- Echoes from the Plateau

Marguerite watched her own feet - or the ground just ahead of them - as she pushed herself along. The seldom-used game trail scarcely parted the dense jungle, leaving her dangerously unaware of any predators that might be on to her scent or sound. But, she didn't care. If the only way off this God-forsaken plateau was in the belly of a raptor, then, be done with it!

"That's a bad idea." She stopped and tilted an ear to the canopy. She had grown familiar with the voice of the jungle; the birds and monkeys told her that she was safe - for now. "Eyes up, Marguerite," she warned herself, and she moved for clearer ground.

She had done it again: baited Roxton into an argument, pushed him past reason, and then threatened to head out on her own. Only, this time, he hadn't tried to stop her. In fact, he hadn't said anything at all; he had just shaken his head dismissively and watched as she stormed off.

Marguerite found a position of good visibility, removed her pack and knelt low - using her rifle for balance. She took measure of the sun; there was no hope of making it back to the tree house before nightfall. "A night alone suits me just fine," she thought. But, she knew well the dangers of nocturnal predators. Sleeping without a sentry was reckless; she would be lucky to get an hours sleep in five minute lots by morning.

Her location was defendable; she had plenty of ammunition, food, water, blankets - even a book. If Roxton thought that she was going to come scurrying back, he was dead wrong. She busied herself collecting firewood and clearing her camp. She had never really spent a night alone in the jungle, but if Roxton or Veronica could do it, how hard could it be? A fire would keep away more danger than it would attract, "So, make it big," she thought.

As she watched the sun slip below the western skyline, a swell of fear bloomed in her chest, stealing away her breath. "Any sensible person would be wary," she thought, "fear is what keeps us alive." She settled onto her bedroll, haloed in the firelight - and darkness took the rest.

The sounds of the jungle had changed. There was still the ever-present buzz of insects, but the birds and monkeys had gone silent. A sudden rustle of brush and a death-squeal pulled Marguerite's imagination into the darkness. She was clutching her rifle so tightly that her knuckles had gone white; she relaxed her grip, and folded her arms across the weapon as she had seen Roxton do so many times.

One hour turned into two, three into four. The stress of the situation was adding to her fatigue. Her mind turned back to Roxton, how he could sit patiently for hours guarding over their camp, in some sort of catnap state; yet, he would rise to the slightest sign of danger.

She tried to recall what they had been arguing about that afternoon, but it was lost. She had misjudged his mood when she had threatened to leave him behind. The look in his eyes as he had shaken his head at her - there was no anger on his face. His complete lack of concern had left her no choice but to act on her threat. Her eyes closed.

She snapped to attention! Had she just fallen asleep? The fire had burned low, but that had been happening for hours. No, she had only closed her eyes for a moment. "What had even started us bickering?" she wondered. She laid back into her bedroll. He must have done something. Tomorrow, when she got back to the tree house, she would rile him and get him to bring it back up. She drifted in that thought for a time, and then she slept.

The birds woke her. Her blanket was damp with early morning dew and the fire had gone cold; but the light had returned. She was whole and safe, perfectly capable of spending a night alone in the jungle. She stretched her neck to one side, and then the other...

There he sat; his eyes looked closed below the tilt of his hat, but his rifle was at the ready. She propped herself up onto her elbow.

"You're up early," Roxton said, without changing his position.

"You too," she replied. "It's a long walk back home yet."

"It is," he said, as he stood and offered her a hand up. "I guess we had better get started."