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Xena: Warrior Princess, Gabrielle, Melinda Pappas, Janice Covington and all other characters who have appeared in the syndicated series Xena: Warrior Princess, together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement was intended in the writing of this fan fiction. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.
NOTE: All works remain the (c) copyright of the original author. These may not be republished without the author's consent.
This story depicts scenes of graphic violence and/or their aftermath. Readers who are disturbed by or sensitive to this type of depiction may wish to read something other than this story.
This story depicts a love/sexual relationship between two consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age or if this type of story is illegal in the state or country in which you live, please do not read it. If depictions of this nature disturb you, you may wish to read something other than this story.
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
You may find it useful to read my other story "Vengeance Springs Eternal" before reading this one. It will explain more thoroughly the presence of one of the characters found herein, as well as certain other events mentioned along the way.
As always, I appreciate comments on my stories. Let me know what you think.
Xena: Warrior Princess
WRATH OF THE WAR GOD
By: Fu Bard
Chapter 1: THREE'S A CROWD
Xena peered around the corner, from the shadows of an ancient, arched doorway. She was watching a group of armor-clad men, who stood behind what appeared to be an altar. They were trying to pull a massive, stone block free from its eons old resting-place, in the center of a crumbling, limestone wall. Gabrielle brushed up against the leather-clad warrior as she joined her in spying on the soldiers. She returned the smile she'd received upon her arrival and placed her hand on Xena's arm in a show of support and love. Even during a dangerous mission, they couldn't put their feelings completely aside. Bodily contact was essential for both women, giving each of them strength and reassurance that the other was there, when push came to shove.
The two of them had made their way into the forgotten temple, following the warriors silently, as they'd been doing for many weeks now. Their long journey had brought them from Greece, across the Mediterranean Sea, to the north coast of what people would someday call Africa. They'd continued to follow the men across the dry, unforgiving desert, until the soldiers had come to the ancient, long-abandoned ruins, near an isolated oasis and far from any traveled routes. After camping overnight, beside the pool of life-giving water, the men had descended into the structure with lighted torches. A few minutes later, Xena and her young lover had moved through the entrance themselves and followed the warriors down into the bowels of the stone labyrinth...
Xena continued to watch the men struggle with the stone block, as she listened to their leader speak to the robed figure that accompanied them. The long, black robe that the man wore had a symbol emblazoned in red on its back. A symbol that Xena knew all too well - the symbol of Ares, God of War...
"Are you sure this is the right place?" the commander asked. "All these damned ruins look the same to me."
"I assure you," the robed figure replied, his voice full of arrogant confidence, "these are the ruins we were sent to find. The symbols on the entrance outside and in this very room are unmistakable. Soon Ares will control a power that will allow he and his loyal followers, to rule the entire world. Behind this wall of rock, lies the most powerful of weapons - one that will allow Ares to rid himself of those that block his plans for the future. With the help of the stone, our lord will claim this world as his own."
"What power does this stone possess, anyway?" the soldier asked.
"The power to trap souls," the priest replied, "and Ares wants that power."
"So that's it," Xena whispered, as she and Gabrielle exchanged worried looks. "When we heard about Ares' interest in this thing, I knew that it must be powerful. We can't let him get his hands on it."
Suddenly, Xena drew her sword and spun around, swinging it toward the throat of whomever it was sneaking up through the shadows behind her and Gabrielle. She halted the sword stroke, just before it decapitated the man who'd crept up behind them. His eyes went wide and he gulped involuntarily - causing the blade of Xena's sword to rise and fall, as it rode the up and down movement of his Adam's apple.
"I thought I told you to stay at the entrance," Xena whispered harshly to him, as she re-sheathed her weapon.
He took a deep breath and leaned against the wall with one hand while holding onto his bow with the other. "Hey, I'm not Jerkste... um, Joxer. I figured you might need some help and I think I'll be more useful down here than watching a doorway. Besides - you SUGGESTED that I cover the entrance, you didn't say that I HAD too." He gave her a cheery grin, happy with his logic.
He was the man from the future, whom Velasca had brought back when she had returned from her imprisonment. After some two thousand years trapped in solidified lava, she had been freed by the actions of a group of terrorists. Taking the Xena fan by force, she'd placed a spell on him, without his knowledge, and then returned to the past - hoping to use him against Xena and Gabrielle in a devious trap. But she hadn't counted on one thing. Though at first they couldn't stand one another, he and Ephiny, Regent Queen of the Amazons, had fallen in love. It was that love that had broken Velasca's evil spell, stopping her plans of vengeance months ago.
Xena sighed and resigned herself to his presence. Though he was a useful person at times, she was beginning to see why Ephiny had begged her to let Rick go along with them...
She and Gabrielle had been passing near the Amazon village, on their way to try to stop Ares' plans. After arguing against it, Xena had finally given in to Gabrielle's suggestion that they spend a night with the Amazons. Anyway, it would be a good place to leave Argo, since she wouldn't be going with them across the sea...
Ephiny was delighted to see them, as were the other female warriors. Gabrielle asked where Rick was and Ephiny told her that he and Xenan were out hunting with some of the other centaurs - but they'd be back by early evening, in plenty of time for the celebration. Since a visit from their true Queen was a rare occasion, a feast was hastily organized in Gabrielle's honor. She insisted that such a fuss wasn't needed, but Ephiny wouldn't take no for an answer. Besides, she had some important news for them anyway. Xena and Gabrielle were given the Queen's hut, where they rested until the revelry began, just before sunset...
They were gathered around the ceremonial bonfire, watching the younger women dance and sing, performing a ritual honoring the visiting queen, when Ephiny finally told them her good news. "By the way, Xenan is gonna have a sister - or a brother," she said, as she took a gulp from her flagon.
Gabrielle's face lit up and she embraced Ephiny, giving her a warm, joyful hug. "That's wonderful!" She said.
"Congratulations," Xena added, with a smile. "Does Rick know yet?"
Ephiny rolled her eyes, her face taking on an aggravated look. "Yes, he knows - and he's about to drive me insane!" She laughed, took another gulp of her drink, and began to speak - mimicking her consort's voice. "Why don't you let me carry that for you, Ephiny? Shouldn't you be resting more, Ephiny? Are you sure you need to be doing that, Ephiny? He's about to drive me crazy with his worrying and carrying on, and I'm not even showing yet!" She took another swig from her almost empty mug, as she stared into the fire.
"Ephiny," Gabrielle began, "since you're pregnant, should you be drinking that much?"
The Regent spun around to face her Queen. "Now don't you start too!" She said, her voice full of irritation... Then she seemed to get a grip on herself, and took Gabrielle's arm, gently. "I'm sorry for that - I'm only drinking cider, Gabrielle. It's just that Rick - well, he's trying to treat me like some helpless village girl, not an Amazon warrior. It's really beginning to get on my nerves! I know he only does it because he loves me and he's not fully used to Amazon ways, but it's not easy for me to deal with." The Regent Queen rubbed her jaw-line as she stared into the fire. "If he doesn't stop, I'm gonna have him flogged," she said, with a grin, "or banish him for a while..." She suddenly looked over toward Xena.
The Warrior Princess must've read her mind, because she spoke first. "No, Ephiny - we're gonna be gone for at least a few weeks, even a couple of months, so..."
"Perfect!" Ephiny said, a broad grin spanning her face. "He's been wanting to travel around some, to explore the 'ancient' world, as he calls it. If he went with you two, I know he'd be OK and it would be good for us to be apart for a time."
Gabrielle spoke now. "Ephiny, we'll be going to some pretty dangerous places and, without his weapons from the future, he could get into trouble."
Xena nodded her head in agreement. "He should wait until he has more training in using the weapons from this time, before he goes with us. You know how we seem to attract problems." She and Gabrielle exchanged a knowing smile. "Can he use our type of weapons at all?"
"Well, he sucks with a sword," Ephiny replied.
"Sucks?" Gabrielle asked. "What do you mean?" Xena looked equally confused by the unfamiliar term.
Ephiny laughed aloud, then explained. "I'm sorry - that's some of his future language that's been rubbing off on me. It means he's not very good with a sword, to say the least." Gabrielle looked at Xena, who just shrugged her shoulders. "He's not much better with a staff or chobos either," Ephiny continued, "But he's very good with a bow. He said he used to hunt with one in the future, though I still don't understand why, considering how much better his other weapons were than ours... Well, speak of Hades - there he comes now."
Xena and Gabrielle turned, to see Xenan and several other young centaurs approaching from the woods. Rick walked behind them as they broke into a run. Xena noticed that all of the centaurs had deer tied across their backs as they came into view. Xenan trotted up and gave his mother a hug. He exchanged greetings with Xena and Gabrielle, then excused himself and ran away with his friends to skin their kills. Rick walked up to the three women - carrying a rabbit.
"Well, mighty hunter," Ephiny said, "I was just telling these two how you were so good with a bow - what happened?" He grinned sheepishly and hugged her, then gave her a kiss. "Remind me never to go hunting with centaurs again," he said. "I've never seen such incredible shooting - and on the run too!"
He turned to hug Gabrielle and clasp Xena's arm with an Amazon greeting. "Hi ladies - long time, no see," he said. "I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever get to see you again. How'd it go with the Cyclops?"
Before the Warrior Princess could answer, Ephiny jumped in and cut her off. "Xena and Gabrielle have invited you to go with them for a while, if you like."
"Really? That's great!" he said, his voice full of excitement. "Where are we going - Rome? Egypt? Gaul? I'd better go pack some things." He turned and walked quickly toward the queen's hut.
Ephiny gave the two women a mischievous grin. "He's gonna have a great time with you. He talks so much about your adventures on that TV show and I know he's missed you both. Besides, with his knowledge of the future, he could be a big help on your mission. You should see what he's come up with around here to improve things."
Gabrielle just smiled as Xena sighed and shook her head in resignation...
CHAPTER 2: THE TRAP IS SPRUNG
Just then, a loud crash came from around the corner. The men had finally succeeded in removing the stone block from its place and it had dropped noisily to the floor. The soldiers quickly moved back, as a green aura spilled from the small, hollow space behind the wall. Xena and Gabrielle watched as the commander stepped forward, reaching into the void. "It's here," he said. "It really is here." He thrust his hand inside to grab the prize...
"AHHHHHHHRRRGGGHHH!" The man drew his arm back from the opening to reveal a bloody stump. A hidden blade had severed his hand, just above the wrist.
"You fool!" the priest said, stepping forward. "I told you there were traps here."
The officer fell to the floor, holding his bleeding arm, as the black clad priest bent to examine the opening carefully. Avoiding the trap, he reached inside. Slowly, he pulled out the source of the greenish aura that now began to fill the musty crypt and then he held it up for all the men to see. It was a very large, green jewel - apparently an emerald, but it was as big as a chicken's egg. It glowed and pulsed in the priest's hand, as he laughed. "Behold - the Stone of Seti. Lord Ares will reward us all well for this."
"Only if he gets his hands on it," a voice said, coming from behind the men. They all spun around quickly. Xena stood there, her sword drawn, with Gabrielle beside her. Rick stood to her other side and behind, covering the men with his bow.
"Why don't you make this easy and just hand me the stone right now?" Xena asked, as she gave them all a cold stare. The priest glanced nervously at her, then his men. Ten to three, not counting himself or the wounded commander. "What are you waiting for? GET THEM!"
"Well, so much for the easy way," Gabrielle said, readying her staff as the men charged toward them.
Before the men could make it across the chamber to engage the trio, Rick pulled back the string on his bow and fired...
The priest looked down, surprised to see an arrow protruding from his chest. He sagged to his knees and then collapsed, face down, on the cold stone beneath him. The glowing emerald fell from his grasp and clattered across the floor, stopping at the base of a marble pillar.
"Why did you do that?" Gabrielle asked, looking angrily over her shoulder at their male companion. "He was unarmed."
"Bullshit!" Rick replied. "He had that magic stone, didn't he?" He readied another arrow as he spoke. Gabrielle glared at him, then turned to meet the onrushing soldiers.
Xena had already begun battling the first two soldiers. She twirled her sword around the blade of one man, quickly disarming him, and then she delivered a front kick that knocked him backward - impaling him on the blade of the next man rushing up! Her second opponent swung his blade at her, only to have it blocked by the Warrior Princess as she quickly switched her sword from the right to left hand with incredible dexterity. Whirling around in a blur, she delivered a round kick that snapped his neck backward and sent him sprawling. Two more men moved up to take their place...
Gabrielle had already knocked one man unconscious with a stunning blow to the side of his head as he rushed to attack her. She recovered from the strike, just in time to parry a mace aimed at her head by another soldier. She pushed against his weapon and he pushed back on hers - each trying to overpower the other and Gabrielle was losing to his greater strength. Thinking quickly, she allowed herself to fall backward and he fell with her - unable to regain his balance. When she hit the floor, her weapon still locked with his, she planted her feet in his stomach and kicked with her powerful legs as she continued to roll. The soldier flew through the air, smacking into a pillar headfirst. He slumped to the floor, unconscious, as the bard finished her roll and regained her feet - just in time to meet the attack of her next opponent...
Rick fired his bow, hitting a soldier in the chest. The man fell backward with a howl, as blood began to stain his tunic. Quickly, Rick drew another arrow and fired, dropping a second warrior as he rushed to attack. His third opponent was on him before he could ready another shot, so he jumped back - narrowly avoiding a lethal sword swing! Back-peddling wildly, he tripped over the man Gabrielle had thrown and he fell backward, knocking the breath from his body as his bow flew from his hands. The remaining man rushed forward and stabbed downward with his blade. His intended victim managed to dodge to the side, but still took the sword's tip through the right shoulder! He let out a scream of pain as the man pulled out his blade and drew it back for another strike...
Gabrielle was struggling for possession of her staff with her last opponent, when she heard their friend's pain-filled shout. She looked back to see the soldier about to skewer him again, but there was no way she could reach him.
Xena heard the yell as well. She was defending herself against the vicious assaults of two men, both of whom were very good with their blades. She parried both swords, shoving the men back long enough to draw her chakram. She was off balance and had no time to aim properly, but seeing the sword begin to descend toward their friend, she let the deadly circle fly from her grasp anyway...
The triumphant man plunged his blade down toward his opponent's belly, but just as he did, the chakram whizzed by, slicing open both of his butt cheeks before it buried it's sharp edge in the wall beyond! The pain caused him to miss his target, stabbing the sword through the inside of his prone victim's pant leg instead - barely missing certain sensitive parts of Rick's anatomy!
"OW! OW! OW!" The soldier released his blade and began hopping around like a kangaroo, holding his bleeding buns as he did!
Xena had finally gotten an opening and plunged her sword through the chest of one of the men she was fighting! She withdrew her blade and then flipped over the last man, kicking him brutally in the head as she did so! He slumped to the stone floor, unconscious.
Gabrielle had gotten control of her staff once more, wrenching it from her adversary's grip. She dropped to one knee and swept her opponent's feet from under him, then smacked him in the face with the end of her staff! He tried to rise, but she slammed the staff into the side of his head and he went down for good.
The man with the butchered buns helped the commander to his feet and both of them ran from the chamber, deeper into the labyrinth of passages, leaving the room suddenly quiet. Xena and Gabrielle both moved to check on their companion, who still lay on the floor near the second pillar. He smiled up at them as they knelt to see to his injuries. Xena ripped his shirt to get a good look at the wound, then took some medicines from her belt pouch and started smearing them onto his shoulder. Gabrielle retrieved her pack from around the corner, took some cloth from it, and began to tear strips to help bind the wound and make a sling for his arm.
"Y'know," he said, "that was the most horrible thing I've ever experienced. For a second there, I saw my whole life flash before my eyes."
"It's alright now," Gabrielle said. "It's only a shoulder wound. Xena can fix you right up. If you hadn't moved to the side, it could've been much worse." She smiled sweetly down at him, while she continued to rig a sling for his injured shoulder.
"Who cares about that?" he asked. "I'm talking about something much more important." He pointed toward the sword blade - still protruding from a crack in the stone floor between his legs. "Now THAT was close!"
He laughed aloud as Gabrielle rolled her eyes and shook her head. Xena continued to patch up his shoulder as she spoke. "Oh, you shouldn't have been too worried," she said, as she pulled the bandage tight. "It's hard to hit such a small target with a broadsword."
The bard began giggling as Xena raised an eyebrow and gave her patient a broad grin.
He suddenly stopped laughing. "Hey - that wasn't funny!"
Now, Xena and Gabrielle both broke into open laughter and, after a moment, their patient joined in as well...
When the wound was patched and Rick's arm in a sling, they all got up and walked over to where the glowing emerald stone lay, at the base of the pillar. "We'd better take care of this thing so that Ares will never get his hands on it," Xena said, as she reached down to pick it up. Suddenly, she flew backwards, landing heavily on the stone floor! A fist had emerged from inside the pillar and smacked into her face, as she'd started to bend over. Gabrielle and Rick stepped back as a figure, clad in black leather, emerged from the pillar, then reached down and grabbed the stone.
"Ares..." Xena said - her voice conveying the same feelings as those of a housewife describing soap scum on the tub. She reached for her chakram - only to realize it was still embedded in the chamber wall.
"Hello, Xena," the God of War replied, with a smug grin. "What's the matter - no kiss for me? Well, it doesn't matter. You're here - exactly as I hoped you would be. I knew you'd try to stop my men from finding this stone. In fact - I was counting on it. This will do what I haven't been able to for a long time now - get you to quit interfering in my plans."
Xena stood and faced him, as he raised the stone...
"OH SHIT!" Rick said, "He's gonna..."
While Ares glanced toward Rick, Xena had quickly seized the opportunity to leap at the War God.
She was hurtling toward him when he spun around and held the stone at arm's length. The emerald glow intensified and spread outward from the jewel, striking the Warrior Princess in mid-air. Her body was suffused in the green light and she seemed to become trapped within the glowing energy. As Gabrielle and Rick looked on, the light withdrew rapidly into the stone, carrying the warrior with it. A bright flash followed - and Xena was gone! Her companions turned to run for cover...
"Oh, no you don't," Ares said. "We wouldn't want Xena to spend eternity in there all alone, would we?" He held the stone out again. Once more the green energy leapt from it, surrounding the bard and the man just as it had Xena. In seconds, both of them were trapped in the energy and it sucked them toward the stone as it returned. Just before they disappeared, Gabrielle's pack, dislodged by her struggling, came open, and a single scroll spilled from it. Another bright flash occurred, and she and Rick were gone as well...
"Boy - that felt SOOO GOOOOD!" Ares exclaimed. "I finally got rid of those two do-gooders." He walked over to the empty nook in the wall. "Now, my dear Xena," he said, as he kissed the stone, "things are gonna go a little differently in the world." He reached down, putting the glowing emerald back into the recess from which it had come. He then picked up the stone block, shoved it back into the hole, and the green aura was shut off once more. The war god motioned with his hands and stones began to appear from nowhere - blocking off the entranceway to this chamber. Higher and higher they went, until the only means of egress was blocked. Smiling with satisfaction, he snapped his fingers and disappeared.
Ares reappeared outside the temple ruins, on top of a nearby ridge. He motioned to the heavens with his hands and a strong breeze suddenly sprang up. In moments, the wind had increased to incredible velocity and a huge sandstorm began. Slowly, the sand began to cover the temple - piling up around the fallen columns, covering the stone blocks, and filling the entranceway. Within an hour, the entire valley was totally filled with sand to a depth of over a hundred feet. Ares motioned with his hands once more and the winds died as suddenly as they'd begun.
The War God looked over his handiwork, stroking his beard and smiling. "Goodbye, Xena," he said. "Enjoy your stay in oblivion." He tipped his head back and laughed aloud - an evil, triumphant sound that echoed around the now quiet valley. Ares then snapped his fingers and disappeared again...
Except for the gentle wind, already starting to reshape the surface of the restless sands, the desert was quiet once more...
CHAPTER 3: OUT OF THE FRYING PAN
She fell to her knees, tearing the hose that covered her long, shapely legs from the bottom of her dirty red skirt down to her black dress shoes, which were scuffed and full of grit. The hot desert sand burned her delicate skin as she struggled to rise once more - a task made even more difficult by the fact that her hands were tied. A length of tough, hemp rope bound her wrists together and secured her to the load of the last camel in a long line of them, which stretched across the blazing sands before her. Men in long, black robes walked beside each animal, urging the beasts on across the dunes. She finally struggled to her feet, just as the man tending the camel that she was attached to realized she'd fallen. He walked back toward her, stared at her for a moment, then slapped her hard, across the cheek! As the woman's horn-rimmed glasses flew from her face and landed in the sand a few yards away, he began yelling something in Arabic, then raised his hand to strike her once more.
"Don't you touch me agin!" she said, in a distinct southern drawl. She raised herself to full height, her long, dark hair blowing in the wind. "Ah'm an American citizen and you cain't treat me this way!" She stared into his eyes for a second, then looked down.
He stared blankly back at her and then suddenly shoved her to the ground! As she fell backward, landing heavily on her shapely behind, he reached up and grabbed a whip from the side of his beast of burden. He uncoiled it, turned in her direction, and hefted the handle of the evil-looking instrument. She raised her hands to try to protect herself, as she lay on the hot sand - her wrists still bound together...
Out of nowhere, a huge shape came roaring over the dune behind the prone woman! It was a military half-track, tan in color and displaying the swastikas of the Nazi Third Reich. The transport roared to a stop, skidding sideways, until the driver's door was about ten feet from the black-robed figure. As he stood there in shock, still holding the whip back, the sound of a machinegun bolt being cocked could clearly be heard. The door flew open, to reveal a slight figure in a brown leather jacket, khaki pants, and an olive drab fedora - with long, blond hair protruding from beneath it. One hand was on the wheel and one pointed a deadly Thompson at the Arab's chest.
"I wouldn't, if I were you!" said a gritty, female voice. The man quickly dropped his whip and raised his hands over his head. By now, the other men had stopped their camels and were grabbing ancient rifles from their backs - running toward the vehicle and shouting.
The machinegun barked - and the hemp rope snapped in two, severed by the short burst.
"MEL - GET IN HERE... NOW!" Janice began firing at the approaching Arabs, sending them sprawling to the earth and looking for cover behind the dunes. Some of them were returning fire and bullets started bouncing off of the metal sides of the half-track, whining away into the desert! Meanwhile, Melinda untied her hands, then scrambled around on the ground, digging through the sand...
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Janice yelled, as she fired toward the men in the distance. A bullet struck the windshield in front of her, shattering the glass into an intricate, web-like pattern.
"AH'M LOOKIN FOR MY SPECTACLES!" Mel shouted. She saw a glint of light, through the blurred sand in front of her, and grabbed her glasses, putting them on quickly. "Oh, that's better," she said.
"MEL - NOW!" Janice screamed, as she fired another burst.
The dark-haired woman ran quickly around to the passenger side of the vehicle, struggled with the door for a second, then pulled it open and climbed in. Janice fired one more, fast burst, then tossed the gun to the floor. She shoved the gearshift forward and hit the gas. The half-track took off, throwing sand and fishtailing, as bullets careened off the sides and rear! In seconds, they were beyond the dune and out of the line of fire, but Janice sped up, determined to get some distance between them and the angry Arabs...
"What in the hell did you think you were doing, going to Omar's without me?" Janice asked, angrily.
"Well, Janice, Ah just thought Ah could get some information about the ruins we're searchin for and he seemed like such a nice man when we met him yesterday, so Ah..."
"Mel," Janice said, "he's a goddamn slave trader! Don't you know you could've been hurt - or worse?" Janice looked away from her dark-haired companion, concentrating on the dusty track ahead. She couldn't bear to think of what might've happened if she hadn't found the trail of those flesh peddlers. Just the thought of anyone laying a hand on Melinda's beautiful body was more than she could stand. She glanced to her right and saw Mel taking her shoes off, dumping sand out of them. As she removed them, her skirt rose up high, revealing her lovely thighs, above her torn hose. Janice couldn't help but savor the view, unknown to Mel, as those sweet legs bent in such inviting ways...
The half-track lurched drunkenly, as Janice jerked the wheel hard to the left, bringing them back onto the flat, between the dunes. She'd been just a little too distracted...
Mel grabbed the door for support, looking over toward her friend. "Janice, ya could drive a little more carefully, y'know - and all that cussin is certainly not necessary either." She slipped her left shoe back on and adjusted her glasses. "Where'd ya git this truck anyways?" she asked.
"I got it from a Nazi patrol - those bastards are everywhere," Jan replied. A wide grin spread across her face. "I took it from 'em when they stopped to take a pi..." She clamped her mouth shut on the word, as Mel's eyes opened wide and fixed on her. "Uh, while they were stopped."
Mel let out an exasperated sigh. "Well, what are we gonna do now?"
Jan shifted the half-track into low gear and the engine growled under the stress of its load, as they began to climb a particularly steep dune. She reached into her shirt pocket with her right hand, withdrew a cigar, bit the end off, and clamped it between her teeth. Letting go of the wheel for a second, she took out her lighter, cupped her hands around the end of the stogy, and lit it - puffing until the end glowed a bright orange. She put her lighter back in her pocket and exhaled a cloud of bluish smoke, as she turned to look at her dark-haired companion.
"Now, my dear Melinda, we go get that artifact - before those damn Nazis do!" They topped the dune and Jan shifted into second, as they started down the gentle slope of the windward face...
CHAPTER 4: A FATEFUL STOP
"Well, Ah don't see any oasis around here anywhere." Mel said, as they drove over the top of another in what seemed like an endless series of dunes. "Janice, we've been searchin for hours now, and all Ah've seen is sand. Are you sure this is the right spot? Ah mean, anybody can make a mistake."
"I didn't make a mistake!" Janice said, her voice revealing the frustration she was feeling. "According to this map, the ruins are in this area - near an oasis. They're supposed to be partially buried still, so keep your eyes open."
"Janice, can we please stop for just a little while? Ah'm so tired of sittin in this dirty 'ol truck. Ah'd like to get out and stretch my legs a bit. Please?" She put her hand on her blond companion's arm and gave her a pleading look.
Janice turned to snap at her companion, angry that she wanted to delay the search for such an important artifact, just because of a little discomfort. However, as soon as she found herself staring into those bespeckled, but beautiful eyes, her anger disappeared. "Why can't I stay mad at this woman?" she asked herself, silently. Deep within her mind, she knew the answer, but she hadn't allowed herself to dwell on it. Besides, Melinda could never feel the same way, so why torment herself unnecessarily? She pulled the half-track into a shady spot, at the crest of a large dune and in the shadow of a nearby cliff. The sun was getting low in the western sky, so the ridge provided a wide band of cool shade, as the shadows lengthened toward evening. Off to the east, a similar line of ridges marked the other edge of a small, dune-filled valley.
"OK," Jan said, "we'll take fifteen minutes to rest, then we can search until sunset." She watched as Melinda opened the door and extended her leg down to step out. Her skirt rode up once more, displaying her wonderful gams, all the way up to the tops of her thighs. Janice never tired of watching her friend's lovely legs - covertly, of course. She looked away, quickly, as her dark-haired partner stepped out and then looked back up toward her. "Don't wander off," Jan said - knowing Melinda's tendency to get into trouble if left unsupervised.
"Oh, Janice - you're not my Momma," Mel replied, with a laugh. She turned and moved over to the edge of the dune, taking her shoes off to walk in the cool sand here in the shadows of the cliff. "Ya don't need to watch over me every second - ya hear?" she called back over her shoulder.
"The hell I don't," Janice thought. She took a long drag on her cigar, as she watched her friend move away. Once again, she was admiring those long, shapely legs, and the firm bottom they were connected to...
Melinda walked along the edge of the giant dune, allowing her feet to sink deep down into the cool, clean sand as she enjoyed the breeze that was beginning to come from the direction of the cliff. After the extreme heat and brightness of the day, the gentle zephyr was like a godsend. She loosened her shirt, unintentionally revealing a glimpse of her ample and very well formed bosom, had anybody been there to see. She walked to the very edge of the slip-face and sat down, pushing her feet far into the sand as she did. The feeling reminded her of her childhood, back in the South of her younger days, when she'd played in the large sandbox that her father had paid the handyman to build for her. Her mother hadn't liked the idea of her proper, genteel daughter 'rootin around in the dirt', as she'd called it, but Mel's father had more of the child in him, and he'd encouraged it in his little girl.
Melinda let the large, dry grains run between her fingers, as she recalled the memories that the feel of the sand evoked. Behind her sandbox had been a large pond, which usually had ducks and geese swimming and feeding in it's cool, clear waters. Mel could remember how, when the wind was right, the scent of the dry sand would mix with the moist breeze coming from the pond and...
"Moist breeze..." she thought, as she realized what had triggered her memories of the pond. She stood quickly and began running down the side of the hill of sand, her face flushed with excitement. She ran faster across the sloping face of the dune, suddenly falling and tumbling head over heels down the sandy incline, picking up speed as her roll continued...
Janice sat on the hood of the Nazi transport, her feet braced on the cast iron bumper. She drew her father's pocket-watch from her khaki pants, checking the time as she tossed away the butt of her cigar. A slight look of irritation crossed her face, as she realized they'd been here for twenty minutes now. Time to get Melinda back here and continue the search, before they lost the light. She jumped down from the truck and walked around behind it, in the direction her companion had gone. "MEL, TIME TO GO!" she called out, as she came around the back of the half-track. She looked up and down the crest of the dune but saw no sign of Melinda anywhere. "MEELLLL!" Still no sign of her and no answer to her call. "Damn!" she thought. "I should've known better than to let her out of my sight." She walked quickly to the driver's door of the truck, reached in, grabbed the Thompson, and began walking quickly toward where she'd last seen her friend. "Why I put up with her, I'll never know," she said, lying to herself. She knew all too well why, and the reason caused her to move even more quickly...
Janice found the disturbed area on the edge of the plateau of sand where Melinda had been sitting. She traced the footsteps, as they angled down the face of the dune, then turned into a haphazard trail of lines and gouges in the sloping surface. Either Mel had fallen and tumbled down the side, or, possibly, she'd been dragged - struggling and fighting against her captor. A worried look came across the short blond's face as she began running downward. "MEL... MELINDA! ARE YOU OK? WHERE ARE YOU?" She ran as fast as she could now, readying the machinegun for action - convinced now that someone had taken her beloved friend from her once more. She reached the bottom of the dune, near the wall of the cliff, and rounded the edge of a smaller pile of sand...
That's when she saw Mel - her head anyway. It was sticking up from the surface of a large pool of water, between the base of the dune and the cliff face. Janice was just about to yell at her companion, angrily, when she saw Mel's clothes lying on a rock, by the water's edge - ALL of them. Her glasses were there as well. Melinda was swimming completely naked.
"Hi Janice!" the dark-haired woman called out, as she began paddling toward the dumbstruck blond. "Ah think Ah found the oasis. Ain't this wonderful?" She reached the shallows and began to wade toward Jan, exposing more of her body with each step she took up the angled bottom of the pool. Janice Covington, the woman who was never at a loss in any situation, who was always prepared for whatever came her way, stared open-mouthed as her friend walked from the water toward her. She'd seen Mel naked before, of course, but somehow, in this place, at this time, Melinda seemed more beautiful than Jan could ever remember. The Thompson fell from her grasp, landing in the damp sand at her feet, as her friend bent to take her clothes from the rock. "So incredible," she murmured...
"It is, ain't it?" Mel said, as she began to get dressed. She looked at Jan a little strangely as she noticed her stare, causing the blond to snap out of her paralysis and bend down, retrieving her weapon. Now that her friend's body was being covered, Jan started thinking clearly again. "The oasis - this is it! So the map we found was right after all." She began to do some mental calculations in her head, glancing at the compass she pulled from her pocket and taking a bearing quickly. "The ruins must be just beyond this pool, parallel to the cliff face." She began moving around the water, climbing along the face of the shifting sand...
"Well, you're very welcome, A'hm sure," Mel said, as she slipped on her shoes and followed Jan.
They had walked only a short distance, when they saw it... A huge stone block - and beyond it another, and another. As they walked along the base of the cliff, they saw the corner of a large structure, protruding from the side of the giant dune they'd parked on top of - hidden from their view earlier by the gigantic mass of sand. "THE TEMPLE!" Jan shouted, as she turned and gave Mel a big hug. "WE FOUND IT!" She wrapped her arms around Melinda and squeezed her tightly. Even in her moment of triumph, however, she couldn't help but think that it wasn't the way she truly wanted to hold her.
Melinda hugged Janice back, smiling broadly, as she shared the happiness that her friend was so obviously showing. Jan rarely ever allowed her emotions to come to the surface like this - at least not the positive ones. Mel loved it when one of these rare times happened, so she let Janice hold her and wrapped her own arms around her companion. If only she could be this way more often.
Jan began rubbing her friend's back, then realized that she'd better detach herself, before she gave away too much. She let go of Mel and turned toward the ancient structure, beginning to size up the lines and match it with the description she'd read in one of her father's journals. "The entrance should be between those two tall pillars," she said, as she began to walk toward them.
Melinda straightened her glasses and her shirt, then followed her friend toward the stone edifice. "Well," she thought, "it was nice while it lasted. If only my dear Janice knew how much Ah love it when she holds me." Mel knew, however, that her tough, blond companion would want an equally tough partner for what she had in mind. Little did she know how wrong she was...
CHAPTER 5: The Temple of Seti
"This is definitely it," Janice said, as she and Mel looked at the runes carved into the side of the tunnel-like entrance. "This is the temple of Seti." They had gone back to the half-track and gotten a lantern, a flashlight, and Jan's whip - plus a couple of extra ammo drums for the Thompson, which Jan had slung over her shoulder. Melinda bent down and continued to read the ancient carvings, as Jan looked on. The blond adventurer knew the common dialects of ancient Egypt, but this one was a very uncommon sub-dialect. At times like this, her dark-haired companion really showed her true worth.
"All those who are foolhardy enough to enter this place," Mel read, aloud, "should be prepared to sacrifice that which the god's gave and which only they can reclaim. If you treasure the spirit within you, seek not the stone, for only death and damnation await you here." She raised up, looking over at her friend and pushing her glasses back into place as she did. "Sounds like it could be dangerous, Janice. Are ya sure we should go in?"
"That's just ancient superstition Mel - placed there to scare off the primitive people of the time." Janice began walking slowly, down the stone corridor, holding the lantern before her as she went. Melinda followed her, glancing around nervously and putting her hands on Jan's shoulders, as she walked right behind her shorter companion.
The shifting light from the lantern caused strange shadows to move on all sides of the two women, adding to the mysterious aura which seemed to permeate this place. They made their way down the narrow corridor, Janice holding the lantern with one hand and fingering the outline of her pistol through her jacket pocket. Somehow, the feeling of the hard steel always gave her a sense of comfort.
Melinda was glancing around nervously, seeing monsters behind every shadow and every outcrop of rock or stone she saw. She stayed right behind Jan, drawing comfort from her friend's seeming lack of fear. It was only one of the many things that Mel had come to love about the woman she'd chosen to travel with.
As they rounded a corner, deep in the temple, something seemed to catch Melinda's attention - not consciously, but on a deeper level. She slowed, dropping back behind Jan, as the adventuress moved on down the corridor. Mel reached out and touched the stone wall beside her, running her long fingers across the smooth, cool surface of the cut stone blocks...
Janice kept going, unaware that her friend had stopped. She walked up to a junction in the corridor. "Right or left Mel? You feel lucky?" She turned to look up at Melinda, only her friend wasn't with her anymore! "MEl - WHERE ARE YOU?" she called out. The sound of her voice echoed up and down the corridor as she looked behind her for any sign of her companion. "MEL?"
Hearing nothing but her own voice reflected back to her, Janice began moving quickly back the way she'd come, rounding a corner after a short distance. Melinda stood there, outlined in the light from the lantern. She was still as a statue, with her fingers touching the wall in front of her. Janice reached out and grabbed her friend's arm, shaking her slightly. "Mel, are you OK?"
The dark-haired woman started at Jan's touch, then shook her head and looked down at her blond companion. "Somethin is behind this wall, Janice. Ah know it. Ah feel it. Ah cain't explain how or why, but somethin important is back there. Please believe me."
Janice looked through her friend's glasses, deep into her lovely, blue eyes, and saw that Mel truly believed what she was saying. She cocked her hat back on her head and set the lantern down on the floor. "I believe you, Mel."
The lovely southern belle smiled that smile that Janice had fallen for so long ago. "But how can we git to it, if Ah'm right?" she asked.
Janice just grinned. "Leave that to me..."
The sky outside was dark and studded with stars, as they squatted just outside the entranceway to the temple, behind a large block of stone. Melinda was watching as Janice twisted two sets of wires around the posts on an explosives detonator. "Being the daughter of a 'grave-robber' has a few advantages," Janice said, as she tightened the nuts one final time. "My father taught me all about explosives when I was a little girl."
"What an interestin childhood ya must've had," Mel said. "And to think Ah thought it was unladylike when my Daddy wanted me to learn how to fish." She gave her friend a big grin.
"Get down, Mel," Janice said. "I'm gonna blow it now." They both crouched behind the stone, and then Jan pushed down on the plunger...
They felt the shock wave pass through the ground beneath them, then they heard a muffled blast and a huge dust cloud came rushing out of the tunnel in front of them. After a few moments, Jan stood, grabbing the lantern and the Thompson. She put the strap of the gun over her shoulder and walked through the settling dust, into the passageway. Mel followed her as they made their way back to the wall that they had rigged with explosives from the half-track. When they got to it, they saw that a huge hole had been blown through the stone blocks, revealing a large chamber beyond.
"Ah knew it!" Mel said. "Ah just knew, somehow, that there was somethin back there."
Janice walked through the wall and immediately noticed two skeletons on the floor, just inside the now-destroyed section. The dry, desert climate had preserved the bone and much of the leather armors that the two had once been clothed in. Each had an ancient, rusty sword on their side and both had helmets still adorning the skulls. The skeletons were complete, except that one seemed to be missing a hand.
Mel clung to her friend as she looked at the long-dead men. "What do ya suppose happened to them?" she asked.
"I don't know," Jan replied. "They must've been sealed in here for some reason." She stepped over the bones and moved toward the opposite side of the chamber where something was reflecting the light of the lantern back from a point a few feet up the stone wall. She walked over to it and gasped with surprise. "The chakram!" she exclaimed, as she recognized the weapon, still embedded in the wall after all the centuries that had passed. "So Xena was here, at some point in the past. But why would she leave her most valuable weapon behind?" Jan reached out, hesitantly, and grabbed it, trying to pull it free from its ages old resting-place. She tugged and tugged, but had no luck removing it. "We'll get a hammer and chisel from the toolbox on the truck and remove it later." She started moving along the wall, looking for other things of interest as she went.
Melinda walked up to the chakram, running her fingers along the smooth metal, which was still untarnished after two millennia. She grabbed it, trying to get a better look at the jewels embedded in its surface... and it popped out of the wall. "Janice," she said, "look here. I got it out." She held the weapon up as Jan turned to see what she was doing.
"How did you..." Jan just shook her head as she took the chakram from Mel, admiring the weapon which had once belonged to the Warrior Princess. She handed it back to her friend. "Hold on to it, for now," she said. "I want to get a look at that altar over there." Mel slipped the chakram into her pack, then she and Jan walked over to the stone slab, noticing several more skeletons on the floor as they went. Most were clad in the same cracked, leather armor as the first two, but one appeared to have been wearing a robe. Rotten cloth still covered parts of his bones. Janice noticed nothing particularly interesting about them or the altar, so she continued searching the wall behind them.
Mel was looking at the skeletons, trying to imagine what had happened here, all those years ago, when she saw something lying on the floor, near a stone pillar. She walked over and picked it up...
Jan was still checking the surface of the stone wall, when she heard Melinda call to her.
"Janice, come here - quick!" Mel was shaking with excitement, while she looked at what appeared to be the remains of an ancient parchment. "It's a scroll, Janice - a scroll written by Xena's friend, Gabrielle." A piece of the ancient manuscript crumbled as she read it. "At least, it's what's left of one." She walked over and put the delicate parchment down on the altar, as Jan set the lantern beside it.
"Are you sure it's one of Gabrielle's scrolls?" Jan asked. She began to try to read it and noticed immediately that the writing was ancient Greek.
"Oh, yes," Mel said. "This is definitely Gabrielle's seal at the top here. Ah can only make out certain parts of it, but listen to this." She began to read aloud what she could still see...
"We recently returned to Poteidaia, to visit my family. Ah had a wonderful time visiting Lila and my Mom and Dad, but Xena was still uncomfortable around them. Ah think mother has accepted Xena, but Ah don't know if father will ever accept the idea of Xena as my lo..." That part of the scroll had rotted away, so Mel skipped to where she could read again. "... and Ah wish my parents could be more like Cyrene. She seems to have fully accepted me, even calling me her daughter-in-law in front of the other villagers. Xena and Ah..." A huge area in the middle of the scroll was rotted and unintelligible, so Mel moved down to the very end, where a section was still readable. "...and we're travelling with Rick, on a Phoenician trading vessel, to the coast of the Egyptian continent (How Ah HATE sea travel!) We know that we have to stop Ares' men. Ah only hope that we can get to the stone before Ares' does, or..." The rest of the scroll had rotted away, so Melinda pushed up her glasses and looked over at her blond companion.
"My God, Janice," Mel began, "do ya know what this means?"
"I sure do," Jan replied. "It means that the chakram WAS put here by Xena."
"No, you silly, not that," her friend replied. "It means that Xena and Gabrielle were more than just friends. They were lovers, as well."
"How do you figure that?" Jan asked.
"Janice, look." Melinda pointed to the part about Gabrielle's father accepting Xena. "See right here? It said 'lover' before it rotted away."
"Mel, you don't know that. For all we know, it could've said 'lone friend', or 'loud-mouthed companion' for that matter."
"But what about this part?" Mel asked, pointing to Cyrene's reference to Gabrielle as her daughter-in-law. "That proves it."
"Mel, ancient Greek can't be completely and absolutely translated into English," Jan replied. "She could've meant step-daughter, meaning she considered Gabrielle as a member of her family."
Melinda was unconvinced, however. "Janice, Ah know ancient Greek and Ah'm telling ya - they were lovers." She turned away from her friend, a little angry that Jan doubted her ability to translate.
"What I think is odd, is this part about some guy named 'Rick' being with them." Jan pointed to the end of the scroll. "That sounds like a modern name. I've never seen anything like it in ancient Greek writings before."
Melinda snorted, sarcastically. "Maybe it's one of those words that cain't be translated into English very well."
Jan didn't miss the sarcasm. She moved back over to examine the wall, realizing that her friend was getting defensive. "Well, we can figure it out later. Right now, I want to see what's behind this wall."
Her dark-haired companion pushed up her glasses and turned to look at her. "Why do ya think anythin is back there? Did ya git a feelin like Ah did?"
"Nothing so mystical," Jan replied, with a grin. "All the mortar has been removed from around this block. It looks like it was pulled out at one time."
Jan went back to the half-track and returned with a crowbar, leaving Mel to look at the ancient writings on the wall. When she returned, she began to pry the stone block out, moving from one side to the other and gradually sliding it forward. She had it most of the way out, when it suddenly crashed to the floor, causing Jan to fall and narrowly missing Melinda's foot.
"Janice be careful." she said. "Ya almost..." Mel stopped talking, as a greenish glow streamed from inside the small hollow behind the wall. She saw an emerald colored stone, the size of a large egg, which seemed to be emitting the bright light. Hypnotized by its beauty, she reached inside to take it...
"MEL - DON'T!" Janice jumped up and grabbed her friend, pulling her back, quickly.
The hidden blade, so effective centuries ago, missed Melinda's hand by mere inches. The dark-haired woman looked down at her fingers, her eyes wide with fear. "If ya hadn't stopped me..." she began.
Jan grinned at her friend and pulled her into a hug, trying to comfort her. That had been too close. "Well, I think we know why that one skeleton was missing a hand," she said, hoping to lighten the mood.
"Thanks Janice," Melinda said, with a smile. "But how'd ya know?"
"Just a feeling." She turned and looked inside the hollow, noticing how the trap was arranged. Reaching inside, she avoided the blade and carefully lifted the stone from its resting-place, then withdrew it. She held it up so that she and Mel could look at it. The greenish aura of light filled the dusty chamber around them with its bright glow. "The stone of Seti," she said, as she smiled broadly. "We found it."
"HOW NICE!" a voice called out, from behind them. "ZE FUHRER VILL BE MOST PLEASED!"
Mel and Jan spun around - to see a woman in the uniform of the Gestapo, surrounded by armed Nazi storm troopers. The men all raised their weapons and pointed them toward the two female adventurers...
CHAPTER 6: ANCIENT ENEMIES COLLIDE
The woman walked forward, taking off her hat as she did. Long, blond hair spilled from underneath it, coming down just below her shoulders. She looked at them with her ice blue eyes, smiling wickedly as she approached. "So you are ze vell-known Dr. Janice Covington - how nice to finally meet you. I've followed you and your fazher's work for years now. My name is Khali Schtowe - Gestapo colonel and personal assistant to ze Fuhrer in matters of, shall ve say, procuring antiqvities?"
Jan looked at her with unconcealed disgust. "One of his grave-robbers, you mean."
The blond colonel looked at Jan and smiled, a wide, dangerous-looking grin. She put her face right up to the shorter blond's own, "If zat is so, zen your fazher vas no better zan I. He had a reputation for, shall ve say, taking zhings zat ver not his - and selling zem to ze highest bidder."
"My father was NOTHING like you," Jan said, her voice low and full of contempt. "He was searching for the truth about Xena, not using artifacts he found to serve the worst kind of human trash - like your Fuhrer!"
Khali swung her fist quickly, catching Jan in the face and knocking her to the floor!
"Janice!" Melinda exclaimed, as she bent to help her friend. She cradled Jan's head in her lap, as she wiped at the blood tricking from her companion's lip.
"It is not vise to talk of ze future leader of ze vorld in such a manner," the blond Gestapo officer said, her voice cutting like the hiss of a cobra. "Even now ve are preparing to eliminate your pitiful armies from ze face of ze Earzh. Vis our new veapons, including zis stone," she said, as she took the gem from Jan's hand, "ve vill crush all who oppose us. I believe zat your army is about to discover ze effects of one of our new veapons by zis time tomorrow. One vich vill eliminate ze bulk of ze United States Army in Africa, all in one fell svoop." She held the stone up, admiring it as she spoke.
"I wouldn't count us out just yet," Jan said, as she slowly moved her hand to the handle of her whip. "We've been doing pretty good so far and so have the British. Your troops have been pushed back all the way to Tunisia in the last few months, haven't they?"
Khali laughed - an evil, spiteful sound, in the enclosed chamber. Then she looked Jan in the eye. "True enough, Dr. Covington, but now ve haf your army exactly vere ve vant zem - bunched togezher for ze attack on our 'beaten' troops. Our new veapon vill be most effective against such close packed units." She began laughing again. "It's just too bad zat you von't be around to see zem die." She motioned to her men, who began moving toward the two women on the floor...
Suddenly, Janice snapped her whip out, tangling it around the Gestapo officer's legs! She pulled back quickly, causing Khali to fall backwards to the floor. Jan threw herself on the woman, pushing her pistol to the side of the officer's neck as she did! "DROP YOUR WEAPONS!" she said, loudly, as the storm troopers closed on her, "or your leader will never have to worry about headaches again." Jan got to her feet, pulling Khali with her.
Khali slowly turned her head and glared at Janice, then looked toward her men. "Lay down your weapons," she said, in German. The troops all sat their weapons on the floor, carefully.
"Now tell them to get over there, by the altar," Jan said, pressing her pistol harder, for effect.
Khali barked another order in German and her men did as they were told, moving to stand behind the stone slab.
"Mel, get the stone and get behind me," Jan said, as she began backing toward the destroyed wall. Melinda grabbed the lantern from the floor. She then took the stone from the colonel's hand, slipped it into her pocket, and moved toward the blasted entranceway. Jan backed up slowly behind her as she did, keeping her gun against the Nazi's neck. "Tell your men that if I see any of them come out of here, I'll blow your brains out!" She cocked her revolver to stress the point.
Again, Khali barked at them in German, then she turned to give Janice a cold stare. "You vill never leave zis valley alive, Dr. Covington. I promise you zhat."
Janice just grinned at her in response. "Well, we'll just have to see about that, won't we?" She pulled the Nazi woman along with her as she and Melinda moved quickly down the passageway toward the entrance...
Once they were outside the temple, Janice shoved the officer backwards, into the narrow tunnel. "Mel, light me a cigar," she said, as she motioned the Nazi to move farther into the passage.
"Janice, Ah hardly think this is the time to be worryin about smokin," the dark-haired woman replied.
Jan turned her head to look at her puzzled friend. "Just do it!"
"OK, Janice - whatever you say." Melinda reached into Jan's pocket and retrieved a cigar, which she lit - coughing as she did so. She handed it to Jan, who put it in her mouth and, with her free hand, reached down and grabbed several unused sticks of dynamite, that were still bound together. "Now I suggest you rejoin your men," she said, talking to Khali, "cause this area is about to become real unsafe." She lit the fuse with her cigar and then tossed the dynamite just inside the entrance, where it lay sputtering and smoking. The Nazi woman turned and ran quickly back down the tunnel.
"LET'S GO MEL - QUICK!" Jan took Melinda's hand and they began running toward the oasis as fast as they could. As soon as they passed one of the big blocks of stone, just visible in the moonlight, Jan jumped down behind it, pulling her friend with her.
A huge explosion rent the night just as they got behind the block. Pieces of rock bounced off of the giant stone and fell all around them, as Janice covered Melinda's body with her own. In a few moments, the sound of rocks falling and grinding against one another stopped and the night became quiet once more.
Mel was lying on her stomach with Jan still on top of her. She was very conscious of her friend's breasts as they pressed against her back and she couldn't help but like the feel of Jan's hard, muscular body lying over her own. She turned her head to look into the green eyes above her, and said, a little flirtatiously "Well Janice, ya sure know how to show a woman a good time, don't ya?" She began laughing after she said it.
Jan, also very aware of Mel's body heat beneath her, suddenly had an almost irrepressible urge to tell her companion just how much of a good time she'd like to show her, but she didn't. Instead, she got to her feet and helped Melinda up as well. They both looked over toward the temple entrance. It was now totally collapsed and blocked with rubble. "That ought to keep 'em busy for a while," Jan said. "We'd better try to get to the half-track. There may be more of those goons around." She took the Thompson off of her back and chambered a round, then the two women moved down toward the pool, slipping along the edge of the giant dune...
The Nazi trooper had been standing watch over their vehicles, when he and his fellow soldiers heard the explosion, which had sealed the temple entrance. All of the other men had immediately run to see what happened, but the sergeant had told him to remain here. He didn't mind so much though, as being here alone allowed him to enjoy a smoke in peace, without his superiors ordering him to extinguish it for fear of snipers. Snipers... here in the middle of nowhere? What could happen? He lit his cigar and took a big puff, allowing the smoke to slowly drift from his nostrils, as he thought about the leave he had coming up and a certain working girl he planned to spend it with.
All thoughts of R&R disappeared from his mind when he felt the cold muzzle of a weapon press against his neck. He didn't move a muscle when a feminine hand reached around from behind him and took his cigar. He saw a puff of smoke appear over his shoulder and heard a woman's voice behind him.
"Mmmmm - a Cuban cigar. It's been a while. I guess you Nazis get only the best from the people you conquer, huh?" Jan reached around the guard and took his weapon, heaving it over the edge of the dune. "Nothing personal," she said, "but I can't have you interfering with us."
Corporal Mueller looked to his left and saw a beautiful brunette wearing glasses. She gave him a lovely smile - before the Thompson's butt slammed into the back of his head, knocking him out. He fell heavily to the sand and lay still.
Mel and Jan rummaged through the German vehicles, grabbing food, water, and some ammo for the Nazi weapons that they had in their half-track already. Jan saw a box of grenades in the back of one truck, so she took them as well. "What the hell," she thought. "You never know." She and Melinda also transferred the Nazi's jerry cans of gasoline over to their own vehicle.
"OK Mel, get in the truck," Janice said, as she walked over to one of the two transports that the Nazi's had arrived in. Jan pulled the pin on one of the grenades she'd taken from the box. She lobbed it into the cab of the first truck, then ducked behind the other vehicle. An explosion ripped through the truck, blowing out the glass and tearing the doors from their hinges! The interior began to blaze as Jan tossed a grenade into the other vehicle. She ran for the half-track as the second truck was torn open and began to burn!
Jan climbed into their own transport, pushed in the clutch, and fired it up. She took a big drag from the Nazi's cigar, exhaled slowly, releasing a cloud of smoke, then looked over at Mel. "Well, not a bad days work, huh? We got the stone and Xena's chakram, plus made life miserable for a few of Hitler's finest." Jan's smile was visible in the glow of her cigar as she took another puff and threw the half-track into gear. It clanked off into the night, as Mel's voice drifted back on the wind.
"Well, Janice, ya did manage to lose Gabrielle's scroll, y'know."
"MEL! Give me a break. Some people are just never satisfied. I swear..."
Then the wind carried away the engine noise and their words. Except for the crackling of the burning trucks, the night was quiet once more...
CHAPTER 7: A PLEASANT DIVERSION
Her dark hair fell across her face and she was jolted out of her dream when the half-track hit a pothole in the rough, rocky road they were now following. They had left the tall dunes of the deep desert behind and were now traveling over the gravelly surface of a barren plain. Melinda looked out the window, noticing that the eastern sky was becoming tinted a pale, salmon color. Before long, the sun would begin its slow crawl into the sky, baking this desert with its unmerciful heat once more. She stretched her arms behind her head, only then noticing that she still held Xena's chakram in her right hand. She'd been studying it last night, before she fell asleep. As she looked at it again, running her fingers across its smooth surface, she was seized with a strange feeling. Even though she'd never seen this weapon before, it felt so natural in her hand - almost as if she'd been holding it all her life...
"Good morning, sleepyhead," Jan said, as she looked over at Mel and gave her a smile. Janice was amazed, as usual, by how good Melinda looked - even after a night spent sleeping in the cab of a bouncing truck, her friend looked as beautiful as ever.
"Good mornin, Janice," Mel replied. "Have ya been drivin all night?"
"Yep. We had to put as much distance between us and those Nazi bastards as possible." She adjusted her hat and rubbed her eyes, which were very bloodshot.
"Ya'd better get some sleep, Honey, before ya pass out." Melinda put the chakram back in her bag, and moved over - reaching up to massage Janice's neck. "My lord, girl - You're as tense as a long-tailed cat in a room fulla rockin chairs. Ya better find a place to pull over so ya can get some sleep. How long has it been anyways?"
Jan was thoroughly enjoying the feel of her friend's hands on her sore muscles, and even if they hadn't been sore, she'd still have loved it as much. "I guess it's been about two days now," she replied. "I'd better find a place to lay low anyway." She looked at the horizon, which was becoming brighter with each passing minute. "Just after dawn, the allies will be sending fighter sweeps along these roads, and we damn sure don't want to be caught out in the open in this Nazi kidney-wrecker. There's another oasis not far from here. I'd better head for it so we can hide this thing under the trees and get some sleep. We can figure out how we're gonna get out of here tonight, after sunset." She turned off the road, heading cross-country toward a distant line of hills. Melinda continued rubbing her friend's neck as they bounced along. "God, I love the feel of her hands on me," Jan thought, as she tried to concentrate on her driving more and on the growing need inside of her less. "If only she could want me as much as I want her."
She drove toward the hills for about ten minutes, then caught site of a ravine, cut into the side of one of the ridges off to their right. Jan headed into it as they saw the sun break the horizon over the dusty plains behind them. She turned on the low intensity headlights, designed to be invisible to planes in the darkness. They barely gave her enough light to see the walls of the narrow defile, so she drove along slowly. Presently, the walls fell away, allowing the early morning light to penetrate and revealing a wider valley. On one side of the hidden glen, a small stand of trees surrounded a large pool of water, which was fed by a waterfall emerging from the cliff side.
Jan pulled the half-track beneath the canopy of the small forest and shut off the lights. "I used this as a base camp on one of my expeditions years ago," she said, as she grabbed the Thompson from the floor. "We should be safe here until nightfall. It's too far off the beaten path to be visited very often, except by a few Bedouins." She opened the door and climbed down from the truck, donning her hat and pulling out a fresh cigar as she did.
"Ah could sure use a bath," Mel said, looking at the water as she got out of the truck to stand beside her friend. "Don't take this wrong, Janice, but Ah think you could use one too." She smiled charmingly. "Ah know it's been longer since ya had one than since ya slept."
Janice raised her arm and took a cautious sniff. "So what are you saying, Mel?"
"Nothin, Janice," Mel said, awkwardly, "Ah just meant that..."
"That I smell like I need a bath?" The blond adventuress broke into a wide grin as Melinda's face began to redden. "You're right too. Let's get cleaned up first, then we'll have something to eat and get some sleep." She moved behind the truck and lowered the gate, digging through the supplies in the back...
The two women were waist deep in the cool, clear water, both of them lathering up with some soap they'd found in the Nazi's supplies. They stood near the cliff, just in front of the shimmering waterfall, which made a perfect natural shower. Melinda was behind Janice now, watching the shorter woman as she rinsed her hair beneath the cascade of spring water. She was admiring the strong, muscular appearance of her friend's back, as she'd done many times before. Jan's arms and shoulders were so powerful, for a woman, and Melinda loved the way they looked. She was quite certain that she'd love the way they'd hold her too, if only she could ever find herself in their grip, as she often imagined.
Jan turned around, wringing the water from her hair as she did. Mel quickly shifted her gaze to the waterfall. "It's very lovely here, Janice. What a wonderful place to have a bath." She looked into those green eyes - those eyes that seemed too beautiful for a rough, tough adventurer like her friend. Mel, usually very shy and reluctant to express her feelings, couldn't believe it when she heard a voice ask, "Would ya like me to wash your back?" It was her voice.
Janice looked up at Melinda - her eyes registering mild surprise. She couldn't believe that her companion had asked her that. Mel was always so shy - almost withdrawn, in a sense. She'd never acted in a manner other than friendly toward Jan, though there had been a few times that... No, this wasn't what Jan was hoping - it couldn't be. Melinda was just being nice and offering to get the grit from a place that her blond companion couldn't reach. Still, Janice wasn't about to refuse. She grinned broadly, then turned around. "Sure Mel, thank you for offering."
Melinda was so nervous now that she dropped the soap and had to feel around on the sandy bottom with her feet to locate it. She reached down and grabbed it, then began rubbing it between her hands to get some lather. She placed her hands on Jan's shoulders, then started moving them in slow circles around her friend's muscular, firm back. The feel of her smooth hands meeting Jan's equally smooth skin caused a rush of sensation to shoot up Melinda's fingers, traveling on up her arms and into her spine. That triggered a tingling deep inside her, centered low in her belly. Mel had given her old boyfriend backrubs in years past, but never had that gotten her so excited as this. She'd realized years ago that men were not her preferred partners, but since same sex couples were very taboo in this day and age, she'd never acted on her impulses toward other women. Melinda had gotten used to the idea that she'd never meet anyone with whom she might be able to have a fulfilling physical relationship - until she'd met Janice.
Jan was thoroughly enjoying the feel of her friend's soapy hands as they swirled around her skin, leaving a trail of incredible sensations as they did. Although she'd had many female lovers in her past, Jan had never met someone that she felt really close to. When Melinda had walked into that tent in Macedonia all those months ago, Jan was immediately attracted to the tall, dark-haired woman. Though the expedition had been a failure, and the tomb was found to be empty, Jan had felt as if it were a success - because it brought Mel into her life. She'd known that she liked the sexy, southern belle's looks and body, but, as time went on, Jan began to realize that she was falling in love with her. She'd never been able to tell Melinda though. What would a rich, pampered woman like her see in the daughter of an infamous archaeologist, except a chance at adventure? Jan had to suppress a moan as those soft hands slid down her spine, lathering her lower back now and causing her thighs to spasm with desire. "Oh, god..."
"What was that, Janice?" Melinda asked, stopping her hands.
"Uh, nothing Mel. I just have a cramp in my leg - that's all." She couldn't believe that she'd actually allowed herself to vocalize her feelings like that.
"Well, would ya like me to massage it out for ya?" Mel asked, her voice low and seductive - at least that's how Jan heard it, but she wasn't sure. The blood was rushing through her ears loudly and she couldn't tell if it was really seductive or if she was just hearing what she wanted to hear again. Jan knew, however, that she'd never be able to control herself if Melinda's hands were on her thigh right now. She turned around and looked up into those beautiful, blue eyes. They weren't the innocent, girlish eyes that she'd gotten used to - they seemed to be full of desire.
Damn it! Mel was supposed to be the shy one. "Melinda, I need to tell you something, but I..." Jan paused awkwardly, looking toward the shore where their vehicle was parked...
He'd been watching the women since they'd arrived earlier. From his hiding place among the boulders, he'd watched them drive up the canyon, then get out and begin to unload their supplies. They'd set up a camp, undressed, and gotten into the pool to bathe - causing him to watch with even keener interest. As they'd bathed, he'd managed to work his way through the trees up to the half-track. He crawled up to the driver's door and carefully opened it, then eased inside, reaching over to start the engine - only to discover that the keys were missing.
"Damn!" he swore, quietly. The blond must've put the keys in her pocket. He quietly opened the door and got back down on the ground. They'd undressed beside the pool, near a pile of rocks. He should be able to crawl over and get the keys, then make his way back and get going before they got out of the water. He slithered along the ground and peeked around the front tire, looking to see if the women were still in the pool...
He felt a few drops of water hit his face, just as he noticed a pair of bare feet in front of him. He shifted his eyes upward, following a pair of thick, shapely calves, which led to a set of muscular thighs... That's when he saw where the water had dripped from. It was running down the barrel of a Thompson sub-machinegun - which was pointed directly between his eyes.
"Didn't your mother teach you it's not nice to peep?" Jan asked.
CHAPTER 8: SOME DISTURBING NEWS
"Who are you?" Janice asked. She sat on a rock, across the fire from the man, whose hands were now securely tied behind his back. Melinda was leaning over the fire, stirring a stew that she'd concocted from the various rations taken from the Nazis. Jan lit a cigar, using a stick she pulled from the fire. She took a puff and tossed the twig into the flames. "I asked you a question," she said, pointing the gun in his direction once more.
"The name's Leager, Colonel - 28753811, United States Army," the gray-haired soldier replied, "and that's all you get."
"United States, huh?" Jan got up and walked over to him, exhaling smoke into his face. "I don't believe you. I think you're a Nazi spy."
Melinda reached out and took her arm. "Janice, maybe he's..."
"Quiet, Mel," she said, cutting her friend off. "What unit are you attached to?" she said, dumping her ashes as she did.
"The Eighth air force," he replied. "I was flying a fighter, when I got shot down by flak and..."
"You're lying, Colonel," Jan said, "if you are a colonel. The Eighth is based in England, not Africa. Want to try again?"
"Who are you two and what are you doing out here?" he asked. "You sound like Americans, and she," nodding at Mel, "definitely sounds like she's from the South - I'd say the Carolinas. What are two American women doing behind enemy lines in Africa - and driving a German half-track? Seems to me you two might be spies, working with the Nazi's."
Janice pulled the brim of her hat down and spoke around her cigar as she exhaled. "If that were true, Colonel, you'd be dead already - or we'd have handed you over to the Gestapo by now. So why don't you tell us why you're here, trying to take our truck?"
He looked down, then stared straight into Janice's eyes, trying to size her up. After a moment, he spoke. "OK, I'll trust you - I seem to have no choice. My name is Colonel Moe Leager - O.S.S. I was sent here with a team of commandos to try to capture a new weapon that the Nazis have developed. We parachuted in four nights ago, but we got unlucky and landed right on top of a Nazi patrol. Most of my men died in their chutes when those bastards opened up on us as we landed, and the rest were captured. I needed your truck to try to complete my mission, because if I don't, the Allies will probably lose the war." He sat back and continued to look Jan in the eye.
Janice stared back at him, her eyes seeming to penetrate his very soul. She took another drag on her cigar. "O.S.S. huh? So you are a spy. Untie him, Mel - I think he's telling the truth." Melinda moved over and reached down behind him, as he turned his back to her. She untied the ropes and when he was free, he began flexing his hands to restore the circulation.
"Thanks for believing me," he said.
"I'm still not sure I do," Jan replied. "So just keep your hands where I can see 'em while we eat - and you tell us about this mission of yours."
They sat around the fire and ate, as the Colonel told them about his orders and of the failed mission to retrieve the new Nazi weapon. Janice and Mel sat hip to hip on a log, while the colonel sat across from them, where they could watch him - just in case. Jan was very conscious of Melinda's body heat, remembering the intense feelings she'd had earlier, when they'd been interrupted. Mel was also trying to ignore her desires as she sat, smiling pleasantly, while the soldier told them about the last few days. He'd gotten away from the Nazi ambush and found himself lost and wandering across the desert, almost dying of thirst until he'd found the canyon with it's oasis hidden inside. That was two days ago...
"...and then I saw you two drive up in that half-track." he finished. "If I don't find a way to get to that weapon, then the Allies are in big trouble."
"So you're telling us that the Nazi's have a new weapon that can destroy entire cities?" Jan asked - a look of disbelief on her face.
"That's right. You could ask Josef Stalin - if he were still alive." Colonel Leager said, as he took another bite of stew. "He died when Moscow was vaporized. The Russians have already lost millions of their men to these new weapons. We think that's the only reason we haven't had one used on us - yet. Hitler wants to destroy the Russians first."
"Janice!" Mel said, excitedly, "that weapon sounds like the one Khali Schtowe was tellin us about yesterday in the temple - remember?"
"Khali Schtowe - how do you know her?" the Colonel asked.
"We had a run-in with her yesterday," Jan replied. "She's some Gestapo Colonel who..."
"She's one of Hitler's top people," Moe said. "The word is that she has something to do with weapons research. If she's here, then they must be getting ready to use one of those new devices. We've got to get to it first, or thousands - hundreds of thousands of our men might be lost!"
"Janice we've got to help him!" Melinda said, putting her hand on Jan's knee and squeezing it. "We cain't let all our boys get killed - not when we can do somethin about it. Besides, my brother's in the service here in Africa, somewhere. Please, Janice - we just cain't let anythin happen to him and the others!" A tear trailed down Mel's cheek as she looked into Jan's eyes and began to cry.
Jan drew her into a hug, stroking her long, dark hair as she did. "We won't let anything happen to your brother, or the other men," she said. "I promise." Mel pulled back, taking her glasses off and wiping the fog from their lenses. "Thank you Janice." She gave the blond woman one of those smiles that always caused her heart to beat faster.
Jan looked back over toward Colonel Leager. "OK - what's your plan?"
The Colonel took a twig and began to draw maps of the captured allied airbase where the new weapon was supposed to be housed...
CHAPTER 9: INTO THE FIRE
After they'd finished making plans, they slept through the day - Mel and Jan bedding down together on a blanket, while Moe stood guard. Jan relieved him later, and they repeated this routine several times, until darkness began to fall.
Jan awoke to the sounds of frogs croaking from the direction of the pool and night insects humming and chirping. She realized immediately that Mel was curled up next to her, with her head burrowed into Jan's bosom. As much as the blond woman wanted to lie here and enjoy the sensation, she knew that they'd better get going. They needed all the hours of darkness, if their plan was to succeed. "Wake up, Mel," she said, shaking her friend lightly...
They packed all of their gear in the half-track and started down the canyon, on their way to the airbase. Jan was driving, Mel sat next to her and the Colonel sat by the passenger window, holding one of the captured German Schmeisser sub-machineguns. Jan drove as rapidly as she could, following the track they'd discussed earlier. If Allied reconnaissance reports were correct, this path would take them through German lines and get them into the defile which ran close to the airbase. From there, they'd be going underground, if the Colonel was correct about the secret tunnel the Allies had constructed as an evacuation route from the base. Jan hoped that he was right as she drove on into the desert, by the light of the stars...
In about three hours, they entered what the colonel told them was the start of the canyon that they were looking for. Jan headed into it, dodging rocks and boulders as she went. They continued on for another hour, when suddenly, the Colonel told Jan to stop. He got out and moved over to the wall of the canyon. After a few moments, he ran back. "This is it," he said. "I found the tunnel entrance and it looks like nobody's been here, so the Germans must not have found it."
They pulled the half-track into a narrow side canyon and covered it as much as possible with scrub brush. By the light of a heavily shaded lantern, the Colonel and Jan began strapping on web gear, which held extra ammo for their weapons and also several hand grenades each. Jan took her whip and her pistol, along with a pocketful of cigars. Mel strapped on her backpack, containing the stone of Seti and Xena's chakram, as well as some food and personal items. Jan handed her a German pistol belt, with a Luger and some extra ammo.
Mel held the weapon in her hand, then looked over at her friend and handed it back to her. "Janice, Ah don't think Ah could shoot anybody."
Jan took the pistol belt and began strapping it on Mel. "Just wear it for me, OK? It'll make me feel better." She gave her dark-haired companion a smile in the dim light of the lantern. "When we get going, I want you to stay right with me all the time - no wandering off or stopping. Promise me." She looked at Mel, the concern for her friend's safety very clear in her green eyes, even in the semi-darkness.
"Ah promise, Janice." Mel returned her smile and then, on impulse, smothered Jan in a warm, lingering hug.
The Colonel's voice came from near the tunnel entrance. "Come on ladies, we need to go!"
As Janice began to pull away and turn toward the tunnel, Mel grabbed her arm and stopped her. She looked into her friend's eyes for a second, then bent down and gave Jan a short, soft kiss on the lips. "For luck," she said, as she smiled shyly, and then walked away in the direction of the cliff. Jan watched her friend go, her mind full of conflicting thoughts - then she chambered a round for the Thompson and followed her companions...
They made their way through the narrow, rough-cut tunnel, using a couple of flashlights to find the way. Moe was in the lead with Mel in the middle and Jan bringing up the rear. Other than a few rats and a small colony of bats, they saw no living things during the trip - nor did they see any footprints. Apparently the Germans didn't even know the secret passage existed. In about an hour, they came to the end of the tunnel. A steel ladder led upward, into the darkness.
The Colonel slung his weapon over his shoulder, as he grabbed the ladder. "This will take us up the airfield," he said. "It comes out under a small maintenance shed, near the revetments used to protect parked aircraft. It should be unoccupied, so you two can stay there until I can reconnoiter the area and locate the weapon. If it's on a plane already, we can fly it out, hopefully. If not," he pointed to the pack he was wearing, "this plastic explosive should destroy it - though I'd much rather capture it."
They made their way up the ladder until the Colonel came to a steel trapdoor. He braced himself, carefully slid back the bolt, and lifted the hatch - looking through the opening and scanning the interior of the shed. There were no sounds or signs of anyone around. He opened the door fully, then pulled himself up. After he checked all around the shed, he reached back down and helped Mel up, then Jan climbed out as well. They could see around them fairly well, due to a small bulb which lit the interior dimly. Tools and spare parts lay in disarray on the floor and the shelves lining the walls. Apparently, this building was not used very often, as the dust on the floor indicated.
The colonel moved to the door and opened it carefully, just a crack. "I'll be back in ten minutes - just lay low," he said. He peered out, then opened it wide enough for him to slip through and he disappeared into the darkness. Jan sat down on an old motor, leaning the Thompson on her thigh. She pulled out a cigar, thought a moment, and then put it back. "The smell might give us away." Melinda walked over and sat beside Jan, laying her head on the shorter woman's shoulder. "Do ya think we'll get outta this?" she asked.
"Sure Mel," Jan replied, "we always do, don't we?" She looked into Mel's eyes. Even those awful glasses never dimmed the sweetness that shone from those blue orbs. Jan reached down, took, Mel's hand, and cleared her throat, awkwardly. "Just in case we don't though, I need to tell you something."
Mel smiled and squeezed the hand that was holding her own. "What is it Janice?"
Janice Covington, daughter of one of the most brash and unconventional archaeologists ever - who had used explosives since age six, who had beaten up men twice her size, who had been in more gun battles than Sergeant York - was scared. She wanted - she needed - to tell Mel how she felt, but why was it so hard? She took a deep breath and summoned up her courage...
"Mel, I think I'm in lo..."
Suddenly the door burst open and Colonel Leager charged in, throwing himself to the floor as he did. "GET DOWN!" he yelled.
Jan got down on the floor, pulling Mel with her as she did. A second later, she heard the scream of falling bombs and then the world exploded around them. Massive detonations caused the ground itself to heave and convulse beneath the shed, the floorboards ripped apart from the force, and the walls shook like wheat in a strong storm! The very air itself seemed to be sucked away as the bombs went off and the horrible impacts slammed into their bodies! The noise and concussions were so intense that Jan couldn't hear Mel's screams, though she was now lying on top of the terrified woman, shielding her body from the flying splinters and nails. A string of bombs landed near the shed and the force of their explosions demolished the flimsy structure like so much straw! Jan covered her head as the remains of the building collapsed onto them...
After a five minute eternity, the formation of allied planes turned from their bombing run. Their ordinance having all been dropped, they headed back for their base, leaving a smoldering ruin behind them. The few remaining German anti-aircraft guns fired ineffectually at the retiring aircraft. Living men ran around in confusion, the wounded screamed in agony, and the dead lay in the place they had fallen - or, in many cases, the places that their various body parts had fallen...
Even the God of War might've been shocked at the scene which Colonel Leager saw, as he pulled himself from the remains of the ruined shed. He didn't waste time looking over the devastation, but immediately began digging through the rubble around him. "Janice, Mel - Are you OK? Where are you?" He kept pulling boards and metal braces away until he saw a patch of blond hair through the debris.
Janice raised her head and looked up at the Colonel. "What the hell happened?" She grabbed Mel's shoulder and shook the silent woman beneath her. "Mel, are you OK?" The dark-haired woman didn't reply or move. "MEL!" Jan began pushing away lumber and metal, helping Moe dig them out. When her body was freed enough for her to do so, she got off of her friend and turned the woman over. Mel's glasses had been knocked off, her eyes were open, and they were full of fear. Her whole body began to shake and tears streamed down her cheeks as she grabbed Jan in a powerful hug - burying her face in the blond woman's hair. Janice just held her and let her cry as the Colonel finished freeing the two women from the rubble.
"I guess the allies didn't want to wait any longer," Moe said, as he tossed aside the last board. Jan got to her feet, helping Mel up as she did. The frightened brunette clung to her friend tightly, her head still buried in Jan's shoulder. The Colonel continued speaking. "They decided to take out the base before the weapon could be used. But it was all for nothing, I'm afraid." All but three of the planes parked in the revetments were blazing wrecks. Two were German fighters, the other was a captured American B-17. The Colonel pointed toward the American bomber. "That's the one they modified to carry their new weapon - and it's still on board. So we've got to get that plane. Now may be our only chance. With the confusion from the bombing, we might just be able to get to it and take off, if one of the runways is still intact. In five minutes, it'll be too late, so let's go."
Jan held her distraught friend as she looked at the plane. She seriously considered taking Mel out of here, back down the tunnel, and just forgetting this whole mess. They could get the half-track and be gone before anyone even knew they'd been here... But then the Americans would feel the fury of the German retribution, no doubt including the use of that new weapon. No, for Mel's brother and for all the other men and women of the free world, they had to go through with it. She gently detached Mel and looked into her eyes. "We're going now Melinda. We're gonna go get on that plane over there and fly out of this, OK?" Jan reached down and picked up her friend's glasses, wiped them on her shirt, and put them on Mel's face.
"OK, Janice, " Mel replied, in a weak voice. She sniffed back her tears. "Ah'm sorry that Ah'm such a baby, it's just..."
"You're not being a baby," Jan replied, with a smile. "I was just as scared as you were. This was my first bombing raid too - and I hope my last." She reached down and picked up her hat, placing it on her head. Grabbing her Thompson with one hand and taking Mel's hand with the other, she followed the Colonel as he made his way across the cratered landscape, toward the waiting plane...
Continues in Chapter 10
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