With Facts Like These, Who Needs Fiction?
Standard Disclaimer: All characters herein are the exclusive property of Coote/Hayes, New Line Television, and anyone else who has a stake in 'Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World'. No copyright infringement is intended.
He ran. They were right behind him. His breath ached in his chest; sweat ran in rivers down his face; muscles burned beneath his skin; his leg bled in a slow, warm gush with each step. But he couldn't stop. She was waiting and counting on him. Under those conditions she wouldn't last long. He couldn't let her down. ĎIgnore the pain. Don't think. Just run. Survive.í
Malone looked up from what he was writing. It was new to him, this writing of fiction, but for some reason he had felt compelled to give it a try. As if there isnít enough of this garbage happening in my life already, he thought. Itís worse than a penny-dreadful. With a sigh of annoyance at his own foolishness, he tore the page from his journal and tossed it into the fire.
"What was that?" asked Veronica.
The reporter started at the sound. He hadnít heard the woman approach. "Nothing important," he answered.
She sat next to him on the soft dirt floor of the cave, stretched her hands out to the warmth of the fire. "Itís just not every day you waste paper like that."
"Trust me. The ink was more of a waste than the paper it was written on."
The blonde woman cocked her head to one side, a puzzled look on her face. "What do you mean?"
"Nothing." At her still inquisitive stare, Malone shook his head. "Really."
The pair had been on a short expedition, collecting medicinal herbs to restock the supply back at the treehouse. Theyíd been gone for three days. Now they had everything they were looking for, they would be heading back come morning.
"It shouldnít take us more than a day and a half to get back," said Malone.
"Assuming the weather holds," replied Veronica. "I didnít like the look of those clouds on the eastern horizon this afternoon. And the winds were shifting them this way."
"Itís been a quiet trip so far. We were even lucky enough to find a cave with a natural vent so we could have a fire inside. Maybe our luck will hold and weíll be back at the treehouse before you know it."
That got the reporter a doubtful glance. "More likely youíve just cursed it and weíll get caught in a downpour tomorrow where thereís no cover, no conveniently located caves to take shelter in, while being pursued by hungry raptors "
Malone chuckled. "Sorry, sorry! I take it all back."
Veronica couldnít help but laugh, too. "Iím just teasing you," she said with a smile. "Iíll take the first watch if you want to get some sleep."
"No thanks." Malone shook his head. "I want to do a little writing in my journal. Iíll wake you when I canít keep my eyes open."
"All right." Veronica rose and unbuckled a bedroll from her pack. She laid it out on the opposite side of the fire to where Malone sat. As she settled in and pulled the blanket over her shoulders, she couldnít help getting in one last dig. "Of course, if anything does go wrong before we get home Iím going to hold you responsible."
"Good night, Veronica."
"Good night, Ned."
It wasnít long before her slow, steady breathing indicated the young woman had fallen asleep.
Wish I could fall asleep that quickly, thought Malone. Instead, he found he usually needed half an hour or more of writing in his journal to calm his mind enough for sleep. He gave a low, self-deprecating chuckle. Why on Earth was I trying to make up a story when everyday life here is more exciting than any fiction could possibly be? With that thought, he opened his journal to a fresh page and began to write.
"Shouldnít they be back by now?" Marguerite leaned over the balcony of the treehouse and peered into the surrounding jungle.
"Why, Marguerite," teased Roxton in a strained voice, "itís not like you to worry so."
The heiress bit back a retort as Challenger said, "Take it easy, old man." He laid a hand on Roxtonís shoulder. The inventor looked across the room at Marguerite. "Iím sure theyíll be back soon. Today. Tomorrow at the latest." He sat next to the hunter who rested his injured arm on the wooden table. Challenger was gently cleansing the wound as best he could with clean water and what little was left of their supply of witch-hazel.
"How do you know?" demanded Marguerite, spinning around to glare at the two men. She didnít know whom to be more angry with: Roxton for getting himself hurt in a sneak attack by head-hunters, or Challenger for being so bloody calm about it all. "Who knows how far they might have had to go to find your damn plants?"
"My Ďdamn plantsí, as you so quaintly put it, are what we need to treat this cut on Roxtonís arm. You should be glad Veronica and Malone were already out collecting them when the attack happened or weíd have to wait even longer."
Even the volatile heiress couldnít argue with his logic. Instead she turned angrily back to the jungle, willing Veronica and Malone to magically appear before they were expected. It didnít work.
The reporter woke to Veronicaís gentle nudge. "Huh? What?" he grunted incoherently. He wasnít much of a morning person.
"Time to get up, Malone." The blonde scooped up dirt to douse the remaining embers of their campfire. "I have everything packed but your blankets," she said pointedly.
Malone sat up abruptly. "Why didnít you wake me sooner? Iíd have helped." He rose and shook out his bedroll before rolling it up and securing it to his pack.
"You looked like you needed the rest," was all Veronica offered in explanation. In truth, she hadnít been able to bring herself to disturb the reporter any earlier; he was just too sweet to watch while he slept. She had no intention of telling him that, however. "But we need to get moving. Remember those clouds I didnít like yesterday?"
"Theyíre a lot closer today."
"Did you pack my journal?" the reporter asked, opening his pack and fishing inside.
"Of course. I wouldnít leave something that important behind."
Ned paused, taken off guard by the sincerity of her tone. It had never occurred to him that anyone other than himself would consider his journals important. Certainly they were significant to him, and not only as a reference for when he finally returned to London and published the story of the expeditionís adventures. But that anyone else thought of them as anything more than his own odd little obsession was news to him.
"Thanks," he said, wishing he could come up with something more meaningful to say to express his appreciation.
Veronica shrugged. "No problem. Come on. We need to get moving."
A pale flash of lightning and then thunder rumbling in the distance. Challenger glanced up from the book he was studying. "That canít be good," he muttered, rising. He looked out over the balcony. It was clear around the treehouse, but grey skies werenít far away. "Easterly wind. No. Not good at all."
"What is it?" Marguerite asked, startling the inventor. She came to stand beside him, looked out. "Oh."
"I thought you were keeping an eye on Roxton."
"Iím getting him some water. I donít like the look of that cut on his arm," she added in an undertone.
"Iím not surprised. The wound is infected. If the others donít get back with the herbs we need to treat it, the infection will spread."
"And now thereís a storm coming. Great," said Marguerite acidly.
"Worse than that. Unless Veronica and Malone made some unexpected detour, theyíre caught in the middle of it right now."
"Malone? Malone?" Veronica squinted through the driving torrent.
"Here!" came the reporterís shout.
"Where are you? Keep shouting, and Iíll find you!"
"Iím here! Iím down here!"
Veronica made her slow, careful way toward the sound of his voice. "Malone?!"
"Malone!" The blonde dropped to her belly and lay flat in the grass and mud. Below her, halfway down a ravine and in danger of slipping farther, was Malone. He had stopped his slide down by sheer luck, one flailing hand happening to catch a tree root unburied by the sliding mud. "Hang on!"
Like thereís an option, thought the reporter. He dug his booted toes into the soggy slope, one arm wrapped around the root, the other clutching for any sort of hold. He found none.
At the top of the ravine, Veronica was thinking fast. She rose to her feet and looked around, scanning for anything she could use to haul the reporter up from his precarious perch.
Luck was with her. Not five feet away was a behemoth of a tree wrapped by a heavy creeper vine. "Perfect." Grabbing the vine, she hauled with all her strength to loosen its grasp on the bark, then used her knife to hack though the thick creeper. Veronica hurried with it back to the slope.
Peering cautiously over the edge, she once again picked out Maloneís form. It was more difficult now as the mud had turned him the same deep brown as the oozing earth. "Malone?"
"RightÖhere!" the reporter managed to gasp out. His arm was tiring, and his foot hold was rapidly dissolving.
"Just hang on!" shouted Veronica again. Moving quickly, she secured one end of the vine around a nearby tree. "Just donít you go sliding down there until I have Malone back up here," she ordered the tree firmly. Then she approached the edge of the ravine once more. "Iím throwing down a vine. Grab it, and Iíll pull you up!"
Malone didnít bother to wonder how she was going to pull him up. He was barely holding his own against mud and gravity. With the added weight of his pack and the heavy mud that coated him, logic insisted sheíd never be able to manage it.
Suddenly, the vine slapped into the muck just to his right. Malone reached out his free hand and was just able to grasp it. Winding it around his wrist and forearm, he tried to look up to where Veronica stood. "Okay!" he shouted. Once more he dug his toes into the disintegrating slope, hoping for the slightest hold to help him climb.
Above, Veronica pulled with every muscle in her firm, strong body. Come on, Malone, she thought. Iím not letting you get away that easily.
For what seemed an eternity, the young woman pulled and the young man climbed. Then suddenly Malone was at the top. Veronica reached a tired arm out and hauled him the last few inches over the top. They lay there for a moment, exhausted, catching their breath.
Veronica was the first to speak. "Come on." She rose slowly to her knees then her feet and held out a hand to the reporter. "Thereís no guarantee this edge will hold. Letís get away from here."
Veronica took a moment to lay a hand on the tree that had anchored the rescue vine. "Thank you," she said to it. As she and the reporter trudged away from the ledge, the tree slowly released its hold on the sodden ground and slid over the side.
Malone and Veronica paused, exchanged a significant glance, and continued on their way.
It was Challengerís turn to tend the ailing Roxton. The hunter wasnít looking good. The infection in his arm was travelling slowly but steadily upward, making its way toward his heart. The red line of its path was clear beyond the edge of the bandage the covered the actual wound.
Shortly after sun-down, Roxton had succumbed to his rising fever and now lay unconscious on his bed. From his seat next to the bed, Challenger dipped a fresh cloth into a bowl of cold, clear water, wrung the excess from it, and placed it across the other manís forehead. Roxton muttered something unintelligible and tried to turn away.
"Shh. Itís all right, my friend," Challenger said in a quiet, calming voice. "The others will be back soon, and youíll feel right as rain in no time."
Marguerite spoke up softly from where she leaned in the doorway. "I donít know that I agree with your turn of phrase, Challenger," she said dryly. "Thereís nothing right about this rain in my opinion."
"Now, Marguerite, theyíre only words," he chided gently.
"Marguerite?" It was Roxton. His eyes fluttered open. "Marguerite?" he said again, his voice faint and shaky.
The heiress approached uncertainly. She sat on the bed next to him, placing her hand on one flame-red cheek. "John?" She glanced worriedly at Challenger. "Heís burning up!" she whispered urgently.
She started as Roxton gripped her arm with unexpected strength.
"Steady on, old man" said Challenger. He took the cloth from the hunterís forehead, rinsed it, and returned it to its place.
Roxton noticed neither the words nor the action. He stared at Marguerite with eyes glassy with fever. "Marguerite, Iím sorry."
Marguerite and Challenger exchanged looks of puzzlement and concern. "There, there," the heiress said, trying to be reassuring through her confusion. "No need to apologise. Iím sure it wasnít your fault."
"Iím sorry," Roxton said with desperate urgency. "Please forgive me."
"Thereís nothing to forgive."
"Heís raving," the older man whispered. "He doesnít know what heís saying."
Still, the hunter took no notice, intent as he was on his fever-dream. "Please!"
"Itís all right," said Marguerite soothingly. "I forgive you." She had no clue what on Earth would cause him to seek forgiveness from her of all people, but if that was what he needed to help him rest, she certainly wasnít going to withhold it. "I forgive you," she said again.
Her words seemed to calm him, and Roxtonís grip on her arm lessened then released all together. His eyes drifted shut, and he seemed to relax into a more normal sleep.
Challenger watched the scene with great interest. His mind recalled a time, not long after they were first stranded on the plateau, when it was Summerlee who was ill, dying. The heiress had comforted the ailing botanist much as she comforted the hunter now. "Why donít you get some rest?" suggested Challenger. His compassion toward her was spurred by her own compassion toward Roxton.
"Iíll stay," she replied. She rose and, collecting a book from a shelf without even glancing at the title, sat in the small roomís armchair.
"Iíll call you should his condition change."
Marguerite looked up from the book. Her grey eyes were steady, and her tone brooked no further argument. "Iíll stay."
It was a bedraggled pair who stepped from the creaking elevator into the treehouse.
Marguerite was waiting for them impatiently. "Itís about time," she declared. "You better have found everything you were looking for."
Veronica and Malone exchanged an annoyed look. "Welcome home, Malone. Welcome home, Veronica," the blonde woman said sarcastically.
"Are you two all right?" added the reporter in a mock-concerned tone. "It looks like you had a rough time of it."
Veronica shook her head. "Whatís the point?"
Ignoring their gibes, the heiress demanded, "Where are the herbs?"
"Itís nice to see you, too, Marguerite," replied Veronica tartly.
"No time for pleasantries, Iím afraid," Challenger interrupted before things became unnecessarily nasty. Heíd emerged from the hunterís room in time to catch enough of the exchange to know it was in danger of growing into a full blown argument. "Roxtonís been hurt. Did you find everything on the list?"
"Of course." Prompted by the unexpected urgency in the inventorís voice, Veronica removed her still damp pack and released its contents onto the table. "Everything labelled and wrapped in oilskins. We got soaked, but the supplies should be fine."
Quickly, Challenger shuffled through the packages until he found the one he was looking for. "Perfect." He immediately disappeared with it into his lab.
"What happened to Roxton?" Malone asked, removing his own pack and setting it heavily on the floor.
"Head-hunters. Wound. Infection," answered Marguerite in clipped tones. She was more upset over the affair than she would ever have admitted even to herself, and her worry manifested itself in the appearance of anger. "The manís an insufferable fool sometimes, and weíre left looking out for him." She stormed off toward Roxtonís bedroom to tend the hunter.
"Is there anything we can do?" Veronica called after her.
"Remind me next time to put a leash on him before we let him out," came the heiressís caustic reply.
Marguerite set down the tray she carried. "How are you feeling?" she asked with unusual solicitousness.
"Better, thanks," answered Roxton. He turned his head on one side, nodded at the tray. "Whatís that?"
"Hot soup and some tea. Challenger said you shouldnít eat anything heavy until your system settles a bit more."
Hungry as he was, Roxton had to agree. His stomach was still queasy from the medicine Challenger had given him. It had cleared out the infection right enough; it had also cleared every system in his body, and he was still feeling weak from the experience.
Marguerite helped him to sit up. "Can you hold this yourself?" she asked with a lightly teasing tone. "Or am I going to have to feed you?"
"I think I can manage, thanks," replied Roxton in a similar tone. He took the offered bowl and spooned in a mouthful of the broth.
"Roxtonó" Marguerite began, but stopped short.
The hunter waited for her to continue. When she didnít, he prompted, "Yes?"
"You said something last nightÖ"
"Did I? What was it?"
Marguerite hesitated, and the moment passed. "Nothing. Never mind."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course." Immediately the mask she had spent so many years crafting was back in place. "Eat up. I expect you to be on your feet tomorrow."
"Why, Marguerite? Something special planned?" he gibed.
"No, but you certainly canít expect me to continue to play nurse-maid. I have far more important things to do with my time." She rose and left the room abruptly, leaving Roxton to wonder just what heíd done to annoy her this time.
Stop worrying, man, he ordered himself. Sheís bound to tell you what you did wrong eventually.
Challenger was serving up tea when Marguerite entered the common room.
"Thank you, Challenger," said Veronica gratefully. She sipped at the hot cup of tea and sighed. "Thatís wonderful."
"Absolutely," agreed Malone. "Itís good to be clean, dry, and safe at home again. Howís Roxton?"
"Heís as irritating as ever," the heiress said, accepting a cup of tea.
The inventor ignored her comments and offered Malone another answer to his question. "Heís fine. The infection has been completely cleared from his system. He should be good as new in a couple of days." He sat down at the end of the table.
"Good." The reporter set down his tea and opened his journal. Even after the rain and mud, the oilskin heíd wrapped it in had kept it dry.
"Chronicling your most recent adventure?" asked Veronica playfully.
"Absolutely," he replied with a secretive smile. After all, on the plateau, fact is more amazing than fiction.