The icy wind whipped around my skirts as I half-leapt, half-fell out of the door at the lower level. The man in the grey cloak was already half-way down the first flight of iron stairs and was rapidly disappearing into the blizzard. I had no time to lose. I set off in pursuit, my booted feet slipping and sliding on the frozen steps.

Away from the shelter of the observatory's walls, formed of blocks of stone transported with vast labour from the quarry many thousands of feet below, the force of the snow-storm blasted stinging particles of ice into my face and eyes, half-blinding me. My gloves, a pair made in finest leather by Chester Jefferies of London and intended for use in the tropical lowlands, were barely up to the job of preventing my hands from sticking to the ice-cold stanchions and banisters. Gripping as tightly as I dared, I hurried down the steps, occasionally bracing myself as a more powerful gust threatened to toss me against the rocks or throw me over the side of the safety rail.

I could expect no assistance here. The blizzard meant that no craft of air or land could make safe progress, and the man in grey had already disabled two of my most experienced colleagues. It was all down to me now.

*

The first inkling of the import of the mission I had found myself embarked upon was in a scientific laboratory, part of a private estate set in a quiet suburb of Mombasa. It was the kind of elaborate establishment which a certain class of Englishmen often chose to build in the more foreign parts of the Empire: grounds enclosed by a high wall surrounding a sprawling residence, itself set around a central courtyard in the Italianate style.

In this case, the buildings were even more extensive than convention would dictate: as well as kitchens and storerooms and servants' quarters, there were several buildings not quite so easy to immediately account for. My training in observation and deduction, courtesy of Her Britannic Majesty’s Government - not to mention several years of field experience - would have led me to infer the existence of a machine hall, even if the obvious engine house, with its tall chimney belching smoke, and the humming and chattering of gears and ratchets had made such a deduction inevitable.

(more to follow)

Kilimanjaro in snow
Introduction Part 2