Much shaken by their disturbing and frightening experiences with the Germans, our hardy band of travelers arrived back in Syrtis Major for a brief break before their next assignment would be given.
Miss Walker discovered that an old family friend had recently arrived on the planet, and requested leave to meet with him, compare notes and reminisce about the past.
Two days after their arrival, Lieutenant Battersby received a letter from an address he did not recognize, in Mylarkt. It seems that the esteemed Lady Edith Tillington had heard tales of his and his comrades’ accomplishments, and wished their assistance in an as yet unrevealed mission. She offered a goodly sum merely to travel to Mylarkt and hear her offer. After acquiring permission from their employers, the lieutenant, Professor Abernathy, Mr. Wallace, and Willoughby set forth for Mylarkt with Aloysius and Billy in tow. Lady Tillington had arranged for their travel and accommodation at the British embassy there.
Lady Tillington received them graciously, and presented her proposal: her husband, Lord Tillington, had undoubtedly perished when his ship crashed in the Isidis desert. The ship (the London Bridge) had been transporting him, along with a great deal of his written work, back to Syrtis Major. Lady Tillington wished to recover his body for Christian burial and as much of his notes as she could find, so that his work would not be lost forever. She offered an incredible sum for this mission: 3000 pounds sterling for the attempt, but a full 5000 pounds if they succeeded. Flabbergasted by this generosity, our heroes could not resist the offer and vowed to assist her as well as they could.
Lady Tillington had but one condition: she must go with them when they set forth to the crash site. She wanted to find her husband’s body and his works herself. She had had poor luck getting assistance from the locals, but did know Martian culture and languages well, and promised that she would not complain or slow down their travels. When he learned that she was handy with a pistol, as well, Lieutenant Battersby reluctantly assented.
Lady Tillington had one lead: she knew that a piece of a difference engine had turned up in the shop of a local man named Keb Sollos. It was most likely from the crash site, and perhaps he knew how to get there, or could tell them who could lead them to the site, for a sum. Anything in Mylarkt was possible—for a sum.
The city was filthy with gaseous pollution rising from vents in the ground and dingy with the stench of poverty and disease. The oldest city on Mars did not show its age well.
The group made its way to Keb Sollos’ shop in the market district, where they also acquired some rather expensive supplies for their inevitable journey into the desert. Keb informed them that a young man named Waldoon Koposkop had found the wreckage and sold him the piece of the difference engine. He was certain he had a map to the site somewhere, but his shop was so disorganized that only his assistant could find anything of that nature. After calling for his assistant and receiving no answer, he shrugged and informed Professor Abernathy that Waldoon and his brother Kahol could often be found haunting the Nine Briars Emporium, a very popular local den of iniquity. He also knew that they had a dwelling in “the Scourings,” a poor and desolate area of the city, but our heroes decided that venturing there was perhaps not the safest way of finding them.
Heartened by the information they had gathered, Lieutenant Battersby led his friends to the Nine Briars, only to be appalled at the realization that this was no place for a lady. He attempted to get Lady Tillington to leave, but she calmly refused, and sat with him in the lobby while Mr. Wallace and Professor Abernathy interviewed Yarini, the seductive proprietress of the place. Yarini had not seen the brothers lately, but agreed to send a runner (for a sum—everything in Mylarkt is for a sum) to the embassy if she did. They returned to the embassy to wait, but two days passed with no word.
It seemed inevitable that they would have to brave the Scourings.