Peruvian Encounter

Part 3

By Anne Azel

Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.

My thanks to the readers who have been so kind in showing their appreciation of my stories. You are a great bunch! Special thanks to Lisa and Inga, my patient beta readers.

Warning: This story is alternative fiction, please do not read on if you are underage or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.

The next morning, a sleepy Robin woke to the smell of fresh coffee and oven baked bread. Rolling over, she blinked the last of her dreams from her mind and sat up to see Joey reading her e-mail, at the desk, with the cute frown of concentration she got when absorbed in a task.. Blue eyes looked up and scanned greedily over Robin's naked form. Joey got up and came over to the bed, and let her lover wrap around her while Robin fought off the last of her morning drowsiness. Joey helped by nibbling and caressing her ear and neck.

"Mmmm, I've created a monster!" Robin grumbled playfully, "Don't you ever get enough!"


"Then get out of those clothes and get in here, Tsakiris. No decent person should be up at this hour of the morning!"

Joey sighed. "As much as I want to, my love, we have boats hired for nine and that's in less than one hour's time. Come on, sleepyhead, up you get," laughed Joey, pulling her lover up on her lap so that she could lower her head and kiss Robin in a very private place, enjoying the knowledge that the privilege of doing so was hers alone. Robin groaned and bucked with pleasure, then wiggled out of Joey's brown arms.

"Damn it, Joey," she complained with a smile, "Now I'm going to spend all day waiting to get you back here tonight!" Joey laughed, feeling delightedly pleased with herself that she could excite Robin to a hungry need. Robin had a quick shower, and then wrapped in a towel she joined Joey for coffee and hunks of warm bread covered in fresh butter and peach preserves.

They met the men in the lobby, and were escorted closely out to two aluminum outdoors. Robin was put alone in the bow seat with Joey on the bench, flanked, on the right, by Sak. The second boat came along side. This allowed Luc to cover Joey's left, while Perkins, in the bow, keeping watch. With the local drivers in the back, Joey was effectively surrounded. She sighed in annoyance. Robin reached out with a foot and gently tapped Joey's foot. "Hey, for me, okay?" she asked.

Joey smiled. "Okay."

From the shore, a brown eye watched through the sights of a telescopic lens. There was no need to follow. They would be going to the reed islands and maybe on to the Sillustani site, then they would be back. The man scratched at his beard and smiled. The photos he had taken of the woman had at last been identified as Tsakiris by the freedom fighter leaders.

This would mean he would move up in the ranks of the people's army of the Shining Path. He was a very ambitious man. The group leaders had said he had done well. They wanted him to continue monitoring Tsakiris' movements. They were weighing what action to take. The leaders were too cautious now, he thought. Since the capture of their founder and the killing of their brothers at the Japanese Embassy, they had acted like scared children.

He knew what needed to be done, kill Tsakiris and get world wide attention for the cause and in doing so make the present Peruvian government look like they could not control the situation. For now, he could wait. He lacked the power and the inner knowledge of the organization to do otherwise. But soon he would have that power and then he would take over the leadership and lead the Shining Path to glory.

They motored some distance off shore until they came to a series of reed islands. Robin filmed Joey talking as they approached the island while Sak leaned away as much as possible to be out of the picture.

"These reed islands, we are heading to at the moment, are artificial. They were made and are maintained by the Uros Indians," Joey yelled above the outboard motor. On the island, while Robin filmed a family homestead, Joey went on. "The legend is that the Uros lived on the mainland at one time and warring tribes pushed them out. They had nowhere to go so they cut the reeds and made rafts and sailed safely away. Over the years, layer after layer of reeds have been laid down on top of those rotting underneath until these large floating islands formed that the people live on permanently."

Joey picked up a small girl dressed in the long, colourful full skirt, blouse, and sweater that were typical dress for the Andes women. On her head, she wore a round brimmed felt hat. "They keep their heads and body covered partly out of modesty, partly because it can be very cold at night here and partly to protect themselves from the sun. The atmosphere is so thin here, that the sun's ultra violet rays can burn your skin very easily." Robin smiled behind the camera. Joey had insisted on buying her a baseball cap from the souvenir store before they had left.

They wandered around the little homestead while Robin filmed the sheaf of reeds drying in the sun, and the small pointed roof homes made from woven reeds. Then they came to the famous boats of the Uros people. They too were made from reeds. The reeds were dried and tied into bundles and then in turn the tubes of reeds were tied to form a small canoe with pointed, curved ends. Joey faced the camera, concern on her face. "Tourism is the only way these people have to better their lives. They live at a subsistence level; the lake providing all their needs." Joey looked out over the lake and then back at the camera. " These people are not the exception, three quarters of the world's children live in poverty. I was born into a wealthy family. I guess one of the reasons I am here is to give back a little to this world."

"When the Ra Expedition tried to prove that Egyptians had sailed across the Atlantic on reed boats to influence the cultures of South America, the boat was built here. It was all nonsense of course. There is no connection between the pyramids of Egypt and South America, nor those found in the Far East. But the Uros were able to build a reed boat that was sea worthy enough to sail almost right across the Atlantic. It started to become water logged and sink only a short distance off the coast. These are not a primitive people. They are disadvantaged."

Joey arranged for them to take a few of the reed boats out, and they poled in a convoy through the reeds. The Ambassador explained that the reed boats were poled, rowed with a single oar or sailed. They stopped to film a woman cutting and collecting the reeds that grew in abundance in the swallow lake. "When there is a storm, sometimes the islands will break in two or float off somewhere else, so the Uros are always a people on the move!"

The smiling Indian woman offered Joey some reeds. Joey thanked her in her fluent Spanish, stripped the reeds down to their pith and handed them out to the others. "Go ahead, try eating some," she suggested, " The Uros eat it as a green either raw or boiled."

Robin bit into hers bravely and chewed and swallowed. "It tastes like a mild corn," she commented. Sak sniffed his cautiously, and then threw it over board. Luc and Perkins tried theirs reluctantly.

"Where do they bury their dead and go to the toilet?" asked Sak and watched three of his companions turn green and start coughing. Joey laughed with glee.

"Actually, the dead are buried on one of the few natural islands. It's about twenty miles from here. Some of the dead are now buried on the mainland too. As for the toilet, well, it's a big lake," she grinned. The three guinea pigs threw the remainder of their reeds at her.

Back on the reed island, Joey showed them how a thick sand and clay base was used to build a fire on so that the reeds would not be burnt. The Indian women even had small bake ovens on the islands. They thanked the Uros for their hospitality, Joey paying them for the use of the boats and for allowing the filming, Then they got back into their motorboats and headed down the lake a bit before making for the mainland again.

Here the land rose in a steep hill and on top stood curious-looking, vase shaped stone structures about thirty feet high. "Okay, we've got to be careful here," warned Joey. "At the top there we'll be at 14,200 feet above sea level. We'll go up real slow. Try not to talk. You'll probably feel some mountain sickness; headache, dizziness, queasiness," she listed, squinting in the bright sun before she put her sunglasses back on to protect her eyes from the rays that could so easily penetrate the thin atmosphere.

They moved off, walking slowly. It took them almost half an hour to walk up the steep cliff path that couldn't have been more than five hundred feet long. Sweat beaded on their foreheads and they had to stop now and again to get their breath. "You adjust fairly quickly to the thin air," Joey explained at one such stop. "But it does take a few days."

At last, at the top, they could stand and look over Lake Titicaca. The huge stone urns now towered over head. "These are the graves of the Sillustani. They were a contemporary culture to the Incas. You see you get into these things through this little crawl space in the bottom. The inside walls had large niches in them and that is where the male dead of the Sillustani were buried in a fetal position. At one time of course the tombs were capped with stone but erosion and earthquakes have caused considerable damage over the years."

Joey walked over to the other side of the mesa edge. "These little square boxes of stone are the graves of the women and children. What is amazing about this site is that this is volcanic stone brought all the way from Arequipa! We are not sure how they managed it because some of these blocks weight tonnes. Most likely they were floated up rivers during the rainy season and then brought down the lake. Five hundred years ago the water was much higher than it is today."

Robin quietly kept pace with her fit lover although her head swam and pounded with the extra exertion of carrying the camera equipment and the heavy battery belt. She smiled despite how rotten she felt. It was wonderful to have the opportunity to see these things and she loved how animated Joey became when she started talking about cultures and people.

"Robin! Come over here! I've got to show you these, they are really neat!" called Joey unconsciously using her lover's expression. Robin walked over slowly, and a bit wobbly. "Hey, are you okay," asked Joey taking the camera from her hands.

Robin sank to a shaded boulder. Joey sat beside her while the others discretely scanned the countyside. They sat for a few minutes in comfortable silence until Robin started to feel a little better. "Can I have some water, please, Joey?" she asked.

Joey unclipped her water bottle from her belt. "Drink very slowly and only a little bit. The digestion process uses up oxygen." Robin nodded and did as she was told. Now feeling cooler, and her head more clear, she stood slowly, knowing not to make any sudden moves.

"Okay, let me have my camera and show me what is so neat!" grinned Robin and Joey's eyes sparkled with happiness.

"See here, the Sillustani carved a snake on one of the grave stones. That's a symbol of intelligence and medicine. Over here, there is a lizard, that symbolizes goodwill and prosperity. Okay, come around this side," ordered Joey, grabbing Robin by the arm in her excitement and pulling her around the grave urn.

"See this, four rings carved around a small circle. And here, beside them, a deep cut hole with a flared tail." She smiled, eyes sparkling, as she waited for Robin to work it out herself.

Robin looked closer. "This symbol out here looks like a comet! And those rings could be the four orbits of the planets that can be seen by the naked eye around the sun!" exclaimed Robin excitedly.

"Right! Way to go, girl! Some shaman stood here and made one of the first news pictures of Haley's Comet passing by."

"Wow! That's amazing!"

"Yeah, it could be seen clearly here the last time passed in 1986, but this carving is much older, most likely five or six hundred years ago. To me, old ruins like these are a testament to the human spirit! The media so often only report on the actions of the ancestral animal that lives in our genes, instead of the humanity that dwells in our souls."

"That is so neat, Joey! Here stand beside it while I film, and tell me all about it again." Joey rolled her eyes, but good-naturedly explained the significance of each of the carvings again and her view point on them. Before they left the area, Joey walked them along a sheep trial to look down on a large circle made of thin upright slabs of stone about two feet to three feet high. To one end of the circle was a large round boulder and beside it a smaller one with a channel carved in it that lead to a natural depression in the rock.

"It looks like a miniature Stonehenge," observed Perkins with interest.

Joey nodded, "That's what it is. Both the Sillustani and the Incas were superior astronomers. They used these rings and also sighting stones to predict the changing of the seasons, eclipses, and the movement of the planets. You find them all over. That channel and depression in the rock was used to drain off the blood in sacrifices." After Robin had taped her film sequence, Joey took them on a little farther and showed them a sighting stone.

It was at the top of the ridge, on the very edge of the mesa, over looking the lake below. A rock had been carved so that it formed a rectangular base about one foot by two. At each end was a knob of stone, and in an arch in between were small hatch lines. Joey showed them with a stick how the design was really a sort of protractor marking off the degrees across the sky. "We are not sure how it was used, but it might have been sort of like a sextant for plotting the movement of the constellations.

"We don't know very much about the Sillustani, but we do know that the Inca knew tremendous amounts about astronomy, did trigonometry and were amazing engineers," Joey explained, as they made their way back to the boats. They motored back to the hotel for a late lunch and then against Sak's wishes, Joey insisted they take a local taxi to Puno so that Robin could film a local highland market.

They were all tense and stayed in a close group as they walked through the stalls of alpaca and llama blankets, colourfully striped in red, blues and green patterns. Robin bought a warm, soft alpaca blanket for only twelve dollars and gave it to Perkins to carry while she filmed the women using back looms to make the blankets.

Farther in the market, farm wives in their bright full skirts and round brimmed felt hats sat on the ground and sold skinned sides of lamb, piles of eggs, cakes of goats' cheese, vegetables and fruits and just about anything else that one could imagine. The market was colourful and exotic and Robin was anxious to capture it on film. Yet she found it hard to concentrate, worrying about Joey being so vulnerable to attack in such a place. She taped as quickly as she could, and then they headed back towards the edge of the market square where they could get a taxi back to Isla Esteues.

Joey had them stop at a gaudy cross that stood outside a Catholic Church. "This is a good example of how people take a foreign faith and change it to make it more compatible with their own view of reality.

See, the church door is blue and has diamond shaped mirrors on it for decoration. Both blue and mirrors were used traditionally to ward off evil spirits.

"The cross is painted green because to the Indians, green symbolizes good fortune to come. But note the symbols of the crucifixion that have been added to the cross; Roman spears, a knife, a thorned crown, a ladder, skull and bones at the foot of the cross and so on. On one level, they tell the story of the crucifixion, on another however, they are the sort of symbols of death and violence that you find associated with the old pagan Indian sites.

"You see, in the Indian traditional world view, it is not the resurrection that is important, but the blood letting to please the Gods." Robin filmed, fascinated not only by Joey's knowledge of Indian culture, but also by her deeper understanding and acceptance of their traditional reality.

A worried Sak then insisted that they find a taxi and head back to the hotel before the sun set. All the way back, Robin continued to scanned the crowds for any sign of the mysterious man while Sak and Joey argued.

Joey had planned to take the eleven hour train trip over the Andes to Cuzco, so that Robin could film the scenery and see the volcanic hot springs that were located there. Sak vetoed the plan, saying the train was too open for attack as it moved slowly through the isolated mountain passes. The Shining Path were known to be very active in the highland area. They had attacked several communities and had killed villagers who would not support their movement.

Joey gave in. They would fly to Cuzco in the morning, instead. However, she was not above sulking about it. Sak smiled at Robin and winked. The journalist rolled her eyes. Her lover had given into the wisdom of Sak's argument but hated having to change the plans she had so carefully worked out.

Robin lay in Joey's arms, the two women relaxed and satiated. "Joey, doesn't it bother you to be under guard all the time?"

Joey drew patterns on Robin's back with her finger tips. "Yes. Some embassy assignments are safer than others. Security is a concern at the moment on Peru because of what happened at the Japanese embassy and the activity of the Shining Path. The bombings of the American embassies in Africa made everyone a little more cautious."

"I don't like living like this, always searching the background for someone who might want to harm you," revealed Robin, honestly.

Joey kissed Robin's head. "It is who I am, Robin. Even if I leave the diplomatic service, whatever job I took would involve working for peace and a fairer, more just world. That's who I am. I'm always going to be a warrior for peace, and that makes me a target at times."

"I'm not sure that's my way," Robin said quietly.

Joey felt she guts tie in a knot. She held Robin close but said nothing.

The next morning they took the local flight from Juliaca to Cuzco. While Robin was off buying bottles of water, Luc getting the bags and Perkins arranging for some jeeps, Joey took the opportunity to have a word with Sak. "I need you to be less obvious about the security."

Sak looked up sharply, "You know I can't do that. Avoiding an international incident is essential. Nor do I particularly want to see your brains splattered across the country side."

Joey frowned. "It's scaring Robin."

Sak sighed and turned to face the Ambassador. "Look, I understand, I had a wife that left me because she couldn't take the stress." Joey looked away, swallowing hard. "I also know that a if we are being watched it is for a moment's lapse when they can make a move."

Sak hesitated, and then plunged ahead; better to say it all. "I've talked it over with Luc too. We'd be foolish not to be aware of the fact that the best way to get information is to plant someone inside." Blue eyes flashed back and burned into his. Sak went on, "And the best way for that person to guard their true identity would be to pretend they were trying to protect you by seeing gun men that were never there. It could have been luck, but it's strange that Robin's camera twice picked up the so called stalker yet none of us have noticed him."

"Robin is not a terrorist!" Joey growled.

"No, I don't think so either but I'd be a fool not to consider the possibility. You sent her to jail, Ambassador. You don't think she doesn't have some hard feelings about doing time?"

"Hi, guys! What are you two looking so glum about?" Robin asked, her mood changing from cheery to insecure in an instant.

Sak grinned. "Your star is still chewing me out about insisting that we fly here," lied Sak, easily.

Robin looked up at Joey in surprise. "Joey! Leave the poor man alone. Whatever he needs to do to protect you is okay by me!"

Joey's eyes met Sak's in some secret communication. "Okay," she agreed, "I'll be good," she told them, in frustration.

They piled into the usual three cars and headed off on a day's adventure. Along the road, they stopped to buy bread, fruit and cheese at a small farmer's market. Robin took the opportunity to film the mountainsides which to one side were a crazy patch work quilt of irregular farm fields in a kaleidoscope of colours to one side. To the other, the Incas had leveled the steep mountainside hundreds of years ago, into beautiful farm terraces.

They headed to Sacsayhuaman, a once huge religious site of the Incas not far out of their capitol city, Cuzco. The Spanish had torn this huge temple of the sun down, Joey explained as they drove along, so that they could use the stone for their colonial city. "The majority of the first storey is still there," Joey said, "and some of the archways and windows. It will give a good idea of the superb engineering that went into their work and the incredible size of their structures. Some of the foundation level blocks weigh five tons!

"The Incas never invented the wheel so all these massive stones were pushed here. We believe that they did use stone balls to move things along on. You find them all over. They cut the rock with steam and water pressure though! They could do some amazing things!"

Joey wasn't wrong, the site was impressive. Joey got some excellent shots, made more picturesque by a small boy dressed in the bright striped poncho and woolly hat that was the traditional dress in this area. He was tending a small flock of woolly lambs among the ghostly remains of his ancestors' temple.

Joey stood by the massive cut stones of the ruined temple while Robin filmed. "Note the fine craftsmanship of this stone work. These blocks are huge and each one has been shaped like a piece of a jigsaw puzzle so that it fits tightly into the next. There are no gaps. The edges meet in perfectly straight lines without any mortar, so well that you couldn't slip a piece of paper in. The Incas realized that if you built buildings in even blocks that you would have long straight joins like in a brick and mortar house. When an earthquake struck, the energy of the shock wave would travel down the line and the wall would fall over. So the Inca built jigsaw pieces instead. That spread the energy equally all through the building so that it stayed standing. California could learn a lot from these guys!"

Joey jumped up the massive stone blocks like a mountain goat. Robin smiled as she and the others followed more carefully. Joey had focused on the task, and was completely unaware of anything else. She was so cute when she got excited about something, Robin thought

Joey stopped by an arch way, and waited impatiently for Robin to get ready. When the red light came on, she started again. "If you look at this Inca post and lintel doorway , you can see how the stones got smaller and narrower as they built up. This meant the walls were wide at the bottom and narrower at the top," Joey demonstrated with her hands. "The extra weight at the bottom created stability in a quake. All the doors and windows were trapezoidal too, wide at the bottom and narrower at the top. The Inca buildings have remained intact through many massive earthquakes.

"If the Spanish hadn't scavenged this site for building blocks, what you would have seen here was a huge pyramid style structure, with a temple to the sun god on the top. These rows of niches in the walls would have had fires burning in them. It must have been an amazing sight."

Robin's camera scanned the rows of niches, as Joey went on. "Now if you..ooph." Robin hurled herself at Joey, knocking them both off the ledge. They would have taken a nastier fall still, if Luc, guarding their rear a level down, had not grabbed them and stopped them rolling off..

Sak and Perkins jumped down. Joey lay still on the rock ledge, winded from the fall. Robin, unhurt, staggered to her feet only to be grabbed by Luc and spun around to be smashed up against the wall. Her

arms were pulled painfully behind her back. "Damn queer! I knew you were up to no good!"

Sak's bent over Joey. "Ambassador, don't move. Let us ascertain the amount of damage."

"I'm fine," Joey protested, sitting up, "I just got my bell rung when I hit. Hey! Let her go!" Joey was on her feet in a second, and pulling Luc away from Robin.

"Ambassador, she pushed you off!" Luc yelled, in frustration at the furious woman that stood between him and his prisoner.

"She did not!" Joey yelled back, although she wasn't actually sure what had happened.

"Actually, yes, I did," came a small, sheepish voice from behind her. Joey turned and looked at Robin in disbelief. "I saw that man again, up there," she explained, pointing to another ruin near by. "I thought he had a gun so I just tackled you. I didn't realize we'd go over the edge. Are you all right?" Robin asked reaching out an arm and then checking the motion uncertainly.

Joey smiled. "Yeah, I'm fine, love," she said openly, pulling Robin close and giving her a reassuring hug.

Luc looked disgusted. "I'm just going to check over there," he said in a tone that indicated that he thought it was a waste of time.

Sak checked Joey's head and decided that she was all right after all, while Perkins climbed up to get the camera, Robin had dropped. "Looks like the lense is cracked," he stated bringing it down.

Robin looked dismayed, then relief flooded her features. "Oh, thank God, it is just the filter, I had on top. The light is so bright, I've been using a polarising filter to reduce glare and deep shadows," she explained. They climbed back down slowly, Perkins and Sak, staying very close to Joey. At the bottom, they met Luc, who handed them a battered telescopic lens off a rifle.

"He must have been using it as telescope," Luc stated, "He dropped it down a crevice in his hurry to get the hell out of there. I could see a truck off in the distance moving pretty fast down the road." Luc turned and faced Robin, who had her arm wrapped around Joey. "I owe you an apology, Ms. Bradley," he said stiffly. "I hope I didn't hurt you."

"It's okay, you were just doing your duty."

"Don't ever touch her again!" snarled Joey. Luc took a startled step back, and the others looked at Joey in shock. The normal conciliatory woman was vibrating with anger, and her eyes were as cold as glacial ice.

"Yes, Ambassador," Luc said quickly.

"Joey, it's okay. Come on, love," whispered Robin, pulling Joey away and back to the jeep. They sat waiting in silence, while the others talked and then got in their vehicles. Joey's eyes radiated anger as she watch Luc.

"Sweetheart, I've never seen you like this before. It's okay, really," soothed Robin.

Joey turned and looked at Robin with eyes filled with passion. "I've never had anything that I have wanted to cherish so deeply before," she responded, honestly. "When I saw him manhandling you, I just wanted to tear him apart."

"He doesn't like gays, he doesn't trust me, and he is trying his best to protect you despite the fact that you are mixed race. I don't like his bigotry and narrow mindedness, but I do believe that he would give his life to protect you, and that's just fine with me."

Joey looked surprised. Robin never failed to impress her with her insights into human nature, and her willingness to roll with the punches, and go on without complaining. She herself had not picked up on Luc's biases.

"Stupid bastard!" Joey muttered angrily.


"Okay, okay, but he'd better keep his views to himself, and his hands off you, or else!" grumbled Joey, slipping the car into gear to follow behind Perkins.

"He will. His reality might be frighteningly fundamentalist to us, but his word is good."

The man felt the sweat trickling down his back as he drove the old battered truck down the dirt road. He had made a terrible mistake in being seen by the blond woman. Now, they would be on their guard and waiting for an attack.

Should he tell the leaders of his blunder? No, they would use that as an excuse not to promote him, even though anyone could make a mistake. Worse still, they might call off whatever plans they were working on. That would never do. He needed this recognition. No, he would stay quiet about the incident and just tell the leaders that Tsakiris' security was tighter now.

They made their way along the highland road, until they came to Kenko. This time, Sak stood at Joey's door not letting her out until Perkins and Luc had checked the area. Joey sulked and Robin pulled faces at her until she had to laugh. Some of the tension broke, and they headed out as a tightly knit group to the circle of stones next to a hillside.

Joey sat in one of a series of stone seats that had been carved out of the rocky hill itself and waited for Robin's camera to start rolling. "I am sitting on a throne, over looking an Earth Temple of great importance. Perhaps at one time the Inca himself sat in this very chair. It is carved out of the mountain side where the commoners would sit to take part in the ceremonies and sacrifices. They happened over there, in the centre of this sacred ring of stones, where that huge outcrop of rock sticks out."

Robin turned the camera to film the object that Joey had been pointing at. We work so well together, as if we had known each other forever. "That was great Joey! Okay, go over there, and explain."

Joey trotted over and leaned on a misshapen boulder in front of the outcrop. She waited again for the red light. "We know from diaries that this rock was once carved in the shape of a Puma but was destroyed by the Spanish because it was a pagan god." She frowned. "If I could give anything to this earth, it would be tolerance of other people's belief. We'd then be a richer and wiser world."

Joey turned and pointed, "Up there, on top of the rock, is a sighting stone that was used to find magnetic north, and at the base is the entrance to a very special cave. Come on, we'll have a look," Joey told the camera.

Luc stood guard above while the rest filed down the curved stairs that had been carved into the rock. Below was a small room with a deep niche in the wall that contained a large altar stone. Light from a chimney above highlighted the sacrificial table. "Here the Inca priests made sacrifices to the god of the after life that lives deep within the earth." Joey looked at Robin. For a second both women experienced a feeling of being on the verge of remembering something very important.

"What was that channel for?" asked Sak, taking an interest and shattering the moment.

"For a stream of water, and these niches here would have had bronze bowls of hot coals glowing in them. All Inca site have the three elements: fire, water and earth. Down here too, the bodies of dead royalty were mummified."

They headed back to the surface and ate a picnic lunch of the items they had bought at the market, sitting on the thrones of the Inca kings. Once they had packed everything away, they headed off again to the last site Joey wanted to show them that day, Tamhomachay.

Joey stood on the second level of a three tiered temple built against a cliff face. " For the Incas there were three holy symbols: fire, that was represented by the Sun Temple at Sacsayhuaman; earth, the sacrificial site at Kenko, and water, which is represented by this site at Tamhomachay. Water was brought to the top of this temple by an underground channel that runs for five miles. The water cascaded in a single waterfalls to the second level where it was divided and fell again to the third level in two waterfalls and then to the ground level in three waterfalls. In the Inca culture, everything is in multiples of three. The three holy elements.

"See how there are nine deep niches evenly spaced along the top. Some held statues of the mummies of the Incas. The real mummies were kept in Cuzco. The others would have held fire and over there behind the temple is a small, deep cave." Joey jumped down to the first level and sat down. "The three elements were controlled by three gods: the sun, the moon and the stars represented by the planet Saturn."

Robin lifted the camera off her shoulder with relief and smiled at Joey. "Hey, you're a natural! That was just a great bit of filming today!" Joey smiled from ear to ear. Making Robin happy was just about the most important thing she could think of. Her mounting work and responsibilities back in Lima seemed very remote and unimportant at the moment. Despite the possible danger she was in, she couldn't recall feeling so relaxed and carefree in years.

They all trooped back to their jeeps and headed back to Cuzco, the legendary capital of the Inca empire. They booked into the Picoaga Hotel that had been the home of a local Spanish general. Once settled,

they had an early dinner and Perkins brought Joey the dispatches that had been forwarded to Cuzco by her embassy staff. She worked quietly at the hotel desk, a glass of Glenlivet whiskey at her side. It was a twelve year old, single malt of satisfactory quality, and Joey was feeling just a little more than contented with life. Her mail had brought the responses to her e-mails that she hoped.

Robin sat cross-legged on the bed, sorting through the film and making notes on content and time. Sadly, a lot of the cultural material would have to be edited out, but the video had caught the power and humanity of the woman, Joey was. The documentary was going to be very strong, she could see that. Robin smiled; it was hard to miss really when you had a host as famous, beautiful, and intelligent as Joanne Tsakiris! She looked over at the woman, who worked with complete concentration on her work. That was Joey, she gave a hundred per cent all the time.

What does she see in me? I'm not as bright, or as good looking. I don't have her sophistication or education. What does she see in me? As if Joey could hear her thoughts, she looked up and made eye contact. "Have you any idea how happy and carefree you make my life?" she asked the journalist with a smile.

Robin looked surprised. "I do?! Don't you live like this all the time?"

Joey laughed and walked over to sit by her lover on the bed. "No. I find it hard to be spontaneous and devil-may-care but you bring a little of that out in me. Life with you is...just fun," she finished lamely, not finding the right words to explain the deep happiness that she experienced when Robin was near.

Robin leaned over and kissed the serious woman. "I'm glad. It's pretty intimidating at times, walking in that big shadow you cast." Joey blushed. "I love you," Robin reinforced.

Joey smiled and took Robin's hands in her own playing with them nervously. "I love you," she told them, too insecure to look up. "Ahhh, I've had a few job offers. One is to work for the World Bank, the other is to work with the Save the Children program. What do you think?"

Robin was floored. She had no idea that Joey had been planning a career change. "It's really not for me to say," she floundered.

Joey looked up. "It is if you are planning to spend the rest off your life with me," she asked more than stated. Robin searched those marvelous blue eyes for doubt and saw none. With a gasp of joy, she hugged Joey close to her.

"Does that mean, okay?" Joey asked, needing the security of hearing the words, "Because you weren't too comfortable with my life style.

"I'm not always, Joey, I worry about you. But I do know that we need to be together. Where you go, I go," she said, and they both felt a jolt of familiarity.

"So what should it be, World Bank or Save the Children? With the bank, we'll be very wealthy and move among the movers and shakers of the financial world. With Save the Children, we'll be on the road a lot and not always in countries where conditions are very pleasant."

Robin looked at Joey, her eyes dancing with glee. "Now which life would my lover seek. One of a rich, financial fat-cat or one of a warrior fighting for the rights of the children of the world?" she asked innocently.

Joey blushed. "It doesn't matter what I want. Both jobs are good and meaningful work. I want you to feel that whatever career I follow, you feel it is your way too."

"Then you are going to fight for a more just world, and I'll be at your side recording the need for better rights for the world's children, okay?"

Joey grinned broadly, and pulled Robin down on the bed, to show her just how much she loved her, over and over and over again.

The next morning, they headed out to see the Temple of the Sun at Cuzco, which was the major religious centre of the Inca people. Joey explained that no one had known where the site was until the devastating earthquake of 1950. The Spanish stucco exterior of the building collapsed and underneath, in prefect condition, was the Inca temple. She also pointed out the ornaments perched on the red tile roofs of all the homes. Some were crosses with miniature ladders attached, others were ceramic bulls with hollowed backs filled with water and on poorer homes were recycled glass bottles of water. "They are offerings to appease the sky god," Joey explained. "The sacred element of water is for the sky god, and the ladder on the cross is so good fortune can descend from the sky. Again, it is a blending of ancient belief with the newer Christian elements."

"How do you know all this stuff?" Sak had asked, as they walked from the cars to the temple.

"In the diplomatic service, misunderstanding and nasty surprises often occur when dealing with another race and culture. I've learned that traditional culture never really dies, it just goes underground or takes on the trappings of modern society. To really understand and get along with a people, you need to know their traditional beliefs and ways."

"Well, I'm glad I've got a European education, and don't believe in gifts to the rain god!" snorted Luc, contemptuously.

"Oh, we are just as much prisoners of our savage heritage as everyone else. Eggs are associated with the Christian Easter ceremony but really it is the remains of a fertility cult that goes back to early Celtic times.

So is the making of buns in the spring to use up the winter flour as a symbol to the gods that the humans trusted them to bring the warm weather and spring rains. The practice was so ingrained in the European people that the early Christian Church couldn't stop the pagan practice, so they passed a law saying that each bun had to have a cross on it."

"Hot cross buns!" giggled Robin.

"Got it in one, girl!" praised Joey. "Scratch the surface, and we are all tribal pagans underneath."

They entered the massive stone structure of the Temple of the Sun and stood in awe. The gigantic jigsaw pieces of stone fit together as if they had been custom made by high-tech machinery. The surface of the blue-grey stone was evenly pebbled to add texture to the walls. The trapezoidal doorways and windows all lined up perfectly in mathematical precision. The building was an engineering marvel!

Joey stood by a double framed doorway and waited for Robin to start filming, while the three men faced out in a semicircle, always watching and on alert. "When you see the doubled framed door it indicates an important room. This one was the Room of the Sun. The wall niches would have held sacred religious items made in green jade, and the walls were covered in a fine-thread mesh of solid gold! The room next to this one was the Room of the Moon. It was done in silver mesh."

Joey walked them out to stand looking over a balcony. "Down there, at one time, was the Garden of the Earth. It had life size plants and trees all made in silver and gold. Here in this huge niche was a life sized gold statue of the Inca and in front of it a disc of solid gold!"

"Wow! The Spanish did all right," observed Perkins.

"We know all this because the Spanish leaders kept detailed records of where things were found and what they looked like. For example, we know that it took them five months to melt down all the silver and gold that was found here."

"The Inca must have been heartbroken!" Robin said, looking sadly about.

"Well, they were upset about losing their capital, but they were puzzled about why the Spanish wasted their time with the decorative silver and gold. It was to them, pretty, but worthless. They had hidden away the really valuable items and couldn't understand why they were not tortured to give away the hiding places."

"Diamonds?" asked Luc, who despite himself was becoming interested in what Joey was saying.

"Nope, green jade." Joey smiled at the disbelief on the others' faces. "Honest! Green jade is very rare here and therefore, had great value. It was too, green, the colour of the earth god and good fortune to come."

"Oh brother!" snorted Luc.

"That is so neat!" laughed Robin excitedly.

They finished touring the site and then had lunch in the courtyard of a local inn. After, they toured the city in their jeeps, and stopped at the Roman Catholic cathedral to see its three storey, silver altar screen and the holy statues that were also covered in gold and silver. They were created from donations made by the Spanish soldiers that had sacked Inca Cuzco.

"Most be nice, to be so rich you can afford to put silver ingots on the collection tray," observed Sak.

Joey laughed. "There is a story about the soldier that found the gold plated disk. It was four feet across in size, and he rolled it down the street to the nearest tavern. The story goes that he lost it in a poker game that night!"

They headed back to the hotel. Joey went off with Sak on some embassy business, and Robin reviewed the day's videoing. Joey seemed pleased when she returned, explaining to Robin that they had hired a helicopter to take them to Machu Picchu, the day after tomorrow. Normally, the only way to the famous archaeological site was by small train or by walking and camping along the old Inca trail for a week. Sak wouldn't consider either possibility. The helicopter had been the compromise.

Joey settled back to her paper work, the responsibilities of her job filtering back. Robin worked quietly cleaning her camera lenses, knowing not to disturb her lover when she had work to do. It was quite late in the night when the Ambassador crawled into bed and curled around her lover. Robin took Joey's long, capable hand in her own and sighed, feeling complete again.

The leader put the phone down quietly. He had just been informed by the man who was tailing Tsakiris that security around the ambassador had been tightened. The man had said he did not know why. The leader knew however; the idiot had let himself be seen! There was no room in the organization for people who made careless mistakes.

Still, he smiled, it was only fair to let the man redeem himself. If he was successful, any suspicion of an

assassination plan by the freedom fighters would be avoided. Yes, it was a good plan. This man deserved to be a captain in the great cause.

The next day, Joey had planned a busy schedule for in and around the Cuzco area. First, they drove out to Ollantaytambo in the sacred Valley of the Inca Kings. It was, in the time of the Incas, a training school for priests. On its towering rows of terraces, an amazing variety of crops were grown and cross bred as a show case of Inca superiority. Fifty different types of maize alone had been identified by the Inca and genetically improved by cross breeding to bring out specific qualities. Sadly, many of these species and the knowledge associated with them were lost when the Inca society was wiped out by the Spanish.

Joey took them next to the quaint village of Pisac. Here the Incas had rallied behind a new leader in one last attempt at defeating the Spanish. The attempt failed and now a sleepy, Spanish market town stood on the battlefield. They walked around the square and Joey bartered for what they would need for a picnic lunch while the others stood near by.

The man moved slowly through the crowds. He was feeling very proud. Today, the leader himself had come to him and offered him the honour of killing the American woman. He had been made a captain and would now sit on the council with the other leaders! The leader had give him his own gun in order to carry out the kill. This was going to be a glorious day for him and the cause!

He moved as close as he dared. Then he took the gun out, holding it under the poncho he was wearing to keep the morning chill off. He waited for his opening, then he darted forward, put the gun to Tsakiris' head and pulled the trigger. He heard the crack of a discharge.

People screamed and ran about in confusion. A police whistle sounded. Sak and Robin knelt beside Joey and Perkins and Luc stood over the man that Luc had just killed. "Stay down, Ambassador, damn it!" Sak snapped, his knee firmly in Joey's back. "Perkins, get a car over here!"

Joey and Robin were shoved roughly in the back of one of the cars that Perkins had drove carefully through the milling crowds. Sak took the wheel and left Luc and Perkins to handle the police. He honked the horn and made his way steadily out of the village while Robin fought to keep her lover on the floor and covered.

"Okay, We're clear," Sak said looking in the rear view mirror. Two disheveled faces appeared in the back. "You okay, Ambassador?" he asked.

"Yeah, fine," Joey answered calmly. "I can't believe he missed!" She became aware of Robin clinging to her and wrapped her arm around the terrified woman.

"He wouldn't have. The gun misfired or something. Luc killed him."

Joey grimaced. "This is going to be diplomatically messy," she sighed. Robin squeezed her hand.

They headed back to the hotel where Joey and Robin were basically locked in their room while Sak stood guard until the others could report in.

"It happened so quickly!" shivered Robin. "He was just there! Joey, no one can protect you from that sort of thing!" observed Robin for the tenth time in one form or another that evening.

Joey lay on the bed, while her lover paced with nervous energy. Joey's head ached from being tackled to the ground for the second day in a row. "No, no one can. Terrorism is meaningless and random, whether you are in Lima, Beirut, or Oklahoma City. That's what makes it terrifying," she observed philosophically.

Robin's retort was interrupted by a soft knock on the door that Joey recognized. "It's Sak. Let him in, will you, Robin. Robin opened the door on its chain and verified that it was indeed Sak. Then she closed the door again to remove the chain before opening it cautiously. Sak stepped in with Perkins behind him.

"Everything looks good Ambassador. The Shining Path have not taken credit for the attack and you can be sure they would have by now. That means that this guy was probably some sort of nutter working alone. He hasn't been identified. The police were being difficult with Luc over him killing the guy. Your call to the Peruvian government worked. A government representative showed up, and things are now getting straightened out. Luc will be back here as soon as he fills in and signs the ten thousand forms for the release of his firearm."

Joey nodded. "Good, I'm glad this hide and seek game is all over."

Sak grimaced. "Ambassador, I think we should continue to proceed with caution. I think it is likely that the man was working alone, but it is very strange that he would be using a gun that had an empty clip. There is only one day left before we return to Lima, let's continue to proceed with all do caution."

Joey nodded. "Thank you, Sak and please thank the others. You handled the situation very well. I will see that a commendation goes in your files."

"Thank you, Ambassador. Good night." Saks left the room and Robin locked the door, put on the chain and pushed the dead bolt into place.

Joey watched with an amused grin on her face. "Hey, you going to pace about all night?! Come to bed."

"I can't sleep, I'm too worked up," protested Robin.

"Good," responded Joey with a lazy, sexy grin.

The ride by helicopter over the pinnacle peaks of the Andes was breathtaking. Slowly, they dropped down into the valley where the Vicanota railway station stood beside the Urybamba river. The 'copter touched down on the graveled area used for the buses that taxied the tourists up the series of hairpin bends to Machu Picchu, 1,500' above their heads.

Robin was virtually dancing with excitement, much to Joey's delight. They piled on to an empty bus, the tourist train not due in for another three hours. Joey was immediately surrounded by the others, despite the fact that she pointed out that the stalker had been killed. "We are not taking any chances," Sak had said firmly, and the others had nodded grimly.

Joey sighed, "You are a great bunch, and boy, do you get on my nerves!" They all laughed.

The leader smiled. The plan had gone well. Of course, either way it would have. Had the man been captured, his story would have seemed so ridiculous that he would not have been believed. The Americans had continued with their trip, confident that they had removed a lone assassin. The man had dead a hero of the people. He had dead just as he had lived, nameless. It was sad that yet another captain had died for the cause. It was amazing how many new captains did! The leader chuckled; everything was back on track and going well.

The view from the top was mystically beautiful. Around them lush, green pinnacle mountains rose up from the narrow valley far below. Those farther in the distance were tinted blue and veiled in swirls of mist The Urybamba river, almost a half mile below, was just a strip of silver in the sunlight. Around them, clinging to the steep mountainside, were the stone ruins of Machu Picchu, the last frontier post of the mighty Inca empire. The five of them just stood for a while and looked in awe. Machu Picchu is one of those rare places in the world where nature and man lived in aesthetic harmony.

Joey broke the silence, quietly. "Machu Picchu was never conquered by the Spanish. It was eventually abandoned but we don't know why. Perhaps because the empire ceased to exist. It is one of the many mysteries that remain unraveled about this site. Another is the makeup of its graveyard. We believe that a community of some five hundred people lived and worked here. Yet the graveyard contains mostly the bones of women between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five and a few old men.

"Some believe that this was once just a small outpost that was established as part of the Inca's plan to conquer the Upper Amazon which is just to the other side of this range. It might have been enlarged if the Inca had decided to send his Chosen Women here when the Spanish arrived. We might never know."

Joey lead them a long a three foot ledge, one of the many that terraced the side of the steep mountain to provide gardens for the people. A cool breeze whispered around them, and glancing down, the five hundred feet of terracing looked like a steep stairway that suddenly ended at a cliff face that dropped to the valley way below. Robin decided not to look down. Sak and Luc moved closer to Joey realizing that a quick push could mean a drop to her death.

Joey showed them the noble houses or perhaps where the Chosen Women lived. Here the buildings still were finely finished block but the houses were very small with once peaked and thatched roofs. The other homes on the site were just crude dry stone construction.

They carefully walked down steep, broken stone steps to the priests' round house and Joey showed them the marks in the natural rock floor that were used for astronomy sightings, the windows having been placed so that the sun would rise directly down the valley and shine through the window. To the one side of the priest's dwelling was the terraced water fountain; one stream, then two, then three. To the other side, between the priest's house and that of the chief's or perhaps the Inca's, was a natural cave that had been enlarged by carving out stone steps and a sacrificial alter.

They moved back up the stairs and over to a second peak. Joey looked at Sak and Sak sighed and nodded. "Leave your camera equipment with the men. They are staying here," Joey told Robin. "I want to show you the view from the observatory up there."

A little surprised, Robin did what she was asked seeing in Joey's eyes a sparkle of excitement. Together, they made their way up the very steep and broken stone steps with a vertical drop to either side. Joey held on to Robin's hand and helped her along. At the top,were the walls of a stone observatory room with three windows to let in the sun and moon's rays. They would shine directly on the three altar stones that stood in the centre of the room side by side.

Robin looked from each window with delight at the panoramic view of the mountain valley framed by the ruins of Mach Picchu in the foreground. Joey saw a wild, pink orchid growing on one of the ledges and reached out and picked it. Gathering her courage, she went over and took Robin's hand leading her over to the altars.

Robin looked up into the bluest of eyes, as Joey gently settled the orchid between Robin's breasts. "I love you with all my heart, and here at the top of the world in this ancient, holy place, I want to ask you to be my partner and remain with me forever."

"Oh yes, Joey, yes!" whisper Robin in joy as Joey slipped on to her lover's finger a plain gold band of the purest Peruvian gold that she had bought the day before. They kissed. The flame, their passion; the water, their tears of joy; the earth, the rocky embrace of the Inca world. They were at last one.

Continued...Part 4

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