News from the Jungle – Ahmad Moghadam – A terrible place – Return to Kodok – The return of Lady I – Fire and brimstone
Accidents will happen
Rina Prescott reporting
I’m sure we all remember the commotion last week when an unknown individual caused an uproar in the main hall, and the efforts of Mr. Andrew Parsons to apprehend him. Carrie StJohn suffered a broken wrist that sadly put her out of the rifle tournament in Folkestone. Her parents have appeared at Algernon University and had a long discussion with Chancellor Dr. Malcolm Munroe. It appears that they want to press charges against Algernon University for negligence.
I have spoken to Miss Carrie StJohn, who is recovering well, and expected to be out of the hospital and back to her studies in a few days, sporting a plaster cast decorated with the signatures of all her friends and classmates, including that of Mr. Andrew Parsons himself, who visited her under the supervision of Miss Felicia Sunderland, to apologise in person. They spoke for almost an hour, mostly about Engineering subjects. When I visited her later, to interview her on recent events, Miss Carrie spoke mostly about Mr. Parson’s uncompromising dedication to his craft. She is now seriously considering majoring in Engineering. When asked if Mr. Parsons frightened her in any way, she answered that at first he did, but that first impressions can be misleading and that she now understands him better.
What is the truth? Is Mr. Parsons simply another accident waiting to happen? When next he loses control, will the results be more serious? Or is Mr. Parsons simply the victim of the prejudice of those who look no further than his size, his inability to relate with his fellow humans? Let’s not forget that the initial spark of aggression came not from him, but from the gun-wielding assailant who sought to abduct him for reasons unknown. The Algernon Clarion will keep a sharp eye on further developments.
Dear Dr. Pike,
I have finally managed to make contact with a member of the Moghadam family, namely Ahmad Moghadam, son of Mr. Bouzid Moghadam. Personable chap once you convince him you’re not one of his servants. I must admit that this was not my doing, but that of my new friends in the Order of cross and Moon, who I only know as Kotar and Banar. I was taken by carriage, and blindfolded. I’m sure it’s for dramatic effect more than anything else. When they pulled the bag off my head, we were deep in the jungle, in the company of a half dozen Arabic soldiers armed with rifles. Ahmad Moghadam was sitting across from me, and was complaining loudly at his treatment. I have learnt a little Arabic, but I’m afraid I could only follow the gist of it. Did they know who he was, what kind of treatment is this, my father will hear of this, you will all be hanged and fed to the buzzards. Exactly the kind of thing to say when you want to make friends.
For my part, I forgive them any transgressions against me, because the next leg of our journey was on horseback. Dr. Pike, I rode an Arabic stallion! He may not have been of the highest of breeds, but truth be told, neither am I. Mr. Moghadam refused even to consider riding one of these beast, until I reminded him of his rich Tuareg heritage, famed for its horsemanship, whereupon he called me an ignorant Kafir, explained to me that his people were Sudanese Arabs, who bred horses back when the Tuareg were still trying to mate with camels, and leapt into the saddle.
We rode on through fairly dangerous country. We were set upon by indigenous people twice, but none of them had firearms, and our Arabic soldiers were well able to send them running. We stopped for the night by a small stream with clear water, and I could practice my Arabic. Our captors and protectors turned out to be patient enough with me to suffer my horrible Oxfordian Arabic accent, as long as I stayed away from such topics as ‘Who are you working for’, ‘Where are we and where are we going’, and so on. When asked, they would simply tell me that inshallah, I would find out soon enough. Our dinner turned out to be rice and beans, uninteresting but filling, with tea which is a sign of civilisation. We passengers slept for eight hours, with the soldiers watching over us. I say ‘soldiers’, but while they seemed to show a military discipline, they had no insignia.
After morning prayers, we set off again. We rode all day, with only small stops for prayers and meals. These lands are dangerous and beautiful, with lush hot humid jungles and wide open plains. We saw some wild animals, which we sent running with a few shots in the air, and one tribe of black people, who Kotar said were cannibals. Those, we sent running with more directed fire, and Ahmad Moghadam’s weapons-grade arrogance. Banar led us without hesitation, in as straight a line as possible, wasting no time.
Ahmad Moghadam became less and less personable throughout the journey, hardly speaking a word, and when he did, it was usually a growl to leave him alone. This went on until one afternoon, I saw him dismount, and he couldn’t hide the look of pain on his face. After prayers, I took him aside, and quietly handed him a bottle from my medical kit.
“What is this, Kafir?”
“Talcum powder,” I said. “It helps against saddle sores.”
He stared at me blankly.
“Do you expect me to put it on for you? Also ride my horse tomorrow. It has a different saddle.”
He looked at the bottle in his hand, then back up to me.
“You’re welcome,” I said.
After evening prayers, I noticed a small stream, and bent down to top up my water bottle. Kotar held my shoulder.
“Do not drink this water. Our destination is near.”
I scooped up a small amount of water in my hand, and smelled it. There was a certain undefinable, unnatural tinge about it. I looked round, and though the tall trees were green as ever, the smaller shrubs were smaller, with brown stains on their leaves.
“We are safe now from human enemies,” said Kotar. “They do not walk this part of the forest. It is tainted. We must go, and see, and then hurry back.”
“Kotar,” I said, “What are we doing here? Why have you stolen away Mr. Bouzid Moghadam’s son to these wild places? He is as helpless here as a baby, as am I. Why?”
“God willing, you will find out soon, Wainwright,” he said. “All I can say is to tighten your belt, for it will not be pleasant.” He looked round at Ahmad, who was sitting with his back to a tree, glaring at the world as though it offended him. “You and I have seen things that our other guest has not. Stay close to him, for he will need your help.”
We pushed our way out of the jungle, onto a dirt road, rutted by the trail of wheels. The tracks of large beasts of burden, maybe oxen, could be seen, but the tracks were old. Nobody had come this way for months. We rode on slowly, Ahmad and I in the middle, with Kotar and Banar near us and the soldiers spread out around us. There was a frightening sense of watchfulness to their bearing, and I undid the strap on my revolver. Ahmad, riding next to me, stared ahead of him. He had no weapon, and I didn’t know if it would have been wise to let him have one.
We rode on until in the distance we saw a kind of tower, made of metal girders, high as a church steeple. Then, we rode through an open gate, with a large sign above it: “Belian-Ibelin Mining Company”. The soldiers now drew closer to us as we rode past large wooden buildings. Workshops. Sleeping quarters. Offices. A mess hall. As we drew near, I became aware of a smell that I have only experienced once before in my life, and fervently hope never to again. The smell of rotting human flesh. The sound of millions of flies now came to us.
We dismounted, and we were first led to an office. It had been ransacked, papers strewn about the place. The safe was open, though not forced or blown up.
“This will be where you will spend most of our time here, Wainwright,” said Kotar. “This is your domain. Learn from this all that you can.”
“The clerk was made to open the safe,” I said. “The important things may be gone already. But I will do what I can.”
“Good.” Kotar turned to Ahmad, and continued in Arabic. “You are here to represent your family, who has a great stake in this company. Do I not guess correctly that you have not received any coal from this place for a long time?”
“I do not discuss my family’s business with thieves and murderers.”
Kotar gave him a dark look. “Then it is good that we are neither. You will follow us, and observe how the people in your company were treated.”
Ahmad hesitated, but decided not to resist. We walked out of the office. The soldiers were clearing vegetation away, and were digging a long trench, six feet wide, four feet deep, and God only knows how long it would need to be. Banar stood by the door to the sleeping quarters.
“Breathe slowly, my friends, and enter.”
We entered. Rotting corpses were stacked up high, along one of the walls. Dozens. Hundreds. Most of them women. Some of them as young as four years. Bloated. Skin turned pale, sagging off gaunt faces, screaming silently. Mr. Pike, this was my first mass slaughter, and my first mass grave. May I be spared another, or if I am not, may I be the first to enter.
Ahmad Moghadam turned round, ran out, and we could hear him outside, being violently ill. I managed to keep my lunch, but only barely.
“Wainwright?” said Kotar softly, “you may go to your work in the office now. We will do what must be done.”
“Thank you,” I said, and fled. I could watch the soldiers work through the window, carrying body after body out and gently putting them into the grave. I concentrated on my paperwork.
I looked in the safe. There were a few thousand Sudanese Pounds in cash, worth maybe three hundred Pounds Sterling. A few bonds, company stock. The attackers’ motives could not have been simple theft, or all would have been gone. Papers were strewn across the floor, and as I picked them up, I saw they were mostly written in English, with some Arabic mixed in. It seemed that this mine had had English-speaking stockholders. It took me a while to rearrange them all into date order. It seemed coal production had been going steady for the past year, the coal making its way to the civilised world to warm us, move us. The last entry in the production diary was two months ago, which corresponded nicely to the disappearance from the Eiffel Tower of a group of scientists.
“Prometheus,” I muttered. It seemed the thing to do.
There were reports, written in Arabic, of the daily doings in the mine. I may have missed some of the nuance, but it seemed to me that this had not been a good place to work. Every entry started with a brief note of how many workers went down, and how many came up. Accidents were frequent. Cave-ins happened now and then with sometimes as many as two dozen miners lost, buried underground, their bodies never recovered. I was standing on their bones at the very moment. Their names were listed in the diary, both men and women. There was the occasional mention of girls being unable to work, and “sent to comfort”. I can think of several meanings of that phrase, but none of them are, well, comfortable.
I had to sit back, close my eyes a moment. There was only one conclusion. This place had been hell on Earth. I have heard of people who stopped eating meat after visiting a slaughterhouse. I almost considered taking a sail boat back to England, knowing what the cost was of our comfort and prosperity. Kotar came in with Ahmad Moghadam, who seemed to have recovered, though he still looked a few shades paler than usual. It had not improved his character any.
“Wainwright,” said Ahmad, which was at least a step up from Kafir. “What have you learnt?”
“This happened about two months ago,” I said. “Production of coal stopped then.”
“My father wll have words for those who saw this, and did not report it. He is a commissioner for this mining company. We will not stand by idly when our workers are treated in this manner. We will now return to Khartoum, and decide how best to pursue and punish these evildoers.”
And with that, he walked out of the door, leaving me with Kotar. Our cradles may have stood half a world apart, but the looks we gave each other were perfectly clear.
“People here weren’t treated all that well before they were murdered,” I said. “My work is not done yet.”
“Work quickly, but take the time you need,” said Kotar. “Will you join us in prayer for the fallen?”
“I will,” I said.
“I will send for you.”
I stood next to Ahmad and Banar as Kotar chanted a prayer for the souls of those murdered by the slave-takers of Prometheus. Where they were taken, I did not know. Did they know what had become of their women and children? Could they guess? What could anyone do for them?
The prayers ended, and we got ready to leave. Banar came out of a storage shed carrying jerrycans of oil.
“We do not have Master Nazeem with us to call down the wrath of the Fire Spirits, so this will have to do. We will remove this dark place from the world, and allow the forest to reclaim it, the soil, the bodies of the fallen.”
We left with the crackling of flames behind us, and many a dark memory. I have a briefcase full of documents that we should study. Banar tells me that tracks lead to the East, into the desert. We cannot follow them. Instead, we returned on horseback to the city of Kodok. I was shown to a simple but comfortable inn, and said goodbye to my companions, who disappeared into the jungle without a trace. Ahmad Moghadam took the first flight to Khartoum, but he specifically did not invite me along, so I am now in Kodok. I have sent by air mail all the documents I gathered from the mining site. I await your further orders.
If ever you come to Kodok, I can recommend this inn. They do a wonderful Couscous with goat meat and flat bread. Being devout Muslim, they offer only tea to go with it, but there are many things in life that are much worse.
Dear Dr. Pike,
I was here in Kodok for three days, awaiting your orders, when a familiar sight appeared in the skies: The airship Lady I. She moored at the airport. I quickly walked up to her, and was invited on board by Captain Philip Tennant.
I’m afraid I have bad news to report. The Tennants made contact with the enemy. Miss Alexandra Tennant fell into their hands, and was brutally tortured before being rescued by her brother. They used a torture device that damaged her knees, and she cannot walk. She also suffered several second and third degree burns to various parts of her body, and a gunshot wound to the leg, luckily missing the bone. In the face of a stranger like me, Miss Alexandra keeps a stiff upper lip, but I can see a gloom on the whole family. After re-supplying, Lady I will make for England so a proper surgeon can examine Miss Alexandra. Please ask Dr. Bernhardt if he knows any specialist knee surgeons, or Miss Alexandra may never walk freely again.
On board Lady I at this time are Capt. Philip Tennant, Alexandra, Carl Tennant, Fatin Tennant, their baby child Raage, James T. Riley of Arkham University, and a Miss Brenda Lee, who used to be one of Klemm’s Jäger, until she decided to defect and join the Tennants on board. She is a young lady of acerbic wit and considerable strength, above average for a woman. She has taken on the role of Miss Alexandra’s assistant and carer, together with Mrs. Fatin Tennant.
The Tennants have told me that they have found the lair of Prometheus, far in the Sudanese desert, at the final camp site of the Hammond Expedition. I have the coordinates. The miners taken from the Belian-Ibelin mine are there, being forced into mining the pitchblende that seems to be Prometheus’ obsession. One of their companions has stayed there under cover, a Master Nazeem, whose name I have heard mentioned once before by my Arabic companions at the mine. He seems to be a high ranking individual in the Order of Cross and Moon.
Though Captain Tennant has offered me passage back to England, I think my job here is not yet done. I will take the next airship to Khartoum and see if I can open relations with the Moghadam family. It will give me the chance to improve my Arabic.
Dear Dr. Pike,
Of mice and men, the best laid plans oft go awry. Ahmad Moghhadam has returned to Kodok, but not on his own. Seven mighty airships darken the sky above this small city. I have spoken with him, and foolishly given him the location of Prometheus’ lair. I was expecting him to attempt a rescue of the French scientists, and to try to set free the miners so cruelly torn away, their families murdered. He has no such intentions. The airships contain more fire and brimstone than was used on Sodom and Gomorrah, and Ahmad Moghadam’s plan is to utterly destroy the Eagle’s Nest, along with the scientists, who he considers collaborators, and the miners, who he considers traitors. I’m afraid I cannot write more. As soon as I post this letter, Lady I will return to Hammond’s camp. Being faster than any of Moghadam’s airships, we will arrive there at least eight hours before the fleet of destroyers. Hopefully, we will be able to effect a rescue before our rash Arabic friend blows the place to pieces.
Yours in haste,