Note: Many thanks to rann, santacrux, dwilson for beta-reading (on such short notice) offering considerable aid with logic questions and grammar corrections.
Disclaimer: Borrowed the characters. And winking at Time After Time
In brief: sometime into Season 4
"Guten abend, Fraulein Schmidt."
"Guten abend, Herr Colonel." She scrutinized the room's shadows before accepting the offered chair. While the furnishings were sparse, the requisite Nazi flag had found a prominent place near the window.
The German officer sat across from her, the ragged sofa groaning from his weight. "Do you mind if we speak English? I wish mine to be improved before we invade the country."
The logs in the fireplace burnt red hot, providing the room's only light. A grey haze softened the wrinkles around the woman's face, allowing the man to contemplate the beauty age had tainted.
Fraulein Schmidt hid her annoyance of his scrutiny as she removed her gloves. "Of course, Colonel. Though English is not as difficult a language as many Germans maintain."
"It is a disorderly language," the officer complained. "A word's meaning is determined by inflection rather than definition." He poured himself a sherry, then gestured with the crystal canister toward an empty glass.
Marguerite shook her head.
"Once we've conquered England, they shall speak German."
"And how is that working for you in France?" In the distance, gunfire echoed.
He spoke through a tight-lipped smile, "It improves each day."
Her cold eyes glared at the glass he brought to his lips. "Colonel, you have plenty of English prisoners who can teach you their native tongue. It is extremely difficult for me to leave England. What is this urgent matter that can only be discussed face-to-face?"
A weary sigh escaped the man as he reluctantly set down his glass. "You've heard Rudolf Hess was been captured?"
"Only the dead could have escaped that news."
"Bah!" The sherry he poured sloshed onto the tray. "What you hear in England is a lie! He was not shot down. Hess did not go to England to spy. He was lured there by Churchill. Hess had with him a treaty to end the war with England."
Marguerite's eyes narrowed. Hitler had never exhibited temperance in his war making. "Treaty?" she scoffed. "There's not a soul in England, I daresay in Europe, who would believe that."
The officer snarled over his glass at her. "I forgot you are English by birth."
"Perhaps, the Fuhrer underestimates Churchill. The Prime Minister knows a treaty would only postpone the inevitable German advance. And with Nazi bombs dropping constantly on London, America will certainly enter the war. Soon."
"Exactly! The Fuhrer recognizes he should have negotiated with America. England be damned." He toasted the air and downed the remaining sherry.
Marguerite grew annoyed with the German's patriotism. "Might we return to why you summoned me out of England?"
"Oh, of course, Hess." The serious expression that settled across his face looked foolish with his red cheeks and nose. "The Fuhrer wants him back."
A gasp caught in her throat. "You couldn't possibly want me to rescue him. Why, half the English army is guarding him. No one could…"
Laughing at catching the usually stoic woman off guard, the officer waved a calming hand. "Fraulein Schmidt, you are far too valuable to risk on such a fool's errand. No. We don't wish to rescue Rudolf Hess; we want to prevent him from ever having left." He paused, confident he had surprised her again.
Her expression remained calm, the only lines from age. "And how would you do this?" She hid her rising apprehension in a chuckle. "You'd have to turn back time." A sense of déjà vu swirled in her head.
Clearing his throat, the German pulled an envelope from beneath the tray. "This will explain everything in detail." Without looking into her eyes, he passed her the letter. "I will only say there is someone in London who claims to be able to do just that: alter time." He shrugged off the ludicrous statement by refilling his glass again. "The Fuhrer believes in such possibilities. Personally, I believe men can only change things through war." His chubby fingers gestured at the envelope. "Those matters are up to God."
"And the men who play God," she whispered, recalling just such a man.
The train rushed through the night as though the machine knew it was an easy target from the air. Near the car door, the conductor dashed toward a man who dared light a match for his cigarette. "Imbecile," he spat, snatching the matchbook and cigarette.
Silence returned. Outside, shades of black coated the countryside. There was nothing to indicate where you were. The passenger could be in France or Germany or a plateau in South America. The envelope delivered by her contact was long discarded, its instructions inserted between matching pages of a fake love letter. She'd decode them while waiting for the submarine that would smuggle her back onto English shores. The woman patted her purse and felt the letter inside. Her instructions would contain no surprise; she already knew what was encrypted on the scented stationery. Marguerite hadn't kept tabs on him until the rumors began: rumors of a brilliant scientist expressing sympathy with the Nazi philosophy; whispers of his desire to leave England and work for the greatest leader ever: Adolf Hitler.
The spy plotted her next move. It hadn't been that long since she'd seen Jessie… maybe a year, perhaps a little more. The war in Europe abruptly ended many friendships. Many lives. Jessie would be easy to track down. She'd still be at home.
"Marguerite!" Jessie's broad smile looked out-of-place on her gaunt face.
"It's been too long." Marguerite stooped next to the wheelchair and gently hugged the woman.
"You'll stay for tea?"
Grimacing, Marguerite gestured at the two pieces of luggage by the door. "I'd like to stay a little longer."
Jessie emitted a gasp of joy, then barked orders to her maid.
Marguerite laughed. "Seems like old times." Nudging the maid away, she took the handles and wheeled the frail woman into the parlor.
Jessie reached over her shoulder and touched the soft hand of her old friend. "I wish you'd never left."
Resisting the urge to ask any questions, Marguerite turned her attentions to the portrait over the fireplace. "Stunning," she appraised. Hands on hips she leaned closer. "It is beautiful."
The subject examined the portrait as though for the first time. "You don't think it was too vain to have the artist substitute a wingback chair and add a few pounds?"
"I hadn't noticed," she lied in her laughter.
"I know cameras are all the rage, but they're so unforgiving. I refuse to have my picture taken. I thought a portrait would be a more fitting memory."
"More realistic would be those photos of you in the lab. You easily logged as much time as George."
Jessie's eyes drifted to a collection of photographs on the table behind the sofa. Marguerite studied the faces of the Challenger family. She selected one of a young man and held it closer to the window. The grey tones belied the red hair she knew was there. "When will he be home?"
Jessie pulled a handkerchief from beneath the chenille blanket covering her useless legs. Polio had struck her early 1927. She dabbed the perspiration from her forehead. "He doesn't live here anymore. But he comes for dinner every Saturday and Sunday."
Marguerite returned the photograph to its exact place on the table. "I've disturbed your routine. You need to get some rest." She stepped aside as the maid reached for the chair's handles.
"Dinner's still promptly at 7:05."
The guest brushed a smudge of dirt from her sleeves. "We don't have to dress, do we?"
"For two old maids eating leftovers?"
Marguerite glanced toward the foyer. "What? I thought there'd just be us."
With the fall, the days grew too short to bother removing the thick wool blankets tacked over all the house's windows. As the maid walked from window to window in the parlor and unpinned the raised corners, the walls imprisoned the meager glow from the fireplace.
Dinner had indeed been leftovers. And their discussion at the table had been more of the same. They rehashed memories until Jessie's weary eyes barely opened.
"I think it's time I retired." Marguerite pretended a yawn.
Jessie struggled awake. "Oh, my! Did I doze off? I'm terribly sorry, my dear."
"Don't be silly. My constant droning of things past would put anyone to sleep."
The maid entered the dining room. She'd long ago cleared the table. "Are you ready for bed, madam?"
"We both are," Marguerite observed, following Jessie and the maid to the back of the house.
Once Jessie was confined to the wheelchair, Challenger's study had been transformed into her bedroom. Marguerite guessed the stacks of paper and books were now balanced precariously somewhere in his lab. The room felt so different without the bookcases and the musty smell of cigars mingled with who knew what else. Despite the blazing fire, the room was cold. Marguerite sat her candle on the dresser, then busied herself removing a flannel nightgown from a drawer.
"You two spoil me," Jessie laughed as her maid, Ellen, pulled the unbuttoned dress over her mistress' shoulders. Marguerite handed her the nightgown, then turned away allowing Ellen to remove undergarments and slip the gown around her.
As Ellen lifted her, Marguerite appeared on the other side and helped Jessie onto the bed. From next to the fire, Ellen used tongs to lift a warming brick and slid it under the blankets near Jessie's feet. "Let's get these blankets tucked in. That way you'll stay nice and cozy."
Marguerite added two more blankets from a nearby chair to the pile covering the shivering woman.
Ellen smiled her thanks. "I'll go turn down your bed, mistress." She curtsied to the guest.
Marguerite had noticed the second bed in the corner when they first walked in. "Please, don't worry about me."
Jessie barely succeeded in stifling another yawn. "Marguerite was here long before you, my dear. She's family."
"And doesn't need anyone to turn down her sheets," Marguerite chuckled.
"Ellen's been staying here since her boarding house was bombed." Jessie took the young woman's hand. "I don't know what I'd have done without her."
The maid took liberty and spoke. "It's a softer bed than what I had at that other place."
Sympathetic laughter escaped Marguerite as she recalled places she'd slept in. "Good night, ladies."
From somewhere in the night a clock chimed one o'clock. Marguerite hazarded lighting the candle next to her bed. Tightening the robe around her, she eased open the door. At this hour, Ellen would have finished her chores and be in bed. Masking most of the candlelight with her hand, she crept along the hallway. There was no one else on the second floor who might awaken; her stealth a habit that had kept her alive.
Even after an absence of so many years, Marguerite recalled which steps creaked. Her zigzag down the staircase was quick; at their base she paused. Before her, total darkness engulfed the empty foyer, her candle barely intruding into the black. The parlor was to her left. The room's center remained empty, enabling Jessie to turn from one guest to another. Marguerite doubted there were many guests. George Challenger had never sought friends and his wife had followed his example.
Inching her way across the room, she raised the meager light toward the portrait. It had to be several years old. Adding a few pounds to Jessie's gaunt frame wouldn't have produced the woman smiling on the lush chair. She noticed in the portrait Jessie still wore her wedding ring. Now it hung on a chain around her neck; probably too uncomfortable when rolling the wheelchair.
Marguerite held the candle level with her waist, dodging the stained glass lamp. She passed the sofa table and its family oriented photos. Such fine silver frames would have tempted her long ago. Lush carvings decorated several wooden frames on the lady's desk. Those would bring a nice price on the black-market. She finally stopped by a tall narrow bookcase next to the window. About twenty photos framed in simple wood or pewter sat crammed onto a shelf. With a skilled hand, she removed one without disturbing its neighbors. She held it near to the candle. It was the same photograph she'd lost in Rome (a close call forced her to abandon her luggage in a hotel). This picture had been the only thing she'd cared about losing. With great expertise, the woman inched one frame after another closer, until there was no gap, no reminder that the picture had ever been there. No one would notice its absence.
Few people thought of Lord John Roxton anymore.
"Aunt Marguerite!" The young man paused in the doorway, a broad smile on his face. "I scarcely believe my eyes." He took the distance between them in three strides. "Let me look at you." Grabbing her hands, he abruptly pulled her to him, hugging her before she could break away. "Still as radiant as ever."
Jessie wheeled herself closer to the man. "And what about me?" his mother prodded.
The young man leaned down and kissed her check. "Good to see you too, dear."
The strain between them was obvious. Over the past few days, Jessie had let slip about the numerous political arguments between the two.
"Edward, when I saw you last you, you were begging them to let you into Oxford." Marguerite dropped unladylike into a chair, enjoying the freedom of the wool trousers Jessie had given her.
"And now Oxford is begging me to return there."
His mother clasped her hands together. "They want you to teach?"
The red-headed man ambled to a cabinet and produced three glasses from a shelf. "Still enjoy your brandy, Aunt Marguerite?"
"When I can get it."
Edward opened a lower cabinet door and pulled out a bottle. "This good enough for your cosmopolitan tastes?" He relished his aunt's surprise. "Water for you, mother?"
"That's all the doctor allows."
"They offered me a position," he continued as he poured the drinks.
"In the mathematics department?" his mother urged.
"Just as I requested." The tone rang with his father's confidence.
"You'll be working with Jefferson Grant, my old professor," Jessie beamed.
"Yes. I'll be working with that crackpot."
Marguerite accepted her drink. "Careful, that's what they called your father."
"Ha. And they still call him that. Too bad he didn't accomplish something, anything before he died."
"Edward," his mother snapped. "Your father was a great man…"
"To whom, mother?"
the son interrupted. "To a couple of old ladies and a few even
older colleagues who choose not to remember his ramblings about some
plateau in South America."
"So I'm an old lady, now." Marguerite gulped down her drink then marched to the cabinet for another. "A delusional old lady at that," she snapped, finishing that drink then filling her glass again.
Edward sat on the sofa and took two deep breaths before continuing. "Consider all you brought back, Aunt Marguerite, were his notes and a couple of photographs of pterodactyls. Even you finally admitted how easily they could be faked." He leaned forward, dangling his glass between his knees. "It's taken years for people to forget my father. I tell anyone who asks that he died while doing research on exotic plants with Arthur Summerlee. I don't mention a plateau. I don't mention dinosaurs."
A long silence hung between.
"Dinner is served," Ellen announced into the uncomfortable quiet.
"Thank you," Jessie smiled.
"It smells delicious, Ellen." Edward, too, forced a smile.
"Thank you, sir. Your aunt managed to scrounge meat."
Edward took position behind his mother, slowly rolling her into the dining room. "Black market?"
"Black marketer. But don't worry. Tastes like chicken."
The young man glanced over his shoulder at the slender woman. "We're not going to hear those stories about the cannibals, are we?"
"Only through dinner."
The fading embers complemented the remaining drops in the brandy bottle. Cold air battled the liquor's warmth and soon Edward sat alone shivering. A candelabra's flickering light suggested the house's ghost had come to join him in the parlor.
The young man twisted in his chair as he contorted to find the source of the sound. "Aunt Marguerite, you startled me."
She laughed at his understatement. "I'd say I scared the pants off you."
He reached for the brandy bottle, then remembered it was empty. His arm dropped onto his leg. "What are you still doing up?"
"We old ladies are able to stay up past eleven with a doctor's note."
"I don't think mother has seen ten o'clock in years."
Marguerite scooted the chair closer to the meager fire before sitting down. "Your mother's ill, Edward. In case you hadn't noticed."
"Oh, I noticed. Everyday of my youth, I noticed. You had things to do, places to go, Aunt Marguerite. You were able to leave when you wanted." His voice lost its sadness and filled with self-pity. "I was here, watching her deteriorate into what you see today." He held the glass up to his lips, tipping it until the last few drops of brandy struggled into his mouth. "Of course, she was still a better parent than my father."
"And how could you possibly know that?"
A boyish smile formed as he flopped back. "Make-believe. I used to make-believe my father was still alive." His expression grew distant, as though he actually saw George Challenger. "He was cold and aloof. And always busy. Much more interested in his science than his son."
Marguerite pondered why the boy should perceive his father in such a manner. Admittedly, it was what she suspected. And it was how Jessie saw her husband too. During a long ago confidence, Jessie had revealed Challenger – of all people – wanted children. But Jessie's intimate knowledge of the man convinced her that his desire was yet another example of the Challenger ego. A child meant the next generation was not deprived of his genius. Jessie hadn't wanted children. George Challenger married a lab assistant, not the socialite his family encouraged to be his wife. Jessie kept up the house… and kept up with Challenger in the lab.
Despite all her efforts, over the years, Jessie lost her husband to his constant quest for knowledge, be it in South America or down the hall in his lab. The woman at his side was mostly an assistant he called by her first name. Upon discovering a woman was going on the latest expedition to South America, Jessie begged to go, but George had forbade her… for the less than gallant reason that his experiments and graduate students needed monitoring. Through the years, Jessie had considered a child, but after weighing all the pros and cons, the brilliant female scientist gave in to her own ego and determined to devote her life to science. Of all people, Marguerite understood this.
Edward Challenger was but an "oops" child conceived during a passionate night of goodbyes. The young man shifted uncomfortably beneath his aunt's curious gaze. "Do you ever make-believe, Aunt Marguerite?"
"Make-believe." Marguerite contemplated the stolen photograph hidden in her valise. "Maybe. Don't we all?"
"Hmm. I don't know. You seem more like those women Freud describes as prone to fantasies. Got a fellow?" he teased.
Marguerite let go a long sigh. "I didn't postpone a warm bed to have an overgrown adolescent inquire about my love life."
He ran his fingers through his thick red hair as though trying to yank some sense into his drunken thoughts. "Why are you still up?" His rich brown eyes sparkled as they appraised the woman before him. "Are you going to seduce me?"
Her laugh was harsher than she had meant. It had been a long time since she seduced a man for information. Now it was fear she kindled in their eyes. "You flatter yourself, Edward. What I ought to do is bend you over my knees and paddle you."
An exaggerated shudder traveled the length of him. "Ah. You are going to seduce me."
Marguerite didn't argue. There was too much alcohol addling his brain. "I'm going to bed and leave you to your Freudian fantasies."
He sat up, his features serious. "Stay, please. I'd like to ask you … she's dying isn't she?"
"I think so. Every time I brought the subject up with Ellen, the girl started crying. Your mother's physician is scheduled to come by next week; you should try and be there."
He stared up at the portrait. "How much longer do you think she has?"
"I couldn't… wouldn't hazard a guess, Edward."
"God," he prayed, "I don't want to be here when it happens."
Marguerite leaned back in the chair, losing herself in the shadows. "And where would you prefer to be, Edward?"
"I don't know. Maybe join the military. There's enough pressure from everybody. Even when they offered me the position at Oxford, the dean intimated they'd hold it until I got out of the service."
She opened her mouth to speak. For some reason her throat was dry.
"I don't want to fight, Aunt Marguerite. I'm a scientist, not a soldier." He stared at the floor.
"Your father worked for the military. Have you offered your skills?"
"Oh, yes. And I was informed someone my age was needed more on the battlefield."
Marguerite fought to speak. Each word came deliberately with no emotion. "Do you think the Japanese will invade England?"
Edward shook his head. A frantic giggled slipped out of him. "What a silly question, Aunt Marguerite," he stammered.
Still emotionless, the woman repeated, "Do you think the Japanese will invade England?"
"You," he breathed. "No. That's impossible. I'd have known…"
Again she asked flatly, "Do you think the Japanese will invade England?"
Edward blinked several times, his mouth searching for his voice. "Only after the Canadians."
Her eyes closed slowly as she exhaled away her attachment to the boy.
"Aunt Marguerite, you're my contact? You're the German agent?" His voice was young and innocent.
"Did I not give you the pass code, Edward?" she spat.
His eyes narrowed as the Challenger arrogance took hold. "I'm not an idiot."
"No. You're a traitor to your country. Just like me." A long breath escaped her. "I'll give you one chance to back out of this. You may have contacted us initially, but I'll tell them we made contact, but you had changed your mind. You could join the military…."
"I know what I'm doing," he snapped. "And don't try to lecture me. You're not my mother."
"And thank God for that, little boy." She set forward in her chair. Her lips tightened as she spoke in a tone her adopted nephew had never heard. "And you need to remember, I'm the one who'll have you killed if you don't answer my questions with the answers I want to hear."
A low chucked erupted from her. "What loyalties do I have to you, you pompous brat? You're committed now. Pray to God you can do what you've bragged or …." She watched his features twist from excitement to fear. "As of this moment, there's no turning back. I'm not going to bother getting you out of England if you can't do as you've promised."
The woman he faced was no longer the eccentric aunt who took him to cinemas. Nor the woman who told fairy tales of the explorers on the plateau. This woman was a spy. A traitor to England like himself. And the one who could get him to Germany. "I can do it. I can alter time."
"This wasn't something you came up with. Your father…" she hesitated. Before turning them over to Jessie, she'd read Challenger's notes. Several times.
"It took me awhile to piece together what my father was pursuing. Before he died, he was working out a new mathematics. One that used four dimensions."
Marguerite was intrigued. "The fourth being time?"
"Yes, but not so simply. The fourth variable involves the plateau. He developed equations to predict where on the plateau a SPR would occur."
"Useful for avoiding them," she smirked. "But how would you know the date and location on the other side of the SPR?"
"He figured that out too."
Her eyes rolled. Random – and in the chase of Challenger - accidental time travel… she'd seen that in action. But predicting a SPR? The very idea seemed too impossible. Even for George Edward Challenger. "And how do you know it works?"
"Because I tried it."
He eased the lab's door shut behind them.
Suddenly he was an excited school boy showing off for his aunt. Edward moved two stacks of book to reveal a chair. "Please, sit down."
As she sat, Edward handed her one of his father's journal. It flopped open to page thirty-three.
Challenger's son shoved to one side a sheet covering a blackboard. "I'm going to try and explain this as simply as I can."
Marguerite frowned off the insult. "Well, go on."
In the middle of the board he drew a lollipop tree. Shrugging off his lack of artistic talent, he wrote under it: Point A. "This is the end or the beginning point."
Marguerite folded her arms and continued to frown.
"All right." He cleared his throat, purging his mind of the equations and theorems which came so easily to him. "Throughout the world, there are always SPRs happening. You know that feeling Grandmamma would explain as 'someone just walked over your grave.' That's an SPR."
"Then why aren't we popping around through time?"
"Because you have to be at an energy point. My father designated these as origin points. Basically, the entire plateau is an energy or origin point, but here," he gestured at the room around them, "off the plateau, you have to go to…"
"Avebury," she stated flatly.
"Very good." In one corner he drew several blocks with others resting on top of them. "Or Stonehenge. And there are other such points all around the world. Anyway, Father figured out those just go to the plateau. Current time. Pretty much right next to the treehouse."
"But they're one-way."
Edward nodded impressed, then drew an arrow from the blocks to the lollipop tree. "Right again. The SPRs that allow you to jump time are only on the plateau." He drew a simple cloud at the opposing corner then connected it to the tree with an arrow. With a deliberate stroke he drew an arrow going from the tree to the cloud.
"And your father figured out how to predict when they show up and where they go."
"Well," he tossed the chalk in the tray. "I finished some of the theoretical geometry."
"Bravo to you both. Explain it to me."
"Aunt Marguerite," he flashed a condescending smile. "It's not just something I can…" He watched her eyes narrow then swallowed his hesitation. "Consider this." Around the lollipop tree he drew a circle, then another one a little wider, then another one and another one. "Father observed the plateau was expanding. Not a lot, just enough to throw his survey numbers off every year." The closest circle to the tree he traced over and over. "This is the current year. The next one is the year before. This one the year before that. And so on. That's why the plateau is expanding. The calculations for time travel are based on that theory."
The German agent glanced at the journal in her lap. The scribblings and formulas were the father's writing. "And that's quite a theory. But why weren't your father, myself, Malone…"
"Why weren't you and your friends popping through time?" He pulled a set of keys from his pocket. "Because of this."
"The keys to the plateau?" Marguerite chuckled in an unpleasant way.
"Again, I apologize for my irony." He palmed the keys, leaving a large silver fob dangling between his fingers. "This is the actual key."
She still wasn't impressed.
"Think back, Aunt Marguerite. When did the SPRs go crazy?" He didn't give her time to respond. "After Veronica Layton acquired her mother's pendant. And that pendant was made of…" He paused letting her answer.
Her eyes fixed on the key fob. "Iridium."
"Then add to that the boxes you took from that downed plane. Father had studied iridium during the Great War. He knew it was an excellent conductor and began using it to patch the cable he ran from the windmill to the treehouse."
"Go back to the pilot of the downed plane. How come he wasn't popping though time?"
"Ah." He brandished the key fob in the air. "There is one more piece to the puzzle. This must be heated."
"Heated?" She masked her anger in a skeptical laugh. Maybe if this was George proponing such a theory…
"Yes. And you supplied me with that clue. Remember the cave you discovered where once every year the cave's exit opened to somewhere different? In trying to understand why just one day a year, father found a deposit of iridium running throughout the cave. A large vein was exposed just outside the cave's exit. I realized the one thing that was consistent once every year." Caught up in his excitement, he paused to let her guess. She answered with silence. "The sun will strike exactly that one place exactly once a year. And the result of the sun is, of course, heat. On that one day, the sun warms up the iridium deposit enough to open an SPR." He waved his arms like a magician awaiting applause after his trick.
Marguerite took a deep breath. Perhaps there was more of the father in the son than she had given credit. Her eyes fixed on the key fob of iridium. "That's all it takes. A few ounces of iridium and a match?"
"Well," he smiled at his aunt's simplistic summary. "It takes a heat source that can generate enough energy to make the iridium glow and if you want to go forward in time you'll need at least five pounds of the metal." He dropped the keys back into his pocket.
"Sounds like a good theory for impressing girls." She closed the journal. "But you haven't convinced me that it'll work."
"Oh, it works." He jingled the keys in his pocket. "Let's just say I used myself as a human lab rat and tried it."
"What did you use to heat up the iridium?"
"Tongs and an acetylene torch."
She nodded her approval. "And that took you to the plateau."
"To the treehouse."
He nodded... then quickly shook his head. "No. No. I just went to the treehouse and back. When you go to the treehouse you arrive at current time. If you left from Avebury today, you'd be at the treehouse today. Does that make sense?"
Marguerite stood, walking slowly toward the blackboard. Lost in thought, she traced the chalk line from the blocks to the tree, from the tree to the cloud. "This designates time?"
The boy shrugged "Time," he laughed, "It's such a nebulous subject."
The woman didn't return his smile as her nails followed the arrow back to the tree. "What did you do?" she demanded.
The boy stumbled back against a stack of books. "Do?"
"Do!" she spat. "What did you change when you traveled in time?"
"I-I-I didn't. I went to the treehouse and just observed for a few seconds. Then I came back to England. Current time."
Something was wrong. Marguerite circled him. "All that effort and you just went to the treehouse and back? You, a Challenger, resisted the urge to try out one of your theories." She knocked him with her shoulder. "You just went to the plateau and back again."
"I wanted to try it. Time travel. I really did."
He paused too long.
"But I recognized how dangerous it could be."
He wasn't a good liar. Too much like his father, too accustomed to fact. "So if you only traveled to and fro, how do I know you can change time?"
His voice was tense and quivered. "Like I told you it's theoretically possible."
There was something he wasn't telling her. The experienced agent pulled a derringer from the pocket of her robe. "You're wasting my time. I don't report mere theories to my superiors."
Edward stumbled left into the chalkboard. "Aunt Marguerite, please! You must believe me."
She eased the trigger back. "I'm not your real aunt." Carefully, she pointed at his chest.
"Yes. All right, yes! I did it!" His fingers trembled as they covered his eyes. "I went through time."
"And…" she hissed.
"And I changed it. I–I altered time."
His hands slid slowly down his face. Again the woman was seated in the chair. The derringer was gone. "In the spring of 1924, Mother mounted an expedition to the plateau. She left me with Grandmamma."
Marguerite had met the woman. Strict Victorian. Children were to be seen and never, ever heard.
"No one from the expedition ever returned. When I was old enough, I was told Mother must have died on that expedition."
Her voice remained level. "Are you saying I never got off the plateau?"
He bowed his head, unable to face her. "None of you ever did."
Marguerite watched his eyes. They were closed in thought, not pain. "How is your mother still alive?"
"That's what I changed. I went back in time to 1924; I went to the scholars at the university and convinced them not to fund the expedition. That part was easy. They weren't very enthusiastic about trusting a woman to lead an expedition to South America and some fictitious plateau."
That was smooth and quick. He was telling the truth, just not all of it. "And because of this change, at least I managed to get back to England."
"Yes," he agreed, trying to sound positive.
She folded her arms and glared the smile from his face. "Nice story, Edward. But I don't have memories of your mother or anyone from her expedition ever arriving on the plateau. Where is your proof?"
"Back at my rooms. There's a small notebook that I carried on my person. On its pages are a record of the calculations and the events. Plus a personal log that I made in case I died during the attempt or, upon succeeding, had my memories changed. I wrote the log based on what you had told me about Finn. When she came from the future, everything on her person came too."
Her mind whirled. She knew he was leaving something out of his story. During an interrogation, most persons tell partial truths to begin with. This allowed them to control their voice and their expression. Edward had more to tell, but she knew the quickest way was to read that journal. There was no way he expected to face his German contact in the person of his aunt. The journal would be intact. For the moment.
"We go to your rooms. Now," she barked.
"Are you crazy? What about the curfew?"
"Your flat is barely two miles from here. We can get there and back before the house rises for breakfast."
They relied on the lanterns and flashlights of their fellow curfew violators to pick their way through the streets. No one challenged them as they turned down one avenue then another. Marguerite kept him talking. She couldn't give him the chance to plot. By the time they reached his building they were both out of breath.
"Quickly," Marguerite snapped. "I'm cold and tired."
The flat was on the second floor. Edward searched his pockets for the key.
"Do not tell me you left those keys in the lab."
He produced the key ring from a pocket of his greatcoat. "You're making me nervous, Aunt Marguerite."
"Just open the door."
The front room looked like George Challenger's laboratory back at the tree house. Beakers and books on every surface; papers strewn across tables and piled on the floor. There was even the familiar smell.
"Find that notebook," she ordered.
He shuffled several stacks of papers as though trying to remember where he had laid it. Marguerite knew he was stalling. "Find it now, Edward!"
He jumped at her words. Papers scattered into the air and books thudded onto the floor. He stooped down and dug through the mess. She observed him retrieve a small notebook then hurriedly tuck it back into another paper stack.
"Sorry. This new side to you is very disconcerting." His voice was a little loud to cover-up the ripping of a page from the notebook. With a shout he brandished the tattered book in the air. He didn't think she noticed the page slip out of the book and float onto the floor.
Marguerite considered shooting him on the spot for believing she was so stupid.
He handed her the precious notebook plus several maps. "This should convince anyone with a decent level of scientific knowledge."
She glanced at the top map. "You're not convincing Einstein, Edward. You're convincing me." She made a mental note where the torn page had landed. "Let's get home."
Ellen entered the parlor at seven a.m. to pin back the blankets dangling over the windows.
"Good morning, Ellen." Edward stretched in the sudden daylight.
"Master Edward. What are you doing here?" She jumped at the figure that suddenly leaned toward her. "Mistress Marguerite?"
Edward rubbed his bloodshot eyes. "Sorry, Ellen. We were reminiscing and fell asleep. Didn't mean to startle you."
Marguerite closed the small notebook and tucked it under her arm. "Let's go change for breakfast and church."
The old Hudson pulled up in front of the church. There wasn't much damage to this area of the city. Marguerite busied herself straightening Jessie's hair as Edward unbuckled the wheelchair from the trunk. Lifting his mother from the front seat, he sat her gently on the worn leather.
Marguerite called to Ellen, "Go ahead and park, then join the family in the church." After the car pulled away, she kissed the side of Jessie's face. "I'll be home for supper."
Edward's hands froze on the chair handles. "Where are you going?"
"I've things to do." She stepped off the curb.
The young man grabbed her arm. "You can't leave."
She noticed Jessie glancing behind at them. "Good grief, Edward," she hissed in his ear. "I'm a spy. I have things to do."
Two men in uniform helped Edward carry Jessie and the wheelchair up the steps to the church. Marguerite noticed the minister greeting them as the taxi she hailed pulled up. It drove her quickly to within three blocks of Edward's flat. She tipped him moderately then walked the opposite way until the vehicle had turned a corner. With a yank of a hair clip, her graying hair fell about her shoulders. Even after a determined brushing by Ellen, the stains and smell of her coat remained. From her purse she fished out a compact and dabbed her face with soot. Now she blended with the other poor souls wondering the streets looking for food, looking for family. As she turned back toward Edward's building, the air reeked of smoke. There was no coal to be burning so somewhere a building was on fire. Her pace quickened, matching those around her. A fire truck rushed down the street. As all eyes turned at the siren, Marguerite slipped into the building.
In the hall, there were no breakfast smells from the surrounding flats, Edward's neighbors either still asleep or in church. From a corner of her purse, she removed a lock pick. In another sixty seconds she was in his room.
Marguerite moved like a phantom across the floor. His father had always known if someone had been in his lab. He even gleaned who had been there by what was missing (Marguerite always took his homemade soap).
The page lay in plain sight on the floor. She measured its placement in relation to the other items lying near it before retrieving it. There were actually two pages held together by the torn edges. Out of an inside pocket of her purse, Marguerite produced the notebook. It was only four inches by seven inches and would have fit snugly in any pocket of a man's jacket. During her first read the previous night, the experienced agent easily discovered the ragged edges of paper revealing where the pages had been torn.
The desk lamp held only a slight amount of oil; using any would be far too obvious. Marguerite decided to risk opening the blackout curtain. Leaning against the wall, she eased it back with her shoulder until there was enough light to read the young scientist's scrawl. Thumbing through the notebook, she came to where the pages had been torn out. On the facing page, Edward described posing as a former assistant to the Challenger family and meeting with the science committee. This "assistant" described Jessica Challenger fabricating data, as her husband had before her. Since no one had believed the explanation of searching for dinosaurs, his father's colleagues readily accepted any other explanation. Even one so blatant a lie. Edward stated she, like her husband, had been after diamonds. As he departed, the committee immediately voted to revoke his mother's funding.
At the bottom of the page he wrote: "My fear and resolve supplant any guilt in what I am about to do." Without the missing pages, what followed was a long narration of his brief return to the treehouse, then to his own time, where his mind was besieged with memories of his now living mother tucking him in, helping him with school. Aunt Marguerite came in and out of their lives for years until she became engaged to a German fellow. His memories were jumbled with two childhoods, two youths.
Marguerite inserted the missing pages.
"There is absolutely no reason to feel guilt. The man was no father. He deposited me with his in-laws and saw me holidays. Sometimes. He shows up out of obligation… not out of a desire to see his son. The mother I've never known will be returned to me from death. A disinterested father's demise will mean a mother's love. It'll be worth it. If my theory is correct, I'll endure a blurred memory of the deed, leaving guilt to a minimum or if fortunate, no memory of my first childhood at all and my mind purged of any guilt. He only returned to England because the others convinced him of his promise to his dead wife and obligation to his son. Of these others... they only get what they deserve. Whenever they visited, I begged Uncle John and Aunt Marguerite to permit me to live with them. I swore I'd be good. Each time, they refused. After all, I wasn't their child. They couldn't just take me home. What would my father say? I say he'd never have noticed. Finally, I ceased asking. As far back as I can remember, the only love I've known was from a make-believe mother. Now she'll be flesh and blood. I can't chance any of them making it back. My alteration of time can have no margin for error. They lived a good life… Now it's Mother's turn. Now it's my turn."
Marguerite swayed. She forced his knees to lock. "Uncle John." Suddenly the old emptiness and pain overwhelmed her. Her body shook when she said the name again. "John." He had made it back to England. It wasn't just her. They had all made it back.
"I will kill that little bastard with my bare hands."
Her mind raced. Jessie had indeed made it onto the plateau… and by some miracle found them. By Edward altering the time line, Jessie had never arrived on the plateau, thus depriving them of means and motive to return to England. As soon as the time line was disturbed, Death had an opening.
And the creature took it.
Numb, she turned the page over. It was covered with equations. She laid the second missing page next to it. Butting the edges closer, Marguerite realized lines of equations were circled.
Each circle corresponded to a set of numbers on the opposite page. These had to be the angle and distance from the treehouse that would direct the traveler through time. According to Edward, the iridium would automatically take him to the treehouse from Avebury so this first set of equations and numbers was for traveling from the treehouse to the England in the past. From the Avebury in the past, he'd arrive at the treehouse of the past. That meant the next circled set of figures was for traveling from the treehouse to the Avebury of his original departure year. She rubbed her eyes. Maybe the study of Time should be limited to history.
Edward's equations were written so small, they were little more than a blur. Nudging the curtain open a little more didn't help. Cursing didn't help. She stretched out her arm forcing the notebook away from her face. Didn't help. Frowning, the spy gave up and removed spectacles from her purse. Marguerite did not admit often to getting old.
From the all night session in the lab, she understood the first calculation of the circled equation set was for date and time of arrival out of the SPR. On the right hand side, Edward had jotted "January 22, 1924 at 8am". This was when he arrived in London for a meeting with the funding committee. The next calculation of date and time should be for returning from the 1924 treehouse to the Avebury of his original departure year.
Marguerite had to force herself to breathe.
Written was "January 24, 1924 at 10am" with an arrow pointing to "August 14, 1941".
The little bastard had perpetrated his historical rewrite only two months ago.
John Roxton had been alive until two months ago.
And the departure date. Why that date? Why wait two days to return to his own time? Had he waited to be sure Jessie had lost the funding? And why that date to return to the plateau? What a horrendous coincidence if he witness what happened to his father! What a horrendous coincidence.
The hell with protocol; Marguerite had to sit down. Collapsing into a chair, her eyes never left the dates. Head shaking in disbelief, she flipped the page back. Over and over she reread the passage. "I can't chance any of them making it back. My alteration of time can have no margin for error." There was no way to change the meaning of those words.
He was the one. January 24, 1924. The last moment she held John Roxton in her arms. He was the one. Edward.
At least he was telling the truth. Time travel worked.
Marguerite wasn't sure how long she sat there. The muted chime of a clock sounded. All her plans would have to change. Suddenly like a wild thing, she leapt up and dug through his desk, then searched shelves. Finally she found several pairs of tongs and six small acetylene torches. Leave it to a Challenger to put his stamp on an existing invention. The torch's cylinder was barely half a meter long. Dumping a box containing exams, Marguerite laid 2 pairs of tongs and two torches in it. Her plans had definitely changed.
Noticing the clock on the mantle, Marguerite realized she had to hurry.
She was a spy. She had things to do.
Jessie relished having her two loved ones at her table. Yet tonight they were strangely quiet. "Is everything all right, you two?"
Edward swallowed his bite of potato. "Of course, Mother. Why do you ask?"
"The silence," she frowned. "It's almost deafening."
"I'm sorry, Jessie." Marguerite slid her plate away. "It's my fault. I went to the war department to translate some odd correspondence. While I was there, I learned of the death of a friend."
"Oh, my dear," Jessie reached across the corner of the table and covered Marguerite's hand with her own. She knew the woman called very few 'friend'. "I'm so sorry. Anything we can do? Has the family been notified?"
Marguerite forced a smile. Lying to Jessie was as difficult as lying to George Challenger had been. "Everything was already taken care of. It's been a few months. I overheard a conversation…" The usually stoic woman felt her lips quiver. Her gray eyes focused on the fingers now clutching her own. Her plan would mean… it would result in…
"Edward, why don't we adjourn to the parlor? The fire should be quite cozy by now." Jessie rolled away from the table.
Her son moved quickly behind her. "Allow me, mother." He eased her slowly into the next room.
Several minutes later, Marguerite joined them, Edward passing her a brandy.
"Marguerite, help me convince him. It's far too late to try and get home tonight. He can sleep here and return to his flat in the morning."
Edward appeared intrigued by his aunt's words.
"You can rise early and be off. Do you have any classes?"
He tried to look nonchalant. "No. Just some research which needs completing."
A slight smile crossed his aunt's lips. "That's settled, then. You needed worry, Jessie. Edward will stay tonight. Though it's been at least a fortnight since any bombers have made it this far."
"Thank God." Jessie nodded at Ellen as she crept into the room. "I'm going to turn in, you two. Don't keep him up again tonight, Marguerite."
Edward sat silently, his eyes on the floor as if studying the intricate weave of the oriental carpet.
"Go kiss your mother goodbye," Marguerite ordered in a sad voice.
Any protests were lost in his abrupt understanding of her words.
Marguerite sipped her brandy until his return. "That was quick."
"What is there to say? I'll see her again soon enough."
"You and I both know better." The woman stood, rubbing her red eyes. "I've got to ask you a few questions. Give you a few pointers. Let's go back to the lab."
The room was as they left it. Marguerite laid Edward's journal on the corner of the desk. "How long does it take to complete a calculation?"
Edward fumbled with his cuffs, then his chin. "Not long." His hands slid into his pockets.
"Stand still, boy," she snapped. "The men you're going to meet will be judging you. In their world nerves often equate to lying." Erasing the blackboard, she placed a piece of chalk in his hand. "We need to practice." She pushed his shoulders back. "You need to be confident without being arrogant."
"Do you have all your equations memorized or do…?"
"They're all here." He tapped his forehead.
"Good. You must organize your thoughts so that your presentation will be straight forward. You must answer all questions without hesitation." She stepped back from the board. "You're at the treehouse. You will go back to June 28, 1914. Show me."
"The day the Austrian count was assassinated," he observed
"No small talk," she demanded.
Within ten minutes the board was jammed with numbers.
"There," he smiled proudly.
The woman didn't appear pleased. "And the first question from them will be: is this based on me leaving the treehouse at this very moment…"
"Oh." Edward nodded. "Yes, I should ask when they wish to leave."
"Very good," his teacher stated. "And do not make them feel stupid for not supplying you with that information in the first place." She erased the board. "Let's do it again."
With a deep breath, Edward played his role. "And when would you be leaving Avebury and therefore arriving at the treehouse?"
"Nice," she complimented in a low whisper. Immediately her voice became the interrogator's. "Tomorrow at noon."
Wordlessly he turned to the board and performed his calculations. "There, sir."
Her voice continued in its dry demanding tone. "And what do I do with these numbers?"
Edward explained his grid.
"Too much information for these men." She erased the board. "You won't be addressing scientists. These will be spies. Common ones, at that. But, these will be the ones who will shoot you. Now again." Once more her voice dropped into the role of interrogator. "If we want to go back to April 9th, 1912 at eight hundred hours."
For seven straight hours, she drilled him. The young man's arm dangled at his side as he swayed in exhaustion.
"All right. Arrive January 24, 1924 at seven hundred hours at the treehouse."
"When would you be leaving Avebury?" his voice mechanically asked.
"I will be leaving from the treehouse tomorrow at 6 a.m."
After wiping his eyes with the back of his hands, he glanced at his pocket watch. As a bone-weary sigh left him, he erased the board and began again. When completed, he turned around and bowed slightly as she'd suggested.
"Excellent," Marguerite observed. "You're ready. Let's go."
The frazzled man offered no protests. He pocketed the chalk. As he retrieved his journal, he added three other books from his father's desk to the stack. "Will we be going by my flat?"
Her hand rested on the doorknob. "Do we need to?"
"My charts." His voice dropped to a whisper. His expression revealed the regret filling his heart. "Another notebook I have would be helpful. My father's samples of Iridium. I have to use them… "
"Everything that wasn't furniture or clothing has already been removed from your flat and is on its way to the rendezvous. Come." She sensed his hesitation. "Edward, there is no time. Come."
His feet still wouldn't move. "What will happen to me?"
Marguerite realized her hold on him was fading. She had to give him some encouragement. This was her plan he was threatening to foil, not some German general's. "My best professional guess?"
His reply was barely audible. "Please."
"After they accept your theories as genuine, they'll have you go back in time to London at least seventy-two hours before Rudolf Hess leaves Germany. You'll make contact with an agent and give him or her a pass code that is unimpeachable. One so powerful there is no hesitation on the agent's part to do as you say. Your message to stop Hess will be relayed across Europe until it is received by the SS. They will prevent him from coming to England, either by words or bullets, depending on the Fuhrer's mood."
His shoulder's straightened. "That's all?" He knew there should be more questions. He was just too tired.
"Other than the hero the Fuhrer will then make of you. That's all."
When they left the house, it was still dark. The streets slowly filled with people walking deliberately. Edward guessed it was around six, with persons leaving their homes for work or lining up for food. They kept pace with those around them, disappearing into crowds, walking alone for a few minutes. Marguerite talked about the weather, the architecture, even the deplorable conditions in some areas of London. Her arm slid in and out of his as they walked straight ahead. The sun warmed their backs as Marguerite eased him into another right turn.
"Hold up, you two!" A young man trotted up to Edward's side. "Excellent morning," he beamed, throwing a friendly arm around Edward.
"Joseph," Edward stammered, his eyes darting toward Marguerite in alarm. "Where are you off to?" He was a fellow Oxford graduate, now working for his father.
"Probably the same place you two are." A cold wind blew his dark hair about his face. The temperature did little to deter his affable smile. "The fish market just before the pier. I hear you get there early enough, there's quite a selection."
"We heard that, too," Marguerite nodded.
"I'm hoping for tuna."
"A big one?" the woman chuckled.
"Big as a U-Boat." Joseph's arm tightened around Edward's shoulder.
Marguerite broke into a warm smile. "I shall leave you now, Edward."
"Now, but…" He swallowed his concern. Joseph was one of them too.
His aunt leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Don't forget what I taught you, my sweet."
"Take…take care." Edward reached for her hand, but Marguerite blended in with several passersby. He couldn't see her anymore.
"Let's be off, my friend," Joseph grinned, guiding him toward a car.
Marguerite slowed her pace. The two men would be on their way. Joseph didn't tell her to where and she didn't ask. He promised her she had until seventeen hundred tomorrow. Or about 9 a.m. on the plateau.
Now. Now, she had to think. Excitement and fear flooded her mind. "Back to the house," she whispered to herself.
"And where have you been?" Jessie met her at the front door.
"I walked your son a little way."
"Prying?" she laughed.
"As a matter-of-fact: yes. I told the boy he needs to check in more often with his mother. I informed him he should…"
Jessie's smile vanished. "Sounds like you're leaving."
Marguerite took the chair's handles. It was an opportunity to hide her emotions from her friend. "I've got to go to Liverpool. My skills with languages are required for a propaganda notion some pencil pusher is master-minding. Ever heard of Nostradamus?"
"Who?" Jessie waved aside the concept. "Why can't you do this here in London?"
The smell of toast wafted from the dining room. "Wonderful. I'm in time for breakfast." Marguerite guided Jessie through the parlor and into the dining room. She left her at the head of the table, then seated herself in the closest chair. "My constitution was not made for early morning. I eat like a horse when I rise with the dawn."
Ellen brought in a pot of tea. "I thought I heard your voice." She sat a bowl of steaming porridge in front of each woman. "I'll be startin' the laundry, ma'am. Call me if you need anything else."
"During the Great War, George would disappear for days. It never bothered me then. I had so much to do. My own research into…" She dropped her spoon in the porridge. "I never considered myself 'alone' back then. When you're alone you wait. You wait for the doorbell to ring. You wait for a friend to call. Eventually you wait for Death." The woman wheeled herself into the parlor. Her eyes fixed on the portrait.
Marguerite followed her. "Jessie, you won't be alone. You've got…"
"Edward's gone, isn't he?" Her eyes didn't leave the portrait.
"No. I don't want to hear it." She rolled closer to the beautiful woman smiling down at her. "I don't have the strength." Tears struggled from her eyes. "When did I lose everything?" She closed her eyes against the vision. "What happened to that woman?"
Marguerite dropped to her knees beside her dear friend. "Jessie. That woman is still here."
"She shouldn't be. She should be dead by now."
Laying her head against Jessie's knee, Marguerite jerked as she cried. "If they had lived, would it be different? Better?"
Jessie fingers stroked away her tears. "I believe it would have to be better."
Marguerite looked into the faded brown eyes. "You are the truest, the best friend I've ever had. On my love for John Roxton, I vow to take care of your son."
The trembling woman wheeled around. "Ellen! I'd like to go outside." Quickly she disappeared into the dining room.
Marguerite stared at the portrait. It would be better. Shoving herself to her feet, the woman ran upstairs to her room. She had hidden it so many years ago. But nothing had changed in the house. Only Jessie.
Her room's closet was small. Dropping to her knees, she shoved aside the old valise. The floor board pried up easily. A red velvet bag laid in twenty years of dust undisturbed, its color faded, but the outline of the object it contained remained unchanged. The ouroboros. Of all people, Challenger had gathered up all the pieces. His infernal curiosity about anything drove him to spend hours collecting each tiny chunk of iridium. He'd asked for Marguerite's help several times, hoping she'd recall how the item was shaped and could piece it together. But his plans weren't hers. She waited until his interest waned. Finn's appearance was the distraction she'd been hoping for. One day alone in the treehouse, she lifted it from his lab. In barely an hour, all but one piece laid together. When she placed the last one, the chunks and bits fused solid as it had in the cave. From her bedroom, she heard the elevator rattle. As he stepped out, Roxton complained loudly about the condition of Malone's rifle. The two men, then Finn, then Veronica, then Challenger joked and jibbed and laughed. Their voices created a music that called her to join them. Marguerite lifted the ouroboros with a towel and dropped it into the red velvet pouch. She wasn't ready to use it.
Not until January 24, 1924.
Once in London, the ouroboros was little more than an ornate belt buckle to her. Only one use per customer. She kept it for barter. Now it was a useful chunk of iridium.
She wasn't sure why she bothered to pack. Maybe to keep up the pretense for Jessie. Maybe a part of her yet doubted Edward's claim. George Challenger had never been able to master time. So if like father like son, she could easily move on to the next assignment. From the old valise, Marguerite removed the two Webleys wrapped in an oil cloth. Roxton would certainly have a few choice words to say about the condition of his beloved pistols. Frowning, the woman tossed them into her suitcase next to her old boots. Try as she could, she couldn't recall the sound of his voice.
Marguerite left her suitcase at the front door, then slipped back into the Challenger's office. After the all-night session, she knew which numbers to write down. From one of the bookshelves she took a compass and a ruler. According to Edward's figures, she'd only have to mark off twenty meters.
Jessie was waiting at the front door.
"I want you to take the car." Jessie pressed the keys in her hand.
"No. I don't know when I'll be back."
She turned away. "This way you'll have to be back by Sunday. I always go to church, you know. I have to ask forgiveness for my friends who won't go and ask for themselves."
It took the rest of the day to reach Avebury. The hike to the stones would take yet another hour. The old boots pinched, over the years her feet expanding like her waist. As she picked her way through the growing darkness, her eyes never strayed toward the house in the distance. Rumor said it was in disrepair, passing from one heir to another. Someone had mentioned the army was using it these days.
It was completely dark as she neared the great stones. A half moon provided just enough light. Removing one of the pistols and the velvet bag, Marguerite watched the evening mist roll about the rocks like ghosts. But these ghosts only danced about the huge cold rocks, never daring the grassy center. Clamping it with the tongs, she yanked the ouroboros from the bag. After fumbling with a lighter, she managed a white flame from the acetylene torch which she pointed at the ouroboros.
Minutes passed. How long did it take to heat up Iridium? And how hot is hot? "Maybe you should have asked a few more questions, Marguerite."
It was stifling hot. And loud. She squinted into the bright daylight. Animals screamed and predators roared.
"You made it," she laughed aloud. "Something else that little bastard was right about." Turning off the torch, Marguerite gazed about her with relief.
Memories of where she was jolted her into a crouch. It was T-Rexes and raptors roaring. Plunging the hot metal into the ground to cool, Marguerite scrutinized her locale. She stood beneath a stone arch. One she recalled vividly. It was the doorway where Veronica had found her necklace. Behind it were the family graves; ahead two miles was the treehouse.
Here on the plateau, darkness was still several hours away. She had the time.
Marguerite pushed aside the protective leaves and ferns. There were two new markers. These mounds were small. They flanked Tom Layton. Near those were three more mounds. Jungle vines circled close, but something sharp had kept them at bay. The pile of stones she remembered had been replaced with ornately craved headstones. Marguerite paused at each one, reading the inscription. On the third, her tired legs gave out and she sat beside the stone. Her quivering hand touched the smooth stone.
"Good morning, Marguerite."
She smelt the coffee, but there wasn't enough light to reveal the source of the voice. "Somebody better be dead," she growled, her voice gruff from insufficient sleep.
"It's 8 a.m., my contessa." John Roxton wisely stayed out of reach as he slid the cup onto her nightstand.
"Then why is it so dark?" she demanded through her arms covering her face.
"There's a nasty storm on its way. Whole sky is almost black. Thought you'd like to see it."
She lowered her arms and stretched beneath the linen sheet. A hand reached for the coffee. "There had better be another reason why you'd feel the need to disturb me."
An appreciative grin drifted across his lips as he watched her sit up, the sheet slipping to her waist, one of the straps of her gown down her arm. Even before her coffee the woman was breath-taking.
She returned the strap to her shoulder. "Well," her voice demanded again.
"We, the rest of us who've been up for the past hours or so, heard something very strange. Veronica wants to investigate it, but I didn't want to leave you here alone and asleep."
The cup was almost empty. "Your sentiments are touching, Lord Roxton, but I can handle myself."
"True." He edged toward the doorway. "But you do a better job of defending yourself when you're on your feet." The man darted through the curtains.
Deliberately taking her time, Marguerite's arrival was greeted by narrow eyed glares.
"We didn't mean to annoy you." With an angry jerk, Veronica cinched closed Malone's backpack. The young man winced in pain but swallowed any complaints.
Roxton whirled around. The cry came from below. In three steps he entered the elevator, immediately joined by Veronica.
Marguerite snatched up a rifle from the table and rushed to the balcony railing. "It's a man," she yelled to her companions.
Malone aimed his rifle at the jungle below. "And he's brought friends."
Veronica opened the gate and yanked the man in. Roxton stepped to one side, a pistol in his hand.
"Oh my God! What is this place?" the new arrival screeched. Behind him bellowed a raptor.
Veronica slammed the gate shut. A hail of bullets rained down on the creature. It staggered back then thudded onto the ground. Three others leapt from the brush and shredded the body in seconds. Quickly they disappeared into the jungle with their prize.
"So much for dinner," Veronica shrugged.
"Dinner?" the man gasped, dropping to his knees. "You… you eat that?"
is fair, old man," Roxton chuckled helping the man to his feet. "It
Veronica folded her arms and caught the man's eyes. "Who are you?"
The stranger offered a trembling hand. "Trevor Holland." He took several deep breaths. "I'm a pilot for the South American Mining Company." His greasy black hair looked as though he'd run oil through it. His face bore bruises and cuts from racing for his life through the jungle.
Roxton eased the man forward. "Let's get you upstairs and into a chair."
"A little brandy wouldn't hurt," Veronica mumbled retrieving his rifle.
Holland fell back against Roxton as the elevator door opened. "Where am I?" His eyes scanned the three persons at the rail. "Who are you people?"
"Ned Malone." The reporter's instincts smelled a story. "This is Marguerite Krux. George Challenger."
"I'm John Roxton." He stepped out of the elevator. "And this is Veronica Layton."
"Challenger," the pilot echoed, staggering toward a chair. "Are you the Challenger Expedition?"
"Yes. Yes we are."
The man shook his head and spoke seemingly to himself. "The Challenger expedition has been missing over three years. The Challenger expedition, the Burke expedition, the Cannaby expedition… they're all legend."
The expedition's leader cleared his throat. "I may be a legend but it is hardly for my death. My scientific discoveries…"
Roxton sat a bottle on the table. "George, give the man a chance to tell his story."
"And then you can tell him all about yourself," Marguerite pushed past the scientist and dropped into a chair.
"Then all the news since we've been gone," Malone smiled.
Suddenly conscious of his shaking hands, he folded his arms across his chest. "My... my story is brief." His eyes focused on the rough floorboards. "I was making a routine supply run. I'd heard about this area, so I thought I'd do a fly over." Nervously he reached for a handkerchief. Sweat poured off his face. "I noticed treetops through some clouds, then a wind caught me." His brown eyes were round with fear. "I'm carrying a full load, what kind of a wind spins an airplane? I fought for control, then I heard the wheels striking the treetops." He took a deep breath and dabbed around his mouth. "Then I'm on the ground. Stuff is strewn everywhere." His eyes darted to his left. "I saw this creature, that thing from below. It jumped on the wing and lunged for the window. If it hadn't gotten stuck, I'd…have been…" He looked at his audience. "Dinner."
Marguerite appraised his thin frame. "More of an appetizer."
Roxton scooted his chair closer. "I believe, you mentioned supplies."
Canned food. Tents. Ammunition. Radio parts.
"Did you say radio parts?" Marguerite exhaled.
"Won't do you much good. I can tell you my radio was broken into a…"
"Young man," Challenger slapped him on the back. "If you've parts enough, I can build one with what we've accumulated here."
Holland gaped at the flurry of action about him. Backpacks were dumped. The blond woman grabbed a stretcher. Everyone checked their rifles.
Roxton pulled the man to his feet. "The jungle claims things quickly. We've got to act fast."
Veronica slipped on an empty backpack. "Do you think you can find your way back to your plane?"
Malone offered a steadying hand as the visibly-shaken pilot attempted to stand. "Veronica and Roxton can probably follow your trail. You don't have to come along."
"No. I can make it." A little color returned to his face. "If what you say is true, you'll need everyone to carry something. Besides, I can tell you what's in most of the boxes. We can haul the important items first."
"Excellent!" Challenger gestured toward the elevator.
Holland stepped from inside the protective fencing hesitantly. "Please forgive me. I'm not a coward, but…"
Malone closed the gate behind him. "You don't have to say it. If it wasn't for Veronica, we'd all have been dead a long time ago. She taught us how to survive in this place."
"Amazing," the young man swallowed. "You're very lucky to have people who care about you."
The American smiled as he watched Veronica scan the jungle. "Yes. Very."
Her blonde hair flipped over her shoulder as she checked on those behind her. A smile crept over her lips as she recognized something of Malone in the new arrival. The smile disappeared as she watched him stare at the ground, the trees. He never looked at them. Something tugged at her instincts. This young man bothered her. Glancing back, she scrutinized his features. There was something eerily familiar about him.
Roxton slowed. "Anything wrong?" He followed the woman's stare.
"No." Her eyes dropped to the jungle floor. The man's trail was easy to follow. "We'd better hurry, if we want to beat this storm." Veronica picked up the pace. The others followed with little conversation, all thoughts focused on the possibility of a radio.
Lightning streaked across the sky. Marguerite counted to herself. Fifteen seconds later came the clap of thunder. From over her shoulder, she called, "How much further?"
Holland shook his head. "I was running. Nothing… everything looks familiar."
Veronica abruptly stopped. Kneeling she examined the ground, then the branches. "I've lost his trail."
Roxton squatted next to her. "We're only about five hundred meters from the treehouse." Above them the clouds darkened. "Could the wind have hidden it already?"
"Let me look around." Veronica edged her way into the brush.
Marguerite took position next to him. "What's wrong?"
Roxton's eyes remained focused on the ground as he stood. "We've lost his trail."
"Well, lying about a plane or not, he still came from somewhere." She glimpsed the young man slipping off his backpack. "He couldn't have just dropped out of the sky."
"Something's not right." Veronica appeared at her side. "I can't find any human trace." The jungle girl fumbled with a large leaf, its tip torn. "The raptors split up just a few feet to the left."
"So." He estimated the distance to where Veronica gestured. "So they saw him here." Roxton stepped around Marguerite. "Holland…"
From his backpack, the man produced a pistol. His first bullet struck the English lord. Its impact sent him stumbling backwards. Marguerite caught him as he fell. They both collapsed onto the hard ground.
Malone saw the muzzle jerk toward Veronica. In an instant he stood in front of her. As the bullet burnt into his heart, he heard her scream his name.
A third bullet ripped through the air. This one tore into Challenger a clean shot into his head.
No one still alive paid any heed to him. Tossing the gun away, he turned around. And ran.
Veronica felt the life leave Malone. A long breath warmed her cheek as he shuddered in her arms. Then he died. She let the weight of him slip to the ground. Her eyes didn't see the still face; they locked on the direction his murderer had taken. In one move the jungle girl took to her feet, knife drawn. Without looking down, she leapt over Malone and bolted after his killer.
The jungle around her was quiet, its creatures fleeing from the sharp noise, not smelling the blood yet. Roxton's breaths were labored. "Marguerite," he rasped.
"Hush, my love." She edged from behind him, until he laid flat on the ground. "We've got to get you back to the treehouse."
"I can tend to you once we get you there." Her tears dropped on his face.
His blood stained her shirt. "The bullet went straight through. That's a good thing. I won't have to go fishing around for it."
His eyes closed.
The sound of his voice was only in her memory. She fought to breath against the tightness of her chest. The word that escaped from her barely sounded through her sobs. "John."
The lithe figure staggered out of the bushes, her knife still brandished before her. Her voice was flat. "I couldn't find him. He just disappeared."
Marguerite looked up.
Veronica cried quietly, her eyes locked on the lifeless body of Ned Malone. "Why?"
A roar rumbled from their right.
Veronica knelt beside Ned, gently rolling him onto his back, folding his arms across his chest.
Nearby bushes pulsed with activity.
In a daze, Marguerite unholstered her pistol and fired several rounds into the vegetation. Standing, she took a step toward Challenger before realizing there was no need. With all her will, Marguerite left Roxton. "We have to go now."
"Why?" Reaching into Ned's pocket, Veronica removed a small notebook.
Marguerite darted back and snatched up Roxton's hat. Almost next to her a raptor broke out of the jungle, its nostrils twitching at the blood pools.
Veronica grabbed her arm. The two whirled around already running.
"Don't look back!"
Adrenaline and disbelief drove them to the treehouse. Veronica slammed the gate closed behind them. Her legs supported her until she reached the base of the great tree, then she slid to the hard ground sobbing. "Why?"
Marguerite kept going. She paced in the elevator. The jungle had tricked them before. Bursting into the main room, she called him. "Roxton!"
Veronica pressed against the huge roots, listening to the hysterical screams from overhead. She waited until there was silence before going up. Gathering all Malone's journals, Veronica hid them in her bedroom. No one would steal those from her.
Within the hour, the storm raged. Veronica retrieved three tarps from Challenger's lab.
"Going without me?" Marguerite stood by the elevator door.
A clap of thunder rattled the floor. "Most of the dinosaurs will have scattered from the storm." Veronica handed her a tarp to carry. "We'll still have to be quick."
Marguerite stepped into the elevator. "I don't think it'll take long," she whispered.
It only required a single tarp to gather the shreds of clothing. Challenger's backpack still remained. Marguerite added it to the heap.
Each woman carried an end of the tarp. Marguerite followed Veronica. Nearby the jungle vegetation quivered. For a second she rested her free hand on her revolver. Then she realized she didn't care. Death could have her too.
Veronica led them to the grave of her father. Her quivering lips asked again, "Why?" The rain turned into an annoying drizzle. Water dribbled over the surrounding rocks and boulders like tears. "Put them down," Veronica ordered, her voice flat. Dropping to her knees, she began to dig with her bare hands. The puddles and mud made it easy.
"Oh, what the hell," Marguerite snorted, likewise dropping to her knees across from the girl. The constant drizzle hid her tears as she clawed through the mud.
Marguerite didn't stir as abruptly Veronica rose. Cutting off a piece of the tarp, the woman wrapped the bloody remnants of the man she loved and laid them in the muddy earth.
Wordlessly, the two stared into the grave.
Veronica slowly pushed the mud over the tarp. "I'll do it."
Marguerite futilely swiped at the water on her face. Assaying the area, she determined the other two grave placements. Dragging herself to the left a meter or so, she shoved away a rock. Veronica quickly joined her. In thirty minutes, Challenger's remains were buried.
As Veronica patted the mud down on Challenger's grave, Marguerite crawled nearby. She tore at the earth, speaking to it like a rival. "You can hold him in your arms. But remember he's mine. He'll be back for me. As always."
Soon Lord John Richard Roxton rested beside his friends.
Veronica encircled each grave with rocks in case the torrent of rain returned and washed down the muddy mounds. "I'll ask Assai to have three markers carved."
Marguerite turned toward the treehouse. The two women walked alone side-by-side.
"So, did you ever discover why?"
The Webley snapped in the direction of the voice. Marguerite lowered it as the blonde hair appeared from behind the stone. Veronica stopped just shy of the graves. Her eyes never deviated from Marguerite's face. Just off to her right, a man took position. His grip on his spear relaxed slightly.
"You bet I found out why." Marguerite rose stiffly, trying not to look too embarrassed. "And who."
"Is that why you're here?"
"Not hardly." The roar of a T-Rex caused her to jump. Civilization had tempered her jungle instincts. "Can we go to the treehouse and talk?"
Marguerite could have walked around the treehouse blindfolded and not bumped into anything. Nothing had changed; whether homage to her parents or Malone, she could only guess. Depositing her backpack by the elevator, Marguerite sat in the same chair she had so many years ago. If she closed her eyes she could almost hear his voice…
"I'm still waiting for an answer." Veronica's hair hung well past her shoulders. Her slim face showed no signs of aging. She wore the wrapped garment of the Zanga and when she sat down, Marguerite understood why. The protector was pregnant.
The man smiled at Marguerite. "Would you care for anything?"
"Water would be nice."
"Veronica?" His voice was soft yet commanding. It would be a strong warrior who would guard the next Protector.
"Marguerite, this is my husband, Muran-el. And yes, please, water would be nice."
He set the narrow wooden bowls in front of each woman and a pitcher in the table's center. "I'll gather more fruit for dinner. I'm assuming you'll be here, Miss Krux."
"I'm assuming I'll be asked. And it's Marguerite."
Without another word he disappeared down the elevator.
Marguerite nodded approvingly. "He seems… nice. And his English is better than mine."
Veronica sipped her water, pressing the cool wood against her cheek. "He was Summerlee's bodyguard and assistant until he died. Since the protector must continue the line, well, Muran-el was better than my other choices."
"When did Author pass?" Marguerite knew it had to have occurred by now. But it's different when the words were spoken.
"Does it matter?" Veronica frowned.
"No." Marguerite tried to change the subject. "It can't be easy to have children in this wilderness."
Veronica's frown deepened into a scowled. "Is this conversation an attempt to be cordial or condescending?"
"Condescending." She gulped down some water. "At least you married. At least you've had someone."
"I've lost two daughters. This may be my last chance." Her hand rubbed her belly.
"What happens if it's a boy?" Marguerite tried to smile. Her lips didn't respond.
"The line of protectors only produces girls. My mother is ailing and old. She wants to pass the burden on to me, but tradition says I must have an heir."
Her next question Marguerite kept to herself. She didn't want to know what happened if there was no heir.
Veronica poured more water into her bowl. "You didn't even say goodbye, Marguerite. Just a note saying you'd used the ouroboros to get back to London. So why come back? To tell me you know who destroyed… killed Ned, Roxton and Challenger. I'm sure you killed this man, so why bother returning to the plateau?"
"Yes, I know who did it. But it will take both of us to correct this mess." Waving Veronica silent, Marguerite let go a long sigh. "Let me get through this sordid tale before you interrupt with questions. Challenger had a son…" For the next hour, Marguerite revealed her past and her present. "And to recap this sad pathetic story, Challenger's son slaughtered his own father and friends because he had a rough childhood."
Veronica dabbed some water on her cheeks. "I can still see his face. I recall there was something familiar about it, but I can't believe…"
Marguerite retrieved her backpack and dug out a wallet. From it she slid a black and white picture of a young man standing stiffly in front of a blackboard. "Look familiar?"
Veronica only had to glance at it. "No. No! It's him. It really is him!" She shoved the picture from her. It flew off the table and skated over the floor. "It's him! How could you not realize it was him?" she accused.
"Because he grew up in front of me. I didn't see a killer; I saw Jessie's troubled, genius son. I saw a young man grappling with his mother's illness." Her voice quivering, she tried to convince herself, "I saw a boy." Marguerite jumped from her chair, snatching up the photo. Tentatively she gazed down. "I still don't see it."
Veronica wasn't ready to let go of her hate. "Why haven't you killed him?"
Her shoulders sagged as her head hung down. "Because killing him won't fix what he's done.'
"What does that mean?"
Marguerite turned away and stared into the jungle. The setting sun tricked the eye with shadows. You could imagine anyone moving through the vegetation, returning to the treehouse. "It means we're both going to have to do it."
Veronica laughed unpleasantly. "You too sentimental to meet out justice to this murderer? Well don't worry. I'll do it for you."
The bitterness in the air was palpable. "I wish you could." Behind her, she heard the creak of the chair as Veronica rose. Marguerite clutched the photo to her. "Listen to me, Veronica." Rubbing her eyes, she turned slowly around. "Will you listen to me? Please. We can fix it. We just…"
"Fix it," Veronica repeated. "Fix it?" This time a nasty angry laugh followed her words. "Fix what, Marguerite?"
"Fix it." The older woman waved her arms at the world around her. "Fix it. Make it like it was. Like it should be."
"Bring them back?" Veronica whirled on her old house-mate, taking the distance between them in two steps. "You don't think I asked, begged my mother to do just that. The Protector should have the power to…"
"If she couldn't bring back her own great love, do you think she could bring back yours?"
"But she knows. She keeps the balance."
"She maintains the land, Veronica. People are the corrupters. People are what I know. That's the heritage of my family – understanding people. Remember, your mother told us that. Before the rift, your line cared for the land; mine kept the people at bay."
"Until your line became as corrupted as those you guarded against." Veronica staggered toward a chair. Wearily she sat down. "Besides, I haven't spoken directly with my mother in twenty years."
"You and I have never trusted each other." She stiffened, her fingers flexing nervously. "Maybe we never got along, but, Veronica, I'm asking for that trust now."
"Tolerate is the word I believe you're searching for." Nudging a chair with her foot, Veronica motioned for Marguerite to sit. "All right, explain to me what your plan is 'to fix it'."
Inhaling sharply, Marguerite sat. She realized she had only one chance to explain before the next Protector tossed her off the plateau. Literally. "Time's a funny thing. I think Challenger used to say that all the time to Finn." Her attempt at a smile faded quickly. "In order to undo the damage Edward Challenger has done, we've got to stop him at each time he initially arrives at the treehouse."
"But you said he only came back here to… to insure his father would never return to England."
"Yes. So far. But he'll arrive tomorrow around eleven. His plan is to stop a General named Rudolph Hess from going to England. My plan is to stop him here. If he succeeds, if you fail to kill him, I'll never have been brought into the picture and would never have discovered what he did to his father and John and Malone." She swallowed. "If I fail, well, life will continue to be a lonely lousy mess for you and me. If you fail, the whole world will become a lousy mess."
Veronica stared past her at an old photograph on the wall.
"I know this sounds bizarre, Veronica, but if you'd read Challenger's notes about the time continuum and Finn's impact on…"
"We all heard it from the source. It's been awhile but I remember. I always listened to George. I listened to you too. Please continue."
The sleeping woman's eyes reluctantly opened.
"You said you wanted up at six." Veronica stepped out of the room. "Get up," she called behind her.
Marguerite rolled over. So much was coming back to her. The hot nights. The uncomfortable bed. Every muscle in her back protested as she sat up. Age could be a small factor, but she'd bet this mattress was the same one from her days.
Yet the room had changed. None of her old things remained on the bamboo vanity. A small doll carved of bone wearing a Zanga wrap was propped up against the cracked mirror. In the chair set a ragged stuffed bear. A drum waited at the foot of the bed. Her heart ached recalling the small graves next to their grandfather.
Dinner had been a quiet affair. Veronica stared at Muran-el with the same understanding Marguerite had with Jessie. If this plan worked everything would be different. Jessie would be killed. Who knows what will happen to Muran-el. His fate would not be tied to Veronica or her bed.
Marguerite stumbled as she came into the main room, her vision blurred by a yawn. Mournfully she stared toward the kitchen. "I don't suppose you have any coffee?"
"Never gave it up?"
"No. Its smell reminds me of home." Marguerite cleared her throat. "Here."
Veronica's expression softened. "I hate the smell. It reminds me of Ned."
Marguerite grabbed an apple from the table, chomping it down as she retrieved her backpack and dumped its contents on the table. Separating out a compass, a ruler, and an aged velvet bag, she sat across from Veronica. "Now, you'll just have to wait for him here at the treehouse."
"I know, Marguerite. The point of origin."
"I'm merely saying you can't let him get by you."
Veronica gestured at the compass. "He'll have to measure off the angle then mark off the distance. Correct?"
"Simple. I'll pick him off then."
"Yes," the woman concurred in a flat tone.
"Can you do it?" Veronica tilted her head examining the pain in the gray eyes. "I'd be more worried about you going through with it."
"That's why I'm the one going back to that day. There is no choice between John Roxton and Edward Challenger."
"We'd better get started."
Veronica sent Muran-el on a made-up errand to the Zanga village. She watched him disappear into the jungle, one hand resting on her swollen belly. Marguerite waited knowing unspoken good-byes are more bitter than one spoken aloud.
They double-checked the compass minutes. They both measured their shoe bottoms then paced off the twenty meters.
Marguerite slid on her backpack. "I'll wait near the treehouse. Like you pointed out, he'll be the most distracted there while taking readings."
"How will I know if it worked?"
Marguerite fumbled with an object in the velvet bag. "Dear God, I hope it's obvious." Once more she gripped the ouroboros with the tongs. Veronica handed her the lit torch. She winced at the brightness of the metal. A question formed on her lips. Before she could utter it, Marguerite was gone.
"Marguerite?" Veronica shuddered, overwhelmed with the feeling that something was out-of-place on the plateau. The jungle girl relished the sensation, smelling the air, tasting its sudden warmth. "Good. Now I know I easily can find him."
She turned back toward the treehouse to await her prey.
Marguerite threw herself behind a tree. Roxton's voice carried from the garden beneath the treehouse. He muttered to himself as he gathered up wood from the pile. "Must have coffee for the contessa." His laughter could be heard most of the elevator ride.
"John," she whispered. Taking a deep breath, she tried to relax. "You can do this." Early morning rays warmed the jungle around her. "This is no time for a conscience." Her eyes darted toward every sound. "It's been a long time since you've done a gratifying, selfish act." Leaves fluttered nearby as something or someone bent them aside. "Do it."
He stopped half a meter in front of her, fumbling in his jacket pocket.
The young man's eyes widened. "Oh thank God. Another person in this God-forsaken…" His voice trailed off. "You know me?"
"You can't possibly know me."
"Can't, huh. You're the only child of George and Jessica Challenger. Graduated from Oxford, beating your father's marks. Oh, and you're going back in time to London. And you plan on killing your father day after tomorrow."
Veronica paced outside the fence, focusing on the sensation she had experienced when Marguerite had disappeared. That would be her first clue that he would be on the plateau. Her plateau.
"Lady Roxton!" the man gasped. "But how?"
"Not quite. I'm your Aunt Marguerite, the wretch of a woman you create after you slaughter your father and his friends."
He scowled his doubt.
"Don't try to understand, Edward." She held the Webley in front of her. "I'm undoing what you've done. And this time I swear: it will be better."
There it was. A shudder traveled the length of her. He was here. Veronica hid in the shadows of the brush.
A crown of red hair poked up from nearby vegetation. Brown eyes took in the area around the electric gate. Hesitantly he stepped closer, listening for any sounds from overhead. A smug smile spread on his lips as the young man dropped his backpack.
"Over here!" Veronica stepped into the light.
Startled, he pulled out a gun.
It was the last thing he did. The jungle girl's knife lodged in his chest.
Veronica remained where she was. She'd just killed Challenger's son. Her abdomen tightened. She could see it now: the light red hair, the shape of the face. She reached for a fence post as the world spun.
"I won't let you stop me," he fumed like the angry little boy he was.
"I was going to have my English friends just scare you. You'd forget those thoughts of defecting to the Germans. At the end of the war, I'd explain to you how I was a double-agent and we'd be one big happy family again. But your mother won't see the spring… and I figured out your little plot."
"My mother is dead." Suddenly he understood. "I succeed." Elation spread across his face. "My mother never comes to this horrible place. My equations. They work."
"They worked." She pulled the trigger back.
He fired the pistol hidden in his jacket pocket.
"How was I supposed to know there were no coffee beans?" Roxton grumbled to himself as he stepped off the elevator. "That's Ned's job. Or heaven-forbid the woman could …"
Two shots sounded just a few feet to his left. Instinctively he dropped to the ground.
"Roxton!" Marguerite swatted away someone's hand as she leaned precariously over the balcony. "Roxton!"
"I'm fine. Stay there!"
The jungle noise picked up again. Quickly he darted out the gate. Using a tree as cover, the hunter peaked to his left. A shadow stretched across the ground. Rifle up, he stepped slowly toward it. At his feet laid a young man. Blood oozed beneath him from his chest. The two shots were too close together. Someone else was still there.
The rifle slid from his hands. Marguerite edged around a tree, blood staining her blouse from a wound in chest.
"Marguerite. How?" He caught her as she collapsed. "I just heard you. How did you get down here so fast?" Carefully he positioned his arms around her to lift her.
"There isn't time." His voice caught in his throat. "I've got to get you to Challenger."
"No, there is time, John." She smiled. "I came so far to hear you say it. Say my name again."
He had to force the word through trembling lips. "Marguerite."
"Sometime, a boy…" Her mouth twisted with pain. Roxton dropped to his knees, cradling her. "What the hell. When you get off this damn plateau, Challenger's son will ask to come live with you. Let him." She grabbed his shirt and pulled him closer. Through clenched teeth, she begged, "Promise me."
"Yes," he breathed staring into her eyes. Blinking away tears, he looked closer. Deep wrinkles spread from the corners of her eyes across the pale skin. Too pale. The hair that touched his arm was short and streaked with grey. He'd never seen this shirt before. "You can't be… Who are…"
"Mommy!" A small hand pressed against her arm.
"Daddy! Mommy's sick!"
A larger, stronger hand replaced the first as a long forgotten voice whispered, "Veronica, are you all right?"
"I am now." Veronica fainted knowing his arms would catch her before she hit the ground.
"Roxton!" the shrill scream of his name shattered his thoughts. Looking up, he saw Marguerite with Veronica and Malone at her side.
"Watch out for the …" The body of the young man was gone. The weight of the woman he clutched faded.
"What's wrong? Where did those shots come from?" Marguerite demanded.
Visibly trembling, the English Lord stood and approached her, studying the woman as though he hadn't seen her in years. "You ask too many questions." Abruptly he snatched up his rifle and brushed past her. "I'll be back by nightfall with your bloody coffee beans."
Veronica and Ned gazed after him. "What was that about?"
Marguerite shrugged, noticing the indentions where Roxton had knelt. "Don't ask me. It wasn't anything I did."
"Have you eaten?"
"What are you still doing up?" Roxton deposited several bags of coffee beans on the table. His expression softened as Marguerite stepped out of the shadows. Her white nightgown dissolved into the moonlight. Roxton gazed at the dark outline of her slim figure approaching the table. He knew she loved him. Now he didn't have to assume from her eyes or smile. He knew because she came back through time… to hear him say her name. To save him. "I dined with Assai. The baby's doing well."
Marguerite carried several of the coffee bags into the kitchen. "Glad to hear it."
Roxton set the remainder on the counter, moving close behind her.
Looking past her he saw the shadow of another couple on the narrow balcony behind the kitchen. Ned leaned over, kissing Veronica gently.
"Such a sweet kiss," Roxton whispered into her ear; his fingers stroking her bare arms.
With a sharp stab of her elbow to his abdomen, Marguerite slipped past him back into the main room. "We should give them some privacy."
Rubbing where there would definitely be a bruise by morning, Roxton joined her by the bookcase. "Wouldn't you like to be sweetly kissed?" Gently his lips brushed her cheek.
Marguerite snorted and turned away. "Good thing you've plenty of money, Lord Roxton, 'cause if the passion's already gone…"
He knew she loved him. "As you wish, my contessa."
Twisting her around, the man abandoned his lineage of gentility and kissed her.