Note: No offense was intended in the portrayal of Turkey in this piece; I've never been there but I imagine it's a lovely place.
The Turkish airport was hot, stiflingly hot. Xe leaned against the wall, staring blindly ahead and wondering exactly how Janice had managed to secure an emergency visa for her with just a few phone calls and less than 24 hours notice. The night prior to her departure, the grandmothers had busily placed calls and dispatched e-mails, assuring her that all would be ready for her upon her arrival in Turkey. Xe had kept up a pretense of faith for both the old women's sakes, secretly sure she would be put back on a plane heading home as soon as she arrived at her destination
"Xe Xe darlin', we have…"
"Many talents. I know Gran-Mel, you have many talents."
She grinned inwardly at the recollection. The women never failed to amaze her. What would she do when they, the only confidants she had ever known, passed on from this life? Often she had asked herself that same question; they wouldn't live forever, regardless of what they said, regardless of all the jokes she had made. One day they would be gone and would take with them the tenuous hold she maintained on sanity and light. Then what would become of Enki and herself?
Shaking the disturbing thoughts from her head, Xe slid down the wall, crossed her long legs, and allowed her eyes to drift closed. She could still hear everything around her: the rush of people as they brushed past, the anxious immature voices of children exhausted from traveling, the shallow breathing of the pickpocket who had slid up next to her.
She felt the small hand slip furtively into her knapsack.
The pickpocket gave a startled yelp when the sleeping woman's hand shot out and clamped onto his wrist in an iron fist. His eyes flew up from the woman's hand to cold, calm eyes as black as pitch.
Xe watched the emotions warring in the child's own dark eyes, he could have been no more than seven-years-old, so close to Ea's age. But as slender as her son was, this child was even more so. Bones jutted out beneath sallow skin and his eyes held a desperate, starved look. Rising to her feet but not releasing the child's hand, Xe grabbed her knapsack and, pulling the child in her wake, set off through the bustling crowd.
"Lady?" The child's voice quivered slightly although Xe was relatively sure it was simply a well-rehearsed act. His eyes, though hungry, belied not fear but thinly veiled exasperation. His expression changed to one of confusion as she drug him past the security post. He had been sure of her intentions up until they left the security deputies behind. "Lady?" he spoke a bit louder, sounding more convincingly worried.
Xe looked down at the child. "Your name."
He hadn't expected her voice to be so forceful but it was as strong as the grip on his hand and as cold as the eyes that pierced through his carefully constructed façade. His mouth was suddenly dry, too dry to speak coherently. Staring up at the stern woman did nothing to ease his discomfort.
"Your name," she again demanded as she stepped up to a food kiosk. Briefly glancing at the menu, she controlled a shudder, the airport couldn't manage to maintain the air-conditioning but it could inundate people with bad American fast food. "Do you want to eat?"
The little boy's dusky head rapidly bobbed up and down.
"Then tell me your name."
"Well Ravi, this must be your lucky day." She took the bags of food the cashier offered her and handed them to the child. "Now I need you to do something for me." She raised an eyebrow in question.
"Yes Lady, anything at all." The child's grasp of English surprised Xe.
"At the university there's a man by the name of Dr. Ancher Eban, he's an archaeologist. Tell him that Xena Cadmus is at the airport and needs to know if he's heard from or seen Gabrielle Baird. Can you remember all that?"
Again the dusky head bobbed in agreement.
"Good. I'll pay you for your trouble and I'll double it if you can get Dr. Eban back here within the hour." The boy was gone before she had finished speaking. Returning to her position near the customs desk, she sat down again and leaned against her knapsack, waiting for the officials to finish her paperwork and for young Ravi to reappear with Janice Covington's successor.
She lay on the cot, unmoving. Even when the guard carried in the tray of fruit and cheese she remained motionless. For two weeks the guard had dealt with an uncommonly cheerful, chatty captive, the lack of vivaciousness left him wondering about the girl's condition. His employer would want to know if the child fell ill. Placing the tray on the small table that stood at the foot of the cot, he leaned closer to the oddly quiet form.
"Ha!" Bolting upright, Gabrielle tried to swipe the keys from the guard's belt, missed her target, and ended up sprawled across the linoleum, the man having side-stepped her attack.
"Stop that. You're only going to injure yourself," he admonished before he turned and left the room, securing the door behind him.
Gabrielle stuck her tongue out at his retreating back but her attention soon shifted to the platter of food.
The guard watched in amazement, thanks to a tiny window carved high in the door, as the child's face brightened at the sight of the food. After weeks of being held prisoner she had been pleasant, almost happy. Periodically she would ask why she was being held or where she was, and once she had even requested a leave of absence, laughing when he sputtered a denial, claiming it had been worth a shot. She had only tried a few small attacks and he had spoiled them without any difficulty. He was beginning to feel slightly guilty about his part in her abduction.
It took Gabrielle little time to finish off the last of her dinner and she stretched out on the cot, staring up at the ceiling overhead. Needing something to occupy her mind, she went over everything she knew concerning her present situation.
Being given a position at the Catalhoyuk site had been a graduation present from her grandmother, the near-legendary Dr. Covington. She had left almost as soon as her winter graduating class had exited the stadium, diplomas in hand and green gowns flapping in the wind. Granma Janice had been there, as well as Gran-Mel, cheering loudly for the tiny blond they had watched grow out of childhood. Her father had not been pleased with the gift but Granma Janice had made up her mind and simply ignored his protests. Gabrielle had even skipped out on her own graduation party.
She had spent four uneventful months assisting at the site, gaining quite a bit of good work experience but not finding anything bigger than pottery shards for all the excavation work she'd done. After receiving a strange call from her grandmother, she had taken a short trip into Macedonia to meet both the grandmothers and Xena Alexandria for an impromptu vacation; Granma Janice had said something about kidnapping Gran-Mel and Xe being furious with her family but wouldn't elaborate any further. She had stayed with them for a week, feeling just as incompetent as ever she did when Xena Xandria was present; she returned to Turkey with high hopes of at last proving herself to the woman she had always idolized.
The last few weeks she had spent at the site had been somewhat different; a new team member had shown up asking lots of nosy questions about the grandmothers' work in Macedonia.
It had been the site manager who had suggested she make the run into town to replenish their supplies. She hadn't gotten more than ten kilometers down the dirt road before she came across a stranded motorist on the roadside. Stopping to lend a hand had been her biggest mistake. Initially the man had seemed to genuinely need help, but once she got within a meter of him he swung a tire iron through the air straight at her. Ducking the blow and spinning around behind the man she had looked around desperately for a weapon of some kind; stupidly, she had managed to give her attacker the advantage by putting him between her and her only means of escape, the site's jeep. She had been frantically trying to figure out a way to turn wildflowers into lethal weapons when the second man had come up behind her. She didn't make a sound as she slipped to the ground, unconscious.
She had woken up in the same room she had been in ever since. The room itself was modern and rather nondescript. Florescent lighting fixtures in the ceiling came on each morning, at least she supposed it was morning, and were turned off each night. There were no windows and she couldn't even find any drafts. The only furniture: a cot, small table, and what looked like a milking stool had been painted bright white and matched the walls. A privacy screen hid a functioning toilet and shallow sink. All in all, it was quite a disappointment as far as dungeons went. No rats, chains, or tortured screams to remind her of her peril; worse yet, not inquisitors to shed light on she was being held, just a guard who seldom spoke and visibly cringed each time she launched into song.
Ticking off the things she didn't know on pale, callused fingers, the girl felt the first vestiges of despair creeping into her thoughts. She was getting cabin fever, locked up in the tiny room. Not knowing how long she would be kept locked away or if anyone would come to her rescue was eating away at her determinedly cheerful disposition.
An image suddenly jumped to the forefront of her memory.
She had been nine years-old the summer that Xena Alexandria had graduated from high school and had traveled to Macedonia to spend a whole year with the grandmothers. At seventy-two, Granma Janice refused to relinquish control of the site to anyone else and Brie's father had been glad when Xe had agreed to go and keep an eye on both the older women. Brie had tagged along for the summer months, anxious for adventure far from the watchful eyes of her father.
She had gone off looking for Xe one afternoon, finally finding her in the middle of a temple that had been excavated on a previous expedition. She had been sitting perfectly still, her long, tanned legs folded awkwardly in front of her, her hands loosely fisted and suspended in front of her abdomen, and her eyes lowered and unfocused. Brie had sat off to the side, watching the slight rise and fall of Xe's chest. Waiting to be acknowledged had been a trying experience; Brie had never been good at being quiet and sitting still for long periods of time.
After observing Xe's meditation, Brie had worked on it herself, finally coming up with a technique that worked. She hadn't tried it in years though.
Anything was better than sitting around worrying.
Ravi darted out of the terminal building. First he would take the food to the alley where his sister would be waiting. At least they would get to eat finally, and it would be more than the little they might be able to scrounge from the rubbish bins.
He wondered where the man he had spoken to earlier had gone. He had tried to snatch the lady's bag as the man had asked, but she was too quick and too sneaky. Now he had the promise of real money if he could find the professor the lady wanted to see.
The child took off into the maze of alleys and narrow streets, searching for the tiny girl who looked so terribly much like their mother.
Xe softly banged the back of her head against the wall. Patience was a virtue she sorely lacked, except when it came to Enki. When the officials had handed over her passport, moments after Ravi departed, she could have torn someone in two. She would be stuck in the terminal until Ravi showed up again, and sitting around idly twiddling her thumbs was not helping locate Brie.
"Xena Xandria? Speak up, I can barely hear you!"
Xe strained to make out her baby brother's voice through the static of the pay phone. "Lyall," several heads turned to gaze questioningly at her as she shouted into the receiver, "Lyall, Gran-Mel has Ea."
"Check in on them for me, will you?"
"Sure, but where are you? I didn't think the semester was over yet."
"I'm in Turkey, it's a long story. Ask Gran-Mel and Granma Jan."
"Ms. Cadmus?" Xe turned to face a short, squat man peering at her through thick spectacles. She held up a hand and turned her attention back to the phone.
"Just go and make sure they're okay, I'm worried about them. And knock it off with the Xena Xandria business, it's worse than Xe Xe." She replaced the receiver and turned back toward Dr. Eban.
"You look very like her."
"Gran-Mel? Yes, I've been told that I do, but I'm not nearly as sweet." Handing a fistful of bills to Ravi she granted the little boy a radiant smile that nearly reached her eyes.
"My grandmother and Dr. Covington sent me because they're worried about Gabrielle Baird, Dr. Covington's granddaughter. She has apparently disappeared from the Catalhoyuk site. I was rather hoping you had heard from her."
"Heard from her?" He mopped his glistening brow with a crumpled handkerchief. "I didn't even know she was in Turkey. Dr. Covington should have let me know she was coming."
"Catalhoyuk? What's that?" the little pickpocket asked.
"It's an ancient Anatolian city, part of a very old civilization," Xe answered automatically and shot a curious glance at the child; she had expected him to flee as soon as the money was in his hand.
"I haven't heard any news from the site; however, the site manager is an old student of mine. We must leave immediately, my car is just outside." He took hold of Xe's arm and hurried her through the crowded terminal.
Ravi stood on the curb, waving goodbye as the professor's car pulled away. It was gone from sight when the man who had approached him earlier appeared at his side.
"Her name's Xena and the professor's taking her to her friend.
"And the friend's name?" The man rested a heavy hand on the child's head.
Ravi carefully considered what he should say. He knew well the dangers that lurked in the shadows of the city and found himself curiously drawn to protect his recent patroness. He remembered everything she had said to the professor. "Janet," he said, smiling sweetly, "Janet Green."
The ride to the site took several hours and they didn't manage to arrive until well after the lunch hour. Sweltering heat radiated up from the ground, rippling the horizon and weighing down the air. Thick clouds periodically moved to block the sun but did nothing to aleviate the summer warmth. The air itself was still; even the breeze that coursed in through the car's open windows offered no relief.
Xe shifted uneasily in her seat, she had never seen this particular site but had been to countless others under the same conditions. Memories of prickly heat, swarms of pesky gnats, and silent suffering flooded her thoughts.
"Your grandmother has told me that you too are a student of archaeology."
"That's wishful thinking on Gran-Mel's part. I'm working on an MA in social anthropology."
"And your geographic area of specialization?"
Xe plucked at the shirtsleeves that clung to her arms and wondered how professors managed to carry on conversations in an ordinary setting. "Not here; much to the dismay of both Gran-Mel and Dr. Covington my focus is on New Zealand and the South Pacific."
"More pleasant conditions?"
"At least there's a relatively constant breeze."
The cloud of dust, which the car kicked up in its wake, drew a crowd of curious onlookers and all progress at the site had halted by the time the doctor's car had pulled to a stop.
Xe scanned the tired anxious faces, wondering if any of them expected a certain blond to exit the vehicle.
From a tent near the excavation itself, a tall lanky man emerged, his brow knitted with concern. Once Dr. Eban stood and shut the car door behind him, the younger man pushed through the small congregation.
"Dr. Eban! Thank you for coming, I've contacted the authorities and the embassy. I'm not sure what else to do. When I called the university your secretary didn't know where you'd gone. I'm so glad you've come," the man gasped for breath.
"Franklin, slow down boy. I haven't seen my secretary yet today. Now what is all this talk of the authorities?"
"It's Gabrielle, Dr. Covington's granddaughter."
"Yes, I have heard something about that." He looked over the car at his dark companion. "Can you tell us what's happened?" Steering the younger man back toward the tent, he gestured for Xe to follow.
Once inside the tent, the site manager collapsed into a chair, propped his elbows on his knees, and covered his face with callused hands. "Two weeks ago I could tell Gabrielle was restless, she needed a break. I asked if she wanted to take one of the jeeps into town to get some supplies. When she didn't show up by the next afternoon, I went into town to see if there was a problem. No one had seen her and it isn't as if she could have blended in with the locals. I hoped she had just gone off for a short holiday but when she hadn't returned after a week," he stopped and cast pained eyes at both Dr. Eban and his quiet companion, "I contacted Dr. Covington and she hadn't heard from her either."
Xe dropped to the ground to sit with crossed legs across from the young man. As annoying as Brie could be, she'd never cause Granma Jan undue worry and she'd never just walk away without leaving word.
"When we got here this morning, I found this in the tent." He handed Dr. Eban a sheet of paper.
After reading it silently he handed the note to Xe. She recognized the majority of writing as a form of ancient Sanskrit that Gran-Mel had taught her years ago. Whoever had Gabrielle promised to do her no harm as long as they were given the information they wanted. And they wanted it from her, Xena Cadmus, descendant of Melinda Pappas and one of the most knowledgeable students of Macedonian antiquities.
"You've read it?" Dr. Eban questioned the distraught man.
"Bridgid, one of our excavators, was able to decipher most of it."
"Then let me introduce you, " The professor indicated, with a flourish, the dark, silent woman seated on the rug. "Franklin Dupree, meet Melinda Pappas' granddaughter, Xena Cadmus. Dr. Covington asked her to find Gabrielle."Continued in Part 3.