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The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


The Hour of the Jaguar
Chapter 11



Dr. Hernandez sits on George's bed, tugging at his hair. Arabella sits next to him and lays a hand gently on his shoulder.

"Firstly you're going to calm down," Arabella says, "You've told us the story and we're going to help you. We have 'friends' who can ensure your safety, but we'll need your help first. I know you're scared, to tell the truth I doubt there's one of us here that isn't, but we can put a stop to this without anyone getting killed."

Rupert moves forward and opens his mouth, but Arabella holds up a hand and shakes her head. He ignores her.

"Well, for a start..."

Jo takes a couple of steps, interposing herself between Rupert and the bed. She glares at him, mouthing the word 'please'.

"...I think that you ought to keep..." he continues, oblivious.

Jo cuts him off, whispering sharply. "Rupert! Arabella's trying to calm the man down. Please just let her get on with it!"

Rupert frowns, shrugs, and sits back down.

"Jo and Arabella!" he mutters to himself. "I didn't think they allowed that sort of thing in the army."

Hernandez is concentrating on Arabella, staring with pleading yet hopeful eyes.

"Now, I want you to tell us all the arrangements you've made so far" she says, "every detail you can remember. At this point even the smallest item could be important."

She waves a pencil at Jo, who casts her eyes around for some paper.

"Here" offers Major Hardy. "Use mine." He fishes a notebook from his jacket and hands it over. He turns to Hernandez.

"You know, doctor" he says kindly, "the people we are dealing with here are very dangerous. It's in all our interests to stick together and help one another. You're quite welcome to stay with us until this is all over, if you like, and I'd recommend it."

"Thank you, all of you" replies Dr Hernandez. "There's little else to tell, really. I don't know many names. Hacavitz is the elder of Solula, and he's in charge of the ceremony itself. I think there are going to be some Zapas disguised as Mayans amongst the genuine people. I think that Jose Panza, he's in charge of the Zapas, is disguising himself and joining us on top of the pyramid itself. Then, as far as I know, he was just going to wrest control of the public address system that'll have been installed, and give some kind of speech. Turn the thing into a demonstration."

"I've no idea when they're going to turn up to set up, if at all. The arrival of the priests is something I'm meant to commentate on, I think, so that'll happen just before dawn. The whole procedure of the light ceremony takes about twenty minutes after sunrise. That is, after twenty minutes, the serpent of Cukulcan reaches the temple. It's fabulously clever architecture, you know. The mathematics..." he trails off, weighed down by the pressure of the situation.

"Are you sure you know nothing about the arrival times of these groups?" asks Jo. "This is really important."

"Umm. Sorry" shrugs Hernandez. "I do know that I'm expecting about four people to be joining me on top of the pyramid, and I guess around twenty more to be performing dances and suchlike around the base. Selling trinkets to the crowd, that kind of thing. All of them ought to be in ceremonial dress and suchlike. Hacavitz has been organising the details though. I don't know much about it. The four at the top are going to be Hacavitz, Jose, and I guess two others. Probably Jose's bodyguards dressed as priests."

"What about the name Lalina?" asks Jo. "Do you know a girl of that name?"

"Lalina? I don't, I'm sorry."

"Hmm" ponders George. "We should get in to Chichen Itza before the festival, so we can get into position. Do you think you could help us get onto the site?"

"Sure, no problem. I'll just say you're all my support team, or guests, or something. It might look a little odd, but the curators aren't going to stop me."

Arabella takes a deep breath.

"All right Doctor, here's what I want you to do, if you're willing to help us?" Hernandez nods. "I want you to arrange for us to have passes to the site as visiting consultants. You needn't worry about it looking odd. I know enough about the ceremony to run a good bluff and I want to get onto the site before they others get there to set this up."

"Here's what I have in mind, any suggestions on improvements to the idea will be helpful, as long as they don't involve a shoot-out at high noon."

Across the room, Sean narrows his eyes.

Arabella reaches a hand into her satchel, and pulls out a small, white bottle.

"These pills are sleeping pills," she says. "I suggest we use some of them to drug some water or other drink at the site then let our opponents drink it. It shouldn't be too difficult and with luck we can immobilise them without putting ourselves in danger. If this succeeds, then we can grab the artefacts, the Comos boy and put a stop to this madness for now. Once dawn tomorrow is past they'll have to wait six months, by which time Doctor Hernandez and the artefacts will be in safe hands. I know it sounds simple, but too many frills and there's too much to go wrong. Suggestions?"

"Hang on just one minute," asks Rupert suspiciously. "You're suggesting that we get to the site tonight, and lie in wait for them aren't you? In hiding? It'll take hours! Hours! How am I going to smoke my cigarettes? I'll never last hours!"

"Rupert" says George kindly. "We're trying to put together a serious plan here."

"Well, I don't know about you chaps, but I know where my priorities lie. This ritual thing is all very well, but a chap has to get things into perspective. A chap has to have his fags you know."

George ignores him. "I think that if we can get the drop on the bad guys by either or both position and sleeping pills then we should do it. We should be as close to the site of the ritual as possible, perhaps even in the pyramid if possible. It poses the most danger for us - the highest chance of discovery - but it gives us a chance to react to circumstance."

"My plan's certainly risky, and it's going to require a lot of nerve and it could backfire terribly," Arabella smiles nervously, "but it's about all we've got at the moment."

"If you, Dr. Hernandez, can help us get the powdered sleeping pills into the bad guys' drinks it would be of great help. Do you think you can do that?"

"Perhaps. It is traditional for Mayan priests to take a drink of some cocoa-based hallucinogenic before a ceremony. It was thought to heighten their senses to the spiritual, and to the magic of the gods. Maybe I could try and slip the pills into that? I don't know how much good it would do though. I mean, they only take a sip. Don't those pills take a lot of time to be digested?"

"About half an hour" admits Arabella. "I wasn't planning on using any less than the whole bottle, though. Whichever way, the sooner they take them, the better."

"I'll do my best" offers Hernandez, "but what if things go wrong?"

"In that case, we'll need a back-up" explains Jo. "I'm afraid that this will probably mean violence. I was thinking we could split into groups, ready to jump them at the last minute. Major Hardy could lead one team, I'll take the second, and Sean could lead the third. Maybe while you" she nods to Sean, "and I create a distraction, George can find Simon Comos and pull him to safety."

"So, if anything goes wrong and it comes to the time of the ceremony without us rescuing Simon, Hernandez should delay things as long as possible and we should all put ourselves into good positions to leap in and disrupt things when the Zapas take over."

Jo turns to Rupert. "I'd like you in my team, by the way. When you're not taking drugs, you're quick and you don't miss a thing. I need that."

Major Hardy provides another cause for concern.

"One problem we have is Reconvaco and his minions. They must not be allowed to interfere with our mission, and I fear that any violence occurring will be with them. They seem to be at least as fanatical as the ones performing the ceremony, and not afraid to use firearms. We should steer clear of them if at all possible."

"The best way to do that is to convince the man that we're going to be helping him until it's too late for him to do anything about it" suggests Sean. "You guys sit tight for a while, and get some rest. We're safe here. It's too public for anyone to try anything. I'm going to go and get Lalina."

"Of course!" Rupert jumps up and pulls on his jacket. "I'll do anything to save the life of your darling Lalina. She is after all a mad obsessed revolutionary, and a lovely one at that"

"I'll need your two men, but..." begins Sean.

Rupert interrupts. "Oh, but I'm coming too old chap. Marcos and Octavio won't even sneeze without my orders, so I've got to come along as well. What fun it should be! I've never seen a real gun battle you know!"

Sean shrugs. "It's your neck. Everyone else, stay together, and no wandering off by yourselves, even when you ladies are powdering your noses." He strides across to the door, pausing only to stoop low over the doctor's shoulders and whisper something quietly in his ear. The colour drains from Hernandez's cheeks.

"Later." Sean leaves, with Rupert in tow.


A small, rather pleasant garden lies behind Lalina's apartment. It stretches up to a pair of patio doors, through which Sean sees the two men watching TV.

Sean addresses Marcos, Octavio and their two comrades.

"You guys wait here. Here's a watch. Wait two minutes, then move in. Subdue the men. Don't use your guns unless you have to. I'm going to distract them."

He runs off towards the front door, dragging Rupert by the sleeve.

"Here's where you come in useful. We need a distraction at the front door. I'm going to talk to Lalina, but if I give you the signal, just make a commotion. You're good at that."

"Hey!" objects Rupert. "I'm just along for the ride here. You don't expect me to put myself in the firing line or anything do you? I'll just position myself for a good view of what goes on. This should be great."

Sean looks at him blankly for a moment. "No," he says. He pulls a large pistol and folds a newspaper over his hand. "Just cause the distraction."

The doorbell rings.

Footsteps approach.

Lalina opens the door.

She stands there speechless.

"Hello Lalina," says Sean. "We were rather interrupted last time we had a chat and I was wondering if I might have a cup of tea?"

"Go away," whispers Lalina, glancing back over her shoulder. "What are you doing here?"

"Oh, just being sociable, you know..." replies Sean, also looking over Lalina's shoulder and down the hall. He places his foot in the door.

"Qui es?" comes a shout from inside.

"I think you have got the wrong house, Senor," says the woman quietly. "Adios."

She shuts her front door as far as Sean's foot.

"Now!" says Sean, shoulder barging his way past Lalina.

Rupert starts shouting. "Decoys! Decoys! Get your decoys here. Discounts for the bad guys!"

There is a clatter of noise from the lounge, and the sound of smashing glass. Spanish shouting erupts as the Cuervo men charge in through the patio doors. Phillipe scrabbles in his trouser pockets like a startled rabbit. The Mayan draws a gun swiftly and fires just as Octavio is squeezing his bulk into the room. The shot hits his arm and he falls over, shouting. Marcos doesn't hesitate in returning fire, pumping three rounds into the Mayan's chest. Across the room the boy has a small metal pistol half way out of his pocket. Facing four large mobsters, he freezes in fear. Marcos pans his gun across and shoots him in the head. Blood explodes across the room.

Octavio shouts out again in pain. Rupert rushes excitedly into the room, stumbling past a shell shocked Lalina.

"Well done old chaps! That was wonderful!" he shouts enthusiastically.

Sean is staring at the nightmarish scene in front of him. He turns and stares at his companion in disbelief.

"Wasn't it amazing the way the blood exploded out like that! Very artistic and everything," Rupert explains.

Sean punches Rupert full in the face. Rupert, caught completely off guard, falls flat onto the floor. Sean opens his mouth to shout something, but can't find the words. He turns, and kicks a table lamp in frustration. The bulb explodes.

"What was that for?" asks a bewildered Rupert from the floor.

Lalina staggers into the room.

"Get the fuck out of my house, you fucking murderous bastards! Get out! Get out! Get out!"

Sean puts down his gun and opens his arms to calm her down.

"Hey, easy, easy, it's over now, you're coming with us."

"Fuck off!" she screams in response. Sean frowns. "Look..." he begins.

Marcos walks up behind him, and points his gun at her forehead.

"Shut the fuck up, girl! Either you come quietly with us, or you're dead."

"What the hell do you think you're on?" Sean rounds on the gangster.

Marcos shrugs calmly. "She's a witness. She's seen our faces. Either she's with us, or I'll kill her. Simple as that."

"You bloody won't!" shouts Sean.

"You got no fucking say in the matter. This is Cuervo business now, and the police are going to trace her. So if you care about her you better bring her along or else she gets capped. We're moving now. Before the cops show up. Pedro, go start the car. Octavio, can you move?"

"Bastards!" growls Sean.

"Cuervo Cojaente" replies Marcos, and does a mean little bow.


Back at the hotel, Sean escorts Lalina in through the back door and up to his room. She is crying.

"Leave us alone, for God's sake" he shouts at the two mobsters following him. They wander off to their room, Octavio having taken back to see the boss's doctor. "Don't let her out of your sight," warns Marcos.

"That wasn't exactly the best outcome, really, was it?" asks Rupert warily, rubbing a bloody, painful nose.

"Not great," agrees Sean, who has been chain smoking since the shoot out. "A bloody long way short of great. Listen, Lalina. I'm really sorry about what happened. I only meant to rescue you from those men, I didn't mean..."

"Rescue? You call turning my flat into a murder scene rescuing me? The police will be all over the place, asking questions, trying to find me..."

"I told everyone they weren't to shoot unless they had to. Look. We're trying to stop the Zapatistas making a horrible mistake. They're being set up. The publicity stunt that's happening tomorrow is a sham. What do you know about it?"

"I know what Jose told me. That you're a mercenary hired by Governor Comos to kill and destroy the Zapatista cause in his area. What are those thugs going to do to me? Are they going to kill me too, just like they killed Phillipe?"

"No!" says Sean. "You'll be safe if you stay with me. I promise," he adds warily.

"Safe like me getting into a fight every time I see you? Safe like people getting killed in my living room?" she mutters. "This is so bad...this is so bad..." she stares, pained, at the wall.

"Whatever Jose has told you is a lie." Lalina looks at her feet. "My friends and I, we're not mercenaries, and we've got nothing to do with the government. Why do you think your fellow Zapas came down on you like a ton of bricks when they found out you'd been talking to me?"

"Jose kept shouting at me, asking questions, what had you asked, did he ask about the ceremony, did he ask about Chichen Itza, what have you told him...He just kept shouting..." mumbles Lalina, head in her hands.

"Arabella and Travis, mercenaries of fortune..." laughs Rupert. Sean had forgotten he was there.

"Rupert, go and see what the others have found out, could you?" he hints forcefully, then turns back to Lalina.

"The Mayans, through a man called Hacavitz, are trying to con the Zapatistas into helping them raise a god. The ceremony tomorrow...."

"The ceremony is about raising Chichen Itza's divine army, the army of the people," interrupts Lalina. "It's a metaphor," she stresses urgently.

"It's no metaphor," says Sean darkly. There is silence for a while.

"I've met Hacavitz," comes Lalina's subdued voice. "I hated him. Jose didn't seem to notice, but there was real malice in his Mayan eyes when he looked at us. I wondered why he was helping us, I wondered all along."

"Jose, too. He was saying things yesterday that he's never said before. He said that we should be prepared to become leaders of men, and that a great change was coming, the new age of the revolution. He said that he couldn't tell us what it was that was going to happen, but it was going to be a glorious day, and we should all be prepared. 'All will be revealed', he said."

"We have to stop him," says Sean. "I doubt he knows what he's doing. Whatever Cukulcan and his army wants, it has nothing to do with the Zapatistas, and everything to do with bloodshed. What do you know? Is there anything you can..."

"You?" cuts in a tearful Lalina. "What makes you so different? You with your gang of murderers, and your guns, and your secrets? Who are you?"

Sean sighs deeply. "We're the organisation that stops weird shit like this from going down before everyone believes us and it's too late. We're a bunch of disorganised amateurs kicking around in the dark, hoping we'll hit something important. And we're the people who know that if we don't stop this thing in," he looks at his watch, "10 hours time then we're going to be stood at ground zero."

"Look," he says, "if we got you in touch with your friends in the Zapas, do you think you could spread the word that..."

"No one would listen to me," she explains. "The girl caught talking to the enemy, who killed Phillipe and who all of a sudden wants the Zapas to give up Jose's big idea. Who's going to believe that?"

"Then what do we do?" asks Sean.

Lalina sighs deeply. "If the police were there in force, and everything else you tried didn't work, you could get them to stop Jose, couldn't you?"

Sean shakes his head. "The police would never believe us. They'd never go to the site in the first place, and disturb all the valuable foreign tourists."

Lalina looks very serious. She stares hard into Sean, her eyes suddenly cold.

"If you swear to me that everything will be tried to stop Jose without putting the innocent Zapas in danger, without exposing them, then I can get the police there."

Sean looks perplexed.

"The flocks of the sparrows are mightier than the eagle," intones Lalina.

"It's the Zapatista code word. Every bomb threat, every time we claim responsibility for a tax robbery, we use that phrase when we phone the police. It's how they know we're genuine, and it's very secret."

"Swear to me you'll try everything in your power to avoid telling the police anything. Swear to me that you'll get them involved only as a last resort, only if everything else has failed."

"Swear it!"

"I swear," says a humbled Sean.

"Then I'll make sure the bastards are there for the ride," says Lalina through clenched teeth. Sean reaches out a tentative hand to comfort her. She snaps it away with her arm and goes to sit on the other side of the room. There is an uncomfortable silence, too uncomfortable, and Sean leaves.


Jo is trying to relax in Arabella's room whilst George takes care of Dr. Hernandez.

Arabella pours her a glass of water.

"What you were saying at the museum, about me not believing you?" she asks. "Would I be working for SITU if I didn't believe in the impossible? I'm not asking you to tell me anything you're not comfortable with, but if you ever want to talk I'll not say a word to anyone else, ever, unless you specifically ask me to. We're friends and friends are there for each other, no matter what."

Jo raises her eyebrows, surprised at her friend's interest, then laughs.

"Umm. Sure. All right." She holds up her water. "Can we have something a bit less bland than this?"

"Sure. I'm glad you said that. Room service?" suggests Arabella.

A while later, the two women are sipping their drinks.

"Well," starts Jo, matter of factly, "My convoy was attacked in the Gulf. We were in the vanguard, and we'd advanced a bit faster than our support, I guess. The APC I was in was hit, and destroyed, and I was hurt. Actually, I was fatally hurt, and I was going to die." She winces somewhat, and rubs her bad leg. "However, I can clearly remember two men arriving. They took me out of the wreck, and, well, helped me. Then they left. When I woke up again, the cavalry had arrived, and were airlifting me out. It's all a bit hazy now, but I know it wasn't a hallucination - I've had them too and I know the difference. What those people did to me, or how they got me back in the wreckage, I don't know. But when my people found me they said by all rights I should have been dead so I suppose whoever they were they did me a favour."

"I tried to tell people about what had happened for a while, tried to find out what I'd seen. No one believed me though. I got discharged from the army. Unfit for service, I'm afraid." She slaps her leg ruefully.

"I just got wound up again and again that people who I thought respected me refused to believe me. It's not as if I was lying, and it's not as if I'm stupid. I have eyes and I know what I saw. And no damn person will accept that."

"Save a few," she adds, smiling at Arabella.

"Yes," replies the professor sympathetically. "It's all right Jo, I don't think you're mad, insane or disturbed in any way. You've had a nasty experience and something happened you can't explain. I'm not going to pass judgement or tell you I don't believe you, you believe and that means it happened. The question is, do you want to find out how and why?"

"It's all right," smiles Jo, "you don't need the Florence Nightingale voice. I'm feeling quite OK about this. It just makes me angry, you know. You're right, though, about the how and why bit. That's what drove me into SITU, I suppose, that and the chance of finding out what actually happened."

Arabella smiles, but then sounds of a loud argument drift through the door from down the corridoor.

"Who's that?" she asks. "Sounds like Sean..."

"...WELL YOU CAN TELL YOU BOSS THAT IT'S HIS MEN THAT SCREWED UP, AND IT'S THEM HE CAN TAKE IT OUT ON, NOT SOME YOUNG GIRL!"

"Senor Sean, would you be quiet. I don't care what you think. The girl needs to be looked after. If you're not taking her along with you tonight..."

"...I'm not taking her into the middle of the action, are you mad?"

"Fine. Then she will stay with us. Pedro will escort her back to..."

"NO! She stays with me. You're not going near her."

"Well then she's going to Chichen Itza, isn't she? And if we don't see her come back, feet or head first," there is a laugh, "then you're in big trouble."

"You're a real bastard Marcos."

"Thank you, Sean. You're not so bad yourself."


His head still racing over what he has done wrong, Sean walks slowly over to the Plaza della Madonna to keep the group's appointment with de Reconvaco. Jaime is sitting in his reception room, as usual.

"The day of reckoning is upon us," says Jaime, with a sidelong glance at Sean. "You remember what needs to be done?"

"Indeed," comes Sean's reply. "We may need a bit of help, though. We've got Hernandez - he's the guy who's running the festival - and he's got wind that something's up. He's talked to us, and now he might be in danger 'cause if the Mayans know he's talked..." Sean leans back and runs a finger across his throat.

"Now, if the ceremony's going to run smoothly, he needs protection. Can one of your men help take care that? Make sure he comes to no harm?"

"I don't follow," answers Jaime. "Either he is essential to the ceremony, in which case the Mayans are hardly going to hurt him, or else he is not, in which case he is not our concern."

Sean thinks fast. "The point is, now he knows what's going on, he'll try and stop everything unless we force him to go through with it. The Mayans can't cause they've not got hold of him, we have."

"I cannot spare any of my men, there are too few of us these days. You have this man Hernandez - you make sure he does what he should. Now I have preparations to make. I will see you in the Temple of the Warriors, just before dawn. Tezcatlipoca be watching."

"What was that?" asks Sean.

"Go," mouths de Reconvaco.


Late into the afternoon, Dr. Hernandez convinces the curators and technicians to move the public address control system up to the inside of the temple on El Castillo. He claims it is the only place where it won't be seen, and spoil the sense of the past. Around it, he arranges a tarpaulin curtain that will hide three people provided they crouch uncomfortably without moving. Jo adjusts her plan to account for the possibility of hiding in the temple itself, and the need to 'neutralise Reconvaco', as Sean puts it.

The first tones of blue appear in the sky to the east, but the jungle remains a sea of darkness in comparison. Jo, Rupert and Arabella are clustered in a small group in the tiny stone temple. Enclosed around three directions, the east facing wall opens in a broad arch, filled with a rough stone altar. From below, Mayan crowds would have been able to gaze up at their leaders by the altar whilst other dignitaries remained hidden in the shadows. Voices, whistles and drums begin to sound as the tourists begin to filter into the site, arranging themselves on the grass in preparation for the spectacle to come.

"Did you get any sleep?" asks Jo quietly. "Nothing's happened whilst I've been on watch, but the sun will be up within an hour."

"None," replies a nervous Arabella. "No sign of Hernandez?"

"He has to get here before things begin, seeing as he's the host. George and the others will have taken good care of him, I'm sure."

Sure enough, puffing steps come up the north face of the pyramid, and Hernandez walks into the temple.

"The crowds are getting set. I guess the show goes on regardless, eh?" he smiles. "I've left George and the others by the Temple of the Warriors, behind all the special fencing. They'll be quite well hidden amongst the columns till the sun's well and truly up."

"Time for a quick cigarette?" asks Rupert hopefully, drawing a tin out of his trouser pockets.

"No!" says Jo. "Sorry Rupert, but the smell will last forever, and they'll get suspicious."

Out in the darkness to the east, by the sacred cenote, burning lights start glimmering faintly.

"That's the signal," says Hernandez at a frightened pitch. "Quick, give me the pills, give me the pills. Get yourselves hidden. I'm going to do my speech thing. God help us all!"


Amongst the pillars and columns of the Temple of the Warriors, Hernandez's voice booms, carried by strategically placed speakers across the site...

"Five hundred years ago..."

"Goodness. I expect that this is it. Here we go," whispers Major Hardy from behind one stone warrior. Karyn is concealed off to his left, Travis to his right. Behind him, Sean is sheltering with Lalina by the temple wall. In front, they all face the dark, triangular bulk of El Castillo, rising up to the sky.

Lalina is folds away a mobile phone.

"That's a believable time delay for a warning. The police won't have a clue what to do when they get here, not a clue, but they'll be here soon anyway."

From behind Sean, steps click on stone, and Jaime de Reconvaco walks up, accompanied by Ricardo. Both of them are wearing suits. Jaime is carrying the skull of Cukulcan tight under his arm.

"Good morning, gentlemen," says Jaime. "You had better be prepared for the most important day of your lives. Remember your task. When Cukulcan is summoned, I will smash the skull, and you are to stop him reaching these pillars at all costs. At all costs. If he cannot reach these pillars, he will be weak enough to destroy. I hope I have been perfectly clear. May fate look kindly upon our arrogant adventure."

Hacavitz's voice continues to float across the site, talking of priests, and temples, and kings of the past. Tension rises, and the distant, floating torches by the cenote begin to move bob in towards the pyramid. There are twenty two lights, in two columns of eleven, coming ever closer. The eastern sky is becoming more coloured by the minute.

The seven hidden in the columns see the parade split as it approaches the pyramid. The first four begin to ascend, two of them supporting the shoulders of an unconscious body. In the dull light, it seems all five are wearing white, feathered robes, and all five are wearing large masks.

The next ten men, similarly dressed in robes, spread themselves out around the pyramid in a ring half way up. They wave their torches silently in the air, casting eerie shadows on the carved stonework. Not one of them stands on the east facing side.

The remaining eight place their torches in the ground near the tourists, and begin to dance in a circular formation. Two of them play pipes.

At the top of El Castillo, concealed under a tarpaulin, it is hot and uncomfortable. The thick, wide weave allows some light from the outside through, giving the three investigators a poor view of proceedings. It is the sounds of the approaching procession which are unmissable, however.

Hernandez stands, microphone in hand, explaining about the village of Solula, as the four men and one unconscious boy arrive at the crest of Cukulcan's pyramid. The leader of the procession gives a harsh command in a harsh language, and the two assistants place Simon Comos' body loosely on the altar. The fourth man walks into the temple and removes his mask. He is sweating, and beneath his mask wears a moustache and beard.

"Glad you're here, doctor," he whispers under his breath, when Hernandez pauses for a moment. "I was starting to have doubts. Just don't mess up, or else." He places a heavy stone statue down by the altar, and one of the assistant priests starts to manoeuvre it into position. Hacavitz brings the four torches together inside the temple, empties a sack of tinderwood onto them, and begins to heat some liquid in a golden bowl.

Hernandez looks over his shoulder nervously at the bowl. He turns back to his microphone.

"In Mayan times, the priest would begin his ceremonial preparations with a blessing to the city, and a blessing to its peoples," he booms. He turns around. "Elder Hacavitz," he whispers. "Just give the crowd a few words of Mayan blessing." Hacavitz scowls and stands, walks out to the steps, and throws his hands out wide. Hernandez slips into the temple, and swiftly pours the entire bottle of pills into the bubbling cocoa mixture. Hacavitz completes his tiny speech and stalks back to his fire just as Hernandez turns to face him. He doesn't notice a thing. He stirs the bowl for a minute more. Jose paces up and down, agitated. Then Hacavitz lifts the bowl, and steps outside to offer it to his fellow priests in full view of their audience. Hernandez explains the magic drink to the crowd. Hacavitz pulls a number of twigs and some packets of powder from his robes, and sprinkles them onto the fire. Smoke starts to twist up from the flames, and a disorientating smell of incense builds up.

Five minutes pass in silence. The sky grows lighter. Lighter.

Underneath the tarpaulin, in the heat, the cramp and the strange smoke, Arabella, Rupert and Jo's heads start to swim. The jungles recedes like a tide, revealing pasture after farm after field. Hernandez wears the jewellery and adornments of a king. A violent clamour is distantly roaring. And then the jungle flows back.

Dawn. The temple is struck by sunlight, like a beacon in the city. Hacavitz opens his arms and begins to chant. Hernandez, his job complete for the moment, retreats within the temple. The spectators gaze up with rapt attention.

The eyes of Reconvaco's skull glow brilliant in the reflected light of the pyramid. Everyone amongst the columns glances at the reflexively, and suddenly the area is filled with commotion. The buildings which had been dull and grey relics are brightly painted. Where there had been a crowd of tourists, there is a panicking crowd of roughly dressed Mayans. Vision shifts chaotically from image to image, the ring of men on the pyramid become dressed as warriors, now in robes, now as warriors. Priests dance through the columns laying garlands around the statues, and then vanish. Sirens wail in the distance, and tires squeal to a halt as a column of police cars becomes a column of conquistadors, charging at the city on foot and horseback.

Suddenly, a dazzling light appears from the cenote, and shoots quickly to the base of the pyramid. The light begins to fill out into the shape of a snake, and twist, and climb, slowly, block by block, as the sun rises higher in the sky.

"FIVE MINUTES!" shouts Reconvaco, and George spins to see him standing, skull held aloft in one hand. The skull shifts shape, now a sabre, glinting, now a cannonball, now a skull once more. Reconvaco is dressed in the garb of a Spanish captain.

Sean clutches his head. Spanish soldiers, no, policemen, begin to swarm into the central plaza. The tourists look around and move away in confusion. No, they're Mayans and they're running from the soldiers.

In the temple on El Castillo, Jose shouts in alarm.

"Police! What are the police doing here! Police! I've got to give my speech now. But there's police everywhere."

"Calm down," orders Hacavitz sharply. "There's plenty of time. Give your speech after the ceremony. The ceremony must go ahead, no matter what. Once it has, the police won't be a problem."

"But you said I had to give my speech dedicating the divine army to the people, and proclaiming a new age..."

"The ceremony must take place, then you'll have the people's army, speech or no speech," says Hacavitz sharply. "Order your men to defend the pyramid from the police."

Jose looks bewildered, then rounds on Hernandez. "If I find that any of this is your doing..." he growls, then runs off to talk to his men ringing the structure. As he leaves he clutches his stomach.

"That drink of yours is getting to me, Hacavitz," he says. One of the assistant priests leans against a wall, holding his head.

"ONE MINUTE!" shouts Jaime.

The serpent of light continues to rise up the pyramid. Hacavitz shakes his head as if trying to clear it, and draws a large knife, adorned with feathers. He stands above Simon Comos and holds his knife out in front of him, suspended above the boy. The clamour is rising to become deafening. The serpent of light approaches the headstone. The assistant priests slump to the floor, one of them groaning loudly. Hacavitz supports himself on the altar with his spare arm, beads of sweat appearing on his forehead.

Jaime holds aloft the skull, becoming a Spanish captain with sabre raised.

The dagger is poised over Simon's heart.


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