Red Sands

First View
July 16th 1889

They had been lucky mused Henry. The Glorious Dawn would clearly never fly again, snapped in two like a rotten twig as it was. But the Captain had made a decent landing of sorts. Two crew had died, along with poor Tex and Baron Von Ritter, but otherwise everyone had managed to survive.

From Henry’s best estimate they were about 70 miles west of the Nepenthes Thoth Canal, somewhere on the steppe. If they could reach the canal, they might have a chance.

Unfortunately they had only managed to salvage food and water for approximately one day, and he was dubious about the capacity of some of the passengers for this extreme situation. Then there were the nomadic tribes of course. He turned towards Sebastian.

“Well old chap” said Henry. “We’d better decide quickly.”

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Unwanted Visitors
July 16th 1889

“Sebastian old chap” said Bertie, “We’ve all been summoned to the Dining Room. By the Captain no less.”

“Something must be up no doubt” replied Sebastian. “Very well.”

The other passengers had already assembled; the Steward was also present.

“Ladies and Gentlemen” commenced the Captain. “I have no wish to alrm you but it would appear that an unidentified vessel is bearing towards us at speed, having made some attempt at concealment. I can only conclude ill intent.”

“Pirates?” suggested Henry.

“Very likely” replied the Captain. “A passenger vessel is no doubt easy pickings for them, and we carry important mail as well as passengers.”

“The ship isn’t armed I take it?” asked Sebastian.

“We are not. No doubt they are – and faster too. However they will try to board.” He paused. “I have no doubt that they will offer surrender – but there is no guarantee of their good behaviour. They may decide to silence all witnesses anyway. Our choices are: surrender or fight. I consult you, as you may no doubt be related to their intent.”

“Damned if we don’t: ye don’t put yourself at the mercy of scoundrels” said Sebastian. “Fight, I say.”

“I also vill not bow to ruffians” said Baron Von Ritter. “And I haff my own pistol. my apologies Herr Kaptain… a man in my position…..” The Captain simply frowned, and nodded.

“I have a small number of pistols I can distribute to those who can use them.”

Discussions commenced. Sebastian still had his sabre in his room, as part of his Dress Uniform, and Bertie had also concealed his Bulldog and Sword cane. Henry had a Bowie Knife in his luggage. Lady Glossop had also retained her pistol.

The unarmed passengers were crowded into the Galley, protected by the Steward at the doorway. The others concentrated around the Engine Room and stern of the ship, where the attackers were most likely to gain entry. The Captain remained on the bridge.

They waited for what seemed like a long time, when they eventually experienced a jolting shudder, and heard shouts of alarm and bustle from the crew in the Engine Room. This was followed by a loud clang, as some other body made contact. Looking out of the starboard corridor Marko could see some sort of long arm mechanism swinging down from the looming bulk above them, followed by another muffled implact as something hit the side.

Bertie was facing the starboard access door when it swung open, revealing a gaggle of surprised looking desperadoes. Reaching over his shoulder, Esmeralda immediately shot one. More rushed in from the Port access, rushing Sebastian….but the narrow corridors worked in favour of the defenders.

There were a pair of muffled explosions followed by metallic clanging: the two access corridors filled with acrid smoke. Coughing and spluttering, Marko rushed along the starboard corridor to be confronted by a door shaped hole in the hull, leading to what looked like a short metallic corridor, with a file of boarders. Without hesitating he clawed his fingers into the man’s eye sockets, and ripped, pushing him backwards screaming. As he shattered the jaw of the next the ones behind tried to fire their revolvers, fortunately without effect.

A few of the new attackers had emerged in the front dining area, and were engaged with the First Officer and Steward in an exchange of pistol shots. Rushing forward Tex whopped as he shot one of them, shortly to be followed by Henry. More attackers poured forward from the Port Corridor breach, though fortunately Marko was hampering the other. With the front area cleared Henry and Tex moved astern.

Meanwhile Markos luck had run out, and he took a shot to the shoulder. The boarders were also badly mauled however, and he heard a barked command to “Retract the bridges!”

“The boarders are retreating! " he thought to himself. “But this will expose the central area to the ether!” Pulling away he started to shout the alarm in his deep voice.

In the stern area , and with the attackers beaten off, two of the crew sealed the corridor access.

“Tex is still in there!” shouted Henry, but the Engineer shook his head. “He’s down with two bullets I’m afraid, there is nothing we can do for him now”.

In the front area Marko and the Steward sealed the front access doors, when the ship shook again, pounded by several cannon shots.

As the ship lurched Marko raced up to the Bridge, where the Captain was frantically struggling with the controls. Taking the Trimsman’s console Marko nodded at the Captain, and saw out of the Bridge Windows that Mars was lurching sickeningly into view……

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Marko Reads.
3rd May 1889

“Hmmm. Well one is enough” thought Marko, as he replaced the finished novel onto the library bookshelf. He had noticed Sebastian consuming novels by G.A.Henty during odd moments of their voyage, and had idly decided to try “By Sheer Pluck: A Tale of the Ashanti War” . One was enough.

He thumbed through the shelves for his next read and picked out “Moby Dick” , by Herman Melville. He had once read “Redburn His First Voyage” by the same author. Clearly this was a man who had been to sea himself: a man who knew the sea. He scanned the shelf and saw several other works by the same author.

“These will do” thought Marko, “For the remainder of the voyage.”

He signed out the book and placed it in his pocket, not feeling like dipping into the new novel just at this moment. Instead he ordered a pot of coffee and some sandwiches, and started to pull down a few travel guides and Gazeteers of Mars.

The basic facts regarding Mars were common knowledge of course: the planet excited more more people than any other. A vast world of mystery. Home to a decaying, ancient civilization, with treasures both natural and created scattered in the endless wastelands and cold deserts. Ever since it was visited by Thomas Edison and Jack Armstrong in 1870, it had drawn the powers of Earth like a magnet: new territory to expand empires, new resources to exploit.

They were headed for the British Crown Colony of Syrtis Major: this former state was always powerful but had not been capable to face Earth’s rapid firing guns and augmented cannons. Now the Imperial Residency of Commissioner-Regent and Colony Governor Lord Dundas oversaw this seven-canal junction. The Mars Explorer’s Society clubhouse was located in the large British Quarter.

Other points of interest included the ruins of the Old Palace (abutting the smaller Emerald Palace), the Legation Compound, the enormous Syrtis Major Shipyard, the Old and New Barracks, the Harbor District, and the crowded Syrtis Major Bazaar.

At present Syrtis Major was at war with Oenotria over three canals: scanning the newspapers it seemed that this was causing some unrest, unsettling the residents and spy scares seem to be daily fare. With the population being mostly Martian, many Earthmen were also becoming increasingly nervous.

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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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