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The characters of Xena, Gabrielle, Janice and Mel are owned by MCA/Universal and no copyright infringement is intended by this work.

This piece is essentially an "alt" adventure with some hurt/comfort. The depiction of the physical intimacy between the heroines is left mostly to the reader's imagination. As in most X:WP fanfiction there is some violence and peril to the main characters, but I'm not one to go in for reading too much gore much less writing it so it's kept to a minimum.

I have to give special thanks to my editor, Benet, an absolute gem I discovered through Lunacy's beta reader registry, whose extraordinary patience and editing prowess has resulted in dramatic improvement to this piece. (Thanks, Benet, for all your help!!!)

Where You Go, I Go

by Yellowjacket

Part 1 of 5

Mel lay studying her lover's face in the soft moonlight that glowed through the window of their bedroom. Her body still thrummed from the intense passion she had shared with her lover and she debated a little about rousing Janice from her sensual bliss to indulge in another wave of carnal extravagance. She reached her hand to Janice's face and ran the tip of her index finger across her forehead, pushing the red gold hair back off her face.

The two years they had been together had been an idyllic dream to Mel. The first year they had traveled the world as Janice's work had taken them to exotic lands, showing Mel excitement and adventure the mild mannered southern belle would never have otherwise experienced. Though Janice would have preferred to stay in Greece, the war had made the area too dangerous. They tried to stay ahead of the spreading Nazi control until finally, Janice decided to return to the States until the war ended.

They had ended up at Mel's home in South Carolina. Though Mel was sure of her knowledge of the ancient languages she had learned under her father's stern tutelage, Janice wanted Mel to have the academic credentials to prove it. So Janice had talked Mel into pursuing her Ph.D.

Mel threw herself into her graduate studies, research and writing with determination to complete the degree in as short a time as was possible. If she continued to apply herself to her thesis as she had in the last year she estimated it would be less than a year before she'd have her doctorate.

At first Mel had resisted Janice's arguments about pursuing the degree, afraid that the necessity of staying in one place for an extended period would be unbearable for her adventurous partner. But Janice had found employment as the director of a museum and that had kept her reasonably content though somewhat restive through the last year.

Mel tenderly caressed across Janice's shoulder and down her arm, enjoying the sensuous feel of the soft skin under her fingertips. Janice's eyes fluttered open at Mel's touch. "Again?" she asked with an inviting grin and a smoldering glint in her green eyes. It was all the invitation Mel needed as she leaned in to take the archaeologist's lips prisoner with her own.

Irritably, Janice read the letter for the third time. It was from the director of a private museum with whom she was negotiating a trade of artifacts. She sighed in frustration. Though the specific artifacts of the trade were agreed on, the mundane details of mode of transportation, security and insurance of the shipment seemed to be gumming up the works. This latest missive insisted on the employment of The Pinkerton Agency to guard the shipments while in cross country transit; a suggestion that would cost more money than Janice's publicly funded budget could afford. She tapped her pen on the desk in annoyance, thinking how to more economically solve the security issues to keep the deal from falling apart.

In the year since Janice had become director of the museum, she had tried to create a balance in the Museum's collection. Through a series of trades she had selectively pruned the overblown Egyptian and African exhibits of inferior pieces and had acquired many fine pieces of Asian, Incan, Roman and Greek antiquities to round out those collections. She had plans to focus on the remaining collections in the near future. She had reorganized many of the exhibits, rewritten the lecture materials recited by the tour guides, and instituted a weekly lecture series that had museum attendance figures climbing at a steady rate in testament to her efforts. This latest deal was important to her and she would not let it fail even if she had to guard the shipments herself.

The intercom buzzed and Janice testily punched the talk button. "Yes, Mildred?"

"Dr. Covington, Mr. Killian is here to see you," a crackly voice responded from the box on her desk.

Janice glanced at her watch. 'Two o'clock sharp, very punctual,' she noted with approval. She hit the talk button again. "Send him in."

As Mildred, Janice's ever efficient secretary, escorted the visitor in and made introductions, Janice surveyed the man -- about 50 years old, medium height, medium weight, medium brown hair of medium length, everything about the man seemed...medium. He had a bland look that would make him invisible in any crowd and Janice sensed that it was a trait that had been cultivated. He carried a leather satchel which looked rather luxurious when contrasted with the rest of his appearance. Janice stood to shake hands and led her visitor towards a grouping of wing backed chairs set about a low square table near the window. The man took a seat, placing the satchel protectively across his knees.

"Can I offer you something to drink, Mr. Killian? Iced tea? Coffee?..." Janice offered. When he declined Janice dismissed the hovering secretary with a courteous "Thanks, Mildred, that will be all."

She settled herself in the chair to the right of her visitor. "So, Mr. Killian, your phone call this morning piqued my curiosity... I'm anxious to hear about this 'interesting opportunity' you spoke of."

"Please, Dr. Covington, call me Bill," the man offered with an open smile.

"Ok, Bill, but you've got to call me Janice then."

"Well, Janice, my employer has come into possession of a rare Mayan codex which would seem to reveal what could be the location of a hidden city...perhaps the fabled lost city in which a good portion of the wealth of the Mayan nation was hidden when the Spaniards conquered Central America in the 16th century. My employer would like to hire you to lead an expedition."

"Just who is this employer of yours," Janice inquired.

"I'm afraid I can't reveal that...let's just say he's a private collector with more than enough money to fund this venture who, for security reasons, prefers to remain anonymous."

Janice sat back, rubbing her chin with her index finger. 'Hmmm... rich, secretive, and eccentric... Hearst? Hughes?... Maybe it didn't matter, best to hear the whole story before reacting.'

"All right, so Big Daddy stays unknown. Tell me something... why me? My expertise lies in Greek and Roman cultures. I'd think you'd want someone specializing in Mayan archaeology... perhaps Henry Jones or Giles Healey?"

"Dr. Jones was number one on our list, but we haven't been able to locate him. My employer directed me to contact the only other name on the list... you. It seems that specific academic credentials in Mayan archaeology are less desirable than an ability to work in -- how can I put this -- an environment that might require quick thinking and resourcefulness."

"In other words you have reason to believe it's a dangerous undertaking," Janice surmised.

"Quite dangerous," Killian admitted bluntly. "Over the last six months we sent in three teams. None were heard from again."

Janice sat forward, her elbows on her knees, her fingers steepled under her chin. A gleam of hungry anticipation shone in her pale green eyes. In the last year she had constantly struggled with her basic desire for adventure, living a quiet domesticated life with Mel while her partner worked on her degree. Now, it seemed an adventure was being offered to her on a silver platter and her nerves were tingling with excitement. "I'm interested," she encouraged him to go on.

"I must first have your word that what I am about to show you you will not reveal to anyone else."

"I will have to tell my partner. I can't possibly accept your offer without discussing it with her first."

"That would be acceptable. I had assumed you would need to confer with Miss Pappas," Killian replied easily. "If you can vouch for her confidentiality on the matter you are welcome to discuss it with her."

'This guy does his homework,' Janice thought, surprised at his foreknowledge of her partner. "I give you my word, we will keep this in strictest confidence."

Killian pulled the leather straps of the satchel through the buckles and flipped the leather cover back, extracting a file folder then closing the leather cover back over the satchel but not bothering to secure it. "When the Spaniards invaded the Mayan territories in the mid 16th century they systematically set about destroying the written legacy of that culture. The Mayan priests, realizing that they would soon be conquered, were rumored to have hidden their most sacred books and a tremendous cache of wealth in a hidden city deep in the jungle. The Spaniards used their expertise in torture to try to extract the location of the hidden city from the priests but they each died without revealing the location.

"Over the course of the next four hundred years many have gone looking for the fabled lost city. Most of them never came back. In 1938 the religious center of Coracol was discovered and in that city was found a Mayan codex written by a priest almost four hundred years ago. The codex ended up in the hands of my employer." Killian handed the file folder to Janice. "These are translations of the relevant passages of the codex which give rather vague directions to what it describes as the 'Temple of Knowledge'."

Janice leafed through the thin sheaf of papers in the folder, reading neatly typed text and quickly scanning a couple of drawings of crude maps. Killian waited patiently for a response.

"I'm guessing from these maps that this hidden city is somewhere in what is now Honduras," Janice ventured.

"Yes. We figure about 50 miles in from the east coast, deep in the jungle, just south of the border with Guatemala."

"That's pretty rough territory. No wonder you've lost three teams. Accepting that kind of risk doesn't come cheap. What sort of terms is your employer offering for the job?"

"Naturally all of your expenses will be covered plus a $10,000 retainer and a $40,000 bonus should you succeed in your mission. Anything you find on the mission becomes the property of our employer and you must keep everything you find confidential."

Janice wavered for a moment at the confidentiality condition, but the prospect of the adventure already had her palms sweating and he was offering what seemed like a king's ransom for the job. "I'm very interested in this, Bill. But as I said, I have to discuss it with my partner. I'll talk to her tonight and have an answer for you tomorrow."

Killian pointed towards the papers in Janice's hands. "I'll need those back now. If you accept the job you'll get them back."

Janice handed the papers back to Killian. "Meet me here in the morning, say 9:00. I'll have an answer for you."

The museum closed at 6:00 and Janice quickly changed into her sweat suit and sneakers. By 6:01 she was heading for home with her gray slacks and white blouse rolled into a ball in the knapsack on her back. Ordinarily she jogged a brisk pace for the five miles between the museum and the modest home she shared with Mel, but today she ran at top speed nearly all the way home. To her relief she saw Mel's Packard in the driveway.

Janice entered the foyer, dropping her knapsack just inside the door and called breathlessly, "Hey, Mel! Where are ya?" She stopped short and frowned, hearing no response. Then she saw one of Mel's skirts laying on the floor. She picked up the errant garment and headed further into the house. "Mel?" she called again. Still no answer. She reached the staircase to find Mel's silk blouse hanging on the balustrade. She looked up the stairs to see another piece of clothing laying near the top. A flush coursed through her and she bounded up the steps, smirking happily as she followed a trail of garments that led to the bathroom.

Janice eased the door open and stepped into the warm steamy room where she found her partner luxuriating in a bubble bath. She closed the door quickly before the heat escaped.

"I've been thinking about you all day." Mel purred without moving or opening her eyes.

Janice knelt beside the tub. "Mel, I got something I've got to talk to you about."

Mel twisted to lean against the side of the tub and pulled Janice in for a sizzling kiss, finally surfacing for air. "Can it wait, Janice? Cause I just can't." she assaulted the archaeologist's lips again with her own.

Janice felt a rush of desire slam through her body as Mel plied her with searing kisses down her neck. Her wet hands slid brazenly under Janice's shirt and in less than 30 seconds Janice's focus of attention had shifted 180 degrees. She moaned as Mel's hand explored higher and she knew whatever it was that had seemed so important only a moment ago could wait till later.

"It'll wait." Janice husked as her hands worked frantically on shedding her clothes. In a matter of seconds she was joining her lover in the tub.

They lay totally spent and contented in each others arms. Mel was on her back with Janice sprawled nearly on top of her. Janice's stomach spoiled the languid mood with a loud rumble.

Mel chuckled. "I guess we should get up and get some dinner," she suggested, planting a soft kiss on the top of Janice's head. "And I do believe you said you have something to talk to me about?"

Janice rolled off her lover to the edge of the bed. Pulling herself reluctantly to her feet. She slid into a tee shirt and shorts then picked up the damp towels they'd thrown on the floor after their bath and headed to the bathroom to hang them on a rack to dry. She headed down to the kitchen where she found Mel studying the contents of the refrigerator with a scowl.

"We've got leftover chicken, leftover spaghetti and leftover tuna casserole."

"The operative word here being 'leftover', eh?" Janice grinned. "I'll take the spaghetti."

When they finally sat down to dinner Janice began to describe the visit from Bill Killian, leaving out the part about the three teams that were now missing and presumed dead. By the end of the story Mel had an undecipherable expression on her face that made Janice a little nervous.

Mel finished the last of her meal and sat back, watching Janice closely. She knew the archaeologist all too well and one thing she was certain of - Janice was holding out on her about something. She took a sip of wine and prepared for a skirmish. 'Best to get her off balance first,' she thought.

"It sounds like you really want to accept this job, Janice. I know how hard it's been for you this last year, must be kind of boring for someone as used to adventure and danger as you are to be trapped in a humdrum life like this."

Janice stopped her fork in mid air and blinked in surprise. She lowered the fork and gaped at her partner. "Is that what you think, that I'm 'trapped' here?" she began incredulously. "Mel, I'm not trapped anywhere. I'm here because we both agreed that this is the best place for us, until you get your degree and until the war is over. I admit it's not the devil may care life I led before I met you, but my priorities have changed and I'm doing what's best for us. In a year or two, when the world has returned to sanity and if you're willing, we'll be traipsing around Greece having all sorts of adventures. But for now, this is where I want to be... with you... always with you.

"As for Killian's offer, well, it does sound like my idea of fun, should only take about two weeks, a month at the most. And the payoff... well, I won't be sharing in the finds, nor getting any credit for it if we find the lost city... but on a practical side, the money I could get would be enough to set us up when we get back to Greece. We both know that even with your trust annuity and my salary we're not saving much right now."

Mel considered Janice's words, finding a reassurance there that she wasn't even aware she had needed. Looking at it practically, it seemed to make a lot of sense. "All right," she came to a decision. "When do we leave?"

Janice blinked in surprise. "Um... Mel, honey, I was thinking... you wouldn't be along for this one," she stammered uncomfortably.

Mel's insecurities blazed back with a vengeance. "Why not," she asked sharply.

"Well, first there's your thesis. You've been working real hard on that and I wouldn't want to ruin you're momentum. I know how hard it is to get started again when you take a break on something like that."

"I don't think that'll be a problem. Besides, I'm way ahead of schedule and to tell you the truth I'm about ready for a vacation from keeping my nose to the grindstone. A two to four week break sounds just about right."

Janice was beginning to panic. Somehow she had thought Mel would have agreed with her argument. She hadn't been prepared with a plan B. Her mind scrambled quickly. "You know, Central America is hot and humid and miserable this time of year. It'll be days of jungle hiking, carrying heavy packs, tormented by insects, sleeping in the rough. Nothing like working from a camp site like you've been used to," she offered dissuasively.

"Janice, I'm not fragile and I'm not adverse to hard work and if there is one thing I thought we had settled between us it is that where you go, I go. So, why don't you tell me what's the real reason you're trying so hard to keep me from going on this trip," she asked, her blue eyes boring intently into her partner.

Janice bit her lip, realizing Mel had had her figured out from the beginning. "I think it's too dangerous. Killian said they'd sent in three teams over the last six months, they haven't heard from them," she blurted.

Mel's eyes narrowed in a glare. "Is that all of it?"

Janice squirmed guiltily. "Yeah." She met Mel's eyes bravely.

Mel continued her glare, probing for other such crimes of omission. She drummed her fingers lightly on the table, holding Janice's gaze for a tense moment. At last, convinced that her lover was not holding out on her, she leaned forward, her voice steady and firm. "Here's the deal, Janice, for now and for the future. If it's too dangerous for me to go along then it's too dangerous for you and I forbid you to go. I leave it up to your judgment to decide if a situation is too dangerous or not. Don't you *ever* try duping me like that again. Is that clear?" her eyes flashed an intense blue.

Janice swallowed hard. "Yes, ma'am," she responded meekly, releasing her tension in one long breath and readying herself for a tirade she knew she deserved. She was totally thrown when Mel flashed her a bright smile instead.

"Good, I'm glad that's settled. As I asked before, when do we leave?"

Janice grinned in nervous relief. "Well, I'm to meet with Bill Killian tomorrow at 9:00, maybe you should be there to help work out the details."

Janice sat in her desk chair with a lap full of Mel who was engaging her in an intense game of lip wrestling when the intercom buzzed. Wresting her lips from the southern beauty, Janice struggled to catch her breath before hitting the talk button. "Yes, Mildred?" she rasped.

"Mr. Killian to see you, Dr. Covington," crackled the speaker.

"Send him in," Janice responded as Mel reluctantly scrambled from her lap.

Bill Killian was shown in, looking every bit as medium as he had the day before. He exchanged greetings with Janice and shook hands with Mel as he was introduced, the threesome then settled down for some discussion.

"Bill, Mel and I had a discussion about the job you propose and I'm leaning very strongly towards accepting it. Mel came up with some questions and since she'll be accompanying me I thought she should be here as part of this meeting."

Killian gave Mel an assessing look. "Ms. Pappas, you might want to reconsider that. The jungle is a rather hard and dangerous place..." he began condescendingly.

Mel gave him a piercing look. "I've already seen that song and dance. Where Janice goes, I go. It's settled." she growled.

A quick look to the smirking archaeologist and Killian knew to drop the issue. "Ok, but just so it's understood, the fee is fixed, whether one of you go or two of you."

"Understood," Janice said. "Mel would like to see the copies of the Codex translations you showed me yesterday."

Killian produced the requested items from his satchel and handed them to Mel who began a quick scan of the documents while listening peripherally to Janice and Killian as they spoke.

"When do you propose that we leave on this expedition," Janice inquired.

"My employer is quite anxious, I dare say as soon as you can be ready we'll arrange for your transport. We'd rather you avoid public transportation into the country, foreigners are a... curiosity that attract an unsavory following. We'll provide a plane to Mexico, from there you'll switch to a smaller craft which will fly you to the coast of Honduras. We'll hire a banana boat to take you inland by river which should drop you off with about thirty miles of jungle to hike through."

"I suppose it'll take me a couple of days to put a team together once I get there," Janice mused.

"A team has been assembled and is awaiting your arrival," Killian responded efficiently.

Janice looked sharply at Killian. "I prefer to pick my own team. I like to know who I've got standing behind me when things get rough," she tensed.

Killian shook his head. "I'm afraid our employer won't allow that. The team was selected from people who are... trusted associates of our employer. As I mentioned, confidentiality is of utmost concern and these men are guaranteed to keep their mouths shut about anything they might see. This is not negotiable."

Janice cast an unhappy glance to Mel who looked up from her papers and shrugged. "It's your call, Janice."

Janice felt an uneasy twist to her stomach but wrote it off against her natural inclination to distrust. "All right," she agreed reluctantly.

"Mr. Killian, I've been scanning these translations of the Mayan codex," Mel indicated the sheaf of papers she held in her hands. "I'd like to see it in the original text. Can you get me copies?"

Killian looked uncomfortably at Mel, not at all prepared for the request. "I suppose I could get you copies of the relevant passages."

"No, not just the relevant passages. I want the entire section of the codex, reproduced to the finest detail. Also, a photographic plate of the original text."

Killian squirmed. "Ms. Pappas, I assure you, everything you need to know is in the translations I provided you," he pointed to the file folder she held.

Mel caught Janice's eye and raised an eyebrow. Janice got the message. "Bill, Mel is an expert in translating ancient writings and if we're going to put our lives in danger we at least want *all* the information we can get. *This* is not negotiable," Janice stated unequivocally.

"I don't have the authority to agree to that condition," Killian answered sourly.

"Then you can check with your employer and get back to us," Mel responded sweetly.

Killian looked to Janice who only nodded in agreement with her partner. "Is there a phone I can use?"

Janice pointed to the phone on her desk then she and Mel stepped out of the office to give the man privacy. A minute later he beckoned them back. "Apparently your conditions are agreeable. A courier will drop the materials off this afternoon, just tell me where you want them."

By two o'clock that afternoon Mel was at home with the requested copies, absorbed in a selective rough translation of the 20 pages of text now spread around her on the floor of her study. It had been several years since Mel had worked in Mayan glyphs and with nearly 700 characters in the written Mayan language the translation was a slow and painstaking process. Mel had isolated the passages in the codex which described the long lost temple and focused on translating that section.

Janice found her partner bent over her work when she got home at her usual 6:30. She slid to the floor beside Mel and gave her a warm kiss, getting a distracted return on her investment. Mel was frowning and Janice didn't like that at all. "Ya gonna tell me what's got you worried or you going to make me wait?"

Mel looked up from her notes, her blue eyes clouded with the lore she had been immersed in for the last several hours. "There's a lot here that our friend Mr. Killian was obviously hoping we wouldn't see. Perhaps the information that might have kept those earlier teams alive had they heeded the warnings. This appears to give directions to the hidden city all right, but it warns that the temple is guarded by Kinich Ahau, the sun god, and it promises death to those who would enter the Temple of Knowledge without the proper sacrifice."

Janice relaxed a little and smiled at her partner. "Well, that's not much of a problem for us. We'll find the city and confirm it's location to our employer. Nothing in the deal says we have to enter the Temple, does it?"

Mel thought for a moment, looking for a flaw in Janice's statement. "I guess you're right." she admitted, but there was still a niggling feeling in the back of her head that was trying to break through with a warning. The feeling was quickly forgotten as Janice's lips started a tour of her neck and Mel felt a sharp nip that sent her pulse to racing. In another minute she found herself on her back amidst papers and note pads and reference books with an experienced archaeologist boldly exploring every square inch of her body.

They had spent the day shopping and Janice, who usually hated shopping, was in her glory while Mel, who usually viewed shopping as a religious experience, was in misery.

"If I see any more khaki today I'm gonna puke," Mel drawled in a wretched tone as she deposited her packages on the bed.

Janice smirked. "Now I'm tellin ya, you're going to thank me for this. That's the only material you can wear in a jungle. Because of the humidity, other materials don't dry and they mold up in a couple of days."

"But why doesn't it come in any other color than beige?" Mel whined pathetically.

"What's wrong with beige?" Janice grinned merrily as she pulled stuff out of the packages and began arranging piles to fill their backpacks.

Mel rolled her eyes. "And those boots... couldn't ya find any uglier ones?"

"Mel, you need them to be waterproof for sloshing through streams, and thick enough and high enough to protect you from snake bites. This is the jungle we're headed for. Proper equipment is a matter of survival," she explained tolerantly.

Janice finished stuffing the backpacks with their new purchases then went to her closet where she pulled out a small canvas bag which she toted to the bed. She pulled the bag open and extracted her bullwhip which she regularly oiled and flexed to keep it from drying and stiffening. She ran her hand lightly along the braided leather then tucked the coil into her backpack. She pulled a small wooden box from the canvas bag and opened it, extracting her revolver, a belt and holster, all of which showed that they too had been regularly cleaned and oiled. She slid the weapon into the holster then carefully packed it into the backpack along with a box of 200 shells.

Mel watched as Janice packed what she had come to think of as her survival kit. The almost reverent way she handled her weapons. Janice looked up and caught a gentle smirk on Mel's face. "What are you grinning about?"

"I thought I was the only one you loved." Her eyes flicked to the knapsack.

Janice grinned, somewhat embarrassed that her sentimentality had been so obvious. She crawled across the bed on her knees to where Mel was standing. "Oh, I love you all, but I lust only for you," she husked, grabbing Mel's hand and pulling her onto the bed on her knees. Inevitably, their lips met in a slow sultry kiss and Janice felt Mel's hands working expertly at her belt as her lips wandered down the archaeologist's neck. "You know, this is the last night we're going to sleep in a real bed for a while."

Mel raised her lips from Janice's throat. "Then we should make the most of it, wouldn't ya say?" she nibbled lightly at Janice's ear, drawing a sharp gasp from the woman.

Janice felt a tremor of desire quake through her body and she pushed Mel down to the bed, kicking their backpacks to the floor and out of their way. Mel's hands had worked their way into Janice's pants and Janice felt herself willingly surrendering to the irresistible power that Mel possessed over her.

Mel was still grousing about her clothing when the plane touched down in Mexico. Janice had insisted that she dress in her khakis for the trip since it meant less for them to carry.

Janice looked back at the plane they'd just disembarked from. On the outside it looked like a nondescript DC-9, but inside it had a comfortable passenger compartment resembling a living room more than a passenger airliner. No commercial markings were evident. A private plane for their very private employer.

They were met by a dark skinned man named Chico who spoke a broken English with a thick Spanish accent. He bowed when he introduced himself and apologized profusely at the condition of his battered old pick-up truck as he loaded their packs in the back.

Janice had to grin, the truck wistfully reminded her of the pick-up she'd had back in Greece, when she'd first met Mel. She sure missed that old truck. She flushed as she remembered making heated love to Mel in the cramped cab in a torrential downpour that had forced them off the road. She caught Mel grinning at her and knew her partner knew what she'd been thinking. Her face flushed even hotter at being caught in her sentimentality yet again. Mel chuckled then crawled into the cab of the truck.

An hour's drive down the bumpiest road... if you could call it that... that Janice had ever been on and Janice and Mel found themselves on a dock where a small four seater plane fitted with pontoons gently bobbed on the warm Gulf waters. Janice eyed the plane suspiciously while Chico handed their gear to the pilot who stowed it behind the seats.

Mel paced the dock somewhat anxiously. She was not looking forward to the upcoming flight. Though it would only last an hour, the little plane looked in not much better condition then Chico's battered truck which had belched sporadically the entire time. Her anxiety increased when the pilot hit the ignition and the propellers spun once then stopped with a loud bang and puff of black smoke. Three more tries yielded the same results and Mel was ready to say a prayer of thanks that the engines wouldn't start when, to her chagrin, they finally caught and the propellers spun in a rough rhythm before smoothing out to a loud roar.

Janice climbed into the plane and motioned for Mel to follow. The translator swallowed her fear, bravely following her lover to what she assumed would be their deaths. She took her seat beside Janice and grabbed her hand, holding it tight.

The plane landed hard on the choppy waters but Mel was just glad to have landed safely at all. The plane taxied slowly towards the shore then the engines were cut and the resulting silence seemed deafening. A small punt put out from shore, it's outboard motor coughing harshly as it bested the small swells of the water. The punt pulled alongside the plane and Janice pushed the door open and climbed out, indicating to Mel to pass their gear out to her. Finally Mel crawled into the boat and Janice and the boatman pushed off from the plane. With a wave to the pilot the boatman started his peripatetic engine and they headed towards shore.

They landed on a barren beach with no sign of human habitation. Without ever saying a word the boatman carried their backpacks up the beach where he set them in the sand. Mel and Janice followed. He walked back to the boat and pushed it out to the water, jumped in and motored away, never having uttered even a single word.

Janice unbuckled her knapsack. Retrieving her gun and holster, she belted it around her waist with the gun hanging comfortably low over her right hip. She attached her coiled whip to her belt with a snap on a leather thong then pulled her battered fedora out of the pack, setting it on her head with the brim pulled low. She stood and surveyed the thick line of trees that lay before them. Absently, she pulled a thin cigar from her jacket pocket and with a flick of her zippo, took a long drag and reveled in the vibrant exhilaration thrumming through her body.

Mel's anxieties were at full tilt. Still unsettled by the flight in the derelict seaplane, spooked by the empty beach, she felt her nerves jingling from head to toe. Her eyes darted wildly, trying to discern movement in the brush that might reveal their expected welcoming committee. She turned to Janice for reassurance and her jaw dropped. Her partner stood scanning their surroundings, a feral look blazing in her eyes, an intense smile of pure enjoyment that Mel recognized then realized she hadn't seen in over a year. In a flash of insight she saw Janice in her element... a wild, untameable tigress... a thing of savage beauty who reached out with both hands to grab fist fulls of life. A sharp wave of guilt tore through her as she realized the depth of the sacrifices Janice made in allowing herself to be turned into the equivalent of a domesticated house cat.

Janice turned towards Mel, her cigar dangling lightly from the side of her mouth, and Mel's heart nearly stopped. The clothes, hat, gun, whip, the cigar, her stance, even the quirky smile on her lips where exactly like they had been that day over two years ago when she'd first set eyes on the archaeologist. Her heart started racing and she felt her throat go dry, just like they had when she'd fallen in love at the first sight of her lover. Mel felt a heated flush surge through her body and one thought screamed through her mind. She wanted Janice to take her right there on the open beach.

Janice saw the lust flare in Mel's eyes and felt her own body responding to the look. She stood, savoring the sensual tension, aching to drive her lover to the ground and ravish her senseless, when the sound of movement in the brush snapped her attention back to the forest.

Mel released the breath she hadn't even realized she'd been holding as her eyes followed Janice's gaze. She moved to stand beside her partner. "You hear something?" she whispered.

Janice held up her left hand for silence, her right hand rested firmly on the gun on her hip. The bushes parted and a lone figure emerged, stopping when he reached the open beach. His arms hung loosely at his side, a machete dangled from a thong around his wrist, a rifle slung across his back, pistol holstered at his hip.

Janice moved to stand warily between Mel and the new arrival.

"Dr. Covington," he queried in a deep gravelly voice.

"I'm Janice Covington."

"I'm Santos Zelaya. Welcome to Honduras," he said in a tone that did not sound as welcoming as his words.

Janice relaxed as she took a moment to study their guide. Bill Killian had provided her with a short biography of the man and he seemed to have more than enough experience in jungle survival. He was a native of Honduras who made his living from hunting and trapping big game. He was a big man, easily six inches taller than Mel, and weighed a good 200 pounds, all of which appeared to be hard muscle. As could be expected of the people indigenous to the area, his skin was a rich copper color and he had dark wavy hair and eyes as dark as charcoal. He was handsome in a rugged way, but the hard expression he wore made him seem a little frightening. He gazed unflinchingly back at Janice, taking stock in her as openly as she was taking it in him.

His eyes drifted to Mel and they widened almost imperceptibly. A slow smile spread at the corners of his mouth and Janice felt a chill run down her spine though the temperature was hovering close to ninety. "And you would be Miss Pappas." his pearl white teeth shone as he favored her with a smile that gentled his features and made Janice think he could easily be a leading man in the movies.

Mel had watched the exchange of looks between Janice and Santos and felt a trepidation at the obvious tension. His warm greeting eased her anxiety a little but a quick glance to Janice kept her on edge. She stepped around Janice towards the man and extended her hand to return his greeting. "Hello, I'm Melinda Pappas, but everyone calls me Mel," she offered graciously.

He shook her hand obligingly and held it for a moment as he studied her face closely. "Pleased to meet you, Mel," he fairly oozed with charm.

Janice picked up her backpack and settled into the straps. "It's getting late, we should be going. Santos, where are the others?"

Santos strolled over and picked up Mel's pack, slinging it easily over one shoulder. "We set up camp for the night near the river, about two miles north of Telas. We'll start up river first thing in the morning." He headed into the forest with Mel following and Janice bringing up the rear.

They moved single file through the thick foliage with Santos occasionally slashing through the vegetation with his machete. Janice trudged along, dolefully thinking she may have made a major mistake accepting this job...bringing Mel here... 'Perhaps they should turn around before it was too late, they could hike to Telas and arrange transportation home.' she thought. She was seriously rattled and she couldn't figure out why.

'Come on, get it together, Covington,' she chastised herself. 'A year of living the soft life and you've lost your nerve? Fear? Is that what you're feeling? Nah, can't be that... So why are my nerves jingling like this? Perhaps the difference is I now have so much more to live for... so much more to lose.' Her eyes were fixed on the tall dark haired woman walking several paces ahead of her.

The shadows were beginning to lengthen as the sun prepared to set when the murmur of voices could be heard and they soon emerged on a small camp site. Five men stood turned in their direction in tense anticipation of the unknown. When they saw Santos they relaxed and waited expectantly.

Santos dropped Mel's pack before one of the tents and Janice dropped her burden next to it. "Let's meet the troops."

After meeting the small band of men they had shared a quiet meal that had been waiting for them. Then Janice got to work. She wanted to check to see that all the supplies she had requested had been provided and together she and Santos planned the distribution of supplies so that each man and woman carried their fair load.

"You ordered too much," Santos criticized. "Duplicating some of these items is just giving us more to carry. We need to travel as light as possible."

"I happen to think that having duplicates of supplies that are vital to survival is a necessity, not an option. What if we need to split up? What if a pack gets lost with something we need? We take two medical kits, two snake bite kits, and two water purification kits, and that's final," she insisted. Santos glared with a look of disdain but clenched his jaw and stayed silent, relenting to Janice's authority.

Santos pulled a small unmarked wooden crate out of a larger one. "What's this," he asked Janice.

"That's a radio beacon. When we find the city we set that up so the follow up teams can home in on it. It'll broadcast a signal for a couple of months."

Having uncrated all the supplies and sorted them in piles, the rest of their group were called over and they began to load their backpacks with packaged food and various supplies like cooking utensils, ropes, med kits, and other provisions they would all share. Each team member was issued a full canteen, flashlight, machete, bedroll and a rifle.

Santos handed Mel a rifle. "You need someone to show you how to use this," he asked gruffly.

"I don't like guns, but I know how to use them. Janice made sure of that," she assured, checking the safety then levering the bolt back to check that the gun was not loaded.

"Glad to hear that," Santos said. "Ok, we're going to pair up. Each man and his partner will share a tent. In the morning when we strike camp one man carries the tent, the other carries his own and his partner's sleeping bag. The weight and bulk should work out about the same. I suggest you all turn in soon, the boat will be here at dawn to take us upriver. We'll post a guard, drawing lots to determine the schedule for one hour shifts. You wake the next guy when your shift is over."

Mel thumbed through a small reference book, the Rosetta stone of the Mayan language, a book based on Friar de Landa's alphabet of the Mayan language. It was ironic that though the Spanish conquerors had nearly eradicated the Mayan texts it was one of their priests that had compiled a translating dictionary of the symbols used in the Mayan written language.

By the dim glow of the kerosene lantern Mel was continuing her work on translating a section of the codex while waiting for Janice to come in from her turn on guard duty. Janice had drawn the first shift, Mel had lucked out because only six shifts were needed and she had drawn one of the blank chits. Though exhausted from their long day of travel, she wanted to continue her study of the Mayan codex to see if it would reveal more about what they were walking into, so she forced herself to stay awake until Janice could join her.

Mel focused her efforts on the part concerning entry to the temple and was again struck by how a culture that had been so advanced in astronomy, architecture, agriculture, mathematics, and medicine could be so brutal in its spiritual practices. The Mayans, whose culture flourished for nearly 3,000 years, who worshipped over 190 gods and goddesses and built entire cities solely for religious observations, had practiced human sacrifice on a regular basis. Indeed, they had three different human sacrifice rituals, the Arrow sacrifice, which called for an arrow straight through the heart; the Well sacrifice which called for the victim to be thrown into a deep dry well where, if the fall didn't kill them, they died from exposure and dehydration; and the Heart sacrifice where the victim was laid on the altar atop a pyramid and their heart was savagely cut from their chest and offered, still beating, to the gods.

Mel's stomach twisted nervously at her translation notes. Her studies of the codex revealed that when the Mayan's sealed the Temple of Knowledge they called upon Kinich Ahau, the sun god, to guard the temple until the conquerors had been vanquished and the danger had passed. To safely enter the temple the sun god had to be appeased and it was the Heart sacrifice that was required.

Janice bent and entered the low tent, pulling the flaps down and zipping the entrance shut behind her then settling on her side of the sleeping bags with a grunt.

"Wouldn't it be cooler if we let the flaps open," Mel asked.

"Oh, it'd be cooler all right, but in the morning we'd have hundreds of flying and crawling insects and probably a few snakes, lizards and other not so friendly critters bunking with us. Besides, the temperature will drop quickly now that the sun has set. In another hour you'll need to get inside the sleeping bag."

Janice pulled off her hat and weapons, tossing the former to the corner of the small tent where her backpack sat and setting the later at the side of her sleeping bag. "Anything interesting in the codex," she asked while working the long laces out of her knee high boots.

Mel frowned. "It would appear that the temple is guarded by Kinich Ahau and that he'll settle for nothing less than the Heart sacrifice before he will let anyone set foot in the temple. Also, the city itself is protected by Yum Cimil, the god of death, and he would be offended if he, too, does not receive sacrifice. There is a reference to a prophecy that the temple would be sealed for 100 years at which time the sacrifices must be offered. Until then, all those who enter the temple will die."

Janice finished with her boots then set them off to the side. She lay down on her side on her sleeping bag with her head propped on her right hand while her left hand landed comfortably on Mel's thigh. "So if the prophecy is true then the temple would have been opened nearly 300 years ago and all the artifacts would more than likely have been removed."

Mel gathered her notes and copies of the codex into a neat pile and slid them into a waterproof plastic sleeve which she carefully sealed then stashed in her backpack. "Actually, the Mayan numerical system is very unique, it is a base 20 system so..."

"When they say 100 years in base 20 it actually means 400 years in our system." Janice finished, her eyes widening, her heart beating faster. "You're saying the prophecy predicted that the temple will be found and opened *now*?!!"

Mel nodded in affirmation then slid down to lay on her side on her sleeping bag facing Janice. "There's no definitive date in the codex about when the temple was sealed, but we know the Spanish began their invasion of the Mayans in the 1530's so it's certainly possible that the time for fulfillment of the prophecy is now."

Janice rolled over onto her back, her forearm across her eyes as her mind tried to grapple with the new information.

Mel worked her right hand under Janice's shirt where her fingertips started to trace a light pattern of circles across Janice's firm abs. She could easily sense a thick tension emanating from her partner. She nuzzled Janice's ear and got no response... not a good sign. Whispering, she asked, "What are you so worried about? Do you really think there's a god guarding that temple?"

Janice caught Mel's wandering hand with her own, entwining their fingers. "I didn't used to believe that there was a god, much less a variety of gods as worshipped by so many different cultures. But since we met Ares I've started thinking anything is possible. We have to accept that the Mayan gods could be every bit as real as the Greek gods or those of any other religious system. We have to be careful."

Mel pulled her hand away from Janice's and let it return to its gentle quest over the archaeologist's body. "I thought we already agreed we'd locate the lost city, but we wouldn't enter the temple." She leaned in and began a languid grazing against the hollow of Janice's throat, smiling at the sudden jump in the pulse point as her lips wandered across the soft skin.

Janice's body responded to Mel's touch, sending tingling warmth throughout her body. She smiled a little at the feeling. "No, we won't enter the temple." She shuddered as Mel's hand began a more aggressive stimulation, venturing smoothly over her breasts. "Mel..." she gasped weakly. "We can't... the tents are really close... they'll hear."

Mel breathed warmly in her ear. "Then we'll be really, really quiet." She whispered, nipping Janice's neck behind the ear, getting a soft moan from her partner.

"I'm not the one that makes all the noise," Janice husked, her hands already working on the buttons of Mel's shirt. She bit her lip to stifle a cry when Mel's hand slid slowly into her pants.

"We'll see about that." Mel challenged with a light chuckle as the soft invasion of her hand began to strip Janice of her senses.

A sharp bark from Santos just after sunrise roused everyone from their sleep. The tents were quickly struck, rolled up and lashed to backpacks as a distant putter of a motor became louder. They moved their gear to the river's edge, waiting for their transportation to arrive.

The boat was a flat bottomed skiff with high sides that rode high on the water because it was empty. It was about as wide and long as a bus and had an outboard motor that easily pushed it up the near stagnant river current. Ordinarily it plied its way up river with minimal cargo but its return trip was typically laden to overflowing with bananas or sugar cane from the large plantations that lined the river.

When the boat pulled to shore the small band quickly boarded, each carrying their packs. A couple of the men returned to shore to retrieve a square crate, about four feet on each side. When all were settled aboard the craft Santos picked up a long gaff and pushed the boat away from the shore. The pilot started the engine and they headed upriver.

A couple of hours on the water found most everyone at the bow of the boat, watching the scenery that alternated between expansive sugar cane and banana plantations and bits of untamed jungle. Santos sat on the crate in midship, frequently consulting a handful of maps and charting their progress up the waterway.

Occasionally they'd see the aftermath of a swathe of timbering operations, leaving scars of deadfall on the ravaged landscape. Janice shook her head angrily. "That's so foolish. For a quick buck they decimate the land, destroying in a month what took nature hundreds of years to create. You'd think they'd at least be smart enough to clean up after themselves and replant. But they'll just leave it like this and the rains will erode away the topsoil. In a hundred years, if they keep this up, they'll have driven half the plants and animals to extinction."

After a while they no longer saw plantations. They were far enough inland that civilization had not encroached. The canopy of trees seemed to thicken and rise higher, bending out over the river to form an umbrella over the water. The nature of the sounds changed to one of screeches, hoots and snarls as they penetrated further into the remote waterway. More and more frequently they caught sight of bands of monkeys skittering high in the trees, screeching aggressively at the small craft that invaded their world.

Mel saw some large dark forms moving through the water and she directed Janice's attention to them.

"Alligators..." Janice smiled. "You don't bother them, they won't bother you," she assured, pointing to the river bank where several of the large scaly creatures could be seen lounging lazily.

As mid-day approached the temperature leveled off at about ninety with the humidity making it feel rather oppressive. They were fortunate that the canopy of trees filtered most of the sun or they'd have baked to well-done in the open boat.

Janice left the small group at the bow and approached Santos, who had stayed distant from his companions throughout the six hours aboard the boat. She pulled out two of her cigars, offering one to the guide who took it with a gruff thanks. She sat next to him on the crate. "Any idea how much longer we have till we set ashore?"

Santos pointed at one of the maps. Janice recognized it as a reproduction of one from the Mayan codex. His finger traced some of the blue lines. "I've seen a lot of these tributaries, though I think some new ones have formed and some old ones have perhaps been rerouted. A lot can happen over four hundred years. According to this, there will be a split in the river, we'll take the fork to the right and then we'll come to another smaller river that feeds into this one. It'll be too small a channel even for a flat skiff like this so that's when we get out and walk. Shouldn't be much longer now."

Janice glanced up to the front of the boat, seeing Mel and some of the men laughing in conversation. For a moment she just sat taking in her lover's bright smile, then she refocused on the map. "Looks like our objective is near this mountain," her finger indicated on the map. "About 45, maybe 50 kilometers. Perhaps a three day hike if conditions aren't too bad."

Santos pulled a deep puff before flicking the stub of his cigar into the river. "Yeah, three days if your friend doesn't slow us up."

Janice looked at him sharply. "She'll keep up. Don't worry about that. Mel's a lot tougher than she looks," she growled then headed to the bow of the boat before she slugged the man.

A short time later the river forked and Janice felt a surge of excitement. She grabbed Mel's hand and squeezed it gently, getting a warm smile in return showing Mel's anticipation of the adventure. Finally, the narrow waterway they sought came into view ahead of them and the small crew scampered to their packs as the boat moved towards the shoreline.

The first two men off the boat sloshed through the muddy water to shore, pulling the craft closer to save the others a wetting. After the wooden crate was handed ashore, the rest of the contingent followed. The boatman cast off without sparing a glance and headed down the river.

A couple of the men picked the crate up and carried it away from the river's edge, discovering, to their dismay, an identical crate some fifty meters into the forest. They dropped their burden beside its twin and turned to Santos with a questioning look.

"I'd say we just found the first signs of the earlier expeditions," he surmised.

Mel looked to Janice for explanation. "What's in the crate?"

"That's an inflatable raft. Since we don't know how long we'll be, we don't know when to have the boat pick us up. When we're ready to return we'll just inflate the raft and float down river," she explained, eyeing the second crate uneasily.

"Let's get moving, we can still cover a lot of ground yet today." Santos pulled the group to order. "Just remember -- watch where you walk, follow the one in front of you and stay alert."

Progress was slow. The thick foliage tore at their bulky backpacks and the heat and humidity bore down on them relentlessly. The soft murky soil pulled thickly against their boots. Santos was in the lead, his machete deftly slicing through leaves and grass to expose the underlying earth, ever wary of what might be concealed in the ground cover.

Janice followed close behind Santos, her rifle at ready should their paths cross with one of the deadly denizens of the jungle. Loosely behind them trailed the rest of their troop. She could hear Mel's soft voice chuckling in conversation with one of the men, Phillippe, a tall handsome Jamaican with an easy broad smile that shown brilliantly against his near-black skin. He and Mel seemed to have taken a liking to each other and Janice could hear a mixture of their laughter. She grinned a little at their voices, his lyrical sing-song accent and her thick southern lilt almost made them sound like they weren't speaking the same language.

The next to last man in the line would periodically hack an X into a tree with a machete, marking the route for their return trip. The last man in the line carried his rifle at ready, acting as rear guard.

Janice called a halt after an hour of walking. Everyone gratefully dropped their packs where they stood, settled to the ground and reached for canteens. It was time for a five minute rest and then rotation of duties which they did every hour. Janice would take the lead and Santos would move to the second position. The two men at the rear would also switch.

Mel came forward to join Janice for a few minutes of their respite. Settling beside her lover on the ground.

"We'll need to find water soon," Santos said, his eyes scanning the dense jungle.

"Yeah, I've been watching. Haven't seen anything promising," Janice replied. Pulling out her bandana, she wiped her face then knotted the clothe around her neck to absorb the perspiration dripping down her neck.

"Can't we just use the water from the river we've been following," Mel asked.

Santos snorted. "Only if you want to die. That water is too stagnant, the microbes in it will kill you in days."

Mel's hand drifted to the near empty canteen at her waist. "Don't worry, Mel, we'll find a fresh water stream at its source. That's what we've been looking for. We run the water through a filter, treat it with a little chlorine and we're good to go. Not a problem. You just have to stay on top of finding a spring along the way," Janice assured.

Janice could hear movement through the brush before them as their movement sent the jungle creatures in flight. After five hours of hiking they had been lucky to have only distantly contacted anything remotely dangerous. Their path had brought them close to a surprised jaguar nervously protecting her cubs in the rocky crag behind her. The big cat snarled and the group froze, every member bringing their rifles to bear on the growling beast. They slowly retreated and circled widely around the agitated cat.

A chittering swarm of monkeys screeched at them, swinging deftly through the high trees, warning their clan and other forest creatures of the trespassers in their midst. Brightly colored toucans, macaw and quetzals squawked at the commotion then flew off in a dazzling rainbow of feathers. The jungle was alive and hundreds of eyes covertly watched their procession from deep within the sheltering flora.

Janice felt her boot sink into thick ooze and stopped to examine the ground. Noticing the trickle of water that pooled in her boot print she pointed it out to Santos who nodded and pulled his machete to follow the meager flow. In a few minutes they found a small spring, flowing slowly from a crevice in a rock formation. Santos scooped up a handful of the clear water and sniffed then dabbed his fingers and put a few drops to his lips to taste. He nodded faintly. "Looks good to me."

A couple of men were assigned to collect water while the others rested. One man patiently collected the trickling water in a flask then handed the flask to the other man who had retrieved a filter canister from his pack. He poured the water through the filter then collected it in a canteen. When the canteen was full he added a couple of drops of chlorine and moved on to the next canteen. They all took the opportunity to drink their fill since the water source was there and the water was naturally cool at its source from deep underground.

As Janice sat leaning against a tree, Mel sat next to her with her head tipped back and her eyes closed. Her shirt clung sweatily to her chest and Janice had to stifle an intense desire to run her hand over her partner's lightly heaving breasts. She tore her eyes from Mel, trying to distract herself from her lustful urges. She saw Santos sitting off alone a distance away with his eyes fixed steadily on Mel, a look of odd contemplation on his face.

Janice was used to men staring at Mel. She was, after all, an incredibly beautiful woman. It didn't bother her to see another lusting after the dark-haired beauty because she knew without a doubt that Mel only had eyes for her. But there was something about the hard look in Santos' dark eyes that made Janice feel a nervous twinge in her gut and her hand unconsciously moved to grip Mel's hand in a protective grasp.

Mel's eyes fluttered open at Janice's touch and she smiled then noticed a tense look on Janice's face. "What's wrong," She queried in a low voice. Mel followed Janice's gaze to Santos who seemed to have quickly averted his eyes away when Mel looked in his direction.

Janice rubbed the back of Mel's hand with her thumb. "Nothing... I'm just imagining things."

Mel looked back to Janice whose gaze followed Santos to where he was conversing with the water collection team.

"Like what?" Mel persisted. "Something about Santos?" She kept her voice low so only Janice could hear.

"Yeah, he makes me nervous... the way he stands off like that from everyone else."

"Oh, that's because he's Mayan."

"He's what?!!" Janice asked in surprise.

"He's full-blooded Mayan. Phillippe told me. They're kind of distant, keep to themselves... rarely marry outside their own people."

Janice's eyes drilled steadily into their guide at this information. It pitched her anxiety up a notch.

"What else did Phillippe tell you?"

"Well, he's really got a rather sad story. He left Jamaica about a year ago after his wife and child were killed in a hurricane. He had no family left and found it too painful to stay in Jamaica so he hired on to a cargo steamer and ended up here, working in the cane fields. Santos approached him two days ago and offered him a lot of money to join the expedition."

A discordant alarm clanged in Janice's mind. 'I thought Bill Killian said all our team members were long time trusted employees...'

Part 2