By Kerry McCommon
Carter felt the blindfold fall away from her eyes and she blinked, unaccustomed to the light. As her eyes adjusted and she saw her captors revealed to her she was unable to stop herself. "Holy cow," she muttered.
"I dont think I appreciate that," said one of the women standing in front of her. All five of them were dressed in skins and roughly woven materials decorated with beads and feathers, long hair braided with rawhide and colorful ribbons. All carried weapons, some staffs and some bows. Carter noticed daggers carried in belts and leggings.
Carter remained silent, her mind reeling. These women were human to all outward appearances. Her universal translator was part of the damaged comm system on board the shuttle but she could understand them so they were speaking English. Oddly accented, but English nonetheless. Trying to keep one eye on her captors, she surreptitiously glanced around. They had apparently decided to untie her because they were at the edge of a small village. Dwellings made of roughly hewn logs with thatch roofs centered around a common area that contained a raised platform and a well. More women milled about the small village; a few of them curiously watched the incoming party.
"Untie her hands," the same woman spoke to another woman who did as she was told. Carter rubbed her raw wrists, relieved to move her arms again.
She hated to say it but she had to. "I have to go to the bathroom."
This announcement was greeted with puzzled looks. She tried again. "I need to visit a bush now." She tried to keep her legs from crossing. Her body language was clear if her words werent and the talking woman pointed behind Carter.
"Go," she said, gesturing with her staff.
"Yes, I have to go," Carter agreed ducking quickly behind the indicated bush. As she relieved herself, her mind raced. No way she could take on five armed women with no idea where she was, no food or water and no shelter. She was going to have to cooperate until she had a chance to change the circumstances. Or until Lazarus came looking for her. She was pretty sure that was a probability.
She walked back out to where the women stood waiting. "Why have you taken me?"
"Come with me," the talking woman began walking toward the village. Carter stayed where she was. One of the other women gave her a not so gentle push with a staff. Carter glared at her but refused to move. The talking woman stopped and turned. "Are you going to stand there all day?"
"I need some answers," Carter replied. "Starting with why have you taken me?"
Youll get answers," said the woman. "From the queen. Come with me."
Realizing her standoff was going nowhere fast, Carter reluctantly followed the woman into the village. As they entered the village Carter noticed that all activity ceased and every eye followed her as she was led to a dwelling with more ornamentation than the rest. The woman ducked into the doorway with Carter behind her. Seated at a small table was a woman. She didnt look like a queen to Carter.
She looked up as the talking woman and Carter entered. "Good morning, Teryn." She stood and walked over to them. Her expression did not change but Carter could feel an undercurrent of excitement in her. "Who is this?" Her eyes raked Carter up and down.
"I dont know her name, Loryl," Teryn replied. "We discovered a group of four near the field on this side of the river. They had a metal shelter."
"Why didnt you bring them all?" Loryl asked.
"There were only five of us," Teryn replied. "At least one of them is a warrior. One of them is injured. It was either this one or the other small one and this one was the easiest."
"I resent that," Carter mumbled.
The queen, Loryl, looked at her with surprise then turned back to Teryn. "How did you get her away from the warrior?"
"I shot the warrior with a dart when she was in the forest," Teryn said. "She never knew. It took a long time for her to sleep though. Longer than any Ive ever seen."
"You shot Lazarus with a dart?" Carter was furious and frightened. "Will it " She stopped, unsure she could control her emotions.
The queen and Teryn watched her carefully. "Ah, she is your mate?" Loryl asked.
Carter spun on Teryn and caught her with a blow to the stomach with her foot before the feeling went out of her legs and she dropped to the floor. To her surprise both the queen and Teryn began laughing. Teryn reached down and helped Carter to her feet after releasing the pressure points that Loryl had used to disable her. "Its not too many who can take me by surprise, little one," Teryn smiled at her. "I think we may have underestimated you."
Carter was not amused. "Will Lazarus, um, my mate, recover from the dart you shot her with?"
"Shell sleep it off. With most people it takes a day or two, but her reaction was slower so I dont know when she will awaken," Teryn shot a look at the queen who nodded.
"So you said Id get answers. Why did you take me?" Carter repeated for the third time, addressing herself to the queen.
Relieved that they were able to continue the search party, Lazarus silently led Dobbs and Warren along the faint trail through the cooling forest. Suddenly she halted and raised her hand for the other two to stop. Waving them along with her, she ducked off the side of the path and quickly moved toward some rock formations nearby. Gesturing to them to hide behind the rocks, they all three slipped quietly and quickly out of view of the trail. Warren looked at her questioningly. Lazarus nodded toward the trail and Warren saw what Lazarus had heard coming.
Walking silently, two women carrying staffs and dressed in animal skins were checking the path for signs of the intruders their queen was expecting. "Human?" Warren mouthed at Lazarus. Lazarus shrugged. They watched as the women continued down the path. Once they were out of sight, Warren turned to Lazarus. "How did you know they were coming?" she whispered.
"I heard them," Lazarus replied. "I think theyre expecting us. You two stay put. Im going to scout ahead and see whats waiting for us." Without waiting for a reply she slipped away and quickly disappeared into the forest.
"Why did you take me?" Carter repeated.
The queen watched Carter for a moment as if deciding something. "We came to this place many generations ago." Carter briefly wondered where the men were. "We were a small group at first that became smaller when the males all died of sickness. The females that were left assumed that they would die out too as time went on, but instead we adapted very quickly. Some of us have developed the power to produce children and as the generations continued we grew into a larger colony of mostly farmers, artisans, and warriors. But for the last few generations we find our numbers dwindling again. When Teryn spotted you we were hoping that you and your friends might be a welcome addition to our colony, perhaps even capable of producing children."
Carters mind reeled again. Were they human and if they were, how did human women produce children without reproductive technology? That was impossible. "Why didnt you just ask us? Did kidnapping me and forcing me a long march blindfolded seem like it might a productive thing to do?"
Loryl looked at Teryn who had the good grace to blush slightly. "I ask your forgiveness. Our party was small in numbers and we were unsure of your intentions or fighting capabilities."
Carter was only slightly mollified. Food and water would go a good ways toward making her feel friendlier she decided and as if to chime in, her stomach announced her decision.
"We need to feed our guest, Teryn," Loryl told the other woman. "What is your name?" she asked Carter.
"Laughlin. Carter Laughlin," she replied, and was met with puzzled looks.
"Laughlin is where you are from? Or your mothers name?" Loryl asked.
"Actually Laughlin is my fathers name," she told them. "Carter is my name."
Loryl said, "We carry one name only. Sometimes when we meet others I would say I am Loryl of Earth. That is the name of our village."
Carter hid her amusement. "Loryl of Earth wouldnt be quite specific enough where I come from. Earth is the name of my planet."
All the color drained from the face of the queen and the warrior. Loryl regained control of her emotions first and turned to Teryn. "Keep this news to yourself for now, warrior."
"But this is a matter for the council, Loryl," Teryn was plainly shocked that Loryl would keep this information secret.
"Yes it is," Loryl replied. "But not until the council convenes in two days. I need time to think. I ask you for a life favor, Teryn."
Teryn was disturbed by the turn of events but conceded to her queen. "That is not necessary, Loryl. You are my queen. It will be as you ask." She turned to Carter. "I will take you to Dryans house. She is gone for the season and you can stay there."
"Wait a minute. Im not staying anywhere. I want to be taken back to my people," Carters anger returned.
"I beg your indulgence," Loryl stepped in. "Go with Teryn and eat and rest, then come back here that we may talk some more. If you then want to return to your people, we will take you back. You cannot return alone. You are not equipped for the journey. We were wrong to capture you as we did but I swear we will return you when you want to go."
Damn it, Carter thought as her stomach growled again insistently. The queen was right. She was ill equipped to return to Lazarus and the shuttle without aid. It wouldnt hurt to eat. And rest. She stifled a yawn. "Okay. Well talk later." She followed Teryn out of the queens quarters.
The sun sank lower in the afternoon as Warren and Dobbs sat quietly and waited for a sign of Lazarus. Finally, sighing deeply, Dobbs stood and said, "Im gonna pitch the tent, Major." She began pulling the equipment from the bag she had carried that day. Joan Warren ignored the ache from her arm and head and stood to help.
"I think Ill try to gather some firewood. It may give our position anyway, but well freeze otherwise," she said. "Hopefully no one will be prowling around after dark."
"Pick the driest wood you can find," Dobbs told her. "It smokes less."
With her arm in a sling, Warren was only able to pick up what she could carry in one hand. Dobbs had the tent set up quickly out of sight of the path they had followed, so she helped the XO gather bits of wood to keep them warm. Fallen branches were plentiful and it was not long until they had enough to last several hours.
"Do you think they got Lazarus?" Dobbs finally queried.
"No," Warren responded. "Shes pretty smart. Shes excellent at recon. Im sure shes okay."
Dobbs wasnt as sure as Major Warren but there was little she could do about it this late in the day. Survival for herself and the Major was the uppermost thing in her mind. If Lazarus had gone and gotten herself lost, then shed have to figure it out herself. Be a shame if she froze. She was a fine looking woman.
Carter decided not to ask what was in the bowl of stew she had been handed. She scooped a small amount onto the wooden spoon and tasted it cautiously. "This is pretty good," she told Teryn.
Teryn nodded. "It is yerak stew." She sat across the rough table from Carter and watched the small woman eat. Carter wondered what a yerak was but not enough to ask. She glanced at Teryn. The warrior was tall, her strong face serious and lean. Her long brown hair was twisted in a single braid down her back with no ribbons or adornments like the other women Carter had seen earlier. Her brown eyes sparkled with intelligence. "You and the warrior have no children?" she asked Carter.
Carter swallowed her stew. "No."
"How long have you been joined?" she asked.
" We arent what you might call officially joined," Carter said. "Weve actually only been seeing each other for a few weeks."
"Weeks?" Teryn was puzzled again.
"How long is the moon cycle here?" Carter asked.
"Forty days," Teryn replied.
"Weve been seeing each other for about two of your moon cycles," Carter told her.
"I do not know your customs," Teryn said. "If you are seeing each other is it to determine her worthiness, or your childbearing ability?"
Carter laughed. "Neither, actually. Were seeing each other because we love each other. And its a strong, uh, physical attraction."
"But whats the point? What do you give back to your tribe with this union?"
Carter thought. "It makes us happy. Happy people are productive people." Teryn continued to look mystified. "Lazarus, my mate, is a leader among the fighters of my people. I am a senior officer nevermind. I am one of the leaders of my people, but not the main leader. If we are happy together when we are off duty then we work harder and have more energy on duty. Does that make sense?"
"I am not sure. So when do you have children?"
Carter realized that this tribe of women on the verge of extinction had narrowed their focus down to survival. That meant procreation was the most important issue facing them. Which brought her back to the question that had plagued her from the start. "I dont know if we will have children. Children are plentiful where we come from. But we still have males to help with that," Carter said, leaving out the reproductive technology that had rendered male participation almost obsolete. "I dont mean to be indelicate, but where I come from it is impossible for two women to have a child without a sperm donor. How does that work?"
To Carters amusement, the tall warriors face flushed with color. "When two women are joined," she began, and then stalled. "When two women are joined," she started again.
"When two women are joined?" Carter supplied helpfully.
Teryn took a deep breath. "Once they decide to have a child, there is a season that occurs twice a year where they can experience the bonding ritual. This involves taking an herb known to our healer that sends the pair into a deep state of relaxation. It also enhances the physical aspect of their relationship. From this union, one or both of them may become with child."
That explains exactly nothing, Carter thought. "Its the physical aspect of the relationship I wanted to know about," she said gently. "Can you tell me about that?"
"I think the healer would be better at that than me," Teryns color rose again. "I am not joined with anyone. I have not experienced bonding."
"Oh," said Carter. Surely this extraordinarily attractive young woman was not "I see. Is it required that you be joined to have sex?"
"No, it is not required." Teryn was totally flustered. "I am a warrior and a hunter. I havent time for other things." She paused. "Nor have I ever felt what others say they feel for another. I do not think that joining is meant for me." She stood abruptly. "I think that you should rest. There is wood for a fire. It is getting late." She turned and fled.
Carter mused over what she had, and had not, learned from Teryn. But she was very tired. She looked around the single room dwelling. It was actually attractive in a primitive way, she thought. The fireplace was built of smooth stones. The walls and floor had roughly woven fabrics of various hues covering them. The bed was also covered in several blankets that looked warm and colorful. She wondered about the absent owner. She built a fire in the fireplace, struggling with the flint and tinder she found on the hearth. When the flame finally flickered, she blew gently on it until she felt confident enough to pile a few small logs on top. Once the fire was burning merrily, she stripped off her clothes and crawled into bed, thinking briefly that it was very comfortable before she slipped into oblivion.
Dobbs built a small fire as the sun slipped down. She and Joan Warren huddled as closely together as possible without actually touching as the temperature plunged. They chewed morosely on S rations and watched the fire pop and crackle. "So whats the plan, Major?" Dobbs asked after what seemed like an eternity of silence.
"Live through the night," replied the XO. "Then in the morning, well go looking for two of them, instead of one."
"Any ideas on how to do that without getting eaten by the wild women of Borneo?" Dobbs said. "And I dont mean that in the most interestin way."
Warren laughed, surprising Dobbs. "You make me laugh, Lieutenant. I hope when we get back to Zebra that we can be friends."
Dobbs was shocked but kept her voice level. "Now that would be interestin Major." Dobbs wasnt sure that the XO had any friends or even knew how to go about having any. "So you think were gonna get back to Zebra, huh? Despite the fact that we have no ship and no idea where we are?"
"Yes, I do," Warren replied. Dobbs wasnt reassured somehow. They lapsed back into silence.
Lazarus watched from the tree, still as death. When the small village had settled for the evening and she was sure of the guards routines, she slipped silently to the ground. She had watched long enough to know that Carter was alive and that she wasnt guarded. The relief that had flooded her when she spotted the small woman crossing the common area earlier had brought tears to her eyes that had almost frozen on her face before she quickly wiped them off. The fact that Carter seemed to be chatting with her captor hadnt really surprised Lazarus too much. If there was one thing Carter could be counted on for, it was talking. When Lazarus saw the taller woman leave the small house in a hurry, she assumed that Carter was now alone in the hut.
Slipping quickly and silently from shadow to shadow, Lazarus moved toward the hut avoiding the village guards. Easily she opened the door and slipped in, relishing the warmth of the room. The light from the fireplace allowed her a full view of the hut. She was alone in the room with her sleeping lover. Slightly surprised at the ease with which she had located Carter, she allowed herself to relax a little. She placed a log on the fire and sat on the edge of the bed. Lazarus watched her lover sleep for a minute, then touched her gently on her arm.
Carter was having the same dream again. This time she recognized the path as being on this blasted planet, although it continued to wind and disappear and go nowhere. The same sense of frustration and desperation engulfed her. She simply had to get to whatever was waiting at the end of that path. She could feel the presence of someone she loved, someone who was trying to tell her something important. She followed the path as it wound around to find herself back where she started. She could feel the tears of frustration building. "Carter." Someone was calling her.
"Carter, honey, wake up," Lazarus stroked her arm softly, trying to awaken her gently and quietly.
Carter fought her way into consciousness. "Kay!" She threw her arms around her lovers neck. "Oh my god, youre here!"
Lazarus grinned as Carter held on to her. "Lets not wake the village, baby. Im glad to see you too." Carter smothered Kays mouth with her own several times. "Are you okay?"
"I am now," Carter replied happily. "Ive got so much to tell you. You must be freezing. Take your clothes off and get in bed with me."
"Wait a minute. Are you a prisoner here or what? Dont we need to think about escaping?" Lazarus was totally confused.
"Well, its complicated. Id have to say that no Im not a prisoner. Im not here of my own free will," she hastened to explain. "But Im not really a prisoner anymore either. Its a long story. Take your clothes off and get in bed with me. Ill tell you all about it."
"You dont have to twist my arm," Lazarus shrugged her jacket and clothes off and snuggled up close to her lover.
"Where are Dobbsy and Major Warren?" Carter asked.
"I left them in the woods," Lazarus replied. "You know, Joan surprised me with her survival skills. She mmmff,"
Her words were lost as Carter kissed her again. "As long as theyre alive, I dont care." She climbed on top of Lazarus, their bodies pressed together. "Warmer?"
"Not yet," Lazaruss eyes locked onto Carters. "Could you get a little closer?"
"Im sure I can work something out," Carter said obligingly.
Dobbsy couldnt remember when shed spent a colder night. They sat as close to the fire as they could without catching on fire themselves, then crawled into the tent when they could stay awake no longer. Major Joan Warren was not exactly what she thought of as a touchy-feely type so she kept her distance in their sleeping bags. Not that the XO interested her in that way. Dobbs didnt want her body, just her body warmth, but instead spent the long, cold night huddled into a small tight ball. She prayed for the sun to rise. And of course it did.
Dobbs jerked awake from her restless sleep to what sounded like an animal snuffling around their camp. "Major," she hissed at Joan Warren, whose eyes snapped open. Dobbsy pointed at the door of the tent. Warren nodded and reached for her phaser. Both women silently rose. Warren pointed the phaser at the door as Dobbs reached for the opening. Dobbs pulled a small crack open and laughed softly.
"I guess he didnt appreciate being abandoned," She reached out and pulled in the pup that had attached himself to the women. "Where were you last night when I could have used your body heat?" She held the small canine who was obviously thrilled to have found his people again.
"Oh great," said Joan Warren. "What are we going to do with a puppy? Weve got to track Lazarus and Carter while avoiding the hostiles. He cant come."
They both looked up as the rest of the tent flap opened to find themselves staring at the business end of two arrows.
Lazarus awoke at dawn to feel her lovers hands running lightly up her sides. She opened her eyes to find Carter straddling her body, a distinctly lascivious look on her face. From the corner of her eye she noticed the fire had been stoked and the room was warm and friendly, much like the woman who was on top of her. Wordlessly, Carter leaned down and kissed Lazarus lightly, running kisses down her throat and tugging gently on her earlobe with her teeth. Her hands were not idle either as they circled Lazaruss breasts, pausing to tantalize sensitive points before moving on. Lazarus moaned as she wrapped her own strong hands around Carters back, reaching down to feel her lovers heat. Carter shifted down Lazaruss body, her lips and tongue busy. Despite their passion from the night before, Lazarus found herself responding quickly and enthusiastically.
Carter heard her lover whimper softly as she parted her legs to reveal the private treasure hidden within. She smiled a knowing smile, fully aware of the dark-haired womans desires. Her hands traveled the loved and familiar territory, her mouth a willing accessory. Lazarus reveled in the touch of her lover who was instinctively in sync with her bodys demands and supplied those demands both gently and forcefully. By the time Lazaruss heart was racing and she was covered with a light sheen despite the outside temperature, the sun was moving through the trees and into the cracks around the dwellings door.
Lazarus reached for her lover pulled her to her and kissed her eyes. She gently pushed her to the bed and began working her way down Carters body. She could feel her lovers excitement in the push of her hips and from the unconsciousness way Carters hands tangled in her hair. Deep in her own thoughts and emotions, she was startled when Carter froze. "Whats wrong?" she asked as she turned her head to follow Carters gaze.
"Hello Teryn," Carter said.
"Uh oh," said Denise Dobbs, staring into the point of an arrow.
"Back off," said Joan Warren, pointing her phaser back at the two women outside the tent. The women looked at the phaser, glanced at each and didnt move.
"Back off, now!" Warrens tone announced her intentions. The women obviously had no frame of reference for the phaser but took a step backward anyway, slightly lowering their bows. The four women stared at each other, at an impasse.
One of the tribal women took the first step and lowered her bow. Audible sighs signaled the end of the standoff. To Joan Warrens immense shock the woman spoke to her. "You must come with us. Our queen wishes to speak with you."
Warren and Dobbs exchanged looks. "You speak English?" Joan asked.
"I do not know what English means," the woman replied. "You must come with us," she repeated.
"You stole our friend," Warren said severely, allowing her anger to show.
"She is safe," the woman replied. "We will take you to her." Joan Warren turned from the women and shot the phaser at a boulder that shattered. The look of shock on the tribal womens faces was very satisfying.
"Yes, you will," she agreed.
Teryn looked everywhere except at Carter and Lazarus. "The queen wishes to see you," she said, and backed out of the dwelling.
"She probably doesnt require seeing quite as much of me as Teryn just saw," cracked Carter. "I guess we have to finish this another time, sweetheart. Im sure your presence has been announced by now." She looked at her lover whose face had switched from that of a lover to that of a warrior in an instant. They rolled out of bed and pulled their clothes on. "I really dont think theres anything to worry about, Kay."
Carter had told Lazarus about the conversation that she had with the queen and later with Teryn. "Im not worried. Just cautious," Lazarus replied. They had puzzled over the reproduction question and why Loryl was insistent about the silence concerning the information that the strangers were from a planet called Earth. Lazarus had no insight into either mystery. Carter noticed that Lazarus had her phaser tucked into the waist of her uniform.
They exited the small hut together to see that a crowd had gathered outside. Lazarus hovered protectively over the smaller woman. Carter could feel the tension rolling off of her lover. "Easy does it, sweetheart," she murmured as she stepped boldly ahead, walking through the crowd as if it was something she did every day. Several warriors in the crowd stood protectively in front of others, eyeing Lazarus who remained calm but alert, following Carter. They left the crowd of women standing and watching as they walked into the queens hut where she stood talking with Teryn.
Loryl looked up surprised at their entrance as Teryn instantly drew a dagger from her belt. "It is not wise to enter into the private dwelling of the queen unannounced," Loryl said coldly.
"I wasnt aware it was a custom here to knock," Carter responded with a pointed look at Teryn. "I apologize."
Teryn refused to meet her eyes. "I am at fault, Loryl. I entered Dryans house this morning unannounced."
Loryl looked at Teryn puzzled, then smiled as light dawned. "I see your warrior has found you," she said to Carter. "I hope you were comfortable last night. Who was on guard duty?" she turned to Teryn.
"Ky and Shiana," Teryn told her.
"See that they are given extra duty to make up for their lapse. Perhaps you would be willing to show us how you slipped in without notice," Loryl added to Lazarus.
Carter nodded at Lazarus. "This is Lazarus. Kay, this is their queen, Loryl, and youve already met Teryn, sort of."
Lazarus nodded at the women. At that moment, a clamor arose from outside and Teryn stepped over to the door. "The scouting party is back with the other two," she told them. Lazarus and Carter hurried to the door and stepped out to see Joan Warren and Denise Dobbs strolling into the village alongside two of the tribal women.
Dobbsy was grinning from ear to ear at the sight of the village and its occupants. "Ooh la la," Carter could hear her mutter. Carter grinned as they caught sight of one another.
"Lt. Laughlin," Joan Warren looked relieved. "And Major Lazarus. We were worried about you, but you appear none the worse for spending the night in the elements." She wore a wry expression at Lazaruss obviously well rested appearance. Her hand rested on the butt of the phaser she had tucked into her pants.
"Things are not quite what they seemed," Lazarus informed the XO. "It is complex, but not dangerous, I believe."
The XO nodded and Dobbs said, "Major Warren is hurt. I need to get her somewhere that she can lie down." Carter noticed that despite her bluster the XO had little color in her face and still held her left arm awkwardly to her body.
"Take her to the healer," Loryl instructed a woman who stepped next to Warren and took her arm.
Warren looked at the queen. "I do not need a healer." The two leaders locked eyes and wills. After a tense moment, Loryl smiled at Warren and something seemed to pass between them.
"Perhaps if I accompany you," she asked softly smiling.
Joan Warrens demeanor abruptly shifted. The pain shone brightly in her eyes. "Very well," she acquiesced. Villagers and strangers alike stood and watched as the queen took the Majors arm and led her to the healers hut.
"Well, Ill be dipped," said Dobbsy.
Dobbs, Carter and Lazarus settled down under a tree and caught up on what had happened and what they had learned. Eventually Lazarus stood and said, "I think Ill wander over and check on Joan." She left Carter and Dobbs speculating about what had passed between the XO and the queen, and heard Dobbsys ribald laughter floating on the cool breeze.
Lazarus ducked her head into the healers hut as she knocked on the door frame. Joan Warren lay on a cot, her left arm resting on her chest. Loryl sat in a straight backed chair next to the bed talking intently to the XO. A woman whom Lazarus presumed to be the healer sat at a small table grinding herbs in a mortar.
"Am I interrupting?" Lazarus inquired hesitantly.
"No, Lazarus, come on in," Joan smiled at her. "I dont know what these herbs are that Simone has given me but I feel pretty good."
Simone? thought Lazarus. "Im glad youre feeling better," she said aloud. "Can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Sure," Joan replied lazily.
Loryl smiled at her. "Ill be back later." She nodded at Lazarus and exited the hut. Lazarus claimed her abandoned chair. Joan watched her walk out the door with an appreciative look on her face.
"Listen Lazarus," Joan spoke clearly but her eyes appeared slightly glazed to Kay. "I want to talk to you about all that shit that went on between us."
"Uh, that isnt really necessary, Joan," Lazarus inwardly cringed at the thought of bringing up their past history.
"No, I think it is," Joan insisted quietly.
Lazarus resigned herself to a sensitive chat. "Okay. What do you want to talk about?"
Joans fingers tapped nervously despite the apparent effect of the herbs. "You know when you broke it off with me that I was hurt. And angry." Lazarus nodded but remained silent, listening. "I felt as if I had been seduced and abandoned." She laughed self consciously, embarrassed. "But that had nothing to do with what happened later. I swear to you Lazarus, I honestly believed that you were sending information to the enemy. I didnt want to believe it, but all the evidence pointed that way. Now of course I know that the evidence was planted and I was being led that way. I went over it and over it, trying to determine a different reason for what I was seeing. Trying to decide if my personal feelings about you were coloring my judgment in any way. And I couldnt find another reason for what was happening. I made a professional decision as an officer. And I was wrong. I apologize. I can never make up for what I did to your career and I dont expect you to forgive me for it." Joan closed her eyes. She seemed drained of energy and emotion.
Lazarus knew she had to respond but the words didnt come easily. She noticed with dismay that Joan had tears leaking out from her closed eyes. She reached over and took her good hand and squeezed it gently. "It doesnt matter anymore, Joan. You made mistakes. I made mistakes. Its water under the bridge." They sat in silence for a while holding hands, until Lazarus realized that the drugs Joan had been given were sending her into a deep sleep.
Lazarus got up and left the hut, wondering when the healer had left. She never had gotten around to asking Joan to find out what she could from the healer. Oh well. Lazarus felt lighter and cleaner than she had when she went in to talk to Joan. The rest could wait for another time. She spotted the queen at the same time that she saw her. Loryl met her in the common area.
"How is she feeling?" she asked Lazarus.
"Shes asleep," Kay responded. "Better, I think."
"She was quite anxious to talk to you," Loryl looked inquiringly at Lazarus. "I hope she was able to do so before the herbs took effect."
"Yes, she did," Kay said. "Thank you for your kindness to her. She is a proud woman and does not easily accept help."
Loryl smiled. "I recognized a little of myself in her, Im afraid."
Lazarus glanced around. "Do you know where Carter and Dobbs went?"
"Theyve gone to the river with Teryn. She will keep them safe." Lazarus thought of Teryn with her staff and daggers, and Carter with her phaser and wondered who would keep whom safe. You never knew.
Carter and Dobbs came tearing back into the clearing an hour later. "Kay, come here!" Carter called, as Lazarus started moving toward them. The tribal women in the clearing stopped what they were doing and watched. Carter grabbed Lazaruss hand and pulled. "Come on. We found the starbird!"
"What?" Lazarus asked Carter as they all began hurrying back in the direction from which they had come. "Any survivors?" She pulled her phaser from her waist and checked the charge on it.
"No," Carter answered. "Not that we found anyway. We found a couple of bodies, but there had been scavengers there and it was a mess."
"It was flat out disgustin is what it was," Dobbs said cheerfully. "I caint believe it didnt burn up in the atmosphere, but then I still caint believe we didnt either."
"Wheres Teryn?" Lazarus asked.
"She stayed there to watch over the wreck until we got you," Carter said.
"I offered to stay with her but the spoil sport made me come with her. I think she doesnt trust me around that good lookin woman for some reason," Dobbs complained good-naturedly.
Carter rolled her eyes. "Youre right Dobbsy. I dont trust you around her. You leave that poor girl alone."
Dobbs put on an injured air. "What are you talkin about? Youre worried about me hurting a big bad warrior? I wouldnt do that. Unless she wanted me to." She laughed.
"Appearances can be deceiving Dobbs," Lazarus said cryptically. "What kind of shape is the starbird in?"
"Not too bad considering," Carter said. "I think its in better shape than the shuttle."
"Then we may have just gone into the salvage business," Lazarus smiled.
After disposing of the "flat out disgusting" remains of the Ultharians, the two engineers poked and prodded the starbird familiarizing themselves with the alien systems. It was not the first Ultharian technology they had come in contact with since the war began and was not totally foreign. "I need to return to the shuttle for tools," Carter announced. Dobbs nodded agreement.
Teryn looked at the suns position in the sky. "You cant today. There isnt time to make it there before nightfall."
Lazarus agreed. "I think we should head back to the shuttle at first light. We could be back by nightfall tomorrow with the tools we need."
"I suggest we return to the village," Teryn said. "If the queen is willing, I will go with you tomorrow as your guide."
"Why thank you Teryn. Thats awfully nice of you," Dobbs purred. Carter shot her a look. Dobbs smirked.
That evening, Carter, Lazarus, and Dobbs sat around a central campfire with the tribal women. Loryl disappeared for a minute and returned with Joan Warren who looked tired but better. Carter noticed that the more of the yerak stew she ate, the less appealing it became. Still it was better than S rations and she noticed that the other Federation women seemed to enjoy the change of pace.
"Teryn tells me she has offered to guide you back to your camp," Loryl said to the Federation women. "I must go before the council but I do not think I am premature in saying that I hope you will consider staying here with us." She addressed all of them but looked at Joan Warren when she spoke.
The firelight was deceiving but Dobbs was fairly sure that Joan Warren blushed before she found the fire to be a truly fascinating thing on which to focus her attention.
"Tell us how you came to be here, Loryl," Lazarus asked.
"I am not one of the story keepers," Loryl responded quickly. "The entire story would be better left for another time. For now, let me just say that we came from far away many generations ago. We have carved out a life here and this is now our home." She paused. " I think I will send a few others on your journey tomorrow. There is a better chance of a safe return in larger numbers."
Lazarus noticed, but allowed the queen her evasion of their history without commenting. "Thank you, Loryl. We would appreciate the guidance. I think it might be a good idea to get an early start. Teryn assures me it will take all day to get there and back again."
"Yes," Loryl said. "And even then you will have to hurry." She turned to Joan Warren. "I think the healer would rather you stayed here until you are feeling better."
"I agree," said Lazarus. "You cant help carry anything with that arm anyway. I can get anything you need for you."
"No, I want to go," Joan said stubbornly. "I have things I need to do."
"Then I shall travel with you as well to make sure you get back safely," Loryl said softly. The tribal women glanced at one another. The silence around the campfire that followed that statement spoke volumes.
Lying in bed that night, Carter draped over Lazarus in her usual position, they spoke quietly. "I still havent found out too much about these women," Lazarus said, stroking Carters hair. "We dont know their history, how they got here, how they have children, or where the men went. I dont really understand why its all a secret either."
"Maybe it isnt really a secret," Carter guessed. "Maybe Loryl is just keeping her own counsel until she knows us better." She rubbed Lazaruss belly. "We havent divulged a lot of information about ourselves either."
"True," Lazarus conceded. "But not because its a secret. I havent wanted to discuss where we come from with them simply because of the difficulties involved in explaining a deep space station and wormholes to a tribe of women who hunt with bows and spears."
"But they dont know that," Carter said. "All they know is we havent told them, not why. Ill see if I can draw Loryl out tomorrow on the hike back. Or maybe I should ask Major Warren to do it. She seems to have her undivided attention."
"Whats that all about, do you suppose?" Lazarus wondered.
"Well what do you think, you big doofus?" Carter laughed at her.
"What?" Lazarus genuinely didnt know.
"She likes her, sweetheart," Carter watched as comprehension dawned.
"Loryl likes Joan?" Lazarus was surprised.
"You sound like a sixth grader," Carter outlined Lazaruss lips with her fingertip. "Watch them tomorrow. Youll see."
Lazarus lightly caught Carters finger with her teeth and growled. "I like you and not like a sixth grader."
"Ooh, that works out nicely," Carter whispered back.
As the sun was rising the next morning, Carter and Lazarus met up with Loryl, Teryn, Dobbs, and Warren. Carter briefly wondered where the other two women had slept the night before. She noticed two other women joining them.
"This is Ky and this is Shiana," Teryn introduced the guards that had allowed Kay Lazarus to slip unnoticed into the village. "They will be joining us today." The two new women nodded gravely and Carter thought a little nervously to the Federation women. Apparently traveling with the queen was a huge responsibility and a chance to make up for the blunder of allowing an intruder to infiltrate.
Ky and Shiana took the point after exchanging quiet words with Teryn who was obviously in charge of this expedition. Dobbs followed them. Loryl and Joan went next, closely followed by Carter, Lazarus and Teryn. The early part of the trip was mostly silent as the women found themselves deep in the forest, moving cautiously but quickly down the trail. It was midmorning before Loryl gave a short whistle that brought Ky and Shiana to a halt. "This is a good place to rest," she said. "Though not for long."
"Are there a lot of wild animals around here?" Dobbs inquired casually.
"Yes," Teryn replied. "Dogs that hunt in packs, and felines that hunt alone. And there are yeraks, but they are the hunted, not the hunters."
"What exactly are yeraks?" asked Carter, remembering the stew, not sure she wanted to know.
"Yeraks are yeraks," shrugged Teryn. She pulled a piece of jerky from her pocket and handed it to Carter. "That is yerak."
Carter nibbled it. "Pretty good," she told Teryn. Teryn grinned at her and Carter wondered again at the solitude this lovely young woman had imposed upon herself. Teryn pulled out more jerky and offered it around before she began chewing on a piece.
"We must leave," Loryl announced. She stood and offered her hand to Joan Warren who accepted the help up. The rest of the trip was without incident and they arrived at the crash site of the shuttle in the early afternoon. "We cannot spend much time here if we hope to return to the village before nightfall." She eyed the shuttle with wonder.
"It wont take long," Carter assured her as she hurried into the shuttle. Followed closely by Dobbs and Warren, Carter gathered her diagnostic tools and all the hardware she thought she might have a use for in the Ultharian starbird. Dobbs was right behind her carrying everything else. "Major, should we set the ELS now that we know the Ultharians arent going to track us by it?"
Dobbs had managed to repair the Emergency Locating System but they had decided to not activate it because of their uncertainty concerning the Ultharians who had been chasing them. "I dont see what harm it can do," she replied without much interest. "I dont imagine it will be picked up by anyone in this area for a couple of millennia." The two women remained silent at this pessimistic observation. "And you know, as long as were stuck here, theres not much sense in calling me Major. I dont see a lot of reason for a chain of command among four people."
"Who are you lady, and what have you done with Major Warren?" Dobbs spoke first. Carter waited for the explosion that didnt come.
"Im serious, Dobbs. I mean Dobbsy. Isnt that what people call you?" Joan asked her. "I suppose its possible that well get the starbird running, and survive a second trip through an unstable wormhole, and then get back to Zebra without being mistaken for the enemy and getting blown to smithereens, but how likely is that? Just call me Joan. Im pretty sure our military careers are over." Carter decided that Joan didnt look nearly upset enough to believe all that she had just spouted off. She glanced over and noticed Lazarus leaning against the hatch listening.
"Okay, Joan," the name rolled glibly off of Dobbsys tongue. "What about you, Major Lazarus? What do you want to be called?"
"You can call me Lazarus," said Lazarus. "And I agree with Joan. There is no need for chain of command anymore."
"You dont call her Lazarus, do you?" Dobbsy asked Carter.
"Sometimes," Carter replied.
"Sometimes really loudly," Lazarus enjoyed the flush that swept across Carters face. And then thought, Uh oh."
"And sometimes I call her other things too," Carter said sweetly. "Sometimes I call her Booboo, and sometimes I call her Snookums, and she really likes it when I call her my little sweet potato, and sometimes I call her "
"All right, all right, Im sorry" Lazarus grumbled. "Have you asked Joan about talking to Loryl?"
"Smooth segue, Snookums," Carter grinned. "No, I havent."
"Thats Major Snookums to you, Lieutenant," Lazarus said. All four of the women laughed and then the laughter faded as a wave of sadness over the loss of their world swept through them, and they contemplated their new world.
Part 6 (Conclusion)
Everyone, including the queen, was loaded down with the equipment and supplies from the wrecked shuttle. Only Joan Warren was spared due to her injured arm. Consequently, the trip back to the village was slower going than they had managed earlier. At some point in the trip, one of the few moments when Loryl left Joans side, Lazarus sidled up beside her and whispered their concerns to the former XO. Joan nodded her agreement. Lazarus fell back to rejoin Carter and Teryn.
"I have asked Dobbs to stay with me until you are able to leave," Teryn was telling Carter as Lazarus rejoined them.
"Oh." Carter shot a look at Lazarus who shrugged. "Thanks a lot, pal," Carter hissed at her.
"Should I not have?" Teryn asked tentatively, noticing the exchange.
"It was very kind of you, Teryn," Lazarus said. "Im sure Dobbs appreciates it."
"Im sure," muttered Carter.
"Ill make sure she behaves herself," Lazarus whispered to Carter as soon as Teryn wasnt paying attention to them. "Ill talk to her."
"How are you going to do that?" Carter asked. "We no longer have a chain of command."
"No, but Im still bigger and stronger," said Lazarus. "If I give her The Look, shell behave herself."
"Good point," Carter said.
Night was falling and the temperature dropping as they tread wearily into the village. Lazarus had her little talk with Dobbsy who was properly subdued after mild resistance. Carter and Lazarus went to rest for a little while before meeting everyone for the evening meal. Sprawled across both Lazarus and the bed, Carter rubbed Lazaruss belly. "Did I tell you I was having weird dreams?" Carter asked.
"What kind of dreams?" Lazarus said.
"I dreamed that I was searching for something I couldnt find, and the longer I looked for it the more elusive it became. It was very frustrating. I dreamed the same thing twice. And then last night I dreamed it again, only this time my grandmother was in it and she was telling me which way to go on a path and I knew if I did that I would find what I was looking for finally."
"Oh," Lazarus said politely, and yawned.
"Then today when we were going to the river, I spotted a path and it was the path in my dream. I asked Teryn where it went and she said to another part of the forest where they gather herbs. I told her I wanted to follow it for a bit and thats when we found the starbird."
"Thats an odd coincidence," Lazarus wasnt particularly impressed.
"I dont think it was a coincidence. I think it was a message," Carter replied.
"From whom?" Lazarus tried to keep her skepticism from her face.
"I dont know," Carter said. "My grandmother maybe. I just know that I dreamed it too many times for it to be a coincidence. And it came true."
"Did you start dreaming before we came through the wormhole?" Lazarus asked.
"No. The first night we were here is when I first dreamed it."
Lazarus was unsure what to make of this. Had it been anyone else she would have laughed at the idea but so many strange things had happened and continued to be a mystery that she reserved judgment on prognosticating dreams. "Ill talk to the healer tonight if I get a chance," she said.
"I dont need a healer," Carter said indignantly.
"No, not for you," Lazarus smiled at her lover. "Just to see if thats an unusual occurrence around here."
"Oh. Speaking of which, lets go get something to eat," Carter replied enigmatically.
"Eating is an unusual occurrence?" Lazarus asked, smiling at the bottomless pit that posed as a woman.
"No, but we still havent found out what yerak is. I think thats kind of strange too," Carter responded suspiciously.
"Ah, sweet mystery of life," Lazarus replied.
Joan Warren smiled as the two women approached. "Good stew," she raised her bowl. Carter smiled wanly at her and picked up a bowl for herself and Lazarus.
"How are you feeling?" Carter asked her.
"Tired, but better," Joan replied. She spotted Loryl walking toward them and smiled. Carter watched the years and worries fall from Joans expression and felt happy for her former XO. She reached out and felt for Lazaruss hand with her own, pleased that Joan had a chance to feel free from the stress of command and guilt and whatever other demons she had fought during her years in the Federation. Maybe that could lead to the freedom to feel something for someone else and to actually enjoy that feeling and allow it to become something special. She wrapped her fingers between Lazaruss.
"Hello," Loryl spoke to them all but only had eyes for Joan. She sat down next to her. "We are having a council meeting tomorrow to discuss all of you, among other things. I need to talk with you about several matters. You are the leader among you, are you not?" She spoke to Joan.
"Not anymore," Joan responded. "I guess Ive abdicated." She smiled ruefully. "I think you would be better off talking to Lazarus if you wanted our leader. Im out of the leader business and I think I like it."
Loryl absorbed this for a moment. "Very well. I need to tell you, all of you, of our history. We came to this planet on a starship many generations ago when we were both men and women." All three of the women were astonished that this tribal woman would know what a starship was, let alone claim to be a descendent of space travelers. Ignoring their expressions she continued. "The legend says that our people were lost and landed here in order to survive. Their provisions were gone and this planet seemed hospitable. The first few moons were good and all went well. Houses were built, food was plentiful. The weather was harsh but they adapted. Then the first winter came and almost everyone fell ill. The women stayed sick longer but all lived. The men all died. It was presumed that the women would die out also as time went on, but healers discovered that the illness had changed the women. We now had the capability of producing children on our own. The first generation of women had only female children and there was great fear that a male baby would succumb to the same illness that took the first males, but we never found out. No one has produced a male child since."
"Im curious about how women become with child," Lazarus asked awkwardly. "What exactly is the procedure for that?"
Loryls face lit up. "Are you and Carter interested in having a child?"
"Uh, no. Its more of a scientific curiosity," Lazaruss look of consternation amused Carter.
"The planet gives us children," Loryl replied, disappointed. "When two women decide to have children they go through the ritual of asking the planet to honor them with a child by spending three nights in the caves of Selena. They then go into a deep trance. If the planet chooses them, then the one who wishes to give birth becomes with child."
"I dont understand," Carter said, voicing the bewilderment of all of them. "How can the planet make a decision?"
Loryl shrugged. "It just does. We dont really understand it either. I understand the planet told you how to find the alien ship."
Carter stared at her. "I had a dream. Several dreams."
"That was the planet telling you what to do. Did she send you the memory of someone you honor?"
"Yes. Well, I guess. I dreamed of my grandmother," Carter was bewildered.
"That is how she works. Through dreams and trances."
Joan asked, "So you worship the planet as a god?"
Loryl laughed. "No. We honor the planet as a provider of food and shelter and water and children, but it is not a deity."
"You mean the planet itself is sentient?" Lazarus asked quietly.
"Thats not possible," Joan whispered.
"The planet speaks to us through dreams and trances. The planet provides for us physically. The planet gives us children. If that is what you mean by sentient then I suppose it is," Loryl said.
The three women sat and thought about this for a few minutes. Carter could feel the cold wind starting to cut into her and moved closer to Lazarus. Joan shivered and Loryl moved closer to her. "Perhaps we should move indoors. The night is falling," Loryl stood and held her hand out to Joan who took it. They walked over to the hut Lazarus and Carter were staying in and Lazarus started a fire. They all sat quietly absorbing the information they had received from Loryl.
Finally Lazarus broke the silence. "Why do you need to discuss us in your council meeting?"
Loryl sighed. "Our legend also says that someday another starship would come to return us to the place we originally came from. That place is called Earth."
"I thought so," Lazarus said. "The odds were astronomical that we would be propelled through a wormhole, crash land on an M class planet, and find women who spoke English. Is there any of the original ship left?"
"The outer shell. The rest has been used for other purposes or disappeared over the seasons. We have been here for several generations," Loryl said. "The council needs to discuss the possibility of our leaving this place. It seems that the legends have come true with your arrival. Our time here seems to be waning. Children are fewer and fewer and we will die out unless something changes. We were hoping when you landed that you might bring new life to our village, but when we heard you were from Earth it changed everything. Now it seems were meant to leave here."
"Theres no way that we can take the entire village with us even if we do get the starbird flying," Lazarus explained. "Its a science vessel meant to carry a crew of six or eight. If we make it back, and thats a big if, we can try to retrace our steps and send someone after you, if you want."
"I see," Loryl said. "Then when you leave, you possibly will never return?" She asked Joan Warren who sat with a stricken expression on her face.
"Its very possible," Lazarus replied. "It would be difficult to say the least."
"Then that gives us much to discuss in council," Loryl stood. "I will leave you for the evening. Sleep well." She turned to Joan. "May I speak with you privately, please?"
Joan nodded and stood to leave. "Well head out to the starbird early then?" she asked Lazarus. Lazarus nodded. "Good night." Joan followed Loryl.
Carter turned to Lazarus. "That was unbelievable. A sentient planet? Who fathers children no less. And speaks in dreams. Think it can get the starbird up and running for us?"
Lazarus laughed. "Doesnt seem likely, does it? But there are strange things in the universe. Weve discovered sentient life forms before that were hard to believe. Why not a planet?" She eyed Carter. "Say, heres your big chance. Want to make a baby?"
"Im not going in a cave for love or money, but if you want to give it a shot right here Im game," Carter grinned and reached for her lover.
The next morning found five women trudging toward the starbird for a day of repairs. Carter noticed that Joan Warren alternated between elation and depression, and Dobbs seemed subdued. Teryn was her usual taciturn self. The work went better than anyone expected with Carter and Dobbs supervising the repairs. Teryn showed a distinct aptitude for the minor mechanical chores she was assigned. Joan and Lazarus tackled the things they felt comfortable with, while Dobbs and Carter took on the heavy engineering problems. At midday they broke for a brief meal of yerak jerky and water.
"Weve got to get this thing flying just to get away from this yerak stuff," Carter told Lazarus. "The first several hundred times it wasnt too bad but Im way over it. Im actually missing S rations."
"Ooh, that is bad," Dobbs said. "I dont believe Ive ever heard anyone say that before. Carter, nobody misses S rations. Unless you were flat out starving and even then " She shuddered. "I dont think this stuff is so bad. I could teach em how to barbecue and Ill bet it would be pretty good. We make the best barbecue in the world in Alabama, you know."
"I have a cousin in Texas whod argue with you about that," Carter told her.
"Texas?" Dobbs snorted. "They think beef is barbecue. But only because you caint ride a horse and steal a pig at the same time."
"And you can barbecue yerak?" Carter laughed. "We still dont even know what that is."
"Would you guys shut up? Youre making me sick," Lazarus looked at the jerky she was holding and sat it aside. "Lets get back to work, okay?"
The rest of the day saw many problems solved on the science vessel. As the sun sank lower in the sky, the women gathered their tools and set out to return to the village. "Whats our time line here?" Joan asked Carter.
Carter looked at Dobbs. "Im thinking about a week, dont you think?" she asked.
"Maybe a little less, if everything goes okay," Dobbs agreed.
"I see," Joan said thoughtfully. She lagged a little behind the others obviously deep in thought. After a bit Lazarus fell back and joined her.
"Everything okay?" she inquired.
"Yes and no," Joan replied, a little embarrassed. "Im pleased that we may actually have an option to being shipwrecked here, but at the same time " She trailed off.
"Loryl?" Lazarus asked.
Joan nodded sheepishly. "I find myself really drawn to her, Lazarus. I cant tell you why. We have nothing in common. Shes a member of a tribe on a primitive planet and Im a Federation officer. Or was. Ive had twenty years of schooling and I dont even know if she reads and writes. Im a scientist and shes a queen." Joan laughed at the absurdity of that statement.
Lazarus smiled. "But youre both leaders. Youre both women of strong convictions and ethics. Think of what you bring to the table rather than how far apart youre sitting. Besides, shes a total babe."
Joan laughed. "I agree."
"Are you have you " Lazarus stopped, not sure whether she should even ask.
"No, not yet," Joan replied. "But I slept with her last night. Just to keep warm of course."
"It could have very easily happened, but neither of us pushed for it."
"Things happen in their own time," Lazarus said. "And if we can leave in a week or so, maybe its better not to start."
"Maybe," Joan sounded downcast. They walked the rest of the way back quietly.
After they had eaten the evening meal with no further complaints from Carter, she and Lazarus went wearily to their hut. Lazarus built a fire and the chill quickly evaporated from the room. They sat in front of the small blaze leaning on one another.
"Joan is falling in love," Carter said.
"Yeah," Lazarus said. "Bad timing on her part, once again."
Carter didnt reply. Joans previous history with her lover was not one she cared to think about too deeply. Sensing her lovers unease, Lazarus changed the subject. "Teryn was pretty good with those conduit relays. I was surprised how quickly she managed that."
"Yeah. She actually had some pretty creative ideas about things," Carter said. "She may be a warrior now, but she has the makings of an engineer hidden in there somewhere." She scooted even closer to Kay. "If we dont get the starbird flying I could think of worse places to be stuck."
"I think well get her up," Lazarus said wrapping her arms around Carter. "Getting home again may be a difficult job though. I hope we can survive a second trip through an unstable wormhole."
"Here or there, as long as Im with you," Carter looked in Kays startling blue eyes. She brushed a dark tendril of hair behind Kays ear. Kay leaned down to Carter and brushed her lips against Carters only to feel Carters hands tangling in her hair and pulling her even closer. The sweetness of her lovers mouth invited further exploration and in a few minutes Carter could feel her heart hammering erratically in her chest. She pulled Kays hand to her heart. "Can you feel what you do to me?" she whispered. Kays hand slipped lower and she smiled to hear her lovers breathing becoming shaky. She slowly unfastened Carters clothes and pulled them down her body until Carter lay naked on the rug in front of the fire. She knelt at Carters feet and looked at the lithe, strong body in front of her.
"What are doing? Come here," Carter reached her arms out to Kay.
"Im making memories," Kay said. "Despite everything weve had to go through lately, being with you these last few months, has been the best time of my life. I want to remember it always."
Carter was moved. "Take your clothes off and come here. Ill make some memories for you." Lazarus was happy to oblige her.
The work on the starbird progressed as Carter predicted and as the days passed, systems fell into place. On the fifth day of their work Teryn lay under the communications console doing a final check on the multiplicity of relays and chips. Dobbs stood above tweaking the alien system when suddenly a hum emanated from the system. "I think were online. Damn Im good," she crowed. "Just stay down there baby and well celebrate," she said to Teryn.
"In your dreams, sister," Teryn responded. Carter, Lazarus and Joan looked at Teryn with surprise. "Ive been sharing space with Dobbsy," she explained to them. "She is teaching me the current vernacular."
Dobbsy laughed. "Well if I caint have her, I have to teach her how to take care of herself."
"Seems to me shes doing all right," Lazarus said.
Teryn sat up. "I need to know a great deal if Im to come with you," Teryn told them seriously. "Not only the current vernacular, but politics, history, and customs, to say nothing of basic engineering so I may earn my keep."
Lazarus blinked. "What do you mean come with us? Where?"
"Back to your home," Teryn replied calmly. "Loryl and the council have decided that I should accompany you in order to learn more about the possibility of returning to Earth."
"Loryl decided?" Lazarus grew very still, a bad sign in Carters opinion. She watched the flush creep up her lovers neck and knew it was a bad sign. This wasnt a good thing.
Wait, Kay. Maybe this isnt such a bad idea," Carter attempted to defuse the awkwardness of the situation.
"Whether its a good idea or not isnt the issue, Carter," Lazarus snapped. "Loryl doesnt make our decisions for us."
"Loryl and the council," Teryn reminded Lazarus. She faced Lazaruss obvious anger with no fear or trepidation. "The council is required for all decisions of great import."
"Whoever," Lazarus thundered. "The point, Teryn, is that we should have been consulted before this decision was made. Im not sure its a good idea to take you along."
"Just as its not only the councils decision, its also not only your decision, Kay," Carter tried to suppress her anger at Lazaruss arrogance. This requires a lot of discussion from all sides."
Her anger pinched the color from Lazaruss face. "I cant believe you agree with this." She turned and left the starbird.
"Wait a minute, Kay," Carter called after her in vain. "Jeez. Shes so hard headed."
There was an awkward silence for a moment before Joan spoke. "Actually this may be a pretty good idea. Sort of a trade. Sort of."
Dobbs and Carter looked at each other, then at Joan. "What do you mean?" Carter asked.
Joan cleared her throat, stalling. "Im thinking of staying," she said.
"Stayin here? What in the world for?" Dobbsy asked.
"I like it here. Im happy here," she replied simply. Carter looked at Joans face and once again noticed that she looked younger and less troubled than Carter had ever seen her. The stress of leadership had weighed heavily on Joan and a single week had had the effect of erasing years from her face. "Besides," she flushed a little. "It may be a bit premature to speak, but I think I may have met someone who fits me, as odd as it may seem to others."
"I dont think its odd at all, Joan," Carter smiled and reached out to take the former XOs hand. "Im very happy for you. Of course, well support any decision you make. I will anyway," she amended, not daring to speak for her volatile lover.
"What are yall talkin about?" Dobbs was astounded at the swiftness of change that swirled about her.
"Ill leave you to that," Carter grinned at Joan. "I have to go find my girl." She left the starbird and looked around for a clue as to where Lazarus may have gone. Probably not back toward the village she decided. The only other path nearby led to the river. She headed in that direction. Several minutes later she spotted a familiar form standing next to the churning whitewater of the river. She moved behind Lazarus and tentatively placed a hand on her shoulder. "Hey."
Lazarus turned and smiled ruefully at her. "Hey. Sorry I snapped at you. Im an ass sometimes."
Carter hugged her. "Its okay. It was a surprise. I know you hate surprises."
"Good thing you didnt throw me a party. I might have killed someone." Lazarus relished the feeling of calm that came over her whenever Carter was near. "What are we going to do about Teryn, Carter? How can we take her back?"
"Why cant we? If shes willing to go, why shouldnt we take her? Shes a descendant of Earth. There is no prime directive to violate. That only involves alien cultures that havent been exposed to space travelers. Its true shes not trained to work in current technology, but youve seen how smart she is and how quickly she learns. Shell adapt. I dont see why she shouldnt come with us as long as its her choice and not the decision of the council."
"Maybe," Lazarus conceded. "I still think we should discuss it more before we decide."
"Theres something else, Kay," Carter said. "Joan said shes staying. She likes it here." She watched her lovers face carefully for her reaction.
Lazarus frowned and shook her head. "I think thats a rash decision too. What if she sees us leaving and changes her mind? Shes going to give up everything for a two week relationship?"
"Honey, you know lesbians dont know how to date," Carter laughed. "Even Dobbsy told me shes only been on three dates in her life. The first one lasted three years, the second one lasted five, and the third one lasted four. Joan will be fine."
"I suppose so. Theres nothing I can do about it anyway as ill advised as it seems to me," Lazarus said. "I guess wed better get back to work. Nobodys going anywhere if we dont get the warp core online."
"The warp core can wait a few more minutes. I need to know if were all right," Carter held Lazaruss hands and looked into her eyes.
"Of course we are, sweetheart," Lazarus told her. "Come to think of it, you were a pretty quick decision for me and that turned out to be the best thing I ever did."
"Sweet talk will get you everywhere," Carter smiled as she tangled her hands in Lazaruss hair and pulled her down into a kiss.
The warp core proved to be a more difficult job than they had first thought and a trip once again to the wrecked shuttle was called for. This time they planned to spend the night and after a long days hike and longer time spent salvaging parts from the shuttle, they huddled around a campfire as closely as they could sit to one another. Joan and therefore Loryl had chosen not to come this trip but the two erstwhile guards Ky and Shiana were along for added safety. From what, Carter had yet to determine. Probably the dreaded yerak.
The pup that had appeared and disappeared had appeared again and was settled snoring lightly next to Dobbsy. Her hand rested on his head. "Ill miss this little fella," she said wistfully. "I havent seen a real dog in three years. Holo dogs arent quite the same."
The dog in question raised his head suddenly alert. His hackles rose and he emitted a low growl.
"Whats the matter, boy?" Dobbs asked quietly. All ears and eyes were on full alert, Ky, Shiana and Teryn with drawn weapons. Lazarus, Carter, and Dobbs with drawn phasers all turned their backs to the fire.
"Over there," Lazarus said, gesturing with her phaser at eyes that glowed with the reflected glow of the fire.
"And over here," responded Teryn from the other side of the fire. She let loose an arrow that sang into the dark and found its mark. Snarls of unearthly pain made the hair on the back of Carters neck stand up but fear had its place in the fight that ensued. Lazarus quickly followed Teryns lead and shot her phaser in the dark. The slight light reflected from the beam exposed red eyes on what looked like an oversized jackals body. Lazarus shot again and nicked the animal as two more charged in. Carter and Dobbs fired their phasers and backed the animals off into the dark. From the other side of the fire came an anguished scream and as Lazarus spun around she saw the animal leap toward her. She tried to compensate for the angle but the animal was upon her before she could react. As quickly as it was on her though it fell lifeless to the ground and Lazarus saw Teryn standing where the animal had been wiping the blood from her dagger.
"Thanks," Lazarus managed, dazed. She looked for Carter who was kneeling next to her. "Are they gone?" Lazarus asked.
"I think so," Teryn said. "Are you hurt?"
"No, I dont think so," Lazarus said. "Is everyone all right? Are you all right?" She looked anxiously at Carter.
"Im fine," Carter said. "A little freaked out, but okay."
"Ky is hurt," Shiana said holding her friend around the waist. Teryn hurried over to check the womans wounds. She tended to the injured woman while Lazarus, Carter and Dobbs settled their nerves.
When Ky had been tended and adrenaline had dissipated, Lazarus asked Teryn, "What the hell was that?"
"Yeraks," Teryn replied calmly.
"Youre fucking kidding me. Thats what weve been eating?" Carter laughed nervously.
"They are a main food source for us," Teryn said.
"And almost us for them," Dobbs replied. "Who eats predators?"
"Other predators," said Teryn. There was no response to this and a long cold night followed accompanied by little or no sleep.
"Im ready to go now," Lazarus told Carter on the trek back to the village early the next morning. "Ive had enough of this place. Id rather face Ultharians, pirates, and even Federation jackasses than go through another night of that. Lets get that warp core online."
"I hear you sister," Carter replied.
The group redoubled their efforts and by the end of the next day was ready to try to bring the warp core online. The fuselage that contained the core hummed and turned a very comforting shade of blue. "Damn, Im good," Dobbs crowed again.
"Hey you had a little help," Carter protested. "Im the one who figured out the reactor timing."
"Okay, damn, were good. Doesnt have quite the same ring to it, does it?"
"No, but it does have the ring of honesty," Carter sniped.
"Would you two knock it off? Youre making me sick again," Lazarus tightened a clamp. "I think were ready to run a diagnostic. Carter?"
"Im on it," Carters relief at getting the starbird flight ready was palpable. The night of the yerak attack had stressed all of them to the breaking point. Carter had eaten only vegetables and the small amount of S rations they had left since then. She was feeling very antsy about getting this bird off the ground and back into the familiar territory of space. She began running the diagnostic.
Two days later found the starbird ready. Teryn and Joan Warren left early to return to the village while the rest stayed to iron out a few technicalities. After knocking off for the day they walked back to the village. "When do we leave?" Carter asked Lazarus.
"As soon as possible. I want to make sure Joan is sure of staying and Teryn is leaving of her own free will," Lazarus replied. "And we need to stock up on whatever supplies we can find. I dont know what well find out there." She reached for Carters hand. "Its a big risk you know. I really wasnt sure we could get this ship up and running, and Im pleased that we have, but now well, taking it into space is another risk entirely."
"I know," Carter hugged her. "Its a risk Im willing to take though. I dont want to spend my life here Kay. Im an engineer on a deep space station and living among the wolves is not my cup of tea." She frowned. "If we are stuck here Im glad its with you, but I say risk be damned. I really want to go."
"Okay," Lazarus agreed, convinced by the look of relief that flooded Carters expression. "Ill talk to Joan and Teryn and make sure were set."
"And me," Dobbs said. "How do you know I want to go?"
They looked at her in surprise. "Youre thinking about staying here?" Carter asked.
"Hell no," Dobbs said in disgust. "But a girl does like to be asked every once in a while."
Carter rolled her eyes. "Youre consistent, Dobbsy, Ill give you that."
After cleaning up and finding something for Carter to eat that didnt contain fried, stewed, or barbequed yerak, Lazarus walked over to talk to Joan who was still staying in Loryns hut. Lazarus knocked at the door and entered when Loryn called out to her. She sat with them at a small table. "Were getting ready to go," she said to Joan, the question unasked but hanging in the air between them.
"Yes," Joan replied to Lazarus but looking at Loryn. "Im staying here. Im sure." Loryn reached for her and stroked her cheek. Lazarus felt as if she had intruded on an intimate act and looked away.
"I needed to make sure that was what you wanted," she said. "And also," she continued, "I needed to make sure that Teryn is going with us because she wants to and not because of some order from a council."
"Teryn was requested by the council to go but it was ultimately her decision," Loryn said. "She would be ineffective if she was forced to go where she did not want to go."
Lazarus considered her words. "Very well. You understand that I cant promise that you will ever see her again."
Sorrow passed Loryns face but she replied, "Yes. I know."
Lazarus hesitated then said to Loryn, "Theres something I want to ask you."
"Were leaving day after tomorrow. Loryn has promised to give us some supplies to cover whatever the replicators cant produce," Lazarus told Carter as she entered their hut.
"Good," Carter sighed. "The thought of leaving is a little nerve-wracking but not as bad as the thought of staying here forever."
"Listen Carter, I, um, want to talk to you about something," Lazarus suddenly looked nervous. She twisted her hands together. Carter watched her and suddenly felt nervous too.
"I was thinking that since we are leaving here in two days and there is a possibility that we may never get back, that Well I was thinking that this is a place where it might be kinda nice if I was wondering "
"For gods sake, Kay, spit it out," Carter felt herself growing more jittery by the moment.
Lazarus took a deep breath. "I was wondering if you would marry me before we leave." She felt sick as the words left her mouth. The feeling intensified at the sight of her lover standing in front of her obviously in shock. "Honey? You okay?"
Carter nodded and closed her mouth. Her circulation system kicked back in and color came to her face. "Im just a little surprised, thats all."
Lazarus still felt sick. "Why? I love you. I want to spend my life with you. I thought you felt the same way."
Carter wrapped herself around Kay. "Of course I do, sweetheart. I didnt think you were the marrying kind. And I wasnt sure I was either."
"Yes." This agreement was sealed with a kiss, which led to another, which led to roving hands and probing fingers before they pulled part shaking with desire.
"The ceremonys tomorrow morning at sunrise."
"What?" Desire disappeared.
"Dont worry. Itll be a piece of cake."
"Even Im not interested in a piece of cake at sunrise, Lazarus."
Lazarus shrugged. "Its tradition. Itll give us the rest of the day to get the ship packed."
"Ooh, how romantic."
"We have the rest of our lives, Carter," Lazarus whispered, the risk they were undertaking sitting like a boulder between them. "Ill make it up to you. I know where we can watch six moons rise over the mountains of Carsonium 3. Well take a picnic and a bottle of wine. Ill make it up to you, I promise."
"You can make it up to me tonight actually," Carter ran her fingers up Lazaruss ribs, feeling her shudder beneath her touch. "I think we should celebrate," she spoke huskily in Lazaruss ear. "Its not every day that I agree to marry the woman I love."
"No, me either," Lazarus managed to say before the celebration began.
Sunrise came too soon for Carter who never understood how Lazarus could get by on such a little amount of sleep. "Hop up, babe," Lazarus sounded remarkably cheerful for someone who had gotten maybe two hours of sleep and had not had coffee in weeks. "Rise and shine."
"Ill rise " Carter mumbled.
"I know, I know. You refuse to shine," Lazarus laughed. "Nevertheless, weve got get going. People are already starting to gather for the ceremony."
Carter was quickly wide awake. "I guess Ill wear my jumpsuit," she said sadly.
"Yeah, not a lot of choice," Lazarus pulled her jumpsuit on as she spoke. "Would you rather not do this? We can wait if you want. This has been sudden."
"No, I dont want to wait. The jumpsuit is fine. Its not like Ive dreamed about getting married my whole life in some fancy wedding gown or something," Carter smiled at Kay. "The jumpsuit is what I feel the most comfortable in anyway."
"Good. Well have a comfortable wedding," Lazarus smiled back at her. Their eyes locked.
"We can have this ceremony but I couldnt be any more married to you than I already am," Carter told her.
"Indulge me," Lazarus enfolded her in her arms. "I really want to marry you." They walked arm in arm to the square to meet Loryn where she stood next to the well. The women of the village smiled and touched them as they walked by.
"I want you to stand with me Dobbsy," Carter said to Denise Dobbs who wiped a tear away. "Dont cry. Youll get me started."
Lazarus looked at Joan. "I dont suppose you would want to stand for me?" she asked hesitantly. To her dismay, Joan burst into tears and then all four were laughing and crying until the ceremony began familiarly, "We are gathered here this morning "
Their hearts were still full with the emotion of the ceremony as they sat down to a breakfast that delighted the rest of Carters senses. "Im thinking of becoming a vegetarian, Kay," she leaned into her lover and fed her a piece of sweet bread.
Lazarus laughed, partly at what Carter was saying and partly from the joy of being alive. "Whither thou goest," she replied. Carter eyes were shining. She was absolutely beautiful.
Carter looked at the woman she had just married. She was pretty sure that Lazarus had no idea how beautiful she was but she intended to let her know with every breath she took for the rest of her life.
Despite the pleas of the village women to stay and eat and drink with them, Lazarus, Carter, Dobbs, Joan and Teryn went to the ship and loaded supplies for the rest of the day. They checked and rechecked systems. Carter crawled all over the ship and inspected every rivet for the hundredth time. Dobbs checked them again. By late afternoon, there was nothing left to be done. A sense of sadness crept into the conversation.
Im going to miss you Major," Dobbs told Joan Warren.
"Thank you, Lieutenant." They fell easily back into military roles now that the flight was a reality. "I will miss all of you," Joan replied. "I will especially miss the opportunity to tell the tale of standing for Lazarus at her wedding. Who would believe that?"
"Ill tell them for you," Lazarus smiled at her.
Carter flung her arm around Lazaruss shoulder. "And Ill tell them we all spent our honeymoon working on an Ultharian starbird." They laughed and walked back to the village for the final night.
The next morning most of the village walked them over to the starbird. Teryn spoke quietly with Loryn then hugged everyone several times but remained dry eyed as she clambered aboard the ship. "Ill show her where to stow her gear," Dobbs followed Teryn aboard.
"Goodbye Joan," Lazarus hugged her former adversary.
"I cant tell you how much I appreciate everything youve done for me," Joan said sincerely. "Take care of her, Carter."
"Oh, I will," Carter told her former XO. "You take care of yourself. Are you sure about this?"
"Very sure," Joan watched Loryn as she stood apart from them, allowing Joan her goodbyes.
"Ready?" Lazarus asked Carter.
"As Ill ever be," Carter grinned up at Lazarus. The women turned and walked into the hatch and Joan heard the swoop of the air lock as it sealed them in. The village women all stood back as the engines hummed and came online. The blue glow from the warp core intensified and the starbird lifted from the ground and disappeared into the morning sky.
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