Millicent Lowell sat in her room in a Swiss asylum, reading. Outside, through the bars over the window, was a spectacular view of an Alpine valley, all falls of ice from glaciers and stands of dark pine trees. She liked her snug, well-appointed…well, cell, maybe, but it hardly felt like imprisonment, even if she rarely felt the need to leave.
The doctors, who were a mostly interchangeable mass of young men who spoke breathless English and rapid German, all assured her she was recovering very nicely. Certainly she felt rested, and more at peace with herself; almost rooted to this place.
From the hallway outside the heavy iron door came the sound of some kind of trolley being pushed down the hallway. “Would you like any tea?” called out a woman with a Cockney accent.
Millicent put down her book. This has never happened, she thought. It’s a break in pattern, and Uncle Jack always said to look for those. “No thank you,” she said.
“All right, love. If you need anything just call on Nursie. I’m sure I’ll be able to see you…soon enough.”
“What do you mean they’re all hired? There are no porters in all of Eritrea?” demanded Ruby.
“None of any quality,” said Simeon. “The best ones are unavailable, and those that are left are brigands and thieves.”
Ruby, Geronimo, and Dr. Orange were in their hotel suite in Mersa Fatma, trying to deal with the latest setback. Without reliable porters, they’d have no chance to make their way into the Afar highlands.
Jimmy was not with them. After their experience in the casino, he had left with Janet for the Greek isles. He had sent word that they were enjoying themselves at a nice seaside villa, taking daily cruises in a little sailboat. Somehow that telegram had seemed to raise the temperature in Eritrea by at least ten degrees for the rest of them.
“Is there anywhere else we can go for porters?” said Geronimo.
“I do not know. Perhaps we can find another expedition and negotiate for the release of some porters.”
“Let’s try and find them,” said Dr. Orange.
“Yes, the archaeologist hired them all,” said Farouk, an Algerian who worked in one of the souks. Dr. Orange bought another coffee from him and they sat down at a little cafe table on the edge of the square.
“The Spaniard?” said Dr. Orange.
“No, the Frenchman.”
“Wait…not Professor Luc Fauche?”
“Yes, that is the one. He has hired every porter he can find.”
[Streetwise use by the Doc.]
Millicent sat in her room, reading. The sun had set but the alpenglow still lit up the peaks surrounding the valley.
A strange whispering sound was coming from the corner of the room. She glanced in that direction, but saw nothing that could be making the noise.
She closed her eyes and tried to turn back to her book, but the whispering noise got louder and louder until she could finally distinguish words in a crisp British accent: “Can you—can you see me? Millicent! Can you see me?”
Much to her surprise, a rather prim, elderly woman suddenly materialized in the corner. She dropped her book, screamed, and pulled back into a corner of the room.
“Don’t be afraid, Millicent. My name is Gwendolyn, and I’m here to help.”
“All right,” said Millicent to herself. “I’ve gone insane, and this is all part of my insanity.”
“No!” said Gwendolyn. “This all around, this is your insanity! Millicent, where do you think you are?”
“You’re not in Switzerland.”
“Ok, fragment of my imagination, where am I?”
“I don’t know. I think you may be dreaming it all.”
“Well, I’ll just wake up.”
“You may not wake up from a dream like this, without knowing you’re dreaming. You see…you’re not so much dreaming as inside dreams.”
“Dr. Jung explained this to me, this is the collective unconsciousness, right?”
“Maybe. It doesn’t matter. You need to get out of here, or they’ll probably find you. There are things in the dreams, Millicent. There are nightmares.”
“And you’re a thing in the dreams?”
“No, I’m a perfectly normal elderly English lady. Well…perhaps not perfectly normal.”
“Are you a member of Epsilon Sigma? That weird sorority?”
“Not a member, no.”
“You run it?”
“Heavens no. I’m someone who’s had far too much experience with dreaming.”
“So I should look you up in England?”
“It’s not so simple. First you have to leave.”
“Does this place follow the rules of the real world, or of dreams.”
“Dream logic, I’m afraid.”
“So I could just make that wall disappear?”
“Perhaps…but have you ever tried to?”
“No! I thought I was in Switzerland. So should I try to get rid of this wall, or pick the lock?”
“Whichever you think is easier.”
“The lock, then.”
“Very well. If we had more time I would teach you to fly.”
Millicent fiddled with the lock for a minute. Finally she pulled the door open…
…and they were not in Switzerland any more. They were in the middle of a flat, featureless plain.
“You seem to have reached some base state of your dreams,” said Gwendolyn. She looked nervously over her shoulder. “We have to go before they find me. We need to get help from your friends.”