Disclaimer: Pet Fly created The Sentinel and his universe. I just play there.

Author's Notes: This manuscript was found sealed in a bottle that washed up on the beach after a violent storm at sea; who knows from which exotic far-off port the storm-swept waves carried it... no? This manuscript was found folded between the pages of an otherwise unremarkable book of maps purchased at the antiquarian bookshop... no? This manuscript was delivered to my doorstep by an unseen hand... all right, all right. I wrote this one night sitting up battling acid stomach. An answer to the El Dorado Challenge, though not precisely what was requested. For H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, companions of a misspent youth.

The Return of Mari Su



Blair Sandburg glared at his sentinel suspiciously, not getting out of the truck. "You sure you're on desk duty?"

Jim Ellison rolled his eyes. "I'm on desk duty, Chief. You're going to miss your plane. You'll be late for your conference."

Blair chewed on his bottom lip. "It just seems like every time I go out of town and leave you alone, something gonzo happens."

"Gonzo," Jim snorted. "What do you mean gonzo? I'll be fine."

"Jim, the last time I went to visit Naomi, you tasted a sample of a new designer drug and insisted Rhonda was a giant chicken for three days."

"That," Jim spoke with immense dignity, "could have happened to anybody."

"And the time your sense of touch went wonky, and you sat on a thumbtack and didn't notice? And it was in your left butt cheek for a month? And you had to get a tetanus shot?"

"Chief. Plane. Now. Bye."

Blair departed with a sigh. Jim drove away with a sigh. Sandburg, the Please Kidnap Me Kid... thought his life was weird. Nah. It was the Sandburg Zone. Had to be. Jim stopped at a local Wonderburger and ordered his usual. No weirdness planned. Two weeks catching up on paperwork and rereading cold case files. Two weeks at home alone. He could take hour-long showers and watch dumb action movies instead of foreign stuff with subtitles. He could eat anything he wanted without nutritional analysis. He could clean the loft thoroughly without anyone calling him anal or obsessive compulsive.

Lost in his plans for his solitary sojourn, he failed to notice that the hand delivering the bag of fast food bore a silver ring of unique design on one finger. A feathered serpent, eating its own tail.

At the loft, Jim settled down on the couch with his food. He had burgers, he had fries, he had cola. Three of the basic food groups. He put on the TV and changed the channel from its default setting of the Discovery Channel. The Golf Channel! He started to watch the game while he ate, making a face after his first long pull at the straw. The soda was sickly sweet, undrinkable, like the syrup had spoiled. He got to his feet, intending to get a fresh can from the fridge. When his vision started to swim, he had time to think, "It wasn't the soda," before everything went black.

He awoke in a bed, lying on silk sheets. Heavy embroidery made the formerly sheer draperies that curtained the bed opaque, blocking his view of the rest of the room, and he was handcuffed to one of the posters. The right side of his head throbbed, and when he raised his free hand to gingerly probe, he found a butterfly bandage and a sore spot. This, he reflected, was not a good sign. A heady perfume filled the air, and the distant ethereal music of flutes and drums blocked his attempts to learn anything else about his location through his senses.

Suddenly, the music began to build to a frenzied crescendo, and the curtains drew back to reveal a woman.

She was tall and lissome, with golden hair piled in intricate coils and falling in a glorious mane to her waist. A filmy white garment knotted around her shoulders, recalling the dress of an ancient goddess. Golden bracelets in the form of feathered serpents climbed her bare forearms, and a larger snake set with chips of jade had its scales wrapped itself around the slender column of her throat, its blunt, diamond-eyed head resting in the hollow of her generous cleavage. The light of serious mental illness shone in her leaf-green eyes. A black jaguar wearing a jeweled collar followed her like a kitten. She was a vision of loveliness unsurpassed by mortal woman.

"Oh god, not you again!" Jim sighed.

He should have left her to rot in the jungle. When he was little, Sally had taught him to put things back where he found them, why hadn't he listened?

He had been surprised to learn that he wasn't the first westerner in the Chopec jungle. A pair of well-meaning adventurers and explorers had entered the region ten years ago, Alexander and Michaela Mulchaey. With their eleven-year-old daughter, Mary Suzanne. They had set up camp in the nearby city of Tezumoaic, and started 'civilizing' the natives. So impressed by parlor tricks with flashlights and tape recorders were the local tribe, the Mulchaeys were quickly declared rulers sent by the gods.

Unfortunately, royal blood didn't protect Alexander from jungle fever. And soon after Michaela went for a swim in what turned out to be a school of piranha.

Eleven year old Mary Suzanne Mulchaey was the only survivor, stranded in the middle of a ruined city, thousands of miles from rescue, supported by the worshippers of their divine princess. Luckily, her parents had left the complete Tarzan series, several H. Rider Haggard novels, including She Who Must Be Obeyed, and a priceless collection of 30's pulp adventure magazines. Memories of her former life in Pittsburgh faded from Mary Suzanne's memory as years passed. What she read taught Mari Su everything she needed to know about being a White Goddess in a Lost City.

Jim hadn't been fond of visits to the White Goddess, but the mountain city of Tezumoaic was an important trading partner of the Chopec, and at least pretending to court Mari Su helped slow down Incacha's well-meaning attempts to set Jim up with one of the single women of the tribe. The fourteen-year-old spinster, or the sixteen-year-old widow.

At least Mari Su was closer to his own age, and thanks to the prim editors of the past who had formed her character, believed that one could not do more than kiss unless you were married. It was just not done.

The real trouble started when Mari Su learned of his heightened senses. Until then, he was just a curiosity. But his sentinel status seemed to correspond with one of the stories she had read, and she had become convinced he was the reincarnation a fictional hero, Jaguhan, and a fit consort for one of her station. Jim winced at a sudden pang of guilt. He'd never told Blair to check out the Jaguhan series in Ripping Yarns as possible research material. He'd read a few of the yellowed and crumbling magazines, and once you waded through the overwrought prose, it did seem to be a first hand account of sentinel abilities. Maybe the author, Victor Farraday, had known a sentinel.

He'd brought her with him when he was extracted, hoping that some psychiatrist would take an interest in her case and help her adapt to the modern world. Was somewhat surprised to learn she was the heiress to an immense steel mill fortune. Had forgotten all about her.

Until now. She crawled up onto the bed beside him, gazing at him happily. Deranged, but happy.

"I have found you, my turquoise-eyed king. Does your wound pain you? I told the fools they were collecting their king, and they have been dealt with for their carelessness."

Zaszumar—all of the sacred black jaguars were called Zaszumar—jumped onto the foot of the bed and curled up with a satisfied belch.

Jim sighed. "I know we're in an economic downturn, but if you keep feeding your pets fillet minon, news is going to get around and you won't be able to hire thugs to do your dirty work."

"Thugs they are not! But loyal Tezumoaic and true, come to return their king and queen to our mountain city and jungle realm. Why do you labor so in the guise of a common guardsman in this chill and wretched land? Unless—do you plan to wrest rule from the petty plutocrats by stealth and guile?" She clapped her hands excitedly at this vision. "We will make one of the mirror'd towers our palace, and paint the streets with the blood of pushers of paper!"

Jim had a brief flash of his last meeting with the chief of police and the mayor and had to admit that the image of himself running amok in a city council meeting with an obsidian axe had a certain appeal. He shook his head to clear it.

"This is my native land," he said calmly. "I told you I had matters to attend to here. Actually, I do have kind of a headache, from when I hit my head or hangover from the knockout drops."

She tenderly brushed his lips with her own. "I shall bring you a healing potion forthwith." She gave his jeans and flannel shirt a disgusted look. "And garments suitable to thy noble rank."

He nuzzled her neck. "I await thy return, my queen." And rubbed his cheek against her golden hair as she drew back.

Mari Su padded out of the room, the sacred jaguar at her side. Jim didn't intend for her to return and play Dress-Up Ken with a linen loincloth, sandals, and a parrot feather cloak. He spat out the hairpin he'd lipped out of her hairdo and started picking the lock on his cuffs.

Beautiful, insane, and very, very stupid.

Jim spent the rest of the two weeks fishing at his dad's cabin while Mari Su was captured and returned to her exasperated maiden aunt and legal guardian, and the rest of the loyal cultists were deported back to Peru.

He picked Blair up at the airport on time.

"So, have a good two weeks, Chief?"

"Excellent. My paper on the Thin Blue Line theory went over really well, and there was a great seminar on cross-cultural contamination. And you look like you're in one piece, how were your two weeks?"

Jim shrugged. "You know, the usual."

~ The End? ~

After working late at the university, grading papers, Blair was walking through the darkened parking lot, yawning, looking forward to getting home to the loft. Jim was cooking, so that meant Lasagna Night. He didn't notice the shadowy figure raising a blowpipe, until a sting in his arm and a sudden numbness dropped him to his knees.

Suddenly, a beautiful blonde woman was standing over him, and Blair's last thought was "Not again..."

Mari Su scowled at the fallen figure, and nodded to two of her loyal Tezumoaic tribesmen to pick him up. "I do not know what foul magic thou perfom'd on my beloved king to so hold him in thy thrall, evil wizard, but I shall free him with my last breath!" she vowed.

~ End ~

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Page last updated 8/15/03.