This is SciFi/Uber-Xena, adult lesbian fiction.  If you are under 21 years old do not read further.


MY PROTECTOR
by
J.C. Wilder

jcwilder@hotmail.com

Part 2

Giving herself over to total fascination, she stood in the doorway to her imperial chambers and watched. She was unused to the way she felt when her slave was near, enlivened and peculiarly weak at the same time. Breathless. 

Major Ramsey was tall and exotic. This afternoon she wore only the black collar and a white loincloth. The word 'glorious' took soundless form on the lips of Empress Sarika, who was rapidly coming of age at an unfortunate time. Responsibilities seemed endless to her after her mother's death.  The Rebellion of renegade Menials threatened to bring chaos to the empire and even though her obligation to end the conflict required her full attention, the sovereign's mind was more occupied with her new slave than her duties.

Ramsey's sable-black hair flowed around her firm breasts and wide shoulders while she exercised, sticking here and there to wet skin. Her strength revealed itself everywhere the empress looked, from athletic calves and thighs to her smoothly defined buttocks, and graceful back. The veins at the junction of Ramsey's biceps and forearms were prominent, adding a slight blue-tinged perfection. And in her clear blue eyes a contradiction of peril and peace existed. Sarika felt an affinity more profound than what she experienced with The Source. It was an unrivaled passion. And once awakened, now she could not imagine living without.

She remembered the kiss they shared that morning. A pulse had beat wildly against her lips when she touched the warmth of that splendid neck. Those moments had seared themselves into her memory, haunting her the rest of the day and distracting her at inappropriate times. So much so, that the morning cleansing ritual with her priestesses had been nearly impossible to complete. As a princess she had meditated and prayed throughout her life, learning the  discipline that was necessary, enhancing her natural ability to complete her destined role, and now that she was empress….

But it was wonderful. Ramsey must care something for her. Why else would she cover her body with her own when she thought there was a threatening presence in the garden. In a shared vision before her death, her mother had called Major Ramsey "the dark one." She said Ramsey would be Sarika's counselor and lead her to The Protector. 'No,' Sarika now reasoned, 'a Menial doesn't counsel a Ruler. Ramsey was destined to play a much different role.' A single thought burned within her. She could make Ramsey love her.

The Major paused and narrowed her eyes. She was unaware that the empress watched her, but felt a burgeoning consciousness of her own body. Not being especially vain, it added to her disquiet. She concentrated on her makeshift punching bag, pleased that the white string, woven into shreds of brown cloth remained stitched to the leather-covered strong box. Although dented by the pounding it was receiving, the box still bore a remarkable resemblance to Elder Tai-Po.

Charged with vigor, her lean body responded and she attacked the box once more, reigning one heavy blow after another on the carefully drawn sinister face. She lunged and parried from alternating angles, a skilled dancer in the art of combat.

Anxiety had been building inside her since waking up in the palace infirmary a week ago and the forceful activity helped her deal with it. Her ship had crashed, her crew was dead and nine hundred and thirty-five years had passed. She did not know how the hyperspace jump into the future had been accomplished and unfortunately could not repeat it. She was doomed to remain exactly where she was, in a world that chose to enslave her.

On top of all that, she had to contend with the Holy Empress of Dethra, the dangerous child-woman who dropped her to her knees with torturous pain just by touching her Ruler's bracelet.  The young woman was anything but holy. She obviously wanted a distraction from the pressures of leadership and decided that seducing a slave was the way to have some fun. 

In this world Ramsey had nothing. She needed a purpose beyond survival, although that would do for now. She concentrated on Tai-Po. 'Take him out.' That was her mission and her body responded as it had been trained to do in the familiar, streamlined comfort of the combat zone. She reveled in it until nothing else mattered.

Her slave moved like the warriors of old in Library holograms. And, just as Sarika had been affected the first time she saw the dark woman in her garden, she was gripped by a fierce longing that compelled her to respond. She approached her slave, but then she drew back with a gasp.

"Stop!" the empress ordered. Ramsey's hands were covered with blood. "Stop it!" she demanded again, with stronger authority.

So intent was Ramsey on her target that she did not hear and continued the relentless, rhythmic thrusts that hit her mark with accuracy and power.

Why was she punishing herself? Was that the image of Tai-Po? Sarika stilled an absurd urge to laugh and stood beside her much-abused strong box. This time she spoke softly.

"You have killed him-- you can stop now."

She gave Sarika a dark, smoldering look before her sky blue eyes flashed with recognition. She grunted unintelligibly with the effort it took to stop. Her fists hung in mid-air while her breath came hard and fast. Ramsey had performed brilliantly as a military officer in her former life. Even now she looked ready to conquer. Ready to conquer anything - or anyone. Sarika ran her tongue over her moist lips before lowering her eyes.

"Your hands-- "

" --are fine."

"They aren't.  You're bleeding. Are you trying to scare me-- or just break into my treasure box?" Sarika asked with disapproval. "The things inside are priceless."

Ramsey dropped her bloody hands and looked around the room. "I'm a soldier. It's who I am. This," she drew a circle in the air while explaining to the empress, "is the only space I've had to exercise…"

"Who you are-- is mine," she reacted to the person before her quickly. Hers. Her soldier, and for some reason, much more valuable to her than what was in the strong box. "You were always destined to be mine." Sarika reached out to caress her hot cheek and Ramsey flinched away.

"I have the right-- to touch you. "Sarika reached out again and this time Ramsey allowed the soft hand to rest gently on her face. She let her head be drawn down until she felt the young woman's breath warm against her lips.


"When it comes to my destiny," Ramsey explained in a low, matter-of-fact tone, "freedom is the only thing I consider inevitable, Empress."

Sarika shuddered and let go, hair shimmering as it cascaded down below her shoulders when she raised her chin even higher than before. She stepped back.

"In the future, you will do soldiering things only in the next chamber. I'll supply what you need and you may have the room as your own-- but you will come to me at night.  I'll make no further compromises with you."

Sarika moved away and then turned back.

"It's best that you prepare yourself now. You will be attending my coronation this evening. Elder Tai-Po will be there. Tomorrow you'll begin working with him to restore disrupters. I'll be checking while you work together-- he dare not harm you anymore."

"You are too kind," she smirked. "At least the disrupters won't kill the Menials they are used against...."

"You mean the Rebels."

"I meant slaves, the poor bast--" Ramsey hesitated. "They'll just be blank slates for awhile. Come to think of it, this could be a blessing in disguise. They never had much chance of winning. Needless deaths will be prevented this way."

Sarika let the sarcasm go. She was finding that she could tolerate much from Ramsey. But there was a limit.

"I'm glad you have confidence in the empire. You're under my protection now. But no matter what you may think of Tai-Po, no matter how he treated you when you belonged to him, he is an elder and a Ruler. You will respect his position and his authority over you. That…" Sarika pointed to the mangled replica of Elder Tai-Po, "must never happen again."

Ramsey's face was devoid of emotion. "On the other hand, Rebels probably prefer death over slavery."

"My duty is to keep order," the empress spoke as if she were talking to a child, "so don't speak of death to me. Ever. And I don't intend to use the bracelet, so don't try to bait me by letting arrogance rule your tongue. It is right for me to expect obedience from you and you'll learn to accept your position. Now come-- it's my will that we serve each other equally when we're in these chambers."

The dark woman raised an eyebrow. "Equally?" she asked, while gathering her long damp hair behind her neck with stiffening fingers.

"Yes. I'm going to bathe you and bandage the hands you have abused. Your injuries are not severe enough to ask the doctor to use the healer, are they? No broken bones?"

Ramsey shook her head.

"Good. Then tonight, after the ceremony…."

"No." And Ramsey shook her head again to negate the offer, if that is what it was. The boundaries between them would never be equal. Not anywhere, and especially not in these chambers. The empress had always been a ruler over slaves. How could she comprehend someone like her - someone born neither a Ruler nor a Menial?

"I want to look after you." The youthful empress' eyes were unusually round and very serious.

"I've never done such things before. And I can't do it, except in private. And you see-- " suddenly she looked vulnerable, "we're alone, there is no one else here."

"I mean no disrespect Empress, and maybe you've always had people waiting on you, but that's not me. I wouldn't be comfortable having someone-- bathe me."

"But there is something between us that I must explore."

"What, a little bit of lust? How would it look if someone who's still a child - and a Holy Empress no less - kept a…" she said the last with sarcasm, "sex-slave?"

The young woman's face fell. "I'm certainly not a child, nor the first empress to have a primal connection with a slave."  Her chin lifted with determination. "You will be my lover."

"There will never be any love between us."

"I need only our physical joining, but since you desire more, then yes, Laren Ramsey, you will feel love for me."

She knew that Ramsey liked her touch. She liked it very much. And she felt protective of her as well. It would be so easy to share a primal connection.

"Love can't be coerced.  And I don't desire anything from you."

"But you do, Ramsey," she was getting to know the woman before her. "I won't need to use force with you," Sarika realized it was true even as she said it. "And strong as you are, as unforgivably stubborn as you're being now, you can't stop what is happening. Your first thought was for my safety this morning in the garden." The empress smiled, not wanting to hide her pleasure.

Ramsey felt a tremor course through her. "What game are you playing?"

"We're both too old for games, Ramsey." The depth in her liquid green eyes was startling. "Don't you think so?" Sarika smiled in response to her slave's changed expression. She had given her something to think about. "There isn't much time before the ceremony but I'll summon Dr. Holis to bring something to sooth your hands." She narrowed her eyes. "And I will get a robe for you."

Soon Cara arrived with medicinal herbal extracts and bandages, inquiring how Ramsey received her injuries. Ramsey was the only one who could see the astonishing conspirational little smile that found its way to Sarika's lips at Cara's question and before she could answer, the empress did.

"Promise not to tell anyone else, doctor?" the empress inquired.

"As you wish, Empress." The doctor, easily flustered in the presence of the empress, was pleased that she had managed not to ramble yet.

Sarika tugged on the heavy, dented strong box and it slid into view from behind her royal settee.

Cara chuckled. "Oh! Strong hands, Ramsey."

The sovereign looked admiringly at her slave. "She's very strong--" her eyes raked up and down, recalling parts of the tall body now hidden "--everywhere. The most beautiful person I've ever seen in my entire life." And the doctor could not miss the sultry delight in Sarika's voice.

The major bore the shameless appraisal with stoic silence.  The empress' entire life up to this point was not all that long, she reminded herself.

'She's undergoing a new awareness of things,' Cara thought, 'things that would cause even me to blush if I were privy to them. It's very close to her ritual-time. But truth now Cara, something about Ramsey makes you blush too, and you have no such justification.'

"Perhaps I should check elder Tai-Po for any psychic side effect," Cara joked to prevent the mounting sexual tension from filling every centimeter in the royal chamber.

Sobering, Sarika selected a tool from her desk and cut the Ruler's likeness away from the box.

"I trust you to dispose of this and say nothing."

Cara stuffed the evidence into her bag. She offered to wait and tend to the patient herself but Sarika assured her it was not necessary.

"Is there anything else I can do?"

"There is. Would you take Ramsey with you tonight?  No Menial is allowed to attend without a Ruler-- "

She asked instead of ordering me. The doctor smiled at Ramsey while answering. "It would be my honor, Empress Sarika--my honor."

"Thank you Cara."

The doctor loved diversions from the daily routine and the coronation tonight would be an affair to remember despite the war going on. Cara was looking forward to it, although her excitement was probably nothing compared to the anticipation the new empress was experiencing. The royal emotions must be soaring.

But this turn of events could cause an uproar among those supporting Tai-Po - those who expected the empress to choose the elder as mate. The proud elder was undoubtedly stung by his lowered status in the Council. But he still held considerable political power. In fact, after the empress herself, Tai-Po was second only to Melborne, the most respected elder in Dethra.

Cara left hoping Major Ramsey was as strong as she looked.

 

_______O_______

Elder Tai-Po was well bred, powerful and everything she could never really have.    Celeste was unable to prevent herself from responding to him and she moaned softly.

"Be silent!" he demanded.

His concentration was broken.  Once again he began the process of visualizing Sarika's body beneath him. He imagined it was the empress' skin that flushed as he caressed soft contours of flesh, instead of the slave's whom he had summoned to his chambers in secret.

Celeste had been ready for some time and although she wondered why the elder did not penetrate her, she dared not ask.

He groaned and held her hands above her head, teasing her with his movements.

"Please--" she moaned.

His hand shot to her throat.

"Quiet!"

The pressure on her throat increased until each breath was a struggle. She pulled at his hand but could not remove the viselike grip until he finally ground out Sarika's name and shuddered. When he rolled away to rest on his back, he breathed as deeply as she did. She waited until her respirations were easy before washing herself in the adjoining bathroom.  

Celeste was uncomfortably aware of the elder's selfishness, but he had the right to think only of his needs. The fact that she wanted him even more because of it was not something she analyzed - just as both of them knew that he took her because she belonged to the empress, and never spoke of it.

She was not jealous. She knew her place in the order of the things. And until the elder became Empress Sarika's mate, she would let him use her body to pretend he already possessed her. She would simply put on her robe as she always did and withdraw from his chambers - returning for his pleasure when he wanted her, however he wanted her.

But as she prepared to leave Tai-Po pulled the robe from her hands and tilted her head up.

"Did I hurt you?"

Celeste averted her face from him. Was he concerned about her? Her heart pounded.

"You excite me so much my little one," he crooned, holding her while waiting for her to speak.

After a long pause she said she only wanted to serve him.

He stroked her hair absently. "You serve me well, but next time you must remember not to spoil the mood."

"I try to remember-- I will." She wanted to remain in his embrace but he sat her on a large chair and began to pace in front of her. "Oh!" she exclaimed, remembering the coronation. "The empress will be calling for me soon."

"We're both interested in her well-being, aren't we." The elder stroked his mottled goatee. "I don't trust Ramsey. She could be a rebel infiltrator. At the very least she’s going to hurt the empress with her strange ways. It’s up to us to secure her safety."

"Us? What can we do?"

"Ah, I knew you would want to help."

"Well-- I have thought the newcomer is trouble because she talks-- like a Rebel. But the empress likes her. In fact, this morning she told us that Ramsey would be staying in her royal suite. They news of their relationship is-- growing. "

"My slaves say they're lovers. Are they?"

"If they are, I think the empress is making a mistake. You're the one she should be turning to."

"Yes.  She should, and she will. You understand the correct order even before the empress. And because you do, I will share a secret with you. Here--" He picked up her robe and held it for her. She slid her arms in and wrapped the brown cloth into place, tying off the belt.

"I never knew my father," he continued while she dressed him in return. Celeste was thrilled with the unprecedented intimacy between them. "He died before I was born. My mother told me that he received a prophetic message about me even before he received word that he was going to have a son."

"He saved the life of a priestess who served Empress Sarika's grandmother. After cleansing a village, the craft that was returning her to the palace crashed. My father found her floating in the ocean off the eastern continent, barely alive. She believed it was a miracle that he found her, and foretold that his son's child would rule Dethra. So you see…" he smiled and showed uneven teeth to the spellbound slave who thought him most handsome, "…I am destined to be the Protector. I have known it all my life it seems.  I want to protect Empress Sarika and the Empire even now." He was perfect.

"What can I do to help?"

"Will you let me know when the empress leaves the palace? I want to make sure Ramsey doesn’t get the chance to kidnap her."

"Kidnap?  Oh, do you really think...."

"I wouldn’t put anything past a Rebel." Tai-Po cupped her chin. "We’re allies now. Call me Chen."

"Chen."

"Yes, but only when we’re alone." His hard eyes narrowed. "Will you notify me as I asked?"

"I will," she rose onto her toes and dared to kiss him on the cheek, "Chen." She had a special place in the order of the world, and she thanked the Ancients.

 

_______O_______

Celeste supervised Sarika's readiness for extraordinary occasions and she arrived promptly after the empress summoned her for the final preparations.

"Behira made the absolute best choice, empress. You're going to be the most beautiful empress to wear the crown."

"We all look pretty much alike," Sarika smiled indulgently.

"But none had a gown like yours. I wonder where Priestess Behira had it made?"

"I didn't ask. It will be covered most of the time, but I agree. It's beautiful."

"Oh yes…the perfect choice for the most important event in a new empress' life. You must be so excited--" Celeste walked into the closet and came back with the green robe, ominously tossing aside her initial determination not to pry into the Empress' relationship with the new slave, but merely report the information the elder asked for. "--but are you sure Ramsey is the best choice among your slaves to serve you in your chambers? She's not familiar with palace affairs. She could cause embarrassment."

"Perhaps." Sarika put out her arms and let Celeste dress her. "No, not perhaps-- probably." Ramsey was the embodiment of an arrogant slave, and she amended her statement a second time. "Definitely. But she is my choice."

Celeste eyed Sarika's attire and moved the royal sash higher up on her shoulder. How Ramsey had gained such a position with the Empress in so short a time could only be explained one way. She was different. She was bold and their young empress was impressed. It frightened Celeste. Order should not be forgotten, especially by the empress.

"Does she know what's required of her?"

Sarika laughed. "Do you, Celeste?"

"You're teasing. It's no secret what an empress needs during-- well, during the stage you're going through."

"Are you saying I've lost my better judgement...."

"Oh no Empress, only that-- well yes, something like that I guess. People are saying that Ramsey is your favorite - and your lover. It's spreading throughout the palace."

"And you're greatly disturbed by this gossip?"

"Yes! Ramsey is not like any slave I've ever seen. She doesn't fit in. She's different. She acts-- she wants to be like a Ruler. Giving her a place here can only bring trouble."

Sarika sat while her slave brushed her hair. "Your concern is misplaced Celeste-- I'm the thirteenth Holy Empress of Dethra after all, with or without the infamous royal hormones." She added the last with a peculiar grimace. "I know Ramsey has a lot to learn about wearing the collar but that's only because it's new to her. I'm educating her. "

"And while you're occupied with Ramsey, what thought are you giving to the Protector?"

Sarika's complexion suffused with a pink glow and Celeste knew she had gone too far.

"Forgive me Empress."

"Have you so little respect?" she asked in a hushed tone before raising her voice. "You are a greater liability to me than you think Ramsey is."

Celeste was afraid and prostrated herself before her Empress. Seeing this, Sarika's quick anger began to subside.

"You forget your position-- but you are forgiven. Rise and never again presume to suggest I am not fulfilling my duty."

"Thank you, Empress." Celeste arose, and when she straightened, her collar shifted, revealing bruises.

"Who hurt you?"

"No one Empress." Her voice was shallow. "I bruised myself."

"On the neck? When anyone harms you, they harm me. Tell me what happened."

"I haven't noticed any marks. "Please," she was close to tears, "may I take my leave?"

With a mix of concern and irritation the empress dismissed Celeste, wondering if all her slaves were going to resist her now.

 

_______O_______

Ramsey sat in her own chamber soaking her hands when Sarika entered from a side door connected to her own. Her light auburn hair was brushed to a shimmering luster and her majestic robe accentuated her high cleavage and small waist. The spirit shining from her eyes caught Ramsey with its unguarded openness.

She sat close and breathed in the delicious warm scent of her slave before taking each cold hand out of the bucket of ice - mostly melted to water. Gently she dried them. "Tell me if I hurt you," she instructed, and her voice had a breathless quality that was strangely soothing. She gingerly applied medicine across the raw knuckles. Ramsey's gaze followed every movement. Finally the young sovereign wrapped clean, flesh-colored cloth around her hands. Ramsey clenched her fists loosely and nodded.

"Not too tight. Good. Thank you…Sarika."

The empress closed her eyes. Here senses were heightened and the rich, approving voice speaking her name lured her forward. She placed light kisses on the bandaged hands. When she looked up the blue eyes burned her with their intensity. Sarika's throat felt dry and her fingers itched to touch the tanned face.

"Thank you for letting me serve you, Major Laren Ramsey." She needed to trace the contour of the smooth cheek and red lips - needed to feel the soft silkiness of dark hair moving against her own skin. 'Love me.' Immoral or not, Sarika could not stop herself from mentally projecting her desire.  She stood forcing Ramsey to look up as her eyes followed.  She ran the back of her hand along the strong jaw, looking steadily into her eyes. She was taming her soldier. 'Forget everything else.' Slowly she drew a finger across well-formed lips and her eyes followed the path. The instant her senses took in the warm velvet skin of the soft lip sliding beneath her finger the young empress stopped breathing. She could have been floating in the air and not noticed or felt any different than she did now, so totally absorbed was she in the unfolding moment. She leaned down, bringing her mouth close to Ramsey's. So very close….

Mindless, Ramsey parted her lips…..

"Major Ramsey, It's Doctor Holis." Cara chose that instant to announce her arrival through the communication panel outside the chamber door.

With an abrupt groan, Sarika moved away.

"Time to go to the auditorium. Ramsey? Are you ready? " Cara waited.

Sarika's voice was raw with frustration and something else that was becoming equally familiar to her.  "I'll be waiting for you in the reception hall following the coronation. Don't forget to come to me. And," she added with a shy smile, "I-- I'm looking forward to tonight."

The two of them existed in a world filled with expectancy and stunned, more by the suddenly demure behavior of the Empress than by the potent jolt of pure sensuality preceding it, Ramsey nodded.  Her black hair moved like silk around her face. Thick black lashes framed her exquisite eyes. She made Sarika's chest ache even after she left the chamber.

 

_______O_______

"I'd like to talk with you Cara. Would you mind if we took the stairs instead of the elevator?"

"No, but when I start wheezing you'll have to put up with me," the gray-haired doctor grinned.

"What’s on your mind, Ramsey?"

"There's no delicate way to put this--"

"No need to be delicate. We're getting older by the second so just say what you have to say and I'll do the same."

"That sounds like something my father would say."

"A wise man."

The tall beauty hesitated so Cara continued. "Look, if this is about the empress, let me assure you that I'll keep whatever you say in confidence. Just don't ask me to help you become a runaway or something. I won't do that. You'd be caught and I'd be executed along with you."

"No, it's nothing like that--"

"So talk then."

"I need some advice."

"I'll do my best to advise you."

"Thanks. The thing is-- the problem is-- the empress is bored."

"Really, you think so?"

"I think it's obvious. And she is-- that is, she has--"

"Yes?"

"Whenever we're alone, she tries to-- uh-- seduce me."

Cara's lips formed a mute 'O' of astonishment. "And she hasn't succeeded?"

"No, but she sort of mesmerizes me and it's-- hey! I'm serious."

"I can see that. I'm sorry Ramsey." Cara suppressed her giggles. "I forgot that there's much about Dethra you don't understand."

"Yeah, and I could really use some help here. Do you know of something - anything - that I can use to distract the empress?"

"To make her forget about sex?" Cara grinned widely.

"Is this really humorous to you?"

"Sorry.  Meant no harm.  But the only thing that will distract the empress is time."

"Time?"

"That's right. A young empress undergoes enormous hormonal changes when she becomes an adult. Her telekinetic center is enlarging and she's growing into the fullness of her power. It's the amazing way their brain works. -- You and I have the same bioactive endocrine functions, but hers are much more-- active. And it seems she has focused a large part of all that activity on you."

"Why me?"

"Why not you?"

"Why not me? Because-- because we disagree about something very basic to our relationship-- the whole thing of slavery-- because I didn't travel a thousand years just to lose my crew and end up a plaything for-- for a sexually-obsessed teenager!"

"Stop there Major!" Cara gripped her arm and in her anger Ramsey pulled her down several stairs before she finally stopped.

"What?" Ramsey glared.

"Think about where we're going. You're talking about someone who is sacred. Not just to me, but to the world. Her power makes her the perfect conduit for The Source. Her ancestors kept the world alive, and so will she. And all that is possible because of a genetic anomaly that each empress passes on to her daughter. The increased sexual drive is an unfortunate side effect that will be dealt with to the best of the priestesses' ability on her eighteenth birthday-- if they still need to, that is. "

"And how soon will that be? Why wouldn't they need to?"

"Twelve days. On the day and hour of her birth, the priestess will conduct the Rite of Womanhood for her. It's all very secret and mystical. Then she will officially be asked to chose a mate, if she hasn't already done so. Her mate automatically becomes the Protector of Dethra, which is why I hope she doesn't pick Elder Tai-Po." Ramsey may as well know all of it since she had an important part to play. Cara resumed her way down the stairs and a startled Ramsey followed, quickly overtaking her.

"Tai-Po? Why would she pick him?"

"Because he's the only single elder. And he wants the position."

"Yeah, I'll bet," Ramsey smirked, disgusted with the whole situation. "Aren't there any others?"

"Nearly a dozen wealthy Rulers have tried to court her, but I'd say Tai-Po has managed to discourage them all. I haven't seen any of them around the palace for weeks." Cara was finding it difficult to catch her breath as they continued down the long stairwell. "Slow down Ramsey, your legs are longer than they have a right to be," she puffed.

"Can't she just refuse?"

"Sure she can refuse, but the consequences would compromise her health."

"You mean she'll get sick if she doesn't lose her virginity? That's awfully dramatic, doctor. Why doesn't she just-- just-- you know…?"

"Her needs can't be satisfied by autoerotic activity."

"Don't tell me.  -- It's against her religion, right?"

"It has nothing to do with issues of morality Ramsey. It's simply that a telepathic kinetic bonding is essential for an empress and that is only possible with a partner."  Cara tried her best to put something that was beyond physical science and rarely discussed into a framework that a military mind like Ramsey's could appreciate. "Nothing short of her partner's physiological crisis, or orgasm  - acting as a trigger, or more like a release valve - can discharge the pressure building against her telekinetic center. Without that release, she would become ill and eventually die. Yes, it is very dramatic. Be thankful you don't have to go through it."

"I think I am going through it with her," Ramsey mused darkly, having gotten more information than she wanted to know. "So, the empress hopes to use me as a release valve until she mates with Tai-Po."

"Yes, well, I suppose you could think of it that way. The priestesses would still perform the ritual but it would be a modified version I imagine, and she would no longer have the pressure of needing to choose a mate until she needs to produce an heiress.  I don't think she likes Tai-Po.

She may want to keep you around for a long time."

"Keep me around?"

"Yes, probably."

"Shit! Cara, I can't do this."

"Try to look on the bright side. She's not bad to look at...."

Ramsey cut her off at the end of the stairwell. "She's a child!"

Cara raised her brow. "Hardly."

"You've been no help at all, doctor."

 

_______O_______

Tapestry offering muted colors and a two dimensional perspective, in the style of the Middle Ages, hung from the walls of the auditorium. Huge and impressive, the tapestries depicted the lives of twelve empresses of Dethra. After tonight, they would begin to include the thirteenth.

Music filled the air and it too was festive and oddly reminiscent to Laren Ramsey.

She and Dr. Holis received curious stares, some less than friendly. Ramsey wished she could make a general announcement that she had no plans of changing the status quo at the palace. But, she realized such a declaration would make no difference to most of these people who knew her only by descriptions passed during the course of gossip.  And the empress apparently did have plans to use her to change the course of affairs.

She said hello to Talbert who patted her on the back and thanked her again for fixing the biosystem. Celeste pretended she did not notice her as she passed by and by the time she made it to her seat, she was ready for Elder Tai-Po's cold glance. She nodded her head in acknowledgment. The thought of spending time with him in the days to come revolted her.

Horns blared abruptly. The arrival of "Her Holiness, Empress Sarika Dethra" was announced and a hush fell over the throng of people. "On this, the night of her coronation," the announcer continued, "everyone is granted the privilege of looking fully at her Holiness until she leaves the auditorium." The Royal Guard surrounded Sarika while she slowly marched to the cadence of the processional toward the front of the immense room.

She seemed impossibly young for her title. Head held high, she gave Ramsey a lingering glance as she passed. She was, the major acknowledged, stunning.

Melborne, the senior elder, and Behira, the oldest of priestesses, met Sarika on a platform where they had been attentively waiting. The elder bowed before her and declared his loyalty to the new empress. The crowd cheered with enthusiasm when he draped a golden cloak around her shoulders. When he stepped behind her it was Behira's turn, and she came close to the young woman's side to hold a simple gold crown over her head.

"Who are you?" she asked.

"I am a vessel for The Source," Sarika replied, her voice sure and clear.

"What is your destiny?"

"To cleanse the world, as my mothers before me."

"Who are you?" she asked again.

"I am the foundation of order."

"What is your destiny?"

"To govern Dethra as my mothers before me."

"How will you fulfill your destiny?"

"By the authority given to me by my mother, who is now one with The Source."

"Reveal to us your authority."

The old priestess lowered the crown until it rested on top of the beautiful head. It fit perfectly and immediately radiated white, glowing light. Sarika surveyed the crowd and the light dimmed. She found the electric blue gaze of her tall slave and took it in. Her crown glowed with a brilliance that quickly grew until it was blinding and so hot Sarika had to remove it. Once removed, the crown returned to its original golden state. It took several more minutes for Sarika herself to stop glowing.

Even though she was engrossed in the display of power and the radiant young empress, Priestess Behira was still mindful to assure the crowd, and the empress, that all was well.

She bowed down. "You are the vessel of The Source," she announced with adoration. Upon rising she whispered to Sarika, "Put your crown back on, but keep your eyes off the tall one for now."

One-by-one, the twenty-two remaining priestesses and elders made there way to the platform to pledge their loyalty and bow before the empress.

Slowly Ramsey came out of her trance-like state to discover Dr. Holis had a painful grip on her arm.

"Wha--? Cara what is it?" she asked while she loosened the doctor's hand.

"By the ancients! Didn't you feel it?"

The dark-haired woman slumped in her chair. "I-- I need to lie down."

"How can you possibly be tired after that?" Cara whispered to her.

Heavy lids closed over her blue eyes and the dark head dropped just before she fell forward onto the floor.

"Ramsey!" Cara yelled, and all eyes turned toward them.

Within seconds guards were telling the doctor to move away from the stricken slave but Cara continued to feel for the beat of her heart.

 

_______O_______

In the infirmary Cara finished a third scan of Ramsey's body. The results were the same.

Sarika's hands hovered over her unconscious slave's face. Afraid of hurting her, she wrapped her arms around herself to keep from touching the still form.

"Why is she unconscious?"

"Psychophysiological over-stimulation."

"Cara, please-- what does that mean?"

"Exhaustion. She's-- well, she's completely depleted."

"But she was fine less than an hour ago. More than fine, except for her hands." Just remembering how Ramsey looked as they gazed at each other earlier caused Sarika to shiver pleasurably. Her slave had radiated with irrepressible life. "And she didn't exert herself unduly since then."

"That's another thing." Cara removed the bandages. "Look."     There was no evidence of injury.  "I have to say I suspect her current condition has something to do with the coronation ceremony Empress-- the part where you were shining-- well, glowing really."

"I don't glow, the crown glows."

Cara smiled. "Well, you definitely lit up this evening. I felt something --it was quite stimulating-- while you ….Really, it was the most amazing--" she stopped to remind herself not to ramble and looked down at Ramsey, "...at least to me. Your telekinetic power is growing, and it seems our patient got more than her share of whatever it was…."

"It was The Source, flowing through me-- more powerfully than I knew it could."

"Yes well, it certainly overpowered our time-traveler."

Behira made her presence felt. "Empress Sarika, please, I must speak with you-- alone."

"I understand." She looked around the sterile infirmary, then lowered her head. It was her fault. She had wanted her slave to see her in all her sovereign glory- to entice her.

"Will she be all right? Is there anything I can do?"

"Yes well, she needs a good rest. Undisturbed."

"Of course. I will have her taken to her chambers and see to it that no one wakes her." They both knew the empress was the only one in a position to disturb her slave.

Cara injected supplements that would bolster her immune system into the pronounced vein of her inner arm. Sarika bit her bottom lip at the sight of the beveled needle puncturing soft skin, as if it were entering her own flesh.

"How long?"

"Until she wakes up, I'd say."

"You don't know?"

"I'm just a doctor. I know less about The Source - and what Major Ramsey has been through - than you do." Cara was drawn to look into the forbidden green eyes and she communicated her concern. "It is best to let nature take its course."

"I-- Yes, Cara. That seems like the best thing to do."

Priestess Behira waited for Sarika in the royal chambers while the empress saw to it that her slave was transferred safely to the her own new bed in her own chamber.

"Let me know when she awakens. She and Elder Tai-Po have important work to do with disrupters as soon as possible," she informed the guard. At least the change will put an end to the gossip. Celeste would be glad. After a wistful glance at Ramsey's sleeping form, she left.

She met Behira and removed her crown and cloak, relieved when the priestess suggested they share a time of meditation to relax before their talk. That was what she needed.

But after she joined herself mentally with the golden-robbed priestess, she was still unable to let go of the restlessness she felt. Her inner turmoil transferred to Behira as a lack of confidence and the old woman pulled back with concern.

"Both your grandmother and your mother called me friend. Now I serve you, Holiness." She waited with calm expectancy.

Sarika gave a little smile, then brushed her auburn bangs with her hand and moved her hair long behind her ears, complimenting her youth.

"Like my mother, I value the friendship of a wise woman. "

"You're very much like your mother was. Vilell also had a difficult time choosing."

"Did she? I didn’t know." Sarika's eyes widened.

"Oh yes, she resisted the idea, and on the day of her birthday your grandmother chose for her. She picked the only elder who was single."

Sarika shuddered, thinking that history was going to be repeated. "My parents weren't close," Sarika said flatly and then sighed in resignation. Her mother had told her little of their relationship but she believed she knew that much.

"No they weren't, but they learned to care for each other. Your mother was heartbroken when your father died so soon after your birth. She said he gave her something more valuable than passion, something that she would always treasure."

"What.  What was it?"

"You."

The empress raised her chin and did her best to hold back her tears. As a priestess, Behira had considerable privilege and could look into the eyes of the empress, now filled with pain.

"I miss her too," the wizened old woman revealed. "It's all right, cry now and I'll not respect you any less. 

Sarika let the old woman hold her and was comforted while she cried. When the tears waned, Behira hoped the empress was ready to trust her.

"I ask permission to speak of private matters."

"I- I thought that's what we were already doing."

"More private, then."

"You have my permission."

"I saw how you looked at the tall one tonight. Your concern for her is evident."

"She's important to me."

"It is more than that I suspect." Sarika behaved like a woman in love. "Are you sharing a primal connection with her?"

"No--"

Sarika closed her eyes and recalled how the light from the Sun glistened on Ramsey's long black hair and olive skin when they first met. How she reeled when she saw the exotic blue of her eyes. The aura of strength that surrounded her was stimulating and different. She had been filled with longing for her before Ramsey collapsed tonight and changed everything. The next time she used her telekinetic powers it could be even harder on her slave if she were nearby - so strong was her yearning for her. When she opened her eyes, tears threatened to hide their green intensity. She rested her head against the thin shoulder of the priestess.

"--but to be honest, I did try. Oh Behira, you know everyone expects me to choose Elder Tai-Po as a mate. He certainly wants to be the Protector badly enough, but I don’t like him. I was going to take Ramsey as a lover until I’m ready to name a Protector. She's attractive to me--" she sighed, "--she is very attractive. But I-- I know now that nothing can come of it." Sarika's brow furrowed and her lower lip became distended, warning of her displeasure. "And I know what my duty is, but I won’t chose until I find the one I want to share a child with. I won't do it Behira."

The priestess moved away from the empress slightly, encouraging Sarika to look at her.

"I must tell you what has been revealed to me."

"A prophecy?"

"In a way. Tonight, when you took off the crown, you were glowing."

"So the doctor said."

"In all my years with your mother and grandmother, I only saw such a thing one time. I was at the ceremony when your mother's egg, prepared with enough of your father's genes to create you, was planted inside her womb. The instant it was accomplished, Empress Vilell was filled with a bright light for several minutes, like you-- today.

Sarika tilted her head. "Are you saying you think I'm pregnant?"

"I am."

"An immaculate conception by the power of The Source?" Her voice was laced with sarcasm.

"With some help from the tall one, yes. It seems the choice of who your mate -and the Protector of Dethra - will be, has already been made for you by the Ancestors."

Sarika paled. "What you saw tonight couldn't possibly mean what you're saying."

"I saw your power fading until you looked at the tall one. I heard a multitude of voices saying clearly 'this is the Protector, with whom we are well pleased' and you were filled with light-- life energy not from The Source, but from the tall one. Part of her was given to you."

"And this is what you believe?" Sarika did not know if she wanted to laugh or cry or just call the old woman mad.

"I believe what I have seen and heard, yes. The process is opposite of what our tradition has been, but who are we to question the will of The Source? Dr. Holis can tell us if I am insane or not," she cackled. "Will you humor an old priestess?"

"You've been hallucinating.  That's what I think.  But, because I respect you- not because I believe what you are saying Behira- I'll disturb the doctor one more time today.

"But do you want it to be true?"

"I would be overjoyed if my power was not a threat to her-- if we could share ourselves as lovers do. But do I want to have a child with Ramsey? She's a slave. I am-- who I am. What would that make our offspring, no matter how conceived? What would that do to the order of the world? I can't even imagine it. Why would the Ancestors do such a thing?"

"Indeed," Behira sobered while the empress called Cara to meet them in the infirmary.

 

_______O_______

Riding her favorite horse on the family ranch in Texas was a dream that gave the major a refuge and she was reluctant to let it go. But finally, her body demanded consciousness and she opened her eyes.

The empress slept in a chair by her bedside. Blond eyelashes cast subtle shadows reaching to the crest of her pink cheeks. 'Like an angel. Without a seductive movement or impatient demand to give away the complexity of her true nature. They believe she is sacred because she has a special power and can manipulate molecules with her mind. But whatever enables her to do that is making her like me- a slave, driven by her own body so she can "save the world"'. The empress stirred and whispered Ramsey's name in her sleep. 'And who will save me from you, Sarika?'

Uncoiling fully from the deep sleep she had been in, the dark woman stretched her long arms and legs as far as they would go and then curled her hands and feet, emitting a satisfied groan. She stopped suddenly and looked at her hands.

"You're awake," Sarika blinked and sat up straight.

"So are you." Ramsey yawned. "Sorry I fell out during the ceremony. The thousand-year time change must've finally caught up with me."

"So it would seem."

"My hands. Did Cara use the healer after all?"

"No. The power of The Source touched you last night."

"Yeah? That's why I blacked out?"

"That's the verdict of the experts."

"You're being mysterious. And you look troubled. What's wrong? Are you upset that you compromised with me after all?" she rolled her eyes, indicating her bed. She spent the night in her own chamber, and Sarika had supplied her with her own bed.

"No. You needed to rest. There's nothing for you to worry about," Sarika answered while she watched her slave run strong fingers through her mane of long black hair. She wanted nothing more than to join her in bed and forget everything else. But she could not do that. There was business to attend to now. "How do you feel?"

"Better than I have in-- oh-- about a thousand years," Ramsey smirked as an odd humor came over her.  She rose dramatically, pulling a soft bedsheet with her to cover her nakedness. "And now I'm ready to go to work for you my empress, to do your bidding and put an end to the Rebellion that threatens your empire," she said half-joking. 

Her long legs seemed to go on and on, Sarika noticed with appreciation, not really hearing what was being said.

"Damn, if that doesn't sound just like a line from one of those old Star Wars movies or something," Ramsey laughed. "I've seen them all. And you, empress, don’t have a clue about what I'm talking about do you? Say, do I have time to shower before I go? Maybe get some breakfast? I'm starving. Hello? Luke Skywalker, to Princess Leah. You awake in there?"

The empress remembered the Rebellion and the disrupters waiting to be restored. "Yes- yes, of course. I'll inform Elder Tai-Po and a guard will escort you to the Garrison after we eat. My pilot will fly you both over."

"Good. I shall be ready my empress," Ramsey grinned.

Sarika's smile was barely noticeable.

As Ramsey showered she wondered what seemed different about Sarika. She was subdued and had an underlying look of anxiety when she first woke. Like someone who just got notice that they were fighting a losing battle - and being sent to the frontline. Haunted. Whatever was troubling her must be big, and it did not seem to be the Rebellion.

 

_______O_______

Under Elder Chen Tai-Po's watchful eye Ramsey began to rebuild the disrupters. She enjoyed working with the familiar equipment and her work progressed more rapidly than Tai-Po had anticipated. Ramsey passed the first of the hand held weapons to the elder. It fit neatly into his palm.

When focused on a living organism, disrupter beams altered bioelectric processes. For humans the result was a temporary catatonic state followed by amnesia. It rendered an enemy confused and helpless for a period of days. The Rebels would soon forget why they were fighting and be captured without a fight. The elder admired the weapon in his hand.

"Did you know that Empress Sarika and I are going to be mated?" He was pleased to see Ramsey's eyes widen. "Oh yes. She is going to make me The Protector and our child will become heir to the throne. And you--" he pointed the weapon at her, squinting one eye until it closed while he aligned the front and rear sights, "…dear slave--" uneven teeth were revealed in his tight-lipped grin "…will be ancient history once again." He lowered the weapon and laughed at the relief evident in Ramsey's face. "But first I get to play."

"We've got work to do. There's no time for your sadistic games." Under her breath she added, "And you sure as hell don't have enough class to be as entertaining as Darth Vader."

"What?"

Ramsey picked up a tool and began dismantling another disrupter.

"Bah! Who would have guessed you could be so boring Major. Don't you know there's always time to get pleasure out of work? Come here. I have something to show you."

Reluctantly Ramsey followed Tai-Po into the next room. A bloodied figure lay in chains on the floor. The elder kicked at the huddled form.

"Get up Rebel." He kicked again, harder. "I said get up, you traitor!"

The man on the floor struggled to his knees before impatience got the best of Tai-Po and he pulled him up by the chains that bound him.

"Talbert!" Ramsey breathed.

He coughed and opened reddened eyes. "Ramsey? Are we-- in the garrison?"

"Yes." Ramsey put a chair beside him and gently urged him to sit.

"Touching reunion," the elder sneered.

"He needs a doctor."

"Not until he gives me the information I want." Tai-Po smiled calmly at the annoyingly tall woman. "Tell me where the Rebel camp is located."

Talbert coughed again. "You know I can't tell you that Elder."

"Of course you can," he replied dryly and retrieved a pen-sized device from his tunic. "Your friend is no less than a Rebel spy, like you Major Ramsey. You fooled our young empress, but not me."

"I'm no spy, and I doubt Talbert is either."

"No? He was caught sending a message that gave away our plans to use disrupters. Now the Rebels have retreated, probably to construct shields to protect them from this," he held up the disrupter before tucking it back into his belt.

"Now, how do you suppose Talbert knew about the disrupters?" Tai-Po placed the long, thin object into Talbert's ear and within seconds he cried out a bloodcurdling scream. Tiny wisps of smoke curled out of his ear. The elder asked quietly, "Who told you?"

The slave caught his breath. "Please-- N--no one t-t-told me. I overheard the g-guards who watched Ramsey l-last night…w-when they changed shifts. That's all. One s-said you and Ramsey would be d-doing some important work with d-d-disrupters. They were s-stumped. They didn't know what disrupters were. I d-didn’t either-- until I did research in the l-library."

"It's your lucky day Ramsey. I'm going to give you this opportunity to convince me you're not a spy." Tai-Po held out the device to her. "Get the location of the Rebel camp."

"I told you-- I leave the politics to the politicians." She walked to the door and then dropped to knees. Searing pain engulfed her, robbing her of breath and all other awareness. When her vision cleared the elder's self-satisfied grin greeted her.

"I do believe the empress is spoiling you. A slave is not allowed to walk away from a Ruler until dismissed, remember?"

A short series of beeps got his attention. He spoke into one of the bands circling his wrist. "Type your message." A message from Celeste appeared. The empress and one of her priestesses were on their way to the garrison.

"Get up Major. Our pleasure-time is over-- for now."

Ramsey's legs were unsteady but they supported her. "Bastard!"

"You just cost Talbert some teeth," the elder smiled. "Remember, any tales to the empress will cost him an exquisitely painful death."   The cursed woman was soft and he knew how to use that trait.

Ramsey sat at her desk and forced her hands to stop shaking before she resumed her work.

Tai-Po was a gracious host when Sarika and Behira arrived, bowing to them both and kissing Sarika's hand. He proceeded to give her a tour of the Garrison but avoided the room that held Talbert.

"I can see much has been done since I was here last. But where is Ramsey?"

"Yes," Behira added, "Where is she?  I want to meet the person who has traveled such a great distance to join us."

"In the main room. We're headed there now. The Menial is slow I'm afraid, but I hope to have the disrupters ready by tomorrow."

As soon as her eyes found the dark-headed slave Sarika was pleased. She grabbed Behira's hand while she walked across the stone floor, Tai-Po following behind them.

"Hello."

The major looked up and Sarika's chest constricted at the coldness in her ice-blue eyes before Ramsey remembered to avert her glance. No familiarities with the empress were allowed in public. She stood so that she could bow properly. 

"Empress," she greeted her. A curtain of long sable hair swept forward like precious silk, softening the sovereign heart beyond measure. 

"Ramsey, I want you to meet Priestess Behira."

"Priestess," Ramsey acknowledged the introduction with another bow.

"Give me your hands," the old woman requested.

Ramsey obliged her and Tai-Po peered over the priestess' frail shoulder with undisguised interest.

"You came from the past, did you?"

"Yes."

"You were summoned."

"No, my ship crashed here.  Good soldiers lost their lives."

"The Ancients brought you, even so. Everything that happens has a purpose. Come to me when you return to the palace," instructed the old woman.  She dropped the major's large hands.

"It isn't safe, Priestess…."

"What isn't safe, elder?"

"Forgive my concern if you think it unnecessary Priestess Behira, but it may not be wise to be alone with a slave as new to the palace as Ramsey."  Tai-Po desperately wanted to tell her that Ramsey was a danger to her, to Empress Sarika and everyone else, but he knew of Behira's stubbornness and that the empress was not yet ready to accept the truth about the slave.

"I am not afraid Elder Tai-Po."  Behira looked deep into Ramsey's startlingly clear blue eyes and saw Dethra's future.  "In fact," she added, "I can honestly say I trust the tall one."

The elder's chagrined grimace lay hidden under the hand that smoothed his motley goatee.  

"How is your work progressing?" Sarika asked.

"Not as fast as I hoped, but...." he began to assess until he was cut off by a gesture from Sarika.

"Ramsey?" Sarika asked pointedly of her slave, placing her small hand lightly upon the woman's forearm.

"I'm working on the second of the smaller hand-held disrupters now."     She kept her gaze averted and wondered at the inexplicable sensation the empress' touch had  created.

"Elder, escort Priestess Behira to my shuttle and wait for me there," the empress ordered.

"But …."

"Now. There's no danger here and I wish to speak with  her alone."

Lips tightening to painfully thin lines, he left the room with Behira.

Sarika moved closer to the dark woman.  She waited until blue eyes were finally directed at her and for a moment she forgot everything except the beauty of the woman. Finally she found her voice. "Show me your work" she said softly.

Ramsey turned around and sat. She picked up a tool and the partially dismantled weapon. The empress was so close that her backside grew warm from the heat of the body behind her. Angling the toolpoint inside the metal casing, the major's jaw clenched involuntarily while she probed until she heard a series of clicks and the final plate came free.   "There's what I want, just to the left of the morphotic amplification lense."

"Oh," Sarika replied more softly than before, leaning even further forward until her cheek rested against Ramsey's neck.  Ramsey became very still while royal hands traveled up her shoulders.

"What would you do if you weren't a slave?"

Ramsey put down the weapon when the unexpected question registered. "Is that an offer?"  The empress did not answer and Ramsey sighed. It was not an offer of freedom. That was something her owner would never give to her.  "I'd travel the world a while if I could."

"And then?"

"Probably join the Rebellion."

"You would fight against me?"

"I haven't forgotten my vow to tell you the truth.  Given the opportunity I'd fight against oppression, yes. That's what I committed to when I became a soldier. It's what's in my blood.

"But you said they couldn't win.

"I could win."

Her slave's arrogance caused an unwanted thrill to run a tingling course down her spine.  She breathed deeply, appreciating Ramsey's stirring scent. "And if I freed the slaves, what would you do then?"

"I'd be a soldier without a cause. Like I am now."

"I have a cause for you," Sarika rubbed her cheek against Ramsey's neck and felt her stiffen.

"I know," the dark woman frowned.  She hesitated, then pulled away.    "I'm trying to work on it."  The disrupter in her hand was unrecognizable at the moment.  Where was the landmark lense she found so easily just a minute ago?

The empress stood in front of her, the workbench between them, and removed the firearm from her hand, laying it down. "You know what I want."

"Doctor Holis says you're in heat."

Sarika smiled. "Is that what Cara said?"

"My interpretation. She used words I never heard of before." Ramsey looked away again.  "I asked if she knew some way you could be distracted."

"Did you? What did the doctor say?"

"In time."

"No." Sarika glanced at the strong pair of hands resting on the table before her eyes found her lips and lingered there. "Satisfaction. That's what I need--." She slowly raised her gaze. "If we hadn't been interrupted you would have kissed me again last night."

"You would've kissed me," Ramsey corrected. 

"Why do you resist me so strongly?"

"Our relationship is not balanced."

"I can forget you're a slave when we're alone?"

"Neither of us can forget that. And you're far too young for me."

"I'm a grown woman." It was only a matter of days before the Rite.

"I was speaking of your emotional age.  But a literal interpretation works too- since you're about a thousand years younger than me."

Sarika's frustration was growing. "No one talks to me that way."

The major ignored her. "But right now the main reason is in the room over there."

"What do you mean?  What's in there?"   She rose and tried to open the locked door.

"It's another one of your slaves.  Tai-Po threatened to give him a torturous death if I told you about him, but he's going to do it anyway," Ramsey smirked.

Sarika called a guard and when he unlocked the door Ramsey introduced her to Talbert, who was covered in blood and was barely recognizable to her.   The empress ordered him to be taken to doctor Holis and then she addressed Ramsey. 

"The Elder told me he discovered a spy in our midst. I was alarmed it was Talbert.    Of course he must suffer the consequence of treason, but his death is to be quick and painless.  I don't condone torture no matter what the crime."

"And I can't condone tyranny, no matter how it's packaged."  The tall woman looked down at the empress while she ran her fingers across the black collar starkly surrounding her neck. "You're really no different than Tai-Po, Sarika, " she said ruefully. "I hope you two will be very happy together."  She returned to her work.

"Happy together? Wait!" The startled empress followed swiftly behind until she caught her arm and held fast. "Did the doctor tell you that?"

"Tai-Po made sure to tell me that you were going to make him your mate. You need a 'release valve', and since it sure isn't going to be me, then that that leaves him. Doesn't it."

"You believe that's how I think of you?"

"Of course. Are you going to tell me you don't?"

Ramsey received the resounding slap without blinking an eye.

"Oh!" Sarika gasped, her eyes moist with unshed tears. "I can't believe-- you don't know-- you're-- you're--"

"I'm a slave. Just one of your possessions." She wondered if the empress felt pleasure like Tai-Po when he inflicted pain. Surely her tears were a result of not getting what she thought she wanted. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have work to do."

Sarika fled the room while Ramsey sat and rubbed her jaw. The empress packed a healthy wallop.

The empress returned to her shuttle with confused emotions and Behira caught her when she entered the craft. "Child!" Sarika was crying.

The elder drew near. "I knew it wasn't safe. What did she do to you? I hope you used your bracelet. I'll bind her and…." Sarika put out her hand to ward him off.

"No Elder. She did nothing but speak the truth. But you have overstepped your bounds once again. Since when do we hold prisoners at the Garrison?"

"I told you this morning about Talbert. We still need to discover the location of the Rebel base."

"Not by torture. You don't make the law. You withheld information from me again, after we talked about this very problem yesterday. Your secrecy and cruelty will stop."

"What--"

"You don't have permission to speak! From this day on you will not lay a hand on a slave. And if I ever hear of you touching one of mine, I will strip you of your title and you will be banished." How could Ramsey believe he could be 'happy' with someone like him? "Elder Melborne will take over here. You're relieved of your duty at the garrison."

Tai-Po's was ghostly pale. Did she just threaten to make him an outcast? "Empress Sarika--"

"My decision is final. You will return with Behira and I to the Palace. Now."

What did Ramsey say to her, Tai-Po wondered. Whatever it was, she would regret it. She was going to wish she had never been born. Clearly it was the time for drastic measures.

 

_______O_______

Ramsey wondered why the Elder had not returned to punish her for telling the empress about Talbert. She called to the guard and asked where the elder was. "I'm finished with the second disrupter. I need to show it to him."

"The Elder returned to the palace with the empress, but the captain will give him a message." He spoke on the telecom and soon became alarmed.

"What is it?"

"They never arrived. The captain has issued an alert and is starting to organize a search party."

Ramsey bolted from the chair. "Is there a shuttle here?"

"Yeah, several. Hey, wait. I can't let you…." He stopped talking when Ramsey pointed the disrupter directly at his head.

"Shhh," Ramsey instructed. "Where is the bay entrance?"

"I can't tell you."

"You can. I'm about to turn your brain into mush, and you've got less than 60 seconds to tell me everything I want to know."

The guard swallowed nervously as the tall woman looked at the strange weapon she trained on him, then at the bracelet her wore on his wrist.

"Don't even think about," she warned. "I'm quicker than you. Where's the shuttle bay?"

"The seventh and eight doors up the south corridor."

"And how many soldiers?"

"Five or six and a maintenance crew. Maybe more along the way."

"How are they armed besides bracelets? Lazers? Tazers?"

"Swords. Like me. We're traditional palace guards," he said, unable to keep a touch of pride from his voice.

"Will they be alarmed if you tell them you're taking a craft to join the search party?

"No, but I never fly them myself."

"Tell them I'm a pilot, and you've been ordered to take me with you."

"They won't like it."

"I'll take the chance."

Minutes later they arrived at the bay door and the guard spoke through the intercom.

"The last shuttle never arrived at the palace. Captain Johnston has ordered me to join the search for the empress."

"Enter", came the alert reply.

Ramsey tucked the disrupter into her robe.

"Empress Sarika is missing?" the sentry asked incredulously when they passed. "What could have happened? There were no Rebels in the area."

"I uh, I don't know," the guard looked at the sentry strangely and jerked his head toward the dark woman. Ramsey poked his back with a long finger in warning.

"Stop her!" he shouted as he turned and aimed the invisible beam from his bracelet at Ramsey. She grunted in pain, yet managed to knock him cold with a left hook before falling to the ground. Soldiers converged on her and with determination she ordered her body to respond. She stood and grabbed onto the rim of the hatch.

"Surrender, Rebel!" The closest guard pointed his long sword at Ramsey's heart.

She swung her legs through the hatch.  He lunged forward, catching her with his blade and she still she pulled her upper body into the shuttle, quickly locking the hatch behind her. Ignoring pain, the major found the pilot's seat.  She scanned the controls and was relieved they were not completely unfamiliar.

The colossal bay doors were closing. An alarm blared as Ramsey powered up the shuttle. "Okay little doggie, show me what you can do." Aiming for the sky she shouted, "Heeyah!" as if she were riding the Texas range. It was a rush to be airborne and for the first time since waking up in Dethra, she felt unrestrained.

The guards watched helplessly while the craft turned on its side and flew out, clearing the bay doors by mere inches.

"Wow", the stunned sentry let out the breath he had been holding. "Rebel or not, that's a pilot"

By the time they were able to reopen the mammoth doors the shuttle that carried the renegade slave was gone from sight.

Continued in part 3

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