DISCLAIMER: See part one.
Chapter Five: Revelations
Samantha was just about to shut down the computer where she had spent the afternoon studying the schematics for an advanced naqada reactor when a knock brought her out of her musings. Over the last couple of days she even had learned to keep a semblance of regular hours. A rather anxious and very nervous looking Lieutenant Jessica Morgan came in. She was one of the two archaeologists of their team, assigned to study Amazon history at the central library.
"Major, I know it's probably inconvenient but I have to speak to you. It's about the Queen and the Consort... I don't know where to begin."
"Take a seat and calm down, Lieutenant. Sit down, Jessica, this can stay off record, if you want to."
"No, it cannot, not for the long run. But perhaps it can for now. You know that I have been working on translating the texts about early Amazon history on Gaia, the time before the last group from earth arrived. In one of the last documents I found a link to another one, not included in what had been given to me and I got curious. It didn't lead to just another document. It lead to a whole section of the library, a library in its own right really, thousands of books and scrolls and data pads. It was amazing. Since I found out, four days ago, I went there whenever I got a chance and borrowed some of the texts."
"What did they say, Jessica?"
"The last group coming from earth, their Queen's name was Gabrielle and her Consort was named Xena. At first I thought that name and social standing go together, that once you became Queen your name was changed to Gabrielle, like a catholic cardinal changes his name when being elected as the next pope." She fell silent.
"And?" Carter asked.
"I know it sounds crazy but now I think that the Gabrielle ruling now is one and the same as the one that came here almost two thousand years ago. They have a report on every party they ever celebrated but not one hint of a crowning ceremony or a Royal funeral pyre." The woman let her words sink in.
Instead of bombarding her with thousand questions of simply declaring her a complete fool, Carter asked. "Do they know that you know?"
"I'm not sure but I think they suspect something. That's why I came to you in the first place; I would have rather spent some more time reading the most ancient scrolls. They tell of a time before the exodus, a time that Xena and Gabrielle spent travelling all over Greece, helping villagers and defeating warlords."
Carter didn't answer and the other woman studied Samantha's face. "Major Carter, Samantha, I just told you that they both are more than two thousand years old, more than sixty generations. You never were one to accept something like this at face value, not without finding a scientific explanation. You should at least be surprised or incredulous. Why aren't you, Samantha?"
"Why do you want to keep this off record for now? It's against the regulations and usually you are rather a stickler to the rules, Jess."
"It's hard to explain, Samantha. Sometimes, when you're playing with the Consort..."
"Tree walking, sparring. It's what Queen Gabrielle calls it when speaking with the Doc. I'm sorry."
"Well, it really is a lot of fun." Samantha countered with an impish grin. "So, what is when I'm 'playing' with Consort Xena?"
"We talk, share our experiences. We all are fascinated by the atmosphere of study, easy going, without ambition overruling one's judgement. And though they are so far ahead of us, we never had the impression of being thought of as inadequate or primitive like the Tolans did. But there's more to it than just that. We feel comfortable here, most of us feel..."
"... at home. You trust them."
"A week ago, when SG-1 first set foot on this planet, when I first saw Consort Xena I knew that we would be safe. It was a feeling so bone deep that I immediately suspected some sort of manipulation. At my demand Doctor Fraiser ran some additional tests on me but there was nothing wrong. Whenever I talk to the Consort or the Doc talks to the Queen we hit some kind of roadblock. They admit that there is a secret but always tell us that it's too early for us to know the truth." Making a decision, the blond woman rose. "Does anyone else know?"
"Karen, Naomi, Claude, and Jennifer all have their suspicions. Jennifer probably came closest when she found an ID-code on an old data pad signed the way the Consort usually does. But none of these suspicions and speculations ever found its way in our reports."
Samantha Gabriella Carter, Major of the United States Air Force, knew that she just was about to deliberately commit blank insubordination. The poster child was about to become a rebel. She remembered Colonel O'Neill's words shortly before he stepped through the Ring, the Stargate, she corrected herself. 'Remember, Carter, good old Earth is waiting for you.' She knew she was acting against everything she ever had held sacred: the integrity of the Forces, of the chain of command but from the bottom of her heart she knew it was the right thing to do.
"I hate to ask but is there..."
"... someone we cannot trust? No, I don't think so. Though not all of us feel at home here; we still all trust them. They're a part of our history though we never knew it. A lot of incidents in our history would have played out differently had it not been for visitors from Gaia setting them straight somehow. Claude is bustling over with stories though she probably never will be able to tell anyone outside of the SGC. Mankind isn't ready to know yet, hell, I wouldn't have been ready a couple of years ago. It will be a hard enough sell, even for General Hammond."
"You may be right. That's why we'll have to speak to the Queen and the Consort. It's time to get some answers. Get the team together. We'll meet at the guest palace. I'll get the Doc."
Samantha headed for the training grounds where she found the small doctor facing off against a proudly grinning weapons' master.
At first Janet had been reluctant to brush up on her hand-to-hand fighting skills. She knew they were part and parcel of being in the forces, just like wearing a gun from time to time but she never had been particularly ambitious in this area. It took a sparring match between the blond major and Queen Gabrielle to convince Janet that one didn't have to be as tall as an old tree to be able to hold one's own in a fight. Well, holding one's own wasn't quite right. Even before coming here and learning new moves, Samantha had been an excellent fighter, focused, fast, and strong but she hadn't been fast and strong enough to best the small queen or to even stand a chance, to be honest.
After the end of the purification rites, the first few lessons with the weapons' master had been rather painful for the doctor. She found herself lying or sitting on the hard ground more times than she cared to count and hadn't it been for the tender, thorough, and not wholly therapeutic massages the tall blonde lavished on her body every evening, she would gladly have given up. But then Niva changed her teaching style, explaining the complex moves of defence and offence as if they were steps in different kinds of surgery doing a little bit of harm to prevent much greater harm.
From this moment on, Major Fraiser learned and she proved to be a quick study. Judging from the expression on the stoic weapons' master's face, she did more than just good.
From her own lessons, every morning shortly after dawn, she knew how hard a taskmaster Niva could be. Samantha allowed herself the luxury to spend a few minutes just watching her friend from behind a tree, absorbed in the other woman's smoothly flowing movements. Suddenly she whirled around, ducked, and only barely avoided being hit by the blunt end of a sai in the face. Another one was headed towards her chest; she jumped and kicked at it when it was only inches away from her breasts. She managed to back off a few paces and took a defensive stance, wishing fervently she had some sort of weapon at her disposition, preferably a staff.
The blonde didn't have to wait for the next attack. From an intellectual viewpoint she knew that the weapons' master had been testing her and that she had failed. She knew she would be reprimanded for losing track of her environment, and she knew she deserved it.
Twice she managed to fend Niva off. However, she had been so concentrated on the other woman's hands that she forgot to think about her own feet, she caught her foot in a root loop, and fell. The slightly shorter, stockier woman immediately was on top of her, the length of both sais left and right against her neck, threatening to cut off her breathing.
"Take Janet Fraiser as an example, open your mind, and learn, Samantha Carter. And now, tell me, what did you do wrong?"
The prone woman closed her eyes, replaying the last couple of minutes in her mind's eye and then answered. "I twice focused on one point only instead of seeing the whole picture, Master Niva."
"Tomorrow, we'll start a candlemark early, perhaps the pre-dawn air will help you learn this lesson." Samantha only nodded. "And now tell me why you so rudely interrupted your partner's lesson?"
'Partner', it sounded good but it couldn't be. It took all her strength of mind not to stutter her answer. "A situation has come up that requires Major Fraiser's presence. We also need to speak to the Queen and the Consort. It's important."
Surprisingly Niva didn't ask any questions but simply told them that the Queen was in a council session to finalise the preparation for the impending arrival of the other village and planet Regents who were due to arrive the following day to have a meeting and celebrate the summer solstice.
"You'll find Consort Xena at the smithy. It's just a couple of candledrops' walk to the west of the labs. You can't miss it; just follow your ears and your noses. Janet Fraiser, you can come out now. I'm not going to hurt her; you can let go of that stick you picked up twenty paces ago. I'll let you go for today, you did well."
Compared to everything else they had seen on this planet where ancient, almost primitive settings were usually nothing more than a camouflage for the most advanced technology the big, smouldering fire, the enormous pair of bellows, and the anvil not only were outdated, they appeared like something transplanted from another world, elemental and untamed. In a way it was fitting.
Especially when observing the woman working the anvil. Xena was wearing a pair of tight leather trousers and some sort of tank top, obscured by a heavy leather apron shielding her from the sparks. Her usually unobtrusive muscles never had been as prominent before. In front of Samantha's eyes flashed the image of her wearing a short leather dress, brass armour, and a broad sword slung at her back. She saw her unsheathing the weapon and wielding it with ease and joy. Xena's hammer hit the red glowing metal and the sound snapped the blonde back to reality.
Two hand signals told her that her presence had been noted and that Xena would be there in a few candledrops.
As had become natural over the course of the last few days Samantha and Janet drifted close together like magnetised metal bits whenever they thought themselves unobserved. They hadn't gone further, yet, but both of them were honest enough to admit to themselves that even thinking of ever losing this closeness would hurt more than they thought they could stand. They knew they had to keep it out of Cheyenne Mountain but to completely miss out on it was simply unimaginable and completely out of question. They didn't break their embrace when Xena left the smithy, wiping sweat and grime away with a piece of cloth.
"It's time to give us a few answers, your highness. We have to decide what to put in our reports to General Hammond."
"Samantha Carter, you just lost me a bet. I was sure it would take you all until after the great council and the festival to find out or even get suspicious. Once again Gabrielle was right. I'll take a shower and get her. We'll meet at the guest palace a candlemark from now."
When Carter and Fraiser entered the patio, the other members of the away team were clustered on and around two benches in the far corner, obviously in the middle of a vivid argument.
"... we can't keep something this important from the General."
"We can't tell anyone on Earth, Sonya. It would bring Kinsey, his NID buddies and Hades knows whom else breathing down our necks. They would do everything to get their hands on Gaia's technology and I won't even begin to think about what they would try to do to the Queen and her Consort or any other Amazon they can get their hands on." Lieutenant Hailey angrily retorted.
"Calm down, all of you." Carter bellowed and every single one of them snapped to attention. "As you were, folks. The point is: you are both right. Yes, General Hammond has to know, sooner or later; and yes, it has the potential to bring a whole load of trouble to the SGC and the Amazons. But at the moment all we have are impressions, ideas, and suspicions.
"During the first two or three days of our stay here, I heard more than once that we were not ready to know the truth. I think Queen Gabrielle wanted us to first get to know her people and their way of life before getting us in a situation that could well jeopardise all our careers. Rationally I know that they are true and well capable of taking care of themselves but I also feel the need to protect them. Queen Gabrielle and Consort Xena will be here shortly. I suggest, we listen to them and then we'll decide."
A few minutes later Aria led them to the room where the Queen had met with SG-1 for the first time. The cushions still were there, and a few low tables with food and drink scattered about. They all found a place to sit, Samantha next to Janet, leaving the two biggest and softest cushions for the Royal couple. The young Amazon had told them to eat because it would probably be some time before the Queen could get out of the council session, and so they did. Talking about their day, about what they had learned or discovered. Samantha soon found herself in a conversation with Hailey and Aria discussing the different advantages of sais over chobos, and Janet soon was speaking about the possibility to implement a new procedure for post mission physicals based on the machinery used by the Amazons. When Xena and Gabrielle arrived a few minutes after sunset everyone fell silent.
"Thank you for entertaining our guests, Aria. You are dismissed." Xena ordered while she sat down to the right and slightly behind the blonde Queen.
The young woman reluctantly left and closed the door. "Your majesty," Samantha said with a small bow, "I apologise for the strain we put on your valuable time and taking you away from the preparations for the great council."
"Everything is squared away, Samantha Carter, there's no need to apologise. I understand you have some questions?"
"Yes, your majesty. But I don't really know where to begin. Some of us, most of us think that you, your majesty, and your venerable Consort are immortal but we don't understand how or why. None of us think that you mean any harm to us or Earth but..."
"I understand, Samantha Carter. Make yourself comfortable, all of you. I'll tell you a story, a true story and though I will not be able to go into too many details it still will be a long one." Xena handed her Queen a mug of apple juice. "Thank you, love." Her right hand touched the ravenhead's cheek. "Return to the smithy, my warrior. I'll be all right."
Xena's eyes were almost pathetically grateful, Carter thought, but she didn't act on it. She kissed the Queen's palm and slid behind her, whispering in her left ear, giving the young major the opportunity to read her lips.
"My place is at your side, my love, always has been, always will be."
Samantha averted her eyes with a slight blush, so she didn't see the Queen turning her head and planting a soft kiss on the taller woman's cheek. Xena drew her closer and the smaller woman snuggled into her arms. When Samantha once again looked up for the fraction of a heartbeat she thought that there was a golden shine enveloping them.
"From the initial SG-1-report and the scrolls you had access to you already know that Artemis started to evacuate women from Earth about two thousand and five hundred years before your current calendar. She sent a friend with them but she stayed behind to prepare another group. When they were ready, Athena's Ring, the Stargate was gone, hidden by Ra's servants still on earth. They had no choice but to stay on Earth, and thus started the Amazon Nation.
"In Ancient Greece and Asia they became a considerable military and moral force. About a thousand years later, Artemis was captured by Ares and a coalition of other minor Gao'uld, and the Amazons used to her presence and advice fell prey to internal squabbles and external enemies. Athena, the host of Artemis, escaped. She and her symbiote had been badly injured by the torture the Olympians, that's what her captors called themselves, had inflicted on her to get access to the knowledge and wisdom of the Ancients. Athena was one of them and knew all their secrets.
"It took her hundreds of years to heal from all her injuries, and even then she wasn't strong enough to overthrow the Olympians or annihilate their influence on the humans. Untypical for the Gao'uld as you know them, they came to an agreement. They vowed never to attack each other and that every one of them should stick to a chosen field of influence, so Ares became the God of War, Hera the Goddess of the Hearth and Marriage, Aphrodite the Goddess of Love and so on. So Artemis/Athena did the only thing she could think of: she joined them to protect what was left of the Amazons: Artemis, Goddess of the Hunt and the Moon, protector of the Amazons.
"One day, centuries later, a child was born to an innkeeper in a little out-of-the-way village in Greece. Her childhood was rather ordinary, except that she didn't have any interest in the things other girls did. She preferred playing with her younger and her older brother -- hide and seek, hero and warlord. Her name was Xena."
The tall warrior could feel the eyes of nearly everyone in the room turning towards her but her own gaze stayed unfocused, her mind busy with warding off still hurtful memories.
"She was stronger and faster and smarter than anyone else her age, her energy seemed to be inexhaustible, and she had a restless curiosity no teacher ever was able to fully satisfy. Soon she drew the attention of the Olympians who were always looking for new servants and hosts. They came to her in dreams, they came disguised as merchants, travelling bards, mercenaries, but she was happy with her life and didn't want to change anything.
"Their vow, their agreement didn't allow them to influence her in any other way; they only were allowed to claim a mortal another one of them also was interested in with the mortal's agreement. It must have been damned inconvenient for them but it worked and it kept their alliance alive for a long time. When the girl turned fifteen, one of the warlords scourging the Greek countryside attacked her village. She and her younger brother organised a defence and really succeeded in pushing the enemy back but they had to pay a high price.
"When Xena held the bleeding body of her younger brother in her arms something inside of her also died and for the first time she began to listen to the voice in her dreams, in her head.
"Ares promised her revenge, he promised her a way to keep the rest of her family and her village safe. He took her under his protection, amplifying her natural skills and also twisting them to fit his own needs. She soaked up everything like a dry sponge. She became Ares' Chosen and in his name conquered half of Greece.
"At the head of her army she committed every crime imaginable, but there was one thing she never condoned: rape. Every soldier in her army, from the kitchen help to her second in command knew that they would have to pay with their lives and that their deaths wouldn't be fast or painless.
"One day they came to a small village that refused to pay them tribute. Xena gave them an ultimatum until the next morning but her second in command decided that he was weary of waiting and ordered to kill everyone alive, every man, woman, and child, every horse, dog, cat, sheep, and chicken. Xena was on a scouting mission and when she returned the village was burning. She killed two of her men in the midst of raping a young girl and saved the life of a baby. She tried to get her men back in line but they had tasted blood and they wanted more. Darphus, her second in command, promised them more, a lot more.
"He refused to fight her one on one. He knew he never would stand a chance. They made her run the gauntlet instead. She did what no one ever did before: she survived. She survived to exact revenge on Darphus, to stop her men who had gone from soldiers to rapists and murderers in the blink of an eye; and she survived to get the baby boy she had saved out of harm's way. She quickly found allies, among them the father of the boy, and together they stopped Darphus once and for all. Two thirds of her men were dead and the survivors were ready to once again swear fealty to her but she simply walked away. Ares had finally lost his hold on her soul and her real personality began to reassert itself."
Gabrielle took another sip of her juice and looked into the expectant eyes of her public. Some of them spoke of disbelief, some of doubt, some of rapt fascination; there also was compassion, bewilderment, and pity. Samantha and Janet maintained a closely guarded expression, keeping their emotions even from showing in their eyes. But the blond ruler of the Amazons still saw how deeply they were affected by her words, her story: they were holding hands, openly, for everyone to see.
"Xena walked away from her life as a warlord. She wanted to go back to Amphipolis, to her mother and to her brother's grave. On her way home, she passed a village named Poteideia and saved the village girls from a bunch of slavers. One of the girls was so impressed by her actions, standing up against ten men, unarmed, and so mesmerised by her blue eyes that she left her father's house in the middle of the night and followed the stranger. Her name was Gabrielle and she never before had been out of her village. She was afraid, terrified by every sound she heard, but she also was sure that this was what she was meant to do.
"Two days later she arrived at Amphipolis. The village seemed deserted but there were loud angry voices coming from the inn. Xena's weapons were on a table in front of her. The villagers stood a few paces away and were throwing stones at her but she didn't try to duck, didn't try to fend them off. Obviously almost fifteen years of absence hadn't made Xena more popular in her hometown. They didn't want to remember that it had been her leadership that had enabled them to defeat the warlord Cortese. They only remembered that their sons and husbands and fathers had died this day.
"Gabrielle, at first, didn't know what to do. She only knew that this had to be stopped. So, she stepped forward, coming between the tall warrior and her aggressors and succeeded in talking them out of killing her. The same day Xena repaid the stoning attempt by defeating a warlord in single combat, a staff battle, and thus once again kept the village safe.
"From this day on, Xena and Gabrielle stayed together. They travelled all over Greece; the tall warrior was trying to atone for her dark past by defeating warlords, fighting against thieves, risking her life and sometimes just getting a frightened kitten out of a tree fighting darkness and evil wherever they reared their ugly heads. They even found a name for what they were doing: fighting for the Greater Good. The blond village girl at first only tagged along, driving Xena crazy with her endless chatter and her countless questions but also giving the warrior something else to think about than the shadows of her past.
"Gabrielle began to tell stories about their adventures, about Xena's change from warlord to hero. One of these adventures led them to an Amazon village in Thessaly. They picked up a heavily armed guard but their bows and crossbows and swords were impotent against the ambush they walked into, against the cloud of arrows descending down on them, arrows with the markings of the Centaurs, a horselike race of warriors with a human torso and head and long time enemy of the Amazons. One of these arrows killed Terreis, the leader of their guards. Before she died she gave her right of caste to Gabrielle who had unsuccessfully tried to save her, to shield her from the arrows. Terreis was the sister of Melosa, and Melosa was the Queen of the Amazons. So, from this moment on Gabrielle was an Amazon Princess.
"Melosa and her tribe wanted to avenge Terreis' death by attacking and killing the Centaurs, and Gabrielle should go with them, side by side with the Queen. Xena and Ephiny, Terreis' best friend, found proof that someone else had been behind the ambush; a sneaky warlord who wanted Amazons and Centaurs to fight and kill each other, ready to pick up and profit from the pieces when it was over, and claim their land as his own. Instead Amazons and Centaurs became allies.
"Gabrielle, the newly appointed Princess and heir to the Queen's mask, could have stayed with the Amazons, some even saw it as her duty to do so but Melosa allowed her to stay with Xena instead. Xena taught her how to use a staff; she protected her and saved her life time and again because the young woman had an unparalleled propensity for getting into trouble. The friendship they had forged over the seasons gradually changed to something deeper, something neither of them wanted to admit to and then Xena died."
The Queen felt the grip around her waist tighten slightly. This part of the story was one of the reasons Xena had refused to leave her, regardless of how many years had passed, regardless of the pain that came later and the many pleasures and joys to balance the dark times, remembering still hurt and fortunately it wasn't often that she had to speak about it.
The looks of incredulity and pity had disappeared to be replaced by respect and awe. The faces of Janet and Samantha still were unreadable but the doctor's hold on Samantha's hand had tightened to the point of making her white-knuckled. Gabrielle closed her eyes and let the comfort of Xena's presence wash over her and soothe her soul. Then she continued.
"It was a simple village, far away from the main trading routes. A band of cannibalistic primitives worshipping Hera was harassing them. They believed that eating the flesh of virgins would make them invincible and immortal. On a shortcut to Athens Xena and Gabrielle passed through the area. They intercepted the cannibals on the way to their abode, a group of women and children in tow. They managed to get them all out but Xena was hit by a log trap crashing down from a tree.
"She was seriously injured with broken ribs and internal bleeding.
"Gabrielle had taken a knife wound to the left thigh but at her request she brought Xena to a healer with the name of Niklios. His knowledge of the human body, of herbs, and the use of pressure points was unparalleled but it wasn't enough to save the warrior's life. At first Gabrielle refused to believe him. She refused to believe that the proud woman who successfully had fought Ares' influence on her life and soul would so easily give up. When it finally sank in, she took Xena's horse Argo to bury her friend in her family's crypt in Amphipolis, just as she had promised.
"She didn't want to think any further, all she knew was that she had just lost the best part of her life and her soul. She would do her duty to her friend and then... They were living in dangerous times, there were a lot of ways to die or get killed.
"The fasted route to Amphipolis cut through Amazon territory. There, Gabrielle learned that Queen Melosa had been killed. Her adoptive daughter Velasca had offered a challenge and lost but instead of accepting her defeat she had stabbed the Queen from behind. According to Amazon law she had forfeited her life and Gabrielle became next in line.
"She thought that being killed by the next power hungry Amazon coming along wouldn't be a half bad way to die, so, she accepted the Queen's mask. The council decided to honour Xena by giving her a traditional Amazon funeral. Gabrielle's eyes were empty and dull when she shot the blazing arrow to set the funeral pyre aflame.
"Only a heartbeat later, she heard Xena's distinct battle cry and a tall man clad in green landed on the coffin. His name was Autolycos and he called himself the King of Thieves but he had his heart in the right place and was a good friend to both of them. Half a dozen Amazon bows immediately were trained on him. He grabbed Xena's chakram and threw it. It sliced their weapons in two and returned to his hand. Then he whistled for Argo and stole the coffin with Xena's body from right under the Amazons' noses. Only then did Gabrielle dare to hope that what he had told her earlier really had been the truth; only Xena was able to control the chakram and Argo only obeyed Xena's command. He had told her that Xena's soul now was in his body and that there was a way to save her now she began to believe it. Xena knew where a stash of Ambrosia was hidden; it wouldn't take more than a small bite to bring her back to the living.
"Ambrosia then was also called the Food of the Gods, at the time no mortal knew that it was refined liquid naqada. Naqada counts among the rare elements in the universe but compared to liquid naqada it's as common as dirt and the secret of refining it was lost even before the Gao'uld took over the gate system of the Ancients. The Ambrosia worked. Xena opened her eyes and saw the gamut of emotions crossing Gabrielle's face and silently vowed never to leave her. Little did she know that the Ambrosia not only had brought her back; it had also made her immortal."
The blonde emptied her mug in one swallow. Samantha now had both arms protectively around Janet's torso that was trembling with silent sobs. The story had been hitting too close to home for the sensitive brunette with Samantha being at the brink of death more than once and only barely making it through. Gabrielle knew it would get worse before it got better, so she decided to change her style of storytelling. Instead of lingering on details and emotions she was determined to stick to the facts though her first phrase seemed to belie her decision.
"After Xena's resurrection they became lovers, finally finding the courage to show their feelings to the other. They no longer were two separate beings but only one: soulmates, two halves of one soul, a balance of strength and weakness, wisdom and passion, power and love, darkness and light. But at first they kept their connection to themselves. They didn't dare to let anyone know for fear of Gabrielle becoming a target for Xena's enemies. So, they once again became a target for the Gao'uld.
"It's a long story and I don't feel up to it just right now. But to explain how I also ended up immortal, there are at least some things you need to know. Xena and Gabrielle had to fight a young Gao'uld intend on ruling the world named Dahok. He was defeated but during the fight Gabrielle jumped in a lava pit to save Xena's life. At the time, they didn't know that she had become immortal; so she did what she thought she had to do to keep her lover alive. Gabrielle was convinced that the tall warrior still had a lot to give to the world.
"Xena had thought she had lost her lover for good and she tried to join her in the after life. She even went to the Amazon Land of the Death in vain, because Gabrielle was alive. Artemis/Athena had rescued her body from the lava pit and brought her back to life with a small piece of Ambrosia. She was back among the living but didn't know that she too had become an immortal. It took them almost two more years to find out.
"In a nutshell, that's our story. I know you still have a lot of questions but what I just told you should be sufficient for you to come to a decision." Gabrielle ended her long monologue.
"Just to be on the safe side," Xena suddenly said, "there are a few more things General Hammond certainly will want to know: Yes, we are immortals; though we can get hurt and feel pain, Gabrielle and I are unable to die. No, there's no Ambrosia left on earth. It was destroyed before we left and there's no way to reproduce or synthesise it. We know that our existence alone makes us a prime target for every Gao'uld who wouldn't want an immortal host. When we arrived here on Gaia, Artemis changed our body chemistry to make sure that we could not be used a hosts. Our bodies reject the symbiotes after a few days and kill them. The System Lords know that we are useless for them. Unfortunately the changes don't work with mortals.
"Let us know what you'll do. You'll find us in our hut in the village."
When the door closed behind them, the silence in the room slowly became oppressive. It had been a lot to digest. True to form, it was Samantha Carter who first found a semblance of balance. "I'd like to hear your suggestions, ladies."
"We shouldn't have forced them to tell us. Remembering hurt both of them deeply. We should have found another way." Lieutenant Michaela Neddes, first assistant of SGC's resident psychiatrist MacKenzie and not only in Janet's eyes better qualified to do the job than he ever will be answered.
"Yes, I also could feel their pain but we needed to know," Janet said, still nestled in Samantha's arms. "We needed to learn how they became what they are. We had to understand that they are not less but perhaps more human because of it. We had to understand but not only with our head and our minds but also with our hearts."
"So, what are we going to do?" Jennifer Hailey asked.
"I can only speak for myself but I'll keep any hint of their immortality out of my reports. There's always a way to say things without really saying them. I think you all should do the same."
"The Doc is right." "I concur with Major Fraiser." "Good idea, Janet." and similar remarks soon filled the room.
Slowly Samantha disentangled herself from Janet and stretched to her full height, patiently waiting until everyone had quietened down. "I can't let you do this! Attention!" Military training asserted itself and a few heartbeats later the other eleven women stood ramrod straight. "As the commanding officer of this mission, I give you the order to keep every hint of what we learned tonight out of your reports to the SGC. I'll take full responsibility for this course of action." Seeing Janet open her mouth, the blonde major continued. "This is not up for discussion. It's an order. Dismissed!"
The women questioningly looked at each other and then quietly left the room. They just had been absolved of all responsibility when circumventing the regulations in their reports. If things blew up, Major Carter would take all the blame and most of them felt more than only slightly uneasy at the thought but they also wouldn't dishonour her potential sacrifice by questioning her orders.
Once again the door was closed and silence reigned. "I presume you disapprove, Janet?"
The small doctor took two steps to stand in front of Samantha. Her hand went up to the blonde's cheek. "I'm not thrilled by your decision, Sam, and I think the others aren't either but it's so typically you, I knew from the beginning that it would end this way. Protecting others is in your blood; you can't help it. You always have to stand in the line of fire, shielding others if need be with your own body, always the knight in shining armour."
"Army fatigues hardly qualify as armour or shining." Samantha grumbled under her breath. "And I'm not a knight, I just..."
Further protests were silenced by a kiss. "Sam, you save the world from total destruction on a regular basis. Every man on the base would give his right hand to go on a romantic date with you. You're so brilliant it defies description," Samantha blushed, "and you're absolutely, adorably cute when you're flustered. Not to mention that you actually can work with Colonel O'Neill without ending up killing him half the time. But it could be that I'm biased."
Samantha took her in her arms. "You know that we just blew what little we had as cover to all hell, don't you?" She kissed the smaller woman. "But when I took you in my arms I knew it was the right thing to do. I needed to touch you as much as you needed to be held. I won't regret it and I don't care about the possible fall-out."
"Sam, your career is your life. Don't throw it away, please." Janet replied while putting a modicum of distance between their upper bodies.
"I spent a lot of time thinking about this, Janet, these past few days. Whenever we wake up, wrapped around each other and I feel as safe and free as never before in my life; when I wake up from a bad dream and though still half asleep yourself you were chasing the darkness away by stroking my hair and humming a lullaby. You are right, though: I made my career my life. It was the only way to fight the emptiness and loneliness that threatened to overwhelm me after my mother's death. It was the only way to fight the darkness I feel lingering in my soul.
"But then you joined the Stargate Project.
"I didn't allow myself to want more than friendship but still you slowly filled the emptiness and soon thinking about you was enough to keep the darkness at bay. Before I loved you I would have obeyed orders and simply left Cassandra in this damned compound. I simply would have seen a threat to the Gate and Earth, not a frightened child that just had lost her family, her whole world. You made me feel again, and I won't deny these feelings any longer." Samantha took a deep breath. "But it's not only my career we're talking about. You have at least as much to lose. So, it's up to you. I will abide by your decision."
The heartfelt confession left the smaller woman speechless. Janet searched her friend's face for clues but the stoic mask was firmly in place except for the eyes, there was an undercurrent of insecurity and fear she couldn't help but respond to. Samantha averted her eyes. "Sit with me for a moment, Sam." The taller woman let herself reluctantly be pulled to the ground.
"First of all, this was the most awesome confession of love I ever heard and I am humbled that you think so highly of me." She paused for a moment, fighting the modesty induced urge to doubt her impact on Samantha's life. "That's why I don't doubt the sincerity of your words. You were not the only one who felt cut off from her feelings. When I joined the SGC I was on the way to become a heartless bitch. Please let me speak my mind, love. Outside of my job, I didn't have any emotions left and even in the infirmary I was more or less just going through the motions.
"The light shining in your eyes made me reconsider, and the more I began to love you, the more I was able to give others. So, yes, I want you to be a part of my life and as more than a friend. I want to wake up with you as often as possible and one day soon I want to make love to you. I want to study your body with the eyes of a lover; I want to get to know every little square inch of your skin."
"But what about Cassandra? If they find out and throw us out of the forces, they could take Cassy away from you. Do you really want to risk this?"
"There's no danger of that ever happening, Sam. I promised General Hammond it would stay confidential but now you have to know. When adopting Cassy I wanted to make sure that whatever happened to the Stargate Project or to my standing within the military, she would stay with me. I wanted to make sure that she would not be pushed around unnecessarily. The General talked to the President who sent a written guarantee that no one will be allowed to take her away from me well, unless I'll be convicted on criminal charges by a civilian jury and last time I checked being gay isn't against the law."
"Are you really sure?"
Sam was silenced by a kiss. "Yes, my big brilliant soldier. And I intend to prove it to you as soon as possible. But first we have a job to do. It won't take long to tell them about the team's decision and the night is still young."
They left the guest palace with Samantha's arm draped over Janet's shoulder and shortly after knocked on the door of the Queen's hut. Xena opened and motioned them in. Janet lingered in the background while Samantha saluted them and said. "Your majesty, your highness, we decided to keep quiet about what you told us this evening.
"The alliance between Gaia and Earth could be compromised if certain parts of our government learn things they are not able to understand or to accept. They still have a hard enough time dealing with a few strong and independent women among their own ranks, not to talk about a whole Nation of strong women to learn that two of them are immortal would definitively scare them away."
"Please, take a seat, Sam. You too, Janet." The Queen said. "We appreciate your effort to protect us but we were wrong to even ask you to make such a decision. Xena reminded me of the military chain of command. It would be compromised beyond recognition if we let you keep this quiet."
"We know of the risks, your majesty," Samantha answered. "That's why I ordered the others to do it. This way their careers won't be jeopardised."
Xena shot Gabrielle an 'I told you so'-glance and smirked.
"I know that there are a lot of people in your world who could become rather annoying but they are no danger to us. On the other hand, they could make a lot of trouble for all of you, and Senator Kinsey and the NID are only a few of them. Tell me, Sam, do you trust General Hammond?"
Samantha fell silent and Xena got up to serve them a mug of tea. No one said a word but it wasn't an uncomfortable silence, giving the blonde the chance to think about the Queen's question.
"You are right, Gabrielle. I'll go and speak to the General. He trusted my judgement more than once even though he didn't completely understand what I had in mind. It's my turn to trust him. He will know what to do and whom to trust. I planned on doing some research on the possibility of upgrading the iris with your energy shield tomorrow. May I instead be allowed to return to Earth to speak with General Hammond?"
"Permission granted. As long as you're back for the party, Sam." The tall blonde rolled her eyes. Xena only grinned and continued. "As we speak a pad with all necessary historical and medical data is prepared, so you can prove your words. I'll give it to you after your training session. And now, there are a few other things we have to talk about. Get comfortable, this probably will take some time."
Samantha questioningly raised her left eyebrow in an almost Xena-like fashion.
"Do you trust us, Sam?"
"We wouldn't be here if we didn't, Gabrielle."
"No, Sam, I'm talking about a deeper kind of trust. Would you trust us to do what we ask even if you thought it would endanger Cassandra's or Janet's life? Please think carefully before you answer."
The tall blonde closed her eyes to block out the world and the expectant gazes around her. She then turned sideways and searched Janet's warm brown orbs. She saw love and unconditional trust, without letting her out of sight she answered.
"I don't trust easily but from the moment I saw the two of you together I knew that I could trust you. Yes, I'd even trust you with Janet's life but you're getting me really nervous here."
"I know and we're sorry, Sam, but it can't be helped. What Gabrielle told the others were the bare basics. There is a lot more to say but it simply would take too long and despite all the things you both have seen during the last few years you're not yet ready to believe what we have to say. Bottom line is: we want you to undergo a special training while you are here, Samantha Carter, to teach you to better use your natural skills and to tap into the energy and knowledge and skills given to you by Jolinar. It will be physically and mentally taxing and you will need Janet's support, Janet's love to see you through but we feel that it's important for the future that you do it. Will you ta..."
Xena was silenced by a hand on her upper arm. "No, my love, we can't ask her to make this decision on trust alone."
Gabrielle turned her attention to the other women who now were sitting next to each other, as close as one can get without sharing the other's skin.
"The things we want you to learn will do more than simply improve your skill set, your physical prowess and your intellectual abilities. It will change the way you see the world, the way you see the people around you, the way you see yourself. It will not change who you are and what you feel, though it may allow you a better access to your feelings. It will have an impact on your everyday life. That's why you have to know more about the bigger picture, so to speak.
"Today, I told you that Artemis sent a friend to Gaia with the first set of settlers. She was more than a friend, however. They had been lovers for centuries and longer, and Athena/Artemis wanted to keep her safe during the final stages of the battle against Ra on Earth. When the Ring was lost, they were separated, Artemis was thought dead and in her grief her lover vowed to take revenge on Ra whom she held responsible. Her..."
"Her name was Egeria, the mother of the Tok'ra."
"Yes, Janet. Her name was Egeria and she was the first Tok'ra but there are more ways to become a Tok'ra than being created by Egeria. I'm sorry it simply would take too long to go into any detail. Egeria devoted all her time and energy to fight Ra and the other System Lords. She had a rather direct approach and wanted to destroy them one by one. Her children finally convinced her that the only way to fight the Gao'uld was to destroy them from within, to destroy them with their own weapons. Centuries passed and she was so absorbed in her task that she lost track of what was happening on this planet, with the people of her lover.
"She had given them the means for technological development, the means to protect themselves. Not as good as we do now but enough to keep the Gao'uld and others away. Unfortunately there was no spiritual power to counteract or to avoid the misuse of the technical knowledge. That's how we found them when we came here with the last remnants of the Amazon Nation. Egeria saw what her single-minded focus on revenge and hatred had inadvertently done and Artemis/Athena had a hard time to talk her out of her guilt. But whenever something went wrong with the Tok'ra or the people on Gaia she retired to Gaia's temple, seeking solitude. The last time was when Athena ascended and Artemis ceased to exist. She hasn't left the underground of the temple since. She says it hurts too much to see all the places where she had been happy with her lover."
"But you said that this happened more than three hundred years ago, Gabrielle?"
"Yes, Samantha, 324 years and five moons. She says that she will be there for us when we'll need her, when the time has come. She also told us that now she needs the time alone to calm her spirit and gather her strength. From time to time she calls for me and we talk, about the time we spent here, together but mostly we talk about the years on Earth, the decades before we came here. Sometimes she warns us about the plans of the Gao'uld.
"Egeria's spiritual powers always have been above average; else she wouldn't have been capable of creating the Tok'ra. They wouldn't have been any different than the Gao'uld otherwise. Since Artemis left us, Egeria gave free reign to this spirituality.
"Every once in a while she can tap into the minds of the System Lords and the other Gao'uld.
"She saw that some of them are afraid of something, of someone. You probably already heard of him. He picked up where Apophis failed but he's much older, more powerful and countless times more cunning than Apophis or even Sokar ever would have thought possible."
"Anubis, yes, Janet. Five or six thousand years ago the System Lords defeated Anubis but even then couldn't kill him. It was the first and last time that they really worked together not just tolerating each other like they usually do. They really combined their forces to get rid of someone they all felt threatened by. They put his body in a small spacecraft and sent it into deep space, hoping that he would stay there forever. He's back now and more powerful than ever. The System Lords have every reason to fear him but at the moment, dealing with the Tau'ri, Earth is not paramount in his plans. Sooner or later his priorities will change. You already did too much damage to the Gao'uld to be totally left alone, despite the agreement with the Asgard.
"However, there's no guarantee that what we want you to do will contribute to save your planet 'cause the future is still unwritten. However, we feel that aside from your personal growth, the chances for Earth and in the long run for us could be improved but it also could be the other way round."
Samantha took a sip of her already cooled down tea. She absentmindedly played with Janet's fingers, stroking them, caressing them, holding them gently between her own hands. "Anubis is this powerful?"
"He's not invincible and though the host's body is immortal, the symbiote can be killed. The future can't be foretold." Xena answered. "It's like in a fight; once it's on a lot of unpredictable things can happen."
"Like in a baseball game. There's a set of ground rules but everything else is up to skill, chance, and luck." Samantha said, still holding on to Janet she turned her attention back to Gabrielle. "Egeria, is she reliable?"
"Yes, she is and she proved it more than once."
"You said this training will be mentally taxing. What exactly does this mean?"
"You will learn how to access what is left of Jolinar without any technical help. Using Gao'uld technology no longer will be a problem to you, and to a certain degree you also will have access to their genetic memory." Noting the gleam in Samantha's eyes Xena continued. "Don't get too exited, Samantha. It only will be a very limited access. And there is a down side: Jolinar has to become a part of you, almost as if she were still sharing your body but without being able to dominate it, to control it. It's not easy and you will need the stability of Janet's love but it can be done."
"What you're talking about sounds like some sort of multiple personality disorder. It sounds dangerous, and I don't like it."
"But Janet, think about all the good I could do with knowledge like this!" Samantha answered excitedly.
"It is not about the knowledge, Samantha. You can get this from my Consort. She was a host twice. No, it's more about personal growth. Jolinar can become a guiding spirit to you. Her memories no longer would be so hurtful and threatening, disturbing your dreams. And it could give you the chance to work through the guilt you still feel for her death."
"Why me? What makes me so special? Is it just because I once was a host to Jolinar?"
"No, Sam, but it's still too early to tell you everything. Please have some patience. And, Janet, Samantha won't be in any danger. She won't speak with Jolinar's voice or something but she will be able to communicate with her. She will come out of this even stronger and more sure of herself."
Samantha's body language told the brown-eyed doctor that she already had decided to do it. She saw it as a challenge and the soldier in her never could resist a challenge. So, she closed her eyes, tightened her grip around Samantha's fingers and finally asked. "What will I have to do, Gabrielle?"
"Xena will work with Sam and I will work with you. I will teach you how to help her. You can only be successful together because Jolinar will only be the first step. What you now feel for each other will increase tenfold. It will become almost impossible to conceal the changed nature of your relationship from prying eyes. That's why we want you to take your time deciding. Tell us after the party." The Queen answered.
Janet and Samantha excused themselves, and as soon as the door was closed, Gabrielle asked. "Do you think we did the right thing by not telling them?"
"We didn't have a choice, Gab, and you know this. Sam is mentally very strong but sooner or later what is left of Jolinar would have overpowered her, using her own darkness to do so. She has to learn how to control her darkness and the best way to do this is by controlling Jolinar. At the moment Sam sees this whole thing as a challenge, and she's competitive enough not to resist a challenge. Telling her means she would do it out of fear; she would become suspicious of her actions, of her thoughts, of her feelings. We didn't have a choice, my love."
"I know, Xena. It's just that I really wish we could tell her the whole truth."
"We will, as soon as she is ready to hear it."
"You're right, my warrior and now I think you have to pay for the bet you lost."
"I'm at your command, my beloved."
"I think we'll start with a full body massage."
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