LARA CROFT AND THE CROWN OF UTAMA
The blades of the Colibri EC120B, among the quietest helicopters in the world, whirled near-silently overhead. In the Eurocopter's cockpit, its pilot pitched the nose the down, bringing the craft into a steep decline. Just below, men stood on the deck of the ship on which the helicopter would soon land. They pointed in shock overhead. The pilot smiled. She then skillfully stabilized the craft, as it touched down gently on the helipad.
Lady Lara Croft, The Countess of Abbingdon, had come to an underwater excavation site just off the coast of Singapore. Singapore wasn't where one would expect to find a "Tomb Raider" or adventurer: the city-state was a small, densely-occupied buzzing metropolis, the exact opposite of the South American jungles and Asian rainforests Lady Croft often found herself in. Nonetheless, she had offered to sponsor a dig off the island. It would be the country's first ever underwater excavation. From her earlier travels around Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as input from her friend and eccentric archaeologist Alister Fletcher, Lara had gathered that there would be something worth finding in these waters.
However, she had decided to keep what she was looking for a secret, instead leading the authorities to believe this was just a routine excavation. She had not wanted to raise anybody's hopes, after all. Under the advice of her lawyers, Lara had decided to "de-enigmatise" herself by publicly sponsoring archaeological digs. Perhaps the community would learn to respect her more that way. Lara exited the craft, removing her helmet to reveal a long, braided pony-tail. She then unzipped her flight suit, just to tease a little.
A young, Chinese man came forward, extending his hand. He seemed nervous, which was the effect Lara had on almost everyone she met for the first time, especially the men. Perhaps it was her indomitable air, her inherent strength – or just her stunning looks. The man introduced himself as Captain Blake Tan. "Delighted", Lara answered, her crisp British accent slicing through the humid evening air. Captain Tan then proceeded to show Lara her cabin in the bowels of the ship, christened "Fu Qi", Mandarin for good fortune.
Lara descended into the ship, through the narrow corridors, passing by laboratories and research stations, as well as several cabins. "Oh, I'm sorry Lady Croft, but you will be sharing your cabin with another guest", Captain Tan informed Lara. Lara seemed hardly taken aback.
"Perhaps you refer to the other supervising archaeologist?" Lara asked, a smile touching her lips. Captain Tan nodded and ushered Lara in. The cabin was small, with a double-decker bunk and a sink in the corner. It did have its own attached bathroom, though. The cabin's other occupant sat half-dressed on his bunk. He smiled.
"Well, well, well. Alex West." The last time she met her fellow tomb raider and sometimes-rival was when Manfred Powell attempted gaining control of the Triangle of Light, and she had narrowly rescued him from certain death.
Alex seemed pleased to see her again. "Enjoying Singapore, Lara?" he asked.
She looked him the eye, teasing "I've yet to decide if you're making this particular visit more or less enjoyable."
Alex broke into a smirk. "Still the same old Lara Croft. They told me you'd be coming."
"Well, here I am. What are you doing here?" She asked, looking quizzically at Alex.
Alex shrugged. "I've been travelling around the area for the past couple of months, doing research. The Singaporeans wondered if I might help supervise the operation. Hey, you're not the only big name around."
Lara's eyes narrowed. "There is something in it for you, isn't there, mercenary?"
Alex smiled slightly, "does no one believe in redemption these days?" He pulled Lara close, and they kissed passionately.
Somehow, Lara found herself unable to pull away. "When was our relationship more than professional?" Lara managed between lip-locks.
Alex answered with a smile, and retorted "since when was it more than personal?" Lara looked away. She never managed to forget Alex West, especially after the incident near Siberia. As if reading her mind, Alex said, "I never got to thank you, Lara".
Lara ran her hand down the nape of his neck. "Well, now you can," she replied with a smile.
It was half an hour after eleven late in the evening and Lara lay awake, thinking. That evening had been fairly productive – in terms of archaeological results, of course. Pottery shards and evidence of shipwrecked Dutch trading ships were what the team uncovered. It was, however, nothing groundbreaking by Lara's book. Measured against artifacts such as the Atlantean Scion, the Obscura paintings and the Wheels of Ezekiel, these were of little significance. Lara was also wondering about Alex, who lay asleep on the top bunk. She had let her guard down and she enjoyed being with him. Still, Lara wondered if trusting him would be a good descision. He was, after all, helping the bad guys the last time she ran into him. Also, there was that incident in Nepal where he stole her prayer wheels.
Suddenly, Lara roused. She heard something. Lara reached for her Desert Eagle under the pillow. Despite Singapore's strict regulations with regards to firearms, Lara had somehow managed to obtain a license to carry the weapons that served her throughout her career. Lara peeked out the porthole. Nothing. She frowned. Lara sat up, pulling the sheets around her. After considering for a few moments, she slipped out of bed and pulled a tank top over her perfect form. After getting quickly dressed, she left her cabin, still clutching the weapon. She prowled along the corridors.
Then she heard it again.
The sound of gunfire, though faint, still distinct. Lara rushed to the deck of the ship, trying to avoid detection. She edged around a corner, and brought the powerful binoculars she always carried to her eyes. Nothing was visible on the seas in the pitch darkness. Lara activated the night-vision built into the binoculars. She scanned the horizon, and then saw it. Small speedboats, the kind used by modern-day pirates around the area, who terrorized the Malacca Straits.