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The Chariot

Premiered August 22, 2003 

Chapter Ten


After the dash to Colorado Springs and a bumpy flight, the arrival at Flagstaff was a delight!  Arizona was already hot and dry in mid June, but at an elevation of nearly 7,000 feet, Flagstaff was still cool.  Dawn deboarded the jet airliner feeling good, despite the brief near-miss at Fort Collins.  She could now take a deep breath, and feel encouraged by the efforts of her guardian angels.  (She had always assumed she had more than one guardian angel, primarily because she needed them.  Probably something on the order of a small battalion.)

As she and Alex walked along the concourse toward the main terminal, she asked, "How long will it take us to get to Phoenix and your friends?"  She had not felt free to talk on the airplane.

"Not sure," Alex answered.  "Two or three hours, I imagine."

The answer surprised her.  "Why so long?"

"Phoenix is about 140 miles from here," he said.

Dawn was perplexed.  "I thought Flagstaff was a suburb of Phoenix, or at least close by."

"Nope," Alex replied.  "Flagstaff is in the middle of the upper half of Arizona while Phoenix is in the middle of the lower half.  We flew to Flagstaff, just in case someone was monitoring our activities.  In fact, Old Woman bought tickets all the way to San Diego.  Your home town, in case anyone locks on to Alex."

"Smart," Dawn agreed.  "But how do we get to Phoenix?"

"A friend who lives in Sedona is supposed to meet us and take us down by car."  Alex looked around the immediate area.  "I hope we didn't miss her.  She's a bit of a kook."


The "kook's" name was Koco.  With the enthusiasm and eagerness of a teenager given access to backstage where she would be allowed to kiss her favorite rock star, Koco came charging down the concourse toward them.  When he saw her, Alex ducked behind Dawn, using the latter as a human shield to thwart the initial onslaught.  The tactic worked as Koco had to slow her blitzkrieg assault, dodge Dawn and then jump into Alex's arms -- the latter occurring with one tenth the momentum she had carried in her initial dash toward them.  All the while, she kept saying, "Arby, Arby, Arby!"

Not to be outdone, Alex answered, "Koco, Koco, Koco."  The triple threat then gave him a big kiss on the cheek, and bounced back to see the woman he was with.  Her smile and excitement were contagious enough to receive the undivided attention of the Disease Control Center in Atlanta.

Bubbling all over herself, she asked, "Who's the lady!?"

Alex was gallantry itself.  "Koco, this is Dawn Riordan.  Dawn, this is Ms. Pelli."

Dawn was about to say something, but Koco was way ahead of her.  "Riordan!?" she exclaimed.  "Hey, that's a big name in these parts!  Not to mention LA.  You related?  One of the rich Riordans?"

"I don't think so," Dawn replied.  "But it's very nice to meet you anyway."

Koco gave her a wink.  "Well you may think so now, but you just wait!"

Dawn turned to a smiling Alex, who said, "She's right.  You ain't seen nothing yet!"

Dawn laughed, while Koco latched onto Alex's arm and the three of them began walking again.  Dawn shook her head, wondering why she kept attracting some of the weirdest traveling companions on the planet.  Between Fat Man and the scared shitless lady on the Seattle flight, the political activist on the bus in Denver, the taxi driver in Fort Collins, and now, Koco...  Dawn frowned internally.  'What,' she wondered, 'is there about me that brings these people into my life?  Am I that weird myself?'

Koco didn't give her time to think about it.  "I never thought," she began, "when I moved to Sedona, I'd be involved in so much fun.  Being the ferry between Flagstaff and Phoenix has really been a trip!  I tell you, I've never been a fairy before, even in my two thousand and fifty lives!"

Alex smiled.  "I'll bet you were an elf once!"

"Oh sure," she answered.  "Probably even an elk.  In any case, the chariot is right outside!"

Koco's "Chariot" turned out to be a close relative of a monster truck -- a full sized, King Cab Dodge Ram, equipped with every option known to the automobile industry, plus a few trinkets of Koco's own imagination.  Everything from speed control and jump seats to a ten disc CD player and oversized V-10 engine.  It was the closest thing to a Batmobile she had been able to buy on the open market.  And in keeping with its intimidating and arrogant nature, it was parked by the front door in what was obviously a no parking zone, immediately adjacent to the absolutely, definitely, "don't-leave-car-unattended" area.

Alex could not help but ask, "How do you get away with parking in a no parking zone?"

Koco smiled confidentially.  "They wouldn't dare give me a parking ticket!"

Suddenly, Alex remembered.  "Oh yes.  I remember now."  Immediately, he shied away.

Koco slung open the passenger side door, and told Dawn, "Just throw your bag behind the seat.  We're all going to ride in the front seat where it's cozy."

Dawn, taking her at her word, threw her bag into the space behind the seat.  With the extra weight of the gold Dawn still had in the case -- of which she had not yet told Alex -- the result was pretty much what you would expect.  The tinkle of delicate glass being broken fulfilled all such expectations, but otherwise had little effect on the three witnesses to the act.  Two found the phenomena quite ordinary, and the third person was only connected with the planet on Thursdays.  This was not a Thursday.

As Dawn and Alex crawled up and onto the truck's front seat, a police officer approached them.  True to form, he not only did not give Koco a ticket, but they did a high-five slap, clearly acknowledging their camaraderie, a friendship extending many years back.

Alex smiled.  "Koco has a unique relationship with the local law-enforcement agencies."

"Apparently," Dawn said.  She was about to follow up on the subject when Koco joined them in the cab, revved up the hundreds of horsepower in the oversized engine, and began roaring away from the curb. 

Then, there was Koco's driving style to arrest one's attention.  It appeared as if Koco was oblivious to the idea of paying attention to one's driving -- not actively controlling 'The Chariot', but rather just along for the ride, depending upon the Universe to keep things in balance.  Dawn watched in initial amazement, and then relaxing for no good, apparent reason, she noted, "You seem on good terms with the local police," Dawn said, in her best conversational tone.

"All a matter of respect, honey," Koco confided.  "Ever since I hit them with the difference between Common Law and the Uniform Commercial Code, they haven't dared to cross me."

Dawn was intrigued.  "What's the difference?"

Alex, recognizing the inevitability of the full-fledged answer, audibly groaned.

Koco ignored the distraction, eager to explain to yet another potential disciple, the nature of her mission in life.  "The essence of Common Law," Koco began, "is that there must be an injured party.  You can't get a speeding ticket under Common Law because no one was damaged.  In Common Law, one can do anything they please, as long as they don't infringe on the life, liberty, or property of someone else, or break an agreement with them."

"Sounds reasonable," Dawn commented.

"It is," Koco replied.  "But in the Uniform Commercial Code, which was illegally foisted upon our nation many years ago, it's altogether different.  In Common Law, a contract must be entered into knowingly, voluntarily, and intentionally.  In the UCC, it is presumed or implied that you intend to meet the obligations of a contract, even if you don't know about it!  The Feds came up with the UCC in order to issue worthless money, what the legal eagles call 'colorable' money.  Colorable means something that appears to be genuine, but ain't.  And it's that kind of crap that's used in all our courts now.

"Except," Koco gleefully informed Dawn, "I don't allow any court to use the UCC against me.  I demand Common Law, and I get it!"

"Can you do that?" Dawn asked, already caught up into Koco's charisma.

"It's all about Remedy and Recourse," Koco continued, "Remedy is a way to get out from under a law, while Recourse is a way to recover any losses from having been damaged under that same law.  And in UCC 1-207, you can reserve your right not to go along with the UCC.  But if you don't show an intention to reserve your right, you lose that right!  Consequently, on the identification I use for driving, just under my signature, I write, 'Without Prejudice UCC 1-207'.  That's all there is to it!"

"You're kidding," Dawn said.  "You just ignore the law?"

"No," Koco replied, "I reserve my rights under Common Law not to buy into the Uniform Commercial Code!  Think of it this way.  If you got a letter from the German government saying you owed German income taxes, you wouldn't dispute the amount!  You'd claim you were not under their jurisdiction.  That's all I'm doing: Claiming I'm not under the UCC jurisdiction.  And by Common Law I have that right.  The result is no speeding or parking tickets, no victimless crime crap, and so forth.  It goes on and on; it’s wonderful!"

Dawn turned to Alex.  "That's amazing."

Alex grinned.  To Koco, he asked, "How are the Refounding Amendments coming along?"

"Great!" Koco reported.  "California has a bill now, and once they take the plunge, other western states like Montana will quickly follow suit.  Even Colorado and Arizona, I'll bet."

Dawn suspected it was risky, but she had to ask.  "What's a Refounding Amendment?"

"Oh, you'll love this," Koco answered, "Essentially the sovereign state of California, or whatever state passes it, decides to sever from the United States.  The state refounds itself, repudiates the national debt of the U.S., and goes its own way.  And since California represents about 15% of the nation's gross national product, where California goes, so goes most, if not all, of the western states."

"What about the eastern states?"

"They can do the same, but they're not as independent as we are.  They're still expecting Uncle Sam to take care of them.  Despite the fact the old guy's been bankrupt for decades!"

"This is really incredible," Dawn said, in typical understatement format.

"I'll get you some literature when we get to Phoenix.  I've a bunch of it behind the seat, next to the... broken glass."  Koco smiled sheepishly and momentarily quit talking -- a rare event in itself.

Alex took advantage of the lull.  "I'm going to get some Z's."  With that he laid his head against the door and closed his eyes. Koco did not want to disturb him with her talking, and abruptly decided to concentrate on... whatever she did to occupy her mind while supposedly driving.  Dawn went along with the voluntary silence.  It was then she noticed the surrounding scenery.

The highway from Flagstaff to Phoenix is one of the better descents on the American Road.  Flagstaff is located on a high mesa, which covers most of Northern Arizona and slopes down to both the eastern and western borders of the state.  Just south of Flagstaff, the mesa falls off in steep, high redstone cliffs to the valley floor below.  The road from Flagstaff to Sedona, for example, is only 25 miles long, but drops nearly 2700 feet in elevation in a series of twists and turns down the mountain side alongside the turbulent Oak Creek.  Interstate 17 between Flagstaff and Phoenix, on the other hand, takes a much more leisurely descent, all the way down to Phoenix’s elevation of roughly 1100 feet.  And whereas the Sedona route has the scenery reminiscent of mountain roads in the midst of trees and rocky crags, the Phoenix highway is one of constantly changing vistas.  With the slope always in your favor, the trip is effortless and delightful to the eyes.

Alex enjoyed the Flagstaff-Phoenix Highway more than most and kept at least one eye partially open.  Dawn was aware of his non-sleep, alert status, but was enjoying the quiet herself.  And with the temporary cessation of conversation, she could better enjoy the scenery.

Once they hit the outskirts of Phoenix, however, Koco felt comfortable talking out loud.  "The court will be pleased to have their Red Baron return to them," Koco suddenly announced.

Dawn smiled broadly, as she asked, "The court!?"

"Oh, yeah," Koco replied.  "We're dealing here with royalty.  There's King David, his wife, the Queen of Everything, or QOE for short.  The Princess of Cups, also known as Sisi; the Duke, whose last name really is Duke.  And, of course,  Herr Alex, the Baron.  I call him the Red Baron, or R B for short."

"That explains your greeting at the airport," Dawn said.  "I just thought you were hungry."

Koco laughed uproariously.  As she regained control, she said, "Lady, I like you.  You're funny!"  To Alex she asked, "What shall we call her?  How about the Court Jester?"

Alex laughed at this one.  Then he sobered.  At the same time he kept smiling, as if the idea was somehow appealing.  "That would make her 'The Fool,' wouldn't it?"

Dawn felt slightly offended, but Koco leaped on the idea.  "Of course!"  To Dawn, she said, "'The Fool' is great!  That will give you license to take 'The Fool's Journey'!"

Dawn was still confused.  "Why is 'The Fool' great?"

"It's the Tarot," Koco explained.  "'The Fool' represents the beginning of things, initiation into the esoteric mysteries.  As a person, it's like Forest Gump.  The guy has all the appearances of being stupid, but he has more success than anyone.  In the Tarot, 'The Fool' is also the end of things, the philosopher -- someone like Lao Tzu!"  Koco glowed with the idea.  "Wow!  This is fabulous!"

Dawn turned to Alex.  Meekly, she asked, "Who?"

Alex answered easily.  "Lao Tzu was a sixth century B.C. Chinese philosopher -- along with Buddha and Jesus Christ, one of the big three.  He's responsible for the Tao Te Ching."

"And 'The Fool's Journey'?" Dawn asked.

"'The Fool' starts out," Alex explained, "as totally naive, wandering around without a care in the world, essentially too inexperienced to know any better.  Then he goes through all the trials and tribulations of life, experiences all of the highs and lows, meets magicians, emperors, high priestesses, death, pain, transformation...   Anything and everything you can think of.  Then, at the end of his journey through life, he once again becomes 'The Fool' -- living like Forest Gump, but intimately aware of why he can live in such a relaxed way.  He now chooses with full understanding to live that way, allowing the universe to take care of him."

"Oh," was Dawn's immediate comment.

"It's a great honor to be 'The Fool'," Koco insisted.  "You'll see."

For Dawn, the more relevant issue was 'The Fool's Journey.'  Glancing at Alex, she wondered, 'Can two people go on a Fool's Journey together?'  There was no immediate answer to her question, as Koco turned off the highway and approached their destination, and the Fates who controlled such things left for an early lunch date.


William was fully immersed in his immediate, allegedly urgent task.  He kept his eyes glued to the computer screen, one hand moving and clicking the mouse, and the other occasionally typing brief commands.  The work was for the most part, deadly boring.  But for William, it was a mystery hunt, shifting through clues, finding the all important lead, and then making a calculated judgment of which leads would pan out.  Then he smiled, leaning back slightly to savor the moment.

The telephone logs of one Alexander Dukas, provided to William in detail by his employer, had yielded two potential destinations for the missing professor: Seattle and Phoenix.  William hit a single key, informing the computer to print out the exact addresses in each city.  He would also be faxing the information to the man who requested it, a man William knew only by the name, Kurt.


Koco had driven south of Phoenix directly to the Laboratory, an unimpressive (from the outside) corrugated metal building, surrounded by fields under cultivation, and a side lot of rusting but usable farm equipment.  Two front end loaders and an old dump truck -- all having seen many years of service -- added to the general ambiance of the barely-breaking-even-farmer archetype.  The only signs of a more upbeat life, were the two new vans parked under a shade tree, as if people other than fertilizer salesmen frequented the place.  Off to one side, a large U-Haul truck was backed up and parked flush against a large loading dock/door.

Inside, everything was totally different.  Most striking was a well-lighted, well-equipped chemical laboratory with four rows of laboratory black benches, two of which combined in a single unit running down the middle of the room.  Several large, and obviously sophisticated (not to mention, expensive) pieces of equipment populated the room, along with an assortment of chemicals, glassware, Bunsen burners, and other tools of the chemist's trade.  The lab benches were busy with materials and experiments just completed, giving the best evidence of an ongoing research business.  At the same time, numerous boxes, in various stages of being packed, were strewn all about the room, while numerous pieces of equipment were being wrapped and prepared for shipment. 

Only two people were in the room, when Dawn followed Alex inside:  One, a tall, thin man in a white lab coat, and the other, a short woman, also dressed in a white coat, packing boxes on the other side of the room.  The man was involved in some sort of chemistry experiment, and had the appearance of a man long accustomed to laboratory work.  His thin, carelessly cropped hair matched his bony structure and gaunt face.  One might have suspected he was far more interested in chemistry than in the mundane details of eating and exercise.  At the same time, however, his knowledge of chemistry was sufficient to convince him of the need for hygiene, and thus he was clean shaven and exceptionally neat.  He also had the composure of someone very gentle and content with who he was.

As Dawn looked around, Alex leaned over toward her and whispered, "Some of this stuff is quite expensive.  So I'm sure I won't have to suggest you take special care while you're here."

Dawn turned to the man who had so gallantly given her a few cautionary notes on not destroying the local environment.  Her whole body flared up in a flash of anger.  As if he had to warn her to be careful, to remind her to avoid causing wholesale destruction!  As if such was not the paramount goal in her life!  Her voice strained, as the words were forced to find any avenue between her clenched teeth.  "I know to be careful!"  Had her eyes been lasers, Alex's body would have been toast.  Badly burned toast.

Alex made an immediate decision he would never again make any reference to Dawn's minor handicap.  For the moment, he only managed, "Sorry."  Then, in a diversionary move, he approached the man in the white coat, and greeted him with a show of excess enthusiasm.  "Don Carlos!"

The man turned and abruptly smiled.  "Alex!" he responded.  The apparent chemist, calling out over his shoulder, announced, "Hey folks!  De Baron, he has returned!"  Then he turned back to Alex, still smiling, holding a beaker of liquid -- a liquid which was destined to initiate great wonders.

Don Carlos was about to shake hands with his free hand, when Alex motioned to Dawn slightly off to the side, still seething slightly, and in the process, looking immensely attractive!  Sort of like a beautiful woman in heat.  "Don," Alex began, "This is Dawn Riordan.  Dawn...  The Duke!"

The Duke turned to see the woman with Alex for the first time.  The world, for a split second, ceased to turn for the chemist.  To suggest he was clearly attracted to Dawn is a gross understatement.  There are some things that are really obvious.  But from outward appearances, his first reaction was to merely stare, stunned by the beauty he saw before him.  Dawn had seldom seen a man so completely go into stasis at the mere sight of her.  Then Don Carlos made it clear to everyone else in the room, or at least anyone who might have been watching, that Dawn had garnered his complete attention.  He abruptly moved his hands and in the process managed to spill acid from the beaker and onto his open notebook.  He immediately tried to cover the mess, and reached for a small hand towel to mop it up.  This, of course, exposed the towel to the acid -- the latter which had no particular predilection on what it dissolved next. 

The dissolving potentiality caught the chemist's attention, and he immediately took the towel to a sink to wash it with water -- in effect, to dilute the acid and save the towel.  A funny thing happened on the way to the sink, however: The towel caught a graduated cylinder, slinging it to the floor where it shattered into several thousand pieces (it's very hard to shatter into a million pieces).  The explosion of glass caused Carlos to overturn the valve on the water faucet (in order to wash the towel free of acid), so that the water fairly exploded as it hit the towel.  Water (and some rapidly diluting acid) splashed onto the sink, adjacent counters, and effectively covered Don Carlos' aproned chest.  He immediately turned off the water, using all of his strength, and in the process, took the handle of the faucet off of the valve stem.  The water had, meanwhile, ceased, and there was a momentary calm in the eye of the hurricane.  For several seconds, Don Carlos looked at the valve handle in his hand, trying to somehow understand what it was doing there.

It was in that moment Dawn felt a wonderful surge of emotion envelop her body.  Suddenly, she felt as if she had met in the midst of the enemy encampment, a comrade in arms, a fellow traveler on the long and perilous road to one's destiny, a companion spirit in the very quest for one's soul.  For here standing before her was another maladroit -- someone of like personality, who could fully empathize with the perils of clumsy Pauline!  It was a touching and heart-wrenching moment for her.

Feeling the sense of connection between two people only those with similar dysfunctions can hope to imagine, Dawn stepped forward, oblivious to the water and glass on the floor, and touched Don Carlos' hand -- a tender attempt on her part to say she understood, that she knew his soul.  Don Carlos reacted by dropping the valve handle.  On Dawn's foot.  And while not a heavy valve handle, it nevertheless struck in just the right fashion causing Dawn an immediate, sharp piercing pain. 

As she winced at the totally unexpected sneak attack, Don's blank facial expression turned to one of abject horror.  He stepped back, stunned by what he had done.  In the process he managed to back into the business end of an adjustable desk lamp which had been hanging over the opposite counter area.  The lamp, fully equipped with springs and other features of the fully adjustable desk lamp style, reacted by sending the light fixture portion of the lamp straight up into the air and then in a long curving arc backwards.  Once the light fixture reached aphelion and begun swinging down on the other side of the double-sided laboratory bench, the lamp threatened to detach from its base, which had here-to-before been clamped on the upper portion of the lab bench. 

Fortunately, the white coated woman on the other side of the bench caught the light fixture, and acting as if everything had been planned, immediately began unscrewing the base clamp, preparatory to packing the lamp in a large packing box.  Her calmness and casual demeanor made it clear the staff was fully aware of the Duke's occasional bouts with crises.  Meanwhile, her saving action forestalled the domino effect Carlos' first sighting of Dawn had initiated.  There followed, amidst Duke and the new arrivals, a long silence.

Alex had watched the proceedings in amazement.  It seemed beyond comprehension, but at the same time, everything had followed in an almost precise, logical sequence.  The notable feature that had been present today was the juxtaposition of two maladroits in the same space.  Suddenly, nothing in the universe was truly safe.  The Fates, themselves, would shudder at the possibilities!

Then Alex noticed that the lower extremity of Dawn's dress was generating fumes.  He immediately took the sopping wet towel out of the sink where it had been discarded, and began to attack Dawn's dress where the acid had been slowly dissolving the material.  Dawn looked down at the man kneeling before her, tugging at her dress and attempting to dilute the acid eating random holes in her only viable attire.  She was perplexed and only vaguely aware of his intentions.  But inasmuch as there were no walls collapsing or meteorites crashing anywhere, she decided she would leave Alex to his diversion.

At the same time, she did not want to embarrass Don Carlos any further.  Deciding to ignore the possibility anything was amiss and strike up a conversation in lieu thereof, she said, "You were working on something when we came in."  With genuine interest, she asked, "What was it?"

Don Carlos, still in shock, was nevertheless able to take immediate comfort in the lady's generosity.  Pulling his tattered dignity together, the man sought refuge in his best professional attitude, and replied with a steady and carefully controlled voice.  "I'm doing a quantitative chemical analysis -- checking the amounts of Rhodium and Iridium in various samples of food."

"Rhodium and Iridium," Dawn confirmed, giving encouragement to the man.

"Yes," he answered.  "Two of the precious metals.  They're located," he continued, pointing to a large colorful chart just above the laboratory bench where his soiled and partially eaten notebook laid, "in the middle of the Periodic Table of the Elements.  Rhodium is number 45, while Iridium is immediately below it, number 77.  That's the number of protons in each atom."

"I understand," Dawn replied, already thinking about something else the chemist had said.  "But why are they called 'precious metals'?"

The question was not one Don Carlos was accustomed to answering.  At the same time, Alex finished his work on Dawn's dress, stood up and began to fidget for some explainable reason.  Dawn decided she would eventually have to know why Alex was reacting to her question in such a way.  Meanwhile, the Duke managed to reply by saying, "They're precious, I suppose, because they’re relatively rare. These two elements, along with gold, silver, platinum and three others in the same area of the Periodic Table have been referred to as the 'precious metals' for years."

"And you're trying to determine how much of these metals are in food?"

"Yes," he replied, feeling more comfortable with the question.  "We've done an analysis on a wide variety of foods.  The idea is to determine the concentration of these elements in their mono-atomic form in each item.  Carrot juice, for example, has some 25 milligrams of Rhodium per ounce of carrot juice, and 8 milligrams of Iridium; although this depends on the source of the carrots.  Those grown in regions with recent volcanic activity have much higher levels of both elements than in other locales where carrots are grown.  Frozen grape juice concentrate, on the other hand, is pretty consistent, yielding 32 milligrams of Rhodium and 12 milligrams of Iridium in a one ounce sample.  I'm told mature vineyards have plants with roots that go down into the earth some sixty feet or more.  So apparently there is more than one way to extract large amounts of Rhodium and Iridium from the bowels of the earth besides volcanic activity."

Suddenly, Dawn recalled the inordinate amount of frozen grape juice concentrate in Gil's freezer.  In some intuitive way, she was certain Gil was using the grape for its Rhodium and Iridium. 

"And, of course," Don Carlos continued, "We're talking about the elements in their mono-atomic form.  In their metallic form, they're practically non-existent in our samples.  But the amounts of mono-atomic Rhodium and Iridium are really quite significant."

Don Carlos' voice increased in confidence and strength as he related what he knew best.  Pride also raised its humble head, as he pointed to a corner of the room, where several large boxes were stacked with the upper box opened to reveal a series of brown bottles, neatly capped and ready for shipment.  "We've also developed a tea, which we called Vitality."  He smiled broadly at his own personal humorous creation, the first pun he had ever created.  "The tea has 8 milligrams of Rhodium and 26 milligrams of Iridium.  If you were to drink a quart of grape juice and a quart of the Vitality a day, you could actually get well over the 500 milligram megadoses of both elements you need for the Program." 

The chemist was clearly turned on by his work, but Dawn was sensing that Alex was becoming ever more uncomfortable, as if Don Carlos was revealing more than he should.  Her suspicions were confirmed as Alex, before she could ask about "the Program', tried to take control of the conversation.

Quickly, he asked, "Where is everyone?"

"Right behind you," was the immediate response.

Alex and Dawn turned, while Don Carlos looked beyond them and for the first time saw the woman approaching.  No one, including Dawn, had been aware of her presence until she spoke.

'And what a voice,' Dawn thought.  'Complete with a young, gorgeous body, long flowing blonde hair, a face to melt plastic on a cloudy day, and eyes to mesmerize any male on the planet.'

Alex was clearly not immune to the new arrival's charms.  "Sisi," he replied, obviously delighted at seeing the woman.  They embraced without the slightest preamble, as if the greeting had been practiced many times before.

"Hello, Alex," she replied, in a deep melodic voice.  Then with a quick glance at Dawn, Sisi asked, her voice very friendly, "Who's your friend?"

Dawn had been struck by the distant resemblance of Sisi to the Old Woman -- albeit, Sisi was very much the younger version, a woman just beginning to fully take her power, while Barb was the end result of the quest for sovereignty.  The two women seemed to have the same vibration, even though outwardly their appearances were quite different.  Somehow the looks were deceiving.  On a totally different venue, Dawn was struck by the fact that she could not sense within Sisi a single jealous bone in her gorgeous body. Obviously, there was no need! 

Alex, oblivious to Dawn's reactions to the appearance of the beautiful young woman, was all gallantry.  "Dawn.  Allow me to introduce Sisi, the Princess of Cups.  Sisi.  This is Dawn." 

Dawn decided she liked Sisi immediately. "I'm very glad to know you, Sisi," Dawn replied, with complete genuineness.  "You have a very nice name.  It seems to fit you."

"Why thank you," Sisi replied, smiling graciously.  "I spell it, S I S I."  When Dawn did not seem to attach any significance to Sisi's emphasis, the younger woman decided to let the subject drop.  Strangely, in that moment, Dawn felt Sisi's decision, and wondered what it meant.

Alex, his arm still around Sisi's waist (apparently he was willing to leave it there for several hundred years), spoke the obvious, "You're looking good, lady."

"Thank you, kind sir," Sisi replied.  "And so are you, mine Baron!"  Then, she changed the subject.  "Have you talked to King David since you arrived?"

"No, not yet," Alex answered.  "We just this minute walked in the front door."

"I'll tell him you're here," she replied.  With that, she turned to go, winking at Alex.  "I'll be right back."  As she left the room, she closed the door behind her.

Dawn watched Alex, who was continuing to watch the closed door.  Sisi was, based on what Dawn had long ago decided about most males' taste in females, a real knockout.  It wasn't clear if Alex had, or if he was currently having, serious romantic intentions about the younger woman, but both seemed likely.  At the same time, Dawn could see that Sisi would be the one in charge of any possible relationship between them.  Sisi would be operating at her own pace.  She was clearly not the dumb blonde archetype.

Alex, in his typical unconscious-of-other-people's-feelings style, said quietly, "Now there goes a dangerous woman!"  He sighed, as if to emphasize his own personal preference for danger.

Dawn decided to ignore the remark, and turned back to Don Carlos.  "You were saying...  about Rhodium and Iridium."

"What?"  The expression on Carlos' face was comical, but Dawn pretended not to notice.

"Why these two particular elements?  Why are you looking for Rhodium and Iridium instead of the other precious elements?"

"Oh," he replied.  "Well, we do look for the others, but sufficient quantities of Rhodium seems to be the key element in maintaining or achieving health.  Iridium may also be involved in the health aspects, but we're slowly beginning to suspect megadoses of Iridium, the heavier element of the two, is more important in the esoteric realms.  Curiously, the other six precious elements appear to be needed in trace or larger amounts in order for Rhodium and Iridium to be safe and effective.  It's the old thing about products directly from nature always being preferable to manufactured ones."

"What food were you testing?" Alex asked.

Don Carlos turned suddenly red.  "The last group of people we met with...  I gave them a list of all the foods and health additives we had tested thus far.  They were very impressed.  But then they gave me a lot of static because I hadn't tested the most obvious candidate -- the one food everyone was much more interested in knowing about."  When everyone seemed sufficiently attentive, he explained, simply, "Several of the women wanted to know how much Rhodium and Iridium there was in chocolate.  Apparently, there is something about the physiology of the female that demands chocolate -- and much more so than for the male."

Both Alex and Dawn laughed.  Dawn then agreed wholeheartedly.  "Of course!  Knowing the amount of Rhodium and Iridium in chocolate would be much more important than all those healthy foods!"  Her distaste for the word, 'healthy', was clear.  She asked, "So what's the result?"

Don Carlos smiled self-consciously.  "Don't know yet.  I haven't finished the study."  Looking at the recently enacted mess, he added, "May have to start all over again at the Site."

Alex, then interrupted Carlos' train of thought again.  "How's Sisi coming along?"

"Great," Carlos answered.  "Everything's negative.  She couldn't be healthier."

Dawn responded with concern.  "What was wrong with her?"

Alex hesitated for a second, not wanting to reveal a confidence.  He was saved by any temptation to do so by Sisi rejoining them.  She had overheard Dawn's question, and freely answered.  "I was HIV positive."  When Dawn reacted, Sisi continued.  "Got it from a blood bank about six years ago.  I didn't have full blown AIDS yet, but I figure I was ripe for it."

"And now?" Dawn tentatively asked.

"I began taking the medicinal dosages of the ORME about four weeks ago.  My tests earlier this week showed no indication whatsoever of being HIV positive.  Obviously, I've pretty pleased."

"So am I," Alex said, with considerable enthusiasm.  The relief on his face made Dawn wonder again about the connection between the two people.  A small voice inside her head suggested they might have been waiting for Sisi to get a clean bill of health before they could have sex together.  At the same time, Dawn could sense that Sisi was very, very grateful, and just might be inclined to share her gratitude on a very intimate level with someone.  Dawn could only wonder if the lucky male would be Alex, Don Carlos, or someone else.  Perhaps the redoubtable King David.  Sisi had become the ultimate convert/proponent, and who else better to share one's return from death's door than with the King?

Virtually on cue, David Hudson promptly entered the room, followed by a woman.  He was a large man, who walked with a strength and vitality in each step, and carried himself as if he owned the place (which he did).  His hair was thinning, but bald was not a word that came to mind in describing him.  His round face glowed with a bright luster and a mischievous smile, giving the appearance of a young teenage boy who had just discovered sex. 

But it was his eyes that caught Dawn's attention.  A light seemed to shine from behind them, in much the same manner, she abruptly realized, as the bridegroom in her dreams.  And yet there was something very different about her dream and the man known as King David.  The man in the dream had looked like Alex, while the same light behind the eyes of the man in her dream was that of David.  It was almost as if the dream male was a combination of the two men now standing in the room with her.  But even that did not seem right.  The beaming eyes of the man in her dreams had seemed so loving.  David's eyes were more lustful and less loving.

"Alex!" David said aloud, his hand extended.  "Welcome back!  It's been too long."

"It's good to be back," Alex replied, shaking David's hand with the same gusto.  It was instantly clear the two men were on good terms, each being aware of the other man's power.  It was the same kind of power that would allow them to work together, but was less likely to ever allow them to become intimate friends.  Then Alex turned his attention to the woman who had entered the room with David.  "Hello Demi.  You're looking as radiant as ever."  (Alex was not totally without charm.)

Demi, a small woman with soft eyes and a light brown complexion, carried herself with graceful authority.  Her long black hair gave the impression of a beautiful American Indian princess descended from the Anasazi royalty.  Her eyes were a beautiful, deep green color -- brilliant and intoxicating, but without the unusual light behind the eyes David had.  Demi was also, quite clearly, the Queen in David's kingdom.  She had that sense about her.  In fact, when David looked at her, the lust in his eyes was completely replaced by love.  Dawn was immediately struck by the thought that David greatly appreciated a beautiful woman, but was committed to just one.  Demi.

As Demi took Alex's hands and kissed him on the cheek, she said, "We're so pleased to see you again, Alex.  We've missed you."  The quality of her voice made it clear she was completely sincere.

Then, Alex, still into the very brief gallantry phase of his life, gestured to Dawn.  "David, Demi.  May I present Dawn Riordan, a close associate of Gilbert's, and the woman who has committed to join our little family."  To Dawn, he said, "Dawn, this is David Hudson, the man responsible for all of this, and," gesturing to Demi, "his charming wife and partner, Demi Hudson."

David turned to Dawn, taking her hand.  "It's a delight to meet you.  We've heard a great deal about you, both from Alex and from Gilbert."  His voice then became gentler.  "We were shocked and dismayed to hear of Gilbert's death.  If there is anything we can do for you, rest assured that we are here for you in every sense of the word."

Demi, just as graciously, added, "Gil was our dearest friend and a close ally.  Please think of us as your family and this as your home."

Dawn was touched by the sentiments, and said so.  But a strange sensation suddenly swept through her body, as she realized her grief for her former boss had somehow slipped into the background.  In its place, she had found herself caught up in her relationship with Alex, and the excitement of meeting people and embarking on new adventures.  The meeting with David and Demi had served to remind her of prior feelings, but of which she had had to let go.  As she thanked the two people, her grief only vaguely remembered, she involuntarily stepped back -- as if symbolically making a statement about her feelings.

David added, "I'm looking forward to spending some time with you, and allowing us all to get to know one another better.  But, I'm sure you're tired from your trip.  We'll give you a chance to get your feet on the ground, and then, perhaps before dinner, we'll sit down for a long chat."

"I'd enjoy that," Dawn replied.

David smiled, and then turned to Sisi.  "Did you get the materials from Austin?"

"Yes," she replied.  "They're on my desk.  I just opened them."

"Why don't we look them over now," David replied, already taking Sisi by the waist and escorting her back in the direction from where they had first appeared.  Dawn watched them walk out together.

David was obviously attracted to women, Sisi in particular.  The question was whether or not Sisi was responding in a romantic fashion to David in return. Dawn could understand the younger woman's feelings, as Dawn had felt her own body respond to the man in charge.  It is said that "power is an aphrodisiac," and Dawn could readily believe it.  Perhaps it was a survival urge: women attracted to men with the power to protect.  Sisi could easily have fallen under the same spell.  Obliquely, Dawn wondered if Sisi might somehow become a modern day 'Bathsheba'.  But then, Dawn quickly decided, 'probably not’.

Demi, meanwhile, had stepped forward to show Dawn where she could clean up and relax from the trip.  The royalty characteristics fell away with David's departure, and Demi became the nurturing mother, the old world hostess.  Strangely, the woman reminded Dawn of Sisi -- the same sense of complete understanding of one's place in the world.  At the same time, the two women were very different, as if in different stages of life.  For the moment, Dawn decided, she would feel comfortable with the way these women felt to her.  And perhaps, Demi could help her find a new dress to wear.


Chapter Nine -- The Moon

Forward to:

Chapter Eleven -- The Emperor



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