Red Sands

Cigars and Whiskey
22nd April 1889

Sebastian sighed. Only seven days into the voyage still another eighty five to go. Plenty of time for another drink then.

He had gotten his airlegs now, and the only problem now was what to do with himself. The White Star Liner Glorious Dawn was well appointed of course, with ten double occupancy passenger staterooms and a crew of ten. The steward was doing his best of course, with Bridge Tournaments, Painting classes and a host of other things which interested him not at all.

Neither did Bertie’s wheelchair races, shove h’ penny rugger tournaments or indoor cricket. Was it too much to ask for a chap to just be able to sit down in the bar or dining room with a paper and a drink to hand without a string of confounded disturbances?

The other First Class passengers provided an occasional distraction. There was a German Nobleman – Baron Von Ritter and his wife Lady Greta: these he was polite too but regarded with the utmost suspicion. He wondered if they had not been sent along to spy on their business?

The other passengers were a mixed bunch: Hiram Friendly an American Arms dealer, and a fellow called Tex who seemed to be a cowboy that had made it good and was embarked on the adventure of his life.

Then there were the two business fellows, Smith and Robards, a Bhutan spice dealer and Liftwood magnate respectively.

And finally the two civil servants off to serve the Empire by convincing the Martians to fill in dozens of forms in order to do things they had been doing for centuries probably. Witherspoon and Blenkinsop they were called. God Save the Queen.

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Dear Diary
14th April 1889

Dear Diary,

In the morning I embark for Mars, that beacon of adventure that calls to every red-blooded Englishman. To stride under strange stars, to see decadent Martians in their proud but decayed cities, to stride the deck of a swift, barbaric sky galleon — It makes my pulse race!!! Of course, Mars is about as far from those Bounders that keep fleecing me for drinks as possible, which makes it even more attractive, as you well know. My airsickness is another story however.

From The Collected Papers of Lord Sebastian Shaw, KCB, FRGS, Blackstone and Sons, London, Bombay and Syrtis Major, 1972.

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The Road Goes Ever On
10th April 1889

“We’re absolutely certain now, having made the comparisons”,announced Professor Bottoms, “The markings on the Scroll of Annubis are duplicated on certain pieces of Martian pottery currently held at Syrtis Major on Mars – we have a single fragment and a few sketches here. But not enough to make sense of them unfortunately.”

“So what are you suggesting Sir?” asked Sebastian.

“What I really want is for you to escort my daughter Esmeralda to Mars” explained the Professor. “If she can examine the Syrtis Major fragments herself we might be able to make some sense of this matter. I feel that we owe this to Professor Hutchinson.”

“Mars?” said Bertie. “I say!”

“The Society has booked passage for you all on HMS Glorious Dawn, which leaves in five days” the Professor continues. “There’s a Society representative in Syrtis Major you can contact when you’re ready to return.”

“Plenty of time to tie up my affairs” said Henry. “I’m certainly Game, Professor.”

“I too” said Marko. “Professor Hutchinson must be avenged.” Professor Bottoms frowned slightly.

“And the rest of you?” he asked.

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Farewell to Saleem
22nd March 1889

“Goodbye my friend” said Marko, shaking Saleem’s hand. The gangplank of the steamer lay behind him: this time they were taking a direct passage to Southampton. Marko had seemed to get along pretty well with their guide. Sebastian nodded grudgingly, and the others made their farewells.

Professor Hutchinson’s finds had reached the museum in Alexandria safely, and they were now being haggled over with the Egyptian authorities: but this was none of their business.

“Finally "said Bertie, now on his feet again. “A two week trip and then we can put our feet up.”

Lady Glossop wasn’t so sure.

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Siwah
17th February 1889

“Two men holding hands like little girls” said Sebastian as he peered out of the window. “It makes me sick. By God! I’ve a good mind to…..”

“To mind your own business Sebastian” interrupted Lady Glossop. “We are the guests of these people, and you just have to accept their customs and not make a fuss. There’s a good boy.”

Sebastian deflated, and sat and sulked in a chair.

The Arab healer gave a thumbs up as he came out of the convalescent’s hut: Bertie and Henry were doing fine. He conducted a brief conversation with Esmeralda and Lady Glossop, and promised to return the next day.

Saleem followed the Doctor out, seemingly trying to pump him for local news.

“Of course we probably all owe our lives to Saleem” said Lady Glossop. Sebastian grunted. After they had beaten off the Bedouin it had been at Saleems insistence that they muffled and loaded up the camels, and escaped the dead fort in the pitch black of night. He had rightly surmised that with maybe twenty casualties. the tribesmen would not be at their most alert that evening, and it might be their only opportunity to escape before more were sent for. The alternative was to hole up in a fort with numerous dead men, and possibly a poisoned water supply. But good fortune had been with them, and two days later they had ridden into Siwah: fortunately Henry and Bertie had survived the ordeal.

They were not the only ones injured. Esmeralda had a nasty bayonet wound in her shoulder, which had started to redden and swell. Fortunately the native doctor seemed to know his business, and this had now started to heal.

There were still several mysteries to the whole affair, mused lady Glossop. Clearly Professor Hutchinson had recovered the Scroll of Annubis from the Pyramid of Djoser, but possibly he had been watched since his arrival in Egypt. Why else would this Frenchman and Woman be accompanying a patrol of Foreign Legion acting against their Captain’s orders – and across the border into British territory? Clearly the scroll was valuable, and they had murdered to get it.

And then of course returning to the Fort, they had simply broken open the scroll. And poisoned the garrison to boot, or infected them with some chemical. She shook her head.

Esmeralda was convinced that the strange markings on the remaining scrap were Martian, and she was keen to return to show her father.

On top of all that they had the reputed Imhotep and apparent (living?) mummies. Were they related to all this? Or were they simply the party the scroll had been stolen from? She had no idea. Lady Glossop sighed, and watched the two men kissing now.

“Best not mention it to Sebastian” she thought.

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No Survivors!
12th February 1889

The Legionnaires were dead. Bertie was incapacitated, and both Henry and Esmeralda were badly injured. Outside they could hear the Bedouin working themselves up for an attack.

Bertie was carried into the Barracks, which were in a total shambles. In a pile of torn blankets and personal effects was a satchel holding the diary of a Sergeant Drummond. Esmeralda skimmed through it and read out a few entries detailing that a rich French couple had visited the fort a few weeks ago, escorted by the patrol of Lieutenant Dubois . The group had met with Captain Winter. The night of their visit, Dubois and a quarter of the command deserted with the French socialites.

The captain would have followed to bring them back and try them, but Bedouin raiders had started pestering the Fort. attacked the fort. Worse, within a day the men started coming down with fever and red splotches. Between the epidemic and the raiders’ constant
assaults, the captain had snapped and ordered the dead placed on the walls to make it look like the ranks were still strong. The men obeyed, but it seemed to make those suffering from the fever worse. Even Drummond himself had started to feel ill.

“There are no more entries” said Esmeralda.

Saleem rushed in. "There are six healthy camels in the stables " he said. “Also two crazed horses – sick like the men. I had to shoot them.”

“I’ll check the officers quarters said Henry. “Might be useful supplies or more medication.”

Moments later they heard him cry out, and peering into the courtyard saw Henry being chased by an officer, blotched and bloated like the rest. They watched in horror as his sabre struck Henry down.

Shots from pistols and rifles rang out, and the crazed Captain Winters slumped to the ground.

As Henry was carried into the Barracks, Sebastian and Esmeralda searched Winter’s quarters, and soon the found his journal, which shed a little more light on the sergeants comments.

“When Dubois returned I commandeered an old, elaborate scroll case he carried from his recent patrol near the Egyptian border.

He refused to divulge from whom or where the scroll was obtained, but I insisted that I hold on to it, to be sent through to the proper authorities. The French couple who arrived back with him then started to pester me about it, and I foolishly allowed them to examine it.

Monsieur Bourgeois, much to my annoyance, opened the scroll container – a matter best left to the museum experts. A pile of blood red sand poured to the floor, and I demanded that he return the scroll and its contents. I wondered why the scoundrel was smiling, and it was then that I was struck from behind.

When I awoke our civilian visitors were gone, along with Dubois and a quarter of my men. . Apparently they poisoned the well before they left, as a horrific contagion struck the men after morning meal. The sickness seemed to twist their minds, and then to make things worse the Bedouin attacked.

“Look at this” said Esmeralda. She leaned down and using a small brush from her satchel, scopped what looked like some dust and tiny fragments from the floor, including a small, broken corner of the scroll case. The scrap bore a few strange glyphs."

“The remains of the Scroll of Annubis perhaps?” she mused. “But why did the French civilians break it open? Mystery upon mystery….” Esmeralda paused.

“They come!” shouted Marko from the walls. “The Bedouin return!”

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Inside the Fort
12th February 1889

“Safe for the moment at least”, thought Sebastian, as he clambered up the rope. Strange how the Frogs were so quiet.

As he reached the top of the wall he saw a small courtyard with a stables opposite, and a few more buildings. To his right there was a tower, and a ramp down to ground level. He could see a few Legionnaires dotted around the wall. He beckoned Henry up.

“I say there” he called to the nearest. “English gentleman. Being chased by the Bedouin. Give me a hand here ,what?”

The nearest legionnaire moved towards him, his rifle lowered towards Sebastian. It was then he noticed that something was wrong. His cloths were tattered, his face unshaven, and strangely bloated. His eyes were red and bloodshot, and his skin was covered in angry red blotches.

“Die English scum!” the crazy figure snarled through gritted teeth, and lunged towards him with his bayonet. More cries sounded from around the fort, and the other figures he could see started to move towards him.

“Can some of you chaps hurry up that rope?” yelled Sebastian.

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Outside the Fort
12th February 1889

They had little idea of what they were going to do when they reached the Fort, nor of what sort of welcome they would receive. Various plans were discussed en route.

But now they could actually see the looming stone walls and the glint of rifles lining their battlements. They were stopped in a rocky defile, their camels left some hundred yards or so further down the gulley. By climbing up to a cluster of rocks they were about 200 yards away from the west side of the fort.

The Fort itself seemed very quiet, and even more oddly a knotted rope was visible hanging down from the wall. Sebastian turned round to see Saleem hurrying up towards them.

“Bedouin!” he hissed, they have ridden off the camels and they are moving up the gully towards us."

Even as he pointed he could make out about a dozen silent forms flitting their way through the rocks towards them.

“There are many!” said Saleem . “And now we have neither food nor water”

“The Fort it is then” said Sebastian, realising that once the remainder of the riders joined the skirmishers they would be ridden down. “Everyone. Run!”

They didn’t have to be told twice. Marko and Esmeralda sprinted straight for the walls, followed by Saleem and Lady Glossop..

The skirmishers had other ideas however: they attacked in three groups, with one group always firing, and the others either reloading their breach loading rifles, or moving forward. Clearly they had done this before.

Bertie and Henry took cover behind some rocks, and started to shoot at their pursuers, taking a few down. The Bedouin return fire was not as accurate, but Lady Glossop was creased by a shot which knocked her down senseless – possibly even dead.

“Damn and Blast that woman!” muttered Sebastian. “I’ll try to rescue the foolish chit, if you keep their heads down!” Henry and Bertie nodded, as did Saleem who was giving a good account of himself with his Mauser.

With bullets missing all around him, Sebastian scooped up Lady Glossop, and sprinted for the walls. More Bedouin went down to his covering fire.

“They’re pulling back!” shouted Henry.

“Only till their friends arrive!” called Sebastian. “Get to the Fort. NOW!”

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On Camelback Across the Libyan Desert
10th February 1889

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At one of the villages comprising Baharya, Lady Glossop and Esmeralda, both speaking fluent Arabic, engaged with some of the local women in the market. Here they learned that a party of eight camels had indeed passed that way twice in recent weeks, once going north, and later retuning and leaving to the west for Siwah.

The party comprised two civilians – both French – a man and a woman, obviously wealthy. With them were six French Soldiers of the Foreign Legion.

“Off their turf aren’t they?” said Henry. “But I suppose the border with Libya isn’t that far off.”

“No” muttered Sebastian, “And obviously these damn frogs were up to no good poking their noses in British Territory.”

At Siwah they also had news of this party, and learned that they had retuned to Fort Oublie: a small outpost just across the border.

“Fort Oublie it is then” said Sebastian.

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Interlude in Cairo
21st january 1889

From Cairo they had despatched the recovered artifacts to the museum in Alexandria, and made their plans while the injured recovered. It would seem that the mysterious cigar smoking camel riders had conceivably stolen the Scroll of Annubis – though as to what its significance was they were at a loss. Clearly its importance might have outweighed poor professor Hutchinson’s life however.

Henry dropped Molly into the best Cairo Gunsmith he could find: she could be repaired, but it would take time. He sighed, and purchased a couple of Lee Metfords for their expedition in the meanwhile.

Their destination would initially be the Baharya oasis, approximately a weeks travel from Giza, across genuine desert. Saleem’s experience would be vital, but with him recovering it fell to himself, Marko and Sebastian to supplement their gear and supplies. After a week, they were ready, and on a cold morning they set out once more towards Saqquara.

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