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Teresa M Shafer - For books that kindle thought and ignite the imagination!
     
Escaping the Web
 
"Of all the people and of all the names… Hope… and a good Hope… not the daughter of evil… but a daughter that actually brought hope and carried the weight of my entire line on her shoulders… what are the odds?’ Gabrielle was wondering to herself while Xena made some final preparations before they headed for the space dock. Long range sensors had picked up the approaching squadron of Martian Fighters and one lone shuttle in their midst. “Eli once told me that you worked in mysterious ways… he wasn’t kidding was he?” She said as she looked up at the ceiling without seeing it. “What’s that Gabrielle?” Xena asked as she strolled up to her partner. “Huh… oh nothing… I was just… nothing.” She didn’t have time right now to get into it with her beloved. When or if they made it off of this rock they might have some time to discuss this new twist in the progression of their souls. Xena wasn’t convinced that it was nothing but clearly it could wait. “As of now their CAC shouldn’t have picked up our escort yet. Ms. Brubaker didn’t install the new sensor equipment so she has less range.” She paused and looked around the room again.
 
When Xena paused like that it usually only meant one thing. “Okay so that was the good news so what about the bad?”
 
“Huh… oh yah you figured that did yah? Well the bad news is that it looks like Ms. Brubaker has sent out search teams looking for us. We’re gonna have to sneak out of here to preserve their hiding place and make it to the hanger while avoiding her teams.” Xena handed a Pulse Rifle to Gabrielle. The weapon’s design had changed a bit since she had last seen one but the muscle and latent memory of Hope’s body knew how to handle the thing.
 
“Do we have to avoid them all?” She was kind of itching for a good fight right now.
 
Xena looked surprised at her. She knew exactly what Gabrielle was thinking. “You really did wake upon the wrong side of the morgue this morning didn’t you?” Gabrielle glared at her as a response. “Look we can’t fight them at all or we’ll start a war that we aren’t prepared to win. Let our grandchildren handle it. Okay?” She put are assuring hand on Gabrielle’s tense shoulder.
 
Xena was right and Gabrielle knew it. The fight with Alti would be soon enough and hard enough. There was no need for her to court conflict and these people were not ready to fight a war. She nodded at Xena and settled her mind as well as her rifle. ‘Hadn’t I been the one to convince Xena of that very thing just a few hours ago? What’s wrong with me?’ Gabrielle didn’t voice her personal concerns. She had a feeling that if she could manage to hold herself together until she was on her way home to Mars she would be fine.
 
Xena was watching the expressions on Gabrielle’s face. Clearly she was having some internal conflict. But she wasn’t ready to share so Xena left it alone. Somehow Xena knew that this conflict had little or nothing to do with their relationship. This was something to do with Hope. Xena had reconciled her soul with Solan a long time ago, but Gabrielle had never reconciled Hope. Perhaps it was time to do so and perhaps that was the reason why they had been held back until these two particular people had died. Xena had no idea but she was pretty certain that together they would figure it out.
 
She glanced down at the thermo tracker that she had in her hand. “Gabrielle, we need to go now.” The little red bodies on the tracker were moving away from their location. Now was as good a time as they were likely to get.
 
Gabrielle looked up at her and just that fast she was focused on what they needed to accomplish. Her inner conflict was shoved back into the recesses of her mind. She could look at it later if she had time but she knew that time was something that warriors had to pay for, it was never just handed to them. She nodded sharply at Xena. “Let’s go.” Xena turned towards the hallway that they had entered this room from and moved quickly into it. Gabrielle was a step behind her. Despite all the gear that they were wearing neither one of them made any sound but the soft swishing of clothing rubbing together and that died away as they turned the corner and settled into an easy stride.
 
They went through the secret doorway and down the aisle between the shelving. They opened the door to the storage room cautiously and peered out. Xena consulted her tracker. It showed no-one around for more than fifty meters. She didn’t entirely trust the thing so she stopped and listened for a few extra seconds before darting from the room. They ducked behind a large air filtering unit that had been about twenty meters from the storage room. Xena looked at the tracker and listened then she moved them forward to another piece of cover and concealment. They worked their way across the floor in this manner until they reached a stairwell that according to the tracker was presently free of any little red people.
 
The flight deck was eight floors up and two sections to the right. The stairs like so much else had cameras and given that they were already being hunted it was a safe bet to assume that the bad guys were watching the cameras, especially the ones in the elevators and the stairwells. But the cameras in the stairwells were older than the ones in the elevators and they were less likely to run into the lazy Security staff in the stairs. The rebels figured that they could manipulate the cameras in the stairwells for short bursts of time. Once Xena gave them the word to interrupt the feed, she and Gabrielle had about thirty seconds, give or take before the cameras would automatically correct any interference. There was probably a command code that got them around the fail safe but the rebels had not yet found the prompt and neither Xena nor Gabrielle knew the old code. When they realized all of this it was too late to call Lori. Titan was on the far side of Saturn. Mars couldn’t be reached for many more hours.
 
Xena touched the ear bud that was tucked into her left ear. “Alright boys, we’re at the stairwell and its all clear.” She had explained the time constraint to Gabrielle while they had been ducking from one place to another to get to this location. They had both stopped and gathered their strength for a minute before she had made the call. They stood just outside the door. It would be a race for the record books. Eight flights of stairs, two turns of thirty steps for each flight and thirty seconds to be out of the doors and have them closed before the cameras corrected themselves. Xena was kind of hoping that the gods of the Olympics favored Greek feet. She really didn’t want to have to fight her way out of here.
 
A tiny chirp sounded in both of their ears and a male voice said, “Go” and off they went. They tore up the stairs like the dogs of Hades were at their heels. They had no time to think, they had no time to try and be stealthy. But their bodies were so accustomed to physical exertion and the souls inside were accustomed to stealth so that together they flew up the stairs with nary a sound and when they  breached the door eight floors up they knelt by the wall as the door shut and were barely breathing hard. Both of them broke into a smile.
 
“That was fun.” Gabrielle whispered in all honesty. Xena raised her eyebrows and nodded.
 
“Well done… you actually had time to spare. Amazing!” The voice in their ears exclaimed. “You’re on your own now. They’ve picked up the Squadron on their sensors. Be careful they will likely converge at some point to try and cut you off from the bay. Good luck ladies.”
 
Xena held up the tracker and silently showed Gabrielle the route that she would like to take to get to the hanger bay. They had about a hundred and twenty meters to go. The tracker could only show them heat signatures for about eighty meters in all directions. But Xena figured that Mrs. Brubaker would try and cut them off in the only bottleneck on this floor. That’s what she would do if she were in Mrs. Brubaker’s shoes. Hopefully that was the extent of tactical reason behind Mrs.Brubaker.
 
They scooted from their place by the stairwell and did the same run and cover routine that they had done on the previous floor. They actually saw three teams of Security staff and easily avoided them. The staff wasn’t even trying to be stealthy or hide their intentions. The thought of these lazy buffoons with Pulse Rifles made Gabrielle shiver. Xena just shook her head in disbelief and disapproval.  
 
They went from one place to another and finally they came within range of the bottleneck. Xena had been right. The tracker showed about twenty little red people waiting for them and one really large red person. Mrs. Brubaker was making a personal appearance. Xena and Gabrielle stopped for a minute to decide on a strategy. They went the final thirty yards and stopped again.
 
Xena very quietly asked the men back in the storeroom if the ships had docked. They told her that they were doing so as they spoke. Xena smiled… perfect timing. She gave the man on the other end a couple of instructions and signed off. Then she and Gabrielle stood up and boldly entered the bottleneck.
 
There was a short jog in the walkway to the right and once they had made the small turn they were met by Mrs. Brubaker and twenty of her cronies. They stood about fifteen yards down the walkway… just where it fanned out again into a staging area for the flight deck. The walkway that they were on was wide enough to accommodate a great deal of foot traffic or a single loader. The good news was that it was tunnel like in its construction which meant that they could not be fired upon from above. But they could be cut down like chickens in a barrel from the front on the walkway. They stayed in the curve so that they couldn’t be snuck up upon from that direction and waited for Mrs. Brubaker to set the tone of their inevitable conversation. It didn’t take her long. The woman had to gloat.  
 
“My, my Xena, you have such poor manners my dear. You never came to get your reports and now you’re planning on leaving without as much as a piss off? How very rude of you. And Gabrielle… really dear I expected more from you.” She sounded exceedingly proud of herself.
 
Xena smiled, she was going to enjoy this. “Well, Geraldine… I can call you Geraldine can’t I?” Xena barely waited for a nod from Mrs. Brubaker. “Thanks… so Geraldine I have to tell you that I’m really not impressed with some of your staff. They’re, to put it nicely, lazy slobs.” She sounded like she really was sorry.
 
“Now that’s not very nice to say, must you always provoke Xena?” She was shaking her head and some of her staff were shifting around angrily.
 
Xena shrugged. “What can I say? I’m like a scorpion.” She said recalling a conversation that she had had with Ares a couple of thousand years ago and reminded herself that the scorpion had drowned.
 
Geraldine had no idea what she was talking about and didn’t really care. “Regardless, you’re obviously not as good as you think. We did after all manage to… find you here.” The saccharine was dripping from her fangs.
 
“I have to guess that they simply followed you. We did after all manage to slip past all of the others to get here. Besides this was one of the few logical places to be. It didn’t really require a lot of intelligence to figure out.” She just couldn’t help herself.
 
Geraldine did not appreciate the insinuation or direct insult. She wasn’t smart enough to decide whether Xena had complimented her and insulted the troops or if she had delivered an insult to both. The fact that she had no idea, made her mad. “You think that you’re so great? My master will be well pleased with me when I hand her your head!” She was snarling.
 
“Well I wouldn’t start counting my dinars quite yet, first you got to kill me and then you got to get my head. And frankly Geri I don’t think that you and your little lumps of lard are up to the task.” Xena casually flipped the safety to her rifle to the fire position, no-one but Gabrielle noticed.
 
Geraldine was trying to figure out what a dinar was and why she would be counting them. She didn’t register the rest of Xena’s comment. It wasn’t until one of her subordinates complained about being called a lump of lard that she realized that she had missed something. That’s when the rest of the comment filtered into her mind. “I guess we’ll show you what we’re up to and what we’re not!” She lamely flared back at Xena.
 
“Now that’s something that I would like to see. Wouldn’t you guys? Mind if we watch Supervisor Brubaker?” A woman’s voice called out from behind the Security team. They all turned as a herd to see nearly twenty fighter pilots wearing armor over their flight suits and packing Pulse Rifles that were clearly set to fire and pointed at the group of Security Guards. “Now of course we’re going to have to even out the odds a bit. Having you in a cross fire isn’t fair. So what say we get Xena and Gabrielle on our team over here and then we can have at it if that is what you still want to do?”
 
Xena and Gabrielle had used the diversion to move and were already stepping politely past the Guards to join the Pilots on the other side. Once there Xena nodded at the senior Pilot in thanks and greeting and then turned to address Geraldine once again. “Still want to play Geri?”
 
Mrs. Brubaker looked like a tea kettle that had been on the stove way too long and had boiled dry. “Don’t think that this is over. If I don’t get you she will.”
 
“That’s fine… I look forward to it.” Xena turned to walk away but something seemed to occur to her last minute. She turned her head back to the rotund Supervisor. “Tell Alti I’m coming for her. Oh and you might want to get your boys. I tied them up in a storage closet a couple of floors up. I wouldn’t want their corpses stinking up your beautiful station.” After speaking she took Gabrielle by the hand and walked towards the flight bay with a Squadron of Amazon Fighter Pilots to cover her back.