They say that man is the most dangerous game, but 'they' have never faced ...
The Female of the Species
by Breanna Ramsey
The Female of the Species
By Breanna Ramsey
Edited by Amelia R.
Man’s timid heart is bursting with the things he must not say,
For the Woman that God gave him isn’t his to give away;
But when hunter meets with husband, each confirms the other’s tale -
The female of the species is more deadly than the male.
- Kipling **
October 2, 2006
The village of Illiamna, Alaska, nestled on the northeastern shore of the lake which bore its name, boasted a permanent population of less than one hundred. The economy of the village was primarily supported by the numerous lodges in the area, providing hunters and fisherman the opportunity to brave the wilds of Alaska in search of all manner of game: salmon, trout, caribou, moose and bear.
It would be easy to say that the small size of the community, and its largely Yup’ik makeup, was why Sara Jaeger stood out, but that would not be true. Sara would have stood out in the middle of a crowded city. She was a beautiful young woman, her body lithe and athletic, yet still pleasingly curvaceous. Chestnut hair flowed about her shoulders like a river of silk on the rare occasions when it wasn’t tied back in a pony tail, and her skin had a rich, smooth complexion. Her intense, steel gray eyes had a penetrating gaze that gave the impression that she missed nothing, which was true, and yet, if one looked closely, it was almost possible to see the pain they hid.
She had arrived in Illiamna ten years earlier, eighteen years old with a six-month-old baby boy on her hip. Her only possessions were some threadbare clothes in a backpack and a rifle case containing a Weatherby Mark 5. She had gone from lodge to lodge looking for a job as a hunting guide until finally Hubert Lassiter had taken pity on her.
It had been the best decision he had ever made. Sara was an exceptional guide. It was as though she could sense the presence of game, and her tracking skills were uncanny. It rapidly became known that if Sara took a client out and he didn’t bag his animal, it was because he was a lousy shot.
Of course Sara hunted herself, but she did it only for subsistence, and she never kept trophies of the animals she took. Her cabin didn’t even have a bear skin rug. She was a quiet girl who kept to herself mostly, and though she was not known to display much in the way of emotion, she obviously doted on her son, Brian.
Hubert had no doubt she had come to Alaska to escape something, and he suspected it had something to do with the father of her child. She was very protective of Brian, who was a bright and precocious boy. At ten years old, he was already an accomplished woodsman and had gone with his mother on several hunts. He was no less protective of his mother than she was of him.
“Looks like you’re all set, Sara,” Hubert said as the young woman set her gear near the door of the main lodge. Despite ten years in the harsh climate of Alaska, Sara looked virtually the same as she had the day she arrived. Hubert had asked her many times what her secret was and she just smiled and said she had good genes.
Sara nodded, her right hand adjusting the holster for the Smith & Wesson Model 500 revolver on her hip. The four inch barreled revolver was always with her, a powerful weapon whose .500 Magnum round was designed for use against dangerous game. As powerful as it was, it was only a backup to the Weatherby Mark 5 rifle that rested with Sara’s pack. Large bore handguns were a common sight in Alaska, and a good precaution for someone like Sara, whose cabin was well away from the village proper. Just a few months earlier, Sara had used the revolver to dispatch a big brown bear that had been making a nuisance of itself around the school in nearby Newhalen, saving one of the teachers from what would likely have been a fatal mauling when the bear refused to be scared away.
“Does Charlie have the plane ready?” Sara asked.
Hubert grinned and said, “Yeah he’s down there bitching at the film crew right now. They sure have a lot of gear.”
“They usually do.”
Hubert moved around the counter of the lodge’s store and walked over to the young woman. He towered over the five foot, six inch frame of the girl he had come to regard as a daughter. Sara didn’t protest as he wrapped his massive arms around her and gave her a hug.
“I know I don’t have to tell you this, but I’m gonna anyway,” Hubert said. “You be careful out there. The pickin’s have been scarce, and this late in the season there’s gonna be some mighty desperate bears.”
Sara nodded; the salmon runs had been light this season and were nearing their end. The coastal brown bears were trying to pack on fat for the coming winter, and though they usually avoided humans, a hungry brown was not to be taken lightly.
“I’ll be careful,” Sara said.
A weathered Ford F-250 pickup truck pulled up in front of the lodge, and Sara hefted her pack onto one shoulder. She picked up her rifle case and headed out towards the truck just as the passenger door flew opened and her ten-year-old son Brian leapt out and hit the ground running. He ran to his mother and wrapped his arms around her.
The man behind the wheel of the lodge’s truck opened the door and stepped down. Sara flashed him a rare smile. It was a shame, because she had a truly beautiful smile. David Hollister was a zoologist with the University of Alaska and over the last two years had become a familiar figure around the lodge.
“Thanks for picking Brian up, David,” Sara said. Her smile broadened as she looked down at her son and ruffled his hair.
“Hey kiddo, how was school?”
Brian attended school in the village of Newhalen, just a five mile drive from Iliamna. Newhalen boasted the largest school in the region — ninety students in grades K through 12 and seven full time teachers. Though small in size, the school provided good educational opportunities, and thanks to satellite access to the internet, students had access to advanced courses.
“The usual, boring,” Brian said.
Like his mother, Brian was a voracious reader, and at ten already tested in the high school level on reading. He was also good in all his other subjects, especially math and science. He had taken an immediate liking to David when they had met and had helped the biologist several times in the field.
“I wish I could go with you,” Brian said.
“I wish you could too, sweetheart,” Sara said. “I know how much you like seeing the bears.”
“It’s not the bears, I just want to be with you,” Brian said. “Besides, David said we could fly down to Katmai tomorrow.”
“I believe I said if it was all right with your mother,” David said. He walked over to Sara and put an arm around her shoulder and gave her a squeeze. “I may need to fly to Anchorage one day this week to pick up some supplies and check in with the University too. I promised Brian I’d ask if it was all right for him to come.”
“Sure, that’s fine with me,” Sara said, tussling Brian’s thick brown hair. “Missing a day of school won’t hurt, I guess.”
“Cool!” Brian exclaimed, wrapping his arms around his mother’s waist. “I love you, Mom. You’re the best!”
“I really appreciate your staying with him while I’m gone, David,” Sara said.
David smiled, a slightly sad smile, and said, “It’s no problem at all.”
David didn’t keep his arm around Sara very long, knowing she would get uncomfortable if he did. There were so many things he wanted to say, but he wouldn’t because he knew she wasn’t ready to hear them. They had met two years earlier; Sara had been the guide for an expedition to tag and track brown bears as part of a study David was doing for the University of Alaska.
David had never really believed in love at first sight until he laid eyes on Sara. She hadn’t looked terribly feminine at the time, dressed in insulated hunting clothes with her hair tied back and a camouflage baseball cap on her head. When she moved it was obvious she was a woman, however, and her face radiated an innocent beauty that was starkly contrasted by her eyes, which conveyed wisdom and sorrow beyond her years.
It was the eyes that had done it. David had gazed into her eyes, and he could see the pain she tried so hard to hide. His heart had melted, and he wanted nothing more than to make that pain disappear.
Sara had resisted his attempts to establish a relationship with her at first. David was perceptive enough to understand that she was frightened by the idea, and he hadn’t pressed the issue. Sara had also made it abundantly clear that she didn’t need the help of any man.
It would have been easy for David to push aside all thoughts of her and move on. Most other men would have, or they would have pushed too hard and driven her away. David chose the middle path, and slowly but surely the two had become friends. It was true David would like it to be more, but he was content for now. His heart told him she was worth waiting for.
Sara put her gear in the back of the pickup and let Brian slide into the middle of the front seat before climbing in herself. David climbed back in the driver’s seat and drove the truck the half mile to the float plane dock. A small group was clustered on the dock near the lodge’s Cessna Caravan. A short distance away was David’s own aircraft, a venerable de Havilland Beaver.
David was out of the truck first and grabbed Sara’s gear to carry it down to the plane. He counted it a small victory that she allowed his simple act of chivalry; there was a time when she would have snatched the gear away and carried it herself. His second victory caught him by surprise; once her gear was stowed, Sara turned and gave him a hug and even kissed him on the cheek.
“David, when I get back, maybe we can have dinner … and … talk,” Sara said.
“I’d like that very much.”
For a moment she looked more vulnerable than he had ever seen her. Then she turned to the film crew and the steely wilderness guide returned.
“All right, people, we’re burning daylight. Let’s get this show on the road.”
David and Brian stood on the dock and watched the float-plane as it climbed into the sky and then climbed back into the pickup.
“You’re in love with my mom, aren’t you?” Brian asked as he and David drove out of Iliamna. He and Sara lived in a small cabin two miles outside the village.
David shot Brian a look before saying, “Yes I am, very much.”
“She wants to love you,” Brian said. “It’d be great to have a dad, especially if it was you.”
David had to take a moment before speaking. Brian’s frankness had caught him off guard; it was a trait he shared with his mother.
“I’m happy you feel that way, Brian,” he said when he felt he could speak without his voice cracking. “I think it’d be great to have a son — especially if it was you.”
“My father died before I was born. Mom doesn’t like to talk about it. Something really bad happened … she still cries about it at night.”
David didn’t know how to respond. In just a few minutes, Brian had told him more about Sara’s past than she had in two years. He had suspected as much; Sara was mistrustful of men in general, and it was obvious that she was hiding a painful past.
“I just wanted you to know, you know, that it’s not you. She tries, she really does, but it’s real hard for her. Please don’t tell her I said anything.”
“Of course I won’t,” David said.
Sara much preferred this type of trip into the wilds of Alaska, where the object was to study and observe the wildlife rather than hunt it. She had nothing against hunting; legal, licensed hunting was vital to the conservation of wildlife. Through the purchase of licenses, tags and other permits, as well as the excise taxes paid on hunting equipment, hundreds of millions of dollars were raised annually to support conservation efforts. For Sara though, the sport had lost much of its former allure. She still hunted, but these days it was to put food on the table, and not just for herself and Brian. She donated large portions of every kill she made to the community that had taken her in and made her feel welcome.
She did have misgivings about this film crew however. The producer, Harold Kramer, was a condescending jerk. He had argued strenuously when he had been told she was to be their guide, his primary objection being her rifle, not her gender. However, the production company’s insurance required a licensed guide, and Sara would never enter bear country unarmed, so his complaints had fallen on unsympathetic ears.
Their camp had been set up the day before by the advance crew, which was fortunate since their late departure left them with only two hours before sunset, thanks to the shortening days. Alaska was widely known as the ‘Land of the Midnight Sun’; less widely recognized was the fact that during the first days of the year daylight lasted less than six hours.
After dinner that evening, Sara called the film crew together and once more explained the rules to them. No one was to stray from camp alone, all the food had to be securely stored well away from camp, and under no circumstances were they to approach any bears when she was not present. Even then they were to maintain a safe distance and use the telephoto lenses of their cameras to get the close-ups.
“We have done this sort of thing before, Miss Jaeger,” Harold Kramer said.
“I understand that,” Sara said. “What you have to understand is the salmon runs were light this year, and the bears are desperately trying to pack on as much fat as they can before winter sets in. A desperate bear is a very dangerous animal.”
“Perhaps if we were salmon,” Kramer said. “Bears don’t see humans as food.”
“Tell that to Timothy Treadwell,” Sara countered.
Timothy Treadwell had been an environmentalist who’d spent thirteen seasons living with the brown bears of Katmai National Park. He had done a lot of good, raising the awareness of the public, but his methods were at best questionable. He ignored the dangers of working with the browns, often getting close enough to touch them. Perhaps his most fatal error had been attributing too many human characteristics to the unpredictable animals. Three years earlier he and his girlfriend had been killed and partially eaten by at least one bear. His final legacy was a six minute audio recording of his own attack, recorded on a video camera that had thankfully had the lens cap in place. Park rangers had been forced to kill two bears just to get to the camp site, and a necropsy of one had found human remains in its stomach.
Sara retired to her tent and crawled into her sleeping bag. The weather was still mild, dropping only to the mid forties at night. Sara was well acclimated to the climate, and her sleeping bag was all she needed to pass the night comfortably.
They were up early the next morning, and over the next five days Sara guided them to several locations where they were able to get some excellent footage of wild brown bears. The footage would be used as filler for an upcoming documentary. A mile downstream from the lake where the float-plane had landed was a series of low falls that provided great footage of salmon jumping as they made their way upstream, and of course the bears were there to snag as many as they could.
On the sixth day, they came upon a prized scene; a sow was out with her two cubs. From their size Sara knew the cubs were less than a year old and had only emerged from their den the past spring. She made sure they maintained a good distance; the sow had noted their presence and was keeping a watchful eye on them. Kramer wanted to get closer, but Sara wouldn’t allow it.
Back at camp that afternoon, Sara was returning from gathering wood and noticed that the producer was nowhere to be seen. She also noted that one of the cameramen was gone, but wasn’t too concerned. She figured they were answering the call of nature, and had followed the rule to never leave camp alone.
She quickly realized that something was not right, however. The rest of the crew was acting guilty, and when the two men had not returned after five minutes, she got a sinking feeling in her stomach.
“Where are they?”
All activity in the camp stopped and everyone looked at her. Sara swore under her breath.
“They went back to film the cubs, didn’t they?” Sara said. Several of the film crew nodded.
Sara swore again, grabbed her rifle and set off at a trot. In all likelihood, the men would never be able to find the sow and her cubs; they were likely far away by now. There were plenty of other bears around, however, and if the clearing where they had seen the cubs was near the den, they would still be nearby. That was assuming they could even find the clearing without getting themselves lost.
Her worst fears were realized as she made it to the edge of the clearing. She could see Kramer and the cameraman about a hundred yards away and less than fifty feet from the frolicking cubs. The little bruins were intrigued rather than intimidated by the presence of the humans.
Despite its massive size, a full grown brown bear can run at a speed of thirty-five miles an hour for long distances. The sow was barely one hundred yards away from the two men when she emerged from the trees at the far end of the clearing, and they were between her and her cubs. With an enraged roar, she dropped her head and charged. Kramer and the cameraman heard the sow, saw her charging, and immediately abandoned their equipment and started running. It was wasted energy and would buy them no more than a few extra seconds.
Sara knew this charge was no feint. As soon as the men had started running, the cubs had turned and run towards their mother. She had barreled past them without pause, her maternal instincts screaming one thing — kill!
There was no choice. Sara swung her rifle to her shoulder, flicking off the safety as she dropped to a kneeling position. There was no thought of a warning shot; the sow had to weigh close to eight hundred pounds, and a little dirt kicking up in her face was not going to turn her. Sara settled the crosshairs on target, leading the sow to compensate for her forward momentum.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered as she squeezed the trigger.
It was a rushed shot; the bear was at full speed, and the angle was far from ideal, but Sara never missed. The .375 H&H Magnum round struck just forward of the sow’s left shoulder, driving through her lung and heart and bringing her crashing to the ground less than five yards from the filmmakers. Sara immediately worked the bolt of her rifle and chambered another round, but no follow up shot was necessary.
The cubs stopped in confusion for a moment, and then ran to the fallen sow and began wailing, nudging and pawing at her still form. Sara tried to choke back a sob but she couldn’t; she hated crying, hated showing any form of weakness, but the sight of the two cubs, orphaned by her bullet, was like a dagger to her heart. Her body shook as she cried, her rifle falling to the ground.
“She would’ve killed us!” an out of breath Kramer exclaimed as he and the cameraman reached Sara. “Thank God you ….”
Sara was on her feet in a flash, her fist snapping out and flattening Kramer’s nose. The producer staggered back and fell to the ground, blood streaming over his upper lip.
“You ignorant son of a bitch! I should’ve let her rip you both to pieces!”
“You broke my nose!” Kramer cried, scrambling to his feet. “I’ll sue! You saw her hit me, Chuck … I didn’t do anything!”
Chuck, the cameraman, looked at Kramer and shook his head. It was obvious that he was not only shaken by his brush with death, but troubled by his part in the incident as well.
“That was a nasty tumble you took,” Chuck said. “You need to watch your feet.”
Sara bent down and retrieved her rifle, flicking the safety back on before slinging it over her shoulder. She shot a withering glare at Kramer before turning and starting back towards camp.
“Sara, what about the cubs?” Chuck asked. “Can’t we take them with us?”
Sara stopped, turned and shook her head.
“I’ll contact the lodge when we get back to camp. This has to be reported to Fish and Game. They’ll decide what, if anything, will be done with the cubs.”
“They’ll die out here on their own … won’t they?”
The tears running down Sara’s face were the only answer she gave.
When the rangers from Fish and Game arrived the next day, they took statements from Sara and the two men. Kramer demanded that they arrest Sara for assault, but Chuck stuck to his story that Kramer had tripped and fallen. The rangers didn’t buy it for a minute, but neither did they challenge it.
“I would have done the same thing, Sara,” one of them told her.
When Sara led the rangers to the site of the incident, the cubs were nowhere to be seen. Something, probably another bear, had been feeding on the body of the sow, and the cubs had likely been forced to flee. The rangers said they would set up traps in the area for the cubs. Sara wasn’t very optimistic about their chances alone in the wild; they would have remained with their mother for at least another year before setting off on their own naturally.
“She was just protecting her babies,” Sara sighed.
“Sara, don’t beat yourself up about it,” one of the rangers said. “You weren’t to blame. That idiot Kramer admitted he waited until you were away from camp before he pulled this stunt. It’s a shame we can’t cite him for stupidity.”
The trip was supposed to last for three more days, but they cut it short and flew back to the lodge that afternoon. They had more than enough footage for their documentary, and Sara wanted to have nothing more to do with Kramer.
When the Cessna coasted up to the float plane dock on Iliamna Lake, Sara saw that David’s de Havilland Beaver was not there. She assumed he had flown to Anchorage with Brian as he had said he might, and she set about supervising the unloading of the float plane. When she reached the lodge, she saw that Kramer was talking to Hubert, the producer waving his arms about very animatedly as he spoke. No doubt he was complaining about her, but she wasn’t about to get into it with him. She waved to Hubert and gave him a sympathetic smile, and then went back out to the truck and drove home.
She began to get concerned as sunset neared and David and Brian were not back. David was an expert bush pilot, but she still worried. Her cabin had no phone, so she drove back to the lodge and called his apartment in Anchorage, but only got his answering machine. She then tried his satellite phone, but again got no answer. A call to the airport in Anchorage revealed that his float-plane was parked right where he had left it that morning.
“Look, I’m sure they’re all right,” Hubert comforted her. “They weren’t expecting you back for another three days.”
“I know, you’re probably right,” Sara said.
The lodge phone rang and Hubert answered it.
“Yes, she’s right here,” he said, passing the phone to Sara.
Sara took the phone and said, “Hello?”
The voice and the name sent an icy chill through Sara’s body. Her knuckles whitened as she gripped the phone tighter.
“Where are they?” she hissed through clenched teeth.
“They are safe, for now,” the man said. “I’ve made arrangements for your travel. Your flight leaves Anchorage tomorrow afternoon. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you not to contact the authorities.”
Sara listened as the man gave her flight details, a slight trace of amusement evident in his voice.
“Radchek, if you harm them ….”
“My dear Svetlana, you are hardly in a position to threaten me. I am looking forward to seeing you again.”
The line went dead, and Sara handed the phone back to Hubert.
“Is everything all right, Sara?”
Sara looked at the man who had taken her in and given her a fresh start and shook her head.
“No, it’s not. I need to get to Anchorage to catch a plane.”
“Sara, what’s going on?” Hubert asked.
“My past has finally caught up with me,” Sara whispered. Her head dropped, and she nearly started crying, but she fought the tears.
“Hubert, you’ve done more for me than I had any right to expect. I need to get to Anchorage, and I need you to trust me when I say I can’t tell you why.”
“But when will you be back?”
Sara’s shoulders slumped as she said, “I may not be back.”
But the Woman that God gave him, every fibre of her frame,
Proves her launched for one sole issue, armed and engined for the same;
And to serve that single issue, lest the generations fail,
The female of the species must be deadlier than the male.
- Kipling **
After ten years in Alaska, the climate in Rio de Janeiro was oppressively hot and muggy. Dressed in jeans and a lightweight three-quarter sleeve blouse, Sara carried only a purse and the long duster style wool coat she no longer needed.
It wasn’t hard to spot Mapoza. The six foot, ten inch tall Zulu towered above everyone at the airport, his hairless head glistening. He smiled as she approached, a frighteningly feral grin that made her shudder.
Mapoza didn’t speak; his throat bore a ragged scar, a memento from an encounter with a male lion when he was a young man. The lion had taken Mapoza’s voice, but he had killed the predator with his bare hands.
The towering African motioned for her to follow. Sara was not surprised that he led her to another part of the airport, where they boarded a twin engine turboprop aircraft. A two hour flight followed, taking her to an island over three hundred miles off the coast of Brazil.
Mapoza and the pilot left the plane without even looking at her. They knew she had nowhere to go. Sara sat there for several minutes gathering her courage and then exited the plane.
He was waiting for her a short distance away. Vadim Radchek had been an impressive figure ten years ago, and he was no less so now. His hair was a little grayer, but that was to be expected since he had to be in his fifties. His face had lost none of its rugged handsomeness, and his body was still firm and athletic. As Sara approached, a broad smile spread across his face.
“Svetlana, you are even lovelier than I remember,” Radchek said, extending his hand.
Sara ignored the hand and glared at him as she said, “My name is Sara. Where are my son and David?”
The smile did not disappear as Radchek said, “Brian and I are spending some quality time together. You may see him at dinner.”
Sara opened her mouth to protest, but Radchek held up his hand.
“You have had ten years with him, my dear. You have nothing to fear; he is in no danger from me. As for Dr. Hollister, Mapoza will take you to him. I’m sure the two of you have much to discuss.”
Radchek motioned to a waiting jeep, and once Sara was in the vehicle with the big Zulu, she was driven to Radchek’s palatial manor. She was trembling again as she entered the estate, too many memories threatening to overwhelm her. Mapoza led her upstairs and into the west wing of the house. He stopped at a set of ornate double doors and after unlocking them gestured for Sara to enter.
The room beyond was familiar, and Sara hesitated before entering. Mapoza saw her hesitation and his lips spread wide in a toothy smile. Sara forced herself to move, and after she entered the sitting room, the door closed behind her. The click of the lock seemed to echo ominously in her ears.
David sprang from the sofa where he had been seated and rushed towards her, but Sara didn’t seem to notice him. She moved deeper into the large, luxurious sitting room and walked over to a door in the right wall.
“Sara, what is going on? Who is this madman?”
Sara still didn’t answer. Instead, she opened the door to reveal a bedroom, it’s furnishings a stark contrast to the rest of the estate. The walls were a pale lavender, and there were matching, frilly curtains on the barred windows. There was a large poster bed draped with gauzy curtains, and against one wall was a vanity with an ornate teak framed mirror.
“This was my room,” Sara whispered. “I hoped … I prayed I would never see this place again.”
“Sara, please, talk to me,” David begged.
Sara turned and looked at David, struggling to maintain control.
“Are you all right?”
“All things considered, yes,” David said. “Sara, who is this guy? Why did he bring us here?”
“His name is Vadim Radchek,” Sara said slowly. “He’s a madman.”
“I had figured that part out for myself,” David said. “That doesn’t explain any of this though.”
“David, there are things about me … it’s a very long story, and you won’t believe it when I tell you.”
“Why don’t you give me the chance,” David said.
Sara nodded, “I owe you that.”
She walked back into the sitting room and sat down on the sofa. David sat down next to her and waited for her to begin. Sara drew in a deep breath and started to speak.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been almost eleven years,” Sara said slowly. “My friend and I had a hunting lodge in Africa. Most of our clients were very wealthy, so when we were contacted by Vadim Radchek, it wasn’t unusual. What was strange was that he wanted us to meet with him on this island, before we set up a safari. The money he offered was just too good to turn down though.”
“Wait, I’m confused,” David said. “Eleven years ago? Sara, you couldn’t have been more than eighteen … how could you have owned a hunting lodge in Africa?”
Sara looked down at the floor and didn’t speak for a long time. Finally, she drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“I wasn’t the same person then, David.”
September 2, 1995
“Console do Infortáºno.”
Carter Rainsford turned to his friend Brian Whitney and said, “What was that, Brian?”
“That’s the name of the island,” Brian said. “Console do Infortáºno. It means, island of misfortune. Apparently, the place had quite a reputation among sailors around the turn of the century. Lots of shipwrecks.”
Carter peered out the window of the twin engine aircraft and studied the island below. It was fairly rugged looking, with thick vegetation covering most of it. The northern end consisted of high rocky cliffs. A rocky ridge bisected the island at its midpoint and looked to be nearly impassable, except for a narrow strip on the eastern side of the island. The island narrowed dramatically at its southern end, until it was a mere spit of sandy beach extending into the sea.
A wide beach ran along the western edge of the island, starting at the ridge and extending north. It curved around to the west forming a well sheltered bay, and a short distance inland from its northern reach Carter could see a clearing with a runway. A long dock stretched out over the blue-green water, directly south of the runway. Several small boats and a forty-five foot sailing yacht were moored at the dock. The yacht reminded Carter of his own boat, though it was a good bit larger. Hunting and sailing were the two passions of his life, and he was an expert in both.
“This Radchek must be really loaded,” Carter said.
“He’s big in pharmaceuticals,” Brian said. “His real passion is for hunting though.”
“Which is where we come in. I still think it would have made more sense to meet him in Africa rather than here.”
“It’s his dime,” Brian said. “So we get to spend a few days on a lush tropical island. What’s there to complain about?”
Carter admitted he couldn’t think of a thing, but something about the whole situation made him uneasy. The two friends had established quite a reputation over the years, both as hunters and as guides. They had successfully hunted all of the Big Five in Africa, as well as moose, elk and bear in North America. Their safari service in South Africa was considered to be one of the best, and they had clients from around the world who paid large sums of money to experience the ultimate in hunting.
Though both were avid outdoorsmen and hunters, they each brought their own unique skills to the business they partnered. Brian was the administrator and accountant. He handled the numerous details required to keep their operation not only solvent but profitable. Carter ran the operations end of things, planning safaris and guiding clients. He also worked extensively with the locals in managing the wildlife of the area, ensuring that the populations remained healthy and vibrant.
For Carter, that was what it was all about. He loved the thrill of the hunt, it was true, but even more he loved all manner of wildlife. The plain and simple truth was that without the intervention of man, without carefully managed preserves, the world would lose countless majestic, beautiful species.
The plane circled around and descended towards the airstrip, and a few minutes later they were on the ground. Carter and Brian were met by a very attractive blonde haired woman who introduced herself as Dr. Annette Parsons. Next to her stood a towering African who fixed each of the men with a withering gaze, his right hand resting casually on the grip of a large machete sheathed at his hip.
“It’s a pleasure to meet both of you,” Dr. Parsons said, gesturing to the man next to her. “This is Mapoza. Don’t be intimidated by his silence, he doesn’t speak. He’ll see to your luggage while we go up to the estate.”
“This is quite a setup Mr. Radchek has here, Dr. Parsons,” Carter remarked as they walked towards a nearby Land Rover.
“Please, call me Anne. Yes, Vadim has built quite a paradise here. I’m sure the two of you will find it particularly appealing.”
“Why is that?” Brian asked.
“Vadim has created his own personal wildlife preserve. There are thriving populations of both jaguars and pumas here on the island. He’s also looking into importing some other species.”
The Land Rover took them from the airstrip to an immense European style mansion. It’s well manicured lawn and neatly trimmed hedges were totally anachronistic in the middle of the dense jungle. The Land Rover deposited them at the base of a set of wide marble steps and then headed back to the airstrip to retrieve their luggage.
“Where does the electricity come from?” Carter wondered aloud as they climbed the steps to the mansion.
“Geothermal vents on the north end of the island,” Anne explained.
The mansion doors opened to reveal an elegant round foyer, richly appointed, which continued back into a great room with a huge fireplace that was framed by an immense pair of elephant tusks. The great room was filled with trophies from every kind of dangerous game animal imaginable.
“So what exactly does he need us for?” Brian wondered.
“I’m sure Vadim will explain everything at dinner,” Anne said. “In the meantime, allow me to show you to your quarters, so you can relax for a bit after your journey.”
They followed the pretty blonde upstairs and into the west wing of the mansion, which turned out to be a lavish guest apartment. Three large bedrooms shared a common sitting area. The décor was very masculine, with the head of a large cape buffalo mounted over the fireplace.
“These rooms are for you,” Anne said, indicating two of the bedroom doors. “The third bedroom is in need of some remodeling and is sealed off at the moment.
“Dinner is at six, the dress is casual. The dining room is fairly easy to find; I’m sure two accomplished trackers like yourselves won’t have any problem.”
“We’ll just follow our noses,” Brian said, giving the pretty blonde his best roguish grin.
“I’ll leave you two to get settled in then.”
When she was gone, the two men looked about the apartment for a bit. A porter arrived after a few minutes with their luggage, and they went about unpacking for their stay. Once that was done, they returned to the common area.
“Don’t you find this all a bit strange?” Carter asked.
“How so? I mean this Radchek is obviously a bit eccentric, but then a lot of the rich guys we’ve taken out have had their quirks.”
“I don’t like it,” Carter told his friend. “I can’t explain it, but I have this feeling … like I’m being stalked. Every instinct is screaming that I should run.”
“Well, you always have been the paranoid half of the partnership,” Brian said. “Just relax and enjoy it; this guy is going to pay us a boatload of money for the hunting trip of a lifetime.”
“You said it yourself, Brian. What does he need us for? He’s got trophies of all the Big Five down there and then some.”
“So he wants to relive past glories. Just take a deep breath and chill, man.”
By the time six o’clock arrived, Carter’s misgivings had only increased. The fact that there was nothing concrete to base them on only made it worse.
When they entered the dining room for dinner, Anne was already there. The three chatted for a time over cocktails, until their host joined them. Vadim Radchek was an imposing figure. It wasn’t that he was overly large; he was no taller than Carter at six-two. It wasn’t that he was in excellent physical condition either, though he was. Rather it was the intensity of his eyes. They were dark and piercing, analyzing everything they settled on with a predatory gleam.
“Gentleman, it is so good to meet you in person,” Radchek said as he shook their hands.
Carter felt as though they were being sized up, like a big cat circling its prey before striking. He tried to shake the feeling off, but it refused to go away.
“I’m sure you must be very curious about why I asked you to join me here,” Radchek said as servants began bringing out food.
“I gather you’re not interested in adding another trophy to your collection,” Carter said as they moved to the table. Without a conscious thought, he pulled out Anne’s chair and waited until she was seated before taking his own. Radchek’s eyes never left him, and he wondered if the two were lovers.
“No, I’m not,” Radchek said. “I confess that hunting traditional big game has lost much of its appeal for me. No, my current hunts are much more … interesting. We’ll talk more after dinner, but for now let us enjoy our feast and perhaps trade a few stories of hunts past.”
The meal was excellent, which was not surprising by any means. There were dishes from numerous countries, including several African specialties that were familiar to the two men.
The conversation was pleasant and often animated as the three hunters exchanged their tales. Radchek had many very colorful tales, and Carter soon found himself relaxing, no doubt helped by the excellent wine. Perhaps Brian was right.
After dinner they retired to the great room for cognac, and Radchek gave them some of the history behind a few of his more spectacular trophies. Finally, he paused and turned to Anne.
“Well, we have kept our guests waiting long enough, Anne.”
The pretty blonde nodded and left the room for a moment. When she returned, she was carrying a glass case that held a long stemmed plant with white flowers. She set the case on the coffee table and sat down next to Carter.
“This is what we are hunting,” she said.
“An orchid?” Carter asked.
“Very good, Mr. Rainsford,” Radchek said. “A very rare, very special orchid.”
“It’s called anthizogynaikeium,” Anne said. “More correctly, that’s the name the botanist who discovered it in 1865 gave it. The name means ‘Blossom of Woman’.”
“Somehow, I don’t believe you’re after them because they’re pretty,” Brian said, his speech a bit slurred.
“No, I am interested in them because they hold the key to prolonging life,” Radchek said, “perhaps even eliminating the ravages of age all together.”
Brian laughed out loud, but Carter didn’t; he could see that Radchek was completely serious. Anne too showed no sign of amusement.
“This orchid is an extremely rare genus of the subfamily Apostasioideae, the most primitive of the orchids,” Anne continued. “Until we got our hands on the few specimens we have, it was only known through drawings in a few botanical journals from the late nineteenth century. The nectar contains a very unique and complex organic compound that is actually capable of regenerating cells, reversing the damage that has crept into them over time.”
“What has this got to do with us?” Carter asked. He felt a bit light headed and decided he had best lay off the cognac.
“This plant and the other samples we acquired came from Africa, somewhere in the area near your lodge,” Anne explained. “Unfortunately, we don’t know the exact location. We would like to use your lodge as a base of operations and enlist your knowledge of the region in our search for the orchids.
“You don’t know the exact location?” Carter said. He was having a difficult time focusing on what Anne was telling him.
“Unfortunately the individual I acquired the specimens from expired before he divulged the exact location,” Radchek said.
Anne turned to Radchek with a shocked look. “You told me you got them through a third party and couldn’t locate the person who found them.”
“You killed him,” Carter said, the words thick on his tongue. Anne looked at him sharply.
“Carter, are you all right?”
Carter shook his head and looked at the pretty blonde, but her face was fuzzy and out of focus. He looked over to Brian and saw that his friend was slumped back in his chair, apparently asleep.
“He’ll be quite all right, Anne,” Radchek said. “The sedative will merely render him unconscious for a while.”
“Vadim, what have you done!” Anne cried.
Carter tried to rise, but only made it halfway before he collapsed back to the sofa. He heard Anne and Radchek arguing, but he couldn’t make out what they were saying. His vision began to narrow, and he fought to keep his eyes open. The drug was too powerful, and he finally slipped into darkness with the sound of Radchek’s laughter echoing in his ears.
Waking up was like clawing his way out of a shallow grave. Whatever the sedative had been, it had left him with the mother of all hangovers. His entire body hurt, and his skin felt cool, like someone had rubbed menthol over his entire body.
“Carter, can you hear me?”
He opened his eyes and saw Anne sitting beside his bed. The room was not the one he had put his belongings in earlier. That had been decorated in masculine fashion as was the rest of the house, but this room had a definite feminine theme to the décor. He assumed it must be Anne’s room.
“Vadim drugged you,” Anne said, anger, and fear, apparent in her voice. “Please believe me, Carter, I had no idea what he was really planning.”
Carter tried to rise but had no strength. Just the simple task of moving his head nearly exhausted him.
“What the hell did he give me?”
“After you were knocked out, he injected you with a massive dose of the processed nectar of the orchid,” Susan said.
“That’s what this is all about? He wants to use us as human guinea pigs? Where’s Brian?”
“Brian is fine, Vadim has him locked in the basement. He wasn’t injected.”
“I don’t understand … what is he trying to do?”
Anne bit her lower lip but didn’t speak immediately. Carter could see that she was frightened, and he didn’t believe it was an act.
“Vadim decided it would be easier to take what he wants. With you and Brian out of the way, he can move into the area near your lodge and find the orchids without anyone knowing.”
“So he’s poisoned me with that plant sap? Is that why my skin feels so strange?”
“It’s not poison … it won’t harm you, not really,” Anne said. She started to say more and then stopped.
“Anne, please ….”
Anne sighed and said, “The chemical in the nectar does more than reverse the effects of aging. It was called the Blossom of Woman for a reason. According to legend, the indigenous tribes used it to transform males captured from other tribes into females.”
“And he believes that?” Carter said. “He’s mad!”
“He may well be mad, Carter, but the process works. I’ve seen it happen. We tested it on six male chimpanzees. Over the course of a week, they were completely transformed into females.”
“Th … that’s impossible!” Carter protested. Then Anne’s words sunk in and he added, “Completely?”
Anne nodded, “All six were bred with other males and gave birth to healthy offspring. I might add that they took to raising their young as though they had always been female.”
“I’ve got to get out of here,” Carter said, struggling to rise. Anne easily pushed him back down.
“It’s too late, Carter. The process has already begun. You’re weak because your muscle mass is already drastically diminished. The chemical is altering your DNA at this very moment and reshaping your body.”
“I’ll kill the bastard! Can you get me a weapon … a gun … a knife … anything?”
Anne shook her head sadly, “I’m locked in the suite here with you. Vadim had this room already prepared for you. He planned this from the beginning.”
“What .. why? I don’t understand.”
“It’s quite simple,” Radchek’s voice said from the doorway. He entered the bedroom and stood at the foot of the bed, that seemingly ever present predatory grin on his face.
“Next to me, you are undoubtedly the finest hunter on earth. Once you have been transformed, I intend to make you my wife, a wife that understands my passion for hunting and who will bear me children who will also share my passion.”
“You’re insane,” Carter hissed. “What makes you think I’ll cooperate with your madness?”
“Because if you don’t, your friend’s life will be forfeit,” Radchek said.
Carter shook his head, his eyes wide in horror. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing; it just couldn’t be possible.
“He’ll do it, Carter,” Anne said, casting a frightened look at Radchek. “He won’t hesitate to kill Brian or anyone else who gets in his way.”
“I’m giving you a great gift, Rainsford,” Radchek sneered. “You’re forty-three years old. When the transformation is complete, you’ll be a young woman. We can’t be certain exactly how much younger, but the data from our tests on the primates indicates we can expect at least a twenty year reduction in your physical age.”
“I want to see Brian,” Carter said. “I want to know that he’s all right.”
“I’ll have him brought up this evening,” Radchek said. “In fact, I’ll allow you to see him every day as you transform, so that he will have no doubts as well.
“Dr. Parsons will be with you through the entire process and has everything she should need to make you comfortable. I’m looking forward to seeing the woman you will become.”
Radchek turned and left, chuckling to himself. Carter was furious, but there was absolutely nothing he could do. He was completely at the mercy of a madman.
By the end of the first day, the effects of the transformation were already apparent. Carter’s body hair simply fell out. It only made matters worse that Anne had to help him to the shower, and then help him rinse the hair off while a servant changed the bedsheets. He was a strong, vital man, and the weakness caused by the transformation sent him spiraling into depression.
Anne encouraged him to try to rest, but even though he was so weak, he could hardly move; it was impossible to sleep. His skin was very sensitive; sometimes he was hot, sometimes cold, and sometimes it felt as though he was covered with ants. The silk sheets of the bed felt like sandpaper.
As Radchek had promised, Brian was brought in to see him later that day. Even though Carter had yet to look in a mirror, the expression on Brian’s face told him he had already changed dramatically.
“I’ll get you out of here, buddy, I promise,” were the first words out of Brian’s mouth.
“No, you won’t,” Carter said. “You don’t try anything; this guy is insane. I’m too weak to be of any help. We have to wait, Brian.”
“Anne, isn’t there something you can do, some way to stop this?” Brian asked.
Anne shook her head and said. “I don’t even know how the process works. I couldn’t begin to attempt to counteract it.”
“It’s just not possible!” Brian shouted, pacing agitatedly about the bedroom. “How can some plant sap possibly change a person’s gender?”
“It’s not just the sap from the orchid,” Anne said. “There are other ingredients, all fairly easy to obtain. There’s also … a ritual.”
Both men stared at the blonde scientist, unwilling to believe what she was saying.
“You mean it’s magic?” Brian asked. “Anne, that’s preposterous! How can a scientist believe such bullshit?”
“I believe because I’ve seen it work. We had two groups of chimps in the test we did. One was a control group. The … the potion was administered to them without the ritual — nothing happened. Only the group on which the ritual was performed were transformed.”
“And Radchek did the ritual after he gave it to me?” Carter asked.
Anne nodded, “He’s also refined the compound. It’s much more potent now. The legends spoke of the transformation taking place over a period of weeks; now it takes only a few days.”
Carter opened his mouth to speak, but instead let out a cry of pain as his body felt as though it were being pulled in several directions at once. Anne opened the drawer on the night stand and pulled out a syringe, but the spasm passed quickly. Carter eyed the syringe nervously as she replaced it in the drawer.
“It’s just a pain killer, Carter,” Anne said.
“It’s going to get worse, isn’t it?”
“The transformation won’t be pleasant, Carter. If it proceeds as it did in the tests, your body will be radically altered. By tomorrow, your skeletal structure will begin to change, and I won’t lie, that is going to be incredibly painful.”
Before they could talk anymore, the big Zulu, Mapoza, came into the suite and indicated that Brian was to follow him. For a moment it looked like Brian was going to resist, but Carter shook his head sharply. Brian never had been much of a fighter, and even at his best, Carter would have thought twice before trying to take on the towering African.
By the next morning, Carter was delirious with fever and pain. Anne did her best to ease his suffering, but she was afraid to use any powerful drugs; there was no way of knowing what kind of interaction they might have with the strange compound coursing through his system. For the most part, all she could do was mop his brow and hold his hand, whispering words of encouragement that went largely unheard.
Over the course of twelve days, Carter was completely transformed. The scientist in Anne couldn’t help but marvel at the transformation. She watched as Carter’s strong, masculine face became softer, rounder. His barrel chest narrowed, and the sculpted muscles he had worked so hard to achieve and maintain faded away.
On the third day, Anne managed to convince Radchek that she needed help. The sheets of Carter’s bed had to be changed frequently, and even though he was rapidly losing weight, she was not able to move him around herself. Brian was moved into one of the other bedrooms of the suite, and for the rest of the process helped Anne take care of his friend.
Anne needed no special insight to see Brian’s distress as he watched his friend transformed. It wasn’t the fact that Carter’s gender was being changed; it was apparent that their friendship ran deep and Brian would stand beside his friend no matter what. But to watch Carter in such agony, his body constantly wracked with convulsions, was almost more than he could bear. Carter cried out incoherently and thrashed about, and in the rare moments when he was lucid, he begged them to kill him.
Carter’s condition made it impossible for him to eat. Fortunately, Radchek had ensured that the proper supplies and equipment were available for nearly any contingency. Anne inserted a nasogastric tube to keep Carter fed and hydrated throughout the process. She also inserted an intravenous line into the back of Carter’s hand, the constant drip administering a painkiller and mild sedative to ease the worst of the agony.
Finally, mercifully, on the twelfth day, Carter’s fever broke, and with a loud sigh he lapsed into a deep, peaceful sleep. It would have been a cause for rejoicing, except Carter was no longer the man he had once been — he was no longer a man at all.
What had once been a tall, muscular man in his early forties was now a beautiful, lithe girl perhaps eighteen years old. Her breasts were pert and firm; not overly large, but no doubt they would seem so to someone who had never had them before. Her hair was still closely cropped as Carter had always styled it, but Anne thought it looked a little lighter, more auburn than the dark brown it had been.
She slept for a full day, Anne never leaving her side for more than a few minutes. Carter didn’t even stir when Anne removed the feeding tube and IV. When at last she opened her eyes, she looked at Anne and smiled, then stretched sensuously, as one might after waking up from a pleasant night’s sleep. A full length mirror was in the corner of the bedroom, and when she caught sight of her reflection, she remembered where she was.
That was when the screaming started. Anne pulled the hysterical girl close and held her, doing her best to calm her and failing miserably. How do you comfort someone who has awakened from a nightmare only to find out it was not a nightmare at all?
Brian burst into the bedroom, but instead of being a comfort, his appearance made the screaming worse. Anne motioned for him to leave, and reluctantly he did so.
Finally, the screaming stopped, primarily because she simply had no more energy to scream. Anne pulled back and looked her in the face. Her eyes were wide and wild and kept darting about the room. Anne had no idea what kind of mental state she might be in.
“Carter, do you know who I am?”
The girl nodded and her mouth moved, but the only sounds that came out were unintelligible noises. Fear changed to frustration as she tried again to speak. Anne could tell that she knew what she wanted to say, but she was having great difficulty forming the words.
“An…ne ….” She at last got out, the name long and slurred. Her voice was a rich, pleasant alto, despite her difficulty speaking.
“That’s good, sweetheart,” Anne said. “Your vocal chords have been altered drastically, and it’s probably going to take some time to get used to speaking. Do you understand?”
“Ye … yessss.”
“Just take it slow and don’t try to force it. How do you feel? Are you in any pain?”
Carter shook her head.
“Well, that’s a good sign. I want to give you a thorough examination, but first do you need anything? Are you hungry or thirsty?”
“Wa … wa …ter….”
Anne rose from her chair and walked to a nearby table where a pitcher of water and several glasses were arranged. She poured a glass of water and brought it back to Carter, who immediately began gulping it down.
“Easy, Carter, take it slow,” Anne said.
Carter did as she suggested, and once the glass was empty, she handed it back to Anne.
“There, do you feel better now?”
Carter didn’t answer, just gave Anne a sour look.
“I suppose that was an asinine question,” Anne said. “Carter, I know this is … well, I don’t really know, but I can imagine how hard this must be. I’ll be right here to help you any way I can.”
Tears formed in Carter’s eyes. She tried to hold them back, but her chaotic emotional state made that impossible. All she could think of was Radchek and his plan to make her his wife, to make her bear his children. Soon she was sobbing, her eyes wide and frightened. Her lips moved as she struggled to form words.
“M … make it … st … stop…,” she pleaded. “Pl …please … k … k … kill me….”
“You’re frightened and confused,” Anne said as she pulled Carter close again. “But you’re strong, Carter. You’ll get through this; I know you will.”
Carter continued to sob, and Anne was very worried about her emotional and mental state. She had no data on how the process might affect a human. The chimpanzees had adapted easily enough, but they were unlikely able to really comprehend what had happened to them. Carter knew what had been done all too well, and she knew what was in store.
As she continued to comfort the sobbing girl, Anne slipped her hand into the drawer of the night stand. She pulled out a prepared syringe and stabbed it into Carter’s shoulder. The girl recoiled away from her, fear in her eyes.
“It’s just a sedative, Carter. You need to rest.”
Carter settled back into the bed, her eyes closing as the sedative took effect. Once she was soundly asleep, Anne removed all the drugs from the drawer and took them with her into the sitting room. She secured them in a cabinet that had a lockable drawer and then pocketed the key.
“How is he … I mean she?” Brian asked.
“I gave her a sedative,” Anne said. “She’s very traumatized; we’ll have to watch her constantly.”
“Carter would never….”
“Brian, that is not Carter anymore, not the Carter you knew,” Anne said. “That poor girl is dealing with a level of emotional turmoil that we can’t even imagine. Until she gets a grip on herself, she could do anything.”
The next day Radchek returned, wanting to have a look at his future wife. Carter was still sedated; Anne suspected that while her physical transformation was complete, mentally, she was still changing as her brain chemistry and hormone levels stabilized. Radchek was not pleased, but when Anne explained that Carter might be suicidal, he backed off and even allowed Brian to remain in the suite to help watch her.
Brian was in an agony of his own. He had no intention of allowing Radchek to turn his friend into some kind of trophy wife, and yet he was powerless to do anything. He had already scoured the suite looking for something that could be used as a weapon and come up empty. The only thing that even came close was the supply of sedatives Anne had, but Radchek never entered the suite without Mapoza at his side.
“I’ll find a way,” he whispered as he watched the sleeping girl.
Carter awoke late the next morning while Brian was still there. She smiled when she saw him, but her expression quickly changed as she remembered what had happened.
“I’ll get Anne,” Brian said, rising from his chair.
“No, p … please stay….”
Brian nodded and returned to his chair. He didn’t say anything for a long time; he just sat there and watched his friend. She started to struggle into a sitting position, and when Brian moved to help her, she shook her head furiously. He settled back into the chair.
Once she was sitting up, Carter began looking around the room. She reached up and felt her hair, which had grown two inches in two days. She pointedly avoided looking down at her chest for some time, but finally she did and sighed. They weren’t huge, but they weren’t small either.
“Do you feel like eating, Carter?” Brian asked. “You haven’t had any solid food in days. Anne had to put a feeding tube in.”
At the mention of food, Carter felt her stomach grumble. She nodded her head and struggled for a moment to speak.
“Hungry,” she said.
Brian smiled and rose, walking over to the door. He opened it and stuck his head out, and Carter heard him call for Anne. The pretty blonde was in the bedroom a few seconds later.
“How are you feeling, Carter?”
“Okay,” Carter said. “Please, d…don’t make me sl … sleep again.”
“I won’t, dear,” Susan said as she took Carter’s pulse.
“She said she’s hungry, Anne,” Brian said. “I’ll call down and have some breakfast brought up.”
“Nothing heavy,” Anne instructed. “Some scrambled eggs and toast should be all right for now.”
Brian nodded and left the bedroom. Anne sat down on the bed next to Carter and began taking her blood pressure.
“Now, tell me how you really feel.”
“Sc…scared,” Carter admitted. “I’m not going to do anything st…stupid though.”
“That’s good to hear,” Anne said. “You’re speech is already improving.”
“It feeeelss funn...ny.”
“I suspect you’re speech difficulties are a result of your altered emotional state,” Anne said. “Adults who stutter tend to have higher brain activity during speech in their right hemisphere, which governs emotion. As a female, you now have a very different emotional structure than you’re used to, and it’s causing some difficulty. I’m confident you’ll be fine.”
Anne gave Carter a cursory examination while they waited for her breakfast. She appeared to be in excellent health, though a bit underweight. That was to be expected, as she hadn’t had any real food for over a week.
It didn’t take long for her breakfast to arrive, and while she ate, Brian and Anne sat quietly with her. Carter noticed that Brian was very pointedly trying not to look at her.
“Brian, you … you won’t break m…me by looking at m…me.”
“I’m sorry, Carter,” Brian said. “I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
“Too late,” Carter said, and she actually grinned. “How…how d…do I look?”
Brian looked at Anne before speaking. She nodded her head, indicating he should be honest.
“You’re gorgeous, Carter.”
Carter nodded her head slightly, as if his words confirmed what she already knew. She finished her light breakfast and washed it down with two large glasses of orange juice. Brian took the tray from her and left the bedroom, closing the door behind him.
“I’d like to do a detailed exam now, Carter,” Anne said once he was gone. “It’ll feel a little strange, but I need to determine if everything is….”
“I also need to take your measurements,” Anne said, her voice taking on an angry edge.
“Radchek,” Carter whispered.
Anne nodded, “He said he wants to begin assembling your wardrobe.”
“Th…that’s f...f...fine. I’ll n…need clothes if...if....”
“Just relax, sweetheart; don’t try to force it.”
Carter took a deep breath and tried again, “I’ll need clothes ... if I’m going to be his wife.”
“Carter, are you out of your mind?”
Carter looked up from her lunch and shook her head. She felt ridiculous wearing her old bathrobe, but that was the only article of her old clothes that she could possibly use for now.
“No, Brian, I’m not,” she said. Her stuttering had nearly vanished, but her speech was still slow and deliberate.
“How can you even think of going along with Radchek? The man is insane!”
“That may be, but he’s also in … in control,” Carter said. “Do you think he’ll hesitate to kill you, or Anne? The only thing I have to bargain with is my co…cooperation.”
“I won’t let you do this,” Brian said.
“You w…won’t l…let me?” Carter nearly shouted. “I didn’t e…even w…w…want to come here! You’re the one that …that wanted his fu…fucking money so bad!”
Brian’s face shifted from defiance to pain. He rose from the table and without a word walked into his room and closed the door.
“That was unnecessary, don’t you think?” Anne said.
“It’s true,” Carter responded. “We didn’t need the money. I let Brian talk me into this, and l…look what it got me!”
“Just because it’s true isn’t an excuse for twisting the knife,” Anne told her. “You know what Brian is feeling, Carter. He’s a man, and you know how you’d be feeling if it was him in your position.”
“He can’t protect me, Anne, no matter how m…much he wants to. But maybe I can protect him. P…please tell Vadim his fiancée wo…would like to speak with him.”
Anne nodded and went to the phone to relay the message to Vadim. Carter didn’t expect him to come quickly, and she was right. Brian eventually emerged from his room, and Carter apologized for her words. He continued to try and talk her out of cooperating with Radchek, but her mind was made up. She told him that it was the only way she could ensure his safety.
What she didn’t say was that the idea of staying on the island as Radchek’s trophy wife was not nearly as frightening as facing the world as she was now. The island and its estate would be a far less daunting environment.
It was two hours before Radchek came to the suite. His face bore a look of triumph that Carter desperately wished she could claw off.
“And what may I do for you, my dear?” Radchek asked as he took a seat on the sofa.
“I’ll do what you w…want me to,” Carter said, “but I have conditions.”
“I expected you would. Please tell me what you propose.”
“Brian and Anne go free, and you l…leave them alone. I’ll stay w…with you; I’ll b…be your wife and give you ch…children. Brian and Anne will p…promise not to reveal anything about this … ever.”
“Why should I concede to these conditions?”
“Because you w…want me,” Carter said. She felt tears stinging her eyes. “The only way you will ever h…have me is to let them go. If you do, I’ll b…be the kind of w…woman you want.”
Radchek’s smile broadened, sending a shiver through Carter’s body. She felt like she was selling her soul to the devil.
“I’m fairly confident Dr. Parson’s will remain silent,” Radchek said. “What assurance do I have that Mr. Whitney will keep his promise?”
“Because he’ll be promising me,” Carter said, turning to look at her friend. “Brian, I…I can’t go back like this. I n…need you to p…promise you won’t tell.”
“Carter, I can’t leave you here….”
Carter choked back a sob and said, “Please, you h…have to. If our friendship means anything … you h…have to let me go.”
Brian looked deeply into Carter’s eyes, trying to see if there was anything of his old friend left. What looked back at him was a terrified young girl, but he could see that her fear was not for herself; it was for him.
“All right, Carter,” Brian said.
“What about the orchid?” Radchek asked.
“You can send your people to the lodge,” Brian said. “I’ll cooperate with their efforts, and they will keep me in contact with Carter.”
Radchek’s smile disappeared momentarily while he considered the offer. After several minutes it returned, and he spoke.
“Your terms are acceptable, with a slight proviso. Mr. Whitney will remain my guest until you have conceived. Dr. Parsons will remain until my first child is delivered. You will also learn to be a woman under her tutelage. I will allow you one month for this.”
“All right,” Carter said. Her shoulders slumped in resignation, which only caused the smile on Radchek’s face to broaden.
“You are a sick bastard,” Anne told Radchek.
“I can afford to be,” Radchek said as he rose from the sofa. He moved towards the door but stopped as he reached Carter.
He placed a hand on her shoulder; his touch was tender, but it still caused the girl to stiffen.
“Your name is Svetlana now; do you understand?”
She nodded, her head down, eyes locked on the floor.
“Learn well, sweet Lana. Learn well.”
In the following weeks, Carter, now Svetlana, immersed herself in learning all that Anne could teach her. Learning to move, to walk and sit and conduct herself as a female came fairly easily; her body was, after all, female, and it naturally wanted to move that way.
Makeup also was not a huge challenge. It simply required diligent practice once Anne had explained and demonstrated the basics. Fashion was much more complex, however. There was a dizzying variety to feminine clothing that started with undergarments and worked its way out. Carter had never cared much for formal dress and had avoided occasions that required it whenever possible. Svetlana would not be able to, and Radchek would expect her to look properly sensual and classy even when she was dressed casually.
Then there were shoes. Here again, there was a wide array of styles. Carter had spent most of his life in boots and, when those weren’t necessary, tennis shoes or loafers. Now she had to deal with heels, and she nearly sprained her ankle more than once trying to get used to them.
Radchek quickly had her supplied with a complete wardrobe, and it was added to almost daily. One of the household staff was an accomplished seamstress and made any necessary alterations. When Svetlana’s hair slowed to a normal rate of growth after two weeks, another servant styled her hair, though Radcheck insisted that she maintain its mid-back length.
Brian remained in the suite with them and watched with amazement as Svetlana blossomed before his eyes. They spent long hours talking, and though Brian still did not like what she was planning, he stopped voicing his concerns because it only served to upset her.
As they entered what would be their last week together, Svetlana asked for a lavish dinner in place of their usual simple evening meal. Her explanation was that she wanted to practice her social skills in a formal, if small, setting. Brian didn’t like formal occasions any more than Carter had, and he was feeling decidedly uncomfortable in his tuxedo as he waited for the two women.
He forgot all about the discomfort when the door to Svetlana’s bedroom opened and she glided gracefully into the sitting room. She was resplendent in a tightly fitted, red silk evening gown. The spaghetti straps exposed her smooth, narrow shoulders and crisscrossed across her back, connected by glittering rhinestones.
Brian found himself transfixed. He barely even noticed as Anne walked in behind his friend, even though she was lovely as well in an emerald green gown. As pretty as the blonde scientist was, however, Brian only had eyes for the auburn haired woman that a short time ago had been his best friend, Carter. Her hair danced like fire, the subdued light from the candles bringing out the red highlights.
He stared, dumbstruck so long that Lana began to fidget nervously and said, “Is something wrong, Brian?”
Brian shook his head, “You look exquisite, Lana.”
Lana felt her face become warm. There was more than a little internal conflict; her memories told her that such a comment from her friend was not right, but her female mindset was very pleased. She stepped gracefully over to the table, her three inch heels giving her no trouble, and waited as Brian pulled out her chair for her.
After their meal, Anne excused herself and retired to her room. After the servants had cleared away the dishes and left the suite, Lana moved to the sofa as Brian poured them each a glass of brandy.
“So, do I pass?” Lana asked as Brian joined her on the sofa.
“Without question,” Brian said. “I … I can’t believe it, Lana. I would have gone mad, I think.”
“Sometimes I still feel like I might,” Lana admitted. “It’s not the body; it’s the mind. I see things so differently now, but I still remember how I would have looked at them just a few weeks ago. I even see you differently now.”
Lana blushed again, “I see you as a very handsome, kind man. I see you as someone… well, if things were different, I think I could face the world like this, if I had you there to help me.”
“Lana, we can try,” Brian said. “We can fight, make a break for it. Radchek has that yacht; you could sail it with no problem. I’m sure you still remember all that nautical stuff; you sailed around the world after all.”
“I’m sure I could too,” Lana said. “If I were Carter, I’d say let’s do it. But I’m not Carter anymore. Carter was tall and strong; I’m neither.”
“You’re stronger than you think. You’ve been exercising every day, and you’re over twenty years younger. We’d have a chance.”
“Not enough of one,” Lana said. “I won’t risk it … I won’t risk you or Anne getting killed. Radchek won’t hurt me, Brian, but he wouldn’t hesitate to kill the two of you. He’d enjoy it. No, I have to accept my fate, and you have to let me go.”
“I just wish there was something, anything I could do!”
Lana turned away for a moment, and when she looked back at Brian, her eyes were brimming with tears.
“There is something you can do for me, Brian.”
“So, what is it you wished to see me about, Dr. Parsons?”
Anne regarded Radchek like he was a specimen on glass slide, a virus that she would like to eradicate with all her heart. He stood in the sitting room, arms folded across his chest with a haughty grin on his face.
“You know, Vadim, there was a time when I was certain I was falling in love with you,” Anne said. “You can be quite charming, but I see now that inside you’re nothing more than a disgusting, vile excuse for a human being.”
Radchek’s ever present smile disappeared.
“If you asked me here to try and insult me, you’re wasting precious time,” he said. “You only have four days left to prepare Svetlana.”
“I don’t need four days; I’m ready now.”
Radchek turned to see Lana standing in the doorway to her room. She was wearing a green floral patterned sundress and sandals with a modest heel. Her hair was loose, flowing about her shoulders like lava. Radchek’s eyes followed her as she glided into the sitting room, trailing up and down her lithe frame.
“Do I meet with your approval, Vadim?”
In answer, Radchek walked over to her. Lana didn’t resist as he snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her close. As he lowered his head and pressed his lips to hers, she responded, slipping her arms around him and drawing herself even closer as they kissed.
Lana fought down the urge to pull away. She had been preparing herself for this moment for the last month. Instead of shying away from thoughts of being in Radchek’s arms, she had forced herself to dwell on them. Instead of fighting to hold on to Carter’s personality, she had pushed it down deep within herself. Still, she was surprised at how easy it was to submit to his advances, and she wondered if she was truly acting or if on some level her new psyche wanted it.
Either way, Radchek was obviously pleased by her acceptance. He broke from their kiss and gently caressed her face with his hand.
“You do indeed, my sweet Lana,” Radchek said. “I think it is time that Mr. Whitney was moved to different quarters.”
Lana did push away now, suspicion in her eyes.
“He will still be allowed to visit you daily,” Radchek assured her. “What’s more, you and Dr. Parsons are now free to wander about the estate. I do ask that you not stray beyond the walls of the grounds. There are dangerous predators here, and I would be distressed if you were injured.”
“Of course, Vadim. Thank you for your kindness,” Lana said. “I have a request. Please let Brian remain here in the suite. I can move to the east wing ... to your room … if that is acceptable.”
“It’s much more than acceptable, Lana,” Radchek said. “I would be delighted if you would join me for dinner this evening.”
“I’ll see you at six,” Lana said.
Radchek kissed her again before leaving, and once he was gone, Lana dropped onto the sofa and began sobbing. Anne sat down next to her and put her arm around her.
“Lana, are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
“What I have to, Anne. What I have to.”
That evening, Anne helped her get ready for dinner. Her dress was classy but not the formal affair she had worn a week earlier. Anne could tell the she was nervous; she was trembling slightly and had difficulty putting in her earrings.
“You know what will happen after dinner.” Anne said.
Lana nodded, “I’m as ready as I can be.”
Anne gripped her shoulders and looked into her eyes intently.
“Do you know who you are?”
For a moment it looked like Lana was going to cry, but she drew in a deep breath and steeled herself.
“Not really,” she admitted. “I’m not Carter Rainsford any longer. He’s dead as surely as he would be if Radchek had killed him. But I’m not Svetlana either, not really. It’s like a role I’m playing. Maybe one day I will be her, but right now all I am doing is what’s necessary to keep you and Brian safe.”
“You can’t trust him, Lana. He manipulates people very easily; it’s like an art to him.”
The look in Anne’s eyes, its vehemence, confused Lana for a moment. Then it became clear; perhaps it was an awakening of her woman’s intuition.
“You were lovers.”
Anne released her and moved away, turning her back to Lana. Her shoulders began shaking, and Lana moved quickly to her and wrapped her arms around her.
“I thought so at the time,” Anne said through her tears. “He was just using me; I gave him respectability in the scientific community.”
“I’m so sorry, Anne.”
Anne pulled away, a look of horror on her face.
“Don’t say that!” she cried. “Please don’t forgive me … I don’t deserve it!”
Lana realized that Anne had been hiding her own turmoil ever since the transformation. The knowledge that she had played a part in the destruction of another human being’s life, though unwittingly, was eating away at her. She wanted to say something, but she had no idea what, so she just held her and let her cry it out.
“I believe he’ll be gentle with you,” Anne said when she had recovered her composure. “He wants his fantasy; he wants you as his lover not as a conquest. He will still probably want to assert himself, however. He’ll want you to do things … things that Carter would never do … to prove that he’s won.”
“I expected that,” Lana said. “I’ll do what I have to.”
Dinner was not an unpleasant affair, and it was certainly nice to be free of the confines of the suite. Radchek was certainly very charming, and he treated her as he would any woman he was trying to woo. It was obvious that he was delighted to be able to discuss his love of hunting with her. Lana did note an air of condescension in Radchek; he seemed to take her opinions on the sport less seriously than he had the night they met, but she knew it was possible her own insecurity was coloring her perception.
“Does the Key Lime Pie meet with your approval?” Radchek asked as they had dessert.
“It’s marvelous,” Lana admitted. “It’s my favorite.”
Lana paused, a fork full of pie near her lips. Radchek was watching her to see how she would react to his words.
“Just how much do you know about me, or rather who I was?”
“Everything there is to know,” Radchek said. “I investigated several candidates for my plan, but none came even close to your qualifications.”
“But why? Why go through all this?” Lana asked. “There are plenty of women hunters around the world.”
Radchek snorted derisively and said, “There are women who hunt, but they are not truly hunters. Man has always been the true hunter of our species; only a man has the strength and aggressiveness necessary to be a master of the hunt.
“Only man’s blood burns with the fire of the chase; only man can truly revel in the glory of the kill. Only man has the capacity to savor the sweet elixir of triumph as he brings his quarry down.
“My one regret is that in transforming you I have robbed you of the very nature that made you a hunter. Still, I believe that you carry that nature in your genes and will pass it on to my sons.”
Lana could only stare at Radchek. She had been wrong; he was not mad, he was psychotic and delusional. She knew that Anne was right, that Radchek would not be brutal or harsh with her, but she had no illusion that he would be gentle out of any sense of compassion. No, he would do it because he knew that to abuse her would only give her something to fight against, something to resist. He knew that by treating her gently, kindly … lovingly, would only serve to remind her who and what she was, and that no physical abuse could be crueler.
After dessert, Radchek took her for a walk around the grounds of the estate. At the south end of the grounds was a high hill that overlooked the bay. To the west the sun was dipping below the horizon, casting an orange glow across the glittering water. It would have been a lovely, romantic image had she not been gripped with fear and loathing, knowing what was soon to come.
“That is the Orion,” Radchek said, pointing to the yacht moored at the dock below. “Perhaps one day I will teach you to sail.”
Lana suppressed the urge to smirk; obviously, Radchek didn’t know as much about her as he thought.
As they walked the grounds, Lana tried to absorb every detail. She looked specifically for any indication of security systems, but she saw no evidence of cameras or motion detectors. That didn’t mean they were not present, but if they were, they were very well hidden. She suspected that the idea of using such devices had never even occurred to Radchek; he was smug in his conviction that he was untouchable. The heavy wrought-iron gate didn’t even have a lock on it.
She had begun formulating a plan weeks ago, on the very day she had told Radchek she would do what he wanted. It had never been her intention to remain meekly submissive to Radchek’s will, but she felt an obligation to ensure that Brian and Anne were safe. Once they were free of the island, she would free herself — one way or another.
As the last rays of the sun began to fade, Radchek pulled her close and kissed her. Lana fought down the fear and the urge to resist. She parted her lips and accepted the kiss, returning it with as much enthusiasm as she could muster. All the while, she sought to detach herself from what she was doing.
~It’s just my body … it’s not me. Let the body respond.~
Her body did respond, and when the kiss ended, Radchek led her back to the mansion. They walked up the grand staircase but turned to the east wing rather than the west. Once in Radchek’s bedroom, Lana removed her clothing at his command, and allowed him to push her back onto the bed. Their lips met again, and his hands began exploring her body, touching her, drawing her deeper into the moment of passion.
~He’s not touching me … just my body. It knows what to do.~
She kept repeating that throughout the night; when he told her to pleasure him orally, she obeyed. When he rolled her onto her back, she spread her legs and accepted him. She felt the fire within her body and told herself repeatedly that it was only her body. When she cried out as she climaxed, it was her body that cried out. He could reach her body, but he could not touch her soul.
It worked, at least in part. She was able to do what she had to, to please him in the way he expected. It wasn’t until the next morning, when she returned to her room to pack her belongings that she collapsed to the floor and cried until she could cry no more.
The sound of the flushing toilet reverberated in the master bathroom as Lana splashed water on her face and then rinsed her mouth out. She dried her face and then left the bathroom, stopping short as she saw Anne waiting for her in the bedroom.
“How long have you been waking up sick?”
“About a week,” Lana told her. “I’m pregnant, aren’t I.”
“I’ll have to do a blood test to be sure,” Anne said. “I can draw the blood now if you like.”
Lana nodded, slipped a robe over her negligee and followed Anne back to the suite in the west wing. They had to wait for a servant to bring the key and let them in; Brian was allowed to join them outside for walks, but always with the knowledge that the big Zulu Mapoza was watching them from atop the mansion, a high powered rifle at the ready. The rest of the time he was locked in the suite.
“Good morning, Lana,” Brian said, rising from the sofa as the two women entered. When he moved to embrace her, he noted the queasy look on her face.
“Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Lana told him. “It looks like you may be leaving us soon.”
The meaning of her words struck Brian like a sledgehammer, and he walked back and dropped onto the sofa.
“Brian, you promised,” Lana said. “I’m going to hold you to that promise.”
Brian nodded, but he couldn’t bring himself to look her in the eye. Anne took her into the bedroom that she was using to draw the blood for the test. Lana immediately noted that some of Brian’s clothes were on a chair in the corner. She looked at Anne and grinned.
“Lana, it’s just … we.…”
“There’s no need to explain anything, Anne,” Lana told her. “Brian is a dear, sweet man. It took becoming a woman for me to see just how wonderful he really is. I’m happy for you.”
Anne had the results of the blood test by that afternoon — it was positive; Lana was pregnant. Radchek was away from the island and would not be back for another two days, so Anne took a second sample the next day and ran the test again to be certain. She also did a more detailed quantitative test to determine the approximate age of the fetus. The results indicated that Lana was around four weeks pregnant. That would put the time of conception right around the first night she was with Radchek.
It wasn’t hard to believe that Lana could have conceived the very first time she had sex. It was close to the mid point of her monthly cycle, when she was the most fertile. There was also evidence in the legends regarding the orchid that the transformed females were highly fertile and conceived easily. But Anne knew something no one else did.
There was a computer in the small lab in the estate’s basement, and Anne turned it on and opened the word processor. She typed out a short letter, then printed it and deleted the document without saving it. She sealed the letter in an envelope and then took it up to her room and hid it.
She knew Radchek could not be trusted, but like Lana, she now desperately wanted Brian to be safe. Once he was away from the island, she would find a way to get Lana off the island. Radchek was getting lax, leaving the estate for days at a time. Of course, Mapoza was always there, ever watchful, and there was no way he would be convinced to let them go. She would find a way; she just had to be patient.
Radchek was delighted to hear the news that he was to be a father, and he had the cook prepare a lavish dinner to celebrate. The fact that Lana had conceived did not stop him from exercising his ‘marital privilege’, but then she had never expected it would.
A week later Radchek announced that Brian was free to go, and the plane would be ready to take him back to Rio in the morning. Lana and Anne were both there to see him off, and both were relieved that neither Radchek nor Mapoza would accompany him on the flight.
“I’m going to miss you, my friend,” Lana said as she hugged him goodbye. She didn’t try to hold in the tears. His leaving would remove a great weight from her shoulders, but at the same time it would leave a gaping hole in her heart.
Brian was crying too, unashamedly as he held her. He tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come.
“Remember me,” Lana whispered.
Brian nodded, then turned to Anne. He took her in his arms and kissed her long and passionately.
“I’ll see you in Africa when this is over,” Anne said.
“I’ll be waiting for you,” Brian told her. He moved to the steps of the twin engine turboprop and then paused, turning back to face the two women.
“I love you, both of you.”
Lana and Anne stood arm and arm and watched until the plane was out of sight. Then they turned and made their way slowly back to the mansion.
Lana battled with a deep depression in the days and weeks following Brian’s departure. She was free to wander as she pleased throughout the mansion and the grounds, but she wasn’t really free at all. She used the time to familiarize herself with every inch of the estate. The mansion was truly huge, and it was completely open to her, save one room down the hall from the great room that was locked. Since she saw no guns anywhere, she suspected that was where they were stored, and Radchek was not foolish enough to leave them accessible.
Radchek still had sex with her each night, or at least each night he was at the estate. Lana tried to maintain the separation of spirit and body, but she knew she was slipping. To her great shame, she found herself, not just her body but her inner self, enjoying the sensations he aroused in her. The only thread she had to cling to were the letters that she received each week from Brian. They were always short, simple affairs, but then Brian had never been much for writing.
Two months after Brian left, Radchek announced that he and Mapoza would be gone, perhaps for several days. They were not leaving the island, and Lana knew that he was going on a hunt, perhaps for one of the many jaguars that roamed the wilds. It wasn’t the first time he had done it, and each time when he returned he was exceptionally amorous. Of all the things about him, that disturbed her most of all. He was excited not by the hunt, but by the kill.
She was sitting in the great room reading when Anne came in, laden with three large duffel bags. Her face bore a look of fierce determination.
“Anne, what are you doing?”
“I’m getting you off this damn island and away from that monster,” Anne told her.
“Anne, that’s insane! Vadim and Mapoza could return at any time. Besides, the servants will stop us.”
“The servants are all unconscious,” Anne told her. “I drugged the stew they had for dinner. They’ll be out for hours.”
Lana’s lip began to quiver as fear gripped her.
“Anne, he’ll kill you!”
“Not if we’re gone. You can sail the Orion, can’t you?”
“I … I don’t know.…”
Anne dropped the bags and strode across the room. As she stopped in front of Lana, she slapped her.
“Dammit, Lana, snap out of it! You’re falling under his spell, letting him make you into his submissive little trophy. If we don’t go now, you’ll lose yourself forever!”
Lana held her hand to her stinging cheek as tears flowed from her eyes. She knew Anne was right; her own plan to escape after Anne had been released was doomed to fail. By the time she gave birth, all that remained of Carter Rainsford would be gone. She wasn’t sure if there was anything left now.
Then she felt it, an ember of anger deep within her. She nurtured it, tended it and fed it until it sparked to a tiny flame. Anger became rage, white and hot, and her eyes hardened. She rose to her feet and nodded.
“I’ve packed some things for you,” Anne said. “We need to move quickly.”
“You’re right,” Lana said. She moved to the fireplace and took a poker from the rack next to it.
“What are you doing?”
“We need weapons, just in case,” Lana said as she strode from the room and into the hall. She reached the locked door and stabbed the tip of the poker into the slight gap between the door and the frame.
“Lana, there’s no time! We have to go now!”
Lana pried at the door with the poker. The wood groaned and then the lock gave way with a loud snap. Lana thrust the door open and stepped inside.
“Lana no!” Anne cried as Lana fumbled for the light switch. She found it and flipped it up, then gasped in horror.
A narrow shelf ran around the perimeter of the room, at what would be about eye level for someone of Radchek’s height. The shelf was lined with square glass cases, a spotlight trained to illuminate each one. Lana stepped slowly into the room, unable to believe what she was seeing.
Each of the cases contained a human head, perfectly preserved. Lana moved further into the room, drawn by morbid fascination. She began moving around, her eyes darting from one case to the next.
“Lana, no ….” Anne pleaded, her voice barely a whisper.
Lana stopped before one of the cases, her eyes widening in horror. Her hand flew to her face, but was unable to stifle the bloodcurdling scream of anguish that erupted from her very soul as she stared at the face of Brian Whitney. She staggered back, still screaming, as Anne rushed to her side, not daring to look at the case herself.
“You knew … you knew!” Lana screamed, falling to her knees. “Oh God! Brian, I’m so sorry!”
“Yes, I knew,” Anne said, kneeling beside Lana. “Radchek told me about his sick hobby the night he drugged you.”
“Why didn’t you tell me!” Lana screamed, loathing and rage filling her eyes.
“Lana, I was so afraid,” Anne cried. “I was afraid for myself at first, and then for you and Brian. I thought we had won when the plane left with Brian, but he must have still been on it when it returned. I didn’t know he was dead until three days ago. Radchek told me, and he told me that neither of us would ever leave this island.”
“No, no, NO!” Lana cried. “The letters … what about the letters from Brian? They had his signature on them, I recognized it!”
“He must have had Brian write them before … before the hunt.”
Anne nodded, “That’s what he does, Lana, he hunts men now. He finds drifters and offers them a job, and then he brings them here and hunts them. That’s what he and Mapoza are doing right now. That’s how I knew we had time; he likes to toy with them before he kills them.”
“I’ll kill him!”
“Lana, no, we have to get away, Please, Lana, we have to get away right now!”
Anne rose and dragged Lana to her feet and started pulling her towards the door. Lana broke away from her and ran back into the room. Against the back wall was a glass rifle case, and she yanked the doors open. She scanned the rifles quickly and selected a Weatherby Mark 5. It had a lightweight synthetic stock and a Leopold scope. It was chambered for the .475 H&H Magnum round, and in the drawer at the base of the cabinet she found several boxes of ammunition. She grabbed two boxes, loaded the rifle and then slung it over her right shoulder.
“All right, let’s go,” she said, her voice dull and lifeless.
Lana took one of the bags and Anne the other two, and they made their way from the estate down to the dock without incident. Once they were on the Orion, Lana barked orders to Anne as they prepared to get underway. While Anne released the moorings, Lana stepped into the cockpit, relieved to see that the keys were in the ignition. The fuel gauge indicated the main tank and the reserve were full, and once the lines were cast off Lana started the engine and steered the boat away from the dock.
Once they were underway, Lana took the rifle and slipped the lens covers off the scope. There were two small runabouts at the dock; they were short ranged but would have more than enough speed to catch the yacht. She sighted the rifle in on first one outboard and then the other, sending a three hundred grain bullet into each engine. There was still the airplane of course, but at best it could only spot them, and Radchek would need a lot of luck to even find them once they were away from the island.
Lana didn’t bother with the sails for the moment. She pushed the throttle to full and steered a course to the west, wanting to put as much distance between them and the island as possible.
“I fell in love with Brian,” Anne said from behind her.
Lana nodded, but couldn’t make herself speak. She turned and looked at the pretty blonde scientist who had done so much for her as tears streamed down both their faces.
Anne’s body jerked and her eyes flew wide in shock. A red stain began spreading from the center of her chest across her white blouse. She staggered back as the crack of a high powered rifle reverberated across the water.
“No!” Lana screamed.
Anne was dead before she stumbled into the rail and over the side of the yacht. Her body hit the water like a rag doll and was quickly left in the wake of the yacht. Lana looked in the direction of the shot, and in the fading light she could see Vadim Radchek on the rise overlooking the cove, peering at her through the scope of a rifle.
Lana lifted her chin and stood straight and proud as she walked to the edge of the cockpit. She stared defiantly at Radchek, waiting for the end to come.
Instead, he lowered the rifle. She almost believed she could see his feral grin as he watched her until the yacht faded into the falling darkness.
Once she was clear of the cove, Lana set the sails and turned the engine off. The yacht was designed to be operated by a single person, but it was still hard work as she was not as strong as she had once been. In the cabin she found all the charts she would need, and enough food to last for several weeks, especially for one person. After a while, she gathered the bags from the deck and brought them into the cabin. Two were filled with clothes, hers and Anne’s, but the third held a surprise. It was stuffed with cash — stacks and stacks of fifty and hundred dollar bills, a quarter of a million dollars all together. Lana knew that Radchek kept large amounts of cash at the estate in several different currencies. It gave her great satisfaction knowing that he was funding her escape.
She didn’t find the strong box until the second day of her voyage. It was tucked away in the pantry, where she would have been certain to find it eventually. Taped to the top was an envelope addressed to her, in Anne’s handwriting. Inside was a letter and the key to the strong box. Lana opened the box and found several thick folders and a half dozen video tapes. Then she turned her attention to the letter.
When she had read the letter, she fell to the floor of the cabin and cried until she had no more tears to shed.
October 12, 2006
“Once I was over the horizon from the island, I changed course and headed southeast,” Sara said. “I knew Radchek would expect me to head due west or northwest for Brazil. Instead, I looped around and headed south. I ran into a hell of a storm as I rounded Cape Horn, and I was sure I was going to go down, but the Orion was a good boat.
“It took over two months for me to reach the waters off California. I had to stop more than once to take on supplies, but I had plenty of cash. I picked small coastal villages where I could get what I needed with no questions asked. I also had to stay out of the shipping lanes as much as possible. I was fairly certain Radchek wouldn’t report the boat stolen, but I couldn’t afford to be stopped and boarded for any reason. I was nearly five months pregnant when I scuttled the Orion and made my way ashore south of LA in the dinghy.”
David could only stare at Sara, trying to absorb all she had told him. The tale was incredible; so incredible that he knew she had to be telling the truth. In their situation, to make up such a wild story was worse than futile.
“Say something, David, please.”
“I … I don’t know what to say, Sara, except that I believe you.”
Sara started shaking, and David pulled her close and held her as she cried. She let out ten years of fear and frustration as he held her tightly to him.
“What about the money, Sara?” David asked after she had dried her eyes.
“When I got to LA, I was nobody,” Sara said. “I had no identity whatsoever. Fortunately, there are ways to get around that if you have the cash. I also needed a place to stay until Brian was born and a doctor. I found a small free clinic that was happy enough to get a sizable donation and not ask too many questions. I told them the father of my child had been abusive and I had left him; it was basically the truth.
“Once Brian was old enough to travel, I used my new identity and made my way to Iliamna. I knew the safest thing to do was keep moving, but I couldn’t do that with a child, so I chose a place that was small and isolated and hoped I could hide. It almost worked. What was left of the cash went into a bank in Anchorage. There’s around eighty-thousand in the account now.”
“Sara, what are we going to do?”
Sara looked at her watch and said, “We’re going to get ready for dinner.”
“David, I need you to trust me,” Sara said. “I have a plan, but I have to be totally honest with you. There are only two ways this can end; either the three of us will leave this island together, or none of us will.”
Mapoza arrived and indicated that David should follow him. As they were leaving, Sara rushed to David, pulled his head down as she stood on her tip-toes and kissed him.
“I love you, David. I should have said it a long time ago, but I was afraid.”
David’s mind and heart were filled with a jumble of emotions. A few days ago, hearing those words from Sara would have made his heart leap. Now, all he could do was stare at her as he struggled for words.
“It’s all right, David,” Sara said as she pressed her fingers gently to his lips. “I wouldn’t know what to say either.”
Two hours later Sara walked into the dining room, wearing an elegant emerald green evening gown that accentuated every curve of her body. David was stunned by her appearance; it was by far the most feminine attire he had ever seen her in. He was no stranger to formal dinners; the ongoing effort to secure grant money for his work made them common enough that he owned a tuxedo. The one Radchek provided for him didn’t fit as well as his own, but it was good enough. He gave Sara a hesitant smile, which she returned.
Sara turned at the sound of her son’s voice, her smile widening as she saw Brian. He ran to her and wrapped his arms around her waist.
“I knew you’d come,” Brian cried.
Sara dropped to her knees and wiped the tears from Brian’s face. She wanted to cry herself, but now was not the time.
“Are you all right, sweetheart?”
Brian nodded his head and then cast a dark glare at Vadim Radchek.
“He says he’s my father,” Brian told her. “He … he told me things about you.”
“Brian, sweetie, I … I ….” Sara struggled for the words as her eyes burned.
“I don’t care,” Brian told her, wrapping his arms around her neck and hugging her tight. “You’re my mom, and I love you. I don’t care about anything else.”
“I love you too, baby,” Sara said, “more than life itself.”
Dinner was a subdued affair, despite the lavish meal that was served. Radchek attempted to engage David in talk about his study of the brown bears of Alaska, but David refused to be lulled by his apparently friendly demeanor.
“Well, Svetlana, you have certainly presented me with a difficult decision,” Radchek said after the dinner table had been cleared.
“Not at all, Vadim,” Sara said, ignoring his attempt to bait her by using her old name. “Your choices are clear; let us go or kill us right now.”
“Such drama!” Radchek grinned. “I could simply lock Dr. Hollister away and make you return to our original arrangement.”
“You’re many things, Vadim, but a fool isn’t one of them,” Sara said. “You know you can never have me. If you force me to stay, you’ll have to grow eyes in the back of your head and sleep with both eyes open, because I will find a way to kill you.”
“And what about our son?”
Brian leapt up from his chair and screamed, “You’re not my father!”
“Brain, please,” Sara said, laying a hand gently on his arm. Brian sat back down, and Sara turned her attention back to Radchek.
“All you had to do was keep your promise. You had won, Vadim! With every passing day I was becoming the girl you wanted me to be. But that wasn’t enough. You had to play your sick game, and you murdered my best friend. You murdered Anne. Svetlana died that day, and she will never come back to you.
“So you can kill us or let us go … or you can choose a third option. You can give me the same chance to win our freedom that you gave my friend.”
Radchek actually displayed some shock at her words, and Sara smiled.
“It wasn’t hard to figure out. The only way he would have gone along with your sick game was if you offered my freedom as a prize. I should have seen it sooner; he agreed to my plan far too easily.”
“I was pleasantly surprised with Mr. Whitney’s performance,” Radchek said. “He eluded me for nearly four days. I hardly think you would provide me with as much sport.”
“Is that it, or are you afraid to be bested by a woman? You take great pride in yourself as a hunter, but the truth is you’re nothing more than a sick, twisted psychopath. Brian Whitney was ten times the hunter you are, and he was more of a man than you could ever hope to be.”
“Very well, Sara,” Radchek said, emphasizing her name. The smile had disappeared from his face. “I accept your challenge. I will provide you with clothing, a knife, a machete and a canteen. You will depart before dawn and have a two hour head start.”
“This is ridiculous!” David shouted. “Sara, you can’t possibly do this!”
“It’s the only way, David. Please don’t make this any harder than it already is.”
She is wedded to convictions — in default of grosser ties;
Her contentions are her children, Heaven help him who denies!
He will meet no suave discussion, but the instant, white-hot, wild,
Wakened female of the species warring as for spouse and child.
- Kipling **
Sara was awakened at four the next morning as a servant brought her clothes and other gear. She slipped on her bra and panties, and then dressed in the trousers and blouse Radchek had provided. She ignored the boots; there was no way she would undertake this insanity in boots she had never worn before, and the ones she had been wearing when she arrived were more than adequate.
The blades were excellent as Radchek had promised, both made by Cold Steel. The largest was their Ghurka Kukri, patterned after the Nepalese knife made famous during World War 2. The curved blade was twelve inches long and highly effective for chopping and slashing. The smaller of the two was the Recon Scout, a Bowie style knife with a seven-and-a-half inch blade.
The blades were sheathed and attached to a military style web belt, along with a one quart canteen. Sara had to drastically adjust the belt so that it would fit her and suspected Radchek had purposely provided it to remind her that she was a woman.
Once she was dressed and ready, she woke Brian and got him dressed, and the two entered the sitting room, where they found David pacing nervously. He looked like he hadn’t slept all night.
“Sara, don’t do this,” David said. “We can try to reason with Radchek. He has to know he can’t get away with this; we’ll be missed. There had to be witnesses that saw his men take me and Brian.”
“You don’t understand,” Sara said, closing her eyes. When she opened them, there was a hard glint in them.
“He doesn’t care, David. He truly believes he’s untouchable, and he probably is.”
“Then we can go along with him; bide our time until….”
“No!” Sara shouted. “I tried that before, and it cost the lives of two people I loved. I told you; it ends here, one way or another.”
The door to the suite opened, and Mapoza walked in. David’s shoulders slumped in defeat; there was no way he was going to talk Sara out of this.
Sara nodded to Mapoza, and then turned and knelt before her son. She pulled him close and hugged him, and then pulled back and looked him in the eye as she spoke.
“I know you’re scared, sweetheart. I’m scared too. I promise you, I’m going to come back to you. Nothing on Earth can keep me away.”
“I believe you, Mom,” Brian said. His lip quivered, but he fought to keep a brave face.
“It’s okay to cry, honey,” she told him.
Brian nodded and let the tears come. Sara pulled him close again and cried with him, holding him until she heard Mapoza grunt.
“I love you, sweetie,” she told Brian, and then turned and looked up at David. “I love you both.”
Radchek was waiting for her in the great room, and he noted her tear reddened eyes with a wide smile. Sara didn’t try to hide her emotions; if they made Radchek feel she was weak, so much the better.
“So it’s me with two blades against you and your rifle?” Sara asked.
Radchek shook his head and produced a North American Arms mini-revolver. Chambered in .22 rimfire magnum, the tiny revolver was just over five inches long and weighed less than seven ounces. It would only be effective at extremely short range, but that would still be beyond knife range.
“When I kill you, Sara, I will be close enough to see the fear in your eyes.”
“Let’s just get this started,” Sara said.
They escorted her to the gate at the rear of the estate grounds, where a pair of porters was waiting, heavily laden with gear. Vadim would have the comfort of a real camp at night, while she had nothing but the clothes on her back. As Sara started through the gate, she stopped and turned.
“Did you ever find your orchids, Vadim?”
Once again the smile disappeared from Radchek’s face, and he shook his head almost imperceptibly.
Sara grinned, and without another word she set off into the jungle at a trot. She kept herself to an easy pace, thankful that she had exercised daily, religiously, for the last ten years. Her friends in Iliamna thought she was mad to jog in the middle of winter, but Sara had been driven by the fear that had now been realized.
Radchek had not allowed her to wear a watch, so she would have to rely on her own internal sense of time to judge when her two hour head start was up. She moved as carefully as she could at the pace she set, but she wasn’t really concerned about leaving a trail for the time being. In fact, she wanted Radchek to have a trail to follow; she just didn’t want it to be too obvious a trail. Her primary concern at the moment was distance.
When she judged she had been moving for ninety minutes, she stopped, surveying the jungle as she let her body rest and recover. Since she routinely jogged twenty miles at a time and at a much faster pace, she was not really winded. Rest was not her main concern; it was time to let Radchek know that his quarry had teeth.
At precisely two hours, Radchek and Mapoza set out in pursuit of Sara. They set a brisk pace, Radchek smiling at the thought of Sara. He imagined she was winded by now from her flight, her legs burning as she gasped for breath and tried to push onward. Her trail was certainly easy enough to follow, though he could tell that she had made an effort to conceal her passage.
Approximately ten miles from the estate, Mapoza stopped and held up his hand. He pointed to the ground ahead, and Radchek saw a poorly concealed vine running across Sara’s trail. The big Zulu extended his spear and snagged the vine, yanking back on it. A stout sapling snapped across the trail at knee height. The trap would not have caused serious injury, but it would have been painful had it been successful.
“A valiant attempt, Sara dear, but you will have to do better than that,” Radchek shouted.
The two men continued their stalk. An hour later, Sara’s trail abruptly stopped. Mapoza knelt down to examine her tracks, and then waved Radchek forward. He pointed to a clearly defined boot print, but instead of being deeper at the toe as it should have been, it was deeper at the heel.
“Clever girl,” Radchek said. “She walked backwards in her own tracks.”
They moved back along the trail, and after about fifteen minutes found where Sara had changed her direction of travel. It was next to a tree with a branch that was low enough that she had been able to grab it and swing herself off the trail to the left. The tactic had been effective; she had bought herself approximately another thirty minutes of distance.
A hundred meters away and behind the two men, Sara watched from her vantage point in the limbs of a tree as Radchek and Mapoza found her trail and headed off in pursuit. She had looped around and come back on her original trail.
She cursed silently; she had hoped they would have taken longer to find her new track. Mapoza was too good though. No doubt Radchek was an accomplished tracker himself, but he seemed to rely on Mapoza heavily, and that meant she had to find a way to eliminate the Zulu.
She knew dozens of ways to lay traps, but the limiting factor was time. She waited for the two men to pass out of sight and then slipped silently to the ground and headed off in the opposite direction. She began to weave a complex series of paths, doubling back frequently, laying false trails and backtracking. She had to be careful to maintain her sense of direction. To get lost now would certainly prove fatal.
She reached a narrow stream and stopped to rest for a moment, drinking the entire contents of her canteen. She then refilled it from the stream, noting that the vessel was equipped with a built-in filter. Radchek had thought of everything; he didn’t want his quarry to get sick and ruin his sport.
The water refreshed her; the heat and humidity were starting to take their toll on her. She had grown accustomed to a much cooler climate. After she finished filling the canteen, she set out up the stream to mask her trail further. When she emerged from the water, she quickened her pace.
Radchek was beginning to suspect he had underestimated Sara. Once he and Mapoza had reached the spot where she had perched in the tree and watched them, he knew that she was not running. She was stalking them even as they were stalking her.
They followed her trail through the morning and well into the afternoon as she led them ever farther away from the estate. By the time the sun was dipping low in the west, it was obvious they were not going to catch her before dark.
“This day goes to you, Sara dear,” Radchek shouted, certain she was within earshot. “I look forward to resuming the hunt in the morning.”
Sara was within earshot, and from her hiding place, she watched as the porters set up camp and built a fire. She watched until well after dark, when Radchek and the porters retired for the night, while Mapoza kept watch. A smile spread across her face. If the Zulu maintained an all night vigil, even he would be tired come morning.
She didn’t entertain a thought of approaching the camp. Even if she could get close to Mapoza, his spear against her Kukri and knife was a losing proposition. Besides, though she was in excellent shape, she was not skilled enough to rely on either blade as a weapon except as a last resort.
As she was climbing down from the tree she was perched in, she set her foot on a branch. It snapped under her weight with a loud crack, and Mapoza’s head zeroed in on the sound. He began advancing towards her position.
Her choice was fight or flight, and as panic gripped her, she chose flight. She dropped to the ground and set off at a full run, making far too much noise. Her saving grace was that Mapoza stopped when he heard her mad flight to awaken Radchek, and by the time he was out of his tent she was far away.
Once released, the panic was impossible to check, and Sara ran for all she was worth. Several times, she tripped and crashed painfully to the ground, only to pick herself up and continue her flight. She finally stopped when she could run no more. She barely had the strength to pull herself up into a tree and curl up in its branches. Her exhaustion quickly overcame her, and she slipped into a restless, fitful sleep.
Sara awoke with a start and nearly fell out of her perch. She caught herself just in time, and then carefully made her way to the ground. Her body was stiff and sore. She stretched to get the kinks out and then sipped some water from her canteen.
Her stomach grumbled hungrily, but there was nothing she could do about that. The sky was already brightening, and she was certain that Radchek would waste no time resuming the hunt. She set off once more at a brisk, steady pace, not attempting to lay a confusing track. She needed distance; the island narrowed towards its southern end, and she had to get far enough ahead of her pursuers to loop around before she ran out of maneuvering room.
By mid morning she had made her loop and was starting back north. She began muddying her trail once more, but not like she had the day before. She emptied and refilled her canteen twice by mid-day, and she was still feeling the effects of the heat. She feared she would not last another day.
By mid afternoon she was well to the north of the spot where Radchek and Mapoza had camped. She began surveying the jungle carefully, looking for a spot that would fit her plan. She found what she was looking for and drew the Kukri from her left hip.
~It’s time to even the odds a little.~
Radchek was in a foul mood as he set out on the second day of the hunt. He had genuinely expected to conclude the matter by lunch the day before, but Sara had proven to be far more elusive than he could have imagined. Still, she was a woman, and no match for him. He had proven that when he had so easily broken her to his will.
He knew she had been acting at the start, merely pretending to surrender. But he had seen it in her eyes; she had begun to long for him, to crave his touch in the night. It was a shame he would be forced to kill her, but he still had enough of the processed nectar of the orchid to transform another wife for him. He would not repeat his mistakes either; the next would be totally isolated and have only him to rely on.
It was true that age was beginning to take its toll on him, but he had prepared for that. He had provided numerous sperm samples that Dr. Parsons had frozen and stored for him before he had been forced to eliminate her. His next bride would bear him many children, especially since the transformation process provided a marked decrease in the rate at which the transformed female aged. That was probably why Sara was proving such a challenge; though ten years had passed, she had aged no more than two physically.
Her panicked flight the night before left an obvious trail. Radchek smiled, seeing in the trail signs that she was starting to crack. Her continued flight to the south was also a good sign; the island was not very large, and she would soon be trapped against the sea.
By mid-day her trail began to turn, and it was soon obvious that she had realized her peril and looped back around to the north. That meant that for the better part of two hours, while they had been following her trail south, she had been moving north and opening the distance between them.
They found her second surprise a short time after one. It was a simple deadfall; a tree had snapped in half, and Sara had hacked at the slender strands still connecting the broken section to the trunk. The deadfall was precariously braced by a stout, thick branch to which a vine had been attached as a trip wire.
Mapoza once more used his spear to carefully trigger the trap, while Radchek maintained a safe distance. The trunk section, easily heavy enough to crush a man, came crashing down. Too late did they notice that a second vine was tied to the deadfall, and as the trunk fell it was pulled taught, releasing a thick sapling that had been bent and excellently concealed.
The sapling lashed out from behind Mapoza, its length studded with sharpened stakes. Mapoza’s eyes bulged as three of the stakes struck home across the small of his back. Blood sprayed as they passed through his torso, protruding at least three inches out of his abdomen.
Mapoza turned to Radchek, his lips moving. Only a wet gurgle issued from his throat, and then with a long sigh he sagged forward, his body held upright by the trap that impaled him. His spear slipped from his nerveless fingers, and then gravity asserted itself, and he slowly slid off the stakes and crumpled to the ground.
“Well played, Sara, well played!” Radchek shouted. “You are proving every bit as challenging as your friend was. I shall have to return to the estate and start fresh in the morning with my dogs.”
Radchek turned to the two porters and barked an order, motioning for them to precede him. The men were none too anxious to do so, but they were too fearful of Radchek to disobey. They followed Sara’s track for another four miles, until it disappeared at a stream.
Sara barely heard Radchek’s words. As soon as she had seen the trap hit Mapoza, she had started off. She had accomplished what she wanted; she had driven Radchek back to the mansion. It would take him several hours to get back there, and by then it would be well after sunset.
When she reached the stream, she turned west, staying in the water until she was well away from her original track. Once she exited the stream, she continued to follow it until it at last reached the ocean. There she headed north once more, increasing her pace until she was jogging steadily.
An hour later she reached the southern edge of the cove. There, across the water, was the dock, and beyond that Radchek’s estate loomed. Without hesitation, she stripped down to her bra and panties and then removed the canteen from her belt. She secured the belt across her torso and then entered the water and began swimming.
She who faces death by torture for each life beneath her breast,
May not deal in doubt or pity — must not swerve for fact or jest.
These be purely male diversions — not in these her honour dwells —
She the Other Law we live by, is that law and nothing else.
- Kipling **
Radhcek entered his estate and went immediately to the great room and poured himself a cognac. He removed the mini revolver from his pocket and set it on the bar, and then walked over to gaze out the window into the darkness.
He had to admit that Sara had surprised him with her cleverness. The trap that had killed Mapoza had been masterfully laid, and he suspected that her earlier, clumsy attempt at the same thing had been nothing more than a ruse.
It didn’t matter; in the morning he would set his dogs on her trail, and they would make short work of her. Once they had her down or cornered, he would move in and deliver the coup de grace. He had initially not planned on adding her to his trophy room, but now he felt that she had earned a place there. It pleased him to think that he would be able to look upon her lovely face for years to come.
There was a nagging doubt in the back of his mind, however. Sara had proven fiercer than he had expected. There was a chance, however small, that she might be able to best him. It might be best if he took steps to assure his success. He would have the boy accompany him. That would ensure that Sara would not play her little games with traps, and it would be good for the boy to see the end; it would make his acceptance of his new life much easier.
He drained his cognac and then walked upstairs and into the west wing. He pulled the key for the suite from his pocket. David and Brian were both in the sitting room, and as Radchek entered David rose and stepped in front of Brian to shield him.
“Very admirable, Dr. Hollister, but I intend Brian no harm,” Radchek said. “My son will be staying with me in the east wing tonight. In the morning, he will accompany me for the end game of the hunt. He should be with his mother in her final moments.”
“I might have something to say about that, Vadim.”
Radchek started as Sara stepped from her old bedroom, one of his Beretta double barreled shotguns in her hands. She was dressed in the clothes she had worn when she arrived, except her feet were bare. The barrels of the shotgun never wavered from his chest as she moved slowly across the room. She stopped when she was in front of David, and motioned for Radchek to move over to stand where she had been a moment earlier.
“How did you get here?” Radchek demanded.
“You had to walk around the ridge. I swam across the cove. It never occurred to you that I would come after you, did it?”
“If you shoot, my servants will be on you in seconds,” Radchek said.
Sara ignored his threat. Her eyes never left Radchek as she spoke.
“David, please take Brian and go downstairs. I’ll join you in a few minutes.”
“Sara, you’ve won,” David said. “We can tie him up and contact the authorities. You’ll be free.”
“That’s one of the things I love about you, David, you have such faith in mankind. This is a private island in international waters, and Vadim is a very powerful individual. We may get away for a time, but he’ll come after me again.”
“Sara, you can’t….”
“Dammit, David, please do as I ask!”
“Come on, Brian, let’s go,” David said, his voice subdued. They were almost out the door when Brian turned.
“I love you, Mom.”
“I love you too, sweetheart.”
When they were gone and the door closed, Radchek recovered some of his bravado and smiled.
“He’s right, Sara, you can’t. Brian may not accept me now, but one day he will realize that you killed his father, and he will hate you.”
“That might be true if you were his father,” Sara said. She reached into the back pocket of her jeans with her left hand and pulled out a worn envelope, tossing it to the floor at Radchek’s feet.
Radchek knelt down slowly and picked up the envelope. He pulled a single sheet of paper from it and began reading.
I just ran your pregnancy test and by now you know it was positive. What you don’t know is how surprising that result is to me.
Several months ago, Vadim told me he wished to have some sperm samples stored, ‘for posterity’. At the time, I believed I was in love with him and had been hoping for some time to get pregnant. I thought if I could give him a child, he would love me too. I was a fool, I know, and now I am thankful that it didn’t happen.
At the time, however, I was concerned that I had not conceived. I had a complete physical, and there were no abnormalities detected in my reproductive system, so I decided to check one of the samples he provided.
Vadim is sterile, completely incapable of fathering a child. As you are without question pregnant, that leaves only one possible father.
By now, you probably also know that I am in love with Brian. I want you to know that I understand why you asked him to be with you, and why he agreed. You faced the possibility of a lifetime as literally a slave to Vadim, who would never truly love you. You wanted to know what it was like to be in the arms of a man who did love you, even if it was just as a friend. I’m glad you had that.
I don’t know what the future holds for us. I have my doubts that Vadim has any intention of letting either Brian or I live. Whatever may come, I want you to know that you are a strong, courageous young woman, and I am proud to call you my friend.
“This is a lie!” Radchek screamed as he crumpled the letter and cast it to the floor.
“I’m sure you believe that,” Sara said. “I know it’s true. I see it in my son. I look into his eyes, and I see my friend; his intelligence, his humor, his compassion. I wanted you to know this; I wanted you to know that when you die, your legacy, your evil, dies with you.”
Fear showed in Radchek’s eyes now, and Sara could see that he was shaking.
“You still can’t do it, Sara. You’re not like me … you can’t kill another human being in cold blood.”
“But I am a hunter, Vadim. I do kill animals.”
The shotgun’s blast as both barrels discharged echoed through the suite.
Radchek had been right, to a degree. The household staff had come to investigate the shotgun blast. When they had seen his body, one of the maids had stepped forward and spit on his corpse. It turned out that most were there because Radchek had forced them through coercion, intimidation and blackmail. None of them were sad to know that he and Mapoza were dead.
The pilot of his plane was only too happy to get them off the island. Fortunately, David and Brian had their passports. They had been flown down to Rio on Radchek’s private jet, but had checked in through customs in the usual manner, accompanied by a pair of hired thugs.
Before leaving the island, Sara had one task to perform. The estate had a large gasoline tank at the dock, and Sara doused the lower floor of the mansion liberally, paying special attention to Radchek’s horrific trophy room.
She paused for a moment in front of all that remained of her dear friend, tears flowing freely.
“I wish you could see him, my friend,” she whispered. “Our son looks just like you. I’ll never forget you, and I’ll make sure he knows what a wonderful man his father was.”
As she exited the front door, she lit a match and used it to light a kerosene lantern she had found in the kitchen. She turned and threw the lantern, watching as it arced high and then shattered on the grand staircase. The gasoline soaked carpet burst into flames which spread quickly.
Sara turned and headed towards the airstrip, never once looking back.
The journey back to Alaska was agonizingly uncomfortable. David hardly spoke to her at all, and when he did it was in short, terse statements. Brian was quiet for a time too, until Sara began telling him about the man he was named after, his father and her best friend. Radchek had already told him about her transformation, and Sara didn’t deny it when he questioned her, though she did suggest that they wait until they were home to talk about it.
“I want you to know it doesn’t matter to me,” Brian told her. “I only know you as my mom, and I love you.”
By the time they were back in Anchorage, they were all exhausted. Sara and Brian spent the night in David’s guest room, and the next morning he flew them back to Iliamna in his Beaver.
“Sara, please, I need some time to think,” David interrupted. “I’ll call you in a few days.”
Sara nodded, put her arm around Brian’s shoulder and walked up to the lodge with him. When she heard the float plane’s engine rumble to life, she turned and watched until it disappeared in the distance. Then she sighed, certain that she would never see David again.
Hubert didn’t ask any questions when Sara told him she was going to take some time off. The thought of hunting didn’t appeal to her at all, and she wondered if she would ever be able to look at it the same way again.
She spent a lot of time with Brian, telling him about his father. She also answered his questions about her transformation, which mostly revolved around what she felt, what the difference was between being a man and a woman. They were well thought out questions that reflected a maturity beyond his years, but then he had always been a precocious boy.
A week later, someone from the lodge came to tell Sara she had a phone call. She tried not to get her hopes up, but when she saw Hubert smiling as she entered the lodge, she started smiling too.
“Sara, I’m sorry I took so long to call,” David’s voice said in her ear. “I … I had a lot to think about.”
“I know,” Sara told him.
“Can you come to Anchorage?” David asked. “I really need to talk to you.”
“I’ll be there this evening,” Sara said.
As she handed the phone back to Hubert, he smiled and said, “Brian can stay here, Sara. I’ll tell Charlie to get the plane ready.”
Sara smiled and said, “Thank you.”
She walked around the counter and gave Hubert a big hug.
“I’ve never told you this, but I love you,” she whispered. “Thank you for all you’ve done for me.”
“I love you too, darlin’,” Hubert said.
As she neared the door to David’s apartment, Sara had never felt more nervous in her life. She kept telling herself it was a good sign, that he would have never asked her to come to Anchorage if he just wanted to tell her it was over.
When David answered the door, he looked at her in surprise and said, “You should have called me. I would have picked you up at the airport.”
“I needed some time to think myself,” Sara said. David smiled and nodded, then took her overnight bag and carried it into the apartment for her. Sara sat down on the couch and waited for David to speak.
“Can I get you anything?” He asked. “I’ve got a nice bottle of Merlot.”
“That would be lovely, thank you.”
David set her bag down by the couch and disappeared into the kitchen. He returned quickly with a bottle of wine and two glasses. Sara waited patiently as he poured the wine, but inside she was screaming for him to get on with it.
“I guess you want me to get on with this,” David said as she took a sip of wine. Sara just smiled.
“Like I said on the phone, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. Everything that happened, it’s just so incredible that I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it.”
“I know how you feel,” Sara said. “It happened to me, and I still can’t quite believe it sometimes. I know it must be very hard for you though.”
“The thing is, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I don’t care,” David said. “I love you, Sara. I’ve loved you from the moment we met. I know you’ve been through a lot, and I know it all has given you a pretty poor opinion of your former gender, but I want to be with you; I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
“You’re wrong, David,” Sara said. “The process … spell … whatever you want to call it … it changed me completely. I guess it’s because it was used by the natives to create brides from enemy warriors. It took a little while, but I came to long for the touch of a man.
“I don’t mean that it made me wild for sex … it made me want someone to share my life with. Maybe it wasn’t even part of the spell, maybe it’s just part of being a woman. But I knew that Radchek would never stop looking for me. I knew that if I let anyone get close to me, they would be in danger too.”
Sara paused and took a big sip of her wine. Her hand was shaking, something it never did, as she set her glass down.
“I love you too, David. It makes me happier than I can ever express to hear you say you love me.”
“Then maybe this will make you even happier,” David said as he pulled a small velvet covered ring case from his pocket. He opened the case, and Sara saw it held a beautiful diamond engagement ring.
“Will you marry me, Sara?”
Sara tried to speak, but all she could do was nod her head as the tears began to flow. She let David slip the ring on her finger, and then she wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
She didn’t stop kissing him as he slipped his arm under her legs and rose from the couch, lifting her in his arms. He carried her into the bedroom, and for the first time since Brian, she felt the loving touch of a man. She accepted him willingly, eagerly, unleashing ten years of repressed passion and desire.
After their lovemaking, they lay in each others arms for a long time and talked. David asked Sara if she wanted more children, and she smiled and said yes.
“I’m through with being a hunting guide,” she told him. “Having been the hunted for so long, and especially after the island, I just don’t think I can do it anymore. I want Brian to have a place to grow up where he can be around more kids his own age, too. Don’t get me wrong, Iliamna has been great to us, but it’s time to move on. Maybe I’ll take up photography. Do you think you could use a guide turned wildlife photographer?”
“I imagine I can find a place for you,” David said. “How do you feel about a warmer climate?”
Sara looked at him quizzically, and David grinned as he explained.
“I’ve been offered an associate professorship in zoology at UCLA."
“I think that sounds fantastic!” Sara said. “To tell the truth, I’ve always hated the cold.”
“I do have a question,” David said. “What was in the strong box?”
Sara smiled, a sad, wistful smile, “It held all of Anne’s notes on the transformation. It also had photographs and video of me throughout the entire transformation. Radchek had insisted on the photos and the video, and Anne made copies. She thought I might one day need proof of what happened.”
Sara felt the sting of tears and tried to hold them back. David pulled her close and said, “It’s alright to cry.”
Later that night, as David slept, Sara lay next to him, watching him, her eyes shining with love. Her hand moved down to her belly, and though there was no logic to it, she knew she was pregnant again, and she knew this time it would be a girl. She would have to wait a few weeks to take a pregnancy test, but in her heart, she already knew, and she already knew what she would name her daughter. She smiled, certain that Anne would approve.
David stirred restlessly, and Sara gently stroked his hair until he settled back into a deep sleep. As she cuddled up next to him and closed her eyes, she smiled. Despite all she had been through, despite all that she had lost, as she felt the softness of the flannel sheets against her skin and the warmth of the man she loved next to her, she decided she had never been more happy or content - in either of her lives.
So it comes that Man, the coward, when he gathers to confer,
With his fellow braves in council, dare not leave a place for her;
Where at war with Life and Conscience, he uplifts his erring hands,
To some God of Abstract Justice — which no woman understands.
And Man knows it! Knows, moreover, that the Woman that God gave him,
Must command but may not govern — shall enthrall but not enslave him.
And She knows, because She warns him, and Her instincts never fail,
That the Female of Her Species is more deadly than the Male.**
** from “The Female of the Species” by Rudyard Kipling
One of the earliest stories I read in school that really stuck with me is Richard Connell's 'The Most Dangerous Game'. That story and Kipling's poem are, of course, the inspiration for this work. I hope you enjoy it. Again my thanks go out to Amelia for her encouragement and editing. A good editor makes you a better technical writer, but a great editor makes you a better writer. Amelia is a great editor.
Thank you to all the readers, and to everyone who has commented and provided me with so much wonderful encouragement. I look forward to your comments.
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