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Authors: Patrick Taylor

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EIGHT

 

The Expedition                                                          

 

They proceeded in two contingents, the one with the oil drilling and earth excavation equipment via a freighter departing from Los Angeles Harbor at San Pedro. Their ship would arrive at the port of entry for most of East Africa, Dar-es-Salaam, on the Indian Ocean, after passage through the Panama Canal and rounding the Cape of Good Hope.

The Chicago group would entrain to New York City, and secure passage for Rome. After a stopover there, the plan was to sail across the Mediterranean, and traverse the Suez Canal to their destination, south of the Horn of Africa. As their travel time would be much shorter than that of the L.A. group, on arrival they were to arrange transportation, and set up the camp in the Eastern Rift Valley at the site of their objective. There, under Max’s direction, they would commence the anthropological part of the dig.

Still in Los Angeles, Diana checked on the cargo of the ship berthed at San Pedro, and confirmed that the necessary machinery for a deep dig was safely on board. While the source of the magnetic and nuclear radiation at their objective was relatively shallow, they would still have to excavate more than a hundred feet of soil and rock. In addition to lava flows, there would be layers of sediment, washed down over the millennia from the surrounding highlands during countless rainy seasons.

That evening, she met Dan for dinner. He had been checking on her frequently at work in his new capacity in Security at Buell, and they were deeply in love. But it would be their last evening together for some time, as she was leaving in the morning for Chicago.

Diana held his hand after the meal, while they sipped the last of their wine. Dan gazed sadly into her eyes, worriedly saying, “Watch that guy, Max, he has designs on your body. I wouldn’t put it past him, trying to get you into bed.”

She frowned at that. “Max is the least of my concerns. You know I’m headed for darkest Africa. Believe me, I can handle him, or any other man. You should know that by now. It’s the unknown that bears watching. Nuclear radiation, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, poisonous snakes, you name it. Lustful men are the least of my worries, present company excluded,” she laughed, squeezing his hand.

Chuckling, Dan said, “That’s reassuring. But seriously, Buell has a stake in the success of this operation. They plan to send along plenty of muscle. Aboard the ship with the equipment, for firepower, they’ve signed up the Pinkerton Security Agency.”

She exclaimed, “The Pinkertons! I thought they went out with your Yank train robbers, Jessie James and the rest of those chaps.”

The Dissidents

At that very moment, another group of men were meeting in the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, just a mile away, in one of those posh suites on the top floor. Martinis had been served, along with oysters on the half-shell, and the five men were in a good mood. One of them, Jeremiah Grant, spoke up.

“I think we should get on with our business now. I’m the most senior, so I’ll act as chair. You all know why we’re here. Each of us voted against the African venture, and three of us walked out in protest. I’m glad to see that we are all here tonight. The question is, do we have a consensus regarding our mission?”

There was a pause as he looked around at the now-attentive faces. Ira Cameron, whose fortune had been made in drilling equipment, spoke up first. “I doubt that oil in significant quantities will be found there. We’ll be looking at dry holes almost without a doubt. Not only that, they may uncover nuclear deposits that will serve as competition to our own energy interests. It looks as if we’re too late to stop the exploration’s start, but there must be a way to keep it from finishing”

“Well put, Ira,” another said, “I also worry that they may uncover something in the way of nuclear technology, such as controlled fusion, which would not only compete with petroleum, but could render it obsolete, just as with whale oil for lubrication.”

The other three nodded in assent at that, leading Grant to assert, “Then, gentlemen, our mission is clear. We must stop this whole thing somehow. But what should our methods be? Sabotage? Overt, or by turning the natives against them? Bribery often is effective in Africa, especially where significant unrest promotes the philosophy on the part of officialdom to get theirs and get out while they still can.”

Cameron added, “Well, in the latter case, you may have something. The unrest against the whites in the form of the Mau-Mau uprising is still smoldering, at least in neighboring Kenya, just a few miles to the north. Perhaps inciting a revolt, on the model of their leader, Jomo Kenyatta, against British colonial rule, would be effective. But I understand there is a similar but non-violent movement for freedom,
Uhuru
--their word for it in Swahili--in Tanganyika now, so we’ll have to recruit our natives from Kenya.”

Getting There

Diana missed her young son, Bobby. She wrote to him a couple of times weekly, but she had not seen him in over six months. For that reason, she seized upon the African expedition as an opportunity to stop over in London to be with him. She could spend five days there by flying rather than taking an ocean liner with the rest of the dig party.

She had raised him at home with the help of her parents when, just after the war, she was mustered out of the Royal Engineers. She first attended the University of London for her degree, and later Cambridge, where she obtained her Master’s. During that time, her son grew from a tiny infant to a gangling boy under the loving eyes of her parents and his proud mother.

His photographs had always been enclosed with the letters from London, but what must he be like in person, she wondered, as the plane steadily droned on over the Atlantic. She knew children can shoot up like weeds in that adolescent growth spurt, and from his replies in his letters, she suspected it was happening then. With that in mind, she dozed off for a time, thinking, he’s probably my height by now. She was only half right. As she negotiated the steps from the BOAC DC-6 that had flown her from New York, she saw what looked like three adults waiting for her. Bobby was taller than she was. She felt a momentary pang of regret for having missed so much with him, but she realized that her ambitions regarding her Martian theory would have to be fulfilled before she could ever settle down to being a full-time mother again.

“Welcome home, Diana,” her father said, as she quickly embraced her parents in turn, then wrapped her arms around her son.

“So good to see you,” Diana replied. “You’re such dears to meet me.” Holding Bobby at arm’s length for a better appraisal, she exclaimed, “And lad, look at you! How you’ve---”

He cut off that stock exclamation, cautioning, “Don’t say it, mum! That’s what you and everybody else remarks each time they see me.”

Diana smiled, thinking, how he has grown! He’s a good four inches taller than he was last time we met. Then she joyously hugged him again.

Her own mother, long an Anglicized American, said, “That California tan looks good on you, but I must insist you stay out of the sun in Africa.”

“That will be nearly impossible,” her father, Sir Robert, commented. “But you should consider wearing one of those white pith helmets for protection when out and about. As with English roses, English skin doesn’t do well there.”

Bobby, his adolescent voice squeaking a little, chimed in, “Nothing but advice from your parents! Isn’t a child supposed to outgrow that by the time they are your age, mum?”

Sir Robert, putting an arm around his grandson, commented, “It seems neither parent nor child ever attains the immunity of age, where grandparents are concerned.” Then turning to her, he said, “Come, Diana, you must be tired and hungry.”

Her stay in London did wonders for her, renewing contact with Bobby and her parents, but like most enjoyable things, it was much too short. It soon came time to part, as had so often marked her relations with loved ones. Bobby pleaded to be taken along on the expedition, leading her to promise that after Africa, he would be with her wherever she went.

After flying to Rome, she joined the Chicago group just as boarding began. Crossing the Mediterranean was calm, allowing her to catch up on her sleep. There was concern about the Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal two years before, but the passage through that waterway went off without a hitch. Just like a cruise, the ship made its way down the Red Sea, rounding the Horn of Africa, the weather warm and dry, the seas serene. She missed Dan terribly, and had to tolerate the constant partying of the younger members of the expedition, and fend off Max, who at first was constantly hitting on her. The week at sea would have flown by had she enjoyed it more. They finally arrived at Dar-es-Salaam, and after passing through British Customs, Max registered them all at a first-class hotel around noon. Diana and Max’s secretary, Myra, roomed together, with Max next door, and the rest were down the hall. She noticed the door connecting their two rooms, and made sure it was locked.

They met in the lobby, where Max informed them that the rest of the day was free until the evening meal. It soon became apparent that he and Myra had somehow arranged to lunch with a tall, pale European at a corner table in the hotel restaurant. As Diana dined with the others, she couldn’t help but wonder about the stranger. His hair was straight and very blonde, and he had pale skin and light eyes. Maybe an albino, she thought, or perhaps new to Africa, not at all tanned, and unburned. Something about him didn’t seem right, but she couldn’t pinpoint just what it was.

After supper, the little party strolled together along the palm-lined boulevard. The sunset shone golden over the distant hills, and the day’s humidity had given way to a balmy sea breeze.

“What could be nicer,” Diana said, “and with the city’s Arabic name meaning ‘Haven of Peace,’ could any place be better?”

The English geologist, Jon Ballard, a man in his fifties, replied, “This place is not only the Capital of the territory of Tanganyika, and its main port, but it was established by the Arabs as the terminus for their commerce in slaves, ivory and precious metals. Their trade routes extended much of the way across Africa. As if the city’s name puts a pretty face on the commerce in human misery that went on then, and to some degree, continues.”

“What a cynic,” Max said turning to him, “No need to dash the romantic observations that an evening like this and such a name evokes in a lady.”

Diana took Ballard’s arm gently, saying, “As Shakespeare said, ‘What’s in a name?’ You’re totally right. This city in fact is probably a hotbed of intrigue, and worse. Our expedition won’t be easy, and there could be many dangers to be faced before we’re finished with the project.”

Reminded by Max that reveille was at five in the morning, they all turned in early. Before Diana retired, she checked the connecting door again, locking it for a second time. In the morning
at breakfast, Max and Myra, sitting across from her, seemed a little upset. After he got up to pay the bill for the group, Diana said to Myra, “Why the pouting? You could have joined Max in his room. I’m sure
his
door was unlocked.”

Overland

The sun was just coming up over the glassy water of the harbor when the five-truck safari set out on the so-called Western Highway, the first leg to their destination. A highway it wasn’t, for as soon as they left the port city behind, the road became pitted and rutted. At first the surface was hard, and consequently they made good time. Soon, however, that changed, as a huge front of black billowing clouds just to the north opened up, loosing a deluge of water, leading to the flooding of every watercourse crossing the road. Soon they were forced to stop; with the all-wheel-drive army surplus six-wheelers threatened with becoming mired in the mud and rising waters possibly immersing their engines.

That night, after extricating their trucks, they camped on higher ground away from the danger of flash floods. Tents were pitched with difficulty due to the wind, but by sunrise there was a promise of a bright day for further travel. Too bright, as by midday the sun began beating down on them mercilessly. Their sodden clothes, first drying in the heat, became soaked once more with sweat. Still, they made good time, arriving late the second day at Dodomo, a large town populated mostly by tribespeople. It was administered by the socialist revolutionaries belonging to the Tanganyikan African National Union, or TANU, the freedom party of Julius Nyerere, who shared the anti-British ambitions of his Kenyan friend, Mau Mau leader Jomo Kenyatta. Fortunately, the local resistance to continued colonial rule was not given to the bloody terrorism that hastened Kenya’s freedom.

After purchasing fresh produce at the local open-air market, they continued on. The sun remained hot, and the dark olive color war-surplus canvas that covered the trucks, serving as shade for the passengers, was not ideal in the near-equatorial heat. Hot and sweaty, they had driven only a mile north past the town when they were stopped at a roadblock. It was manned by several of the local police, armed with submachine guns. Max, Diana and the Sicilian driver, Staltieri, in the lead truck, were ordered down.

“Good God,” Max said, “I thought with the British still here, this wouldn’t happen.”

Diana then observed, “These men are obviously British-trained and equipped. They should be hunting Mau-Mau strays from across the border, but more likely, it’s a bribe they’re after. That would explain why we weren’t detained in Dodomo.”

BOOK: The Martian Pendant
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