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Authors: Andy Briggs

Savage Lands

BOOK: Savage Lands
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The Savage Lands
Andy Biggs

Contents

1

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3

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Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan

Tarzan: A Twenty-First-Century

About the Author

1

“A
re you sure?” The jeweler held the gemstone up to the light and pressed his loupe close to it. The muscles around his eye stiffened to hold the lens firmly in place as he studied the gem, admiring the spiraling snake motif delicately carved across the surface.

“I will give you two hundred dollars,” he said, laying the stone back onto the black cotton bag it had come in. His face was emotionless, desperate not to betray just how much he wanted it.

Albert Werper's palms became slicker, and not just because of the overbearing humidity of Brazzaville, the capital city of the Republic of the Congo. He stared at the opal. He knew the jeweler was offering him a poor price, but Werper was a terrible haggler and he desperately needed the money. Back in Belgium, he had no need to haggle, and found the concept uncivilized. He nodded. What was two hundred dollars to him? There would be millions where that came from.

Werper quickly left the boutique, the jeweler closing the heavy iron gate behind him, forcing peeling paint to fall from the already dilapidated building. He was shaking so hard with excitement, lost in thoughts of hidden treasure, that he almost walked into the stream of traffic slicing through the street. Motorcycles darted around him, the croaking horns of several trucks making him jump back onto the pavement. He forced himself to focus on not getting himself killed. He found a break in the traffic and jogged across the street. With his starched clothes and sunburn, he stood out from the bustling dark-skinned crowds.

Across the road, he found a café with a couple of plastic tables overlooking a huge, turbid-brown stretch of the Congo River. On the distant bank stood another capital city—Kinshasa, of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a much less stable country than the one he was in now, and the location of his ultimate goal. Finally, he was close to uncovering the truth he had been obsessively pursuing. He ordered a beer, throwing a few francs to the young girl serving him, then made sure the girl was out of earshot before he dialed a number on his mobile phone. The call was answered on the second ring.

“Well?” said a terse voice.

“Opal,” confirmed Werper, unable to keep the thrill out of his voice. “The finest quality. I was right, I was right!” he said excitedly, forgetting to keep his voice down.

“Excellent news, but without the map …” the voice of his financier cut in.

Werper's excitement made him feel bold. For too long he had felt bullied by his private financier—an aristocratic English businessman—but now the tables were turning. Werper had become invaluable.

“Then we find it! I was right about the opal… . I am right about everything, if only you'd listen!” he slammed his hand on the plastic table, causing his beer to teeter dangerously. He quickly righted it as the frothy amber liquid spilled over his khaki pant leg, and he cursed in French under his breath. “Listen, we're a step closer to the Savage Lands, just like the legend states. And there—”

“This is not a secure line,” growled the voice curtly. “Very well. It appears you are right after all.”

They spoke for a minute longer, Werper listening to a string of instructions and mentally noting a shopping list of equipment before the line went dead. He tapped the phone on the table with nervous energy. His life's work was about to come to fruition—not bad for a thirty-four-year-old. He would be rich beyond even his own greedy imagination.

• • •

T
arzan
was sure the earth trembled. Even the movement of his ape family, the Mangani, would not invoke such a response from the ground, yet Tarzan was certain the ground had shifted beneath his bare feet. Only a fraction, but it unnerved him nevertheless—perhaps the passing of some other great beast?

His family was spread across the rolling mountain flank, picking choice roots or lazily pulling bamboo branches down to feed from the prime shoots. It had been a while since the Mangani had fed so well and contentment spread across the band in a series of low satisfied coughs. Even Kerchak, the aging silverback, was relaxed enough to ignore the over-exuberant capering of the young apes led by Karnath. Their playful romps would usually send the old curmudgeon into a roaring fit, but not today. Today, all was peaceful.

Yet Tarzan could not shake the feeling that had been growing in the pit of his stomach. He dug his toes into the ground as if they were roots with which he could sense further vibrations. The dirt was unusually warm around his toes, and he closed his eyes to heighten his other senses. Despite the lush foliage, the air was tinged with a foul smell that grew worse and turned his stomach. When the wind changed direction the scent was carried away, but it was still strong enough to be detected. And it masked the scent of possible intruders into their territory.

Tarzan adroitly leaped onto a boulder, which angled from the ground like a ramp, offering a clear view down the grassy incline to the start of the jungle a dozen yards farther down. The lush greenery rolled to a valley below, rising on the other side to mountain peaks that faded into the morning mist. The ape-man focused, blocking out the sound of the Mangani around him so he could detect the slightest sigh in the trees.

There. An almost imperceptible swish of branches being pulled aside, carefully enough not to snap them, but with enough force to allow something of size to walk by. There was more than one creature out there; Tarzan was sure of it. He was so focused that he flinched when Kerchak appeared just beneath him and grunted. The old ape had picked up on Tarzan's anxiety and followed his gaze to the trees. Despite their frequent disagreements, Tarzan was glad the old silverback was with him. These were dangerous lands, and every tooth and claw counted, even if age and unpleasant vapors had numbed Kerchak's senses.

The hairs on Tarzan's neck rose. A lifetime of survival in the jungle had taught him to rely on his basic instincts. He gave a sharp, gruff bellow from deep in his chest that carried across the gorillas. Instantly they froze, looking around with concern.

For a long time no one moved and nothing stirred in the trees. Tarzan sensed the younger apes were growing restless, so he lightly dropped from the boulder, landing on all fours. Hunched over, copying Kerchak's swagger, he slowly approached the edge of the jungle. Kerchak kept close to the rest of the family. If anything happened to Tarzan, he was the second line of defense.

The looming jungle towered over Tarzan, the canopy so thick he could see nothing but darkness beyond. He stopped just an arm's length from the trees and squinted into the black expanse.

Then he heard it, the faintest rasping of a breath from his left. Before he could turn his head to target the sound, a flock of yellow birds blustered from the trees to his right, startled by the pale-furred figure that leaped down from the tree with a snarling howl.

Targarni. The dwellers of the land Tarzan had led his hungry family to. The powerful chimpanzees ferociously protected their fertile home, and Tarzan had already had several run-ins with the thugs. He raised his arms to shield himself from a sudden attack—a move that left him wide open from the other two apes charging from the side. The impact sent him sprawling onto his back.

The assault was fast and intelligently coordinated, giving Tarzan no time to rise to his feet. The Targarni were nothing more than pale-gray blurs leaping from the trees and sprinting toward the gorillas. Kerchak saw Tarzan fall and gave a bellow that drew six other males from the band forward. They were young apes, their backs just showing signs of turning silver. But what they lacked in experience, they made up for in courage as they charged the Targarni.

Tarzan felt teeth sink into the meat of his thigh, but he bore the pain through gritted teeth. Three chimps leaned their weight on him, but even on his back, Tarzan was a formidable opponent. An elbow smashed into the snout of one Targarni while Tarzan's other hand grabbed the throat of the chimp whose teeth were gnashing close to his face. Tarzan's arm trembled with the effort of holding the ape back, and with a mighty roar he kicked out at the thug who had bit him. His foot caught the Targarni male in the stomach and the ape was catapulted into the air, back into the trees. Tarzan then pulled forward the chimp he still had by the throat and used him as a shield. The third Targarni Tarzan had punched tried to bite him, but instead bit into the back of his companion.

Kerchak led the cavalry charge, sprinting downhill at an astonishing speed. The Targarni quickly retreated to the trees as the line of gorillas bore down on them.

Tarzan struck his bare chest and howled the cry of a bull ape as the cowards vanished into the trees. Once again, Tarzan had thwarted the Targarni's ambush. But he was worried. Their number had been so small—a raiding party rather than a full-fledged attack. A warning to the Mangani gorillas to stay away. As if to emphasise that, Tarzan caught a glimpse of white fur high in the trees. One bloodshot eye peered down at him. The albino ape hissed a warning before vanishing into the jungle. Tarzan had named the white ape—Goyad. The Targarni leader was almost twice the size of his minions and much more intelligent. The Mangani had been warned—but Tarzan was the proud king of all he surveyed. He did not heed warnings, he gave them.

The ground trembled beneath his legs with more force than before, and a low rumble echoed across the jungle sending thousands of birds haphazardly into the air.

Everything was about to change.

2

T
he earth shuddered and camp Karibu Mji rattled. The illegal logging camp, built deep in the Congolese rainforest, was not designed to withstand such force. Corrugated roofs shook, and timber joints popped nails, some crashing to the floor. Latches jarred loose and doors swung open. From the bar's kitchen, a great clattering of pots and pans were followed by
Esmée's anxious cries.

Jane Porter lay in a hammock strung between two lodges. It swayed a little but absorbed the worst of the tremor. She lowered her book and looked around in alarm.

“Esmée?” she called out, dropping from the hammock. The moment her boots touched the ground she could feel the earthquake's pulse. She took a step toward the bar but halted when a massive clatter rose from her left. Human wails cut across the monotonous bass rumble of the shifting earth. Jane changed direction and ran to the edge of the camp.

The northern periphery of the logging camp was used to stack rare hardwood that the loggers had felled but not yet had chance to float downriver. Jane arrived in time to see that the iron stakes used to keep the pyramid of logs in place had twisted in the ground. The fifteen-foot-high stack was crashing downward in a wooden avalanche. Loggers were fleeing the deadly cascade.

Robbie Canler sprinted across the clearing as several tons of lumber chased after him. Jane caught her breath, not daring to shout out his name in case it distracted him. Robbie threw himself behind a bulldozer for cover just as the logs clanged against the side of the machine with enough force to buckle the metal.

One not-so-fortunate logger was lost under the timber, his screams drowned out as he was flattened. Jane quickly looked away. She had witnessed much brutality in the jungle and had no wish to see more. Her heart was pumping, adrenaline surging as she tried to make sense of what was happening around her. She searched for her father, hoping he was safe. Instead, she saw Mr. David, the camp's unofficial manager—a man who had put his own life on the line to search for her when she had once gone missing and was later saved by Tarzan. Mr. David had fallen, his foot caught in a tangle of dense roots poking from the dirt. His eyes were wide in panic, his fingers clawing the soil in an attempt to pull himself away. A log the length of a lorry trailer and width of a child was bearing down on him. On instinct, Jane ran toward him.

The jungle had hardened Jane to the realities of life and death so she didn't dwell on the danger. Her focus was on the narrow margin of survival Mr. David had left. As she reached him, she ignored his flailing hands and his pleas to be pulled out. Instead she ran straight to the roots. The log accelerated toward them. Jane knew she had seconds.

Mr. David's foot was deeply entangled. She tore at the roots, but they were too tough to break. The rushing log was certain to crush them both. She had to decide whether to stay or flee for her own life.

“Jane!” Mr. David howled with fear as Jane pulled away. His first thought was that she had abandoned him—but to his surprise she stooped to retrieve a discarded shovel a few feet away. She hefted it up, the metal beneath the dirt-encrusted blade catching the sun. Jane swung the shovel at Mr. David's leg as hard as she could. He felt nothing but knew she had severed his foot.

A second later Mr. David felt himself pulled aside, but he was too weak to do anything. A huge rush of air and the log jounced past him. Then silence. The quake had ended.

Lying on her back in the dirt, Jane caught her breath. Mr. David was slouched half across her. Her heart was pounding from exertion and she only opened her eyes when Mr. David groaned in pain.

“Thank you,” he muttered. “My … my foot … ?”

Jane grimaced as she looked down at him. “Looks like you're gonna need some new shoes.”

Mr. David gathered his courage and followed her gaze. His brown toes wiggled freely in the air. Jane hadn't severed his foot, but hacked his boot open, allowing his foot to slip out. An inch higher and he would have lost the limb… . But that didn't matter. He began to laugh, a few rare tears of gratitude rolling down his cheek.

“Help me!” called another voice.

Jane stood and tried to pinpoint the voice. The log that had almost squashed her had crashed through several camp cabins, but they should have been empty. Other logs lay scattered across the clearing like spilt toothpicks. Robbie emerged from behind the bulldozer.

“Help!”

Robbie located the source of the sound and ran toward it. “Over here!” he yelled to Jane.

Several yards away a heavy rosewood tree had slammed into the treeline at the edge of the camp. Two figures were wedged between the log and a pair of thick moabi
trees—Jane's father, Archie, and Lord William Greystoke. The English lord had his arm draped around Archie—it was obvious he had been pushing the man to safety ahead of himself. The dense jungle had stopped the wayward log mere inches from crushing them, but had now pinned them against the trees.

Robbie and a pair of Indian loggers tried to free the two men, but the rare hardwood timber was too heavy.

“Get me a chainsaw!” yelled Robbie. Within half a minute the sound of a revving chainsaw tearing into wood echoed through the clearing as the men were cut free.

Clark, the South African who had persuaded Archie to start the logging expedition, limped over on an ornate rosewood walking stick. A leopard had slashed his leg when he'd followed Jane after she had stolen a jeep. The damage to the muscle meant he would never walk properly again. It was a physical wound he was more than happy to remind Jane about constantly.

A search of the area revealed one logger dead and three who had sustained various injuries. The casualties were taken to the camp bar, the most hygienic place in Karibu Mji, for Archie to tend to their wounds. As a trained doctor, he was their best chance, and the camp cook, Esmée, a native Congolese, knew more than enough natural remedies to make herself useful.

It wasn't until night began to fall that the funeral for the dead logger, whose real name nobody knew, was held in a clearing half a mile from camp. He was laid to rest in a dirt grave without even a basic headstone. As Clark had pointed out on many occasions, their presence in the jungle was not legal, and a gravestone was just another way to draw unwanted attention to them.

• • •

T
hat
night everybody congregated in the bar to eat warm stew, which Esmée ladled out generously. The atmosphere was subdued. A camp death was considered a bad omen, and they had seen more than their fair share of them when faced with rebel guerrillas and poachers. The earthquake had brought a whole new dimension of despair to the team.

“A damn quake, out 'ere. Who'da thought it?” grumbled Clark as he swilled his half-full bottle of Tusker beer.

“This entire area is tectonically active,” said William Greystoke, his Etonian voice sounding out of place in a camp full of hardened law-breaking loggers. He was a privileged Englishman who had recently inherited his father's title of “lord.” After Clark contacted him with proof that Greystoke's long-lost cousin was alive and well in the jungle, Greystoke had visited the logging camp to see for himself. “My family has drawn up several geological surveys over the years—for our business interests, you understand. Indeed, that is partly what Uncle John was doing when his plane went down.” He cast an eye across the bar toward Robbie and Jane who sat together, refusing to sit with the English lord. They had made their views clear: He was not welcome. Clark and Archie, on the other hand, had greeted him with open arms. Not because they enjoyed his snarky company, but because they planned to claim the reward money offered for reuniting the Greystoke family.

“What kind of business interests?” Clark asked casually.

William smiled. “We have several, but I assure you, with the help you are about to give me, all of this,” he gestured around him, “will be conveniently forgotten.”

Archie looked at him thoughtfully. He didn't entirely trust Lord Greystoke, but the man
had
just saved his life… .

“So you still want to find your cousin?”

“I would not be here if that were not the case,” said Greystoke with a smile. “And I have not at all rushed you to impart the information you have. Although I do believe this earth tremor has highlighted that time is not quite on our side.”

Clark cast a sidelong look at Archie and silently hoped his friend wouldn't say anything to jeopardize the deal he had spent so long crafting.

“So you find Tarzan, figure out he's your cousin, and then you're just gonna hand over the Greystoke estate to him?” said Clark, carefully keeping his tone neutral. “That's mighty generous.”

William smiled and slowly shook his head as if he had heard that comment a hundred times already. “I know how eccentric that may sound, but even without the estate's fortune, my side of the family is wealthy enough. I won't miss it.”

Clark caught the slight quizzical lift of Archie's eyebrow and smiled. Archie knew a gift horse when he saw one.

William Greystoke continued. “Of course, I wish to find the aircraft and lay my aunt and uncle's bodies to rest back in England. With John—I'm sorry, as you call him, Tarzan—”

“That's what he calls himself,” Archie cut in.

“Such an amusing moniker, don't you think? His real name is John Clayton. Named after his father. Or he was to be… . I confess that I still have my doubts such a person exists. It's almost too preposterous to imagine.”

“Oh, he's real, all right,” said Clark, leaning back in his chair. “More so than you or me, I sometimes think. He's your boy, no matter how unlikely that sounds. And we have a deal, do we not?”

William raised his hands in a conciliatory manner. “Forgive me, I do not wish to cast doubt on what you believe, but we have had a fair number of charlatans making similar claims in the past. Once I talk to … Tarzan, a simple DNA test will confirm his authenticity. It's a little more reliable than a fingerprint.” He chuckled at some private joke.

“We've had our fair share of nut jobs too,” said Archie tersely. Only a few weeks earlier a Russian hunter had connived his way into the camp, only to steal a gorilla and send Tarzan, Robbie, and Jane on a hair-raising journey, the details of which he didn't want to find out. There were some things that parents should never know if they wanted to sleep at night.

“Ah, Nikolas Rokoff,” said William in a low voice. “A nasty piece of work. A very deluded man.” He didn't need to continue. Since he had arrived at the camp he had taken great pains to distance himself from the hunter.

“And once Tarzan's identity has been confirmed … ?” probed Clark. “Y'know we didn't talk specifics, but I recall a lot of zeroes on those emails.”

William Greystoke studied Clark. In the past, Clark had faced down criminals, bloodthirsty rebel soldiers, and charging elephants. But under Greystoke's gaze, Clark got a fleeting feeling that he was nothing more than prey. He shook that thought away. Greystoke had been nothing but patient and generous since he had arrived.

“I admire a man who cuts to the heart of business. I am a businessman myself,” Greystoke said. “Yes, there is a substantial reward for the
proven
return of Lord Greystoke. One million pounds.” His gaze flicked across to Archie who was coughing up a lungful of beer. The thought of the money spread a wide smile across Clark's face, revealing his yellowed teeth. Greystoke dropped his voice close to a whisper. “With that kind of money, you could leave all this behind. Start a new life wherever you wished.” His voice rose back to normal as he smiled. “Of course, if you want me to wait another week here, then so be it.”

Archie cut in before Clark could say anything. “No need to wait. I think we should be able to get things rolling tomorrow.” He looked at his old friend. Clark gave a small nod. Neither man wanted Greystoke in their camp any longer than necessary.

William shook Archie's hand, then took Clark's crushing grip. Archie's smile didn't falter as he glanced across at his daughter in the corner. But Clark could read his friend's mind. Between them and a million pounds lay some harsh jungle, and a pair of brooding teenagers.

• • •

“A
bsolutely
not!” snapped Jane.

Archie sighed. “Jane, you're being unreasonable… .”

“I'm being unreasonable? Every time you bring somebody back, I'm proved right! That guy is not to be trusted!”

Archie, Clark, Jane, and Robbie had slipped across to the office, the largest cabin in the camp, where pay was dealt out and logging operations planned. Two bare bulbs were the only lights; the close-by generator's noisy hum was ever-present. The walls were covered in maps that were plotted with the locations of rare and valuable trees. Jane sat on the edge of Archie's desk, her arms folded. Robbie sat just behind her on the chair, his head cradled in his hands. He was tired and had heard these arguments before. Archie paced the room, trying to keep his temper in check, while Clark sat in the corner, one hand absently massaging his scarred leg as he glared at Jane from under his bushy eyebrows.

“His family has a seat in the British House of Lords—he's almost royalty, and you think he can't be trusted?”

“She's right,” said Robbie. “The Greystokes paid Rokoff to hunt down Tarzan. They accused D'Arnot of being a fraud when he first tried to spread the world about a surviving heir.” Robbie had learned a lot about D'Arnot, the French UN peacekeeper who had been saved by Tarzan and, in turn, had educated him and taught him to speak. The two had been good friends, until the day D'Arnot had decided to head back to civilization. But the modern world was more ruthless than the jungle had been, and nobody believed the Frenchman's tales. On his return to the jungle, he was murdered by Nikolas Rokoff, never to see his ape-man friend again. “What makes you think things have changed now?”

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