Blood of the Gods
by Kaol

Somewhere in South America, circa 1904.

Dr. Kara Novva sat down on the fallen truck of a large, decaying tree and removed her newly purchased, tan pith helmet from her head. With an annoyed slap she prematurely ended the life of a mosquito engorging itself on her forearm, then stared at the wilderness about her and sighed. It was a sigh of equal parts awe and frustration. Kara wished she had more time to enjoy the scenery, as there were flora all about her unlike any she had seen in any of her field books back at the University. She was passing by discovery after discovery without the time to pay them a second glance, and barely a first.

Unslinging the canteen from her shoulder, she unscrewed the lid and poured the precious, now warm liquid down her throat. Still, she would have some tales to tell when she returned. Dean Armstrong would eat crow, and she would serve it to him, steaming, on a silver platter. Her department's version of a living dinosaur, peabrain and all, he had been reluctant to allow a woman professor into the department, but times were changing. Yet she had no doubt that the silver haired, bulbous nosed, master of the scowl was hoping that she would fail on this quest.

There was no doubt that even her most supportive colleagues whispered about that 'madwoman' who thought she was a man. Here it was, the beginning of the 20th century, and they refused to accept that women were good for much more than bearing babies, or more to the point, the act of creating said babies. She confused them, she knew. It might have been easier for them to accept if she was overweight or frumpy; even a large wart on her nose with a hair growing out of it would have aided their understanding her non-traditional values. The majority of her male colleagues seemed to operate under the theory that an attractive woman couldn't possibly have received a brain in the bargain as well. It was as if God had given women breasts instead of brains; you couldn't have both. Kara had taken it upon herself to quash that theory.

Yet at times like this Kara half wondered if she did have a brain. She knew she had something to prove, but knew as well she was prone to going too far in trying to show she was as tough as any man. Such stubbornness and resolve had led her to applying for a grant to search for reported ancient Indian artifacts in this jungle. It had recently come to light that there might be carved icons and perhaps a temple in this region. A missionary's journal had been found, (lying beside the skeleton of said missionary, staked out over an anthill), describing a set of rare diamonds.

These 'magical' red diamonds, called the "blood of the gods" by the cannibalistic natives, were reputedly housed within some of the icons as well. It would be a feather in her pith helmet if Kara was able to bring one of those gems back with her. It would make an excellent exhibit in the University museum, or a very attractive broach, depending on her mood. Never mind that the previous expedition had not uncovered any gems. All that had returned from that foray had been Dr. William Dolenz's shrivelled and shrunken head.

Kara had not been daunted by this, as she had known the late doctor; a pompous ass with the unique talent of irritating every carbon based life form he encountered. Kara could imagine his look of outrage at the tribesman who had the audacity to sever his head. She had no intention of sharing his fate.

Yet as the sun beat mercilessly down upon her, and the humidity reached the point that she felt her machete could cut through it, Kara did have her doubts about the entire venture. Not that she would have admitted this to anyone but herself. Unfolding the wrinkled map for the umpteenth time, she studied it compulsively, making sure she was heading in the right direction, although she knew she was. More importantly, studying the map gave her an excuse to catch her breath. Smart, she was. Pretty, yes. Athletic, no.

The trip was going well so far, however, if she didn't dwell on the fact that her guides had fled with the majority of her supplies three days past. When her lead packbearer, Mojumbo, had insisted that it would be bad ju-ju to enter the land of the Ranari tribe clothed, she had indignantly questioned his motives. Insulted, he had left muttering under his breath, and when she awoke the next morning, her companions were gone. But not before leaving a bill for their services already rendered. Their desertion had been somewhat daunting granted, and she knew most of her male colleagues would have turned back and gotten more help. Perhaps that was what led her to continue. Indeed, it would have been objectively wiser to go back for help. But Kara realized that if she came back from this expedition successful, and alone, it would be a victory for her and women everywhere. The thought of that buoyed her somewhat, and she smiled at the image.

Keeping that smile, Kara refolded the map and stood up again. Her long, blonde hair hung heavily on her shoulders, matted by the humidity. Still, even the oppressive heat fought a losing battle to diminish her attractiveness. She unbuttoned another button on her safari blouse, revealing more bosom than was proper for a young woman in civilized company. In the jungle however, with no one to impress or scandalize but a few monkeys, comfort was more important. Besides if she did run into any Ranari, it would be best if she could disrobe quickly, just in case Mojumbo had not been lying about their traditions.

Straightening the straps of her pack on her shoulders and placing her helmet back upon her head, she raised her machete and began cutting again.

Meanwhile and far away...

"Eh, what?" Kaol asked, scratching his head.

"It's really very simple," Mark repeated in a tone that would have been more appropriate in an elementary school. "All you have to do is step inside and we can get going. "

Kaol swivelled in his seat and stared down at the surface of Galhyu, the planet his ship, the Pegasus, was currently orbiting. "That's rich. Except it isn't 'we' putting our collective butts on the line, it's me. An important distinction, to my mind. Couldn't we use April as a guinea pig or something? Tell her it's a box full of pretty colors. Or say there is somebody she met once ten years ago in there that wants to say hello. That should get her in."

"We've gone over this before, Kaol," interjected Sarann. "Much as we all agree it might be satisfying to send April back in time, the device has been programmed to your brain waves and yours alone. It won't work for anybody else."

"Yeah, but we really don't know that, do we? I mean, we really don't know that it will work for me, for that matter, do we? Let's say, for the sake of argument, it does send me back in time. What if I materialize with my forearm jutting out of my forehead? Not only would that be a bad look for me, but I suspect it would make shaking hands damn inconvenient."

"But..." attempted Sarann.

"And what if you send me to the wrong place or time? It could be quite embarrassing materializing in some stranger's latrine."

Mark shook his head. You're just stalling, you know."

"I know. And it has been working for the past two minutes, so please don't interrupt when I'm on a roll. I haven't even begun serious stalling yet."

"Normally, I'd hate to interrupt such a performances Mark replied with forced patience, turning to adjust a dial on the machine. "But every minute you stall could put your mission in jeopardy. My calculations suggest that this individual we are sending you after will die young, but if you save her she could be an important addition to our team."

Kaol shook his head, his hair brushing his shoulders. "But if you are sending me back in time, it doesn't really matter when I leave here, the past has already happened, and no matter when I leave here, you can still send me back at the right time. Right?"

Mark frowned, eyebrows drawing together. "Kaol, you've been studying! But let's not distort the issue with facts at this juncture, okay? Besides, we are working with magic as well as science, so logic doesn't always apply."

"Come on," Sarann cajoled, voice calm, soothing. "You know Mark and Treb wouldn't have whipped this thing together if they thought there was any danger."

Kaol waggled a finger at her. "Yeah, provided there's no danger to them. You don't know them the way I do. And I must say Treb is conspicuous by his absence. Guess he couldn't stand to see me disintegrated." But he stepped towards the machine, a long gleaming tube with various wires and widgets sticking out of it at odd angles. "I must be nuts, " he mumbled.

"You are," Mark agreed with a knowing smile. "That's why we like you so well."

She was nearing the place where the missionary had reported encountering a series of statues, providing Kara had deciphered his notes correctly. And indeed, she did feel like she was on the verge of something. It was as if the air about her had come to life, tingling her skin and making the hairs on her arms raise ever so slightly. If she had believed in such things, Kara would have ventured there was magic in the air. She did not believe in such things, however. She swung the machete wildly, muscles burning from the strain. Sweat soaked her tan outfit a dark brown, sticking it to her skin. A steady stream of salty fluid dripped from the tip of her nose. Her eyes narrowed as she paused, looking through the brush. Did she see stone ahead, peeking through a mass of green? It sure looked like it. In fact, she was sure it was. "Yaahooo!" she hollered, in a rare display of excitement, raising her pith helmet over her head and whipping it around like a cowboy. Or cowgirl.

With a renewed burst of energy, Kara placed her helmet back on and charged forward like a stampeded animal, rushing through the undergrowth. A triumphant smile plastered across her tanned features, Kara beamed with excitement. Yet like a lantern whose flame has been blown out, that smile disappeared in an instant. Her forward progress stopped with a jerk and Kara felt her heart hammering with sudden unexpected fear. Eyes wide in confusion, she looked down at the dirty tan soil which had seemed to materialize around her thighs. That was not right. "Uuunnhh," she groaned, trying to lift her legs from the sandy soil. They were held tightly by an invisible suction, and she settled in deeper.

Kara forced herself to take a deep breath, fighting away a rising tide of panic. Okay, she was in quicksand. She'd heard about quicksand in newspaper reports and the Gothic novels that were her secret passion. But somehow she had never expected to encounter it in real life. And yet here she was, in quicksand, in the jungle, with no help for miles around. Okay. She had that. She understood that. How did the women in her novels usually escape this? Kara thought back. They were rescued by dark haired, virile men with square jaws and hairy chests. Lovely. She had never encountered one of those in her entire life, and she doubted one would be coming by soon in the middle of this jungle. Oh god! she moaned inwardly. No. Get calm. She wasn't going to die here. Not here. NOT HERE! NOT HERE!!!

Yet the quicksand seemed uninterested in her thoughts on the subject, and quivered about her upper thighs, seeming to laugh at her determination as her derriere settled on the semi-solid mush. Kara studied her surroundings, searching for a way to escape. The quagmire surrounded her on all sides. She considered throwing herself flat, lunging for land, but judged the firmer shore would still be out of reach, and she doubted she'd ever get the stains out of her top if she did that.

Chest heaving, Kara pulled the straps of her pack free. She realized its great weight was only pushing her down faster. Swinging it around front, she heaved it towards the shore. It landed near the edge with a splash, before settling slowly into the bog, gurgling. No! Kara thought, watching her few remaining supplies racing her into the muck.

The quicksand intimately hugged her hips now, and out of frustration, Kara screamed and hacked at it with her machete. Spumes of slime coated sand danced in the air, flying about her. And still Kara descended.

Kaol stood in the time machine, looking out at the serious faces of his friends. "Are you sure this is necessary?"

Mark gave a disarming grin and shrugged. "To be honest, no. But I think it is. Let's face it, whenever there's magic involved an element of chance enters the equation. But my recent castings suggest that she could be an important addition to our team in the days to come."

"Still, I can't help wonder how an Earthling born over 100 years ago can help us in our quests. Like, we really need another person from a primitive culture walking around and gawking at our ship."

"Look, some of the current team that you played a major role in recruiting have been less than useful of late," Mark noted pointedly. "A pretty face does not necessarily an effective companion make. Asking everybody we rescue to join our crew is not planning all that well. At times I wonder if you are trying to build an army or a harem! So excuse me if I suggest we follow our heads instead of our hormones in deciding who we choose at this point. I could be wrong, but I sense her presence could be crucial to us in the future."

"Is she a magician too?" Sarann asked, eyebrow raised.

"Perhaps," Mark responded and then shrugged his shoulders once again. "I'm afraid my magic doesn't work that way. I'm still sort of fine tuning my talents."

"Excuse me?" Kaol asked.

"Okay, I'm still trying to figure out what the hell I'm doing. But in a recent meditation I had a vision of a face and a time, and I can't ignore such things. I have to trust my gut. You've traveled time and dimension more than any of us, Kaol, and I feel it imperative you go after her."

"So this could be for nothing."

"If you feel that saving the life of a pretty, young woman is for nothing, yes," Mark nodded. "But somehow, that seems to have become a hobby for you, so I doubt you'll say no. Regardless of anything else, this woman will die prematurely if you don't intervene. Will you allow that to happen?"

Kaol ignored Sarann's proprietary glare, and winked at Mark. "Y'got me there, friend. I guess I'm your man."

Quicksand surrounding her ribs, Kara tried lunging up, swinging the machete at vines hanging overhead, trying to cut one free to use as a rope out of the mire. She appeared to be on a submerged pogo stick, and with each lunge her form descended inches deeper. "DAMN!" she screamed, hurling the useless machete at a nearby tree where it stuck and quivered. Great, she thought, at least that tree will think twice before attacking me. She crossed her arms beneath her chest in a furious huff and glared at the vine covered stone idol which she could still see in the distance. She could sense it mocking her, satisfied that it had gotten her into this predicament.

As the muck touched her arms, Kara raised them, glaring down at the scummy sand just beneath her chest. It held her closer than she had been held in a long time, but it was not a caress she appreciated. It was like a gooey hand, clasped in a tight grip about her body, dragging her down. "NO!" she screamed again, sending colorful birds flying in a flurry from the trees about her. A fist slammed down in the muck, splashing it across her front. Getting it clean was no longer an issue.

Her calm and fear fought a battle within her as the quicksand continued its efforts to claim her. Air whistled in and out of her nostrils with the sound of a small freight train. Kara looked down and saw the viscous substance dimple about the swell of her breasts, before rising and claiming them as well. She was going to die, Kara realized. In spite of all her dreams, aspirations, and determination, she was going to die. No one was going to rescue her, and she had finally found an opponent she could not defeat on her own. Kara could imagine the satisfaction that would give the Dean, and that infuriated her further. The only good thing about it was he would never know what happened to her.

Kara's arms rested heavily on the gritty surface, the thick quicksand up to her armpits. The heavy stench of the mire assaulted her nose, and she shivered as she considered that soon the source of that smell would be in her nostrils. Her lips trembled as she prepared to face death as bravely as she could. She was going to drown, drown alone and unnoticed. The world would continue the same as it always had, but without her. Yet even though there was no one to witness it, she wanted to be brave. Nonetheless, a few stray tears slipped unbidden from the sides of her eyes as the quicksand tickled the delicate curve of the bottom of her chin. She craned her head back, hat toppling off into the muck with a slight plop. Her hair floated lightly on the surface, wreathing her frightened features in a golden frame.

Heart fluttering like a hummingbird, Kara searched the jungle frantically for a Heathcliff to come charging to her rescue. The jungle was silent except for her frightened breathing. She closed her eyes as the quicksand slid up the sides of her face. A thin moan slid through lips squeezed shut as the gritty sand slid up the corners, over her lips. Time slowed then, wrapped in taffy, as the warm semi-liquid covered her cheeks, preparing its attack on her last passage of air. Kara felt the gunk slide into her nostrils, and a second later she was completely submerged, held firmly in a boggy womb, her existence limited to the cubic centimeters of air trapped in her lungs. In sudden panic, she began to squirm again, blindly fighting for her life, thrashing the surface of the quicksand into sludgy waves.

"Ah, well. I guess we shouldn't put this off any longer. Send me back there," Kaol grunted. "I'll have two hours to find her and bring her back, right? Provided, of course, this gizmo of yours works."

"Right," Mark agreed, ignoring the jibe. "Just use your watch, and be in physical contact with her when it's time to bring you back."

"And do you know how she was supposed to die?"

"I don't know. All I know is that you should arrive shortly before she does. I really can't tell you much about her, either. She's blonde, and young, and that's about all I know."

"Good enough," Kaol said. "Don't let him strand me anywhere," he added, directing this at Sarann.

"Whatever you say," Sarann nodded. "Come back in one piece," she added, and shut the door on Kaol.

Kaol closed his eyes, wondering what would happen next. He wasn't completely joking about his fear of this venture. This time machine Mark and Treb had pieced together worked partially on magic and partially on science. It had not been tested either, for if it did work, they had no idea how long it would operate before breaking down, and a successful test could mean an unsuccessful actual attempt. They couldn't waste its energy in trials. Kaol accepted that there was magic in the universe now, but it still made him nervous.

He wondered what it would feel like being sent back into the past this time. He recalled the day he had travelled through time and dimension to save the lives of his friends who had been earlier killed. This time he was heading back to save a stranger, trusting only his friend's intuition that it was important he do so. Still, if Mark felt strongly enough about it, then that was good enough for Kaol. Besides, there was supposed to be a cute blonde involved in the venture, and Mark hadn't mentioned that for no reason. He knew Kaol's weaknesses.

Kaol tensed as the air filled with a sudden, electric hum, and then he screamed into the silence as he fell through a star filled tunnel.

Kaol landed hard, tumbling forward. His hands shot out to break his fall, but Instead sank into the earth. Ugh, quicksand! he thought. His lower body was lying on solid earth, and so he squirmed backwards quickly, snake-like, getting himself on dry ground. It had not been his first encounter with this messy substance. His senses were alive, taut as a bowstring. Kaol had not survived this long by chance. At least not entirely by chance, he amended. His glance darted about, looking for signs of immediate danger. He noted a disturbance in the midst of the bog. Something was sinking in there! It could be an animal. Yeah, it could, or it could be the person he was here to save. Kaol was too familiar with his luck to believe the disturbance was something he could ignore. Mark had cut it too close, dammit!

There was a branch nearby and Kaol grabbed it. Lying flat once again, Kaol speared the mire in the direction of the diminishing waves. Please, Kaol thought, please grab it. A surge of relief washed over him as the branch jerked in his hand. His own arms resting in the muck, Kaol pulled with all his strength. She had to hold on a moment more. If not, he'd have to go in after her. He did not relish that idea. A moment later, a woman's head broke the surface, hacking and coughing. Thank goodness, he thought. Kaol paused a moment to catch his breath as well. Even dripping sand, he could tell she was blonde and good looking too. Mark had been right. This had to be the one. Things had been happening so fast, it was the first chance Kaol had to realize that the machine actually had worked. He'd compliment Mark and Treb on that, provided it also got him back safely.

But first things first. "Stay calm," he called. "We're gonna get you out of there."

Kara nodded, gasping for air.

"Are you ready to pull? Are you up to it?"

"Yes. Just get me out of here, whoever you are," she coughed.

"Milady's wish is my command," Kaol grunted, beginning to tug the branch with Kara attached towards him.

Kara began pulling herself upwards along the branch as well, impatient to get out of the muck. Kaol paused for a moment to lock his ankles about a root sticking out near the edge of the bog, and slid his own body out further along the surface of the quicksand. Kara reached out, and her hand grabbed his wrist. Her body was once again chest deep in the muck, her blouse much the worse for wear and hanging heavily on her form. "Got you," Kaol gasped.

"Amen to that," Kara grunted.

Fifteen minutes of huffing and puffing later, Kara and Kaol lay next to each other on the relatively dry shore. Kara sat up, coated in sand and slime and nodded towards Kaol. "Thanks," she said, and then her eyes rolled up in her head as she passed out.

Kaol nodded and laid back to catch his breath as well. He seemed to have that effect on women, he laughed weakly at the thought.

Kara's upper lip curled in disgust as she examined her outfit which now hung in tatters from her frame, swamp rot and humidity taking their toll. Her attention turned back to her mysterious rescuer. She examined him closely, still not really believing his appearance at the last possible minute. She recalled her wish for a handsome stranger to save her, but he did not match her image of a hero at all. His hair was a dirty blonde rather than a heroic black, and it was worn long enough to be almost feminine. And it would take some generosity to call him handsome, although he was not unattractive. As he removed his sodden shirt she noted he had little more hair on his chest than she. Still, he had saved her life, and she supposed that counted for quite a bit.

Grabbing a handful of leaves from a nearby bush, Kara began trying to wipe off some of the muck that coated her body. She was embarrassed to have passed out like that, and hated that her body had betrayed her so. She wondered what her rescuer thought of her reaction. In one way, she somewhat resented this stranger, as she was no swooning damsel in distress, and yet she knew that had to be how she appeared to him. It comforted her little to consider that few of her male colleagues would have done any better. Although she suspected her rescuer to be friendly, she intended to be careful until she had some better understanding of his intentions.

"So," she said, uncertain how to begin. "I don't believe we've been formally introduced."

"No," he agreed, with a slight grin. "We haven't."

"I'm Dr. Kara Novva," she offered, when he said no more.

"Kaol," he returned. "Nice to make your acquaintance. So you're a doctor too, eh?"

"Yes, of a sort. Not a medical doctor, though, if you were wondering."

"Not really. What I was wondering was what you were doing alone in a place like this?"

"I can take care of myself," she snapped, somewhat affronted by what she felt he was insinuating.

"I saw you taking care of yourself," he remarked wryly. "I suppose you were researching the properties of quicksand first hand. Look, I didn't mean anything by it. Just wondering why you're out here alone."

Kara eyed him warily. She did not care for how she had come to be on the defensive so rapidly, and decided it was time to turn the tables. "So, Kaol, can you explain to me how you just happened to be in the middle of this jungle right when I was seconds from drowning in that stuff? I'm not complaining, mind you, but I've never had luck that good with a man before."

"Ah, so that explains that glower you've been treating me to," Kaol grinned self-consciously, and looked away. Saving this woman from the mire had been easy compared to trying to explain how he happened to be here, he thought. "I hate to act all secretive, but I truly don't think you'd believe me if I told you." He glanced at his watch. Another hour to kill. Kaol glanced back at her. Even bespattered with mire as she was, Kaol thought again that Mark had been right. She was both attractive

"Agh," Kara snorted in disgust, and threw down a handful of leaves, giving up. She glanced back at Kaol. "You'd be surprised what I'd believe. I was sure my life was over seconds before you arrived. After what you just did for me, I'd believe you were the King of Siam in gratitude."

Kaol nodded and his eyes brightened at that gratitude bit. Maybe they'd find a way to kill some time yet. "Let's just say your guardian angel knew you were in trouble and sent me along to help you. And maybe we'll be able to help each other."

"Oh?" she asked, wondering just what he had in mind. This fellow with the strange name was becoming more mysterious with each passing minute, and she found her interest piqued. There seemed to be more to him than most of the men she encountered.

"Don't worry. You just go along with me, and I can promise you the moon and stars."

"I've heard that line before," she snorted. Kara glanced back across the bog towards the dark stone form of the idol she had been chasing. In her near brush with death and subsequent rescue, she had momentarily forgotten her reason for being here. "Look," she said back to Kaol. "As long as we're here, do you want to come with me to check that out? It's what I was after before my little mishap."

Little mishap? Kaol thought. He'd hate to be around when she encountered something she'd categorize as a major problem. Well, they did have time to kill. Provided that was all that was killed, he was game. "Sure," he said, jerking his shirt off the branch it had been hanging over and pulling it on.

"Follow me," Kara stated. "There could be other bogs around here, or something worse."

Kaol walked along behind, admiring the view and wondering about this person he had saved. Although she had been fated to die scant minutes before, she was already back to business, taking the lead without seeming to question that he would follow. Based on what Mark had told him of this era, Kara appeared to be a quite unique woman. She stumbled slightly as a foot slid into the quicksand upon hitting a slick spot on the shore. A sucking sound followed as she withdrew her foot, but she continued on without comment, though Kaol thought he saw her shoulders shudder ever so slightly.

They crossed the edge of the bog, and Kaol got a better look at the idol they were approaching. He wondered what was so special about this big lump of rock that would make this woman ready to jeopardize her life to reach it. It seemed carved from a porous, black stone, and was encrusted with some type of lichens, as well as various vines trying valiantly to hide the hideous image. Yet the face carved on the stone defied their efforts, and its grim, evil visage could easily be discerned. Stone eyebrows furrowed on a sloped jutting forehead, and thick lips curled back in an open-mouthed snarl. It was Kaol's turn to shudder now. What did this woman want with this artifact?

"Careful," she commanded quietly and slowed her pace. She stopped about ten yards from the idol and studied it intently. A smile came to her lips as she recognized the work as Incan. She had found it! That little dunking in the quicksand might have been worth it after all. Even shrouded as the statue was in greenery, she easily recognized it as Metzaquotan, the God of Ill Fortune. Her eyes widened in excitement. Now, the question was whether this particular statue contained one of the infamous red diamonds, the "blood of the gods". If she could bring that back to the University, Dean Armstrong would have to keep his mouth shut tight, at least for awhile. "This is it!" she said and turned eagerly to Kaol, grabbing his upper arm wanting to share her excitement with someone.

Kaol watched with a bemused expression as she studied the idol. She seemed happier now than when he had saved her life. He could tell she was hot for this rock, but he couldn't figure out why. It looked like a nasty statue to him. He stepped around her to get a better look.

"Watch it!" Kara snapped, fear suddenly transforming her features, and pushed him aside. A twanging sound reached his ears as he fell, and a row of sharp wooden spikes snapped up on a spring, stopping where Kaol had stood a moment before. If he'd continued towards the idol, the sharp edges would have impaled him at the hips. Kaol sat in the dirt, legs protectively crossed, eyes white oceans with an island of green floating in the center. He glanced over at Kara with a new appreciation. "Thank you," he squeaked in a falsetto.

She shook her head with a frown. "I told you to be careful." Blowing a stray strand of hair from her face, she leaned forward to examine the spikes and then glanced back at Kaol. "Probably poisoned as well. You are a lucky man."

"Now isn't the time to debate that particular issue," Kaol grunted, rising slowly. "Is it safe for me to walk back over to you?"

"For me it is. Probably for you as well."

Kaol gave her a curious look, unsure if she was joking with him or not. Interesting woman, he thought once more. Mark might well have been right about her, although he still wasn't entirely sure what made her worth risking his neck over. He rejoined her. "It's the God of Ill Fortune," she explained. "You can expect that the ill fortune is directed at those who worship him as well." she paused, and then gave an uncertain smile. "Sorry if I snapped at you. It just shook me up a little as well."

"Don't worry about it. I suspect both our hearts got a nice little jolt there. But hey, you've seen your statue now, so can we turn around and try to find a place cooler to rest for awhile?"

"The closest cool place is about 200 miles downriver." She gave him a teasing grin. ''What's the matter, jungle boy? Can't stand the heat?"

"I'm no jungle boy, first off," Kaol began, but he stopped as she wasn't listening, moving instead towards the idol, her pace slow, stepping carefully. He followed, being sure to step only where she did. No more traps were triggered, and Kara stood before the idol. A tentative hand reach out to touch the warm stone. It was about eight feet tall, and she gnawed on a fingernail as she considered it. "There should be a rare gem here. But I'm not sure where it's stored. I would have thought the eye, but they seem to be just stone."

Kaol pointed at the open mouth. It was dark and shadowed. "Maybe it's in there? You can't see anything in there."

Kara tilted her head back. She was too short to see inside the orifice. "You could be right."

Reaching down, she picked up a branch, and shoved it roughly inside. "Checking for traps," she explained, without looking towards him.

When nothing occurred, Kara withdrew the stick. She looked over at Kaol as if appraising him. "One of us needs to check it out."

Kaol looked up at the dark hole and laughed. "No way. Ladies first."

"I'd insist on it," Kara replied. "It's my discovery. Give me a lift up, if you would. I should be able to reach it easier that way."

Kaol gave a mock chivalrous bow. "It would be my pleasure, fair lady."

"Just make sure it's not too much of a pleasure," she said back, softening the comment with a wisp of a smile, and not really sure whether she meant it, either.

Kaol marched over to her, and faced her. "Ready?"

"Ready," she said, and Kaol saw the excitement back in her eyes. He suspected it was not due to his increased proximity either. Whatever this stone was, it was clearly important to her.

His back to the idol, Kaol locked his arms about her waist and raised her up. Kara was not too preoccupied to notice the firmness of his hold, but pushed those thoughts away. It had been too long since she had been held this close, but at the moment there were more important things to focus on. Kara peered into the darkness of the idol's mouth, but still could not see anything. With a nervous frown, she stuck her hand blindly into the idol's mouth. It was damp and cooler in there, and she half feared some hidden blade would drop down and sever her hand. Still, nothing ventured...

Right when she was ready to give up, her hand knocked into something round and hard, set at the very back. "I think I've got it," she called down to Kaol, victory in her voice. Her fingers locked around the object, and then something heavy dropped onto the top of her hand. Something hairy. Something moving. "Get me down!" she yelled, scared, withdrawing her hand in a swift, fear-inspired motion.

As she did so, Kara beheld a large, hairy tarantula resting upon it. It was as big as her hand, its bloated, swollen body colored a bright orange and dark black. Its thick legs dangled over her fist, holding her in the same fashion she held the diamond. Sets of shiny, black eyes beheld her, and she could see the dripping mandibles clicking back and forth beneath them. A scream was building within her, threatening to explode.

It was finished by Kaol who had seen the spider at the same time, and instinctively dropped his burden. Some hero, Kara thought, as she fell at the side of the idol, and Kaol, pale as the clouds floating overhead, stumbled and fell in the other direction.

As Kara fell, the giant spider dropped from her hand and landed on her bare belly, exposed by the half-buttoned remains of her top. She lay motionless, too scared to even breathe, watching the creature move in what seemed to her almost slow motion, legs rising and falling with machine- like precision. It moved past her navel and up her perspiration dotted belly. Her head trembled as she watched its approach, mesmerized. Kara's lips moved to call to Kaol for help, but no sound emerged. The hair on its legs tickled her abdomen, but she was in no mood to laugh. Although Kara had heard that most tarantulas were relatively harmless, she did not know this particular species, and besides, she hated spiders.

Kaol shared that feeling, but fought down his own discomfort as he scrambled to his feet. He looked about for the stick Kara had used to check out the idol earlier, hoping to bash the bug with it. He groaned inwardly as he saw that she was lying across that potential weapon. He glanced about to find another.

The spider made its way up the curve of her left breast and stood poised on the top, like a proud mountaineer examining the terrain. Kara could not remember a time in her life when she had ever felt so unclean. It seemed like the spider had sensed her thoughts, and did not appreciate them, as it took that moment to rear back on its four hind legs, and hissed at her. Kara watched, spellbound, as some amber liquid dripped from its mandibles as they worked in a frenetic dance.

Knowing she had to move now or feel those dark fangs pierce her tender flesh, Kara raised her arm back, ready to throw whatever it was she had grabbed in the idol straight at the spider. She saw Kaol had another branch in his hand and was readying to swing at the arachnid, but Kara also sensed that it would be too late. The spider was lowering back down and the fangs seemed ready for use. She had to move fast. Yet as her hand came up, a red beam shot out from the stone in her fist directly at her attacker, and the spider exploded into tiny bits, spraying ichor and spider remains about the bushes.

Kaol stumbled backwards again, staring in bewilderment at Kara. He had seen the red light fly from her hand like a laser, but he knew she had no weapon, nor were such weapons available on Earth at this time. Eyes narrowed, a slow and knowing grin came to his face. Mark! That son- of-a-gun. This must have been why he had been insistent that this woman join them. Brushing spider guts off his pants, Kaol ran over to the reclining figure of Kara.

As he knelt beside her, he could see she was trembling with fear, and as pale as he had felt but moments before. Gingerly, he helped her sit upright. Her free hand clamped painfully tight onto his shoulder to steady herself, and he slipped a hand about her shoulders for support. She leaned heavily onto him. "You're okay, Kara," Kaol said. "I guess we both had a scare. Sorry I dropped you, but I'm terrified of spiders, I'm ashamed to say."

"M-m-me t-too," Kara stammered, and gave a violent shudder as she recalled the feel of the heavy and bloated body upon her. Her mind was still feeling overwhelmed, and this latest assault upon her had seemed to use up her last energy reserves. Too much was happening to her in the past few hours. "What did I do?" she asked, eyes wide, locking her glance with Kaol.

"Unclench your fist," Kaol said.

Kara did, and they stared together at the red stone held there. It was a beautifully cut ruby, about the size of her palm, and gave off a weak glow as she held it. "I got, I got the stone," she said, awed. "But, but how did I do that?" she asked. "How did I kill that thing?"

Kaol reached out a hand. "If you'll let me hold it?"

Kara handed the ruby over to Kaol. The glow immediately died away, and it resembled a fine red ruby, but nothing more. He had thought as much. "Take it back," he said.

Kara reached out, and as soon as it touched her flesh the red glow returned. "This isn't possible," Kara said, blinking and looking to Kaol for confirmation.

"Impossible is a word I gave up on a long time ago," Kaol snorted. "But if you think that's impossible you are going to flip over what I've got in store for you."

She looked at him blankly.

Kaol took a deep breath. Now seemed as good a time as any to level with her. In her current condition she might well believe anything he told her.

"Do you believe in time travel?" Kaol asked.

Another blank look.

Or maybe not. "Um, how about men outer space?"


"Life on other planets?"


"Hoo boy. How about honest to goodness magic."

"You know," Kara said, keeping her face expressionless. "It suddenly occurs to me that you didn't save me from that quicksand at all. I died, and this is just a rather creative hell I find myself in. It's the only thing that makes sense when you stop to think about it." She closed her eyes and groaned. "I knew I should have gone to church like my mother said."

Kaol smiled. "Calm down, Kara. This isn't hell. And I must say I take that rather personally, as I'm no demon. Least not most of the time. No, this is real, and so is the power that gem gives you. I suspect you can do a lot more than shoot out power beams. But we'll have to get you back aboard my ship where Mark and our computer can take a look at you."

"You talk crazy," Kara said, but did not move her head from his shoulder. "What is a computer? What ship? You talk in riddles without sense."

"Look," Kaol said, gently helping her sit up on her own so that he could look her in the eye. "I will be happy to explain it all later, but I believe you'll believe your eyes faster than your ears. I'm going to ask you a question, and I want you to think before you answer."

"Go on."

"I can offer you adventure beyond your wildest dreams. I will take you places and show you sights far beyond anything ever experienced by anyone alive today. There will be dangers, certainly, but also chances to learn."

"You sound like a character in one of those foolish Jules' Verne stories," Kara noted.

"I don't know what that's about," Kaol admitted. "But I suspect this goes beyond any stories you've ever read. I am not from your planet or your time. I'm not crazy, or not significantly so, anyway, and neither are you. "

Kara paused, studying the tall man opposite her. He did seem different somehow. There was something in his eyes that suggested he was not playing a game with her. He really was offering to take her on something that he felt would be a major adventure. This talk of time travel and outer space sounded insane, and yet coming from him, she could almost believe it. He spoke with a calm conviction that argued against madness. In addition, Kara had noticed the scars on his body while his shirt had been off, and he was clearly not someone who had lived a sedate life.

Kara also knew that she was growing to like this man, though she still did not understand him. She could almost believe he came from another planet, as he did not treat her as did any of the men she had previously encountered. He had, for the most part, treated her as an equal. Or certainly more so than would have most men in this situation. And there was no denying her life had been a whirlwind adventure from the moment before he entered it. She might regret it, but she was game for whatever he had in mind. "Okay," she nodded. "I'm ready for whatever you throw at me."

Kaol gave a relieved grin back. "I sincerely doubt that, but I do think you're as ready as any of us." He glanced at his watch. "Okay, now if it does not sound too forward, what I need you to do is give me a hug."

Kara looked at him uncertainly and then after a moment's hesitation, shrugged. Why not? They had certainly shared more in the past hour than did some married couples in an entire lifetime. Brushes with death did an incredible job at bonding couples together, she thought. Somewhat awkwardly, she stepped into his embrace. "If you say so, though you needn't have concocted such an elaborate story just for this."

Kaol grinned boyishly. "Don't worry, Kara. It's not exactly for pleasure, though I can't say as I expect to hate it. We need to be in contact when I'm pulled back. Trust me."

Kara found that she did. "Very well," she agreed, and found that it was not at all aversive to her either as he wrapped his arms about her. She glanced down at the red gem in her hand and noted it glowed even brighter. It seemed to almost respond to her moods.

She wondered for a moment if she was making the right decision. So much had happened today, she would have rather had a week to rethink the past few hours events. At that instant she felt a tingling all through her body, and looked up in surprise to Kaol. Was he making her feel this way? No, she saw. At least nor entirely. As he gave her a reassuring smile, Kara noted his body was sparkling and becoming translucent. Glancing down, she saw in wonder that her own body was following suit. What had this man gotten her into? she wondered, and disappeared.

copyright 1992 

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