Several copies of this anonymous manuscript have been found scattered across Site 19 over the past month. Despite its near-total factual inaccuracy, it contains enough truth to warrant a low-level breach of security if published. As far as Foundation sources have gathered, it has not been sent to any outside publishing company; the investigation is ongoing.
Even for a pair of seasoned travelers, Cairo can be a formidable locale. The people rush haphazardly through the streets like diligent, purpose-driven cattle, and vehicles do their best to keep some semblance of course through the swamp of human movement that overwhelms the thoroughfares. Traffic signals are suggestions, and sidewalks are driven on as frequently as the roads themselves. Despite this, the city is nothing if not a feast for the senses. The architecture towers and curves gracefully against itself in pillars and pointed arches, with intricate patterns running their lengths; bazaars span the widths of entire streets, consuming one’s vision with vivid colors and smells; the chatter in the avenues, in a dozen different languages, comes from all directions at all times.
A full twenty-four hours had passed since their unceremonious arrival, and neither man’s attitude had changed much from the previous night. They walked as nonchalantly as they could past a fountain lit from underneath, with a massive mosaic of the ancient Egyptian pantheon as a backdrop. Trail stared miserably into it for a moment before being pulled along the road toward an unassuming brown building on the corner.
The restaurant—if that’s even the proper word for it, as opposed to maybe dive—was crowded, quiet, lit a dim orange against the navy of the night sky. Patrons huddled over their tables as though hiding something precious from an unseen thief, lending the place a foreboding, oppressive ambiance. Roughly half of the people looked to be carrying small weapons, which meant that the other half were doing a better job of concealing theirs. It was one of those places that shouldn’t be barged into.
“Oh, we are absolutely gonna find something in here,” Brink’s voice boomed as he barged into the place. Table by table, people started to stare at the source of the commotion. “Spot like this, there’s got to be somebody who knows something about something. BARKEEP!”
Trail followed meekly. He did his best to distance himself from the gigantic explorer, but getting out of his direct reach proved difficult in the little floor space the room offered. The bartender, a lean and serious man with a pinched, bespectacled face, set down the pitcher he was drying and emphatically exhaled through his long nose.
“Are you looking for a restroom?” he asked, looking at his hands instead of the foreigners. His voice was drawn out, serpentine. “The restrooms are for paying customers only.”
“We ain’t here for the restroom,” Brink belted. He turned to the unimpressed crowd he had disturbed. “My name’s Brink Dangerguts, and this here—“ he held up a grimacing Trail— “is the most dangerous man you’re likely to meet in your short little lives. We’re looking for a bastard Hun named Krause and a weird trinket he’s got on him. Anybody with information about either…“
He trailed off as the bartender tapped his arm and gave him a furtive shake of the head. Several of the people who had yet to turn around at the duo’s entrance were slowly beginning to look in their direction. Their faces portended malice.
“What, I can’t call Krause a Hun? Really, now.” The crowd’s expressions grew angrier. “Let me guess, you’re all Germans or something? Right, okay, I believe that one. I sure am a big dumb idiot who—what?” he cut off abruptly, as the patrons began to stand and pile toward him.
“Through here,” came the same slithering voice.
Without warning, the barman pulled the two behind the counter and through a darkened doorway, closing them off from what was quickly becoming a mob. “You are unwise to speak ill of Herr Krause, sirs, and especially by way of introduction. He has done remarkable things for our community in recent years. He is a popular figure around Cairo.”
Brink faced the door warily. “That true?”
“Assuredly. He has contributed some astounding works of art. Truly irreplaceable. I have to assume you noticed the fountain and mosaic around the corner.”
Trail opened his mouth and lifted a finger. “I—“
“Sure didn’t. We’ll keep an eye out for it.” His eyes narrowed to suspicious slits. “Hold on. Why’d you help us get away from the crowd? You got some kind of interior motives going on?” He looked as though something was gradually dawning on him. “You’re puttin’ us in your debt, is that it? You damnable slimy conniver. I’d wager you’re the kind of guy who would push his own mother in front of a truck to win a bet. I mean it. Fifty bucks in front of you, I bet you’d do it. Watch.”
The barman smiled humorlessly and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “No, sir, I’m afraid I take little interest in money.” Brink took his hand back out of his pocket. “The trinket—the one that you mentioned in your elegant opening remarks—now that is something I wish to know more about.”
“What, that? Why?” Trail considered objecting to the constant use of “we,” but changed his mind.
The stranger’s glasses flashed. “To start, it is clear to me, and to everyone here, that you two are on some sort of… mission? Is that the word? You also mentioned only two things that you are looking for: Herr Krause, and the ‘trinket.’ From this, I can deduce that the object in question is just as important to you as the man, if not indeed more important. And an object with a value equal to that of a man’s life sounds extremely interesting.” He grinned, displaying a mouthful of impeccable teeth. “As it goes, I happen to have a fascination with interesting objects.”
“Hm.” Brink leaned casually against the wall. “Funny. So do we. Ever hear of the Adze of Maupai?”
“Please do not patronize me. I did just say I have a fascination with interesting objects, correct?”
“I dunno, probably. Did you know it’s been recovered?”
“Of course. Is there a man who does not?”
“Any idea who might have done it?” he wheedled smugly, a thumb pointed squarely at his own chest. The bartender raised a single eyebrow.
“The very same.”
“Forgive me if this appears insolent, sir,” he exhaled, “but you’ll need more than an unfounded claim, however grand it might be, to impress me.”
“Fine by me. Hey!” Trail flinched. “Tell him what that thing said on the handle. Trail’s more of the language guy,” he confided, turning to the other man.
Almost shyly, Trail muttered a few words in Sumerian, and the bartender’s expression changed. “You know the inscription? Nobody has released the inscription to the public.”
“Well, Trail knows it, at any rate. I don’t really pay attention to those kinds of things. I just take stuff from places.”
“Do you, now? Intriguing. What is your latest target?”
“We really can’t tell you about that,” Trail began earnestly. Again, he was not heard.
“The Shard of Thermopylae,” Brink said proudly. “An ancient piece of pottery said to imbue its possessor with mysterious powers. Maybe even immortality.”
The bartender barely seemed surprised. “Truly? It must be beyond valuable. Is it hidden somewhere in Cairo?”
“Far as we know. We’ve heard your pal Krause has his hands on it.”
The bartender looked aghast. “You mean this? Heinrich Krause holds an artifact of anomalous nature? This is troubling news.”
At this, the man shrunk slightly, fidgeting. “I don’t know if I should say.”
“All right.” He looked down contritely. “Herr Krause has been behaving… oddly, as of late. Or perhaps not. Perhaps he is behaving perfectly normally, locked inside a set of catacombs in the desert.”
Brink and Trail both stood up straight. “Sorry?” they chorused.
“No one has seen him in weeks. He has shut himself inside a gargantuan tomb west of here. He may in fact be dead from starvation. Or he might not. I suspect the only person who knows for sure is the man himself.”
“Can you take us to him?” Trail inquired tentatively, putting his head at a skeptical angle.
“Of course not,” snapped Brink. “He’s a bartender, not a tour guide.”
He glowered, then caught himself. “Sadly true. I cannot myself guide you to Herr Krause. I can, however, provide you with his whereabouts.” He pulled from within the folds of his clothing a piece of paper and scrawled a crude map on it hastily, punctuating Krause’s location with an enormous X. “I trust the two of you can find your own way to this destination?”
“We just flew from Peru to Egypt in a two-seater, amigo. We can do literally anything.”
• • • • •
The adventurer and his companion left the chamber, and as they did, a dark silhouette sprinted away from the obscured outside window.
• • • • •
“So that was the weirdest bartender ever,” Trail huffed, after a humbling exit through a cramped and convoluted back alley. The mob inside the building had begun banging on the door, and the odd little man had swiftly pushed them through a door in the back wall that they had overlooked.
“I liked him,” Brink replied. “I think we really impressed that guy.”
“Maybe so, but didn’t anything about him… bother you?”
“Nope,” came the abrupt rebuttal.
“Maybe the fact that he never told us his name?”
“Lots of folks get secretive about stuff like that.”
“About their names?”
“It just seems weird that—“
Brink whirled in place and pointed accusingly. “His name is his own damn business, you understand me? His. His alone. Nobody needs to worry about it but him, and that’s the way it oughtta be.”
“Fine, fine. Caramba. Calm down.”
He didn’t say a word in response.
“Are you sulking?”
“No. Shut your face. I’m gonna get a shawarma. Don’t follow me.”
• • • • •
The ceiling in the central chamber was fifty feet high and engraved with images of a stern Teutonic face. Krause paced beneath it in a straight line as his servant entered and dropped to one knee.
“They are on their way. The two foreigners.”
He stopped walking. “They have been given my location?”
“Yes. A bartender in the city pointed it out to them.”
Krause smiled. “Good. Let them come. I have dealt with far more capable men.”
He glanced up at his latest project, towering above his head, tunneling into the ceiling, all metal and mirror and light. “And soon, I won’t need to deal with any more of them.”
• • • • •
A red face full of scabs poked mouselike through the doorway. “Message for Agent Caraway.”
Caraway rose to his full, unimpressive height and stretched hideously. “’Important message,’ or just ‘message’?”
“Envelope says ‘urgent.’” The boy’s voice cracked from anxiety and unbalanced hormones. “Are you going somewhere? Should I just leave it on your desk?”
“No, no, give it here,” the agent snapped. He sent the boy away and tore at the packaging of the letter.
TO: AGENT HORACE CARAWAY
Tracking device 0145-Y9 ceased broadcasting at 2216 hours on July 12. It was last used in a briefcase containing classified Foundation documents, and its last signal came from a residential section of Cairo, Egypt. We believe it is possible that an unknown party has disabled the device and stolen the files. This, if true, is unacceptable.
Tracking device 1248-Y3 continues to broadcast from Cairo. Our records indicate that you are using it to trace a man assigned to recover SCP-960. Having lost the documents provided him, he has proven to be a liability; having already read the documents, he is now a liability in the possession of sensitive information.
You may consider this the last in a sequence of warnings. Failing in the following task will result in your immediate discharge from the SCP Foundation:
You are hereby ordered to eliminate the security risk posed by Brink Dangerguts.