Email: [email protected] TOMB HUNTER The Adventures of Larra Court Episode 4 Larra and the Lost World Chapter 1 The Proposition Central Africa, October, 1937 Larra Court swung precariously over the edge of the precipitous drop. Damn, I’m such a fool! she thought. Her left arm hung uselessly at her side and her feet dangled in the air unable to find any foothold. Her entire weight hung on the fingertips of her right hand. Already the ache in her fingers told her that she would only be able to hold on for a few more seconds, and then she would plunge to her death. My own fault, she thought, for coming here on my own. Desperately she looked for a way out of her plight. A few feet to her right there was a small ledge, but it was just out of reach of her right foot. Even stretching her leg parallel she could not reach it. There was just a faint chance of getting out of her predicament. Using what was left of the strength in her arm she hoisted herself a few inches up the cliff face. Then pushing with her legs she was able to make her entire body swing like a pendulum. This was extremely dangerous, as it loosened her precarious hold on the tiny ledge that was gripped by her fingers, but she did not have much choice. “Desperate measures for desperate circumstances,” she muttered. Slowly her body began to arc back and forth. She would only have a few seconds to make this work and then she would be lost. She felt her fingers slipping off the ledge. She stabbed wildly with her right leg and gained a slight hold on the narrow ledge she had been straining to reach. Now she had two purchase points on the cliff face, but her body was angled across the rock at about twenty degrees off the perpendicular. Her position had improved only marginally unless she could find some way of getting her body upright and secure on the ledge her foot had reached. The next maneuver would be just a risky as the first. She was going to have to release her handhold and move her fingers to a different location that would enable her to pull her body more upright. It would require incredibly fast reflexes to pull off such a gamble, but again, she had no choice. She could not remain angled against the cliff face for much longer without losing her grip. Her situation was not made any easier by the fact that her heavy pack was still strapped to her back, but there was no way that she could hold on and release the straps that held it in place. Her left arm seemed to be paralyzed. There was a strong possibility that her shoulder had been broken by the chunk of rock that had come loose from the cliff face and struck her on the way down. It was the sort of freak occurrence that happened from time to time when rock climbing. That’s why climbers always climb with a buddy, she thought. Only, in her desire to forge ahead she had decided to climb on her own. Now there was no one to help her and no help was expected. She would have to get out of this mess by herself. It was time to act; her strength would not allow her to hold on much longer. Compacting her body as much as she could, Larra pulled upward and stabbed her hand toward the handhold she had spied that was directly over the ledge her foot was on. Immediately she began to fall as her body lost its support. Now her finely conditioned body and lightning reflexes saved her. Her fingers closed over the new handhold and halted her fall. Now she was jackknifed over the chasm with her hand gripping desperately to the handhold she had found, and her one leg planted on the ledge. Straining her arm until the muscles bulged and the tendons stood out she slowly pulled herself upright. Panting heavily from the exertion she finally stood upright on the ledge. Sweat streaming from her body, Larra carefully released her grip, letting the narrow ledge under her feet take all of her weight. The ledge was wide enough that she could actually turn around and sit down on it, letting her feet dangle over the edge of the abyss. She removed her pack and set it on the ledge. She looked above her. Only ten feet over her head was the top of the cliff. She would have to find a way up there, but right now she needed to rest. She also needed to check out her injured shoulder. Slowly, Larra unbuttoned her shirt and peeled the fabric away from her left shoulder. She could see that it was very badly bruised but she could detect no visual abnormalities. Tentatively, she probed it with her right hand. Where the flesh was bruised it was quite painful, but there did not seem to be any broken bones underneath. Her arm and shoulder were, however, quite numb. The impact of the falling rock must have damaged some nerves. In any case, her arm was quite useless for the time being. She would have to scale the cliff using only her right arm. Gently, she massaged her shoulder, trying to rub some life back into it. She was beginning to get her strength back, but would still need a few more minutes of rest. As she sat on the ledge recuperating, her mind drifted back a few months to the beginning of this latest adventure. It had started in her country home in England. She and her companions were recovering from their last adventure in Asia. Larra was very much occupied with her two children, six-year-old, James and one-year-old Lin Yao. She liked family life, never having had much of one when she was a child. Her companions, Amy Price, Katie Reddel, and Jia Li were with her. Larra’s estate was easily large enough for all of them, and the four women enjoyed one another’s company. Never one to be completely idle, Larra was engaged in organizing her extensive notes when a letter arrived. Her African maid, Sarah entered the room with the morning mail. Larra smiled at the beautiful Ugandan woman. She had been with Larra since her first archeological discovery in the Mountains of the Moon. There was more than a mistress-servant relationship between the two of them. They were more like sisters, but Larra was like that with most of her female companions. They liked to be close to her more because of their friendship with her rather than because Larra provided them with financial support. There was a letter from the British Foreign Office. Larra opened that letter first. She frowned as she read it. “Did this arrive by the Post?” she asked? “No, Miss Larra, it came by courier.” Larra read it again and handed it over to Sarah. “What do you make of this, Sarah?” she asked. “It seems very strange Miss Larra,” replied Sarah in her Ugandan accented English. “But if it means a trip home, I think you should look into it.” Larra smiled. Sarah’s English had improved tremendously during her time with Larra. Larra had originally hired her as a nurse and governess for her son, James, but she had soon turned into more than that. Larra found that the forced subservience Sarah had been obliged to adopt toward her white masters hid a lively intelligence and she had encouraged her to be more than just a servant. She had taught her to read and had worked with her to improve her English beyond the level of that of the pidgin English that had been all that was required of most servants in Uganda. Sarah had blossomed under this tutelage. Her confidence had increased to the point where Larra had left her in charge of much of the raising of her son when she had left on her many lengthy and distant archeological adventures. The more responsibility Sarah was given the more she seemed to grow intellectually and spiritually. Larra now valued her as a confidant and advisor and would frequently seek her advice on important matters. “You know, Sarah,” Larra said, “I think I will. How would you like to organize a trip into London?” “Ah!” exclaimed Sarah. “London!” She loved to visit the huge English city, the center of the British Empire, and more importantly, a place of numerous shops and theatres. She loved to shop and to watch the latest plays. “I will see to it, Miss Larra.” She swept out of the room, moving with a graceful stride that heightened the elegance of her six-foot frame. Larra read the contents of the letter one more time. It seemed a very strange document, especially considering its source. The British government was not known for its imaginative correspondence. Sarah soon had the household organized. Larra’s other female companions thought the unexpected excursion to be a wonderful idea. Larra’s estate was somewhat isolated and London was lots of fun. Even James enjoyed it, as he was fascinated by trains, and a trip to London always meant a tour of Harrod’s toy department. Larra booked a private compartment on the train. She found that it was better if five such stunningly beautiful women isolated themselves a little from the public; otherwise, they seemed to draw too much attention. The trip to London was uneventful, although James found it exciting. He planned to be an engineer when he grew up. The journey from Larra’s estate just outside of Tunbridge Wells, south of London took less than an hour. Upon arriving in central London, Larra hired a couple of cabs and had the party taken to the Ritz Hotel. After checking in she took another cab to the British Foreign Office. She went alone. The other members of her party scattered to the various areas of London, delighted to be in the great city once again. Sarah was a bit slowed down with Larra’s daughter, Lin Yao, or “Jade” as Larra sometimes called her, but she was happy to wheel the infant about the streets with James in tow as long as Katie went with her. As for Katie, she liked shopping for toys almost as much as James did. James referred to her as “Auntie Katie” and the two had been fast friends ever since they had first met. Jia Li and Amy headed off to look for clothes. The Chinese girl was slowly settling into her new environment, strange as it was to her. Prior to leaving China, she had never seen a building larger than three stories and the only automobiles she had encountered had been Japanese military vehicles. Now, she attempted to immerse herself in as much of her new culture as possible. The ever affable and chummy Amy was quite happy to serve as her guide. Larra used the letter she had received to get an appointment with Anthony Eden, Britain’s current Foreign Minister. She found her meeting with the senior member of the British government to be one of the strangest that she had ever attended. The letter she had received had not been very specific in many areas. It had been clearly intended to whet Larra’s appetite for adventuring, but when Eden outlined the details of what he wanted Larra was incredulous. “You want me to what?” inquired Larra. “Surely you are not serious.” “I am afraid I am,” said Eden. He was a thin, somber man who looked as if he had better things to do than make jokes. “But this man Burroughs is nothing more than a writer of fanciful fiction,” Larra protested. “I think he may be more than that. Let me show you his letter.” Larra took the piece of paper that the Foreign Secretary offered and read through it quickly. “You believe what this letter says?” she said, raising her eyebrows. “I neither believe nor disbelieve. But it is most disturbing, and I would like you to check it out. I would like you to travel to the United States and visit Mr. Burroughs. I do not think we can take a chance that he might be right.” “Why me?” asked Larra. Eden folded his hands. “You have acquired a certain reputation during your career. You knowledge of languages is extensive, and you know central Africa. We do not have anyone that we can trust who fits the task quite as well as you. In addition, you have encountered the Germans before on another of your expeditions.” Larra frowned slightly. Yes, she had encountered the Germans before, and not all of her memories of that encounter were entirely pleasant. Eden continued: “Also, if I may be candid, if anything were to go wrong His Majesty’s government could disavow any knowledge or connection with you.” Larra felt both flattered and annoyed. She had always wanted to visit the United States. This would give her an excuse, but it would necessarily be a short trip if what Eden said were true. She thought for a moment and then consented. “All right,” she said, “I’ll do it. But I must take my family with me. I no longer wish to be separated from my children.” “If that is your only caveat consider your conditions met,” replied Eden.