Steam carrying the enticing aroma of freshly brewed coffee wafted lazily from the cup which Ned set in front of Marguerite. She leaned over, letting the scent flow into her before lifting the cup in both hands. Bringing the white cup to her lips, she blew across the hot, dark liquid and then took a tentative sip. Her expression quickly changed to one of revulsion. She hastily pulled the cup away from her mouth and put it down none too gently. As she did, a little liquid spilt onto the wooden table.
Ned, who had just taken his seat at the foot of the table, jumped half out of his chair as he asked, "Did it burn you?"
The heiress appeared completely horrified as she turned to him asking, "What is that noxious brew? Are you trying to poison me?"
"It's coffee," Malone replied defensively. "I don't know, maybe I made it too strong or the beans are bad or..." he trailed off with a shrug.
Marguerite looked around at Challenger and the two blonde women. They all appeared shocked at her outburst. She made an attempt to relax and then smiled placatingly. She turned to Malone and started, "Finn..."
"Don't look at me," the girl from the future scoffed, "I don't drink that yucky goo."
Turning then to Finn, Marguerite continued, "I was just going to ask if you would pass the juice." She indicated the pitcher which was sitting directly in front of Malone, but within easy reach for Finn. "I need to wash out the bitter taste."
Veronica leaned across the table and almost growled, "That was completely uncalled for. Ned made that coffee specifically for you, you ungrateful, self-centered…."
"Veronica," Malone interrupted, "it's alright. It's only coffee."
"But, Ned…" She sighed heavily, leaned back in her chair and folded her arms across her chest.
While Finn picked up the pitcher and shoved it toward Marguerite, the blonde reporter took a tentative sip of the coffee. His face was a mask of confusion, "I don't understand," he began, "it tastes fine..."
Challenger placed his hand on Malone's forearm and shook his head.
Malone continued anyway, "but there is nothing wrong with..."
"Not now, Malone," Challenger said quietly. Neither Malone nor Veronica seemed happy to drop the subject, so the professor explained, "When someone experiences a trauma, there are changes in the electrical flow of the brain. Those changes can cause the victim to react differently to stimuli. Emotional change is the most common, but taste can be effected as well."
The reporter added, "So, even though the coffee is the same as always..."
"Marguerite's perception of it has changed," Challenger finished.
Veronica look unconvinced. Before she could comment further, Challenger changed the subject.
"Marguerite," the scientist began, "We've heard very little of your excursion from Roxton aside from your being set upon by cannibals. Did you find Malone's stone?"
The brunette adventuress put down her glass and lightly dabbed at her lips with her napkin. "The stone," She considered, looking around at the expectant faces before answering, "Yes, we found the stone and it was a complete waste of time not to mention nearly getting us both killed. Although," she paused, "it was an interesting story."
"What do you mean, a story?" Malone queried. He gave her no chance to answer before he asked, "What about the passage? Does it lead off the plateau?"
Looking him straight in the eyes with a bemused smile, she said, "There is no passage, neither leading off this plateau nor anywhere else. You misread it. The stone tells a story, that's all." She shrugged her shoulders and picked up the platter of sliced fruit, slipping a few small pieces onto the empty plate in front of her.
The others watched while Marguerite calmly picked up a slice of mango and popped it into her mouth. She took her time chewing it, rolling it across her tongue before finally swallowing. She looked around at the varied expressions worn by her companions: Curiosity, disappointment, relief...
"I was so sure," Ned mumbled. He shook his head and sighed deeply. "A story," he repeated half questioningly.
Marguerite nodded, "nothing more."
The young reporter picked up his mug and took another swig of his coffee. As he put the mug down, he mused, "It must have been some story. There was a lot of time and effort put into erecting and carving that stone."
"I'm sure we would all be interested in hearing the story; That is, if you feel up to it," Professor Challenger interjected.
The beautiful adventuress sat straighter and cleared her throat as if she were preparing to regale them with her tale. She smiled and lifted her plate. "I would be only to happy to share the tale with you if only someone will carve me a piece of that delicious smelling meat."