The Fortune Hunter
Maia had searched the grassy clumps all around the pylon, but she had not found the onyx skull. In all the confusion, it was entirely possible that someone else had grabbed it and run off. One more thing von Wartenburg owes me, she thought.
A clanking and a grinding behind her announced the presence of the Professor’s drilling machine entering the city square. Jack Steele popped out of the hatch and hopped down to the ground.
“I think I can get us back home,” he announced. “It’s not like it requires too much steering.”
“Thank goodness,” Celeste said, her voice so hoarse it was barely audible. Maia couldn’t help smirking as she watched the actress: when they started the jouney, she wore a red, sequined dress and high heels. Now she was clad in the remains of a second-hand army uniform with the sleeves torn completely away, and her once-lustrous hair now hung in a clump down her back. Somehow the right leg of her trousers had been split from the hem almost all the way to the hip. Maia shook her head: even after all the actress had been through, she still managed to show off her gamms.
Celeste climbed the short ladder and was lowering herself into the drilling machine when her friend, the talking chimpanzee, scampered up after her. One of his arms was in a sling, but Maia could see that his injury had improved even in the short span of time since they had fended off the tyrannosaur. Her own bruises, too, had disappeared with remarkable quickness. Something in the sunlight or in the air of the Hollow Earth seemed to promote life and vigor, and Maia decided she liked that feeling.
From atop the hull of the drilling machine, Thelonius bowed courteously to Jack. “Excuse my presumptuousness,” the chimp-man said in his strange, gruff voice. “I set out on an expedition to prove the existence of what I call The Surface Earth. Might I travel with you to your native land? It would be the most important discovery since the invention of blasting powder.”
Jack shrugged. “I just wish the professors were still here to answer your questions.”
“About that,” Maia asked. “Where are those two?”
“Safe,” Jack said. “I hope.” Then he looked around at the handful of others who had come to the expedition’s aid. “Anyone else want to go back with us? I can’t promise a safe trip.”
Maia watched as the panther-woman disappeared into the shadows, but Trotsky the Titan stepped to Jack’s side and enveloped his shoulder in one humongous hand.
“Sorry, buddy,” Jack said, his voice suddenly filled with regret. “You’re just too big to fit inside that tin can. Maia—can you translate for me? Tell him—tell him I’m sorry to have to leave him.”
“I think he already knows,” Maia watched as the giant stepped back and waved like a child. His big eyes were glistening with tears but a fond smile was forming under his beard.