The Flying Cloud, R505 - Season Four

Episode 436: Follow Those Portable Generators!

Portable generator on a cart

Once again, MacKiernan, Miss Perkins, and Abercrombie had met aboard the R-46 to decide upon their next steps. Around them, the ancient vessel creaked as she shifted at her mooring. MacKiernan listened for a moment, then relaxed. His command didn't seem about to break up. Yet.

"It appears that our ruse was successful," said Miss Perkins. "Lieutenant Wilcox, Abercrombie and I found a shipper who offered to buy the motor-generator sets we purchased in Hong Kong. We can assume he intends them for the Japanese nationalists' secret base."

"Are we certain he isn't buying them for someone else?" MacKiernan asked her.

The secretary seemed amused by his question. "He bought all twelve," she observed. "It's difficult to imagine any other establishment here in Bhamo that could possibly require so many."

"Quite," MacKiernan said quickly. "Perhaps we can take advantage of this development. My original intention was merely to identify our adversaries' agents, but we seem to have an opportunity here."

"You're planning tae find the Japanese base?" asked Abercrombie.

"Fortune favors the bold," MacKiernan replied. "The challenge will be to track the shipment after it leaves town. We don't have anyone skilled at reading a trail, and these people might notice an airship following overhead."

"Yes, that would rather give the game away," Miss Perkins remarked dryly. "Who do you have in mind for this adventure?"

The Irishman gazed out the window for a moment, then laughed. "If we're going to gamble, it seems foolish to quibble about the stakes," he observed. "I believe the Earl of Montrose had something to say about the subject. I shall lead the party myself, accompanied by you, Abercrombie, and Miss Kim."

Miss Perkins' eyes widened. "But Fergus, what about your command? You can't just leave the ship here at the air station."

"We'll claim she is unable to depart due to mechanical difficulties," MacKiernan said. "Given her antiquity, that will seem plausible enough. The lieutenants can oversee the mooring watch until we return."

"You'll still need a tracker," Abercrombie objected.

MacKiernan grinned. "I'll bet you shilling I know where to find one."

The University of Chicago Burmah Expedition's encampment was still where Everett had described it, a short distance north of town. It was more substantial than the airmen expected -- it seemed that American archaeologists didn't feel any urgent need to follow the Colonial practice of `roughing it'. They found the head of the expedition, Professor Jones, in a large tent that seemed to serve as an office, examining some anonymous artifact.

"Good morning gents," he said cheerfully. "How can I help you?"

Joint operations with American naval units had prepared MacKiernan for this misuse of the verb. "I'm Lieutenant-Commander MacKiernan, Royal Navy Airship Service, acting commander of the R-46, and these are my colleagues, Miss Perkins, Miss Kim, and Abercrombie," he replied. "You will have met my commanding officer, Captain Everett."

Professor Jones nodded. "Yep. Those `dacoit' guys grabbed two of his men."

"So we were given to understand," said MacKiernan. "We have reason to believe they may have been working for the same people who kidnapped your chemist. We intend to track these fellows down, but this will require your assistance."

The Professor's expression hardened. "How?"

"We have sold a cargo to one of these people's agents. We expect him to deliver this to their hidden base. If we're to follow the man, we'll need someone with the appropriate tracking skills. You Colonials have a reputation for this sort of thing."

The professor rose, drew the revolver that seemed to be a mandatory fashion accessory for American archaeologists and swung open the cylinder to check the load. Satisfied, he slid the weapon back into the holster and reached for his fedora.

"Let's go!"

The first stage of the chase led through the streets of Bhamo. It was comparatively straightforward, for twelve industrial motor-generator sets on large wooden carts were not the sort of thing it was easy to disguise. MacKiernan and his companions watched a team of laborers load the machines onto a trio of freight cars, then sought out the ticket office. An hour later, they were riding in what passed for a first class compartment, secure from observation, as the train rattled north along the narrow-gauge line to Myitkinya. To the east, water foamed past sand banks of the Irrawaddy river. Beyond them, the Gaoligong Mountains were an improbably vivid shade of green. A dark shadow to the north hinted at a distant arm of the Himalayas.

"This line looks new," Professor Jones observed. "Who built it?"

"The contract was funded by the Governor's office, using resources that became available after the Peace," said Miss Perkins. "Before that, cargoes heading north from Bhamo had to wait until the river was navigable, or travel down to Mandalay, then up through Shingbwiyang."

Jones seemed taken aback by this reply. "How does she find these things out?" he whispered to MacKiernan.

"Secretaries in the Royal Navy Airship Service are privy to mysteries lesser mortals are not given to understand," MacKiernan whispered back.

The Professor nodded thoughtfully. "That sounds like our secretaries back at the university."

The train might not have been noteworthy for its speed, but it didn't have far to go, and afternoon found it pulling into the station at Myitkyina. MacKiernan and his companions hurried to find a spot from which they could watch unobserved as the freight cars were unloaded. To their annoyance, a switching engine rolled up and shunted the cars to another line. This train had no provision for passengers, so they could only watch helplessly as the cars rolled across a bridge and vanished toward the east behind a small 2-4-0 engine.

Miss Perkins nudged the rail with her foot. "Where did this line come from?" she demanded. "It isn't marked on our ordnance map."

MacKiernan sighed. "Let's see if the locals can shed any light on the matter." He approached a constable and indicated the bridge. "Pardon me, sir," he said politely. "My companions and I are railway enthusiasts and have been admiring your new spur line. Could you tell us who's responsible for this admirable piece of engineering?"

The constable beamed with enthusiasm. "Isn't it grand!" he exclaimed. "Burmah Oil laid those rails four years ago to serve their air station at Sadung."

MacKiernan and Miss Perkins exchanged glances. "Burmah Oil built it in 1923?" the secretary asked sharply.

"Aye!" said the man. "It's the pride of the upper Irrawaddy Valley!"

Professor Jones noticed his companions' expressions. "What's wrong?" he asked them.

"I don't know yet," said MacKiernan, "but the situation has become more complicated."

Next week: I Daresay It's Time For A Spot Of Marauding...

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