By Phantom Bard
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction, and is offered for non-profit entertainment only. It may not be sold, may be downloaded for personal use only, and must contain this statement. The characters, concepts, and backstory from the TV series, Xena Warrior Princess, are the properties of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures/Studios USA, or whatever entity currently owns their rights. No malice is intended towards these characters or concepts. This story was written for the Clonefic contest at www.ausxip.com in Feb. 2003. Readers may notice "outtakes" from other films. Please address all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
April 27, 2000 Los Angeles, California
Ask yourself, what would it be like to wake up when you hadn't gone to sleep? You'd be starting a new day when there'd been no yesterday. Yet, you know who you are and you recognize your soulmate. Nothing is familiar except her and the enemy. You are both part of the enemy's plan, and you find that you are only there to die. You remember all the days of your life, and it was a long, long time ago.
Gabrielle had been brought back to find that they had "taken liberties" with her scrolls. In a time and place where little was sacred, the golden bard's words had been, to put it charitably, "revised", when they'd made the TV show about them. It was true of all six seasons, and nowhere more so than in the episode, "Send in the Clones". They had watched in amazement when it had been aired a year after they awoke. Cloned Xena recalled that she'd kept and used a sidearm she'd taken from a guard at the local dungeon.
"I emptied that pistol into the conniving, two-bit, conjuring witch!" Xena had fumed, before throwing their third TV remote across the room.
"You were so frustrated when no more bullets would come out," Gabrielle had chuckled.
Xena had sulked, remarking that, "I didn't know you could refill them back then."
"Though you did manage to hit her with it when you threw the empty thing," Gabrielle had added placatingly while rolling her eyes, "even though she was already on fire."
In the TV show, the lab had been completely misrepresented. The three co-conspirators had been way more diabolical in real life. The fighting had been unrealistically dramatized. But especially, the final scene had been lamentably inaccurate. Pure Hollywood fluff, that footage. The notion of the cloned Xena and Gabrielle, riding off in a cab and toasting their escape, was a ridiculous fantasy. Like much of their lives, the reality had been, well, grittier.
They'd been confused, flash burned, dirty, and aching. Hiding from the remaining three co-conspirators who'd brought them into the future, while dressed in clothes that could only be considered "costumes", and still reeling from culture shock, this had been their reality. In less than an afternoon they'd become fugitives from the authorities, wrecked mayhem at the local dungeon and on the highway, and started a junkyard fire complete with two explosions. At least those parts of the show had been "fairly" accurate.
In the junkyard, Xena's third pistol shot had struck some oxy-acetylene tanks, and the resulting blast had detonated the solvent filled oil drums. Sporting several superficial gunshot wounds, Alexis Los Alamos, or Alti…whatever, had run for her life, screaming and engulfed in flames, headlong into the second explosion. For the clones, it had been an inauspicious start in their new time period, and they'd both recognized the immediate need to reconnoiter.
Almost two years later, Gabrielle still remembered it as if it had happened yesterday. While Drs. Polly, Clea, and Mac had probably taken a cab from Alexis' lab, (having never gotten anywhere near the junkyard), the clones had slunk away on foot, over the junkyard fence and into the no man's land of the industrial park.
"Well, that could have gone better, I guess," Gabrielle had muttered, shaking her head at the column of smoke still rising in the distance. She'd turned away and rejoined Xena. They'd been walking down a dry concrete drainage canal that was open to the Los Angeles sky above, but at least kept them out of casual sight. It had been their escape route from beautiful City of Industry, California.
"Let's just keep moving, shall we?" Xena had muttered darkly, pacing along beside her.
"So," Gabrielle had asked, grinning up at her partner, "what's the plan?"
"Let's just keep moving." The warrior repeated. "This is an incredibly violent place," Xena had warned, though finally returning her grin, "and I could almost get to like it."
The blonde had been about to express her disapproval when a piercing whine had cut the air. The sound was less like the chakram and more like an angry bee the size of a harpy. It had come from behind them, and seemed to be approaching fast. The two women had jerked around to face it. They'd seen a mind boggling two-wheeled machine shrieking towards them. The boy straddling it was looking back over his shoulder and would never see them. He was being closely followed by a big, black, screaming box on wheels. Through open windows high up on the box, they'd seen a man in the same indigo blue uniform of the local militia that had abducted Gabrielle earlier that afternoon. Both apparitions were, in turn, being pursued by a larger version of the two-wheeled shrieker, this one ridden by a muscular man in black leathers. For a heart stopping second they'd thought; Ares. All three vehicles were converging on the pair of clones way too fast, and none of them seemed likely to stop.
Xena had dived to her right, dragging Gabrielle down beneath her as she rolled clear. The chase had passed them by in a flash, blasting noisily down the canal and quickly fading into the distance ahead. They had just picked themselves up when there had been another explosion and the obligatory fire.
"Maybe no one will notice what happened in the junkyard after all," Gabrielle had ventured hopefully.
Xena had eyed the twin columns of smoke, one behind them, and the other ahead. It seemed to her as if this sort of thing happened almost constantly around here. Yeah, they needed heroes, she'd thought derisively, and a hero probably had a shorter life expectancy now than back in our time. They'd never get old, doing the Greater Good thing this time around. She could only shake her head. Somewhere in the distance they'd heard sirens, tires squealing, and a spate of gunfire.
"Maybe you're right, Gabrielle."
If they'd read the next morning's newspaper, they'd have seen the equivalent of four column inches, total, recording both stories. Almost no one noticed what had happened in the junkyard or the drainage canal. It wasn't that it happened all the time…it was just that everyone was too busy to care and no one was so easily impressed.
They'd followed the drainage canal for less than three leagues, finally ending up in the Puddingstone State Recreation Area. The sign at the entrance had seemed to be a warning, and they'd wondered if this was an area where the city-state recreated others like themselves. The clones had been uncertain, but after the city, the park was an unexpected pleasure. They'd both been overjoyed to see the trees and the lake at the area's center, though the name of the place had left them confused.
"If I found a stone in my pudding, I'd thrash the cook," Xena had remarked.
"I certainly wouldn't go naming the place after the incident," Gabrielle had added, wondering if the unlucky diner had suffered a cracked a tooth or maybe plugged up plumbing. She'd winced in sympathy, remembering weeks of diarrhea on their first trip to Indus. "Then again, maybe I would, just to warn others away from the food."
They'd looked around suspiciously, but the place had seemed pleasant enough.
"Maybe it was a long time ago," Xena had finally said, watching the campers through narrowed eyes, "but I notice these people have all brought their own food."
"Well, I'm hungry and there's a sausage peddler's cart over there," Gabrielle had said, pointing to the hot dog vender waiting beside the picnic area. She'd started towards him.
Approaching the cart, which was sitting in the shade of its umbrella, both of the clones' appetites had run rampant. The "sausage peddler" had turned out to be a teenaged kid who'd just smoked his quota of marihuana and looked sleepy. When they'd actually gotten to the cart he'd perked up, offering them a glazed stare while grinning widely and bobbing his head as he muttered.
"It's Lucy and Renee…they must be filming a new ep around here. Haven't heard a thing about this…so duhhh, maybe I missed the notice…maybe I can get autographs."
"He's a retard, Gabrielle," Xena had hissed disparagingly in her ear.
"Be nice, Xena," the blonde clone had admonished, before greeting the kid with a smile.
Before they could say a word, the vendor had started in with his spiel. Typical salesman, they'd thought, instantly remembering Salmoneus and his endless pitches.
"Hi, I'm Jake and I just wanted to say that I love your show and I watch every episode," the retard had babbled, before continuing on more hesitantly, "I was just wondering if, well, you know, you'd be willing to give me your autographs. Uhhh, I could give you free food," he'd added uncertainly, seeming a bit embarrassed about the enticement. "Anything you want."
It was too good an offer to pass up, though they really hadn't understood everything about it, and that had left Xena suspicious. The kid had provided pens and paper shrouds for the hot dogs for them to sign on. They'd signed "Xena" and "Gabrielle" without a second thought. The retard hadn't seemed overjoyed with that.
"Uhhh, I meant, like, could you sign, you know, Lucy Lawless," he'd asked Xena, as Gabrielle had loaded up a paper plate with three hot dogs covered with all the available sauces. The kid had grimaced at this. Xena had arched an eyebrow at his request, but had decided it would be worth it after one look at her soulmate's plate.
"Sure, whatever ya want," she'd answered absently, taking back the pen and scrawling something illegible, though she'd made sure to use flamboyant Ls.
The kid had snatched the paper back and seemed elated with the signature, so Xena had started loading up several of those little sausages on the soft bread for herself, adding sauces like she'd seen Gabrielle doing. She'd grabbed a bag of the potato chip things too, just in case they were good. Meanwhile, Gabrielle had been accosted to finish her signature. She'd had to carefully listen to the name the kid wanted and then spell it out as she wrote. It was readable, but not nearly as showy. He'd rewarded them with cans of fluid that claimed to be Pepsi, whatever that was.
They'd finally managed to discover how to open the second can. Xena had flung the first one down in disgust. When Gabrielle had seen it fizzing, she'd accidentally pulled the tab and it had fountained up all over her. She'd been soaked, furious, and ready to go back and damage Jake, but Xena had been rolling on the ground in hysterics. After recovering her composure, Xena had popped the tab on the second can with a flourish and gently handed it to her soulmate. The blonde's eyes had sprung open with her first draught. Between the cold, the fizz, the sugar rush, and the caffeine, it was impressive. She'd had no memories of anything like it…even Lord Seltzer's bubbling water wasn't close. Gabrielle had astonished them both with a seismic belch. From that moment on, the cloned bard was a Pepsi addict. It figured that cloned Xena had later come to favor Classic Coke.
The sausages had been pretty good and the potato chips were weird but edible. They'd managed to pull off the same scam for three days in a row. Jake stayed too stoned to wonder about the absence of "Lucy's" New Zealand accent, and he hadn't missd "Renee's" Texas drawl either. On the third day, he had actually brought pictures of the real actresses for them to sign. By the fourth day, Xena and Gabrielle had met the uber hippies.
During their first few days of consciousness, both of the clones had continued to regain more old memories. These were enlightening, sometimes heartbreaking, and often confusing. For having lived their real lives over 2,000 years before, they'd realized that much of the current timeframe was becoming understandable to them. They chalked it up to the influence of having had their real memories triggered by the production versions, (which Xena contracted to perversions), presented in the modern TV show. For whatever reasons, eventually, they had adapted to the year 2000 as if they'd only missed half a century, rather than two millennia. They counted it as a blessing.
April 30, 2000 Puddingstone State Rec Area
The clones had spent their first three nights in a secluded copse of trees, far off the roads and trails. Xena had convinced Gabrielle that they were better off keeping out of sight. She'd still half expected to stumble across a cloning lab for the re-creation of people. Her one concession had been visiting Jake for the free food every afternoon. They were both becoming sick to death of the sausages.
Late in the morning of their fourth day of freedom, Gabrielle had become acutely restless and rebellious. She'd gotten up, announced that she couldn't stand sitting around anymore, and had wandered off towards the campground. Xena had trailed along behind her, fuming about security issues, but unwilling to let her soulmate traipse around in "hostile territory", unaccompanied and unprotected. The overly appreciative looks a few campers had cast at the blonde, in her fetching little red velvet skirt and halter-top hadn't gone unnoticed by the warrior.
If she'd been fully honest about it, cloned Xena would have admitted that Gabrielle had just been getting more gorgeous every year. She'd been a hottie as a teen when she'd started out tagging along, but now, dressed in that 6th season costume that Dr. Polly had "gotten from the website", well, the bard was sexy enough to make anyone's head spin. The Warrior Princess had been seeing double for days. So she had stalked down a wooded path behind her soulmate with a watchful eye and a dour grimace. She probably could have scared away the squirrels with a glance.
At the trailhead, Gabrielle had stopped to survey the campground. Xena assessed the terrain with a sweep of her eyes, judging angles of approach and avenues of retreat, assessing possible troublemakers, and scoping out makeshift weapons. She had the chakram, but she still felt naked without a sword.
The most obvious change from the night before had been the appearance of a pair of aging VW mini-buses with a canopy suspended between them. The site hosted four people and several animals. Oddly, both clones had felt some visceral sense of familiarity. The canopy was ragged and brightly colored, the two men wore beards, loose colorful shirts and blue jeans, while the women wore their hair long and were clad in flowing dresses. All of them had dangling earrings, bracelets, and necklaces. Instead of a camp stove on their table, they were cooking something in a cauldron hanging from a tripod over an open fire. Only a few heads of sheep or some chickens were lacking. Instead, a mutt of a dog and several cats dozed in the shade under the vehicles. Leaning against one of the mini-buses were several stringed musical instruments.
As they'd watched, a tall thin man began playing a flute that he'd pulled from a drawstring bag on the table. The melody had been haunting, but more shockingly, it had been familiar. The words had come to Xena's clone and she'd raised her voice to accompany the wind-born notes.
It was a song that had once been sung in the harvest fields of a place long lost with the passage of time. It was the anthem of a home she knew only from the memories of another life. Xena sang, but her mind was far away. The mother of her original self had sung that song in defiance of a goddess, and the simple people of her village had joined their voices with the innkeeper to choose their fate. The sons and daughters of those who'd once tried to stone her had fought to defend her own daughter. Many of them had died. When their hero had needed heroes, it had been the simple people, the shepherds, swineherds, brewers, and farmers, who had answered her call. They'd battled for her daughter, but the war had really been about their right to choose their own destiny.
Xena's memories had spoken to her, telling her that it had often been that way. If the deeds of a lone hero provided inspiration, it was the common folk, turning their backs on their fear and acting on what they knew was right, who brought heroism to fruition. In the ancient world it had been true. The Greater Good had driven many to act for causes beyond their personal gain. A soft voice drawled in her inner ear, claiming that even in this later time it was still true. Yeah, but being a hero was dangerous, tiring, and not at all fun, she'd thought. And I don't have a guilt complex to drive me to it this time either.
In the campsite, the flutist had continued the song, gazing at the singer in admiration of her clear voice. Dressed in the costume of the Warrior Princess, she was a vision, a glimpse of another world. It was as though she had materialized in answer to the ancient song's spell. He had always considered music a form of magick, and playing, an evocation.
The other three members of the group had given the impromptu performance their attention, their eyes shifting back and forth between the two performers. All too soon it was over. The flute player had caught his breath and shyly smiled at the two clones. The others had smiled at them as well, both in thanks for the gift of song and as an offer of friendship. Gabrielle had returned their smiles, but Xena had closed her eyes, feeling too much in that moment to trust herself to speak. It was only with effort and her strength of will that she'd finally taken a deep breath, blinked once, and constructed a smile for her face. Gabrielle had already been walking towards the people at the campsite, and so she'd forced herself to move too. Meet and greet, she'd thought. They'd ended up staying.
It was an eclectic group that the clones had met; some of the few people who would have accepted them for who they were. Allen was the flute player. Tall, thin, bespectacled, and appropriately high strung. He worried about everything, from world hunger to the detrimental effects of long drives on his hemorrhoids. At 35, he still chewed his nails and hid behind a straggly fall of curly brown hair.
"Hello," Allan had mumbled self-consciously, when Gabrielle and Xena had entered the campsite. He'd been looking alternately from one clone to the other and wearing an uncomfortable grin. It had made him look guilty. Xena'd narrowed her eyes, suspicious.
"Hi there. I'm Gabrielle," the blonde clone had said softly, smiling again to try and ease his obvious discomfort, "you play beautifully. Are you in a band?"
"Gabrielle, I, ummm, well, I uhhh…no." He'd trailed off, blushing, and chewed on his lower lip. Self-effacing to a fault, he could have played his instrument at the symphony level if he'd ever conquered his timidity and stage fright.
"So, where'd ya learn that song?" Xena had asked, speaking for the first time and gazing directly at the musician with curiosity. He'd stuttered and shifted his feet, refusing to meet her eyes. Allan had fled from high school in the 11th grade, after his second nervous breakdown. He'd retreated into his music and had been force fed psychotropic medications for years, after being misdiagnosed as borderline or high functioning autistic.
Xena had leaned over to whisper in her soulmate's ear. "Another retard, Gabrielle. I'd guess everyone in this park is dimwitted. This could be a good hideout."
Gabrielle had stifled a giggle before giving the cloned warrior a dirty look.
"I don't think he's retarded, Xena. He's probably just…well, 'nervous'."
Xena had snorted.
"I'm Ray, and Allan learned it from me," an older man had said, and the flutist had given him a grateful smile.
"And I taught him the notes from Ray's music sheets," a heavyset woman had added. "I'm Lynn. I recognize your costumes from TV, but are you really Lucy and Renee, or have you been to a convention?"
It had been the clones' turn to fall silent and glance nervously at each other. Last time I told anyone the truth, I ended up in the local dungeon, Gabrielle had recalled. Xena's lips curled in an evil grin. Uh oh, she's going to tell them just to see what'll happen.
"Well, ya see, it's like this," Xena had confided with plausible sincerity, "we're not really in the TV show. You'd think we were crazy if we told ya our story, so for now, just call us Xena and Gabrielle." Gabrielle had sighed in relief.
"I, it's okay…some people think I'm autis...atastic…autopsic…uhhh, crazy," Allan had stuttered conspiratorially.
Xena had grinned, but Lynn had grabbed Allan's hand and angrily told him, "You are not autistic…you are introverted, self-conscious, and shy, but you are part of this world."
Lynn had first heard him playing in a park in Seattle and it had been raining cats and dogs. He'd been homeless; his flute, a ratty blanket, and a change of clothes being his only possessions. At least there in the park, no one had demanded anything of him anymore, and sometimes the people who listened to him actually dropped a few coins. Days would go by when Allan spoke to no one, and many listeners thought him an idiot savant…or just an idiot. He still didn't relate to people easily, and he would probably never be comfortable socially.
"Well, you look like them," Ray had finally said, eyeing Xena closely, "and you sing the Glede-ma-Glede flawlessly, so you're familiar with the characters. May as well call you Xena and Gabrielle. Anyway, a person's defined by their actions…most names are just words."
"See, Ray's really kewl about people," a beautiful honey haired girl had added, hopping back out of one of the mini-buses with a can of Pepsi and a bag of pretzels. She'd introduced herself as Angie, spilling most of the pretzels as she shook Gabrielle's hand. She'd giggled at herself good-naturedly before calling over the dog to eat the fallen snacks.
The people had laughingly termed themselves uber hippies, explaining that the last real hippie had died of a drug overdose in 1974. They'd offered a little personal information, trying to set their curious guests at ease. Gabrielle had been chatty, having had no one "normal" to talk to so far in this life. She'd drawn out their details while Xena took mental notes. They'd seemed harmless enough, and eventually Xena had relaxed.
Lynn was 35, a second-generation nomad, whose parents had met in San Francisco in the mid-60s. She'd been schooled at home as her parents crossed the country to craft fairs and music festivals in VW mini-buses like the ones she lived in now. She had post office boxes in several cities and kept in touch with friends with a laptop, but had never actually had an address. The only time she wasn't on the road was when she was working, doing sessions as a guitar player for rock bands whose names she never mentioned. Though she knew the licks, at 5'5" and almost 275 lbs., she wasn't marketable to the youth culture. It wasn't really her kind of music anyway, but it paid most of the group's expenses. She thought of it as practice for her "serious" work; composing folk songs that she played in coffee shops and on the streets. She maintained an open relationship with Ray, the group's "guru".
Ray was 52, an academic who had "chucked it all" in a fit of disillusionment 25 years before. After a terrifying stint in Viet Nam and a bachelor's degree in archeology and LSD, he'd landed a job as an instructor while in graduate school at the University of South Carolina. In his first semester he'd become a research assistant for an aging iconoclast. The position had led to a fierce loyalty to his mentor and the ridicule of his peers. He'd stuck it out long enough to earn a Ph.D., but found himself unemployable. No one wanted to hire a professor whose doctoral thesis topic had been the debunking of ancient Greek history, based on the Xena Scrolls.
Both the clones had raised their eyebrows at this bit of information, determined to question him about it later. He'd given them a knowing wink before continuing.
He'd gone on the road, hitchhiking at first and enjoying the spiritual company of long distance truckers, traveling salesmen, and itinerant serial killers…a joke because of his close resemblance to Anthony Hopkins. Ray had met up with Lynn over eggnog, in the Santa theme camp at the Burning Man Festival, in 1993. Now he painted and sold watercolors when he wasn't reading or meditating.
Angie was the most recent addition to the troop. She'd been on her second week after running away from an emotionally cold but physically comfortable foster home in Texas. The other three had convinced her to join them for her own safety, and having had a couple close calls with assailants, she'd agreed. Half a year later she was 16; a blue-eyed natural blonde of medium height, trim, and vivacious. Britney Spears had nothing on her lookswise, but Angie, though she was the sweetest girl in the world, had not a shred of talent at anything she'd tried so far. Even practical things challenged her. She burned food, bleached colors, actually put oil in the gas tank, (and brake fluid where the windshield washer fluid goes), and had gotten lost more than once in campsites. But for her new family, she'd have probably suffered a short career as a porn model and an early death; the world being the cruel place it can be to beautiful young runaways.
Mostly it was Lynn and Ray who kept her from having a tragic accident on the road. She repaid them in the only way she could; with endless good humor, smiles, warm-hearted hugs, and a constant willingness to help whenever asked. Both Ray and Lynn had been terrified of parenthood, but Angie had refuted every notion they'd had about troubled teens. They in turn had refuted everything she'd learned about parents. She was the baby and the darling of the group, and they were all waiting for her to meet her muse, whatever she might be.
"They're like, so waaaay cooler than my old foster parents, ya know," Angie had happily claimed, smiling at Ray and Lynn and spilling Pepsi on one of the cats, "and I just love ridin' all over the country and stuff."
"We always liked traveling too," Gabrielle had agreed, "and I guess we'll be traveling for a while, since we don't really belong anywhere this time around."
Xena had nodded in confirmation.
"So, kewl, you guys," Angie had enthused, accidentally kicking the dog as she swung her legs in excitement, "so like, y'all oughta travel with us a while, ya know?"
"Yes, join us," Ray had heartily seconded the offer. Next to him, Lynn had nodded in agreement. Allan had added a self-conscious grunt.
Having no better prospects, the clones had decided with a shared glance to join the odd family they'd stumbled upon.
"Do you have anything you need to get from your campsite?" Lynn had asked.
"Just what ya see," Xena had answered.
Allan had looked at them and stuttered, "th…they're more destestitute than I was…they're perfect."
May 1, 2000 The Good Will Industries Clothing Outlet
Continuing to dress in their "costumes" had made it difficult for the clones to blend in with the locals. Although Alti, or Alexis…whatever, had gone up in flames, neither of them wanted to run into Drs. Polly, Clea, or Mac again. They suspected that the trio would vivisect them if given half a chance. The day after meeting the uber hippies, Lynn and Angie had taken the clones shopping. It wasn't the Galleria. Not nearly. A couple of hours spent picking through the offerings of charity bins at a Good Will thrift store saw Xena and Gabrielle updating their wardrobes to poverty chic. The Warrior Princess had reveled in the pockets of the desert camo BDU pants she'd found in a bin…not that she'd had anything but her hands to put in them. They'd just seemed like a good practical invention. She'd rejected a "Hello Kitty" t-shirt on principle, but found the "Star Wars Episode II Attack of the Clones" shirt acceptable. The first thing she'd done was rip off the sleeves.
Gabrielle had been even luckier. She'd gleefully indulged herself in an extended appraisal of the available wares, engaged the "merchant" in small talk, and then attempted to bargain with the poor, tired clerk. Gabrielle had no idea what the money was worth, and had assumed that "Prices As Marked" was simply an opening negotiating position.
"Look, lady, all this stuff is given to us by donors and the money goes to help unfortunates," the irritated Good Will store attendant had finally explained in a huff.
"You're a hostel?" Gabrielle had asked, chagrined that she'd been haggling with a charity worker.
"I am not hostile!" The woman had vehemently objected, staring down at the blonde and muttering to herself, "some people can't pass up a chance to take pennies from the poor." She'd puffed herself up, wearing an angry expression, with her hands on her hips.
Lynn had quickly handed over the money, hoping to head off a conflict. She'd noticed Xena clenching her fists and Gabrielle's expression hardening. Both of them remembered situations when bad hearing and attitude had proceeded an attack. Angie's giggling had only served as an added provocation, appearing to be ridicule.
"All right. Take your stuff and get out!" The clerk had demanded, adding, "I don't see why you're out slumming like this anyway. It's not like you don't make a mint play acting on that TV show. The Greater Good, Ha!"
Gabrielle had snatched the rust colored skirt and blue denim shirt off the counter with a glare and stomped out. Xena had glared at the woman until she saw her tremble, then turned away smirking. Lynn had shaken her head apologetically. Turning to join her, Angie had tripped over a box, luckily catching herself, but dragging a rack of shirts onto the floor. Keeping in character, she'd blushed, giggled, and hastily followed the others outside.
"Well, that could have gone better, I guess," Gabrielle had said apologetically to Lynn, adding, "so the art of bargaining is dead nowadays, huh?"
"Well, yeeahhh," Angie had interjected, "I mean, like, it's so all about money ya know, and only lawyers bargain, 'kay?"
"Actually there are bargains to be had, but you have to find them at closeouts. Haggling over prices is mostly dead," Lynn had explained, "except for high ticket items like cars and mortgages, or at flea markets."
Xena had grinned at the idea of a flea market. "Bet they have ring worms and lice too, and I could probably get you an adorable fungus cheap," she'd commented innocently to her soulmate. Gabrielle had grimaced at the memory.
Later that night, dressed in their new finery, the clones had questioned Ray about his academic career.
"The history was fascinating, but the present back then sucked," Ray had declared.
"Yer right about the present, but the past wasn't a party either," Xena had said, before muttering under her breath, "half of Greece hated me personally and someone tried to kill us at least once a week."
"Plenty of people who weren't from Greece tried to kill us too, Xena," Gabrielle had whispered back, before asking Ray, "Just how much is known about the historic Xena and Gabrielle?"
"Well, most of what we know comes from about three dozen scrolls, penned by Gabrielle of Potidaea, and found in a Macedonian tomb in 1940. There are some miscellaneous references to the duo from other parts of the world, but they've never been rigorously authenticated. Even the scrolls are not universally accepted," Ray had explained, "in part, because of the reputations of the archeologists who discovered them."
"They were regarded as bards themselves?" Gabrielle had guessed.
"They were regarded as crackpots," Ray had sneered angrily, "my teacher was called obsessed and unethical, and was blamed for sealing the tomb after removing the scrolls. She was accused of being a looter, and without exhaustively studying the site, her discoveries were always suspect."
"Well, I'd be suspicious too, except for the films they showed us," Xena had said. "Too many coincidences for them to be based on nothing, but most of what they showed us was…off."
"That's true," Ray had agreed, curious about her point of view, "so far there've been almost five seasons, more than 100 episodes, and of the stories that came from known scrolls, many of the details were, skewed…to heighten dramatic content."
"They took liberties with my scrolls," Gabrielle had repeated angrily.
"Uhhh, yeah," Ray had hedged, "and they invented a lot more stories than there ever were in the scrolls. That whole business with Dahak, the Ultimate Evil…pure bunk. It was never mentioned by Gabrielle of Potidaea."
Xena and Gabrielle had looked at each other in confusion. They'd recalled that in the lab they'd been shown a few scenes that hadn't made any sense to them. They had no recollection of any warlord named Dahak. He sounded like a foreigner…maybe a Persian. They'd looked blankly at Ray.
"Dahak? You know, in 'The Deliverer', 'Gabrielle's Hope', 'Maternal Instincts', 'The Bitter Suite', 'Sacrifice I and II', 'Adventures in the Sin Trade I and II', 'A Family Affair'?"
The names had meant nothing to them; that was obvious. Ray had sighed. What those two didn't seem to know was more telling than what they did know. It indicated more than just selective memory. It suggested…scholarship, and a shared obsessive immersion in their historically accurate fantasies. They had to be soulmates, to buy into each other's delusions with such cohesiveness. Ray had minored in psychology a long time ago. For a moment he sat regarding them, before mentioning another episode they shouldn't know anything about.
"'Déjà vu All Over Again'?"
"Nope," Xena had denied with certainty, "only time I felt any of that was fighting Alti in that junkyard. That's one déjà vu I could do without."
"I'm not even going to mention 'Married With Fishsticks'," Ray had muttered to himself. He'd had one final inspiration. "What about Hercules?"
"What about him?" Xena had asked blankly.
"Well, didn't he convince you to leave your life as a warlord and devote yourself to the Greater Good? That was after you tried to kill him and his partner Iolaus. You ended up falling in love with him after your army rebelled and forced you through the gauntlet, right?"
Xena had regarded Ray with a withering stare. The tension had been palpable.
"'The Warrior Princess', 'The Gauntlet', 'The Unchained Heart'?" It had been a gamble, mentioning those episodes and knowing they hadn't come from the scrolls. Nevertheless he had been curious as hell about how they handled the show's canon in their fantasies.
"First of all," Xena had started, emphasizing each point with a jab of her finger, "Herakles was a mythical hero. I'd heard stories about him since I was a kid. Secondly, I doubt any such person ever really existed, and if he did, I certainly never met him, let alone fell in love with him. And third, nobody ever ran me through a gauntlet. I'd have ripped their tongues out just for suggesting it. Where the hell do you get these ideas anyway?"
"I never wrote anything like that," Gabrielle had added, "it amounts to slander."
"I guess I should show you two the tapes," Ray had finally offered with a sigh.
May 15, 2000 San Diego, California
During the first two weeks with the hippies, Ray had shown Xena and Gabrielle five episodes a night, 70 total, and they'd covered the trilogy and the first three seasons. What the clones had noticed, was that as the series had progressed, the episodes had departed more and more radically from Gabrielle's scrolls. At times, it had seemed as though the writers had taken flights of fancy, scripting the most unlikely tales from their own imaginations. On the third night of the marathon, the clones had scoffed at "Beware of Greeks Bearing Gifts", and "Warrior…Princess". Gabrielle had explained that everyone knew the Trojan War might have occurred some 600 years before their time…if it had occurred at all, and Diana was unbelievable; no one looked that much like Xena.
"Troy was a trade bleeding city. They skimmed from every merchant coming through the Hellespont," Xena commented, "for centuries all the Greeks resented 'em worse'n goat ticks. Destroying Troy was just wishful thinking we all indulged in."
"No," Ray had disagreed, "they've dug up Troy, level after level, built like a layer cake. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times."
"Rebuilt on the same site?" Gabrielle had asked doubtfully.
"Impossible," Xena had assured Ray, "if the Greeks had destroyed Troy, they'd have salted the earth for miles around, especially with salt abundant, so close to the sea. At least I would have."
"You and everyone else," Gabrielle had agreed. "They'd never have rebuilt it there."
"That practice was always regarded as…a colorful myth," Ray had told them, "nothing but a fanciful claim…like the Romans boasted of doing after they destroyed Carthage."
The clones had looked at him, astonished at first. The guy called himself a student of ancient history and he knew nothing.
"The Romans," Xena had sneered, "if they destroyed Carthage it was only in Caesar's dreams. Trust Julius Caesar to be a copycat as well as a liar. He'd never even seen a crucifixion before he saw my army sack Thasos. Pure extravagance too…I always preferred impalings. They required so much less wood. Tartarus, at first Caesar didn't even understand why we were salting their fields. He had his precious destiny, but he knew nothing of farming…irritating little pissant." She'd finished off muttering, "I shoulda gelded him myself the first time I laid eyes on him."
Gabrielle had added calmly, "Carthage prospered…until they had that plague. It wiped them out while we were in Indus."
Xena and Gabrielle's comments on history had left Ray's mind boggled. They were so deeply involved in their delusions that they'd completely revised ancient history. Yes, he and his mentor had believed the Xena Scrolls required some historic revisions, but nothing on the scale these two claimed. Troy and Carthage never destroyed in battle? The Punic Wars just a Roman daydream? Preposterous. Still, he'd found it all interesting enough that he'd wanted to explore their version of history in detail.
"I was wondering if perhaps you two could create a timeline for me? Could you write down the events of your lives and the general history during that time? At least it would help clarify the order of the scrolls."
The clones had agreed without much hesitation. After what they'd seen on the TV, it would almost be like a kind of vindication. Anyway, spending a couple days on the project would at least spare them from watching another bunch of inane dramas. They'd set to work at it the next morning, while Ray, Lynn, Allan, and Angie had uprooted the campsite, packed the mini-buses, and driven them all south to San Diego. They'd arrived at dinnertime.
The clones and their hosts had been enjoying the fare and hospitality of the Jack in the Box fine dining establishment on the Pacific Highway, at Cedar Street. Outside the picture windows, the night's fog had shrouded the city lights, winking on the ocean chop a block away. Xena and Gabrielle had breathed deeply of the salt air as they'd hopped out of the mini-bus in the parking lot. Both had experienced a slew of memories, triggered by the scent of the sea. They'd been halfway through their tacos when there'd been a deep rumbling crash that had shaken the building. It had been a trembling, as much felt as heard, and it had seemed to come from somewhere nearby.
"What was that?" Xena had exclaimed, leaping to her feet, her eyes sweeping the common room. Thunderbolts, titans, black powder perhaps? Suspicions had flashed through her mind. This was a violent place and time.
"Chill y'all," Angie had giggled, spilling her soda across the table, "it's like, just another earthquake, ya know? So anyway, duhhh, everybody knows California's gonna to slide into the ocean any day now, 'kay?"
When Lynn, Allan, and Ray had nodded in agreement, the clones had resumed eating; Gabrielle apprehensive, Xena with disinterest as her eyes shifted back and forth scanning the darkness outside. Angie's statement and the other three's reaction had left them on edge. With their luck, "any day now" probably meant right this moment. Eventually they'd finished their meals.
Back outside in the parking lot they'd heard the sounds of screams and cars crashing, coming from somewhere not all that far away. Allan and Angie had been unconcerned, Ray and Lynn only mildly curious. The clones had been on high alert, not knowing what kind of life threatening danger they would soon be facing.
"It's a war out there," Xena had wistfully muttered under her breath.
In the distance, inland up Cedar Street, a crowd was fleeing in terror from something approaching down a side street. The clones and the hippies had watched in fascination, aware of rhythmic pile driver impacts shaking the ground underfoot. There were cars careening through intersections, some outpacing a speeding city bus, and the sounds of people screaming had been growing louder.
"Looks like the city's being sacked," Gabrielle had declared, shaking her head.
"I'll say," Xena had agreed, nodding with approval, "the invaders have retained an admirable element of surprise too. Look at the panic. They'll take the whole city without a siege, Gabrielle, this town has no walls."
At that point, a huge creature had stridden into view, moving fast on its hind legs and shaking the ground with each footfall. It wrenched a traffic signal from its support, using gaping tooth filled jaws, then quickly caught up with the fleeing bus. The creature had butted the vehicle with its head and shoulder, caving in the entire side in a squeal of sheetmetal and shattering of glass. The clones had gaped at the scene in petrified amazement. The bus had crashed through the front windows of a store selling videotapes. With an ear-shattering roar, the creature had turned off onto another street, leaving pandemonium in its wake.
"Well, that was different," Xena had finally remarked as Gabrielle rubbed her eyes.
"So is this, like, you know, the end of the world and we're all gonna to die and stuff?" Angie had asked, serious for once.
"It's got to be those theme park people," Ray had cursed, "they cloned dinosaurs on some island off Costa Rica a few years back. That was a tyrannosaur. I can't believe they'd bring one here."
They had quickly climbed into the mini-buses and fled the parking lot. They'd nearly been sideswiped a few blocks away by a couple in a red convertible, who flew by them at an irresponsible speed.
"Ya gotta death wish I can help ya with?" Xena had yelled out the window at the couple as they passed, tires squealing across the centerline.
Somewhere in the distance they had heard the beating of helicopter blades. Ray and Lynn didn't stop the mini-buses until they were well out of the city, heading east on I-8.
"Ray," Gabrielle had nervously asked, as the van they were in sped past Glenview and Johnstown, "you mentioned some people cloning dinosaurs?"
"Yes, Gabrielle. Scientists at a company cloned dinosaurs from DNA they'd found in tissues preserved in amber. They bred the animals for a theme park. That thing we saw tonight must have been one of theirs. Animals like that died out 65 million years ago. It's unnatural. It's inexcusable for them to have brought back a deadly killer like that. Rumor has it that wasn't the worst of them either."
Ya got that right, Xena had immediately thought, they brought back a deadly killer like me. Cloned from a strand of hair found in a tomb. It's been two thousand years, not 65 million, but in some ways, I'm a bigger threat. I wear my victims' face. With a grimace, she'd looked over at Gabrielle, and seen her soulmate looking back. As usual, she knows what I'm thinking, the warrior had realized, and she's probably wondering if I'm the good Xena that she knew, or the evil Xena that Alti wanted. I'm both and neither, I'd say. I guess we'll have to talk.
Are we unnatural, Gabrielle had asked herself, recreated out of our proper place and time? I know Xena isn't a monster like that dinosaur thing, but when Ray said, "deadly killer", I could almost hear her ask herself the question. She had glanced at her soulmate and met her eyes. I have to ask, are we something that shouldn't be, like Ray believes? Do we have a right to exist?
"Ray, what about human clones?" Gabrielle had asked. Xena had looked at her sharply.
"No one's cloned people yet, Gabrielle, and there's serious doubt that it can be done. Anyway, you can clone a body, but what about the soul? All the things that made a person unique are lost, and recreating the person's body doesn't mean you recreate the person."
Ray's answer had only caused the bard to ask herself more questions. You're wrong Ray; it has been done, but I guess it really was a secret plan. So, do we have souls or just some memories? Are we really Xena and Gabrielle? And who do we ask who can really give us a meaningful answer? I know I don't belong here, Gabrielle had admitted, that I'm only here because of Alti, but I don't want to die and I don't want to be part of some "theme park". I want to live, and I want to live with Xena…and I still want to help people when I can. This…this "future" has more problems than our time did. Things have gotten worse, not better, in the last two thousand years. They need heroes…I guess we'll have to talk.
Xena had pondered Ray's answer too. Do we have souls or just memories, she'd asked herself almost simultaneously with Gabrielle. The souls of Xena and Gabrielle passed through death and into another life long ago. If the destiny I share with my beloved bard still exists, does that mean our souls are reborn in someone else right now? And if they are, then whose soul do I have? Did a reincarnation of me have to die before I was awakened? Was my soul supposed to be reborn somewhere else instead of in me? Did my soul get duplicated so that now two of me are walking around…one natural and one unnatural? Is that even possible?
Ray had begun to doubt the answer that he'd given Gabrielle almost as soon as it was out of his mouth. You know damn well that both industry and the government are experimenting with human cloning, he'd admonished himself. I wouldn't be surprised if humans have been cloned. Armies of clones…the military would love nothing more than soldiers who won't have voting loved ones crying over their coffins. Yeah, I know that sounds like something off the X-Files. Still, I'll bet a clone could be brainwashed pretty easily, being a "clean slate" for a programmer to write on. They'd only know what they needed to know; they'd only know what they'd been taught. It wouldn't matter how warped the programming was either. The clones might appear to be delusional, though they'd have to be functional. Well, huh, now that I think about it, these two…I guess we'll have to talk.
They had driven through the night in silence; each consumed by their thoughts.
June 2, 2000 Columbia, South Carolina
The day had broken bright, hot, and humid. While Lynn, Allan, and Angie had waited at a campground, Ray had taken the clones to meet his old teacher. She was 87, a Professor Emeritus of Archeology at the University of South Carolina. She was still stubbornly living in the home she'd shared for over 45 years with her soulmate and lover, an Associate Professor of Ancient Languages. Though her mobility had been compromised by two strokes, she was still mentally sharp, feisty, and often outright grumpy. Ray could still remember her at 59, back when they'd first met. Back when Melinda had still been living.
"Well, if it isn't Ray the soldier boy," the small pale woman had joked upon seeing them enter her parlor. "Whatcha been up to these last twenty-five years or so? Still smoking handfuls of pot? Still thumbin' across country? I see you've still got that sick sense of humor…bringing me a couple actresses from that travesty they created outta my scrolls."
"Pleasure to see you too, Janice," Ray had answered with a warm smile. "Actually, if there's a sick sense of humor here, the joke's on me. You'll see when I explain, doc."
"Well, then I'll be laughing. Care for a drink anyone?" Janice had offered, before calling for her long-suffering maid, "Oh Dora, come to the parlor please. Save me from appearing inhospitable."
The same mahogany skinned woman who had answered the door with a friendly smile had walked in from the kitchen and approached the old professor.
"Dora, a round of whiskey…make mine a double, please," Janice had growled.
"Miss Janice, your doctor will shoot you for having a shot he didn't give you himself…with a needle, so it's iced tea, lemonade, or ice water for you," the woman had said sternly, before turning to the guests, "and would you like anything?"
"I'd like a Pepsi, if possible, or iced tea," Gabrielle had hesitatingly requested.
"Coke or lemonade for me, please," Xena had decided.
"I think I'm going to need whiskey, Dora," Ray had confessed with a wink, "make it a double." Janice had scowled at him in a friendly way.
"That's two iced teas, a lemonade, and ice water for you, Dr. Ray," Dora had confirmed before retreating back into the kitchen shaking her head.
"Southern hospitality at its finest," Janice had sighed, "I don't guess I'll get away with having a cigar either."
Janice had returned her attention to the clones.
"Now, you'd be Lucy Lawless," she'd declared, looking first at Xena, "and you'd be her sidekick, Renee O'Connor. Mind you, I don't blame you two for the show. I just get cranky when me and my sweet Mel's life's work ends up as a chop-socky parody."
"Actually, this isn't what it looks like, doc," Ray had interjected.
"If it looks like a hydra and moves like a hydra, then it's a hydra," Dr. Covington had admonished, "the simplest explanation usually works for me."
"Uhhh, yeah," Ray had nervously hedged, "but sometimes the simplest explanation isn't where we look for it. You know we only consider what we can imagine is possible. In this case, I'm convinced the unexpected is the simplest explanation. What could be simpler than bringing two very busy actresses who play the roles of Xena and Gabrielle, have never studied the ancient world, had to learn their roles from scripts, and are dependant on the writers for their knowledge of the settings? Especially if they know things that were in the scrolls but not on the TV show? Especially if they know things that weren't even in the scrolls?" He produced the timeline the clones had created.
Janice had looked over the document and digested Ray's claims, first with surprise and than a widening grin. "You are still smoking that mohaskie, Ray. Have you been coaching Lucy and Ren here too? The thing I don't get is, what's the point?"
"There is no point, doc. This is serendipitous as far as we're concerned. I want you to help me test the hypothesis. You still have contacts…."
The old professor had regarded the three visitors for a long time, thinking and making up her mind; remembering an incident from over half a century before. She had her suspicions and she was too old to jump to conclusions anymore.
"I may be related to the useless tagalong, Gabrielle, but I'm too old to be a fool," Janice had vehemently declared, "I met the real Xena. She was great warrior, but she was also kind hearted…tried to make me feel better after I'd learned I was descended from that irritating blonde." She'd regarded the trio with blazing eyes. "She tried to make Gabrielle sound important when the only valuable thing she ever did was write about the Warrior Princess."
Across the room Gabrielle had sucked in a breath, stung by the words of condemnation from her descendant. Next to her, Xena had clenched her hands in fists of rage. With a quick glance she'd seen the tears beginning to fill the blonde's eyes, and she had snapped.
"No one," she'd begun in a low threatening purr, "no one who wasn't living in our time knows what Gabrielle means to me…and I'll be damned before all the gods before I let what you just said go unanswered." She'd moved across the room, moved to loom in front of the old woman's chair. "Gabrielle was never useless. She was the soul of light and goodness. She cared more for others than she cared about herself."
Xena's voice had been rising, and now she was leaning down, her face only inches from the aged professor, hands grasping the arms of her chair in a white knuckled grip. "No one ever had a finer friend, or deserved her less than me!" The glare in her eyes hinted at the blood rage that had once terrorized the ancient world. "She was my family, closer than blood! She believed in me! Compared to that, the scrolls mean nothing! I was proud to have her by my side then and I'm proud that she's still with me now. Don't you ever…ever speak like that against the woman I love. You are an old fool…you know nothing."
The silence in the room that followed had made their heartbeats sound like war drums. With a sneer of dismissal Xena had turned away.
"C'mon, Gabrielle, this is just like everything else we've seen in this time. Let's go. We don't need this." She'd wrapped an arm around Gabrielle's shoulders and softly kissed the top of her head, then steered her towards the door.
"She said almost exactly the same things," Janice Covington had softly said from her chair, "when she possessed my beloved Melinda." Xena and Gabrielle had stopped and turned to listen. "It was 60 years ago, in Macedonia, just before she fought Ares in the tomb. I remember it like it happened yesterday." The old professor had met their eyes and her own had been wet. "An actress might know the words from the TV program and a scholar might understand the events she'd referred to. Only the Warrior Princess would be driven by the loving devotion you showed. I know…I've seen it before."
She'd taken a deep breath and reached under the seat cushion, withdrawing a small silver flask. With nimble fingers she'd unscrewed the cap and tipped the flask to her lips to take a quick swig. A satisfied sigh had followed before the flask had disappeared back into its hiding place.
She'd looked the cloned Gabrielle in the eyes, capturing her attention. "My dear, I am so very sorry for having to speak about you like that, just to test if what I was seeing was another hoax. I believed every word Xena said back then, and the scrolls confirmed it when we finally read them. For a lifetime I've accepted what Gabrielle meant to Xena…because, you see, I know what I came to mean to Mel and what she meant to me. As for that episode, "The Xena Scrolls", well, they based it on my expedition notes. Forget the ending though. The original scrolls never disappeared, but transcripts were available and that's where that TV show came from."
After a few moments of silence she'd continued.
"It was just that one time that I met the Warrior Princess' spirit in her descendant's body. I never met the spirit of Gabrielle. I buried my beloved Melinda 14 years ago, and I'm nearing 90. Who's bodies have you found to occupy now? Were there other descendants we never knew about?"
"We're not descendants of Xena and Gabrielle," Gabrielle had said. Ever the storyteller, she'd been the one to relate their tale. "We were cloned from hairs found in the tomb where the scrolls were discovered. Our ancient enemy, Alti, did this, and then downloaded scenes from the TV show to help us recover our real memories. I guess we are Xena and Gabrielle, recreated rather than resurrected, reincarnated, or reborn…since we were never really born."
Janice Covington had nodded, examined them again more closely then smiled and said, "Well, Ray, if this were any more unlikely I'd never have believed it. Now the question is, what are you going to do? They can't go around claiming to be Xena and Gabrielle. They certainly can't go around claiming to be clones."
"They've been with Lynn, Allan, Angie, and I on the road. So far we've kept to the campgrounds and they haven't had to do anything that required an ID, an address, or personal references. I'm not really sure what to do, Janice. I've been playing it by ear so far and it's been weird enough just figuring it out. Any suggestions? I'm all ears."
"Well, for starters, since I dressed scandalously in my heyday, my old clothes will be passable now on Gabrielle. Melinda though, she was always fashionable and retro can only go so far, even these days." The old professor had chuckled, eyeing Xena's fatigue pants and remembering Mel ripping the side seams of her skirt to allow freedom of movement. "Somehow, I don't think Xena would feel at home in Mel's suits and dresses. Anything fit for someone her age is half a century out of date, whereas my wardrobe is timeless."
An hour later, Gabrielle had been dressed in khaki pants, a white cotton button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and hiking boots. It had all fit perfectly. There were closets and trunks filled with everything from expedition wear to the tuxedo Janice had worn on a handful of occasions. Xena had found precisely two of Melinda's suits with skirts that she'd thought could be hemmed a couple feet and worn on dressy "missions".
"Now, I was just wondering," Janice had asked, "what you two remember about the tomb where we found the scrolls? There was nothing about it in any of Gabrielle's writings that we ever discovered."
"Well, Alti had claimed that she'd placed the scrolls there to keep my reputation from the world," Xena told her, "and it was only after the show revived my 'legend' that she decided to bring us back. She wanted to turn me away from the Greater Good and let the world see me as the evil warlord I once was. She thought I'd join her; the Destroyer of Nations reborn, who would aid her in ruling the world. Ha. I don't remember a thing about the place. How about you, Gabrielle?"
"I don't remember anything about any tomb of Ares either. My scrolls were mostly left with the Amazons, though a few were spread across the known world."
"I see," Janice Covington had said, regarding the clones again with an intense stare, "and you were cloned from hair samples found in that tomb, right?"
"That's right," Gabrielle had confirmed, "at least, that's what Alti claimed."
"I see," Janice had repeated thoughtfully.
The next day, while Xena and Gabrielle had examined transcripts of the scrolls in the study, Dr. Covington had spoken with Ray again in the parlor. She had gathered a few samples to test her suspicions.
"Now, Ray, here's a sample from the clones and here's a sample from their descendants. I want you to take these to Dr. Hollingsworth at the USC College of Medicine and give him this letter. He's going to make a couple of tests for me…still willing to humor his senile old professor I guess. The good doctor didn't know Alexander of Macedon from Alexander Hamilton, but he was premed and I passed him figuring it couldn’t do any harm. He owes me one; so do you for that matter. Now go on and no smoking that pakalolo at the wheel."
Ray hadn't even bothered to protest. It had been over two decades since he'd last gotten stoned, but he'd known it was pointless to argue. He'd taken the samples and walked out to his mini-bus. In Columbia, he'd driven in circles before finding a parking space near the medical school, and then he'd walked in circles before finding Dr. Hollingsworth's office. The man was surprisingly young, probably an undergrad in one of Professor Covington's last classes, Ray had thought. He'd finally delivered the specimens to the good doctor, in the Dept. of Forensic Medicine.
The afternoon had passed quietly. Ray had rejoined Lynn and the others in the campground, leaving Xena and Gabrielle to enjoy Janice Covington's hospitality. The clones had been seated on the sofa in the parlor, having a serious chat.
"So, Xena, what are we going to do," Gabrielle had asked, "in the long run?"
"I dunno, maybe some deep sea fishing? You can hire these boats…."
"That's not really what I meant," the blonde had said, playing the game of "dodge the topic" with her soulmate. "I mean, we had a purpose in life before, helping people and fighting for the Greater Good. Since we're back, it just seemed like we should still be trying to make the world a better place."
"Gabrielle, you've seen how this time is. It's chaos. Everywhere we've been we've seen shootings, explosions, car chases, secret clonings and dinosaurs rampaging in the streets. It happens everyday here. Since we're back, I say we do the things we like, live our lives together without looking for more danger. I'm pretty sure it'll find us even if we don't seek it out."
"But that's just it. There's so much danger out there searching for victims. This time needs heroes worse than our time did. We know that not everyone is evil. There are plenty of good people. Look at Ray and Lynn, or Allan and Angie. Even Janice Covington turned out to be okay."
"She's a nutcase, Gabrielle. I nearly strangled her in the first ten minutes. Ray, Lynn, Allan, and Angie…they're like the desert nomads. They live in their cars on the fringes of society. I half expected them to serve us scorpions and worms at first. They're obviously abnormal. I wouldn't be surprised if most of the people here are evil."
"I can't accept that, Xena," Gabrielle had said. "There were always a lot of bad people, but there were always more good ones. They're just not as noticeable. Lives of quiet good don't draw as much attention as lives of violence and evil."
"That's always been true, and the down side is that it takes only one villain to threaten a lot of good people. From what I've seen, there are plenty of villains here and they egg each other on. It's like a mudslide that's been gaining momentum for 2,000 years. It's too late for heroes. We're not even really part of this."
Gabrielle had sat regarding her soulmate's words. She'd been wondering about Xena, wondering about herself, and wondering about the world they'd been dumped into. What were they really and where did they fit in? It was almost as if Xena had been reading her mind, for her next comments had been uncannily apropos.
"I'll tell ya what really gets my goat, Gabrielle. Ya know how little I ever liked having my fate decided for me. Well, I just gotta wonder how much free will we've got this time around and how much is Alti's programming. They pumped our heads full of stuff from that show before we woke up…but only the stuff they wanted us to remember. Suppose we're just living out what Alti wanted."
"Well, that's all true, I guess" Gabrielle had to admit.
"Do ya think people in this time will ever accept cloned ancient heroes running around helping out the militias? Look at what happened to us in Los Angeles. Maybe compelling us to act like we once did was Alti's real plan…or Dr. Polly's, or Clea's, or Mac's…to get us condemned for trying to be the heroes we once were. You know, doing the right thing the wrong way, at the wrong time, and in the wrong place? It'd be the perfect case of 'no good deed goes unpunished'. I can hear Alti laughing now. Maybe I was wrong before; I'd say it's too late to be the heroes we were."
Gabrielle could only sigh. What Xena had said made sense. They didn't understand this world, didn't know how much they'd been programmed, and didn't know what modern people expected. Doing what they knew how to do so well could be just what Alti and the others expected of them. They'd been programmed, set up to fail.
On the other hand, doing nothing wasn't an option either, and if she knew Xena, she'd soon be pacing and brooding in boredom. Her temper would get short from their inactivity, and then her moods would get darker and darker until she snapped. Alti's vision of an evil Xena could be realized in more ways than one.
"Xena, we can't just do nothing," the cloned bard had said seriously, "oh, I might be able to spend my time reading and writing, but you can only fish so much, and then you'll get itchy to bust heads." They had both grinned. "I agree that we don't understand this time and we don't know all of what Alti planned. What we've seen has been really bad, but I can't believe it's hopeless. I think that before we decide what to do, what we need to do is get familiar with this time, with its dreams and hopes, and with the hearts of its people."
Xena had sat digesting Gabrielle's words. In preparing for a campaign it always paid to have good intelligence first. Command decisions had to be fully informed to create a successful strategy. Misinformation, haste, and ignorance invariably led to unexpected casualties, unnecessary battle losses, and unacceptable failure. She didn't trust luck, didn't accept fate, and destiny was to be created. It really was a war out there, and the once Destroyer of Nations realized that she'd better start treating their present situation like one. Gabrielle was right.
"It's not like we can help that, I guess," Xena had finally agreed, "we're stuck here for the duration. May as well adapt…it's a tactical necessity for our survival anyway."
They'd spent the following weeks with Janice Covington, and they couldn't have been taken into the confidence of a more appropriate teacher. Her experiences encompassed most of the last century's history and she could relate it to the history of the centuries and millennia past. Even better, she had her own opinions about human nature; critical, ethical, and sometimes cynical. The clones had also taken advantage of the TV news and the daily papers. Slowly they'd acquired an understanding of the hurried, harried, and yes, sometimes chaotic pace of modern life.
The revelations were confusing, disgusting, and sometimes uplifting. They'd found that in an instant, one could communicate with people across the globe. Travel was infinitely faster than on horseback; even faster than Ray's mini-bus. Many of the pestilences they'd known as scourges of the ancient world were now only inconveniences. When Janice showed them the scar from her kidney transplant, they had at first refused to believe the strides modern medicine had made. She'd had them read the accounts of heart transplants. They'd watched the Learning Channel, National Geographic, and Discovery.
As Ray had suspected, Janice still had contacts. One afternoon she'd had a pleasant chat with a retiree in Miami, an old "associate" she'd done business with during the war, for she'd played both sides of the fence of respectability in those days. He in turn had called his son in Atlanta, who had called a business associate in Columbia, S.C. Arrangements were made, favors were called in, and two identities were created. Because of something she'd learned, Janice had made very specific requests and realized a dream of her own in the process. Even at her age, she relished having a secret.
July 4, 2000 Columbia, South Carolina
Boom! The flash of red and blue sparkles had unfolded into a scintillating umbrella overhead and the accompanying report had felt like a drumbeat against their chests.
Bang! Bang! Bang! Silver trails had sizzled across the night sky. A succession of salutes had shaken the windows in the buildings behind the crowd, gathered on the sidewalks of downtown Columbia.
Kablam! A fountain of flame had launched a flight of golden sprinklers, each topped by a canopy of white and an earshattering blast. The momentary flashes had revealed the clouds of smoke in the darkness above; the ghosts of fireworks from seconds before.
Dora had tucked the blanket closer around Janice Covington's knees as she sat in her wheelchair at the curb. Beside her, staring up in wonder, were her visiting grandniece, Gabriella Covington, and the late Melinda Pappas' grandniece, Serena. They'd both decided to vacation in Columbia that summer, for what might be their last chance to meet the only living link to their grandmothers' families. They'd met for the first time at the old Pappas house, in a coincidence of timing and inspiration. If anyone outside the family suspected anything, it was that the old professor had been playing matchmaker. The two young women seemed to have become inseparable, the best of friends.
"You see, Gabriella and Serena, down here we celebrate the founding of this nation with pride and hope. Even though this country had it's differences, north and south, in the end, for all our differences, all our greed, and all our self-serving tendencies, the vast majority of people here still hope for the dream of the founding fathers. You've read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. That was 225 years ago, but even a bunch of people from all over the world with nothing in common haven't been able to completely screw it up yet. Sometimes, it seems like for every step forward we take two steps back, but I'll tell you something. If you want to see Americans stand together, just give them an enemy that threatens them all. I saw it happen in the 40s, and it's happened on smaller scales since. This country is a lumbering behemoth, slow to rouse and slow to make up its mind, but once that happens, very little can stand in its way. It's not just war. Once a President challenged this nation, and within a decade men had walked on the moon. I hope it's a dream you two can believe in. I guess somewhere deep down, I've always believed…and I know Melinda did too."
The clones had listened to the old professor's words and turned them over and over in their minds as they'd watched the fireworks animate the holiday night. Independence Day, it was a concept they could both relate to. And they were a part of it all now. They had the names and the little cards and the official papers to prove it. They were citizens, they were people, as dissimilar and as much a part of society as any others. They were no longer just the clones of ancient warriors. They were family.
September 21, 2000 Columbia, South Carolina
"Xena, Gabrielle, she's asking for you," Dora had said, her dark eyes the windows on the sadness in her heart. She'd come down the stairs and into the parlor where the clones had been apprehensively waiting. The doctor had come and gone.
Upstairs in the master bedroom, Janice had seemed dwarfed by the antique four poster bed. In a style that had gone out before the turn of the last century, the mattress was high and curtains were drawn back on the sides. The old professor lay under a comforter, her back supported by a pair of pillows. She'd looked weak, her chest slowly rising and falling in shallow breaths. One hand trembled slightly and the left side of her face lay slack. She'd blinked and squinted at the figures entering her room.
"Melinda?" She'd whispered hopefully. A tear had trickled down Xena's face and Gabrielle had pressed herself against her soulmate.
"It's Xena and Gabrielle, Janice," the warrior had told her softly, moving to take her good right hand, "we're here with you."
The faded blue eyes had seemed to clear, and they'd focused on the clones' faces. She'd given the warrior's hand a weak squeeze. The hint of a grin had curled the right side of her mouth.
"Had a third stroke last night, ya know," she'd told them in a rasping whisper, "and Doc Farrady thinks this old body's had all it can take. Guess I agree with him this time."
For a moment she'd stopped, drawing another slow shallow breath, measuring her strength. In the glow of sunlight sifting through the gauzy curtains in the window behind the clones, she'd believed she could see the figure of her beloved Melinda waiting for her, waiting to finally take her hand after her last years alone, waiting to lead her on. Just a few moments more, my love, she'd thought, I just have a couple more things to tell our family. She felt so tired, but it had been years since she'd been more content. Yes, our family, Mel.
"I want you to know I've left you everything. You're my only family…hers too," Janice had whispered. "The DNA tests proved that. The envelope on my desk, from the Dept. of Forensic Medicine…both of them six point matches, identical. You don't remember the tomb because you were never there. But we were."
They had waited for her to continue but she never would. Gabrielle had collapsed against Xena, sobbing. Silent tears had trickled down the Warrior Princess' face as she'd leaned forward and shut the pale eyes, already glazing as the spirit left them. The half-grin still held on the unparalyzed side of her face. Behind them, they'd heard Dora's hitching sobs as she'd turned from the room and headed for the parlor to phone the doctor one last time.
March 15, 2001 Columbia, South Carolina
"Well, 'Path of Vengeance' was no worse than the rest, I guess," Gabrielle had sighed as she'd shut off the TV, "I just don't see why they have to blame Ares for everything."
"Seems like a habit," Xena had agreed. "Varia was enough of a hothead without divine intervention. She was as grandiose as Caesar and every bit as obsessed. The fact that she'd never laid eyes on Livia didn't stop her from trying to even old scores against Eve."
"Which brings up that other episode…."
"'Coming Home', I know. Another one with Ares. It was an army dedicated to him, but he had nothing to do with it, and Eve wasn't even with us then," Xena remembered. She couldn't help laughing and adding, "and that stuff about the Furies…I don't ever recall running into the Eumenides, let alone killing them. Back then, they were just a catchall name for tough luck, bad karma, madness, even stomach aches."
"I'm still amazed that they blamed your ergot poisoning incident on them, you remember, at the beginning of their third season. A little bad rye bread and you went off on all those unresolved paternal abandonment issues."
"Don't remind me…it got dicey for mom. I said some pretty nasty things."
"Yeah, but the show made it sound like you were going to kill her or something…and then leaving the suspicion that Ares was your father? I never wrote that."
"I know. I think what I said was that, since my father had abandoned me and Ares had wanted me, that he may as well have been my father. They just twisted our words." Xena had paused, shaking her head. "Well, you remember what Janice used to say, 'history is the crap the victors wipe on paper'. After 2,000 years we can't expect anything more," Xena had declared philosophically. "It's beginning to disturb me less though."
"Yeah," Gabrielle had patronizingly agreed, "you've only thrown two TV remotes."
"They're cheap at Wal-Mart," Xena had growled in response.
Later that night, as they'd lain in the high four poster bed, staring up at the canopy of stars sewn onto a field of midnight blue, Gabrielle had brought up how the order of events in their past life differed from the series, now in its sixth season. That night had been an anniversary of sorts.
"Xena, you remember our deaths, right?"
"It was today, the Ides of March. How could I forget? Being crucified isn't something you get over easily no matter how much time passes. It was poetic though. When we finally died, it was on the same day as our archenemy, Julius Caesar. Jerk. And he's the one history remembered."
"But look what they did in the series…'Fallen Angel' and 'Chakram' etc., etc., that whole bit about Eli bringing us back to life and Callisto's spirit being in Eve."
"That's the biggest pile of crap they've produced yet. Eli was a good friend, but he was never more than a street magician. Eve was born the same year we came back from Chin the second time, two years before we went to Indus, and ten years before Brutus killed Ephiny in 'Endgame'."
"And that's where we lost her…" Gabrielle slipped an arm across her soulmate's waist and gave her a comforting squeeze. She'd been an aunt and the pain struck her heart too.
"We spent thirteen years of our lives, trying to get her back…and it was Julius, not Augustus who turned her into a monster. We didn't live to see Augustus."
In the dim light that filtered through the curtained window, Gabrielle could see the glint of tears trailing across the warrior's cheeks.
"No gods ever hunted Eve. It had always been Julius Caesar. He never gave up seeking vengeance for how I tricked him into executing Crassus, which left him having to fight Pompey." Xena had sighed, remembering how she'd used Caesar's hatred for her against him years later. "Funny how they made two episodes…'A Good Day' and 'Amphipolis Under Siege' out of that one scroll. We had Caesar's army and Pompey's fighting each other, and little Eve was the bait Caesar couldn't resist. He'd heard I'd gone home, and he brought his army all the way to Thrace, with Pompey on his heels."
"He would have done anything to hurt you, and later, having Brutus kidnap Eve and kill my regent struck a blow at both of us. He was never so happy as when he knew he was corrupting your daughter, turning her towards the darkness you'd known and wanted more than anything to protect her from. At least he never mated her like he'd intended."
"I shoulda gelded the miserable bastard…I wish I coulda seen him die."
"You were already 53 and I was 45 on the Ides of March. At least we'd had Eve back for two years and straightened her out by then."
Silent minutes had passed as the clones remembered. So many memories of who they'd been, where they'd gone, and what they'd done. What they'd survived and what they hadn't. Xena had taken a deep breath and exhaled slowly, her hands unconsciously clenching as she'd remembered the salted nails in her palms. She hadn't been able to feel her feet.
"If there was a single thing I'd have done differently," Xena had finally said, "it would've been to let Callisto sink into the quicksand that day."
"I know," Gabrielle had softly agreed, "it's one of my biggest regrets as well. For once I should have kept my mouth shut. She'd have been long dead instead of waiting to ambush us in Rome. She'd never have lived long enough to take that chakram or break your back. Who'd have thought she'd have ever found it though? Almost no one knew there were more than two."
"Hephaestus originally forged four…dark and light, day and night."
Another silence ensued. Old memories had brought old regrets, but also new questions.
"You read Janice's notes too, Gabrielle. The broken chakram that Callisto used to disable me and get us crucified was the same one Janice and Mel found in Ares' tomb. Mine had been the combined chakram of darkness and light since right after we'd come back from Indus where I was purified by accepting the Way of the Warrior. How did Callisto's broken chakram get into the tomb? For that matter, how did Ares get trapped?"
"We may never know. We never went there, and we were dead before it happened. Maybe Ares tried to make a deal with Callisto after we were crucified and she double-crossed him. She'd hated him for years, and he didn't trust her either."
"Another thing…where did Alti get my chakram? And what about Ares? He was only confined when Janice and Mel left the tomb, not asleep. Someone went in there to get their hair to clone us, Gabrielle."
"And I can't imagine Ares allowing anyone to just enter the tomb, pick through the place until they'd found the hairs, and then leave without freeing him. Not even Alti."
"So then he's probably free…."
"And he probably knows about us." Sleep hadn't come until just before the dawn.
April 27, 2001 Columbia, South Carolina
"This has got to be the worst yet…did ya see the lab?" Xena had been seething. She'd remembered cold stainless steel gurneys with restraints, and the jars that had displayed Alti's embryonic "failures". They had just started watching the episode, "Send in the Clones". "And how'd they find out about this stuff anyway?"
"That's a good question," Gabrielle had agreed, thinking, "the lab was supposed to be top secret…and how could they find out about Alexis Los Alamos being Alti?"
Xena had been tense throughout the show, but during the fight scene she'd snapped.
"I emptied that pistol into the conniving, two-bit, conjuring witch!" Xena had fumed. Their third remote control slammed into the wall, across the room next to the TV.
"You were so frustrated when no more bullets would come out," Gabrielle had chuckled.
Xena had cast a narrowed eye at her partner and sulked, before offering the excuse that, "I didn't know you could refill them back then."
"Though you did manage to hit her with it when you threw the empty thing," Gabrielle had replied, doing her best to stifle a giggle, "even though she was already on fire."
"I'm serious. How did they know about this? It wasn't reported anywhere we've found. How could they make an episode out of it?" Xena had repeated. If there was one thing she was attuned to, it was noticing when things didn't add up right. Call it a gut feeling, call it a warrior's instinct, even call it deductive logic, it just smelled fishy. "What do we really know about the people who make these shows?"
"Just what everybody else knows, I guess," Gabrielle had said, actually realizing for the first time how little that amounted to. Her own suspicions had begun setting off alarm bells in her head.
"It had to be Polly, Clea, and Mac," Xena had declared with certainty. "They sold Alti out after we disappeared. Had to be…at least one of them."
"You know, that makes sense. They lost everything when Alti failed…but wouldn't they get arrested for what they did?"
"Only if they're lucky. If I catch 'em, I'll twist their miserable heads off and they can clone each other if they wanna go on living." As the credits had rolled by they'd looked at each other, thinking similar thoughts.
"We've got to do some research."
Side by side, the clones had spent the next week sifting through rumors and fan sites dedicated to the show. They'd emailed the fan club officers and webmistresses, and even spoken with a woman named Melissa Blake at Renaissance Pictures. Everything they'd learned had been superficial and amounted to nothing concrete.
"All we really know is that they film things in New Zealand and an executive producer is married to the star of the show. The co-star is her best friend and the crew is like family," Gabrielle had summarized.
"How convenient," Xena had replied, brooding. She'd opened the webpage for their travel agent and reserved tickets for a flight to Auckland the next day. "Enough of this. Time for a visit."
April 30, 2001 Xena Warrior Princess Set, New Zealand
"Well, at least their going through the motions of filming," Xena had uncharitably remarked as she stared through a pair of oversized field glasses. Beside her, Gabrielle was watching the filming through an identical pair. The clones were dressed in black battle dress uniforms, their faces covered by balaclavas. They were lying on a hillside, in a good elevated position above the set, watching from the tree line as a fake city burned.
"Did you see those stunt women flying through the air? That looked impressive with all the fires they set," the blonde noted. She'd lowered the field glasses momentarily, but it was long enough for Xena to notice the black rings around Gabrielle's eyes. She snickered at the sight. The bard fell for it every time.
"They were on wires, Gabrielle. Now look, they're moving the camera and lights. Must be resetting for another scene."
They'd watched patiently as the crew had readied "Higuchi" set 1 for the water scene.
"What the hell?" Xena had asked rhetorically. "Wait a second…stars on the set."
"Yup," Gabrielle had agreed, tracking the movement with her binoculars as two figures had dropped their robes and been helped up onto a scaffolding, "that's Lucy and Renee alright."
The clones had watched with interest as several takes had been filmed of the actresses congratulating each other while the set was being drenched with water from a rigged leak in a pipe. It had taken a couple tries to get the water to fountain up to the director's specifications, he gesturing with his hands, the effects man shrugging and finally kicking a pump. The actresses had appeared to be soaking wet and uncomfortable, but when the camera rolled they had fallen into their roles flawlessly.
"Looks like the job isn't all fun and games," Xena had said with little sympathy, "but then, they're probably headed for hot showers and coffee as soon as they're done."
"I remember being soaked for days, more than once," Gabrielle had recalled with even less sympathy, "then having to fight bandits for a muddy campsite where we couldn't even start a fire, and having to snuggle with Argo all night just to stay warm."
Xena's attention was already back on the scene developing below. "Something's happening, Gabrielle…I think they're done."
Below them on the set, Lucy and Renee had climbed down from the scaffolding, to be wrapped in their robes and congratulated by the crew. The happy throng had buzzed with excitement, though the clones were too far away to hear any of their words. A tall man in a plaid blazer had strode out of a trailer and joined the two actresses, hugging them both and kissing the taller one.
"That's him," Gabrielle had exclaimed, "that's Rob Tapert, the creator of the show."
Xena had been studying him through her binoculars. She'd seemed to be fascinated, hypnotized, or horrified, Gabrielle couldn't tell which. The warrior hadn't answered and she was barely breathing. As the trio disappeared into the trailer she'd finally relaxed and turned to her soulmate.
"Gabrielle, what did we just see?"
"No, I mean that scene. What were they filming? Those extras looked like samurai. Did we ever do anything even remotely like this?"
"Now that you mention it, no. We certainly never went to Japan. We drowned some cannibals once by releasing a dammed river," the bard had recalled. "We had some water fights."
"Exactly," Xena had said, "this has to be another one of their fanciful episodes. I wonder what happens in it."
"We probably get killed again, or Caesar comes back from the dead," the bard had guessed humorlessly, "or maybe Callisto. Do we really want to know?"
"No…I guess it doesn't matter," the warrior had answered absently, having returned to her field glasses. "C'mon, party's breaking up."
The clones had stashed their field glasses in a small backpack and then crawled backwards, out of sight over the hilltop, before standing and quickly slipping from cover to cover through the darkness. Soon they'd been among the equipment trucks, craft service vans, and cast trailers. The pair had easily evaded the security men and made their way to the trailer they'd seen from the hill. Despite the numerous crewmembers and extras milling about, their ancient stealth had served them well and they'd approached unseen.
At the trailer door, Xena had peeked through the window. Inside she'd seen Rob at a small desk opposite a couch where the two actresses had been sitting, wrapped in blankets and sipping hot drinks. They'd been relaxing and seemed very pleased with themselves. Xena had sunk back down out of sight.
"Like sitting ducks in there, Gabrielle," the warrior had reported. "You pull the door open and I'll hit 'em before they know what's happening." At the bard's shocked look she'd added, "just an expression…no one'll get hurt, promise."
Gabrielle had moved to the side of the door and gingerly placed one hand on the doorknob. The warrior had backed up, several paces away from the door. She'd nodded to her soulmate and the blonde had wrenched the door wide open. Xena had taken three quick strides and launched herself through the opening in a front somersault, carrying enough momentum to land in the middle of the trailer, on her feet. As Lucy and Renee had watched, paralyzed in shock, the Warrior Princess had applied the nerve pinch to the startled producer. He'd begun an undignified gagging and had slumped back in his chair. At that moment, Gabrielle had burst into the trailer, slamming the door closed behind her.
"Ya know what's happening," Xena had hissed, "now I want some answers."
"It's Zoe; she's finally snapped!" Renee had squeaked from the couch.
"It's the bloody fans," Lucy had said angrily, "this has gone all too far. Thank god this show's over. I've had up to my eyeballs with it and this is the last straw."
The words had made the clones stop in their tracks.
"The show's over?" Gabrielle had asked. "You're really finished besmirching our lives to the world?"
"Your lives?" Rob had sputtered as a few drops of blood had trickled from his nose; he was too indignant to notice. "Get it through your heads! This is a TV show, a fantasy. There is no Xena and Gabrielle. You have got to be kidding…or more likely you're crazy. What the hell do you want anyway?"
Xena had sighed and snapped her fingers against Rob's neck, removing the nerve pinch. The man had gasped and taken a few deep breaths. Lucy had rushed to his side, holding him as he recovered and staring daggers at the intruders.
"It's one thing to send hate mail, but assault's another story," she'd hissed, "sick people like you have taken this show way too seriously. And it's always the same; cowardly faceless weasels sniping from the woodwork. You two are headed for jail and the least you could do is have the courage to show your faces."
"Ya wanna see our faces," Xena had taunted, "just look in a mirror."
She'd whipped her balaclava off and glared at the actress. Lucy and Rob's eyes had widened in shock as she'd shaken her head to settle her hair. Xena and Lucy were almost perfect doubles. Their icy blue eyes locked across the desk. The only differences were subtle; Xena was a few years younger, carried herself more defiantly, and had a harder intensity in her eyes. She was the character Lucy sometimes portrayed in the midst of battle…not the crazed evil Xena from the flashbacks, but the seasoned warrior.
Across the room Renee had stood up, closely watched by Gabrielle, and she was staring in amazement at the woman who looked almost exactly like her friend. She slowly looked back to the other intruder, really sizing her up for the first time. She was shorter and solidly built. It looked like a package deal to her.
"Guess you're the real Gabrielle, huh, darlin?" Renee had asked.
The bard had pulled off her balaclava and stared at the actress who had portrayed her for six years. She couldn't understand why the woman wasn't looking back with the same amazement Lucy was regarding Xena with. Instead, Renee's mouth had curled in a grin that had rapidly graduated to uncontrollable laughter.
"What?" The bard had asked sharply, befuddled by the reaction. She'd looked to her soulmate, who'd turned towards her and was trying hard to suppress her snickering. Lucy was just starting to laugh, but Rob was already in hysterics.
"We did that gag," he'd chortled, "you two at least have a sense of humor."
Lucy had made circular motions around her eyes, and Gabrielle had gone from confused, to suspicious, to appalled. They had supposedly been on a serious mission.
"You didn't," she'd hissed at Xena, who was now laughing along with the other three. After a long pause, in which she'd wiped telltale black grease paint from around an eye and looked at her fingertip for confirmation, she'd exclaimed, "you did! Xena, we finally confront the people who've been making a travesty out of my scrolls and you have to play practical jokes?" The bard had been steaming, cursing and muttering under her breath, "I'll never forgive her…how am I supposed to be a threatening presence if I'm a laughing stock. She never takes me seriously. I can't believe this."
It had been at least five minutes before the stress had been relieved with hilarity. Xena had apologized profusely while sniggering the whole time. Gabrielle had grudgingly accepted her apology after sharply kicking her in the shin when she'd first approached. In the end though, they'd all realized that the laughter had saved a rapidly deteriorating and adversarial situation. They'd ended up discussing things for a long time that night.
"So ya got the idea for the show from Janice and Mel's translations of the scrolls, right?" Xena had asked. Rob had nodded but had surprised them with a more thorough explanation.
"Yes, I was inspired by the Xena scrolls. They were a great starting point for a TV action-adventure series, but it was really strange in the beginning."
"May as well tell them about it, hon," Lucy had interjected, "it's a good story."
"One morning I was in my office at RenPic," Rob had resumed, "and I found I had an appointment on my calendar that I couldn't remember making. It was a guy who wanted to sell me an idea for a TV series…happened all the time, nothing special. Most of those pitchmen were appalling, no originality whatsoever."
Rob had groaned at the memories of all the sales pitches he'd endured for pathetic concepts being touted as masterpieces. That "Chimpules" thing in particular still stuck in his throat. Finally he continued. "The writer who showed up looked like the God of War, though I didn't know it then. He told me about the discoveries Janice and Mel had made. This was years before the show started. Naturally I'd thought he was just a crackpot, and so I did nothing. Too busy, and he wasn't even asking for a fee." Rob took a deep breath before continuing. "Now this is where it gets weird and you'll probably think I'm crazy. Well, he appeared again, but this time in a dream, and he told me to get off my butt and look up the scrolls. I chalked it up to stress and bad caviar. I ignored it, but he kept coming back. After about five dreams, in which he became increasingly demanding, I finally looked up translations of the scrolls and the rest is history. It always seemed like a bizarre way for my muse to provide me with inspiration. More like being provoked really, but the show's a hit, so I wasn't complaining."
"So ya dream of Ares a lot, do you?" Xena had asked.
"Actually no," Rob had answered, "that was it…I've never seen him since. When we cast his character for 'The Reckoning', I was amazed to find Kevin Smith. The guy was a dead ringer for the god I'd seen in my dreams. He even managed to capture the personality I'd had glimpses of."
"Oh, he's Ares alright," Gabrielle had added, "he's pretty much like I remember him."
"So you really are clones of Xena and Gabrielle?" Lucy had asked, still not really believing it. "And Alti was real and brought you two back?"
"Actually, we're clones of the bodies of Janice Covington and Melinda Pappas, their descendants," Gabrielle had told her. "Alti mistakenly thought the hairs she got from the tomb were ours, but we'd never been there. Still, she managed to clone us and give us back our memories. I guess she only had what you'd put on TV to program us with, so she triggered the Xena and Gabrielle personalities, not Janice and Mel."
"Musta been in the genes," Xena had added.
"Now, what we wanted to know is, how did you find out that we'd been cloned?" Gabrielle had asked. Next to her, Xena's eyes had hardened. They were finally getting to the point of their visit.
Rob sighed. The experience had been weird, but what hadn't been on their production? Six years of "Xena" and a career in filmmaking before that had served to make the unexpected commonplace. It had all started with a conversation with one of the writers.
"Paul had come to me with a script," the producer began, "and it was way out there. It had a tie in to the series with the presence of Alti, but it was set in modern times. Frankly, we were running out of good stories based on the scrolls, and the series was coming to an end anyway, so I thought, what the hell."
"Ya said that more than once from what I've seen," Xena commented. Lucy had glared at her.
"The odd thing was that as we discussed the story, Paul told me he'd seen it all in a dream, every scene blocked out. The plot, the characters, and even a lot of the dialog had come to him in his sleep. Weirder still, he'd remembered it all when he woke up. All he did was fill in some dialog and a shot list for the flashbacks from the earlier eps. Well, Paul isn't one to dream like that, but it had seemed all too familiar to me. I even asked him if he'd seen Ares at any time. He just looked at me and denied it, but he was scared."
The clones had been instantly suspicious. They'd looked at each other, then back at Rob. For a while, no one had said anything.
"Sounds to me like Ares has been meddling since before day one," Xena had mused, "what I can't fathom is why."
"Yeah," Gabrielle had agreed, "he got Rob to develop a TV show based on my scrolls. Then after we'd been cloned, he gave one of the writers the story about it."
"Not only that, but he'd been free of the tomb since way before Alti cloned us," Xena had continued. "We're talking years before we woke up."
"Not necessarily," Lucy had said, "it takes time to grow a clone. In fact, it should take as long to clone a person as it would for them to grow up naturally."
"But Alti bragged many times about her growth acceleration technologies," Gabrielle had said, unconsciously rubbing her arm, "she gave us so many shots right after we woke up."
"So then Alti got Janice 'n Mel's hairs from the tomb years ago, freein' Ares in the process," Renee had drawled, adding everything up, "'n then Alti cloned y'all while Ares was proddin' Rob to make this show. Then when Alti succeeded with y'all clones, Ares gave Paul the story. You escaped 'n killed Alti…."
"But we still don't know why," Gabrielle had said, "and Ares and Alti never worked together in our time. The collision of egos would have been unmanageable since they both wanted Xena to help them rule the world."
"So what's his game?" Xena had asked rhetorically. "What's he get outta this?"
The five people had sat silently thinking. Each had an insight into the character of the God of War; some fictional and some factual, some modern and some ancient. There were clues throughout the affair, but it was convoluted and defied unraveling. It was a Gordian Knot 2,000 years in the making. Xena had finally come to a solution, for she'd grown up on tales of Alexander, son of Philip II of Macedon. She knew him from Alexander Hamilton, (whoever he was), with her eyes closed. At Gordium, in 333 BC, Alexander the Great had slashed the knot free with his sword. "Act, don't react", was a saying still applicable in the modern world.
"Ares! Show yourself!" The Warrior Princess had demanded. The others had looked at her as if she'd lost her mind, three in disbelief, Gabrielle with apprehensiveness.
In the center of the trailer a flash of blue light had appeared, accompanied by a throaty laugh. Only Xena had managed to resist the impulse to shade her eyes from the effect, which flickered with the intensity of an arc light, spattering the room with shadows.. A grin had curled her lips as the God of War appeared.
"Well, Xena, hello after so long," he'd said, obviously happy to see her. He'd given the bard a quick glance, adding, "Hate to admit it, but I missed you too, Gabrielle …for a few minutes one of those centuries." The bard had given him a sour look.
He'd chuckled, surveying the other mortals and dismissing them in a heartbeat. He'd returned his gaze to Xena.
"You see, my dear, although you've been through many reincarnations, it was just never the same," he'd explained with a smile to mask his sincerity, "I mean really, how far could Arminestra get under my skin?" He'd given Xena an ill expression that she'd grinned at in response. "Not the same at all," he'd continued with a wink, "inside or out."
"So why all this, Ares? Was it all just to get me back in the world?"
"That's a part of it, Xena…a very big part of it," the God of War had admitted as he circled the Warrior Princess. He'd moved to stand in front of her, just inches away, hypnotizing her with steady eye contact as his hand gently traced her jaw. "Having you back in the flesh is worth more to me than all the wars of the last century, and there've been some real bloodfests…but a war's just a war. They happen all the time, but you…only once."
As if he could sense Gabrielle behind him, twitching and working herself up to break her soulmate away from his influence, he'd stepped back from Xena, who shook herself and blinked. He'd reclaimed her eyes when he spoken again.
"Ever since I saw Melinda Pappas, I knew that just getting free of the tomb would never be enough. Melinda was you for a few minutes, but she wasn't you when your spirit left her…not nearly. Then I sensed another spirit in the tomb. It was only moments after Mel and Janice left. She was evil throughout, powerful, and ancient. She'd been dogging your spirit through the halls of time, and had hoped to strike at you while you were in Mel's body, but she didn't get the chance. You retreated at the first possible instant, even before you'd escaped from the tomb. That was gutsy," Ares had remarked in admiration.
"Alti," Xena had whispered, guessing the evil spirit's identity.
"Yes," Ares had agreed, "I despised her instantly, so I planted a thought I her head before she left. The notion to recreate your body as a trap for your soul. She never saw past the way you looked; she believed you were Xena and Gabrielle reborn, not your identical looking descendants, all because she was attuned to the presence of your soul. She must have obsessed about it until modern science finally made it possible."
"Well, thanks so much," Xena had replied sarcastically, "I owe ya one."
"Anytime," the God of War had quipped, "I'll put it on the tab. Alti did her part, but her agent had to open my tomb to get a sample of hair. He didn't last longer than it took him to spill his guts." Ares had chuckled and Xena had raised an eyebrow in question, "yes, literally spill his guts," Ares had confirmed.
"Once I was free I decided to rile her up just for laughs, so I prompted Rob over there to create the show. That really got her goat. Actually made her willing to manifest herself physically, though it used up a lot of her accumulated power." For a while, Ares had laughed heartily at the memory.
"So where was I?" He'd asked himself when he'd resumed the story. "Oh yeah, I took his form and met Alti for the first time when I gave her the hairs and your chakram," he'd admitted with a smug expression. "You see, in the past, she'd been involved with you in Indus and on the northern steppes, but never in Greece."
"What about in Rome?" Renee had asked.
Ares had looked at her with a bemused expression until Rob had finally admitted, "'When Fates Collide', we made that one up too, Renee."
"So you had Alti clone us just so you could see Xena again?" Gabrielle had angrily accused the God of War. "Don't you realize she nearly killed us?"
At this, Ares had actually rocked with laughter, really looking at Gabrielle again for the first time. "I knew Xena could take her. She still has my favor whether she wants to be my Chosen Warrior or not. There was no way she could have lost to Alti; Alti was just a tool and she'd outlived her usefulness by then. Now, why do you have circles around your eyes?"
The bard had been spitting mad. Not only had the TV show people had a laugh at her expense, but now the God of War was on her case too. She could see Xena trying to suppress a chuckle. Finally Ares had caught on as well.
"She falls for that every time, huh?" He'd asked Xena with a grin, before continuing more seriously. "So now you two are alive again, Alti is gone, and I'm happy. Pretty good for a few decades' work, wouldn't you say?"
Xena had nodded in agreement. It had been a good plan and she could appreciate it as well as anyone. Gabrielle had to agree too, since she was back with Xena. Rob, Lucy, and Renee were happy for the success of the show.
"So what's the catch?" Xena had finally asked. Ares had grinned in response.
"Are you kidding?" Ares had asked, incredulous. "I'm free, have been for a decade, thanks to you and Gabrielle. Your spirit freed me from the tomb after all, though in an indirect way. I've just been sitting back and watching, enjoying the show. People did fine all through the centuries I was trapped. They really kept the faith," he'd nodded to himself in approval. "This time is so violent that I haven't had to coerce, cajole, or convince anyone to fight. They worship me without even knowing it. It's paradise for a god of war. I can't thank you enough."
"So the God of War's on vacation," Gabrielle had asked suspiciously.
"You got it, blondie," he'd winked at her. "You see, it's like you'd always wanted it. Though I can still meddle a little here and there, mankind has their precious free will. They've had it for centuries, really. The human race gets to make their own mistakes and suffer their own consequences. So, welcome to the human race again, girls."
He'd stroked Xena's cheek fondly with his fingertips and quickly brushed his lips across hers. With a last glance at Rob, Lucy, and Renee, he'd added, "No autographs, please," and then disappeared in a blinding flash, laughing.
Phantom Bard, Brooklyn, N.Y.
February 27, 2003
End Notes: Yeah, I realize the show was in reruns on March 15, 2001, not showing "Path of Vengeance", which aired around February 16th depending on which market the viewer is in. Also, Renee's exclamation upon first seeing Xena may not be accurate. I have no way of knowing which stunt artist doubled for Lucy in, "A Friend In Need Pt. 1". I hope academics will forgive the historic revisions that appear in this tale, but then compared to the show, these are really inconsequential alterations to the timeline, <g>.
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