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,” she growled as she lifted the irritated blonde woman from the back seat of the cab and slammed the door. “It’s not worth an argument.”

 

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!”

 

Xena’s eyes narrow as she unholstered her chakram and cocked it, aiming 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.”

 

The blonde woman strolled to the side of the road and dropped down onto a patch of sun-dried grass that crackled when she landed.  Leaning back, she rested on her elbows as she lamented in one long breathy sigh.   “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.” 

 

“Yeah… what’s your point?  ” Xena matter of factly replied while she scanned the horizon.

 

Falling further backward onto the ground, Gabrielle rubbed her temples, circling methodically with the tips of her fingers as she closed her eyes in contemplation.   “What are we going to do?  We’re so unfamiliar with this bizarre culture, we’ll never fit in.”  Snorting loudly, she finished her thought.  “As if we’d want to anyway.”

 

Xena sat down next to Gabrielle and gave a reassuring pat to her thigh, which gently calmed the bard.  “Hey, we’re experts on these situations.  We’ve had to deal with enough of them.  “Remember when the day kept repeating?  How many times did you die during that fiasco?  And that entire Cecrops thing, now that was bizarre”.  Trust me, we’ll figure out a way to deal with another dysfunctional group of people.”

 

Gabrielle continued her lamentation while readjusting her position on the scratchy grass.  “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.”  

 

Xena nodded in agreement and stood up to contemplate their next move.  “It’s going to get dark soon, we’d better find someplace to spend the night.”  

 

She casually reached her hand down to Gabrielle, who clasped it and was hoisted to her feet in one smooth, effortless motion.

 

“So what’s the plan?” the blonde woman inquired while she gazed at the mountains in one direction and a strange looking rock formation in the other.

 

Arcing a hand against her 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 and loped toward the two women.  As he moved closer, a large smile shined from 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 while absorbing his simple nature.

 

“Ain’t it a great day just to be alive?” the man proclaimed as he danced in front of them.

 

“I’ve had better,” Xena snorted, crossing her arms and engaging an icy blue stare.

 

Regarding the pair with a look of hero worship, the man continued, “Well it was nice talkin’ to ya’ll, but I godda go now,” and he began to jog away.

 

“Wait, before you go,” Gabrielle yelled.  “Could you tell us what those rocks over there are?” she inquired, pointing to the multi-leveled pillars in the distance.

 

 A quirky smile came across his face and he yelled back to her.  “That’s Los Angeles.”

 

“What’s your name?” she shouted back, watching the man getting smaller in her sight.

 

“Forest Gump,” he twanged and he disappeared over the next hill.

 

Xena stood with her hands on her hips and surveyed the landscape in the direction away from the mass of manmade rocks.  “Let’s go toward the mountains.  That’ll be our best bet.”

 

The pair left the main road heading for the majestic beauty of the great hills in front of them and walked until the sun disappeared over the high peaks, until 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 deciding it would be an acceptable place to stop for the night.  “Let’s make camp there,” she said.  “ Here, use my sword and this flint to start a fire while I go find us dinner.”

 

She relinquished her sword and proceeded to disappear into a heavy thicket of trees while Gabrielle began her chores.

 

When Xena returned, Gabrielle was tending to a substantial fire that crackled and popped from the overly dry wood used to build it.  Adjacent to the fire, she also had constructed sleeping mats out of the countless pine needles that were scattered about.

 

Xena handed the fresh kill over and regarded the questioning look on the bard’s face.  “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 cautiously took the furry, brown, headless, animal and prepared it for the spit.

 

When they finished eating, Xena made a quick check of the camp’s perimeter and returned to partake in some much-welcome rest from the hectic day.  She removed her weapons and armor, setting them in a pile within arm’s reach while she sat down on one of the pine needle mats that Gabrielle had made earlier.

 

The night was clear and just cool enough to enjoy the rippling heat waves that radiated from the burnt orange licks of the fire, which crackled and popped in a methodical rhythm.  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, while it marked its territory.

 

Totally exhausted, Xena slowly eased her stiff 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 nearby.   The sais that Polly had given her were plastic and useless so she reverted back to the comfort of the stick for future protection.   After finishing the chore, she too nestled down onto the cushiony mound of pine needles. 

 

“Xena?”

 

“Mm?”

 

“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?” Gabrielle 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.”  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.  She then turned her gaze in the opposite direction and 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 make all that light without burning themselves up?” 

 

After resettling themselves back down onto the pine needles again, the two women directed their attention up to the sky and the beauty of the evening.  The night was so clear that the twinkling stars resembled tiny little tacks, which nailed the sky securely to the heavens above them.

 

Being out under this celestial canopy and breathing in the fresh cool air, had a tranquil effect on the pair, who finally put aside the bizarre events from the past two days. 

 

Xena drifted off right away while Gabrielle continued to study the stars and questioned the unfamiliarity of the patterns.

 

“Xena?”

 

“Mm?” 

 

“Did you notice that the stars don’t look the same as the do back home?  It’s like some one rearranged them.”

 

Xena once again brought herself back to consciousness and lazily scanned the expanse of the sky, determining this to be correct.  “Well, Toto, I guess we’re not in Kansas anymore,” she drawled in a slow, sleepy exhale.

 

“Toto?  Kansas?”  Gabrielle questioned in utter puzzlement.  “Did you hit your head on something during the fight today?

 

“Go to sleep,” Xena groaned.

 

As stillness filled the camp, the fire slowly died down to a crackle of glowing embers, with an occasional explosion when a pinecone would burst under the heat.

 

“Xena?”

 

Cracking one annoyed, tired eye open, she looked over at Gabrielle, trying to be patient but losing the battle. 

 

“WHAT?”

 

“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.”  Reaching over, she clasped Gabrielle’s hand in a reassuring grip which caused the bard to smiled, totally relaxed in the secure feeling that bathed her spirit like the first warm day of spring.

 

“Goodnight Xena.”

 

“Goodnight Gabrielle.”

 

* * * * *

 

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.

 

She soon returned 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, deliberately making enough noise to wake the dead, knowing Gabrielle’s sleeping habits.  Since plan A wasn’t working, she promptly went to plan B and tasseled the bard’s short blonde hair, attempting to get her to stir.  “Hey, wake up. We’ve got places to go.”

 

Gabrielle 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, while she examined the round, succulent fruit.

 

“Yeah, actually they’re pretty good.  They have a bit of a tang to them.” 

 

“Mmm, and juicy too.”  Gabrielle slurped.

 

“Here, I brought back some water too.”  Xena took the odd shaped bottle and handed it to her curious companion .who 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.”  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 at the ridiculous observation.  “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.  At 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 in the distance.

“It’ looks like a castle.”  Gabrielle said, eyeing over the pieces of rough-cut stone that covered the exterior walls.

 

“Come on.  We can get a better look from up there.”  Xena pointed to the top of a nearby hill.  “We need to find out if anyone’s in there first before we get any closer.” 

 

They ascended to a ridge adjacent to the structure, bringing them into 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 distance. 

 

After a sufficient period of observation, Xena was satisfied that the structure was unoccupied so she decided to make her move.  “Let’s go,” she bellowed.

 

The first place they went was the front door.  Xena peered in through a small window and started to heave her weight against the entryway, trying to force it open.

 

“We’re going to break in?”  Gabrielle questioned while she watched Xena rub her bruised 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 Xena’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, 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, pulling the plastic breast dagger from her cleavage and carefully jimmying the lock open.  “Don’t want to damage anything.  We’re just here for the essentials.”

 

When they entered the house, they were awe struck by all the unfamiliar gadgets and modern conveniences that filled the living space. 

 

“What is all this stuff?”  Gabrielle queried.  “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 while they skulked through the rooms looking for what they would need for their journey.  “Just be careful,” the warrior cautioned, motioning Gabrielle to stay close behind her.

 

When they entered the kitchen, Xena’s eyes sparkled at the sight of 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 that was smooth to the touch.  She discovered a seam that ran around the perimeter, so she took one of the knives from the cutlery rack and jammed it into the crack, trying 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 asked, not unhappy there was no body inside.

 

The first thing that caught her eye was a clear, barrel shaped jar full of long, green, chubby objects, with stripes and bumps on them.  She brought the jar out and examined it closer by rotating it in different directions.  Next to the jar was a white, lidded, bowl-shaped object, which Xena took and gave the once over.

 

“What a scathingly brilliant idea,” Gabrielle exclaimed, while attempting to twist the lid of the jar.  “They’ve made a sarcophagus that is able to keep things cold.”

 

 “This will come in handy the next time I have to put some warlord on ice,” Xena chuckled and 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?” inquiring while she wrinkled her nose.  “The writing says, Cool Whip. What do you think that means?”

 

“Beats me. Probably some kind of bull whip dressing to keep the leather soft and pliable, I expect.”  Scooping a handful out she took a quick sniff.  “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 and snatched it from the bard’s grip.

 

“XENA!  I almost had it”

 

“Yeah…right,” the warrior sarcastically replied while 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, which 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.”

 

She just shrugged her shoulders clueless to what exactly the object was.

 

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?”

 

“Hey, we ate those orange things this morning that you found and nothing happened to us.” 

 

She reached in and pried another one out, handing it to Xena.  “Here, try one.  They’re actually pretty good.”

 

Xena sniffed it, then also took a big crunchy bite and savored the flavor while she was hit with a brilliant revelation.  “Hey, these would taste good on 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. 

 

When they entered 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 she knelt down and examined a series of holes throughout the bottom and sides.

 

Annoyed with Xena’s cocky response, Gabrielle glared at her.  “Okay warrior princess,”  “How are we going to hall water in to get this thing filled?”

 

Xena reached over and twisted two handles near 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 at the bard’s antics and stepped away.

 

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.

 

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,” she grinned while starting 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.”  And she 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, which caused her to fall into utter ecstasy and 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 began to rummage through the bedrooms where she discovered small cubicles, which contained clothing that would fit both her and Gabrielle.  After gathering up what they would need, she headed down the stairs, not wanting to be gone for to long.

 

On the way back, a small side door at the end of the hall caught her eye so 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 through the door. “GABRIELLE!” she shouted, startling the bard to the point of dunking herself.  “You’ve got to come and see this.”

 

“Xena!  What’s wrong?” she gurgled.

 

Xena quickly handed her a white t-shirt and a pair of jeans to get dress with. Here, put these on.”

 

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 into her jeans, the blonde woman was dragged down the hallway and into the mysterious back room.  When she started to look around, her eyes practically popped their sockets in total disbelief.

 

“Xena, why are these people so obsessed with you?

 

The room was filled with countless pieces of memorabilia colleted form the Xena Warrior Princess television series.  One wall was totally dedicated to plaques that held photographs 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 the warrior princess was perched in the corner behind a work desk, and there was a bookcase containing DVDs with Xena’s picture on them.  On the desk was a complete set of action figures.

 

Gabrielle picked up one of the plastic forms and thought back to a time where she had constructed something similar.  “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 4 large headed statuettes of Xena, Gabrielle, Ares and Callisto, which sat on their own shelf.  Moving to the display, Gabrielle tapped the head of the Ares figure 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.  The 2 women 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’s enough.  What kind of sick mind could think up something like that?  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???”  Xena scowled.  “You’ve got to be kidding.  And why they’ve got me pregnant, Zeus only knows?”  The frustrated warrior got up and started to pace.  “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.  Then she slowly moved to the doorway and glided down the hall without making a sound.

 

Xena peered around the corner, into the living room and 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.  She kept a close eye on the hardware, regarding it as a possible weapon.

 

Ready to take action, she silently made her way up behind him and gave a quick nudge between his shoulder blades with the tip of her sword.  The man was startled by the sharp poke and quickly spun around.  When he locked eyes with Xena, to her surprise, he relaxed and smiled.

 

“What are you doing here?” he boldly asked.  “I wasn’t expecting you until later.”  His smile changed to puzzlement while he eyed her from head to toe.  “And what’s with the costume?  I thought Xena and the big bad warlord night was tomorrow?”  He threw the scroll material down on the table and started to walk toward her.

 

Confused by his reaction and sensing no danger, Xena relaxed the grip on her sword momentarily.  But before she could react, the man pushed the sword aside and pulled her into a passion-filled kiss.

 

She defensively, rolled onto her back and flipped him over her head, sending the man sailing across the room and landing near the hallway entrance.  With fire in her eyes, she knelt down beside him and thrust the first two fingers of each hand rapidly into the side of his neck, engaging a pressure point. 

 

“Okay, lover boy,” she gloated.   “Are you suicidal?”

 

A slow stream of blood began to trickle from his nose, while the man lay on the floor, horrified.

 

Hearing the commotion, Gabrielle ran from the back room to see what was happening and when she reached the living room, she saw Xena’s fiery presence bent over the downed intruder.   “Xena, who is this man?”

 

“I was just about to find out.”

 

Refocusing her attention Xena 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?”

 

Gabrielle gasped with raised eyebrows.  “He kissed you?” 

 

The man’s breathing was labored and his voice gurgled when he spoke.  “Are you crazy?  What the hell do you think you’re doing?”  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.” 

 

The man continued his labored breathing, finally getting the strength to choke out a few 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.”

 

She reluctantly agreed and with a quick twist of her forefingers, the pressure point was released.

 

Still breathing heavily, the man rapidly crab walked backwards, away from Xena and fell next to the couch.

 

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,” he spewed out with venomous rage.  “Who put you up to this?  And when I find out, I hope their will is in order.”

 

Gabrielle cautiously 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 than you were when the Furies passed Ares’ judgment on you.” 

 

“Listen pal,” Xena said.  “We just need some supplies and then we’ll be on our way.”  With a quick wave of her sword, she motioned him up onto the couch.

 

“Gabrielle, gather up what we need while I keep an eye on our friend here.”  At Xena’s direction Gabrielle quickly left the room to do as she was told.

 

Xena sat down on a wooden 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.

 

When 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.” 

 

Her eyes narrowed while 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 exploding.  “Xena, what is it?”

 

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.”  Pausing, she reflected a moment.  “The only thing I don’t understand is that people seem to like it.  You saw how those three geeks 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.  And that runner from yesterday, you saw the way he looked at us.”

 

She started towards the man, with every intention of teaching him a painful lesson, but Gabrielle stepped in between them to hold her off.   “Xena, just wait a minute.  Let’s get the answers through talk instead of action.”  Scowling, the warrior reluctantly backed off and started to pace at the opposite end of the room.

 

Gabrielle sat down on couch next to the man and began to conduct her own interrogation.  “Okay, let’s make it simple.  Just tell me who you are and where did you learned about Xena?”

 

“Are you telling me this isn’t a joke?” the man curtly replied.

 

Xena stopped her pacing and shot a bone-chilling stare at the man. “Listen buddy, just answer her questions before my patience runs out.”

 

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 that had stories about her.  He said he found them in his grandfather’s attic, but I thought he had just written them himself and given 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 his story while Xena went back to her pacing. 

 

“Is that large box over there a television or a TV?”  Gabrielle inquired, pointing to the device in the corner.

 

“Are you sure this isn’t a joke?”  Rob proclaimed one more time.

 

“Listen Robtapert,” Gabrielle cautioned.  “Xena wasn’t kidding when she said not to tax her patience, so please, just answer the question.”

 

Rob proceeded to correct her. “My name is Rob.  Tapert is my last name.  Just call me Rob.”

 

“WHATEVER!” Xena snapped.

 

“And in answer to your question… yes, that large black box is called a television or TV for short.”

 

Gabrielle edged closer to him and continued her questions.  “Okay Rob, you said this man gave you several scrolls. What were the names of the stories?”

 

Rob thought for a moment and then listed the titles: “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.”

 

Xena finally 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.”   Then Rob 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 from the revelation before him.  “Are you telling me that the Xena character is a real woman?”

 

“Brilliant deduction Euripides,” Xena snorted.  “ Who do you think you’ve been talking to for the past half hour, your wife?”  Recalling his babblings when she had the pinch on him.

 

“But how did you get here?  This is impossible!”

 

Gabrielle proceeded to tell him the unbelievable story of how it happened.  “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 barked, “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?”

 

Rob tensed up from her remarks and stated defensively.  “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.”

 

Xena flexed in her chair causing Rob to get nervous. “Well after what I’ve seen these past few days, your ‘writers’ certainly have quite an imagination there,”  she sarcastically stated.  “I’ve seen Gabrielle come up with some pretty far fetched stuff but they sure do take the fish cake.”

 

Rob was still stunned over this unbelievable situation that the Fates had brought through his front door.  “In defense of my actions, the Xena Warrior Princess 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 looked at Xena with soft pleading eyes.  “Pleeease?”

 

Xena put her hands on her hips and 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 chirped, and she grabbed the still reluctant warrior by the elbow again quickly 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 said, 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 chairs, 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.  Totally 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 tension 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.  When the lights came up, she quickly sprang from her chair and leaned over the soon to erupt warrior.   She put her hands against Xena’s shoulders and 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.  I’ll take care of this.”

 

Gabrielle grabbed Xena’s arm as she rose from the seat, and physically walked her past Rob to assure his safety. “I’ll be right back,” the bard snapped. 

 

While they left the room, Xena captured his eyes with a bone-chilling stare that made a cold, eerie shiver run down Rob’s 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,” the bard suggested.

 

Taking her advice, he quickly returned with a pad and pencil, anxiously waiting to see what Gabrielle had to say.

 

She scratched her chin prophetically while trying to formulate the correct words.  “Ahh, now let me see.  Where should I start?   Her voice suddenly raised and 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.  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.”  She paused and 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. “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.”  Gabrielle sighed in frustration.  “Now do you really want to end this make-believe saga you’ve created, in such a sad way?” 

 

She 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 when 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 out toward her as she walked away.  “Wait!  Where will you go?”

 

“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.” 

 

 Rob got up to follow her, hoping to see Xena one more time.  “Let me at least say good bye to her before you go.”

 

Gabrielle quickly stopped and turned, putting her hand up to impede his progress.  “You really are a nice man, so for the sake of your health, I don’t think that’s such a good idea.  I’ll say good bye for you.”

 

“Just one more thing,” Rob said as he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet.  “You’re going to need some money.”  T

 

Removing a large sum of bills, he handed them to Gabrielle along with his business card

“Phone me if you need anything.  Really, I want to help.”

 

She 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, now also dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. 

 

She looked down at Xena’s feet to see two bulging backpacks, which she assumed were supplies. “Do we have everything we need?”

 

“Yeah, I think so.” 

 

Standing up, Xena slung one of the packs over her shoulder.  “So did you straighten the poor Bastard out?”

 

Gabrielle looked at her in continued astonishment, wondering why she was taking this so well.  “Are you okay?” she asked with concern.

 

“Oh, I’m just peachy.  Now can we go?” 

 

When Xena started down the road, Gabrielle quickly hoisted the other pack over her shoulder and paced herself to catch up. After she caught up and they walked awhile, Gabrielle cautiously asked the million-dinar question. “How come you’re not going ballistic over that story?”

 

Xena slowed her pace, regarded the question with a long slow exhale and lingering gaze up to the sky.  “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.”  She paused to reflect. “ No, make that two swings.”  I would’ve never taken that little girl’s head off.  But I did have a problem with the part about dumping my ashes in that pool.”  Narrowing her eyes, she took a deep breath.  “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.  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?”

 

“You will always be my hero.”

 

The warrior’s face molded into a content smile.  “You wanna know what else?” she replied, capturing Gabrielle with a misty blue gaze.

 

“What?”

 

“You’ll always be mine 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.

 

 

THE END

 

 

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