DISCLAIMER: See part one.

By romansilence


Chapter Seven: Negotiations

About three weeks into their mission on Gaia, Janet Fraiser was escorted to the council chamber by a very anxious looking Aria. It had been a quiet day. She had spent it with studying a couple of old medicinal scrolls and she was rather pleased with her progress. Initially she had had some problems with the ancient Greek in which they were written. And for the first time in her life she was thankful to her grandfather insisting on giving her a classical education. She had felt a certain amount of anxiety coming through her link with Samantha only a few minutes ago but it had quickly subsided; so she felt rather relaxed and didn't except any surprises.

Only the day before Gabrielle had told her that she soon would be allowed to witness a council session. The strange mixture of hierarchy and democracy the Amazons' government was based on intrigued her to no end; and she really was looking forward to personally see how it worked. The nervous energy the usually calm and easygoing younger woman put out nonetheless quickly had her worried. On their short way a number of reasons for this atypical behaviour popped up in her mind but outwardly she kept her calm.

To say that the atmosphere in the council chamber was tense would have been an understatement of vast proportions. The small doctor was surprised to see Samantha and even more intrigued when the taller woman immediately came over from her conversation with Xena and the Queen. She visibly was worried, and before she could reach her Janet asked. "It's Cassy, isn't it? She's been hurt? What…"

The blonde's arms closed around her. She felt soft lips on her head and heard the whispered words. "Everything will be all right, my love."

Before she had a chance to further question Samantha, they both were called to the throne. Though there were tables and chairs neatly arranged in the room they remained standing in front of the dais where Gabrielle's simple throne was standing. Xena was in her habitual spot slightly behind the Queen, one hand calmly resting on the smaller woman's shoulders. Janet had gotten to know Gabrielle well enough over the last few weeks to see that there definitively was something wrong, that she also was worried, really worried.

"Attention ladies! I'll make this as short as possible. About a candlemark after midday we received word from our outpost at the moon that a cloaked telt'ac has landed on Earth. We informed Stargate Command and sent a couple of scouts to observe them. They had orders to report back every other candlemark. They missed the last two calls. We only can presume that they are dead or were taken as prisoners."

To Janet's trained ears, the small Queen had to make a real effort to keep her voice calm and steady.

"Ten candledrops ago, General Hammond informed us that Cassandra was missing." Janet couldn't help but gasp at her words. Samantha's arms around her waist kept her reasonably calm. "She was on a hike with a small group of other children and one of the caretakers, a hike they all had done before and wanted to do again on their last day. The group apparently came under some kind of attack that left them all unconscious. When they came to, there was no sign of their aggressors, but there also was no sign of Cassandra. The telt'ac was marked with the sign of Nirrti."

Janet only needed to hear the name of this specific Gao'uld to have all her worst nightmares come alive. Gabrielle's determined voice called her back to reality.

"We all know that Nirrti was responsible for the genocide on Hanka, Cassandra's home world, and also for making the girl into a living and breathing bomb. We also know from the Tok'ra that Nirrti performed genetic tests on the population of Hanka."

This particular information caused Janet and Samantha to questioningly look at each other.

"It was a long time experiment by which she wanted to create the perfect host, a Hok'tar, someone stronger, smarter, faster, and with an almost perfect immune system.

"The Tok'ra also let us know that the System Lords didn't support her efforts. One Gao'uld would potentially become too dangerous to the others should they really succeed in creating the perfect host.

"But Nirrti never was one for playing by the rules. When she killed the inhabitants of Hanka it not only was to try and take us out; she also wanted to protect herself from the retaliation of the System Lords concerning her illegal experiments by burning the bridges, so to speak.

"Baring any hard proof, we are convinced that Nirrti is responsible for Cassandra's abduction. We will meet with SG-1 and SG-3 to get her back unharmed. All they are waiting for is us. Let's go!"

Janet found herself slightly surprised but also very relieved to learn that no one would object to her participation in this rescue mission, though she also was sure that she would have a hard time convincing General Hammond.

Only a quarter candlemark later, the group from Gaia stepped through the Gate and into the Embarkation room. The group consisted of Samantha and Janet, Xena and Gabrielle, Niva and six of her best warriors. They also had a lot of equipment with them.

For once, Colonel O'Neill showed some sensitivity by by-passing the others and immediately taking Janet in a big hug. "We'll get her back, Janet, that's a promise."

"Cassandra is one of us, Janet Fraiser, and we never leave our own behind." Teal'c confirmed Jack's words in his usual confident and straight-to-the-core-of-things manner.

"General Hammond, gentlemen, I think we have work to do."

"Yes, Consort Xena, we do. The helicopter is ready and waiting. The EM-impulse generator you requested already has been loaded. We're ready to go." The bald man answered. Like all the others he was dressed in a camouflage uniform, complete with weapons and radio. If nothing else this unusual behaviour would have told Samantha more than enough about the seriousness of the situation.

They immediately were ushered to the elevators and boarded a helicopter, completely equipped with a small medical facility and an impressive range of firepower. On their half-hour flight, they were informed that SG-7, sent as reinforcement earlier this day, had just reported back. They had found the body of one of the scouts, as well as clear evidence of a fight. The telt'ac was under observation from afar. Unfortunately, they had not been able to have a closer look at the ship or its crew due to some kind of force field they hadn't been able to penetrate.

While still in the air, Niva distributed small devices looking like very small PDAs to every member of the task force. The weapons' master explained. "We call them FFPs, force field penetrators. Emitting randomly changing EM-impulses they are able to let us pass through every Gao'uld created force field – and before you ask, Sam, no, they can't be used or modified to break the shields of a hatac or even a death glider. They're based on different technical principles. As long as the spaceships are on the ground they are vulnerable; and with the FFPs we'll use it to our advantage."

"As soon as we land, Sam and I will take point, followed closely by Colonel O'Neill, Master Teal'c, Daniel Jackson, and four of our warriors. Niva and the other fighters will take charge of the EM-generator. SG-7 and SG-3 will be our backup, together with Queen Gabrielle, Janet Fraiser, Daniel Jackson, and General Hammond. – I know that's not the way you're used to do things. I know you're used to be in charge, Colonel…"

"Stop it, Consort Xena, I understand. This is the perfect opportunity to prove to our government what the Amazons are capable of doing for us. We are just along for the ride – and for the first time I feel all right with doing so. I'm looking forward to see you kicking butt." Jack answered with a crooked smile.

"You probably will have to do more than just looking, Colonel," Xena said with a smile of her own. "Nirrti may be a typical Gao'uld, arrogant, overbearing, a pain in the butt, but she's not stupid. She knows that the force field will keep the Tau'ri out – at least for a while. But there still are at least three Jaffa patrols circling the ground. She also will have taken some precautions to take off as soon as she has what she came to get. That's what the EM-generator is for. It will not disable her engines but will make it impossible for them to take off. When we pass through the force field, their sensors will read it as an energy fluctuation. We have to be prepared for an attack."

Everything worked as planned: They all stepped through the force field and took out the patrol sent to investigate the power fluctuations. Niva and two other warriors set up the Em-generator while the others were getting ready to enter the telt'ac. Immediately after crossing the threshold two Jaffa patrols attacked and were effectively taken down. When they rounded the next corner, however, they suddenly faced two of Anubis' super soldiers. Xena and Samantha emptied the magazines of their Carter specials. O'Neill and Teal'c quickly took over but the warriors still seemed unharmed and unimpressed.

While the men were continuing their ineffective assault, the two women simultaneously reached into a pouch at their belts and dug out a Gao'uld ribbon device. Samantha aimed for the left, Xena for the right one of Anubis' soldiers; they flew through the air, propelled backwards by the bright light coming from the women's hands. They impacted the wall and stayed there, unmoving. Two of the Amazons stayed behind to guard the super soldiers, modified zats at the ready. The others continued on, towards the operations deck and the cargo bay.

The bridge was guarded by another two of Anubis' Super Soldiers but they quickly succumbed to the same fate as their friends. The last two of the Amazon warriors were left behind to guard them while the rest of the team entered the hangar bay. From the preliminary scans the moon station made they already knew that the ring device usually located there had been deactivated. The large room obviously was needed for something else.

Janet didn't dare to think what this could be and she desperately tried to keep her emotions in check; but just before Xena pushed the buttons to open the door she felt a wave of encouragement washing over her, coming directly from her link with the blonde Major. At the time she didn't know if it had been deliberate or not but nonetheless she relished the feeling. She closed her eyes to firmly store it in her memories -- but suddenly was yanked out of it by the distinctive sound of energy weapons bursting all around her.

Without giving it any conscious thought she took a defensive stance; getting up the staff she initially had found superfluous, and thus warding off a lethal hit coming from the right, aiming for her throat. Yes, she blocked them but Gabrielle knocked the two Jaffa warriors out with a few well-placed hits and sweeps.

Janet had been so intent on the things happening around her that she missed the few heartbeats it took Xena and the others to enter the next room. When she once again focused her attention forwards it took all her willpower not to freeze on the spot. -- She saw a couple of Jaffa lying on the ground, unconscious or dead. The remains of what only could have been another one of Anubis' super soldiers were lying in a far corner, torn to shreds by more than just a single blast of the ribbon device.

There was a medical examination table in the middle of the room and a whole load of other equipment similar to the things they had found on Hanka, all those seasons ago. At the time they hadn't been able to make heads or tails of it. Now Janet at least had an idea what they were designed to do and how to use most of them. The weapons of her companions were trained at a strange woman stretching a hand device in front of her as if for protection and pressing a knife to Cassandra's throat with the other hand.

"Let the girl go, Nirrti, and you have my word that we'll let you survive." Xena said calmly.

The Gao'uld answered with a sneer, the knife breaking the girl's skin slightly. A single drop of blood was slowly rolling down her pale skin. "Shut up, shol'va ka'taka. I will make no deal with the likes of you."

"Let my daughter go!" Samantha growled, the centre stone of her hand device already glowing.

"One day you will make a good host, Ta..." Teal'c who had used the distraction created by Xena and Samantha to sneak up behind her suddenly jerked the hand holding the knife away from Cassandra. The teen instinctively dropped to the floor and began to crawl towards the others.

Janet's sigh of relief was cut short by Nirrti next movement. She dropped the knife, turned her arm in Teal'c's grasp, and threw him over her shoulder as if the six foot five giant was nothing more than a rag doll. She trained the hand device on the escaping girl but before it could hit her in the back, the Gao'uld was bowled over by a certain blonde Air Force major. For a few seconds they rolled on the ground and then suddenly disappeared.

"Niva, SG-teams, battle stations! Nirrti and Major Carter are somewhere out there. If you see them, let us know but don't interfere. Neither Carter nor the host are to be harmed. Don't interfere." Xena's voice rang through the communication units with a certain sense of urgency. She then searched Gabrielle's eyes, the Queen answered with a nod, and the tall raven haired warrior left the room at a run, Teal'c and O'Neill hard on her heels.

The small doctor was kneeling next to Cassandra on the ground, holding her tight, and murmuring gentle, reassuring words to the frightened teen. The others left the laboratory and returned to the bridge where the two Amazon guards left behind were still training their weapons on the dead super soldiers. It was only then that Gabrielle began taking charge.

"Mari, help Doctor Fraiser with Cassandra. Torana, check the computer to find our missing scouts. Jora, come in, status report!"

"Yes, your majesty!" came over the small communicator the blonde was wearing at her left shoulder. "Nirrti's Jaffa resisted our attempts to restrain them and had to be killed. From the men in the hallway four are dead, three more are bound and sedated."

"Got them!" the woman called Torana muttered.

"Stand by, Jora. -- Where?"

"Cargo bay. It has been converted into a holding cell. You'll have to open the door by force – and better hurry, their life signs are anything but stable. They need medical attention."

"We're on our way. Permission to beam up, your majesty?"

There was the shadow of a smile crossing Gabrielle's face when she answered. "You spend entirely too much time watching science fiction shows, Jora. The force field around the tel'tac has been enforced by the EM-generator. We have to wait 'til Xena has taken care of the Gao'uld before we can use the transporter. We can't risk her getting away. I'll send Mari over."

"Is there anything I can do, Gabrielle?" Janet asked, her voice, despite all of her efforts, clearly betraying her anxiety about the sudden disappearance of her lover and instinctively knowing that there was nothing she could be doing.

However, military training had left its mark on her. She simply couldn't let anyone know how much she cared, so she tried to concentrate on the one person she was allowed to show emotions about, her adoptive daughter. Knowing this was one thing, to keep from acting on it quite another.

"Janet how is your daughter?" General Hammond asked, thus cutting short her slightly romantic notion of going in the field and keep her lover out of trouble.

Janet brought herself back under control with an effort. "It seems as if Nirrti only took a few blood samples and had her do some IQ and physical tests."

Seeing how comfortable her mother was with the blonde stranger and further calmed by General Hammond's silent presence, Cassandra answered. "You guys sure came at the right time. When we heard you they were just prepping for some sort of surgery or something. Where's Sam?"

"What do you think, Cassandra?" Hammond answered in an attempt to diffuse the tension. "Dealing with the bad boy, sorry, girl. She will be all right. – I'll stay with your daughter Doctor, you go and help the prisoners."

Janet hugged the teenager and jogged after the Queen towards the cargo bay where they quickly stabilised the wounded scouts. Shortly after a message came through the radio. "Your majesty, please come in."

"Yes, weapons' master?"

"The Consort has the Gao'uld restrained but Major Carter needs medical attention, ASAP." This was all they needed to hear to get them running once again. "EM-generator deactivated. You're clear to get the others back, Jora."

Samantha Carter slowly opened her eyes, blinking a few times to better adapt to the bright light. She found herself in a very familiar environment: the infirmary at the SGC. She had been confined there so often that she could make a copy of every crook and cranny in the ceiling above her from memory alone. She could feel that she was not alone, and she also was sure whom she would find when she turned her head. Janet always was there when a member of SG-1 was hurt, even if it was the Colonel; and even if this hadn't been the case, she still would know who was waiting for her without the shadow of a doubt.

"Hey, sleepy-head. How'd you feel?"

"What happened?" Samantha asked with a hoarse voice.

"Here, take a few chips of ice."

The blonde let the ice melt in her mouth but when she tried to swallow it felt like liquid fire, not cool water. "Hurts."

"I know, baby. You took quite a beating before Xena took over. Just don't try to move, and everything will be all right in a couple of days. I'll give you something to relax your muscles. It will ease the pain. -- No, don't protest. I promise: it won't disorient you."

Samantha closed her eyes in acceptance; something cold touched her throat. There was a faint sound reminding her of an airlock closing, and only a few moments later, her muscles relaxed and she felt much lighter.

"I want to make sure that there are no nasty side effects from the beating. Just tell me what you remember; start with when you attacked Nirrti, okay?"

The small doctor already had a pretty good idea of what had happened. Sam's injuries had told her enough, more than she wanted to know but she also knew that her proud lover had to talk about it in order to forgive herself what in her eyes must have been a shaming defeat.

"It happened so fast; I attacked her and less than a heartbeat later we were outside bouncing off the force field as if it were some kind of rubber. She attacked me with the ribbon device before I could get back to my feet but I somehow was able to ward her off with my own. I saw the back entrance of the tel'tac and realised that we must be at the opposite side of the EM-generator. Somehow I got back on my feet prepared to keep her concentrated on my ribbon device as long as possible – but she changed tactics. She deactivated it, rolled out of the way of my beam; and suddenly she was right on top of me."

Samantha closed her eyes in remembrance. "The mesh of her ribbon device impacted with my stomach, time and again; her other hand closed around my throat. Both of my arms were trapped under my own body; I couldn't move. I tried to get her off of me, I bucked and wriggled but nothing worked. She kept on beating on my stomach and chest.

"My supply of air was getting short. It felt as if there was no air left in my lungs. Somehow, I finally managed to get my feet up and thus lift my upper body up, at least enough to get an arm free. I concentrated the rest of my energy on the ribbon device and she lost her hold on me.

"I'm not really sure what happened then. I know I somehow got back on my feet. She was about three meters away, and I knew that the sensible thing would be to use the ribbon device. But somehow it didn't feel right.

"Nirrti attacked and suddenly it felt as if I were trying to fend off Master Niva. She had a counter move to every counter move I came up with. I don't know how long it took. Out of nowhere a roundhouse kick caught me on the chest, and I was thrown backwards several feet. I tried to crab crawl away; of course I wasn't near fast enough. She jumped on top of me; the hand with the ribbon device held high, ready to strike. I don't know why she didn't use the damn thing. Instead she thrust two of her fingers on either side of my neck and I no longer was able to move my arms. I was helpless."

She felt her right hand cradled between Janet's smaller ones and reopened her eyes.

"She once again began to use me as a punching bag, all the while screaming at me. I couldn't make out most of it. It had something to do with having been betrayed, and that she had the right to avenge the wrongs she suffered because of us. She also said that I should feel the pain she felt while being tortured by Cronos, and that it was my fault.

"Then I heard Xena's voice. She said: 'You deserve all the suffering and more, you stupid snakehead. Come on, let's play, like true warriors. Or don't you have the spine to face me? Oh, I forgot, you simplistic snakeheads don't have a spine. That's what you need a host for. Don't you? Spineless bastard!' Her words did the trick. Nirrti let go of me. I expected to hear the crackling of the ribbon devices but nothing happened.

"Teal'c helped me to sit up and I saw Xena and Nirrti standing about a body length away from each other. Xena smiled but it was a cold smile, almost feral, her eyes were cold too and locked on Nirrti while she slowly stripped off the hand device, quickly followed by her combat jacket. Nirrti attacked as soon as the jacket hit the ground. She threw a series of kicks and punches. None of them hit their intended target. I never would have thought Nirrti capable of such moves. It was like a dance, a lethal dance. She was really, really good but not good enough.

"Xena hit her only twice and each time it took her breath away but she didn't press her advantage and she used only half of the openings the enraged Gao'uld was leaving. It was as if….

"Yes," Samantha spoke almost to herself, "Xena wanted to spare the host as much as possible. I understand: Nirrti's new host, she's an Amazon, an Amazon warrior. That's why none of them interfered. That's why I got my ass kicked. I guess I still have a lot to learn."

The blonde was somehow reluctant to dwell on her undeniable defeat any longer. Recounting the Gao'uld's defeat was much more fun.

"Nirrti didn't stand a chance against Xena, and when this finally sank in she once again resorted to the ribbon device. She missed, not only once or twice but six times. By then Xena was close enough to grip her hand. She jabbed two of her fingers in the side of her neck and her body crumpled to the ground like a scarecrow without its stick. That's when I lost consciousness. Do you think they can save the host?"

"Depends on how the negotiations go, Sammy. The Amazons want the host back at all costs, a few branches of special forces, NID, and a couple of the joint chiefs want to keep her blended to gain information from the symbiote. At the moment, Queen Gabrielle and Consort Xena are in a conference with the President, General Hammond, Senator Kinsey, Colonel O'Neill and a few others to discuss the situation."

"The Colonel and Kinsey? Together? In one room? That doesn't bode well." The blonde answered.

"When the NID insisted on Kinsey taking part, the Consort roped Colonel O'Neill in attending too. If you think about it," Janet continued, "it's diabolically sneaky. To the Senator the leader of SG-1 is more dangerous than devil himself. His presence alone will keep Kinsey unbalanced, off-key."

"So, in the end, he will approve of everything and even think that he gained a lot for his cause, but end up doing what the Queen wanted them to do right from the beginning."

"You saw the Queen interact with her people, Sam." The small doctor answered. "Do you really think any one of them stands a chance? I don't. However, I think there may have been another motivation behind the Consort's request."

"So she wouldn't have to suffer alone through a diplomatic function?" Samantha ventured with a smile, remembering the suffering sigh the Consort didn't bother to suppress whenever she was forced to attend a council session. "Is Cassy all right? What time is it? What happened when I lost consciousness?"

"You were asleep for almost 10 hours. Don't ask me how it works but they transported us back to the base in the blink of an eye. – Cassandra is fine. I ran a thorough check-up. It's just as you thought, Nirrti tested her mental and physical abilities but luckily she didn't have enough time to do her any real harm.

"Xena told her about the tree walking; and she can't wait for you to show her how to do it. She insisted on staying at the base until you're discharged. She will spend the remainder of her holidays with us at Gaia. I already have the General's permission; then you can teach her."

"Sorry to disappoint her. The way I feel it will be at least a week before I'm back on my feet again. Everything hurts. I don't want to whine, but I never thought a few bruises could hurt this much."

"It was more than just a few bruises, Sam. She broke five of your ribs; your kidneys were slightly damaged. You had a broken ankle and more bruises than I could count. Usually you would have been out for at least three weeks and on light duty for at least another three. Xena healed the worst of your injuries with a healing device. You'll be back to par by tomorrow morning."

Initially, Janet had been frantic when she learned the extent of her beloved's injuries. If not for Xena she could have died out there. She had been so angry at her lover for once again rushing headlong into danger, it had taken her almost the whole ten hours the blonde had been asleep to calm down and accept that Samantha had only acted in character and out of concern for Cassandra.

"I know you hurt, baby, but there's nothing I can do. The shot I gave you is a muscle relaxant; I can't give you anything else. Using the ribbon device has considerably elevated the concentration of naqada in your blood. It neutralises classical painkillers. No, don't look so worried. It's only temporary. The naqada level will go back to usual in a few days time. Xena assures me that it's perfectly normal. Now, try to rest and get some sleep."

"Janet, the host, who is she?" Samantha asked while stifling a yawn.

The brunette doctor smiled, and knowing that her lover wouldn't be satisfied with less than the whole truth, regardless of how tired she was, she answered. "Her name is Larina. She's the Captain of the Royal Guard – and the bondmate of the weapons' master."

"They're married?"

"They're joined; it's the Amazons' equivalent. Larina is the captain of the Royal Guard; that's why you didn't stand a chance against her."

"What happened? How did Nirrti take her?" Samantha wanted to know.

"About five moons ago, she accompanied the Queen and the Consort on their annual tour of the other Amazon planets. They were out hunting when she got separated from the others. She found Nirrti's body; there was so much blood, she was sure the Gao'uld was dead. She was wrong and she is still paying the price for her mistake. Nirrti and Larina are locked up in one of the holding cells -- under sedation. Queen Gabrielle told me that they have a method of separating the host and the symbiote, even against the symbiote's will, just like the Tok'ra did with Clorel and Skaara."

"Then I don't understand what there should be to talk about in the first place. Larina has to be freed from Nirrti."

"I have no doubt that she will be. Now close your eyes. Your body will heal faster when you sleep. I'll help you. Listen to my voice…" The small doctor closed her own eyes and concentrated on the light in her mind's eye that was Samantha's soul, making her feel safe and cherished above everyone else. She even managed to take away some of her lover's pain.

When Samantha woke up, she felt worlds better and she was alone – though she was rather surprised not to find her lover next to her. Janet always had been there for her. She slowly sat up and took a deep breath; she let her legs dangle down the side.

The pain that had held her captive only a few hours ago was almost gone. She tested her ability to stand and took a couple of experimental steps. Pleased with her progress she made it to the door and opened it to the familiar confines of SGC corridors where she found herself face to face with a very serious looking, older Amazon warrior, she vaguely remembered from the day prior, wearing the colours of the Royal Guard instead of the usual SF.

"Please go back to bed, Major Carter. You need to rest."

"Where's Doctor Fraiser? She never leaves me alone in the infirmary."

"Queen Gabrielle asked her to accompany her to Washington together with your President. Please go back to bed. I have strict orders to insure that you get lots of rest."

"Your orders mean nothing to me; you're in my world and you're outside of my chain of command." Samantha answered with irritation evident in her voice.

"My orders come directly from the Consort and Major Janet Fraiser, your chief medical officer. I'm honour bound to obey my commanding officer."

After a moment's deliberation the Major nodded and closed her eyes for the fraction of a heartbeat. "What's your name?"

"Ilianna, second in command of the Royal Guard."

"I apologise Ilianna. It wasn't my intention to insult you. I shouldn't have questioned your orders. You're right; Doctor Fraiser is my superior in all things medical. I'll go back to bed, but I'm not tired anymore. -- Could we just talk for a while?"

"It would be my pleasure, Major Carter."

"Please call me Sam."

"Sam, it is. -- The Consort was full of pride when telling us how you stood up to the Captain, to Nirrti."

"Stood up? I took the most thorough beating of my life. Are you kidding?"

"The Gene… ," the warrior answered while Samantha got back into bed. "The Consort said that it took her almost a quarter of a candlemark to get to you. She also said your training is far from being finished. The host Nirrti has taken is one of the best fighters the Consort ever has trained. It's an honour to serve under her command. I'm looking forward to her being reinstated. Ever since she was a junior, I didn't last longer than five candledrops when we were sparring. And I doubt anyone on this planet could beat her. On Gaia I only know of three fighters that can. Believe me, it's a major accomplishment to hold her off for as long as you did, Sam."

"I was just lucky, Ilianna."

"The Consort said you'd say something like that. – Is it really true that she evaded six shots with the ribbon device before taking Nirrti down? I was inside of the ship. I really would have loved to have seen that."

Samantha offered her a small smile. "Yes, it's true. Xe… the Consort was amazing. Her movements… she was so fast; I've never seen someone fight like that. It was deadly but also so beautiful. It was poetry in motion; I've never seen something like this. I know she had a lot of time to perfect her fighting skills but still … It was astonishing; no, astonishing is too weak a word to describe it. I doubt there are words adequate to make it real."

"Did you ever see her exercise or fight with a sword?" Samantha shock her head in the negative. "Now, that's a sight to behold. Perhaps you'll get a chance to see her spar with Larina soon."

"Larina, yes. How did the negotiations go?"

"The negotiations? Oh, yes, the talks with your leader and a few other males. I was one of the guards in the room. It's always a pleasure to observe our Queen at work. She even charmed this cold-eyed grey-head into submission."


"Yes, that's how he introduced himself. He's such a… I don't mean any disrespect but he's an asshole."

"To put it mildly. First, he made it his life's mission to destroy the Stargate program, to shut it down. Now, he aims to control it, to use it; not to defend Earth against the Gao'uld but to control Earth, to control American politics. Most of the time he's just a nuisance but sometimes he can get outright dangerous.

"How did it go? What did they agree upon?"

"I don't know for sure, Sam, not the overall plan. As I said, I was one of the guards during the initial talks. After the break I was reassigned to guard your rest. Queen Gabrielle and her Consort are on their way to your capital, together with your lea…, your president. They will have to talk about a lot of things; I presume. On the other hand, your president agreed that we'd be the ones responsible for the Gao'uld and the host." The Amazon answered.

"This couldn't have gone down well with the NID and Kinsey. They'd do everything to get their hands on one of those snakeheads, believing they somehow could control it." Samantha said with a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

"Well, they were arguing a lot – though arguing isn't the term appropriate: This Kinsey guy was spouting insults, and only the Queen's hand on her shoulder kept the Consort from losing her patience, but you could easily see that it was by a hair's breadth. This man is so utterly self-centred; I never saw someone like him. Even the Queen began to get impatient, but then your president simply overruled him. He was blustering and then gaping open-mouthed like a fish on dry land; especially when the president told him that there were quite a few other suitable candidates for his position. He didn't say word one after that, and so they quickly decided that it would be up to us to deal with the Gao'uld and the host."

"Where are they now? What will happen to Larina?" Samantha wanted to know. "What will become of Nirrti?"

"She's still in your holding cell, sedated. As soon as we return home, she will be dealt with."

"Dealt with?" The blonde woman obviously didn't like the choice of words. "What do you intend to do with her?"

"The host will be restored and the Goa'uld will never again harm anyone. It never was done in my lifetime, but I heard that there are ways to neutralise a Gao'uld."

"I understand." Silence descended in the room. "I know it sounds childish but would you please tell me a story, about Queen Gabrielle and Consort Xena?"

"It isn't childish, Sam. I'm not very good at story telling, not gifted like our Queen and a few others but stories are an important part of our history and identity. Let me think about it for a moment.

"About every other moon Queen Gabrielle and Consort Xena leave Gaia to explore one of the worlds our deep space telemetry has come up with. Most of the time they can rely on the Ring system. One and a half year ago we got intel about an inhabited planet in the next solar system that had been hidden from our monitoring systems until then due to some sort of nebula.

"It's very small with only a few thousand inhabitants, no energy readings to speak of, but with what looked like very interesting geo-thermic readings. There were no permanent settlings, just nomadic tribes, nothing special. The Queen wanted to have a closer look and we took a ship to explore. It was a purely scientific endeavour.

"The monitoring didn't prove challenging enough for the Consort, and I believe, even the Queen was beginning to get bored because the irregularities the long range sensors had shown proved not to be irregular at all. The planet had a lot of big thick forests with lots of deer and other wild animals in it. So, it was decided to end this trip with a hunting expedition.

"The Queen doesn't particularly like hunting, though she knows how. She opted to stay at a small creek with a couple of guards. I think she wanted to work on her scrolls. The rest of us split in two groups. One group followed deer tracks; the second group went after the tracks of what resembled a very large boar. We were gaining considerably on the animal when the Consort suddenly signalled us to stop. She cocked her head as if listening to something, jumped to the treetops, and took off. We followed suit and soon also heard what had made her react this way: the voices of men, shouting and leering, the sound of whips hitting flesh, and the crying and begging of a woman as a faint echo in between.

"The Consort's lead was growing with every step and even before we finally arrived at the edge of the forest it was eerily silent, even the crying had subsided. We saw ten men lying unconscious on the ground, sticks and whips hazardously strewn around them. In the middle were two women. One of them, the older one, was prone on the ground, the younger woman was on her knees to her right, shielding the elder with her body as best as she could. Without being told to we bound the men and set a perimeter watch.

"The Consort was on her knees next to the women and checked on the older one first. I'm not a medic but even I could see that her left arm was broken and that she was in an overall bad physical shape. She was rail thin, as if she hadn't properly eaten in moons, her ribs were prominent under the threadbare dress. The Consort was carefully checking her neck while the younger woman simply looked on, wide-eyed and very obviously frightened.

"The Consort took her medical kit out of her backpack and gave her something to ease the pain. She then radioed the Queen and ordered a bunch of medical supplies sent down from the ship. She immobilised the older woman's neck with a brace and quickly set her arm; luckily there was no internal bleeding. Only then she turned her attention to the young woman."

Xena asked her if she were all right but didn't get an answer. Instead she said. "You came out of the forest like a demon and yet you cared for my grandmother like an angel. What are you?"

"I'm a woman; I come from very far away," the Consort answered. "Let me have a look at your back. You took quiet a beating protecting your grandmother."

The young woman whispered. "I've had worse." And she obviously had. Her whole back was covered with scars and they also didn't stop at the back.

The Consort began to gently clean the most recent wounds and to regenerate the skin while asking. "Can you tell me what happened? Why did these men want to kill you? No crime in the world warrants such ill-treatment."

The young woman slightly turned around to look at the Consort. "You really must come from very far away. My grandmother has reached 'the age', but I didn't want her to die. I gave her what I could of my food but my mother found out about it and told the men. They wanted to stone her. My sister warned me in time and we ran away. They quickly caught up with us and then you were there."

One of the guards then asked. "She doesn't look older than 60 summers, that's not that old."

The older woman opened her eyes. "51 season cycles I've seen. Are you a dream, raven head, or one of the guardians of the afterworld?" She asked the Consort.

"No, venerable elder, I'm not a dream, and you are well and truly alive, as is your granddaughter. You both are safe with us. My name is Xena."

"I see the wisdom of age in your eyes and yet your body still can give birth to strong sons."

"Strong daughters, venerable elder. Where we come from, there are no men." Xena answered softly.

"So, the stories we no longer are allowed to tell are the truth. You live without men and share your beds with women. You are free to do whatever you want without fear of punishment?"

"Not entirely; we have laws we have to obey. Every society needs laws and customs to stay stable, but every one of us has the freedom to choose. If one wants to one can leave," the Consort answered.

The younger woman gasped. "You're the oiorpata. You exist, the men slayers."

"Some men called us thus, but we only kill when given no other choice." Gabrielle said while leaving the cover of the forest.

Xena turned around, shifted on her knees, and bent her head. "My Queen!"

"I thought we agreed that we wouldn't interfere in the internal affairs of this planet, Xena!"

"I'm well aware of my transgression, my Queen, and I take full responsibility. I couldn't let them be killed by the misogynistic bastards," she answered, turning her head towards the still unconscious men.

"So, you acted within your right, my Consort. Saving the lives of the oppressed is our prime directive. Can they be transported?"

"I don't see any problems with… I'm sorry … I didn't even ask your name?"

"Aria, and this is Ariana. Are you really a Queen? The leader of your people? You're so young – and you're a woman. Women are not capable of ruling."

"That's what we were taught, my child," Ariana said, "but I'm beginning to doubt the truth of the teachings. We also were taught that no single woman would stand a chance against even the weakest of men in a fight, and yet I saw one woman taking out ten of our fighters in less time than it takes to take a deep breath."

She paused and asked. "Am I right that there's something wrong with my back?"

"Yes, Ariana. The bones in your neck are broken, that's why it would be very dangerous to move you now. But you don't have to worry, there's a way to repair the damage. Your other injuries will take longer to heal because you're extremely under-nourished. The only question you both will now have to answer is what you intend to do. You can come with us to our home planet or you can take your chances and stay here."

"It won't be worth your effort to heal me if we stay, if I decide to stay here. That's what you wanted to say, isn't it?"

"No, there's no condition on my help, on our help. It's totally up to you. However, we learned from past experiences that men as afraid of women as your men are tend to strike back as soon as we turn our back on their society."

"Men never are afraid!" Aria chimed in.

Xena was about to answer when the Queen interfered. "I know it's a lot to take in right now, Aria. It can't be explained in a few candlemarks' time. For the time being you'll just have to trust us.

"We intend to change the way women on this planet are treated but that's a long and arduous process. We learned that it's impossible to change any given society in one shot and from the outside. We can offer a choice to the people in your tribe and the whole planet. It will take time and especially in the beginning there always is a lot of resistance.

"Male dominated tribal societies like yours tend to take their anger and frustration out on whoever first made contact with us. So, it would be better for you if you didn't have any contact with your people, at least for the immediate future."

"I'm not sure, I understand half of what you just said, your majesty," Ariana answered. "It's not important what happens to me but I want my granddaughter to have a chance at a different life."

"Is this what you also want, Aria?" The Queen asked.

"Yes, it is. I never felt like I belonged but I have to return at least once. I have to offer the same chance to my sister. She risked a lot by warning me."

"I understand, Aria, and we will find a way. Ilianna, concentrate the perimeter watch towards the plain. I want everyone armed with stun weapons, just in case. Erect a force field around our prisoners; I don't want to be bothered by them tonight. Xena, I presume you'll use the HD to take care of Ariana's neck?" Gabrielle asked.

"Yes, my Queen. With your permission, I'd like to go back to the ship to prepare." As an answer the small blonde kissed Xena on the forehead.

The Amazon guard fell silent, convinced that her public had fallen asleep. "I'm glad, you guys saved Aria." Samantha suddenly said. "What happened to her sister, her grandmother, the other women of her tribe?"

"You're awake?"

"Yeah, just rested my eyes. So?"

"Ariana is living on Gaia, she works at daycare. Only two moons ago she joined with one of our head cooks. Aria's sister refused the offer to leave her world. She's married to the young Chieftain of another tribe, a tribe that is less misogynistic than her own. We also sent mediators from one of our other plan…"

This time Samantha really had fallen asleep. The Amazon tucked a light blanket around her and whispered. "Pleasant dreams, Princess."

Part 8

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