Mind Over Matter
by Kaol

welcome to outer space

Kara sat cross-legged in the small cabin she had been provided in the Pegasus staring out at the pinpoints of light flickering in the distance. She was travelling through the stars. There were times when she felt she had almost grasped that concept, and then it was as though her mind hit overload and shut down, backing warily away from the whole idea. It was scary and exciting at the same time. She was the first woman from Earth ever to travel through the stars, and yet she knew her name would never be recorded in the history books for this. If she did return to Earth one day, no one would ever believe her story, and she would get a quick reservation at Bellevue if she tried to convince anyone she had journeyed through space.

It had been two days since she and Kaol had returned to his ship, and she had seen little of him in that time, as he had been injured in their latest adventure, worse than she had initially suspected. The tentacles of the beast they had battled had injected a potentially lethal poison into his system, and the computer and a fuzzy headed crewman named Glint had waged a difficult, but ultimately successful battle to analyze the poison and come up with an antidote.

But Kara had not been sitting idly by while awaiting Kaol's recovery. She had met and become acquainted with several of the crew members, including Mark, Treb, and Sarann, the ones who had greeted her immediately upon her arrival. She quite liked all of them, but was uncertain of Sarann, as she noted the woman casting appraising glances her way. Kara was not sure what that was all about, but was on her best behavior around her all the same. Yet Sarann had been very helpful for all that, and as Sarann had also come from a culture more primitive than Kaol's, she had offered Kara several helpful hints on how to adapt to the faster paced lifestyle she had stepped into.

Mark had been very eager to examine the gem Kara wore about her neck, but Kara had been loathe to part with it for any length of time. Mark had been understanding but had told her that they would have to do a rigid series of tests upon Kaol's recovery. Until then, she allowed him to borrow it for short periods of time. Treb had said little to her, but she found herself liking him all the same. He always had a smile for her, and the fact that he was clearly the most handsome male on board did not escape her attention.

Yet her thoughts inevitably turned back to Kaol, and she returned to one of her favorite pastimes of late, trying to sort out her feelings regarding the two of them. Lately things had moved very fast in her life, and her relationship with the Captain of this ship had moved just as rapidly. She had developed stronger feelings for him than any man she had previously encountered, and they had become incredibly intimate.

As she recalled their passionate encounter back on that unknown planet, Kara felt heat rise to her cheeks again. Their lovemaking had been drug induced, but delightful for all that.

Yet while she had confessed her love for him, simultaneously saving his life and putting it in jeopardy, she now recalled that he had not made a similar confession to her. Kara had no doubt that Kaol cared about her, but she wondered if his feelings ran as deep, or if she had allowed her emotions to run away with her.

Kara picked up a primer on space travel that Sarann had given her, and decided to turn her mind to matters that she could control. After reading the same sentence 20 times, however, she gave up on that and tossed the laptop computer down on her bed. Who was she kidding? Her heart had overthrown her brain on this occasion and was doing all the major thinking for her at this point. She had to go see Kaol. She missed him, and really hadn't had the chance to talk with him since their return.

As she walked down the small ship's corridor towards the medical bay, her footfalls echoing hollowly, she further pondered her own future. Now that she was here, what would happen next? Thus far Kara had been so caught up in actually getting to Kaol's ship, on his insistence that she had an important role to play within his crew, she hadn't really thought about what would happen when she actually arrived. What could a woman rom 20th century Earth have to offer this group?

Kara stood at the door to the medical unit and took a deep, cleansing breath. First things first, she thought. No need to be in such a hurry. She was here, and that was the important thing. Maybe her reason for being here would not come to light for another ten years. She had to be patient. Like hell she did! Kara thought and entered the medical bay.

Kaol was alone, and seemed asleep, but one eye cracked open as she entered, and his lips curled into a strong smile. "Kara." he said. "How ya doing kid?"

"Better than you, it looks like," she replied, and pulled a chair up alongside the bed. He looks so weak, so pale t she thought, but kept a smile plastered on her face.

"Thanks," he said. "I really owe you one. You saved my keister back there. I know that. Mark was right, you've already proven yourself valuable to this crew."

Kara grinned back awkwardly, uncomfortable receiving the compliment. "Ah, thanks. I don't really know just what it was I did, but I'm glad that gem worked this time. I couldn't just let you die."

"Yeah, you really came through for us there. Do you still have that gem?"

A delicate hand reached into her blouse and pulled out the glowing red stone nestled in her cleavage. "See?" she replied.

A wafer thin smile stretched his lips as he nodded. "Yeah, I sure do."

Kara smiled back uncertainly once more. Was more implied in that sentence than appeared? She felt her heart thudding solidly in her chest and wondered why she always felt like she was treading a rickety old bridge when talking to him. "Well," she tried gamely, unsure of what to say. "Would you like some chicken soup?"

card game

That night, Kaol was feeling well enough to leave the sick bay, and several of the crew sat gathered in the main cabin. Mark, Kaol, Sarann, and Kara were seated around a table, while Treb and April looked on from their positions against the wall, framing the hatchway. Kaol sighed as he studied the strangely marked pieces of paper he held in his hands. Frowning and trying to retain his grip on the limited patience in his possession, he glowered at Mark once again. Mark had insisted this stupid game would be relaxing and just what the doctor ordered. Kaol was uncertain what doctor Mark was referring to, but that physician certainly had a sadistic streak a light year wide.

Mark turned his glance towards Kaol, apparently reacting to the theatrically heavy sigh Kaol had just emitted through his nostrils. Kaol saw him trying to conceal a smile and felt his annoyance dissolve. It was his damn competitive nature coming out once more, and Mark's poorly hidden grin made him realize how silly he was being. Mark seemed to relax more at seeing Kaol's sour expression soften. "Look, Kaol, it's really very simple. Isn't it, Kara?"

Kara glanced over at Mark and then back to Kaol. "Um, well, I, I mean, I have played it before."

Mark laughed openly now. "Ah, if only we were playing for money, Kaol. I'd own this ship by now."

"Hmmm," Kaol grunted back, eyes boring into his cards again. In his opinion, it was pretty gruesome putting peoples' hearts on cards, and then numbering them to top it off. Bloody stupid game, if anyone asked him...not that anybody had.

"Truth is," Mark continued, leering at Sarann and then Kara. "In more adventurous circles, people would play for pieces of clothing. Lose a hand, lose an article of clothing. Makes things a bit more interesting."

"Woah, let me in on some of that action," Treb spoke up, suddenly, stepping away from the wall. "That sounds like my kind of game."

"Puhlease, " April groaned, choosing that moment to exit the room. Treb shrugged indifferently.

Kaol glanced back over at Treb again. He had noticed Treb casting admiring glances Kara's way on more than one occasion this evening. In fact, at times Kaol noticed Treb was blatantly staring at her, obviously enthralled by their new shipmate. His eyes narrowed as he considered this, and the corner of his mouth turned up in the barest hint of a smile. Kaol realized he was experiencing some feelings of jealousy, and felt somewhat ashamed of himself. Treb was one of his closest friends, and he was certainly better looking than Kaol. And, well, Kara was attractive. No reason why Treb shouldn't flirt with her. Except, perhaps, for the fact that Kaol was considering pushing him out an airlock if it continued.

Still, Kaol had no real claims on Kara. Certainly things had been a bit on the awkward side since returning to the ship. It had been hard enough trying to sort out his feelings between April and Sarann, and now there was a third variable added to the equation. He really couldn't blame Treb if he expressed an interest as well.

Yet upon returning his glance somewhat hesitantly back to Kara, Kaol felt enormous satisfaction in noting that she was not returning Treb's glances with any interest. In fact, she appeared quite oblivious to them. Kaol felt his grin widen. So there! he thought to himself) grinning at Treb. Maybe she's blind, but she likes me better. He had no idea if Kara had a real interest in him now that the drugs from Odelot had worn off, but he rather hoped she did. Still, in some ways it might make life easier if she and Treb hooked up. Yet as Kaol glanced back over at his newest companion, he found he could not work up much enthusiasm over that prospect.

kaol and kara talk

In reality, Kara was exquisitely conscious of Kaol's presence, and no one but Kaol. Sitting-side by side, their arms periodically brushing against one another throughout the game, Kara Couldn't help but notice the warm tingle that inevitably shot up her arm from the point of contact like an electrical current, accompanied by her heart skipping a beat. She chastised herself for acting like a smitten schoolgirl, but could not ignore her feelings for all that.

Later that evening, after many glasses had been tipped and perhaps half as many hours had passed, the game not so much ended as crashed and burned. With weary mumblings of questionable coherency, everyone stumbled towards their respective sleeping quarters, all having consumed a bit too much toozle for optimal functioning. Kaol courteously guided Kara to the room he had painstakingly prepared for her, only rarely needing to rely on the wall for support. She noted, not for the first time, that her room was not at all far down the corridor from his own. Coincidence? she wondered, hoping not. Kara turned towards Kaol to say goodnight, but swallowed the words, taken aback by the intense expression on his face.

"Kara," he began, then stopped, obviously unable to find the words desired. Kara noticed his face appeared flushed. Was it the toozle, or something else?

"Yes?" she prompted, catching a twinkle in his eye. Once more, she wondered if it was more than alcohol that contributed to that sparkle.

"Uh, have a good, um, well, pleasant dreams, okay?" he murmured, apparently having lost his nerve. He ran his hands back through his hair and stopped, cradling the back of his skull in his palms. "See ya," he added weakly, with an embarrassed smile and dropping his hand into a half-hearted wave. Swivelling abruptly, he moved on down the hall, mumbling under his breath.

"You too," Kara called after him, just before she heard his door snick shut. Kara stepped into her own cabin and heard her door slide closed behind her with a hissing sigh. A coy smile transformed-her features. There is definitely something very interesting going on here, she thought, and hoped it was what she thought it was.

No sooner had she slipped into the long, sheer nightgown that had been conveniently left on her bed, and crawled beneath the fresh smelling sheets, than she realized the Sandman would not be paying her a visit any time soon. As she tossed and turned, her thoughts kept returning to Kaol and that peculiar little exchange outside her door. What had he wanted to say?

As she lay in the darkness, she began to detect quite faint sounds of music, maybe from down the hall? Kara sat up in bed, listening closely and finding she could more clearly pick out the strains of what she would swear were acoustic guitar chords. Did Kaol play guitar? Did they have guitars in outer space in the first place? she wondered further. Why not? she answered herself. So this man was a musician as well? It hit her then how very little she really knew about this increasingly intriguing man.

Shortly thereafter, she was startled by a gentle but insistent knock on her steel door. "Who is it?" she called.

"It's Kaol. I hope I didn't wake you," a muffled voice replied.

Kicking aside the sheets in a rapid motion, she tiptoed to the door and pushed on the door panel, letting the door slide open a crack. Her heartbeat accelerated. What did he want?

"Would you come into my room for a minute? I've got a surprise for you," Kaol said.

Kara opened the door a bit wider and saw Kaol standing barefoot in the corridor, wearing only a loose pair of shorts and entirely unbuttoned short sleeved shirt. Curious, she nodded, and stepped into the hallway behind him. With only the slightest hesitation she followed him to his room, unsure of what kind of trouble she might be getting herself into. Yet she trusted Kaol implicitly, and was pleasantly intrigued as to the nature of this 'surprise'.

Entering his room, the first thing she noticed was the lighting. A few candles scattered about were the only source of illumination, giving the room an intimate and cozy atmosphere. Kara gave Kaol a questioning look, but he merely smiled back and guided her to sit on the edge of the bed. He then sat down very close to her and reached under the bed.

"I wrote you a song, Kara," he said, not meeting her eyes, but focusing his attention on smoothly pulling a guitar from beneath the bed. He cradled the instrument protectively in his lap and she noted the tender look he gave the guitar revealed a clear caring for the object. "Picked this up on Earth," he said, answering her unasked question. "Got it while on one of our adventures there. Mark used his magic to help me transfer my musical skills to this more primitive instrument. I sort of like it."

He glanced over at her shyly. 'I'm not much good; but it amuses me." Kaol looked away once more. "Anyway, I don't know if you'll like it or not, but I'd like to play you what I wrote. It would mean a lot to me. If you don't like it, that's okay too." He glanced uncertainly at her, and then back at the guitar, his fingers tightening about the neck as if it were a lifeline.

Hesitantly at first, but then with growing strength Kaol began to strum the instrument, and what emerged was the most beautiful music Kara had ever heard. Kaol began to sing as well, and his voice came across to her clear, strong, and true, sending shivers up her spine.

The song, so sweet and tender, brought tears to her eyes by the time it was over. She was no music critic, and objectivity was out of the question, but she thought it was beautiful. His fingers rested lightly on the strings as he glanced up at her to gauge her reaction. He seemed to read her feelings then, and leaned forward, kissing her lightly and gently. Kara gazed into his eyes, ran her fingers through his hair, and felt a powerful stirring in her soul. "That was beautiful, Kaol," she whispered.

"Who are you, Kara?" he asked, his voice low. "We've been physically intimate with each other, back on Odelot, but I don't feel like I truly know you. What kind of life did you lead before I found you?"

"I had a wonderful life on Earth," she replied, her eyes unfocusing as she remembered her home. It seemed a distant memory already. "I've many warm and loving friends whom I care about, and a great family. We live in a place called New York City, filled with excitement, all different types of people, and a fantastic University."

"Sounds like you'd like to go back there."

"Oh, I would But I'd most like for you to go with me. How would you feel about spending a few days there with me? Could Mark transport us back? I'd love to show you my office at the university, and you can meet my friends and colleagues! And the ocean! You'd just love it!" Kara found the speed of her speech increasing as she got carried away with the whole idea. Would it be possible to take Kaol back there? She'd agreed to travel with him, and that hadn't changed. But it would be nice to see her home at least once more and be able to share that with him.

"Kara! Slow down! I'm not sure Mark can do what you ask, as the time machine was pretty messed up by our return here. Besides, what if it malfunctioned again? We almost didn't make it back here in the first place. Do we want to risk that again? I mean, it would be very interesting to see where you came from, but, I mean, I want to, it's just.."

"Come on, Kaol!" Kara interrupted, not about to let him quench her enthusiasm. "I wasn't born and raised in quicksand! I had a life before then. It would mean so much to me if you could see that and share that with me!"

Kara held his eyes with her own, and saw his uncertainty weakening. Slowly he nodded, giving a half-hearted grin. "Okay, you win. I may regret this, but yeah, we'll try. I'll talk to Mark and Treb tomorrow and see if it can be arranged. No promises mind you, but I'll see if it's possible."

"I'd like that. Very much." She hadn't felt this excited before in her life. Giving his hand a squeeze, she leaned over and kissed him again, this time lingering longer and allowing his hands to travel over her curves for just the briefest of moments. Pulling away then, she rose from the bed and backed out the door. "Til tomorrow," she said, noting the somewhat disappointed expression on Kaol's face.

"'Til tomorrow," he agreed.

planning a trip

"You are psychotic. You realize this, of course," Mark commented drolly, sipping his coffee in the front cabin of the Pegasus.

"Ah, an insult. I do recognize those," Kaol remarked in turn, gazing out at the darkness of space ahead of them.

"Yes, but it beats a crowbar across the forehead, which was the other option I was considering," Mark remarked, setting the cup down. It smelled better than it tasted. "I can't believe you let her talk you into this. I know I said you needed to save her for our team. I never said anything about falling in love with her!"

"Who said anything about falling in love?" Kaol asked defensively. "I mean, okay, she's cute."


"And, well, maybe, well, maybe she's good company."

"Aw geez, Kaol, who are you kidding? You've never been able to rescue a woman without going head over heels. You are just whipped and that's all there is to it. But have you considered what Sarann is going to think?"

Kaol grimaced, uncertain how to respond to that one, when Sarann chose that moment to enter the room. "What am I going to think about what?" she asked.

"Nothing," Kaol said quickly.

But Mark wasn't going to let him off the hook that quickly. "Boy Genius here wants to take Kara back in time again to Earth. Seems she wants to show him around the old neighborhood, show off the space man," he said, hooking a thumb in Kaol's direction.

"Is that so?" Sarann said, icicles dripping from her words. Kaol felt his own face getting warm and would not meet her glance.

"Something like that," Kaol mumbled.

Sarann paused a moment then, seeming to collect her thoughts, and then nodded. She opened her mouth to speak, and closed it again. Sighing, she tried once more. "If Kaol thinks its worth doing, you'd better do it, Mark."

Kaol's head rose in surprise, and he saw Mark was staring at her with a similar shocked expression. She eyed them both, her face an expressionless mask. "What?" she asked, her voice all innocence. "Kaol's hunches usually prove to be worthwhile. If he thinks they need to return, even if the reason seems lame to us, I'm sure it's important."

Kaol looked at her uncertainly. "Ah, thanks, Sarann."

"None needed," she replied, and Kaol noted her smile seemed a trifle forced. Before either of them could say another word, she spun about on her heel and left.

"Cripes," Kaol sighed, shaking his head. "This is getting complicated."

Mark nodded. "Life's that way," he agreed, shrugging. "But she had a point. Kara is here for a reason; I think, though I'm still not sure what it is. Perhaps it was just to help out that tribe on that last planet. Or it may be more than that. It may be that the two of you do indeed need to go back to her home, though not for the reasons either of you suspect." Rubbing his bearded chin gravely, Mark sat back in his chair. "I'll get Treb and set to work on the machine right away."

time travel

It had taken surprisingly little time to repair the time device once Mark convinced Treb that the expedition was worthwhile. By that evening, they were ready to allow Kaol and Kara to make the journey back into time once more. Kara snuggled close to Kaol within the small machine's compartment, while the crew gathered around.

Treb and Mark worked on carefully setting the machine's coordinates to transport the two of them back to the New York of 1900. Although it still used Kaol's brain waves as its operating matrix, they had seen that it could transfer objects as long as Kaol was in touch with them at the moment of activation. Sarann was busy with the computer, making certain the power would be readily available without any glitches. April sat at the table, idly chewing a wad of gum and gazing intently at an entertainment compuzine.

"Ready, you two?" Mark asked.

"Aye aye, matie," Kaol grunted.

"Good luck then," Mark said, hand poised over the switch that would propel them back in time.

Kara closed her eyes, ready for the gut wrenching vertigo that accompanied this unbelievable mode of transport.

Kaol nodded at Mark, and then two things happened simultaneously. April came across a joke she found astoundingly funny in the compuzine and laughed, causing her gum to come flying out of her mouth, a fluorescent, saliva coated projectile. It struck the controls at the same moment that Mark activated the machine. Kaol heard Mark begin to yell a negation, and then all went black.

we seem to have made a wrong turn somewhere

Kara held on tightly to Kaol and cautiously opened her eyes. The sound of moaning was everywhere about her, and the smell of decay was a ripe presence raping her nostrils. Looking up into Kaol's eyes, she saw the concern reflected there. She moved tentatively from his embrace and looked about them. They seemed to be alongside a bridge of some sort, amidst piles of black, rubber rings, peculiar rusty boxes, and burned out carriages of some sort. Off in the distance, she could barely make out the looming silhouettes of the buildings of New York City. Yet, there was something wrong. For one, between them and the city now lay a festering swamp, and not the modern thoroughfares she had known. And in direct contrast to that, the city loomed like a weary giant, bent and bowed, for along with the familiar skyline, there were new, taller structures, menacing daggers spearing the clouds.

And what of the clouds? The air was filled with dark, hazy smoke, and she coughed as it tickled her throat. This wasn't the city she knew. Fires seemed to be burning everywhere. The moans she'd first noted continued, a symphonic drone all about them. "Kaol!" she screamed. "What happened? Where are we?!"

"Just as a guess, I'd say we're up a certain infamous creek without a paddle." His right hand came up and began to wearily massage his forehead. "I should have known something like this would happen. No, I did know something like this was going to happen, but I did it anyway." He looked over at Kara, his expression tired. "Any idea where we are?"

" I, I think we're in New York. I mean, it looks a bit like New York, but not my New York. The skyline is wrong, and the swamp is wrong, and this place looks almost like a war zone!"

Kaol nodded. "It certainly does. But you think that this does resemble New York?"

Kara nodded back in reply, blonde hair bobbing on her shoulders. "Yes, but not the New York I wanted to share with you."

"I'm relieved to hear that," Kaol remarked.

A moment later, a low rumbling came to their ears, as though a giant with hunger pangs was approaching them. Kaol looked up at the brown-grey sky and could not see the sun. Yet from the looks of this atmosphere, he wondered when the last time anyone in this area had. Still, the haze seemed to be darkening further still, and the fat and puffy clouds appeared increasingly menacing. Flashes of light flickered from one to another, as if harboring battle cruisers in the midst of conflict.

"Looks like rain," Kara ventured.

"Mmmm," Kaol grunted, and flinched as the low rumbling became a sharp growl, and lightning shot down from the sky into the city.

Kaol was on his feet quickly, reaching for his blaster. It was not there, and all he had in his grasp was the filthy, once purple sleeve of the individual who now held his blaster pointed at him. Lovely.

Eyes narrowed, Kaol quickly sized up his opponent. It was a man of sorts, though he probably stood a foot shorter than Kaol. His face was covered in dirt and grime, and a jagged, discolored scar ran from the left corner of his mouth down to the jawline. One eye blazed wildly at Kaol, while the other seemed to stare off at odd angles

His garb was unusual too, a jerkin and tights made of a patchwork blend containing a myriad of colors that once might have been bright, but were now dulled by dirt and filth. Kaol's nose wrinkled as he considered the man, as he doubted that neither the man nor his clothing had been bathed in many years. On his own, Kaol would not have considered him much an opponent, but with Kaol's blaster in his hands, the score was evened significantly.

"Who are you?" Kara asked from behind Kaol.

The man twitched nervously, and his right eye developed a tic. Kaol hoped his trigger finger did not develop an accompanying one.

"I? Who am I? The Pale Lady in Waiting does not recognize her most humble servant of savants? Could it truly most truly be truly true? Hast this scurvy knavey bewitched hup, two, thee, my most redundant Queen of Tellercomnunications?"

Kaol glanced back over his shoulder at Kara, opened his mouth, and then shook his head, deciding against comment.

The man spun about on his heel in a graceless pirouette, nearly tumbling over a rust covered bucket. "Ah, that this too, too solid welt should mesh!" He stopped abruptly and bent low at the waist, taking his hat from his head and revealing the scattered snatches hair that clung to his boil covered scalp. "The most noble Harlequin at your service, kind priest of the mashing and queen of the multiple chasm. I am your servant, to dash against the walls of flesh and assundry shopping items."

"Is that a fact?" Kaol responded, circling a finger around his ear and nodding to Kara.

"We bid you good health, Mr. Harlequin," Kara responded, her face serious. "Rise and well met. We are but strangers in these fair lands, and could use the assist of one well versed in the ways of these territories."

The man stood up again and his eyes fairly gleamed with excitement. "Your noble breeding stands out like the coming of the locusts," he replied, and Kaol saw the man was holding back tears. "It would be my footsize to join yon both, and God bless us everyone, two, three."

Kaol glanced over at Kara and spoke out the side of his mouth, "Oh good. We're here less than an hour and we've got a pet. Get Fido to hand over the blaster, would you?"

"I don't think he's dangerous, just a little off," Kara whispered, giving Kaol a knowing wink. "Let him have it for now."

"Hey, we're not talking about a Captain Blastoff decoder ring here. I mean, a ten for empathy there, Kara, but like a negative five for good sense." Kaol shot a nervous glance back at the bedraggled man, who was studying the blaster with keen interest. He appeared mesmerized by the device, and appeared to have forgotten he was not alone.

"Harlequin, most noble squire, do you live nearby?" Kara asked, bringing his attention back to them. She was curious to find out more about this stranger, and hoped to regain Kaol's weapon in the process if she could.

"Aye, and I most certainly do, milady of the soft camel. Be happier than an Easter Egg dipped in rams bladder if you two'd permit me to relevate you to my abodiehome, precious privates, and judicious wifey. I must be a-farting soon anyways; the fright-night, she is breathing down my conundrum, and the crawlies'll be out and about and sauerkraut before you knows it. Can't have that! No sir, no how, no change!"

Before Kara could respond, Harlequin spun and began skipping away, waving the blaster about his head like a child with a pennant. "Damn!" grunted Kaol. "Come on, I gotta get that gun back from that loon."

As they raced after the amazingly swift man, Kara found herself wondering what the "crawlies" he was referring to were. She wondered if they actually existed anywhere other than his twisted mind. Yet as from the corners of her eyes she noted movement in the lengthening shadows, she found herself worried. Her hand reached out for Kaol's. His closed about hers, and she felt somewhat safer.

Harlequin was up ahead, slowing his pace, skipping effeminately about the twisted metal and shards of glass littering the roadway. Yet Kara considered that calling it a roadway was being quite generous, as although she could make out the remains of asphalt, it was cracked and sticking up at various angles, with weeds and what appeared to be small trees growing from the crevices. Harlequin found his way through this obstacle course with what appeared to be no effort, but Kara found herself breathing heavily in her attempts to keep up.

As Kara further studied her surroundings, she noted once again the constant moans coming from around them, and at last discovered their source. Here and there, scattered amid mountains of trash, were the ruins of people, looking little better than the trash heaps they adorned. The figures were curled up and wrapped in old blankets, generally alone, but occasionally in groups of two or three.

It took her only a moment to decide that they had been afflicted with some manner of terrible disease. From each huddled mound she could hear low, constant moans, and she could see the forms twisting beneath the foul blankets, as if writhing in inescapable pain.

Kara's stomach lurched, and her grip on Kaol's hand tightened as they passed no more than twenty yards from one of the afflicted. She could not help but get a better look at the victim of what appeared devastating plague. She recalled what she had read of the Black Death in Europe, and wondered if it had been anything like this.

Kara's eyes followed the woman while Kaol moved them along. The woman she had seen appeared no older than Kara herself, but with short, auburn hair, now matted and greasy. She was lying on her side, clutching a tattered, wet and moldy blanket around her bony body. Sticking out from the spattered cloth Kara could see the woman's face and hands, and Kara was silently grateful that it was all she could see.. From her quick glance, she could see the woman's skin was in an advanced state of decomposure, the flesh remaining was left a bluish-green, and oozing a pustulent fluid. Her skin seemed almost to move on its own, before Kara narrowed her eyes and saw this was due to the swarms of maggots squirming on the surface.

The woman's facial features were half-gone, and her struggling breathing rasped out of two holes where her nose once had been. Her chin was gone too, frayed skin dangling like a tattered beard. Kaol noted Kara's gaze and tugged harder on her hand, dragging her out of sight of the dying woman.

In spite of herself, Kara felt her facial muscles twitching, fighting to keep control. She had seen lepers in her lifetime, but nothing in her travels had prepared her for this. She looked up at Kaol again, wondering once more if she had been wise to join up with this man. His expression remained unchanged as they passed through this junkyard of humanity. If this was routine for him, she might be better off back home.

Kara saw Harlequin disappear into a dark tunnel, the entrance nearly hidden by the piles of broken rubble about. Kara knew there were more bodies in the tunnel. She could hear the moans from here, though it was too dark to see them. "Come on," Kaol grunted, sensing her hesitation, and dragged her into the smothering darkness. Several times Kara felt hands clutching weakly at her ankles, and she had to grit her teeth to keep from screaming. Soon, however, she and Kaol stumbled back out into daylight once again, and Kara did not turn back around, afraid she might see a pus dripping skeleton shambling after them, asking them to stay with him, forever, in the dark.

mark and treb in the galley

Mark and Treb sat in the galley, poking without enthusiasm at a carrot quiche that April had prepared for the crew. They had eaten in silence throughout the entire meal. Mark tossed his fork down in disgust. He had no appetite.

"Cooking not to your liking?" Treb asked, looking up.

"I doubt this cooking would be especially to anyone's liking."

"Maybe. But I get the impression it's more than the cuisine that has taken your appetite."

"Well, no shit, Sherlock. I just worry that Kaol is pushing his luck, and sooner or later he's not going to come through one of these quests of his. And hell, this was supposed to be a vacation for him."

"We could try to bring them back, you know," Treb said, setting his own fork down.

"It's risky."

"So is what he's facing now."

"I don't know. How long have they been gone now?"

Treb glanced at his chronometer. "Eight hours."

"Eight hours. Great. Sixty-four more before they are retrieved automatically."

"Lots can happen in that amount of time."

"Yeah," Mark sighed, head sagging. He paused, then, "Are you sure we can do it?"

"Sure, I'm sure. We did it before."

"Yeah, and the machine short-circuited right after! What if it happens during this time?" Mark shook his head. "But I guess it's worth the risk. Let's do it, then."


Harlequin paused ahead, standing beside the entrance to what appeared to be a rickety building constructed of scalloped metal. He stood there, apparently remembering his guests once again. Arms crossed, his fingers beat a staccato rhythm on his biceps. "Come one, come all, comfy?" he asked, as they approached With exaggerated courtesy, he bowed and opened the door, motioning for them to enter. Kaol squinted at him with obvious suspicion, but then shrugged and walked past Harlequin. As he did, he snagged his blaster from Harlequin's hand.

"Hey!" Harlequin snapped.

"Got a problem?" Kaol asked, eyebrows lowering.

Harlequin smiled. "Yes! I've got this rain pain in my spinal bifida. Perhaps you Could take a look?"

Kaol shook his head and entered the building. His gaze darted about the room, searching for signs of an ambush. The few windows in the place had been boarded up, the cracks between the boards stuffed with cloth. Candles were placed on various tables and shelves, casting dancing shadows about the walls The furnishings of the room were meager; a battered picnic table, woodburning stove, and plastic crates made up the bulk of what seemed to be thee room's decor. The rest of the open space was littered with bric-a-brac that could only appeal to a confused mind such as Harlequin's.

Or that of the other occupant in the room, he corrected himself. A morbidly obese woman lay stretched out upon a dirty mattress, resting on the concrete floor. An unfiltered cigarette dangled from her lips like a dull fang. A streak of ashes dribbled down the front of her dingy top.

Harlequin pushed past Kaol, smiling a broad, toothless grin, gesturing eagerly towards the woman. "Of bountiful bosom and marshmallow tush, I'd like to introduce, folks, my wife, Scaramouche!"

The woman sluggishly heaved herself to her feet with accompanying asthmatic wheezing. Her breasts, the size of watermelons, hung down to her waist, and were too plainly visible beneath her thin, stained, white tank top. Heavily varicose-veined legs seemed ready to collapse under the enormous weight of her body. Battalions of cellulite waged battles within her shuddering thighs. Her glance went briefly to Kara, but then took their time travelling the length of Kaol's body.

Kaol fought down a grimace at seeing her attempt at a seductive smile, and glanced quickly over at Kara, as a drowning diver might turn to a partner to breathe off his oxygen. Scaramouche's smile had revealed a mouthful of broken teeth, the red, brown, and yellow of Indian corn. The smell of mildew filled the air. "I can honestly say, you've never looked more beautiful," he whispered, sotto voce, to Kara. She swallowed her own smile, perversely enjoying his predicament.

"I see you've met me matey! Ain't he a card? We ain't had no real visitors in ages," she exclaimed, her voice the sound of broken glass rubbing over crushed gravel. "Like some hot tea?"

Kaol could think of few things he would like less than to ingest anything in this world, but he was feeling quite thirsty, all the same. In addition, he did not want to offend his hosts. They looked harmless enough, but he'd been around enough to know how deceiving appearances could be. "Hmmm. Well, actually, both Kara and I are allergic to tea. Perhaps some boiled water, though."

Scaramouche stared at him, piggy lips pursed together in puzzlement, and then shrugged, sending her fat into tremors. "To each his own, I suppose," she grunted, and moved to set a pan of water atop the stove.

"Have a seat, please," Harlequin offered, motioning towards the picnic table. "If that doesn't suit and tails, other orifices is available," he added, waggling his eyebrows at Kara.

"No, this is fine," Kara responded quickly, grabbing Kaol by the sleeve and dragging him over to the table, pulling him down alongside her.

Scaramouche and Harlequin sat down opposite them. Kaol found his eyes watering. The smell this close within the confined quarters was nearly overwhelming.

"So, who will pork who first?" Scaramouche asked, looking at Kaol and Kara in turn.

Kara's mouth moved soundlessly like a landed fish, and Kaol felt a light flush coming to his own face. "Forget that," Kaol snapped, his nerves becoming increasingly frayed. "I think we are more in the mood for some answers."

"Most definitely," Kara added in relief.

"You could start by telling us what the hell happened around here. What happened to this place and everybody?"

Harlequin seemed to be ignoring Kaol, or off in his own world once again. He had his penknife out and was doodling matchstick figures into the already grooved table surface. Scaramouche pulled another cigarette out and lit it with practiced indifference. She studied Kaol's face with her fluorescent blue eyeshadowed eyes, her brow furrowing in greasy waves. "You two really ain't from around here, is ya? Maybe yer spacemen just back, eh? I've heard of that happenin' befores." She exploded with a hoarse, throaty guffaw, her jello-like breasts bouncing up and down on the table surface where they had earlier settled. Kaol looked away.

"We are not from around here, as you have guessed..." Kara began.

"Well, no duh," Scaramouche continued, snatching Harlequin's blade away as he had it poised over his own forearm, apparently ready to begin carving there as well. "You two is too pinky and juicy to be from hereabouts. Most everyone's died of the rot since the crawlies came to town. 'Course, they only comes out at night. But you gets bit even oncet an' it's all over for you. You gets the rot and it's just a matter of the sufferin' and decayin'."

"You are a poet," Kaol murmured.

"Anyways, we gots this place sealed up pert goodly. Only had one or two get in -- that we know of, anyways. As fer the rot, it's some kinda bug or something; eats away at ya like you was a big old cheeseboiger until you dissolve into a pool of jelly. Ya don't taste like no jelly, though."

Kaol didn't have the stomach to ask how she knew this last fact.

Scaramouche turned and slapped Harlequin on the back of the head. He hurriedly withdrew a finger jammed up one nostril and stared at her expectantly "Go shows them our prize, Harly," she ordered, and he leaped up and shuffled off into a corner.

Scaramouche turned her attention back to Kaol and Kara. "We saved one of them crawlies that gots in here. Ya wanna see it?"

"I guess s-so.." Kara squeaked, looking uncertainly at Kaol. He smiled back in as reassuring a manner as he could presently manage.

"Hurry your sorry ass," Scaramouche bellowed over her shoulder. Kaol shielded his face from the foul spittle that sprayed from her mouth. Harly shuffled back from the cupboard, an old canning jar cradled in his thin hands. He placed the container reverently upon the table.

rescue attempt

Mark stood next to the machine and glanced over at Treb, who stood at the computer's control panel. "Do you get the feeling of deja vu here?" Mark asked.

"Yeah, it does feel that way. Kaol's had problems ever since we used this stupid machine to have him save that woman. I have to wonder if it has been worth it."

"What do you mean?"

"No offense, Mark, but it was your idea to send him back after her, and so far I don't see how she has been any benefit to our mission. Besides, we haven't had any problem from Fergay in months. Perhaps he's given up his plans for invasion. It's possible."

Mark was silent, feeling somewhat defensive and not wanting to say something he might regret. Yet Treb's words stung, because there was some truth to them. Could Mark have been mistaken and placed Kaol in jeopardy unnecessarily? Kara seemed a nice enough woman, but Kaol had been in nothing but trouble since they had met. Mark felt somewhat responsible for this, and began to wonder if perhaps he should be doing something more to get Kaol out of his present fix. A fearful thought entered his mind. What if this Kara was actually an agent of Fergay's, and Mark had been tricked into allowing her into their midst? Perhaps she was planted just to cause trouble for their group. Uncertainty gnawed at his belly.

"Don't worry about it," Treb said. "We'll just pull them back now and discuss this further later. After I take a laser to this damn machine to make sure no one ever uses it again."

"That sounds good to me," Sarann said as she entered the room. "Glint told me what you two intended to try, and so I figured I'd better get over here in case you needed any help."

"Only moral support," Mark responded, eyes flicking back over to Treb. "Ready?"


"Then let's go," said Mark, hitting a switch on the time machine.

The entire ship rocked at that moment, as if struck by a giant hammer. Mark flew away from the machine and stumbled backwards over Treb's tool box only saved from falling by Sarann's steadying hand.

"What the hell!" Treb barked, hugging the computer console like a piece of flotsam in the sea.

"Attention! Attention!" boomed April's voice over the intercom. "In case it has escaped your attention, we are under attack. All hands to battle stations! Like now, guys!"

"Power off! Power Off!" Mark shouted, seeing the time machine beginning to glow. "Stop it!"

Treb cut off the power to the machine, glancing quickly back at Mark. He didn't say anything, but Mark read his expression as plainly as a billboard. What now?


Kaol felt a tugging in his belly, and felt a moment's fear. He reached out and grabbed Kara's arm quickly, and she jumped in surprise. Her head spun about towards him, and she seemed to pale at seeing his expression. And then the feeling was gone, and his grip on her arm relaxed. Kaol frowned. What had just happened? For a moment, just a moment, he had felt that familiar sensation as though the time machine was pulling him back, and then the feeling was gone. Or had he imagined it?

His reaction could as easily be explained by the object that rested on the table in front of him. In the opaque jar were the remains of a huge, black spider, its body the size of a large peach. Its hairy legs were twisted and curled, but each appeared to be a good six inches in length.

"Ain't he a sight!" Scaramouche cackled.

Kaol grimaced, and this time felt Kara's hand tightening on his forearm.

"You don't like winter," Harlequin announced, nodding his head in understanding. "These crawlies hide abide inside everything: tires, cars, plastic bags, decaying weathermen during the daylight savings time. Hoyo boyo, but during the nighty-night, they goes a hunting we shall go and it becometh the ever depopulated, fright-night," Harlequin continued. Kaol nodded. If these things hunted at night, that helped explain Harlequin's hurry to get them back to his hovel.

"Get the water and tea, idjit," Scaramouche bellowed once more, slapping Harlequin hard enough to knock him out of his seat this time. He shuffled off like a whipped puppy, returning a moment later with the pan on a tray along with several glasses. 'Where it is, my heavy pet," he announced, tripping right before he made it to the table.

Kaol jerked Kara back out of the way, knocking them off the bench and onto the floor. He watched as things seemed to slow down in time, and saw the pan of water arc through the air, the boiling contents striking Scaramouche almost directly in the face. Her screams reached his ears immediately and he winced in sympathetic pain. An instant later, Harlequin continued his fall, bringing the tray down atop the canning jar, smashing the glass and knocking the spider's remains onto the floor.

As the spider struck the concrete, its body burst open, and then erupted in a flurry of motion. From inside, Kaol saw what appeared to be hundreds of tiny 'crawlies' emerge, scrabbling over the desiccated remains of their mother and looking for fresh meat.

under fire

Mark stared at the battlecruisers as they flashed past the relatively tiny Pegasus. "Where the hell did they come from?" he barked.

"I don't know!" April cried, her voice frantic. "It's like they just appeared out of nowhere!"

"Battlecruisers do not 'just appear out of nowhere'," Treb snapped, shoving into the small control room. "You weren't watching the monitors again, were you?"

"I was! I swear I was!" April continued, starting to take on a whining tone. "It's like they appeared out of the clear black sky. I swear..." She stopped as the ship was rocked by another blast.

Mark stared past her at the ships once more. Treb was shouting something about an advanced cloaking device, but Mark wasn't so sure. Making things appear out of nowhere had been a trick used by magicians since the beginning of time. Was that what was happening here? His eyes narrowed. But what kind of magic could create a battle fleet? His heart beat madly in his chest, and he leaned back against the wall. It would take incredible power, and if that power was marshalled against them, Mark did not care much for their chances.

"Get out of here, Mark," Treb snapped. "You can't do us any good here. Strap yourself in back by the time machine and make sure it doesn't get damaged."

Mark was about to reply on how he might be able to help them in the cabin, when abruptly the sounds of laser cannons disappeared, along with the entire battle fleet. As Mark watched, they seemed to simply wink out of existence, as if they had never been there at all.

"What happened?" April cried out.

Treb looked at Mark, eyes questioning.

Mark shook his head, and left the room, his face a mask of worry. He didn't like this. Something very strange was going in here.

the death of scaramouche

Kara's mouth worked soundlessly, tiny choking sounds emerging as she watched the tide of spiders scurrying towards her and Kaol. Her bootheels clicked on the concrete as she pushed herself back and away, her rump sliding along the cool surface. She wasn't aware of where Kaol was, and at the moment, all her world had narrowed to the spiders fate approaching her. Her mind filled with images of her own body decaying, skin sloughing off, falling like leaves from a tree. She wanted to scream, but could not.

Strong hands gripped her by the shoulders and jerked her to a standing position. Eyes wide with terror, she spun around towards Kaol. His face was barely composed itself, but seeing him steadied her somewhat. His mouth was set in a grim, thin line, and his eyes had a faraway look about them. She followed his gaze and gasped in shock.

Scaramouche was lying on her back, grasping at her burnt face. Kara could see the flesh glowing a bright pink beneath the mask of spiders it now wore. The woman was unable to scream as her mouth seemed full of spiders as they made their way into the dark tunnel leading to so much fresh meat. Kara's stomach twisted then, and had there been food in her belly, it would have emerged in a spray. Instead, she doubled over, heaving only air and sour spittle.

"We've got to get the hell out of here," Kaol said, echoing her own sentiments.

Harlequin was leaping about the room, bringing his feet down on the tiny invaders wherever he saw them. The floor was smeared with the grisly, green remains of the crawlies, and it appeared he had so far avoided the fate of his wife. "Come on, Harlequin. We have to get out."

"No! No! Death to crawlies! Too many outside inside upside-down. 'Sides, I can't gone with the wind without my Scaramouche." His face turned towards them, and in spite of his insanity, Kara could see deep pain reflected there as he mourned for his wife.

Kara stared down at the floor, noting that the spiders had retreated from them at seeing they were now up and ready to put up a fight, and were working instead on Scaramouche's still form. Her face was now invisible beneath a moving black carpet. Kara had not especially liked the woman, but wouldn't have wished such a fate on anyone.

"What should we do?" she asked, turning to Kaol.

"I swear, I'm open to suggestions," he replied, glancing back at the door. "It's just gotten dark out, and so the night is sure to be full of those things, along with others we might not know about. It could be worse than here."

"It can't be any worse than here!" Kara replied, moving into Kaol's arms for comfort, but keeping an eye open for spiders. She could swear she heard the tiny spiders munching on the feast of Scaramouche, a sound like someone crumpling wax paper. She buried her face in Kaol's shoulder, fighting back her own tears. What would happen when they tired of Scaramouche? What if their appetites remained unsatiated? What if even one bit her?

"Harlequin," Kaol snapped, apparently coming to a decision. "We're leaving. You're free to join us."

Harlequin shook his head, tears now streaming from his eyes. "They got me beauty queen," his voice shuddered. "One of the friggin' crawlies bit me too. This is Custards's last American bandstand, me feels. Mephistopheles awaits me with open farms. West bishes to you both," he cried.

"Let's go," Kaol snapped, pulling the door open. Kara followed him into the darkness, holding tightly to his hand.

rescue attempt #2

"What happened back there?" Treb asked, seating himself at the computer console next to the time machine.

Mark was staring at the time machine, his fingers steepled before his face. He was silent for a moment, and then spoke. "I haven't the foggiest idea. Or maybe I do, but it isn't very good."

"What are you talking about?"

"I don't know what I'm talking about, and that's part of what has me so worried. What we saw was very powerful magic or science. I'm not sure which, but either way, we are way outmatched."

"What do we do, then?"

"I don't know," Mark replied, sighing. "Perhaps we have more reason than ever to get Kaol back now. We have to risk it. It could be another instance where we have to go up against Fergay, and if that's so, that madman's even more powerful than before."

"Fergay," Treb said, the word coming out almost as a hiss. "I hope you're wrong."

"Not half as much as I do. Now, let's get this damn thing powered up and bring Kaol back here again."

"It's still set up. Let's pull the switch before anything else can happen again."

"Go for it," Mark said, but he remained worried. Something in his gut told him it wasn't going to be so easy. As the machine powered up, he held his breath, waiting for something to go wrong. The machine began to shake, but it seemed to be working. An electric hum filled the room.

"I think we're gonna get them," Treb said, shouting in excitement.

And then all the power went out in the ship.


Kaol and Kara raced through the battered streets, dodging the rubble and living corpses as they did. Kaol knew they had to find shelter, as he had seen the large version of the crawlies scurrying about, and heard an occasional scream as they visited someone unprotected. Yet they had left possibly the best sanctuary they had.

He spared a second to look down at Kara, and felt a pang of worry. She did not look good, and he shivered as he wondered if perhaps she had been bitten and not said anything to him He almost voiced his question, but decided against it. He could do nothing for her now if it was true. They had to find safety until they returned to the ship.

Kaol gasped as he felt the tugging in his gut again. It was the same feeling he had experienced back in Harlequin's shack. He tightened his grip on Kara's hand. He was sure of it now. They were trying to pull him back. He had to make sure his grip on Kara remained solid now. "Kara," he cried. "Don't let go whatever you do."

"I won't!" she cried, launching herself at him, wrapping her arms and legs about Kaol, before they disappeared together in a flash of light.

problems on the pegasus

The auxiliary power kicked back on almost immediately, but the time machine sat quietly. Mark raced to the machine and jerked the door open, afraid of what he might find within. Vague visions of partially reconstituted bodies filled his head. But the chamber was empty.

Or was it? He knelt down and saw a dead, but very large spider resting on the floor. Frowning, he stood up and motioned at Treb. "Treb, get over here."

"What happened?" asked Treb, staring at Mark through the eerie red illumination given by the emergency lights.

"Never mind, get me a specimen bag and extensor tweezers."

Treb pulled them from a drawer and handed them to Mark, leaning over his shoulder. He saw what Mark was after and grinned. "Do you think that was near Kaol when we tried to retrieve them? He'd have busted a gut! You know how he likes spiders!"

Mark nodded. "Yeah, I know . Kara's the same way." He prodded the still form, making certain it was dead, and then lifted it and placed it in the bag. While not especially afraid of spiders, he wasn't going to take any chances with an alien life form, and a spider from 900 years in the future certainly fit that bill.

Treb's smile vanished as he spoke. "The spider came back, but not them. How did that happen, and where are they now?"

"I don't know. It must have been in contact with Kaol when we triggered the machine. Maybe due to its smaller size we were able to bring it back before the power went out."

"The power!" Treb said, running over to the intercom. "April, can you read me?" There was no response. Treb shot a worried look at Mark. "This could be serious. The emergency power will only provide support for eight hours. And we will be totally open for attack unless we get power up again."

"Then get it up," Mark replied, with more calm than he felt. He stared at the spider again and frowned. It seemed like someone was working very hard to make sure that they were unable to bring Kaol and Kara back. He did not like that.


Kara lay atop Kaol, resting in the lush carpet of moss they had materialized upon. His eyes were closed, but she could feel the strong beating of his heart against her cheek and smiled. Apparently he had finally passed out from the strain. She cuddled up closer to him, her leg across his. It had seemed so long since she had a chance to relax. Yet her eyes narrowed, and it felt like her heart congealed on her chest when she saw what appeared to be a red bite mark on his hand. The crawlies! She shook her head, blinking, not believing what she had seen, and looked closer. No! She had been mistaken after all. Her hand went to her chest as if trying to slow down her beating heart. It was just a smudge on his hand after all.

Sitting up, she studied the place where they now found themselves. Where were they now, she wondered? Was it Earth? If so, when? They had landed in a grove of sorts, and the mist from a waterfall not 100 yards away felt cool on her skin. Brightly colored flowers decorated many of the bushes, and above, the sky was a clear blue. It seemed obvious that Kaol's friends had tried to bring them back, but something had gone wrong. Again. She shook her head in disgust. They couldn't seem to do anything right. Well, at least she and Kaol seemed to be out of danger for the moment.

She crawled on all fours up to Kaol's head and leaned over, planting a firm kiss on his lips. His eyes fluttered open then, and she saw a moment's confusion before that was wiped away and replaced by an eager smile. "Like the view," he said.

"Me too," she replied, sitting up and allowing him room to do the same.

"Where are we?"

"I'm not sure. It could be Earth. The vegetation is similar."

"They tried to bring us back, you know. But something went wrong."

"I know . At least we got away from the awful place, and we're still together," Kara said. "I'm sure they'll still bring us back."

"If they can find us," Kaol replied. "At least we seem safe until then."

Kara nodded. "It really seems beautiful and peaceful here. A Garden of Eden."


She shook her head. "Nothing." She stood up then, and crossed the mossy surface to the edge of the adjacent pool. Stepping behind a bush for a moment, she quickly undressed tossing her garments over the bush for his benefit. "I'm going for a swim. Join me if you like." She darted from behind the bushes, offering Kaol a brief glimpse of her bare body before diving into the water.

Kara gasped as she broke the surface of the water. It was cooler than she expected. She rubbed the water out of her eyes looking for Kaol, but didn't see him. Had he wandered off? She melt a moment's disappointment. Had she put on that show for nobody?

She gasped again as a hand fastened about her ankle and jerked her underwater. She spun about, eyes open beneath the clear surface, and saw Kaol grinning back at her. They emerged together to his laughter and she pulled him close, pressing her bare chest against his. Suddenly, the water no longer seemed so cool at all.

more magic

Sarann gave a weak cry of surprise as the regular lights came back on in the ship. "Treb! You did it!" she cried.

"I did nothing," Treb replied, stepping back from the maze of wiring he had been tangled in a moment before. "The power came on by itself."

"By itself?" Mark asked, an edge clear in his tone.

"That's what I said. Damnedest thing I ever saw."

Mark's lips compressed into a thin, tight line. He didn't like this. Not at all. "As soon as all power is up, I think we need to try retrieving Kaol again," he said, and turned to leave the room. He didn't say anything about his certainty that they would fail once again. He only hoped they all survived the next attempt.

love and death

Kara gave Kaol a lazy smile as he tucked his shirt back into his pants. She remained unclothed, lying on the bed of leaves they had hastily thrown together within the cave entrance. "Are you really sure you want to go exploring now?" she purred, lowering her head and looking at him through her eyelashes.

"Mmmm. You make it hard to leave, no pun intended he grinned back. "I won't be gone long. Keep the fire burning."

"Always," she said back. "You just keep yourself safe."

He paused at the cave entrance. "You do the same. This place may look safe, but we really don't know." He stepped back to her and bent over to give her a kiss.

Her arm looped around his neck, and she gave a playful tug as if to pull him back down beside her. He laughed in reply. "Later." Shaking his head as he left the cave, Kaol called back. "Those Amazons didn't even need to give you a drug."

Kara smiled as he left. That had been very nice. At least as satisfying as the frenzied acrobatics Esioul had put them through. She sat up in the leaves and thought how good it was to be with him without any danger for a change. Just the two of them in a nice, peaceful moment. Nobody needing to rescue anybody. She still remembered when she had first seen him, an angel rescuing her from certain death in the jungle...

A noise from farther back in the cave disrupted her thoughts then. What was that? she asked herself. Leaves flew in the air as she leaped up, staring back into the cave. The light filtering in from the entrance did not reach that far back, and while they had thought it uninhabited before, she was no longer so sure. Her eyes cast about for her clothing. Staying in here alone no longer seemed like such an appealing choice.

The noise was louder now, and Kara looked up again. Her jaw dropped open and her eyes widened painfully. No, a tiny voice in her head squeaked. No.

Filling the tunnel was a gigantic spider, the likes of which she could never have imagined; would never have imagined. It appeared nearly the size of an elephant and filled the entire cave. It's body was black and yellow, striped like a hornet, and seemed slick and greasy. Eyes the size of her fist glared at her eagerly, and the legs clicked against the side of the cave's walls. Standing there, naked, she knew she could do nothing to defend herself.

She fainted.

kara, kaol, and the spider

Kara felt a wisp against her face and sneezed. Her eyes fluttered open, and she found to her astonishment that she was still alive. It was dark, though, and she couldn't see much.

She tried to rise, but found she was unable to move. Frowning, she jerked at her arms, but discovered they were bound firmly to her sides. Her legs were pinned together as well. Her mouth went dry as she felt the sticky substance covering her hare skin. Her chest strained against the coating, trying to gain a deeper breath. The material did not give.

Kara's mind reeled at the implications of this. She had a terrible notion of where she was and what had happened to her. That spider had her. She was somewhere back in the cave, and it had cocooned her, saving her for later. How much later was an important question.

The cave was silent about her, except for the bleating of what sounded like a goat. Apparently she was in the giant arachnid's larder. Yet it did not seem to be around, and that was good. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, Kara saw that there was enough light filtering in from somewhere that she could make out vague shapes. Indeed, she saw several other forms that looked like they had been swathed in balls of yarn. Glancing down at her own form, she could see that she was totally encased within the spider's web. It could come back and devour her at its leisure, and there was nothing she could do to stop it.

Even her ruby, the one with the magical powers, remained back with her clothing near the cave's entrance. With it, at least she would have had a fighting chance. She shuddered as she imagined the spider's giant mandibles piercing her body, and hoped she would pass out quickly.

From her left she could hear the sound of movement heading her direction. It was a soft sound, the sound of something in no particular hurry. No! her mind cried, growing frantic. NO! She began to struggle against her bonds, trying to work her arms free, but totally unable to do so. She wanted to scream for help, but was afraid that would only cause the creature to come faster. Sweat coated her body as she rocked back and forth, trying to escape.

"Is that you?" a voice hissed from the darkness.

"Kaol!" Kara cried, her voice a sob. "God, Kaol, is that you?"

"Yeah," the voice replied. "But I've been having a devil of a time finding you. What are you doing hiding back here? What's going on?"

"Oh, Kaol! Over here, quickly! There's a giant spider that lives here. It was planning to eat me. It has me all cocooned up and it could come back at any minute."

"Spiders again? Calm down, Kara," Kaol soothed, and she felt his arms on her shoulders. "Geez, what is this?"

"It's the creature's web. Quick, get me out of it before it comes back!"

Kaol's fingers grabbed the webbing at her shoulders and began ripping at it. She could hear his ragged breathing from the effort, and guessed the material was amazingly strong. Once it had been torn to her waist, she began helping, ripping at the gauzy substance about her hips and legs. "Come on, come on!" she hissed impatiently.

"Too late," Kaol moaned weakly.

Kara looked up to see the giant figure of the spider descending from the cavern above them.

rescue attempt #3

"This is really getting monotonous Treb replied, once again back in position by the computer. "I figure even Murphy's Law has been worn out by now."

Mark did not share Treb's optimism, but kept his feelings to himself.

"Ready, Wizard?"

"Sure, Treb," Mark replied, tired.

"Here goes nothing then. Third times the charm." Treb powered up the time machine once again. Mark studied the machine closely, watching it begin to shake and hum. For a moment, he thought he might have been wrong and they would bring Kaol and Kara back safely.

It was at that same moment the ship rocked once again. The time machine was knocked loose from its moorings and toppled over, exploding in a shower of sparks and flame. Mark raced over to the wall and grabbed the fire extinguisher. The ship was jolted again, nearly spilling him into the flames himself The fire extinguisher flew from his hands and banged against the wall.

"Screw it," he mumbled, and waving his hands about in the air, created a small cloud that unleashed water upon the hissing machine.

Mark held tightly to a bulkhead as the ship was jolted with incredible force once again. He looked across the room at Treb, who was staring at him in wide eyed wonder.

"What?" Mark asked.

"You aren't going to believe this," Treb said.

"Try me."

"April just informed me that our ship is under attack by a giant space spider, at least the size of the Pegasus."

"I wasn't aware there were such things as giant space spiders."

"Neither was I."

back into the time stream

Kaol was upset, and he felt, understandably so. Here he was, in a nice dark cave, with a nude and attractive woman in his arms, but he found himself totally unable to enjoy it because a giant spider was getting ready to devour them both. He had often joked to Mark that he wanted to die holding onto a young, naked woman, but he had meant at a much more advanced age.

"Kaol!" Kara's voice trembled.

He knew she expected him to do something, but he was not very hopeful. The last giant spider he had encountered had required Mark's magic to dispel it. The only magic he and Kara had was in the form of her ruby, lying conveniently at the front of this cave.

The spider was only feet away from them now, the smell of carrion heavy upon its body. His blaster in his hand, he raised it to fire.

And felt that tugging in his belly again. It was Mark! Dammit, they might just make it out of here after all. He was afraid to take his eyes off the spider, but felt a trembling smile come to his lips all the same. "We're gonna make it!" he shouted at Kara...

And realized he was not touching her. He felt the tugging become overwhelming and turned to scream at her to hang on. He dropped his blaster and reached for her, snagging her by her hair, and then the world exploded for his benefit once more.

the spider from outer space

A spider the size of a battle cruiser floated in space before them. Once more, the control cabin was filled as April, Treb, Mark, and Sarann squeezed in to watch their enemy. Web the size and strength of tensile steel cables shot out at the ship and had clogged the main engines, leaving them stranded and at the creature's mercy.

"Fire again," Treb ordered.

Sarann worked the controls and a blast of bright, intense energy shot out from the ship, striking the spider in one of its many legs. The creature's head reared back as if in pain, and then lowered again as a new cable shot out and struck the ship, causing those in the cabin to hold on as they were rocked once more.

"No good," April said. "It doesn't even seem to be doing any serious damage to it." She turned to look back at Mark. "What is this thing, anyway?"

Mark shook his head, studying the creature, which he knew could not possibly exist. "I'm not sure, though I am starting to have some ideas about that. The pieces of the puzzle are falling into place."

"But what is it?" Sarann asked. "Can your magic do anything to it? Our weaponry hardly seems to faze it."

"The time machine is busted. I don't think there's anything we can do to get Kaol and Kara back now," he announced loudly.

Sarann looked back at him, a queer expression on her face. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Oh my god!" April shouted. "It's gone! It disappeared just like the battle cruiser."

"I rather thought it might," Mark commented, a grim smile on his face.

"Care to let us all in on what is going on here?" Treb asked.

"I believe we have someone very powerful who wants to make sure Kaol does not return to this ship."

"What are you talking about?" Sarann asked. "Is it Fergay? Who is it?"

"I'd rather not say, just yet. If I might say so, the walls have ears.. But I will say that I may need to get personally involved in this if we're to get Kaol back here." He turned on his heel and left the room, leaving the others to stare at each other in puzzlement.

jungle girl

Kara stood behind a tree, looking about the jungle for some sign of Kaol, or if not him, some other human. Although she appeared to be alone, she was not accustomed to walking around without a stitch of clothing. It made her feel exceedingly vulnerable, and the fact that she appeared to have been transported to this place without Kaol only added to her feeling of being a living magnet for danger.

She considered making a covering of palm fronds, but dropped the idea for the moment. Hopefully Kaol was nearby, and then he could loan her his top, at least. "Kaol!" she shouted once more, but there was no reply. The only sound about her was the constant whir of insect life, so common to jungle areas, and the occasional song of some bird she could not immediately identify.

From her brief study of the local flora, she appeared to be on Earth at least, perhaps even near her own time period. Yet the Earth was a big place, and it could hold more than its share of danger, particularly for an unarmed woman.

She rubbed her scalp briefly. It was sore from where Kaol had grabbed her hair. They had torn loose from each other sometime in the transfer, though she had no idea if it was before or after she had landed in this time.

She sat down near the trunk of the tree, holding her head in her hands and pushing away the tears. She'd lost the gem she had fought so hard to gain too. That was a double injury. For one, it had been what had brought her to South America in the first place, even before Kaol entered the picture. For two, it seemed to have been the reason Kaol had come after her. With that gone, would he even have any use for her?

She couldn't believe that, not after what they had shared and gone through together. Yet in her present mood, she couldn't push that thought entirely from her mind either. "Kaol!" she cried again, unable to keep the anguish from her voice. What if she had lost him too?

After an hour had passed without any response to her cries, Kara weaved together a brief dress from palm fronds. They were somewhat scratchy, but at least they provided some protection and made her feel less exposed. She elected to remain topless for the moment, however, as the leaves would be bulky and uncomfortable as a top. Besides, she seemed completely alone.

Depression hung around her neck like a stone, but she knew she had to move on her own now. She had been a self-sufficient woman for long enough that she was not about to give up simply because her companion was gone, even if she was coming to love him. She kicked herself for allowing herself those feelings. Once again they had only served to weaken rather than strengthen her.

After walking for half an hour, Kara paused beneath a tree to catch her breath. She now wore a sheen of sweat along with the leaves of her skirt. Her tongue ran over her lips thirstily, and she thought that if she did not find water soon, finding Kaol would be a moot point. Even a rain shower would be welcome now.

As if in response to her wishes, the rumble of thunder filled the air, and heavy drops of water began to drop through the trees above. "Yes!" Kara cried, lifting her face and arms gratefully to the sky. The water began to pick up in intensity, until Kara was laughing. Better watch out what you wish for, or you may get it, she thought. The torrent washed her skirt away, and she cursed under her breath. It had taken time to make that, primitive though it was.

She bent over to try to pick it up, when she felt something heavy and solid land upon her back. Straightening automatically, she looked down to see an inner tube of mottled green flesh loop around her waist. It was at least as thick as her thigh. A reptilian head slid over her shoulder, mouth agape, revealing an array of sharp teeth lunging for her throat. Kara's left hand shot out and grabbed the giant snake behind the jaw, stopping its approach towards her.

Yet although she had denied the teeth purchase, the anaconda continued to loop its heavy coils about her. Kara knew that this snake had no poison, but would kill her by encircling its muscular body about her and then squeezing her to death. It would then eat her whole. Such creatures rarely attacked humans, but in the limited visibility from the rain, and her ungarbed appearance, it might well have mistaken her for more familiar prey. It was likely surprised that she was putting up such a fight, but was not about to give in yet. Normal prey or not, she would make a filling meal.

Another coil looped about her breasts, and the tail slid sinuously about her throat. The snake was starting to squeeze now, and she could not expand her chest enough to get a good lungful of air. She stumbled away from the tree as the rain began to let up. The snake was winning in this battle. Where was Kaol? Where was he? How could he let her die like this?

She shook the snake's head, but it had no impact on the beast. Its tremendous weight was starting to bear her down as well, and she knew that if she lost her feet it would be all over in moments. It would wrap her up like a Christmas package and swallow her like a prize turkey.

No! she cried as she felt her feet slide out from under her on the incline of the hill. She tumbled forward, maintaining her tenuous grip on the serpent's head. They rolled and tumbled down the muddy incline before Kara felt the ground disappear and knew they were airborne. In the continued rainfall it was impossible to tell if they had plunged off a brief embankment or a tremendous cliff.

Kara fought to right herself, trying to land feet first, and gasped as she felt her ribs rubbing together. She prayed that somehow her landing would be soft. Yet, the snake might kill her before she had a chance to land. But just as she thought this, she felt her feet strike the surface, but instead of solid land, she could feel her legs slide into a gooey mud. Her heart began hammering harder still. She looked down at the swampy, sandy earth that had swallowed the snake and her up to her hips. It was quicksand! Quicksand again! Her tears mixed with the rain streaking her face.

Then, from somewhere deep inside her mind, she heard a voice. It was faint at first, but fairly dripped reassurance and comfort. She recognized the voice as that of her grandmother, dead for the past ten years. "It's going to be all right, honeybunch. You've got a good head on your shoulders. Don't be afraid to use it."

The voice seemed so real, that Kara's eyes searched through the diminishing rain shower for some sign of her grandmother, and almost thought she saw her too, before realizing that would be impossible. Still, the memory of her grandmother and her words of advice galvanized Kara. A fresh burst of adrenaline jolted through her body, invigorating her and providing her with a new outlook. I am going to make it, she thought. And I don't need Kaol or anybody else to rescue me. This time I'm going to get my own self out of this. Why else would I have ended up in quicksand again, if not to prove that I'm capable of saving myself!

What felt like a band of steel squeezed tighter about her breasts, and Kara's eyes widened in pain. She might have forgotten about the snake for a moment, but it had not forgotten about her. Her mind kicked into high gear as she methodically evaluated all her options. No way to fight this damn quicksand locked inside this bastard of a snake, she thought. So first things first. I hate to do it, but this snake has got to go.

With a deep breath, Kara pulled the snake's neck up to her mouth, and mustering all her strength and courage, viciously plunged her teeth into the mottled, scaled flesh, tearing out a chunk of living meat. Spitting out the gory bite, Kara gagged and nearly lost her hold on the snake, her grip made more slippery from the blood pouring from the wounded anaconda.

The giant reptile for its part also reacted strongly to this unexpected attack, and twisted and tightened about her with increased ferocity. Spots flashed before Kara's eyes, and her resolve momentarily faltered. Perhaps she had been fooling herself to think that she could free herself on her own. She had always pushed herself, trying fiercely for her independence, but maybe she was simply asking too much.

But no! her mind flashed back. She could never look her grandmother in the eye in the hereafter if she simply gave up on herself. There was no way she could kill the snake by biting it to death. Perhaps there was another way. There were always options.

Freeing her other hand, Kara grabbed the snake with both hands about its neck, and squeezed, trying to use the maneuver it was using so successfully on her. Unfortunately, she was not strong enough to close off its windpipe. It seemed to take the hint from her, however, and its slimy tail rose from the muck and once more wound about her own throat in a lazy but purposeful circle.

Not much time! her mind screamed and in a last desperate move, shoved the anaconda's head beneath the surface of the rising quicksand. As she suspected, the giant carnivore seemed to react in a panic of its own, and Kara felt surely the tightening coils would leave her a lot thinner if she survived at all. Yet her teeth remained clenched in her pain and effort as she held the thrashing serpent below the bog. The surface of the quicksand flowed and splashed as the snake tried to raise its head for air, but Kara knew this was her only chance, and would not allow the killer any reprieve.

After what seemed an eternity, Kara could feel the anaconda losing the battle, its thrashing stopping for moments before another burst of energy appeared, before quickly dying out. She found her own lungs able to expand a little more, and knew that the coils were loosening ever so slightly. At last all movement stopped, and Kara suspected she had won. Yet her fingers remained locked about the snake's neck, holding it under in case it was playing possum.

Yet after a minute had passed, Kara felt the oppressive grip of her captor's coils relaxing about her body. She could move again! She had won! She, a skinny little professor, had single handedly defeated this killing machine, without a weapon, without even a loin cloth for protection, and while submerged in quicksand, no less!

At that last thought, her moment of joy turned sour as she realized that she was not safe yet. Far from it, in fact. She still wore a giant snake as an overcoat, and its added weight was pushing her more quickly into the muck which was now creeping up her chest.

uh-oh, it's magic

Mark closed the door to his cabin and ordered Beemar to keep it closed until he gave the order for it to open. He did not want to be disturbed while he gathered his reagents for the spell he knew he needed to cast. An interruption at the wrong time could leave him in worse condition than his old pet, Ralph, mistakenly turned into a wooden representation of his former self. He shivered at the thought.

Trying to keep his mind on the task, he went to his bookshelf and pulled several jars of chemicals from their places there. He was worried about Kaol's safety, as well as that of the crew of the Pegasus. He was further worried about his own safety. Something had none too subtlety prevented them from retrieving Kaol with the time machine. It might react similarly to his own rescue efforts. Yet he was hoping that the entity responsible for their recent problems would not be expecting a direct use of magic. He suspected it was keyed into the time machine, and might not be aware of other options. It might be a creature possessing powerful magic, but Mark believed it was quite naive, all the same. Besides, he was going to Kaol, not bringing Kaol back to him, and that could make a difference as well. He hoped so, anyway.

Besides, he had a feeling that, strangely enough, their attacker meant them no harm. Not intentionally anyway. But he would be putting his neck on the line to prove it, and at that thought his fingers gingerly touched his throat. He prayed he was not wrong.

down and dirty

Kara planned the next step of her escape quickly. She had no choice, if she was to survive. The edge of the solid ground was thankfully just a few yards away, and using slow, calculated, sculling motions, Kara was able to maneuver her way closer and closer to the shore. It was difficult work, and hard to keep her motions slow and deliberate when she still felt her panic like a caged beast within her heart, trying to force her hand. Yet quick movements only forced her down more quickly, and so she forced a calm she didn't feel, determined above all else to survive. She would get out of this on her own, and then give Kaol hell for not being around to help.

Her patience paid off, and she finally found herself close enough to grab a sturdy branch of an overhanging tree. Painstakingly, she pulled herself inch by agonizing inch out of the bog, struggling against the suction of the quicksand. It seemed stronger than she was, and she worried that all her reserves had been used up. But then she felt the weight of the dead snake slipping off her bare body, and abruptly she felt light as a feather. Apparently the bog was willing to feed on the snake's remains instead of her, and she quickly pulled herself free.

Kara lay face down on the bank, covered practically from head to toe with wet sand. The rain shower had stopped minutes ago, right when she could have used it to clean herself off. It figures, she thought, and looked up at the canopy of trees overhead. Thanks for the pep talk, Grandma, she thought, giving a tired smile.

Her thoughts turned to Kaol then, and her smile became slightly sadder. Would she ever see him again? Up until the last minute she had still somehow expected him to turn up again, making some smartass comment before lending a hand. If she did ever see him again, she would have to share this adventure with him. Maybe then he wouldn't feel like he had to be a protector for her anymore, and would be able to see her as an equal. She'd like that, and felt pride at knowing that she still could handle herself on her own quite well.

Suddenly, from what seemed a great distance, Kara thought she heard someone calling her name. "Kara!" She heard again. "Is that you?!" Kara lifted her head and turned in the direction of the voice. There, across the wide expanse of the quicksand bog, was Kaol! He was here after all! She had never felt so glad to see anyone in her life, and she felt her heart hammering as if seeking escape. Running toward her as if being chased, she saw Kaol quickly approaching the edge of the swamp. "Kara!" he cried. "I thought I'd never see you again."

Instantly, Kara was on her feet, waving her arms above her head. "Kaol! Stop! Look out! Quicksand!" But it was too late Before he knew it, Kaol was thigh-high in the muck, thrashing, cursing, sinking. Her head in her hands, Kara mumbled to herself. "I cannot believe it. I just got out, now he's in it?' This is getting ridiculous!"

Kara was oblivious to her nudity as she scrambled around the edge of the swamp toward Kaol. She had to hurry and get him out of there. Only moments ago she had thought him lost forever, and she'd be damned if he'd get away from her now. Vines and branches with sharp thorns tore at her skin like razors and suddenly she realized warm blood was pouring down the side of her face. She ignored it. There were more pressing concerns.

Soon she was as close to Kaol as she could get without sliding into the soggy soil herself. The muck was up to Kaol's waist now. Although he gave a brave grin, she could sense fear behind the mask. Then she saw his eyes widen as they took in her blood and mud covered body. The fear in his eyes shifted into concern. "Are you okay?" he called. "Did you dress like that just for me?"

"Don't worry about me right now...let's just get you out!" Kara yelled back.

Kaol flashed a grin. "I can't argue with logic like that." He pointed over her shoulder at a nearby tree. "Kara," he called. "See if you can get that vine from that tree."

Kara followed his gaze to a very unfriendly looking tree, a mass of knots and whorls. She spotted a sturdy vine coiled around some of the upper branches. "I see it," Kara called back. "Don't go anywhere. I'll be right back."

"I'll be right here," Kaol said, adding, "I hope."

last minute preparations

Mark looked over his supplies and readied the spell in his head. It was fairly complicated, but with no interference he felt confident he would be able to pull it off. He paused as looked over his supplies, stared back down at his notes, and then back at the supplies, trying to think if there was anything he had forgotten. He snapped his fingers, as a thought came to him. "Just one thing left to do, and then I can leave," he said to himself. He set his spell book down and walked purposefully to his private bathroom.

down and really dirty

As Kaol watched, Kara hoisted her voluptuous, strong form up into the tree like an athlete. In spite of his own precarious position, he found himself growing aroused and sank his teeth into his lower lip. If he was to die now, at least there would be a nice view. He watched eagerly as she quickly untangled the vine and dropped back onto the ground with it. She was really an amazing woman, he thought with genuine appreciation. She was starting to make a habit of saving his life. He would have to make sure she realized just how appreciative he was. But first things first.

Kara swiftly tied one end of the vine to the tree trunk and threw the rest of it out to Kaol. He greedily lunged for it and reached it on the first try. Kara positioned herself on the very edge of the bog, and with one arm and hand extended, waited precariously for Kaol as he pulled himself toward her.

While dragging himself forward, Kaol, considerably more relaxed now, found himself once more taken by how utterly beautiful Kara's body looked despite the mess it was in. He found himself imagining making love to her under a cool waterfall as the fresh water washed both their bodies clean. He shuddered at the image, and watched leaning forward, arm outstretched, her body plainly revealed to him. To hell with the waterfall. This setting would do just fine.

The warm grasp of Kara's hand on his wrist sent an almost electrical charge down the length of his arm, and he locked his hand about her wrist as well. Her foot slid on the bank, and for a moment he felt certain she would tumble in with him. But she retained her grip on the vine, and together they managed to work him up onto the bank. Both of them trembled with relief and exhaustion.

With Kaol safely on solid earth, Kara collapsed to the ground next to him. Suddenly they were both laughing hysterically and Kara was in his arms being passionately kissed. "You're incredible," Kaol murmured into her ear.

Kara took his face in her hands and replied, "It's the least I could do for my favorite buccaneer."

Kaol rolled over, pulling her body atop his and wrapped his arms about her bare back, pulling her closer and kissing her long and deep. As they broke this kiss, Kaol opened his mouth to speak. "Kara, I..."

"Sssssh," she said, laying a finger gently on his lips, and then began pulling his shirt up from around his waist. "Me too."

and away we go

Mark wiped his hands on the towel and stepped back into his room. No way he could put this off any longer. A long sigh emerged and he ran his hand over his beard. He was scared. He knew that. If he was right, he would be confronting a force potentially stronger than Fergay. It could be a powerful ally, but a lethal opponent. He believed it neutral at this point, and he only hoped his guesses about its nature were correct, for Kaol's sake as well as his own.

Sitting cross-legged on the bed, candles glowing at the four corners, Mark sprinkled some chemicals on the brazier and began his chanting, uttering syllables that were garbled and arcane, sounding as though he was speaking them through a mouthful of marbles. His hands trembled slightly as they marked peculiar symbols in the air, leaving a flaming image in their passage.

His eyes narrowed at the wind that had come up within his bedroom, and one by one the candles flickered and went out. He held his breath, knowing now was the time, and screamed in surprise with sudden pain and agony.

An explosion rocked the Pegasus, blowing the door off Mark's cabin and incinerating the room's contents beyond recognition.

no rest for the wicked

Kara lay with her head nestled in the crook of Kaol's arm, an exhausted smile on her face. She would have thought that after all she had been through that there would have been no energy for a round of love making. Particularly in such a setting as this. On the other hand, Kaol constantly surprised her. It had been an interesting experience, too. Halfway through, their frantic movements had edged them back into the quicksand, though neither of them had even noticed until they were submerged nearly to their waists. So involved were they, though, that Kaol merely wrapped a wrist about the vine and held on while they continued their frenzied activity, churning the quicksand into a froth. By the time they were done, they were up to their shoulders again, and had laughed in embarrassment at their enthusiasm which had led to such a position.

Now they rested, coated in mud, blood, and sweat, and she felt absolutely wonderful. Kaol's hand ran gently down her hair as he stared up at the trees with a contented smile. Though she knew she might feel differently later, at the moment she felt that she wouldn't care where they ended up, as long as they remained together. Nothing could ruin a moment like this. Nothing, not even...

"Spiders!" Kaol shouted, suddenly jerking upright, and pulling her up alongside him. "I don't believe it! Look at all the spiders!"

They were standing, and Kara stared in wonder at the hundreds, no, thousands of tiny spiders lowering themselves on thin strings of gossamer from the trees above them. She pressed her bare body closer to Kaol's and closed her eyes. She had proved to herself that she was brave, but this was getting to be too much.

"Quick!" Kaol shouted. "Get dressed." He threw his soggy shirt at her as he hopped about, trying to pull his pants on.

She tossed the shirt over her head. It was large enough to hang on her almost like a short dress. But it would be scant protection against the army of spiders descending on them from above. As if mesmerized, she looked up again, watching the arachnids dropping purposefully towards them. They were smaller than the 'crawlies' they had seen on the future earth, but in such numbers Kara knew that she and Kaol would be easily overwhelmed, particularly if they were venomous, which she was somehow sure they were.

"Kaol," she said, turning to him as he pulled on his boots. "I love you. I just wanted you to know that."

"Now cut that out!" he snapped, standing up. "Let's not get all melodramatic now. We're going to get out of this. We always do!"

"Not this time, I don't think," she said, stepping into his arms. "Hold me, so that at least we can die together."

"I wouldn't do that. if I were your Kaol," said a familiar voice from behind them.

hi, mark

"Mark!" Kaol shouted, astounded at seeing his old friend standing back in the jungle. "What are you doing here!"

"Attempting to save the day, once again," Mark replied, shuffling forward. As he stepped forward, he batted at his clothes which were dirty and covered with soot.

"How did you find us?" Kara asked, keeping an eye on the spiders above. To her surprise, they seemed as startled by Mark's arrival as she was, and hung motionless on their threads, neither advancing nor retreating for the moment. It seemed they had a reprieve, though for some reason she was not especially calmed by this.

"I'll explain it all momentarily. And I'll have to ask your forgiveness for what I will have to do next. I'm sorry," Mark said, pulling a blaster from inside his jacket.

Kaol's eyes widened in horror. What was going on? Maybe it wasn't Mark after all. Stranger things had happened. "Move!" he cried, pushing Kara, and then grabbing her, realizing he had nearly shoved her into the quagmire again.

The blaster charge narrowly missed Kara, and Kaol jerked her the other way, forgetting the peril of the spiders as they confronted the more imminent danger of his friend gone mad. A surprised shout came front Mark's direction, and Kaol cast a glance back at his friend, and then stopped in his tracks. A vine had shot out from one of the nearby trees like a spear, and pierced Mark's forearm holding the weapon. It then twisted and began wrapping about the injured arm. Mark was staring at his wound in dumb fascination, mouth hanging open, not seeming to believe what was happening to him. The vine jerked suddenly, and Mark cried out in a spasm of pain as the blaster fell from his fingers to the earth.

Mark looked up them, and his eyes locked with Kaol's. Yet Kaol did not see madness there, only a painful resolve. "Kaol!" Mark cried, staggering backward as the vine tugged him towards the tree. "It's Kara! She's doing this! Knock her out now! Do it or we're both dead!"

Kaol's mouth dropped open in disbelief, and he glanced down at Kara. Her upturned face looked up at him in total innocence and fear, and she shook her head in negation. "No, Kaol! You can't listen to him!"

He stood frozen in indecision, watching Mark being pulled back towards the tree which had suddenly developed a large, gaping, splinterlined mouth. He looked back down at Kara's large, pleading eyes, and then up at the spiders which were resuming their descent. Who to believe? His feelings for Kara battled with his feelings for his friend. Wincing as if in physical pain, Kaol whirled and grabbed Kara by the throat, pressing down and cutting off the supply of blood to the brain. She collapsed with a surprised grunt into his arms, unable to see the tears of pain and confusion he fought to hold back.

Yet as she lost consciousness, Kaol saw in wonder that the spiders above seemed to shimmer and evaporate if they were only a mirage. Looking back over at Mark, he saw the tree had lost all its animation, and the vine was no longer holding his friend, but once more back around the tree.

As Mark sagged beside the tree, however, Kaol saw that the wound his friend had received was not imaginary. Easing Kara down to the ground like a statue of fragile porcelain, Kaol ran over to Mark, kneeling beside him. "Are you okay?"

"Operationally define that," Mark grunted, holding onto his arm. "I should survive, if that's what you mean. Provided, of course, she didn't poison the vine as well."

Kaol shook his head in confusion. "What are you talking about? What has Kara got to do with this?"

"Everything, Kaol. Everything. It's a long story, and I'd rather we get back to the Pegasus before it's told. Here," he said, handing Kaol an anaesthetic skin patch. "Slap this on your girlfriend there. It will keep her asleep until we can decide what to do with her."

Kaol's eyebrows knotted together as he went over to apply the patch. He hated doing this to Kara, but he had known Mark long enough to trust his judgment. But God help his friend if none of this was necessary. He turned back to Mark. "It's done. Now what?"

"Let me catch my breath, and then I'll take us home," Mark said, and glanced over at Kara. "Nice legs, for a witch."

back on the pegasus

The three figures shimmered and materialized in the meeting room of the Pegasus, Kara's limp body supported between the two men. Mark had decided against transporting them lack to his cabin, as the blast that had been meant to halt his travels would surely have devastated his room. He had been lucky to escape when he had. One second slower on his casting and he'd have ended up well done.

Kaol looked around him in disbelief. There had been times in the last twenty-four hours when he had all but given up hope on seeing his ship again. A shuddering sigh blew through his lips. "Thanks, Mark."

"You're welcome, " he replied, and could say no more as Treb, Sarann, and April burst into the room.

"I told you they were back!" cried April, and then said to Kaol. "See, I told them I didn't kill you."

"Not yet, anyway," Kaol commented, dryly, and then staggered back under the exuberant hugs bestowed upon Mark and him by their friends.


As soon as Mark had assured his friends that he would fill them in on the whole story, but that things would be okay now, they reluctantly agreed to allow Kaol and Mark to carry Kara to the sick bay. All three of them needed looking after, and Mark stated he wasn't doing any more talking until he got his arm taken care of. With some grumbling, the group let them be, but Sarann remained stationed outside the door in case they needed anything.

All three of them were the worse for wear, but Mark's wound was the most serious, and after hooking Kara up to an anaesthetic drip, Kaol ordered the computer to work on Mark. Kaol sat on the bed next to Kara, looking down at her with a worried expression. "Are you certain this is necessary, Mark?"

Mark winced at the compusurgeon did it's work. As sure as I can be, Kaol. I just want to keep her under until I tell you what's going on, and then we can decide what to do."

"Then tell."

"Okay, but first I think we should both go over, in detail, what has happened in the time since you left our presence. You go first."

Kaol sighed, and laid his hand over Kara's as he began his tale. He described it as thoroughly as he could remember, pausing only when Mark stopped nodding long enough to ask a question. After thirty minutes of talking, Kaol's throat was dry, but Mark had a better understanding of what had happened. "Okay, now tell me what's going on here," Kaol said.

"I'll try," Mark agreed. "But it's sort of hard to believe. Yet what you have told me makes me certain I was right. The fact is, your girlfriend there is probably the most powerful being in our universe."

"Get off!"

"No joke. It took me a long time to figure it out, but when the giant space spider appeared, that pretty well did it for me."

"Say what? Giant 'space spider'? Maybe I better slow down the painkillers you're getting."

"Don't you dare. There really was a giant space spider, though its existence was mercifully short. You see, Kara has the ability to make whatever she imagines to come to life, to come into being. Remember how I said she would be important to our crew? Well, those gems ended up throwing us off course a bit, and so we didn't see where the real power lay."

Kaol shook his head. "Better draw me a map 'cause I'm totally lost."

Mark sighed, pulling his arm away as the last bandage was applied. The painkillers Kaol had mentioned were making him somewhat light headed, and it was difficult enough to explain what was going on without that. "Okay, what I believe is that Kara was a 'latent sorceress for lack of a better term. All these years, those powers were never seen, as they needed something to trigger them. They were in a sort of hibernation, if you will. Coming into contact with that magical talisman, the gem, caused those powers to manifest themselves for the first time. We didn't know that then, of course. We figured it was mostly the gems that were responsible, but they were nothing more than a conduit for her powers. Plus, her conscious mind was not capable of believing that she could have magical powers. It was safer if the magic was attributed to an external source. So her unconscious made use of the gems, even though after the first time, they really served no purpose."

"But then why couldn't she save us when we were captives of Esioul? Why did she let us go through all that?"

Mark stepped over to the food dispenser, punched two buttons, and pulled out two cans of beer, tossing one to Kaol. "You'll need to keep in mind a couple things, Kaol. For one, I don't think Kara has any clue as to what she has been doing or is capable of doing. So far, her powers have been used by her unconscious. She seems only able to use them consciously in times of extreme stress. As far as Esioul goes, well, maybe she didn't really want to rescue the two of you at first. It hardly takes a genius to see that you two were attracted to each other, and I don't think it's stretching it too far to suggest her unconscious wanted her to do all the things Esioul put you two through.

"When it was down to the wire, though, and you were about to be killed, then her powers manifested themselves. It happened again after you were bitten by that 'crawlie' that got teleported back to us. I'll bet she wished the would away without even knowing it."

Kaol looked at his hand, remembering the sharp pain he had felt moments before disappearing from the future Earth. Funny, but he had forgotten about that until now. Kaol sipped at his toozle and looked down at Kara in new appreciation. "This is sort of spooky, Mark."

"Yeah, but it gets worse. Her power has been growing exponentially without her having any control over it, and that has made her very dangerous. As I began to think about all the trouble we were having bringing you back, it occurred to me that someone was trying to prevent us from retrieving you. There were various possibilities. But all the problems seemed quite magical. I'll spare the details, but I believe her unconscious mind was keeping tabs on things here. When I announced that we were going to give up on bringing you back, the problems stopped.

"But it was the giant space spider that really got me, and clued me in on Kara. I recalled you saying how afraid she was of spiders. It made sense that she would manifest something like a giant spider as a threat, as there are few things she could think of as more frightening. And when I came upon you and saw y'all surrounded by spiders, then I knew I was right. I needed to stun her with the blaster if I was to save you. But she fought me. Or her unconscious did."

Kaol nodded. "That's weird, as we've been fighting spiders of one kind or another since we left you. Are you saying she created them?"

Mark shrugged. "If she didn't create them, she certainly called them near."

"But she's afraid of spiders! Why would she do that? And why would she not want to let us return?"

"I couldn't tell you all that for sure, but I've some ideas on that too. I don't think she wanted you to return, as I believe she was falling in love with you, but she's also aware that both Sarann and April have been or are involved with you to some degree. Unconsciously, I think she wanted you for herself. It's as though her power was working without her authority, doing what it felt was best for her. If her power had to kill us to keep you two together, it would do so. At the same time, the spiders could have been an unconscious way of punishing herself for those same feelings. Sort of an ambivalence being worked out before your eyes.

"In addition, knowing you, I suspect that you felt closer to her after every near fatal encounter you survived together. I doubt that this escaped her attention, either. And things came back full circle with the two of you, but this time, she rescued you from the quicksand. Again, I believe there was an ambivalence about enjoying your rescues, but also resenting the dependence that fostered. So I suspect she even created that last scenario without knowing it, to remind herself and you that she was quite capable of taking care of herself when necessary."

Kaol sat staring off into space. "I don't know what to say. What are we going to do now? Do we train her in her powers? Is that why she's here? With power like that, we could kick Fergay's ass if he ever shows up again."

Mark shook his head. "Or she could kick ours. I'd be afraid to try training her at this point. She might wink us out of existence without even meaning to if we made her cross. I think I need to learn more about my powers before I try training anyone else in theirs."

"Then what do you recommend?"

"You won't like it."

"I don't like any of this. Go on."

"Mind wipe Basically, I want to use a blend of magic and hypnosis to put a block on her using her powers, either consciously or unconsciously, until I remove that block. In addition I will have her forget ever meeting you or having anything to do with us. We'll place her back in the jungle and let her be on her way until such a time as we need her or I'm ready to begin her training."

Kaol stood up quickly. "No! Mark, you don't realize what you are asking! Maybe I was duped into falling for her, but I have! You can't ask me to just forget her."

Mark's voice was soft as he replied. "No, I'm not asking you to forget her. But she will forget you."

"Can't I at least say goodbye?"

"Can't risk it. If she wakes up and has any inkling of what we are going to try it would be terribly dangerous."

Kaol held his hands in front of his face as if praying and looked down at the floor, shoulders slumping. "This job sucks."

"Yeah, it does."

"Should we do it now?"

"No need to delay."

"Then go ahead. But don't ask me to watch," Kaol said, stepping out of the cabin, head hanging low. He gave a weak smile to Sarann as he passed, and headed for his cabin. He needed to be alone.

back home

Kara shook her head, groggily, and rubbed her hand through her hair. Her muscles ached terribly, and looking at her arm, she saw it was criss-crossed with scratches. Her brow wrinkled in confusion. How had that happened?

She looked about, trying to remember where she was. She felt as if she had a massive hangover, but she hadn't even brought any alcohol with her on this expedition.

Expedition. There! Now it was starting to come back to her. But the last thing she remembered was getting caught in that quicksand. What had happened after that? She frowned as she tried to recall, but it was as if a curtain of grey mist had been drawn across her mind. She could not remember. It was clear she had saved herself somehow, but exactly how she had done so eluded her.

Her back rested against a hard surface, and she looked over her shoulder up into the eyes of the idol she had been seeking. Yet instead of the excitement she expected to feel, there was more a feeling of disappointment, as if she was missing something.

Standing, Kara looked around the jungle, as if expecting to find somebody there. She knew that was foolish. She was alone. And yet for a moment she thought she detected movement, as if a man dressed in black had moved back into hiding. "Is anyone there?" she called out, and found her heart hammering in excitement. Why was she reacting this way? "Hello?"

Nobody answered, and yet, for the briefest fraction of a second, an image of a man flashed through her mind. She tried to grab onto it, but it was gone. Who had that been? The details were gone. Yet that image brought with it a feeling of great loss, and an overwhelming sense of sorrow seemed to weigh upon her with even greater force than the humidity. She didn't know why, but she suddenly felt very, very empty. Sighing, she looked up at the sky, suddenly wishing it was night. She really wanted to see the stars again.

Copyright 1992 Kaol & Kara


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