Excerpt: The engine slowed as the cutter plunged into open air. Minutes later, it sunk its nose into another patch of earth, and then dropped on its belly. Lord Hayden and Elizabeth scanned the outside view. For a moment, they thought they were in hell. Intermittently, fires burned from the ground up. Lava pools littered the underground cavern. The earth here was amber-colored and it sizzled. Dirt tossed and squirmed as if alive.
The two archaeologists exited the cutter via the side hatch. To say that it was hot was the understatement of the millennium. The computer had landed the ship near some rocks, their rough, ebony surfaces gleaming with blistering moisture. "I don’t think we’ll need the oxygen masks just yet, Lord Hayden said, slipping his off. Elizabeth followed suit. Keeping close to the rocks, away from the lava pools and the sizzling earth on their left, the duo walked for hours in the red, sweltering haze, checking the map every quarter mile or so. When they at last reached the spot where Kraton intended planting the megatime bomb, they were both exhausted and drenched in sweat. Elizabeth plopped down on the ground. "Oh, my aching feet," she complained, slipping off her boots.
Lord Hayden sank down beside her. "Now we wait. Eight hours are left before our madman arrives. I, for one, intend catching a good night’s rest." He shrugged off his backpack, then opened it and took out an alarm clock, small and round with two metal gongs. He wound it and set the alarm. "Go to sleep, Grace," he said, amused at the whimsical look she cast him. He stretched out, and pulling his hat forward so that it covered his face, he immediately fell asleep. Elizabeth regarded him lazily, and then smiling, she stretched out beside him.
The alarm went off seven and a half hours later. Sometime during their sleep, Lord Hayden had rolled close to Elizabeth and unconsciously slipped his arm about her shoulders, and she had cuddled close to him. Waking to find her in his arms, he gazed at her lovingly. Her red-gold hair was tousled and splayed across his arm. A few moist wisps hugged her temples and cheeks. He failed to remember a time when he had not held her just so, nor a time when he would not want to. He knew he was in love with her. Not infatuated or attracted, but in love. He had been waiting all his life for this woman.
He blew gently on her cheek, and she stirred. "It’s almost time," he whispered.
Elizabeth felt loath to move, feeling warm and safe, as she had not in a long while, not since a babe in her mother’s arms. With a start, she remembered whose arms they were. She blinked away the drowsiness and looked into Lord Hayden’s face very close to hers. To remain in his arms, to cradle his face in her palms and bring her mouth close to his, these were desires she must squelch at this moment, perhaps forever. She turned her thoughts to her need for nourishment. "Gosh, but I’m hungry," she murmured.
Lord Hayden laughed, "Hungry, huh?" Drawing his arms away reluctantly he sat up and rummaged through his backpack. "Have an oatmeal bar," he said, offering her one. Emerald eyes lit. She accepted the bar and sat up. Lord Hayden took one for himself. He held it up. "Here’s to yesterday, today and tomorrow," he toasted. Elizabeth joined him, smiling, and they clinked bars.
Half an hour to the second, the madman arrived. He came in a closed vehicle that was a cross between a van and a tank, advanced technology for Lord Hayden’s time, and ancient for the year 3000 AD. Judging from its appearance, dirt-encrusted and dented in a hundred places, the trip had not been easy. The two archaeologists flattened themselves against the rocks; he must not see them until they were ready to confront him squarely.
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