He'd done it again, put himself in harm's way to protect us as he had so
very many times before. The familiarity of it didn't make his decision any
easier for me to bear.
I'd been leaning heavily on Challenger for support trusting that Roxton's
own strength and determination would carry him to the relative safety of
the tree line. I'd seen him collapse, seen his pallor and the tension in
his face as he fought the pain and tried to follow us.
To be honest, I should have seen it coming. His offer to take Challenger's
rifle and stay behind to give us a better chance of escape had been so like
him it made my heart ache to see. The John Roxton that I lo--, that I'd
missed, was back. Now he seemed to want to throw his life away to save us.
There was only one slight problem: I had no intention of letting him do it.
I'd threatened to stay behind with him, and he'd realised, correctly, that
I was stubborn enough to have done it. For some reason it annoyed him that
I had refused to stand by and just watch him die.
However, once I'd explained the situation to him, he'd appeared to have
changed his mind about staying, taken the rifle as a crutch rather than a
weapon, and tried to follow Challenger and me to safety. I've been called
manipulative in the past, admittedly with good cause for the most part, but
I knew Roxton well enough to have known how to convince him to at least try
to escape. I knew the guilt he carried around with him, the driving sense
of responsibility, and I played on it.
It worked, but whatever joy I'd felt when I'd seen him haul himself to his
feet and stagger after us had been tempered with regret at seeing in his
eyes the never quite exorcised shadow of other deaths that, rightly or
wrongly, he held himself responsible for.
Finally, after what had seemed an eternity of putting one foot in front of
another, Challenger and I made it to the tree line. I glanced at
Challenger to see he was nearly as winded as I. It wasn't too surprising:
on the last few yards he'd been virtually carrying me. Once released of
his support, I slumped down against a tree trunk, wincing at the flare of
pain from my side that the movement caused. Almost involuntarily my hand
went to the wadded bandage, and came away red. I looked at it
uncomprehendingly for a moment, my brain numbed by what had to have been
stress or blood loss or shock.
Veronica's startled yelp dragged my concentration back into the present. I
saw her holding her arm as if in pain. The T-Rex towered between her
slight form and the edge of the cliff. I prayed for it to go over as
surely Veronica had been intending: a fall from a great height was still
one of the best ways of getting rid of a T-Rex that we'd come across, but
it was not to be. I looked on, the breath caught in my throat, as I waited
for the T-Rex to strike.
The harsh sound of a sudden gunshot made me jump, and I automatically
looked in the direction it had come from.
Roxton. He was stood there, the rifle held somewhat awkwardly, but
nonetheless pointed at the T-Rex which had turned in annoyance at what, to
it, must have been an annoying gnat sting to its flank. I distantly
noticed that Veronica had been quick-witted enough to advantage of the
opportunity offered to race for cover even before Roxton had yelled,
He'd continued shouting: wordless noise intended only to divert the
creature's attention from Veronica's retreat and towards him. I saw it
waver as if undecided, then as its head swung back in Roxton's direction I
saw him fire again. I couldn't see where the bullet had hit, if it had
hit. I waited for him to fire again before my exhaustion dulled mind noted
that Roxton was carrying Challenger's double-ejector rather than his own
bolt-action and he hadn't any cartridges with which to reload it.
I watched as the dinosaur roared again then lowered its head to charge down
the tiny figure who had the temerity to so defy it. I saw Roxton standing
there, no more than ten or twelve yards away from Challenger or I, swaying
a little but making no effort to dodge. 'Damn him! Why didn't he do
something?' I raged inwardly despite being able to see that it was as much
as he could do to remain standing. The ground itself groaned under the
relentless pounding of the dinosaur's feet, the tremors created by every
step carried to where Challenger and I were hiding.
"Roxton!" I cried, anguish making my voice crack. He half turned towards
me at the sound of my voice before returning his gaze to the charging T-
Rex, determined it seemed to meet his impending death with the same courage
he had shown in life. "No, no, no, no, no..." I sobbed under my breath,
helplessly trying to deny what was happening in front of me. Was I
supposed to just wait there and watch as it killed him? What could I do?
I racked my brain for an idea, any idea that might help. Nothing. I
turned with scant hope to Challenger who was watching what was happening,
as transfixed as was I. "George?" I beseeched quietly, desperately, in the
hope that he could bring off yet another miracle.
He didn't look at me, didn't say anything, perhaps angry that he, for all
his learning and inventions could do nothing to save his friend's life.
Behind his scientific detachment, I sometimes forgot that Challenger, too,
"Roxton!" I screamed again, wanting to turn away but somehow unable to.
The T-Rex was no more than ten yards from him when Challenger turned to me
and hissed urgently, "listen!"
For an instant I had no idea what he meant. Then I heard it: a grumbling
from under the ground, so low as to be almost inaudible. I remembered the
instability at the cliff edge that had so nearly sent me tumbling into the
abyss. That had been caused by the vibration from the dinosaur's approach.
If the whole area near the cliff edge was that unstable...
The dinosaur forgot about its attack on Roxton, reeling as if drunk. It
would have been comical if I hadn't been so scared. Roxton, too,
"Landslide!" bawled Challenger over the ever louder rumbling from the
"Run! Dammit, John, hurry!" I called, dragging myself to my feet with the
aid of the tree for support. The pain in my side was nothing more than a
distraction, an irrelevance, to be ignored for a while at least.
I started towards him but Challenger grabbed my arm. "Wait here," he
ordered peremptorily. "You're in no condition and I can't carry both of
you." I started to protest but a sudden wave of nausea convinced me of
Cracks were racing across the ground, parallel to the cliff edge. The
whole ground was shaking and I clung to a tree branch, praying that it
wouldn't fall away too. Challenger staggered and stumbled out towards
Roxton who had finally lost his battle to remain standing. He hauled him
to his feet and they began to make their way back, supporting each other
like two old men on their way home from a night's drinking.
Behind them I could see the T-Rex, its own strength and power helpless in
the end to save it from its slow slide into the abyss. I saw it fling its
head back, bellow a last defiant roar, then it fell from view. The cracks
widened and whole slabs of ground sheared away and vanished into the depths
of the chasm.
Challenger and Roxton were no more than ten feet from the support of the
dense trees when the ground they were on began to slide away. I could see
the realisation of what was happening in their eyes as they continued
forwards, struggling against the apparently inevitable. Then they made a
last, convulsive leap, grabbing for anything to hold on to as the ground
they had been standing on fell away.
The rumbling slowly subsided. I unlocked my hands from the death grip they
had maintained around the tree branch. Not far from where I was,
Challenger and Roxton lay on the ground only feet from the new cliff edge.
Challenger glanced left and right, noting the presence of both Roxton and
me. "Good God, we made it. We're alive!" he laughed with surprised
delight. It was so infectious that I could not help but join in. From
beyond Challenger I could hear Roxton's unmistakable deep chuckle. That
was how we were when Veronica found us a couple of minutes later.
We relocated far enough from the cliff's edge for comfort and settled down
for a much needed rest. Little was said. Bandages were changed, wounds
cleaned and redressed, and what few supplies were left, were passed around.
As the light began to fade I woke up from a doze to find Roxton staring at
me intently. For long seconds he looked as though he was going to speak,
but didn't. I watched his struggle for the right words to say something
for which I knew there was no such things as 'the right words'.
I took the struggle away from him. "You shot me, John," I said quietly,
reasonably. "You tried to kill me."
He said nothing. His eyes, blank and impenetrable, bored into mine. I was
normally so good at reading his expression, it was disconcerting to see
that degree of opacity. For a horrible instant I thought whatever memory
he'd retrieved on the cliff edge had vanished once more.
"What do you want from me?" I asked. "Exoneration? Forgiveness?
Understanding? You shot me. What else is there for me to understand?" A
small insistent voice at the back of my mind berated me for what I was
doing to him, asking him such questions. I ignored it. I'd always been
one to push, to pry, and this was one thing I wouldn't let slide. I was
tired and hurt and he'd *shot* me, and I damn well wanted to know the
"I didn't think it was you," he finally muttered as if ashamed to say more.
"Oh?" I said, demanding more. Challenger had managed to guess that much.
"I took a knock to the head," he said tersely. "I looked at you and saw
someone else, alright?"
The defensiveness in his voice was impossible to miss. It wasn't a subject
he wanted to talk about. Under most circumstances I'd have let it go, but
not now, not after seeing the hatred in his eyes when he'd looked at me and
saw her. Whoever 'she' was, at some time she'd done something to him,
something terrible: Roxton wasn't a man who hated easily. "Who was she?" I
He stared at me as if considering whether or not to answer, then murmured,
"her name was Dona Maria Lopez. I first met her in Peru after the War
where I found out she'd been involved in the death of an old friend of
mine. She ended up being responsible for the deaths of hundreds, perhaps
thousands and caused untold misery for thousands more. I thought I'd
killed her. I'm not so certain now."
His voice faded into silence and I looked into his face as he became lost
in memory. "You'll have to tell me about it sometime," I suggested.
"Perhaps," he replied non-committally.
I knew a 'no' when I heard one. I could understand him wanting to keep
some things secret. After all, there were a lot of things in my past that
I had every intention of keeping secret.
But perhaps one day he'd tell me.
And perhaps one day I'd tell him.
But not today.