The twelfth story in the Beyond the Rails series
| "All I’m saying,” Monroe said as he and Hobbs walked along the sidewalk in the blistering Mombasa heat, “is that, look, we’ve always found our way into sticky situations, you know the truth of it, and given the things that Cole has been thrusting us into, well, it’s quite nearly imperative that you acquire a new sidearm.”
“I man the ship,” she argued, “safe, while you lot march into whatever sort of danger there is to be faced. Anyway, that pistol I lost in Malinde was a gift from my Uncle Jeffrey. It wasn’t simply a firearm, you see. It represented the man’s concern for my well-being.”
“Your own logic supports my argument. He certainly wouldn’t want you to go around unprotected simply because you’d had the misfortune to drop the weapon he had provided for you.”
They stepped off the sidewalk into the open-front pub and café that was the dining room of the Queen’s Royal hotel. It being lunch time, with two ships in the harbor to boot, Faraji’s cozy little haunt was packed with patrons.
“Good Lord,” Monroe muttered, “we’ll have to eat in the street at this rate. Mombasa is becoming quite the little city.”
“Has a way to go before it rivals London,” Hobbs said, “still . . . Ah, there are the boys.”
She indicated a table across the room where Ellsworth and Smith were standing to wave them over .
“We’ll do better going around,” Monroe said, and stepped back onto the sidewalk. As Hobbs turned to follow, her path was blocked by a sun-burned arm as a big man with curly red hair and the distinct aroma of a laborer crowded her against the masonry pillar.
“Faith, lads, and what do we got here?” the fellow crowed to his mates. “I didn’t realize they had attractions like this down here, or I’d o’ come a lot sooner.”
“Excuse me, sir,” Patience said firmly, and pushed against his arm.
Monroe had just realized she wasn’t behind him, and turned to see what had stopped her.
“Don’t be so hasty, lass. We just want you to come have a drink with us.”
The arm went around her shoulders and turned her toward the crowded room. She ducked under it, took a step back, and before the man could adjust to the fact that she wasn’t cowed and helpless, seized and twisted his wrist much too far forward, and used the leverage to drop him on his face on the gritty floor. Startled, but still thinking he could out-muscle her, he tried to push himself up with his free hand. She did a three-quarter spin across him, wrenching his arm up into the small of his back, and knee-walking up to his head, which she clamped firmly between her knees.
“Mother Mary!” the man shouted. “What’s the matter with ye, ye crazy bitch?”
“Really?” She leaned back, lifting his trapped arm to within an inch of twisting his shoulder from the socket as he howled and tried to free his head with his free arm.
She noted then that a trio of men she hadn’t seen before was seated at a table just inside one of the pillars, and was laughing uproariously at her would-be attacker’s plight.
“Hey, Sean,” one of them called, “yer old-world charm don’t seem to appeal to the ladies down here!”
“Ach,” roared another, “he can’t hear ye with those lovely ear muffs on!”
“Pity,” his mate allowed. “How’s yer date goin’, Sean? She got a sister?”
“Bugger the lot o’ ye!” he yelled, kicking his legs uselessly as his free hand continued to pull ineffectually at the back of her knee.
“I’d appreciate it if you’d let him up, lass,” the third man at the table said. “I really need him back on deck after lunch with both arms functionin’, ye see.”
Then Monroe was standing beside her, fingers tapping the grip of his LeMat revolver.
“Who are you men, and what’s the meaning of this?”
“Calm down, papa,” the man who had asked for mercy said, holding both hands up before him in a gesture to show that he didn’t mean to fight. “Sean just wanted to have the girl for a drink, but his technique for meetin’ women seems to need a bit o’ work.”
“More than a bit,” Hobbs growled, holding his arm in a very painful position.
“I’m Captain Justin Finney o’ the Leprechaun. This here’s Fagan, my engineer, this is Dobbs, my deckhand, and the fella under yer daughter there is O’Reilly, my other deckhand.”
“She’s not my daughter, she’s my pilot.”
“Pilot? Oh, Hobbs o’ the Kestrel! Well done, Sean, ye certainly know how to pick ‘em! Let the lass up, then, there’s enough fiddlin’ about. Work to do, and all that. I’m sorry, papa, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Clinton Monroe, captain of the Kestrel,” he said, with a nod to Patience, who let go of the big man’s arm and rose quickly, before he could make an ill-advised move to save face.
“Well, Captain, it seems we are competitors in the shipping business. Leprechaun’s an airship not dissimilar to your own. I hope we don’t trod on one another’s toes in the pursuit o’ commerce. Well, any more than we have already,” he added as his man slapped Hobbs’ hand aside to get to his feet without her offered assistance.
“I think you’ll find there’s plenty to keep you occupied here in the colony, Mr. Finney.”
“Captain Finney,” he corrected.
“Captain. A word of warning. Nothing’s ever simple here. You think you’re going to haul a generator out to a plantation, and the next thing you know, you’re in the middle of a native uprising, or some Prussian spy wants to commandeer your ship. Arm yourselves, and be ready for anything. Anything,” he repeated with a pointed glance at Patience.
“Point taken, Captain,” Finney said. “Apologize to the lady, O’Reilly.”
The big deck hand’s mouth fell open in surprise as he looked from his mates to Patience and back to his captain again.
“That isn’t necessary,” Hobbs said. “He’s been humiliated enough for one session.”
She held out her hand to the erstwhile offender.
“No hard feelings, Mr. O’Reilly? I have been thoroughly trained in an art of combat used for centuries by Japanese warriors. The lesson, if you choose to learn one, is don’t judge things by what they appear to be, because nothing down here, and I mean nothing, is what it seems.”
After a moment’s hesitation, he took her offered hand and gave it a shake as between two men.
“I’m sorry, lass,” he said sheepishly. “I didn’t mean no harm.”
“I’m sure you didn’t,” she replied, and offered a smile before she and Monroe headed off to join their own crew.
“Now, that’s exactly what I was talking about,” Monroe said. “You never know what might happen, even in here, and you should be armed at all times.”
“What would you have me do, Captain, shoot that young man?”
“No, no, but with a bit of iron strapped to your hip, you might be a bit more intimidating to bounders like that.”
“I’m not here to be intimidating,” she said, batting her eyelashes pointedly. “What kind of a girl do you think I am, anyway?”
“I’m still trying to work that out, actually. Here you are, David,” he said to Smith. “What did you find for us?”
* * *
The air was close in the tightly woven hut, and the acrid smoke from the smoldering bundles of bloodgrass certainly didn’t improve the quality. Nonetheless, the summoning wasn’t something the robed and painted war chief felt he could leave to subordinates, even one as capable as Darweshi. The m’ganga had been at his side from the time he first began to covet the role of leader, and in all the years since, had never let him down. Still, he had to know.
“How does the summoning progress?”
Darweshi looked up from the collection of colored stones she had carefully arranged in the precise pattern that would focus the lines of force upon her subject, and shook her gourd rattle in an annoyed gesture toward her master.
“It progresses less well each time it is interrupted. This is something the mighty Safi would be wise to remember.”
No lesser man could speak so to Safi the Pure without being disemboweled on the spot, but Darweshi knew her value, and knew that Safi knew as well.
“Hmph! Now that it has been interrupted, you may take a moment to describe the progress.”
“The mighty nyeupe askari approaches, as the ancestor spirits demand. None can resist their call, not even the greatest warrior of the People of Machines. That warrior is in our land as we speak, and the sooner I can return to the ritual, the sooner will the mighty one stand among us.”
“With all the aides and helpers required?”
“Did you not so command, my king?”
“Then, that is how it shall be.”
“And you are sure your summoning can reach out to that distant land?”
“The summoning comes from the Gods in their highest places. You think because a land cannot be seen from here, that it cannot be seen from the throne of Mwenyezi?”
“And you are sure this great warrior will respond to your summoning?”
“Running like an antelope into your warm embrace, my king. Separation from the flying canoe is all that remains to be done.”
“Excellent, my most trusted friend. Do carry on.”
* * *
“Jambo, my friends, jambo!”
Faraji, the proprietor, a tall, slender African, obvious possessor of at least some Maasai blood, came out from behind the bar to greet them.
“A most wonderful exhibition, Missy Hobbs! It is always a joyful day when I can welcome my most favorite crew!”
“I’ll bet you say that to every crew,” Ellsworth said, his smile reducing the edge just slightly.
“Ah, young doctor Nicholas, still you continues to wrong me. I trust you are well, Mr. David?”
“Quite well,” Smith replied.
“We have a new engineer, Faraji,” Monroe said. “Nicholas is going to relieve him when he’s finished, and send him over for lunch. Bakari’s his name, African fellow.”
“I look forward to meeting him. My friends, you should know that a group of men have been asking after you.”
“What sort of men?” Monroe asked, suddenly all business.
“White men, fresh from the boat. Oh, and a woman. They talk funny, like you and Missy Hobbs. Perhaps they are from your country.”
“Perhaps. Did they say what they wanted?”
“Only that they seek the ship with the pretty pilot. That could only mean the Kestrel.”
“Why, thank you, Faraji!” Hobbs said.
“You know the other pilots, Missy. That is not the compliment it first sounds like.”
Laughter rolled around the table.
“Well, if you see them,” Monroe said, “tell them we’re in town, we’re looking for a cargo, and they can find us at the aerodrome.”
“Perhaps you may tell them yourselves,” Faraji said with a lift of his chin in the direction of the open facade of the bar and restaurant.
Coming in from the street were two men, dressed generally like them, but with that fresh arrival's look of being too clean, somehow, too precise. One was large, swarthy, an obvious outdoorsman type, a magazine lithograph in khaki shorts with knee socks, six rifle rounds displayed in loops above the pocket of his cargo shirt. His companion was thin and just slightly stooped, sporting a bristly mustache, unevenly trimmed, with dark overlapping stains on his long pants and shirt front. His darting eyes gave him the furtive look of a hunting ferret.
“Look, Mr. Forbes,” they could barely make out, as the little man pointed in their direction. “That’s got ‘a be ‘er.”
The odd duo stepped up to their table without hesitation to address Hobbs.
“My pardon, Madam,” the big fellow said with a slight but perceptible bow, “but would you by chance be Miss Patience Hobbs?”
“I would. You seem to have the advantage, sir.”
“Not intentionally, I assure you. I’m Sir Anthony Forbes. You may have heard of me. I’m a member of the Royal Geographic Society. This is my associate, Mr. Blaine.”
“The Explorer’s Club?” Monroe asked.
“As it’s sometimes known,” Forbes said, and turned his attention back to Hobbs. “We’ve been in town for two days, and we’ve been receiving glowing reports about your ship. The Kestrel, I believe?”
“Indeed, Sir Anthony, that is the name, but I fear you’ve been misinformed.”
“It’s Captain Monroe’s vessel. I am merely the pilot.”
“Ah. Forgive me. You are Captain Monroe?”
“I am. Are you considering a charter?”
“That’s right. I’ve been tasked—”
“Sit down,” Monroe interrupted. “Make yourselves comfortable.”
Pulling an extra chair from a nearby table, they did so.
“As I say,” Forbes began again, “I’ve been tasked to document the flora and fauna of the colony, bring it into the public view, as it were, to generate an interest back home in developing this wasteland.”
“Wasteland,” Monroe repeated with a glance at Hobbs, whose smile was suddenly nowhere to be seen. “You wouldn’t be the first man to make that mistake.”
“Yes, you live in a place for a while, you tend to lose perspective. That isn’t my concern, of course. I’m just here to take photographs, make drawings, and write reports. And bring back some specimens, of course.”
“Of course. So, what exactly do you need from me?”
“Transport, essentially. I knew straight away that there was no way to get around this hellhole on the surface, so I started researching the air services. There’s a lot of agreement around town that Kestrel is our best bet for fair prices, and experience as well.”
“Really. ‘Look for the blonde woman,’ everyone says, and we can’t go wrong. Well, we’ve found the blonde woman, and her crew, and I’ve a good feeling about you, so let’s talk business.”
“All right. How many in your party?”
“Well, there's myself, Mr. Blaine here, my photographer, and his assistant, and Adams, the journalist.”
“Photographic, mostly. Small cages, guns of course, personal effects. Tools.”
“Everything’s done by weight, Sir Anthony. The gas lifts what it lifts, and we have to make our money based on what we can move. How heavy is your party and gear?”
“I’ve no idea, I’m afraid.”
“There’s a scale at the aerodrome. You can bring your things down there and weigh them, then I can give you a price.”
“Well, that’s what I’ll do, then. What’s a good time for you?”
“Doesn’t matter. There’ll be a government man at the scale. He’ll weigh you up and give you a ticket. Just show it to me when I get there.”
“Where are you going, then?”
“Outfitting, Sir Anthony. We have to carry everything we need. I’ll see you at the aerodrome in a couple of hours. We’re going to eat first. You’re welcome to join us.”
“Alas, Captain, we have things to do ourselves. We’ll see you at the aerodrome, then. Good day.”
* * *
Kestrel rode almost as solidly as a moored boat, tied fore-and-aft to one of the loading ramps at the Mombasa aerodrome as Smith supervised two of the facility’s stevedores in their placement of a large crate, machine parts for Olenguruone, a market town out northeast of Nairobi, and home of some of the richest farmland in the territory. Situated atop a ridge in The Rills, an area of many parallel ridges carved by streams flowing down from Mount Kenya, the only practical accessibility was by air.
Captain Monroe stood near the ramp watching the proceedings with a critical eye.
“Captain,” Doctor Ellsworth said, coming across from the port side, “I think our passengers are here.”
“Ah, good. If we can get them settled, and get airborne, we can make Olenguruone before dusk.”
“That would be superb, Captain,” Ellsworth said. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious to get on the ground and do some serious collecting for a change.”
“It will be nice to see you doing something productive for a change,” Monroe responded.
They shared a chuckle as they waited for the party, three men and a woman plus two African bearers, to find their way around to the ramp, and thence to the rail of the Kestrel.
“Good morning, Captain,” Forbes greeted him. "Looks a lovely day for a flight, am I right?”
“As long as this weather holds,” Monroe said. “Will this be it, then, the four of you?”
“Yes, well, the four plus our servants.”
“You said nothing of servants.”
“Pfffft! Who does? Just a couple of fuzzies. We change them like socks. They can share a room. Anywhere indoors will seem like Buckingham to this lot. Now, you’ve met Blaine, of course. This is his assistant, Jow Mehran,” Forbes said, indicating a tall, gangly woman of coffee complexion with severely short black hair, “and my chronicler, Warren Adams. Adams is with the Times. Going to put this pest-hole on the map, he is.”
Adams was well-fed, filling his worn brown traveler’s suit to capacity.
Monroe and Ellsworth shook hands all around, and Monroe summoned Bakari over from the pilot house door where he was discussing the flight with Hobbs.
“This is my fifth crewman,” Monroe said, “the one who wasn’t with us at the restaurant yesterday. Bakari, this is Sir Anthony Forbes.”
“Jambo, bwana,” Bakari said, offering his only hand for a shake. “You are going to show our land to the world with your magic box?”
“That’s right, Mr. Bakari,” Forbes said, shaking hands with the big African. “Soon all the world will know of your nation’s beauty. Investors will flock in from all the seven continents.”
“And then there will be no room for us,” Bakari said, taking the thought to its logical conclusion. “Forgive me, bwana. Missy Hobbs is instructing me for the flight.”
“I say!” Forbes blustered as Bakari walked away.
“Bakari’s a Maasai,” Monroe said by way of explanation. “He’s seen what the arrival of just the relatively few white men who are here have done to his country, and he’s understandably less than thrilled about what the arrival of a lot more will likely do.”
“Poppycock! We bring civilization, that’s what we do. We put a stop to these silly tribal wars, cannibalism, human sacrifice and so on, and teach them how to wear clothes and live in houses. Why, everywhere we English have gone, the standard of living has improved a thousand-fold. Medicine, civil law, transportation . . . Look at this little trip we’re going to take, a matter of what, twelve hours? How many weeks would it take your Bakari to walk to this village you’re going to?”
“On the other hand, if we weren’t here, why would he need to?”
“I suppose you get a different view of people after you’ve lived with them for a while. Nicholas, take these folks below, stow their gear in the storeroom, and show them their quarters. As soon as you’re settled in, Sir Anthony, we can discuss the cost of two extra passengers.”
“What? Oh, them. They aren’t passengers, Captain, they’re servants.”
“They’re weight, Sir Anthony, that we have to generate hydrogen to lift. We discussed this yesterday.”
“Oh, all right. T’isn’t as though the Queen’s subjects can’t afford it. Lead on, young man!”
Smith stepped over to join the captain as Ellsworth led the group forward to the accommodation ladder.
“There’ll be trouble with that one, you mark my words,” he said. “The pompous ass makes our lion-hunting native friend look positively refined.”
“Let’s hope not,” Monroe replied. “This boat’s a bit small for that kind of trouble.”
“Don’t see how there can’t be. Look how he treats his own people, for God’s sake.”
“He’s been away from civilization for a long time, David.”
“So have you. I don’t see you calling the natives fuzzies, like they’re some kind of animal you’ve come to study. He doesn’t even think they’re people.”
“You didn’t either when you first arrived. Maybe that’s part of being civilized, not the other way around. Anyway, that’s his business, and we have ours. Bakari, how long until we’re ready to fly?”
“We can go at any time, bwana.”
“I want full boiler pressure. Bad business maneuvering on batteries alone during lift out.”
“As you say, bwana. I lit the fire when we finished our morning meal. Full pressure is awaiting Missy Hobbs’ commands.”
“Very well, then. David, if you’d be so good as to make sure the cargo’s secured for flight?”
“Missy Hobbs, are you ready to travel?”
“Thought you’d never ask!” came the reply from the curly-haired tomboy leaning on the pilot house door frame.
“All right, then. Let’s get this boat in the air.”
* * *
The next day had dawned pleasantly enough, though a group of thunderstorms had been putting on a show over Mount Kenya, some twenty miles to the east, and a band of heavy gray clouds marched majestically by to the north.
“We’ll need to keep an eye on that,” Monroe said to Hobbs as she walked her dividers across the chart.
They had delivered the machinery parts to the workshop at Olenguruone the afternoon before, then, at Forbes’ direction, flown straight over the shoulder of Mount Kipipiri in order to be in position to take some dramatic photographs of Mount Kenya with the sun rising behind it. Blaine and his assistant were at work on that project even as Hobbs and Monroe marked their position.
Kestrel rode docilely to her anchor line just north of the village of Nyeri, her stern pointed almost directly at the majestic peak that gave the country its name. Nyeri villagers awakening to collect water from the near-by stream had quickly spotted the anchored airship, and now children, and a few curious adults, were gathered at a respectful distance, regarding the alien contraption with awe.
“Captain,” Ellsworth said from the pilot house door, “request permission to go down to collect samples.”
The young doctor stood at a respectful civilian equivalent of attention, but Monroe could see that he was as excited as a child headed out for his first circus.
“You have your pistol?”
“Yes, sir,” he said, patting his holster.
“All right, son. Take a deep breath.”
Ellsworth did so.
“Now, calm down. Africa’s been here for several years, so they say, and it isn’t going away just because you got here. Take your time, and be careful. I don’t want to have to mail your remains back to your mother.”
“Yes, sir,” Ellsworth said with a sheepish grin. “Thank you, sir.”
As he started back toward the cargo hoist, Hobbs stepped out behind him.
“I’m going to stretch my legs.”
“Are you going down, then?”
“No, just around the deck.”
She followed Ellsworth out to where he climbed onto the platform. Smith lifted it, its jerky motion causing Ellsworth to lurch, and grab two of the ropes.
“Easy!” he admonished.
“Sorry, Doc. This ain’t the lift at the London Arms.”
Smith swung him out over the side, and lowered him to the ground, a bit rattled, but none the worse for wear. Ellsworth stepped off, looked back up and crossed himself, and walked off toward Forbes’ camp.
“That crocodile mouth’s gonna overload his jaybird ass one o’ these days,” Smith grumbled.
“Now, David, he’s just a boy,” Hobbs said. “Why, this is only the second time he’s been away from his mum.”
“Just the same.”
“So, what do you make of that lot,” she asked, leaning on the rail and nodding toward the encampment where Baines and Mehran were fussing with their large camera. “Do you really think anybody back home cares about a bunch of pictures of wilderness?”
“Sure they do. You start thinkin’ about spendin’ your life in a little square office, or behind the cage in a bank, countin’ out pounds an’ shillings, an’ you’ll get desperate for the outdoors, even just a picture of it, an’ the wilder, the better.”
“Mmm. I suppose, when you put it that way.”
“That’s the fact of it. This is disturbin’, though.”
“I seen this in America. You got land like this, untamed wilderness, not a house for a thousand miles, see. Then a couple o’ surveyors come in, draw a few lines on a map, take a couple o’ pictures, an’ the next thing you know, there’s a city goin’ up.”
“I say, that’s harsh. Still, there’s no sign that’s going to happen here.”
“No sign it ain’t, either. It ain’t right, Patience. The world needs a few wild places for a man . . . Or a woman, mind, to escape to. It ain’t right what they’re doin’.”
* * *
Young Doctor Ellsworth finally felt as though he was working in his own profession, doing the work he had come to Africa to do. The canvas messenger bag that had become his field kit after the disastrous loss of everything he had brought from England was a wonderful tool with its buttoned pouches and oilcloth partitions, keeping the samples isolated and pristine.
Ellsworth had checked in with Forbes, to receive an admonishment to “mind the wildlife,” and gone on to briefly view the activities of the photographers. Neither of them was friendly, the assistant, Mehran, shooing him out of the way several times, and Blaine having nothing to say to him at all. He first wanted to put it down to them being dedicated technicians, having use for nothing but their mechanical equipment, but Gunther Brown had been as dedicated as any technician he had ever met, and he had been open and friendly; perhaps, he decided, they were just rude.
He would rather have been in the jungle, where the plants grew in riotous anarchy, and every tree was a chemical factory bursting with wonderful compounds just waiting to be discovered, but Sir Anthony was paying for this trip, and they went where his whim dictated. He could only hope. For now, there was the grass, simple hyparrhenia, as well known to European science as the common dandelion, and virtually invisible to an ambitious young botanist. But scattered among the grass were bushes, standing like rocky outcroppings in the waving sea of brown, and even an occasional tree.
Curious natives had come from the nearby village to see the airship, and some had straggled over toward the photographers’ operation. That would be their tough luck, Ellsworth thought with a smile, as he started toward one of those trees not far away.
“Jambo,” one of the young men greeted him with a smile.
“Jambo,” he returned the greeting automatically, proud of his growing facility with this strange hybrid language of African, Arab, and its smattering of Indian, and continued on toward the bushes.
The tree was stubby, about ten feet tall, its small, waxy leaves designed to conserve water. He approached on an indirect course, circling in like a moth to a flame in order to examine this find from every angle. He noted the tangled branches, the defensive thorns, the insect sounds coming from the body of its mass.
“Hatari,” one of the natives called to him as he moved closer. “Hatari, bwana.”
Hatari, the Swahili word for danger. Ellsworth froze, looked at the man, and shrugged, indicating that he saw no danger.
“Hakuna, hatari!” the man called again, becoming more agitated as Ellsworth began to slowly approach the tree again.
Ellsworth stopped again, very close to the tree now. He saw nothing. What could be this man’s problem?
The man was screaming now. Ellsworth stopped in mid-reach toward one of the spiky branches; perhaps the tree was sacred? He’d best find out before he started taking samples.
He had just started to lower his hand when a shot rang out from his right side, and a huge green snake catapulted, thrashing, out from the branch he had been reaching for. It landed on the ground beneath the tree, squirmed out its last moments of life, and Ellsworth saw that is wasn’t so big after all, about four feet, no more. It had a thin, whiplike body, a rectangular head, and was a stunningly bright emerald green in color.
Forbes came up to stand beside him, and Ellsworth found his hands shaking badly, a watery feeling coming into his suddenly weak knees.
“Boy,” Forbes told him, “when a native tells you there’s danger, you need to listen to him! The word’s hatari. Commit it to memory. It’s the most important word out here.”
“I know the word,” Ellsworth snapped, shaking and defensive as the adrenaline left his body.
“Well, you certainly don’t act like it!”
He stepped over and picked up the snake by the tail, letting it hang limply, full length. There was a kink a third of the length back from the head, where the heavy rifle bullet had almost severed the body.
“Not enough left for a belt. May get a nice hatband out of it, what? Hah!”
“What kind of snake is that?” Ellsworth asked, leaning closer.
“Eastern green mamba. Lives in trees from here to Capetown. It isn’t at all aggressive, but if you reach into a tree and grab one, it’ll give you a bloody nasty bite.”
“Very. Shuts down the heart and lungs. It’s sort of a race to see which one will kill you first. Even if you survive the bite, you’re sure to lose the arm. How’d you like ‘Lefty’ for a nickname, eh? Hah!”
“Hilarious,” Ellsworth muttered, the sickly feeling creeping over his whole body. “I think I’ll just sit down for moment.”
He set deed to word.
“Rattled you, did it? Well it should! Here, have a pull of this.”
Forbes produced a flask which he passed over. Ellsworth unscrewed the top, and immediately caught the powerful smell of Scotch whiskey. Though his drinking was normally confined to wines and cordials, he wasn’t shy about taking a long drink, passing the flask back and feeling the warmth spread through him.
“I’m guessing you’ve not been out here long.”
“No, this is my second season with the captain. I’ve been acting engineer, though. Spent most of that time on the ship.”
“That explains a lot. You got a cheap lesson today, boy. Take it to heart. Move with caution, assume that everything is dangerous until proven otherwise, and when you hear that word, hatari, mind what you’re doing, because it’s probably going to kill you.”
“Thank you, Sir Anthony. I won’t soon forget this.”
“You just remember the lesson, son. The rest of it’s all luck. Are you all right now?”
“Yes, sir. I’m just going to rest here for a moment.”
“That’s fine. Come over to my tent when you’re ready. My boys have coffee going.”
“Thank you, sir. I’d like that.”
He watched Forbes swagger away, swinging the snake to and fro, and thinking hatari, hatari, hatari, until it was a word he knew as well as Nicholas.
* * *
It would have been dusk, except the storm clouds had swung down their way, and blotted out the setting sun entirely. The sudden cold rain had driven everyone, even the intrepid Blaine, to cover, and looking down from the Kestrel, all Monroe could see were the shapes of tents lighted from within by lanterns. Only Hobbs and Bakari were aboard with him. Doctor Ellsworth had spent the afternoon with his new friend Forbes, and Monroe had already decided that he’d best look into that development. Smith was down there somewhere. He had been on and off the ship all day, and had gone down ostensibly to check the anchor mooring when the wind had started to freshen. That had been a half hour ago, and Monroe hadn’t seen him since.
In fairness, he couldn’t see anything but the lighted tents, and the squat shapes of equipment boxes, and those only because he knew where they were.
“I don’t like the look of this wind, Captain,” Hobbs said, coming back from the bow. “There’s no useful cover all the way to the horizon in any direction, and it’s still picking up.”
“I’d make it stop for you, Patience, but I don’t have that sort of pull anymore.”
“Of course. Didn’t you know that when you wear the Badge of Victoria on your cap, the weather bends itself to your will?”
“Really? I had no idea. Well, lacking complete control, then, you still must have an opinion. Do you think this will break soon?”
They both grasped at the rail as Kestrel took a sharp dip in a sudden gust.
“I certainly hope so. Obviously, this isn’t storm season. If it was, we wouldn’t be out here. You don’t see weather like this outside of the Long Rain.”
“Apparently, you do, Captain. I’d suggest we make preparations.”
“I’ve told Bakari to keep steam up all night. What else do you suggest?”
“We should lengthen the anchor line.”
Another blast of wind hit them, sending the ship into a lurching swing around her tether.
“That will increase the pull on the anchor.”
“Maybe, but if one of these gusts slams us into the ground and damages the motors, well, it’s a long drift to India!”
“You’re probably right. What do you recommend?”
“As long as possible. A gust will push us down like a pendulum swinging, and the farther we have to go, the more time we have for the gust to slacken off."
The gusts were getting more violent even as she was making the statement.
“All right, I’ll pay out some line. You’d better stay near the pilot house just in case.”
“I plan to, but if things go really wrong, there’ll be sharp limits on what we can do about it.”
“Patience, there’s no one I’d rather have on the wheel than you tonight. That includes all the military pilots I’ve ever led. This ship’s like some dogs. I own it, I feed it, but it likes you best.”
“Why, thank you, Captain . . . I think.”
Monroe went forward to pay out more line, grabbing handholds all the way against the freshening wind.
“David!” he called through cupped hands toward the ground below. “Doctor!”
His voice was blown away by what was quickly becoming a howling gale.
“David, you need to get back aboard!”
There was no reply to this, and he hardly expected one at this point. He released the ratchet that held the anchor cable drum, and Kestrel shot up and back like a child’s kite. Immediately, Smith’s shout came from below.
“What the devil are you doing?”
“David! You need to get back aboard!”
“Never mind that, Cap’n! Did you pay out more line?”
“Yes! Patience says she needs a buffer to ride out this blow!”
“Well, that’s Jim-dandy, but this tree we’re tied to ain’t gonna hold against that much pull!”
“That may be, but if we hit the ground, we’re afoot!”
“Yeah, and if you uproot this tree, we’re gonna be scattered all over Africa!”
“All the more reason for you to get back aboard!”
“Sorry, Cap’n. You’re too high for the hoist, and there ain’t no way I’m climbin’ the Jacob’s ladder in this!”
“David, we need you up here!”
There was a sharp CRACK! followed by a sick groaning sound, and a second crack.
“Cap’n, she’s breakin’ loose! Cap’n!”
With one final, sickening lurch and a snap, Kestrel was free and running out of control before the wind.
“Captain,” Hobbs shouted, powering up the engines, “what’s happened?”
“The anchor’s loose! We’re adrift!”
“Well, you’d best get in here, then! We can’t spare you!”
Monroe, realizing there was nothing else he could do on deck, was happy enough to take refuge in the pilot house.
“Sweet Jesus! What do you need, Patience?”
“Close those windows for a start.”
“You won’t be able to see with the rain on them,” he said, already starting the process.
“Can’t really see with it in my face, either. Where the hell did this blow come from, anyway?”
“Hell is as good a guess as any.” He got the last window swung into place against the wind, and latched it. “What else do you need?”
“A minute to think. I have the motors at full power, and every time you see a landmark, it’s moving from back to front. My best guess is that we’re being blown backward at close to thirty miles per hour, and that’s with the motors full ahead. I can steer a little, not much else.”
“What are you saying, we can’t go forward at all?”
“You’d have a better chance of paddling a canoe up a waterfall!”
“Missy Hobbs,” came Bakari’s voice through the speaking tube, “what has happened?”
“We’re adrift,” she answered. “The anchor pulled loose.”
“What can I do?”
“Just make sure we’ve full power to everything.”
“Yes, Missy, it shall be so!”
“The anchor’s trailing,” Monroe said. “Maybe if you lose some altitude, it will catch on something.”
“At this speed, we have the momentum of a freight train. The best thing that could possibly happen would be that the line would part. Of course, if we back into a tree at this speed, that opens up a whole new range of possibilities.”
“Damn! What could happen in our favor?”
“The only thing I can see would be if we happen to find a wind shadow, a ridge or a cliff where we can anchor in the lee. If we don’t get out of this soon, it’s going to tear the fins off. Once that happens, we’ll go broadside-to.”
“You can’t hold it bow-on with the helm?”
“Get serious! This is turning into a bloody hurricane! The only thing keeping us bow-on is the weathercocking of those fins, and if they go . . .”
“We turn sideways in this, and it shakes us to pieces. I’m going to go aft and watch for a spot we can put down.”
“All right. Lash yourself onto something. I can’t come back for you, even if you survive the fall.”
Monroe opened the gear locker at the back of the pilot house and pulled out an oilcloth jacket which he donned before heading out into the storm. At the controls, Hobbs eased her motors back to three-quarters power, and settled in for a long fight with a twisting, jerking wheel that seemed to have taken on a life and will of its own.
* * *
“We have to find shelter,” Sir Anthony shouted, trying without complete success to make himself heard above the howling wind. “We’ve already lost the tents, and most of our gear, and if we don’t get out of this, it’s going to beat us to death. Damn that coward, Monroe! Next time I see him, I’ll give him a hiding he’ll not soon forget!”
“I’m guessing you don’t know much about balloons, then.” Smith shouted back.
“I know when one leaves me on the plains to die!”
“You damned fool, you claim to be an explorer?”
“You mind your tongue, sir! I happen to be a Knight of the Realm.”
“Look around you, then, Sir Blowhard. We ain’t in the realm. If the wind’s blowing faster than a balloon’s top speed, it drifts backward at the difference between them. Under ideal conditions, Kestrel can log maybe forty, forty-five miles in an hour. This wind must be twice that. You’ll look a lot less ignorant if you keep that flappin’ mouth confined to things you know about, cause they’re likely in a lot more danger than we are about now.”
“I’ll take that under advisement. Now, I suggest we all salvage whatever looks the most useful, primarily food and water, and start out for the stand of trees we saw to the north of here.”
“Now you’re makin’ sense,” Smith said. “Food and water, people, chop-chop!”
Smith led by example, moving to one of the drowned and scattered fire pits and slinging two extra canteens over his shoulder. The others followed his lead, moving through the destroyed camp, quickly searching boxes and sacks, gathering food and water, an axe, and two machetes, and with that done, they gathered once again around Forbes.
“I say, shouldn’t we go south,” Ellsworth asked, “to try to get to Nyeri?”
“Normally,” Forbes told him, “but that stream that’s between us will be a raging river by now, and there’s no safe crossing that I’m aware of. Aside from the village, those trees are the only cover we’ve seen.”
“That’s right,” Smith said, “and the sooner we move out, the sooner we’ll be there.”
“Wise words,” Forbes agreed. “I’ve a compass. Anyone else?”
“I have,” Ellsworth said.
“All right, then. Due north for now, and do try not to get separated. We’ll never find you in this.”
They set out, laboring in the wind that gusted from hurricane force to almost calm, coming from their left side. People fell frequently, overbalanced by the supplies they carried while leaning into a wind that would suddenly stop without warning. The trees were five miles off, more or less, and Smith figured they’d be lucky to make a mile in an hour under these conditions.
They hadn’t been struggling through the curtain of cold, stinging rain for half of the first hour, when a band of thirty Maasai seemed to materialize from the grass around them, all armed, spears and throwing sticks poised to launch.
“M’guu!” shouted a large man in colorful clothing with many body adornments, obviously a leader.
“He says halt,” Smith said, hand very near his holster.
“Wala kugusa silaha yako!” the man shouted.
“He further suggests we not reach for our weapons.”
The rank before them parted, and a calm, dignified man stepped through. He wore the fine gold-trimmed orange robe of an elder, and was accompanied by a striking young Maasai woman. She had the classic African features of broad nose and thick lips. Her cheek bones were high, and her soft brown eyes were large and elongated. Her head had been shaved on the sides, leaving a large shock of wooly hair atop her head. Around the base of it she wore a circle of large teeth, perhaps the canine teeth of lions. Her robe was basically blue, and woven with the forms of many animals. She carried a short wooden scepter carved into the form of a rearing snake. Despite her youth, she was obviously a person of great consequence.
She stepped close to Adams, the journalist, and stared into his eyes.
“Neno m’linzi,” she said after a moment.
Two of the warriors stepped forward, took his pistol from its holster, and pulled him to the side.
“Now, see here!” Forbes protested.
She stepped up before him next, silencing his bluster with her other-worldly gaze.
“Ni yeye,” she said at length. Two warriors removed his slung rifle and pulled him aside.
“M’saliti,” she said, waving her scepter at the two black servants, whose hands were immediately bound behind them.
She turned that mystic gaze onto Ellsworth then, seeming to look into his very soul, and he found that he couldn’t move. Not that he couldn’t punch her, or turn to flee, no, he couldn’t wipe the rivulets from his face, or move to scratch the itch that settled on his forearm.
“Hakuna,” she said with a wistful smile, a word he knew meant no, and took his pistol from its holster. Instead of shooting him with it, which he half expected, she broke it open like she’d been handling firearms all her life, removed the bullets, and replaced the gun in its holster. Lifting his hand with hers, she placed the bullets in his palm, stroked his cheek with the back of her fingers, and moved on.
Smith, and Blaine, the photographer, both got the hakuna treatment, but when she came to Jow, Blaine’s assistant, she cocked her head from side to side, like a dog trying to comprehend something just outside its experience.
“Mateka,” she finally said, and Jow Mehran was taken as well. Then she returned to the three who had drawn the hakuna judgment.
“You three we do not need, so you will be allowed to go,” she said.
“Isn’t that a bit unusual?” Smith asked.
“So, too, is interrupting a priestess of Mwenyezi, so it would be good for you to keep silent. You may go south, or east, or west, as you choose, and you will not be molested further, but do not attempt to follow us to the north. We intend to leave hidden warriors on the path behind us, and if you attempt to follow, you will be killed. This storm will pass soon.”
“How can you know that?” Ellsworth blurted.
She favored him with that enigmatic smile again, suggesting that under other circumstances . . .
“I summoned it. I will dismiss it. Return to your own people, and you will be safe. Attempt to interfere with us, and you will be dead. I trust you will choose correctly.”
She rejoined her comrades, and within seconds, they had taken their captives and melted into the opaque curtain of rain.
“Well, don’t stand there,” Blaine said to Smith after a moment, “do something!”
“I’m open to suggestions,” Smith said, reloading his pistol.
“They left us our guns. I suggest we go get our people back!”
“Never run up against Maasai before, have you?” Smith asked. “They’re masters of ambush, and a skilled warrior is accurate with that spear at least as far as you are with a pistol. And that’s not even adding in what that girl might be capable of.”
“Mumbo jumbo, that’s what. She’s impressed those fuzzies with her showmanship is all. I say we go get our people back, and gun down anyone who tries to interfere!”
“No,” Ellsworth said, “it wasn’t mumbo jumbo. Didn’t you feel it when she looked at you?”
“Hah! Your hormones are all you were feeling, you randy young pup. Stop thinking with your pump handle, and let’s get after them!”
“We’ll get after nobody,” Smith said. “Even without her, if you knew the Maasai, you’d be planning the quickest route back to Nairobi, ‘cause you won't get a step farther than they want you to. But, feel free to go after them. Your corpse will make a nice trail marker when we come back with the authorities.”
“David,” Ellsworth said in the silence of Blaine’s reply, “I know hakuna means no, but what did she say about the others?”
“She called Adams a word-keeper.”
“He’s a journalist,” Blaine said. “How could she know that?”
“How, indeed? She called your servants traitors. I wouldn’t hold out much hope for them. She didn’t call Forbes anything. What she said was, ‘It is him.’”
“It is him? What the deuce did she mean by that?”
“Well, since they aren’t likely to have met before, my guess is that they were looking for him specifically.”
“What about Jow? What did she call her?”
Smith looked briefly at Ellsworth before he answered.
* * *
Kestrel limped along like an injured animal, slightly lopsided, trailing a few ropes, and missing some panels and attachments. Even as Hobbs held five degrees left rudder to keep her moving on a straight course back to the vicinity of the campsite, Monroe and Bakari scoured the ship, evaluating the damage, looking for a mortal wound, all the while praying they wouldn’t find one.
The horizon unrolled before them, seeming like new land, small lakes and watercourses having appeared where none had been before, and old stands of trees gone, ripped from the soggy ground by the howling wind. Even the gifted Hobbs felt that she would never find the campsite again, were it not for its proximity to Nyeri; even that was but a collection of a few stick huts, and might well be gone without a trace, but she knew where it had been.
Kestrel had sailed before the storm like a windblown leaf, barely under control, for well over an hour before Monroe, keeping watch from the stern, had sighted a rift in a flash of lightning, and somehow guided Hobbs through a backward approach, first settling into the steep-sided canyon, then navigating its twisting route until they found a vertical wall to shelter behind, escaping the full brunt of that roaring maelstrom. Even then, with no place to anchor against the wind swirling over the rim, Hobbs had had to fight the airship’s bucking all night, and she was thoroughly exhausted. Someday, perhaps, she could rest.
“How is she?” Hobbs asked without preamble as Monroe stepped into the pilot house.
“Quite fortunate, actually. We’ve not lost anything we can’t live without, at least.”
“What’s wrong with the steering?”
“Motor frame’s bent. Must have hit a tree. We’ll need a week in a proper boatyard to put that right. How is she to steer? Can you manage her all right?”
“Aye, as long as I keep a little left rudder laid in. It’s unsettling, though, I can tell you. I can feel her pain.”
“She’s a machine, Patience.”
“To you, maybe.”
“To the world. Do you think you’ll be able to find them?”
“Finding where we left them won’t be a great problem. Finding where they’ve gotten blown off to from there could prove challenging.”
“David’s with them. He knows that you can return to any place you’ve been like a homing pigeon. He’s certain to keep them together at the camp.”
“Let us hope. Sir Anthony can be a bit headstrong, and if he can convince the others that we’ve wrecked . . .”
“Yes, but you’re my ace in the hole. David knows of your capability at the wheel, and Doctor Ellsworth will follow his lead. If Sir Anthony leads the others off, well, we’ll just hope his luck’s good, shall we?”
“Where do you think we are on the route?”
“Well, Nyeri’s in the bowl between the two big mountains, which at our reduced speed, makes us about an hour out. I’d recommend you take your binoculars to the bow and do some lookout duty.”
“Aye, aye, Ma’am. And I’d suggest you come straight in over Nyeri. They may have taken shelter there. Then we can go north to the campsite.”
“My plan exactly, Captain.”
And she carried it out to perfection, Monroe scouring the slow-moving terrain with his binoculars as they approached the village. The land had been devastated by the storm, and as they sailed majestically above the flattened grass, mud holes, and torrent courses, a shot rang out from the village; in that simple sound, they were reunited with their missing crewmembers. Hobbs set down gently right outside the gate of the largely ruined stockade, and Monroe swung down the Jacob ’s ladder, the cargo hoist platform having been one of the items torn from the ship in her wild flight.
“It’s good to see you, David,” Monroe greeted him. “Doctor, Mr. Blaine.”
“We don’t have time for this!” Blaine shouted.
“Calm down. David, where are the others?”
“Gone. You mean, dead?”
“Come on, man, spill it!”
“Well, the storm just blew the camp away. Anything lighter than an anvil’s probably in the Indian Ocean by now. We had to find some shelter, so we started out for a stand of trees we’d seen a couple of miles north.”
“Why didn’t you head for the village?”
“Forbes said that stream in between would be a river we couldn’t cross, and it sounded reasonable, so we headed for the trees. Before we got there, a Maasai war party ambushed us, and took the others.”
“Maasai this far south?”
“And they let you go?”
“How many were there?”
“At least thirty. But, Cap’n, they had a wise-woman with them. A young one. She knew things that she couldn’t possibly have known. She knew who Forbes was, knew that Adams was his ‘word-keeper,’ even claimed that she raised the storm to facilitate his capture. She knew everybody’s role, and who she wanted. She knew how to unload our guns, and she said that she was leaving a rear guard, and that if we tried to follow them, we’d be killed, so I decided to wait for you. I knew Patience would find her way back.”
“Yes, and now that you’re here, we have to get after them,” Blaine said.
“Calm down,” Smith told him in an annoyed tone. “We’ll put the army onto ‘em. They’ll make ‘em pay, don’t you worry.”
“No, David, I’m afraid he’s right.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Everybody in Mombasa knows that the greatest explorer in the eastern hemisphere went up country with us. We go back and tell everyone that we lost him without a trace, like a sack of dirty laundry, we’ll never get another fare. At the very least, we have to bring out a body, so let’s get aboard. We have some more flying to do, yet.”
* * *
The Maasai had taken their captives on a trot across the grass, into the trees, and across another small open space into an area of lush forest that could extend all the way to the Mediterranean Sea as far as Forbes could tell. His knees were crying for respite when they finally came to the Maasai’s small temporary camp, though he was far more concerned about Miss Mehran’s condition. But when they were finally allowed to fall out, they threw themselves onto the various woven mats that had laid between the straw shelters, and simply panted for air.
The Maasai elder gave them a moment to rest, then came to where Forbes lay on his back, waiting for his breathing to return to normal. He seated himself, his carriage one of casual dignity, the expectation of deference. The young shaman woman knelt formally to his left, knees together and feet tucked under her buttocks. Neither of them looked as though they had done anything more strenuous than climb a flight of stairs. As they seated themselves, warriors passed out gourds of water. The leader and his aide waited respectfully until Forbes had drank his fill before speaking.
“You are important in the world of white men,” the woman said in perfect English, albeit slowly. “What are we to call you?”
“You can call me bloody damned outraged, that’s what! Who in God’s name do you people think you are, dragging us off into the bloody jungle? You have no idea how much trouble you’re going to be in!”
“That is going to help neither you nor us. The fact is that we have you. Whether we release you depends very much on what you say in the next few moments. King Safi wishes to treat you with respect, but if you decline his offer of dignity, we can employ other means. Do you wish to tell us your name, or not?”
“It’s Forbes. Sir Anthony Forbes.”
“I do not understand. You wish us to call you Forbes?”
“Forbes is fine.”
“Very well, Forbes. I am Darweshi. I am m’ganga to the great King Safi, elder of elders among our people.”
Safi nodded, and Forbes, no novice to dealing with primitives, returned it just a bit more deeply.
“If you just wanted to meet, all this wasn’t necessary.”
“Oh, no, Forbes. Our purpose goes far beyond a simple meeting. You were summoned here to correct a situation created by one of your kind.”
“What kind is that?”
“A white man. It is a cosmic balancing. One white man will correct the imbalance caused by another.”
“Farther up in the forest, several miles from here, there is a sacred site from the time before time. It is vast, and we believe it was constructed by our Gods when they dwelt here on earth. A white man has moved into it, and created many machines. They make noise, and smoke, and do wondrous things, much like the flying canoe that brought you to us.”
“That didn’t exactly fly out here to bring me to you.”
“Oh, but it did. From the moment you boarded, we decided . . . I decided where you would come by placing irresistible pictures in your mind. When you arrived, as we had planned, I summoned the storm to blow away your friends. And now, here you are. But these trifles are unimportant.”
“Indeed. Simple gifts from my Goddess. But I must return to the reason that you are here.”
“This strange white man who lives in God’s house is a man of evil. He bends the trees to his vile will, he poisons the water, what he does to the animals cannot be believed, and he takes the people. Sometimes hunters, in their ignorance, wander too close, and are never seen again. Sometimes he sends his monsters to raid the villages for captives. Not many of those are left. We do not know what happens to these people, but they never return to us.
“A half-moon ago, Safi’s daughter, a princess of our people in your terms, was taken. Safi would have her back.”
“Well, I certainly sympathize, but what do you think I can do about it?”
“We summoned a great white warrior to deal with a great white m’ganga, and you answered the summons. You will do what is necessary.”
“You can’t have summoned me! I left England more than a . . . half-moon ago. This hadn’t happened when I began my voyage.”
“Of course we did not summon you from your England. We had to choose from those who were available near to hand, and you were the greatest white warrior available to us in Mombasa. From there were you summoned.”
The woman was obviously mad. He had to think of something to deflect this fixation.
“You hardly need me, then. You can draw people to you, summon up storms at the drop of a hat. Why do you not simply go to this God’s house, and lay waste to everyone in it? Surely the Gods would side with you in your attack on this blasphemer.”
“They would, but the Gods have granted me the loan of certain of their powers, and my skills lie mostly in healing. Not very useful in a great battle.”
Forbes sighed, and cast a brief glance toward Adams and Mehran, lying exhausted on their mats.
“Well, I’m no magician. What do expect of me?”
“Your weapons will be returned to you, and anything else we have that you think will help you. Our guide, Mansa, will lead you to these ruins. Once there, you will determine the best means of entrance, you will enter, and you will return to Mansa, and ultimately to us here, with Princess Zainabu safe and sound. You will then be taken back to the village where we found you.”
“So what, am I supposed to kill this other white man, and all the monsters he’s supposed to have, and everything?”
Darweshi and Safi exchanged a few sentences in their own language, during which Safi enjoyed a deep laugh. Darweshi turned back to Forbes.
“That would be a large task, even for a warrior as great as yourself, though if you were to manage it, Safi would be greatly pleased. But, no, returning his daughter to him will be quite sufficient.”
“That is still a tall order. What if I’m not able to carry it out.”
“Forbes, your word-keeper and your woman will be remaining here with us. Should you fail, their deaths will be lengthy and unpleasant.”
“You ask me to perform a miracle, and offer only the deaths of others for failure?”
“Forbes, we all pray to all that is great and holy that you will be successful. This is our way. Concern for the lives of others will ensure that you are exerting your best effort throughout the endeavor.”
“Son of a bitch!”
“I do not know these words. You may rest as long as you wish, though the longer you delay, the more likely Zainabu is to come to harm. When you are ready, I will assist you in discussing your plan with Mansa.”
* * *
Mansa, young, handsome, and tall, even for a Maasai, had led a sweating Forbes to the edge of a clearing at the crest of a ridge. Crouching in the undergrowth, he let Forbes take in the spectacle of a terraced pyramid of worked stone. It was obviously ancient, as time had weathered and broken the terrace edges, and some of the structure had collapsed. Trees had moved onto the terraces, forming a canopy that would hide it almost completely from the air.
Mansa let him take it in for a few moments, then touching his shoulder, pointed to one of the upper terraces. Taking out his small field glasses, Forbes focused them on the spot indicated. There was a sentry, an African, moving slowly along the terrace, everything below his rib cage concealed by the terrace’s wall. Forbes found his motion unusual, but it took him a moment to realize what the source of that feeling was. The man’s gait was perfectly smooth, with none of the bob or sway of a man walking. While he puzzled over this, the sentry stopped and swept his gaze out across the area where Forbes and Mansa were hidden. One of his eyes shone like a bright electric lamp.
While he tried to digest the implications of this, Mansa pointed out a group of five armed warriors, walking conventionally, approaching the structure from their left. They stopped, and one of them blew a single note from a reed whistle he wore on a cord around his neck. The sentry glided over to the ledge above them, scanned them with his glowing eye, then a huge square block of the wall lowered into the ground. The patrol entered, and it raised back into place, sealing the entrance against an army.
“How in the hell am I supposed to get past that?” Forbes muttered aloud.
Mansa had given him no indication that he understood a word of English, but nonetheless, he led him a hundred yards to the right in a careful, crouching walk, taking pains to disturb no foliage, then pointed to one of the collapsed sections. He pointed to Forbes, made a walking motion with two fingers, then pointed at the rubble. Forbes looked at him like he was crazy, then turned his binoculars onto the area.
The rubble had lain undisturbed by aught but weather for perhaps centuries. The only guard was the gliding sentry on the ledge above, which led one toward the conclusion that was no entrance to be found here, but Mansa thought there was, and Adams and Mehran desperately needed him to be successful. He located a couple of particularly dark areas that looked at least as though they led deeper into the rubble, and mapped out his plan. When the gliding sentry turned away, he would move quickly to the broken stones and get in among them. He couldn’t return to the trees before the sentry’s route brought him back to the ledge above, and while he had certainly read some of the literature about the coming wave of replacement parts, he had no idea what that glowing eye was attuned to look for. If he couldn’t get in, and quickly, he was going to be terribly exposed out there.
He shuffled out even wider to the right, waited for the sentry to reach the corner, look around, and turn, and when he started back the other way, Forbes quickly and quietly crouch-walked to the rubble. The stones were larger than they had looked from the trees, and afforded Forbes more cover than he had expected, and that was a good thing, for the sentry stopped half way along, and turned back to look in his direction.
How was that possible?
Forbes was a skilled woodsman. He hadn’t made a sound that he had even heard himself. Did it have something to do with that artificial eye? Or did this odd sentry have other enhancements that weren’t so readily obvious?
He waited patiently. That wasn’t a problem. Forbes could, and had, outwaited hunting animals lying in ambush. This sentry had a route to cover, and couldn’t stand there indefinitely. He counted out one minute, and when he risked a look, he was rewarded with a view of the sentry’s head just disappearing behind the lip of the terrace.
Moving deeper into the shadows under the collapsed section, he waited for his eyes to adjust as well as they were going to to the darkness, and began to examine the rear surfaces of the caved in area. He dared not risk a light. Still, Forbes was highly experienced in this sort of thing, and his patient search paid off in the form of an opening through the back wall and into a worked stone passage one level below ground. It was near the ceiling, and he worked his way carefully through and dropped to the floor below, landing on a bed of broken stones, and barely missing a turned ankle for his trouble.
The darkness was Stygian, except for one tiny glow far to his left. He almost might have imagined it, but it was the only reference point he had, and he began to move toward it, Webley revolver at the ready. His rifle was the more deadly weapon, but he wanted the higher rate of fire ready to employ. As he moved toward it, the light indeed began to grow. This would be where the activity in whatever sort of complex this was would be taking place. His instincts screamed for him to avoid it, but his friends’ lives depended on him bringing out this African princess who would almost certainly be where the light was brightest. He continued on.
Rounding the first corner, he came to the light source, a series of electrical globes set into the ceiling with wire cages around them. They were widely spaced, keeping the light subdued, and in their glow, he could see reinforced metal doors on either side that seemed to replace the huge stone blocks of the walls.
Approaching the first door, he found a plate of some strange ceramic-like material attached to it, a label of some sort, printed in a language vaguely Oriental, but that he had never encountered before. That was unfortunate. It would have been helpful to know the purpose of each room before he had to enter. He laid his ear against it, but heard nothing. Something in the quality of that nothing told him that it was heavily soundproofed. That, too, was unfortunate. He would have to look inside each one, and should he open the door to the barracks, this corridor would suddenly become unbearably busy.
Steeling himself, he eased the door open a crack, saw nothing but darkness on the other side, and pulled it a little further. Enough light entered for him to see a store room, boxes and bottles stacked on racks around the edges. Harmless. The next door he opened contained an indoor toilet and wash basin. The third door was on the right side, and a fair distance up the corridor. As he made his way to it, hugging the wall and rolling his footsteps to minimize the sound of his boots, he heard voices coming toward him, and could make out moving shadows in the distance. He would have to take a risk!
He moved quickly to the door, eased it open, saw welcoming darkness, and slipped inside. As he closed the door behind him, a red light came on, showing him a second identical door in front of him, and the sound of a blower came on. He felt air rushing past his face on its way out of the closet-sized room. Fighting down panic, he tried to open the door in front of him, only to find it firmly locked. Attempting to retreat, he discovered that the door behind him had locked as well. He spun around in circles, looking high and low, desperately seeking an escape from this diabolical trap that was quickly sucking the air from the room. Then the light turned white, the sound of the blower died away, fresh air returned to fill the room, and the door before him popped ajar.
Beyond was bright light, and as he pulled the door open, he found himself standing on the threshold of a large laboratory. Several people stood at benches, interrupted by his unexpected arrival. One of them was some form of Eurasian, and wore the white coat of a doctor, obviously the man in charge here. Exposed, and out of options, Forbes stepped boldly into the room and leveled his revolver at the man.
“Don’t move!” he barked, just before his wrist was tightly seized by a metal pincer.
Looking to his right, he saw that the clawed metal arm was actually the arm of an African male, already large and powerful, and wearing a bland expression, as though he didn’t really care what happened in the next few seconds. Revolted, he tried to swing his gun hand away from this apparition, which he now noticed had no legs, but instead stood atop a tricycle wheel arrangement. His arm wouldn’t budge, and his own body lurched in response to his pull.
“Delightful,” the doctor said in an accent the well-travelled Forbes couldn’t quite place. A Franco – Prussian mix, perhaps, with a flavoring of the Levant thrown in? “A visitor. M’Bita,” he said to the man/machine holding his arm, and nodded.
The pressure on his wrist increased tenfold, until a strangled cry of pain was forced from his throat, and the revolver dropped from his hand. The creature released him at once as a human-formed African appeared from the other side to take his slung rifle, and retrieve his pistol. As Forbes stood hunched over, the odd little man put on a pair of spectacles to regard him more closely.
“I know you, sir. You are Sir Anthony Forbes, the great explorer. I am honored, sir, honored. I hope the sterilizer didn’t startle you too badly. We cannot afford to let spores and pollen into the lab, you see. A great deal of surgery is performed in here. But this is fabulous! These Africans are tough as nails, you know, and exceedingly clever in their own way. They make very good sergeants, but now I have my general. Welcome to the future, General Forbes!”
“Who are you, and what the deuce are you talking about?”
“I am Professor Darshan Sahir. You will not have heard of me, but soon the entire world will know my name.”
Sahir smiled in a sinister fashion.
“All men of vision are considered mad by those of ordinary intelligence. The lesser lights among us have to learn, one painful lesson at a time.”
“What lesson? What are you talking about, man?”
“Oh, none of them wanted to hear my theories about cybernetics. Now, they’re just beginning to give war veterans articulated legs so they can hobble to the social welfare office. The fools could have been half a century beyond that if they’d listened to me! Look around, Sir Anthony. M’Bita you’ve met. Penda has been watching you from the alcove since you entered. Penda, come out and let Sir Anthony see you.”
Another tricycle man rolled out, this one sporting a left arm roughly equivalent to an American Gatling machine gun.
“The arms are like the tools of a mechanic, interchangeable at need. I have also developed artificial eyes and ears that give their possessors sight and hearing far beyond that of ordinary men.”
“Fine, fine, but what’s all this about ‘General Forbes?’”
“Quite simple. The world never listens to geniuses. Fortunately there is a small but visionary group of men and women who do, and they were only too happy to listen to me. I work for them now. My first step is to turn these angry, warlike natives into an army of supermen. Second is to drive out, or kill all you pesky colonials. Third is to extend our vision to Africa as a whole, and finally, our irresistible nation of Africanus will overrun the world with my army of cybernetic soldiers. Imagine, each one the equivalent of a company of ordinary men. Those who embrace the cause will be rulers of fiefdoms, those who oppose us, slaves.”
“It’s been tried before. Caesar, Kahn, Napoleon.”
“Yes, and all great visionaries. But Caesar lacked discipline. His empire rotted from within from its own excesses. Kahn lacked vision. His only reason for conquering something was that he could see it. Napoleon lacked troops of sufficiently superior quality. We have all of those things, and our plan is already under way.”
“You are, of course, insane.”
“Ah, so judgmental. You will come around as soon as I have time to make a few basic alterations to your brain’s structure. Meanwhile, I’m sure you will enjoy the hospitality of my keep. M’Bita, take him to a cell.”
“Now see here!”
“You may walk, Sir Anthony, or M’Bita will carry you. I really don’t recommend that . . .”
* * *
Dusk was falling when Smith chanced to catch a glimpse of fire through a fortuitous alignment of leaves in the thick canopy. Kestrel had returned to the original campsite, put Smith, an experienced tracker, on the ground, and easily picked up the trail that the Maasai raiding party had made no real attempt to hide. Then Hobbs had simply flown along, Smith at the bow with binoculars, following the bent grass and disturbed earth. Twice the trail had been lost, and twice Smith had dropped to the ground, cast about, and picked it up again. When they had finally reached the tree line, Hobbs had slowed Kestrel to the pace of a casual stroll, giving Smith all the time he needed to look for signs. There were precious few, and all they could really do was creep along above the trees hoping to see something through the occasional opening. Luck had favored them.
“Are you certain this is the group that took them?” Monroe asked as Kestrel stood off, motionless and nearly silent; nearly enough to be masked by the canopy, and the buzz of the forest insects.
“Now, who else could it be, Cap’n? We’ve followed this scum on a beeline all the way from Nyeri. Ain’t no time to be getting’ cold feet now we’ve caught up to ‘em.”
“We don’t want to make any mistakes, David. Relations with the Maasai are dodgy enough without us attacking an innocent party.”
Smith spat over the rail.
“We got a sayin’ back home, Cap’n. The only good injun’s a dead injun.”
“And I’m sure that policy is building close relations that will last for generations to come. Here, I need to be sure.”
“Well, cow ‘em with technology, then. Show ‘em that we can make ‘em all dead, then invite ‘em to talk.”
“Any suggestions on how to do that, exactly?”
“Sure. Have Patience sneak up on ‘em, I’ll blow somethin’ up with the fowler, then you start talkin’. Act like we already know they’ve got ‘em, an’see how they act.”
“My Maa isn’t that good.”
“They have a witch with them named Darweshi that speaks fair English. If she answers, we’ll know that’s them.”
“I say, that might just work. Darweshi, you say?”
“Right. Once she speaks, we own ‘em. All these savages understand is who’s got the biggest stick.”
And so Hobbs had eased the airship into position, slowly, quietly, the hum of the electrical motors kept to a whisper, until Smith found a shot that he liked. Signaling Hobbs to hold steady, he pulled the lanyard on the fowler. There was an earsplitting roar, and the twelve ounce ball tore into the trunk of a sapling just feet from one of the temporary huts. There were shouts, scrambling noises, and the unmistakable sound of a woman’s scream.
“That’s Mehran!” Smith said excitedly, loading the fowler with lead balls.
“Most likely,” Monroe agreed. “Patience, find a spot where they can see us.”
As Kestrel eased into a slow circle, looking for that elusive angle, Monroe lifted the large megaphone, and began shouting toward the ground in fairly simple English.
“We have tracked you here from Nyeri, and we know you have taken our friends. If you give them up, you will not be harmed.”
There was a short delay, and then a resonant female voice, rich with an African accent came up to them.
“We have taken no one. We travel between villages. Why do you attack us?”
“That’s her,” said Smith.
“The game’s up, Darweshi,” Monroe said. “We picked up the people you released. That was a decent gesture, and we appreciate it, but now we’re here to get the rest of them.”
Hobbs had found her opening, and in the gathering dusk, Darweshi could be seen having a rapid conversation with a man whose clothing marked him as a leader.
“That is not possible,” she called back up to them.
“Do you want to die?”
“We do not have them. Come down, and we will explain.”
“Not bloody likely,” Blaine, who was watching with interest, blurted out.
“So that you can take another hostage?” Monroe asked. “Not bloody likely. If you want to parley, you come aboard.”
There was another discussion, this one heated, between the shaman and her king, then she called up to them.
“It is agreed. There is a clearing six runs in that direction,” she pointed, “where you can approach the ground. I will meet you there.”
She selected three warriors to accompany her, had one more animated exchange with the king, and set out, even as Hobbs set course in the same direction. Six runs proved to be about half a mile, and soon, Kestrel’s hull was brushing grass in the middle of a circle of trees, waiting for Darweshi to appear.
“I don’t like this,” Smith said. “They got too much cover out there.”
“Relax, David,” Monroe told him. “We have guns, and they have spears, plus we can fly.”
It was nearing full dark when Darweshi and her escort stepped out of the trees and approached the hovering airship.
“That’s far enough,” Monroe said. “Do you speak for your leader?”
“I do,” she announced loudly, then added conspiratorially, “May I come onto your flying canoe?”
“All right,” Monroe said uneasily, exchanging glances with Smith; this was most unexpected.
Darweshi said something to her escorting warriors, who were not happy. There was an argument, and then she asserted herself with her own forceful presence. She walked over to the hull, struggled a few rungs up the capricious Jacob’s Ladder, then Smith and Monroe leaned over and supported her as she climbed aboard. She stood on the deck with a look of wonder, feeling it sway gently beneath her.
“So this is flying,” she said quietly. “It feels so free.”
“We like it,” Monroe said. “We didn’t think that Maasai Gods would approve.”
“I think Mwenyezi will be very glad I have come to you. My warriors, you see,” she waved her hand back toward the ground, “fear that you will take me as your hostage against your friends. I have assured them that if you try, I will pluck you from the sky like a small bird.”
“And, will you?”
“My dear Nahodha, if I could do that, I would have done it when you shot your gun at us. No, what is going on here is far more important than the fate of one hostage or another.”
She went on to describe the demon white man, the disappearances, the sinister ruins where the princess had been taken, and the rescue attempt being undertaken by Forbes as they spoke.
“I have done as my king has commanded,” she concluded. “I brought the white warrior to us, brought the storm that drove your ship away, and provided a guide to the ruins. I also let your people go in the hope that you would find us, because your warrior, great as he is, cannot do this thing alone. He will need your help, and perhaps even then, it will not be enough.”
“Where are these ruins, then?” Monroe asked.
“You will never see them from above. I will take you.”
“You’ll fly? Against the will of your Gods?”
“I assure you, Nahodha, my Gods will forgive me if we can between us destroy this devil. Allow me to dismiss my escort, and we can go.”
Her escort didn’t like it, but they dared not defy the power of Darweshi. Soon they had headed back to the Maasai camp to try to explain to their king why their shaman had left aboard a flying ship, and Kestrel was cruising in darkness, toward what rendezvous they could scarcely imagine.
* * *
It was full dark when Kestrel arrived at the ruins. Just as Darweshi had said, they could have flown above them a hundred times and never seen anything, but with her standing by the pilot house door guiding Hobbs through the starlit sky, they came overhead with the tree-studded pyramid just slightly to port. Hobbs, who could barely see the dark-skinned woman standing just outside on the platform, suspected that she had somehow enhanced her night vision, most likely with a potion. Still, she had performed flawlessly up to this point.
“Patience,” Monroe said, “circle that structure, and keep it to port. Slowly and above all quietly. They don’t seem to know we’ve arrived, and I’d like to hold that advantage for as long as possible.”
“Aye, Captain,” Hobbs answered, and set about making it happen as Monroe and Smith strained their eyes through binoculars, trying to discern any details at all about the aging monolith.
There was virtually no wind at all, making it simple for Hobbs to maneuver with five percent power to the propellers. Turning lazily, they produced the speed of a slow walk with no more sound than the wing of a bird cutting the air. With the bent motor frame, it took a healthy dose of left rudder to maintain a circular course, but she soon had them neatly floating in a wide loop around the pyramid below.
“I only make out the one sentry on the upper terrace,” Smith said, studying the ground.
“As do I,” Monroe said. “The question is, what do we find inside?”
“Aye, that’s the truth. There could be a whole city under there. You notice that sentry’s eye?”
“Yes. It glows like a light bulb. Any idea what it might mean?”
“Well, something artificial, but it could be anything. Maybe he’s wearing a lamp, and it just looks like his eye from here.”
“Maybe. We can’t worry about one sentry’s eye, though. We’ve too much to do, and not near enough darkness left.”
"Nah. We’ll be in inside half an hour.”
“Ah, but we still have to get out, and if we’re being pursued, it would be marvelous to still have some night to disappear into.”
“Yeah, s’pose you’re right. Well, the sooner the better, then, I guess. Got a plan?”
“Yes, actually. Patience, the sentry doesn’t seem to get around to the northeast corner. The terrace might be blocked, or something, that keeps him from getting over there. I need you to put us down about a quarter mile out.”
“I’ll take a look,” she said, turning the wheel to the right. “No telling what the ground’s like over there.”
“The trees are thick,” Darweshi said, “and provide good cover.”
“That will also keep us from dropping down close to the ground,” Hobbs said.
“That’s all right,” Monroe said. “I’ll trade convenience for cover on this job. Nothing like a long slide down a rope to focus the senses.”
“I will come with you,” Darweshi said.
“No,” Monroe said. “Patience needs you up here.”
“And you will need me down there.”
“No. I’ve noticed how you seem to be able to see in the dark. I need you here to help Patience see what’s going on around the area, not least of which will be us coming out of the pyramid with Forbes and your princess.”
“You hope!” Smith said.
“Indeed! Go fetch Bakari. It’s time to kit up.”
“I understand your reason, Nahoda. I will assist your pilot as ably as I can.”
“Thank you. Pick your spot, Patience. Time to get our feet dirty.”
* * *
Hobbs brought them in low and quiet off the northeast corner as ordered.
“Still find us boring, Bakari?” Monroe asked as Smith took a grip on the rope.
The African’s teeth gleamed in the smile of his answer.
Hugging the trees still left them fifty feet off the ground, but Monroe, Smith, and even Bakari slid down the ropes with no difficulty at all. They regrouped under the canopy, getting their bearings as Kestrel slipped silently into the night, a looming ghost in the darkness.
There was no true tree line, the forest having been allowed to reclaim the pyramid in order to hide it from observation, but it did thin out around the structure, and shortly, the trio was looking at the looming monolith from fifty yards away.
“There’s that damned sentry,” Smith said. “That really is its eye glowing like that.”
“Should have brought a rifle,” Monroe said.
“What, and plug ‘im from here? If there’s a thousand soldiers in there, we’d see all of ‘em.”
“A lad can dream, can’t he?”
“Yeah. Okay, he’s moving off. Let’s get in there.”
The three of them scampered across the relatively open ground, arriving quickly at the base of a wall that might have been carved from a single block of stone.
“How do we get in, Nahoda?” Bakari asked.
“Look around,” Monroe said. “There has to be an opening.”
They moved around the corner onto the north face. Had they gone the other way, they would have discovered the same collapsed section through which Forbes had entered, but instead, they found an opening for light and air centered on the face that was large enough for a man to squeeze through, and low enough for one to reach with a boost. Smith went first, his foot-long Bowie knife ready to greet anyone who might be waiting. No one was.
Shortly they were all inside, but had had to drop some fifteen feet to the floor, not enough to injure anyone, but easily far enough to ensure that they would have to find a different way out. A few dim bulbs lit the passage, but the light seemed stronger from the right, and that was the direction they chose; light meant habitation, and they were, after all, searching for people.
Before they reached the corner, they began to see the same sort of doors with their undecipherable symbols that Forbes had faced. They opened the first one, on the inner wall, to find a set of stone stairs leading down fifty feet or more to yet another door.
“What d’ye think?” Smith asked.
“We probably shouldn’t go any deeper until we’ve searched this level,” Monroe said.
“Dungeons are usually under the castle, aren’t they?”
“This isn’t a castle, David. Let’s do this as cheaply as we can.”
“You’re the boss.”
The next door was directly ahead, at the end of the hall. They opened it on another dim light to find the room lined with floor-to-ceiling niches, made of glass and ceramic, and sporting electrical and pneumatic connections. Half a dozen were empty, but the other dozen or so contained manlike machines, pillars that stood upon platforms based with several wheels, and strips of metal plates forming a self-contained roadway that would roll around the wheels as the thing moved, negating any terrain it might encounter. The upper bodies had two, and sometimes more, arms, some of them carrying tools of every description, while others were armed with large weapons, some conventional, others of indeterminate function.
“Nahodha,” Bakari said, examining one of the figures, “do you think the sentry up above is one of these?”
“It certainly looks to be the case,” Monroe said. “Several of these—”
“Jesus Christ!” Smith blurted, drawing an instant “shush” from his captain.
“Jesus, Captain, look at this!”
Bakari and Monroe joined him before one of the automatons that happened to be housed in a niche directly beneath one of the dim light fixtures. Inside what first appeared to be a bronze helmet, a black human face, and presumably the entire head behind, was woven into the metal by some foul alchemy. The right shoulder was intact, the arm a six-inch stub with a long, complex tool of some sort attached. The eyes were moving under the lids as the portion that remained a man underwent dreaming sleep.
“Let’s get outta here, Cap’n,” Smith implored. “These things start wakin’ up, we’re gonna be done!”
“I couldn’t agree more. Bakari, check the hall.”
They were soon back out in the corridor, moving with a new sense of stealth and urgency combined; no one was eager to meet one of those machine-men.
Slipping into the next room, they found a brightly lit laboratory. No one was present here, but the lighting suggested that the occupant had stepped out briefly and would soon return. Nonetheless, Monroe saw the value in the test tubes, sample jars, and dishes of various compounds.
“Grab anything that looks sealed,” he ordered. “There’s no telling what the Doctor can glean from all this.”
As Smith and Bakari moved quickly in search of jars and bottles, Monroe’s eye lit on a handwritten journal, a work in progress, and much of it filled. He snapped it shut and thrust it into the back of his belt as the others completed their ransacking.
Moving into the hall again, they opened the next door. A lone African, fully human, sat at a desk to the side, playing jailer to the occupants of several tiny cells that only allowed their guests room to stand, or sit in a very compressed and uncomfortable posture. The man jumped up in surprise and reached for a pistol on the table. He was stopped in mid-reach when his face met Bakari’s fist coming the other way, and he was completely unconscious by the time he bounced off the wall behind him. In the cells were five African men, and Forbes.
“Quick, find the keys!” Monroe barked.
“Jesus, Captain Monroe!” Forbes exclaimed. “How the deuce did you find me?”
“Long story,” Monroe said as Bakari stepped up with the jailer’s key ring. “There’s supposed to be a princess in here.”
“That madman took her. There’s no telling what he’s doing to her right now!”
“Bakari, let these men out, as well. Can you take us to her?”
“Yes. His main lab is right across the hall,” Forbes replied, collecting the jailer’s pistol and ammunition belt.
“All right, but be warned, he has some kind of guards in there who are part man, part machine. They’re inhumanly strong, and heavily armed.”
“So am I,” Smith growled, hefting his sawed-off shotgun in both hands.
Forbes led them to the lab and talked them through the unnerving decontamination procedure, and as they opened the inner door, they were greeted by the spectacle of Doctor Darshan Sahir looming over the struggling figure of a naked young African woman who lay strapped to a table. He held up a hypodermic syringe, pressing the plunger enough to force a crystal blue drop of a sinister liquid from the tip of the needle. One of the machine-men standing behind the doctor leveled his Gatling gun arm at them, as the doctor looked up in only mild surprise.
“Welcome, gentlemen, welcome! More converts for my army. Do be so good as to hand your weapons to my servant, there.”
As he said this, one of the robots rolled from concealment and extended its one human arm.
“Now, Captain?” Smith asked.
The American thrust the sawed-off shotgun in his right hand into the thing’s human face, and discharged both barrels.
As bits of flesh and brain matter, mixed with glass and metal, filled the air, the four companions dove behind work counters and cabinets. Forbes and Monroe took the other robot under fire as Bakari launched his spear without results at the doctor, who took cover behind the woman.
“Kill them!” he shouted, and the whining roar of a powered Gatling gun filled the air. Everyone ducked for cover from the hail of lead as another machine-man appeared from the rear of the room, this one wielding a high-powered rifle that put a round completely through the cabinet that Bakari sheltered behind.
“We’ll never get her out of here like this!” Forbes shouted.
“We’ll never get ourselves out of here like this,” Smith said.
“Don’t be so sure,” Monroe said.
Reloading his LeMat, he peeked around the corner of the cabinet and located a pair of compressed gas cylinders. With more bullets whizzing past than could be produced by a company of infantry, he exposed one eye, took aim and fired, then again, and again. His third shot found paydirt, and there was a deafening explosion, bits of debris showered the room, and the lights began to flicker as electrical equipment along the rear work bench began to arc and crackle. One of them burst into flames. He fired again at another likely piece of equipment, but the weapon rewarded him only with the whine of a ricochet.
“Cover me, please!” shouted Bakari as Monroe reloaded his Webley.
As his three companions began to pour pistol fire into the back of the room, directed mostly at the two robots, he crawled rapidly to the examination table, cut the woman’s straps, pulled her off the table, and holding her weakened body with one brawny arm under hers, dragged her back to the door.
“Let us get out of here!” he yelled, and the others put his words into action, crawling back toward the door, firing as they went. Turning over a cabinet, Smith created some additional cover, and they got out into the hall without being hit.
“We can’t go back the way we came,” Monroe said. “We had to drop in from too high.”
The door opened, and the robot with the rifle rolled into the hall in pursuit. A point-blank blast from the shotgun settled that issue, but the door to the room where the sentries recharged opened, and the first one came into the hall and fired at them with another large rifle.
“I know a way,” Forbes said. “Follow me!”
Bakari slung the young princess unceremoniously over his shoulder, holding her in place with his stump, and they took off at the run.
“Cap’n, you notice any similarity between this place, and Boedekker’s ranch?”
“Yes,” Monroe panted as he ran. “Time to talk about that later.”
“You know, if the Kestrel ain’t waitin’ when we come out, there ain’t likely gonna be a later!”
“It’s Patience, David,” Monroe tried to encourage, “she’ll be there!”
* * *
Kestrel was circling the pyramid, as she had been since their landing party had slid down the ropes into the trees, turning to the right, the direction her damage made her pull toward. Judging by the occasional dim light below, she was at about six hundred feet altitude, though Hobbs could be no more certain of that than of any other detail. Her only guide was Darweshi, standing outside the starboard door, a native woman of uncertain loyalty who seemed to have the night vision of a leopard, but in truth, Hobbs couldn’t be sure what she could see, nor even what her true intentions were. Her only other crewman was Ellsworth, who manned the motor room, keeping a hot fire burning under the Cheadle and Gatley generator.
“Do you see anything?” she asked Darweshi for the hundredth time.
“Only the patroller on the terrace,” the shaman replied, “and the party that departed earlier when I told you they were. The quiet is a good thing, yes? If they are discovered, many things will begin to happen.”
“I suppose. The only thing I want to see happening is them coming out of there. Then the quiet will be a good thing.”
“Ah, Missy, you must have patience.”
“Patience is the one thing I’ll take to my grave.”
Darweshi didn’t get the joke, and Hobbs didn’t feel like explaining it, not that she would have had time anyway.
“Wait, Missy, some people are coming onto the terrace.”
“It is hard to make out. It looks like three.”
“Not enough. There should be at least five.”
“There could be four of these men, but no more.”
“What are they doing?”
“They are building a small framework.”
Hobbs took that to mean they were setting something up, and knew at once that that group wasn’t her men. She maintained her slow, lazy circle, maintaining a bird’s eye view for Darweshi, until there was a sudden flash from the terrace, and a rocket zipped into the night sky.
The missile, visible by its trail, missed Kestrel by a wide margin, but erupted in a quick series of bright flashes, each accompanied by a sharp, percussive boom!
Hobbs, assuming the worst, that they had somehow been seen and taken under fire, pushed the throttles to the stops, spun the wheel hard right, and shouted into the speaking tube, “Nicholas, stoke the boiler and get up here! We’re under fire! I need you on the fowler!”
“I’m on the way,” he called back, as Kestrel banked into the tightest right turn she had ever made, engine sound quickly rising from the whisper-quiet rush of a portable fan to the loud buzz of metal blades attacking the air.
“Missy, I don’t think they have seen us,” Darweshi said, “but now they are looking. Perhaps you should make quiet your skywheels.”
Having made the decision to trust the woman, Hobbs eased the throttles back until the noise died away, but kept the tight right circle dialed in. As their course once again brought Darweshi to a point where she could see the pyramid, she noted movement in the trees beyond.
“It was a signal,” she announced. “There is a hunting party returning on the far side.”
“Perhaps as large as Safi’s. This is a group seeking war.”
“We can’t let them get inside. Nicholas,” she shouted into the tube, “I need you up here now!”
There was no reply, and she could only hope that meant he was on the way.
“Bring me above them,” Darweshi said, pointing in their direction. “I will attempt to discourage them.”
Hobbs had no intention of going anywhere else anyway, and set course across the pyramid, intending to open fire as soon as Ellsworth could man the fowler, but Darweshi moved to the bow, and as they came overhead, held up her hand, directing Hobbs to stop.
As Hobbs reversed the throttles, arresting Kestrel’s momentum, a light began to glow around Darweshi’s joined hands.
She’s giving us away! Hobbs thought, as the light continued to grow until she had to squint and look away from it, the inside of the pilot house lit like the brightest day.
“What are you doing?” she shouted to the colorfully dressed figure at the bow. Then a voice, Darweshi’s, but so much fuller, richer, somehow filled the sky as if it were amplified by a thousand megaphones.
* “Kumtumikia moja mbaya! Wewe ni wanyama waharibifu m’bele yangu! Kukimbia kuokoa maisha yako na kuomba mimi kusahau makosa yako!”
And having uttered those booming words, the light went out as she collapsed into a pile of colorful rags.
“What the holy hell?” asked Ellsworth’s voice from the pilothouse door.
“I don’t know. Look on the ground. What are those natives doing?”
“Scattering to the winds, as near as I can see.”
“Small wonder! See if you can help her.”
As Hobbs opened some distance between Kestrel and the pyramid, Ellsworth dropped to his knees beside Darweshi and lifted her head. To Hobbs’ relief, she sat up and had a brief conversation with the young Doctor, then he helped her to stand, and supported her while she walked back to the pilothouse where she leaned against the engineering console.
“What the hell was that?” came from Hobbs’ mouth unbidden. Not, how are you? Not, can we do anything for you? What the hell was that?
“Sometimes, missy, my Gods will allow me to use them as an instrument of their will, but it leaves me weak and broken, like a man who has walked far without food or water. I can still watch the night for you, but do not expect another kuingilia kati for many, many days.”
“No, I suppose not,” Hobbs said reverently. “Doctor, you’d better get back to the generator. I’ll call if I need you.”
“Yes, of course. Patience, what was that thing she said, the kuingila—”
“Kuingilia kati. It’s a religious term. I always thought it was a superstitious term meant to explain the unexplainable, but now . . . It means intervention.”
* “Servants of the bad one! You are vermin before me! Flee for your lives and beg me to forget your mistakes!”
* * *
The released Africans had fled in panic as soon as they had left the cells, despite Forbes’ and Monroe’s attempt to keep them together. By now they were probably lost or recaptured, but they couldn’t worry about them now. Forbes had led them back around the corner, and down the long passageway toward the collapsed section where he had found his way in. Unfortunately, the alarm had been raised, and coming from the other direction were several men, and two of those automatons, rolling on their odd looped tracks.
“Damn!” Forbes swore as a large projectile whistled over their heads, launched silently without even being noticed. Everyone dropped prone or huddled against the side, and returned fire, causing at least the humans in the group to seek cover. They all knew it would be a matter of seconds before their pursuers rounded the corner behind them.
“What the hell?” Smith shouted.
“We must find cover,” Bakari said.
“Agreed,” said Monroe. “There’s an opening about twenty feet ahead to the left. Let’s try for that!”
Putting words into action, the three Europeans laid down a fusillade, dangerously depleting their ammunition reserves, and under the hail of bullets, got into a narrow alcove with a weathered wooden door at the inner end.
“Check that,” Monroe said, risking a look into the corridor and drawing a rapid series of shots for his trouble.
As Monroe returned a few rounds, Bakari pulled at the door handle, causing the whole structure to fall apart in his hand. On the other side was a vertical chimney with curved iron bars set into the stone across the width to form a crude ladder.
“Nahodha, it goes up!”
“Can you climb?”
“Well, what are you waiting for? Lead on!”
Bakari set the lantern on the floor and started up, the darkness quickly engulphing him as he climbed for a much longer distance than just to the next floor. Below, he heard the roar of Smith’s sawed-off shotgun instilling caution in their pursuers. Being well aware of the need for haste, Bakari moved as fast as he could, hampered as he was by his missing hand, but was still moving fast enough to take a nasty whack on the head when he came to a ceiling.
There must be an opening, he thought. No one built this ladder to go nowhere!
Fumbling in the darkness, he found a latch, slid it back, and pushed open a heavy trapdoor made of new planking. He pushed up through the opening, smelling the jungle, seeing stars through the thin trees growing on the pyramid, and knew he was on the roof. He scrambled through, looked around, and called for Forbes to join him. No one was present on the flat roof, but he could hear Smith’s Peacemaker blasting away as he climbed, and knew it wouldn’t be long until the noise attracted attention. There were two priorities: Locate the Kestrel, and get off the pyramid.
Bakari scampered across the small roof to look over the side, and found himself one level, albeit a long one, above the terrace. It was steep, but not vertical, and a man could sit and slide down the stone, but as he looked for other threats that would jeopardize that action, the sentry with the glowing eye rounded the corner of the terrace.
The glowing eye picked him up immediately, the arm came up, and a spray of bullets erupted, multiple rounds per second, striking below him, and adding jagged chips of stone to the bullet spray as Bakari ducked back over the lip.
“What is it?” Monroe asked, following the princess onto the roof.
“The machine-man.” Bakari said. He looked over again, and instantly received another spray of lead.
“Well, you’d better do somethin’,” Smith said, lying beside the trapdoor, and reaching over every few seconds to fire a round into the chimney. “They’re tryin’ to come up, and I’m runnin’out of bullets!”
“This thing is going to be a problem! Does anyone see the ship?”
No one did, and now a spear narrowly missed Monroe as a new group of pursuers climbed the side of the pyramid and engaged them from their left. Forbes returned fire causing this new attacker to duck out of sight, but their chances were dwindling by the second, and something had to be done quickly.
Forbes leaned over the side and fired the guard’s pistol at the automaton, causing nothing more than a sharp, metallic spaaaang! as the bullet caromed harmlessly away into the darkness. Another spray of Gatling fire was their antagonist’s reply.
“Listen!” Smith said. “Anybody hear that?”
“Gunfire?” Monroe asked, trading shots with a man at the lip on their left.
“Nah! That buzzing sound. Sounds like an airship on full power!”
Everyone strained their ringing ears, and it did seem there was something whispering in the background that might have been a buzzing, but everyone’s ears were so full of gunfire reports that no one could be sure of anything.
Forbes leaned over the edge to fire at the machine-man again, again the robot returned a spray of fire from its Gatling weapon, and then there was a flash of yellow in the sky, accompanied by a loud report, and with a loud Whang! the machine nearly toppled over, then tilted back onto its tracks, and with the torso spinning wildly out of control, rolled into the terrace wall, and continued to slide along until it came to a broken section, where its tracks carried it over the rubble to fall to the ground below.
As Bakari raised his fist with a drawn-out battle cry, Kestrel swooped by close to the roof as someone at the rail fired a rifle into the group climbing up on their left.
“Patience,” Monroe shouted, “we’re here!” He stood up to wave his arms, and a spear flew between them; six inches lower, and it would have hit him in the face.
“Stay down, for God’s sake,” came Ellsworth’s voice from the ship. Considering the wisdom of that demand, Monroe dropped prone.
Kestrel made a complete circle of the pyramid, Ellsworth firing blindly into the darkness all the while, then she came across the roof, steadying up, with the Jacob’s ladder trailing below.
The princess put up some resistance when Bakari pushed her toward the ladder, but acquiesced when, with a quiet, “No,” he held the ladder with his hand and motioned her up. It was a precarious climb, but Bakari followed closely and muscled her aboard. Taking the rifle from Ellsworth, he began to fire somewhat more effectively, having firsthand knowledge of where the enemies were located.
If Kestrel’s sudden arrival was causing confusion among the scientist’s minions, the resistance was becoming more organized as reinforcements kept exiting the pyramid. As well as more fire being directed at the escapees, Kestrel was beginning to come under fire as well. The gooey layer of liqueous rubber between the layers of the gasbag would seal against individual rounds, but too much damage would overwhelm it, causing the eruption of the hydrogen inside, and all would be lost. They had to move faster.
“David, up you go, then, lad!”
“Cap’n, you need to be—”
With a sigh of frustration, Smith holstered his Peacemaker, and started up the ladder.
“You’re next, Sir Anthony. As soon as David starts firing, make your move.”
“What about you, Captain?”
“Someone has to be last. Captain’s prerogative.”
“As you wish, then.”
The volume of fire rose steadily, coming from several directions, as Smith gained the deck and immediately opened fire with his pistol. Forbes began the agonizing climb. Twenty-five feet. Half that in seconds. A lifetime with a cloud of bullets whizzing past from several directions.
Monroe snapped the LeMat closed on nine rounds, two more waiting in his belt. A new group had come up from the chimney, shouting, shooting, and throwing traditional weapons. Monroe aimed in and fired, being fired at instantly in return by half a dozen men, and flattening himself against the stones. Before fire from the ship could neutralize this, one figure rose in their rear, a white man, Monroe was sure, in odd helmet-like headgear with goggles, and leveled a brass and copper tube high, toward Forbes. He fired at the man, as did the men on the ship, and someone hit him, but not before he got his shot away, a pneumatic phonk accompanied by a barely discernable flash of the projectile.
Forbes gave a grunt as the missile struck him, followed by a louder wail of pure pain. When Monroe looked back, Forbes was no longer climbing, but hung from the ladder with one leg dangling below, moaning in some sort of agony.
Emptying the LeMat at the group by the trapdoor, Monroe sprinted to the ladder, leaped as high as he could to grab on, and shouted for Patience to get them away from there. As he reached Forbes halfway up the ladder, Kestrel swung out away from the pyramid, and the ground dropped away beneath them.
“You have to climb, Sir Anthony,” Monroe told him. “It would be bad form to fall now that we’ve escaped.”
“My leg!” was his only reply, halfway between a moan and a sob.
Monroe looked at Forbes’ right leg, the one that was dangling, and barely made out a glitter of light on a small object projecting from just above his knee. He reached down to remove it, and was surprised to find that it consisted of a glass vial surrounded by a brass tube. All that was inside Sir Anthony’s leg was a two-inch needle. The weapon’s purpose had been to inject some insidious chemical into him, and it had succeeded admirably.
Pocketing the dart, Monroe got his shoulder under Sir Anthony’s rump and pushed upward.
“You have to get aboard,” he shouted. “We can help you there.”
“You’ve two arms and one good leg. Climb, man! I’ll help you, but you have to climb!”
Fighting through it, the seasoned explorer gained a rung with Monroe helping, then another as the canopy disappeared into darkness below them. It was slow work, but eventually he rose high enough for Bakari to get his powerful hand on his wrist, and shortly he lay on the deck as Monroe came over the rail to collapse beside him.
“Destination, Captain?” Hobbs called from the pilot house.
“Southwest,” Monroe panted. “Nairobi, I guess, closest place with a garrison. Your discretion.”
Then he was being helped to sit up and lean against the skylight as everyone gathered around Sir Anthony Forbes.
* * *
Forbes, keening in agony, fought to roll against his pain as Smith and Bakari held him on his back while Ellsworth tried to examine his leg. There seemed to be a soft area at the site of the strike where he couldn’t feel any solidity.
“Hold him still,” he told his fellow crewmen as he opened his jackknife, preparing to cut the leg from the great man’s trousers. As he began to thrash more, Darweshi held her open palm above his face.
“Kupumzika sasa, she said in a calm voice that somehow cut through the chaos. “Kujisikia hakuna maumivu.”
To everyone’s surprise, Forbes fell back into a state of complete calm, looking at the young woman like he had just seen the Madonna.
“Go ahead, doctor man,” she said to Ellsworth as he stared at her as well. Shrugging the light shawl she wore from around her shoulders, she extended it back toward Monroe. “Please cover the princess.”
Without looking at Monroe, she released her garment at the exact second that he touched it. That somehow broke Ellsworth’s spell, and he quickly made the cut around the pant leg at mid-thigh, and pushed it down to his boot.
The area just above his knee was soft and limp. Ellsworth touched it with his fingers, and recoiled in horror.
“What is it, Doc?” Smith asked.
“It’s liquid! It’s like his leg is a bag of soup, or something.”
Darweshi placed one hand on the site, and the other at the top of Forbes’ thigh, and closed her eyes in thought.
“What was done to him?” she asked.
“He was struck during our escape,” Bakari replied. “I do not know by what.”
“By this,” Monroe said, passing the dart over her shoulder. “This is the same thing we saw at Malinde.”
She took it, studying the glass tube with its metal ends and long needle. She smelled the end of the needle.
“Coffee,” she said.
“Yes. Probably put into the potion to hide the odor of the true ingredients.”
She placed her hands on his leg once more, closed her eyes, concentrated with some sense that no one else present could perceive. Suddenly, her eyes snapped open and bored into Ellsworth’s.
“You must take his leg!” she implored.
“What? I can’t— Maybe I can analyze the formula, concoct an antidote. If there’s enough in the syringe—”
“You have no time, young healer! It is dissolving his leg. Digesting it, and it is spreading. If it is not removed, it will pass his hip. Once it does that, he will die horribly, and we can do nothing but watch.”
“Captain,” Ellsworth said, pale and quavering.
“Do you doubt her assessment?”
“No. I- I’ve never seen anything like this.”
“Then we can’t risk not taking the leg.”
“Captain, I’m not a medical doctor. I’ve never operated on anyone, not for a hangnail. I can’t do this!”
“You’re the closest thing we have. Now, what do you need?”
“Well, a big, sharp knife, of course. A saw to get through the bone. Some sort of firebrand to cauterize . . . It doesn’t matter, Captain. He’ll start thrashing as soon as I begin the cuts, and we have no way to hold him still.”
“I will hold him still,” Darweshi said, and held her palm before his face again. “Kulala sasa. Kujisikia hakuna maumivu na hawana hofu.”
Forbes’ eyes flickered closed, and his head relaxed and lowered to the deck.
“Are you sure that will work?” Monroe asked her.
“He will feel nothing until I waken him,” Darweshi replied.
“All right, then, let’s get started. David, your sharpest knife over a foot in length. Oh, and a good saw.”
“Bakari, can you rig up some sort of brazier, maybe with some soldering irons to cauterize with?”
“I’ll put on some water to boil, and tear up a sheet for bandages. Anything else?”
“Yes, sir,” Ellsworth said. “Alcohol to sterilize the tools with, and I’ll need a large glass of brandy.”
“Darweshi’s taken care of his anesthetics.”
“The brandy’s for me, Captain.”
“Ah, quite so.” He headed below to begin his part of the operation, but stopped at the pilot house first.
“Patience, we’ll need you to hold her rock-steady for the next hour. Not a bump, not a bank, nothing. We have to operate on Forbes.”
“Operate? What happened?”
“He was hit during the escape. The same foul hypodermic weapon we encountered at Malinde.”
“Oh,” she said, apprehension apparent in her voice. “But, who’s going to operate? We don’t have a— Oh!”
“Rock-steady, Patience. And set course for Mombasa, the big hospital, specifically. Set us down on the roof if you can manage it.”
* * *
An open square across the street had had to serve as landing field, as Kestrel delivered Sir Anthony Forbes, world renowned explorer, to Victoria Hospital in Mombasa. Orderlies came across the street and loaded the man, still sedated by Darweshi’s mysterious power, onto a stretcher. Monroe delivered a quick report, and then it was off to carry the terrified Princess Zainabu home to her father.
“But surely, I will not see the great afterlife, for I have offended the Gods by flying in their air!” she had moaned to Darweshi.
“Nonsense, child,” the m’ganga had assured her. “A great evil was done to you. The Gods sent these white men with their flying canoe, for no one lesser could have saved you. There is nothing to forgive, for it was surely their will.”
Thus was the teenaged princess reassured, and she spent the journey back holding tightly to the rails, enjoying a view of the country that she had never imagined she would see.
Darweshi was not so pleased, and shortly into the voyage, she approached Hobbs in the pilot house.
“Good morning, Miss Patience,” Darweshi replied to Hobbs’ friendly greeting. “May I speak frankly to you, woman to woman?”
“I am frightened.”
“A woman of your abilities? That hardly seems possible.”
“Nevertheless, it is so. We travel to Safi’s camp to deliver his daughter back into her family, and that is a good thing.”
“Yes, it is.”
“But you will also return me to Safi’s band, and that, I think, is not such a good thing.”
“It’s your home, isn’t it?”
“So it has been, yes.”
“So, what’s the problem?”
“Safi is a great, how do you say, talker. His voice is a power. It persuades men to do things they probably would not do if not for his spell.”
“Ah. He’s an orator.”
“Orator,” Darweshi repeated. “That is a fine word. But Safi is not so fine a man as that word. He uses his power to sway others to him, then uses them as tools to build an empire. He makes war on the peaceful, he steals land and treasures that are not rightfully his, he takes the lives of those who oppose him.”
“Sounds as though he’d fit right in in Europe,” Hobbs quipped.
“I oppose him, Missy Hobbs.”
“And you aren’t dead?”
“My gifts make me too valuable to murder. Long has he held my grandmother hostage in her own home. As long as I carry out his wishes, she lives like a queen, but if I resist him…”
“Well, that’s a terrible thing, Darweshi, but what can we do?”
“I ask you to hide me.”
“Safi can do nothing. If you tell Safi I died at the ruins, you could simply leave me in the next city you visit. My gifts will suffice for me to earn my way.”
“What about your grandmother?”
“She has died.”
“But, you were with us all day yesterday.”
“The birds came this morning to tell me.”
“The birds tell me many things. She died peacefully in her sleep. Can anyone hope for more?”
“And you believe this?”
“Absolutely. The birds have spoken to me since I was a small child. It was my first gift. Will you hide me?”
"The princess knows you are here. Do you think she will lie to her father so that one of his most valuable people can escape him?"
"He need only be distracted for a few moments. Once we take flight, there is nothing he can do."
Hobbs stared at her for a moment, trapped by her civilized disbelief, then she looked out to the forecastle, where Monroe stood giving instructions to Smith about some point of the rigging.
“Captain,” she called, “I think you’d better come in here.”
* * *
“Well, well, if it isn’t the great Captain Monroe, the pride of Colonial manhood!”
Sir Anthony Forbes lay back against the elevated head of his hospital bed, drawing a few curious looks from the other men in the semi-private Victoria Hospital ward. The lay of the sheet told the story, his right leg ending high on the thigh.
“It’s good to see you recovering your strength, Sir Anthony.”
“Not as good as you might think! I’ll see you in irons, you pirate! Who the deuce authorized you to take my leg off?”
“It was a spur of the moment decision, actually. If we hadn’t done it, you’d be dead.”
“What in God’s name are blathering about, Monroe?”
“Do you remember being shot during the escape?”
“How the devil could I not? I’ve never encountered pain like that in my life.”
“Exactly. You were shot with a hypodermic syringe that injected a chemical just above your knee. Whatever was in it began to dissolve your flesh and bone. By the time we got you aboard and made our escape, everything from your knee to halfway up your thigh was a soup of liquefied flesh.”
“Great Gods! But still, to take my leg?”
“We were going to bring the leg back to give it a Christian burial, but within ten minutes, it was nothing but broth with a boot on it. You’re fortunate, Sir Anthony, that we acted quickly. Had we taken the time to have a debate, it would have passed your hip and entered your torso, and you’d be nothing but an unpleasant stain on our deck right now.”
“Good Lord! But, that may have been merciful. You know what sort of life I’ve led. I’m still a young man. What the deuce am I going to do now?”
“I can’t tell you that. With all you’ve done already, you could go on the lecture circuit, become a professor. The Explorers’ Club would likely be proud to name you a director.”
“Rest on my laurels, in other words. The province of old men.”
“And those who have been crippled in the course of daring exploits."
"No one likes to be patronized, Monroe."
"I merely point out the honor of wounds suffered during an act of great heroism."
"An easy thing to do for a man who can still walk."
"Now you're just being spiteful. Say, I’ve an idea.”
"What, to write my memoirs?”
“In due course. What would you say to getting a ship?”
“Oh, not like mine. Something grand. Why, with the reputation you’ve established, the nobility of Europe will fight duels for the right to be your sponsors. You could take on a crew of young rising stars, and direct the exploration of the world from the bridge of the greatest aero-liner the world has ever seen. I doubt there’s a young adventurer anywhere who’d turn down a chance to fly with you.”
“By God, Monroe, you may be on to something. I’ll have to look into it.”
“As I have to look into the repairs to my own humble vessel. I’ll get back to see you before we leave. Maybe I can bring you something edible for your dinner.”
“That would be a rare treat. Say,” he added with a nod toward the stump of his leg, “who did the cutting. You?”
“No. Our young Doctor Ellsworth.”
“Well, the doctors here say he did a fine job.”
“Just goes to show you, then, you get a man drunk enough, he’ll try anything! You get your rest, Sir Anthony. I’ll see you this evening.”
“You bring that Ellsworth boy with you. I’ll want to talk to him.”
Monroe returned to the parlor outside, where Hobbs and Darweshi waited with Forbes’ crew, only one visitor at a time being allowed to see him. He found that Ellsworth had joined them, and considered sending him in to see Forbes, but decided against it; he’d see how the Peer of the Realm felt this evening before exposing the boy to his tender ministrations.
“Darweshi, you’re still with us?” Monroe asked.
“This place is frightening,” she replied. “So many people of so many kinds.”
“Yes, there is that. Still, you wanted to come here with us.”
“I did,” she replied, “and I am still pleased to be away from Safi and his unending wars against his neighbors, but it will be a hard adjustment, notwithstanding.”
“I’m sure we can do something to help you,” he replied, “I’m just not sure what that might be yet.”
“I will be grateful for anything you can do.”
Patience waited a moment, and when nothing else was said, she spoke up.
“Wait until you hear this, Captain. Tell him, Doctor.”
“Tell me what?”
“Yes, well, you remember those samples that those Aussies took from the mad doctor’s lab in Malinde?”
“No, can’t say that I can.”
“Their demolition man handed me a wooden case when we parted.”
“Oh, yes, quite. What about them?”
“One of them just so happens to be that coffee blight that we found at that Scotsman’s plantation the first day I flew out with you.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“That was a manufactured organism, Captain, and I’m sure it’s no coincidence that that madman had a vial of it in his lair.”
“Well, I’ll be damned. Maybe now, coupled with what happened to Sir Anthony, the authorities will get interested in looking into what goes on out beyond the rails.”
“They weren’t before?”
“No. Too far up-country, they say, sensitive situation with the Maasai, and all that. This may change their minds, and no doubt about it. First Malinde, then Garas, and now this. They can hardly let this sort of thing go on unchecked. If they don’t do something soon, they stand to lose the whole colony.”
“Do you really think it’s as serious as all that?”
“You’re damned right I do! I just hope Sanderson can see it. Now, about your situation, Darweshi.”
He took out his billfold, extracted two one-pound notes, and handed them to Hobbs.
“Take her to the market, Patience, and buy her a couple of outfits like the civilized natives wear here. No offense.”
“Of course not.”
“Once she blends in, we can introduce her to Faraji. I’m sure he can find appropriate employment for one of her skills.”
“About that, Captain.”
“Well, it’s just that Mombasa is so overwhelming. Before today, she didn’t know there were this many people in the world, never mind in one city.”
“Well, I’m all for buying her some western clothes and all, but is there any possibility that we might let her off somewhere more manageable? Say, Nairobi, for example.”
“Thereby giving you another few days of female companionship?”
“Captain, I’m hurt!” she said, trying to suppress a smile.
“Don’t be. I'm aware that a young woman needs things we can't provide out here. But is that what you want, Darweshi? Mombasa is big, but there’s law here, expected and followed standards of decorum. Nairobi is a railroad camp frequented by every kind of hard-drinking roughneck who thinks there’s a quick fortune to be made, and policed by a British major who has less use for natives than you have for mice. Are you certain that’s the place for you?”
“I cannot stand it here, Nahodha. Perhaps after I become accustomed to a smaller town, I will be able to move here. Would your friend still meet me then?”
“Of course he would. After all you’ve done for us, it’s the least we can do. Shopping, Patience, and back to the hotel. I’ll meet you there for lunch.”
“Where are you going?”
“To line up a cargo, where else? Repairs on the motor frame will be done in three days, at least that’s what M’Bwana says, and he’ll want to get paid for his services. Money doesn’t earn itself, you know!”