Clonefic Contest Winner - 2nd Place - March 2003
Every Clone’s a Critic
by Nance Gice
Okay Blondie, you and your Amazon friend get out NOW!” the cabby viciously barked after slamming on the brakes.
“But sir, she’s not an Amazon, I am, so watc...” Xena gingerly interrupted the bard, seeing the cabby’s face turn a bright shade of crimson.
“Come on Gabrielle. Just get out. It’s not worth an argument,” growling as she lifted the irritated blonde woman from the back seat of the cab and slammed the door.
Having just dropped them in the middle of nowhere, the angry driver shouted out the window as he drove off, “That’ll teach ya for taking an all day joy ride without any money!”
With narrowing eyes, Xena unholstered her chakram, cocked it and aimed for the taxi lamp on the roof of the car. Gabrielle quickly took hold of the warrior’s spring-loaded arm and gently released the tension. “Xena you’re right, it’s not worth it.”
Walking to the side of the road, the bard dropped down onto a patch of sun-dried grass that crackled when she landed. Leaning back, she rested on her elbows as she lamented. “You know, we’ve only been here two days and so far we’ve been told we were artificially created, forced by three nutballs to watch several hours of the most far fetched story telling I’ve ever seen, I was arrested, you broke me out of jail infuriating half the town’s militia, we had to face Alti AGAIN! and we almost got blown up.” A breathy sigh.
“Yeah… what’s your point? ” Xena, matter of factly muttered as she squinted into the sun surveying the landscape.
Falling further backward onto the ground, Gabrielle rubbed her temples with the tips of her fingers as she closed her eyes. “What are we going to do? We’re so unfamiliar with this bizarre culture, we’ll never fit in,” snorting, “as if we’d want to anyway.”
Xena sat down next to the bard and gave a reassuring pat to her muscled thigh. “Hey, we’re experts on these situations. We’ve had to deal with enough of them.” Contemplating. “Remember when the day kept repeating? How many times did you die during that fiasco? And that entire Cecrops thing, now that was bizarre with a capital “B”. Trust me, we’ll figure out a way to deal with another dysfunctional group of people,” the warrior assured.
“Well I don’t know about you, but I much prefer egotistical mini gods and warlords to, what did they call it, modern technology? This place gives me the creeps.” Another long sigh.
Nodding in agreement, Xena stood up. “It’s going to get dark soon, we’d better find someplace to spend the night.” Reaching her hand down to Gabrielle, the bard clasped it and was hoisted to her feet in one smooth, effortless motion.
“So what’s the plan?” the blonde woman inquired as she gazed at the mountains in one direction and a strange looking rock formation in the other.
Arcing a hand against her tightened brow to shield the sun’s rays, Xena tried to determine just how the odd shaped formation had gotten there. “I don’t know what made that thing but it’s the weirdest set of rocks I’ve ever seen. The angles are too straight to have happened naturally. And what’s that foggy stuff hovering over it?”
Just then, a lone jogger in a red warm up suit popped over a distant hill, loping toward the two women. As he moved closer, a large smile shined off his face when he eyed the pair. Stopping, but still continuing to run in place, he acknowledged them with a slow, southern drawl. “Xena… Gabrielle... Howdy.”
Xena scowled at his unwelcome familiarity with them, while Gabrielle curiously greeted the happy-faced runner. “Hello,” she cordially replied as she absorbed his simple nature.
“Ain’t it a great day just to be alive?” the man proclaimed while he danced in front of them.
“I’ve had better,” Xena snorted, crossing her arms and engaging an ice blue stare.
Regarding the pair with a look of hero worship, the man continued, “Well it was nice talkin’ to ya’ll, but I gotta go now.” And he began to jog away.
“Wait, before you go,” Gabrielle queried, waiving her hand in the air with a raised voice. “Could you tell us what those rocks over there are?” pointing to the multi-leveled pillars in the distance.
A quirky smile came across his face. “That’s Los Angeles,” he yelled with a labored chuckle.
Gabrielle shouted again, “What’s your name?” Watching the man getting smaller in her sight.
“Gump. Forest Gump,” he twanged back as he disappeared over the next hill.
“Thank you!” A final shout from the bard.
With hands on hips, Xena surveyed the landscape in the opposite direction. “Let’s go toward the mountains. That’ll be our best bet,” concluding as she started to walk.
Strutting away from the main road, the pair headed for the majestic beauty of the great hills ahead. They walked until the sun disappeared over the high peaks and all that remained was a hot purpley pink glow that backlit the mountains’ majesty, towering far in the distance.
Finally Xena pointed to a stand of trees just ahead of them. “Let’s make camp there,” assessing the availability of firewood and water. “Here, use my sword and this flint to start a fire while I go find us dinner,” saying as she unsheathed the weapon she had fashioned in the junkyard. Then she disappeared into a heavy thicket of trees.
* * * * *
When Xena returned, Gabrielle was tending to a substantial fire that crackled and popped from the overly dry wood that had been used to build it. Adjacent to the fire, she also had made sleeping mats out of the countless pine needles scattered about.
Handing the kill over, Xena explained, “I don’t really know what this is, but it lives underground and once I got its timing down, well, let’s just say the little bugger popped its head out of that hole once too often.” Gabrielle took the furry, brown, headless, animal from her and prepared it for the spit.
When they finished eating, Xena made a quick check of the camp’s perimeter and then returned to partake in some much-welcome rest. Removing her weapons and armor, she set them in a pile within arm’s reach and sat down with a crunch on one of the pine needle mats.
The night was clear and just cool enough to enjoy the rippling heat waves that radiated from the burnt orange licks of the fire. A symphony of crickets, beetles and other forms of insect life serenaded them as if their song was totally scripted and the bay of a wolf echoed in the distance, as it marked its territory.
Totally exhausted, Xena slowly eased her aching body down onto the soft pine needle bed and closed her eyes. Gabrielle sat on a log, putting the finishing touches to a staff she had constructed from a sturdy branch she found near by. The sais that Polly had given her were plastic and useless so she reverted back to the comfort of the stick. After finishing, she too nestled down onto the cushiony mound of pine needles.
“That was very tricky how you flipped us out of the way of that explosion today. I really thought we were goners.”
“Skills, Gabrielle… Skills,” Xena moaned in a semiconscious state.
“Are we going to go straight for the mountains tomorrow?” the bard queried, as she savored the fresh pine scent released from the weight of her body against the needles.
Bringing herself back to full consciousness, Xena eased up to a seated position. “I think we’ll see what that is first.” Then she pointed to a faint light in the distance.
Gabrielle sat up and strained her eyes to make out where the light was coming from. Then looking in the opposite direction, she marveled at the diffused, smoggy shimmer that rose up off the strange rock formation called Los Angeles, in the very far distance. “Those rocks sure do look pretty at night. I wonder how they produce all that light without burning themselves up?”
Laying back down, the two women directed their attention skyward. The night was so clear that the twinkling of the stars made it look as if they were waltzing about the heavens, like lovers at a dance.
Being out under this celestial canopy and breathing in fresh cool air had a tranquil effect on the pair, who finally put aside the bizarre events from the past two days. As Gabrielle continued to study the stars, a questioning look crossed her brow.
“Did you notice that the stars don’t look the same as the do back home? It’s like some one rearranged them.”
Lazily scanning the expanse of the sky, Xena determined this to be correct. “Well, Toto, I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore.” She drawled in a slow, sleepy exhale.
“Toto? Kansas?” Gabrielle reacted in utter puzzlement. “Did you hit your head on something during the fight today?
“Go to sleep,” Xena groaned.
The fire slowly died down to a crackle of glowing embers, with an occasional explosion as a pinecone burst under the heat.
Cracking one annoyed, tired eye open, she looked over at Gabrielle, trying to be patient but losing the battle.
“I just wanted you to know that if I had to end up in such a crazy place as this, I’m glad you’re here with me.”
Xena could not help but be touched at the genuine spirit in her best friend.
“You know, ‘The Fates’ have bound us together forever, so this is the way it’ll always be.” Then she reached over and clasped the bard’s hand in a reassuring grip.
Gabrielle smiled, totally relaxed in the secure feeling that bathed her spirit like the first warm day of spring.
* * * * *
The morning sun finally broke through a cloud cover that had formed overnight, waking both women at the same time. Gabrielle rolled over and quickly fell back asleep while Xena got up to search for breakfast.
Returning with a variety of field fruits and some stream water contained in a bottle found a short distance from camp, Xena sat back down on the pine needle bed and spread out the foraged foods. All the noise she was deliberately making, failed to disturb Gabrielle’s peaceful, sustained slumber. Xena finally leaned over and tasseled the bard’s short, blonde hair, attempting to get her to stir. “Hey, wake up. We’ve got places to go.”
The bard rolled over and took a leisurely stretched to flatten out all the kinks in her body that usually showed up when she slept on the ground. Sitting up, she stretched again and directed her attention to the food that was in front of her. “Are these edible?” She questioned, as she examined the round, succulent fruit.
“Yeah, actually they’re pretty good. They have a bit of a tang to them.” Xena commented as she started to peel another sectioned orb.
“Mmm, and juicy too.” Gabrielle slurped, while wiping some of the acidy liquid off her chin.
“Here, I brought back some water,” handing the odd shaped bottle to the bard.
Gabrielle examined it closely and then after a sniff or two, cautiously took a sip. “Hey, this tastes pretty good. It has a slight flavor to it.” Then she turned the bottle to read some writing on the weathered label. “I wonder who this ‘Jack Daniels’ is? Maybe he’s a guy who sells water in these bottles.”
Xena just rolled her eyes. “Gabrielle, what kind of an idiot would buy water in a bottle when they can get it free from any stream or well?”
The bard shrugged her shoulders slightly embarrassed. “I guess you’re right.” Still wondering what exactly came in it then.“
After breaking camp, the pair headed in the direction of the light they had seen last night. About mid afternoon they came across a narrow road that appeared to lead to the source. When they popped up over a hill, they saw a huge, exquisitely built, multi-leveled house.
“It’ looks like a castle.” Gabrielle observed, eyeing over the pieces of rough-cut stone that covered the exterior walls.
“Come on. We can get a better look from up there.” Pointing to the top of a nearby hill. “We need to find out if anyone’s in there first before we get any closer.” Xena said.
The pair ascended to a spot adjacent to the structure, bringing them to a good observation angle. A small stand of trees and one neatly placed boulder, obscured them perfectly from view.
The exterior of the house was magnificent. It was L-shaped, containing large bay windows on most of the sides. There was a huge built-in swimming pool nestled in the nook of the ‘L’ with a waterfall cascading down into it. Surrounded by pine trees on three sides, the fourth side was open, offering the occupants a spectacular view of the Los Angeles skyline in the far distance.
After a sufficient period of observation, Xena was satisfied that the structure was unoccupied. “Let’s go.” She bellowed as they move down the hill.
The first place they went was the front door. Xena peered in through a small window and then started to heave her weight against the entryway, trying to force it open.
“We’re going to break in?” Gabrielle questioned as she watched Xena rub her shoulder.
“Got no choice. We have to find supplies and get out of these clothes so we don’t stick out like Amazons in a Hestian temple.”
“I guess you’re right.” Gabrielle conceded, inwardly chuckling at the thought of Amazons and Hestian virgins intermingling.
Moving around to the swimming pool side, they found a pair of French doors that would prove to give better access. Xena’s keen senses started to assess the situation, determining that something was not right. Her hands and eyes worked in tandem as she ran the tips of her fingers around the entire perimeter of the doorway. Then, in the upper interior corner, she saw two thin wires connected into a small box. Another wire trailed out of the box and connected to a larger gray box with a blinking white light at the opposite side of the room. All in all, Xena could see three gray boxes interconnected with wires and blinking white lights.
“What’s wrong?” Gabrielle squeaked, seeing the intense concentration in the warrior’s eyes.
“Something doesn’t feel right. Like it’s booby trapped.”
She scanned the exterior of the house and saw part of another gray box, just like the ones inside. It was on the roof and mostly obscured by the chimney. She backed up and unholstered her chakram, briskly sailing it toward the gray object. It was a direct hit and then the chakram ricocheted off two trees and a rock before returning to its origin. When Xena looked back through the window, all the lights on the gray boxes were now dark.
“Okay, that should do it.” The warrior concluded, as she pulled the plastic breast dagger from her cleavage and carefully jimmied the lock open. “Don’t want to damage anything. We’re just here for the essentials.”
Entering the house, they were awe struck by all the gadgets and modern conveniences that filled the living space.
“What is all this stuff?” Gabrielle queried, with a wide-eyed gaze. “The only thing I recognize is that big box. It’s the same thing they used to show us those stories on. I think I heard Clea call it a TV.”
Xena continued to keep her senses on high alert as they skulked through the rooms. “Just don’t touch anything.” The warrior cautioned, motioning Gabrielle to stay close behind.
When they entered the kitchen, Xena’s eyes sparkled as she noticed a rack of fine cutlery hanging next to the sink. Gabrielle went over to a huge, box-shaped object in the corner and started to examine the outside.
“Xena, what is this? It looks like a sarcophagus, but I’ve never seen one standing upright.” She further examined the object, reading a small scrolled word in the corner. “FRIGIDARE. Hmm, maybe that’s the name of the person inside.”
Xena came over and also examined the large almond-colored box. Discovering a seam that ran around the perimeter, she took one of the knives from the cutlery rack, jammed it into the crack and began to lever it open. Suddenly, there was a quick release of pressure and with a hiss the door flew open, sending out a burst of cold air that hit them both in the chest. Cautiously stepping back, the women peered inside at the strange items.
“So where’s this Frigidare person?” Gabrielle inwardly questioned, not unhappy there was no body inside.
The first thing that caught the bard’s eye was a clear, barrel shaped jar full of long, green chubby objects, with stripes and bumps on them. She brought the jar out to examine it closer. Next to it was a white, lidded, bowl-shaped object, which Xena took and gave the once over.
“What a scathingly brilliant idea.” Gabrielle exclaimed, as she attempted to twist the lid of the jar, which was cool to the touch. “They’ve made a sarcophagus that is able to keep things cold.”
Xena snorted. “This will really come in handy the next time I have to put some warlord on ice.” Then she popped the lid off the white container.
Gabrielle just rolled her eyes and looked at the odd, white, foam-like material that was inside Xena’s container. “What is that?” she queried with a wrinkled up nose. “The writing says, Cool Whip,” inquisitively looking at the top of the lid. “What do you think it’s used for?”
“Beats me.” Xena profoundly replied. “Probably some kind of bull whip dressing to keep the leather soft and pliable, I expect.” Scooping a handful out and sniffing it, she added, “Smells good enough to eat.”
When Xena looked up, she saw Gabrielle still trying to pry the lid off of the clear jar. “Here, give me that.” She demanded as she snatched it from the bard’s grip.
“XENA! I almost had it,” she growled in an irritated tone.
“Yeah…Right,” Xena sarcastically replied as she gripped it tightly and twisted.
Suddenly, there was a loud pop and the lid eased off.
“Hmph, I must have loosed it for you.” Gabrielle snapped.
With a quirky grin, Xena handed the jar back and Gabrielle pried one of the strange, green objects out. It was cold and smooth and had a tart smell to it. “The label on the jar says these things are v-l-a-s-i-c p-i-c-k-l-e-s.”
The warrior just shrugged her shoulders.
To Xena’s horror, Gabrielle took a bite, which made a loud crunch as her teeth bit through the tough skin.
“GABRIELLE! What do you think you’re doing?” She bellowed in obvious displeasure.
“Hey, we ate those orange things this morning that you found and nothing happened to us.” Then she reached in and pried another one out, handing it to Xena. “Here, try one. They’re pretty good.”
Xena sniffed it, then also took a big crunchy bite. Savoring the flavor, she was hit with a revelation. “Hey, these would taste good with those “bard burgers” that Joxer used to make.”
After collecting what they needed from the kitchen, the two women started to move through the rest of the lower level rooms, searching for more supplies.
Exploring the bathroom, they marveled at a large, round, empty hole recessed into the floor.
“Well if I didn’t know better, I’d say this looks like a bathtub.” Gabrielle concluded as she stepped closer.
“Figured that out all by yourself, did ya?” Xena teased while examining a series of holes throughout the bottom and sides.
Appearing annoyed, the bard snapped back. “Okay warrior princess, how are we going to hall water in to get this thing filled?”
Xena reached over and twisted two handles by a spout that extended out over the empty hole and water began to flow freely. “There ya go,” she bragged, looking quite pleased with herself.
Gabrielle immediately fell to her knees and began to chanted, “I am not worthy… I am not worthy, oh one of many skills,” bowing humbly as a servant would.
Xena just rolled her eyes.
When the water reached the level where it covered all the holes, suddenly there was a loud hum and the liquid began to churn and gyrate as bubbling streams shot out of the submerged holes.
Gabrielle’s eyes sparkled with delight at the thought of the impending sensation she was about to experience. “Come on, it’s big enough for both of us.” Grinning as she started to disrobe.
“No, you go first. I don’t want to leave us unprotected while we’re in this place. I’m going to look around some more.” Then Xena left the room.
Gabrielle eased herself down into the turbulent swells and leaned her back against one of the water jets on the side of the structure. Falling into utter ecstasy, she joyfully moaned. “Well, we finally found one good thing about this gods forsaken place,” referring to the century they were now in.
Xena made her way up the stairs and into the bedrooms. Discovering small cubicles within these rooms, she found clothing that would fit both her and Gabrielle. She packed up what they would need and then headed down the stairs.
On the way back, a small side door at the end of the hall caught her eye. Xena made her way to it and slowly pushed the door open. When she looked in, her jaw dropped and she couldn’t believe her eyes. “What in Tartarus?”
* * * * *
Gabrielle was practically asleep when Xena burst into the bathroom. “GABRIELLE!” she shouted, startling the bard to the point of dunking herself. “You’ve gotta come and see this.”
“Xena! What’s wrong?” she gurgled, resurfacing and quickly leaping out of the water.
“Here, put these on.” Xena bellowed, as she handed Gabrielle a white t-shirt and a pair of jeans. “You’re not gonna believe this.”
Gabrielle quickly threw on the odd clothing, with one brief delay while trying to figure out just exactly how the zipper worked.
Still tucking her shirt in her jeans, Xena dragged the bard, down the hallway and into the room. As Gabrielle looked around, her eyes practically popped their sockets in totally disbelief.
“Xena, why are these people so obsessed with you? Look at all this stuff.”
The room was filled with countless pieces of Xena Warrior Princess memorabilia. One wall was totally dedicated to plaques that held still photos from seasons 1 through 5. On the opposite wall were large shadow boxes, containing swords, a chakram, and a variety of other weapons that appeared to be real. A life size cardboard stand up of Xena was perched in the corner behind a work desk, and there was a bookcase containing DVD cases with Xena’s picture on them. On the desk was a complete set of action figures.
Gabrielle picked up one of the little; plastic forms and remarked, “Hey, remember when I made one of these? It was the time I hurt my ankle trying to do the flip. I used it to demonstrate your technique.”
The strangest items, were four large headed statues of Xena, Gabrielle, Ares and Callisto, which sat on their own shelf. Moving to the display, Gabrielle tapped the head of the Ares statue and giggled. “Look at this Xena. The head bobbles when you touch it. Who would think up such a thing?”
Now moving over to the bookcase, Gabrielle slid out one of the DVD jackets and popped it open. “These are the things Mac used when he showed us those stories. I remember how he made them work in that thing over there.” She pointed to the DVD player housed in an entertainment center across the room.
Setting the silver-colored disc into the player, Gabrielle pushed some buttons, which caused the television to come on and start to play. They sat down on the couch and began to view complete episodes that the bard selected randomly.
Watching far too long, Xena finally exploded. “Okay, that enough.” She growled. “What kind of sick mind could think up something like that?” Scowling. “What’s the name of that story?”
Gabrielle picked up the DVD holder and read the front. “It’s called “Lyre, Lyre Hearts on Fire.”
“A musical??? You’ve got to be kidding. And why they’ve got me pregnant, Zeus only knows?” Wildly pacing. “I want to know just exactly what ‘Son of a Bacchae’ is responsible for this so I can teach him a lesson about spreading ridiculous lies about people.”
Suddenly, a jiggling noise came from the next room and then the sound of someone entering the house through the front door. Xena instinctively unsheathed her sword as every sense in her body tingled with the anticipation of possible danger.
“You stay here,” saying to Gabrielle, as she moved to the doorway and glided down the hall without making a sound.
Peering around the corner into the living room, she saw a man standing with his back to her. He was casually browsing through pieces of scroll-like material, occasionally sliding a small knife through the top of a folded piece to open it. Xena kept a close eye on the hardware, regarding it as a possible weapon.
She slowly made her way up behind him without making a sound, and gave him a quick nudge between the shoulder blades with the tip of her sword to get his attention. Startled from the sharp poke, the man spun around. When he locked eyes with Xena, to her surprise, he relaxed and smiled.
“What are you doing here?” he boldly inquired. “I wasn’t expecting you until evening.” His smile changed to puzzlement as he eyed her from head to toe. “And what’s with the costume? I thought Xena and the big, bad warlord night was tomorrow?” Then he threw the scroll material down on the table and started to walk toward her.
Confused by his reaction but sensing no danger, Xena relaxed the grip on her sword. Before she could react, the man pushed the sword aside and pulled her into a passion-filled kiss.
Xena defensively, rolled onto her back and flipped him over her head, sending the man sailing across the room and landing near the hallway entrance. Kneeling down beside him, she thrust the first two fingers of each hand rapidly into the side of his neck, engaging a pressure point.
“Okay, lover boy,” she gloated with wild eyes. “Are you suicidal?”
A slow stream of blood began to trickle from his nose, as the man lay horrified on the floor.
Hearing the commotion, Gabrielle ran from the back room to see what was happening. When she reached the living room, she saw Xena’s fiery presence bent over the downed intruder. “Who is this man?” she questioned, leaning over the warrior’s shoulder.
“I was just about to find out.” Xena growled, bring her attention toward Gabrielle.
Refocusing back on the man, she got down close and began the interrogation. “Okay, you sick pervert, who are you and what makes you think kissing a complete stranger is an acceptable practice?”
“He kissed you?” Gabrielle gasped with raised eyebrows.
The man’s breathing was labored and his voice gurgled as he spoke. “Are you crazy? What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Then he wheezed and tried to suck in more air.
Xena got down even closer into his face. “You don’t seem to understand, Cupid. I’ve just cut off the flow of blood to your brain. You’ve only got seconds to give me a reason why I shouldn’t just leave you like this.” Then she pulled away and stood up.
The man continued his labored breathing, finally choking out the words, “Because we’re married.”
Confused by his answer, Gabrielle leaned down to check out his vital signs. “Xena, you’d better take the pinch off. He’s starting to hallucinate.”
Reluctantly, she agreed and with a quick twist of her forefingers to his neck again, the pressure point was released.
Still breathing heavily, the man rapidly crab walked backwards, away from Xena.
Fuming, he started to shout, “Have you absolutely lost you mind, woman? Quit fooling around with that pressure point stuff. It’s really dangerous.” Then he looked up at Gabrielle. “And you! I thought you are supposed to be the ‘down to earth, sensible one.” Spitting out words like venom. “Who put you up to this? And when I find out, I hope their will is in order.”
Gabrielle slowly knelt down by the man and put her hand on his shoulder attempting to calm him. “Who do you think we are? We’ve only been here three days so we haven’t really met anybody. My name is Gabrielle and this is Xena.”
Totally infuriated, the red-faced man continued to scream, “This has gone far enough. I really can’t believe that you two would take part in something so ludicrous.” Now stop this half-assed charade IMMEDIATELY!”
Gabrielle backed away and stood next to Xena mumbling low out of the side of her mouth. “I don’t know what nerve you hit with that pinch, but this guy is loonier then you were when ‘The Furies’ passed Ares’ judgment on you.”
“Listen pal, we just need some supplies and then we’ll be on our way,” Xena stated as she motioned him over to the couch with the blade of her sword. “Gabrielle, gather up what we need while I keep an eye on our friend here.” The bard quickly left the room to do as she was told.
Xena sat down on a wooded chair a short distance from the man and propped one foot up against the coffee table. Her sword was still unsheathed but rested, tip down, against her inner thigh.
As she captured the man with an icy blue stare, his anger relinquished and slowly turned into fear.
“Who are you?” He sheepishly asked.
“Like my friend said, my name is Xena.”
The man shook his head and snorted. “That’s ridiculous. Xena is a fictional character I created for a television series.”
Xena’s eyes narrowed as she regarded his statement. “You mean you’re the ‘Son of a Bacchae’ responsible for spreading these ridiculous stories about me?”
Just then, Gabrielle returned to see Xena on the verge of losing her temper. “Xena, what is it?” asking with nervous concern.
Forcefully, Xena stood up, sending her chair sliding across the floor. “This is the jackass that’s responsible for all this horse manure about me.” Then she paused with a hint of reflection. “The one thing I don’t understand is that people seem to like it. You saw how those three nutballs acted when they were around us. If Clea swooned over you one more time, I was going to pop her up side the head and knock some sense into her.” Continuing to reflect. “And that runner from yesterday, you saw the way he looked at us.”
As she started towards the man, with every intention of teaching him a painful lesson, Gabrielle stepped in between then, holding her off. “Xena, just wait a minute. Let’s get the answers through talk instead of action.” Xena scowled and reluctantly backed off.
While Gabrielle and the man looked on, Xena moved away and started to pace.
Now conducting her own interrogation, Gabrielle slowly began. “Okay, let’s make it simple. Just tell me who you are and where did you learned about Xena?” asking as she sat down on the couch with him.
“Are you telling me this isn’t a joke?” the man exclaimed with a dumbfounded look on his face.
“Listen buddy, just answer her questions before my patience runs out,” Xena growled very low and precise.
With a tidy response, the man promptly spilled his guts. “My name is Rob Tapert and I learned about Xena after a guy came to my office one day with several scrolls containing stories about her. He said he found them in his grandfather’s attic, but I thought he had just written them and gave them to me in scroll form as a marketing ploy. When I read the stories, they were pretty interesting so I paid him for the rights and created a television series which has been running for the passed 6 years.”
Gabrielle gazed at him, totally engrossed in the story while Xena just continued to scowl.
“Is that large box over there a television or a TV?” The bard queried, pointing to the device in the corner.
“Are you sure this isn’t a joke?” Rob proclaimed one more time.
“Listen Robtapert, Xena wasn’t kidding when she said not to tax her patience, so please, just answer the question,” she cautioned.
Rob proceeded to correct her. “My name is Rob. Tapert is my last name. Just call me Rob.”
“WHATEVER!” Xena snapped, with a contorted expression.
“And in answer to your question… yes, that large black box is called a television or TV for short.”
“Okay Rob, you said this man gave you several scrolls. What were the names of the stories in them?” asking as she edged closer to him.
“Sins of the Past, Callisto, One Against an Army, Hooves and Harlots, Been There Done That, The Furies, Lost Mariner, Between the Lines and Fallen Angel,” he listed in no particular order.
Finally, Xena started to calm down to the point that she stopped pacing and sat back down on the chair she had occupied before.
“Those stories that you just named were actual scrolls that I wrote about Xena’s life. I wonder how this man got them?”
“I don’t know. He was just some bumbling fool with an idea that passed through my office,” Rob editorialized. Then he inwardly considered that he might have to pay Gabrielle royalties, since the stories were really hers.
Xena and Gabrielle looked at each other and groaned in unison, “JOXER.”
“Rob looked mesmerized. “Are you telling me that the Xena character is a real woman?”
“Brilliant deduction Euripides. Who do you think you’ve been talking to for the past half hour, your wife?” Xena snorted, recalling his babblings when she had the pinch on him.
“But how did you get here? This is impossible!” He exclaimed, shaking his head.
Gabrielle proceeded to tell him the story. “Alti brought us here by something called cloning. I don’t really understand what it is, but nevertheless, here we are.”
Rob fell to the back of the couch, in total disbelief. “Are you telling me Alti is for real?”
“Yeah,” Xena lamented, “and she keeps showing up like a bad dinar. But let’s get back to the main question here. What’s the big idea of portraying me as some goofball ex warlord that meets up with a bunch of weirdoes along the way?”
“We’ve made over 130 episodes of the series, and since I only had a few scrolls to work with, the writers had to improvise,” He stated defensively.
“Well after what I’ve seen these past few days, your ‘writers’ certainly have quite an imagination there, Rob.” Xena sarcastically concluded. “I’ve seen Gabrielle come up with some pretty far fetched stuff but they sure do take the cake.”
Rob still sat stunned over this unbelievable situation that ‘The Fates’ had brought through his front door. “In defense of my actions, the Xena series has been a great success and has a very large ‘Fan’ base. This is the last year it will be running though.”
Gabrielle quietly mumbled under her breath, “Thank the gods. I don’t think Xena could survive much more of this torture. I’ve seen her more comfortable being nailed to a cross.”
Seizing the moment, Rob thought of a great idea. At least it was in his mind. “We’ve just completed the series finale. I ‘d love to show it to you, since I can think of no two better people to get an opinion from. It’s called ‘A Friend in Need.’”
Gabrielle looked at Xena, who was clearly unreceptive to the request. “Would you excuse us for a minute please?” she said while dragging the reluctant warrior out of the room.
“Come on Xena, he looks pretty excited about it. I’m sure he sent you out in a blaze of glory. After all, it is called ‘A Friend in Need.’ Let’s watch it,” she said looking at Xena with soft pleading eyes. “Pleeease?”
Putting her hands on her hips, Xena grimaced as she regarded Gabrielle’s request. “All right, but if I don’t like it, I’m warning you, heads are gonna roll,” she bluntly stated. “And don’t go giving me that wounded puppy look again. You know I can’t say ‘NO’ when you do that.”
“Thanks Xena,” Gabrielle replied, as she grabbed her by the elbow and dragged her back into the room.
When they returned, Rob was still sitting on the couch deep in thought, trying to figure out just how he was going to explain all of this to Sam Raimi.
“We’ll watch it,” Gabrielle announced, with a big smile on her face. “I love stories. That’s why I became a bard.”
Rob quickly disappeared to the back of the house and made preparations.
About ten minutes later he reappeared and led Xena and Gabrielle to an eight seat, screening room located in the basement. Seating them in theater style seats, he dimmed the lights and began the show.
The story started out quite visually appealing. As they watched, Gabrielle nestled down comfortably into her chair while Xena leaned back, propping one foot up against the seat in front of her and occasionally yawning.
Everything went well until the end of part 1. Confused by the “If I only had 30 seconds to live,” pressure point scene, Gabrielle leaned over to Xena and whispered, “What do you think that means?” Xena just shrugged her shoulders and took a big stretch.
Part 2 started and as it progressed, Gabrielle could feel the tenseness in Xena’s body, build to a dangerous level. Finally, she reached over and gave a gentle squeeze to the warrior’s arm whispering, “It’s gonna be okay. Wait till the end. You’ll see.”
Like a release valve, her calm, attentive words, disarmed a potentially lethal situation.
Still further into the story, Gabrielle suddenly winced and thought to herself, “Well, Xena was right. Heads would roll. But I don’t think this is quite what she meant.”
Finally the movie ended and to bard’s astonishment, Xena was still seated. As the lights came up, she quickly sprung from her chair and leaned over the soon to erupt warrior. Putting her hands against Xena’s shoulders, Gabrielle quickly spoke, while looking deep into steamed blue eyes with her own apologetic gaze. “Xena, I want you to please go and finish getting together the things we’ll need.” A brief pause. “I’ll take care of this.”
Grabbing Xena’s arm as she rose from the seat, Gabrielle physically walked her past Rob to assure his safety. “I’ll be right back,” the bard snapped.
As she left the room, Xena captured his eyes with a bone-chilling stare that made a cold, eerie shiver run down his spine.
* * * * *
When Gabrielle came back, Rob was still trying to shake off the ill effects of the unsettling look Xena had fired into him like a dagger. She reflectively sat down, turning her body so she was looking directly at him. “You may want to get a scroll and takes notes,” she suggested, before starting.
Taking her advice, he quickly returned with a pad and pencil, anxiously waiting to see what the bard had to say.
Gabrielle scratched her chin while trying to formulate the correct words. “Ahh, now let me see. Where should I start? Then with a raised voice, she began, “Are you insane? What in Hades’ name were you thinking?” Her eyes glared at him. “First of all, just for the record, Xena and I have never been to any place called Japa.”
Taking a deep breath, she continued, “As for the story, well the scenes were pretty to look at but the entire plot made absolutely no sense. You really need to hire better bards.” Rob’s face contorted into a frown, having been one of the storywriters.
Gabrielle stood up and paced. “Xena would have never taught this Akemi person the pinch in the first place. That’s something you don’t fool around with. And how in Zeus’ name you expect any reasonably intelligent person to even remotely think that Xena was responsible for that fire is a total mystery to me. From your own quill, it was apparently clear as the nose on your face, that those town’s people provoked her, so that self-sacrifice, guilt trip business at the end was totally bogus. And don’t even get me started on the decapitation scene other then so say, therapy sessions may be a wise investment in your future.”
Rob began to squirm in his chair because this was not the reaction he was expecting.
“I don’t know if you’ve shown this story to anyone yet, but if you haven’t, you may want to make some changes,” she strongly urged.
“Don’t get me wrong, Xena’s no angel.” Then she amended her statement. “Well maybe just once. But she was a hero to countless people in the times we came from and judging from the way these, what did you call them ‘FANS,’ regard her now, she is a hero to them also.” Taking a quick breath, she continued, “Most of the stories we’ve seen the past couple of days, have been pretty off the wall, but they always portrayed Xena as someone who went above and beyond the call of duty, so you did successfully capture her true side there.” Sighing in frustration. “Now do you really want to end this make-believe saga you’ve created, in such a pathetic way?”
Gabrielle came back over and sat down next to him putting her hand on his shoulder. “Life is tough enough. Do you really think these ‘Fans’ want to see their fantasy hero die?”
Rob contemplated the words she spoke with no specific conclusion. Deep in thought, his concentration was interrupted as Gabrielle got up to leave. “Now if you will excuse me, I have to go find my best friend and my real life hero.”
Rob reached his hand toward her as she walked away. “Wait! Where will you go?” he asked with genuine interest.
“I don’t know. That’s up to Xena, and where she goes, I go. That’s the way it’s always been and will always be, I expect.” Saying this as she continued toward the door.
“Let me at least say good bye to her before you go.” Rob requested as he got up to follow her.
Gabrielle quickly stopped and turned, putting her hand up to impede his progress. “For the sake of your health, I don’t think that’s such a good idea. I’ll say good bye for you.” Resuming her walk to the door.
“Just one more thing,” Rob interjected as he reached into his back pocket, pulling out his wallet. “You’re going to need some money.” Then he removed a large sum of bills, handing them to her. “And here’s my business card. Phone me if you need anything.”
The bard shoved the strange looking, pieces of paper into her pocket and inwardly queried about just exactly what a ‘phone’ was, as she disappeared from the room.
* * * * *
Gabrielle found Xena outside, perched on the hood of Rob’s Mercedes, conducting target practice with her chakram. She too was now dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.
“Do we have everything we need?” Gabrielle softly asked, looking at the two bulging backpacks at Xena’s feet.
“Yeah, I think so.”
Standing up, Xena slung one of the packs over her shoulder. “So did you straighten the poor Bastard out?” she ask in a low methodical tone.
Gabrielle looked at her in continued astonishment, wondering why she was taking this so well. “Are you okay?” she said with concern.
“Oh, I’m just peachy. Now can we go?” crooning, as she started down the road.
Gabrielle quickly hoisted the other pack over her shoulder and paced herself to catch up.
“How come you’re not going ballistic over that story?” she cautiously mentioned, slightly out of breath.
Slowing her pace, Xena snorted, “Well, I was gonna, but when you shot me that look after it ended, I new my reputation was in good hands. Anyway, after everything we’ve seen these past few days, I shouldn’t be bothered by a cheap barrage of arrows and one unrealistic swing of a sword.” No, make that two swings of a sword.” A pause. “I would have never taken that little girl’s head off.”
Continuing to walk, she expanded. “But I did have a problem with the part where he put your character in the dilemma of whether to dump my ashes in that pool or not.” A brief pause. “If he wants to fool around with me, that’s one thing, but if he messes with you, there’s definitely gonna be trouble in Xenaville.” A scowl. “And what was with that water transfer thing anyway?
As they walked down the road Gabrielle smiled contently and regarded her best friend. “You know what?”
“What?” Xena replied nonchalantly as she surveyed the landscape ahead of them.
“You are truly my hero.”
Xena’s face melted into a soft content smile. “You wanna know what else?” she replied, capturing Gabrielle with a misty blue stare.
“What?” the bard inquired, returning the look with a sparkling green-eyed gaze.
“You’re my hero too.”
The expressive eye contact and a quick tug at Xena’s elbow did all the remaining communication of the shared admiration and respect the two women had for each other as they slowly walked down the road, disappeared over the hill, and faded into the landscape.
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