Far North Queensland, Australia
The northernmost reaches of ancient Australia baked under a hot sun. Where the patterns of rainfall allowed, the land steamed under a layer of thick, humid air. Long stretches of tropical rainforest intermixed with tall gums and other flowering trees made the landscape a primal jungle of aggressive plants and animals, each seeking to survive in a hostile world. A roar, loud enough to make the leaves shake, blasted through the foliage, shortly followed by a high-pitched scream of a terrorised, dying creature.
A river ran through the rainforest, rushing and tumbling over water-smoothed rocks in its upper reaches, flowing slowly and widening as it reached the coastal plains. Oily water rippled softly, parting as the armoured head of a large crocodile rose above the surface of a slime green backwater next to the outer perimeter of the forest. Cold reptilian eyes scanned the muddy banks of the river and the small mob of short-faced kangaroos milling nervously near the water in the hot afternoon sun. The crocodile sank imperceptibly, a lazy flick of its tail moving it closer to the riverbank.
Massive, six-foot tall reddish brown kangaroos moved toward the water's edge, impelled by a growing thirst. In spite of their great size, they were nervous, scanning the river and the dense shrubbery along its banks for predators. Females nuzzled eager youngsters back from the water, unwilling to be the first to drink. A young buck gave a bark of alarm and leaped towards the cover of a stand of paper-bark trees when a shadow swept over him. The shrill cry of a fishing eagle immediately reassured him and he turned towards the river once more. Dropping onto all fours, he slowly moved down to the water and, ignoring the other kangaroos, lowered his head to drink.
A surge of water rushed over his snout, death following so closely that the young kangaroo never even registered the fact. The head and chest of the animal disappeared down a yawning gullet as teeth ripped through its hide, crushing its rib cage. The momentum of the crocodile's rush carried it halfway up the riverbank, scattering the mob of kangaroos that fled screaming and barking for the undergrowth. Lying half on the bank, the hindquarters of the kangaroo hanging from its mouth, the full size of the saurian became apparent. The young kangaroo had stood six feet on its hind legs but the head of the monster alone matched that size. The crocodile ponderously swung its forty-foot bulk, slipping back down into the water and disappearing beneath the surface with a muddy swirl. The water calmed, leaving only a few tufts of hair floating near the bank and a splash of blood congealing on the grass.
The sun edged closer to the horizon. Gradually, life returned to the riverside. A family group of diprotodons, huge cousins of the wombat, lumbered into the shallows, drinking thirstily. Smaller wallabies hopped cautiously in their wake, sipping quickly then leaping again for the relative safety of the forest. A lone thylacine drifted silently from the undergrowth to the bank, while peering suspiciously around, then it drank and faded back out of sight. The fishing eagle that had startled the young kangaroo--now past all caring--returned, circling the scene then settling onto a branch of a dead gum tree hanging over the water.
The bushes upstream from the dead tree parted and a scaly snout pushed through into the grassy clearing. The eagle turned its head, looking down with interest for a moment before returning to its grooming. The diprotodons snorted and splashed ashore, herding the youngsters away from the intruder. Black eyes gazed impassively as the huge beasts walked back into the forest. The intruder pushed through the bushes with a sinuous motion, its immense bulk held clear of the ground. The giant monitor lizard, Megalania prisca, dwarfed even its cousin to the north on the island of Komodo, reaching a length of over twenty feet. The lizard's flat head weaved from side to side; its long forked tongue flicking as it tasted the air. It made its way slowly down to the edge of the water where it drank. After a few minutes it raised its head and turned slowly, tongue flicking again. Abruptly it erupted into motion, moving swiftly up the bank. It nosed hungrily at the patch of dried kangaroo blood. Casting about, it found nothing edible and moved on down river, tasting the air, following a trail of bare packed earth that held the impression of many feet. Grassland lay in that direction.
Shrill voices chattered and screamed as Aboriginal children raced through the long grass, waving sticks as they ducked and weaved in some complex game. Motionless and unnoticed, the small figure of a young girl sat quietly on a termite mound near the edge of the grass. Pale-skinned but bronzed by the fierce sun, she was naked except for a loincloth and sun hat woven from grasses. She smiled as the children played, half wanting to join them.
Why do you not, then? A gentle thought wafted into her mind.
The girl sat still, recognising the flavour of the mind that spoke. I am no longer a child, Rima. I am twelve years old and can feel my womanhood rushing upon me. There is something I am called to do... The girl's smile faded and she turned toward the figure behind her. Although she sat on a termite mound over five feet tall, she had to turn her face up to look at her friend and protector.
Gazing back at her was a huge, hairy being. A tall, conical head with a pronounced sagittal crest sat squarely on wide shoulders and a massive torso. Long arms stretched almost to knee level on muscular legs. Small flat breasts revealed the sex of the creature despite the thick silky hair that covered the whole body and face in a wave of brown with golden highlights. Large liquid black eyes peered out of the hair, the intelligence in them obvious and comforting.
The girl grinned and stood up, throwing her arms out to balance herself. Images danced through her mind of things never seen by her but remembered all the same. Gorilla, large African primate...Bigfoot, semi-mythical creature of the American northwest...Yeti, seldom-seen primate of the high Himalayan snows...Yowie, the Australian version of Bigfoot.
How wrong they were, she thought privately, locking away her thoughts from the mind of the creature before her. They thought the yowie was a primitive, or a myth. Instead it is a creature created long ago--or rather, in years to come--for a specific purpose. The girl opened her mind: I love you Rima, she thought fiercely.
A low rumble answered her as the yowie put out a massive hand to stroke the girl's leg. What brought that on, little one?
I miss her, Rima.
The yowie patted her leg softly, nodding. Your mother loved you, child. I believe she still does and will find a way to come for you. You were everything to her, her whole world. That is why you were named Gaia. Rima chuckled softly. She had to explain that to me.
I can remember her, you know, although I was only a baby. Her mind was open to me and I can recall everything she knew. Gaia grinned suddenly. Even why she still calls you 'Cindy', despite you having a name of your own, a name of your people.
Rima shook her massive head, her silky hair swirling around her head like a cyclone.That was the first time I came face to face with humans. I liked her. The yowie glanced up at the sun dipping behind the low hills. We must go back. It is late.
Gaia nodded and held out her arms. Catch me then! She bunched her legs to leap off the termite mound then hesitated. She dropped her arms and half turned toward the river. "Hunger," she murmured. "Great hunger and coming swiftly." Gaia turned back to the yowie with an urgent expression on her face. Go, Rima. Quickly! Chase the children toward the camp. The great goanna comes.
Rima nodded and dropped into a crouch, her long arms reaching forward as she flowed into a ground-covering gallop toward the playing children. She roared inarticulately, her mind hurling unheard warnings to the Aboriginal children ahead of her. They looked up at her approach and ran screaming, then turned and raced around her, laughing and throwing clumps of dirt and grass. "Rima! Rima!" they chanted as the yowie turned and weaved, trying to chase them away from the river.
A small boy, clothed only in a broad grin, ran close to the scrub leading down to the river. As he neared them a brown avalanche hurled itself at him, long jaws agape, saliva trailing in thick ropes. The boy screamed and fell over, his legs tangling as the giant monitor lizard raced closer.
Gaia stood atop the termite mound and watched the boy fall over. She closed her eyes, concentrating. The lizard halted abruptly, all four legs scrabbling at the dry earth, and froze in place only feet from the sobbing boy. It hissed, belching gouts of foul, saliva-specked breath. Lashing its tail in a fury, it backed up, still hissing. Suddenly it turned and raced off, its body raised and tail flying, crashing through the scrub.
Gaia opened her eyes, smiling. She jumped down as Rima ambled up with a questioning look. I made it see a bigger lizard, she grinned. It got scared and ran off.
Shouts erupted from the forest. Several Aboriginal men emerged from the trees, carrying spears and killing sticks. The children ran to them chattering excitedly, leading the still sobbing young boy.
Gaia put her hand in the giant hand of the Yowie. Come on then, Rima. You can carry me back to the village. Tjimi needs us now.
Rima frowned. How can you know that? There was no mental message.
I can feel it. Something is going to happen and we will be needed.