The Amulet of Raja

A Lara Croft Fantasy

By Brantley Thompson Elkins

It didn't belong here.

It didn't even look like it belonged here.

Lara Croft was furious as she stared at the "relic" that was supposed to provide the missing link between the civilizations of Atlantis and Egypt..

She'd had to excavate for days, working alone with nothing but a small shovel, because Anders had said he wanted the dig kept hush-hush until he could present the amulet to the world.

Anders had paid her well. She had 50,000 in her London account, and been promised another 50,000 when she delivered the goods. She also had sore arms, sore legs and sundry scrapes and bruises from her labors, and from having crawled her way into the tomb itself once she'd found it.

And now this… bloody piece of work.

Too right, they had stainless steel in the Sahara during the Ice Age! The crystal was an obvious cheap fake, grown in a lab somewhere. Costume jewelry, nothing better. But somebody had gone to an awful lot of trouble to place it here, in a tomb that had supposedly lain undisturbed for 5,000 years.

Was it Anders who'd pulled this stunt? He hardly seemed to have the brains for it, or the energy. He'd claimed to have found the reference to the Amulet of Raja in an ancient scroll, which had conveniently disappeared. But he'd been dead on about the location of the site. He had to be fronting for somebody.

She felt like killing Laurent Anders. She felt like killing whoever sent him her way. Did they take her for a fool? Did they really believe she'd be taken in by this hoax, as Trevor Roper had been gulled by the Hitler diaries, or a generation of palaeontologists had bought into the Piltdown man?

Well, look on the bright side. She had the $50,000. Just let Anders try to get it back! Maybe she could sell the story to one of the tabloids. That would bring in some pocket money, not to mention expose and embarrass Anders. She could model the amulet for the story, too, the pendant hanging between her breasts -- nothing wrong with exploiting her image as the world's sexiest adventurer.

Lara shot several frames of the object in situ. Force of habit, perhaps. But it would be good for the tabloids, even if it was worthless for scientific documentation. Photography done, she played her flashlight around the tomb once again. No sign of anything else: no mummy, none of the artifacts associated with ancient Egyptian burials.

Tomb robbers. That's what Anders' backers had to be.

There was a difference between a tomb raider and a tomb robber. Lara Croft might work on the fringes of archaeology, but she followed the rules. She recorded her finds, she took pictures, she made sketches. She documented everything, she never sold objects on the black market.

Tomb robbers were scum. Anders and whoever was behind him were scum. Well, they'd get theirs. She would show them before the world for what they were. Once she reached the surface, she'd look for signs of recent excavation from another direction. She'd document that too. Proof positive.

Lara decided she might as well hang the amulet around her neck now, along with the camera. She'd need her hands to help crawl back up the tunnel. She set down her flashlight for a moment to pick up the "relic." When she touched it, she felt a small shock, like static electricity. Why the amulet should be charged, she had no idea, but it must be part and parcel of the hoax.

There was no further shock when she put it on. Rather, she felt a sense of exhilaration -- which she attributed to thoughts of the exposé to come. But the going was surprisingly easy; she practically flew up the narrow tunnel. She felt as if she could have flown all the way back to Alexandria -- which was, of course, absurd.

Emerging into the sunlight, however, she encountered a shock: she was not alone.

It was Anders. With him was an older man. He didn’t look to be in very good shape. Some sort of spinal deformity. He and Anders had apparently arrived in a Land Rover that was parked some distance away in the trackless desert. She hadn't heard anything -- they must have cut the engine at the last rise and let the vehicle roll the rest of the way,

The older man held a gun. Small caliber, but deadly.

And she'd left her 9 mms in the tent, damn it!

She never did that. But she'd been alone here. No foreseeable danger. They'd have been an encumbrance, crawling through the tunnel.

"You have something that belongs to me," the man said, pointing the gun at her.

"Who the hell are you, besides that bastard's silent partner?"

"Karl Augustus Laffert. Not that it matters. I will disappear soon. As soon as you give me the amulet."

Laffert. The German Howard Hughes. Legendary head of Laffert Flugzeug GmbH. He hadn't been seen in decades. There had been rumors about the state of his health, now obviously confirmed.

"What's your interest in this?" Lara said, stalling for time.

"My dear Ms. Croft, this isn't Twenty Questions. The Amulet of Raja, please."

Despite his show of arrogance, he looked nervous, as if he weren't quite sure he had the upper hand. How could this be?

"Perhaps you do not believe that I am willing to shoot," Laffert said. "Let me disabuse you."

With those words, Laffert turned and shot Anders through the heart. Anders didn't even have time to be surprised before he died. But before he hit the ground, Lara Croft had made her move.

It was now or never; she had to act fast, and she did.

But Laffert was turning toward her as she ran towards him, aiming his gun.

She slammed into him just as he was about to fire, made to knock the weapon aside -- but not before it went off. She felt a tickle on her chest. A misfire; talk about blind luck!

Laffert collapsed to the ground -- still breathing, but only semi-conscious from the impact of her body. The gun lay beside him; the barrel seemed to be split.

You’d think a billionaire could do better than a Saturday night special! But then she recognized the weapon as a Beretta -- .22 caliber, low recoil. Mostly for target shooting, but it could kill, like any gun.

She stepped back a moment, and it was only then that she noticed the small lump of flattened metal that lay where she had just been standing. A bullet? But how?

Laffert was coming around. She stepped forward again, kicked the gun away. It was an ordinary kick, but the gun arced into the air and soared a dozen yards before it came to rest. She was still looking that way in amazement when Laffert spoke.

"It should have been mine, damn you," he croaked. "It should have been mine."

He was staring at her chest. She was used to that. But he didn’t seem to be staring at her with lust --was he even capable of that, given his age and condition?

She glanced down, and it was only then that she saw the hole in her shirt, right over her left breast. She was wearing a long-sleeved khaki shirt and khaki pants over her usual tank top and shorts. Sexy outfits were fun, but sunburn wasn't, and this was the Sahara, a hundred miles west of the Nile.

Laffert was still muttering about some sort of injustice. Lara Croft turned away from him before unbuttoning her shirt.

She managed to lose the first two buttons, tearing the fabric. It was a good shirt; that shouldn’t have happened. She undid two more buttons, very carefully.

There was another ragged hole in her tank top. Beneath that, nothing but her breast -- only with a grayish smudge against the creamy white of her flesh.

Lara Croft was smart. She was never slow on the uptake. It had to be the amulet, she realized. It had made her invulnerable. Like Supergirl, or Wonder Woman. Only Wonder Woman had to maneuver her magic bracelets to catch bullets. She hadn't done anything. The amulet had changed her.

She realized she no longer felt the scrapes and bruises from the dig. She rolled up her right sleeve. The nasty scrape there was gone. The others must be gone, too. The amulet had healed her.

Would it have healed Laffert? Cured his deformity? Even rejuvenated him? She put her shirt back together as best she could, realizing that there'd been nothing wrong with it; that she simply hadn’t known her own strength. She turned to face him again. He could tell that she knew -- knew everything.

"Not fair," he complained. "Not fair!"

"Who made this?" she asked, ignoring his plaint.

He ignored her question, and began cursing her, as if words would be more effective now than bullets. She looked back at the excavation, thought of the tomb 50 feet inwards. It was as if she could see it again -- she could see it, like a sonogram. Another power of the amulet. She looked into the ground in other directions, and she could see. But there was nothing much to see -- just sand and rock.

It gave her ideas, though. Ideas that would help her in her work. But first she had to decide what to do next.

It wasn't that hard. Let the desert take Laffert, as he had taken Anders. He couldn’t seem to get up; he could only crawl, and moan, and curse in vain. She ignored him as she circled the site, looking for signs of previous excavations. With her deep vision, whatever it was, she could tell there were none.

She already knew the amulet was real, even if it wasn't what Anders had represented it to be. But as to its true origin, there was nothing to be learned here. There was nothing more to be done here. Perhaps she could work from London, could consult experts in the small and controversial field of xenoarchaeology….

She struck her tent, loaded it in her jeep, removed all traces of her presence. She could tell there was a wind coming up. It might not presage a major sandstorm, but it would be enough to erase her tracks. She had never been here; she hadn’t told anyone where she was going -- not in Alexandria, not in London.

If the two bodies and the Land Rover were ever found, let the Egyptian police try to figure it out. She started up the jeep, turning the key very carefully, using the pedals gingerly, and set out towards the northeast.

Six Weeks Later

General Faisal Aziz knew how the story had played out here over the last 3,000 years. He just didn’t know how it was going to play out over the next few hours.

The site of Akra had been excavated by the project between 1996 and 2001. The work was led by Dr. Peter Magee of Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania , assisted by Cameron Petrie of Sydney University in Australia.

As long as three thousand years ago it had been a city in what was now the district of Bannu. The ancient city had been full of life and had its own civilization. People of latter-day Bannu believed that, because of the sins and misdeeds of the people of Akra, the Almighty had destroyed the city.

It was said that God poured stones instead of water from the sky. As a result of this "rain of stones" the whole city was destroyed. Secular skeptics had interpreted this to mean that the city had actually been destroyed by volcanic lava. But the truth turned out be more mundane.

Epitaphs, idols, coins and other antiquities had been found her.e From these, it was clear that Akra was once a Greek city, with a blend of Greek and Hindu culture. Either Alexander the Great himself had taken the city, or one of his governors conquered it. Akra was a Greek word meaning a high place. Akra was situated on a high hill.

A great number of baked bricks used in construction have been dated to 3,000 years ago, well before the time of Alexander. Besides these, coins containing the names of Hindu Rajas and other marks in Sanskrit have been found. Akra began as a Hindu city and then became a Greek city and then -- some other conqueror destroyed it, and it was abandoned.

Only scholars had taken much interest in Akra until the hostage crisis of 2004. A group from the University of Winnemac, following up on the work of Dr. Magee, had just uncovered some exquisite Hindu sculptures. At the same time, the Pakistani government in Islamabad had launched yet another campaign against extremists in the Northwest Frontier Province.

The campaign hadn't gone well, even as a public relations gesture, serving only to further inflame the already radicalized tribesman of the Bannu district. They hated the central government, they hated foreigners, and they hated any idolatrous images of pre-Islamic times.

Just as their Taliban brethren in Afghanistan had destroyed the Great Buddhas of Bamyan, they sought to destroy the antiquities of Akra. Many of these had long since been removed to Lahore, or even to Europe and America. These too must be destroyed, they said, when they took their hostages and made their demands.

Bannu and its ancient capital Akra were suddenly as famous as Egypt and the Sphinx. But the TV networks had to rely on talking heads from Islamabad, or at best from some outpost dozens of miles away from Bannu, for the government wasn't allowing journalists anywhere near the area. The journalists were secretly relieved. They still remembered Daniel Pearl.

General Aziz, commander of the unit deployed outside the rude village below the site of the ancient city, was understandably surprised when a CNN correspondent -- a woman at that -- suddenly appeared at the scene. Nobody could figure out how she had gotten there, for there were military roadblocks covering every access route that could be driven. Only the CNN woman didn't have a car.

She didn’t have much else, either. Just a backpack, a camera and a throat mike. She was dressed in shorts, boots and a tank top with the CNN logo.

Aziz, quickly overcame his surprise and sent two aides to take her into custody. The woman somehow evaded them and approached the general at a jog. The aides followed, trying to keep up with her. They looked very foolish. That made Aziz too look foolish. He did not like to look foolish.

"This is a restricted area," he told the CNN woman when she stopped in front of him. "You must return to Islamabad immediately."

"I am here to interview Abdullah Rashid," the journalist replied in Urdu.

Aziz wasn't sure which disturbed him more: the fact that she was speaking in his own language, or that she wanted to meet with the terrorist leader -- a man who had already been responsible for the beheadings of several foreign engineers working on the new dam since the Americans had foolishly released him from Guantanamo.

The woman was disturbing to him in another way. She was taller than him, nearly two meters. She had brown hair and brown eyes -- eyes that were somehow hypnotic. And her body… like one of those brazen supermodels for which the West was infamous.

He could clearly see her nipples against the thin, tightly stretched fabric of her tank top: she wasn't wearing a bra, and didn’t need one -- her breasts were so incredibly full and firm. Her shorts hugged her crotch almost as tightly, and the bare flesh of her arms and legs was flawless.

It took all his self-control to suppress the thought of tearing off her scanty clothing and ravishing her on the spot. His aides obviously had the same thing on their minds; he shot them an angry look. Other troops had been drawn to his tent by the sight. He shot them an angry look, too, and they stopped where they were.

"Back to your posts," he told them, then returned his attention to the CNN woman. A name tag, "L Bridget," was pinned to the fabric of her top.

"You are either very stupid, Ms. Bridget, or completely insane," he told her. "Since you have gone to the trouble of learning Urdu, you must have some kind of intelligence. Therefore I have to conclude that you are insane. I shall have to contact the American consul. Perhaps he can talk some sense into you."

"I am a British subject," Lara Croft said. "And I am neither stupid nor insane. I need a word with you. In private."

Even worse. The old colonial power, that had left the strange legacy of bagpipes and cricket in a Muslim nation -- there was a test match against Sri Lanka this week, and that would have made the front pages from Karachi to Lahore if it hadn't been for the business here.

"'Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun,'" Aziz quoted. "But there are other places to find a noonday sun. I'm sure your consul will be able to recommend some."

He began to call on his cell phone.

Lara grabbed his hand.

"I said that I need a word with you in private. In your tent, flaps down."

Aziz couldn't believe the strength of her grip. What he could believe was that Bridget wasn't a journalist. Rather, a secret agent of some kind, with martial arts training. He wondered briefly why he hadn't been informed, but the obvious answer came to him immediately: MI-6 or the CIA or whoever had sent her didn't trust security in the capital. Their mistrust, he had to admit, was well placed.

But what could she want? Share intelligence? Western intelligence was a joke. They had nobody on the ground, nobody who knew the language, knew the customs. They had surveillance satellites and drones and that was it. Still, this agent knew Urdu. Perhaps that was a step in the right direction.

"Turn on the radio," she said after they had entered the tent and he had lowered the flaps. "What you are about to hear and see is for your ears and eyes only."

A moment later, the sounds of Punjabi bangra filled the tent: Jasbir Jassi's "Kudi Kudi," followed by "Nishani Yaar Di." It was an Indian station, but when it came to pop music, nobody made much of a fuss about that.

"I don't work for CNN," Lara told Aziz.

"Tell me something I don't already know."

"I don’t work for MI-6, either. Or for the CIA. Or any of the other agencies."

"So, pray tell me, who do you work for? Who sent you?"

"I work for myself. I sent myself."

"And why would that be?"

"Manfred Von Croy."

"One of the hostages."

"And the nephew of my dear friend and mentor Werner Von Croy."

She didn't mention that Manfred had also been one of her diverse lovers. But there was a gleam of understanding in the general's eyes at the mention of the Von Croy name.

Aziz had never been terribly interested in celebrities. But he did have a keen interest in antiquities, and her mention of the Von Croys triggered his recollection.

"Your name is Lara Croft. That indeed explains your presence here. But it does not explain your plans. What can you possibly hope to accomplish that I and my soldiers cannot?"

Lara glanced at a ceremonial dagger on Aziz' table.

"Is that of any great value?"

"A cheap replica. I would never bring a true family heirloom here."

"Stab me."

Was she really insane after all?

Lara took his hand -- again that terrific grip -- and forced him to plunge the blade into her belly. Only, it didn’t go into her belly. It snapped off instead.

She let him go, and he stumbled back, still holding the stub of the dagger. He could see that it had ripped into her tank top, but -- as she immediately demonstrated by lifting it above her waist -- it hadn't left a mark on her body.

"A gunshot would have attracted unwanted attention," she commented. "But the result would have been the same."

"I don't understand."

"I don't, either. It just happened. Nobody else has known about it -- until today. I hope I can count on your discretion -- for the time being. Before the day is out, it won’t matter. The hostages will be free, and my secret will be out. When you hear the sound of gunfire, that will be your signal to move in."

"But--"

"They won't be firing in your direction. They'll be -- distracted."

"What do I tell my men?"

"For now, you'll tell your men that I am indeed a crazy woman, and wash your hands of me. I'll walk to their compound and allow myself to be captured. You'll tell your men it's good riddance."

She left her backpack with Aziz: it held her cash, credit cards, and other necessaries. She knew now that she could trust the general with it.

Three Hours Later

They had bound and gagged her like the rest. She had expressed indignation over her failure to secure an interview with their leader, but had gone meekly when they threatened her.

Manfred Von Croy recognized her immediately. His eyes went wide, and he squirmed as if he hoped he could break free of his own bonds to come to her aid. When he failed, he began to weep in frustration.

Lara wished she could reassure him, but the time was not yet. She had to study the situation first. And give time for anyone outside to let their guard down.

The room was wired with explosives. Besides the hostages, it was filled with Hindu sculptures -- some erotic -- that the scholars from Winnemac had unearthed. Blow them up and the heathen images all at once. That was Rashid's plan. It was cheap and efficient, you had to give him that.

They didn’t have a guard posted inside, but there were two just outside, armed with Kalashnikovs. The walls were mud. No windows, just the one wooden door. The place must have been built as a store room. She managed to turn, and looked through the wall behind her, opposite the door. There was another room there, apparently unoccupied.

Dig we must.

The hard part was going to be doing it without breaking her bonds. But she had to give the others some idea what was happening. She drew a super-deep breath, exhaled just enough to loosen the duck tape gag.

"Don't react to what you're about to see," she whispered. "I'll explain later."

Then she began wriggling into position, head against the wall. She lowered her face to the floor to press the gag back against her lips, then began grinding her head against the wall in a circular motion, boring her way through the mud like a mole.

Manfred, youngest member of the team, was wide-eyed again. The others were wide-eyed for the first time. They were a diverse lot: Weinbaum, Gallun, Manning, Campbell and Smith, ranging in age from mid-37 to 65. She knew their reputations, although she had not met them before.

Lara worked as quietly and carefully as possible, so as not to trigger a collapse of the wall that would defeat her purpose. The powdered dust from the excavation gathered on the floor, and that would have to be dealt with presently.

Once there was a sound at the door, and she quickly wriggled back into her original sitting position to conceal the cavity. But nothing happened, so she went back to work and, in a few moments, made a breakthrough -- a passage large enough to accommodate the men. Then she pushed the accumulated dust through it to the other side, shook her head at super speed to free her hair of the dust, and wriggled back to resume her position.

Just in time, as it turned out. There was a sound of lewd conversation outside. Then the door opened, and one of the guards stepped in. There wasn't any doubt what he had on his mind. But men who thought with their dicks had always been easy to deal with, even before she had found the amulet -- which was now secreted in the very place this man so obviously wanted to visit.

The guard was playing right into her hands as he began pawing her, loosening her bonds only to gain better access to her private parts. He stank of sweat and bad breath; she couldn't imagine that any woman could ever want him. He was rough with her, biting her breasts savagely. He couldn’t really hurt them, of course, and was too overwhelmed by their amazing firmness and resilience to notice that he wasn't leaving any marks.

Lara moaned as if she were enjoying the attacks -- that was for the benefit of the other guard outside, who'd be looking forward to his turn. She continued moaning as she broke his neck and quietly put his lifeless body aside, moaned all the more loudly as she broke the bonds of the other prisoners and motioned them through the hole.

She screamed in seeming ecstasy once they had all made their escape, then subsided again into low moans, which she continued as she shoved the precious Hindu sculptures through the passage for the archaeologists to take care of and disarmed the explosives -- piling them against the wall to conceal the cavity.

Then she opened the door.

The second guard was dead before he had a chance to react to seeing her instead of his comrade. But he wasn't the problem; the rest of Rashid's forces were the problem. She had to lead them away from the store room. There was a cluster of them down the alley. They hadn’t noticed her yet, but they would.

She took the guard's Kalashnikov, fired a burst. Only two of the five guerrillas went down, but that was the idea -- she needed the rest to run for help, with her after them. She stood there for a moment, inviting them to fire a few return bursts and then stare in amazement as the bullets tore into her scanty attire but not into her.

What really got to them was that Lara not only stood there unharmed, but actually giggled at them. It was pure reflex; the bullets really did tickle. She struck a pose, hands on hips, then rotated her pelvis. The guerrillas cut and ran, and she pursued.

It didn't take long for them to catch up with the main force. But it was taking a while for the fugitives to make themselves understood. Lara had hung back for a moment, but now she decided to get things moving. She stepped out in plain view, brandishing her Kalashnikov.

"Come and get it," she shouted, and fired a burst in their general direction.

That got their attention. They opened up on her with everything they had. At first, she was doubled over giggling, and her attackers must have thought that she was doubled over in pain, that they were finally getting somewhere.

But as more and more shots found her breasts and pussy, she was soon tingling with delight. She let the bullets caress her, closed her eyes and imagined they were a lover's kisses, until she began coming. And coming. And coming.

Best of all was when one of them launched an RPG and it exploded right between her legs.

By that time, the army had moved in. The guerrillas didn't notice until they started getting hit from behind. It was too late for them to regroup, and they knew it. But for Rashid and a few of his cohorts who were gunned down trying to escape, the whole group quickly surrendered.

Only the slightest wisps of Lara's clothing remained. The men were getting quite a show. But General Aziz, turning gallant, ordered some of his men to surround her, backs turned, until he could find something suitable to cover her nakedness.

That Evening

Lara was still wearing borrowed Pakistani Army fatigues when they checked in at the Avari Lahore, a five-star accommodation favored by the rich and famous.

The staff was very accommodating, forbearing to stare at the strange sight, even before she had identified herself as Lara Croft, Duchess of Bridget, and presented her unlimited credit card.

She immediately placed an order with a local shop for something more suitable, a long-sleeved gown in conformance with the dress code of West Punjab. It was after hours, but the shop, too, was very accommodating. The order also included suitable undergarments, although she hardly needed them.

Lara would have taken a quick shower and changed, but Manfred had other ideas. He had made purring sounds when he saw her naked, spotted like a leopard from the smudges left by all the bullets. Now he joined her in the shower, where he made love to her from head to toe under pretense of washing away all those smudges, one by one.

Manfred already knew her body, knew what it liked. But he had never known it like this. It was more magnificent than ever. The few moles, the marks of old injuries that had once been there had vanished. Her skin was flawless. Her breasts stood proudly, defying gravity -- and when he embraced her they didn't flatten but pressed against his chest, the steel-hard nipples teasing him delightfully.

The only disappointment came when he raised her body with his arms and tried to impale her on his raging cock. He couldn’t get in, even though he was harder than he had ever been in his life.

"It's all right," she whispered. "I know how to make you welcome. I've wanted you inside me ever since I first saw you again today. But I'm saving the best for last. Which isn't to say I'll leave you hungry now."

With those words, she knelt before him in the spacious shower and took him in her mouth, teasing him unmercifully with her licking and sucking, squeezing him with her hand to keep him from coming -- holding him back and holding him back until even she couldn’t stand it any more, granting him glorious release and swallowing every drop.

They repaired to the Fort Grill to satisfy another kind of hunger with the Mughal cuisine, dishes dating back to the Muslim empire that had ruled what were now India and Pakistan before the arrival of the British.

They had much to talk about over dinner -- past, present and future. She was now wearing the Amulet of Raja, which somehow matched her gown perfectly. She told him about that in low tones, how she had found it, what it had done to her.

"No, I can’t fly," she said. "But I'm faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and all that. And nothing can hurt me, as long as I'm wearing the amulet. Auntie's corgis were really disappointed when I came back to London."

Her inquiries there had come to naught. When it came to alien artifacts at human sites, the experts -- or pretended experts -- knew either too little or too much. Either they based their speculations on the known possibilities of interstellar travel, or thought they had the whole history of ancient astronauts down chapter-and-verse from the likes of Erich Von Daniken and Zecharia Sitchin. And even they had never heard of the Amulet of Raja -- a name she had thrown at them without explanation.

Beyond her futile effort to find at least a plausible theory as to the origin of the amulet, her only concern at first had been that her love life might be over -- the climactic part of it, at least. But a few experiments had shown that the effects of the amulet rapidly diminished when she removed it. It took only a few hours to come completely back to normal, and only a half an hour to accomplish what she had in mind for tonight.

Conversation turned to other matters. Manfred had insisted on giving her a brief tour of the excavation site before they caught a military helicopter to Lahore. It looked very much like any other site: the stakes and strings marking coordinates, the small tools used for the careful work that was necessary whenever the primary digging uncovered a find of significance.

There was nothing here to make headlines -- nothing like the Ark of the Covenant, the Dagger of Xian or even the Golden Mask of Tornarsuk. But it was vital work just the same. It wasn't a matter of the objects, be they beautiful or merely utilitarian, but of the heritage of humanity: the interplay of human cultures across the ages, the creation of beauty and the forging of the practical, the discovery and the invention, the exchange of goods and the sharing of ideas that made humanity what it was.

She could see it, as Manfred could, in the silent record of peoples who had lived and loved and fought and died, but would have been forgotten and had none to speak for them were it not for the patient work of men like Stanley and Raymond and Laurence and John and Edward. Though they were scorned by the likes of Rashid and ignored by most of the world, they alone could reconnect humanity with its past, make humanity whole.

Lara hoped they could continue with their work, that the University of Winnemac would not recall them -- or the government here bar them. But there was no assurance that some other madman would not rise up to replace Rashid. It was almost certain.

"There are always other possibilities," Manfred said now, as they shared Dumpukht Lamb: a dish dating back to the 16th century, made with aromatic Kashmiri masala, yogurt and saffron and served in a copper handi -- an Indian pot with a bottom like a wok and a narrow opening with a lid on top that allowed for slow cooking and retained all the flavor and aroma. "There is the Amazon, for example."

Lara knew what he meant. Twenty years ago, the Amazon basin had been considered a pristine rain forest, virtually untouched by the hand of man before the Europeans came. Then aerial and satellite surveillance had revealed vast networks of mounds, channels, berms, roads and causeways -- evidence of advanced civilizations that had flourished from as early as 100 B.C. to as late as 1300 A.D. and even beyond.

There were several known centers of civilization, from the Baures region of northern Bolivia to the Xingu country of central Brazil to Marajo, an island as large as Switzerland near the mouth of the Amazon itself. Their peoples raised fish in artificial ponds, grew crops on mounds that were above flood stage in the rainy season and irrigated with canals during the dry season, designed settlements with an apparently advanced understanding of mathematics, geometry and perhaps even astronomy; created remarkable pottery and carried on elaborate religious ceremonies.

"And then there's this guy Yurchey, who thinks they were connected with Egypt and other ancient centers of civilization through a Tesla wireless network," Manfred remarked at one point. "He also thinks they could fly."

"That's the one thing I miss," Lara said. "It would help with exploration even more than being invulnerable. Not that I mind that. Of course, Yurchey never explains why any of these people built roads and causeways at all if they could fly. And they didn't leave any records, except for those religious images on their pottery. No inscriptions, no signs of record keeping."

"Unless they had something like quipu."

"Which wouldn’t have survived in that environment any better than books, if they'd had any books. Anyway, the idea of Inca influence has been pretty well exploded. But who knows what we might find if we looked hard enough? And I have a special way of looking, you know. Better than even deep-imaging radar -- certainly for the smaller stuff, and that's what we'll be looking for."

"We?"

"Why not?"

Later that night

She lay naked on the bed. The Amulet of Raja had been placed safely in the night table.

Manfred greedily drank in the sight: her wild hair, her bedroom eyes, the full lips that beckoned him with mock kisses, the sensually long arms and legs, the magnificent breasts that pointed proudly north, the tuft of pubic hair and the entrance to paradise that lay within -- the paradise he was about to enter.

Lara wriggled her hips. There was already a wet spot on the bed from her juices.

"Come and get it," she invited him.