Loss
Chapter 8
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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Epilogue
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***

“But Challenger, how is it possible?” Summerlee questioned, both with curiosity and concern. He looked from a positive but tense Miss Krux to the scientist. “You said yourself that without the temple structure in place all the components that brought Marguerite to us could not possibly be duplicated. And without this replication she would not be able to return. Did I miss something?”

“No, you’re right, Summerlee my friend, but *I* forgot about the booby trap. The pit.”

“The pit?”

Challenger relocated himself. He now stood beside the common room table and lay his supplies down. “Marguerite, you told us you nearly fell to your death but then Roxton – that is, the Roxton of your world - rescued you.” He noted her nervous half smile and was struck suddenly by how it reminded him of an expression worn by his wife, Jesse, especially if she were hiding something. He cleared his throat and addressed all in the room. “It was and is as much a part of that structure as the walls and floor above it. By using these,” Challenger held up the mirrors, “and a little ingenuity we may not only be able to duplicate the conditions that brought Miss Krux to our world but also manipulate time as well.”

“Time?” Now, it was Veronica who stepped forward, puzzled. “Time travel?”

Marguerite, suffering from a little too much complicated information jamming itself into her already over-filled, anxiety ridden mind, lifted her hands in quiet protest. “George, are you trying to say you somehow plan to transport me to that period in my own time, when I fell into the pit, when Roxton saved my life?” Marguerite glanced momentarily at this reality’s Roxton, who averted his eyes and appeared to be looking moodily in the direction of the balcony.

“Do you doubt I can do this, Miss Krux?” Challenger asked, nearly peeved.

“I’ve seen the George Challenger in my world do some amazing things but I’ve also seen some colossal failures. So, let’s just say I’m a little leery. I don’t doubt you have the intelligence and ability to do such a thing, Challenger, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I don’t particularly want to be a guinea pig…”

“She’s right.” Malone laid his book aside and joined his friends in the circle around the common room table, “What if your interference causes her Roxton to *not* get to Marguerite in time? It could be very dangerous.” Malone’s concern, after rebuking the woman for so long, caught everyone a bit off guard. Veronica met his eyes briefly and her approval was genuine. Malone was surprised by how good it felt to please her.

Challenger, however, would not be dissuaded. He spoke unswervingly to Marguerite, “Of course there may be danger but for a chance to go back home to your own time and world …?” He then addressed the group, “I think Miss Krux is willing to take the chance. After all …”

“Malone’s right.” Roxton, who had remained disturbingly quiet during Challenger’s presentation, abruptly came forward. “I don’t think it can be risked. You’re playing with fire, Challenger. She’s staying here.”

Veronica started, “But she has a life back in …”

“Well, if you want to know what I think …” Summerlee began.

“Hey!” Marguerite called, watching as attention centered on her once again. “Someone mind asking me what *I* want?”

Veronica was the first to smile after a self-conscious pause, “Sorry Marguerite. For the last few years we’ve *always* made decisions this way. I suppose we forgot that *you* may have an opinion.”

Marguerite, unable to stop an amused smile, yielded: “I understand. You’re not used to a fifth wheel, so to speak.” She drew her attention once again to the scientist, “Okay George, in plain simple English tell me what you have here and how it’s supposed to work.”

“In simple English?” Challenger looked down at his supplies, comically perplexed on how to begin. Then, “Think of it as a trick with,” he lifted one up, “mirrors. The power that is already in that pit will believe what it sees. We build a small mock up of the pit room, as best as you can remember it Marguerite, then use these mirrors to reflect an image. The powers behind “the curse” will recognize the representation. We then slowly lower you inside of the pit, where I believe the power originates, then - If my calculations are correct - it will sense where it is you belong and send you back there.”

Malone caught on, “If not, we’ll pull you back up and try again, correcting whatever mistake was made.”

“Aren’t we forgetting that it was those same powers which saw fit to send her here in the first place?” Roxton reminded gruffly, “Ever stop to think maybe there was a good reason why Marguerite was dispatch here? Why *this* reality, to our world, and no other?””

Summerlee studied Roxton and it occurred to him that the hunter was speaking from a personal point of view but also using a method of logic. As far as Roxton was concerned, Marguerite was sent here for him – for *all* of them. Why else would he, then the others, have dreamed about her once they came to the plateau? “He may have a point, George.”

“Maybe we’re the only alternate reality without a Marguerite Krux.” Malone offered.

“Perhaps,” George pondered, “But there has to be a rationale even if it was a mistake.” Challenger place a thoughtful finger to his lips then, removing it, asked, “What happened just before you were sent here, Marguerite? Do you recall?”

“Yes.” she cleared her throat, uncomfortable and a bit heartsick over the memory. “Roxton was with me and … and ah … we had an argument.”

“An argument?” Summerlee deliberated, “What was said?”

“Don’t you think that’s a little personal?” asked Veronica, detecting Marguerite’s uneasiness.

“It could be very important.” Challenger stated, “We have to know.”

Accommodating, Marguerite straightened her shoulders and spoke without a tremble. “He was angry and said something he regretted, I’m sure. He said …” Marguerite was unable to prevent herself from looking at Roxton as she spoke, “He wished I had never come to the plateau.”

Roxton’s eyes widened. How could he, in whatever world she lived in, have ever uttered such a thing? That other Roxton was obviously a blithering fool.

“He didn’t mean it.” Marguerite repeated, quickly. “He was just angry. I sometimes … He lost patience. But, I suppose the temple took him at his word.”

“Well,” Summerlee placed a hand on her shoulder, “if what Challenger has planned comes to full fruition, Marguerite, Lord Roxton may get his opportunity to make it up to you.”

*~~~~*

While Marguerite worked with Challenger and Summerlee, attempting to build their small mock up of the temple room, Veronica and Malone took the opportunity to return to their garden and pick the natural bounty of their crop growing efforts. If all worked as well as Challenger expected, this would be their last night with Marguerite. Veronica wanted to make a special meal.

“Where’s Roxton?” Malone asked, leaning on a sturdy rake and looking out, past the fence, into the jungle. He stood behind Veronica who was crouching and pulled up a few ripe tomatoes from their vine. He glanced downward as she placed them into a hand woven basket sitting beside her on the ground.

“Roxton said since he and Marguerite came up with nothing yesterday he would do some hunting today.” Her voice was low and sympathetic, “I think he just needed an excuse to get away. None of this is easy for him.”

“I can understand.”

Not glancing up, Veronica shuffled over to another row. Her voice was ironic, “Can you really?” she asked then, at his confused silence, brushed an insect off her right knee.

“Yes.” Malone moved along with her, “I’m not entirely without feeling. I know Roxton has grown close to Marguerite. I had a chance to talk with her and she is quite …”

“Yes?” Now, Veronica looked up.

Malone bowed his head and chuckled, “Okay, I admit it. Marguerite is funny, smart and not at all the mystery or evil I thought she was. She’s won me over.”

“Not an easy task.” Veronica snickered sarcastically but she had to admit that seeing Malone showing her his more human side was wonderful. Scooting and stooping yet again, Veronica pulled at a few cucumbers. “Marguerite’s really special, isn’t she? Those others she lives with – our doubles – must really admire her so much.”

“And that makes me wonder why their Roxton would ever say he never wanted her to come to the plateau.”

“She was in jeopardy.” Veronica rationalized, “I think her Roxton was just reacting to the danger. I know if I ever had to choose between you dying here on the plateau or returning you to the outside, far beyond the plateau, I wouldn’t hesitate to say the same thing.” Veronica, stunned by her own disclosure and how easily it fell from between her lips, quickly stood and shifted position. “Carrots.” She said suddenly, awkwardly changing the subject. “A good stew needs carrots.” She could not believe what she just revealed to the journalist. Was she crazy? Veronica turned quickly away, hoping he didn’t see her alarm.

“I hope it will never have to come to that.” Malone called, then added: “Because the day I leave the plateau – the day I leave *you*, Veronica – will be the saddest day of my life.”

Veronica’s breath caught in her throat and chest as she slowly turned to look at Malone, to take in his sincerity. She felt a sudden hot flush of emotion, feelings that had been held dormant for much too long.

He approached her and spoke gently as the woman stood erect. “Veronica, I’ve been an idiot. If you *can’t* forgive me for the way I’ve treated you, I understand completely, but I’m going to try and make it up to you – and everyone else.” His fingers reached forward to touch the knuckles on her left hand, “None of you are responsible for what happened to my foot.” Malone glanced quickly down then up again to gaze into her eyes – those glistening green pools that exhibited a combination of torment and hope. “I care so much for you. I always have, since the day I first set eyes on you, and I hope you will give me the chance to show you the real me. The man I was and can be again. Veronica I love …”

“Sh.” She placed fingers on his lips. “No, not now.” She practically begged. “Some day you’ll say it and *really* mean it, Ned. Not just in the heat of the moment but because we’ve learned from our past experiences and have decided a future between us is possible. I *can* wait for you if you can wait for me. But, for now …” She took the rake from his hands and leaned it against the tree trunk next to her, “Malone … just kiss me.”

With an abandonment and joy he hadn’t felt for over three years, Ned Malone did as his beautiful jungle princess requested. He knew this would not be the last kiss he and Veronica, the woman of his dreams, would ever share.

*~~~~*

He brought the rifle up, got the creature within its site and aimed, “It’s the roasting pot for you, my friend.” Roxton whispered and was about to fire when the Gallimimus was alarmed by the frightened squawk of some large birds in the trees above it. It pushed away just as Roxton pulled on the trigger. The report was loud but he had missed clean. “Dammit.” The hunter cursed, lowering the weapon to his side. He kicked moodily at the brush beside him.

“Was that my fault?” she asked.

Roxton swung about and gazed at the approaching brunette, “I don’t know. Did you scare the birds?”

“If I did, it was unintentional.”

Roxton turned away from the woman and slid the rifle into his back holster, “Nothing you have ever done has been unintentional.”

“My, someone is in bad temper today.” She moved closer to Roxton.

“I’m not forcing you to stay and deal with it. You can leave anytime.”

“Women problems, my handsome Lord?”

Roxton forced himself to say nothing but recognized the condescension in her tone.

Unknown to either, a third person was watching and listening to their conversation. Marguerite had finished with Challenger and Summerlee, who were adding the final touches to their newest creation, and decided to find Roxton. She needed to speak with him on a few matters that were important and confidential enough to warrant a journey into the jungle alone, just she and her pistol.

She paused by a generously proportioned bush when she saw the caped figure of a shapely woman young approach Roxton. It only took a few moments for total recall to slap Marguerite callously across the face.

That voice. She recognized it. *Danielle* …*The Voodoo Queen*?

Marguerite only saw her from the back but could well pictured that luscious figure and barely there costume. It left little to the imagination and most men, Marguerite mused in her own special way, had very little imagination to begin with. In Marguerite’s world Danielle had died a terrible, brutal death at the hands of her own people but here, somehow, she had survived and it was this woman, no doubt, that tormented Roxton’s nightmares and thoughts. It was obvious now. Danielle was what made him, in Marguerite’s opinion, “needy”. How could John Roxton focus and be the fierce but noble hunter he was when he was at the mercy of that tramp’s whims?

“I wish you would accept my apology, John.”

Bristling, Marguerite could feel herself shaking as the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end. An apology? The nerve of the woman! If she had done half the things the Danielle in her world did to Roxton, to all of them, forgiveness was the last thing she could ever expect.

“Ancient history, Danielle.” Roxton breathed out, annoyed. “And I told you I never want to see you again.”

“You’ve forgiven me in words only, John. Because of circumstances … but we could have had something good. I know it.”

“No, it would never have happened. You nearly got me and my friends killed. You didn’t care who lived or died. You wanted what you wanted. A lover. A toy. I was never in love with you. I was in your power.”

“I’m not that same woman anymore. I swear.”

“I’m glad, Danielle. Now, I think you should go home.”

“John ….”

“You heard him!” Marguerite could not keep her presence a secret any longer. She walked quickly and angrily to where the couple stood and grasped Danielle’s arm, swinging her about so as to get a better look at the little liar. “He doesn’t want …”

With a gasp, Marguerite stopped speaking and stared at the woman before her, “Oh my God.”

The once beautiful, sexy and evil Danielle, queen of her people and manipulator of magic and men, had been defaced. Deeply puckered scars from the top of her head to the bottom of her breastbone were visible. Marguerite had never seen anything like it and she had seen much barbarity in her lifetime.

“Do I know you?” Danielle asked, pulling free from Marguerite’s grasp. A hand lifted self consciously to cover a once almond colored eye, now milky white and sightless.

Marguerite gulped. She couldn’t believe it. Danielle was actually pulling back, bowing slightly, afraid to look directly at her. *Afraid.* “No, you don’t know me …” Marguerite whispered, nearly sympathetic. “I suppose you couldn’t.”

“Go home, Danielle.” Roxton demanded once again.

She looked up at him briefly, nodding with anguish, “You will forgive me one day. I know you will.” Danielle then - with a sob – retreated down the path from where she had come.

Marguerite wasn’t certain what to think or say.

“We need to talk.” Roxton said, “Can you keep a secret?”

Dazed, Marguerite looked from the running, practically hobbling, young woman back to Roxton. “Yes, of course.” she said, “I’ve been known to keep a *few* secrets.”