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Chapter One of the Lost Diaries

Chapter One: The Fire-breathing Beast 

...So Lieutenant Chard was accounted doubly lucky, for not only did he arrive too late in Zululand to take part in the massacre of Isandhlwana, his gift of the strange beast he had captured would arrive in England in time for her majesty’s 60th birthday.

We arrived in Alexandria via a steamer, where Chard was promoted to the rank of captain. However, plans for his celebration had to be shelved as we were almost immediately sent into action....

For weeks now Alexandria had been abuzz with talk of the Lost Diamond Mines of Queen Zamboni. A Mister Greville Chester of the Antiquities Department had lately uncovered manuscripts which he believed would lead to the discovery of the mines, and an expedition had been sent to the Soudan to find this mine, the Disraeli government being very keen for this sort of thing.

However, no word had been had of this small expedition until two days before our arrival, when a native porter, close to death and sun-mad, stumbled back to the Residency bearing many wounds. His last word, as far as any man could make out, were of a fire-breathing beast. (Here follows an account of Captain Arjun’s discourse on sun-stroke.)

Who better to send for this sort of mission than the dinosaur-hunting, newly promoted Captain Chard?

Of course Captain Chard did not believe in any sort of fire-breathing beast, but it would have been poor sport to refuse a mission, however ridiculous it sounded. Now the deserts of Soudan were a very different proposition from the mountains of Afghanistan, and here was when my travels in Rajasthan and knowledge with camels served us well. (Here follows an account on camels.)

...and close to noon we espied a plume of smoke behind a peak of rocks, and the men dismounted for action. I daresay many then thought they were about to face a fire-breathing dragon or a djinni of the desert.

But as we closed the peak we begin to feel the very earth tremble, and very soon afterwards a large shape rounded the rocky peak and headed straight at us. Now the shape of the thing was as that of a very large steam-boiler or tank, and it was immediately clear that it was no living beast, but a mechanical contraption driven by steam-power, and that the smoke we saw issued from its smoke-stack. In the bow of the tank was a slit cut for a Krupps gun, which now fired shells upon our ranks. Upon the top of her hull the tank bore the German ensign, and behind her came German soldiers.

I was first and foremost surprised by the presence of the vehicle, and secondly by the presence of the Germans in the Soudan. It was only much later that we learnt of the full extent of their involvement here.

Captain Chard, again driven to his usual impetuosity by the smell of battle, ordered his men forward, while the Gatling gun kept up a steady fire upon the tank. And the gods must have been with us on this day, for the very first burst bullets had entered the slit for the gun and struck some steam pipes in the stern, leaving vehicle dead upon the sands.

After a short, sharp fight, we drove the Germans off and captured the curious vehicle. The Germans engineers, interrogated by a sergeant who spoke their language, revealed that our earlier expedition had run into them during their mission, and had been scattered or slain for their troubles. With the tools onboard, they were able to restore the engines on the tank, which we brought back to Alexandria to much acclaim. Had he not been recently promoted, I am certain Captain Chard would have won himself another promotion.

To Chapter Two...