“Who would have thought it?” Yang mused, eyes never leaving the visual display. “The loony tree-hugger and the walking armoury."
Sister Miriam’s lips curled in distaste as she clutched her Bible closer to her chest. “It’s an abomination, a perversion of nature. We should invoke sanctions at once.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Morgan scoffed. “I’m not risking my trade incomes over a matter of individual freedom. We live in a democratic society, after all.” At this, Yang looked up but remained silent. The despot was always extolling the virtues of the Hive police state and berating the other leaders for their, in his opinion, inefficient democracies.
“Surely, then,” the reasonable voice of Lal interceded smoothly before an argument erupted, “the private lives of Lady Skye and Colonel Santiago should not be a topic for discussion.”
“On the contrary, Brother Lal,” Professor Zakharov said, steepling his fingers in concentration. “Their relationship is of the utmost relevance to all of us. Their little ‘pact’ could have serious repercussions for everyone. Think of it: the Gaians have been cultivating Planet’s lifeforms to obey their will. Couple that with the enormous arsenal of the Spartans and you have the most potentially powerful faction on Planet.”
Silence fell as each of the leaders contemplated that. “What do you suggest?” Morgan asked eventually, having assessed the impact on his profit margins and decided that a Gaian-Spartan alliance was not in his business, or other, interests.
“Smite the heathen!” Miriam demanded, eyes flashing with hellfire. The rest of the assembled leaders simply rolled their eyes. The Believers’ leader’s fanatical outbursts were rapidly becoming irritating. It was fortunate that there was very little military force behind her tenets though perhaps that would change over time. At the moment the other planetary council members were prepared to humour her ravings.
“We should draft a treaty to contain Gaian-Spartan aggression. To err on the side of caution would be most advisable,” Zakharov posited.
The other faction leaders looked to Brother Lal as the chairman of the Planetary Council, a concession to his position as leader of the ill-fated expedition to Alpha Centauri. Even Yang granted him a grudging respect. “Let’s vote on it. All those in favour of signing a treaty to contain Gaian-Spartan aggression against any one of the factions here present, say ‘Aye.’” Miriam, Yang and Zakharov responded immediately. They looked to Morgan, who, after a moment’s hesitation nodded his assent. Lal sighed, “I agree. The vote is unanimous then. We shall reconvene tomorrow to fine-tune the details of the Treaty. This meeting is adjourned.”
One by one the faction leaders signed off, leaving Lal alone in a room filled with a bank of blank monitors to ruminate over the day's proceedings.
“Just think of it: we can shape Planet to your environmental initiatives, upholding those principles with my elite militia. We’ll be completely self-sufficient. And without the constant harping of those idiots on the Council.”
Skye smiled a little. The Colonel made no secret of her disdain for the other faction leaders and considered the tentative democracy of the Planetary Council a sham. Lady Skye, on the other hand, wasn’t yet ready to abandon the ideals that the Unity mission had been based on. She still believed, despite the quarrelling and disputes amongst the factions, that they could co-operate.
“It’s certainly a tempting vision,” she allowed, as she reclined on the sofa. Santiago had charged into her quarters while she’d been meditating, disturbing the tranquillity without a second thought. While she might have once found the excitability of the other woman draining, now she found it invigorating. It was one of many changes she’d felt she’d undergone since landfall. Perhaps it was the peculiar energies she sensed at work at the very core of Planet or something within herself but she felt a connection with everything around her, and a sense of peace that she never imagined she’d be capable of achieving.
“A vision that we could turn into reality,” Santiago insisted, dark eyes intent upon the other woman. She stopped her frantic pacing and approached the low sofa slowly, sleek and measured in her movements like a panther, like the predator she was. Skye could almost feel the danger radiate off her. It was most alluring. The Colonel kneeled before her in one fluid step, deep brown eyes searching her own pale blue ones. “They’re already plotting against us, I’m sure of it.”
“All the more reason to show them they have nothing to fear,” Skye murmured, attempting to assuage one of the Colonel’s frequent flights of paranoia. She studied the olive-skinned woman before her, and reached out, tracing the thin line of the scar on Santiago’s cheek, a faded reminder of some distant battle. A soldier, first and foremost, that ingrained mode of thought never far from the surface. But beautiful, despite the scars that marred her body. The Colonel turned her lips towards Skye’s fingers and kissed them delicately. She was also capable of moments of astounding gentleness.
The Colonel’s eyes fluttered closed. “I only want to protect you.”
“Am I a possession to be coveted and defended?” Skye replied with a rueful lift of her eyebrows. She got to her feet and walked languorously towards the window that dominated the north wall of the room. She gazed out upon Gaia’s Landing, the verdant culmination of her dreams, stretching as far as the eye could see. This would be her legacy to all Planet’s children. But that legacy required protection, now. The other faction leaders were jealous of her connection to Planet, the ability of her people to tame the mindworms. It took time and patience to train the lifeforms to obey their will, time that was precious. Time in which the other factions could seize the opportunity to attack.
She felt rather than heard Santiago’s footsteps behind her, closing the distance between them. Firm, supple but deceptively slim arms slipped around her waist and she leaned back into the embrace. “I give you my heart, I ask only for yours in return,” Santiago whispered beside her ear, voice low and husky, her accent thick with unsuppressed emotion. Lady Deirdre felt a shiver course through her at the proximity of the other woman. She turned in the circle of the Colonel’s arms and gazed up into her face, noting the moisture shining in dark, proud eyes.
“My dear, you already have it,” Skye whispered back, a slow smile curving her lips. Her eyes fell to the thin, almost cruel lips that were now transformed by a smile and she was unable to resist the urge to lean in and capture them in a kiss.
A moment later Santiago swept her up in strong arms, eliciting a delighted laugh, and deposited her on the low sofa. The Colonel crawled over her on hands and knees, a decidedly seductive glint in her dark eyes and Lady Deirdre felt her stomach flutter in anticipation.
A mere two months ago she would’ve been appalled and indignant if anyone had suggested this… arrangement with the woman she had then considered self-important and humourless. Even now she could scarcely believe this turn of events. And yet there was a sense of inevitability to it. Their arguments on board the Unity had been too personal, their mutual aversion too pronounced, as if they protested too much against their attraction. They were opposites in every way: Skye’s pacifism to Santiago’s regimented militarism, their origins, philosophies - for the Gaians, freedom and ecological harmony were held sacred while the Spartans followed authority without question, their ordered work ethic second only to perhaps the Hive.
But in the sanctuary of her tranquil quarters in Gaia’s Landing or the utilitarian minimalism of Santiago’s bunker in the depths of Sparta Command, those differences seemed to fall away. In private Santiago’s rigid self-containment gave way to breathless displays of passion. Such as now, as the Colonel stooped to cover her mouth with her own, the very tip of her tongue swiping over Deirdre’s full lower lip before Deirdre gratefully and greedily accepted it inside to explore her mouth.
Of their own volition Skye’s hands reached up to pull Santiago’s hair free of the confines of the ponytail that she permanently wore, sighing with pleasure as Santiago sucked on her bottom lip.
“I've been distracted all day,” Santiago confessed as she dipped lower, pressing open-mouthed kisses down the column of Skye's throat. “Every time my officers showed me a schematic or plan or some piece of intelligence, my mind kept drifting to you, to this.”
“Really?” Skye responded, inordinately pleased with this news. She wound her fingers into Santiago's loose hair, endlessly threading through dark, glossy strands as the Colonel continued to lavish attention on her neck.
Santiago drew back enough to look her in the eyes and Skye never could get used to the intensity she saw in that dark stare. It shook her to the very core every time. “It's true,” she said with a rueful smirk. “You will be my undoing.”
They gazed at each other a moment. There was an underlying weight to that statement that they were both aware of. Reports of their union had sent shock waves across the other factions – not to mention the vocal objections within their own peoples. There would be consequences, perhaps not immediatly, but a storm was brewing. In this respect the Colonel was not wrong, which made it vital that they not present their alliance as a threat to the other leaders.
But right now Skye didn't want to spend another second thinking about politics. Cradling Santiago's face in both hands, she pulled the other woman down to waiting lips. “I love you,” she whispered into the kiss, words blooming against Santiago's lips.