, ma’am.” He snapped a quick salute and started pointing at Marines and determining who would stay with the Colonel and who would accompany him. He soon realized that if they were women they were all very reluctant to leave Cara. Finally he just gave up and let them stay. Their loyalty was admirable.
Cara noticed that she had closer to twenty-five or thirty Marines but they were also all Amazons. She called one of them to her. She wanted the highest ranking Amazon and she got Captain Lamb. “Why does this not surprise me?” She said softly almost to herself. “Captain, leave me fifteen, take the rest and secure this area. Free up the Major for other things.”
The Captain gave her an Amazon salute that Cara returned and she was gone without another word and Amazons were snapping too. ‘I rather like the Amazon salute better. I’ll have to make some changes later.’ Cara said in Gabrielle’s ear. Gabrielle smiled at the compliment to her tribe; it pleased her however small the compliment had been.
They turned their shared attention back to the conversation between Alti and Xena. They seemed to have been waiting patiently for Cara to sort her troops. “I’m sorry Xena, Alti where were we?”
Alti gave her a venomous smile. “I was just going to ask Xena if she wanted to come with me.” She turned to give Xena a warm and loving smile. “What about it my dear, will you come with me? We can rule the galaxy you and I, side by side once again. You would be surprised at what I have learned out there.” She waved one of her arms over her head to indicate the Cosmos above them.
When she did the alien command craft exploded and then exploded some more. A huge cheer went up all around them, even Gabrielle and Xena let out a celebratory yell. Alti looked at her hand as if she expected smoke to be rising from her fingertips. The cheering died down and once again Alti spoke. “What’s it to be Xena?”
Xena looked at Gabrielle and smiled at her lovingly. “I’m happy right where I’m at Alti.” She never bothered looking at Alti as she spoke. But she was surprised by the look that Gabrielle was giving her. There was love in Gabrielle’s eyes but also pain and the look on her face was inviting but it also begged her to prove her words.
Alti didn’t miss the unspoken exchange. “Really… you may be happy but I’m not so sure about your little sidekick.” Alti purred and took a step towards them deftly stepping over the abandoned rifle.
Xena’s head snapped around to face her. She let out a derisive laugh. “Gabrielle and I have our difference sat times but there is nothing that she could do, and there is nothing that could happen that would ever change the way that I feel. I am happy with her…at my side… forever.” She raised her rifle and pointed it at Alti’s chest. “You on the other hand… I can do without.” She squeezed the trigger. Alti’s body flew back until it hit the bulkhead on the other side of the cabin.
Xena approached the body. It was burned horribly but Xena wasn’t taking any chances. She gripped the hilt of her sword in her right hand and after a couple of flashy spins she decapitated Alti. “The body should be cremated and I would cremate the head separately…just in case.” Xena deliberately did not issue an order. This was Cara’s world and she needed to be in charge.
The Amazon Marines only hesitated for a heartbeat. Cara would stop them if she felt that they were doing wrong. They closed in on Alti’s body and quickly scooped her into two separate body bags. “Take them straight back to the Society. Have them cremated as Xena has dictated without delay or ceremony.” Cara ordered.
Xena had come back over to stand beside Gabrielle. They walked out of the shuttle together and stood by the rear of the damaged craft. They were watching the injured being loaded into Ambulances and surveying the damage. A row of body bags had begun at the base of the Marine Head Quarters steps and a large pile of aliens was forming on the other side of the street. Occasionally a shot rang out when an alien groaned or flinched.
“We have a lot to talk about don’t we?” Xena asked. She wasn’t happy about the prospect. It usually meant that she had screwed up again.
Gabrielle heard the pain in her lover’s voice. She took a deep breath and turned to look Xena in the eyes. This time there was no unspoken question on her face there was only love. “There area few things that we should discuss, yes. But just for the record… I’m happy with you too.” She smiled another award winning smile and Xena’s eyes twinkled in response.