~ Iron Rose Bleeding ~
by Anne Azel

To: Inga, Lisa, and Susan, thanks for your help.
The Anne Azel's World web site is now found at

Note To The Reader: All the information used in this story about trends and concerns on our planet is current and accurate data. In the next fifty years, our world will change completely.

Iron Rose Bleeding
These are the events as we know them.

We recorded them factually and objectively.
And now we report them to you.


They ate late in an almost empty dining room. The click, click of cutlery against bone china seemed to echo about the room. Tap was annoyed to note that the silence was far more deafening than Courtney's continual banter. "You will tell me please what you learned," Tap requested politely, when she could no longer stand the silence.

"I thought my lack of advanced education and dull intellect made my understanding of the issues of little importance," came the quiet but acidic response.

Tap blinked. Then blinked again as she considered the implication of what Courtney had said. "You feel that by giving you an honest assessment I have insulted you? Would it have been less insulting if I patronized you?"

Courtney put her utensils down with some force and looked at Tap with annoyance. "No it would not. But I have been working my tail off to absorb all the information that you have required of me and I feel I have done a pretty good job of it. So I resent being dismissed as lacking knowledge and intellect."

"Did you fully understand the economic issues discussed today?" Tap asked.

"Of course not!" Courtney barked in annoyance, folding her napkin and dropping it on the table.

"You do not want dessert?" Tap asked in surprise.


"You always have dessert," her boss stated, lifting her hand slightly to get the attention of the waiter. In rapid Italian she explained to him what she wanted and with a nod he left.

"I have been pleased by your efforts, Courtney Hunter. There is no shame in reaching limits. If you will please indulge me, I have asked the chef to prepare something special for us. There is a small library that is quite comfortable. I thought we could talk about what you heard today while we have a desert," Tap stated formally but with kindness, as she leaned back in her seat and met her trainee's eyes.

"You never have desert," Courtney stated, meeting those strange aqua eyes without blinking.

Tap smiled softly. "Court, I am trying to meet you half way. You will please indulge me and not be so difficult."

"Is that your way of apologizing?" the librarian asked.

"Apologizing? I never apologize. I do as I wish. That is my right."

Courtney bit her tongue so that the sharp retort would not escape. She was here in Rome at Tap's expense and as arrogant as Tap's conversation had been it would not do to criticize...at least not at this point. Courtney was experiencing a growing feeling of anxiety that Tap might be far more powerful and dangerous an individual than she had realized. Some very powerful and famous people today had shown great respect towards her boss that came dangerously close in its appearance to fear.

A heavy silence fell again. Tap frowned and looked at Court, her eyes reflecting her frustration and annoyance. Court sat stone faced and angry, her eyes fixed on a spot over Tap's left shoulder. "We will go to the library now and have the dessert I have ordered and you will tell me what you have learned," Tap stated and stood.

Court followed her out of the dining room pulling faces at Tap's back. Such acts, although considered immature, are often committed to relieve emotional tension.

The library, however, did have a mellowing effect the ragged emotions of both women. It was small and intimate and a fire crackled in the hearth. Dessert too pleased both of them. It was a dish of bite sized balls of Italian ice cream served on a silver, pedestal tray filled with dried ice that poured trails of mist onto the table. Each ball of ice cream was dusted with a different kind of ground nut. Inside was fresh fruit ice cream and in the centre a piece of the fruit, each marinated in a different liqueur.

The tension between them relaxed and Court hesitantly gave a summary of what she had learned. "I'm afraid that the maths left me well behind but as I understand it the general gist of the meeting was that the world is facing an economic crisis. Certainly, in our life time significant raw materials such as oil, gas, and copper will run out. Britain, the US and Canada have already peaked in their oil reserves."

"Meaning?" Tap asked, as she helped herself to another ice cream ball.

"We have essentially tapped all the oil that there is and we are now in the process of using it up at an alarming rate. In fact, old coal driven generators, once closed in Europe and North America as an air pollution hazard, are being reopened to provide a reliable, cheaper, domestic power source."

Courtney frowned and looked moodily at the fire. Tap said nothing, waiting for her trainee to continue. "There were other elements that worried me more. The fact that only twenty per cent of the world's population, primarily Europeans, control eighty per cent of the world's wealth is very distressing. Recent growth in terrorism seems to have a direct link to the hopelessness and poverty of some nations. As resources and opportunity run out, 'have not' countries are becoming increasingly scornful of the 'have' countries."

Tap nodded, pleased that Courtney was beginning to put her various studies together. "Earth is a beautiful paradise floating in a vast cold universe. Yet it bleeds itself to death," Tap observed. "It is like a rose, so very beautiful and yet it fades so quickly when picked. Perhaps that is part of its romance, that it can last for only a brief time."

Courtney looked up into Tap's eyes with interest. She had not heard Tap talk with such passion before. Tap was all about logic and reason not passion. "Do not give up on our world, Tap. We might be seriously wounded but we are an iron rose bleeding. Humans are very resourceful and our will to survive is iron strong."

Tap looked with curious eyes at the woman whom she had brought into her system. Certainly, Courtney Hunter had displayed that sort of iron will. It was what had attracted Tap to her. "Tell me then, Courtney, what makes this planet bleed?"

"So many things," Courtney sighed. "An increase in terrorism, famine, war, are all around the corner as the world fights over its dwindling resources. The gap between those countries in the microchip age and those in the medieval age continues to widen. United Nations' studies indicate that poverty and ignorance breed violence, oppression, and disease. Terrorism, the rise of fanatical leadership that gives false hope to the disenfranchised, and the rapid spread of new diseases like AIDS, hepatitis C, and new TB strains, are all examples of this."

Tap, who had been listening with one ear as she watched the fire, looked up in surprise when she heard the catch in Courtney's throat. "Is there something wrong?"

"Tap!" Courtney snapped, getting to her feet and pacing about in the small room. " Everything is wrong. Don't you see how serious a situation we are facing?"

"Yes. I strive, and so must you, to remain objective," Tap observed, annoyed by Courtney's rudeness in pacing about in front of her. It lacked respect. "Please sit down and continue."

With eyes blazing, Courtney sat and seeing that Tap was waiting for her to continue, she gritted her teeth and tried to appear objective. "Economically competitive nations are certainly preparing a new generation in terms of education and focus to win the economic wars ahead but that might not be enough. The looming population crisis the world is facing, the threat of global warming and the destruction of the ozone layer, rising sea levels and the displacement of millions of people as a result are all adding to the potential for a major world crisis twenty or so years down the road."

Tap nodded. "Any other factors?"

"Yes, many. The destruction of farmland, the overuse and misuse of fresh water supplies, the reduced genetic pool in hybrid plants, there are problems rising on so many fronts." Courtney sighed, feeling a real depression starting to fall over her.

"Your conclusions?"

"We will survive and come out of this turbulent time better and stronger,"Courtney said with feeling, and felt the confidence of her statement renew her hope.

"You are a born optimist, Courtney Hunter," Tap smiled. Courtney had chosen not to sit in the wing chair opposite Tap but to curl up on the rug near the fire. The firelight highlighted the gold of her hair and bathed her form in its soft glow.

"And you, Tap, what are your conclusions?"

"I too believe in the iron rose," Tap murmured, as she slipped off her chair and knelt beside her trainee. "I have bet my existence on it." Very slowly, she bent forward and placed her lips against Courtney's. Courtney hesitated only a second and then responded. When their lips finally parted, Courtney found herself wrapped in Tap's arms. It was a wonderful feeling.
Tap's body was hard and lean and ever so warm. Courtney felt right there.

Neither one of them spoke for a very long time. To do so would be to give up the moment and neither one of them wanted to do that. It was finally Courtney who pulled back slightly to look into Tap's remarkable eyes. "I don't think we are being objective," she smiled. There was no response. Tap seemed almost in shock. "Tap are you okay?"

Tap blinked then seemed to focus herself. "Yes, yes fine. I had no idea...that was a very powerful experience."

"You have never kissed a woman before?" Courtney asked.

"No, no," Tap responded, reluctant to let go of the woman she held in her arms.

Courtney seemed to sense her need. Instead of continuing to pull away, she leaned her head on Tap's shoulder and nuzzled her neck with her lips.

"You must stop this," Tap groaned, but making no effort to push Courtney away. It was Courtney again who decided that this could not go any further and slowly eased back. If Tap had not had any experience with a woman then it wouldn't be right to go too far too quickly.

For a long time, Tap sat beside Courtney with worried eyes staring at the fire. Then she suddenly looked at Courtney. "I have decided that I will date you," she announced, " and we will see were this physical attraction goes."


Courtney lay in bed staring at the light patterns on the ceiling. She was still in shock. Tap's sudden announcement that she would be dating her to see where their physical attraction would lead them had left Courtney, for the first time in her life, totally speechless. Such practical and honest declarations are rare and so few people, including Courtney Hunter, knew how to properly respond.

Courtney wondered what the hell was going on here and what had she got herself into. She was forced to admit that it was her strong attraction to Taylor Alexandria Punga that had drawn her into the situation where she now found herself. Now, having spent time with Tap, she had come to realize that Tap was well beyond her league. The thought of being dated by Tap was both irresistibly fascinating and absolutely terrifying. Courtney still had no idea who or what Tap was but she did realize that she was immensely rich, brilliant, and powerful. She had the money, resources, and connections to make even the most powerful figures in the world fear her. Why was she interested in ordinary Courtney Hunter? It just didn't make sense.

Warning bells were going off loud and clear and Courtney had to admit that she was good and scared. With a shaky hand, she touched her finger tips to her lips. Tap's kiss had been so gentle and soft yet it had sent all the right messages and Court's body ached to respond. It was these raw desires that would win out over logic and reason.

Tap too had laid awake for a very long time. It had been a new experience kissing Courtney. A devastating experience. Tap felt shaken to the core of her being. Never had she imagined that the physical contact with another woman could be so powerful an experience. Her lips had barely touched the soft, warmth of Courtney's when her whole world had tilted. She felt her body respond as if it had suddenly woken into a new dimension of feeling, which in fact it had. She found herself now wet and hot with desire like an animal in heat. It was both shocking and wonderful all at once.

Her decision to date Courtney was going to threaten everything. Perhaps even bring her downfall. She was well aware that informants would have already passed the disturbing news on to her brother but she simply didn't care. All she really wanted to do was to go over and knock on Courtney's door so that she could be invited in. What would it be like to sleep next to this woman? To have sex? Tap groaned with need and tossed her pillow across the room in frustration and anger with herself for being so weak.

The next day, Courtney had to struggle hard to keep focused and take in any of the information that she was hearing. The presence of Tap beside her was almost physically draining. That morning, Courtney had been woken with a gentle kiss. Tap had laid a bouquet of roses on her bed and told her she needed to get up. But at breakfast, which they had in their suite, Tap had read the morning papers, sharing them politely with Court but saying little.

Court would have liked to discuss what had happened the night before and set some ground rules but clearly this was not the time. So she had waited. They had ridden in silence to the meeting keeping to their own sides of the bench seat in the limo and once there the day had followed the same structure as the day before.

It was the afternoon lecture by the United Nations' representative of the Council on World Poverty that at last made Courtney focus. The figures were shocking. Courtney had already read a few papers referring to the coming world population crisis but here was the actual data presented in a very scary manner. Countries such as Pakistan, India, Columbia, Brazil, Bangladesh were already experiencing crisis situations in some areas. Canada's population density was only 2.5 people per square mile yet India's was 233.1 people per square mile. It had taken the world 12,000 years to increase its population to one billion humans but at the current rate of growth, the world's population will go from five billion to six billion people in only eight years. Bangladesh and Vietnam would double its population in less than thirty years, Ghana in less than twenty years. Already the strain on the world food supply had reached critical proportions. Twenty years ago, the world maintained a five year surplus of food, today that margin of safety had been reduced to just months. The impact this growing crisis was going to have on the global economy was staggering.

It was a very sober Courtney who slid into the seat beside Tap that evening. "You are tired?" Tap asked.

"No, overwhelmed by the staggering extent of the problems facing the world in the next few years," sighed Courtney.

"Do you wish to change your assessment of your bleeding iron rose?" Tap asked, watching Courtney intently. Body language and expression are a far greater indication of feeling than words.

"No, no,"Courtney answered slowly, deep in thought. "But I am beginning to realize that the solutions are going to mean very hard decisions and not everyone in this world will survive this crisis. Twenty years down the road, the world will be completely different than it is to day."

Tap's brief smile expressed a far deeper understanding of what lay ahead, but she chose not to share that knowledge. Courtney did not see Tap again that day. Tap informed her briefly that she had business to attend to that night and that a meal would be sent to Courtney's room. "Please do not try to escape," Tap had stated bluntly, but the threat was somehow not as strong because Tap had raised an eyebrow and smiled.

Still, as Courtney ate her solitary meal in their suite, she was very aware that she was indeed a prisoner. She suspected that she would not get far if she was to try to leave the hotel. Just to assert some independence she spent her meal thinking of possible ways to escape. Then, with a sigh, she had settled down to do some more reading. Much more of this and her eyeballs were going to fall out.

Courtney woke to find the sunlight playing across her bed. The smell of coffee and fresh bread drifted through the door. Groggily, Court looked at the clock and was shocked to see that it was almost nine o'clock. Then she saw the note. 'You are very beautiful when you sleep. Your face is so innocent and young. Today, instead of flying back, we will go sight seeing. TAP. Perhaps not the most romantic of notes but it was special to Courtney because she knew that Tap had meant it to be caring. She smiled softly, folded the note and carefully put it away safely inside her briefcase. Then she slipped from the bed and headed to the bathroom.

It was a beautiful day and Tap did her best to be a good guide. Her sense of presence and tall, straight bearing seemed to part the crowds of tourists wherever they went. The shorter Courtney followed gratefully in her boss's wake. They went first to the Vitale Vaticano. Tap explained that Vatican City had many outstanding art galleries and museums of art and artifacts collected or donated to the church over the centuries.

"It would be impossible sadly for us to see and do justice to all the fine works that are on display here. There are Egyptian, Gregorian and Etruscan treasures. There is the antiquarium that houses the Roman antiques and then there is the vase collection, the tapestries, the maps, and Raphael's works, and..."

"Please Tap," Courtney laughed cutting into the list that threatened to go on for some time. "Can we see the Sistine Chapel? I have always wanted to view it."

Tap smiled. "A good choice for such a brief visit. Although it is a magnificent work and one could spend days looking at it, sadly the crowds make it less than the spiritual experience it should be."

"Do you like art, Tap? I noticed in the room...aah..where you found me that you had a some significant work from the turn of the century."

Tap's eyebrow rose in amusement. "You wouldn't be referring to the room I found you in the day you broke into my quarters, would you? Maybe I should count to see if they are all there."

Courtney blushed. "Very funny!" She might have taken offence at Tap's teasing but just then Tap took Courtney's arm and they made their way through the press of tourists to the ticket booth. The simple touch was almost too intense to bear. They moved apart again as soon as they could, both a little embarrassed by how deeply they had reacted.

"Two please," Tap managed to get out through a throat suddenly tight with emotion.

"26 lira." Tap handed over the money and took the tickets.

"I could pay," Courtney stated, as Tap checked the time of their tour.

Eyes the colour of the Caribbean Sea trained on her. "Courtney Hunter, this is a date I am taking you on and so I must pay. Besides I am rich and you have no money."

Courtney put her hands on her hips and looked up at Tap in mock annoyance. "So who said you get to be the butch?"she challenged.

The look of total surprise on Tap's face almost made Courtney laugh out loud but she felt a point needed to be made here right at the beginning. Dating your boss was a difficult situation to be in.
"And I do have some savings. It probably wouldn't seem much to you but I can afford a ticket or two."

Tap shifted from one foot to another feeling just a little uncomfortable. The truth was that Courtney's money had disappeared along with her identity by Tap's order. "I think I am much better suited for the role," Tap stated, totally floored that Courtney would question her natural authority.

"Do you? Well, you are wrong. If we are going to have a relationship it has to be on an equal footing," Courtney explained, determination written all over her face, holding her ground as a stream of tourists broke around them.

Tap tried in frustration to explain her position without revealing anything to her trainee. "I am your boss."

"Granted. And until my training period is up, I have agreed to accept your authority over me. Even to the ridiculous point of being kept virtually a prisoner. But outside of that boss-trainee relationship we have also decided to explore an emotional relationship. That must be on an equal footing or I am not interested."

"You broke into my quarters because you were interested," Tap pointed out to her, with growing annoyance.

Court snorted in disgust and rolled her eyes to the heavens. "You are so arrogant! Believe me, Tap, as much as I will admit to finding you fascinating, I can live without you. Well are we going to have an equal partnership or not?"

Tap was blinking in shock. It had hit her like a wall that she didn't want Courtney not to be in her life. These new feelings were very strong and erupted on her without warning. Worse still, that Courtney did not feel the intensity of the bond really hurt. "You owe me, 13 lira,"she stated rather stupidly.

Courtney smiled. "That's okay, you can pay this time. I'll get the next entrance fee."

Tap blinked again, trying to make sense of Courtney's rapid change in stand. "You do not wish to pay for your ticket now?"

"Not this time,"Courtney smiled, rather enjoying watching the super- confident woman floundering in confusion.

"Can we go now to join the tour, Courtney Hunter?"Tap asked, still trying to get their present situation straight.

"Yes, I would like that very much, Tap. Thank you for buying my ticket." Tap smiled weakly, still looking rather confused and Courtney, laughing and linking her arm with the taller woman's, led her over to where the line was forming.

They stood at one end of the Sistine Chapel looking up and around in awe. Tap had manoeuvered them to the front of the group and stood close up behind her with her hands resting gently on Court's shoulder's.

"The Sistine Chapel is where the election of popes occurs and most of the pontifical ceremonies take place here. It is a barrel- vaulted ceiling, as you can see, and is divided by a marble screen. That was common in early churches, to separate those lesser individuals from the powerful who worshiped closer to the altar." Tap's explanation whispered softly in Court's ear and the feel of her warm, lean form up against her was giving Courtney sensations that one should not be having in such a holy place.

"The ceiling is, of course, by Michelangelo. He painted it at the order of Pope Julius II between 1508 and 1512. It was only gradually that Michelangelo became committed to the project. He had wanted to spend his time working on marble sculptures. We still have some of his marble work left unfinished."

"It is breath-taking, Tap. How did he ever do it? The ceiling is so high up," Courtney asked, unconsciously leaning back against the taller woman as she looked up at the magnificent ceiling.

Tap swallowed hard and forced herself not to squirm. "He lay on a wooden scaffolding and painted onto wet plaster. It is called fresco. Julius II had wanted the ceiling to show the lives of the Apostles. Michelangelo convinced him to allow the painting of a much bigger image of the religious history of Christians as they wait for the Messiah. Note the very heavily muscled, peasant women. It was illegal to study anatomy and to have female models at that time so Michelangelo's women are not very feminine by today's standards."

"Yes, I can see that but still the overall effect is so powerful," Courtney murmured as she strained to see the fading colours and brush strokes high above her head.

"Julius and Michelangelo had a very stormy relationship. Julius was a little short of cash because of the wars that were going on and Michelangelo felt he should be paid more often. It wasn't until twenty years later that Michelangelo returned here at the request of Paul II. Between 1536 and 1541, he painted the wall behind the high alter. His famous "Last Judgement." Legend has it that the figure over there in the fresco is Michelangelo himself."

"Really? Neat. Who did the walls?"Courtney asked, becoming aware for the first time of the rich illustrations down each side of the chapel.

"The wall frescoes were painted earlier, between 1481 and 1483 by Botticelli, Rosselli and Chirlandaio. The panels represent the lives of Moses and Christ."

"How do you know all this stuff?" Courtney asked, as they were jostled out to let a new group of tourist in.

Tap smiled down at Courtney with a twinkle in her eye. "It's all in the data files of my library."

Courtney groaned. "More reading! I should have known!"

They found a quiet café and had morning coffee while they watched the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Rome. They shared a basket of croissants Courtney topping hers with grape jam and washing it down with a latte while Tap sniffed at her own bread suspiciously and ate it plain with a black coffee.

Courtney sat back in her seat and watched Tap with interested eyes. It wasn't that Tap was extraordinarily good looking, although she was. There was a presence about her of strength and danger, like a panther that has arrogantly sauntered into town and sent everyone fleeing. Her hands were long and graceful and yet gave the impression of being strong and capable.

Courtney looked up to catch Tap looking at her. "Does my appearance please you?" Tap asked, not with conceit but with real interest.

Court blushed at being caught staring but answered honestly."Yes. I find you very attractive but more than that there is something...exotic about you."

Tap looked at her trainee with curious eyes. "I find you very appealing too," she responded, awkwardly, clearly uncomfortable with that realization.

Courtney nodded. She had to remember that Tap was just starting to explore her new awareness of her sexual orientation. "It's okay to love who you want," Courtney stated. Tap smiled sadly but said nothing.


With great embarrassment, Tap reluctantly let Courtney pay for their morning coffee. Then they slipped into their limo that had pulled up to the curb as soon as the women had got up and headed over to the Piazza della Rotonda where the Pantheon stood.

To Courtney's surprise the usually pragmatic Tap became almost excited when she described the structure of this building. "The original building that stood here was destroyed by fire in 80 AD. This one was built during the reign of the emperor Hadrian. The man is known for his military brilliance but he was too a lover of the arts and had a great interest in architecture. This building is simple amazing. Look at the dome, Courtney, the central opening at the top allows air and light in, yet the massive stone blocks that make up the dome are just as sound today as they were two thousand years ago. You see, it is as if a big balloon was blown up inside and the walls and dome expanded to accommodate it," Tap explained standing in the centre of the black and white marble floor, arms spread in explanation. "The interior measures 43,40 metres and it is the same in height. The whole building is a perfect sphere. That is amazing. This place was built by hand, each block chipped into shape and lifted into place." Tap turned around, looking up at the structure with real admiration in her eyes and a sense of pride.

A woman passing by Courtney, leaned over and whispered, "I wish we had your guide. She is certainly enthusiastic."

Courtney chuckled and Tap went beet red with embarrassment. "I am not your guide," she stated with some indignation.

Which made Courtney laugh even more. "Of course you are not,"she pacified the miffed woman.

Their next stop was the Colosseum. Tap paid the extra 8 lira each so that they could go up to the second level. Looking down on the ruins of the floor and sub basements, Courtney began to understand Tap's excitement with the wonder of this early architecture. "This place is contemporary with the Pantheon and was built at the order of the Emperor Vespasian. It was designed to be flooded so that the "Naumachie""naval battles" could take place here. They also held "Munera""gladiator fights" and "Venationes""wild animal hunts". The place held 97,000 spectators and the doors were labeled with the row numbers to allow an easy flow of crowds," Tap explained seriously.

"It is unbelievable. Look at the size of it!" Courtney exclaimed, leaning forward to get a closer look at the passageways and cells in the substructure below.

"It eventually fell into disuse and became the city garbage dump for many years," Tap stated.
Courtney looked at Tap with interest. There was a sadness in the taller woman's eyes. An awareness of things cruel and violent. "You don't like this place, do you?"

Tap shrugged. "War is an art but one that is so dark that it leaves only pain even for those who win. I do not see the entertainment in that. Are you ready to go?" Courtney nodded and they left in a quiet and reflective mood.

They spent the remainder of the day walking through a nearby shopping area and packing for their flight out that night. Tap, who dreaded the thought of shopping, found that she had enjoyed herself simply because Courtney was having such a good time.

Once again, they took the Concorde across the Atlantic. Courtney tried to read but the article on the massive destruction of the rain forest by lumbering and the impact that had in reducing rainfall to the interior areas had made her quite depressed. When she got to the part where the author talked about how 1965 was the last time the planet was able to produce more oxygen than was needed and that every breath taken since had gone through four sets of lungs first, she gave up. Maybe the average person had it right: watch sitcoms and don't think about the crisis that lurked just around the corner.

She took her pillow and shyly leaned it against Tap's shoulder. "Is this okay?"

Tap nodded and smiled and then went back to her work. Courtney curled close and placed her head on the pillow, needing to feel Tap's warmth.

The next few days were very busy and she hadn't seen Tap since they had arrived back at the estate. Courtney had been archiving the data they had brought back and keeping up on the reading that would arrive daily on her computer. But on the third night, she was woken by the sound of Tap calling her name outside her tent. She crawled out and stood and was wrapped insistently in Tap's arms. "I have missed you."

"I know you are busy but you could email me or something,"Courtney suggested, holding on tightly to Tap.

"I have been away. It is not always possible for me to communicate freely. Sometimes situations are tense," Tap responded cautiously. She felt Courtney's body tighten.

"Are you in danger, Tap?"

Tap rubbed Courtney's back gently. "My position creates danger for me but I am careful. You are not to worry."

"I do worry. I...I care about you, Tap," Courtney admitted a bit afraid of how Tap would take that admission.

For a second there was silence. "I care about you too, Courtney Hunter. Come and sit down here on the rocks, I need to talk to you about tomorrow. Each month, I have a meeting with my chief personnel and report to them on my findings. Tomorrow you will speak instead."

Courtney looked up into clear aqua eyes in surprise. "Tap do you think that wise? They might resent me."

"It is decision I have weighed very seriously and I feel this is the course of action that needs to be taken. There are many things that you are yet unaware of that I have considered in making this decision. Can you be ready to present a summary of our data by nine hundred hours tomorrow?" Tap asked, as she lay back with a sigh and looked at the dome above. It was late and the courtyard lights had now been turned off. Through the dome a thousand stars shone brightly in the night sky.

Courtney lay back beside her. "Yes. I think so,"she said, with more confidence than she felt. She needed to prove she had a right to be here. For a long while, they lay in silence looking at the stars overhead and listening to the soothing sound of water as it flowed over the rocks in the channel.

A satellite caught the light of the sun and slowly drifted in an arc across the sky. Tap pointed it out to her. "It is a French communication satellite," Tap explained. "An old one from the 70s."

"Do you believe in UFOs?"Courtney asked, dreamily.

"What?"came the sharp reply. Tap had been taken unawares and needed time to think where this conversation was going. "What" is not always used as a question but as a means of forcing clarification to allow time for thought.

"You know UFOs, little green men sightings," Courtney laughed.

Tap cringed. "Do you?"

"Well, not little green men or even flying saucers. The distance to the nearest planet that might be able to support life just seems way too far away to allow conventional space travel. It would take light years just to get here even at the speed of light. But I do like to think that there is intelligent life out there. Don't you?"

"Yes, I believe the same. The idea does not scare you?"

"Of course not...well as long as they remain a theory. I mean if an alien was to beam down here I'd probably have a heart attack," she laughed.

Tap gave a ghost of a smiled then went on seriously, "I would like to sleep with you tonight, Courtney Hunter."

Courtney's eyes got round. "Aaah, Tap, I mean I am attracted to you but I don't know you very well. I don't..."

"I do not feel that I am ready for sex with you either, Court. I just meant that I want to sleep beside you. The kissing makes me want more."

Courtney looked into those remarkable eyes for a long time. "You are a very strange person, Tap. You say and do things in such a - different way. But I can't help wanting more too. If I have your word that you will not take advantage of the situation, yes, I would like to share a bed with you too."

Tap stood immediately and offered Courtney her hand. She pulled the smaller woman up effortlessly. Courtney got what she needed for the night and together they made their way across the channel to the path in the courtyard that ran along the front of the staff quarters. Dark eyes watched them go.

They entered the sand room and crossed over it to enter a smaller room filled with electronic equipment. "Security," Tap explained, and keyed in some codes that allowed Courtney to follow her into Tap's private rooms undetected.

The room was - different. Once again, there was no furniture. One wall was a sheet of water that flowed over metal and ran out a channel in the floor. The others were a soft, silver grey. Each of the three remaining walls had an abstract painting on it in gentle muted colours and flowing lines. Courtney walked over to one and looked at it intently. It almost seemed to move. "Who is the artist?" she asked. "They are all by the same person I can tell." Her back to Tap, she did not see the look of astonishment.

"They are Tay Appala Punra," Tap answered honesty. When truth is not understood it is as good as a lie.

"I don't know the name, but this work... it seem so familiar. They are beautiful," Courtney stated ,and turned to see Tap looking at her with a smile of appreciation. "No bed, huh?"

"I always sleep on a mattress on the floor. Is this satisfactory to you?" Tap asked, trying to act as if her world had not been rocked by Courtney's innocent remarks about the paintings.

"Yes, that is fine." Tap nodded, and started to take her clothes off carefully hanging each piece in a walk in closet off to the side.

At first, Courtney had hesitated but when she remembered that nudity was no big deal in the community, she followed suit, pleased that Tap's eyes reflected approval of Courtney's soft curves. Court had always been athletic and her body was well toned without being muscular.

They showered separately, Tap going first while Courtney finished hanging her clothes up. It seemed strange to see her black jump suit next to Tap's. On hers was the red tag that allowed her into the private areas and public areas of Tap's world. On Tap's pocket there was a blue bar. Courtney wondered what secret places that security strip would open. She didn't touch it. Already she was in way over her head.

Tap was already propped up on cushions and reading off her palm pilot screen when Courtney returned. At the sight of her, Tap put down her reading and watched as Courtney crossed the floor and sunk onto the mattress beside her. Tap flipped the cover over both of them and the light in the room slowly faded.

The sensation of lying beside Tap was wonderful. It just felt right to be there. As unusual as Tap's environment was, it felt as if she belonged there. She relaxed slowly and then curled up close to Tap and went to sleep.

Tap was a very long time getting to sleep that night. She stayed awake just soaking in the physical sensations of sleeping naked beside Courtney. It was like nothing she had ever experienced before. The intensity of the sensation made her close to losing control. She knew psychologically she was not ready to consider having a sexual relationship with Court but physically her body was crying out for release. Finally, sleep came and she drifted into a sensuous dream.

It was a raw, passionate mating, their lips hungry and needy of each other. Tap could feel the warmth of Courtney's body on her and instinctively she knew what Courtney would do to give her pleasure. The dream taking was intense and vivid and Tap woke with a gasp and shudder of need.

Courtney was asleep, one arm wrapped over Tap's waist and her head resting on Tap's shoulder. By sheer will power Tap regulated her breathing and controlled her need. She had promised Courtney that she would not take advantage. It was a rash promise made with no real understanding until now as to just how strong the desire to have sex with someone you were really attracted to could be. Tap, for the first time in her adult life, felt herself totally out of her depth.

What shall we do?
This is not right.
It could bring an end?


When Courtney woke the next morning, she found herself alone. A sharp stab of sadness pierced her soul before she rationalized it away. Tap was a busy person and had probably been up for hours. It was kind of Tap not to disturb her. Embarrassed that someone might find her there, she showered and dressed quickly and headed out. She grabbed a coffee and a bran muffin for breakfast in the green section lunch room and headed into the library to prepare for her meeting. At 8:30 Haichen walked in.

"Tap has sent me to escort you to the meeting room," she said. "You are ready, Court?"

Courtney smiled and slipped her notes into a file folder. "Sure I'm ready." She gave no indication to Haichen that she was a nervous wreck and embarrassed that Haichen might know where she slept last night. This whole situation was getting way too complicated.

"This is a great honour, that you have been asked by Tap to sit in on the meeting," Haichen explained.

"Is it? I thought I was part of the team now, even if I am only in the learning stages," Court smiled.

Haichen stopped and looked at Courtney with eyes that revealed nothing of her emotions. "There will be some who do not approve. It would be wise to be careful." Courtney nodded but said nothing, not sure if Haichen was giving her a friendly warning or was threatening her.

They sat around a large, highly polished wood table in the red zone library. No one reacted to Haichen escorting Courtney in. Either they had known ahead of time that she would be joining them or they were being very cautious. No one made eye contact with her. They sat quietly waiting, each apparently lost in their own thoughts. It made Courtney feel uncomfortable. Then Tap walked in and they all stood. Only after she had taken her seat at the head of the table did everyone sit down and appear to relax a bit.

Tap looked around, her eyes finally settling on Courtney sitting near the end of the table. "A change of procedure today. Courtney Hunter will present the data and field questions." No one's expression changed and yet Courtney could sense their shock and intense interest in her. She felt like an exotic fish in a bowl. Squaring her shoulders she looked around the table confidently and started.

An hour later she was just winding down. "It was my impression that the general consensus was that economic stress could have any number of possible flashpoints. Several areas in South America, the Middle east, and the Pacific Rim Nations would certainly be areas of immediate concern. The growing fundamentalist views in many religions are also a factor which helps to narrow the probability rate. To pick, however, a specific country or countries from an extensive list of potential areas of concern would be risky. Such decisions are easy to see in hindsight. The reality is there are many areas of the world capable of spearheading a major international crisis. We are a small global village and any group making waves affects us all greatly. Does that..."

The door slammed open and a man strode in confidently. He was tall and underweight and yet appeared to have a wiry strength. His eyes were dark and his hair more unruly but in all other ways his features were very similar to Tap's, just heavier set. Everyone stood immediately including Tap.

He stopped and looked around the table, his eyes finally settling on Courtney. His lip curled for a fraction of a second. Then he looked at Tap. "Tay, the Council has just informed me of what you have been up to." He spoke with a soft voice that had wonderful resonance to it despite the fact it was edged with steel. " I could hard believe that you would dare to disgrace your family by..."

"I will dare anything to achieve our goal," interrupted Tap, and slowly sat down. She sat relaxed, looking at the stranger with a calm and defiant manner. This time Court could see fear and indecision on the faces of the others at the table.

She wasn't sure what the hell was going on but she did know what side she was on. She sat. She looked across at Haichen and met her eye in a steady, confident challenge. Haichen hesitated and then sank weak-kneed into her seat. Slowly one after the other, they all followed suit.

The man gritted his teeth and controlled his temper with difficulty. Spinning on his heel he left. There was a moment of silence then Tap's eyes focussed on Courtney. "That was my brother. Thank you, Courtney for a detailed yet concise summary of the lectures we heard in Rome. I must ask you to leave now as I have matters to discuss with my senior personnel."

Courtney blinked, trying to make sense of the sudden change in events. She gathered up her file and stood. "Thank you for this opportunity," she said formally, and left. Calmly, she walked back to her small office in the green zone and threw her papers on the desk. "Arrogant assholes," she muttered, and sat down to think things through.

Courtney seethed. She had thought she had worked hard to meet Tap's expectations, she'd even shared a bed with the woman, kissed her, trusted her, and she had been the first to show her support of Tap at the meeting, then she had been basically thrown out on her ear. Well to hell with this! She was not going to be used and treated like pond scum by anyone.

Tap looked around the table at the stunned faces. More had happened in the last twenty-four hours than in all the time that they had been working on this project. "First, you may speak freely at this meeting. Second, I am going to say what you already suspect and have discussed behind my back. I have feelings, of a emotional and sexual nature, towards Courtney Hunter. That has been a - shock to me and I am still learning to deal with the issue. One of the rules we established in undertaking this project was that we would maintain complete objectivity. I have just admitted that I have broken that rule by becoming emotionally attracted to someone who is most definitely not one of us.

"I must admit then I have a bias and the justification I give you now is based after the fact. I think we might be a lot closer to our objective than we realized. That is the good news. The bad is the consequences that we might be facing by changing our focus. My brother, I think, made his position pretty clear. I have now trusted you with a secret that could ruin me. I am going to ask you each in turn to tell me if you feel you have compromised your objectivity by feelings or actions that involve you directly or indirectly with those outside of this project."

Some hours later, Tap sat alone in her private offices. She was deep in thought. Her meeting with her personnel had been both interesting and shocking in nature. It would take her time to digest all the information that had been reluctantly and awkwardly presented to her. Time was something she suspected that she had little of. She would need to act quickly and boldly. The time for objective observation was at an end.

Tap with respect.
We must speak.
There is great danger.

"I am aware of that. I have been in danger since the day I was born."

But you are the figurehead.
You must consider carefully
Is this the right course?

"I feel it is. To be truthful, I can think of no other and time has run out."

Then it must be
No matter what the consequences
It is our path.

The door slipped open and Haichen quietly entered the room. Tap looked at her with interest, wondering if she was one of the informants in her midst. "We are going ahead with project EB1," Tap stated.

Haichen's only reaction was to sink slowly into the chair by Tap's console. "Will it be Courtney Hunter?"


Haichen said nothing. Today had been one nasty shock after another. She felt as if the world had tilted as she stood on it. Worse, she found that she had divided loyalties. She had lied to Tap this morning and she was not very comfortable with having done so. A lie is eventually always exposed. Her meeting with Tap was brief and to the point; then she was dismissed.

Courtney stood when Tap walked in, her eyes flaring with annoyance. She had become increasingly aware that Tap was very powerful and far more than an "objective" observer she insisted that she was. Courtney knew she was walking a narrow line here but she felt she had a point to make about the way she was prepared to be treated while she was here. "We need to talk," she stated firmly.

Tap raised an eyebrow as if she had only just become aware of Courtney's ability to articulate. "Very well. You will come with me, please."

Courtney followed, a little taken back at Tap's willingness to comply so readily. She was led to an area of the house that she was not aware existed. It was what appeared to be a medical centre.
Courtney had only a quick glance around when she felt suddenly faint and the world spiralled in. Her last sensation was the warmth of Tap's arms around her.

A short time later, Tap stood looking down at the naked body of Courtney Hunter with some pride of ownership. Courtney Hunter had a beautiful, well-toned body. "This procedure, it will not cause her discomfort or any bodily harm?"

"She should be unaware the procedure has taken place once she regains consciousness," Jean Lamount murmured, as he checked that the necessary materials had been laid out.

Tap nodded. "Proceed," she stated.

Courtney woke and blinked in surprise. She was back lying in Tap's room. She turned her head and looked around. In the corner was all her cargo, including her small tent now rolled up neatly. What had happened? Fear washed over reason as she threw back the sheet and checked for any physical marks. She had all her fingers and toes, they hadn't taken blood, she was completely dressed, so what had happened and why was she here?"

Tap walked in quietly and knelt beside her bed pallet. "You are well? You became unconscious when we entered the lab. I have been concerned. The doctor feels that you are alright but I am glad to see you awake." Tap leaned forward and kissed Courtney tenderly, then with a soft groan of need she lay down beside the smaller woman.

"I passed out?" Tap didn't answer but Courtney was not expecting her to. "That's unusual. I've never done anything like that before. Why is my tent here?"

"I ordered it removed. Just in case you are not well, you should not be sleeping so roughly. Also I admit that I want you to stay here. You will won't you?" Tap asked, hoping Courtney would comply and not make things difficult for her.

Courtney snuggled close, happy to be near Tap but still annoyed at being kicked out of the meeting. "We never talked. Can we now?

"Yes," Tap responded, trying not to show her uneasiness.

"I was embarrassed that I got thrown out of the meeting. I was the first to show support for you and I have followed your leadership without question because of our agreement. But I am not a fool. It is clear that there is a lot more going on here than I know about and I am angry at being left in the dark and increasingly concerned that there are things going on that I might not want to be part of."

Tap considered here words carefully. She was walking a very narrow line now and she could not afford even the smallest mistake. "I did not mean to make you uncomfortable, Court. But you must understand that there have been projects under way here for a long time and that because of the nature of our work we are privy to a lot of top secret information. We must be careful. My gut tells me I can trust you but my head has to remember to follow security procedures to the letter. There will be a time in the future when more will be revealed to you. For now, you need to trust that when I tell you I mean you no harm and I am not involved in the violation of any international laws that I am telling you the truth." Courtney nodded slowly but her eyes remained sad and worried.

Needing the reassurance of contact, Courtney reached her hand out and touched Tap's breast and saw Tap's eyes darken with need. Yes, this was good. Slowly she pulled the zipper on Tap's jump suit and moved closer to nuzzle Tap's throat as her hand slipped in to tease a hardened nipple. She could feel the effect she was having on the taller woman and that made her need to pool low and hot in her being. She had fantasised about Tap for a long time and to be able to have this effect on her boss and know she was the first woman to do so was a real rush.

Gently, she pushed Tap back and moved over her, enjoying the feel of Tap's warm, strong body under hers. It was Court's mouth that now teased Tap's nipples. Tap groaned and bucked with excitement. Court was not surprised when the woman came with a sudden gasp. Tap was experiencing the power of love between two women for the first time. That gave Courtney satisfaction too. She held Tap in her arms and whispered words of love, letting her slowly come down from her climax.

Together, they drifted off. The dream was of motion and pastel currents intertwined with each other. She was on Tap, in her, part of her. The sensation was like nothing Courtney had ever had before and she was very reluctant to wake.

It was nearly a week later that Courtney realized she was in very big trouble. Tap had told her that they would be leaving for Geneva to observe a conference of the World Health Organization the next day and Courtney want to leave everything in order before they left. She thought she would also see what the local library had on the World Health Organization and was surprised when her card number was not accepted by the computer. She then tried to access her bank accounts - nothing. She tried her apartment phone number. A voice told her that the number was no longer in service. She phoned the landlord and asked about herself, pretending to be a long lost friend. "She moved out the end of the month. Her friends that came to clean her apartment out said she got a job overseas in one of them developing nations." Fear clutched Courtney's heart as she lowered the receiver to the cradle. She was a prisoner.


Courtney paced around her small office trying to work out what she should do. She considered escaping and felt she could but they would track her down. They had infinite resources and contacts and she had next to none. She could call 911 and have the police rescue her. She had a funny feeling that by the time they arrived there would be no trace of Courtney Hunter and the police would be made satisfied with whatever story was given to them.

No, she would have to bide her time and pretend she suspected nothing as she quietly gathered information. Once she knew what the hell was going on here, the better her chances were of working out how to get out of the situation. But what about Tap? Could she go on sharing a bed with someone who was deliberately deceiving her and holding her prisoner? For a few days, she could say she was not well but then what? Courtney bit her lip and tried not to cry.

Around noon a message from Tap flashed on her computer screen. 'You will please join me for lunch in the red zone library so we can discuss issues.'

Courtney typed back. 'Can we leave it and talk on the plane tomorrow? I am not feeling well today.' Tears of fear escaped her eyes and she wiped them away. Giving in to panic was not going to get her out of this situation. The problem was, there was far more involved than just discovering she was a prisoner. She had wanted to trust Tap. She cared for her. She took a minute or two to compose herself then she went back to her work.

It was only a few minutes later when Haichen walked into her office. "You are not well, Court?"

Courtney looked up in surprise into a very worried face. She hadn't suspected them to react with concern. But she had passed out the other day so it would be understandable that Tap would be worried. The big question was, why was she important to them? She gave a weak laugh trying to sound natural. "It is okay, Haichen, I...I...I'm just having a bad period," A second later, she felt her world swirl and she passed out.

Tap paced about looking extremely upset. Haichen stood off in a corner trying not to be noticed. She didn't want that anger directed at her. The inner door opened and Jean Lamount stepped out.

"Well?"Tap demanded turning to face him with eyes as cold as a glacier.

"She is not having a period and appears to be in excellent health," Jean shrugged. To be truthful he was greatly relieved that Courtney was not ill. He too respected Tap's temper. He tried not to show that fear in front of Haichen who stood pale and worried in the corner.

"She lied?"

"It would appear so," Lamount responded, not liking where this interrogation was going.

"Why?" Tap demanded, looking now just as confused as she was annoyed.

Lamount glanced at Haichen as he shifted nervously from foot to foot. Haichen gave the slightest shake of her head. "I don't know. I can only report that happily Courtney Hunter is in excellent health." He could feel the sweat trickling down this back.

Tap paced the room and came to a stop in front of Lamount. "You will run the tests again to be sure. You are to keep Court well, is that understood?"

Lamount swallowed. "Yes Tap."

"Go," Tap muttered, releasing him from her penetrating stare and resuming her pacing. Lamount looked across the room at Haichen again. Then he beat a quick retreat.

Tap waited until he had gone and then turned to face Haichen. "She lied so she would not have to sleep with me, didn't she?"Tap asked, bluntly.

"Perhaps," Haichen answered cautiously.

Tap looked like she had been hit. "Go,"she growled, which Haichen was very glad to do.

Tap, we advise caution.
Things are going badly.
Courtney Hunter is too unpredictable.

Once again Courtney came around in Tap's quarters but this time it was Haichen who was there when she woke. "Hi Court. Are you feeling better?"

"I passed out again?" Courtney asked, feeling the cold ice of dread seeping into her gut. What were they doing to her?

"Yes. It might be the strain. You have been working very hard really, doing two jobs instead of one now," Haichen suggested.

"That might be the case," Courtney agreed, although she didn't really believe it for a minute.

Haichen looked relieved that Courtney seemed to accept this scenario so willingly. "Tap wanted me to express her concerns and to let you know that she must be away tonight but will meet you on the plane tomorrow morning if you feel up to travelling." Deception is sometimes used to protect as well as deceive.

"Yes, of course," Courtney agreed quickly. She would have a much better chance of getting out and somewhere safe if they were away from this house. Tap would not have so many people at her disposal. It was a relief to know Tap would not be around but how she was going to handle the sleeping situation in Geneva she was not sure.

As soon as Haichen left, Courtney got up and once again checked herself all over for any indication that she had been used in some sort of lab experiment. There was none. Yet she felt uneasy. She was almost sure, now that she was not passing out that somehow she was being knocked out, but how and why?

Courtney spent the remainder of the day scouring the house's computer system for any lead that would help her explain what was going on and why she was being held by these people. There was literally tons of documentation but nothing that indicated a mandate or program for what was going on here. It was late that night, as she lay alone in Tap's bed wide awake, that she realized that the answer was probably not in the main data base that she had access to but in the small security room and lab that Tap had taken her through.

She got up quickly and dressed and made her way to the doorway that Tap had taken her through. The door slid open immediately as she stood in front of it. Entering, she looked about the small room with interest. The equipment looked different from any computer system that she had seen before. She walked over and looked at a screen of data. It made no sense to her. Cautiously, she started to open data files looking for something she could use to help her escape.

Most of it was just a jumble of symbols that she could not decipher but eventually, by sheer luck and perseverance, she stumbled on a file that was correspondence to Tap. Courtney's hands felt sweaty and she wiped them on her jeans. There were emails from some of the most significant figures in the world about issues that Tap had clearly helped them with by opening dialogue and/or providing data that would lead to better understanding. Tap seemed to be exactly what she had told Courtney she was, a facilitator on request and an objective observer most of the time.

Courtney could feel the heat rising in her face. Tap and the work she did was top secret and Courtney had blundered in and demanded information as if she had a right. She could see now why information had been withheld from her. She could even see why she was a security risk. What she could not see was why that necessitated the cancelling of all her accounts - her life.

Then a brief email popped up that made her heart pound. It was a request for the termination of Courtney Hunter. Tap had casually emailed back that termination was not appropriate at this time.

"What are you doing in here?" Courtney turned to see Tap standing in the doorway.

Courtney's heart skipped a beat but she held her ground bravely. She had nothing to lose now. Whether now or later, they meant to kill her. "Looking for answers. You have lied to me over and over. I know I am a prisoner. I know my life has been erased and you plan to kill me. I want to know who you are and what you are up to and why I am being held as a prisoner until you feel like killing me."

"I do not wish to kill you. It is not possible, at this time, to answer your questions. I have asked you to trust me," Tap said, with some annoyance moving to stand in front of Courtney.

"Back off," Courtney snapped.

Anger flashed across Tap's face and for a second Courtney thought she might be hit. Then Tap took one step back. "You are not on a period. Why have you made an excuse not to be with me?" Tap heard herself asking in a voice edged with confusion.

"Look Tap, I admit I was attracted to you. But I am not some sixteen year old with blind puppy love. I have some intelligence and a hell of a lot of pride and I am not getting involved with a liar and God knows what else! Shit! You mean to kill me!"

Tap's face was hard with tense muscles. Her eyes were dark with anger. "Ian." Courtney turned to see Ian standing in the doorway of the lab behind her. "Take Court away. She is to be detained until I decide how I wish to proceed."

Courtney dived for the door behind Tap but strong arms grabbed her and held her in a gentle but tight embrace. "Do not be afraid. You are safe and you will not be harmed. I ask again that you trust me. There is so much that you do not know."

Courtney felt her arms being pulled back behind her back and secured by Ian with a plastic strip handcuff as Tap held her. "Then tell me! Damnit!" Courtney yelled.

"No,"was the curt reply as Courtney was dragged away.

Tap things are out of control.
She behaves badly.
This is not acceptable.

Tap stood looking moodily at the screen that Courtney had on. Courtney Hunter had proven herself to be intelligent, creative and determined. She had the qualities that Tap felt she needed but they were also the qualities that made her a very difficult individual to handle. She nodded slowly and having calmed herself she followed in Ian and Courtney's path.

Courtney lay on a narrow bunk in a small cell. Tap indicated that the door should be opened and she stepped in. Ian hesitated. "Yes, lock it." Ian quickly did so and beat a hasty retreat.

"Am I to be interrogated?" Courtney asked, looking up at Tap from where she now sat on her bed trying not to show her fear.

Tap looked confused. "Of course not. You do not know anything worthwhile."

"Thanks!"Courtney snarled sarcastically, standing up and pacing away from the taller woman.

"Would it make you feel better if I did?"

Courtney sighed in annoyed frustration and brushed the hair from her forehead. "Tap, what is going on? I want to know why you are holding me."

"You have qualities that I want...in my organization. I do not mean to stress you by withholding information. I don't want you stressed. But there are things going on that are far greater than you realize. You have gone through some of my files. If those people chose to trust me then why can't you?"

"Maybe they don't know that you terminate people," Courtney growled.

Honour is everything but there are times when honour must be tempered by practicality. Tap chose to lie. "You have misunderstood, Court," she said calmly. "The message is referring to me firing you, not to my ordering the taking of your life. I think you have been watching too many gangster shows. Whatever you have convinced yourself happens here it is far from the truth. There are some who rightfully feel that you have been lately a very troublesome employee and that you should be dismissed."

Courtney went a deep red as she realized that her fear had made her put an interpretation on the message that was truly dramatic. No, she must not doubt herself. "What about the fact that my apartment has been emptied and my accounts closed. Even my library card is no good anymore. Damn it, Tap, my library card!"she added, her voice breaking.

Tap took a step closer but Courtney stepped away, crying more in frustration than in fear now. Tap thought quickly. Lying is not as easy as it seems. "I should have explained. It did not occur to me that you would make enquires outside this establishment. You know you are in the process of being retrained. Part of that process, in order to protect you, is to create a new identity for you. You must trust me as so many others do."

"Am I stuck being someone else forever, then?" Courtney asked, wiping away tears with her sleeve.

"We agreed until the end of your training period," Tap evaded. Tap moved forward slowly and wrapped Courtney into her arms. For a long time Tap held the small body in her arms feeling, with relief, Courtney slowly relaxing. Finally Courtney pulled back and wiped her eyes. "That is all Tap?"she asked.

"No. There is much more but it is as much as I can say at this time." This was a honest answer yet misleading all the same.

"I feel like a fool."

"You acted with great daring and intelligence but you are very pigheaded, my Court."

The words had been said softly and with pride. The word "my" had not been one of ownership but of affection and respect. Courtney felt herself weakening. She had only Tap's word on all of this and yet it seemed so reasonable an explanation. And she had to admit she wanted to believe.
"One month, right?"

Tap nodded but said nothing.


Courtney tried not to laugh. After the stress of the day she was feeling just a bit high strung. Once again she had decided to set aside her better judgement and believe in Tap. That wasn't a comfortable decision this time. The bottom line was that all sorts of bells and whistles were going off in her head, warning her that she was in big trouble, but her heart wanted to believe in Tap.

Courtney's mom would have said that pounding hearts drowned out common sense. Her eyes would have sparkled when she said it and she would have looked at her husband, Courtney's father, with love and devotion. Her parents had dared to love and to live a bohemian lifestyle no matter what others thought.

But Tap was no bohemian. She was not soft and gentle like her parents. Not that she wasn't always polite and considerate, but there was an animal strength about Tap, an air of authority and danger that made her fascinating, sexy, and scary all at once. Those qualities were not evident tonight.

Tap had called on Courtney and had led her arm in arm through the house to the courtyard. There she had set up a small table complete with candlelight. Soft music was being piped in and Tap had ordered a meal for them. Tap was wining and dining her and the whole situation after the revelations of the day was simply silly.

With formal dignity, Tap held Courtney's chair while she sat down and then poured two glasses of juice before taking her own seat. "I wish to make amends," Tap stated, seriously.

Courtney bit her lip so as not to laugh. Tap was being so cute in her intense, formal way. "I might have over reacted," Courtney conceded. Her heart felt this was so although she would admit later that her mind was still thinking defensively and considering escape. The human mind is quite capable of maintaining contradictory beliefs easily.

They ate and discussed some of the research that Courtney had being doing. One thing led to another and Courtney found herself telling Tap stories of her early childhood traveling with her parents. Tap listened with rapt attention to stories of sun baked mesas, soaring mountains, and art colonies on rugged ocean shores. For Tap it was a real and personal excursion into a world that she understood only through data.

They danced later, wrapped in each other's arms, Courtney enjoying the warmth and strength of the woman that held her. She was amazed that Tap's stiff, formal manner seemed to melt away to the beat of the music. She was a good dancer. They kissed. Then kissed again.

"You will sleep with me?" Tap asked, gently nuzzling Courtney's throat.

"Yes." The heart had won.

This time there were no boundaries. Foreplay led to willing entry and so to release that was deep and profoundly intense. For Courtney, there was the realization that she was in love as she felt her new lover move inside her, filling her with a throbbing need that exploded in a climax that flooded her being. For Tap, the experience was first about trust, letting someone this close, giving up the power and letting Court take her as no other had ever done before. It was about feelings so new, so strong, and so personal that she was left gasping, wrapped in her lover's arms as she came.

For a long time they lay there, snuggling close, enjoying the sense of deep togetherness. Then Tap leaned over Courtney, kissing her softly. "Again Court,"she demanded and the smaller woman spread herself wide and pulled Tap down into her arms.

They sat hours later, side by side on the Concorde each feeling the contented soreness of a night of love. "Tap?"


"About last night."

Tap looked over at deep green eyes filled with gentle anxiety. "I did not please you?"

"Of course you did, Sweetheart. But...well...I was surprised. I mean...I didn't realize that you'd never made love. I mean with anyone." Courtney blushed. "Are you alright with this?"

Tap looked at Courtney with an amused but perplexed look. "Yes, of course, otherwise I would not have allowed it. It took some time to come to this decision. I felt it was a daring but necessary step for me. I like that you call me Sweetheart, but it does not show respect. You must call me Tap unless we are alone."

"Yes, Tap," Courtney responded obediently, with a mischievous grin, and was rewarded with one of Tap's rare but beautiful smiles.

Courtney tried to concentrate on her research. The author was trying to make a comparison between the plight of the worker in the late industrial revolution and the trends for the future for the echo generation, the children of the baby boomers. In the Victorian age, many workers had part-time rather than full time jobs. Today, part-time employment was up 24% and growing at a rate three times faster than full time employment. In the late 1880s, more people were self-employed in small "cottage industries" than worked in the new factory settings. At the turn of the millennium, self-employment was up 43%, and like a hundred years ago, these jobs were primarily located in homes. Today, more people had more than one job to get by just like in the old days, and companies again were demanding longer hours and more work out-put for lower wages. Late in the flight, Courtney sighed, slipped her palm-pilot into her briefcase and settled down with her head on Tap's shoulder. She wasn't really asleep just drifting, enjoying the chance to be near Tap.

She sleeps.
We will speak.
Our voice must be heard.

"Go ahead." Courtney heard Tap say. Couldn't anyone else hear those voices? She peaked out from under the blanket that Tap had wrapped around her. All she could see was the back of the seat. Who were the people ran this mysterious security system of Tap's?

Events are changing too rapidly.
Your relationship is not acceptable.
It is not fitting.

"Perhaps not. But there is no other way. Time has run out," Tap replied. They were talking about her! Tap and the voice didn't think she was acceptable or their relationship fitting. And what was time running out on?

She is not one of us.
She lacks intelligence.
She has no culture and little awareness.

"I will proceed with my study of Courtney Hunter. Go." Courtney forced herself to keep her eyes shut and to continue to breath regularly. So she was just another one of Tap's studies. How many lies had she been told by these condescending assholes?

They touched down in Geneva and Courtney busied herself with getting her few things together. She followed Tap out, a look of studied calm on her face.

"You are okay, Court?" Tap asked, looking at her with worried eyes, as they walked through customs on their diplomatic passports.

"Fine thanks. Just a little tired," she lied. She knew that Tap's security personal were already ahead of them. She would not have a very great window to make her escape yet it was important that she do so.

She handed her phoney passport over to the customs officer and watched calmly as he checked her information on the computer screen in front of him. She wondered what lies about her past he was being told. How much English did he know? Could she ask him for help? Tell him that she was being held a prisoner? No, that was not going to get her anywhere but into more trouble. Tap had power and credibility. She had none. Her story would not be believed and she was sure that Tap would have a reasonable explanation for Court's strange behaviour.

She took back her passport with a weak smile and joined Tap. Together they walked through the maze of corridors until they entered the main concourse of the airport. It was crowded. Courtney thought about making a break for it but before she could, Tap took her arm and started to steer her through the crowds to the arrivals' door.

The glass doors slid open and stepping out, Courtney saw the limo pull out and head towards them. She acted before the thought had even completely registered, throwing her briefcase into Tap's face and darting out into the heavy airport traffic. Cars honked and slammed on brakes as she darted across four busy lanes of airport traffic. Ahead of her a railing separated a level lower down.

There was no time to consider caution. This was her only chance. Blindly she vaulted the metal railing and dropped right in front of an on coming truck. It slammed into her at hip level and threw her back over the rail where she bounced off the rear of a passing car and under the wheels of a taxi.

Tap saw it all as if in slow motion. Her heart contracted with fear and she charged out into the mess of screeching brakes, car horns and curses without a second thought. "Court! Court!" Tap pushed the shaken taxi driver aside and slid onto her belly to reach Courtney, who lay partly under the car. Courtney was covered in blood, her body ripped and distorted by shattered bones. A pool of red was spreading quickly from beneath her. There was so much damage it was almost impossible to know where to apply pressure. Tap didn't need to be told that Courtney was dying. "Court," Tap sobbed.

Her eyes opened and looked into Tap's and her lips moved. Tap leaned close to hear. "I loved you."

Tap's face hardened into determination. With hands now covered in blood she held Courtney's face and looked into her eyes. "Trust me!" Tap demanded.

Courtney's new world of pain tunneled. She felt herself floating, drifting through a tranquil current. The noise around her disappeared and the pain that throbbed through her body vanished.
The next second, she was walking out of the airport again. She saw the limo pull out to meet them, then Tap's hand clamped painfully around the wrist that held her briefcase. Before Courtney could even process the contradictory information, she had been pushed into the back seat of the limo and she heard Tap yell to get them out of there.

Was she dead? Was this some sort of dream within the coma that she had drifted into? She fought against Tap for all she was worth. This whole thing was wrong. All of it. "Let me go, fuck you! Let me go!" Tap held her in an iron grip with easy. Her face was expressionless only her eyes, still wet with tears, indicated her emotion.

"You will be quiet, Court or I will have to knock you out," she commanded.

Courtney stopped fighting and lay quiet, not out of obedience but because she needed to regroup and figure out what the hell was happening to her. Try as she might, the pieces would just not go together. With grim determination she fought down the panic that was welling inside her. She had been hit by a vehicle, she knew that. She saw it at the last second when it was too late to save herself. She had felt the pain of the impact and felt herself thrown through the air as lightly as a feather. Then the second and the third impacts had sent explosions of pain even through the blackness of her unconscious mind. It had been Tap's voice calling her name that had made her fight back through the agony.

She had seen the horror in Tap's face, heard the confusion around her, then...what then? It was all a mass of undefined sensations until she found herself walking out of the airport once again. She must be in an ambulance not a limo. She must be dreaming. Maybe they had given her something for the pain. She was badly hurt, wasn't she?

Nothing was making sense. Tap was still lying on her. Holding her down with Court's hands held firmly over her head.

"You are hurting me," Court said softly. Tap looked down at her with concern. Those amazing aqua eyes were the last image that Courtney saw for a long time.


Courtney woke for a change in a conventional bed. She was at first aware of only two things. First, that she was naked and second, that she was not alone. Her eyes shifted to her right. Lying on her stomach beside her, with her arm thrown over Courtney's waist protectively, was Tap. Tap, thank God was dressed.

Courtney lay still for a minute trying to piece things together. Had she had a nightmare? She could feel no pain. She looked down at what she could see of her body above the bed sheets. No cuts or bruises. But the memory of being hurt very badly was terrifyingly clear in her mind. Her eyes shifted again towards where Tap lay. Serious aqua eyes looked back at her.

"How do you feel?" Tap asked.

"Well, but very confused," Courtney managed to answer calmly, although she was feeling anything but.

"I need to talk to you. Please do not try to escape. It would be a pointless effort. You will be under constant guard from now on."

"I've escaped before," Courtney needled.

"You only escaped from a room not the compound. This time they might kill you. I do not wish that to happen." Tap swung off the bed in one quick and graceful movement like a cat springing. For a second, she paced at the end of the bed and then stopped and faced Courtney. "I do not recall ever being really scared in my life until today. I have been scared enough today for a life time."

"I was hit by several vehicles wasn't I?" Courtney asked, a fear growing in her gut as she realized that she was involved in something that had no rules and no common experiences to fall back on.


"I thought I was hurt badly."

Tap squared her shoulders and looked Courtney in the eyes. "You were hurt fatally. You were only moments from death. I chose to step back in time and change the course of events."

Courtney's eyes got round with shock. She was trapped here with a mad woman who thought she could play God. Carefully, she moved her arms and legs. No pain. Everything worked. She felt up and down her body, no casts or bandages. "You are drugging me. I don't know what you want but I have no information that could be the least bit of use to you."

"I am not drugging you. I am telling you the truth," Tap stated, frustration edging her voice. It had been the worst day of her life.

Courtney snorted. "You wouldn't know the truth if you stepped on it. Everything you have told me from day one has been a lie."

Tap turned away and tried very hard to keep her temper. "I want you to listen to me. You humans think you see flying saucers and little green men from Mars. We talked about this once. You know as well as I do that the vast distances between this planet and others would make such travel impossible. Even a message traveling near the speed of light could not cover such distances in hundreds of years...in this dimension."

"What are you talking about?" Courtney snapped. She wanted to get up and out of here but somehow she no longer felt comfortable being naked in front of Tap. Nor was she sure her clothes were going to be in the closet.

Tap sighed and tried again. "There are many dimensions. Far more than humans realize. In other dimensions, space/time is easily traveled."

"This human is aware of Einstein's theory of General Relativity despite your low opinion of my intelligence," Courtney said with some sarcasm, folding her arms and glowering at Tap. As if she wasn't confused enough. She sure didn't need this crap dumped on her.

Tap nodded looking some what relieved, the sarcasm seemingly lost on her. " My natural environment is in another dimension."

Courtney's eyebrows knotted in an annoyed frown. "You are telling me you are an alien."

Tap cringed. "I am a species that has a different origin than you. Yes."

Courtney snorted and rolled her eyes. "Let me guess, you are really some sort of space monster and I am about to find out I have been sleeping with some kinky space lizard."

"I am NOT a lizard!" Tap snarled in anger. "How dare you! Just the opposite it is true. I have being sleeping with an animal."

Courtney picked up the clock radio from the side table, tore out the plug and heaved it at Tap's head. Tap ducked and spun. She reached out her hand and just before the radio could crash into the wall it stopped. Then it slowly moved backwards through time. Courtney could feel her breaths returning to her body. Slowly, the clock moved back along its path. Courtney felt as if she was in the frames of a video on slow rewind. The clock entered Courtney's outstretched hand and she watched as she lowered the clock to its original position, Courtney's hand put the cord back in place and then came to rest at her side.

"I repeat. I am not a lizard. I have no idea why humans insist on making other species into such disgusting forms. You are an animal. Your kind lived on the savannah. A scavenger who had no more intelligence than it takes to knock two rocks together to make a hand axe. We saw promise despite that and started a seeding process."

"What?" Courtney asked, trying to take things in. Her mind was on so much over load as a result of these events that all she wanted to do was sit in a quiet corner somewhere and try to pretend none of this had ever happened.

"Millions of years ago, earth time, we started to change your genetic coding, making you more like us. That policy was stopped sometime ago as too risky. We had some very unfortunate incidents on other planets. The variables are just too great and it can place unrealistic strain on lower creatures. It would seem, however, that having started the process on Earth it has continued with some amazing results."

"Tap this sounds like a science fiction B movie. You don't expect me to buy into this, do you?" Courtney's mind had decided the best way to handle all the contradictory data of the day was simply to go into denial. She had never been hit by a truck, she had never traveled through time, the clock had not flown backwards, and she was not the product of a laboratory experiment in genetics by some lizard race. Denial helped stop her head from spinning.

"If you are so superior, like some Dr. Who Time Lord, what are you doing bothering with me or this planet?" Courtney challenged. From Courtney's perspective there were so many holes in Tap's story that it looked like Swiss cheese.

Tap felt the heat rise in her face and for a long time she stood staring at a wall trying to find answers. When she spoke, it was with an effort to keep her emotions in check. "Just before, I mean, at the airport. I was holding you, trying to hear your voice. Y...You said you loved me."

Courtney's heart skipped a beat. She had said that. She remembered now, lying in Tap's arms and needing her to know before she died. It was her turn to blush. "I thought I was dying."

Tap looked like she had been hit. "You wouldn't have said it otherwise?"



"It would only complicate things. I don't see much future in falling in love with someone who thinks they are an alien and thinks of me as an animal to be studied," Courtney stated, anger and hurt lacing her voice.

Tap looked panic-stricken. It should be noted that Tap had experienced just as much data overload as Courtney had that day. Courtney though was used to dealing with emotional surges; for Tap these were uncharted waters. It is difficult yet for Tap to completely understand why she chose to take the course of action that she did. "I think, that I too love you."

For a second, a silence fell on the room as the two women dealt with the enormity of this simple statement. Then Tap was kneeling beside Courtney's bed, her arm wrapped over Courtney's body. "I was never so scared in my life. There was blood everywhere. I knew I was going to lose you from my life and I couldn't bear that. So I chose instead to change the course of events. I need you well. There are reasons... but that is not it. I did it because I think I love you and I did not wish to lose you."

Courtney was pale with stress. With a shaky hand she reached out and touched Tap's warm skin. "Is this the way you really look?" she asked.

Tap took her hand and the next instant they were part of an endless sea. Their life forces intertwined, flowed through each other, a part of each other, then they were back in the room.
Courtney bit her lip trying to chart the wild ride she was on emotionally. "You are part of an energy force, like a sea of hot tides?"

Tap smiled encouragingly. "Sometimes . Yes. We have a planet like yours too."

"So can you morph into anything?"

Tap tried not to smile. "No, not really. As infinite as the possible combinations are, there are limits to the patterns of carbon-based life forms. Courtney nodded, her facade of bravery starting to crumble.

Tap checked herself from wrapping Court in her arms. "If I promise you that there is no lizard blood in my family and that I have never been a worm-like alien, would you feel comfortable letting me hold you?" Courtney's answer was to fall into Tap's arms and hold on tight.

"This is ludicrous," Courtney sobbed near to hysteria, "You are threatening to kill me if I leave this room. I've come back from the dead, and I'm hugging someone who thinks there an alien and that I'm a stupid, mouth-breathing primate. I haven't even had lunch yet! Boy, when I get my head together you are going to be in big trouble."

Tap kissed the top of Courtney's head softly. "We have not dealt with humans in a very long time. I admit we had biases. I know that I have learned much from you, Courtney Hunter. I nolonger believe that humans lack intelligence or cultural awareness. You have very different world views and thought processes that is all."

"And I'm NOT an animal!" Courtney stated, swatting at Tap's arm. She was acting irrationally she knew but her nerves were shot. Everything she believed in, her whole concept of reality, had just tilted to the left.

"Actually you are, but a highly developed one," Tap corrected seriously.

"Yeah, well what are you if you aren't a lizard?" Courtney demanded through her tears. "Listen to me. I'm talking as if you are an alien now. I'm losing it!"

Tap stiffened with indignation. "Unlike humans, we have been a highly developed intelligent life for millions of years,"she said formally. "Our origins are obscure."

"Ah! You and your voices talk about me like I'm a lab rat. You think nothing about ordering my termination. There is no doubt you lot are cold blooded and slithered off a rock somewhere. Oh shit! How can I have fallen in love with you?!"

Tap was a bundle of contradictory emotions herself by now. She was angry at Courtney's insults directed at her species, she was concerned that Courtney would become sick because she was so upset, she was frustrated by not being able to make Courtney believe her and she was very excited by having Court so close. Shit! How had she fallen in love with this human?

"Court, I know this is very difficult for you to take in all at once. But I do need you to try to calm down this is not good for you in your condition." Tap attempted to comfort her.

"What do you mean my condition? I was hurt after all?" Courtney asked, as she blinked back tears and pulled back to look at Tap.

"You have been honoured. You are carrying my child." Tap beamed. It was shortly after this statement that Tap was forced to render Courtney unconscious once again for the good of all three of them.


Torgga Appala Punra stood perfectly still. Around him he could feel the pure life force of his people. It helped to calm him. Calmness was essential for clear thinking. He should have killed his sister, Tay, long ago. The people loved her but she could have had an unfortunate accident. Instead, he had sent his rebellious sister as far away as possible on a mission that had no real significance until now.

Now everything had changed. He should have known that Tay would use what few resources were at her disposal to achieve her goals. But what was she up to? His spy knew little: only that Tay had taken a human lover. A woman. There was no harm in this. Even if Tay was capable of having children, she couldn't do so by a woman. The thought of his sister with one of those animals turned his stomach. He had read that their cousins the chimpanzees were all hairy, had huge incisors, and swung from trees.

The seeding program started millions of years ago was to help other promising life forms advance to a level where they could be useful neighbours. The idea was built on the erroneous assumption that other life forms were capable of developing culture and values. This had not proven to be so. His people had had to prove their superiority in a number of wars over thousands of years. Now another seeded area was threatening to be a nuisance, but this time Tay Appala Punra was there.

We feel your stress.
Can we help?
We are here to guide.

"Tell me what my sister is up to," Torgga demanded.

This is not our role.
We do not report.
We only offer wisdom.

Torgga's anger shattered the peace he had been labouring to bring to his soul. "I am a Tap! I am wise. What I need is information! Go!"

As you wish.
We are not far,
if we are needed.

"Kaysolna." Torgga felt the brush of another current of life close to him.


"I want to know everything my sister knows about these ape-people of planet Earth. Have your security personnel devise a way to access her station's data banks. Go."

"Yes, my Tap."

For a long while, Torgga stood staring out into space. The Earth solar system was so small, so far away, it could not be seen. It was located on the far edge of the outer spiral of the galaxy. A remote, cold wilderness. What was Tay Appala Punra up to?

Tap turned as Jean Lamount entered the room. "Well?"

"Her blood pressure is low. Shock, I suspect, but it is not dangerously so," Lamount stated cautiously. "The trip back has not done her harm." He would have liked to remind Tap that the first three months are unusually risky in human pregnancies. To have told Courtney at this time that she was expecting a child by a member of another dimension was rash but one did not correct someone of Tap's position.

"Nothing must happen to Courtney Hunter or our child."

"I understand."

Tap looked at her feet, a worried frown on her face. Then she looked up at her medical officer with eyes as piercing as diamond. "I will see her now."

Lamount licked his lips nervously. "She does not wish to see you. To force the issue might lead to unnecessary stress." Lamount jumped as the palmpilot Tap held in her hand was whipped across the room and smashed into pieces that bounced and rolled along the floor. Doors flew open and Ian and several other security personnel charged into the room. "Get out!" Tap hissed and they beat a hasty retreat.

Tap walked over to Lamount. Her movement was like a panther's, fascinatingly beautiful and so terribly deadly. She stopped so close to him that he could feel her warm breath brush his skin "You will talk to her. You will make her understand. Go," she stated barely above a whisper. The power of the words, however, sent a chill down his back. Tap was always polite. When she wasn't it was wise to be afraid.

"Understood," he stated and left as quickly as he could without seeming to run.

Tap paced about the room, barely controlling the frustration and anger that came from the hurt at Courtney's rejection of her and their child. She didn't understand. Courtney had said that she loved her. Had she lied?

"Tap, may I enter?" Tap looked up to see Haichen standing in the doorway. That had never happened before. A Tap is always aware. She could see the uncertainty and concern in Haichen's face. Emotions, Tap was to realize, can cloud reason and dull perception and awareness.

"I have much to think about and do not wish to be disturbed. That should have been obvious," Tap responded coldly, trying to give the impression that she had been aware of Haichen's presence. "You have done so, I am assuming, because the situation warrants it."

Relief then fear showed on Haichen's face. It was not wise to displease a Tap. "I apologize for disturbing your contemplation, Tap. Torgga Appala Punra has attempted to access our data banks."

A smile, cold and challenging, slowly raised the corner of Tap's mouth. One eyebrow arched up and she looked at Haichen with eyes sparkling with excitement. "Have you ever been in a war, Haichen?"

"Not direct combat, Tap."

"It is a horrible, draining, demanding lover who always leaves deep scars on your soul. Yet a lover war is because it can draw and hold your heart."

Haichen frowned. She had not ever seen Tap like this. Her commander was known for her clear, logical thought and calm assessments. She was speaking like a Guardian not a Tap. "Your orders, Tap?"

Tap's smile widened into a grin. "Let my brother retrieve all the data he wants...on planet Earth. He has neither the skill or the flexibility to use that information to his real advantage."

Haichen's eyes widened in shock. Tap had just openly criticized her brother. Most had thought her sitting in Torgga Appala Punra's presence had been a signal that Tap meant to claim Earth as her sole right but it had been far more than that. Tap meant to rebel against her brother.

"Are you afraid, Haichen?" Tap asked, with quiet confidence.


Tap nodded. "That is wise."

Lamount entered Courtney Hunter's room quietly and sat down on a chair beside the bed. Courtney did not acknowledge his presence but continued to stare at the ceiling. She had woken to find herself back at Tap's home in the room where she had been originally held prisoner. The only difference was the iron grate welded over the hole she had escaped through before and the fact that the room now had conventional "human" furniture in it. How she had got here from Geneva, how long she had been kept unconscious, or what they had done to her, she had no idea.

"Tap has requested that I talk with you," he started. Haichen had told him that the human greatly admired honesty.

"About what?" The question did not indicate interest in its tone. Courtney had not moved, not even shifted her eyes.

"Tap is not happy that you do not wish to see her." Lamount could feel the sweat running down his back. He must be careful not to undermine Tap's dignity.

"That's too bad."

Lamount tried not to show his fear. "She is most concerned and has ordered me to make sure that you and the child are well."

Courtney's head turned and she looked at Lamount with eyes rimmed in red from crying. "I am just the incubator for Tap's little alien. She cares for no one."

Lamount frowned at his hands trying to think of how to deal with this. "Tap is second only to her brother. They are like a royal house. They have absolute power. With power comes terrible responsibilities and danger. Taps must always think of the well being of their people first. That does not mean that their personal loyalties are not as strong as anyone else."

"I am lying here wondering, why me? Why not one of her own kind?" Courtney asked, a hardness in her voice reflecting her suspicions.

"We can not breed anymore."

"What! None of you?"

Lamount shook his head and sighed. "Few. Our population is dwindling. For a long time, the Taps were still able to... but not now."

Courtney's hand went to her stomach. "Then what is in me?"

"You were fertilized by a synthetically produced sperm carrying Tap's genetic code. I have been working on the process for years." Lamount heard the pride creeping into his voice despite his fear.

Courtney's head shifted again and she went back to looking at the ceiling. "So that is it, then?" Her voice was flat and emotionless. "Tap needed a human incubator and I walked in."

"No! You do not understand. That is not the case. Our research was continuing and we planned to create a similar egg with the genetic coded imbedded in it of one of the women of noble blood. Instead, Tap ordered that it was to be you. She has feelings towards you."

Courtney snorted. "I am aware of her feelings. They tend to run towards my termination. What...I mean, the child...what will it look like. I mean, is it a puddle like that life force ocean?

Lamount almost gasped in surprise. Then the rumours were true. Some of the humans, including Courtney Hunter, were developing an awareness of dimensions beyond the plane on which they existed. "Humans have evolved, due to millions of years of selective seeding, to life forms very similar to ours. We anticipate that the child will look much like Tap but we are hoping that she will inherit some of the qualities that we have lost from you."

"Like the ability to be impregnated by someone without my knowledge or consent?" came the angry response. "I have been treated as if I am no more than a convenient test tube. I do not want this child. It disgusts me." Courtney turned away and buried her face in her pillow. If the truth were known she was very confused about what she believed. On one level, she didn't want to be pregnant. On another, much against her will, she knew she was already feeling protective of the seed inside her. What really revolted her was the violation of her being, not the child. It was almost like rape.

There were other issues here too. Ones far greater than just her. Why were these aliens here studying planet earth? Was there to be an invasion? What part were she and the child to play in that? Again, Courtney found herself divided in her feelings. This was partly her child that she carried and yet this child could be the key to the fall of the human race. Her name and that of her child could be forever associated with betrayal and the enslaving of the Earth's people.



Courtney turned to see Tap standing there. "You lied to me. Then you forced your child onto me. It is a form of rape. I have no respect for or trust of you. Please leave."

Tap continued to stand there looking miserable and unsure of herself. "There is going to be war," she finally said, although it was not what she wished to talk to Courtney about. Emotions often make a person approach issues through a back door.

The statement did get Courtney's attention though. She across the room in a second, ready to face Tap down. "You are going to invade Earth aren't you? That's what this is all about. Then you'd better terminate me right now because I will do everything I can to stop you!"

"An invasion of Earth would be foolhardy and unnecessary. The war will be with my brother. Tap against Tap. He greatly out numbers me and he is immensely powerful. I might not survive.
I wished to...to see...I needed..." Tap stopped and turned away.

Before she could get to the door Courtney was there in front of her. "Sit. You are going to answer all my questions and you are going to do it now!"

Anger flashed across Tap's features. "Do not dare to speak to me like that."

"You said you loved me. I am carrying our child. I will not be treated like a concubine. You are way out of line. You came here so sit and explain. I will hear you out but I am warning you right now, at the moment I am your worst enemy."

"I have the power to do whatever I want to you." Tap's eyes were dark with emotion. They had focused on the cleavage showing in the v of Courtney's shirt. Courtney could literally feel the heat and strength radiating from Tap.

"You already have. But you won't go any farther because of the child." Courtney stood her ground, her eyes green fire.

Tap looked up into the intelligent and spirited face of the human that she had come to love. The anger of her frustration with Courtney's attitude disappeared. "The child means the world to me and to my people but that is not why I am here. I wished to see you...in case I die."

"Don't go all melodramatic on me, Tap. You are here to try to pacify me with more of your lies. I have trusted you at least a half dozen times more than I should have. And now look at me, impregnated against my will with your child. Go on, I want to hear you explain this one away."

Tap paled and went strangely still. A muscle in her jaw worked. "I can take you back so that it had never happened like I did with your accident. It would be hard after this time span but I could do this so that my child never existed, if that is what you want, Courtney." Tap's voice was heavy and toneless.

"No!" Courtney snapped and pushed Tap away. "No, no! Don't you dare take this child! I make the decisions about my body not you!" Courtney sobbed finally overcome by the enormity of the events of the last few days.

Tap wrapped Courtney's shaking body close. "I do not want to lose our child. Not now, not ever. I would die for our child, but for you, Courtney, if you asked me, I would give up this right."

"No." The answer came whispered from deep in the folds of Tap's arms. Tap kissed the top of Courtney's head.

"I will not lie to you. The events with my brother forced my hand and I needed to see that my seed would carry on my line if I was to die. But that is not why I chose you. Many would have been honoured to carry my child. I chose you because I love you and I feel that we and our races are meant to live together. I meant to honour you not to violate your sense of self."

"How many of you are on planet Earth? Tell me the truth," Courtney asked. Tap spoke beautifully and sincerely but Courtney was skeptical of believing ever again in this strange, alien woman. She felt as if her whole world had been turned upside down and given a shake.

"A few thousand. My personal household, that is all," Tap stated, feeling the peace of holding Courtney seep through to her soul.

"Your household has a few thousand people. Who the hell are you?" Courtney asked, pulling back far enough to look deep into Tap's eyes.

"I am a Tap. One of those who carries the blood of our ancestors. I am of the ruling family and only my brother has more power. My brother and I have never seen things the same way. Some years ago, I was sent to this out-planet to do research. It was essentially exile. I have used that isolation to my advantage and have found that this planet has strengths that we never gave them credit for. It is not just me that has been attracted sexually to humans. Nearly three quarters of my staff has confessed to such attractions. Several like me have become involved. I have now encouraged others to do so."

Courtney pulled away and paced the floor. After a while she stopped and looked at Tap with grave, serious eyes. "So it is not an invasion it is to be an assimilation. Either way you do mean to take over this planet."

"My people have become so insular and refined that we have lost significant traits that will allow us to grow and flourish as a people. We are a culture that has risen, dominated, and now dies of inner rot. I do not wish that to happen. I see humans as a way to regain the passion we have lost," Tap admitted.

"And what if we do not want your blood? What if we see that as a violation of who and what we are? How do I live with the fact that I and my child have betrayed the world?" Courtney asked, tears rolling down her face as she stood, her arms at her sides and her hands in tight fists.

Tap frowned. "It is the same racism that I must battle with my own people. Courtney, your planet is dying not of old age but by murder. It is a rose alluringly beautiful to off - planet people in its abundance of life and stable climate. But it is a bleeding rose. Without us you are as doomed as we are. I am not asking you to commit treason against this world in accepting my child, I am asking you to help save this world."

Courtney snorted and shook her head. "No Tap, that is not what this is all about. It is about the assimilation of earth. You have been kicked off your planet and you want mine. You forget this is an iron rose bleeding. Humans might be rather stupid, short sighted animals but we are survivors. We will find a way to solve our problems. We don't need a pack of aliens to show us how."

Tap sighed loudly in frustration and worked to keep her temper under control. She was not used to being questioned. She knew in her heart that this was a better way. It allowed for the exchange of ideas and the creative growth of thought but it was very difficult to learn to listen and to deal with those who do not see things as a Tap would.

"Courtney, you have read the reports, your will be facing in the next twenty years many major crises. Rising sea levels will displace billions just as the world populations double, climate and growing seasons will change just when food is needed the most. The air is nearly toxic, the ozone layer is deteriorating, exposing your people to cancers, deserts are growing and fresh water supplies dwindling. The world economy is failing as the gap between the have and have not countries grows, poverty and disease are on an alarming rise, and natural resources, fish, copper, oil to name only a few are running out. You are well past the point of no return. You need us. You are not bleeding you are haemorrhaging to death."

"It would be better to die free than to live on as slaves of some alien race," Courtney stated quietly.

Temper won out. " You are a racist who would die rather than see our bloods mix even though the genetic structure of both of us is now nearly the same. You never loved me. I will always be seen by you as some alien lizard instead of a representative of the noble race from which I come. Perhaps invasion and the eradication of your kind would be a blessing to this universe rather than an atrocity." Tap stood tall and rigid, pale with strain. "I ask again, do you wish never to have carried my child? I will not have my seed hated and looked down on." Tap waited, knowing if she had to reverse time she would do so at great risk, worse the loss would rip at her heart and tear at the fabric of her conscience.

The silence dragged on. "I need to be alone, Tap. Please go," Courtney whispered. Tap turned and left, relieved that at least for the time being their child lived on, yet hurt and angered that Courtney did not return the same feelings for her.

Torgga turned slowly and looked at the nervous official who had brought the message. "What did you say?" he asked slowly in disbelief.

The official swallowed and tried not to show his fear. "The Council has received word from Tay Appala Punra that she will return and address them. They are now forming in the grand hall of the Taporian Council. The Grand Council has requested that you honour them with your presence, Torgga Appala Punra."

"I will be there. Go," Torgga responded and watched with satisfaction as the official scurried from his presence like a scared beetle.

The time is near.
We see a cusp in time.
All is on a knife edge.

"I do not need such warning. I am not so stupid as to underestimate my sister. What is she up to? That is what I need to know! Tell me!"

We do not know.
Nor could we tell.
This is not our role.

"Then leave me. I have no time for riddles." Torgga sneered. "Send me Kaysolna. There are plans to be made."

The Council must approve.
They grow weary and cautious.
Opposing views lead to division.

Torgga smiled coldly. "The Council will support me. I am the supreme Tap. My sister is smart and daring but she has lived with animals for too long. The Council will not support someone who lacks pride and judgement. Go."

Torgga walked over and knelt by the water that flowed through the room. It calmed him and he felt again the great flow of energy that was the soul of his people. They were his people and he would decide what was best for them. They were his to command. The people were the sea and he the tidal force.

"All is ready, Torgga Appala Punra,"said Kaysolna. The officer stood by the door waiting to be acknowledge before entering. The kneeling figure did not respond or move. Kaysolna waited, growing more uneasy by the minute.

Finally, Torgga stood and turned. "My sister must die. She is giving us the opportunity to achieve this goal very easily. She has sent word that she will address the Council. On her way back to her little world so very far away, a shift in the inter-dimensional strings will result in her untimely death. It is regrettable."

Kaysolna smiled. He had waited a long time to prove himself to Torgga Appala Punra. Now was his chance. "I would be honoured to oversee such an unfortunate...accident."

"See that it is done," Torgga responded and saw the smug smile of satisfaction cross Kaysolna's face as he left. Kaysolna had the soul of a maggot. He would be used and then discarded. That was Torgga Appala Punra's way when dealing with those who lacked cultural awareness. Still, however primitive, Kaysolna was, he was so much better than the pathetic animals with whom his sister associated.

Tap lay alone on her mattress. She had thought when she had first come to Earth that to live and work within the limits of a three dimensional existence would be easy. She now knew that this dimension was amazingly complex. Emotions were so much more intense and communication far more difficult a process.

You are determined.
You will not reconsider?
We fear the enemy within.

Tap nodded. "Yes, I do too. Yet I think that this way is better than another. I do not think if my brother destroys me that he will give another thought to this planet. War is seductive. It is life on the edge rather than the humbling existence of daily life. How much more exciting to say you are a warrior than a scribe."

War can not always be avoided.
Some causes are great.
Some honourable and noble.

"I have lived through war. I know the hollowness of victory and I have seen the despair of defeat."

Are you so confident?
Are you so bold?
Are many not better than one?

"I am neither confident nor bold. I feel that this is the right way and now I have nothing to lose."


Haichen looked at Tap with worried eyes. "Tap, the Malasha has not been used in years. It is something belonging to our ancient history. The Council..."

"The Council will have no choice. Whether it has been used or not, it is there in our laws and can be evoked," Tap mumbled as she sorted through documentation.

Haichen stood her ground. "Certainly Torgga Appala Punra will object and he has supreme control over the Council."

"My brother's weakness is his arrogance. Remember that, Haichen, if I should not be around. He will agree to the Malasha because not to would be to show weakness. He thinks he is all powerful and can easily defeat me."

Haichen did not choose her words carefully as she normally would. There was no time for subtlety. "Torgga Appala Punra is all powerful. Would we not have a better chance force against force?"

Tap stopped sorting through material and straightened to look Haichen straight in the eye. "War, Haichen, is a fickle, diseased lover. Whatever the risk, and I do acknowledge that they are high, all out war must be a last resort. We can not win such a war. All we could hope for is to die honourably."

Haichen dropped her eyes and stared at the floor moodily. The truth was slowly being accepted by her conscience; they were all most likely to die. "Yes, Tap."

Tap nodded her approval then turned as Ian walked in. " Ian, if I do not return, you and Haichen will use a small force to hold on while the others run. Tell them to spread out as far and wide as they can. Survival will depend on each individual's own cunning and strength. If I die, we cease to exist as a people and each of you must look out for yourselves."

"Yes, Tap," Ian responded, watching her put things neatly away before she left the room.

Ian looked at Haichen with curious, intense eyes. "What is she up to?"

"She means to ask the Council for the right for a Malasha."

"What?! That is nonsense. Surely, Toggra Appala Punra would not agree."

Haichen sighed and looked at Ian. "She feels he will. All balances now on a knife edge. We must be prepared. Toggra will declare war on us all and our only chance of survival will be to run," Haichen responded, using the familiar form of Tap's brother's name. She saw the shock on Ian's face and ignored it. There was no point in showing respect to the enemy. They had to change their mind set.

"What is this nonsense?!" roared Torgga, turning to glare at his official as if the man was personally responsible for the turn of events.

The man cringed in fear and responded to the question carefully. "Our spy tells us she means to ask for the right for a Malasha when she meets with the Council."

"I'll destroy her and send her parts scattering through the universe. My sister has got arrogant and ignorant living among those animals," Torgga fumed.

The official licked his lips nervously and thought carefully before he answered. "Torgga Tap, your sister is well liked by the people. She is also well seasoned in combat and a hero of the Plaideanian Wars. She is, of course, not of your ability, but a dangerous foe never-the-less."

Torgga looked at the official with disdain. "I am not without combat experience. I trained under the great Taz Appala Punra, not my sister. Her training was only what her rank deserved. She learned her skill from our field marshals and honed them in combat against lesser species. She might fight well for a soldier but I am well aware that it is the art and skill of a weapons master that will triumph."

"Yes, of course Torgga Tap. But as you noted yourself, she lost her sense of culture in living in a lesser dimension and mixing with these animals. Can you trust her to fight strictly by the rules of the Malasha? I fear not. Perhaps if you would allow me to put in place some... safeguards." The official smiled at this, knowing he had handled Torgga Tap's arrogant attitude well.

Torgga returned the smile, his lips thin and cruel. "Yes, this would be wise. Tay Appala Punra is not to be trusted. I can easily defeat her if the Council supports her in this nonsense but it would be smart to have a secret force on hand should I need it if my sister uses treachery. Go."
The official bowed and left the room.

Torgga felt a presence disturb the fiber of the dimension and Kaysolna appeared. Torgga turned to face him. "You have analyzed the data?"

"Yes, Torgga Appala Punra."

"Any weakness in these primates that my sister studies?"

Kaysolna snorted. "So many as to make them unworthy of our attention. This is not a planet of any importance to us and not worth fighting for. Why Tay Appala Punra would rebel for such a useless rock makes no sense."

Torgga frowned and looked out the window. "My sister never does anything without good reason. That planet is important. Somehow it holds the key to our problems. We must learn what Tay Appala Punra has discovered among these primates."

Torgga's eyes shifted and focused on his commanding officer. "Our spy has sent word that my sister will request the right of a Malasha."

Shock followed closely by worry showed on Kaysolna's face. "This is not good news. Will the Council support such a mad request? Should we... talk to a few members to make sure that they see things our way?"

"Not to agree would be to show weakness. I will not only agree to this madness but encourage the Council to support the request. I will do so with the confidence of knowing that my sister has sealed her fate."

Kaysolna frowned. "Tay Appala Punra is an outstanding warrior."

Torgga stepped forward and grabbed the sleeve of Kaysolna's jacket, pulling him close and hissing in his ear. "You under estimate my abilities. I am not so stupid as to let my sister put herself in a position where she can win. Forewarned is to be prepared. I do not mean to let my sister pick the time or place for battle. I will. And you, Kaysona, will be waiting to ensure a victory."

Kaysona smiled cruelly and considered the implication of what Torgga Tap had said. "The people might suspect a trap if the Malasha time and location suddenly switches."

Torgga chuckled and letting go of Kaysona's jacket he went to pour himself a drink from the ornate nectar jar that sat on the table. "Of course there will be a trap. One of my officials is working right now to set one up. He will be exposed, of course, as Tay Appala Punra's spy and accomplice and eliminated." Torgga turned to look at Kaysona and took a sip of the bitter nectar before going on. "I will triumph despite Tay's treachery. You will see to that."

It was Kaysona's turn to laugh. What Torgga Appala Punra lacked in military leadership he made up for in cunning.

In Southern Norway, 80 percent of all the rivers and lakes are dying or are already dead. The smog layer over Beijing can be so dense that the city itself can not be seen from satellites. The longest recorded drought was in Arica, Chile. They had no rain for fourteen years. In one year, Cherrapunji India received 2646 cm of rain. 7098 different varieties of apples existed in the Americas in the early 1800s. Today, the genic pool has shrunk to 977 varieties. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2075 there will be more than 153 million cases of skin cancer worldwide. Courtney woke with a start, heart pounding, and fought to push the stream of depressing facts from her mind. The future was not just hers now but the inheritance of her child.

She lay very still on the bed, staring at the ceiling. Her activity was inside as she tried to make sense of all that had happened to her in such a very short time. It seemed like madness and perhaps it was. But she could only deal with her perceptions and her perceptions told her that she was in love and carrying the child of an alien being in a world that was rushing headlong into crisis. What new world would she bring her child into? Could her daughter be happy caught between two alien realities? Was she betraying the human race by her actions?

Humans had not been responsible caretakers of planet Earth. Now the planet was balanced on the brink of an environmental crisis that would plunge the planet into years of economic and social chaos. It would be a slow, depressing decent into the new dark ages. Could an alliance with Tap's people prevent the inevitable? Or would they be selling out their humanity for a quick fix to their problems?

Was Tap right that Courtney's initial reaction had been rooted in racial intolerance? She didn't think so. Even after all the unforgivable deceptions and controlling by Tap, Courtney had to admit that a part of her still loved Tap. No, her anger stemmed from the same resentment that so many non-European peoples had felt in the years of exploration. Now she could understand both emotionally and intellectually why it was better to be poor than to be under foreign rule. She hated the thought of the yoke of colonialism that might fall on the human race if they tried to make an alliance with these alien beings. Look what Tap had already done to her.

Tears dripped slowly from the corners of her eyes and stained trails down her cheeks. She had lain here for hours going over and over things. The bottom line was the daughter she now carried bound her future to that of Tap and her race. She would not support any alliance with Earth nor would she actively undermine it unless it became clear that Tap was planning a take over. She would try to make a life somehow in Tap's world and remain a neutral observer in order to protect her child's humanity. She smiled bitterly at this decision. A neutral observer, the very thing that she had lectured Tap that it was wrong to be.

A bell chimed far off in the distance. Haichen walked in. "Courtney Hunter, please, I must ask you to come with me. Tap has instructed that you be kept safe at all costs."

Courtney smiled with sad cynicism. She had no doubt that Tap's concern was for their unborn child not her. "What is that bell?"Courtney asked as she got up to follow Haichen.

Haichen strove to look calm and unconcerned and failed miserably. "It is the tolling of war."

May the Ancient Ones give you wisdom.
May your heart strike fear in your enemies.
May your soul lead you to honour and mercy.

"I thank you, Guardians," Tap murmured, and felt herself suddenly alone as the life force of her people swayed to accept back the souls of the three who watch.

Once again Tap strove to find an inner peace. In only a short time, she must go before the Council. She needed to gather her focus. The future of her people who had willingly followed her into exile depended on her skills. Yet, she could not find the calmness that she sought. Her mind came always back to Courtney Hunter and the child she carried.

She had objectively observed the institution of marriage as it was practised in different cultures on planet Earth. She had been both moved and appalled by the forms it could take. Good marriages, loving marriages, had a magical depth of happiness that was the golden ring that all reached for on the merry-go-round of life. It was a rare reward though and to fall short of the goal could lead at the very least to boredom and, at the worst, to violence and fear.

Tap had hoped...but no, she too had reached and failed. Courtney Hunter was revolted to be carrying her child and contemptuous of Tap's love. To her surprise, Tap felt tears prick her eyes and a hard lump of emotion wedge in her throat. She fought to pull herself together. She would need all her focus to face her brother in combat and to fail condemned her people to death.

"Tay?" Tap turned in surprise at the sound of her name spoken. Only her brother would dare to use the familiar form of her name without House name or title. Courtney stood across the room, looking pale but determined. "That is your real name isn't it, not Tap?" she asked softly.

Tap swallowed hard and blinked back the tears. She did not wish to appear weak before Courtney. "Tay is my given name. It is used only by my family. Tay Appala Punra is my titled name. It is the formal way to address me. Tap is an abbreviation of my family's House. It is acceptable to call my brother or myself by this title as some of your royalty are addressed as Your Highness. Taylor Alexandria Punga is an earth name I took that matched my title and name."

Courtney's hands were balled at her sides as she listened to the response. She stood rigidly. "So I should address you as Tay Appala Punra?"

There was a time for pride and a time to recognize that being humble also reflects a personal strength. This was a valuable lesson that Tap had finally learned from her time on Earth. She walked over to Courtney and looked down into those remarkable forest, green eyes. "You have my permission to call me Tay. Although, I hope in private that some day you might wish again to call me darling."

Hesitantly, Courtney reached out to Tap. A second later, she was wrapped in the taller woman's arm's. "Courtney Hunter, I love you. I wish that we could be a...family. I wish that you would help me raise Tamma Appala Punra as our daughter. I will honour your wishes on this matter though, no matter how painful it would be for me to lose our child. I was wrong to assume that you would wish to carry my child. I was wrong not to talk to you about my wishes and needs. I....I am sorry."

Courtney pulled back and looked at Tap with a raised eyebrow. "Tamma Appala Punra?" she questioned, trying to capture the same lyrical quality to the name as Tap had used.

Tap blushed deeply. "If the name is suitable to you. It is a family name,"she added as way of explanation.

Courtney got a combative twinkle in her eye. "And in English, Terry Alice Punga after my parents."

Tap smiled in relief. Courtney was going to give Tap and their child a chance. "Agreed."

Courtney snuggled closer to Tap. "Tell me about this war."

Continued In Chapter 19

The Athenaeum's Scroll Archive