Part 1 of 4
by Anne Azel
Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended.
Thanks: I am delighted that so many of you seem to be enjoying this series. Your comments are very kind and much appreciated. Special thanks to Lisa my beta reader. As the stories in this series do interrelate, it is best to read them in the order they are posted.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction, please do not read on if you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
Important Warning: This story is based on events that are true and reflect the environment and traditional culture of the highland tribes of P.N.G. A few of the descriptions in this story are graphic and violent. Some readers might find that the traditional scenes are disturbing in that they are not fiction but real events involving ritual killing and murder.
Mary Giovani looked out the small rear window of the four-seater aircraft as it laboured over the towering limestone peaks of the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Below was a country left behind in the stone age. Now, it was struggling in a single generation to enter the space age. The canopy of the dense green jungle was broken only by flowing rivers of mist in the deep valleys. Here and there fire smoke escaped in ribbons into the sky, the telltale evidence of the stone age peoples, some of them once cannibals, that lived below.
Mary's strawberry blond hair caught the sunlight as with a sigh, she sat back. She allowed her petite body to relax into the worn leather seat and closed her eyes. She was tired. For three weeks, she had been working as a freelance journalist at a new copper mine deep in the wild heartland of Papua New Guinea. It had been tough, living in a tent and putting up with the constant rain and mud and the occasional offensive remarks of the male workers who had been away from their loved ones too long. But it had been worth it! She had witnessed first hand the wealth and the destruction that comes into an isolated area when a multinational corporation moves in a full scale operation. She would write a series of articles ranging from the destruction of the rainforest to the impact of modern technology on the aboriginal people...
"Misses! Misses! Em i gut bik-pella truble!" called the pilot slipping into Pidgin, the trading language of the South Pacific area. Mary opened her eyes just as the plane lurched violently. She saw a thin, line of red stream along the side window. A few downy feathers clung on against the force of the wind outside. The engine spluttered again and the plane dipped, wobbled and leveled off. The pilot was fighting to lower his altitude without causing a stall. Mary didn't have to be told how serious the situation was. The single engine plane had hit a bird in flight and the engine, clogged with debris, was failing. They would have to find a place to land or crash! The journalist pressed her face to the window searching the terrain below for a possible clearing large enough to land.
"Over there!" She called, tapping the pilot on the shoulder and pointing to a tiny air strip to their right. The pilot nodded and banked the plane sharply, curving around and straightening on a course for the small strip of flat grass that clung to the edge of a mountainside. The engine coughed and stopped. The silence was suddenly deafening. The small craft maintained its course but was now dropping much quicker than it was gliding forward. Mary tightened her safety belt, put her large, soft purse in her lap and leaned over it, covering her head with her hands. She'd read the safety instructions on large planes hundreds of times with only passing interest. Now it was for real and the little she could do made her feel hopeless.
The little red plane hit the grass runway with a terrific smash, then bounced up in the air again only to smash down once more. From the corner of her eye, Mary could see the plane's wheel fly passed just as the little craft flipped upside down in the air and hit the ground for the third time. The thin aluminum roof crashed down on her. She felt her foot catch under the seat as her body launched in another direction. Pain shot up Mary's leg and through her temple. So this is death, she thought as blackness washed over her.
Doctor Jessica Vizirakis dated her journal, February 14th, Valentines Day. She smiled ruefully. Some valentines day! All day, she had been plagued by trace memories, daydreams maybe, of the Host pair and the Others. She suspected her awareness was greater than some of the Others but that did not make it any easier. On the contrary, she knew that all their loves were pointless if the Hosts failed to hold their bond together and from what she could recall, their relationship was doomed. Some years ago, she had seen two of the Others. It was like being able to see through a wormhole in space/time. The Turk had felt her presence and had hurried her beloved away. After they had gone, she had crept out of the tangled undergrowth and looked down on the Hosts' grave. The names were wrong of course. She'd run her long, strong fingers over the ancient stone, Jamie and Gunnul Dedeman it read.
She'd smiled, feeling the peace that being close to the Host brought her. " I just came to tell you that it didn't work out for us. I wanted to tell you personally," she'd whispered to the grave. It felt cold to her touch. There was no answer.
Jess shook her head to clear it of the vivid memory. That was past history! This was real, here and now, she reminded herself. She forced herself to finish her journal and then neatly put everything away before ducking out of the pitpit grass hut that she called home. She stretched her arms up as far as she could reach to get the kinks out of her long lean form. Her arms framed a face chiseled into beautiful, classic plains. Her hair was dark and her eyes an intense blue as they scanned the spectacular view of the long, narrow valley below.
Jess had loved her experience in this isolated community but there were days when she missed her own world. She looked down into the tropical valley. Here was a beauty beyond imagination, untouched by pollution and noise. Where the legendary Birds of Paradise still nested high in the tree tops. Yet there was another side to paradise. Tribal war, witchcraft, disease and most deadly of all a native custom called "pay-back". Payback called for revenge for the slightest offense for an individual to save face. Often a chain of paybacks lead to violence. Jess had battled all of these deadly elements in the two years that she had been doing her field research.
The tall woman sighed deeply and looked up at the robin-blue sky of the South Pacific. "Send me a valentine," she whispered with a wistful smile and then frowned at her whimsical mood. Wouldn't she ever learn, she thought bitterly? She shook her head in disgust, maybe she should take a holiday? She smiled, for some time now, she had wanted to explore a cave near by that she thought might be huge. Several times, she had ventured in on small explorations and the limestone cave promised to be endless. Jess had taken up spelunking while at university. She enjoyed the adventure and the solitude of exploring caves. She liked too the solid, dependable adventurers that seemed to be as attracted to spelunking as she was. Maybe she would take a few weeks off and use up some of her pent up energy in exploring the cave. After all, Jessica mussed, a cave is far safer than a lover, no one knew that better than she did!
Some minutes later, as she sat outside and worked at repairing a knapsack strap, she heard the drone of a passing plane's engine splutter and cough. She stood up and scanned the wide expanse of blue until she saw a dot of red swoop towards the earth. A second later, she had darted into her hut and grabbed her medical kit. Running back out, she was met by her Papuan assistant Mone and together they darted towards the clearing up the mountainside.
They heard a squeal of tires and a loud crash, emerging from the jungle just in time to see a little red plane flip into the air and come down heavily on it's back. The plane skidded forward in a cloud of dust and debris, finally coming to rest in the underbrush at the end of the runway. By the time Mone and Jess had run the length of the airstrip, a small group of curious tribespeople had gathered. Short and dark, they wore nothing but a wide, bark belt from which hand woven netting hung down between their legs. Their backsides were covered by only a few long leaves that had also been jammed under their bark belts. Their eyes were round and white with concern and they spoke quickly in loud, guttural spurts. Jess knew that they wanted to help but were afraid to interfere in a European problem. Too often they had been yelled at or chased off by Europeans who feared or were ignorant of their ways.
Jess spoke quietly to them as she reached in to get the vitals of the pilot. She explained that the plane was drenched in fuel and that a spark could trigger an explosion. They nodded their understanding. Jess sighed, the pilot was dead. The villagers however, pointed towards the back of the plane and told Jess to take a look. She got up and came around the side and by looking through a narrow space left between the fuselage and the crushed roof, she could just see the arm of a woman. Jess moved back to the nose and with Mone's help, pulled the dead pilot out through the window. There was a piece of metal through his chest. Jess wiped the blood from her hands and reached in to flip the passenger's seat forward. At the far back of the plane, Jess could just see long blond hair. Slowly, she crawled through the window and wiggled through the wreckage towards the woman. There was very little room. Jess's face ran up a long pair of graceful legs. She slithered forward once more. Now her head rested in the warm hollow between the woman's legs. At another time this could be a very enjoyable rescue, thought Jess, but not today with the over powering smell of fuel and a dead pilot laying in the grass. There was now too, the growing smell, sharp and metallic, of blood.
Once again Jess slid forward. Now her face was next to the woman's as Jess lay the full length of her. Her hair smelt nice, like sunlight and fresh, dried herbs. It reminded Jess of a time long ago. Carefully, Jess wedged herself between the woman and the tail compartment and eased the golden hair from her face. Mary Giovani! Jess's heart jolted. In highschool, Jess had loved this woman to distraction. An old hurt built in Jess's gut and she swallowed it back down. This woman was still way out of your league, warrior, she thought. What strange twist of fate had brought the two of them together here at the ends of the earth?
Jess shook her head to clear away the memories. She couldn't reminisce about a girl she'd loved long ago. There was a very real woman to save. A very, real beautiful woman, Jess thought as she started her examination. One of Mary's breasts had been exposed by the tearing of her clothes. Jess reached to cover her and a small delicate hand tried to push her away. Huge, dark, green eyes blinked at her in confusion and fear. "It's okay," Jess softly reassured,
"You're safe and we'll get you out as soon as we can."
"My eyes and skin burn," she whispered through dry lips.
"It's the fuel. Hang on. Everything will be fine," Jess responded gently even though her own stomach was in a tight knot.
Mary became aware of a mixture of contradictory sensations. There was pain, dull and far away, close and real was the feel of gentle fingers against her breast. She was warm and ever so relaxed and yet she could sense her nipples hardening in excitement. The next moment reality washed over her with the force of a tidal wave sending gripping chills through her senses. She pulled away from the violating hands and sat up with a gasp of fear. Pain and nausea shot through her and strong, confident arms were immediately there again, gently lowering her back on the bed. When the pain and blackness subsided she opened blurry eyes and tried to make contact with a steady pair of ice blue eyes that revealed nothing in the way of emotion.
Mary fumbled trying to pull the rough, gray blanket up to her neck as she realized that she was naked. "Get away from me," she slurred out in terror aware of the sluggishness of her thoughts and the slow response of her body.
Bitter amusement sprung into the eyes and a deep, mellow voice snorted mockingly, " Hello Giovani. Still the Ice Queen, I see. Some valentine, I get sent!"
Mary looked with surprise at the tall figure that sat half in shadow on the edge of her cot. She blinked her eyes trying to focus them but the world still tended to drift in and out in blurry patterns. The dark figure waited as unfocused eyes slid over her, taking in the dark brown t-shirt and matching shorts that enhanced her golden tan and then returning to her face. Mary's heartbeat slowed a little from its rapid beat. Did she know this woman? She looked very familiar. How did she know her name?!
"You scared me. Don't touch me! My name is MARY Giovani and I'm a journalist and I am definitely not your valentine! Who are you?!" demanded Mary angrily trying to make sense of the distorted world she had returned to. Her head had started to ache awfully and she thought she might be sick.
"Slowly, Giovani," the dark form responded annoyingly, "You're firing words at me like a machine gun. I wasn't trying to scare you. I'm a doctor. Mary went pale and involuntarily raised her hand to her breast. A twinkle came into the blue eyes. "Don't worry those parts are all present and accounted for and there wont be any lasting scars. You were lucky to survive. We had a hell of a job getting you out safely. Try to rest. You are under heavy medication and now is not a good time to try and think. How do you feel?"
"Vision is blurry and it's hard to think," mumbled Mary.
The woman nodded "Anything else?"
"Pain...far away. My lips...its hard to form the words," Mary tried to explain.
Again a nod followed by a hesitation, then, "I've had to amputate the toes from your right foot. There was no saving them with the limited facilities that we have here. Still you survived. The pilot didn't," came the rest of the story in a emotionless voice.
Silence. Then "Oh," Mary whispered in shock. She had liked the pilot and felt responsible for his death in that she had chartered the plane.
"You okay?! You're not going to pass out are you?" the doctor demanded.
"No, no," responded Mary as memories of the crash started to seep back into her awareness. I feel really sick, she thought. Mary's head reeled and her stomach was turning over. She was confused and disoriented. Where was she? Who was this woman who said she was a doctor and who had touched her body so intimately? This wasn't a hospital, she seemed to be in some sort of local hut. Mary closed her eyes and tried to make sense of it all. She had been asleep in the plane when the pilot had called a warning to her. The next thing she remembered was the earth rising up to meet her. A shudder ran through Mary's body, big tears rolled down her face and she started to shake with shock.
The tall woman wrapped her in the blanket and held her in her arms. She talked soft, soothing words to Mary as the big, jerky sobs subsided into sniffles. The larger woman's body was hard, warm and secure and Mary involuntarily snuggled deeper into her embrace trying to block out the horror of the crash. Memories came crashing back. She could remember waking in terrible pain, pinned under the wreckage with the taste of blood and dirt in her mouth. The air was heavy with the small of fuel and her first fear was that she would be burnt alive!
She remembered calling for help and then the voices of local people yelling and murmuring around her. She had a sensation of a warm body crawling in beside her and talking to her, telling her it would be all right and wiping the blood from her face. Had it been this woman who held her tightly now? Yes, she thought so. The tall woman must have risked her life to help her while the local people tried to free her from the dangerous wreck. Yes, she could remember her now, looking down on her and telling her some funny story about wishing for a valentine and how a little red plane had fallen out of the sky to her. She remembered it had made her smile despite the pain. Her panic had left her as the strong woman had laid next to her in the fuel soaked wreckage talking.
Mary could recall now being lifted from the wreckage and screaming in pain. Sometime later, she had felt someone stripping off her clothes and washing the fuel from her skin. Cool lotion was spread over her body and the fuel burns lost their sting. The pain that had shot up her leg like jagged knives was then only a dull throb.
A deep blush waved through her body as she realized the woman that held her must have been the one that had cared for her. Here she was clinging desperately to a complete stranger who must know her body intimately! Embarrassed, Mary buried her head in the broad shoulder. How was she going to thank her without acute embarrassment?! Why was she clinging to her now?! Who was this woman? Mary, pulled herself together with effort. She mentally chastised herself and with great emotional effort pulled herself away from the mysterious woman. She pulled the rough, wool blanket around her and tried to focus again on the face looking down at her.
Again a wave of nausea passed over Mary. She fought it down. Now was not the time to be sick. She needed to get back into control of the situation. "I..I..I'm feeling better....Thank you. I..I sort of remember. I...I mean I... you saved my life. Mary blushed deeply. "I'm okay," she repeated again aware that her lips were not really forming the words very clearly.
Jess looked closely at the colour returning to smaller woman's face. She sat back and said, "Good. Your plane has crashed in a remote area of the Southern Highlands. I'll do all I can for you Giovani until help gets here. I just wish that I'd been able to save your toes..."
Shock hit Mary like a thunderbolt as the words finally hit home to her! She gasped, a scream stifled by her own fear. "Oh God! No!" she heard herself groan as she leaned over and throw up on the taller woman's lap before passing out.
The tall woman got up with a curse and went to clean herself up in a bowl of warm water that sat on a roughly made table. Once relatively clean, Jess wrung out a cloth and went back to her patient. Wiping her face and hands like a little child. She checked to make sure Mary's breathing passage was clear, then pulled the soiled blanket off and replaced it with a fresh one before she left the hut.
From distorted dreams, Mary woke with a start in far more pain but less confusion. Jess! My God, it's Jess, she thought. Blinking, she looked around, searching for visual clues that would help her get orientated. Vague impressions nagged at her consciousness. With dread, she accepted the horrid realization that the woman she had talked to earlier with the incredible blue eyes could only be a grown up Jessica Vizirakis.
She'd changed. She had been long limbed and gawky as a teen. Thin and wiry, she'd been a loner who prowled on the edges of the school community like a wild wolf. The highschool was small and made up of the children from the upper middle class suburbs or the estates of the wealthy. Only a handful of kids outside this privileged economic bracket attended Winston. Jess had been one of them; gaunt, quick tempered and silent. The teachers shook their heads in wonder at her intelligence. The kids laughed at her. Everyone called her Warrior because she was a cadet. She kept her uniform hanging in her locker like other girls kept their pictures of their boyfriends.
She lived with her grandfather, Old Bart, in two rooms off the stable. The stable had belonged to Mary's father, a rich businessman whose hobby was race horses. Mary's father used to say he only kept the old drunk on because Bart had an uncanny way with horses and because Warrior wouldn't have any place to sleep otherwise. As a child, Mary had followed the older girl whenever she could, envious of her dirty clothes and freedom and afraid of her fist. Jess had been her hero.
As she had got older, they hadn't spent as much time together although there was still a deep, unstated loyalty between them. The kids at school knew not to make fun of Warrior in front of her. And twice, Mary had got into shouting matches with kids when she had come to the defense of the stoic girl. Neither time, had Jess thanked her for standing up for her. Jess was proud and Mary knew it bothered her that Mary had heard the nasty things the other kids said. When Mary had gone on her first date, she had caught a glimpse of Jess in the shadows. She suspected that Jess had been her invisible protector more than once. She knew Jess wouldn't violate her privacy and it gave her a sense of quiet comfort that Jess would always be there to protect her.
They had only fought once. It was when a female classmate of Mary's had invited her to go to the movies with her. Suddenly, Jess had been beside her in the show. Jess had insisted on driving Mary home after the movie and they had a terrible fight that had hurt them both very much. After that, they had rarely spoken.
It had been late in the year of Jess's final year when they had become lovers. It was a Friday and Warrior had not shown up at school. The rumour circulated that Joel McGallin and some others on the football team had tried to rape her and got their asses kicked. Mary had signed out and driven the Range Rover her dad had bought her out to the stables.
She'd found Jess curled in a ball in the back stall, a cornered, hurt animal. "Jess, it's okay its just Mary. Mary Giovani. Are you alright?" she'd whispered softly.
The dark figure had rolled back into the shadows, "Go away."
But Mary hadn't, instead she had slowly moved closer until she could have reached out and touched the stiff form. "Jess?"coaxed Mary softly, kneeling down.
Jess turned and looked at her and Mary gasped in shock. Jess's face was swollen and bruised and she had a deep cut over her left eyebrow. "Oh no!" moaned Mary and without thinking she had wrapped her arms around the taller woman and was hugging her close to her.
"Let go!" the loner ordered.
"No!" Mary had snapped back. "Where is Bart?"
Jess shrugged and pulled away sliding farther back, "Gone with your parents. He's riding in the trailer to keep the horses calm."
"Come on," Mary had said trying to help the larger woman to her feet.
"Where?" asked the injured woman pulling away and getting up to back into the corner.
"Up to the house," explained Mary.
The taller woman rolled her eyes. "Oh right," she snarled sarcastically.
Mary was careful not to block Jess into the corner although every ounce of her being was demanding that she go to her. "You've got a choice here Warrior, you can have me spend the night here in the barn with you or you can come up to the house. You do realize though, that if my parents phone tonight and I don't answer they'll probably call out the army?"
There was a long hesitation, then Jess sighed and limped forward allowing Mary to wrap her long arm around her petite shoulders to take the weight of Jess's injured knee. Together, they had stumbled up to the house.
Mary had taken Jess to her bedroom and started the whirpool bath for her while she'd gone to get one of her father's sweat shirts and pants for Jess to put on. She'd passed them in through the door of the steamy bathroom shyly and then had gone to get the first aid kit and make a snack for Jess. Jess was lounging on her bed flipping through the t.v. channels when she got back. She placed the tray on the bedside table then sat on the edge of the bed and opened up the first aid kit . "We've got to clean those scraps. Barns can be really dangerous you know!"
Jess snorted and raised an eyebrow, "You're daddy pays for our shots. He'd hate to be sued if one of us died of tetanus."
Mary ignored the sarcasm aimed at her father who was a very nice man. Instead, she got even by dabbing an antibiotic cream on Jess's scrapped knuckles. She'd smiled cruelly when Jess had pulled away and was rewarded with a surprised look and raised eyebrow from Jess. "So daddy's kitten has claws," Jess drawled.
"You bet," Mary had agreed happily searching out other scraps and cuts and treating them accordingly.
"I see you around a lot," admitted Jess guardedly.
Mary looked up into beautiful blue eyes that took her breath away, "I see you too," she responded softly reaching out carefully to dab at the deep, split at the corner of Jess's eye. Warm breath tickled across her arm as she worked. "I've always been jealous of the freedom you've had," Mary admitted honestly.
Jess laughed then grabbed her nose as fresh blood spurt out. "Here," said Mary replacing Jess's hand with her cloth and adding pressure. "Don't laugh."
"Don't say really stupid things!" mumbled a nasal Jess from under Mary's hand.
"I wasn't! I'd never be allowed to just act like I want or wear what I want or get dirty....I don't suppose you can understand that," sighed Mary.
"No, I can't. You ever tried to study in a horse trailer, or have to muck out stalls before you can go to school. You ever had to steal paper and pens and stuff from the drugstore so you can keep good notes, or rip somebody's textbook out of their locker 'cause you can't afford to buy your own. Shit! If not being able to wear ripped, stinking jeans is the worse thing that's happened to you Ice Queen, your doing all right!" Snarled Jess, pulling the cloth away from Mary and getting up like a coil unraveling. Her knee buckled immediately and she stumbled, Mary catching her in her arms half way to the floor. The two of them went down together.
The pain in Mary's foot brought her back from the past. She gritted her teeth. The last thing she was going to do in front of Jess was show any weakness.
Jess listened to Mone explaining in Pigin to the new patient how to check every day for cuts or bruises. It was a ritual that all leprosy victims had to go through each day. Stripping down and visually checking they're bodies for signs of damage. It was the only way that they could keep in touch with themselves. Their eyes became their nerve ends sensing pain and danger. The loss of feeling often resulted in the loss of fingers and toes or worse, as small, unnoticed abrasions became deadly infected areas. Jess handed over the medication to the silent highlander. He was dark skinned and stocky as the highland people tended to be. He was probably 5' 6" maybe 5'7", Jess observed, tall really for a highland male. Beside Jess's six foot frame however, he looked short. He had a beard as was the custom, the tight curly hairs were sparse however and his face lean and hungry. For a second, their eyes met. He saw the intense blue of the heavens. She saw hate burnt into eyes the colour of mahogany. The man turned and left without a word.
Mone watched Jess's eyes follow the highlander along the trail until he was out of sight. "That is Touy. He is a shaman. He is from Mendara," Mone explained.
"He involved in the land dispute?" asked Jess filling in Touy's file while Mone cleaned up.
"Yes, he is a Mendara not a Eravay. Also, he will help Quen kill the Timp when the time is right," observed Mone. Like most Papuan New Guineans he was not usually comfortable or open in sharing information about his traditional culture. He had learned however, that he could trust Jess. She understood their ways and didn't judge.
Jess looked up in surprise, "He's a powerful man."
Mone nodded unhappily and moved off to do other chores. Jess busied herself checking stock and trying not to let her eyes stray over to the hut across the grass compound. Her mind wondered back to the weekend when Giovani had taken her in. Jess's knee had given out and the smaller woman had tried to catch her, the two of them ending up in a tangled heap on the floor.
They had made love right there on the damn rug, each of them unsure and tentative in their first attempts at a sexual relationship. In the end, instinct and desire had carried them into a paradise of sensual pleasure.
They had spent the weekend together. Jess in a state of bitter wonder at the luxuries and love that Mary took for granted. Mary fascinated by Warrior's dark roughness. They had shared not only their bodies but also a guarded secret. They both had the same repeating dreams, the same misty memories. It had been Mary who had called them the "Hosts." Those two far off women who had lived, fought and loved in an ancient time. And at some time in their talk the rest, like them, had become the "Others." Mary had talked a lot, bubbling on an emotional high. Jess talked little, all ready aware of the outcome.
Mary believed that all the decedents of these remarkable two were fated to find each other and the same intense love. Jess didn't disillusion her. She couldn't. But she knew her awareness was far greater. She knew that Mary's ancestor had betrayed her's in a far off land. If history did repeat, she wasn't sticking around to let this kid betray and hurt her. They made love one more time Sunday night. While Mary was still sleeping, Jess left, out of Mary's life and out of the world in which she had struggled to survive. Now Mary Giovani had fallen on her once again.
Of the next few days, Mary remembered very little. Jess or Mone would arrive periodically with a needle and she would drift off into a blurry world of half awake. Occasionally, sensations of gentle, capable hands caring for her needs penetrated her dreams. She was glad to rest. Emotionally, she was not ready to deal with the plane crash, her maiming, or Jess Vizirakis.
One morning, she finally fought through the fog and woke with a dull headache. The hut was oppressively hot and stuffy. With difficulty, she got herself to a sitting position and then steeling herself, she flipped back the blanket to look at her foot. There was nothing to see, just a white bandage carefully wrapped around a stub of a foot. The realization that her toes were really gone made her wretch. She could still feel them throbbing, as if they were there.
She sat there for a long time coming to terms with it. Then she forced herself to reach down and touch the amputated area. It's just you Mary. Don't let this scare you. You can deal with this. Looking around she noticed that someone had fashioned a crude hand cut cane and placed it by her bed. She nodded, time to get up. With the help of the cane, she got to her feet surprised that her balance was not good. Slowly, she hobbled painfully over to where a basin of water was beckoning her. The water was warm and clearly recently placed there. The deliverer's movements must have been what had woke her. She lowered the blanket that she had wrapped around her form and started to wash away her sleep.
"Feeling better," Jess asked as she leaned in the door way. Mary started and covered herself up.
"Get out!" she ordered, "I'm getting washed. Have you no manners? You should have knocked!"
Jess raised her eyebrow, her face a mask cut from stone, " This is my hut, I come and go as I please. I am your doctor, at least temporarily and you are washing in the water that was brought here by my assistant Mone, so I could cleanse your wounds," responded the warrior. Jess pushed off the door post and half turned. "Mone?" she called.
"Yes, Doctor Jess?" came a distant response.
"Bring another basin of water, please," Jess requested before she turned back to Mary. "As for getting out, that would be a dangerous decision on your part. You must have been warned that even the smallest wound can infect and become a tropical ulcer that eats away at your flesh if it is not treated." Mary did know this. She was smart enough to realize that she would have to endure Jess close to her even though to do so made her react with very strong and contradictory emotions. She set her chin firmly and taking her cane limped over and sat on the edge of the bed, trying very hard not to let the pain show.
A stocky, dark Papuan came in silently and placed another basin of water down on the table. "Giovani, this is my colleague, Mone. Mone, this is an old....friend...Mary Giovani, who dropped in to visit me on Valentines day!" Mone laughed and poked Jess in the ribs saying something to her in the trade language of Pidgin that was too quick for Mary to understand. She gritted her teeth in frustration and smiled a hello to Mone.
He left grinning broadly and Jess turned to Mary. "Lie down and let's not have any of your false modesty. I've a job to do and there is nothing I haven't seen of you during the last few days." Mary complied, closing her eyes and looking away. So it had been Jess who had cared for all her personal needs! This whole thing was just one awful nightmare!
Jess worked quickly and gently, checking every abrasion for signs of inflection and spreading on a fresh layer of antibiotic cream before covering the wounds with fresh dressings. Mary was very aware of her body responding to Jess's touch as she cleansed the bad scrapping on her left breast.
Her body was stiff with tension and her face hot with embarrassment and anger.
As Jess worked she told her in a soft, confident voice what she was doing and how and what Mary should do in the days ahead to care for herself. When Jess was finished Mary was surprised to find her body yearning for Warrior's touch. Get hold of yourself, Mary! She warned herself. You must have brain fever! This is Warrior! The bitch who took your virginity and disappeared into the night without so much as a good bye!
"You can relax now. I'm finished. I washed my hands so I don't think any of my common touch got on you," Jess finished sarcastically.
"You've got a really lousy bedside manner, Vizirakis!" she snapped pulling up the blanket and glaring at the doctor. Jess was gorgeous. Over the years, her body had filled out and the gauntness that had once been there had been replaced by smooth toned muscle under a deep golden tan. She moved with a grace and power that was mesmerizing to watch. And those eyes, not quite human, that glowed with an inner energy... Mary gave herself a mental slap, suddenly aware that Jess was waiting letting her ogle her body.
Jess raised an eyebrow and drawled slowly, "I've never had any complaints about my bedside style before." Mary was just about to come back with a sharp retort when Jess placed her fingers on her lips to silence her. The warm, silk of the journalist's lips sent a hot ball of desire dropping to Jess's loins. She pulled her fingers away, curling the warm breath inside them unconsciously.
"Before that machine gun mouth goes off again, a few facts. Part of our compound was lost in a mud slide last week and we lost our communications hut. We have no radio so we can't get word out that you are here. If a search plane comes our way, we'll send up a flare but otherwise you'll have to wait to get out when the supply plane comes in about eight weeks. You can fill in your time by helping around the clinic. I'm sure it will be the poor, little rich kid's first taste of real work. That will teach you to go joy riding over remote areas!" Jess smiled bitterly and got up from where she sat on the edge of Mary's bed. The attraction she felt as a girl was still there she realized. The best way to handle this situation was to keep the air as frosty as possible.
Mary went white with anger at the injustice of Jess's words. She felt cheated. Here was a woman that her body and soul had responded to completely as a teen judging her based on her social/economic level as a child! She was having trouble blending the contradictory messages that were being given. On the one hand, Jess had risked her life to save her and had given her tender care and yet there was this cynical other side that took cheap shots at her.
Jess had known her for years! She had never looked down on Jess! How dare she find fault! Jess had been several grades ahead of her, always on the school's honour roll and always the school outcast. She remembered a weedy, wild looking girl, who's clothes always seemed too short to cover her long limbs, working around her father's stables. Sometimes, she would see her in her uniform hitchhiking into town. Then she was immaculately dressed, stern and aloof. Jess never said much but she used to let Mary tag along on wonderful childhood adventures that usually involved getting very dirty and scrapping your elbows. Mary's mother had not liked her playing with Jess but her father always let her.
She did not see much of Jess at school. They were never in the same class. Winston had been a small highschool in a rural area that had been developed into estates for the up and coming in near by Marlbourgh. Most of the students were from fairly wealthy families. Warrior stood out as different. She always wore the same farm clothes that smelt of hay and she never talked about things that the other kids did. School was a war zone to Jess. At school, Jess hardly ever acknowledged her. It was only around the stables or out in the pastures that Jess relaxed and became her friend.
After Christmas holidays one year, Mary had met Jess in the school library and to be polite had asked her what she had got for Christmas. Jess had looked at her with an angry expression and had shook her head and walked away. Mary had gone after her. Some how she had sensed behind Warrior's bad manners that she was really hurting. Had Old Bart not done anything for Jess for Christmas?!
When she had caught up to Jess, she had grabbed her by the shoulder and turned her around. Jess had looked surprised and confused and so very vulnerable. Mary had wrapped her arms around her and had whispered in her ear, "I care." For a split second, she felt their souls touch and she had known she was home. She felt Jess relax into her arms, then some boys in Jess's class had come passed and made some crude remarks about Mary not being able to find anything better and Jess had pulled away. She'd snarled at Mary before walking off, "Never come near me again! You hear!?"
And she hadn't, although she was always keenly aware of Jess whenever she was around. And the next Christmas, she had asked her dad to decorate the stable and had slipped a present in the back stall where she knew Jess would find it. It was just a simple gold chain but she noted after that Jess always wore it. She had been wearing it that last weekend.
Jess had no idea of how quickly her life had changed! And yet here she was spitting out cynical remarks based on old childhood hurts! It wasn't fair!
"I think you are despicable!" she snapped at Jess's back as the doctor busied herself at the table tidying up her medical equipment. She had thought she had been Warrior's friend as a youth. She had taken her as a lover. It wasn't her fault how the other students treated her. Nor was she the spoilt, rich child out for adventures as Jess had implied. But if that was the game Jess wanted to play, Mary was just angry enough to be everything Jess expected and then some!
One thing she knew was that she would never tell Jess how her life had changed! Never! She didn't understand completely the strange bond that drew her to this rough cut woman but she did know she could get along just fine without Jess in her life. She felt nothing for Warrior but disgust. The woman was a reverse snob. Clearly, Jess felt all rich people were hollow and self indulgent and poor people were noble and good. What an idiot!
Jess fumbled putting away her ointments. Damn, she thought, this woman was having an awful effect on me. She had only to look at Mary and she could feel herself pulsating with need. You have to take a holiday Visirakis, she thought in frustration. She knew it was important to keep a wall up between them and so far she thought she had been doing a pretty good job. The air around them crackled with hostility. Good, thought Jess, let her hate me. That's an emotion I've had lots of practice handling with her kind.
"And don't think a loser like you can order me around! I'll do what I want while I'm stuck here. And believe me, working with you is bottom of the list, Hayseed!" snapped Mary offensively. The second the words were out of her mouth she knew she had gone too far! Jess spun around and in two steps she was over to her cot and had lifted her into a sitting position by her shoulders. Her face was inches from Mary's. Mary could feel Jess's rasping breath hot on her face as glacial-blue eyes bore into her. Then the eyes dropped. The blanket that had been her only cover had slipped revealing one soft, white breast.
A growl erupted low and deep from Warrior's throat. Mary tried to cover herself up but Jess held her too tightly. "No," she whispered shakily and Jess's eyes came up to meet and challenge hers. Mary licked her lips nervously feeling her body coursing with excitement and anticipation even as her logical mind bristled with anger and fear. "No," she whispered again her eyes fixed now on Jess's lips.
Slowly, Jess's mouth lowered to hers. Anger flashed in her eyes and in one quick movement she was pinning Mary's body to the cot with hers as her mouth joined Mary's. A deep throbbing need rose up in her. She struggled against Jess's strength and her own physical excitement, but her struggles just heightened the desire. The pressure of Jess's determined kiss forced her mouth open and Jess's tongue explored into her depths.
Against her will she responded, the heat rising in her. All the stress and shock of the crash let go in a primitive need to rejoice in life. Her arms slipped under Jess's shirt and clawed at her back. Jess's lips traced a line down her throat as she moaned softly and then gasped as shudders of delight waved through her system as Jess's tongue played with her hardened nipples. She would have let Jess take her. She could feel that Warrior's need was as great as hers but with a moan Jess pulled away and stood up. Without a word she was gone.
The small, thin hands fumbled with the wood disc as the seer painted it in pie sections of red and white. It would hang today in the peak of the Hous Tambaran. The red symbolizing the sun and the white the moon. The disc represented the passing of time. Twenty years for this cycle and so many more years since the brothers had been parted. The Seer grinned. The followers had decided last night that they must please the gods as instructed. It was easy to pick the sacrifice. Now all that remained was the opportunity. This would be the last cycle! Soon now, the cargo would return to their land and they too would be rich and powerful like the Europeans.
Jess crawled out of the low doorway of the ceremonial longhouse into the blackness of the predawn day. It was cold and
she pulled her jacket around her and zippered it up. At six thousand feet, the air was thin and the nights cold. It was hard to believe that only eight hundred miles away the hot, ionized air of the South Pacific blew gently against the foothills of the jungle. Here in the highlands, a very different world remained isolated and shrouded in the mists of time.
A terrified squeal of a pig and a dull thud that rose above the murmur of local voices brought Jess out of her thoughts. A tingle of excitement ran through her lean, muscular form as she caught the musky smell of fresh blood. With confident strides, she covered the distance that separated her from the orange fires that glowed in the dark distance.
The pig kill was part of the ceremony for the removal of one village guardian spirit in favour of a more powerful one. The village needed to have greater protection from the spirit world for soon they would attempt to capture the Timp. Jess arrived just as they had started the killing. The squeal of terrified pigs and the thud of the club echoed along the dark path as she drew closer.
Around the fire stood the men of the tribe. Their faces were painted black and they wore only a thick bark belt with a fold of woven material in front and long leaves in the back. Some carried stone age weapons including a large stone axe, the wood handle tucked through their belts. It was still quite dark and all this was seen by Jess by the highlight of the campfires.
A grey, coarse looking pig would be brought and held up by one warrior in the firelight. Another warrior would take a heavy length of wood and club the pig between the eyes. The animal's stocky body would slump in the warrior's arms. Blood ran from its snout as it was lowered to the ground. Quickly, the Shaman would drag the sacrificed pig over so that the blood from its snout dripped into a ceremonial hole. Jess knew that this hole contained the ancestral artifacts or spirit rocks of each clan. They would be brought from the stone houses and placed in the hole so that the pig's blood could flow over them. This sacrificial blood was a tribute to the spirits of the dead males of the tribe.
Jess watched from the edge of the darkness, her face etched in expressionless lines. After a while, her towering figure disappeared into the greys of the early morning mist. In the gathering light, she walked along the red mud trail and stood looking from the ridge across the mist filled valley to the rising grasslands pierced by the limestone peaks. Within her soul, she felt the old darkness. The blood lust that dwelled on the edge of lost memories. Moments like this, when the old feelings resurfaced, unnerved her. Who was she? And what was her bond with Mary and the Hosts? Whatever it was, she didn't want to think about it because it seemed to involve waking the demon within her. She sighed and turn back. The villagers expected her to be there to add her white man's powerful magic to help trick and capture the Timp.
By the time all the pigs had been slaughtered, the red of the early morning light was burning through the mist. The dead pigs were now being singed and blackened on the fires to remove their coarse hair. Then they were dragged off and butchered with razor sharp bamboo knives. Carefully, the blood was drained off into bamboo cylinders filled with vegetable greens and the raw sides of meat were laid out on display on banana leaves. The head of the unfortunate animal and its backbone and rib cage, all carefully kept in one-piece, was hung up on wood stakes around the ceremonial ground. Each village man took pride in the number of bloody carcasses that he claimed as his own.
Jess walked down the row of grizzly remains, fighting back an ugly trace memory of humans spread-eagle on stakes. Her jaw tightened and she moved back to where the shaman, Quen, chanted the magic words to capture the Timp spirit. She stopped, her toes next to a miniature curved pitpit grass fence set in the ground a few feet away from where the medicine-man worked. This structure was a warning to women to stay back for they were considered unclean and would spoil the magic.
Quen look up into challenging blue eyes. He shuddered at their coldness. He grunted and nodded his head and Jess's mouth curved on one side into a cruel smile as she stepped over the barrier into the world of men and magic. She squatted down by the hole and reached in with her long, strong fingers and lifted out the sacred stone artifacts still warm and dripping with the blood sacrifice. These she wrapped carefully in banana leaves and tucked them into a waiting net bag called a belem. The shaman ignored her. He wanted to use the power that radiated from this strange white woman but he was not prepared to risk the health of his soul by talking to or acknowledging a woman.
The shaman covered the hole with wood and then buried it with dirt. If all the magic had been done right, then the old Timp was now trapped within the hole. If the signs were right, then in about the month's time a singsing would take place. This was a time of feasting and dancing.
Jess stood, swinging the belem over her shoulder. She turned without a word and walked off. Cutting back through the ceremonial grounds, the villagers now moved back in fear knowing that she carried the power of their ancestral spirits in the bag. Jess noted that the women had now taken the meat and bamboo cylinders of greens and blood and had wrapped them individually in banana leaf bundles. These Jess knew would be cooked in underground pits on hot stones. This ceremonial way of cooking was called mumu. Jess turned her back and strode off moodily down the winding, narrow trail that would lead back to her clinic.
Mary had not seen Jess since she had walked out on her the morning before. Mone, although friendly and helpful, was very secretive as to where Jess had gone. Mary had spent the two days learning to hobble along on her painful and crippled foot and familiarizing herself with her temporary base.
The compound consisted of a clearing of grass with bush buildings around the sides. To the north the land sloped up and was bordered by two rough buildings one the hospital ward and surgery and the other Jess's office and storage for hospital and camp supplies. A path between these two buildings lead through the bush to the small runway where Mary's plane had crashed a few days before.
To the west was a lean-to where the local women cooked meals for any sick relative that had to stay at the compound. There was also a roofed patio that was the kitchen and eating area for Jess and Mone. There was a propane stove and fridge of dubious origins, a few shelves made from planks and log up- rights and six folding garden chairs around two tin card tables. The washing up was done in a tin tub and the hot water had to be heated on a wood cook stove. Fresh water was at least handy, as it bubbled from a spring a hundred feet behind the kitchen. On this side too, was a building for washing with a tin tub for washing clothes, a bucket used as a sink and a make-shift shower that amounted to a bucket on a hook with a few holes in the bottom. There was also a locked shed used to store their food supplies.
To the east was Jess's sleeping hut and beside it was Mone's hut. Some distance behind these were several outhouses. There was also a long, low building that Mone called a longhouse. It was only about five feet high and ten wide and it ran about thirty feet in length. There were a series of low doorways that could only be entered by crawling in on your hands and knees. Inside, the longhouse was divided into sections each with its own stone ringed fire pit. There was no escape for the smoke that quickly filled the longhouse and gradually seeped through the grass roof making it look from the outside as if it was on fire. Mone explained that the smoke helped keep the roof warm and dry and slowed rot and that there were fewer fleas in a smoke filled hut. The longhouse was used as guest quarters for any relatives who had to stay over while a clan member was being treated in the clinic.
The compound sloped down to the south and should have been bordered by the communications hut. This however, had been lost when heavy rains had caused the ground to give and slide a hundred yards down the mountainside. The loss of the communications hut was a serious set back to the little clinic but the toppling of a few trees did open the area up so that there was now a spectacular view of the length of the valley below.
Mone explained to Mary that the walls of the huts were made with the thick, round tubes of the pitpit plant that was in the grass family. First, a wood frame was put up and then the sections between were filled in with pitpit. These grass walls were held together by weaving long, thin strips of bark through them. The roof was a different type of grass called locally 'kunie'. It was tied in bunches and was overlapped on the roof similar to European thatch. Mary found Jess's hut to be warm at night but rather hot and stuffy during the day.
It was clear to Mary that she could earn her keep by cooking and reorganizing the clinic's supply hut. From what she could see, Mone and Jess lived on such basic stables as pork and beans, canned corned beef, and rice! When questioned, Mone did admit sheepishly that the village women sometimes gave them some of their food.
Jess's small office was neat and well organized, however, the supply room was a jumble of boxes and a mixture of several stockroom systems that had been employed by any number of workers at the clinic.
"What kind of medical problems do you get at the clinic?" Mary had asked Mone as they shared an afternoon cup of tea under the roofed kitchen as rain poured down on all sides of them.
"Wounds, broken bones, skin diseases," explained Mone, "But any major problem we send on to Mendi by plane. This is a leprosy clinic mainly."
Mary's mug had stopped half way to her mouth and her face registered horrified shock, "I'm staying at a leprosy colony!?" she asked incredulously.
Mone laughed enjoying the shocked look on the small white woman's face. "You do not have to worry," he explained, "Or wear a bell for the rest of your life and call out unclean when you enter a room. The fear that European's have of the disease is unfounded. Dry leprosy is not contagious at all and wet leprosy only has a very low contagious rate. The disease actually is in the same family of illnesses as arthritis."
"You're sure?" asked Mary with a worried frown.
"Yes, Miss Mary," responded Mone with a twinkle in his eye.
After tea, the rain let up a bit and Mone looking worried said that he had things to do. Mary cleaned up the kitchen and promised herself that she would do a decent job of cleaning and organizing when she could stay on her feet longer. She noticed that the few village women that had been huddled under the lean-to had also disappeared. Taking her cane she stepped out into the compound and suddenly became aware of how still and quiet everything was. There was usually always a few people around the compound but now there was no one.
Shrugging off her growing uneasiness, she went in search of Mone who rarely seemed to leave the area. He was not in any of his usual haunts. Mary was becoming increasingly worried. Things just didn't feel right. The only place she hadn't looked was in the ward where she knew at least one patient was confined. Carefully hobbling across the wet compound, she entered the ward. What she saw there made her heart lurch in terror!
Her scream of horror echoed off the rocky walls of the long, narrow valley. It hit Jess as she came up the path like an arrow to her heart. She was running full out before she had even consciously registered that Mary was in trouble.
Jess met a terrified Mary on the path just at the edge of the compound. "Ahh," Mary got out of lips stiff with shock. Her face was white and she shock violently. Jess wrapped her in her arms and held her close. Her own gut tied in a knot of anger and worry over what might have happened to Mary.
"Shhh, easy. Okay, I've got you," murmured Jess holding the smaller woman and trying to reassure her. Suddenly, Mary pulled away and stumbled back awkwardly.
"Keep away from me you, god-damn bitch!" Mary screamed hysterically pounding at Jess's chest and face with her shaking fists. "I'm sick of your fucking mind games, you hear! Don't ever touch me again!"
Jess let a the blows rain for a minute. She'd had it coming, she figured. Then she stepped closer and grabbed Mary's shoulders firmly, giving her a good shake. "Shut up, damn it! Come on get a hold of yourself, here! What the hell is going on?!" she snapped.
Mary took a deep breath and pointed with an unsteady hand towards the hospital. "In there," she choked out between gasps.
Jess looked at the hospital and then down at Mary. "You okay?" she asked gently stopping her hand before it had touched Mary's cheek. Tears rolled down Mary's white face but she nodded yes.
Jess gave her a hard, long look and then satisfied that Mary was not physically hurt, she turned and jogged over to the hospital entering cautiously. She saw that the young man, Kalla, who had been her patient now lay on a blood soaked cot. A wood stake had been hammered through one ear and out the other.. Jess's jaw tightened and her mouth narrowed into a angry line. Moving forward, she looked more closely. There was a crudely cut wound to his side. Jess went over to the supply cabinet and got out a pair of plastic gloves and pulled them on. Walking back over she examined the areas of trauma. The boy's liver had been removed. Covering the grizzly sight with a sheet and tossing the gloves into the trash, she walked purposely back to where Mary waited at the edge of the compound.
"He's dead, isn't he?" Mary asked in a shaky, weak voice.
"Murdered," frowned Jess placing her hands on her hips and looking very frustrated and angry. "You see anyone or hear anything?" she asked.
Mary shook her head, "It rained pretty hard. It was even difficult to make out what Mone was saying." Mary suddenly looked horrified. "Jess, Mone is missing! Everyone has gone!"
"Yeah, yeah, I know. The spirits are loose," Jess responded looking around with a worried frown. There was nothing she could do for the murdered man right now. And the community was in peril as long as the sacrificial artifacts she carried were not returned to their stone houses.
She couldn't leave Mary here with a murderer about and Mary couldn't walk far.
"Look, I've got to see to something. It might not be safe to leave you here so you're going to have to come with me."
"I can't walk far," protested Mary.
"I'm going to carry you piggy-back," stated Jess as her blue eyes scanned the compound.
"Oh no, you're not!" snapped Mary shaking her head. Her strawberry blond hair whipped around her face like ribbons of gold.
Jess's eyes snapped down and held her's with an icy stare. "You either let me carry you or you stay back here with the corpse and a possible murderer," she growled cruelly.
Mary swallowed in fear and nodded her understanding. Jess removed a net bag from her shoulder and handed it to Mary to carry then she turned and bent her knees allowing the petite woman to wrap her arms around Jess's neck. Jess captured Mary's legs with her elbow joints and headed off across the compound and up the trail that lead passed the airstrip and on up the mountain.
"Where are we going?" asked Mary her face buried in Jess's soft, spicy smelling hair.
"To the home of the ghosts," responded Jess and said no more.
Encounter - Part 2
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