DISCLAIMER: Xena, Gabrielle, Melinda Pappas, and Janice Covington, as well as all other characters which originally appeared in the television series Xena: Warrior Princess, are the property of MCA, Universal, and Renaissance Pictures. Kaitlyn Velasquez is the sole property and creation of the author. Any resemblance, physical or otherwise, between Kaitlyn and the author is entirely intentional, although it is likely that much of it is actually just a figment of the author’s imagination, brought on by a bout of wishful thinking. The authenticity of various aspects of the story was insured as much as possible, but this being the Xenaverse and all, the author humbly hopes that any inconsistencies and inaccuracies that remain will be forgiven. Despite the author’s great love for Celtic history and lore, flagrant liberties were taken with the historical timeline and a few—okay, many—details of ancient Celtic culture in order to facilitate (or so the author hopes) the dramatic flow of the story. Again, the author hopes that this will be forgiven, as it takes place within the confines of the Xenaverse. "Deciphering the Rift" draws heavily on the content of the episodes "Maternal Instincts" and "The Bitter Suite," as well as "The Xena Scrolls." Any other cultural references are intentionally anachronistic, and utilized by the author in order to be a smartass. Special thanks to Justin Mansfield for his input on classical Greek, Taper Wickel for some of the folk ballads, and Rudy Radna and Elizabeth Germanio for beta reading and feedback.

SUBTEXT: Who said anything about subtext? In my world, there is no such thing. This may, of course, be due to my own personal biases and the way I want to perceive all this, but then again—it may not. At any rate, this story does concern romantic relationships between women, and if you don’t relish that idea, you can always stop reading now, and save yourself the effort of complaining about it afterward. There’s no sex in it (and some of you can stop reading now if that’s what you’re looking for), but the physical relationships between the characters are strongly implied. Again, if you don’t like that idea, wander on along.

CONTENT/VIOLENCE: This story, as stated above, contains no sex. However, it does, or eventually will, contain high concentrations of archaeology, linguistics, and a whole lot of butt-kicking action. There will be several fight sequences containing detailed, somewhat graphic descriptions of violence. Smoking occurs quite often in the course of the story, Janice and Kaitlyn being who they are, but the author does respectfully remind you that it is rather a nasty habit and will most likely give you cancer and other icky ailments. Do I confuse you by switching between the first person and the third person in referring to myself as the author of this fic? Sorry. It all depends on what sounds better at the time.

LANGUAGE: Did a latrine explode somewhere? Hey, I can’t help it. Janice is something of a potty-mouth, and so am I, which by extension naturally means that Kaitlyn is too . . . Profanity abounds in the following pages. You’ve been adequately warned. All that said, on with the story.

Deciphering the Rift

or, The Rift and the Renegade

Concerning the Further Adventures of Janice and Mel

By Rhiannon Silverflame


Chapter One

Columbia, South Carolina, May 1943

"Damn! Damn! Damn!"

Janice Covington was not having a good day. Her Archaeological Research and Methods class, in its entirety, had been behaving exceptionally densely, first of all—not a good way to start the morning. She hadn’t seen more blank stares on the faces of all those people she’d ever had occasion to knock out than she’d seen on her students’ faces today. And then that fucking prick, Professor Mitchell, had had the balls to toss off one of his damn condescending little "lectures" about how a woman’s place was in the home and all that misogynistic rot. Making pointed jabs about her at the faculty lounge, in the middle of lunch, in front of several of the more influential members of the department . . . Janice still wasn’t sure what exactly he knew about her relationship with Melinda Pappas—or if he knew anything at all for sure—but his verbal barbs, most of which were aimed at her lack of a husband and her fierce independence, still made the tough young archaeologist very uneasy—a difficult thing to do.

And now, to top it all off, she’d opened her desk drawer only to find an empty humidor. Not a single cigar was left, though she could’ve sworn that she’d have enough to last through today, at least. Just when she badly needed a few drags . . . Janice shut her eyes. "It figures," she muttered. At least she was done with her classes for the day, and all that was left was to straighten out a bit of paperwork. Then she could go home and just unwind, and try and forget about the whole day. Home . . . Just the thought made Janice relax a bit. She sighed heavily and set to work on the stack of papers in front of her, chewing thoughtfully on the end of her pen as she did. It was nothing much, really, just a few stupid faculty polls and a suggestion sheet or two; once she’d scrawled answers in all the blanks, and the ink was dry, she locked up her office and dropped them off in the main office on her way out to her car. Finally, some time to relax. But first, a side trip to the cigar shop . . .

Sitting in the lavishly furnished study of the sprawling estate she shared with Janice, Melinda Pappas pushed her glasses up further on her nose and took another, closer look at the scroll she was translating. As soon as this one was done, she’d have a chance to get to that new set of still-unopened scrolls that she and Janice had acquired, surprisingly, from a dig they’d done over the summer in Britain. What documents which were, to all appearances, written in Linear B were doing in the British Isles, they as of yet had no idea, but as soon as this scroll was translated, they’d have a chance to find out. Just a few more lines—with any luck, she’d be finished before Janice came home.

With a sigh and some difficulty, Mel turned her attention away from thoughts of Janice, and back toward the last few lines of the scroll, written in the now-familiar hand of the Amazon bard Gabrielle.

Gabrielle. Janice’s ancestor, and, in some way, her own as well; they could never be quite sure which of them took after her more. It was a recurring joke between Mel and Janice that the nature of Xena and Gabrielle’s relationship made tracing their own respective lineages a bit tricky. Mel couldn’t help but smile when she recalled a conversation she and Janice had had, shortly after becoming lovers . . .

"By the gods, you are beautiful," Janice had whispered, trailing the tip of her finger down the taller woman’s nose. "Your grace, your tenderness, that quiet, intense strength I never knew you possessed . . ." Her voice, breaking with emotion, had failed her then, and instead of speaking further the archaeologist had simply pulled her lover into a fierce embrace.

"My goodness, Janice, such eloquence," Mel had replied, blinking back tears of happiness as she wrapped her arms around the blonde woman. She had laughed softly. "And such expressiveness! I never would have expected that from you, you know." She’d smiled. "You must get that from Gabrielle."

Janice had laughed and given Mel a playful shove. "And you know just how to get me going, you big Southern oaf, you! You had to have gotten that from Xena."

The two of them had shared a hearty chuckle at that, then fallen silent. Then, in a more serious tone, Janice had continued, "Hey Mel . . . did you ever think that . . . well, since Xena and Gabrielle were married and all, and we’re both descendants of theirs . . . does that make us, somehow, um . . ." Here the archaeologist, usually so tough and outspoken, had trailed off, embarrassed.

Mel had simply had to smile at that. This was the true Janice Covington, the one she knew and loved; both the gentle, caring woman, and the gruff exterior behind which she usually hid. It was in this that she felt the most privileged—nobody else knew the true depths of the archaeologist’s soul; nobody else had earned that level of Janice’s trust and love. It was in moments like these that she felt sure that there was nothing else in the world that she would ever need.

"Janice, love," she’d replied, fixing the shorter woman’s bright green eyes with her own intense ice-blue orbs, "three thousand years does much to dilute one’s bloodline, you know . . ."

Janice had laughed softly. "Yes, you’re right, Mel. It shouldn’t really matter by this point in time, should it?" Drawing her lover even closer to her, she had whispered into the glossy black waves of Mel’s hair: "Funny how things come full circle round, given enough time, isn’t it, sweetheart? Mel, there is no doubt in my mind that you and I are soulmates, just as Xena and Gabrielle were . . . They were destined for each other, and so are you and I."

The sound of a slamming car door snapped Mel out of her reverie. She looked out the study’s window to see Janice clamber out of her pickup truck, her attaché case under one arm and a lit cigar clamped in her teeth. She looked a bit agitated, judging from the vigorous drags she was taking on the cigar. Leaning against the pickup for a few minutes, eyes shut, the archaeologist vented the day’s frustrations on the rapidly diminishing cigar. Finally—not a moment too soon, as far as Mel was concerned—Janice tossed the cigar butt aside and turned, walking to the front door.

As the door clicked open, Mel glanced down at her translation and was pleased to see that she’d finished it just in time. A quick final run-through to check the quality of the translation convinced her that it was good, if not excellent. The primary translation was the bulk of the work, though, and smoothing out the last wrinkles could wait. With a smile, she got up and went to meet her archaeologist.

"Hey honey!" Janice called, tossing her battered fedora to the hat rack with casual ease, and leaning her attaché against the wall. A grin flickered across her face as she saw Mel emerging from the study, a matching grin on her own face. "Hey," Janice whispered as the Southerner pulled her into a warm hug.

Mel held Janice tight, feeling the shorter woman’s body relax in her embrace as waves of tension flowed from her. "Had a hard day?" she asked, brushing a kiss across the top of Janice’s head.

"Oh god, have I ever!" With that, the archaeologist buried her face in Mel’s shoulder. "You don’t want to know," she added, her voice muffled.

"Well," Mel replied, her voice full of barely contained excitement, "I do know of one thing that might cheer you up a bit." At this, Janice smiled and snuggled up close to her lover.

"Do you now?" she purred.

"Janice Covington!" Mel gave her friend a light shove and a teasing look. "Don’t tell me I spent all day getting this scroll translated, just so you could come home and ignore it completely!"

A crooked grin spread across Janice’s face. "Well, I wasn’t planning on ignoring it, exactly . . . but do you have any idea how just the sight of you makes me forget how awful today has been? Gods, Mel, but I love you!"

Mel smiled and leaned down, brushing her lips against Janice’s. "I know, darling. And I love you too, you know. Now come on . . . I’m sure you’ll want to read what I’ve just finished translating!"

"That would be great," Janice murmured, in between the kisses she was receiving from an enthusiastic Mel. "But how about some dinner first? I’m starving! And all of a sudden, I have this insane craving for nutbread . . ."

Chapter Two

Once the dishes were washed and put away, Mel and Janice retreated to the study, where several sheets of paper, covered in the translator’s meticulous handwriting, lay next to a partially unrolled scroll. "I warn you," Mel began, "it’s not exactly the most cheerful story in the world."

"That’s okay," Janice replied, pulling a leather desk chair up next to Mel’s own. "We both know life isn’t all roses and songs anyway. Experience with that sort of thing kind of runs in the family, you know," she added with a chuckle. "Let’s see, what have we got here?"

* * *

Ephiny’s voice echoed into the darkness in a keening, haunting song as we stood in the center of the village that night, two souls hurting seemingly beyond all human power to express, two hearts aching with losses so devastatingly alike that they repelled each other with ungodly force. Bathed in the flickering, sordid light of the fires leaping from twin funeral pyres, Xena and I stood, gazing into the flames, reaching so deeply into the cores of our own pains that we began to lose sight of each other.

Side by side we stood, so close together, and yet so vastly torn apart.

"If I had just done what you said, when you told me to do it, they would still be alive," I whispered, looking up at the warrior. Her features were set like stone in the sickly red light of the flames, and she did not turn to face me. "Kaleipus, and Solan . . ."

"No," she cut me off, in a pained whisper. She faced me now, and my heart wrenched painfully in my chest—those eyes, like chips of blue marble, fixed me with a penetrating glare, twin whirlpools of turmoil in an otherwise vast, unmoving sea. To think that I had done enough to bring a look like this into the eyes of the one I loved more than life . . . She spoke again, her voice commanding and intense. "Don’t you even speak his name."

"Xena . . ."

"No," she repeated. "No, you lied to me! I trusted you, and you lied to me." She turned away from me again to gaze into the flames, and as she spoke her next words, I could taste the bitter tang of them in the chill night air. "And now Solan is dead."

With those words, I felt myself torn from my moorings, as my beloved Warrior Princess withdrew from me the last bit of her trust, my most valued possession—for no one else had earned Xena’s trust in the way that I had. I reached out to her emotionally, pleading, searching for a way for her to let me in, but found myself turned away every time. Waves of fear and loss washed over me anew, as I struggled with my conflicting emotions. I knew Xena well, better than anyone, and to my sorrow I knew that this time, there was nothing within my power that could turn her. Once I had acknowledged this, I gripped my staff tightly, as if trying to impart my own pain into its unfeeling wooden substance. Time and space between us was sundered now, torn apart by our past.

"I love you, Xena," I said brokenly, through the tears that blurred my vision of her beautiful face. And with that, I surrendered, and turned to walk away, leaving those four simple words to echo within the cavernous depths of the freshly-opened Rift . . .

* * *

"Wow," Janice breathed, daring, for the first time in five minutes, to speak. "Wow," she repeated again, finding herself at an utter loss for words. "Holy shit. I never realized how things could . . . that they . . . what happened?"

Mel shook her head. "I only wish I knew. The frustrating thing is, this is easily the seventh or eighth time I’ve come across references to this ‘Rift,’ and I haven’t found any information to explain it any further!"

"Well," Janice replied thoughtfully, her green eyes narrowing, "maybe that next set of scrolls might possibly have an explanation in store."

Chapter Three

In the basement room that had been converted into something of an archaeological laboratory, Janice sat hunched over the ancient scrollcase, and set about trying to remove the thin layer of dirt in which it was still encrusted. With painstaking care, she brushed away at the dirt, knocking it away in minute portions, trying every last shred of her patience in the process. She squinted at it critically for a while, then sat back and took a deep breath, rubbing the back of her neck.

"I’ve got most of it," she remarked. "Most of the dirt is gone now, and there’s only one last thin layer left, though removing it carefully is going to be a bitch. I’ve knocked off enough now to be able to get a good feel for the case, though."

"And?" Mel prompted, moving forward to ease the tension in her lover’s neck, pressing and kneading skillful fingers into the taut muscles.

"And . . . mmm, yeah, that feels good . . . best I can tell, it’s, well, this is odd, but it looks like it comes from sometime past 450 AD. Real rough estimate, but that’s—"she consulted her notes—"about the right time period for the rest of the stuff unearthed at that dig, apparently. I could be wrong. We’ll have to have it double-checked."

"450 AD?" Mel repeated incredulously. "But . . . that doesn’t make any sense!"

"Yeah, I know, it’s a good several centuries too new," Janice replied, rubbing a hand across her forehead. "It really wasn’t that far down, you know. We found it in one of the upper strata. But on the other hand, the design of the case is perfectly right for Xena’s time period, and—"she paused to brush some more dirt off the case—"the writing on here is . . . hang on a sec . . ." She trailed off again, bending over the scrollcase in concentration, focusing all her attention on clearing the ancient soil from the engravings. "Well, I’ll be damned."

"What is it?" Mel leaned over to take a closer look, and answered her own question out loud.

"It’s in Linear B."

Mel leaned over the scrollcase, squinting at it through her glasses. Her fingertips brushed against the etchings in its surface as she took in the writing. "It’ll need to be cleaned off a bit more, I think," she remarked, "but look . . . I can definitely make out some writing here . . ." She ran a gloved finger underneath a line of script. "See?"

"Yeah, I can see," Janice answered, around the handle of the bristle brush still between her teeth. "What the hell does it say, anyway?"

"Qa-si-re-wi-ja ma-ka-ta," Mel read out loud, haltingly. Her eyes lit up.

"Uh?" The archaeologist’s eyebrow went up.

"Basileia Makhetes, in classical Greek."


Mel locked her gaze intensely with her friend’s as she spoke, slowly, deliberately, her voice full of awe. "Meaning, ‘Warrior Princess.’"

The brush clattered to the floor as Janice’s jaw went slack. "What’s the rest of the line?"

Mel shook her head. "Can’t quite make it out yet. Can I please have that brush, dear?" she asked, gesturing daintily toward the fallen utensil. As a still dumbfounded Janice picked up the brush and handed it to her, the aristocrat uncovered the rest of the inscription on the side of the case.

"An Account From the Lives of Gabrielle of Poteidaia and of the Warrior Princess, Xena," Mel translated out loud. "Passed on in the tradition of the Line of Rhonwyn." She stopped, confused. "Rhonwyn? That’s not a Greek name at all."

Janice leaned back in her chair and stretched. "Sure as hell ain’t," she agreed.

"Why, Doctor Covington," Mel drawled in a teasing rebuke. "What language for a professor to use! If your students heard you now!"

"Sweetie," Janice shot back, in an imitation of Mel’s own voice, "believe me, if they’re unlucky enough to be slacking off in my class, they have! Besides which, I’m an archaeologist, not an English professor." Her green eyes twinkled amusedly at the Southerner.

They both laughed. "So who’s this Rhonwyn, then?" wondered Mel. "I’ve never heard of her, not even once, in any of the Xena Scrolls."

"Me neither," mumbled Janice thoughtfully, pressing her fingertips together and resting her chin on her thumbs. "My best guess is, well, it’s a Celtic name alright, though I’m no expert at that. Great . . . another mystery to solve. First this ‘Rift,’ now whoever the hell this Rhonwyn person is." She cast a glance in the direction of the scrollcase, then turned to Mel, a smile spreading slyly across her face.

Mel knew that smile well. It was Janice’s "I think I can smell an adventure just waiting to happen" expression. "Shall we open up the case, then?"

The smile on Janice’s face broke out into a wide grin. "Mel Pappas, I thought you’d never ask!" She pulled over a tray full of implements, leaned over the scrollcase, and got to work.

Chapter Four

After an hour of painstaking work loosening the scrollcase’s cover, Janice finally decided that it was safe to open it. Glancing at Mel, she asked, "Close the door, will ya, sweetie?" As the translator acquiesced, her blonde partner checked the installed wall gauge to insure that the room’s temperature and humidity were at safe levels. The wrong temperature, or the wrong level of moisture in the air, and the integrity of the scrolls’ parchment could be in danger. "Okay, it’s clear . . . we should be safe opening this up."

Getting up to circle the table and get a good grip on the scrollcase, Janice nodded at Mel. "Go ahead. Pull off the cover." She bit her lip, unconsciously, nervous and excited at the prospect of learning more about her family history. About Mel’s family history. About their family history. Her eyes were fixed on her partner’s every move as Mel grasped the case’s cover and slowly, gingerly tugged on it, loosening it carefully bit by bit.

Finally, after an agonizing two minutes that seemed like ten times that, the scrollcase’s lid came loose in Mel’s hand, and Janice rushed around to her friend’s side to get a view of its contents. Sure enough, the case was fairly well packed with scrolls.

"Y-e-s!" Janice hissed through her teeth. "We’ve hit the motherlode!" Excitedly, but with the practiced restraint of her line of work, she began to ease the scrolls out of the case, using the various implements in her toolkit. "Amazingly well-preserved," she remarked, muttering around the pair of tweezers clenched between her teeth. "Real high-quality parchment, too . . . definitely more advanced stuff than the rest of the Scrolls were written on, assuming these really are a part of the Scrolls."

"Good lord, Janice, would you hush up and pick out a scroll so we can see what’s on it?" Here the Southern belle’s eager translator side kicked in, and she fidgeted impatiently as she watched Janice work.

"All right, all right, all right!" The archaeologist laughed and put down her tools just long enough to wrap her arms around Mel and give the taller woman a warm hug. "You’re so cute when you get into that super-translator mode of yours, you know that? Let’s see what we can dig up here." She winked rakishly, and Mel groaned at the pun.

Working slowly, Janice separated one of the scrolls from its companions, then set about the delicate job of unrolling it. Although she didn’t realize it, both she and Mel were holding their breath, waiting to see what new insights the scroll would reveal. The sight that greeted them, once the task of unrolling the parchment was done, was certainly a great surprise.

Both the archaeologist and the translator stared at the scroll, dumbfounded. Instead of the familiar, elaborate ideograms of Linear B, the page before them was covered in lines of an elegant calligraphic script that, while it closely resembled the Roman alphabet, was all but unreadable to the two.

Mel was the first to speak. "Oh . . . my lord," she whispered, surprised.

"What the hell is that?" Janice yelped. "You may be the expert on ancient Greek here, Mel, but even I can tell for sure, this sure as hell ain’t it."

"No . . . it certainly isn’t." Mel’s blue eyes narrowed as she stared at the scroll. "So what is it exactly? And what is it doing in that particular scrollcase?"

Janice only shook her head slowly. "That’s what we’re going to have to figure out now. This little puzzle of ours is getting more complex all the time."



Chapter Five


The next day, Janice found herself standing in front of a door she thought she’d never find herself in front of, not of her own free will. She glared up at the lettering over the door that read: "PROFESSOR TRENT N. MITCHELL, ARCHAEOLOGY." Muttering imprecations to herself, she shoved the door open and walked into Professor Mitchell’s office, straining with every conscious effort to maintain her dignity and keep the hostility from her voice. All I have to do is get one little bit of input from this damn fool, and then I can leave, she reminded herself.

"Ah, yes, Doctor Covington," Mitchell announced from behind his desk, in a voice dripping with condescension. "I believe you wished to acquire some information from me?" The arrogant smile on his face made Janice want, more than anything, to haul off and hit this goddamn son of a bitch. Leave it to Mitchell to milk every last damn opportunity to lord it over me!

But instead, she swallowed hard, gathered her resolve, and forced herself to speak slowly, civilly. "Yes, that’s right, Professor Mitchell, I was hoping you could give me one small suggestion."

"I see." The look on Mitchell’s face suggested that he doubted Janice’s accuracy of judgment where "small" was concerned, and that he was looking forward to an opportunity to put her down again—an opportunity that always, to his frustration, just managed to elude him. "And what might this be?"

Janice’s eyes were as cold and hard as jade, the set of her jaw revealing that she was not about to let this patronizing fool get the better of her. "Simply this, Professor Mitchell. My friend and colleague, Melinda Pappas, and I are looking for someone who specializes in Celtic languages and culture. Seeing as how you have so many connections, we were thinking that you might be the one to go to for a recommendation."

"Ah. Ah. I see. How . . . touching. Still engrossed in the studies of these . . . Xena Scrolls of yours?" Mitchell allowed a condescending smirk to cross his face momentarily. "Quaint little pursuit you have there, Doctor. Very well then, Doctor Covington, I shall have my secretary—" Damn him, Janice thought, he doesn’t need to be reminding me of his seniority in this school! – " look things over and take care of it."

"That’s all I needed," Janice said gruffly. Then, with difficulty, "Thank you, Professor Mitchell." With that, she turned on her heel and walked out of the office, closing the door forcefully.

Mitchell snorted with laughter once the younger professor was gone. "She’ll have no choice but to thank me one of these days," he said out loud to the window. "May as well do what she wants, so she’ll be indebted to me." If nothing else, he figured, whoever he found to do the job would probably help debunk that crazy Mad Dog Covington’s ideas about the Xena Scrolls . . .


"Dr. Covington?" A young man was leaning hesitantly into the open doorway of Janice’s office.

Janice, seated at her desk in the middle of a pile of term papers, looked up. "Hello, Lucas. Is three something I can do for you?"

Lucas shrugged, and tentatively stepped through the doorway, a small envelope clutched in one outstretched hand. "Professor Mitchell asked me to deliver this to you, that’s all, Doctor." He edged back toward the doorway again, uneasily.

What? Janice thought in irritation. Do I smell bad or something? But all she said was "Thanks, Lucas. You can go now, unless there’s anything else you need." She gave the young man the barest hint of a smile as she took the envelope, and watched as he retreated down the hallway as fast as he could. Then she remembered how she’d chewed him out in front of the class last semester for the poor job he’d done on his midterm. That would explain it, she admitted to herself, wryly. With a shrug, she opened the envelope. Inside was a folded sheet of stationery, which Janice unfolded and proceeded to scan.

"Doctor Covington," read the note inside, "I have complied with your request from earlier today and have indeed succeeded in finding someone who should be able to help you pursue your pet project."

"Good gods," Janice burst out, "even his handwriting is condescending, the bastard!" She growled softly and continued reading.

"Her name is Kaitlyn Velasquez; she is a graduate student in excellent academic standing at Harvard University in Boston, where she has been entrusted with teaching several basic linguistics courses, in addition to working on her dissertation on ancient Welsh and Gaelic. She also pursued an undergraduate minor in archaeology, which you may find useful. Velasquez is something of a colorful character. I think you and she may have much in common." The note was signed, "Professor T. N. Mitchell, Ph.D., Department of Anthropology, University of South Carolina."

"Unbelievable," Janice muttered. "What a pompous idiot." Still, she decided, he had been quite helpful, and from the information he’d supplied, this kid would probably be a hell of a lot of help. A second sheet of stationery inside the envelope contained a detailed history of the student’s academic achievements, as well as an address at Harvard at which Kaitlyn Velasquez could be reached. Without further ado, the archaeologist pulled a sheet of paper from her desk drawer and started to write a letter of her own.



Chapter Six



Boston, Massachusetts, May 1943

Two weeks later . . .


The sunlight filtered in through the curtains that covered the hotel room window to fall across the pillow. Startled into wakefulness by the sudden and unwelcome light, Mel shifted slowly, rubbing her eyes and trying not to disturb the sleeping form of Janice, who lay snuggled up next to her. The dark-haired translator smiled and brushed a light kiss against her lover’s bare shoulder, wrapping her arms around the shorter woman and holding her close. "I love you, Janice," she murmured into the soft golden tresses.

In response, Janice stirred and awoke, opening sleepy green eyes to smile up lovingly at Mel. "I love you too," came the whispered reply, as she reached up, her arms encircling Mel’s neck and pulling her down for a long, sweet kiss. They both felt the familiar lightheadedness claim them as their lips met, and began to surrender themselves gladly to it.

With a sudden effort, though, Janice broke the kiss, grinning apologetically at Mel as she did so. "Sorry, sweetie, you know there’s nothing I like better than quality time with you, but we have an important meeting to keep here." She couldn’t restrain a giggle at the palpable look of disappointment on Mel’s face. "So let’s get up, get some clothes on—before I decide that meeting’s not that important after all—and have some breakfast, huh?"

Mel forced a grin. "Breakfast sounds good to me." She promptly rolled over and got out of bed, causing Janice to groan loudly and cover her face with a pillow as the bedsheets, which had concealed the Southerner’s lithe form, fell away. "It’s safe now, dear," she tossed airily over her shoulder a few minutes later.

Janice uncovered her face and peered out to see Mel standing at the foot of the bed, smiling sweetly, and clad in a simple, but elegant, navy-blue skirt and jacket, with a cream silk blouse. "Oh. Oh yeah. Lookin’ good, Mel." She grinned and vaulted off the mattress—this time it was the aristocrat’s turn to bite her lip as Janice sauntered smugly toward her suitcase and pulled out various items of clothing.

By way of diverting her attentions from the view, Mel bit her lip and walked briskly to Janice’s side, slapping her hand down atop the shirt the archaeologist had been about to put on. "No, dear, you are not wearing that shirt."

Janice arched an eyebrow eloquently at her lover. "Mel Pappas, what are you trying to imply?"

Mel gently pried Janice’s fingers away from the vaguely olive-green flannel shirt, which looked oddly similar to a certain outfit that was mounted in a display case at the Pappas estate. "I mean that you are not wearing that shirt, Janice. That color just does not become you."

"Yeah, yeah," Janice laughed. "And I’m sure you have a million people who’d agree with you on that, right?" She sighed, shook her head, and dug into her suitcase in search of another shirt.


Two hours later, well-fed—or as well-fed as they could be, what with the war and all the food rationing going on—and more awake, the two companions were walking down Massachusetts Avenue, headed for Harvard Square and their arranged meeting with Kaitlyn Velasquez. After a few wrong turns (further complicated by Janice’s obstinate refusal to ask for directions), they finally made it to Boylston Hall and located the modest office that the graduate student shared with another teaching assistant. The door was closed, but according to the time on Janice’s father’s antique pocket watch, they were just in time for the scheduled appointment. After a quick glance at the small, hand-lettered sign beside the door to ensure that they were in the right place, Mel glanced at Janice for reassurance and raised one hand to rap firmly on the door.

"Come in," called a voice, somewhat muffled by the wood and glass.

Janice pushed the door open, and entered the small office with Mel on her heels. A tall, battered desk chair was turned away from them and facing the window, its occupant entirely hidden from their view. Another desk occupied the corner of the room, its empty chair angled partly toward Janice and its surface covered with books. The two companions’ attention, however, was turned toward the first chair and the person who sat in it.

The archaeologist looked quizzically at her friend, neither of them sure how to get the attention of the person in the chair. Finally Janice cleared her throat, trying to peer over the chair back. "Hi, excuse me, we’re here for a meeting?" she inquired.

The desk chair swiveled around to reveal the compact form of a young woman in a white men’s dress shirt and a black pinstripe tie. Deep, intense brown eyes, partially obscured by a few stray strands of short black hair, regarded Janice and Mel. There was a hard, professional, almost skeptical look about the girl, tempered only by the casual air of friendliness that seemed to radiate from her.


Asian or Pacific Islander, looks like, was Mel’s silent assessment.

Dear gods above, Janice thought, she’s just a kid! In fact, the young graduate student didn’t appear to be much more than twenty. But still, Janice conceded to herself, judging from the information Mitchell gave us about her, she definitely looks like she knows what she’s doing. And it takes a hell of a lot to impress Mitchell, so she must know her stuff.

"Doctor Covington? Miss Pappas?" the girl asked, glancing at them in turn. At their nods of acknowledgment, she smiled slightly, and extended her hand. "Kaitlyn Velasquez," she introduced herself, firmly shaking first Janice’s hand, then Mel’s. "Please," she indicated the other desk chair, as well as another chair that stood nearby, "have a seat. It’s good to finally meet you, I have to say. I’ve been closely following your work with the Xena Scrolls for quite a while now."

"Have you, now?" Janice was somewhat surprised. "It’s barely publicized at all, and when it is, nobody ever takes it seriously." She seated herself in the smaller chair, gesturing for Mel to take the bigger, more comfortable desk chair for herself. The translator quickly complied, and the two of them focused their attention once again on the graduate student.

"Yeah, well . . . " Kaitlyn laughed. "You see, I have an interest in the Xena Scrolls that’s somewhat . . . personal. I can tell you that much, Doctor Covington."

"Please," Janice interrupted. "Just Janice, okay? I don’t like being called ‘Doctor’ if I can avoid it. It makes me feel old and I really don’t like that."

"Okay then, Janice. Guess I should return the favor, so it’s just Kaitlyn to you, got it?" The girl grinned roguishly. "And what about you, Miss Pappas? Shall I continue to refer to you by that honorific, or can you reassure me that I’ll be safe from retribution if I venture to address you more informally?"

Mel blinked for a moment, having to process Kaitlyn’s rather wordy request. "Oh. Oh, no, that’s fine . . . I mean, I was about to say . . . no, you can call me Melinda, or Mel, whichever you prefer."

"Good. I was afraid I might have to translate that." Kaitlyn flashed another grin and shifted slightly in her chair to take a more comfortable posture. "So anyway, now that that’s out of the way, I believe we have a meeting to get to? You were pretty secretive in your letter, Janice, but pretty insistent about needing my help. What exactly can I do for you, if it’s within my power?" She punctuated that last statement with a self-deprecating roll of her eyes, washing away any trace of pompousness that might have possibly accompanied the words.

"Well, you see," Janice began, "we’ve got this new set of scrolls, but they’re, well, anomalous." Quickly, she filled Kaitlyn in on the details of the scrollcase’s origins and design. "We can’t figure out what a scrollcase practically identical to one we found last year—we just finished translating the documents that last one contained, and they’re definitely written by Gabrielle—is doing in the British Isles."

"It appears to be a replica, too," Mel put in. "The writing on the case is in Linear B, but the case itself is far too new."

Kaitlyn nodded slowly. "Right," she said, cupping her chin in her hand. "But as you know, my specialty is Celtic languages, particularly Welsh. What do you need me to . . . " She trailed off. "The British Isles. Of course." The relaxed posture disappeared, and suddenly Kaitlyn Velasquez was all business. "You didn’t happen to have brought a sample of the scrolls with you, by any chance?"

At a nudge from Janice, Mel answered, "We did, actually. We’ve looked at all of them, and the writing on them is all the same, to the best of our knowledge." Reaching into her satchel, she pulled out the smallest of the scrolls that the case had contained, carefully protected within a wooden tube. "May we . . . ?" she asked, indicating Kaitlyn’s desk.

"Of course," Kaitlyn was quick to reply, pushing books and papers out of the way, giving Janice enough room to unfurl the scroll that her partner had just handed to her. The young linguist swiveled in her chair to lean over the parchment on the desk, and her eyes widened. "Mel, Janice, at the risk of sounding egocentric, you will be needing my help after all."

She pointed at the writing on the parchment. "This scroll—and presumably the others you found with it—is written in what’s called the Insular hand. And this is crazy, but . . . " She shook her head, eyebrows knitting together in puzzlement. "Well, the Insular script has never before been seen on any documents in any language on the British Isles preceding Old English. It was developed by the Irish, and taught to the Anglo-Saxon invaders, but we’ve never found evidence of it being employed in ancient Irish Gaelic, or anything other than Old English. But this . . . " She ran her left hand through her unruly shock of short dark hair and blew out a long breath. "This scroll is in ancient Welsh."



Chapter Seven


Janice found her voice first. "In that case, we’ll need your help for sure, Kaitlyn. We’ve got a whole case’s worth of scrolls in ancient Welsh, and no idea what they say. We’ve got some new character popping up who’s apparently been archiving the stories of Xena and Gabrielle’s lives, but no idea who she is or why she’s doing it, or how she got to the information in the first place. And we’ve got no idea how to go about translating all this and putting the pieces together." Her eyes held a hint of pleading, and a faint trace of desperation cracked her voice. It was the closest the archaeologist had ever come to admitting she needed help from someone else, other than Mel.

The Southerner heard the tone in her lover’s voice, caught a glimpse of the plea in her eyes, and knew instantly how hard this was for Janice. Asking for help from someone was tantamount to mapping out all her vulnerabilities, as far as Mad Dog Covington was concerned. Sensing this, she moved to Janice’s side, placing a comforting hand on the shorter woman’s arm.

The gesture was not lost on Kaitlyn, who cast the pair a sidelong, appraising glance, then smiled knowingly. Continuing nonchalantly, as though she had seen nothing, she began, "All right then. You’ve got me hooked. There’s no way I can resist the chance to get in on this now. I don’t want to sound like I’m full of myself, but in these circumstances, I’m your man . . . so to speak." She chuckled softly.

"There’s a few things you need to know, first," the student continued. "I’ve got to finish up here for the semester—just a few more days and I’ll be done. I’ve been planning to take the next semester off anyhow, so I’ll be free all summer and then some, should the work take that long. As for the rest, that may take a while to explain, and I’m getting hungry . . . so would you two care to join me for lunch? I’m afraid I can’t offer you fare more elegant than the dining hall has to offer, but the invitation still stands."


The food was surprisingly good, much better than most stories about college dining hall food would suggest. Relaxing over coffee and lemon cake in an empty corner of the dining hall, the three began to talk.

"How long have you been following our work with the Xena Scrolls, Kaitlyn?" Mel wondered.

Kaitlyn took a slow sip from her cup of coffee. "About two and a half years now? Yes, that sounds about right. I used to keep track of your father’s efforts to find the Scrolls, back when I was in high school, Janice, and when I found out that you’d actually found them, I was excited. So I kept on plugging away until I actually found a way to learn more about what kind of progress you were making with them. Once that happened, I started following your work, and I’ve been doing so ever since."

"You kept track of my father’s search for the Scrolls?" Janice was amazed. For once, here was someone who spoke of Harry "the Graverobber" Covington without the slightest bit of malice, but instead with respect.

The linguist nodded. "Oh yes. I really admired his devotion to it, you know. I know a lot of people have come down on your father pretty hard because of what he did for the sake of the Scrolls, but—"she spread her hands wide—"hey, who am I to judge people for that kind of thing? I don’t believe that people have a broad enough perspective on the universe to really be able to understand the scope of true good and evil. Maybe it’s a Machiavellian sort of thing to say, but there are many acts that people deem questionable or wrong that ultimately lead to a greater kind of good. And I don’t think people really live long enough to see those results for themselves, so they don’t really understand. Y’know what I mean?"

Janice nodded slowly in understanding, a gesture Mel duplicated. "That’s not an outlook many people share, Kaitlyn," Janice said with a slight smile.

"I know." Kaitlyn laughed. "But what can I say? I’ve always specialized in being unorthodox." She cast a glance down at her clothing. "That’s kind of obvious, I guess. But it’s fun."

"You must get a lot of criticism for that," Mel observed.

"Oh, definitely," Kaitlyn agreed. "I get a lot of grief for all kinds of things. I’m used to it. It’s just a way of life for me . . . I try to see it as a way to build character." She smiled crookedly, but Mel caught a hint of pain in the younger girl’s eyes.

"You mentioned that you had a personal interest in the Xena Scrolls," Janice remarked. "Mind if I ask you what that personal interest might be?"

"Not at all. It’s kind of a long story, and there’s several levels to this interest. You see, first of all, the Scrolls are something I very much want to see publicly accessible and accepted." Kaitlyn leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table, a conspiratorial expression on her face. In a low voice, she said, "With all due respect to Sappho, her works on their own just aren’t a very solid base for establishing the existence of homosexuality, particularly lesbianism, in the ancient world."

At this, Mel and Janice exchanged looks of surprise, as the linguist continued, a zeal and fire suddenly kindled in her face. "I mean, of course we know that it existed, but it’s terribly underrepresented in literature. And the literature of the ancient world has proved to be so pivotal in the structure and development of our modern society. I . . . well, I just think that it might do a great deal of good in future generations if it can be substantially proved that one of the greatest examples of love in history was between two women. And that it really was history."

"How did you know?" Janice asked breathlessly. Anticipating a good deal of backlash if the true nature of Gabrielle and Xena’s relationship had been revealed, she and Mel had decided not to publicly release the translations of the relevant documents. There was no way Kaitlyn could have known about this. And yet somehow she did.

Kaitlyn chuckled. "I hazarded a guess. Apparently I was right. Well, if you read between the lines enough . . . to me it was kind of obvious. Like somehow I just knew; it was a feeling I couldn’t deny. To be honest with you, I think it’s just a matter of time before other people who read your translations come to the same conclusion."

"You think they will?" Mel looked a bit worried.

"I think it’s a possibility," the dark-haired student replied. "You know what I think? I think there are basically two kinds of people who’ll come to that conclusion. There’s people like me, who actually go hunting for these hints because they want to believe that they’re there, and there’s people who search for them because they want something to attack and condemn. I just hope it takes that second group a good long time to even touch these Scrolls."

She paused, taking a deep breath. "But there’s an even more personal level to why I care so much. You see, I’ve always been told that somewhere, way back in my family line, I have a Greek ancestor who, judging from what I’ve heard, probably existed around Xena’s time. I’m not sure how much credibility I can assign to that, but it has been passed down in family stories for generations now. So because of that, I feel kind of obligated to know about ancient Greek culture and all. Just because of an extremely tenuous connection. The funny thing is, I understand that I also have a Celtic ancestor who existed around the same time."

"So that’s why you chose to go into Celtic studies?" Mel asked.

"Sort of," Kaitlyn answered. "Actually it’s kind of been a personal lifelong quest. You see, stories weren’t the only thing about my Celtic ancestor that were kept alive by my family. I own a small case of documents written in ancient Welsh—it’s been handed down from generation to generation in the family, but no one has been able to read the documents for centuries. I felt . . . as though a quest had been imposed upon me to learn once again what they say, and to rediscover my Celtic ancestry. As for why I feel so strongly drawn to study the Scrolls—no offense intended, I don’t mean to intrude on your territory—that’s something I can’t explain."

She shook her head, and a faraway look came into her eyes. "This may sound dumb, or unbelievable, but I believe I have an inherent talent for magick, though I haven’t learned to use it. It runs in my family, though most of the recent generations have denied it." Kaitlyn snorted at that. "The talent, as the story goes, came from my Celtic ancestor, who was very powerful. Of course, if you think I’m just full of shit when I say this, I understand."

Amusement played about the corners of Mel’s mouth as she responded, "Kaitlyn, you’re talking to people who have uncovered firsthand scrolls that others have said never existed. We’ve encountered and been possessed by the spirits of our ancestors and battled the ancient gods. Don’t think we’re not ready to believe you!"

Kaitlyn grinned down into her coffee mug. "Okay, point. You win."

Janice put a bite of cake into her mouth, gesturing with her fork as she chewed and swallowed. "Granted, I tend to be a bit more skeptical than Mel here, but you can ask her, I’m better than I used to be."

The young linguist raised an eyebrow jokingly in Mel’s direction. "Should I take her word for it?"

"Oh," Mel replied coyly, deliberately shooting teasing looks in the archaeologist’s direction, "I think you’re safe enough doing that. But yes, if you ask me, she really has gotten a lot better about that sort of thing."

"Good to know." Kaitlyn smiled and used her fork to trace patterns in the cake crumbs on her plate. The levity in her voice suddenly disappeared, to be replaced by a more serious note. "So now that you know all the reasons behind my interest, do you still want me on board for this project?"

"Definitely. Why wouldn’t we?" Janice kept her voice casual but couldn’t help worrying a little bit at the question. She kept on talking, trying to ignore the feeling, gripping Mel’s hand tightly. "You’re genuinely interested, hell, you’re passionate about the Scrolls; you’re more than qualified for the job. Why wouldn’t we want you for this project?"

Kaitlyn fixed her eyes intensely on Janice’s face. "You know as well as I do that it’s damned hard to know who you can and can’t trust these days. How do you know you can trust me?"

"Good question. To be honest with you, Kaitlyn, I don’t entirely know that yet. I can’t speak for Mel, but if I were to go with my gut feeling on this, I’d still say I’m sure I want you to help us. There’s something about your passion for this project that tends to convince me."

The linguist shook her head. "Zealotry is a dangerous thing to be swayed by. If I were you I wouldn’t use that as a reason. I may just be biased in that department, but still—these days, especially, zealots of any kind tend to scare me. Any other reasons, Janice?"

The archaeologist just shrugged. "Just instinct. A gut feeling. And my gut feelings usually don’t let me down."

Kaitlyn’s gaze fell on the Southerner. "Mel? What do you say?"

Mel didn’t answer at first; a strange, distant look was on her face. Only a moment, and then the expression was gone, but that in that brief moment . . . Kaitlyn had the sudden disturbing thought that she was looking at someone completely different. Janice felt a flicker of recognition, as though she knew the person she was looking at—but that person was not her Mel.

The moment passed, and both Janice and Kaitlyn found themselves watching Mel expectantly, but feeling vaguely disoriented as well. "C’mon, Mel, what’ll it be?" Janice prompted.

"I think . . . " Mel began slowly, "that we should take Kaitlyn along with us on this project. Something tells me that we have every good reason to trust her."

"All right then, I guess we’re agreed!" Janice clapped her hands together and rubbed them vigorously. "Kaitlyn, welcome to the team." She reached out and shook the young linguist’s hand firmly.

The excitement on Kaitlyn’s face was evident as she returned Janice’s handshake, then turned to shake Mel’s hand as well. "Thanks. I’m glad to be on board. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure not to be too much of a nuisance . . . "



Chapter Eight


Kaitlyn, clad only in an undershirt and flannel boxer shorts, sat in the middle of a large pile of clothes, books, and sundry items, all scattered over the floor of her bedroom in the cramped apartment. The challenge was to pare down to about four suitcases’ worth everything she’d need for the summer, which she’d be spending at Melinda Pappas’s estate with her two new colleagues. She’d been reluctant at first to accept Mel’s offer to live with them, and somewhat uncomfortable, feeling as though she’d be an unwelcome interloper.

But she couldn’t argue with Janice’s sound reasoning: the work was going to be rigorous and probably involve unorthodox hours; it would be too inconvenient and expensive for the young student to be living elsewhere and commuting to the estate all the time. On top of all that, the secrecy of the scrolls’ existence was far better protected without the unwanted attention that constant comings and goings would draw.


"I’ll be straightforward with you," Janice had said, shortly before she and Mel had gone back to Columbia the previous week. "Working with the Xena Scrolls can be a downright deadly business. Mel and I have gone through all kinds of shit to find and hang onto most of the Scrolls. Everything from ancient gods to Nazis. People and natural phenomena trying to kill us—that’s all just a regular part of the business. You needed to know this before you really committed to help us. We couldn’t let you get into this without knowing everything that might be involved."

She’d expected Kaitlyn to back out at that, or at least show a good deal of reservation. But instead, the girl had just laughed and shoved her hands deep into the pockets of her trousers. "Landslides, wild car chases and mad Gestapo agents, all just a part of a typical day in the life of Janice Covington and Mel Pappas, huh?"

"Pretty much sums it up, yeah."

"Nothing I can’t handle, then."

Janice had expressed her surprise at the casual ease with which Kaitlyn had absorbed the revelation, and her equally casual response. Kaitlyn had simply responded, "Hey, I’m used to taking shit from people for everything, Janice. I’m no stranger to it. I get beat up on because I dress like a man, and so they automatically figure I’m a lesbian. Not that they’d be wrong in that regard. I take abuse because I’m Asian. It doesn’t matter to people I was born here, and that my family is from the Philippines, not Japan; Japan is occupying the Philippines now and to them it’s the same thing. People come down hard on me because I’m young—I just recently turned twenty-two—and because I’m female. Because I think so radically compared to most people, and I’m vocal about it. They put me through the wringer on a daily basis, Janice. I had no choice but to learn how to deal with it."

The archaeologist’s jaw had dropped. "I never realized it was that bad for you, Kaitlyn . . . "

"I try not to make it too obvious." A slow, tired smile had crossed Kaitlyn’s face. "I’m more than capable of taking care of myself in dangerous situations, Janice, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’ll accept all the risks inherent in working with you and Mel on these scrolls."


With a sigh, the young graduate student looked over the pile. Everything should be taken care of now. "Clothes," she muttered, taking inventory of what she’d laid out. There were plenty of casual clothes to wear while mucking around the house, working on translations; a few of her usual semi-formal dress shirts and slacks, plus all of her prized collection of ties; one good suit in case some kind of formal event came up; and finally, some grubby old clothes, in the event that another archaeological dig would be in order.

"Shoes?" Her favorite pair of boots, the ones she always wore to work, were already set aside, as well has a slightly dressier pair, and the army boots she wore on casual days. "Yeah, those are taken care of."

"Books, now . . . " This was going to be important. She’d managed to cut the stack down to her most critical volumes—her most reliable Welsh and Gaelic lexicons, a couple of books on Celtic history and culture, and a few samples of writing in both languages. Just in case, she added some resources on Manx, Breton, Cornish, and Gaulish. "That ought to cover all the branches of the Celtic language family."

Working quickly, Kaitlyn packed everything into her luggage. She was going to have to get to bed pretty soon, if she was to wake up at 4 in the morning and start the drive down to South Carolina. All the paperwork was filled out—her semester off was taken care of. No need to worry about a place she could be contacted; there wasn’t really anyone who would try. She was definitely ready to hit the sack, she decided. But first, there were a few important things left to pack.

She reached into the drawer next to her bed and pulled out the Colt .45 automatic pistol, with its customized black rubber grip and matte finish, checked to make sure it was fully loaded, and tucked it carefully into the holster that hung off the foot of the bed. A quick check of her army boots told her that the boot knife was safely hidden in the concealed sheath there. Extra ammunition and hardware went into the top of her final suitcase along with the holstered gun. And next to the suitcases rested a contoured black hard case. She’d definitely have to keep sharp with her music while she was gone.

She paused. One more thing. She opened up the small safe under the bed and pulled out the ancient heirloom case containing the documents in ancient Welsh that had been passed down to her. She’d been waiting for the right time to actually start translating them, and somehow she felt like that time was coming up soon. With care, the linguist tucked the case into the top of her suitcase, next to her gun, and snapped it shut. She surveyed the whole pile sleepily.

"Yeah, that should be everything," Kaitlyn mumbled quietly. With a yawn, she clambered over the suitcases, fell into bed, and turned off the lamp. Six hours of sleep should be enough. It would be a fourteen-hour drive to South Carolina; with the way she drove, she’d make it there well before midnight the next day . . .


"Mel, relax, sweetie!" Janice was trying desperately to calm her overeager partner, who was pacing and fretting in anticipation of Kaitlyn’s arrival. "Everything looks perfect. The house is spotless, the guest room is perfectly made up, I don’t think the bedcovers are going to be too flowery or anything for her . . . "

The tall aristocrat sighed and pressed a hand to her mouth. "I know, dear, I know. I just don’t know if I’m so agitated because we’re having a houseguest, or because we’re getting so much closer to learning what those scrolls say."

"Aw, honey." Janice wrapped her arms around Mel. "I know how you feel. I’ve been jumpy this whole past week myself, over those scrolls. Now come on, let’s go relax in the study for a bit while we wait."


The next hour passed pleasantly for the two, as the archaeologist entertained Mel with stories from old digs she’d gone on, and Mel returned the favor by telling about her experiences growing up in the South. It was past nine in the evening when their reminiscences were interrupted by the sound of a car pulling into the driveway.

Mel looked out the window to see a battered old army jeep parked next to Janice’s truck. In the light from the study, she could make out a short figure in a coat and hat jumping out of the driver’s seat and lifting several suitcases from the back of the jeep. The Southerner gave her lover, who was busy staring at Kaitlyn’s jeep, a gentle nudge. "Janice!" she scolded softly. "Go help her with her things!"

"Oh yeah." Somewhat embarrassed, Janice got up and jogged for the door, still in shock that a city-slicker kid like this Velasquez character had wheels like that jeep. She made it out to the car, took two of Kaitlyn’s four suitcases, and led the young linguist into the house. Mel was there to greet them at the door.

"Careful with my guitar, please," Kaitlyn called to Janice, who had gone back to retrieve the black hard-cased instrument from the back of the jeep. She smiled and nodded to Mel. "Hello again, Mel."

"Kaitlyn, I’m . . . we’re so glad you made it safely! Your room will be just this way." She led them down the hall to a comfortable, simply furnished guest room a few doors down from the study. "Are you tired? Or hungry?"

Kaitlyn shook her head, putting down her luggage. "No, no, I’m fine . . . had a bite to eat an hour ago, so I’m not really hungry. Thanks though." She stopped and considered. "Well, actually, I could use a cup of coffee or something."

Janice set down the suitcases she’d been carrying. "I’ll go fix some. It’s good to have you around, Kaitlyn." She gave the younger girl a brief smile and headed off in the direction of the kitchen, soon followed by Mel and Kaitlyn.

Kaitlyn paused by the front door and took off her boots, coat, and hat. Mel had to laugh; Kaitlyn’s tan Burberry trenchcoat looked so funny, hanging next to Janice’s worn old leather jacket on the rack. Likewise, Janice’s battered old brown fedora and Kaitlyn’s black wool one, in better condition though no less well-worn, cut an amusing contrast on the hat rack.


"Hey Kaitlyn?" Janice was busy setting down mugs of coffee on the kitchen table as they entered. "How did you manage to get your hands on that army jeep? I didn’t think they’d ever let one out of their grip!" She sat down at the table, in her t-shirt, pajama bottoms, and bare feet, and started dumping sugar into her coffee.

"Would you listen to her?" laughed Mel, taking a seat next to Janice. "I declare, she’s practically salivating over your car, Kaitlyn!"

Kaitlyn replied with a chuckle, "I’ll get the mop, then. Seriously, though, I talked it out of a guy who worked at the army base near Albany. It was broken. Engine completely shot. They said it couldn’t be fixed." She let a cocky smirk curl up the side of her mouth. "Obviously they were wrong. Their loss . . . my gain. I only had to fork over a couple hundred bucks for it."

"The engine was shot? How’d you manage to fix it?" Janice raised an eyebrow and took an experimental sip of her coffee before adding another spoonful of sugar, despite Mel’s reproachful look.

"Oh, I have . . . acquired a lot of useful bits of knowledge, shall we say. I was friends with my building superintendent. He helped me get the parts to build a whole new engine for it. So now the car is good as new, runs beautifully, and has a hell of a lot of character." Kaitlyn chucked a thumb proudly in the direction of the driveway. "I love that old thing." That said, she settled down at the table with her mug of coffee. Her hand went to the breast pocket of her shirt, but she then paused and glanced at Mel. "Er . . . do you mind if I smoke?"

Mel’s only response was to smile and tilt her head in Janice’s direction. The archaeologist had lit up a cigar and was blissfully puffing away. "As long as she lets you share the ashtray." With her foot, she nudged the archaeologist, who gave her a mock wounded look.

"I guess not, then." Kaitlyn laughed and pulled a black and silver cigarette case from her shirt pocket. Popping it open, she flipped a Dunhill out of the case and put it between her teeth, using a slim black lighter to light it. "Thanks. I needed that." She shut her eyes, leaned back, and took a long, slow drag from the cigarette. After a few moments, she exhaled a rather impressive lungful of smoke, opened her eyes again, and took a sip of her coffee.

"How was your drive?" Mel asked. "You must have been driving all day. We weren’t really expecting you for another two hours or so!"

"You must drive like me," Janice commented around her cigar. "What time’d you leave Boston?"

"About four o’clock this morning," the linguist replied calmly, taking another drag off her cigarette. "Been driving pretty much straight through the day. I love those long stretches of deserted highway!" she grinned. "Eighty or ninety miles an hour and nobody knows the difference."

"Yup." Janice blew out a mouthful of smoke. "She drives like me."

"Being the only one of us who doesn’t drive, I must say that’s a comforting thought for sure," Mel remarked dryly. Then, changing the subject, she said, "Kaitlyn, you’ve had a long drive, and you just barely ended the semester. I’d hate for you to get to work on translating right away. Would you like to have a little tour of the city tomorrow, a little bit of a chance to relax?"

Kaitlyn knocked the ash off her cigarette into the ashtray. "Oh, wow, that’d be . . . er, I mean, I don’t want to put you to any trouble . . . "

Janice waved away the protest, gesturing with her cigar. "No trouble. We could use a little relaxation too. Mel and I spent the past two days looking through that scrollcase, and the thing was packed. We’ve looked over all the scrolls that were in it, and they’re all in Insular too, or at least they look like it. So how about it, kid? Up for a tour tomorrow?"

Kaitlyn didn’t need much convincing. "You’re on." She was interrupted by a hearty yawn. "After I wake up. Thank you again, Mel, Janice, for putting me up. I really appreciate it. Right now, though, I’m going to get my room in order and get some sleep. I need it." She took a last drag off the dwindling cigarette and stubbed it out in the ashtray, then stood up, exhaling one more cloud of smoke.

Mel looked the graduate student over and smiled. Kaitlyn looked considerably disheveled in the lamplight, with her hair windblown, her shirt and slacks rumpled, and her tie askew. "That sounds like a good idea. Get on with you; we’ll see you in the morning." She smiled warmly. "Oh, and Kaitlyn? We’re glad to have you here."

Kaitlyn returned the smile tiredly. "Thanks. It means a lot." She yawned again and shuffled off. "Good night, Mel, Janice."

Janice watched her go, then put her cigar out in the ashtray, turned to Mel and wrapped her arms around the taller woman. "She's a nice kid, Mel," the archaeologist remarked. "Come on, sweetie, let's get some sleep." They collected the mugs and put them in the sink, then turned out the lights and headed upstairs.


Continuned - Part 2

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