Part 1: The Lighthouse
Meeting Alexandre Valembois
Ed. Note: This chapter really front-loads the backstory to the game. I'd recommend reading the letters, but I don't think you'll miss a whole lot.
Back in 1998, I was working as a reporter for an english-language newspaper for expatriates in France. It was easy work, covering art shows and drinking luncheons for bored wives. It should have been the time of my life - here I was, 22 years old, in France, getting loaded on cheap brandy and snapping pictures of middle-aged businesspeople. And yet, I was just as bored as the people I covered.
So, like pennies from heaven, a letter landed on my desk one foggy morning. It was written in French, in a tight, tidy script.
We have never met before, but I implore you to carefully consider what I am about to share. I am an administrator at the Musée d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris, and as such one of my duties is to screen grant requests from researchers.
Some months ago I received a letter from a M. Alexandre Valembois, requesting funding and supplies for an expedition in South America. The letter was hurried - frantic, even - telling incoherent and desperate stories about a magical egg and a volcano deep in the jungles of the Amerzone. Given the isolationism and political turmoil in that particular part of the world, I was sceptical, and yet something about his story rang true.
When I brought the letter to M. Mulot, the curator of the museum, he scoffed and told me in no uncertain terms that I was to ignore any further communication from M. Valembois.
And so I turn to you, in hopes that you will visit M. Valembois at his home and at least offer him the comfort of knowing that someone, somewhere was willing to listen to his story. I have enclosed directions to his home.
Thank you for considering my request, and I implore you to visit M. Valembois.
I must have been bored to have even considered this wild goose chase. So I wrote Valembois a letter - the usual pleasantries, "Hi, I'm some dick, I heard about your story. Would you be interested in an interview?"
Two weeks passed with no response. If I were reasonable, I would have just given up.
And yet, two days later I found myself on a foggy, godforsaken spit of land in the middle of nowhere. I saw a man on a bicycle pedaling towards me, so I stepped aside to let him pass. To my surprise, he stopped and introduced himself as the postman.
Click the picture for video
And with that I was on my own.
There was a letter sticking out of the mailbox. I wouldn't be much of a snoop if I didn't read it, now would I?
At least that part of Suchet's letter was on the level. This Edouard Mulot sounded like a real dick. Well, I'd come this far - may as well head inside.
It was dark, cold, and musty. Housekeeping obviously wasn't a priority, but I guess if you're a 90-year-old man in the middle of nowhere, there's no sense keeping up appearances for company. I could hear music upstairs - that must be where the old man was.
When I found him, he was slumped at the table, barely moving. When I approached, he looked up, wild-eyed and flushed, babbling about... something I didn't quite understand.
Click to hear what the old man has to say
And with that, I was alone in the house of a dead man, with nothing but myriad questions to keep me company. What was the old man babbling about? An egg? Amerzone? Why was it so important that I return the egg? More to the point, was I crazy enough to do it?
But I was curious, and disrespectful, so I decided to do some snooping. Starting with the two letters in a drawer.
My Dear Friend,
It was with great joy tinged with disbelief that I received your letter after over fifty years of silence!!! I must admit that I had given up all hope that our paths would ever cross again, and to be quite truthful, I even thought that you were no longer with us. For we are too old now, I fear, and deep down inside, the joy of meeting you again is mingled with the fear of seeing you undertake such a risky expedition at your age.
My old friend Alexandre, I believe that I share your feeling of guiltiness towards this poor country of the Amerzone: we have made many mistakes that only our youth may explain...
Today, in the twilight of our years, we want to make right our wrongs in order to obtain an earthly redemption from our fellow men and from ourselves, which is quite derisory compared with divine justice.
All this is quite human, I admit, but what folly to set off again at your age through the Amerzonian forest and marshlands! You will fail on your way and leave your life over here...
What's more, the Amerzone you once knew no longer exists, my dear old fellow. Things have changed here, like in the rest of the world. You speak to me of White Birds... But I have come to believe that they no longer fly but in the heady fumes of intoxication of the few denatured Indians that were spared by the inexorable march towards progress.
You may think that I am very bitter, Alexandre. But if you saw the sad state that country is now in... As if it is called down by a curse... Should you persist, however, in your determination to return to Amerzone and stop over at our mission in Pueblo as you have planned it, note that you will...
... not find the companion in adventures of your youth, but a poor toothless old man who will nonetheless be delighted to receive you under his roof. Then, like two ghosts, we will go and sit on the riverbank to watch the sun set on our lives.
May God protect you,
I chuckled at the florid prose, before I remembered the dead man sitting right next to me. Guiltily I moved onto the next letter.
It was a lot of names that meant nothing to me - who the hell are Alvarez and Mackowski? I needed more information, and luckily I noticed a telephone hanging on the wall. Maybe I'd try out that phone number from Mulot's letter.
Click for some crazy hammy voice acting
That was a bust, but I guess it confirmed my suspicions that Mulot is a dick. Nothing else to do here, so I took the spiral staircase upwards to Valembois' library.
The library was softly lit through a dusty window. Smelled of old paper and mildew. Valembois obviously liked birds. And hunting, judging by the trophies on the wall.
More interesting was the journal on the desk next to a crab-like creature I'd never seen before.
So this was Valembois' journal of his first journey to the Amerzone. He was a hell of an artist, I had to give him that. And it seemed like there was more to this book than I'd guessed - scribbled notes in the margins, bizarre animals I'd never seen in any zoo or textbook. Despite my skepticism, I was excited - could this be true?
I noticed a ladder leading to a catwalk near the ceiling.
Sitting on the desk was a long, typewritten letter signed by Valembois. Was this... it had to be. This letter was for me - this was his unsent response to my careless form letter.
As I read through the pages, I felt my eyes burning and my throat grew tight. Valembois made a mistake in the folly of youth, and he died without ever being able to correct it. I had to find that egg and return it to its rightful place. But first, I needed information.
I climbed back down the ladder and noticed an old slide projector set up in the corner.
That must be Yekoumani, the native girl Valembois wrote about. She was pretty - good on the old dog.
I headed upstairs to what looked like a drafting room. There was a TV in the corner with a Byzantine satellite dish. I wondered if it still worked.
Click image to watch TV!
Hydraflot, eh? It looked seaworthy, at least. No idea if it could fly. No idea if it even existed!
A steel door led out onto a rickety-looking platform, with a ladder leading to the top of the lighthouse. No sense going up there just yet - I wasn't sure if I was up on my shots.
I'd explored pretty much all I could above ground. I remembered a trapdoor on the ground floor.
I grabbed a sledgehammer sitting next to the stairs and headed down. The Hydraflot and the Egg must be down there.
It was too dark to walk down that corridor. Luckily, the switch on the wall worked without a hitch.
How much further down did this passage go?
There was a room branching off to the right. It contained a huge, archaic computer - thing must have run on tubes or black magic.
I flipped the switches right to left - I assumed turning on the power, activating that massive steel tower, and turning on the display was the logical sequence of events.
Slotting in the massive diskette, I was met with a password screen. Six digits... a date? I remembered Valembois' birth date was written in the Amerzone journal - it couldn't be that simple, could it?
Hm, I guess it could.
I copied some data onto the disc, and heard a lock disengage further down the hall. Valembois really idiot-proofed this process.
There it was. The Hydrofloat.
Hamsters really grew big in France. Oh wait, it had a tail. Guess it was just a rat. It skittered off too fast for me to get a good look at it.
The control panel of the Hydrofloat looked exactly like Valembois' drawing. I saw a disk slot - why not? If Valembois had planned out every aspect of his journey, there was no way I could fail. Right?
Idiot proofed. The thing wouldn't even launch without the egg on board. What confused me was the Details - if the Hydrofloat could only fly on one heading, why not pre-load it with the coordinates? Why make me figure it out?
Well, I'm a smart young man. I went to college - I can solve this. So, we have fuel, we just need to find the egg, and we need to find out where we're going. I figured I'd find clues somewhere in the hangar.
Ascenseur: Base Marine - The elevator for the marina. Looks like it skipped a floor, which just so happened to contain the egg.
Just past the Hydrofloat, there was a narrow path through the cave.
The elevator sure looked safe.
The old man obviously spent a lot of time here, judging by the mountain of cigarette butts. Looking through the telescope, I saw a flock of birds flying at a heading of 140 degrees - could these be Amerzonian Geese flying home? I had no choice but to believe this was the case.
The elevator stopped at the top of the lighthouse, on that rickety platform next to Valembois' study.
At the top of the lighthouse was this contraption attached to a ship's wheel. Valembois' journal said that the Amerzonian geese fly toward the Amerzone, so they just followed the birds.
There was no way to get there without refuelling, so they adjusted the heading by five degrees, which apparently led them to an island. 140 degrees from the telescope plus five... apparently worked.
I later learned that this mechanism sets the heading for the Hydrofloat's launch platform - guess it's a good idea to start off in the right direction.
I made my way back to the elevator through the lighthouse, and noticed this huge pin sitting on the floor.
There was a hole near the floor of the elevator. The pin fit perfectly, and stopped the elevator right at the level of a bricked-up hole in the wall.
The sledgehammer made short work of it.
There it was. The egg, right behind a huge steel door. A prominent lever sent the egg careening down a track to who knows where.
Luckily it arrived unharmed, right next to the Hydrofloat. I noticed a ladder leading to a platform high off the ground.
A lever on the platform engaged a pully, which deposited the precious cargo safely in the vessel.
I had fuel, I had a flight plan, and I had the precious egg of the White Bird.
Plugging in heading 145 to the Hydrofloat's computer, I was off.
Click to watch the ending of Chapter 1
Well shit. How am I going to get out of this mess?