This story is based on characters from the television series Xena: Warrior Princess and follows the Janice and Mel story "Duty." Although not absolutely necessary, the reader is encouraged to read "Duty" first to understand the development of the characters.
If readers are sensitive or too young for the following, please skip this story:
This dark story contains depictions or references to violence, abuse, and rape, loosely based on that experienced by the Jewish and Romani in the WWII German concentration camp, Birkenau and the aftermath. This story also includes black humor, harsh language, and references to love between women.
Thanks to Trusty.
Oh God. GOD!!
I struggle. My wrists are rubbed raw against the leather ties.
They hover over me, watching. One asks me what it feels like as sweat pours from my brow.
I won't tell them. I will NOT help them. FUCK! The pain is spreading. My whole body convulses as the pain grips my heart. Oh God . . .
They look startled.
My heart feels like it's going to explode.
They don't expect this. GOOD.
Oh GOD. Please, have mercy.
"FUCK YOU, you Basta. . . !"
I should have known. God shows me no mercy.
I wake. Again.
They are smiling and writing. Writing in those damn journals. They must have a library-full by now.
I've failed. Again. I didn't die. I want to. God knows I want to.
They release me from the bindings. I am no threat. I'm too weak to fight or stand. My mouth is even too dry to spit at them. Damn it.
They finally leave me. Good.
My heart beats erratically. My side is swollen and seeps from the latest injection. This has been the worst yet. But I will heal.
I always do.
I stare at the ceiling, waiting. Waiting for the next time. There is always a next time. My eyes are heavy but I do not want to sleep. Sleep is worse.
It is hard to tell how much. I used to know. But now it's a blur. There is no window. There is no clock. They don't think I need to know, I guess. Perhaps they are right. I don't have to worry about time.
I have all the time in the world.
The guard's keys jingle loudly as he selects the one for my cell. I cringe at the thought of other keys. I haven't seen them, but I know there are others. I have heard them. Their cries echo in the hallway and in my head at night. May God help them. But I'm not holding my breath. He hasn't helped so far. Why would he bother now?
A new, stocky guard walks in with a tray of food and places it on the table. He eyes me with contempt, like the others. Just wait until you actually get to know me, I silently promise, still clinging to my anger, the only thing I have left now.
I slowly get up and shuffle to the table like an old lady. I feel old. So very old. I wonder how old I'll actually get.
I stare at the food. My stomach is painfully empty. But I've decided to stop eating. I don't want anything from them. I am still weak, but I manage to launch the tray across the room. I smile with satisfaction as it slams loudly against the wall already stained with breakfast . . . or was that dinner?
This guard is easy to anger, just like the others. He is not the first guard I've fought . . . and as God is my witness, he will not be the last.
His eyes are filled with rage as he wraps his thick fingers around my neck. I can't stop him from strangling me. I don't want to.
Go ahead. Kill me if you can, you BASTA…!
Again, damn it. Well, a girl can dream.
When I first got here, I would dream of her and her blue eyes that could always see straight to my heart. And of her knowing touch that could ignite my passion like no other. And of her incredible love that could always sooth my troubled soul.
But now, I mostly have nightmares. And if I do dream, it is usually of rest. A day when I am not prodded, poked, or cut. A day when I'm not some great experiment, an oddity, or an example of the master race's destiny. Me, Janice Covington…someone's destiny? I'm sure my former teacher, Sister Carmichael, would at least agree with the 'oddity' part.
The sound of keys rattling draws my attention to the solid steel door. At first, I wondered what was on the other side of that door. But then I heard them.
The door opens and the stocky guard enters with an annoyed glare. I smile at him. Bastard.
I am surprised to see a woman with a pail of water follow him into my cell. She is definitely not one of Them. Her hair was shaven off, like mine. Her eyes are dull and sunken in with dark rings beneath them. The baggy, striped prison smock she wears doesn't hide the fact she hasn't eaten in days, perhaps weeks.
Damn. Are they trying to make me feel guilty? I won't. And I'm not going to, goddamn it.
She's cleaning the wall. Fuck!
The guard leaves with a satisfied smile. The door slams shut.
She's shaking. She doesn't know me. But They know me. Damn it.
"I won't hurt you," I tell her. My voice, still hoarse, cracks.
I think she believes me. She nods hesitantly and finishes cleaning the wall.
I sigh heavily. Now my anger has caused work for an innocent. Damn it! Now I'm even angrier.
"You don't look different," she offers uneasily, surprising me.
"Thanks," I respond uncertainly, looking down at my own flimsy smock and suddenly feeling self-conscious. I haven't seen people since I've gotten here. I don't count the butchers or guards. They are not people.
She looks at me more closely and is surprised by my wounds that haven't healed yet. The most recent swollen one from the last injection really catches her eye. She looks concerned.
"Does it hurt?"
I shrug. It hurts like hell, but I don't tell her that. I don't trust her. Maybe she's not an innocent. I can't trust anyone.
She hesitantly sits down on the bed next to me.
What is she doing?
She starts telling me of her family. I am surprised and look at the door uneasily. Will she get in trouble for talking to me? Is she trying to get information from me? Why is she talking to me?
She tells me of her gentle mother and her strong father. Her parents met and fell in love at the university. They had been married for over twenty-seven years. I find myself more curious about her and her family as her dull eyes light up with love as she speaks of them. I have not seen anything close to love in this cell. She is definitely not one of them. I am torn, both thankful and irritated for the glimpse of what I've been missing. I decide to be thankful. Her hope must be contagious.
The more she talks, the more comfortable she becomes. It is almost as if she is just visiting. This almost seems normal.
Do I even remember what normal is?
She tells me of her handsome brother and three beautiful sisters. I stop her. I ask her to repeat the part about her beautiful sisters.
She actually laughs.
Good. She has given me a glimpse of love and I have given her a laugh. I smile at the exchange of the precious gifts. Oh God, it's been so long since I've really smiled. Almost a year . . . I think. I've lost track.
She hears the guard come down the hall and looks up nervously. "Remember my name," she says.
What?? Why did she say that?
"Remember," she repeats earnestly.
Rebecca Weintraub, with the three beautiful sisters. "I'll remember," I say uneasily.
What? Why did she thank me?
The tall guard comes in and takes away the person who gave me a gift. DAMN him. My anger once again overrules better judgment and I sloppily lunge at him. I get a large boot solidly planted in my chest. He watches me with amusement as I fall back on the cold floor and struggle for a breath. I would curse him but I can't breathe at the moment. FUCK.
He laughs and tells me she is getting the injection too. The steel door slams shut.
NO! I crawl to the door and pull with all my might. But the door is too strong and I am too weak.
My heart sinks further into despair as I rest my head against the door and listen to the guard's heavy footfall fade.
Time passes. It always does.
It always does . . ..
I finally lift my head and crawl back to my bed. Like a child, I curl into a ball and hug my pillow tightly. I wish I could die.
I hear another blood-curdling scream echo through the halls. I cringe and put the pillow over my head to silence the gut-wrenching sound. It is no use. I will never be able to silence the screams. I will never be able to forget the pain that begets those screams.
Why is it that all of my body can heal, except my heart? It aches for the faceless others, who I've heard. It aches for the woman who gave me a rare gift, Rebecca, whose name and weary face I will never forget. It aches for Mel. My Mel. The woman whose arms I could retreat into and find love and protection.
But I have no refuge now. Tears fall as my tired eyes shut. I am alone . . . .
I see her blue eyes. Such beautiful blue. I feel her love as she holds me in her arms and watches me die. Oh God, she doesn't deserve this. Melinda deserves to be happy. I tried but I've failed. Haven't I, sweetheart?
There is no more pain. A wonderful sense of peace fills me. I see a fedora-capped man smoking a cigar emerge from the bright light, coming towards me.
He smiles sadly and shakes his head no. "Believe it or not, Jan, it's not your time. You have more to do. Have faith, sport. And please remember, God is with you," he says and disappears into the light.
What the hell was that all about? I've been fucking shot a half-dozen time in vital organs and he says it's not my fucking time? How the hell . . . oh . . . .
My lips tingle. A sweet taste fills my mouth. Life surges through my body as breath rapidly fills my lungs. I hear a woman's soft voice. A prayer? My eyes flutter open and I see a smiling woman. Mother Superior. Mel? Where's Mel? I stiffly turn my head to find her motionless on the floor next to me. I release a panicked moan, unable to speak.
"She's just unconscious," Mother superior says softly, caressing my face as tears fall down hers.
I nod weakly and look to the armed goons. Such anger. They are not amused with Mother Superior's 'blessing.' She had told them the box with the ambrosia was empty. I knew they'd believe her. She was a nun for Christ's sake . . . and one who could beat me at poker.
He's furious. The vein in his forehead bulges. She's not afraid as she stands to face them. She is very calm. Perhaps they are Catholic….
Dr. Engel raises his pistol and pulls the trigger. It sounds like a fucking cannon. That wiry bastard just shoots her! Her full black skirt billows out as she collapses to the floor.
Her body lay motionless. She is dead. How many lives have been lost trying to keep the ambrosia from man? Why the hell did she have to give it to me? Instead of making me powerful, I just feel sick and weak. Fuck.
They turn their weapons to Mel. Oh God! Not my Mel!!
"STOP!" I croak, scrambling to my unsteady feet. Desperate to save Mel, I offer the only thing I have.
GOD must have slipped. He actually answered my prayer. They accept my offer for Mel's life.
They watch with morbid curiosity as I carefully remove Mother Superior's habit from her. An act that would have fulfilled a teen-age dream . . . had she been alive.
As I take my own clothes off, I see my wounds are almost healed. I don't know what this all means, but I am not dead. Nor is Mel. As long as there's life, there's hope…right?
My St. Christopher's medallion slips from my pocket and falls to the marble floor with a 'tink.' I stare at the shiny object by the brown hair no longer trapped beneath the habit. I remember asking the Reverend Mother, when she was Sister Mary Kathryn, why she had to cover her hair. She said it was because hair was a sign of vanity. I didn't understand. She had such pretty hair.
I pick up the medallion and fasten it around Mother Superior's neck. Perhaps the patron Saint of travelers can accompany her on her trip to St. Peter.
I dress her in my bloody clothes and I put on hers. Glancing down the front of the black habit, I numbly finger the bullet hole. I guess I owe her another habit.
I follow as they move my better-half outside of the Cathedral. She is still unconscious as they lay her on the ground. She's so very still. Fear washes over me. I nervously check her neck for a pulse. It still beats. Thank you, God. I exhale with relief and gently caress her beautiful face.
I wonder if I'll ever see her again.
Dr. Engel interrupts my appreciation and points his pistol at her as if I could do something. There is nothing I can do. If I only had the power, I'd strike the bastards down right where they stood, without a second thought. Perhaps that is why I don't have the fucking power. I am only alive, God damn it.
I gently steal a kiss from my soulmate's lips. Who would have guessed that I actually would have one? Who would have guessed that I would actually find her?
I smile sadly. Yes, Mel, I know. You found me.
It is time to go. I stand and watch as the fire spreads. It engulfs the Cathedral ruins and the first woman I ever fell in love with. My stomach churns. I know she loved me. But she loved God more.
I hope he takes care of her now.
The stench of burning flesh hits my nose and I can no longer control my uneasy stomach. I heave into the bushes.
Rattling at the door wakes me. I am sweating from the nightmare. I wish I didn't have to sleep. I've tried not to, but I end up losing that battle too.
A new team follows the head butcher and two guards. I've lost track of how many teams now. But with each team comes new experiments. I wonder what they will be doing this time. Maybe they will actually kill me for good.
As long as I breathe, I can hope.
I look over the new doctors, an older man and a woman. They are wearing the usual, crisp-white coats. As if that makes them good and pure.
I struggle unsuccessfully as I am placed on the examining table in the center of my cell and my arms and legs are forced into restraints by the guards. God, I wish I weren't so weak. The tall woman doctor looks at me curiously. She ignores the restraints and smiles. When she asks me how I am feeling, I look at her with silent contempt.
"If you cooperated more, we could make better progress on the research. You could be doing a wonderful thing for medicine and mankind," she says with conviction.
Does she actually believe that? Does she think putting blinding chemicals in my green eyes to make them Aryan-blue helps mankind?!? Granted, I've always preferred blue eyes . . . .
She continues her propaganda and pulls me out of a pleasant memory, damn it. She enthusiastically tells me I have secrets within me that if unlocked, could help them create cures for all sorts of diseases. I could help the Aryan race become stronger . . . and live longer.
Now there's a real selling point.
"I have seen what the Aryan race is capable of, butcher. Humanity doesn't need it or them," I spat. I earn a stinging slap on my cheek. "Amazing what guilt makes us do," I quickly add with a satisfied grin.
She almost slaps me again but refuses to let me taunt her. Damn. That was rather fun.
She and the other butcher check my wounds and write in some journals. The head butcher just watches. He seems annoyed to be just a spectator. Now isn't that just too fucking bad.
I guess I got to her. She won't look me in the eye. She has the other, older butcher check my pupils. I am once again reduced to just an experiment. Good. Maybe they'll stop trying to convince me this all makes sense.
I sigh and look up at the ceiling as more blood is taken from me. Ow. They quickly jab me with another needle and take more. It's funny, but the head butcher is more gentle when taking my blood. That meticulously dressed man with a pleasant smile even whistles Mozart or Wagner as he works. Who would guess he has no soul.
"I've never seen it that color," the head butcher says uneasily. I finally look over to them and see the vials.
They are excited about what that might mean.
My blood is pink??
They write down more observations.
For Christ's sake, it was red last time, and every other goddamn time they took my blood. Why is it PINK now? Why couldn't it be purple, blue, or fucking green!
Other than take my blood and assess my condition, they didn't do anything else to me. But I am sure that will change with their next visit. Perhaps another injection, or one of those fun operations without anesthesia?
As they finish, I stop the tall woman's note taking with a simple question.
"How is Rebecca Weintraub doing?"
She looked confused. She didn't recognize the name. Of course not, I sigh and look up at the ceiling. Rebecca was just a Jew.
My restraints are removed and they all finally leave.
Time passes. I know not how much. I don't know if I care. I am so tired. I cannot keep my eyes open, damn it. I don't want to sleep . . . I don't want to . . .
We drive away from the Cathedral and my life. We pass an old green and white bus from Saint Ignatius' Academy as it heads into Coventry. My sister, Bert, must be driving. She is the only one brave enough to venture out this far from St. Ignatius in that old heap.
She will help Mel. My broken heart gets some comfort.
I am also glad we finally made up. Bert made her choices as I have made mine. Neither of us understood each other. Yet we always loved each other. Why the hell did we waste so much time? Stupid question, I consider. We are both Covingtons.
It is dusk and we are at the shore, where a small boat is hidden under driftwood and debris. The storm has passed and the sky is finally calm. I could yell for help and someone might actually hear me. But I don't. Why? I gave my fucking word I'd be quiet. Fuck.
As we paddle into the channel, the low rumble overhead makes us look up. A swarm of planes covers the sky, flying towards the English shore. Sirens pierce through the darkness.
More bombing. Will it ever stop?
I look at Dr. Engel, whose gun drops slightly. He is distracted by the loud explosions. The guards continue to paddle. Since I never specifically said I wouldn't try to escape, I jump out of the boat. I feel a hand at my ankle and I make a big splash. Fuck. I come up for air but a paddle pushes me back down. Go ahead! Drown me you Bast . . ..
A rattling at the door wakes me. The guard doesn't bother to open the door to give me food. He slides it through the slot on the floor. Like that would make a difference. You'd think they'd learn. I'm not going to eat. I don't want anything from those bastards.
I am weak but manage to go to the door and pick up the tray. It sails across the room in a nice arc and slams against the wall.
The wiry guard angrily opens the door as I numbly shuffle back to my bunk. I don't have enough energy to return the anger at the moment. Maybe later. This guard is not as massive as that other, stocky guard. I notice he carries a short stick now. I guess he doesn't want another nasty, half-crescent scar on his other hand. I sit and look at him blankly.
The guard scowls and quickly brings in a young man to clean up the mess.
My new visitor has a bucket and sponge and immediately starts scrubbing the wall. The guard leaves us. Again, my anger has caused more work for another. Damn it. He is as thin as Rebecca and looks like he could have used the food. Fuck, I am not going to feel guilty! As he finishes, he turns to me. He nervously says he's heard talk about me.
I don't respond. I don't trust him. I can't trust anyone.
He says he's heard rumors, he heard I was the one that couldn't be killed. I look at him with annoyance and counter angrily "A failure."
"No," he counters softly with emotion. "A hope," he explains and carefully sits at the end of my bed.
Hope!?! I am a goddamn prisoner!
He's crazy. He has to be, for he's now telling me of his father, the shoemaker. I look at my feet curiously. Well, I am barefoot.
He is apologetic and tells me his father, Hans, only makes men's shoes.
"I prefer men's shoes," I announce firmly.
He chuckles. He says his father was disappointed he didn't go into the business with him. He was a painter . . . before here.
"An artist?" I ask.
"No, houses," he tells me with a shrug. "I like being outdoors."
I nod. "Me too," I say softly, vaguely recalling what warm sunshine and a cool breeze feels like against my skin. I smile at the memory. Maybe he's not so crazy.
He smiles sadly. "I wish my father understood."
I don't know what compels me, but I touch his shoulder. "He probably does."
He looks at me with a hopeful smile.
The jingle of the guard's keys wiped the smile off my face. Eric Goldman, son of Hans the shoemaker, looks calm.
He smiles at me. "Thank you."
"Don't worry, I am at peace with God. Whatever they do will not change that. Remember me," he says.
Oh God, not again.
"Remember," he repeats earnestly. "A man lives on if he is remembered."
"I'll remember," I whisper painfully. I will, Eric Goldman, son of Hans the shoemaker.
As he leaves, again my emotions overrule common sense. I hurl my weak body at the guard but his stick cracks soundly against my temple. I crumple to the floor, into blackness….
I am outside, sitting on a blanket on a grassy hill. I look up from the slow-moving river to the beautiful blue sky. The sun warms my skin, slightly chilled by the light breeze, which gently rustles the lush-green leaves framing this peaceful area.
I hear a page turning and look next to me where she quietly sits, reading a large novel.
So elegant, so beautiful. She's like a princess. My princess, I smile.
This place makes me think there is a God . . . and he is good.
I jolt awake to a pungent smell. I try to move but find my limbs are restrained. I blink and focus on the tall doctor, who shines a bright light in my eyes. I cringe.
"Surely this little light doesn't hurt," she says softly with amusement.
"Maybe you should look into a bright light and see for yourself," I snarl.
She shakes her head with disappointment and gently checks my temple. I still jerk my head from her touch. She sighs. "How are you feeling?" she asks.
"Peachy," I lie and look around the cell. That's a first. She is alone, a butcher without an entourage.
"Why are you so combative? Don't you understand the importance of this work?" she asks with frustration.
I am amazed. "Important to whom? How many have been 'volunteered' for this important work? How many have died because of this important work?" I counter.
She seems uncomfortable with the question. Good. I keep pushing. "More than ten? How about a hundred? A thousand?"
She looks annoyed now. "You don't understand," she snaps.
"Many people will benefit from this," she says.
"Many people will die from it."
"It's for the greater good!" she argues.
I couldn't help it. I laugh. She is beside herself with anger.
Another doctor and a guard quickly come into my cell, immediately extinguishing my laughter. They are not happy she is alone with me. I guess they do know me, I muse.
What do you know, our Dr. Greta Snider has been a bad girl and playing with the patient all by herself.
She counters with anger. I look at the guard as Dr. Snider snaps at him for abusing me. Seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle black to me, but I don't say anything. This is too interesting. She must out rank him because he takes it. I almost feel sorry enough for him to mention that I attacked him. Almost.
Wow. She is dressing him down pretty good. This is the most entertainment I've had in ages. Her teammate, the gray-haired man, Dr. Kelleher, impatiently cuts her off and tells the guard he will speak to him later.
The wiry guard with the stick looks at me with hate as he leaves. I smile at him. The feeling's mutual, pal.
The older doctor cautions Greta she should not tend to me without an escort.
"Because I might make you actually think about what you are doing," I interject.
Ow. The old man packs quite a punch. I'd be rubbing my jaw if my hands were free.
"Quiet!" he commands. "Or I'll take your tongue out."
Hmmmm. I wonder if it would grow back. With my luck, it wouldn't. Since I like my tongue, I keep quiet.
Greta sighs heavily. "What are you doing?" she asks him as he opens his bag. "We need to test more of her blood," he says vaguely, pulling out a syringe.
More of my Goddamn PINK blood.
He pulls out four empty vials. Four very large, empty vials. Damn. I hate when they do this. It takes a few days to recover, well, that is, only if they don't do anything else to me.
What's this? Dr. Snider actually looks upset.
"You can't expect the experiments to be successful if she is constantly weak," she argues.
Oh yeah. The experiments. She has the oddest look on her face as she leaves. Almost like she. . . no, she doesn't care. She is one of Them.
Ow! The older doctor sticks me with the needle. His bedside manner needs work. I wonder where the head butcher is. If I'm going to be drained of blood, I'd rather it be him. At least you get a tune out of it. As he extracts my blood, I watch curiously. Yeah. Still fucking pink.
The doctor glances at me and tells me I don't know how lucky I am.
Yeah, lucky. And it's all bad.
I feel lightheaded as he continues to drain my blood.
"When we unlock the secrets within you, we will be making a profound difference in the lives of so many. You could be a hero to the people," he tells me.
I wonder if he ever sold used cars. I don't hear his next line of propaganda. Thankfully, I pass out . . .
I walk through a field of wild flowers by the river and stop to pick a few for my Southern princess. She loves flowers. I inhale the fragrance and grin. She really does love flowers. I stand and fill my lungs with a deep wonderful breath of fresh air. As the large orange sun starts to set, I hear the most beautiful sound in my entire life.
'Janice? Janice, dinner's ready!' The warm southern voice brings me a smile. I turn and see Melinda standing at the kitchen door, waving me back to the house. I wonder what she has cooked for me this time. I suppose I should cook once and a while. But she has a whole drawer full of recipes she wants to try out on me. She is such a good cook and she loves to do it, who am I to deny her? Besides, even though she said she liked baked beans, my camp specialty, I think she was just being nice.
I start jogging back to my home and my life. I am jogging, but I'm not getting any closer. What the hell? I am running now. But I'm not getting any closer!
'Come on Janice, dinner's getting cold!' Mel says impatiently.
"Mel!" I call out. The flowers fall as I struggle to run faster. No! My home is getting further away. MEL!
Mel goes inside our home.
MEL! I call out with panic and sink into the black dirt until I am swallowed. MELLLLLLL…!!
I jolt awake in my dark cell. I struggle to sit up, still very weak. I know I should sleep. It helps me heal. But I don't want to. I don't want nightmares.
My heart sinks as the image of Mel turning away repeats through my head. My eyes start to water. God, I miss her.
I never did fix the driveway for her.