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Teresa M Shafer - For books that kindle thought and ignite the imagination!
That Room 

There were bones on the floor but only enough for one body. Gabrielle drew her Katana; she had sheathed it somewhere along the route. She and Xena turned the corner as one. They had no idea what to expect but they didn’t expect what faced them. 

There was nothing in the hallway except bones and scraps of clothing and weapons. The door that lay beyond the sea of bones was shut and still very much intact. Gabrielle stepped over the bones at her feet and came face to face with the door. Harmony stepped up beside her; she had an odd device in her hand. 

“Excuse me.” She said gently. Gabrielle numbly stepped back. Xena put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. Harmony put the box thing up against the lock and it started to hum. It hummed for several seconds and then it clicked and the door rattled and a popping sound was heard from the lock itself. Harmony stepped away from the door and indicated that Gabrielle and Xena should proceed. 

They stepped up to the door and Gabrielle depressed the door latch. When it gave way she pushed on the door. She fully expected it to protest but it merely swung open silently. She and Xena stepped into the room as one. Five bodies and the foul odor of decay occupied the room together. The three men that Xena had struck down to get to her beloved still lay where they had fallen. Their corpses had partially mummified.

The floor had gotten wet from ground water and had caused most of the putrid smell in the bodies. But no large rodents had eaten them as had happened elsewhere in the Castle. The strap that had held Gabrielle by the throat was rusty but still there. In the corner sat two mummies.

“That’s why you wanted me to lock the door. Just in case someone survived and wanted to move the bodies.” Xena finally understood that Gabrielle had known even then that she was having trouble leaving this body here.

“Yes… and so they wouldn’t be eaten.” She walked over to the mummies. She had to step over the man that Xena had decapitated. His head had rolled up against the back wall.

She and Xena were as they had been. Xena in Amy’s body was holding Gabrielle in Hope’s body. Hope’s body was covered by a thin blanket that trailed over and covered part of Amy’s body as well. Amy was clothed but her uniform blouse and her med cloth had been removed. It was clear by the discoloration that both bodies had sustained massive damage before they had succumbed to death.

Two floating gurneys floated up behind them. The rest of the team was silent. They looked around the room and fixed everything in their minds. None of them had expected to see such a scene and certainly they had hoped never to experience such a smell.

“Xena I don’t understand.” Gabrielle said.

“What don’t you understand Gabrielle?” Xena was a bit confused. She could see nothing that looked confusing to her.

“Nayima told us that Alti would return many times and that we would always be there to fight her. So why… how did we lose?” She was shaking her head.

Xena wrapped her arms around Gabrielle’s waist. “Nayima said that we would be there to fight her, she didn’t say that we would always win.” She laid a gentle kiss on Gabrielle’s cheek. “Besides we really screwed the pooch on this one.”

Gabrielle spun in her arms and scowled at her. “What do you mean by that?” Her voiced betrayed her anger.
Xena leaned away from her and smiled. “We had the perfect set up. The bodies were not being used by anyone. My family had produced five women that were incredibly successful at destroying things and they were more than willing to help us. Alti had been a problem for close to a hundred years and it didn’t look like she was going to get any worse. And instead of weighing all of the options and forcing her to come to us… we rushed in and got ourselves killed.”

Gabrielle shut her eyes when the realization dawned upon her. “We didn’t have to run in on her in her lair. We could have sat back and waited for her to make a foolish move.” She got a look of disgust on her face. “When did we become so arrogant?”

Xena chuckled. “I don’t know but we need to knock that shit off and get down to some real business.”

Gabrielle nodded and turned to look down at the two bodies once again.

“Well, let’s get this done.” Xena said quietly and she stepped up to the bodies.

Xena gently lifted the blanket. The movement caused the trapped odors of decay that were still at work to escape. The smell was nearly overpowering and it was nauseating. More than ordinary decay had been working on Hope’s body. She had been manhandled by the hands and bodies of filthy men that were not truly men. Parts of the body had decayed quicker than others. Some other agent had been at work to cause such a reaction. Xena nearly vomited on the spot and would not allow anyone else to see the condition of the body. She hastily dropped the blanket back down where it still covered the majority of Hope’s body.

“We’re leaving that there. Help me lay out a sheet. We’ll wrap her here.” Xena had turned to speak to anyone but Gabrielle. “And everyone put on your Hazmat suits.” They all had brought a pack that had a portable Hazmat suit. They had hoped for the best but not gotten it.

Gabrielle had seen her reaction. She would not be deterred. She stepped up to the body and leaned down to lift the blanket. Xena gently spoke her name. “Gabrielle” She looked up at her soul mate and nearly stopped but Gabrielle had to see. She had to know. She lifted the blanket and steeled her nerves and swallowed her stomach. It was as if the body had been covered in a thick orange red fungus. It was thicker in some places… presumably because those places had been exposed to more of whatever had caused this in the first place.

Xena and the team were all watching Gabrielle. Xena was impressed and saddened that Gabrielle did not flinch. She looked at the body with a clinical eye. It couldn’t be that easy for her, but she put on the bravest face that she had ever seen from her. “Gabrielle” She said again.

Gabrielle gently put the blanket down over the body and turned to Xena and the room of waiting Amazons. 
“Do you think that the body will hold together long enough to move?”

“I don’t know but I think that we’re going to find out.” Xena replied.

They all stepped outside to change. When they had accomplished the task they stepped back into the room.

The team carefully laid out two burial sheets, one on top of the other on the floor right beside the bodies. Xena took the feet, Gabrielle took the shoulders and Rachael slowly and carefully ran her hands under the back. Gently they lifted and slowly moved the broken and putrefying body to the floor. None of them dared to move their grip lest the sudden change of pressure be the proverbial straw. They shuffled quickly but smoothly and managed to get the body onto the sheets.

Once the body was down Xena ordered Rachael to step back and she and Gabrielle removed the blanket and tossed it against the wall. They wrapped one sheet around the body like a mummy’s wrapping, tightly securing the body within the confines of the specially treated burial sheet. Amazons cremated their dead so their burial sheets were soaked in a slow burning flammable liquid. It was a special recipe that had been passed down for thousands of years. The sheet would contain whatever fluids that might come from the body and when the time came it would help the body to burn completely in the flames.

After they had tightly wrapped the body in the first sheet they applied the second sheet. For this to be successful they would need to roll the body into it. This meant that the help of the rest of the team was now required. But now that they body was contained Gabrielle no longer felt the need to protect her like that.

Once Hope’s body was secure in its wraps it was placed into a body bag for easy handling and then it was strapped to the floating gurney and pushed aside so that they could deal with the second body.

Amy’s body was just as difficult to handle for very different reasons. She had been bloated by blood and because of the damp and unusual conditions she was still partially full of fluid and yet parts of her were completely locked into a mummified form.

They gently lifted the body and literally sat it onto the first sheet. They had to carefully and slowly break Amy’s body at the hips so that it would lay flat. This action broke through her abdomen where there was still liquid. But the fluid that came out didn’t look like any human bodily fluid that anyone had ever seen. It was strangely tinged orange like the fungus. They were careful not to spill any of it outside of the sheet.

They broke her neck and arms to get them into the sheet and wrapped quickly to contain the odd fluids that were seeping from her opened abdomen and her clothing. What they had been able to see on Hope’s body was probably happening to Amy’s body as well. They just couldn’t see past the clothing. Only on her stomach area where Hope had been laying did they actually see any signs of the orange red fungus.

Soon they had Amy’s body double wrapped and in its own body bag and strapped to a gurney.

The team left the room with Xena leading the way with her hand on the front Amy’s gurney. Gabrielle led Hope’s gurney behind Xena. She did not look back.

When they emerged from the Castle they were still clad in the hazmat suits. No-one offered to relieve them of their burdens. They all knew what the Hazmat suits signified. They led the gurneys to the shuttles and secured them in a portable freezer unit and proceeded to the decontamination unit.