"The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing in the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment"-- - Lady Dorothy Nevill
Approaching the sprawling metropolis of Brazzaville. It certainly smells like a city all right. Whoo boy! The stink of refuse, the sweat of people, and who knows what else. Lovely. And in the heat, it's just extra special.
The sailors on board the Intrepid are excited about visiting a place called "the Gut". The port's pilot is run out on a little steam launch, and there's a man in greasy overalls in the aft, and a man in a pith helmet and pristine khakis up in the front. Guess which one's the pilot? He's 30-something gentleman with a lovely light chocolate complexion and bright white teeth, which he flashes frequently, especially when he sees the female. The ship is brought in without incident.
The Intrepid will be in port for about a day, to take on food, fresh water, and paraffin. Lt. Kerrie is concerned about acquiring the paraffin he needs here, as if he cannot, they'll have to burn coal. This would degrade the performance of the vessel, and make everything dirty.
Lt. Kerrie is also going to see about finding passage for Lady Telford back to her home. He doesn't want to put her onto any ship he doesn't first check on thoroughly, and it may be a problem finding something going the right direction (i.e., towards Kanada - or rather the Grand Duchy of Kanaida as it turns out). Lt. Kerrie: <to the passengers> "I'll leave it up to you to decide if you want to go ashore or not. A word of advice though. One should be cautious. You're obviously men of the world, but this is not down town Coventry. I suggest you travel together, avoid dubious establishments, and don't go out after dark. And it wouldn't be amiss for one of you to carry a revolver." Robert: "Got it covered." He pats his full flap holster. Sigh. Lt. Kerrie further explains that Brazzaville is a free port, an independent city-state. He has ship's business to attend to.
Robert: "Do we want to go ashore?" Kaeth: "Well, we do need to look for the Red Lady painting." Robert: "I was never told why we were here." Samantha: "You weren't supposed to come along." Robert: "I know. I was supposed to be the taxi." And that worked out so well. Kaeth: <to Sam> "Do you want to go into town?" Samantha: "I do need to do some shopping." Kaeth: "Of course." Samantha: "I'm kind of low on the local clothing. You know, that doesn't show limbs." Franz volunteers to accompany Lady Telford, and she accepts. He of course dresses for the occasion, in his celluloid collar and his bow tie.
Dr. Jurgen is invited to go along, and Robert keeps trying to get him to talk about the legends. About the original colonists arriving in ships that traveled through the ether and all that. Robert: "Do the legends give any details about this electricity force you mentioned?" Dr. Jurgen: "Not in any detail that I'm aware of. I'm not a physicist, I'm a naturalist." Robert: "But it did exist at one time?" Dr. Jurgen: "Well, it's a mythical force. Magic, ju-ju."
Franz: <to Samantha> "My man has located an establishment that caters to Western women, if you'd like to go there? Since you lost most of your belongings." Samantha: "Yes, I would like that." Franz: "Will we all be going along to shop for dresses then?" Yes, the others will be going along too, at least as far as the shop.
This is a real uncivilized place, not just the movie version. People retching in the alley. Charming local color. Franz asks if they will be staying the night on board ship, or in the town? Samantha: "That depends on whether or not you can locate some place suitably safe to stay in." Lt. Kerrie of course has recommended that Lady Telford stay on the ship, but Sam, as well as Robert and Geoff, have not been adapting too well to life at sea. It takes a while to get used to the ground not moving, but it's nice that it doesn't.
Kaeth notices the Vargr population in Brazzaville. A lot of them are marginally feral looking. Unkempt fur, large knives, wearing animal skins. The Vargrs of the Hinterland. Literally.
Franz discretely inquires as the group's funding, since he realizes most of their belongings were lost "at sea". Geoff, Samantha, and Kaeth all have some specie, but no local currency. Franz instructs Heinrich to get out 100 Ducats. The party is given ten large, thick gold coins, about 2.5 ounces each. The coins are stamped "10 Ducats", with an intricate border and a six pointed cross on one side, and a profile of a man on the obverse - the Grand Duke of Zenda. Many people travel through the Western duchy of Zenda, and their money is taken pretty much everywhere. Their neutrality is well known.
Franz: "We should split up into two or three groups, that way it won't take as much time for everyone to equip themselves." Kaeth: "I'd suggest no more than two groups, so no one looks too much like a target. And we need to arrange somewhere to meet up." Franz: "Say, the park outside of the Government House?" He points, and there's a bright flag over that way. Franz and Dr. Jurgen have been here before and both know the town fairly well. Franz volunteers to accompany Lady Telford (surprise, surprise), and Geoff will go with them. Kaeth: "Are there any places you recommend we just keep away from entirely?" Franz: "Yes, you want to avoid the southern part of the town. <pointing> There where you see those shacks, the ones with the uh, women in the windows. It's known as the Gut, and it's not somewhere for gentlemen to go. Very dangerous. And, given the current company, no further extrapolation is necessary." Don't want to traumatize the lady. The sailors, except for the few unhappy ones manning the Maxim guns, are headed right that way.
Dr. Jurgen is more than willing to go with Robert and Kaeth, not being interested in women's clothing. The doctor doesn't say anything when Franz and Sam can hear, but after they leave, he states <sotto vocce> "It wouldn't be the first skirt that had caught Franz's eye."
Robert needs better walking boots, and Kaeth needs new clothing, period. They can find everything up to and including hob nail boots made of some kind of heavy skin, possibly from the herbivores that ran over Geoff. Robert buys a pair of those, which he will not wear on the ship. He has his regular shoes for that. Kaeth gets a spare pair of boots, and makes sure he and Robert have good socks. Then they check out the handguns. They have a variety available, and one of the nicer shops has rather modern revolvers. For this time period. What's popular here is 12 mm (approximately). Kaeth tries to find some standard cartridges, to make up for what he doesn't have. He buys a revolver and some Albion military grade cartridges.
The ladies' shop looks completely out of place, as it's full of frilly stuff. There is quite a bit of finery in here. Franz and Geoff of course wait outside, after Franz tells the proprietor to "take care of whatever the lady wants". Franz sits down on a bench and takes out a black and white magazine, a gentleman's magazine. Immediately across the street there is some sort of hubbub. Tinkling of keys, laughing, singing, clink of glassware... Geoff senses carousing. And beer. Franz looks at him and says "Oh by all means. I'm sure we'll be here for a while." Geoff goes over.
Inside, although Samantha is normally a quick shopper, it is going to take a while. The proprietor took one look at Franz, and starting sucking up big time. Everything has to be modeled first, then fittings will be done...
Geoff's a big boy, tall and wide. And he's a stranger. Yes, people look when he walks in, but he doesn't have that "easy mark" look. Geoff goes up to the bar. Bartender: "What can I get you?" Geoff: "A beer please." Bartender: "What kind of beer?" Geoff: "Dark. Do you have change for this?" He plunks down the ten Ducat coin on the counter. That does turn a few heads. Bartender: "Of course, sir." He checks the coin out to make sure it's legit, then gets Geoff a glass of crankcase oil - a beer so dark that light can't escape it. Bartender: "Will you be running a tab, or shall I get your change now?" Geoff: "Um... I think I'll take the change now." The bartender goes to the back, and comes out a few minutes later with bundles of money.
Geoff now has $999,000 Brazzaville Escudos tucked into his clothing, and he's looking for a card game. Granted, Escudos aren't worth that much, but still... There are several card games, and something like dominos at another table. Geoff observes for a while and he does recognize one of the card games. Mostly. It's a variation of something he knows. The players are using chips rather than money on one of the card tables, to leave room on the table for the cards. At the other card table, there are chips, cash, a watch, and a desperate man trying to use a ring. Heads are shaken, and the man puts the ring back on and produces a piece of paper with a seal on it. Geoff walks over and asks what it is. It's the deed for a plantation. The man needs $20,000 Escudos, which Geoff gives him (in exchange for the deed).
The last card is dealt, the man smiles, turns over a face card, and shows his two pair. He's reaching for the pot when a man in a natty dark suit with wire embroidered vest who reaches out to stop him. He flips over two aces, then a third ace as his hole card. Geoff thinks he sees something move up the man's sleeve, and grabs his hand, turning it over to reveal a knife, which pops into the gambler's hand. The man rolls his wrist and slashes Geoff across the nose and the cheek. He's fast. Geoff swings and misses, and the action starts to spill over to the rest of the bar, in the time-honored tradition. The fight's on!
In the fitting room across the street, Sam hears the sound of glass shattering as some one is thrown through the front window. Wood shattering, etc. Sam: <thinking> "Ah. That would probably be Geoff, unless Kaeth and Robert have wandered into the area. <to the fitter> Do you have this in any other color?"
Geoff rakes the man down the shin, then some monkey leaps on him. The gambler tries to slash Geoff again, but misses. Geoff's just getting warmed up. Right after the shin rake, and in spite of the monkey, Geoff kicks the gambler in the kidney. That puts him right down. Then Geoff has to deal with the female on his back. There's a screech, and she's trying to bite his ear off. This is really annoying. Geoff reaches back to grab the woman's throat, getting a handful of hair. She lets go of his ear, but clamps down on his hand. Geoff decides this is getting ridiculous, so he drops onto his back like the Marine that he is. There's a moment of hang time, then a cloud of dust, the creak of floorboards, and the woman is left gasping for breath when Geoff gets up.
Drinker: "Hey, he...got Molly! Get him!!" A trio of men with about three brain cells between them charge Geoff. Geoff grabs the one in the middle by his hand as he's swinging, redirecting it into his friend. The first man goes flying, hitting a table with his gut. "Hey! Fight fair!" He puts his fists up. Geoff steps up and punches the guy right in the middle of the chest, just below the sternum. There's a big uh! but he's still standing. He pulls waaaayyy back, swings on Geoff and keeps on going all the way over. Geoff points at the third man. Geoff: "Okay." The last man standing makes a show like he's going to adjust himself, then pops Geoff right where he was stabbed. This would be the wily one of the three. Geoff misses, but then shoves the man into a post really hard, just as he hits Geoff in the wound again. There's a pause as the man is shoved back onto the post, and stands there with a really shocked look on his face. The bar has now gotten really quiet. Geoff now notices the small white thing sticking out the man's chest. He looks down, touches it, then goes white and falls over. Blood everywhere.
Geoff: "Somebody call a doctor." Bartender: "It's a bit late for that. What I want to know is who's going to pay for this mess?" Geoff tosses a bundle of money onto the bar. One of the more well-dressed patrons approaches Geoff. Man: "Look, I saw it all, and it was a fair fight, but his brothers might not see it that way when they come to. I'd suggest you get out of here before they wake up, and get yourself to a doctor." He escorts Geoff to the door, one arm around his waist to lend support. Man: "Hell of a fight, never seen anything like it. You watch your back stranger." Geoff won't miss the two bundles of money for a while.
Geoff staggers out of the bar, holding himself. Franz lowers the magazine slowly, glancing over with a schoolmaster look on his face. Franz: "Good heavens man, are you injured?" Geoff: "Uh, yeah. This <his nose> is just superficial, but I think this <his chest> goes into the lungs." Franz: "Well, we should try to find the doctor. I don't think you're going to want the local butcher having a go at you." Geoff doesn't want to hang about across from the bar, and servants are sent ahead to reserve rooms in the hotel, and track down Dr. Jurgen.
Speaking of the doctor, he's off shopping with Robert and Kaeth . They have purchased five sets of clothing, boots, a couple of shotguns and ammo. Kaeth: <to the shopkeeper> "We're interested in chronometers." Robert: "I'd like a timepiece and a compass." The compass is no problem, but the watches are expensive. The doctor helps look over the watches, redirecting them from the gold one, to the better watch. The Roche Bouquet, with a sterling silver case; not as flash as the gold watch, but a much more accurate timepiece. Robert: "I'm also interested in navigational instruments." Shopkeeper: "A navigational chronometer?" Robert: "No, that's not necessary. I was looking for a sextant." Shopkeeper: "Ah, yes sir. I think I have just the thing." He goes into the back and comes out with a nicely made wooden box with brass fittings, containing a complicated mechanical device, and a piece of paper with signatures on it. It's a Fredonian military model. Dr. Jurgen: "Ah. The best." Expensive, but an excellent instrument.
Kaeth also wants a leather sling for his shotgun, and one for Robert. Kaeth describes what he wants for himself and Robert, and the slings are made up. Kaeth has already purchased a 450 Boxer revolver and two boxes of cartridges. Kaeth wants to take the Doctor to lunch, and asks for a suggestion. Dr. Jurgen: "Well, there is the hotel where the Count usually stays." They head that way, Robert merrily stomping his new boots. They have just arrived in the lobby when Franz's servants come running in, panting. Servant: "Major Geoff...He's been injured." Kaeth: "Right." He and the doctor follow one of the servants, leaving the others to make the reservations.
Franz's remaining servants will be occupied with Sam's purchases (all neatly wrapped and packed individually), after she comes out and takes a look at the damage Geoff's taken. Sam: "That's it?" Geoff: "So far." The doctor arrives. Dr. Jurgen: "My word. Well, that bench is not adequate." He steps out into the street and flags down a cart. Geoff is taken off the comfy bench, and onto something without shock absorbers. Good thing it's not far to the hotel, because one more jarring bump and Geoff was going to get up off the cart and kill somebody.
The party arrives at the hotel, and the servants ease Geoff off of the cart. Kaeth and Robert try to help him up the stairs, but Geoff protests. Geoff: "I don't need help up the stairs. But I'm not carrying you guys." Oh, he's gettin' cranky. The servants who went ahead have arranged for extra sheets and towels, have cleared the coffee table and placed a footstool at one end for Geoff's head (he's such a tall man here).
Kaeth assists the doctor in getting Geoff and the equipment ready. Dr. Jurgen: "I'm going to give you something to relax you and dull the pain." Geoff: "Okay." Dr. Jurgen finds a vein easily, and a few minutes later, they could saw Geoff's legs off and he wouldn't care. Dr. Jurgen cleans out the wound, puts a sort of cream into the wound, and gives Geoff several injections around the wound. Geoff feels much better. Then Dr. Jurgen moves up to the nose. He uses very fine suture silk, and very small stitches. He cuts and re-does several stitches. Then he uses some of the cream on the nose too.
Geoff is all fuzzy and warm. All the problems are far away...in Africa, or Ulan Bator. He's tucked into bed, and Dr. Jurgen has arranged for the servants to put some food (fruit, meat, bread) and water and juice by the bed. Dr. Jurgen: "When he wakes up he'll be very hungry; it's a side effect of the drug."
Franz: "Well, now that that's been taken care of, I suggest we get something to eat as well." Sam: "Excellent idea." She's feeling better now that she's in clothing that's her size. Even if her cleavage is pushed up, and then covered over. Such a waste!
Downstairs for lunch, then sitting around chatting, sipping, and communing with other people of quality. After a while, Lt. Kerrie shows up. Kerrie: "I've acquired an adequate supply of good hard wood. That will have to do. I wish I had more sailors, but those men will not be easily replaced here." Kaeth reads the local paper. It mentions the hostilities between Albion and Fredonia. And also, the "lights in the sky" are mentioned. The Western papers, which are about a month old, mention the "phenomenon" from about a month or more ago. (The first ship, carrying the missing painting?) The local papers have a religious leader go on about the lights being the harbingers for the end of the world. Civilization will be destroyed on Octember 23rd, at 11:14 a.m. He and his followers are planning on going up to the top of a sacred mountain, to ask the gods to save them.
There are a pair of adventurers from Albion. Ruddy looking men, one older, one younger. They chat with Kerrie, trying to elicit more information than they give, but to no avail. The man in the corner with the dark suit, bowler hat, and gloves attracts Sam's attention. He keeps peering between his hat and the top of his paper. Cop? Spy? Other? Bears watching. Kaeth is on the look out for anyone he doesn't know in the room. And there are members of the press too. With the adventurers, the reporters, and the group off the Intrepid, it's quite the party.
A lithe male comes striding in. Not a male from Sam's perspective - that's a female in mannish clothing, with a firearm in a full flap holster at her side. She has a male servant with her. Several of the better bred men in the room raise eyebrows over this scandalous behavior, including the Count, but they're all too well-bred to say anything. The woman strides over to the group and extends her hand. Female: "I hear you're talking about the lights in the sky. Marguerite Roarke." Kaeth instinctively shakes her hand. She has a manly handshake. She extends her hand to the Count, who is somewhat taken aback. He bends over her hand and clicks his heels. Lt. Kerrie takes her hand by the fingertips and inclines his head. Robert just stands and shakes her hand, admiring her taste in holsters.
Marguerite plunks herself down at the table and starts talking about the lights in the skies, the Mysterious Islands, and the like. The conversation takes on an even more of a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adventure theme. They talk about the southern continent, and the Mysterious Islands, and all the stories about the wild, cannibalistic Vargrs, etc., etc. Dr. Jurgen: "But is it technically cannibalism if they're not eating other Vargrs? Besides, from what I have heard the Vargrs of the South are not wild animals at all, but tool using tribes, albeit primitive." The younger adventurer, a red head named Kip Mayfield, goes off on a rant about how important it is to "uplift" the Vargrs. Kip: "Look how much happier this fellow is." He gestures at Kaeth, who just looks at him. Kip: "Certainly sir, would you trade civilization for life in the wilds? Civilization has been a boon to you, has it not?" Kaeth: "I get by." Kip: "You see, even the savage can be elevated." The Count just raises an eyebrow at this rudeness, and gives Kaeth a glance that could be interpreted as "If you need a second..." Kip's friend moves to the bar to drink.
The doctor has been keeping a closer eye on the party, something Robert and Kaeth have not missed. Well, Sam hasn't had a chance to tell the others about her conversation with the doctor - there hasn't been much time or privacy. Marguerite: "...say that they're visitors from another planet." That's one of the possibilities, along with volcanic ejecta from the South Pole (this from the man who is planning on visiting the center of the planet), or just meteors. Marguerite: "Yes, Horace, you've got it partially right. Now, a vessel, from beyond the ether..." The men at the table are exchanging looks of "Oh look, isn't' it cute - the woman has an opinion." Sam glances at the doctor, who is looking at his hands. Very studiously. He looks like a man who is trying to not have an expression on his face.
Kaeth goes upstairs to check on Geoff. The servant tells him that the major awoke briefly, ate, then went back to sleep. Kaeth checks on Geoff and the injuries are healing very nicely. Looks like he's been given a large dose of Regen. Kaeth must have a talk with Dr. Jurgen about his medicine.
Back downstairs. Franz: "Aliens from another world, indeed." Much hilarity. The speculation continues. Then one of the reporters pipes up with "Yes, but should we really be discussing all of this in front of Von Hollenstein? He is a Fredonian." Kip: "Yes, Count, would you like to comment on the policy of colonization ..." Kip seems to be going out of his way to goad the count. The count is very slow to goad. He's just too witty. The young, full of zeal and the rightness of his cause, versus the specifics of the older man who is very well read. Robert stands, asks the doctor if he'd like another drink? Dr. Jurgen: "Oh, no thank you." Robert goes over to the bar and gets a lemonade. He sits beside Kip's fellow adventurer, who is trying very hard to ignore Kip, while doing some very business like drinking.
The red head is standing and gesturing. Kip: "And you, <to Kerrie> sitting there next to this -" He stops suddenly. "Consorting with the enemy. You should be ashamed of yourself." Oh, now he's done it. Sam stands up, causing all the gentlemen to stand, then walks over to Kip. Robert undoes the snap on his holster. Just in case. Sam walks over and stands right in front of Kip, looking him directly in the eyes. Sam: "Sir, if you were intoxicated, your behavior might be excusable. As it is, you owe the lieutenant an apology." Kip fumes for a few moments before speaking. Kip? "Perhaps I went too far. If so, I apologize." Sam: "Lt. Kerrie, would you consider that an adequate apology?" She wouldn't, but the lieutenant is trying to keep things polite. Kerrie: "No harm done." The room is a bit chillier. Kip glares at Franz, then stalks out of the room - in a well bred fashion, but rather stiffly.
Well good. Now that he's gone, Sam sits back down between Franz and Lt. Kerrie, and they can get back to the serious business of vying for her attention. Franz: "I must say, that new outfit suits you..." After a few moments of friendly conversation, Lt. Kerrie has to, regrettably, leave to attend to his ship. Kerrie: <to Sam> "But I hope I will see you for dinner?" Sam: "Of course."
Kaeth, after checking on Geoff, goes to check out his shotgun, and look for info on ethically challenged merchants in the area. And the shipping front, in case there's anything going to Kanaida. Nope. Good. Nothing about ships recently in with bounty from the South either. He returns to the hotel.
Dinner at will be at 7:00 p.m. A servant discretely passes on the fact that the Count prefers to dress for dinner. Gee, Kaeth was already planning on wearing clothing... Robert realizes this means he's bought the wrong clothing. He speaks to Dr. Jurgen. Robert: "I believe that the Count wishes us to dress for dinner?" Dr. Jurgen: "Yes, that is his habit when in a civilized port of call, or whenever possible." Robert: "That is an article of clothing that we neglected to get." Dr. Jurgen: "Ah." Fortunately, he knows of a place they can get appropriate accoutrements. The doctor is going to go and get a proper shave.
Time for Robert and Kaeth to have a wee chat with Lady Telford. Finally, a chance to speak in private! They give the servant who's watching Geoff a break. The doctor was just in, found Geoff in distress, and gave him something to let him get some sleep. The servant leaves, they talk. Robert: "What's got the doctor so keyed up?" Samantha: "Well, he's a doctor. He notices things." Kaeth: "Does he suspect, do you think?" Robert: "He was reacting a bit strangely when Marguerite was talking about the aliens." Samantha: "The doctor is a very observant man. Our clothing, footwear, weapons... and the concealment armor I was wearing when I was injured on the ship." Oh. Kaeth: "So what does he know?" Samantha: "That we're not from around here." Robert: "Ah." Kaeth: "He's bright, he's observant, he's grokked it." Robert: "So, he's figured out that we're from another planet?" Samantha: "Yes. He did ask if this was our normal form or a disguise." Kaeth: "You told him we were human?" Samantha: "I didn't tell him you were a human! I told him you were a Vargr. He doesn't think it would be a good idea for word to get out; I don't think he's going to say anything to anyone. I told him we were just here to retrieve a lost object."
Lt. Kerrie comes by to speak with them. It doesn't look good for getting Lady Telford a ride out. The one ship Kerrie thought of as a possibility is owned by Kip and his associate, and after what happened this afternoon, he's not about to let her go on board even if it was going the right direction, which it's not. Kerrie: "It looks like we'll all be continuing southward together then. Their ship, as well as several others, are all headed the same way we are - for their own reasons. Good thing I was able to find fuel." Kaeth: "I know this is going to sound paranoid, but I would suggest that you inspect the wood carefully." Kerrie: "Are you suggesting that some one might try an act of sabotage?" Kaeth: "It's possible." Robert: "Can you conscript sailors? There is another vessel in port." Kerrie: "Yes, but this is a very advanced warship. It requires technological training." Robert: "I would suggest we inspect the fuel carefully before departing." Kerrie: "That might be awkward, as it is two thirds loaded." Kaeth wants to check out the wood, sniff it out so to speak, just in case he can find something odd. Robert offers to help - he doesn't have any demolitions training, but he follows orders well. Nothing is found, but the loaders will be advised to keep an eye open for something out of the ordinary. All this burns up all the time before dinner.
Samantha is about to step into her bath when there's a knock on the door. She throws on a robe and finds a small female, early 20's, mousy brown hair. Girl: "Madame?" Sam: "Yes?" Girl: "I am Lisette." She holds out a piece of paper. It's character references. She's been retained by the Count, as it is unseemly for a lady to be without a maid. Lisette is 5'2", very petite, clean, scrubbed, presentable, and with good references. She's been stuck here for several months, since her last mistress died of a fever. Sam: "If the Count believes you would be appropriate, then by all means, come in." Sam will make arrangements with the concierge for adding a bed (cot, whatever) for Lisette, then Sam can take her bath. And it'll be nice to have some one who knows what to do with that corset thing. (The boning could be quite useful when it comes to turning a blow or a blade...)
Kaeth decides to seek out a Vargr barber/groomer and get something done about that fur of his. He's seen quite a few Vargrs in town, some professionals, some laborers. He knows what part of town to go to, and will make himself at least presentable.
Next: Dining in style.