Boende, Motappaland - May 3, 1964
If it were possible to smoke a cigarette ironically, Pascal Jauvert would be doing just that. The swarthy half-Quiberonnais, half-Motappan man blew hazy blue smoke into the air with an exaggerated sigh and gazed over the view of Boende. From his elevated position atop the Hotel Cratoise, Motappaland's only 5* establishment, he could see the leafy private villas of the exclusive Gurumba neighborhood quickly giving way to the sprawling anthill-slums of Menge-Menge and Ngoranga. The very sight of them disgusted Pascal, and he silently shamed his white father for marrying a child of the slums. Scoffing, he took another drag on his cigarette.
"Something bothering you?" Pascal turned to the speaker; a white, fair haired man in casual linen slacks and shirt with a leather satchel slung across his side. Pascal shook his head, immediately defensive.
"Only that you are late Brannigan, you Anglo asshole. I'm surprised you are able to even show your face around here without being strung up".
"Oh, the Mbenga business?" The other man replied, seemingly nonplussed by Pascal's hostility. "Come now, Pascal, I'm not stupid. I didn't drive here straight from the front, I flew in from Sesfontein. May I sit down?"
Pascal indicated to the empty chair opposite him, lighting a fresh cigarette. Brannigan sat down and opened his satchel, withdrew a manila folder and handed it over to Pascal. Pascal flipped it open and pulled out the contents: a set of aerial photos.
"Brannigan, these are just photos of the jungle. What am I missing?"
"There", said Brannigan, pointing to the mid-right of the top photograph. "It's a Ziggurat, one of the largest I've seen. One of our Kingfishers caught this upcountry, about 100 miles east of Kalima."
Pascal looked up. "Kalima. Mufasa territory".
"Indeed. These temples have traditionally been found in northwest Sandirius. The Praetonians found millions of dollars' worth of artifacts in them during the 1890's. All cleared out now, back in Haversham. But this is the first I've ever heard of located in the Motappan jungle. And it's enormous. The larger ones always have a higher value of loot. We are thinking of sending a small team to chart the Ziggurat and collect the artifacts. The spoils will be shared equa-"
Pascal held up his hand. "Do you know what the Mufasas do to intruders, Brannigan? They skin them and eat their flesh. They castrate them and wear their genitals as magic charms. Faces as war masks. They are all high on wild mushrooms. And now they have Sharfic guns. It would be a suicide mission to travel to this temple".
Brannigan smiled softly, having already anticipated the questioning. "It's no problem, Pascal. It's already in motion. We fly into Kalima disguised as aid workers to get past the Sharfic garrison there. I lead the mission and bring a squad of Mbengans for security. Your role, with your local knowledge, is to facilitate for us. Your mother was from upcountry, wasn't she?"
Pascal flushed and took another angry drag. "So I get you across the jungle - assuming you survive the long trek, the snakes, the parasites, the disease. The temple will no doubt be booby-trapped, or structurally unsafe. It's a waste of time to even try, Brannigan".
"Yes, we need one more person. An archaeologist - an expert in southwest Crataean history. I'm going to approach him tomorrow. Do we have a deal?"
"You are insane, Brannigan".
"I'll pay you one million Oryontic Dollars".
Pascal blinked, and pulled another ironic drag of his cigarette.
Play up, play up, and play the game!
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