Eternal Lies: The Masks of the Liar

Episode XII: Who By High Ordeal (Part 1)

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.”

Episode XI: Who By Night (Part 11)

“You ’ave children, love?” asked the bartender.


“Sure about that? You look like a man who travels the world. Could ‘appen, right? You can trust me, I ain’t going to say anything.”


“Shame. I ’ad a daughter once. Lost ’er though. There was a war.”

“My condolences.”

“Well, you ‘ave to move on. Find something new. New toy, new obsession. I ’ear that’s what men do when they reach a certain age. Think they can relive the glory of their past youth. Sometimes it works, I suppose, but sometimes it’s just pathetic.”

“That would be a mistake.”

“Life’s a series of mistakes, innit?”

“You just have to hope to make the right one.”

Hippolite came up to the bar. “Jimmy—oh. I see you and the boss are already talking.”

The bartender leaned closer to Jimmy. He hoped it was his imagination that seemed to make the room grow darker, to make the bartender take on an air of timeless malice and cold amusement. “Sorry, Jimmy. Now. You want to tell me where she is? Your, professional opinion?”

“Well, I don’t know where she is.”

“Fair enough. I mean, I don’t fault you really. I enjoy it when monkeys are clever. Rather a lot. And you’re a very, very clever monkey. Too clever for you own good, don’t you think?”

“I’m not really that clever.”

“I mean, yeah, I do owe you something, for screwing up me plans. On the other ‘and, I have lots of plans. When you’re a transcendental being beyond time and space, you gain a certain perspective. What about this lot over there, at the wagering tables?”

“They have their choices to make.”

“Oh, you all do. Well, first let’s make this all go away.”

The casino vanished around them. They were standing on a volcanic mountain in a desert. Even though it was night, the heat smacked them all like a physical blow, leaving Dr. Orange to guess they were still in Ethiopia.

Jimmy glanced up at the brilliant sky. His stomach churned as he realized that the stars were wrong. Polaris wasn’t the pole star—as near as he could make out, it was a star in the constellation of the Dragon.

Which meant they were at least five thousand years in the past.

[Astronomy use by JP.]

“We’re back where I like it the most,” said the bartender. “Not Egypt, of course, but near enough. Let’s offer you some gifts. I can be a generous Pharaoh, can’t I? Though I do ’ave a reputation to uphold, so there may be a few strings attached.” She looked them over with a grim air of appraisement. “Well, Ruby. You ‘ave so much on your mind. I can tell you were thinking of wagering a moment of your life, eh? ’Owabout this. I’ll give you some extra time. Five minutes that you can redo, change from ‘ow they went the first time. Any five minutes anywhere, so long as they occur inside the span of your life. And a hint: you’re worried about where the First Mouth was, but you should be more worried about the Last Mouth.”

Ruby broke out into a sweat. The Messenger, the Black Pharaoh, turned to Geronimo. “Warrior of God, eh? Always so worried about what might stain your precious soul. So ’eres my gift to you. You can say No to something that happens you. Once. Just once. Even if you were to die. Price to be named later.”

She turned away for a while. “The doctor we couldn’t even tempt. Not even for a moment alone with Geronimo, or the grand unified theory. Oh, you monkeys! And your precious integrity! Ruins my image of you as a breed! I mean, Ruby I can tempt with a naked Geronimo…as well. Interesting.”

She put her face in her hands. “I question my fate sometimes,” she said. “I could ‘ave ’ad the fish people, but no, I got the monkeys. Do you know I can’t even get a decent fight in your dreamlands. I mean really, Nodens? The only thing he can do is grow a beard, but you monkeys think that makes him wise somehow.”

She glanced back over her shoulder at their uncomprehending faces. “Sorry, office politics, pay no mind,” she said.

Turning around, she came face to face with Jimmy. “Now, you I should hurt. You bollocked up things for me something fierce. I sent all my best monkeys after you, and you killed them all. That leaves a mark. But on the other ‘and, you are fighting against someone I don’t like. I ‘ave a brand to protect, and I don’t like it when people go around blabbing that they’re me when they’re not. You wouldn’t like it if there was some fake Jimmy running around the world? So, I can suspend ’ostilities for the moment. Though…if you keep going, you may find the cure worse than the disease.”

“Maybe you think so,” said Jimmy. “We see it differently.”

“Fair enough. I ‘ave been known to tell a fib or two. Though I’ve played it pretty straight with you, Jimmy, ’aven’t I? So, Pax Nyarlathopteca, until you are finished. Then you and I will have some words about me daughter.”

“I don’t know much about it.”

“You are going to see her again. And when you do…know that I’ll be able to see her soon enough. Don’t think a monkey can outsmart me forever, Jimmy.”

She seemed to grow larger somehow, without gaining in size. The night became even darker, and the stars blazed up with a cruel light. “Monkeys with integrity! Standing up on your ‘ind legs so big and bold! Still, you deserve an hint. At the end, you’ll go back to the beginning. Was that cryptic? It’s ‘ard for me to tell, I ’ave to use so many filters to get down to your level. We’ll meet again…another time.”

The wind swirled around them, and the stars grew unbearably bright. “Don’t worry,” they heard a voice calling from the storm. “It’s not like your lives could get more insignificant…wait, they could! That’s what I love about you monkeys! There’s never a bottom with you!”

Darkness swallowed them. A horrific roaring sounded in their ears, and they felt their bodies stretching to the point of flying apart like rubber bands. Slowly, a light grew around them, until with a start they found themselves standing in their hotel room.

Episode XI: Who By Night (Part 10)

Even Janet was looking forward to a night out, her first since her…accident. “I haven’t had a chance to see anything since we’ve been here. But is this the sort of thing that Dad was fighting against?” she asked Jimmy.

“Yes. I don’t know how much fighting he did, but he was definitely against it.”

“Part of the reason I’ve been so down is that…I was so terrible to him for so many years. But now I understand how it could mark a man like that.”

“We can’t help what we know, until we know about it.”

“That’s pretty wise, Jimmy.”

“Take it from somebody who didn’t know anything,” he said, with a smile.

[Me: No wonder she’s in love with him!]

Jimmy decided to get Janet some flowers. “Ah, I know the best florist, he’s my cousin!” said one of his guides.

“Let’s be honest, he’s not your cousin, right?”

“Ah. Well, yes, I can get you overpriced flowers from a man who beats me if I don’t bring him customers. He will keep a large percentage of the take and give me a pittance, but at least he will not beat me. Are you happier now that we are being honest?”

Jimmy gave him a large tip. “Wow, now my mom can really have that operation!” the kid said.

They got dressed to go out. Jimmy, the doctor, and Geronimo wore white dinner jackets, and Ruby finally got to wear one of the several ruby-colored evening dresses she had packed but not worn since…the Yucatán.

The Blue Pyramid was a modest, low building on the edge of town. Inside, however, it looked like it could have been dropped in the desert from Monte Carlo. A louche young woman in a sequined, low-cut dress and clutching a cigarette holder met them at the front. “Bon soir,” she said in a bored tone of voice. She had a thick French accent. “My name is Hippolite. You are expected. You are here to gamble, yes? You’ll want to go to the Faro tables.”

They followed her past several betting tables surrounded by crowds of well-dressed people from all corners of the globe. Each one had a different color scheme—the baize of the table, the clothes of the dealer, even the backs of the cards were all the same color. They past a white table, a blue table, a green table, and finally stopped at a table draped in black.

“Here is your table,” said Hippolite. “The table of the Black Faro.”

Keeping with the theme, the dealer was bald, with a heavily waxed goatee that stuck out like the false beards of the Egyptian pharaohs. His eyes were heavily rimmed in kohl, with the edges traced out to remind one of the eye of Horus.

Jimmy was about to follow the rest of them, but Hippolite stopped him. “No, Mr. Wright. My employer would like to speak to you at the bar. It has been, as we say, a very long time, hasn’t it Jimmy?”

Jimmy made a small squealing noise.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the Faro dealer. “I will take your bets.”

“What can we wager?” asked Ruby.

“We deal in all types of information. I am considered a messenger, after all.”

[RP: this is so cool, we have to do it!
Me: Take back two points of Stability.

However, the rest of the group was a lot less gung-ho about this, and the scene ended up falling fairly flat. So I’m doctoring things a bit to make it flow with how I tried to fix it later.]

Jimmy sat down on one of the bar stools. Behind the bar stood a rather blousy-looking woman in a black dress several decades out of style. She put down the newspaper she was reading and slid down to Jimmy. “What’ll it be, love?” she said in a Cockney-tinged accent. “Waiting for someone? A lady perhaps?”

“In a manner of speaking. Whisky.”

“We’re all waiting for someone,” said the bartender, pouring two shots. “If you don’t mind, I’ll join you. Yer ’ealth.”

They drank in silence. The bartender carefully put down her glass. “You seem a rather strange lot to come into this country. Whadd’ye, Canadian? I can tell by the accent, dead give away. That your lady over there?” she said, pointing at Janet.


“What ’appened to her arm? Accident? The armband looks Indian, very posh. So what are you ’ere for, love?”

“Do you run this place?”

“Run? Oh no. Place is too big for me to run. I just tend bar ’ere.”

“Who does?”

“Well, what’s ownership, anyway, especially a country like this, it’s all obligations. And we all,” she said, not menacingly at all, “have to pay our debts, don’t we?”

“There are many things we can offer,” said the dealer. “A moment in time. A moment in time wagered. A moment that could perhaps…be altered. Perhaps a theory that has eluded science.”

He put an index card face down on the table. Dr. Orange pointedly ignored it.

“What’s your story, love?” said the bartender to Jimmy. “Come, I’ll tell you mine. Poor girl comes to Africa, tries to make ‘er way, does a few things ’ere and there, some savory, some not. But we all ’ave our history, don’t we?”

“We do all have history. Jimmy,” he said, holding out his hand.

“Jimmy, eh? Very straight-up of you, ain’t it. Me, I came ’ere because of bad luck. But I think duty is much better. Taking care of your girls, taking care of your friends. You a soldier?”

[Veiled reference to the change in Jimmy’s drive from Bad Luck in Masks to Duty in EL.]


“Good, good. ‘Ard to be a soldier, give orders to make people do what they don’t want to do. Much better to be independent, right?”

“Ruby, please stop,” said Geronimo. “It’s not worth it.”

“Would the gentleman care to make some stakes?” said the dealer. “I assure you, nothing will endanger your soul, Mr. Cuevas.”

“You don’t have to, Geronimo,” said Ruby. “But nothing we do here is any different from what we’ve been doing the past six months.”

“That’s not true. You have not done the sort of things I have done.”

“Are you sure? You seem to share a very strange bond,” said the dealer. Ruby realized that Geronimo had been clutching her arm. Neither of them had noticed.

“If you could change any moment in your life,” said the dealer, staring at Geronimo, “Would you not take it?”

Dr. Orange stared in a way he hoped was menacing. He slowly reached towards the pistol concealed under his jacket.

Episode XI: Who By Night (Part 9)

They returned to Mersa Fatma with little difficulty other than the heat. Simeon had no problem eluding the bandits, and the drovers had a great deal of respect for him. Ruby noticed that he spoke several languages, and suspected he spoke even more than the ones he acknowledged knowing.

Simeon had efficiently assembled an overland expedition, with just the right number of camels, porters, and drovers. He had discreetly made allowances for the amount of explosives and guns they were bringing.

Before they left they dropped in on the Compagnia Minerale Colonia. The complex was near the port, and proved to be almost deserted, with long rows of warehouses sitting empty and slowly disintegrating in the sun. A total of six employees were all that was left of the once thriving outfit.

Renzo Segni, the Director, met them in his office. “Signora, how nice to meet you, and you, Tenante. And a Canadian, you are always charming. Dr. Heinzhausen, how nice to finally meet you. Your reputation precedes you, of course.”

“It does?” said Dr. Orange, taken aback. Jimmy cracked a grin—it was obvious to him the Director was buttering up the German, hoping he had some pull with the Ruhr industrial combines.

“I was very intrigued to read your paper on sedimentary layers and potash extraction,” continued Segni. “Those tend to be very dry, if you’ll pardon the pun.”

Dr. Orange joined Segni’s strained laughter.

“What can I tell you about?” said Segni. “The Compagnia is not what it used to be…but one day, now that we have an empire again. Think on it—we are in a region even the Romans could not conquer!”

Dr. Orange tried not to chuckle. Ignoring him, Ruby plunged on. “We heard from a colleague that there was a dig site to the west of here that was also the location of a volcanic eruption. Do you know if the area is still active?”

“Hard for me to say, signora. Even if we hadn’t abandoned that region, our relationship with the Afar is not very good. I know that you are a modern woman, so this will sound very demeaning—but it was mostly the troublemaking old women of the tribe. Forgive the insult; pray take another sherry.”

“How did they do that?”

“They used their influence to discontent the workers. Nothing that stopped the potash extraction. But the dig was a disaster. That fool Acuña blamed us, but it was not our fault. When the American showed up, we sent him down to Dallol in the hope he could talk some sense to Acuña—I have a great respect for the American people. I greatly enjoy your movies, and have toured the oilfields of Texas and California. Your country is amazing. Except for the wine. You’d think California could have good wine, but so far, niente.”

“I heard there was a falling out between Acuña and Ayers?”

“To be honest, I found out that while Acuña was a drunk, this Ayers was a drug addict. Probably to a synthetic compound, something called nectare. In any case Acuña would send strange messages—he would demand some equipment one day, then wire to cancel it. The next thing we would know, he would send us an angry telegram demanding to know where the item was! We would tell him that he canceled it, and he would call us liars!”

“What about the eruption?”

“The region is geologically active, although there had been no volcanic eruptions for hundreds of years. Really, I think Dr. Acuña made his own bad luck. Some people Dame Fortune spits on.”

“We ran into Acuña…”

“I’m so sorry. I understand he’s worse.”

“…yes. But we haven’t found the American. Do you know where he is?”

“No. Probably he was massacred by the Afar, you know how they are.”

“We haven’t met yet.”

“Oh? Do you not have a guide?”

“I see what you mean. Yes, we hired a man from that region.”

“Really? Was it Jerome, or Peter, or…”

“Something like that,” said Geronimo, trying to avoid letting Segni know who they hired.

“Simeon,” said Jimmy, trying to be helpful.

“Simeon? Really?” said Segni. “He must be an old man by now. I remember working with him when I came here in 1910. Perhaps it is his son.”

[I should note that the guide’s name is actually Jerome in the text; I decided to change a bunch of details about him, including his name.]

“How old was he when you knew him?” said Ruby.

“Oh, hard to tell. Maybe his thirties. But please, enjoy the hospitality of the company while you are in town. Let me put my man Sinuhe at your disposal. Mr. Djau, please come in!”

An Egyptian man in a European suit but wearing a fez silently entered the room. He had a grave, emotionless face, but stood quietly and deferentially next to Segni’s desk. He was holding an Islamic prayer book in his hands, and wore an ankh around his neck. It was suspended from the tail, not the loop, making it hang upside down, Ruby noted.

“It would be my pleasure to take you anyplace in town,” said Djau. “In fact, there is an excellent club that only recently opened up.”

“Is it run by your cousin?” said Geronimo.

“Sadly not. If it was, I would get a percentage of the gate. Understand, signor, not everyone has a cousin here, but many people receive…what is your charming American word? Kickbacks. Please be my guest tonight. It is called La Piramide Azzurra.”

“The Blue Pyramid?” said Jimmy, choking on something.

“Indeed, that is it in English. I must ask one thing. I understand many Americans are extremely devout in their expression of Christianity. Are any of you opposed to gambling?”

“No,” said Ruby.

“Excellent. It is a casino.”

Episode XI: Who By Night (Part 8)

“Are you German or Austrian, dottore?” a middle-aged lieutenant asked Dr. Orange at the Officer’s Club.


“Good. I don’t like the Austrians. They tried to kill me for four years! Other than that they are a great people. I never fought the Germans. But my brother did, when they came down at the end of the war. Of course, we were running too hard to really see many of them.”

A halftrack pulled up outside. Ruby and Jimmy saw some soldiers jump out. “Help us carry il dottore,” one shouted. With the help of some other enlisted men, they carried a drunk man into a nearby tent.

“Let’s go,” said Jimmy to Ruby, Dr. Orange, and Geronimo. They walked over to the tent and squeezed inside. Dr. Acuña had been unceremoniously dumped face-first on his cot. He was snoring loudly.

Ruby tossed a glass of whisky in his face.

“Aaah! Who’s beating me!” shouted Acuña, coming to with a start. He began firing off a string of obscenities in Madrid-accented Spanish.

“Brother, calm down!” said Geronimo.

“What are you, Aragonese! Stupid peasant! Get your hands off of me, I’m an educated man, a hidalgo! Oh….why is the tent spinning?”

“Just lick your face. Hair of the dog,” said Jimmy.

“My English is not good…I thought you said, lick yourself? You lick yourself! You go lick your mother!”
Geronimo and Jimmy both spent a moment resisting the urge to pull out their guns.

“What do you want?” said Acuña blearily. “Are you from the Italian government? It’s going to be done on time!”

“We’re not from the government,” said Geronimo.

“Then why are you in my tent?”

“We’re asking the questions here!” said Dr. Orange.

“We need to know about Professor Ayers,” said Geronimo.

Acuña fainted. Jimmy shook him back awake.

“Ayers?” mumbled Acuña. “That was a long time ago, who wants to talk about his disaster!”

“We want to,” said Dr. Orange, annoyed.

“What? Yo no hablo alemán.”

Geronimo grabbed him by the lapels. “If you value your life, you’ll talk,” he hissed in Spanish.

[Intimidation spend by GP.]

“If I valued my life, I wouldn’t be here. My life is over, I have ruined my career multiple times.”

“Tell us about Dallol,” said Ruby.

Acuña went green, and then threw up all over the corner of the tent. “Sorry, you said Dallol?”

Jimmy pushed him back down on the bed. “Okay, look, you’re all very scary people…except him,” he said, pointing at Dr. Orange. “Did you say something? I don’t speak German…we came to Dallol, because I had been reading this book. Terrible, strange book, the Revelations of Glaaki. Spoke of strange rites in Ethiopia before the time of Christ. So I came here, told my superiors I was looking at the Axum Empire because my plan was ridiculous. As ridiculous as what you’re wearing, my dear. Tan is not your color.”

Ruby glared back at him.

“We came to Dallol in July 1925. It was hot,” continued Acuña. “We found the outer walls buried under the earth just where the book had predicted. There was an inner complex as well, with sealed doors. They had complex relief carvings on them, nothing like the other carvings. Maybe even from a different culture, possibly Semitic. Right around then this Ayers arrived from Los Angeles. Said he had been doing his own investigation and heard about our dig. One night we were sharing some wine—dreadful stuff, but it was very hot—he said he was here checking on some things for a friend of his who had visited Ethiopia years before.”

“Was his friend’s name Echevarría?” said Ruby.

“Your Spanish accent is terrible, but that was the name. It was just then, when we were on the edge of discovery, that everything went wrong. Our laborers stopped showing up, and when they did they were very suspicious. The idiots at the CMC no longer were regularly supplying us…bandits attacked…everything went wrong. It wasn’t until that winter that we finally penetrated into the center of the complex. It was amazing, that such a thing should exist…do you have anything to drink?”

Ruby handed him her flask.

“American whisky? It’s like wasting a good flask…well, not in this case. You have no taste in flasks either. It’s not your fault, you’re not European, you can’t have the sense of style of the native Spaniard. We found the most amazing artifact. If you saw it, you would perhaps not think the hand of man could make it! It was a mouth, made of stone, and flat on the ground…a very large mouth. Absurdly large.”

“Do you have any notes?” asked Geronimo.

“Those were mostly destroyed…when the complex was destroyed. Now that we were actually inside the complex, my troubles really began. The CMC forgot we existed. Bandits were attacking all the time. The workers all ran away. So I left for a time and went back to Mersa Fatma. Just when I had gotten enough laborers and supplies to start working again…I thought, well Bartolo, you have gone through so much, but you are a man of science, a superior man, an aristocrat. These peasants cannot stop you. I will return to the site, wrest its secrets from the very earth! And that’s when the volcano erupted.”

“Volcano?” said Geronimo.

“Yes, the region is volcanic, they were all supposed to be extinct but I’m not a geologist. Do you have a geologist? They’d probably be very useful. Everything was destroyed, most of my records, the complex was buried under lava. I have some rubbings from the reliefs, that’s all. Ayers would not accept what happened, so he rode back down the railway and I never saw him again. But here, I will sketch out the site for you.”
“There’s the crater,” said Geronimo, pointing at the map.

“Yes, it erupted directly beneath our camp, as if God himself was thumbing his nose at Bartolo Acuña, a man of royal blood…well, on my mother’s grandmother’s side. And there’s a rumor an ancestor of mine was impregnated by Joseph Bonaparte…”

“Can you tell me more about your colleague, Dr. Ayers?” said Ruby.

“Colleague? He wasn’t an archaeologist, I can tell you that,” said Acuña, leaning over and then falling off his chair. Jimmy helped him back up. “He was an ethnologist or some ridiculous thing like that. He talked to the laborers a lot—very strange, what do they know? They didn’t build the site, they’re just a bunch of goat-herders.”

They finally extracted themselves from the doctor’s boozy presence and decided to leave immediately. The Colonel was surprised.

“You know that the bandits are more active at night and you will probably be killed,” he said.

“That’s all right,” said Ruby. “We’re willing to take—”

“Oh, I’m sure you are. I’m required to read this disclaimer. Well, signora, I wish you well. I hope you can leave this country soon.”

“Perhaps we can all find happiness.”

“Yes, there are many things that can make us happy,” said the Colonel, clearly daydreaming about a firing squad with a certain Spaniard as guest of honor. “But I have been informed that Il Duce himself wants to see this obelisk in person soon. So I am…I believe there is an American expression for my straits.”

“I understand,” said Ruby. “Hope you find the paddle.”

Episode XI: Who By Night (Part 7)

They flew Simeon back with them the next day. He was obviously entranced by flying, grinning widely as they soared over the Red Sea.

And the day after that, they set out into the bush.

The heat was…indescribable. Choking dust rose up around them, flies bit them whenever they stopped moving, and sweat soaked everything after only a few moments. At one point they managed to avoid an ambush, but all in all the trip was uneventful if unpleasant. After less than a week they reached the Italian Army camp near Adua.

Close up, the Italian Army seemed more formidable than reputation made it. Maybe it was the machine guns mounted on the armored cars that gave them that impression. A patrol led them back to meet the commandant.

“Your travel papers do not cover this region,” said the commandant in a bored voice. “This area is under military command.”

“We’re looking for someone,” began Ruby.

“Another Spaniard trying to speak Italian,” groused the Colonel. “I’ve had it up to here with Spaniards who can’t speak Italian.”

“I’m looking for my countryman,” said Geronimo.

“Ah, il professore. I am sorry you have come, because now there will be witnesses and I was planning on shooting him tomorrow. Since you are here, though, I could overlook your lack of a permit. The fee is only what you would have paid anyway…”

“Shouldn’t we Fascist brothers work together?” said Geronimo.

“What do I care about Fascists? I could be sitting under a tree in Napoli, but my father insisted I join the army. I spent four years fighting the Austrians in the freezing cold, and now I have been sent here. To warm up, I guess. But I am glad you are such an ardent Fascist. Tell me, have you learned to speak German yet?”

Geronimo glowered.

The colonel sighed. “Acuña will be back tomorrow. I’ll have you shown to your quarters.”

A young private walked them to a tent at the edge of the camp. He pulled Geronimo aside as the rest of them ducked inside it. “Excuse me, signore, but you are fighting with the Nationalist forces in Spain? My brother is currently fighting there with the Condor Legion. Is there anything you can do to help him? He’s my baby brother, I don’t want him killed in a firefight…”

Geronimo stared at him a long time. “This war has taken its toll on all of us,” he said evenly.

“He volunteered to go off and fight the Communists. I told him not to, I said stay home in Milan, it’s much better for you. He left his job at the factory…”

“I understand your concern, but you must let him be his own man…”

“Just tell me one thing, Tenante. His cause is just, is it not?”

“All causes founded in faith…are ultimately just.”

“Thank you Tenante. I will say a prayer for you tonight. I hope you will say a prayer for my brother.”

[So I was driving Geronimo’s then-Driver of Atonement (and twisting the knife pretty hard), but since Geronimo gave the answers he wished someone had given him, he got back a point of Stability.]

Episode XI: Who By Night (Part 6)

That evening there was a gentle knock on the door and a tall, thin Ethiopian man stepped into their room. “Good evening, my name is Simeon. Mr. Wilkinson sent me to see you. You wish to visit the upcountry?”

“Well, first we want to go to Adua,” said Ruby.

“That is where the soldiers are.”

“We’re not interested in the Italian soldiers.”

“That is good. They tend to shoot people they do not know.”

“Good to know,” said Ruby.

“Us too,” muttered Dr. Orange. “We’ll get along famously.”

“We have a colleague we wish to call on,” continued Ruby, ignoring the German.

“The Spaniard? I had planned to return to my village instead of heading west…”

“We can make it worth your while,” said Jimmy.

“I do not do everything for money, Mr. Wright,” said Simeon.

Everyone paused. “How did you know his name?” said Ruby, menace creeping into her voice.

“I am a dragoman…”

“How did you know that name?”

“I…have a talent,” said Simeon with aplomb. “I am humble and I pray to God, and God tells me answers.”

“Amen,” said Geronimo.

“Which god?” asked Jimmy.

“There is only one God. It is not permitted to speak the name of the Divine.”

“What’s his symbol?” said Ruby.

Taken aback, Simeon said, “The cross, of course.”

“Oh, you’re a Christian.”

“The faith of Ethiopia is complex. I believe in Yeshua ben Yosef. You do know there were Jews in Ethiopia for a long time.”

“We’ve just encountered some people from…alternate faiths. Who would do harm to us.”

“I know of them. They would harm the whole world, I think.”

“Are you aware of a faith that cuts off two fingers?” said Jimmy.

“The fingers are not important. It is the mutilations that they use in their…worship. A new faith, one that has only existed since the outsider came. The Mexican.”

“There’s our guy,” muttered Jimmy.

“It was over twenty-five years ago,” said Simeon, looking at a photo of Echevarría that Jimmy handed him. “He was interested in our old ways, and the ruins. And he subverted some to his twisted ideas.” He paused. “I will take you to Adua…if you are people of good will.”

“What can we do to help you?” said Ruby. “You are doing us a great service.”

“Are you here to combat He Who Speaks Only Lies? We could use your assistance…we are not as strong as the old days. Very well. I will contact my cousin to prepare a camel train for us.”

“I think we can trust him,” said Jimmy. “He hasn’t mentioned the funny papers once.”

Episode XI: Who By Night (Part 5)

They hit the streets, bazaars, and souks of Massua. Ruby and Dr. Orange managed to talk their way into the local archaeologist’s club, where they discovered that through some fortuitous turn of events, Bartolo Acuña, the head of the 1925 Dallol expedition that had dug near where the First Mouth was rumored to have been.

“He got a job with the Ministry of Antiquities,” a waiter told them. “Very proud of himself. Bad tipper. Left with a column of soldiers headed northwest.”

Asking around further among the disappointed girlfriends and admirers of the departed soldiers, they found out that the column had been headed for a town called Adua, and had left a couple of weeks ago.

“We need a guide,” said Ruby.

But this turned out to be more difficult than they supposed.

All the Europeans had been hired by the Italian Army, draining the available pool. Some advised heading to Mersa Fatma to find a native Abyssinian guide. Jimmy got the distinct impression, however, that the local guides had somehow been warned off of them.

“But we used fake names!” said Ruby.

“Fake names don’t work against magic,” muttered Jimmy.

A day or two later they flew down to Mersa Fatma. In addition to finding a guide, they hoped to call on the CMC to find out what they could about Dallol.

Once upon a time, the area around Dallol’s mineral salts had been one of the richest sources of potash in the world…until 1929, when large deposits were discovered in less inaccessible parts of the world. Since then, the once-proud Compagnia Minerale Colonia had been reduced to a skeleton force in town.

Ruby, who had been searching for any contacts of hers, discovered that St. John Wilkinson, one of her father’s hunting friends from England, was in town. She went to meet him at his hotel, which, since it was the only European hotel in town, was also her hotel.

[Credit Rating spend, of course.]

“Ruby, how delighted to see you old girl,” said St. John after they had ordered drinks. “But whatever are you doing in Africa?”

“We’re a tiny bit interested in the mining operations.”

“Your father’s finally got you working in the old family business, eh? Well, good luck, though you’ve more chance of finding a husband here than mineral wealth. Unless the good Captain Murphy is with you…”

“Yes, well,” said Ruby, blushing. “You know I’m always interested in new and different landscapes. We’ve been trying to get together an expedition into the highlands.”

“I’ve been trying to head down that way myself, but there’s not much game to be frank. You hear the awful stories—men dying of heatstroke between ten in the morning and noon. Conditions simply frightful, don’t you know.”

“Savage conditions never frightened me.”

“I suppose you could follow the old railway—that’s what we planned to do. Nasty conditions, bandits or freedom fighters or whatever they call themselves in the area thick as flies. Been hard getting the permits—such a run around, and oh, so many bribes. I’ve had to release one of my guides. Said if we didn’t leave soon he’d have to head home to his village. But if you’re going that way, I suppose I could throw him your way.”

“Fantastic. Send him on over.”

“Yes, he’s a good man, named Simon or something.”

Jimmy went out with a small kid he’d hired as a translator, searching for information on the soldiers and the highlands Dallol was located in. “I know a place,” said the boy. “A tea house, a most wonderful place. My cousin runs it, it is the best tea house in the city. I will take you there, sahib?”

“I wasn’t looking for tea.”

“Then I will take you to the best restaurant in all of Mersa Fatma, my cousin owns it…”

“Actually, I’m looking for a house of pleasure. Best place to meet people…”

“Ah, house of pleasures! I know the best house! Are you looking for the youthful ladies, or the youthful boys?”

“Where would soldiers go?”

“The question is the same, sahib.”

“Ladies, then.”

“I know the best European brothel in all of Mersa Fatma, my cousin owns it, it is a wonderful place.”

This turned out to be a nondescript house on the edge of town, with several quite attractive women in residence. Jimmy turned on his charm and opened his wallet.

“The soldiers don’t come here,” said one very beautiful young woman. “But my sister in Massua tells me they come through all the time and head upcountry, to battle against the soldiers loyal to the Emperor. The war is lost, but some are stubborn…ah, well. You know men, I am sure.”

“Because I am one?”

“Oh, I just assumed…I mean, you came in and only asked questions…”

“I’m secure in my masculinity. Do you know anything about Adua?”

“The Italians conquered it and are removing Abyssinian treasures. There’s an obelisk they wish to take back to Rome. I have heard strange rumors, though not from Adua…of course, you must remember that the Afar are liars and cattle thieves. But they say there is evil magic in the highlands of late. I did see one man from that region who was…missing some fingers.”

“Do you know where he is?”

“He was a drover, he has long since returned with the cattle he undoubtedly stole. But there are stories about people mutilating themselves…it is very bad.”

“Thank you for your time,” said Jimmy.

“You’ve paid for several hours of it,” purred the woman.

Jimmy paused, shook his head, and left.

“I knew I should have taken him to the other place,” muttered his translator.

Episode XI: Who By Night (Part 4)

A few minutes later they were all racing in their rented car toward Bombay. “Who is it we’re contacting again?” asked Geronimo from the backseat where he was holding a compression bandage against Ruby’s chest.

“Some friends I made in a branch of the Congress Party,” said Dr. Orange, who was driving.

“What branch?”

“A Comintern branch, if you must know. Communists usually have the best underground hospitals, at least they did in Germany. Practice, I guess; they got beat up a lot.”

This proved to be the case in India as well; at least, the clinic was good enough to get Ruby out of immediate danger and then provide a secure space for her and the rest of them to recover.
Jimmy found an apartment with a piano that he and Janet could lie low in. He spent his days playing ragtime pieces he’d learned from Freddie Blakely to try and keep her spirits up, although most of the time he could barely get through her cloud of depression.

One day, he packed their bags. “I have a surprise for you,” he said. They took a cab to the waterfront and he walked down a wharf to a trim little sailing yacht.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“We’re going to take a little cruise,” he said. “I used to sail a bit when my family would go up to Newport for the summer. I thought…I thought we should just get away from it all.”

“Oh.” She stood still for a moment, and then clutched him tightly, burying her face in his chest. “Oh, thank you Jimmy.”

[JP spent a point of XP to pick up Piloting (small watercraft), and then pitched the idea of a cruise which was really, really sweet.]

Our Jimmy and company are a bit worse for wear, don’t you think?

I know, you haven’t heard from me for a while; but then it’s my style to sit back and watch save for the occasional spectacular appearance on the stage. Like a slumming movie star with a bit part in a Broadway play.

Oh, you didn’t think I was just the narrator, did you? Not in the slightest. Nor am I the author. Ruby et al authored plenty of things and didn’t need the slightest push from me. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t have a hand in, leaning on a few things here, pushing a few things out of the way there. And when you do it right, it’s like arranging dominoes all around the room and kicking them over to reveal a pattern. Hopefully a rude word, if you’re me.

All you need to do is push down one little piece of wood…and it all falls into place…

And so they flew to Italian East Africa, landing in the part that had once been Eritrea before the Italians had gotten empire-mad again. By this time the war with Abyssinia was mostly over, although like all colonial powers the Italian Fascists were discovering that the highlands were proving hard to hold. They put the Brightening Dawn down in the port of Massua, where they had their first encounter with the wonders of authoritarian bureaucracy, in the form of a port inspector named Carlo Salvatore.

“It is very hot,” said Carlo in a weary voice. “Let me see…Bill Parsons, a reporter from Montreal?”

Jimmy smiled and tried to seem polite.

“Hrmm…and Carol Hunt, American…you own a railroad?”

“Yes,” said Ruby brightly. “We’re trying to build a railroad from here to the Cape.”

“That sounds quite difficult, since you will cross the territory of at least three colonial powers. We used to have a small railroad here, to bring the borax in from Dallol. Perhaps it would interest you. Ah, Tenente,” said Salvatore, saluting Geronimo.

Teniente Juan Ricardo, si.”

“My cousin is serving in Spain, driving out those horrible Socialists and Communists. Have you heard the latest? The Republic clings to life by a thread. Soon your commander, General Franco, will finish the work of purging the country of subversives.”

Swallowing his pride and self-respect in one gooey lump, Geronimo nodded. Salvatore continued, oblivious. “Of course it is difficult to fight there. Such a backward people in the hillier regions like Aragon.”

“Yes…I agree with you.”

“And finally we come to you, Herr…”

“Hansel Heinzhausen,” said Dr. Orange with aplomb, pretending not to notice Ruby giggling at the name. It’s just a name, he thought. I knew a Hansel Heinzhausen at university, and he was a great guy. “I am a geologist, here to study the mineral wealth of the country.”

“Yes, our Compagnia Minerale Colonia is attempting to restart the export of the mineral salts from the interior. You should call upon them, I think. Addio.”

Episode XI: Who By Night (Part 3)

Ruby sprinted for the boathouse, reaching it as the rapid fire from the beach filled the air. She pulled the door open and plunged into the darkness inside.

She heard the sound of a pistol cocking behind her. She put her arms in the air and slowly turned as the door closed. The Englishwoman regarded her coolly.

“I don’t actually have any orders regarding you, Miss Fitzgibbons,” she said. “So I suppose I could just execute you and throw your body into the Arabian Sea…”

“I’d prefer you didn’t.”

“Yes…we’d all like many lovely things.”

“I’d imagine you’d like not to be shot.”

“It was part of my general plan, yes.”

“How’s that working out for you,” said Ruby, a little smugly.

“I’ve had better plans, to be honest.”

The firing from the beach reached a crescendo. The heavy thud of a shotgun being fired filled the air, followed by the sound of rapid pistol fire.

“Get Betty and Janet to the plane,” shouted Geronimo to Charlie. He dashed out from the breezeway and swept up the Thompson gun from the dead mercenary. (Oh, yes; he had recognized there were professionals at work here.) He could see two men with pistols rush toward the house, covered by a third man who hadn’t noticed him yet.

Geronimo thumbed the fire selector on the Thompson to full auto. He sprayed fire in a wide arc at the two men running for the house and the third one covering them from the corner of the breezeway. The man at the corner hit the deck as soon as the gun went off. The two men trying to get into the house both hit the ground, bleeding. They fired their pistols back at Geronimo. He staggered back as a 9mm round smashed into his chest. He groaned as blackness crept in at the edge of his vision, but he managed to stay on his feet.

Inside the house, Dr. Orange went to the top of the stairs and looked down. The smoke in the parlor was clearing, and he could see that the door to the breezeway had been perforated by .45 ACP slugs. He saw the muzzle flashes as the two men crouched at the door fired back at Geronimo.

He fished into his satchel and pulled out a Great War issue grenade. He carefully examined the staircase, muttering calculations under his breath. Then he smashed the handle off the grenade, counted to three, and rolled it down the stairs. He ducked back into the upstairs room as the grenade detonated at the base of the stairs.

[I let OP make a Physics spend here rather than Athletics to put the grenade exactly where he wanted it.]

Geronimo was reaching for his pistol when suddenly the door to the house vanished in a flash of light. The concussion knocked him to the ground. When the smoke cleared, he saw nothing of the two men by the door except large splashes of blood.

“Miss Fitzgibbons, do you think Mr. Wright will allow me to leave if I use you as a shield?” said the Englishwoman.

“No,” said Ruby with candor.

“Pity.” The woman’s pistol barked, and Ruby fell to the ground without a word. Blood pooled under her from the horrible wound in her chest.

[Yup. Triple damage here from the pistol put Ruby at -10.]

Jimmy rounded up the rest of them. He helped Charlie put a tourniquet on Betty’s leg—she’d been hit far worse than she thought.

“You are bleeding too, Mr. Wright,” said Charlie.

“Yeah, Took one in the ribs.”

“You have a true warrior nature,” said Charlie simply, the way he always did when giving a profound compliment.

Dr. Orange came down and stepped gingerly over the wreckage. He made his way over to Geronimo and braced him against the wall, waving a bottle of smelling salts under his nose. The Spaniard jerked awake.

“Where’s Ruby?” he said.


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